Paris Food Adventures: Restaurant Menelik, 17th

IMG_4721Food and memory is a funny thing. I’m sure we didn’t eat more than two or three times at the Ethiopian restaurant in Vancouver, but I remember the times we did vividly: the slightly sour soft aerated pancake and the mysterious varieties of vegetables and meat to be scooped up by said pancake. Also, for something that I liked so much, I don’t know why I didn’t hunt it down more often in the many years after.

IMG_4719In any case, finding out from a work colleague about a good Ethiopian restaurant was exciting. In Sydney, I believe there’s one restaurant that’s opened, and it’s not so easy for me to get to. Someone ran a food stall at local markets, where I was able to grab a snack, but it wasn’t the same as a proper meal.

And this meal, at Restaurant Menelik, on rue Sauffroy in the 17th: now that was a proper meal. After receiving tiny complimentary glasses of a pink sparkling drink, our orders, a mixed Ethiopian platter and the fish/vegetarian combination, arrived on a huge pancake covering (we discovered later) a large, round, plastic Chinese dish, with another plate with extra injera pancakes (made of teff flour, tasting spongy and addictive as I remembered).

IMG_4720I found all of the dishes interesting and tasty: chicken, beef, ground meat, lentils, carrots, a cabbage mixture, fish. The sauces were savoury and rich, without being oily. My better half found the injera filled him up rather quickly, and god, it was a lot of food (and such value, for Paris: 40 euros for the two of us including a half-litre of house wine).

It was a nice change from the standard fare of French bistros. The waitress was sweet, and overworked (she was taking care of all the tables, I think). But simply: I loved this meal.

IMG_47224 rue Sauffroy
75017 Paris
France

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Paris Food Adventures: Bresse Chicken

IMG_4712 There’s nothing more than I like than an interesting food recommendation… it’s perhaps why I offer the same with my food blogs. So, over a fabulous gin cocktail called The Journalist, a new friend Tristan told us that not only was Bresse chicken a wonderful high-quality chicken that we had to try, but that it was on at a special price at a local butcher which was not likely to be found elsewhere. For me, combining a bargain with a food recommendation is like a red rag to a bull. It was 9 euros a kilo, rather than the usual 19.50, at a butcher on Rue du Pouteau, which looks like a really fun place to hang out and shop, and not only buy poulet de bresse.

Apart from thinking that the chicken may have some relationship to the Paris Brest pastry (Bresse, Andy, not breast. You’d think I was heterosexual), I have now found that the Bresse chicken has rather a storied history. It received its appellation d’origine contrôlée in 1957, is from a region in the East of France, and is raised under strict and exacting conditions. Its skeleton, from a lack of calcium in the soil, is flimsy, meaning more meat for the diners; it has creepy blue feet, which with its red comb and ultra-white feathers remind the French of their flag, and well, others have written about it better than I can (or will).

IMG_4713But the question is: how did it taste? We couldn’t fit the whole thing in our AirBNB’s toaster oven, so whacked it in half (and thankfully, the butcher removed the blue feet before handing it over), and had it over two dinners. It was… quite extraordinary. The drumstick and thigh were so dark… and being so tender, it reminded us of really good turkey, or a rarer bird to eat, like pheasant or goose.

The texture was beautiful and it was moist and juicy. Not exactly tender, as it felt like this animal was an animal, one with muscles that has been allowed to run around (it has). So, it was a bit difficult to separate the bones, and some of the flesh from the bones. The first lot had an incredible amount of meat, particularly the breast meat, but the second lot, which I cooked for longer and rested longer, there was somehow less meat, even though both halves were the same size.

I’d just been saying to S. that chicken in France has a different texture or flavour than in Australia; a bit denser (tougher?) though not in a bad way, as if the poultry is more free-range, and more organic, and not as quickly grown and caged up (though this could all be in my mind).

Still, this chicken, poulet de bresse, really was delicious. Magnifique!

