Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Chez Pierrot

The surprise of the evening, the Egg "Meurette".

I lay the blame squarely on Spike Gjerde's shoulders for this debauchery. And while I should take responsibility for my own actions, I feel as though I'm being driven by a calling. A calling to sample as much as possible in the short time I have in this city of love. Unfortunately, I'm not talking about women, I'm talking about food. It's been several hours since my last meal and since Spike and I set the bar at three meals per night in New York City, I think two meals should be do-able.

Since last night, I've been walking past this little bistro here on rue Amelie. It's a cute and comfortable looking place that's run by a husband and wife team that must be what every chef dreams of - a small bistro where they can cook to their hearts' content. If I'm going to make a serious push for other restaurants later this week, then I'd better sample Chez Pierrot while I still can.

Like I said, I had been staring at their menu both last night and this morning. I decided to start off with Eggs "Meurette" for 7.80 euros, and then move onto the Celestine Chicken (a Lyonnaise specialty) for 15.30 euros.

Of course, I had no idea what a "Meurette" was all about, and since I knew what French Onion Soup and Smoked Salmon were all about, I decided to go with the unknown. The "Meurette" is basically a poached egg (with runny yolk), served in a beef and mushroom broth with toasted baguette rounds. Kinda like onion soup meets Fogghorn Legghorn. Bake that under a salamander until everything gets hot and serve.

It's tasty. The broth is rich of beef and red wine and just a tad salty. Mushrooms and beef chunks are floating in their and show up in spoonfuls. The egg white is well cooked and once you reach the yolk and it starts to "bleed" into the brown sauce, you can't help but to get excited and start digging in - hoping to spoon up the yolk and see how the flavors meld together (lovely).

Celestine Chicken - a bit overcooked.

Once finished, the chicken arrives. When I first sat down, the lady of the house recommended the beef - as that is their specialty. But I had beef earlier and wanted to try the chicken since it sounded so good, so I went for that instead. I should have gone for the beef.

Not that the chicken was bad. It was just, well, disappointing. I was expecting something revelatory. I got something that seemed more Italian. Deboned chicken breast and wing that was overcooked because it was pretty tough to cut into, layered over fettuccine noodles with a tomato, mushroom and bay leaf sauce. Nothing spectacular, and it was overcooked. Maybe it really is a Lyonnaise classic, but I was in the mood for something other than "Italian" tomato sauce based food.

Too much "chantilly" and too much chocolate sauce - can't believe I just wrote that.

Initially, I was going to hold off on dessert, but that resolve withered away and ordered the Coupe Chocolat Liegeois - Chocolate ice cream and chocolate sauce with chantilly. In other words, a chocolate sundae without the cherry.

It was okay. Too much whipped cream and too much sauce, not enough ice cream. I mean, look at the size of that thing. There should be more ice cream in that sucker. A simple plate with the ice cream, a drizzle of sauce and a dollop of chantilly would have been enough. I think I left half the volume afterwards.

Overall, Chez Pierrot was okay. Decent food. Nice setting. Very nice people. You want to go back. Problem is, I didn't find the food that compelling. I mean, it was just myself and one other person and the chicken was overdone. I really want to like Chez Pierrot because I love to support small restaurants just like this, but I can't write that it was amazing and that's disappointing. Because I really wanted it to be amazing. I'm hoping it was just an off-night because the veal white sauce a la ancienne makes me want to try it one more time.

Chez Pierrot
9 rue Amelie
75007 Paris
0145 51 50 08

La Brasserie de l'Ile St-Louis

The Rosette de Lyon.

Strolling across the bridge onto the Isle St-Louis is wonderous sight to behold. The cathedral of Notre Dame in the distance and the revolving beacon from the Eiffel Tower crossing the skyline. How majestic. How nice of these French to build this all for my enjoyment.Merci.

After my visit with Victor at Soluna Cafes, I was feeling a bit over-caffeinated and quite hungry - having not eaten anything since this mornings' baguette and jamon iberico, so I made my way to La Brasserie de l'Ile St-Louis, as recommended by my guidebook: The Little Black Book of Paris.

I've never been one to put too much reliance on travel books but it finally dawned on my why we do. As with anything else, it's not always about finding "the best", it's about avoiding "the worst." With a guidebook recommendation, at least you know that someone else has been there and it must not have been that bad. And with a bewildering array of places to eat, like here in Paris, it really helps to have something help you cut through the noise.

