Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Frankfurt Döner

The Döner

In life, you meet many wonderful and amazing people. Some of them touch you deeply and others pass quietly in the morning. Regardless of the outcome, all of them together weave the tapestry that is your life experience.

I must have known something was coming deep down inside when I wasn't bothered that they cancelled our flight from Frankfurt to Dulles. While two hundred people were on the verge of panic, I sat around sipping a Coke in the Red Carpet Club while the staff dutifully took care of new flight arrangements and hotel accommodations.

I wasn't even that stressed when I boarded the "wrong" bus that took us to the hotel in Frankfurt's center city instead of the location by the airport.

Something was coming. I just wasn't conscious of its' impending arrival.

L. is the sort of girl that seems ultra-rare in my world. Multi-cultured, multi-lingual, intelligent, traveled, quick-witted with a razor-sharp tongue and wickedly dark and sensual mind. Imagine all that wrapped in a Hapa-Haole (half-Japanese, half-white, totally sexy), five-foot-two dynamo with long, flowing black hair, piercing eyes and knowing smirk that's ready to crush you at any given moment and you have some sense of what L. is all about.

From the moment we sat down and met each other, the game was on. Earn respect or be crushed. Kill or be killed.

Well-traveled, she had just come from Barcelona where they had partied all night long celebrating Spain's victory over Germany in the European Cup. Truth be told, she was a charlatan in the land of Franco - deep in the land of red and gold while her true loyalty remained to Germany.

Fluent in German (and God know what other languages), she barked out orders to our server between sessions schooling us on the finer points of German beers, their regional origins, favorites and other salient points of beer production in Deutschland.

From there, everything else flowed. Conversation, laughter, making fun of each other, the weird, off-beat and dark humor. Before you knew it, we were the center of the party. Everything and everyone flowed around us. The beers flowed freely and time flowed without care. Closer to midnight, most of our drinking companions decided to make their way back to the hotel to see if United had booked them onto new flights. Like me, L had called the airline earlier and booked a reservation on the same flight I was taking the next morning at 11am.

The night was still too young and we headed off to Sachsenhausen to seek out more beer and perhaps some apfelwein, encamping ourselves in front of a local pub discussing more inane and ridiculous subjects to pass the time.

That's when the Döner came up. A sort of schawarma of pork, cheese and more stuffed into a pita type bread. It's wildly popular in Germany and L insisted that I try one. Across the street was a hopeful looking place that worked me up an order.

It's good but I'm not well-versed in either schawarma or Döner so it's hard to me to tell whether this one was a great example or not. I loved the crispy toasted texture of the bread and it's juxtaposition with the feta type cheese and crisp cold veggies.

Maybe it was my inability to connect successfully with the Döner, or maybe it was just the wrong time in our lives, but we knew that this one night would be the only night and that tomorrow it would all be over and we would return to our normal lives. So many commonalities. So many things that "clicked". But still so many things in our lives that would get in the way. Ironic that we're only separated by sixty miles and yet the distance between us would be insurmountable.

In the end, I got to share some time with an amazing woman and learned a little bit about the Döner. Not a bad way to spend a night in Frankfurt.

Eating Beef at Charles de Gaulle

A fashionable steak sandwich for the intrepid traveler.

Some of you may have been wondering exactly what happened to the leftover meat that I took home from Robert et Louise the other night. Well, it sat in my fridge the whole day since and I tossed in my bag to bring with me on my flight to Frankfurt - in case I got hungry.

Those hunger pangs hit me around noon at Charles de Gaulle. So, I settled into a chair outside of the Terminal 1 security checkpoint (because they'd confiscate my Coke) and made myself at home with the beef, a chilled can of Coke, some leftover pieces of roasted potato and that emergency croissant I picked up at Stephane Secco.

How was it? Well, it could have used a little salt and maybe a microwave but it hit the spot. Sure, some people gave me odd looks, but their loss. I had steak, they had Twix. Muwahahahahaha!

