Sunday, December 17, 2006

Monsieur Lapin

Note: Not quite spring cleaning, but end-of-the year draft-clearing. Instead of deleting all these half-assed outdated posts that have been sitting languishing at the bottom of the draft list, I'll just get them outta here and release them to teh internets. You've been warned.

Just before leaving to go to Monsieur Lapin, a bib gourmand restaurant in the 14th, I second-guessed the wisdom of my choice, since I don't really like rabbit anymore. But we had a very nice time, from the service to the comfort to the food. And no worries if there is anyone else out there who doesn't really like rabbit: they offer much much more!

We arrived a bit early and so we went to the Artists'Pub next door to have an aperitif. There, the owner filled us in on Monsieur Lapin. It used to be owned by a gay couple, who retired a year or two ago and sold it. She hadn't been since the change but said the new owners had redone the entire interior, and that the food was excellent. A friend had told her that he would treat her for her birthday, which was in September, and she was still waiting on him! We promised to report back to her after our meal.

The decor at a restaurant named Mr. Rabbit is centered around -- surprise!-- rabbits. There is one particularly gruesome print of Alice standing over White Rabbit's dead body, with a pistol in her hand, but this is safely tucked away behind the toilet door. The main dining area is full of small figurines, stuffed animals perched in ledges, and more traditional prints. My young cousin and my grandmother would probably love this, R didn't care, and I was just meh. Another thing unique about the restaurant is that one side borders a courtyard, which is filled with plants and flowers. This makes a huge difference, since you feel like you are in the middle of a garden, or at least certainly not in Paris, when you look out the window.

Monsieur Lapin has a few set price menus in addition to the many à la carte options (click to enlarge):R and I both chose from the 34€ 3-course set menu: When we were seated we were brought rillettes (I don't remember what of...) and cheese-stuffed olives. I started out with the house salad, which was quite the medley. Fruits and veggies and liver oh my! Also two very small organs which I think were kidneys, and hid under a stray piece of lettuce before the waitress cleared the table. R started with the rabbit terrine, which is as good as one might expect from a restaurant thus named.

Sticking with the rabbit theme, R ordered the croustillant for his main dish, which was so cute. Imagine a big, round, crunchy dumpling, filled with rabbit meat, mushrooms, and dried fruits (I think I recall plum or raisins especially but I will have to doublecheck with R to see if he remembers other specifics). I had the tuna, which was enormous, especially for a fish course, especially for France. I didn't come close to finishing it! It was served over mashed potatoes made with olive oil, which I actually didn't like that much because the olive oil was a bit strong and overpowering.

For our last course, we kept it simple. R had sorbet while I got cheese and yet another salad. I had all of my favorites: goat cheese, comté, brie, and brebis.

This is a great place for a relaxing, intimate evening. The service was excellent throughout -- our waiter and waitress were friendly and smiling, the food was served neither too fast nor too slow but just so -- and we had more than enough space in our little corner. When we reported back to the Artists'Bar afterwards we told the owner that she must insist on getting that promised birthday dinner. I don't have much hope for her, though: apparently she is still waiting on theatre tickets promised to her by the same friend on her last birthday!

Monsieur Lapin
11, rue r. Losserand
75014 Paris
01 43 20 21 39
M: Gaîté or Pernety
Open Sunday; closed Monday and Saturday lunch.
Reservations recommended.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Rave: Les Graphistes

I love paper products, to the point of obsession. I have more stationary and cards than I will probably use in this lifetime, but I can never resist when I see good quality and interesting letter paper or cards, especially when on sale. I'm even worse with journals: I don't want to count how many new, empty journals are sitting in my closet, or worse, how many I have started but never finished. This is the story of my life, ever since I was a child and read Harriet the Spy.

I fall victim to these purchases in the gift shops of museums, occasionally in little bookstores like Artazart, and most often I get stuck lingering in the stationary departments of Gibert Jeune or Fnac. Sometimes this even happens to me in Monoprix or Auchan, as I remain firmly planted before the rainbow of the simple, but colorful, Clairefontaine notebooks. Yes, French paper is as good as everyone says it is, soft and glossy and thick, and nothing compared to Mead's thin college-ruled looseleaf.