Prior to Soluna Cafes, I came across a restaurant/bar called La Perla that served Mexican fare. Seems that I can always go for some Mexican (and I did need an afternoon snack), and their Enchiladas de Mole sounded tasty, but they weren't serving food until 7pm so that was that.

Pave de faux filet du limousin au poive vert

La Brasserie de l'Ile St-Louis is everything you expect when you think of "classic French brasserie." They've got the old floors, the old tables, the old tin ceilings with years and years of paint, the old everything - even a very huge, antique espresso machine like the one you see in the Tolouse Lautrec paintings. The waiters are old French guys who have been doing this for years and are truly "pros."

The special of the day is the Pave de faux filet du limousin au poive vert with pommes frites maison for twenty euros. I'll take that and and order of the Rosette de Lyon sausage for six euros to start.

I was expecting links, instead I got something that looked like salami. Not that it was bad. It just wasn't what I was expecting. Of course, it did state "Lyon Sausage" and if I actually knew what that meant, I would have known what to expect. Chalk that up to "Jay-Ignorance." Like salami, it was thinly sliced with a sheen of natural oils and a lightly salty flavor. Paired with the sourdough bread and the fiery moutard(mustard), and it was darn good eating - though the cornichon was soft and not crispy the way I prefer.

As the steak was coming, I decided to order a Coke as well. While most civilized people would prefer a wine, after a weekend in Moscow where it was non-stop drinking, I'm shying away from the alcohol this week. Just as well, because I really like Coke. There's something about that fizzy-ness and the sizzle of the phosphoric acid that just clears away fattiness. Coke cuts through most everything and as long as it doesn't have HFCS (like in America) then there's no aftertaste or heaviness on the tongue and coating your mouth. Bring it on, monsieur.

I had read through Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook that French beef and their cutting methodology was different than how we do it in America. I'm starting to see that. The meat was flavorful and tasty but lacked the marble that we see in most American beef. Of course, that could also be the hallmark of this particular cut and I'm waxing with more "Jay-Ignorance," but I did say that I am also a charlatan. Flavorful and beautifully cooked to a delightful medium, it was red throughout. The green pepper sauce was tasty and I started to see how our American "French Fries and Gravy" developed. Any sauce that was left was sopped up with the fries.

Speaking of which, unlike last nights' fries, these were quite good. And real. Real potatoes, blanched and then fried. They even got a bit soggy as they got colder - just the way nature intended.

The Brasserie so you can find your way.

I thought briefly about dessert, but then I had also read that the best ice cream in Paris was just a block away. Overall, the food was good. I'm starting to see what French food is all about. Last night was a pretty poor representation, but tonights' meal was definitely much better. Maybe it is time to start planning for at least one fancy meal here. It would be a shame not to, oui?

La Brasserie de l'Ile St-Louis
55 quai de Bourbon
4th Arrondissement Paris

Soluna Cafes

A cup of Guatemala and the FB-80.

After dilly-dallying all morning and most of the afternoon, I finally set off in search of Parisian Adventure around 4pm. One of the problems of being in the coffee business is that you can no longer drink just any old swill. I never liked coffee before I got into the business, so I learned coffee by drinking some of the best that the world has to offer. As such, I don't have an addiction to the stuff and only want to press my lips to the finest the world has to offer (and not just with coffee).

At the recommendation of some friends, I made my way across this big city to a little, tiny shop called Soluna Cafes, a stone's throw away from the river Seine. Ah, Paris!

At first glance, the front of the place shockingly reminds me of the Stumptown Annex in Portland, Oregon. There's a wall of coffees to the left, a center island counter and what looks to be a two kilo roaster made by Samiac on the right wall. The Samiac is interesting because there's no exhaust flue. The exhaust runs out of the roaster, into a large stainless box beneath it and then up to a stainless filter box - and that's it. No venting to the outside of the building - just fully self-contained. Impressive and I need to see it work.

Pass through the front room and into the back where the coffee-making magic happens. They've got a Rancilio espresso grinder and a new La Marzocco FB-80 espresso machine. For the espresso enthusiasts of the group, this usually means good news.

There's only one barista working the entire shop this afternoon. Victor, a Mexico City-born Chilean who's lived in Paris for seven years studying and making films has been a barista here for three months. He's enthusiastic, good-natured and energetically bouncing around serving me drinks, serving other people drinks, hosting a coffee tasting class and bagging whole bean coffees for more customers in the front room.

