Friday, February 24, 2006

La Poste

While most trips to the Post Office usually involve long lines, grouchy salespeople, and even grouchier customers (or worse, people who skip the line!), today I was in for a pleasant surprise: no line, a nice salesperson, and shiny new stamps! I do not collect stamps, in fact I do not collect anything, but I really like buying new *pretty* stamps. La Poste had me at the series based on French life and sights, with photos that induced stomach growling:
I don't know if you can make it out, but in the bottom left corner is a stamp featuring quiche lorraine; the bottom center is cassoulet; top right corner is oysters.
This set features Cantal (the cheese), Rilletes, Bouillabaisse, and Choucroute.

Only in France. Can you imagine an American stamp featuring a hamburger? Or barbeque? Perhaps I am overlooking other American culinary delights that surely merit an official stamp.
I laughed when I saw the "video game" line of stamps. How cool to have Mario on a stamp!

I thought these were really cute, and I thought about getting them,

until I saw these which totally won me over:
First of all, France has finally jumped on the sticker-stamp bandwagon. What took them so long?! When did we first get sticker-stamps in the US...5 years ago, at least?! So hurray for one step towards modernity. Also, I just like the stamps and the neat little timeline on the back of the packet. I would be even happier if other favorites were included, but it is pretty much the all-star lineup of Impressionists so I can't complain. Available at a post office near you ;)


Thursday, February 23, 2006

Assorted Drinks

I've been meaning to do a post about this for awhile. I love Perrier's Cherry-Ginger "Fluo" drink. It is like Cherry 7Up (remember that?) + Canada Dry Ginger Ale. Yum. I don't know if they have it in the states yet but it's about 70 or 80 cents for an individual bottle (the only size it seems to come in) and I would definitely recommend it for any Ginger Ale or Cherry 7Up fans.

And since I'm on the subject of drinks, allow me to rave about La Tisanière, my favorite brand of tea over here (since I can't find Celestial Seasonings or Traditional Medicinals anywhere). Why do I love this brand of tea so much? Flavor, flavor, and oh yeah did I mention great flavor? Lipton, Twinings, and the generic brand just don't compare. This brand might seem more expensive but the individual bags contain more tea; when I was using Lipton infusions I kept wondering why they came out so weak, but it seems like teabags are smaller here than in the states. I guess I'll have to do some research before I back that up. If you like fruity teas I would recommend "fruits rouges" (red fruits) or "cassis fraise" (strawberry-blackcurrant). The Red Fruits tea is a delicious blend of strawberry, cherry, raspberry. Both will make your apartment smell like there's a strawberry shortcake cooking in the oven, and they are perfect on rainy afternoons. You don't even need to add honey or sugar - they're not sweet but they've got such a great flavor all on their own!

If fruity teas aren't your thing, there is also the Chamomile tea. I love this in the mornings or even on a cold night. La Tisanière also has a "Well-being" line, but I'm a bit apprehensive about buying tea with names like "Line & Beauty" or "for Light Legs". That's just one step too close to "Female Toner" or "Women's Liberty". These names just sound too gimmicky, even though I love the other teas that this particular company (Traditional Medicinals) offers, particularly the Cold Care line.
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Friday, February 17, 2006

The mystery of French pricing

In America, there is a big assumption when shopping: the more you buy, the less you pay (per unit). This is the reason why people become members at Costco and Sam's Club; this is why I go ahead and buy the massive economy size portion instead of the understated individual unit. When you come to France, my friends, you must forget this key principle. Here are some classic examples of unit prices that remain the same or even increase with the larger sizes:

1L milk at local Monoprix: 1€01
2L milk at local Monoprix: 2€02

1 month supply of dog medicine at pharmacy: 9€95
3 months supply of dog medicine at pharmacy: 36€50

I am really baffled by the medication prices. Why should it cost more per unit? As you can imagine, I now buy the medicine each month. Obviously, this doesn't always hold true, and a 16-count of yogurt is almost always cheaper per unit than the 4-count, but I just can't wrap my American mind around this one.

