Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Daniel Cohn-Bendit

I like this guy. I couldn't tell you much about his politics, much less if I agree with them, but I can tell you that I appreciate his appearances on French TV. I first heard about him last May, in the context of debates about the European Constitution, when he was a frequent guest for televised debates. My favorite moment was an argument with Philippe de Villiers, who was blatantly lying about Turkey's participation in some accords, brandishing some papers with Turkey's signature in Cohn-Bendit's face. I think the "moderator" had to repeat "please, gentlemen" for about 3 minutes straight before they finally calmed down.

But disagreeing with de Villiers (one of the most ridiculous French characters ever), is not the only reason I appreciate C-B. Unlike most US, or even French (read: de Villepin, Chirac) politicans, he seems believable. Like most politicians, de Villepin has the amazing ability to talk about nothing and everything for minutes on end, all the while evading any direct answers.** In contrast, C-B gets straight to the point, says what's on his mind, is moderately respectful and polite towards the other guests, and just seems genuine, period. I don't know if anyone else gets this impression, but I do.

All this to say: there's an interesting interview with C-B in this weekend's Le Monde 2. He gave the German perspective on all that's going on (the left envy the mobilization, while the right make fun of the need to turn everything into some kind of historical drama), and makes some funny observations about the French. In comparing the student movement to the anti-referendum movement and his experience in France with that, he relates what one anti-referendum person told him during a debate: "I have an existential need to say 'no'." C-B says that he had no comeback to this, and he tried to explain the guy's comment in the interview, saying that most French are afraid and suspicious because the government and the schools are having so many problems. He also gives his take on the CPE, offers his own solutions, and makes comparisons with systems already in place in other EU countries.

But I couldn't get past the quote. WTF. Are we still toddlers? Must we refuse something just because we like saying no? Admittedly, I have but a toddler's understanding of the CPE and all the mess going on right now (I know, shameful, but comprehending the nonsense of politics eludes me at the moment), and I'm probably missing the whole point of the article. But I think it's pretty flaky to use the existential "need" to say no as justification for a political movement, be it anti-referendum or anti-CPE. This line is gonna stick with me, though, and I can't wait to repeat it, preferably in a perfectly incongruous situation. On second thought, can't you just imagine the "Just Say No" anti-drug slogan replaced with "An existential need to say no"?

**Perhaps his hair gives him mystical powers that prevent the journalists from cutting him off - Villy Villy Villy don't you see, sometimes your locks just hyptonize me?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

La Pharmacie

I passed by this café about a year ago, on the way to Astier, and I have been meaning to go back ever since. La Pharmacie calls itself a tea parlor, a restaurant, a bookstore, an organic shop, and an art gallery - all in one! This I couldn't miss, and I had the perfect lazy afternoon during the week to go check it out. With a purse full of reading material and a friend with studying to accomplish, we headed out.

La Pharmacie is located at an adorable crossroads in the 11th, a block away from the market on Boulevard Richard Lenoir. It is on the corner; across the street from it is a bakery, and cattycorner to it is a creperie. Could it conform more perfectly to a storybook Parisian neighborhood?

When you enter La Pharmacie, the first room is the non-smoking lounge/library/tea shop:

When we arrived these comfy leather chairs were taken, so we made our way through the restaurant tables and open kitchen to the smoking lounge in the back (note the photographs on the wall - the exhibit of the moment)**:
Without even looking at the menu I knew what I would order (the place smelled like chocolate! How could I resist?):
Mmm. This huge pot of delicious, rich, hot chocolate was 5.50€ and lasted me the first hour! They also have lassis & fruit juices, a few organic beers (that's what my friend got), a huge selection of teas, and some random drinks that sound disgusting, like one made with fermented tea and mushrooms. No thanks!

As the afternoon creeped on we moved towards their wine and alchohol selection and got a carafe of Sangria, which was refreshing but sadly lacking in the fruit department. I did not indulge in any food when I was there but their pastries look like perfect accompaniments to a pot of tea, and throughout our stay we were treated to a variety of smells from the open kitchen. When we arrived it was chocolate, and as the afternoon carried on and they did prep work for the evening we were amazed by how delicious the soy cake smelled (my very carnivorous, very French friend was certain that it was beef boulettes and garlic - ha! tofupwn3d!). I will have to go back for lunch or dinner.

So if you're looking for the perfect place to go to read or just chill, whether you have tea or beer or wine in mind, La Pharmacie is for you. They also have occasional concerts, which might be something to look into.

La Pharmacie
22, rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud
75011 Paris
01 43 38 04 99

**These photos make it seem like it was totally empty, but actually I took them throughout our time there and purposefully avoided annoying other patrons by taking their picture.