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Paris Drinking Adventures: Le Trou Dans Le Mur, Montmartre

IMG_4635 Possibly confusing to some, the name of the area in the back of the wine shop, La Caves des Abbesses, is Le Trou dans le Mur, or the Hole in the Wall. We’d gotten a recommendation to try it out. I was a little worried that it would be packed out, as you can’t see it from the front of the store, but it was relatively quiet when we went.

We’d noticed that a ‘planche’ is the standard way of drinking way and nibbling in France: a plate of cheese and charcuterie, an ample basket of baguettes. Here, you can choose between cheese and charcuterie or have both.

IMG_4637And of course, being a wine shop, there’s an amazing selection of wine. It had a great vibe with wandering tourists like us and locals hanging out and talking about wine, but really, the best thing: oh my god, the planche was amazing. Four types of cheese – all great (in fact, better for the differences between them). Three types of meat. The goose rilletes was so rich, I kind of wanted to mainline it. The pork spread also tasty and the sausage. Between that platter of food, and a few glass of delicious wine, we were in heaven!

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Paris Food Adventures: L’Afghani, Montmartre

IMG_4547 I liked the look of this modest restaurant around the corner from our AirBNB; and we were glad to try it. Decorated in amusing art, photos and ethnic dress, it has the feel of a family-run business, keeping the authenticity of a culture and it’s food, married to the demands of the Parisian restaurant market.

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We split a mixed appetizer and then each had a main. My leek raviolis with a mixture of lentils and ground beef was simple, and really very delicious, and tasted similar but not quite like anything I’ve ever tasted before. I love to try new dishes!

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My better half had a tender stewed beef or lamb (I forget which), on top of some rice with an egg on top. He liked it. The place was nicely busy, and I think we were probably lucky to have gotten a table, arriving just at 8pm, when it opened, but without a reservation. The waiters had good beards. With our dinner washed down with a carafe of reasonably priced wine, we give this place a solid thumbs up!

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18 rue Paul-Albert
75018 Paris
France

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Paris Drinking Adventures: No Problemo, Montmartre

IMG_4689I mean, what can one say but ‘No Problemo’? This bar, on the corner of a street, at the bottom of the stairs below Sacre Coeur is cute, tiny and casual. For such a small place, it looks like it has a very impressive food menu, but we just wanted to have a nightcap, and had a delicious glass of Montepulciano and Côtes du Rhône. We’ve walked by when it’s been super crowded, and other times when it’s not so crowded. On a rainy Thursday night, early evening, it was not so crowded. Nice guy behind the bar, a good vibe from the other patrons. No problemo!

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Paris Food Adventures: Privé de Dessert, Pigalle

IMG_4671 I love a food gimmick. There’s a Buzzfeed post going around making fun of hipster food gimmicks, but for me, the problem is when the gimmick loses its originality, or it was never a very good trick in the first place, probably lacking in intelligence or interfering with the enjoyment of the food itself. So, of course we had to try Privé de Dessert, where all of the savoury dishes are IMG_4673designed to look like sweet French pastries, and two of the desserts are designed to look like savoury dishes.

Some of the tricks were less tempting than others. I loved the sound of the macaroni and cheese with truffles, but would it be that hard to pretend that it’s a cheesecake? In any case, the mixed appetizers was a great way to try a bit of everything and see how this concept worked. Try, if you dare, to match up the mini-entrées from the menu to the plate below. We decided it was basically fun, and because everything was delicious, it was acceptable fun!

IMG_4669As for the mains, I had to try the Mont Blanc, as I like the real thing, a chestnut pastry. Here (and pictured at the top), chestnut flavoured mash potatoes imitated the icing, covering up some crisp, nicely cooked fish. My better half had Tiramisu, actually beef cheeks with mashed potatoes, and yup, it looked like a gigantic serving of Tiramisu. With gravy.

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They offer three glasses of wine to match three courses for a very reasonable 15 euros so we had to do this (and were pleased with generous pourings), and then had to have dessert. S. had a chocolate fondant, not trying to be anything else, but my platter, with probably the most amusing imitations of the night – orange-coloured crepes arranged like cold cuts of meat, a tasty chocolate marshmallow log that looked like a salami or dried sausage, and tiny green madeleines that were to recall pickles – it was nice, but simply too much food.