I am mesmerised by one brand in particular, Les Graphistes by Jnf Productions. Last year I bought the following agenda and notebook. But this year they kept the same designs! And the only slight difference is one for the worse.
So, my agenda:Cliché? Perhaps. But they kept the exact same quotes as last year! I would like some new inspirational quotes, thank you very much. So I will not be purchasing this for 2007.
The partly-filled journal:Again, the same quotes! And the only change they made was to the color of the text: it is now white instead of black. I think the glossy black on matte black effect was much cooler.

Oh well I probably didn't need a new journal anyways. But I can't hold it against Les Graphistes, I still love their designs. I've seen this line at the Fnac aux Halles and the main Gibert Jeune, though apparently they have their very own boutique which I have yet to visit:

Jnf Productions
Achat et ventes de livres d'occasion
17-19 rue Visconti
75006 Paris
Tél: 01 44 41 19 60
Métro: St Germain des Prés

UPDATE: Actually, I just noticed that there is one difference with the agenda's quotes: the Che quote replaces "Allez, le temps est cher il le faut employer. [Jean Racine]" on the 2006 one.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Bouchee a la reine

Bouchée à la reine, sometimes called vol-au-vent*, was my first introduction to French food. This was a menu staple at an eccentric bistrot in my hometown, and the first time I ordered it I knew it was something special. A delicate puff pastry bowl filled with a creamy sauce and chunks of chicken and mushroom, a perfect balance of beauty and substance: it was love at first sight.

This made me all the more excited when I visited Strasbourg, since I would get to experience authentic bouchée à la reine, it being an Alsacian specialty. During this first visit I was relying once again on R for restaurants and sightseeing. R knows Strasbourg very well, and all the pubs and doner kebab shops even better, but restaurants not so much. So for my first ever bouchée à la reine in France, he took me to a cheesy chain, where I again got the chicken version. I was happy, however, and it was much better than back home. The relationship had survived the Atlantic!

Alas, the 2nd time I had bouchée à la reine in France, there started to be difficulties. R had picked one up for me from a takeaway bouchée à la reine place (only in Strasbourg!) as a surprise. Warning bells should've sounded, especially given the greenish hue to the sauce. Can you guess what's coming? My first case of food poisoning. After this I swore off bouchée à la reine forever.


We happened to be visiting R's parents during my birthday. His mom knew that I loved bouchée à la reine, and so she decided to surprise me by making it.

R's mom is an awesome cook. She is a perfectionist in the kitchen and searches out the best quality ingredients. She buys her meat from a neighboring farmer: when a cow is ready to be killed and the farmer has enough buyers, the freezer out in the garage will be filled with kilos of meat. Every visit with his parents is a treat, not only because they are lovely people, but also because we are spoiled rotten with the awesome meals. I will never forget the best Thanksgiving meal I ever had, thanks to her. We had emailed for a few weeks about the menu and ingredients. When it came to stuffing I foolishly offered to bring a box of Stovetop with me. Ooh na na. This was not what Madame R had in mind. Instead she made real stuffing: a pork, veal and chestnut mix truly stuffed in the turkey. And old-fashioned whipped potatoes with a real rice grinder! And did I mention the magnum of a 1960s Bordeaux to accompany all this? Yeah. The best Thanksgiving dinner ever. I did help out - I made the pumpkin pie. Which was a total flop. An acquired taste, I suppose.

So. I've now established that R's mom is amazing in the kitchen and only uses and prepares the best. Late in the afternoon I come upon her violently peeling and separating some kind of organ. I ask what she's doing and if she needs any help. She replies that she is just preparing the ris de veau for the bouchée à la reine. Pardon?

"I thought bouchée à la reine was made with chicken," I reply.

R's mom shakes her head vigorously: "Only the cheap versions."

Hmm. So what is this ris de veau thing anyways? I ask R's mom and she gestures towards her stomach. I'm starting to get a sinking feeling.

