Friday, February 01, 2008
Never tell me that your cafe is my "home," I might just take you up on it and move it.
Or at least it seems that way since I've been at Soluna Cafe every day this week. Bernard, the owner, has been very gracious hosting me, along with Victor and Yadh - the baristas.
It's interesting to see a coffee shop in operation over the course of several days. I've been hanging out around the same time every day (3pm) and each day, the scene is different. There's no classes going on this afternoon, but I am greeted by Yadh's friend Amele.
Originally from Tunisia, Amele is quite a vision. She's petit, Arabian and has those light-colored eyes that draw you in: mesmerizing. She's cheerful, funny and a singer trying to make it in the big city. Her CD is playing over the stereo and it's Arabian folksy. Just a guitar and her voice. I listen and it's pleasant - kind of like a simpler version of Frente! And when I say "simple," I mean less orchestration and instrumentation. The voice is solid and we hang out chatting about life and arts for quite awhile.
Victor and Yadh are my kind of baristas. They're friendly, enthusiastic and interested in learning more as well as growing the community. They want to know how they can put together a barista party during the French Nationals and how they can develop what we call a barista "jam" - an event where baristas come together to talk shop and hone their craft. Would I be interested in instructing? Of course. Could I introduce them to other great baristas, like James Hoffmann? I will try.
So if you're interested in a Paris Jam, let me know and I'll put you in touch with these guys. They're our kind of people.
It's getting late (about 5pm) and Amele decides that she's been hanging out too long and needs to practice her guitar. I think about offering to help, but perhaps that's premature. There's always time in the future.
As she leaves, I realize that I haven't had anything to eat since Montmartre and I'm feeling kind of famished. Off I go across the bridge to Ile de Saint Louis for an afternoon snack.
Once on the island, I find my way to Au Lys d'Argent, which I think means: The Flower of Money? I certainly hope the crepes here aren't that expensive. Au Lys is another old place whose offerings look pretty good on the other tables. I'd love to go for the fancy crepes filled with Nutella or chantilly or all sorts of other goodies, but this is supposed to be a "snack" to hold me over until dinner. I stick with the simple crepe with butter and sugar with a pot of English Blend tea.
The crepe is really nice. Light, chewy and soft, it's got a bit of butter and a smidge of sugar. Very light in sweetness, I think it's a great accompaniment to the tea. I don't spend a lot of time here but it seems to be a husband and wife team who are very welcoming and used to the ignorant traveler.
Wandering along the rue Saint Louis en l'Ile, one notices so many wonderful little shops. Wine caves, cheeses, fruits, epiceries, hotels, restaurants - I suspect it would take at least three days to eat your way down this street. I stop into L'Epicerie to gawk at the spices, confitures and canned goods. Large jars or cans of confit de canard and cassoulet tempt the palate and scare the wallet (a good sized jar of confit is over sixty dollars), and the assortment of jams (confitures) is bewildering. If only I was a connoisseur.
Next stop on the food tour is Berthillon. Reputed to be the best ice cream (glaces) and sorbets in Paris and, ostensibly, du monde. As you're strolling along, it's very easy to be seduced by one of the bistros selling ice cream on Ile Saint Louis - they have Berthillon's name emblazoned on the windows and awnings, just like bars have beer names on their walls in the United States.
But to have the truly "authentic" Berthillon experience, one must go directly to the source: to the Berthillion ice cream parlor. There are two sides to the establishment. The left side is a sit down eatery where they offer table service. It's nicely appointed and fancy enough, but you pay more to sit and eat and I just wanted to pop in and sample their wares. I didn't need to have a full-blown sundae with lots of chantilly.
The right side is the parlor side. Think of an upscale Baskin and Robbins. Wood panels. Stainless work surfaces. Quite nice really and the selection is large.
After a few moments pondering the possibilities, I decide to go with something basic and simple: chocolate and vanilla. Basic flavors that, I believe, demonstrate the true ability of the ice cream maker. Then I remembered how much I liked the coconut ice cream at Les Halles on Park Avenue in New York City and decide to go with the Noix de Coco instead of vanilla.
The ice cream is good. Rich and decadent, the chocolate is dark and moody - more cacao than milk. The coconut is smooth, creamy and the taste of freshly grated coconut. But is this the best ice cream in the world? I don't know. They're certainly good. Perhaps very good. Excellent even. But the best? Maybe in Paris, but I can't say this is the best in the world and superior to others I've tried. But it is quite good.
Another thing that I like is that they give you the option of cup, double-wide cake cone or waffle cone. Sure, those options really aren't anything to write home about - everybody does it. However, unlike other ice cream parlors, Berthillon does not charge extra for the waffle cone.
Parisians know how to eat.
I swing back into Soluna Cafes for a round of chats with some new friends from Chile and then it's off into the wilderness once again. But before I leave, I must take home with me a kilo of the Kenya Getwhimbini coffee and two jars of their huile de cafe - oil made from green coffee beans, something to play with when I get home.
Au Lys D'Argent
90, rue Saint Louis en l'Ile
4th Arrondissement, Paris
01 46 33 65 13
31, rue Saint Louis en l'Ile
4th Arrondissement, Paris
01 43 54 31 61