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France

food from the village.

i have to preface this to say that i know absolutely zilch about french – and that the little bits and pieces i have picked up in my cumulative 1+months in paris are barely enough for me to survive, what with “sil vous plait, l’additional sil vous plait, ou et la toilette and pardon” lol. oh yeah, and lots of food terms. the rest is me acknowledging google translate as my good friend. or trying to decipher body language and nodding along. works like a charm most of the times. =)

so anyways, this is lost in translation, part deux, where frank bravely attempts to decipher a french menu and figure out exactly what he is putting into his mouth. dinner’s served at restaurant au gre des saisons @ hotel de france, tuck in!

amuse bouche – biscotti with some fish pate accompanied with tapenade biscuit.

tapenade is this provencal dish consisting of puree of olives, which is the black spiral you see within the biscuit that lends it a slightly salty flavor. i honestly couldn’t figure out the ingredient of the pate. =( but to be honest, one thing i love is how beautifully plated these dishes are – its like the chef makes an effort to appeal to all your senses and make the meal a true sensory treat.

bacon, wild mushroom and pan seared scallops with mushroom/butter foam

amazing stuff. the blend of savory flavors from the bacon, mushrooms and foam melded perfectly and augmented the freshness of the scallops, which were perfectly seared – flaky, flavorful and with the ‘Q’-ness (hmm.. we chinese use that term to describe noodles with a chewy bounciness). the host of the dinner kept telling me that it was easy to make it dish — “just put ze scallop, mushrooms and some butter sauce into ze oven and voila!”

-_-.

yah right. like my scallops would turn out this amazing without some badass precise timing. or as if the sauce wasn’t meticulously created, with portions of ingredients thrown in expertly and only possible through years of experience.

oven roasted chicken with parsnip puree

look at that plating! and seriously, the chicken was tender and superbly flavorful (though i suppose cocotte is still a notch better), lightly salted and paired with some tasty sauce. the parsnip puree once again lent a mild sweetness to the proceedings. can i have parsnip mash next time instead of potato mash? its a good source of fiber and doesn’t seem to be as carbo-intensive as potatoes, and it tastes really good.

caramelized pear with pear sorbet and pain brioche 

someday i’m gonna teach myself how to make pain brioche. because the recipe that calls for it seems not too tough and the ingredients so simple and yet what comes out of the oven smells awesome and tastes really good as well. oh yeah i need a decent oven for that first. zz. anyways, i love how french cuisine likes to do different variations of a dessert from the same ingredient just to add a layer of nuance and complexity. the pear sorbet was refreshing and light whereas the caramelized pear bits were sweeter and more of a concentrated flavor — these paired well with the pain brioche as the base, that was lightly dusted with cinnamon to add a little spiciness to the dish. yums.

petit fours – chocolate ganache and financiers

i love how dining with the french essentially becomes a lesson in french cooking as well. when the petit fours were served, i pointed at the confectionaries and went ‘madeleines’? to which my french host pondered for a moment (translating stuff in her head) before launching into a small lecture of how they were actually financiers, differentiated from madeleines because financiers were almond flavored. count me educated. =)

so all in all, a fully satiated frank (mind you, i didn’t even recount the wines, the kir or the armagnac). i peeped at the menu and found that the meal cost 90euro each. wowzers. but worth it in a certain sense. =)

restaurant au gre des saisons | hotel de france, cours du docteur joseph rambaud, 09100 pamiers, france | fine dining, michelin rated, wines

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death by chocolate.

lady luck shone on us when we went to angelina’s for some mid-afternoon soiree with hot chocolate and pastries in tow. generally not a good idea if you have had a relatively heavy lunch because the hot chocolate (the main signature) here fills you up quite sufficiently. in fact, the preferred way to plan your meal will be to scrimp, share a crepe or grab a fruit salad for lunch and then head over to angelina’s for some indulgence.

anyways, lady luck was good, because when we approached angelina’s, we saw a queue that stretched all the way outside the restaurant into the drizzly parisien cold. no fun. nevertheless i joined the queue gamely, contemplating whether to just da-bao some pastries to satisfy the sweeth tooth craving. turns out, the maitre’d bustled out and asked for ‘quatre’ (four in french).. and to my amazement, no one before us was in a group of four.. so in the restaurant we went.

hee.

angelina’s is interesting. it’s definitely something for the tourist — because you see happy campers like us and other english speaker patrons going all trigger happy on the desserts with out cameras, but then you also see a significant parisien crowd coming here just for an afternoon hot chocolate or some french salad fare. its like the open secret of france. or perhaps the snooty french would beg to disagree. but anyways, its sited very conveniently opposite the jardin des tuileries along rue di rivoli (i.e. closeby to the louvre).