I hastily look it up in the English-French dictionary, where it reads "Calf's Sweetbread." Great. What does that mean? "It sounds innocuous," I think to myself hopefully.

Using their dial up connection I do a quick google search, where I learn that it means...pancreas and thymus.

The relationship is doomed.

At dinner, I try to hide my discomfort, either swallowing the bits whole or sneaking them onto R's plate. And I've stuck with the "cheap" version of bouchée à la reine ever since.

*These two terms are sometimes listed interchangeably on menus. I don't know the exact difference between them, but I think vol-au-vent refers to the puff pastry bowl/presentation itself while bouchée à la reine refers to the entire dish/specific recipe for this Alsacian specialty. Please correct me if I'm wrong. Also, a literal translation would be "Queen's mouthful."

Photo lifted from Swee San's gorgeous Flickr account:
And do check out her equally gorgeous blog, A Self-proclaimed Foodaholic.


blogger beta and wordpress people, come here

Hey. Talk to me: should I switch to beta? Hold off as long as I can? Move to Wordpress? I have heard so many bad things about beta, I don't want to lose stuff and fubaru links and comments and shizz in the move. Just googling "blogger beta sucks" makes me scared. Is Wordpress better than blogger? blogger beta?

Thank you is all.


Friday, December 08, 2006

Many Happy Returns

I've been meaning to put this up for ages now, but let me give you just a quick rundown on repeat visits to Le Cambodge, Chez Stella, and Zen Zoo. Check the original posts for more details on prices and contact information.

Le Cambodge
(Read about my first visit here.)
Remember my complaints last time? And my strategizing about how to properly approach a dining experience here? To minimize frustration with this place, take out is the only viable option. Call for takeaway at exactly 8:30 when they open, and then pick it up 20 minutes later, bottle of wine or chilled beer in hand, and head towards the Canal for a picnic, weather permitting. The only reason I say to call right at 8.30 is because that is the only time it will take only 20 minutes to prepare your order. Later in the evening you might have to wait even 1 hr for takeaway, so keep this in mind if you are hungry or impatient. Also, make sure you doublecheck your order. The first time we ordered takeaway, they switched our order with the person in front of us. Neither the customer nor the host noticed, but we did, so we got the privilege of waiting an additional 20 minutes for them to prepare our order for a 2nd time. Hooray. No free drinks while we waited or anything. In spite of the consistently horrendous service, I keep going back! Do not go here if you have anger management problems or high blood pressure. But if you are a really chill person in need of some delicious cheap Cambodian food, give it a try. We have tried almost everything on the menu and the Bobun Beef special is the best. And my favorite. And seriously addicting. It will melt away your frustration with them - a love/hate relationship indeed.

Chez Stella:
(Read about my first visit here.)
Stella and Momo were in full form on the evening that we returned, cracking jokes about the tapette mayor, and flirting with all the customers, male or female. The food was good as always, and their chocolate cake, covered with chocolate frosting (or rather, the chocolate frosting with a side of cake), was sinfully rich. Definitely a keeper.

Zen Zoo
(Read about my first visit here.)
I heart this place. I love the bubble tea and the soup is perfect when I'm feeling down or just want something light. Plus the staff is so nice. It has become one of my favorite places in Paris. They also have cultural evenings, with Chinese films - check the website for details. Highly recommended!


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

just another boring post about my boyfriend...

Tonight my boyfriend said the craziest stuff. I wanted to be like "who are you and what have you done with my boyfriend?!"

We were talking about Becks and if he would really leave Real (in English):
Me: So where will Becks go? Back to the UK? I really can't see him going to the US - not yet at least.
R: Well, he's just a warm-bencher
M: Bench-warmer.
R: Yes, bench-warmer, at Real. And he's so expensive, definitely overrated.
M: Still, I think it's too soon for him already to go to the US to "retire."
R: But you know he is all about being a celebrity, he cares more about that than being a football player...[here R proceeds to give me a detailed account of Becks and Posh going to TomKat's wedding, Becks getting called back to Spain by his furious coach, and how Posh and Kat(i)e Holmes are best friends]
M: [jaw-dropped open, question marks floating over head] Have you been spending too much time in the Marais?

