Wednesday, November 28, 2007

So I discovered a nifty new site today that will find all the grocery stores, restaurants, coffee shops, etc near a certain address and calculate a "walkability" score: And the best news: it works for France too! I thought my Parisian neighborhood would do better than the lowly 71,* because I had no problems getting all my major errands done: my bank was 2 blocks away, the library was 4 blocks away, corner groceries were all nearby, and even real shops like Sephora, Habitat, American Apparel, etc were only a 5 minute walk away. I am surprised because I compared it with my undergrad address, which was in the heart of a great shopping district in a major city but not so convenient for any "errandy" type things, and it got an 87. Back home gets a 30 (no surprise) and where I am now gets a 49 (also no surprise). Where the boyfriend is gets a score of 54, and thanks to this site I discovered that an English specialty grocery is only .5 miles away from him. This is a really fun tool to keep around, and I bet it would be really handy while traveling and wondering what the nearest coffee shop, or restaurant, or whatever is.

*The grading scale says: "70 - 90 = Very Walkable: It's possible to get by without owning a car." See

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Le J'Go

Wow. This feels wierd. An actual blog post. Imagine that.

Anyways. In Toulouse for the day, wanted to try a great resto, but there are no bib gourmands in Toulouse! Or at least none that turn up on So instead I turned to my backup online guide,, and decided to go with J'Go, even though it bothered me that they have a resto at Paris too. (At first I felt like it was a cop-out, but while I was shopping I ran into a boutique that had the J'Gos business cards next to its own, and the shopgirl raved about it.)

No worries, though, we had a good time. I went with the Formule Rest'o, at 23€, and my boyfriend had the Formule J'Go, at 30€. I would recommend the upgrade to the 30€ set menu - as you will see, it is worth it when comparing the main dishes, and to have the choice of the full range of desserts.

I started with the Soupe de Potimarron, which was excellent. This is one of my favorite soups anyways, and I was not disappointed. It was topped with croutons and dried ham.

The boyfriend had the pate. In a word: copious. Though I'm not sure that he even touched the salad!Not pictured is the pot of cocktail pickles and onions that accompanied it.

After, the boyfriend had the gigot, which was excellent. As it should be, given the name of the restaurant!It was served on a bed of haricots tarbais (they weren't bad). But most remarkable was the fact that this was all you can eat! When we were reading the menu beforehand, I remarked that the "a volonte" must be referring to the side dish -- not the lamb itself -- because who has ever heard of all you can eat anything in France?!* But much to my boyfriend's delight, this assumption was wrong. This is one reason it is now on his shortlist for a good guys' night out restaurant.

*except for Flam's, of course!

So tender and juicy, the gigot really outshone my sad dry roasted lamb in comparison. I definitely regretted not getting the restaurant's namesake!

But at least my fries were excellent - I had to force myself to slide them to the boyfriend's side of the table so that I wouldn't eat them all.

For dessert, I had the dessert of the day, caneles. These are one of my favorite sweets when they are done right, and happily these were wonderful. I rarely find good caneles -- I had just bought one the day before that was too doughy. Some are too hard, some have no flavor. But these were great - soft and sweet and warm. And the waiter even wrapped them up for me to take home! My boyfriend rolled his eyes at my request, but I wasn't ashamed. They were even better the next morning. ;)

My boyfriend was in heaven with his dessert: prune ice cream, generously topped with armagnac and a little pastry. "It's like rum raisin ice cream - but better!" he pronounced after his first spoonful.

We had a bottle of red wine to accompany this; the wine list is available on their website, and starts at about 20€. I think our bill came to about 80€ total for the both of us, and we thought it was a very good value.* Service was great - I mean, they wrapped up my caneles! I can't really complain. One minor point, that might be a downside for some: we were surrounded by Brits, so it's easy to forget you're in France.

*Though now, with the Euro at $1.40+, can I really keep a straight face when I say it's a good value? Is anything a good value in France anymore? (for Americans at least.) Even French brands -- think Petit Bateau, Repetto, etc -- now seem to be cheaper, or at least the same price, in the US. This is the only part that worries me about my return to France, especially if I will be paid in USD. And especially since it's only going to get worse.

