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Archive for the ‘Paris’ Category

For a while now, Frenchified has been Stultified, i.e. on the back burner whilst I’ve been struggling with unprecedented workload and exhaustion. No longer. I miss writing about France, so I’m dusting off the blog and preparing to give it some renewed OOMPH. Thank you for being patient and if things are a bit quiet here as I give Frenchified some much-needed CPR, please do visit me at my other blog, Epicurienne.

Here’s a photo of the menu from the restaurant at the top of the Centre Pompidou. It has dazzling views over Paris and features as a location in various films, like le Divorce, starring Kate Hudson.

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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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Here’s day two of my first visit to Paris, from a journal written when I was an awkward fifteen years old. It’s a bit of a history lesson, this entry. Goodness only knows how I managed to take such accurate notes without missing the sights. Anyway, the itinerary is interesting and I’ve created lots of links in case you want to learn more about the places of historic Paris.

Woke up early, had weird buffet breakfast downstairs before joining our first tour at 8.50am. We got on a bus for a tour of historical Paris. We had a lovely French guide speaking in English and German – her German was atrocious, though, with verbs in all the wrong places.

We paused at the Place Vendôme. There is a column in the middle of the square that was built in the 17th Century by Lous XIV. Napoleon is on top of it, wearing a Roman emperor’s clothes. It is bronze, made from cannons taken by Napoleon’s soldiers at Austerlitz. Then down the Rue St Honoré where nearly all the buildings are pre-Revolution. We passed a church (Eglise St Roch) where the tomb of the creator of the gardens at Versailles and the Tuilerie Gardens (André Le Nôtre) is. We passed the theatre of French comedies and then l’Opéra in the Avenue de l’Opéra. We saw the northern wing of the Louvre which contains the Ministry of Finance. It was a large palace and now the greatest part is an art museum.

Past the Place des Victoires built at the time of Louis XIV, then past the Bank of France built before WWII.

The Place des Victoires is a replica. All things like it were destroyed during the Revolution of 1792. It has the same architect as Vendôme. The Central Paris Post Office was next, part of it is always open – day and night! The old food market was in the Rue du Louvre but now there are buildings – shops, restaurants etc there. Now the market is near Orly airport.

The Palais du Louvre was originally a fortress at the end of the 12th Century to defend Paris – then much smaller than today. After that, it was the residence for French Kings and Queens, from Francis I to Napoleon III). Every king built on a new part in a different style. Since 1793 it has been the national building for art.

Next was a church called St Germain l’Auxerrois. It had a beautiful façade and was built in the 17th Century. We passed the Académie Francaise and then crossed the Seine on the ‘new’ bridge (Pont Neuf) which is actually the oldest in Paris and was finished during of the reign of King Henry IV.

We saw a department store called Samaritaine and went to the heart of Paris – the Île de la Cité – passing the place where Marie Antoinette was locked up, the Conciergerie, which used to be a prison. We saw the spire of the Holy Chapel of the 13th Century,and then a tower in the late Gothic style – St James (or Saint Jacques).

The two towers of Notre Dame were in the distance as we passed the Hôtel de Ville in renaissance style. The first town hall from the time of Francis I was burnt during the Revolution.

We went into a suburb called the Marais and saw two houses from the 14th Century. Next was a Jesuit style church and a museum dedicated to the history of Paris – Le Musée Carnavalet. At the Place des Vosges we were told that at the beginning of the 17th Century a lot of rich families had apartments or houses there. In the 19th Century Victor Hugo lived there (but died elsewhere). The house is now dedicated to his life and works.

It’s strange to look back at a time when all of the above-mentioned places were new to me. Now, the Place des Vosges is as familiar as the shops on rue du Temple in the Marais. Monsieur took me to the Carnavalet Museum when I first visited Paris with him, ogling the recreated prison rooms which held the French royal family prior to their meeting with Madame Guillotine, and fascinated by the room sets, town models and paintings throughout.