Also, today I really really embarrassed myself in a shoe shop. I passed by either a Courir or a Foot Locker, and I noticed the display of Air Maxes in the window. I decided to inquire about the Air Max 95s, the most beautiful Nike ever, so I approached a guy working there.

Me: Hi, I was wondering if you guys had the Nike Air Max 95's yet.
Salesguy: Pardon?
Me: [get ready for a big no-no!] You know, Nike (pronounced the American way, Ni-key, and then I try to remember how the French say it) Nikay? Neekay? Neek? [yep, there it is - I just said it - nique, as in NTM the rap group, as in I'm a pottymouth]
Salesguy: (laughing) Nike? (pronounced the french way, rhymes with "bike") You'll have to go to the Nike store on the Champs-Elysées to find them, we only have the 90's.

The guy was nice about it, he wasn't rude or anything, but I was just like "Crap. I've been here for 17 months and still make an amateur mistake like that?!"

So don't forget: in French Nike rhymes with bike!


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Le Gallopin

Last night for Valentine's Day we went to Gallopin. I was super excited because I've read great reviews about the place, it's a bon gourmand* restaurant, and their set price menu is only 33€50 , wine included! They had this chalkboard set up outside, confirming the website menu:

So I was kinda (well, totally) pissed when we got the menu and I learned that the exact same menu was now 45€ because it was Valentine's Day:

WTF?! I understand that restaurants have special menus for special occasions, but what really perplexed me was that on the website you can see that they had special menus for Christmas and New Year's, all the while keeping the original menu available. But this was the original menu, just the prices had changed. Whatever. I got over it, and my date didn't care because he wasn't going to order the menu anyways.

So first of all, the Gallopin is one classy place. Out of all the bon gourmand restaurants I've been to in Paris, this was by far the nicest dining room. It has an incredible Cuban bar, wood paneling, chandeliers...check out the photos on their site. Unfortunately I didn't take any; I had my camera, but we were seated in between two pairs of regulars and I would've felt like a jackass, totally ruining the whole "romantic", intimate, St. Valentine's Day vibe.

So, my boyfriend got an entrée (pâté or foie gras...can't remember but he liked it), I didn't because I was saving up for dessert. I got a glass of white wine, and we also got a bottle of red wine. The wine list is very reasonable and it starts at about 18€ for a bottle, 4 or 5€ for a glass. For our main dishes my boyfriend got steak served with french fries, and topped with red fruits, and I got grilled fish. Stupid me, I totally ignored the "entier" in the description, and so when the waiter brought out the entire fish with the head on, he obviously saw my look of dismay and kindly offered to prepare it for me. He did a great job on that and I was impressed with his skills and very thankful - I know I would've butchered it.

Soon enough it was my favorite part of any meal, dessert. I hesitated between crème brûlée and millefeuille (which I've never had before), but I haven't had crème brûlée in a while so I decided to go for it. A word of warning: the desserts are GINOURMOUS! I have never seen as big a crème brûlée; at first I thought it just looked big and the dish was shallow...but no. Not to say that I didn't finish it ;)! The baba rhums looked huge as well, served in a soup dish! Unfortunately no one ordered the crêpes flambées when we were there, apparently they fix it right in front of you and I'm sure it's quite a sight.

After desserts we had coffee, and then cognac. And now comes the part where Gallopin totally won me over and I forgive them for raising the prices for Valentine's Day: before we left the manager came over and gave my boyfriend a 375mL bottle of champagne and me a Thalgo travel kit with a 15€ coupon at the Thalgo institute! I doubt I'll use the coupon, but I always love samples :)

So, go to the Gallopin, it's beautiful and you'll feel like you stepped into old Paris. Definitely make reservations.
40, rue Notre Dame des Victoires
75002 Paris
01 42 36 45 38
Métro: Bourse

*kinda like a "good deal" category in the red Michelin guide, it means you can have an amazing 3 course meal for around 30€.