One Day In Paris

Eating Bobi on the train from Charles deGaulle.

While passing through passport control in Frankfurt, the German Polizei officer joked: "one night in Paris?" Don't know if his computer relayed to him my itinerary and I don't know if he was referencing the 2002 Depeche Mode video or the infamous Paris Hilton video (and my cameo appearance), but I kinda played along with it hoping that he wouldn't flag me.

The problem with this visit to Paris was that it was too short. One day is simply not enough. Especially when that day is a Monday - a day when most businesses are typically closed.

I got up rather early and hit the streets by 9am. Had a chocolatine croissant in my hand from what is rapidly becoming my favorite croissant baker: Colas Patrick, as I sauntered through the opening market on Rue Cler to the post office.

The French post office is a curious place. Part post office, part bank - I really don't understand what goes on in there, but there's always people waiting for something. Maybe they're waiting for their money. Luckily, the line for a stamp was short and I got out of there quickly.

I forgot to hit the money exchange at the airport and was forced to head over to Tuileries to get me some Euros. While there, I checked out a bookstore and bought a copy of Michel Bras' new book, a delightful tome chronicling his culinary genius. From there, it was a quick trip through the Tuileries Garden to spy on some fine French babes and then back to the Metro for the long ride to lunch.

Lunch was out by the Palais d'Congress and while I'll save those details for another post, I'll just say that a bottle of wine on a light stomach is not the way to keep a sober day. But touring Paris in an inebriated state is certainly worth trying at least once. At least I know how happy those Spaniards were the night before.

My dream spot for a cafe on Ile de St. Louis

Next stop, the famous patissier Pierre Herme for an assortment of macarons to take home for my parents and a couple of the chaps at Woodberry Kitchen. As always, it's a wonderful place to spent a ridiculous amount of money on some very fine pastries. Though a new development was rather irritating: they've stopped printing their seasonal brochure of collectible pastries and only offer the catalog online through their website. That's just cheap and lame. But at least I have a copy of the last one printed from my visit this past February.

After a pitstop back at the hotel to drop off the book and pastries, it's back on the metro to the Marais to visit my friends at Soluna Cafes on the Rue de l'Hotel de Ville. Of course, it being a Monday and they're closed, so no good coffee on this Parisian holiday - at all.

Disappointed, I make my way across the Seine to the Ile de Saint Louis for a bit of coconut Berthillon ice cream from one of the local parlors (since the actual Berthillon shop is closed too), and to spy on the space I've picked out for my Paris outpost of The Spro at the corner of Rue Saint-Louis en l'Ile and Pont Marie. Happily, no one has yet leased the space out from under me.

From there it's back to the Marais and since I've run out of things to do (I called the olive oil shop and they too were closed), I decide to play Pathetic Food Tourist by visiting the site of the former Piccolo Teatro - the failed vegetarian restaurant featured in Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares television show. It's a cheesy thing to do but I'm giddy as a schoolgirl to be there.

L'as du Falafel!!!

Luckily, Piccolo Teatro is a half block from L'as du Falafel in the city's Jewish section. I didn't know this. I just happened to wander in the right direction and found L'as du Falafel by accident. The corner that it's located is one of those interesting places in many cities where that areas institutions are surrounded by imitators. Surrounding L'as du Falafel are several other falafel/schwarma shops, but only L'as du had the line. I dutifully took my spot for the sake of food science.

The falafel was good. It was tasty. It was eaten with a fork. Maybe I'm just not well-versed in falafel because while it was delicious, I couldn't tell what made this falafel better than the rest. The fried texture was light and delicate, unlike the hard and crunchy texture favored at home. But what made this falafel the favored choice over all others in Paris? Perhaps another science field trip to Paris is on order...

An evening cigar respite on the solarium.