There are still places for me to visit in Paris, however. My fine and decorative arts tutor would probably bring back revolutionary beheadings if he knew I still hadn’t set foot inside la Sainte Chapelle with its starry night ceilings. On the other hand, my old drama teacher would be thrilled to know that Monsieur’s mother took us to see Shakespeare in French at the Comédie Française last Christmas. Still, it’s wise to remember that if you don’t see everything when you visit a new place, then you’re only leaving something to go back for in the future.

One question, though: in the first paragraph The Fifteen Year-Old Moi complains about the ‘weird’ breakfast. I wonder what on earth she meant.

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When I was fifteen, I saw Paris for the first time. My parents had decided that our southern hemisphere summer holidays should be spent seeing some of the great cities of Europe, so here we were in the City of Light, mid-winter, just in time to celebrate the New Year.

Here are my journal entries from that time. They’re not particularly sophisticated, so please remember that they were written by a fifteen year-old with braces on her teeth.

We’d just flown from Munich to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport when the entry begins:

28th December

Once we were off the plane we went down amazing escalator walkways. Then we went up some more, inside perspex tubes. They were fantastic. It didn’t take long for our bags to come through. We went and changed some money and then found a chauffeur driven Mercedes into Paris. The chauffeur was Parisian and drove us on a motorway to the Paris ring road. We drove through the suburbs until we got to the north west of Paris where we entered the city. We passed by the Arc de Triomphe first, then the Eiffel Tower and the Ecole Militaire. We went through lots of side streets to Montparnasse where we were dropped at the Meridien Hotel.

There was a computer (!) in each room and a bottle of champagne, fruit and two bouquets of flowers with a “Happy New Year” card addressed to us from the Manager. After a small celebration, Dad went and got a map and tour brochures from the desk, so we read them briefly and then headed off on a walk. We went past Galeries Lafayette and a shopping centre on a large shopping street full of boutiques, shoe shops and every other kind of shop. We went into a magnificent art shop – two stories of every art supply imaginable! I couldn’t think to choose what I needed. We walked on and on for ages until we got to the River Seine.

We went into Notre Dame Cathedral which was amazing at night. It was eerie and dark but the candles and people at Mass lightened it up a bit. We saw a memorial to all those members of the British Empire who fought in the First World War. It even had a New Zealand coat of arms on it. We passed confessionals and candles so we lit a candle and left it burnng.

We walked back to the Latin Quarter where we found a lovely Italian restaurant, got a table and sat down. I chose lasagne. It was delicious! After dinner we walked back to the hotel. It was a long walk. Eventually we got there after seeing typically French things e.g. self-cleaning loos.

**Before we got to the River Seine, a tramp (about 60) came up to me, stared at me really closely and snorted in my ear. Weird. All the way home, I imitated what he did and everyone laughed! At the hotel we booked tours for tomorrow and went to sleep – after watching BBC1, Greystoke – The Legend of Tarzan. Good movie.

It’s interesting to read back over this. For a start, I have absolutely no recollection of a tramp snorting in my ear, so I have to trust my ancient journal on that one. I do remember the escalator tubes at Charles de Gaulle and the thrill of seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time. It was like travelling through one of my school French textbooks, only no longer black-and-white. This was 3D Paris, live.

Whenever I’m in Paris now, I always look at that inescapable black monstrosity, La Tour Montparnasse, and remember that first visit. Today I asked Monsieur a question:

“Darling, do you like the Tour Montparnasse?”

“No.”

“Does anyone?”

“I don’t know. Probably not.”

If you read this and have a view, either way, on the Tour Montparnasse, please let me know because it confuses the hell out of me. It reminds me of an ugly black wart on the face of an otherwise elegant Grande Dame.

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Sainte Clotilde and Clovis

On a recent visit to Paris, we rendezvous-ed with an old friend of Monsieur’s on a Friday evening. He zoomed across town on his scooter, arriving in a flush of excuses “so sorry I’m late…” and then a lot of finance-world explanations which I don’t understand in English, let alone French. In fact, Old Friend wasn’t more than fifteen minutes late to meet us, so he was far from being sent to Coventry, and more than made up for any tardiness by leading the way to a bistrot he’d discovered on rue Casimir Perier.

