Paris Food Adventures: Le Pantruche, South Pigalle

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This veal ravioli is a good example of what they do at the bistro Le Pantruche in Pigalle. Nicely plated, a beautiful balance of flavours, and a complex forest of ingredients, the greens and mushrooms, some foam, some sauce and I think it was an olive tapenade.

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But what a great discovery. As recommended by Sandra at the men’s consignment store Zac & Joe, this is an updated bistro in the super-cool neighbourhood of Pigalle.

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We had an appetizer, a main and a dessert each. The appetizers and mains were rich and savoury, and complex. The meats (lamb and duck) were beautifully cooked.

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Various vegetable garnishes added texture and contrast.

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This soufflé au grand marnier, caramel au beurre salé (grand Marnier soufflé with salted butter caramel) was superb, as was the selection of cheeses.

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This was one of our favourite bistro meals in Paris, with very fair prices, and friendly service. High recommendation.

3 rue Victor Massé
75009 Paris
France

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Paris Food Adventures: Jeanne B, Montmartre

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After living in Montmartre for five weeks, I think we only scratched the surface of all the bistros, restaurants and bars on offer. I’m not sure we were once disappointed, and how could we be with dishes like Croque Homard. If you haven’t guessed, that’s the classic Croque Monsieur but with a twist. Delicious toasted brioche with a generous serving of lobster and various sauces, and an absolutely perfect delicious salad.

As you might guess then, I loved Chez Jean, introduced by a work colleague. We arrived nicely early, so it was empty. The beautiful and charming waitress showed us the specials, and not being super-hungry, we ended up splitting an appetizer and dessert, and both had the Croque Homard!

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I really love the simplicity of a steamed artichoke. It reminds me of how Mom used to prepare it for us on a rare occasion, though the dipping sauce here was a step up from the Best Food’s Mayonnaise that we used (which is not a terrible thing).

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The dessert, a light cloud of passionfruit mousse, was gorgeous.

Oh, and I can’t forget to mention that the wine of the month was a Morgon, so we split a bottle, and my god, it was delicieux!

61 rue Lepic
75018 Paris
France

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Paris Food Adventures: East Side Burgers, 11th

IMG_4902 Having failed to get into Deux Fois Plus de Piment (on a Friday night, of course this would happen without a reservation), we wandered back past the Boudin Noir on offer at Diablito Latino and decided to see what a vegan burger is at East Side Burgers.

IMG_4900With a variety of choices, I opted to try the vegan bacon with cheeseburger. It was… uh…: relatively small (which is good); the patty tasted vaguely of beans, the cheese of cheese, and the bacon was an amusing colour but didn’t taste of much. Not sure what could have made it taste better; it was a fair imitation of a fast-food burger but… Points for contributing to a healthier planet, and in a hipster atmosphere (the outside table looked nice, the posters on the walls were fun)…  I wouldn’t be rushing back to try their other burgers though.

I would have liked to try their homemade coleslaw (I love a good coleslaw) but they were sold out. The fries were awesome though; very crisp and with an addictive quality about them. Nom nom.

60 bd Voltaire
75011 Paris
France
11ème, Chemin Vert/Richard Lenoir

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Madrid Food Adventures: Churros at Chocolatería San Gines

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I had churros in Spain! And it was a funny little story to get there, as while I had this very place written down in my travel notes, I didn’t remember at the time when we were searching for it. My guide, Peter, also couldn’t quite remember both the name of the churros place he wanted to take me to, nor its location. But after some wandering around, we stumbled across this one, which seems to be one of the most famous in Madrid, established in 1894! One of its shopfronts had a large line outside it, so we snuck into the one next door and were seated right away. Churros have been adopted into restaurants all over the world, so I’ve certainly had different versions of churros over the years, but often snuck into a dessert with ice cream, and without the chocolate.

So what does the original taste like? Those star-edged deep-fried donut sticks are crisp and light, and taste somewhat delicate, and not greasy at all. Dipped into a thick melted chocolate mixture, much akin to a good French hot chocolate, it is a delightful combination of liquid and crunch, sweet (but not too sweet) and a little savoury. Just four euros an order… and a beautiful Spanish experience.

Pasadizo de San Ginés, 5
28013 Madrid
Spain

(near Sol metro)

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Rome Food Adventures: Glass Hostaria

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Now, isn’t that beautiful? This was the the second course of a ten-course dinner from Rome’s Glass Hostaria, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Trastevere, helmed by an Italian chef who did her training in the States (and has the American-sounding name Cristine Bowerman but was born in Puglia).

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If we can, we like to treat ourselves to a special meal in places we travel to, and this was a great recommendation from my friend Costanza. Certainly a special night out, with many courses to let the chef show off, and by international standards, 110 euros for ten courses is very reasonable for a restaurant of its type.
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The first course, as seen above, was a selection of tiny amuse bouches, and that gives a good flavour of the place, literally and conceptually. The presentation was amazing, the plating up and the plates itself. I missed taking a photo of the very first offering, a butter-cream sphere filled with cinzano, and resting atop white sugar: also a little theme here, resting the food on something not to be eaten, sugar, rose petals and tea, the bread below resting in popcorn kernels…

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Radish wrapped around a fish tartare…
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Ah, I particularly liked this one, the char on the fish, barely cooked and a big shiso leaf, I think it was shaved fennel below. While we found the flavours of the preceding dishes tasty but one-note, this was complex and sophisticated.

