Friday, February 01, 2008

Rêver du Entrecote Mis le Feu par Bois

At the other end of the bar with Bourdain at Robert et Louise.

Sometimes, I can't help it. In Paris, there are thousands of places to eat that it seems absurd to eat at any place twice. Why do it? There's more adventure to be had.

But that fireplace and the wood-fired beef at Robert et Louise was getting to me. I couldn't get the vision and aroma out of my mind. I had chosen poorly and now I must pay a return visit. Which, to be honest, isn't really a hardship. I'm a convert.

This time, I got there early. As close to 7pm as I could manage and the place was empty save for the six top by the fireplace. The girls offered me a seat at the bar and said it was their "best seat in the house." Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn't, but it's tucked into the corner of the bar with a side table filled with reading materials, a place to hang my jacket and in a spot where I'm out of the way from people entering/exiting and just trying to squeeze past the bar. I guess it is the best seat in the house.

Gambas ready for consumption.

The plan was simple: eat more. And eat only what's cooked on the fire. First course: Gambas, Tiger Praws. Four of them sauteed in butter and served with sauteed potatoes that were fire-seared to a crisp and baguette. These were whole, large prawns and I tore into them. Not knowing the local custom, I used the knife and fork to de-shell the prawns, but later they brought a plate and wet napkin so I suspect that hands would have been perfectly fine.

The prawns were good. A little overcooked because the shell was sticking slightly to the meat, but the flavor was tremendous - especially when you split the head and sucked out all the good stuff. Heavently.

Entrecotecooked medium.

Not too long after, the entrecote of beef came out. The cuts of beef here are thinner than in the Unites States. For the same price, my ribeye would have been twice as thick. Doesn't mean this was bad though. This steak was perfectly cooked au point and the uneven angled thickness of the steak meant that this was hand cut. Nice to see real butchering still being done today.

Not only was the steak perfectly cooked but it was perfectly seasoned as well. Just enough salt to pop the flavor. Combine that with the smokiness of the wood fire and it's just divine. Well worth the effort of going back.

I'm already looking forward to another meal at Robert et Louise.


Chocolate Croissants from Coquelicot and a cappuccino at Soluna.

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.

Euphoric Visions Through Glass.

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.

Crepe Buerre au Sucre et The Melange Anglais.

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.

The Chocolate Bar at Cacao et Chocolat.

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.

The selection of glaces et sorbets at Berthillon.

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.

Chocolate on top of Coconut in a waffle cone.

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.

A fond au revoire! to our new friends at Soluna Cafes.

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

Oh La La!

There are reasons why we love Paris. Even in the rain.

Le Sex

Gentle Readers!
Please Note: The following post may contain graphic language of a patently offensive and sensitive nature. Please be advised that if you have an aversion to a frank discussion about sex then you should move along to the other posts. Because this post is all about sex, sex, sex and then even more sex piled on top of the other sex talk.

In other words, if you are easily offended, you will be egregiously offended by reading this.

Metro Pigalle - your entry into Paris' smutty side.

In a humanitarian effort to spare you, Gentle Readers, from subjecting yourselves to the decrepitude and seediness of the underworld, I have taken time out of my day to boldly venture where men of respectability fear to tread. I have emerged from the Paris Metro into Pigalle.

Okay, it's really not that bad. The once-bawdy Moulin Rouge is now a not-so-titillating tourist attraction and Paris has been on a mission to clean up the quartier from its' sexy past.

But feat not intrepid reader, all is not lost in this land of debauchery.

As with any red light district, there's lots of seedy fucks waiting to take advantage of the ignorant and weary. Never, and I mean: NEVER EVER, go into any of these clubs (not that you would) and allow yourself to "buy her a drink." Invariably, she'll get a bottle of cheap champagne that they're going to charge you 300 euros. When you protest, they'll puff up their chests and buff up their muscles to intimidate you and you'll spend who knows how long trying to "negotiate" your way out of it.

Better to just keep your hands in your pocket and let the experts guide you in the land of sin.

And how do I know this? Not from first-hand experience, thankfully. Let's just say that I haven't spent my time travelling across the world visiting the Disney themeparks.

Finally, a place that speaks my kind of language.

I didn't have much time to properly tour all the sex joints of Pigalle, so I chose the biggest one of them all: SEXODROME, on the boulevard de Clichy immediately outside of the Pigalle Metro entrance.

As you can see above, SEXODROME means business. A multi-story haven for all kinds of kinks and perversions - stuff you would never tell mommy about. Want to be dressed as a baby and spanked? Not a problem. Ready to address someone as "Mistress"? They will handle that too. Or perhaps you just want straight sex? Me oui!

The street level has videos for sale and a peep show. Other levels house more video booths, an erotic library, a coffee bar, jacuzzi rooms, sauna rooms, lap dances, live sex shows and God knows what else. If it's got something to do with sex, this place can handle it.