Le J'Go
16, place Victor-Hugo
31000 Toulouse
05 61 23 02 03
M: Jean-Jaures or Capitole
Reservations recommended during the week; necessary on the weekends.

The menu (you can also check out their website for more details):


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Video Post!

I'm not in France anymore, but through the magic of the internet I have been able to follow things closely. I'd like to share some of the YouTube goldmines I've seen in these past few days.

Sarko's interview with Charlie Rose (Sarko is translated in English). I guess it's one of the few where he hasn't totally been able to control his image - look how miniature he looks!
Part I, where Rose asks him point blank about betraying Chirac:
Part II, where Sarko compares Turkey to Mexico. O-kaaay...

For comparison, here is another Charlie Rose interview with a man worthy of the French presidential office:

And then I really got addicted to watching all the Canal+ "Boite a questions" clips. Here is my favorite, with Philippe de Villiers. This guy is so ridiculous he just cracks me up:

Now compare what de Villiers just said to Colbert's take on Sego:

And here is Sarkozy doing the same:

One with Dominique de Villepin and others:

A compilation of other people on Sego (why didn't she do it herself?):

Finally, the classic '93 Sarko-Sego standoff (she is so ridiculous!!! Honey, eyerolls aren't a proper response in this type of interaction):

Oh, and one more English interview with Sego...even I didn't watch the whole thing because the narrator sloow monotone just bored me to tears.

There are tons of "boite a questions" on YouTube and DailyMotion, and a few in English with American or English stars, so if you have time to kill check it out.

UPDATE: I had to add this classic, Colbert congratulating Sarkozy in French!

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Galler Chocolat-The

I've been in Belgium for how long, and not even one mention of chocolate? Blasphemy. Not to worry. I did save the best for last, and so I hope this post will satisfy any chocoholics out there.

There are 4 main chocolate brands that you will see plastered everywhere in Brussels: Pierre Marcolini, Neuhaus, Godiva, and Leonidas. Leonidas is the cheapest, and its shops can be found in many of the main metro and train stations. Godiva, well, you know Godiva. Neuhaus was founded in 1857, and its flagship store is located on the main place. And then there is Pierre Marcolini, definitely the sleekest and modern of them all.

Finally, there is also Galler, which I don't really count as being among the "magic circle" (even though they are Belgian Royal Warrant Holders) since they have 2 separate lines: the stuff available in grocery stores (candy bars and their infamous "cat's tongues" which were designed by Belgian comic book artist Philippe Geluck) and the more delicate pralines available only in their shops, which are actually few and far between. From their website I learned that some of their shops also had their own cafes, offering wine and chocolate pairings and many unusual flavors of hot chocolate, in addition to tea, ice cream, and other sweets. This I had to experience, and so one afternoon we took the tram out to the Uccle neighborhood to visit the only such cafe in Brussels.

While the menu had many types of hot chocolate that I would be interested in tasting just to be able to say that I had, like the Green Tea one, I was really intrigued by the trio of hot chocolates in the styles of the 14th, 16th, and 18th centuries. For 4.70€ I was not disappointed:Each version had 2 different aromas, and it was up to you to identify them. The waitress suggested that I start with the 18th century one (on the right) and time travel back to the 16th and 14th century ones (on the left). The answers were printed on the placemat underneath the cups: The only one I didn't like was the 16th century, whose main flavor was anise (licorice - bleh) with hints of hazelnut. Otherwise, I really liked the 18th century one (cinamon and orange flavor), and the 14th century one was fine too (spice and honey).

My boyfriend got the wine pairing, which involved 2 glasses of wine that were paired with 2 chocolates each (12€). I didn't try the wines, but he enjoyed them and said they reminded him more of Porto, and that Chypriote wine he once had at Senderens that he still won't stop talking about, than anything else. And who wouldn't appreciate an excuse to imbibe on wine and chocolate in the middle of the afternoon under the guise of a "tasting menu"?!

