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Archive for the ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ Category

rue Saint Dominique postcard, 1908

For a truly Parisian experience, I love to explore the area surrounding rue Saint-Dominique. The length of this  shop-lined street running from Saint Germain, past les Invalides to the Champ de Mars, provides plenty of opportunity to fill up a suitcase without the challenge of the Big Avenue crowds and, if one suitcase proves insufficient, there are a couple of wonderful wholesale bag shops where you can pick up another for a fraction of what you’d pay in Galeries Lafayette.

Bags are to me as shoes are to Carrie Bradshaw. Many years ago I sniffed out a shop in the rue Saint-Dominique called Stock-Sacs. There are bags of varied styles and colours hanging off every patch of wall in this Aladdin’s Cave of leather products, which will have bag-lovers salivating over the red calf-leather totes within seconds. There is also every type of accessory one could ever conceive of putting in a handbag: mobile phone holders, passport covers, key rings, driver’s licence wallets, chequebook covers, travel wallets, coin purses and more. If you do splurge on a bag at Stock-Sacs and then run up to the department stores, chances are you’ll find exactly the same bag for a great deal more euros. That sort of smug satisfaction makes a visit to this shop even more worthwhile.

Stock Sacs, 109 bis, rue Saint-Dominique, 75007                          tel 01 45 51 42 12

 Further along the rue towards the Eiffel Tower is a second bag shop where great bargains may be found. Called the Champ de Fleurs, it’s far less organised than Stock-Sacs and has a few manufacturer mistakes such as a lurid fuschia thing I saw in their window recently, but, if you dare to enter, there are some wonderful examples of French-made accessories to be had for a song. Monsieur’s briefcase came from this little shop and I am currently breaking in a third purchase from the Champ de Fleurs. Well worth a visit, even if the uninspired window display and dusty corners are a little off-putting.

Across the street from the Champ de Fleurs is a wonderful restaurant called La Fontaine de Mars. It warrants an entry in its own right, but suffice to say that their confit de canard is the best I’ve ever eaten, the menu is traditional with a few pleasant surprises and the atmosphere is efficient French at its best.

La Fontaine de Mars, 129 rue Saint-Dominique 75007

Tel 01 47 05 46 44       lafontainedemars@orange.fr

At 108, rue Saint-Dominique (or rue Saint-Dom, as my hairdresser called it) you will find l’Esprit du Sud-Ouest,a tiny rugby shop selling all manner of rugby shirts, balls, bandes dessinées, DVDs and All Black teddy bears. It’s a typical example of the myriad specialist boutiques to be found in the area, along with a bespoke printer, antique sport and travel poster gallery, perfumers, confectioners, shoe shops, children’s clothing stores and coffee purveyors. In that inimitable French way, the neighbourhood boulangeries somehow make bread look fashionable, so much so that it’s easy to forget that it’s just bread and, for the fashion-conscious, there are plenty of interesting boutiques with little windows displaying chic tops draped with dramatic scarves and just the right set of beads.

All that shopping will work up an appetite but it’s impossible to go hungry on the rue Saint-Dom. Nearby rue Cler is another great place to grab a bite. It boasts a daily market, delicatessans, a fromagerie, fish shop and greengrocers where the bright colours of the produce make shopping for dinner an altogether uplifting French experience compared with popping along to a sterile urban supermarket. The locals (rumoured to include diplomats, politicians and senior embassy staff) shop here alongside foreigners who’ve recognised the area’s charm and bought into it, and there are some great places to eat. Café du Marché is almost always full, serving traditional French food, and is so popular that you’re likely to be bumping elbows with patrons sitting at adjacent tables. Don’t go there if you like uninterrupted personal space. In its favour, however, is its prime position for people-watching and practically everyone who knows the area will have dined there at least once, if not dozens of times. 

Next door to Café du Marché is an Italian eatery with broad terrace opening onto the pedestrianised street, where insalata Caprese is layered, drizzled with pesto dressing and served chilled in a preserving jar with the lid popped open. The salads here are great, reasonably priced and hearty in size, so if you want to grab a bite but save some room for dinner, this is the place to go. There are fine-looking pizzas and generous plates of pasta to choose from and the efficient service gets 5 stars, too.

 If you feel like something more ethnic, there are Chinese, Japanese and Korean restaurants in the vicinity, or if you fancy a picnic in the Champ de Mars, perhaps you could pop into La Maison du Jambon, where there’s a perennial queue of people waiting to buy gourmet treats. The deli window, filled with freshly-prepared dishes, is art in itself. For picnic accoutrements, there is the Franprix supermarket down on the corner of rue de Grenelle. All that’s left is to select a bottle of wine from Nicolas to wash it all down. Mmm, délicieux!   

There is plenty to do in the area if you’d like to dip into Parisian art and culture: the Eiffel Tower, les Invalides, the Ecole Militaire and the Musée Rodin are all within easy walking distance, as is the Musée du Quai Branly. However, the main reason to visit the rue Saint-Dom and rue Cler is to get a taste of real Paris: part day-to-day life, part chic inspiration, part village in the middle of the City of Light. Besides, who can say no to exploring the rue Saint-Dom when the Eiffel Tower stands beckoning at one end? Not me.

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Last summer when Monsieur and I found ourselves at the Saturday market in Sarlat-le-Canéda, we were tempted into buying some delicious foie gras at one of the many stalls selling duck produce. The foie gras is long gone, but the preserve jars in which it was sold are still with me. Time and time again, Monsieur has threatened to throw them out, but as I love collecting jars as airtight containers for herbs and other kitchen condiments, I’ve insisted they stay, knowing I would find a use for them.