IMG_4675I could have exploded. All in all, a fun experience with great service and a cool concept. The restaurant is pretty new, apparently, and I think the story goes IMG_4668started by a Chinese webmaster who did a pastry course, and then eventually assembled her team to create her dream restaurant. Seems to be doing well, and as a a bonus is in one of the coolest neighbourhoods around.

A fun, unusual meal. Too much food, but that would have been our fault…

4 rue Lallier
75009 Paris
France

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Coffee in Paris: KBCafeshop, Pigalle

IMG_4645So, I’m not sure why they run the name together like that… but having found this cafe from lists of good coffee in Paris on the interweb, we love this place, located in South Pigalle.

IMG_4643Apparently, KBCafeshop was originally called Kooka Burra, and I’m not sure how the French would have pronounced that…

The French owner trained as a barista in Sydney in the late noughties and has now been heralding Australian coffee in the City of Lights.

The vibe is cool and laid-back; the food looks tasty but all we’ve had so far are the tall glasses of lattes, with a heart on the surface, and it’s really good coffee!

IMG_4644IMG_4652Looks like they do brunch too, and sell their beans to whoever wants them!

Location: 53 avenue Trudaine, 75009 (9ème arrondissement)

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The Amiens labyrinth

IMG_4560Considering myself a labyrinth aficionado – a longtime user of the one in Vancouver, where we were married just after Christmas; and having walked the one at Grace Cathedral in IMG_4567San Francisco and Chartres in Paris (the original!); and so pleased to have one now in my home city of Sydney – I was surprised to visit the Amiens Cathedral and find a major labyrinth in the middle of it.

There is a small plaque on the wall explaining its history, but other than that, no special promotion or instructions, and in fact, although S. figured it out right away, where to start, and that you followed the darker path rather than the lighter one, it’s not evident right away.

IMG_4569A shame as I think with some encouragement and explanation, the many tourists to the cathedral could have a nice introduction to labyrinths, a beautiful ancient tool for contemplation and meditation, and a fun thing to do for kids too!

It’s also cool that it’s open, not covered with chairs, and I would assume available for anyone who wanted to walk it at any time. It’s a IMG_4576shame that the one at Chartres is only available to walk once a week on Fridays (though I currently see that the labyrinth is closed completely and won’t be opening again until July 2016)

In the morning, on our first visit to the church, we walked into the labyrinth, and some curious onlookers did stop and notice that there was something notable, and later that afternoon when we returned, I decided to start in the middle, marked with a lovely ornate stone (we saw the original cast in the local museum), and move outwards.

IMG_4593I do think it’s a special and beautiful thing; this labyrinth compared to the Chartres design feels about a similar number of turns, but is different, and with the square, straight edges IMG_4568feels different than the round paths of the Chartres labyrinth that I’m used to.

In general, the Amiens cathedral feels a bit dead in terms of energy, such a big imposing space, and it feels more for tourists to visit than for regular use (unlike, say the bustling Sacre Coeur where even with so many visitors, it keeps its sense of being regularly used). But standing in the centre of the labyrinth, which is at the centre of the church, where the central stone was laid in 1288, was a good feeling.

Amiens is just a short trip away from Paris, and makes a nice daytrip. I recommend it, especially if you wanted to do the labyrinth at Chartres and can’t get there on the right day, or during a month or season it’s open.       IMG_4597

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Best daytrips from Paris: Amiens

IMG_4599Just over an hour outside of Paris, to the north, is the lovely city of Amiens, population of about 120,000. We were expecting, perhaps, that it would be the kind of place with just IMG_4597one tourist attraction (the famous church, as above), but we were delighted to discover a pretty, varied location with just enough to do for a full day (we were there about 9 hours, from 9:30am to 6:30pm, perhaps a few hours too long).

The church, one of the largest in Europe, is impressive and as a labyrinth-lover, I was happy to discover a labyrinth at its centre, open to anyone to walk it (without clear signage, no one could really figure it out, but we walked it, and I loved its vibe).