I bought about 4€ worth of assorted pieces before leaving, including every version of caramel (the one with salted caramel was my favorite), violet (disgusting - felt like I was eating soap), jasmine (not bad), and curry (I chickened out and made my boyfriend eat this one without telling him the flavor, he just responded, "spicy?"). And how does Galler measure up? Well, just last night we visited the trio on the Place des Sablons -- Pierre Marcolini, Godiva, and Neuhaus -- picking up a few pieces from each. And Pierre Marcolini was our favorite. So delicate but complex; in comparison Galler is almost like a Snickers. Really. And about the same price as Pierre Marcolini anyways.

Do not let this deter you from a trip out to the Galler cafe; I was certainly grateful for this chance to visit an adorable neighborhood that I would otherwise not have seen, and now I get to say that I have had all these different flavors of hot chocolate. But if you are looking for the ultimate delicacy, those exquisite pralines with each name and flavor emblazoned in gold leaf, head to that Japanese mecca, Pierre Marcolini, which has style and flair that the others can't quite match.

Galler Chocolat-The
Parvis Saint Pierre 6
B-1180 Bruxelles (Uccle)
Tel: +32-(0)2-346.46.49

Pierre Marcolini, Neuhaus, and Godiva are located 3 in a row on the Place des Sablons in Brussels, with many other locations throughout Brussels and Belgium.


Thursday, April 05, 2007

Dock's Cafe

Dock's cafe, as if you couldn't tell by the name, is just across the street from the boardwalk in Antwerp. And as you might expect, their specialties are seafood.

A bib gourmand in the Michelin Guide, Dock's Cafe has a set lunch menu during the week for 15€, and a range of weekly set menus that start at 23€. We were too late for the lunch menu, and although all the dishes on the 23€ set menu sounded great, I just wasn't hungry enough to go for it. The seafood platters, which would have been nice, started at ~50€ per person (!), so that was out of the question, especially since neither my boyfriend nor I like raw oysters. A la carte, the main dishes start at ~20€ and go up from there.

For a restaurant that specializes in seafood, they also have a large number of plates focusing on poultry, inexplicably indicated by a duck icon on the menu. We decided to share the assiette Périgourdine(15€), which seemed so copious in the menu description: rillettes, pate, smoked duck, and gizzards. But alas, it was barely enough for my boyfiend alone:No matter, I wasn't that hungry anyways.

Since it was going to be an expensive lunch no matter what, I decided to get the lobster, served with pineapple and mango in a curry sauce, with a side of balsmati rice (23€):It was the first time I ordered lobster in a restaurant, and it will be the last time just because it is so frustrating to eat! Although it was delicious, I don't want to have to work that hard for my lunch, especially especially when I am so clumsy.

My boyfriend had the scallops pasta (21€):Just fine, but not great, definitely not to my boyfriend's taste, and maybe not even worth the price.

Would I recommend this? Maybe, but only if the set menus are to your liking (they change weekly and are available on the website) or if you feel like splurging on a seafood platter. But don't expect a unique experience here: walking in, I whispered to my boyfriend, "so American!" and he just nodded in agreement. Dock's Cafe was just like any of the generic, more upscale waterfront restaurants that are a dime a dozen on the east coast. Not that there's anything wrong with that - but it's just not what I wanted so many thousands of miles away from the US.

Dock's Cafe
Jordaenskaai 7
2000 Antwerp
03/226 63 30 (works best in Internet Explorer)


Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Antwerp is an easy day trip from Brussels. Trains run every 30 minutes (and sometimes even more frequently), it only takes about 45 minutes to get to the Central Train Station in Antwerp, and my open round trip ticket was just under 7€. What more could you ask for?

When we stepped out of the train station, faced with the streets lined with jewelry shops, my boyfriend suddenly had sweaty palms: had I entrapped him to come with me to Antwerp, with unsavory ulterior motives? Not to worry. Though Antwerp is the diamond capital of the world, we weren't going to be taking advantage of that on this trip. And boyfriend, as lead navigator and sightseer, was very careful to steer clear of the diamond district throughout the rest of the day. Besides, I wonder if the shops can really beat Blue Nile, given the weak dollar. But that is another post for another day, and since we didn't go into any shops I can't make any comparisons.

We continued straight away on the street from the train station, and after just a few blocks we were already at one of the main shopping streets, Meir. After days of gloomy ugly Brussels, this street was a sight for sore eyes.