EDIT: I went back on April 3 and snapped a photo of the typical offerings. The daily specials look great and I am amazed at the normal prices. I'll have to go back! ps If you look carefully you'll notice the saint marked by the date - Saint's Days are celebrated here in France and I have never noticed it on a menu before. Today is St. Richard, so if you know a Richard you'd better wish him a happy saint day!

2nd EDIT: p.s. Hey, I went back 2 months later. Read about my second visit here.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

If you're bored...

here's some more stuff I've come across on the web.

Today I saw this girl in the metro that had a really nifty purse, with seat belt fasteners and everything. I considered asking her where she got it, but then I realized I was close enough to make out the brand: Zikë. When I got home I did a Google search and lo and behold they have a website AND a boutique in Paris. I'll have to check it out one of these days.

I'd never thought I'd come across a site like this. Yep, you read it right, Christians united...not against abortion or gay marriage, but FOR the legalization of marijuana! I wonder what my very Catholic grandparents would think...

This guy has great (daily) photos of Paris. I like it because it doesn't just focus on all the "WOW!" photos of Paris, also the little everyday stuff.

When I first saw Must Love Dogs, I knew I recognized the Dad from somewhere. But it wasn't until I read this article that I put my finger on it: it was the Baron Von Trapp! Christopher Plummer now seems to be popping up everywhere. I love the mucus reference, by the way. How funny.

Is anyone else as excited as I am that Nike is reissuing their classic Air Maxes? I can't wait for the 95's to come out...I've been lusting after the black & pink ones since high school!

Yet another funky boutique.

I can't wait to try out this restaurant.

A site to make your own icon.



Saturday, February 11, 2006

La Tartine

This afternoon a friend and I met up to do some window shopping in the Marais. The afternoon was promising and perfect for walking through the marais: a rare blue sky with a few clouds (already gray by now, of course...we are in Paris afterall). There are so many cool shops in this area it would be hard to name them all. Unfortunately most of them are WAY out of my budget, even with the soldes period taken into account, which explains why we were limited (not necessarily by choice) to window shopping! One of my favorite ones, that I can afford (because it's a used bookstore), is Mona Lisait, but I stuck hard to my promise and didn't buy any books! My favorite floor is the top one, where they have tons of old posters from museums and galleries.

Another great thing about the Marais is the plethora of bagel shops. Around lunchtime we began to search for somewhere to eat and we stumbled upon this dive:

But alas, it's Saturday, and as it is a Jewish establishment it was closed. I will keep it in mind the next time I have a craving for bagels & cream cheese.

Luckily we didn't have to walk far to find the perfect place for lunch, La Tartine. The interior is adorable, and there is a real and noticable difference between the smoking and non-smoking sections.

Sorry this picture is dark, still haven't mastered all the settings on the camera. So, their specialty is tartines (duh) - open faced sandwiches that start at 5.50€ and run to 7.50€ for the more elaborate ones (accompanied with a salad). These prices are reasonable, especially for the marais. I opted for one of the daily specials, a leek quiche with a salad (7€) and my friend had another special, the beef filet with vegetables and potatoes gratinée and a blue cheese sauce (12€). I bit into my quiche before remembering to take a picture, but I snapped one up of my friend's meal:

Yum. La Tartine also has a great selection of wines by the glass for 3 - 4€. The service was a bit spotty (our THIRD waiter claimed that it was because they were changing shifts, but I've never heard of a restaurant that changes shifts in the middle of lunch hour), but it has many advantages to compensate for this: the cute interior, the true division between smoking and non-smoking, and the reasonable prices. I think it is the perfect place for lunch or a late evening snack. I bet they have a great brunch, too.
La Tartine
24, rue de Rivoli
75004 Paris
7/7, 8 am - 2 am
Métro: St-Paul

After we left we walked by St. Paul's:

just another afternoon in Paris...

