Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ban des Vendanges

As far back as the Middle Ages, the grape harvest could not begin until there was an official proclamation ( or "ban").  Nowadays individual wine makers make their own decisions about the harvest, but the Ban des Vendanges still exists as a reason (or excuse) to celebrate.  The Confrerie du Vin de Cahors used the occasion to dress up and induct new members into the brotherhood.

There was music, aperos, and camaraderie...


before a grand meal at Chateau Floressas:

amuses bouche (with mini cheeseburger!)

duo of foie gras

curry encrusted cod

roast lamb

And of course there were some wonderful Cahors wines to remind us why we were there. Although 2012 looks to be a difficult vintage (too much rain in the spring and early summer), Philip Lejeune of Chateau Chambert believes that careful, manual harvesting can yield some very good wines.  Moreover, he is looking forward to his first white wine, based on the chardonnay grape.  So there was indeed something to celebrate this year..

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Chez Aline

I wanted to like Chez Aline better than I did.  After reading an enthusiastic review in the New York Times http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/24/counter-intuitive-chez-aline-in-paris/

and learning that I would be staying in an apartment literally around the corner, I was  eager to try it out for myself.  The description of how Delphine Zampetti found a former horse meat butcher shop (Chevaline) and turned it into a neighborhood sandwich shop was irresistible.

It was easy to find with the gold and neon horse head still perched above the shop, the menu written in white on the outside granite wall...

and the little yellow table out front for the spillover from the limited seating (four!) inside.

It's basically a sandwich shop with inventive fillings including breaded veal cutlets, pesto, rabbit, and Spanish tortilla.  There is a daily plat and dessert du jour that you can eat there with a glass of wine or 
take away.  

The small size of Chez Aline and its menu is rather endearing..

I just wish the service were more consistent (e.g. one day the Milanese sandwich was generous with its veal cutlet, the next day quite stingy) and more friendly.  Every time I went there, I got the feeling that was interrupting something.  A small neighborhood place quickly develops a loyal clientele and Chez Aline caters to them.  Fair enough, but there could be a little more welcome to foodies who have done their research and ventured to this remote part of the 11th arrondissement.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Industrial Chic?

In my previous trips to Paris, i have rented apartments in a variety of neighborhoods in order to experience a bit of the cultural, culinary, and architectural diversity Paris has to offer.  Previously I have stayed in the Marais, Pigalle, Montmartre, and north of the Arc de Triomphe and I've liked some of those neighborhoods better than others.  Often my decision on where to stay depends on what apartments are available for rent from vrbo.com or airbnb.com.  I have to admit that I am a design freak and the look of an apartment can trump both price and location. And that's how i found myself in a unique apartment near the Bastille.

it was described as being 'magestic' and the photos indicated that it did have a strong design point of view...part boat, part factory, part dungeon.  i couldn't resist.

The apartment is located in a long courtyard filled with greenery and building extensions off of the main courtyard.  The entrance brings you to the dramatic sitting area and corner kitchen...

leading to the ramp up to the bathroom, dominated by the tub.

The rest of the apartment is down, down...

and then up again.

The steps even go down again to a cave-like area,

The apartment is full of unusual objects that give the apartment an air of an antique shop or industrial museum.

It has been fun to explore and discover the nooks and crannies of this space.  Perhaps the most unusual thing   I found was a shower at the bottom of the stairs...

Yes there is a drain underneath but I am trying to figure out why one would want to take a shower there.

I am glad I stayed here but  I think the apartment was designed more for artistic effect than for practical living.     The bathroom is a long way to go in the middle of the night, especially up a slippery ramp.  (If it were me to decide, I would ditch the bathtub for a shower and make a bedroom/bath on that entry level floor).

'Magestic"? No.  Quirky?  Yes.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Paris Cafe

Who wouldn't want to attend the launching of a book called "Paris Cafe"?  Passing by the venerable Shakespeare & Co. bookshop, I saw the announcement in the window and decided it would be worth the effort to attend that evening.

Normally these events are held inside the bookstore but since they anticipated a large crowd and balmy weather, it was held in front.  Bosco and I snagged a prime seat as did others of the anglophone community as the formal introductions began.

The three authors (two writers and an illustrator) took turns discussing the Paris cafe through history, its cultural, social, and political roles, and their personal 'cafe' experiences.  


We learned that the oldest family-run cafe in Paris is The Select in Montparnasse,  that there used to be tens of thousands of cafes  (now about 7000), and that the serving of food in cafes is a new innovation.  The attraction of the cafes is not for the coffee (most agreed it is not very good) but for the possibility of social interaction.  And for the poor, starving artist and writers, it was a virtually free place to work: for the price of a coffee you had your table and access to light, heat, newspapers, and a toilet for as long as you wanted.  Although there were fears that the ban on smoking and the advent of Starbucks would have a deleterious effect on cafes, they have proven unfounded.    There were a few questions from the audience...

and then at the end of the presentation, many were inspired to go inside and buy a copy of the book.

I just wanted to go and sit in a cafe.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Brunch Chez Flora

When I suggested to my friend Laurence that we have Sunday brunch at the Auberge Flora in the 11th, she had visions of mimosas (champagne and orange juice), pastry, eggs benedict, bacon, and lots of coffee.   But Flora Mikula's brunch is a far cry from any of those generic experienes.

Her restaurant specializes in 'petits plats' and the brunch menu was a tour de force.

Fortified with a delicious glass of pear cider and some ham and cornichon nibbles,

We were then presented with an astonishing assortment of dishes and tastes. almost hiding Laurence across the table...

crunchy pocket



duck breast and chickpeas

homemade crackers and bread

tapenade, rabbit pate, goat cheese spread

mussels and fried sardines

We had to pace ourselves since there was still roast chicken and potatoes and these wonderful desserts to come (everything melon, strawberry, thyme-infused panna cotta, and a rich vanilla and chocolate pot au creme.)

It was nearly 3 hours before we departed, sated and with the knowledge that brunch does not have to be ordinary.