Soon enough we arrived at one of the main squares, the city square, which reminded me of the collection of ceramic facades my grandmother had hanging in her kitchen:
There was another square nearby, Groenplaats, complete with flower market, sprawling cafe terraces, and 3 guys and 1 girl giving away free hugs:We resolved to return here later in the afternoon to enjoy some big glasses of Belgian beer.

From Groenplaats we could also see the main cathedral, Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal (Cathedral of Our Lady):But we were very bad tourists and did not visit it. Well, first we went in, but when we realized that you had to pay to enter, we decided to come back after lunch so that we would have more time. And then we went to lunch (at Dock's Cafe - another post entirely), and after lunch I declared that a waffle was in due order:This chain is everywhere, and at 1.60€ for a plain waffle you can't go wrong. The batter is different from the "Belgian waffles" we have back home, as it is sweeter and finer, and the sugary topping is almost caramelized by the time you get it. You can also get other toppings on your waffle, such as whipped cream or chocolate.

And then after my waffle my boyfriend decided that a beer at one of the cafes was in due order...and then by the time he was finished with his 1/2L beer, the church was already closed. Oh well. Yet another reason to return.

So far I've mentioned 2 Belgian specialties, waffles and beer, but of course we had to have a third to complete the holy trinity:Honestly? Pretty durn good. While at the cafe, I couldn't help noticing the numerous passerbys carrying that infamous paper cone in their hands. But where were they coming from? The large statues of fries flanking the exterior of this shop, Fritkot Max, on Groenplaats should have tipped me off:While waiting in line, I scrutinized the various sauces available:But without little sauce cups it would have been too difficult to try them all. As much as the "samourai" sauce intrigued me, I didn't want to contaminate my fries with something I might not like, and I stuck with boring old plain ketchup. We shared a medium size cone (2.20€), and the fries had disappeared before we even made it out of the square. I didn't use that little fork that comes with the fries - why bother to be dainty when it comes to fast food? - but I admit that it would have come in handy in dealing with those last ketchup-covered fries.

And finally, I must post the photo that makes my boyfriend laugh every time, of a bizarre statute outside of a medieval museum on the Atwerp waterfront, which he angled just so with the lightpost in the background:
I'm sure there is more to Antwerp than beer, waffles, fries, and perverse statues, but I had an excellent day even without doing anything touristy. One day I might even return and do a proper post about Atwerp's cultural and historical attractions, or at least to try all of Fritkot's sauces if I'm feeling really adventurous! That's me, living the wild life. ;)

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Crazy Cars in the 'Hood: Brussels edition

And now for a momentary respite from all the food blogging...on to the streets of Brussels!

While the SmartCar Roadster wasn't exactly a rarity in Paris, they are elusive creatures. I never managed to get a good, clear photo til I was in Brussels. Hawt. But those "rims" have gotsta go!

A Caterham kit car (I think it just looks like a flashier dune buggy):
A PGO (still trying to figure out what this is exactly, especially given its uncanny resemblance to a 356):


Monday, April 02, 2007

Restaurant JB

9:30 on a Friday night. We had been walking, not quite aimlessly, for at least 2 hours and my feet were killing me. The bib gourmand tapas bar which doesn't take reservations was totally packed with no signs of clearing out before the kitchen closed; another bib gourmand, l'idiot du village, was also full. Making our way towards Avenue Louise, we passed in front of Restaurant JB, a disarmingly empty bib gourmand just across the street from the Louis Vuitton store. My boyfriend had previously dismissed JB because of the "low quality" of the offerings, but whateves. It was late, I was exhausted, and we could do worse than 3 courses for 22€.

JB has two menus: one at 22€ and one at 32€, with a half-bottle of wine accompaniment for 10€ extra. The one at 32€ isn't really worth the extra 10€; though there is a wider selection of entrees, the main dishes aren't that much better, and the ones that are have a supplement. We both decided to stick with the 22€ menu - at that price, and given our choices at that time, we really couldn't complain anyways.

