Paris via New York—La Maison du Croque Monsieur

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Artist, and cookbook and guidebook author Betty Guernsey is a frequent contributor to this blog. Here’s her latest find:

It’s not at all hard to imagine yourself on the Boulevard St-Mich’, at La Maison du Croque Monsieur, 17 East 13th Street in the Village – partly because it’s smack in the middle of NYU and New School territory, and partly because of its ambience, two narrow floors lined with clever cut-paper portraits of Anais Nin and the men in her life (Henry Miller, husband Hugo, Lawrence Durrell, Edmund Wilson, Gore Vidal, Antonin Arnaud).

In this tiny establishment, classic Croque Monsieur is the M. Henry, Croque Madame is Mme Anais, with another dozen or so croques named in honor of the various lovers.

All are made with pain de mie, and there’s even a menu of specialty breakfast croques served until 11 am.

The croques are formidable, the prices raisonnable — little wonder it’s become an instant hit with students or locals with tablets or laptops, working their way through the menu with a glass of red or white win or a mug of La Colombe coffee on the side.

Merci mille fois, Betty!

Dear readers: Have you eaten at La Maison du Croque Monsieur? What’s your favorite croque?

Renovations Complete at La Grande Epicerie

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Just before Christmas, La Grande Epicerie de Paris, the Left Bank gourmet grocery that has been under renovation for a year and a half, unveiled its new look.

The store has been opened up visually and spacially, with a glass roof and an escalator connecting 3 floors. It’s added some 20,000 products, moved some departments, and created others.

The new store is arranged like a marketplace, with green grocers, butchers, fishmongers, artisan pastry chefs and cheesemongers available for consultation.

The formerly visually nondescript wine department moved to the basement last year. Now it really is a cave, outfitted in granite and oak, with dégustations at the new wine bar, Balthazar.

Aisles of luxury foodsexquisite chocolates, biscuits, sauces, oils, vinegars, and more from all over the world—also include products not available anywhere else: Jamaican coffee beans from Bob Marley’s son’s plantation, candy “tennis balls” signed Maria Sharapova, skull-shaped bottles of vodka produced by Dan Akroyd.

It’s large, it’s lovely, and it’s hard to imagine leaving this temple of food empty handed.

What’s your favorite foodstuff at La Grande Epicerie?

Outdoor Dining at La Baleine in the Jardin des Plantes

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On a hot day in Paris, there’s nothing like a seat on a shaded terrasse.

So on a friend’s recommendation one recent 90º day, I went to the restaurant La Baleine, behind the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in the Jardin des Plantes.

Our table was at the outside edge of a quiet, umbrella filled courtyard. What a treat to be off the street! My lunch of roasted salmon and pureed potatoes, accompanied by a well-chilled rosé was wonderful.

The experience wasn’t perfect, though. The sun invaded our spot as lunch progressed. If I go again on a very hot/sunny day, I’ll reserve, and request a table that’s farther from the sun. Or arrive early (noonish).

Or arrive even later, when my energy is flagging—La Baleine would be a lovely spot to linger over a dessert with a friend at tea-time.

47 rue Cuvier, 5th

 

 

Café Constant for Lunch, Dinner, and in between

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My dessert of profiteroles—a French pastry consisting of golden cream puffs, filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with hot chocolate sauce—remains a highlight of a recent trip to Paris. But the whole Café Constant experience is worth sharing.

A quintessential Paris café, complete with mosaic tile floors, rough stone walls and a zinc bar, this popular neighborhood hangout near the Eiffel Tower doesn’t take reservations; at dinner time, lines grow down the block.

When I stopped at 3pm on a weekday, I found the place empty. But by 4:00, after I had polished off a basket of bread, a grilled sea bream fillet drizzled with pesto, lightly battered deep-fried carrots and broccoli, and a glass of Sancerre, the barstools and sidewalk tables were filled.

Heads turned at the bar when the serveuse entered the room carrying my profiteroles. She had a large shallow bowl in one hand, and a silver pitcher of hot chocolate in the other.

I ate slowly, stopping to take a photo every few bites, and appreciating the contrasts of hot and cold, crisp and smooth. Around me, the room filled with chatter, the tinkling of glassware, and wonderful aromas. I’m still savoring the moment.

139, rue St Dominique, 7th

Paris Neighborhoods—good food in the 11th

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I discovered a great little corner of the 11th arrondissement—quiet despite being so near the Bastille—when I rented an apartment on rue Sedaine a few years ago. Now I enjoy going back to see what’s new.