It just occured to me that this district has the best of both world. Here, you can do unnatural things with unnameable objects, and then when you're finished, just trek up the hill to Sacre Coeur for confession. The Catholics have really succeeded in making sin a commodity. That will be seventy-four Hail Marys, two hundred thirty-five Our Fathers, and ten quid for the till. In Excelsius Dominae. Be good my son.

Anyway, I'm taking a few minutes to browse through the DVD selection when I'm approached by one of the two girls who were at the front counter welcoming characters like me. She's up-front and no-holds barred. She wants to know if I want to have sex with her - if only it were this easy in the "real world."

I know this game and I turn her down. You're not my type, I tell her. She persists, telling me that we can have "Sex Massage."

One thing to keep in mind in situations like this: she's a professional. It's her game to sell sex and make a lot of money doing it. No man can really be her equal because she's doing this day in and day out. It's how she makes a living, and by looking at her, she must live very well.

To be very frank, this girl is unbelieveable. She's an incredible sight. 20, maybe 23 at the most. Long, curly dark brown hair and an angelic face with a shapely nose and dew brown eyes. Her body is solid. A solid one or two dress size - at the most. It's shapely and hard and the legs are spectacular. Of all the girls I've seen around the world in "adult entertainment venues," this girl is one of the best. I can't imagine how she could end up here in Pigalle at SexODrome.

As with "real women," you can never let on to how amazingly hot you think she is, that would tip the balance too far in her favor. If you're going to be the customer, you've got to be discriminating and scrutinizing. There's an imperfection somewhere and it's up to you to zero in on it.

I tell her I'm not interested and she steps away for a bit. I know she'll be back in a few minutes. It's the early afternoon and it's pretty dead around here. The sooner she gets to work, the more money she'll take home at the end of her shift.

After a few minutes, she works her way back to entice me again. "Don't you want to be with me?" Well, yes that would be nice, I think to myself, but just what is she offering?

"Sex Massage" is simply that. Me naked on a table or bed with her naked massaging my body and she "releases" me - that's club-speak for "handjob." It's one hour of erotic massage for 60 euros. Ding, ding - I'll take it!

"No way, I'm not interested in that," I counter. Now she gets serious. "Then you can fuck me." Woah, that was more forward than I was expecting. No code words, no double-talk, just "you can fuck me." Evidently, there's no rules against this kind of thing in Paris. Thank God.

Now she gets into the nitty-gritty. We can "fuck" and do anything we like - anal, oral, bondage, S&M, I fuck her, she fucks me, whatever kink kicks my fancy, she'll oblige me. No time limit. All inclusive for 300 euros.

Like I said, this girl (her name is Leticia) is amazing. One of the most incredible girls I've seen anywhere. If you saw her on the street, you'd be gaga over her. If you saw her dancing in a nightclub, you'd be scared to talk to her. She's that unbelieveably fine and she's ready to fuck right now.

Good Lord. Thank Jesus that I didn't have 300 euros in my pocket.

Now, I'm the kind of guy who likes to think he's seen a lot of things in his life. I've traveled. I've played the game. I know the dance. But this offer certainly tests my resolve and my morality. 60 euros for a taste (I got 120 euros in my pocket) or 300 euros for everything.

Someone out there hates me.

I test the waters of morality: I'm newly single once again. I don't have any commitments that I would break. There's nothing to hold me back. Like Eve and Cain, I'm tempted by the fruits of desire. I'm just a man. I'm not Jesus Christ for crying out loud. I'm made in God's Image, not God Himself.

But in the end, this is all "just for research." It's not my thing to go out and buy girls around the world. As incredible as Leticia is, I feign disinterest and lame out by telling her "that I'll think about it."

I will spend the rest of the day telling myself that this was the right choice - convincing myself that this was the right choice.

But at least I'll have sixty euros to spend on dinner tonight...

23 Boulevard de Clichy
75009 Paris
01 42 82 11 90

Je Suis Amelie

The Metropolitain at Abbesses, one of two remaining with the original iron shelter.

I finally managed to get out of my flat earlier than usual today - around 11:15am. No matter how honest my intention, I just can't seem to wake up and get rolling early. There's still a whole city I haven't seen. Tourist spot yet unrevealed and all I can do is languish around the bed all morning. Perhaps there's a good reason for such languishing...

At the behest of blog reader "true," I'm on my way to Montmartre this morning to check out Coquelicot Boulangerie and Bistro for my petit dejeuner. Getting there on the Metro is relatively easy, just one transfer and many stations. The transit is uneventful and we arrive at the Abbesses station.

Abbesses is know for it's wrought iron and glass canopy - one of only two surviving originally designed by Hector Guinard (the other is on the far side of town at Porte Dauphine), but what no one tells really tells you is that since Montmartre is on the top of a hill, the actual train platform is farther underground than any station in the city. And after you get used to merely walking up a flight (or two) of steps to get to the street, you really don't think much about taking the stairs - even though you noticed those people waiting for the elevator.