Days seem to last longer in Europe than in America, and I'm not complaining. I got back to the hotel and decided to set up an early evening camp on the rooftop solarium with two cokes, a bucket of ice, Croatian Paprika-flavored Pringles and Paul Garmirian cigar in tow. The last time I sat in the solarium was in February freezing my butt off trying to make the most of it. This time, I was in shorts, t-shirt and slippers. Lovely. Took my refuge at a table, lit up my cigar, poured myself a stiff Coke and relaxed to a nice book. Beautiful. All men should have a couple hours of quiet reflection to cap their day.

Sitting there with a fine cigar in one hand and an ice cold Coke in the other leaves one to reflect upon the days' (and weeks') achievements: the successful excursion to Pierre Herme, the attractive French-Algerian girl from the night before, the stunning Croatian barista from last week, and most importantly, a time to plan for the evenings' dinner.

Even though it was a Monday night, plenty of options exist in the City of Lights for the daring and intrepid traveler. But tonight that would not be. Even with two more Metro tickets in my wallet, I was too darn tired to venture away from my neighborhood in the 7th. I decided that I would enjoy another meal at my local restaurant: Chez Pierrot.

Baguette Mecca - Stephane Secco.

The next morning, I trucked over to Stephane Secco to pickup some baguettes and caneles for the trip home. In fact, I had shifted my flights and paid an extra $200 to fly out of Paris later so that I would have enough time just to pick up these baguettes. They're that good. In fact, they're the best I've ever had. I also grabbed a croissant for good measure.

The honest truth is that this trip to Paris was predicated on two places: Robert et Louise and Stephane Secco. If we just take into consideration the price differential for the later flight, those four bagels worked out to costing fifty bucks each. If we consider that they're half the reason I went to Paris to begin with, well, I'm too scared to try to figure out how much each of those baguettes cost. Perhaps I should have bought six...

Bouffant Foam in the 7th.

In what's fast becoming my routine in the 7th, I made a stop into Colas Patrick for my morning chocolatine. Delicious as usual. Light, delicate, refined and way better than Stephane Secco's chocolate croissant. But such a good chocolatine deserves a coffee. Unfortunately, there's really no good coffee in most of Paris but I did know of a place down the street that makes cappuccinos with incredibly gravity-defying foam. Plus, I thought it would make great footage for a future episode of Barista del Mundo.

I've been working with coffee for five years and I still can't make foam like these guys. It's just amazing - in a gross kind of way. I would never serve a cappuccino like this, but strangely, I would like to know how to achieve this foam. Unfortunately, my camera battery died so there's no footage for the show but the guy steams and steams and steams, generating bigger and bigger foam - and then he puts the whole thing in the refrigerator and tells me it will be a few minutes. Good Lord, is that the secret? Refrigerate the foam?

When he comes back, he pulls a very long and watery shot and spoons the foam on top. I'm horrified. Actually, I'm pissed because I don't have video of this. I taste it and surprisingly, it's not really offensive. It's mild and with sugar it's actually consumable. I wouldn't go out of my way for this coffee but I'll drink it for awhile.

As I sit, I realize the magic of this place. It's not the coffee. It's the camaraderie. I sit there for about fifteen minutes watching the regulars coming in to say hello, drink a coffee and interact with each other before heading off to work. It's a nice atmosphere and one that tempers my expectations of the coffee. This is what it's about: community and experience. I'm happy to be there.

WMD - Weapons of Mass Degustation: baguettes from Stephane Secco and macarons from Pierre Herme.

Before I know it, I'm off on the Air France Bus to Charles deGaulle and my flight to Frankfurt where I'll end up stuck overnight in the arms of young women.

Colas Patrick
178 Rue Grenelle
Paris 75007
01 45 51 06 35

Pierre Herme
72 Rue Bonaparte
Paris 75006
01 43 25 28 17

Galignani Books
224 Rue de Rivoli
Paris 75001
01 42 60 76 07

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

Piccolo Teatro
9 Rue de Ecouffes
Paris 75004
01 41 72 17 79

Stephane Secco
20 rue Jean Nicot
75007 Paris
01 43 17 35 20