We were also happy to discover Amiens as one of the French towns where you can just hop aboard a free bike (well, it cost a euro, but that counts as free to me). Their system is called the Vélam IMG_4582(velos from Amiens); the bikes are slightly lighter than in Paris, newer, and perfectly functional. It made getting around a little easier, and fun.

We walked through a fantastic market, with wonderful fresh produce, and sampled a local square of Neufchâtel, creamy and simple. My better half told me that in Australia that name has become synonymous with a plain cream cheese, but this is the real deal (and not a cream cheese). Traditionally, it’s in the shape of a heart (I should have bought that!).

IMG_4578 We found the houses charming and the neighbourhoods lovely; some great parks, and one area all filled with canals and houses, like a miniature version of Bruges or Amsterdam IMG_4580perhaps.

A little further into some parkland and we stumbled on a neighbourhood with tiny cottages on plots of lands, all separated off by little waterways. All of them had either metal or older structures with stairs and a walkway to get across.

One of the most charming things to happen was when we were looking on our map for the closest bike station, and a man approached us to ask if we needed help. I had figured out by then where we were so said we were fine, but as he left, I realised that he had come out of the Donna Lee Bar Musical, a charming-looking little hole in the wall bar, to see if he had needed help. He IMG_4581actually came out of his house! If I’d have known, I would have either thanked him profusely or pretended to be lost. Thank you, Mr. Donna Lee. What a nice fellow.

Which reminds me to say that Amiens is a small enough place that people look at each other in the street and smile, a bit of a shock after big city Paris. It was all rather charming.

As for other delights, we tried the local specialty, the Ficelle Picarde, which you can read IMG_4590about here, though what’s not to like about a rolled up crepe with melted cheese and swimming in cream. We tried chocolate tiles (thin ovals of chocolate, imitating roof tiles, nothing special) as well as the local macarons, which are not Parisian macarons but the coconut confections known in North America as macaroons. Tasty enough. I was rather charmed to find this chocolate versions of the minions in a store window (the busy shopping are was fun with mostly chocolate and pastry shops but other local specialties and the usual mix of clothes IMG_4591retailers).

We finally stopped by the Musée de Picardie, the local museum, which was a nice enough thing to do, with a history of the area, lots of archeological works, statues and sculptures, paintings from locally famed artists and others, in a beautiful old building. I couldn’t resist taking a photo of this walking penis from the 2nd century.

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All in all, what else could one ask for from a day: a new place, local tasty treats, some unusual sites, unusually friendly people?

Having no expectations at all really was part of the delight… leading me to this blog post, and wanting to share a recommendation. Looking for a day trip out of Paris? Grab a train to Amiens. Hopefully you’ll be as delighted as we were.

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Paris Food Adventures: La Balancoire, Montmartre

IMG_4604La Balancoire, meaning ‘the swing’, is a tiny bistrot in Montmartre, on a quiet side street. It was already on a list of restaurants I was meaning to try when a lovely intern at work told me it’s her favourite restaurant. Usually, when I go to a restaurant, the focus is on the food, but this bistrot offered a full package.

We were super-charmed by the service; the waitress was charming, sweet and helpful, and the waiter was dead cool. The magnets in the tables that made the forks sit at a funny angle made me laugh out loud. The tables are cosy and close together, but the atmosphere is really charming. Online booking for a reservation was easy as pie. I was also amused that for both entrees and desserts they offer a mixed plate for the ‘indecisive’; a great selection of wine, and I also like a small menu that offers enough choice but is clear that they’re focusing on a few quality plates or specialties. And I hear they switch up the offerings quite often.

IMG_4607In any case, I had the indecisive starter: a beautiful soup, some delicious foie gras, and an IMG_4600inventive salad, full of different textures and deep-fried chèvre cheese. I had the burger for a main, which was a nice gourmet take on fast food: great chips, good-quality meat, a tiny brioche bun with cheese melted on top of it. My better half was pleased with his salad as an entree and confit of duck as a main, falling appropriately off the bone. The only problem is that we were both too full to try dessert…

IMG_46086 rue Aristide Bruant
75018 Paris
France 

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