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

How do you get a table at L'atelier?

Friends are coming in town next week, and while I have a lineup of old favorites (l'epi dupin, le gallopin) and new ones to try (pré verre, le petit vatel), I was wondering if anyone out there could fill me in on L'Atelier by Joel Robuchon. It looks fabulous, and I would be delighted to try the tasting menu, but what the heck do you have to do to eat there? NO RESERVATIONS and I can't see the French lining up in the lobby (or being handed the blinking buzzer things we have back in the states). So if anyone has had the chance to eat there, or has any anecdotes on how to get a table, please please please leave a comment. I won't go on the weekend, and I'll try to get there early (even though I'll feel like my grandparents :/), but other than that, any tips?
Thanks! Oh, and other restaurant suggestions are welcome ;)


Monday, March 20, 2006

The Anti-Seed movement

Today I had another "only in France" moment. Grocery shopping, I decided to branch out of my usual fruit preferences and get some grapes. The only seedless ones they had were green (I'm a purple-red grape person) but I weighed flavor vs. convenience and convenience won. As I was unloading my groceries at home, I took a closer look at the clamshell packaging, and more importantly, the brand image. Take a peek for yourself, what do you see?

Ah yes. Hence the "only in France" moment. If you still don't get it, let's compare it to some typical American fruit packaging:

Basic and clearly labeled, with a sun as a nice touch:
More creative, in which the product is itself a part of the brand image/logo (the tomatoes appear to be singing/dancing in a chorus line, probably a happy, friendly bunch):

And let's go back to the French label...a disgruntled owl & lion PROTESTING in the streets against seeds. Right. The details in the posters are key: the written one is lyrical "PAS DE PEPINS DANS NOS RAISINS" (No seeds in our grapes!), and the owl is holding a poster which depicts a seed with a big red X over it. Classic. Now I'm sure that there are many examples of brands which play up images of a typical American (think old school Wheaties boxes). But HELLO here the two characters (Rik & Rok - the generic Auchan brand geared towards kids) are PROTESTERS demonstrating against SEEDS in grapes! Is this not even funnier in light of recent circumstances?! I know I've brought other products in the Rik & Rok line, and I don't remember them protesting as part of the packaging (admittedly, it was candy or generic haribos...Yes to sugar, no to Sweet n' lo, perhaps?). I guess someone in the Auchan product development section has an anti-seed agenda on the table.

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Saturday, March 18, 2006


Oh yes. This week I had the glorious pleasure of dining at Senderens, the well-received (and recently 2-starred!) restaurant at la Madeleine. Senederens has received a lot of press because of the chef's unusual makeover - Jancis Robinson provides a great write-up of it here - and I have read numerous articles about it in the NYTimes, Le Monde, and the Wall Street Journal to name a few.

So you can only imagine my anticipation. As soon as we were seated, we were brought flutes of champagne and served sea urchin risotto - served in the prickly shell! Everyone in our group was awed by the presentation, and I was happily surprised by the sea urchin itself, enough so to order the asparagus and sea urchin as my appetizer. It was the first time I have eaten urchin, and some might be turned off by the sliminess of it, but I enjoyed the rich flavor that went well with the asparagus. Others appetizers on the table were the smoked salmon, which was cooked about 1 mm from the outside but yet still smoked on the inside - we marveled at how they must have done that; the open vegetable ravioli - delicious; and something made with homard (sorry, fuzzy on the details).

For my main dish I went with my usual favorite - scallops. These were served in a coconut soup that reminded me of thai dishes I have had before, skewered with ginger, zucchini and miniscule snails. The scallops were huge! I thought that the thai broth was a bit overpowering for scallops, but this type of fusion was typical of the menu. Other plates at the table were the redsnapper - very simple presentation and even a bit scant on the portions; the lamb, which looked beautiful; the vol au vent, which came in two sections - the plate, with an empty square pastry bowl and two lobster (or maybe homard) heads next to it, and the pitcher of the cream, mushroom & calves' sweetbread mixture which the waiter gracefully poured into the bowl - lovely presentation.

For dessert, I finally had a millefeuille! It was the first time that I have ever had one, and it is a shame that I had my first one at Senderens because I am sure no millefeuille will ever compare. A millefeuille is a pastry made of layers of pastry dough and cream; the ones in bakeries are usually rectangular and the layers are indistinguishable, with thick custard in between. The one I had at Senderens was nothing like your typical Millefeuille - it was quite simply perfection. The layers were very distinct - crispy, caramel-y, pastry - with layers of a fluffy light vanilla cream that melted in my mouth. This is the dessert to get if you go there. The soup of exotic fruits was beautiful, and there was also a chocolate dessert (I think it was called a coulant) that was a bit disappointing for the person who ordered it because it ended up being basically a thin layer of warmed chocolate. It was topped with orange zest and I believe that there was also cognac involved, but I think it was a letdown in comparison with the other desserts. If you're a chocoholic, however, this is the way to go.