Earlier this year, I joined Monsieur in Paris for a long weekend and while he was at meetings (le pauvre), I walked across to the 7th, to ogle the contents of épicerie windows and boulangeries and boutiques and leather goods shops. For lunch, I stopped at Tribeca on rue Cler and ordered a tomato and mozzarella salad. Well. Be still my heart. The salad may have been Italian in creation but it was toute French in its inspired presentation, arriving in a chilled preserve jar, set on a plate with fresh green leaves and dressing!

Recently, the foie gras jars once again came close to being thrown out by Monsieur, so to prove their worth to him, I did my best to replicate the salad I’d so enjoyed that day in the 7th. Here’s how to make it:

Start with a basil leaf covered by a slice of fresh mozzarella in the base of the jar and lightly season the cheese. Push a slice of beef tomato on top, followed by a couple of slices of avocado. Add another slice of mozzarella, another of tomato, a last slice of mozzarella and a basil leaf on top. Lightly season each layer as you go. Depending on the size of the preserve jar and the thickness of your slices, you may find there is room for more layers. Then drizzle your preferred dressing over the top. This will slowly leak down to the lower layers. At Tribeca, the dressing was laced with basil, which was delicious, but you could also use a vinaigrette or simple oil and lemon juice.

Once the jar is closed, the salad will keep for 1-2 days if refrigerated, and because the jar is airtight, the avocado won’t discolour. It’s an ideal starter that can be made well in advance of guests arriving, leaving time for last minute fussing over the main. It’s also an attractive way of serving food, with the red, white and green layers visible through the glass. Once properly chilled, the jar can be upturned to allow a perfect tower of tomato, mozzarella and avocado to sit on the plate, if you don’t want to eat straight from the jar.

Merci beaucoup, Tribeca chefs, for teaching me a new way to present this salad…

Now, be good readers and try this at home. Then drop me a line to say how you get on. Bon appetit!

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When you live with a Frenchman, or any sort of man who believes in True Coffee, eventually a coffee machine will be introduced to your life. In my case, the machine in question has a eerily strong personality and seems to have taken exception to me, ever since I first attempted to get a coffee out of her.

Monsieur and I rarely use the coffee machine during the week, but take full advantage of her presence at the weekend. Most of the time, when Monsieur takes his turn to make the coffee, The Machine will work efficiently. When I approach the black and chrome appliance from hell, The Machine seems to sense it and either goes on strike or becomes really, very high maintenance, barking commands at me through her LCD screen.

  1. “Your machine is heating,” this is a good sign; at least the machine is alive. Then again…
  2. “Press maintenance,” The Machine wants to rinse her equipment before sending coffee through her pipes. Still boding well at this point, until you place your mug under the spout and hit the buttons for your coffee type.
  3. “Fill water,” Hmm. The first sign of The Machine being a madam, but it doesn’t take a minute to fill up the water reservoir.
  4. “Fill beans,” This is still okay, unless The Machine senses that you’re almost out of beans, in which case it’s like working with a psychic robot. How does she know?
  5. The worst command, by far, is “Empty grounds,”. (This seldom happens to Monsieur.) The machine is now throwing a strop. I have to pull out the tray, try not to drop the used, and often steaming, grounds on the floor, drain the tray of excess liquid and get the grounds (resembling elephant droppings, only smaller) into the bin. How often do you think I achieve this without making a mess? You guessed it. Never.

When I say that The Machine sometimes goes on strike when she sees me in the kitchen, I’m referring to her ability to turn herself off. Then comes a battle of the wills. I turn her off at the wall, unplug her, count to ten, plug her back in and press the ON button. Sometimes this works. Sometimes the LCD screen lights up with a lot of strange symbols that could well be communication from aliens. Who knows? If you go away for a while and return, she may or may not decide to produce coffee. I certainly wouldn’t bet on it. We’ve even gone so far as to have The Machine maintained by her manufacturer and they could find nothing wrong. Then again, how many coffee machines do you think they treat for possession?

Still, things are looking up. Monsieur is considering trading in The Machine for a new model. I only hope that the next one is a little less Amityville in her ways.

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Monsieur trots off to Paris for work. I stay in London. Yesterday morning on the way to the tube, Monsieur and I preview our days ahead.

“Darling,” I say, “you’re so lucky. You’re going to Paris for meetings, have a cocktail event in the Louvre tonight, you’re staying in a lovely hotel with very soft beds and really good room service. You’ll even have time to hang out in the Galeries Lafayette food hall!” And yes, I really do jabber like that, which irritates Monsieur first thing in the morning but hey! I’m excited for Monsieur, because if roles had been reversed, I’d certainly be looking forward to some time out of London. Just the mere thought of Paris makes me feel particularly poetic so I’m not prepared for his response.

“The reality is, I’ll be there for work, I won’t know anyone at the cocktail and room service isn’t as good as your cooking.” He looks a little glum and I start to miss him already.

That evening, I decide to have a night off being the master chef of our household and order in. Then the phone rings. It’s Monsieur so I ask him how things are going in Paris. He tells me he’s just left the Louvre, didn’t have time to view the Valentino exhibition because it turns out he did actually know some people at this schmoozing shin-dig, is now walking along the street to his hotel in Concorde and can see all around him Parisians soaking up the evening sun with a verre or two on terraces. “I can see the Eiffel Tower,” he tells me, “and the weather’s great!” I enthuse right along with him, picturing the scene in my head. It’s almost as good as being there myself, but without the confit de canard.

Back in London I console myself with an indulgent night in: a white pizza, a glass of chilled rosé, a couple of chick flicks and a whole lot of blog-reading. It may not be Paris, but these quiet nights are so rare that they’re precious indeed. Later on my brow does crease for a moment, just before bedtime when I wonder whether, without Monsieur, I’ll be able to set the UFO alarm clock? What is it with me and Monsieur’s machines? They must all be French. The minute he leaves, they know it and go on strike.

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