I started with the "Maryland-style" crab cakes. They were too dry and crumbly, and too easily separated into crab meat + bread. While they certainly couldn't compare to the sublime crab cakes I've had back home, even the frozen ones at Sam's Club would give them a run for their money.
My boyfriend wasn't that much happier with his starter, a beef salad. Apparently the meat had recently been defrosted, as the temperature was very uneven.
Next up was my salmon. I was intrigued by the description on the menu: roasted with tea? Sign me up! Unfortunately, I didn't know that the "tea" meant simply the topping of tea leaves. It's hard to mess up salmon, and it was fine, but it had the same problems as my boyfriend's carpaccio: it was very unevenly prepared. One side was totally dry and overcooked, while the other side was almost perfect. It was served on a bed of steamed cabbage (disgusting) and mashed celery and turnips (delicious, but also uneven - some were room temp while others were hot).

The boyfriend's main dish was veal:His opinion: "It was bad. Cheap, quoi."
You can't argue with that.

Next up were our desserts, simple and sweet. My boyfriend had the mango sorbet,while I got the cheese platter (2.50€ supplement):
When we got the bill we were met with one horrible surprise. Our liter bottle of water (carafes of tap water don't exist in Brussels) cost 10€. Ten. Freaking. Euros. For a bottle of water. Ridiculous much? Even restaurants that possibly could get away for charging that much, like starred ones, don't go that far. I think this was just the icing on the cake.

Given the circumstances, we could have done worse, but we will not go back. I got the feeling that it was something that had once been excellent, especially when I realized there was an additional, vast but deserted, dining room upstairs. This is further proof that the Guide Michelin is useless outside of France, as the bib gourmand restaurants in Brussels are so diverse and such a range of quality and prices that this category is apparently meaningless. This would not be a bib gourmand in France, I can assure you of that.

The menu:
Restaurant JB
Rue du Grand Cerf 24
1000 Brussels
+32 (0)2 512 04 84
Closed Saturday lunch and Sunday


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Bistrot du Mail

The Bistrot du Mail is a bib gourmand in the Ixelles district. Having been turned away once because they were packed, this time we made sure to call ahead and reserve.

I've got to say, the bib gourmand category does not translate as well in Belgium as it did in France: here it seems to represent a wider variety of restaurants, and usually at much more expensive prices than in France, and even Paris.

I knew going in that I was going to get the 15€ lunch menu, no matter what, just because I didn't feel like coughing up what would have been required a la carte (the dinner set menu starts at 38€, and would be much more expensive a la carte). I'm sure the waiter could smell this as soon as I was seated, maybe from my grubby levis or my general American aura, as I was certainly treated to cold and snooty, though efficient, service throughout. Pretty much the type of service you would expect from such a sleek and trendy place.

My boyfriend, however, turned up his nose at the appetizer offered in the set menu ("I don't want just an egg for my entree," he said haughtily) and opted to go a la carte instead. He was wrong to have done so, because then not only do you end up paying at least 3 times the set menu price, for just as good a meal, you also end up getting pretty close to what you would pay for, say, the set menu at Comme Chez Soi. If you're going to pay that much money for lunch, you might as well go somewhere that has stars. And if I knew he was willing to pay that much for lunch I would have rather made reservations at Comme Chez Soi.

Anyway. I won't entangle you in one of our petty spats. Shortly after ordering we were served these amuse-bouches: Unfortunately, this post might be lacking in details simply because the waiter was a mumbler; neither the boyfriend nor I could quite catch what he was saying, and he was quite cold so I didn't feel comfortable asking him to repeat either. Basically, the thing on the right is some sort of gourmet carpaccio-foie gras-layered thing, and the foamy thing on the left involved fish and citrus. I am usually pretty weary of those stylish cappuccino or frothy meat mixes, and I was right to be so this time; we weren't crazy about either of them.

And next comes the appetizer that my boyfriend rejected, the "egg" that is so much more than just an egg: A coddled egg floating in a thick potato soup, with chopped mushrooms hidden at the bottom, and topped with crunchy croutons. This was awesome, and I am not saying that just to spite my boyfriend.