EDIT: p.s. Hey, I went back a few months later. Read about my second visit here.

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Friday, February 10, 2006

Gather 'Round

Ladies. I have a secret to share. I have been given the address of a store where you can buy Petit Bateau for rock bottom prices. Surely too good to be true, I went today to check it out myself. It exists! In the back of this store, there are two bins, one with tops and one with bottoms. It requires a bit of scavenging to find the size and color that you want, and either the "petit bateau" is crossed out or the tag is cut (à la TJMaxx/Marshalls), but either way it comes to only 2 euros an item which is a GREAT deal, my friend. So I pass along this knowledge to you: JABI, 15, Av de Clichy, 75017, Paris, 01 42 93 67 45. If anyone else knows of any "outlets" in the Paris area I would love to have the addresses ;).

And a few images from the shops near Place des Vosges...
The dress in the window is truly a creation. It reminds me of a cake (why do I always think of food...):

Speaking of food, this restaurant was a few doors down...hey who's that guy in the window?!

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Le Buisson Ardent II: My Return

Remember when I went to Le Buisson Ardent for the first time? I went back this weekend, for another celebration type dinner. First, the good stuff. Once again the service was friendly and helpful. This time we were treating someone else, so I called up to ask them if they had menus without prices. They said no, *but* that they could print off a special menu for the person we were treating. WOW! So I gave them a description of her, and sure enough when we arrived she got the special menu sans prix! I am very impressed. Accomodating special requests is no given in France, and it was really nice of them to do that for us.
So now to the disappointment...the menu gastronomique doesn't change. So we had the exact same meal as back in November, with the exact same wines. I thought to myself, "Well, maybe because it's still winter and they only change their menu seasonally." So we asked the waiter and he shot my theory down: it's always foie gras - 2nd course - quail - dessert. Only the 2nd course and the dessert change occasionally. That is kind of a bummer. Also we didn't get comped on cognac this time (sob). But still it's a great restaurant, and their other menus have a super selection, so I probably will be going back soon :)

You know my last post on Banania? Guess what. Following a suit filed against the company for its slogan "Y'a bon Banania", the company is getting rid of it! They haven't used it on their packaging since 1977, but now they will no longer even pay the fees to protect the copyright. Here's a good article in English about it. And here's an official description of the suit by those who filed it. And another news article in French. And yet another one.


Friday, February 03, 2006

The 15 second rule

No, I am not referring to how long food that has been dropped can rest on the ground before it is no longer edible. I am instead referring to my own formula for instant bliss:

[pastry of your choice] + [15 seconds* in microwave] = instant bliss

If it's a croissant au beurre, the buttery crust will melt in your mouth. Even better, if it's a pain au chocolat, the chocolate will have melted. I used to be so disappointed when I bought a pain au chocolat that wasn't hot out of the oven (I know my corner bakery's schedule by heart ;)), but now I can enjoy a pain au chocolat at any time of the day!

If you wish to increase the instant bliss factor, I would suggest a mug of Banania. Far superior to just plain 'ol hot chocolate, Banania is thicker and more filling without the sugary sweetness of Nesquik (or Swiss Miss, for those of you Stateside). I was hesitant to try it because of the ingredients that are not usually included in hot chocolate: bananas (duh) and cereal, but now it's all I buy. Mmmm. Banania.

Also of note is the backlash against the images associated with Banania (this seems especially pertinent due to the recent mess about the recognition of the benefits and "rôle positif" of French colonization). Here is one of the older logos, which was also available this holiday season in the form of a special collecter's tin :

And the original box design:

But don't let that, or the presence of bananas, deter you from trying it. It will be one of the products that I will really miss when I'm back in the US.

*My roomie has a 20 sec. rule but I find that it leaves the pastries soggy and limp. You'll have to experiment with your microwave to get it just right!
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