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And the pasta dishes, of course, being in Italy, were what really impressed me. The most delicate ravioli with sea urchin… just a taste of the sea but with the beauty of pasta: slippery and chewy and luxurious.
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A simple broth with truffles. Sometimes, I think I ‘get’ truffles (the first time I think was a dish with soft polenta), and other times, not. Shaved truffle just tastes a bit woody to me. I like the flavour but not necessarily the texture, which can even make me forget the flavour!
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This lamb was done really nicely, and we loved the gold dust on the carrots! Strange but pretty effect. The service was very attentive for the most part, and charming. We opted to do one wine flight with the meal, which was to have 5 glasses. But for some reason, the sommelier just seemed to forget about us. He didn’t look busy, particularly, but neither could we get his attention, so I receive 4 out of the 5 wines (and was charged for 4, not 5) yet, matching wine with food is a great pleasure, and missing one of the wines meant I didn’t have wine with some of these courses.
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While I’d have the same comment that I don’t appreciate shaved truffle, this pasta with very long aged parmesan was incredibly rich, and with an unfamiliar flavour and power. Yes, I’ve had parmesan but probably never of this quality. This was my top dish of the night: unforgettable. IMG_4839
A jumble of greens, fruit and spices (it was actually hot and spicy), I think this was meant to clear the palate, or shake things up, before the dessert. Nice presentation; I thought it was just kind of weird.
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Although simple, this yoghurt semi-freddo, with flowers, and a sweeet syrup was also one of my favourite dishes. I really liked the texture and flavours.
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I found the decor of the place all over the place, strange texture on one of the ceilings, crazy railings to the staircase leading up to the mezzanine, plexiglass panels in the floor with rocks and bottles underneath, a bit like a Disney amusement park ride. I’d have to say it felt dated to me, and I’d recommend finding some locals artists to showcase in these many wall recesses rather than these tacky jars of dried beans.
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Finally, a selection of petits-fours, beautifully presented.
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In all, certainly glad to come here, a few standout dishes, and for me, a few misses about the night. Maybe it would been better for us to choose from the regular menu, carefully. But that’s 20:20 hindsight, and anyways, I’m off to dream about that parmesan ravioli…

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Madrid Drinking Adventures: La Venencia

IMG_4776The first time I tried Spanish sherry, fino, sometimes known by one of its famous brand names, Tio Pepe, I found it sharp and dry and slightly unpleasant. This was when I was working at Expo 92 in Seville, in my early 20s and without a particularly sophisticated food or drinking palate. But somehow I came to like the flavour quite quickly and since then, the taste of it brings me back to hot weather in Andalucia and this feeling of everything beginning.

It’s not easily found though, and usually, there’s not much choice. So, hearing from my friend Peter that there was a bar in Madrid that specialised in sherry… Oh my god. It’s much more than a bar though, it’s a piece of history. Dating back to the 30s, it was a hangout for Republican sympathizers, as well as Ernest Hemingway (read about it here…) and has some strict rules about no tipping (because all workers are supposed to be equal) and no photos (since they could be used as evidence against the people in the bar). So, I’m pretty impressed that so many photos have snuck up on the Yelp review page! When we were there, someone tried to take a sneaky photo and wasn’t allowed…

In any case, they serve five different types of sherry here, from big oak-casks, all from Jerez, the Andalusian home of sherry. I’m used to, in Australia, associating the darker sherries (amontallido, olorosa) with a dessert sherry, but these were either bastardized versions or I’m confused. Each of the sherries I tried (and I’m sad to say I only managed three of them) were really dry, though varying in weight and texture, and flavour.

The other thing is that the glasses were cheap. Like a couple of euros each. So cheap it felt like they were paying me to enjoy myself at the bar. As we went at the end of the night, we didn’t have the appetite for what looked like very tasty bar snacks and selections of meat, and if we’d gone earlier in the night, I would have aimed to try all five! But ah, I was so glad to be introduced to this place. Sherry heaven!

 

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Madrid Food Adventures: Baco y Beto, Chueca

IMG_4770A weekend in Madrid, away from Paris, and what a lovely city… a relaxed and chilled atmosphere for eating and drinking and wandering around, and the temperature a few IMG_4773degrees warmer too.

My pal Peter moved here about 7 years ago, and so introduced me to one of his favourite tapas places, Baco y Beto.

It was a great meal: a twist on the traditional, nice service and delicious wine (of course, we were in Spain).

Located on a fun, bustling street, there’s good vibes in and out of here. I thought the tempura fish, with squid ink was unusual and interesting.

IMG_4769The fancy mushrooms, deep fried, was tasty; and the pork dish was also very delicious.

We went a bit early, so it was quiet and relaxed. Not too bustling. Recommended.

  • IMG_4775Calle de Pelayo, 24
    28004 Madrid
    Spain

    Chueca

 

 

 

 

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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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