As we walked down a zig-zag of back streets towards that evening’s meal, Old Friend gave us a preview of our destination. “I was brought here a few weeks ago for a business dinner. It was a bit quiet that night and the atmosphere seemed old-fashioned, but the food’s great! They even serve marrow in the bone!” his excitement was infectious (in spite of comments about marrow being banned during mad cow years), and my mouth started to water. “I went back a few nights later and it was a completely different atmosphere – young, fun, crowded…” as it was when we walked through the door to one of the best meals we’ve ever eaten in Paris.

Old Friend had obviously visited Restaurant le Basilic a number of times in the previous weeks because the maitre d’ welcomed him like an old friend. (We later learned this was due to a late-night session at the bar where they bonded over some fortified wine from Bourgogne, stumbling off home in the very small hours.)

As we settled into a booth, I checked out the decor. It was, as Old Friend had suggested, a renovated bistrot/brasserie with many of the original features: large mirrors, brass lighting sconces, red banquette seating and dark wood floors. But there were a few quirks of style to make sure you were paying attention, such as the life-sized sculpture of a sheep on the terrace. It served as a seat, was humourous and arresting, and caused patron after patron to stop in their tracks with that look that says ‘I wonder if I’ve drunk too much?’

The suggested apero was called ‘une piscine’, or swimming pool. Served in a red champagne cup, it consists of bubbly on ice and is a Piper Heidsieck marketing ploy to get people drinking their champagne in their branded glasses. Very refreshing… and although new to me, apparently this is a style of serving champagne that is already well-known in the Riviera.

The menu featured traditional French offerings with heavy Basque influences. We decided to choose a starter each, adding Old Friend’s recommendation of marrow in the bone as a fourth option, and tried a bit of everything. We had a black pig jambon serre (apparently this is the best kind of cured ham to be found in France), red tuna marinated herring-style, and red peppers stuffed with a fishy farce. All were tasty; I even braved a taste of marrow spread onto a piece of baguette, in spite of the offputting slices of bone out of which it came! Everything was tasty, but the red tuna was incredible. It looked raw but tasted slightly smoked, with a tougher texture than you find in either raw or cooked tuna. Drizzled with oil and a handful of small, pickled vegetables, I could easily order this again right now.

As main courses we each chose a different fish . Mine was raie (skate) on a bed of spinach. Tasty and light, it was perfectly seasoned with a sprinkling of capers to add flavour. Old Friend wasn’t in the mood for meat tonight, but tipped us off that gigots of lamb is what this restaurant is best known for.

As a sweet I ordered a ‘colonel’. This comprises scoops of lemon sorbet swimming in a shot or two of straight vodka. Once finished, I felt a warm glow of alcohol blush hit my face and had to go outside to cool it by the sheep in the fresh air.

By now, the boys were hitting the fortified Burgundy that was responsible for Old Friend being so matey with the maitre d’ and therefore, for the personal service we were receiving tonight. O.F. explained that it’s made from the second tier of grapes in the Burgundy harvest before being fermented into a brandy. It was lethal at this time of night; my eyes were only open with sheer will force and had I not felt as if I could fall asleep right then and there (as anyone who knows me will attest, this is not so funny as I will not wake up until ready to move, which could be hours away) I probably would have enjoyed another glass or two. As it was, Monsieur and I had another busy day ahead of us so had to bid adieu to Old Friend, the bottle of brandy, the cute girls who were giving our friend the welcoming eye, and the sheep. On leaving Old Friend at the bar, perhaps to continue his ongoing appraisal of the brandy and/or the girls, we walked past the church next door. In fact, it was another sort of ‘basilique’; this time a stunning construction dedicated to Sainte Clotilde (475-545), a feisty Burgundian lass who converted her husband. Clovis, King of the Franks, to Christianity. Perhaps, following a day of hard converting, she, too, enjoyed the Burgundian brandy that we’d sampled tonight, and yes, we will be back for more…

Restaurant le Basilic – 2, rue Casimir Perier, 75007, Paris /Tel 01 44 18 94 64

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