It’s becoming a bit of a food haven. Here are 4 bonnes addresses:

Maison Arnaud, 12, rue de la Roquette, is a treasure trove of French confections: chocolate bars by Michel Claudel, calissons from Aix en Provence, candied violets from Toulouse, jams from lesser known producers, all tucked into displays lining the walls of the old fashioned, wooden space. Think of it as 360º of sweet spectacle.

• Around the corner, at 40, rue de la Roqette is La Chocolaterie d’Alain Ducasse, the famed chef’s new workshop/boutique. The chocolates were out of my price range (pieces aren’t sold individually, and the smallest box costs 35€) but where else can you buy a chocolate bar that weighs a kilo? And the people-watching is fascinating!

• I’ve written about L’Epicerie Saint-Sabin before, and it bears repeating: this new deli counter/gourmet grocery/wine cave is all about terroir, particularly in and around the Aveyron. It’s a great place to stop for a sandwich, try a new wine, or shop for gifts for food lovers back home. The duck sausage is my favorite gift (and usually it’s for me.) 13, rue Saint-Sabin.

Marché Bastille, also knows as Marché Richard Lenoir, on Bd Richard Lenoir between rues Amelot et Saint-Sabin is the focal point of the neighborhood on Sundays. Green grocers, cheese and flower vendors, bakeries and butchers are just the beginning. Nuts, spices, Middle Eastern breads, tiny shrimp from Brittany, and paella to go make this market one of the most enjoyable in Paris. Open 7am-3pm.

Do you know this neighborhood? Share a favorite address!

 

Refined Algerian Pastries at La Bague de Kenza

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If you love sweets and are looking for a taste experience beyond the normal pâtisserie française, try the refined Algerian pastries at La Bague de Kenza.

The selection alone makes me giddy. With easily 40 trays of pastries, each different and all gorgeous, it’s hard to know where to start. The Algerian baking tradition has been influenced by the country’s Middle Eastern connections, and aromas hint at some of the ingredients: honey, almond paste, orange blossom water.

The pastries are arranged in rich pyramids of mostly gold and green, each treat nestled in a pleated white paper shell. The verisimilitude of the whimsical marzipan “fruits” means there are reds and oranges, too.

Other treasures—steeped in honey, layered with phyllo pastry, ground hazelnuts, walnuts, and pistachios, then garnished with whole nuts, or coated with royal frosting—elicited a sigh. The pastries are an intoxicating mix of heavenly sweetness, and fragrant crunch.

The names of the treats recall their exotic stature—baclawa, ktayef—but there’s no need to wrestle with words. Just point to the treats you desire. The fact that there are several shops in town just makes La Bague de Kenza that much sweeter.

Locations:

136 Rue Saint-Honoré, 1st

106 Rue Saint-Maur, 11th

233 Rue de la Convention, 15

Which are your favorite sweet treats?

Epicerie Saint-Sabin

Epicerie Saint-Sabin, a new grocery store/wine cave/café near the Bastille

When was the last time you got a French geography lesson with your lunch?

For me, it was last month, at Epicerie Saint-Sabin, a new grocery store/wine cave/café near the Bastille, when owner Laurent Pataille ran down the sandwich choices scratched on the chalkboard near his impeccable deli counter.

I learned that le Noir de Bigorre ham comes from the northern slopes of the Pyrenees; Laguiolle cheese, pronounced “la-yol” and similar to Cantal, is made in the Aveyron; and that tourte de meule is a delicious whole grain sourdough bread made throughout France.

I ordered a sandwich made from all three ingredients, and the lesson didn’t end there. M Pataille also recommended a wine I had never heard of: Fitou, (Champs de Soeurs 2011)—a luscious red apellation from Languedoc-Roussillon.

Wines from Cahors, Marcillac, Fronton, Gascogne, Roussillon; fresh and packaged edibles from Aveyron, Lot, Gars, Hautes-Pyrénées and Toulouse; tins of smoked mackeral, syrup made from poppies, candy made from violets, hazelnut cake from Rouergue, a commune in the Aveyron—the shop is dedicated to terroir.

My sandwich and glass of wine (at 3:00 in the afternoon, when it’s not always easy to find a bite to eat) were the high point of the day, and at 9.50€ a bargain. Especially when you include the duck sausage that tided me over while my sandwich was being prepared. And not to mention the high price of schooling.

Have you been there? Tell us what you think!