the interior reeks of old world indulgence and french exorbitance — beautifully furnished armchairs and tables bathed in a yellow hue thanks to the chandeliers, along with carpeted floors, paneled walls and victorian-style paintings complete the illusion. my only complaint is that this place could dial down a little on the heater — considering that most patrons here come for the hot chocolate which is unimaginably heaty, the slightly stuffy atmosphere of the place can be quite discomforting at times. or maybe it’s just the hot chocolate’s heatiness. =)

ok let’s get to the food: as you can see from the picture above, the hot chocolate comes in a jug (big jug above for two people), as well as cream and cold water (to temper the heatiness of the chocolate if one can’t take it). its called le chocolat a liancienne dit “l’africain” on the menu and costs 7.2 euro (c’mon.. you din’t expect this to be cheap did you?). mind you, this hot chocolate is the very definition of “gao-gao” — thick, creamy and indulgent in every respect, yet surprisingly not overly sweet nor overly jelak. in fact, besides the heatiness, this is a very pleasant experience all the way through completion! its not the dark chocolate kind of bitter (which i don’t like) but neither does it taste some cheapo melted cadbury milk chocolate. in essence, it just feels like experience, luxuriant, melted chocolate goodness.

we couldn’t resist getting the desserts which are both visually and gastronomically beautiful. a fair warning though, having desserts to go with the hot chocolate is really quite filling – you might seriously not feel like eating dinner after such a pigging out. but c’mon.. it’s really quite irresistible.

tartelette eva – dark chocolate and raspberry ganache tartlet, hint of bourbon vanilla and tonka bean creme brulee, vanilla mascarpone cream, fresh raspberry

wah seh.. look at all those ingredients.. it already sounds so amazing. and to be honest, i found the dark chocolate and raspberry ganache combination to be irresistibly sexy and delicious with hints of dark raspberry sweetness amongst the semi-bitterness of the dark chocolate. the interior hid the bourbon vanilla and creme brulee which balanced out the semi-bitterness at the top, with the well-baked crust completing the trifecta of yumminess.

my colleagues tried other desserts that looked equally tempting. and err i was a little paiseh to ask to try.. say my boss'(!) dessert so yah.. just see ok?

mont blanc – angelina’s signature dessert – meringue, sweet whipped cream and chestnut puree vermicelle. methinks this is a really ugly dessert that looks like some shriveled brain but ah well, i suppose the taste is good. =)

olympe – candied violet-incrusted macaroon biscuit, strawberry-raspberry jelly, light violet mousse, fresh raspberries – an interesting thing about this dish is that my boss actually did ask me whether the gold foil could be eaten.. and i was really clueless about it so we asked the waitress. turns out it can be eaten.. but ehh i dont know what exactly it is made of. but my boss was duly impressed – ‘even the gold can be eaten

all in all, again another great dessert place thats worth a visit for the quintessential french confectionary experience. but watch the tummy and the throat. =)

angelina’s26 Rue de Rivoli | desserts, hot chocolate

moody.

just a quick photoseries of my day in paris on saturday before i headed home. the route starts from montparnasse, down to rue bonaparte for some pierre herme/LV look-see before heading to the seine and the louvre to soak in the mood. i was wondering what photo-ops would surface what with the drizzly, miserly weather and voila! the cloudy skies and puddles of water made for a great subject, framing paris in a decidedly adele state of mind.

st sulpice, with restoration works finally concluded.

i remember coming here a few years ago looking for the ‘rose line’ as popularized in dan brown’s ‘da vinci code’ — at that time one of the spires was completed covered with scaffolding and one couldnt really feel the grandeur of the building. but wowz.. count me impressed when i saw the twin spires in their full glory this time round.

love locks on pont des arts

my friend commented that there seemed to be too few locks considered how paris was the city of love and all.. well, seems like the paris town hall had raised concerns over the growing number of locks, citing issues for the preservation of the architectural heritage, and lovelocks suddenly disappeared soon after. the administration denied any responsibility but never mind that, the love locks quickly returned. haha.. wonder what would happen in singapore if love locks started appearing on say the esplanade or something.

confectionary delight.

pierre herme is considered one of the macaroon greats in paris (well, at least according to me), creating fantastic macaroons of exotic flavors that sends the culinary world into a frenzy (ok.. that’s exaggerating stuff). but consider the snaking queue outside their rue du bonaparte cafe on a drizzly saturday afternoon and you might appreciate their hype. mind you, pierre herme isn’t a sit-down cafe like the likes of laduree and fauchon, but rather, it’s essentially just a take away counter selling exorbitantly priced macaroons and pastries to tourists and culinary fans alike.