As I arrive, he's making fresh hibiscus tea and offers me a glass. It's cooled down a bit but the strong acidic character is there, although the rose (as in roh-zay) color is dramatically different than the blood red color I'm used to from Mexican hibiscus. Victor wants to know if I speak Spanish since it's his native tongue and it's easier than English. Unfortunately, I'm just another ignorant American in disguise and cannot accommodate his request.

Victor (on the right), holding a private coffee sensory class.

Evidently, the only brewing method here is espresso and they have a unique style that's very different than what I'm used to. He offers to let me behind the bar and pull shots but it's not my house and I hate doing things like that, so I decline. The coffee comes out fast and runs way into the blonde. The coffee (a Guatemala) is somewhat pleasant with some strong bitter notes. A later pull of India Monsoon Malabar is also on the harsh side.

Tastings like these make me wonder if perhaps this relatively new barista just hasn't completed the training, or if this is representative of their style. Still, it's the most promising coffee in Paris, everyone is friendly and enthusiastic - which counts for a tremendous amount in my book.

It's fun hanging out in a coffee shop that takes interest in pride in what they do. They source, roast and brew their own beans. They hold private coffee seminars for consumers - gosh, that's a great thing. Meanwhile, Victor is working with a couple who have come in as part of a tasting program that takes them to various boutiques across the city tasting and smelling a wide variety of specialties to develop their palate. He's got the Le Nez du Cafe aromatic kit out and then he's having them smell and identify the coffees and taste them as well.

When he's not doing that, he's talking to other customers about the different coffees they offer this week. How they're best prepared and what characteristics they should expect. He bags them up and they're out the door.

I think I've found a place to hang out this week.

Soluna Cafes
52, rue de l'Hotel de Ville
75004 Paris
33(1) 53 01 83 84

Oui Paris!

The Eiffel Tower from rue Saint-Dominique.

After a brush with certain bankruptcy, I've made my way to Paris and none too soon, I might add.

For my Parisian Fantasy, I've secured myself a flat (read: hotel room) on the rue Amelie (read: Best Western Eiffel Park) in the Invalides. I really didn't know what to expect from Paris since I've never been here before but my midnight walk around the neighborhood left me plenty excited. The Eiffel Tower is, literally, just a couple blocks away. You can see it on the street (I'm on the 2nd floor so all I can see is the couple across the street making love, but that's another story), you can see it just about wherever you walk in this area.

I don't know how the rest of Paris is but part of me can't envision myself leaving my neighborhood. Within a two block walk we've got everything from several boulangeries to a couple patisseries, an assortment of restaurants ranging from cheap Chinese to Japanese to Irish to bistro and even a Korean joint across the street. A supermarket is just across from the bakery and next door to the bakery is a place selling Iberico Ham from Spain. Not to mention a couple confectioners, a few laundromats, bars, shopping and even a Starbucks and Pizza Hut (with delivery).

One gets the feeling that he could camp out in this four block by four block area and have a great time.

Cutting Jamon Iberico at Bellota-Bellota.

It's tempting, but I do have a list of places to visit while here:

- Arpege
- Pierre Gagniere
- L'ouillad
- Pierre Herme
- Angelina
- Le Pichet

I spent my morning doing nothing in particular. Walked over to the laverie to wash my clothes (six euros) but couldn't figure out how to use the detergent dispenser. Hopefully I didn't sweat too much in Moscow. Walked to the boulangerie to pick up a baguette, went across the street to the supermarket for some butter, across the street again to Bellota-Bellota for a little Iberico Ham (10.24 euros - or 265 euros per kilo), back to the laundromat to dry the clothes, wait and then back to the room to lounge and eat a little something something.

Can you see the air space in that baguette? Tasty.

Not too long ago, I was asking some friends where I could get some really good baguettes in Baltimore. No one could recommend an authentic baguette. I thought I'd had good baguettes in America, but now I know better. The baguette here is tantalizing, amazing, light, airy and crisp. It's filled with air and what's not air is delightfully chewy goodness encased in a crusty, crispy crust. Slathered with butter and a slice of Iberico and "ah, magnifique!" I've never had a baguette until today.

Maybe I'll just stay put and lounge with my baguette and jamon.