After dessert we were brought out little platters with a chocolate truffle (sprinkled with coffee), a macaroon, and a tuile. A perfect ending.

I can't get away with writing a post about Senderens without mentioning the decor. I never went when it was Lucas Carton, so I cannot compare (not that such a comparison is even necessary). However, it seems like they kept the original art nouveau wooden inlays and light fixtures, while going for ultra-modern everywhere else. All of the seating is done in a silver vinyl-like upholstry, the dining room is lined with fiberoptic panels that change colors (lilac to gray to orange to aquamarine, etc) as you dine, and even some tables are lighted (a constant green) with the same flower design as on the panels. The ceiling is the light fixture itself - a panel that provided a dim white-grey light when we were there, but whenever I pass it in the afternoon it is red. I hated the entrance area - when viewed from inside of the restaurant it reminds me of when you board an airplane, because of the sloping grey panels and the curtain between the door and the dining room. I'm not sure if the combination works, but it's an interesting contrast to the ever-present Madeleine in the background.

All in all, as you can tell, I loved my experience here. It goes without saying that the service was excellent. Also of note is that there is no set menu, and that there are suggested drink pairings with each dish. Don't even think of going without a reservation!

9 Place de la Madeleine
75008 Paris
01 42 65 22 90

EDIT: p.s. Hey, I went back a month later. Read about my second visit here. There's even a photo of the millefeuille!


Sunday, March 12, 2006

Le Pamphlet

Earlier this week I went to yet another bon gourmand restaurant, Le Pamphlet. When we called to make reservations, we learned that the Pamphlet is one of those restaurants that has only 2 services - one at 7:30 - 8, and another from 9:45 - 10:15-ish. Usually when this happens we go for the later service, because during the earlier service you can feel rushed. But 10 pm seemed a little late, even on Paris time, and so we told ourselves we would arrive perfectly on time to ensure a slow-paced meal. As we walked up to the restaurant at 7:30 on the dot, we glanced through the windows to see what it looked like. It was empty! Yikes. I hate being the only one in a restaurant, so we went to a lovely bar around the corner to have an aperitif. 20 minutes later, when we arrived, the restaurant was just starting to fill up. Amazingly, they have a separate room for non-smokers, which automatically segregated the tourists from the Parisians. This, and the fact there is more than adequate space between the tables made a good first impression.

So, the usual, the menu:
Pictured here is the "basic" 3 course menu at 33€, and the wine list. Not included is the insert of "supplements" - other choices for the appetizer and main dish that you can have for an additional 5 or 10€ - and the "surprise" menu at 55€. Neither the names of the plates nor the number of courses was listed - only the price - hence the name "surprise".

What I loved about the restaurant: the great service, the amount of space we had, and all the little things that came in between the courses. An amuse-bouche when you arrive is pretty customary, but they really outdid themselves. As soon as we arrived, we were brought a platter of charcuterie - saucisson, chorizo, and rilettes. Yum. After we had ordered, we had a delicious lentil soup, and before dessert an enticing platter of little petit fours:

(a fruit called "amour en cage", miniature financiers, mini almond tartes, and chocolate with liqueur on the inside).
Also, my friend LOVED his main dish, steak topped with foie gras (10€ supplement):
I really liked the homemade lemon sorbet. It wasn't quite sorbet - too creamy and thick - but it was the first lemon-flavored dairy product that I have liked, and it was great with the caramel crepes:

What I didn't like: the menu. There weren't that many choices, what was available was pretty "normal" fare, and the supplements were pretty steep. I understand that having a smaller choice allows the restaurant a certain amount of freedom, so I guess it's more about me than them. Any head or tongue or organ is automatically struck out; I prefer fish, and the fish choices were disappointing (not only the choices, but the plates themselves). Also, normal supplements are between 2 & 5€, so the 10€ supplement was a big jump.

*However* I would still recommend going there for a relaxed, slow paced meal with attentive service and a comfortable (non-smoking!) dining room. Only after my time in France could I complain about a restaurant as delicious and welcoming as this one!

The bar we went to beforehand (they have a great painted mural - full of characters from the neighborhood, I imagine, interesting "corkscrew" lighting fixtures, and their service was very friendly):
Le Bar' Bouille
13, rue de Bretagne
75003 Paris
01 42 78 42 52

I would recommend reservations:
Le Pamphlet
38 rue Debelleyme
75003 Paris
01 42 72 39 24