exorbitant? well.. consider that a box of 7 macaroons fetches a haughty price of 17 euros, whilst a tarte infinitement pastry i had set me back 6.90 euros. this is expensive stuff. so is it worth the try?

macaroons – from bottom right, running clockwise, chocolate foie gras, coffee and chocolate au lait with passionfruit creme (signature)

the macaroons smell and feel like a small corner of heaven – light, crisp and fluffy. i chose the chocolate foie gras because i couldn’t fathom how foie gras could be incorporated within a sweet dessert. (and sadly i only give myself one, these macaroons are too precious) its an interesting taste i must say, the salty butteriness of the foie gras is definitely presented, nicely balanced with a light chocolate flavor. its not your traditional classically sweet pastry but its worth a try. haha… i sound like i don’t like it but dont be mistaken, i find the quality of the macaroon to be superb – the outer crust light, crunchy whilst the interior is complex (with the foie gras element), involved and together a complex, nicely balanced and not overly sweet pastry. yumm

tarte infinitement cake (coffee)

i was debating between this or the luscious and perfect-looking mille-feuille that was freshly baked but the comments of this gal in front of me swung my vote. she jabbed at the tarte infinitement and went “this cake is the stuff of orgasms.. go get it”.

wow.

lol.. well to be honest, its a really damn good pastry. the coffee creme at the top is just the right level of firmness, in a way that the creme melts into your mouth as you bite into it, whilst the pastry crust below forms the perfect counterpart, being lightly sweet and crisp. this cake is meant to be savored slowly with friends over a cup of tea. and i think the best part of these cakes is that.. it isn’t overly sweet nor does it give you a overly fattening-guilt feeling which is something i feel is lacking in some of the parisien desserts around town.

pierre herme is definitely worth checking out. and oh.. btw, the gal in front of me also mentioned she would order an entire box of “passionfruit and chocolate au lait” macaroons if she could. i ordered two. lol.

pierre herme boutique | 72 rue bonaparte 75006 (mind you, i recommend rue bonaparte because it is in such a charming part of paris. this boutique is close to the recently restored saint sulpice church which is really starkly beautiful)

montparnasse.

im back in singapore! for a week that is, haha before i finally can go on my on holiday =) but yeah i seem to be suffering from some mild jet lag effects, which explains the early rise. but nevermind that, i’ll channel it for some good use (i.e. blog)

finally had a day to myself in Paris as I waited for my night flight back to singapore. and if u have followed my previous post of how i wanted to recapture my love for this romantic city, well, i was anxious to rekindle those feelings. and haha i’m sure glad i did.

be it walking along rue du bonaparte looking at the fancy LV boutique stores and other high end shops, or ducking into some alleyway to explore a quaint wine cellar with a passionate english-speaking owner, glancing at the many love-locks at pont des arts or channeling adele as i walked along the river seine.. it was the quintessential parisien experience i was eager to rediscover. haha more pics later on.

anyways, i settled that day’s lunch at a vietnamese pho place, simply because i had been absolutely inundated with french food for the past few days and well.. hmm let’s just say i’ll stay away from some creme, butter and the likes for awhile? haha.. but another amazing pleasure of the cold weather is that vietnamese pho tastes amazingly good, especially when eaten outdoors. the piping hot soup becomes instantly palatable and warms your throat up comfortably, whilst the aroma of the beef pho lingers around pleasantly. yumms

vietnamese pho near place d’italie

to be honest, i guess i can’t really distinguish a real vietnamese pho from a westernized version of it, since most of my pho experiences have been overseas, but to me, this is pretty sufficient to quench any chinese-soup-beef balls cravings temporarily. =) the sliced beef was tender and just nicely cooked with the broth and the owner was really generous to give us free beef portions that she had used to simmer the broth with for long hours. yummy.

sometimes, all you need is the correct environment to elevate your food experience. give me vietnamese pho over some cold foie gras dish on a wintry day anytime and i think there’s a higher satisfaction level to be derived there. =)

ok.. gonna grab bfast. ciao!

tracing the origins of a dish.

you can’t visit the south of france without trying out their famous stew dish, otherwise known as the cassoulet. the origins of this dish is fuzzy — towns of toulouse, carcassonne (yes, you board-game fanatics, there actually is such a place) and castelnaudary have all laid claims on the dish, with castelnaudary self-proclaiming themselves to be the ‘capital of cassoulet’.

