Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Pleasures of Paris in a Flat World

Thanks to talented pastry chefs and bakers in the U.S. who are infatuated with French sweets and baked treats, it is not necessary to travel to Paris to enjoy them....well, at least, you can get by without doing so.
The display at La Pâtisserie des Rêves--tranlates to "the pastry of dreams." Amen.
For example, In San Francisco you can get killer bread, croissant, muesli and meringues at Tartine; canelé, if you get there early enough, at Boulette's Larder.
Macaroons displayed at a bakery in the sweet 'hood of Saint Germain.
In Palo Alto you can get a buttery, flaky croissant and satisfying pain au chocolate without searching too hard.
Rich yet pure: French strawberry planted in a jar of crème fraîche. 
Californian farmers markets can--unequivocally--match the quality of produce I saw at Raspail Market if not the selections (animal brains) and varietals (gariguette strawberries).
Raspail Market on a rainy Tuesday morning.

There was a food truck at Raspail Market!  Apparently more to come!
In the category of dairy, we have St. Benoît Creamery in Sonoma with Euro roots, whose sumptuous yogurts can easily compete with the delicious whole-milk ones I tasted in France.

And in the area of coffee, there is simply no competition. The U.S. does it better.
Never to-go. Café Crème (café au lait) from Coutume.  
So it is possible to get a taste of France without going far, at least living in the Bay Area.
Chocolat chaud at Coutume.
But I will have to go to Paris for everything else: to hear the melodic sounds of French being spoken in the Metro; to sip local café crème--even if Blue Bottle could prepare it better--, to admire a market's endless rows of butter and yogurt in pristine glass have a chat with the owner of a little, white dog in a neighborhood park.
Named for a cycling race from Paris to Best, le Paris-Brest is a wheel of small puff pastries filled with praline buttercream.  These, from LPâtisserie des Rêves, are absolutely deadly--among the best tasting pastries I have ever had.  

Yogurt anyone?  From Bon Marché before I was told to put away my camera.
Bottom line: though bits of Paris can be experienced here, Paris is still distinctly Paris, even if it is being invaded by food trucks at the moment.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Parisian Sweets Catwalk

I had a day to live out a Paris fantasy and it looked like these next few blog posts. 
Laudrée window.
Most of my time was spent in the swanky Left Bank arrondissement of St. Germain. This was Tuesday, May 13, the swearing-in of the new president, François Hollande, so there were gendarme (policemen) aplenty on the major streets.  
Laudrée inside.
But over coffee in a café at St. Germain, one would never know. The weather was maniacal: sunny, rainy, inside-out-umbrella-windy.  But none of that could shroud the city's irresistible charms.  
Café crème with shortbread spoon at Cuisine de Bar. Check out the shortbread spoon!!!
I took a food tour with Meg of Paris by Mouth, who taught me all kinds of things about French food. Photos and tidbits are from this tour and a visit with friend Elisabeth, a multiple-generation Parisienne, who knew so well about the food institutions that have been here for years.  
Cannelé from Bon Marché, the largest gourmet food hall in Paris.
À bientôt.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Sweet London

In my zombie-like state this afternoon, following the ten-hour flight and associated terrorism prevention pleasantries of airtravel, I stumbled into Selfridges, just to have a look. Why not. An Israeli friend/London-phile, Y, told me about the food halls in the department stores.  Kinda like in Tokyo? Well, not really but sort of, she said.
I am not so sure I want to try these but I almost purchased them for the cute tins.
I get it now.  As soon as I saw the goods, my fatigue turned to mania.

As I strolled along Oxford Street, I kept muttering to myself: "This doesn't feel like London!"  Were it not for the British flags hanging like drapes above the streets, wretchedly glorifying the commercialism there, I did not feel like I was in the UK.  I know, what do I expect of Oxford Street.

This is Regent Street, which is just as bad but prettier.
But, the abundance of HAZELNUT chocolate and MARZIPAN in the candy section of Selfridge's  reminded me that I was indeed in London, and that the EU is so near.  There were candies from France, Germany, Italy and other places--even England!
Chocolate praline "Quail Eggs!"

Post Script: I went to buy these German marzipan treats three days later: GONE!
Displays from the food catwalk follow.

A show-off display of Italian nougat, from Italy.
Persian candies, including nougat...

...and fairy floss. Yes, that's right.
Selfridges has all kinds of luxurious sweets that make tasteful gifts for your divine friends.

How about some champagne truffles:

Now that I have seen Selfridges I have to see Harrod's food hall.  I will make myself go there, despite how I loathe crowded tourist traps.

I'll be back.  I am falling behind on my food journaling...Am leaving for Paris in less than six hours where I will be food prowling, first thing.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Greetings from London

Arrived in London today at 2pm.  Was exhausted from travel but came alive (think: Pulp Fiction scene when Uma Thurman character gets stabbed with needle by John Travolta character) when I went to the ground floor of Selfridge's a few hours later. More soon.