The stairs are hell. A sprial staircase that rises endlessly, unrelentingly driving you forward and by the time you realize that this is ridiculous, you're too far gone to go back down. If Moscow's subway is 250 meters underground, Abbesses has got to be at least 100 meters. Take the elevator, it's to the right of the platform marked "interduit." Save yourself.

Morning breakfast: bowl of hot chocolate, half a baguette, grape confiture, farm butter and a soft boiled egg.

Coquelicot is just a block west of Abbesses and was extremely easy to find. The staff was friendly (and cute) and the food came out quick. I went with the prix fixe menu of: Le Bol de Chocolat Maison, La Tranche d'Une Demi Baguette, Buerre Fermer et Confiture Maison for 4,45 euros. Not a bad way to start the day.

A bowl of hot chocolate seems like a lot, but it's just right for the meal. Dip the baguette in the chocolate or slather with butter and/or jelly and you're good to go. It may seem weird to dip baguette in chocolate but they go very well together - kinda reminds me of Mexican Churros and chocolate.

I also ordered Le Oeuf Coque et Ses Mouilletes, or soft boiled egg with bread sticks for 2,50 euros. The egg was the typical French style, which I always find kinda hard to open without getting some cracked shell in my egg. Add some salt and all is well. Dip the bread as desired and just chew through the crunch of the shell bits.

The steps to rue Trois Freres.

After my breakfast, I decided to wander a bit around Montmartre: Home of Amelie Poulain, from the movie Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amelie Polain or Amelie (as it was released in America). I haven't seen the movie in awhile, so not much of the village looked familiar to me, so I decided that perhaps I should do the one really touristy thing of my trip: visit the Sacre Coeur.

As I've said, Montmartre is on a hill. Sacre Coeur is the highest point with reputedly commanding views of the entire city. If one must command his people from on high, then this is the place to do it. Darn Catholics. They get all the good real estate.

We're about halfway up the hill and the climb is a long one involving many, many stairs. It's cold. And raining. Good thing I've got my foul-weather gear.

I'm no wimp. I've made the summit of the highest peak in southeastern Maine: Mount Bradbury at 500 feet - in frozen and icy conditions. I've made the summit of Mount Olomana on O'ahu (1,200 feet) and I've made the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawai'i (elevation 13,476 ft), but these stairs are kicking my butt.

Hiking to Sacre Coeur from the West Face is for the young and thin, not the old and plumpy.

The View from Sacre Coeur.

As I reach the top of the hill, expecting to see visions of glowing virgins (or at least an apparition of Jesus Christ), I see something that horrifies me to my core: an electic tram ferrying passengers from the street below to the Sacre Coeur.

All of this cursing and sweating and being rained upon and I could have easily rode the tram for a few pence! Bloody hell.

That really sucks.

But I reassure myself that I've made it "The Man's Way" through blood, sweat and tears, and I promise to make an offering to honor this achievement.

These flats are next to Sacre Coeur. The guy in the top unit has to be the most stoked guy in Paris.

In spite of the clouds and rain, the view is quite spectacular. All of Paris is laid out at my feet. I feel as Napoleon must have felt: Emperor - ready to crush his loyal subjects into Froggy Mush at the whim of my twenty-three mistresses. Behaviour unbecoming a good Catholic? Nothing but a few thousand Francs to deliver absolution.

And that's just by Tuesday. On Wednesday, we start over again.

No photos allowed inside the Sacre Coeur, but it's quite gorgeous inside. If there's one thing to be admired about the Catholic Church, it's they know how to build them. Ornate, refined - the best artisans of the day. No expense spared. These are buildings fit for God.

Looking down on the plaza below.

I make a little prayer offering and I'm back on the front porch admiring the view. It's still raining and it's time to go. For a moment, I think about taking the tram, but that would be silly. I've made it to the top, time to walk down and savor the moment.

The Sacre Coeur.

The walk down through the garden is simple, quick and easy. Tourist take photographs. Lovers kiss in the falling rain. It's the Paris of the movies and Amelie is returning those photos.

Me and the Carousel.

As I make my way down rue de Steinkerque I'm fascinated by the fabric shops. Seems that whatever fabric you need, you can find it here. Between them are the kitschy tourist souvenir stores you find in all tourist zones in major cities across the world. Statuettes of the Eiffel Tower and the Sacre Coeur can be had for six euros. I want to get a big one for The Spro, but at 24 euros, that's too much.

Anvers Metro

Later, I'll find a small one on the boulevard de Clichy for three euros. It's not a big tower, but it will be good enough.

The free toilet on the Boulevard de Clichy.

Boulangerie Coquelicot
24 rue des Abbesses
Paris 18
01 46 06 18 77