so in bid to find the most authentic cassoulet, we bundled ourselves out of the office and headed on a 40mins drive to the region of castelnaudary. to be honest, i was kinda expecting a cool castle like region on the hills, but.. it’s pretty much just another simple town, albeit a town plastered with signboards and restaurants printed with large signs of ‘cassoulet’.

hmm.. so what’s this dish about? cassoulet essentially is a rich, slow-cooked white bean stew, incorporating sausages, goose/duck confit and pork to create a hearty, meaty warm dish that’s flavorful and perfect for the cold wintry days. the rendition i had at castelnaudary (@ yet another hotel de france..) was indeed flavorful, with the flavors well blended into a meaty, flavorful but not overly salty stew. however, based on my other experiences with cassoulet, the sausage could have been a tad more grilled and flavorful to standout amongst the other ingredients and to add a variant of texture to the dish, and the other meats could have been a little more slow-cooked to the point where it would melt it your mouth. but otherwise, this was a pleasant, heart, unassuming dish. (we shall not speak about fat content)

 of course, pair the cassoulet with some red wine from the langeudoc-rousillon region again — this time i tried a 2006 Corbieres AOC red which was well-balanced, did not overpower the cassoulet and had sweet accents to round out the experience. yummy!

the french really know life.

it’s been long hard hours of work followed by long dinners with representatives from foreign companies which means.. tons of awesome french food and a superb gastronomic experience every night that threatens to take a massive toll on my tummy. but seriously! coming to paris and eating good french food whilst talking to the locals is like a massive level up in terms of food and wine appreciation!

headed to restaurant au gre des saisons @ hotel de france, pamiers for dinner twice in a row and wowzers.. it has been quite the experience. pamiers is one of those quaint french villages where the main chill-out activity is essentially to meet with friends and have a sumptuous french dinner — which explains the large crowds and many restaurant joints around pamiers! and indeed, when i asked one of the french ladies about whether a normal dinner was usually a three course dinner complete with wine, she stared at me seriously and went “franck.. ze dinner in france is ze most importante meal of ze day. and of course, we cannot do without wine!”

-_-.. explains alot. but i thank my lucky stars to get a work trip into the heart of france i suppose. let’s see the food.

our appetizer (see above) was a scallops and fish medley, complete with seasonal vegetables. mind you, i am chagrined by the fact that so much of the explanation of our meal essentially passes right by me as the french gets lost in translation, but from what i gather (and boy, i’m getting better) the fish is called burbot, which based on my googling, tastes somewhat like lobster. hmm.. to me it tasted more like a cross between skate and cod. lol. but truth be told, the flavors in this dish were masterfully balanced, each enhancing the flavor of the other — the crisp vegetal notes of the seasonal vegetables, along with the scallop/mushroom mousse bringing out the freshness of the burbot and the scallops. the scallop is perfectly seared and delicious whilst the burbot doesn’t fare too badly as well. an awesome and satisfying starter. we paired this with a really unique white wine that originated from the south of france (languedoc-rousillion region, corbieres AOC) — it was apparently a blend of predominant grenache gris (never knew about this) with a tinge of grenache blanc and had a flavor resembling a very diluted port. and boy.. it was a super-easy drinking wine but yet had definite character and could stand up on its own. i’ve become a fan. =)

main course was a medium rare “saignant” beef paired with homegrown mushrooms and a parsnip puree. mind you this post is taking really long to craft out simply because i’m having to slowly google and piece together all these ingredients that were briefly mentioned in french. for example, to figure out that the puree was from parsnip, the clue i got was that it wasn’t potato, but a relative of carrot, and with a taste that mildly resembled carrots and potatoes. and it is really delicious. the beef was really delicious, though perhaps a tad too bloody for singaporean palates as both my colleagues couldn’t exactly chew past portions of the meat and complained of the bloodiness. and when they saw my empty plate, they scoffed and called me ang-mo kia. -_- we paired this with a syrah-carignan-grenache blend of red wine from the minervois AOC, languedoc-rousillon, which to me paired well with the beef but is a little tannic to drink alone. the wine had a strong leathery and blackberry taste that complemented the meatiness of the dish.

dessert is where my culinary investigations really do break down. what we had was a caramelized apple dessert dish that essentially uses the apple as a main inspiration to create a trio of apple-desserts, what with exceptionally well-crusted and tasty caramelized apple slices, a mild apple sorbet and some fresh apple slices topped with a mousse of some sort (some cream? i have no clue). to be honest, the dessert is very well made and balanced, but kudos to singaporean chefs who have created truly inspired and well-paired desserts that methinks can really beat these traditional french desserts in terms of flavor nuance and creativity.

all in all, yet another level up and yet another amazing meal. and my stomach and body doth protests! its gonna be the biggest loser when i head back to singapore man.