Later we got to talking about Ségolène Royal (still in English):
R: Everytime I see her on TV I want to punch the TV and break it.
M: Ummm...
R: [goes on and on about why he hates her - her fumble with the Palestinians, her inability to comprehend what a nuclear proliferation treaty entails, she's so dumb and tarnishes the l'ENA name, etc.]
M: Can you please write this down so I can post this on my blog? You're hilarious.
R: No, people will hate me.
M: Nobody will know your name. Please? Pretty please? English-speaking people need to hear about this. All you have to do is write it down, even in French if you want and I will translate. Or you can dictate it to me!
R: No.

Ah! I'll try to wear him down and convince him to post about it.


Friday, December 01, 2006

Chez Maurice Le Bourgogne

Au Bourgogne is one of the few restaurants on my blacklist. First mentioned way back when on my list of cheap restaurants, I discovered this place in the guide Paris Pas Cher. It's included there for good reason: they've got set menus from 11€ - 16 17.50€. Despite this, and much to the chagrin of my boyfriend since it is one of his favorite restaurants here, I refuse to return. Anytime he's going out with friends and I either can't or don't want to join them, he gets excited because it gives him the chance to satisfy his Au Bourgogne fix.

The first time I went, I too loved this place. The cheesy red checkered tablecloths, the convivial atmosphere, the jolly bartender (Maurice's daughter) and her young daughter Morgane trailing behind, carrying the credit card machine for her maman: a storybook family restaurant indeed. It was the first time I ate tartiflette, a heavy potato, cheese and bacon casserole, and it was delicious. Packed regardless of the day or hour, the clientele is a diverse mix of the neighborhood bobos, colorful regulars, students, single men who consider it their cantine, and a stray tourist or two. We almost always ran into someone we knew there, and once we even saw a reporter from Canal+.

Part of the Bourgogne experience involves a 15-minute interruption in the evenings, as a sad old lady with pancake makeup comes and gives her screeching renditions of French ballads. It makes it impossible to carry on a conversation, and if you have either dogs or babies with you I'm sure they will want to join in. My dog loves singing along to the French fire engine sirens, and I can only imagine how she would react if ever she witnessed this spectacle.* We always felt so sad and sorry for this lady, but it was truly horrible. This alone, however, isn't why I will never go back.

We returned quite a few times, usually with friends as it is a great place for groups, and each time was fine. We might have felt a bit rushed or cramped, and the cooking might have been inconsistent, but nothing out of the ordinary for a Parisian restaurant. And certainly acceptable given the prices.

The second to last time I went, I was eating my fromage blanc when I almost choked on a fish bone. I don't even want to ponder how a fish bone got in my dessert. I chalked it up to the hazards of dining out, though I was a bit hesitant to return after that.

It was my final visit that settled it. I started with a slice of mushroom quiche, and then had the Eggs Florentine, which is a casserole involving spinach and eggs and I don't even know what else. Just writing this is making me queasy. That night I was struck with something and I spent a lovely evening and the following morning hugging the porcelain. I think it was food poisoning; R counters that it was just the flu. But I was feeling fine up til after dinner, and I am sure Le Bourgogne was the culprit. The thought of cooked spinach now makes me nauseous and it will take some time before I'll be able to eat it again.

If you are adventurous, can't wait to see the spectacle for yourself, have an iron stomach, or are just really cheap, don't let me stop you. Try it at your own risk.

The menus (click to enlarge):

Chez Maurice Le Bourgogne
26, Rue des Vinaigriers
75010 Paris
Tel: 01 46 07 07 91
M: Jacques Bonsergent or Gare de l'est
Closed Sundays

Pictures forthcoming updated.

*Her charming groomer, situated on a street through which fire engines have passed in the course of the grooming, has nicknamed her La Petite Chanteuse.