He ordered the Solettes bretonnes en croûte de fruits secs, mayonnaise tiède
de beurre noisette, crème balsamique et mesclun d’herbes
(20€)(thank god for online menus ;)): (Fish with a dried fruit crust, served with mayonaise made from hazelnut butter, a balsamic sauce, and salad mix)

For his main dish, he ordered the Filet d’agneau sur tartelette feuilletée d’aubergines et tomates, navarin et mousse de beurre de thym (22€):Lamb served with a "tartelette" of eggplant and tomato, navarin, and a mousse of butter with thyme.

Which was actually not that different from my main dish (in the essential, at least):
Also lamb, with the cutest fried potato babies lining the dish on the right. I'm not sure how I would describe the other accompaniments. It wasn't quite a soup, but it was definitely more than just a sauce, and underneath it all was a bed of mashed potatoes. It was great, even better than the lamb itself in my opinion, which was not uniformly tender. And that glorified potato chip adorning it all? Disgusting.

When my boyfriend's coffee was brought out, we were also served these last sweets:A bite-sized eclair, and a layer of raspberry mousse over caramel cream. Delicious.

I'm not sure I would recommend this for anything besides lunch simply because of the prices, and I don't think its inclusion in the Michelin guide as a bib gourmand (supposedly the "good deal" category) is justified *except* for the lunch menu. Surprisingly, my boyfriend enjoyed it even more than I did (he usually abhors these types of modern bistros), and even commented that he couldn't tell the difference between the cuisine of this place and the one star we had gone to earlier, Chez Marie. Good point. I wonder what makes the difference - in my case, anyways, I prefer Chez Marie simply because of the service. I am American after all, and good customer service is as important as good food in my book. I'll leave the rest for you to decide.

Bistrot du Mail
Rue du Mail, 81
1050 Brussels
02 539 06 97
Closed Saturday lunch, Sunday, and Monday


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Le Pavilion

So we had wanted to go to Le Bistro du Mail, but it was totally packed with no sign of clearing up anytime soon. (Note to self: call ahead next time!) Making our way through the neighborhood to check out the other restaurants nearby, we passed in front of Le Pavilion, which my boyfriend had always wanted to try. This is exactly the type of place my boyfriend loves: casual, cosy, with worn, unfinished wood benches and tables, and full of regulars, eating or drinking or just reading the paper. The menu reflects the atmosphere, as it offers classic homestyle dishes, no frills, for 7 - 14€ per dish. Appetizers and desserts run at about 5€, and they have the usual selection of wines and aperitifs in addition to the obligatory beers.

We arrived just as the downpour really started*, and ordered some of the Hoegaarden on tap to start with as well as a "mixed" platter of charcuterie and fromage. This ended up being a few slices of rosette de lyon served with cubes of cheddar and slices of ciabatta-shaped baguette. I was surprised to see cheddar, in cubes no less, described as a platter of cheese.

For my main dish, I had really hesitated between the fresh salmon and the fish n' dumplings they had, but in the end the waitress helped me settle on the gratin de poissons, a hearty mix of cod, salmon, potatoes, and mushrooms covered with bubbling cheese and sauce. It did not disappoint, though the mushrooms just didn't go that well with everything else.

The menu is full of all the types of meaty dishes that my boyfriend loves, so he had some hard choices to make before finally settling on the jambonneau, which was served in its own dish with mustard sauce and accompanied with steamed veggies and gratineed potatoes on a separate plate. The meat was so good that even I liked it, which is very unusual as I rarely like pork. The joint was tender and juicy, and the mustard sauce had just enough kick to be felt but not too much to be overpowering, though the boyfriend complained that it wasn't mustard-y enough. The veggies and potatoes were good as well, and while eating them the boyfriend (whose diet consists of one primary food group: meat) commented, "See, I like eating vegetables when they taste good." Profound.

Our waitress was awesome - so friendly and sweet, when clearing the unfinished cheese platter we had begun with she asked us if we didn't want to save it for after the meal. We declined, but really appreciated the thought, and she was cheerful and attentive throughout our meal. This is a cute, casual place to keep in mind if you are in Ixelles, and at the end of the meal my boyfriend concluded, "I think this is going to become my cantine."

Le Pavilion
64 rue Defacqz
1050 Brussels
Tel: 538 02 15
Open Monday - Friday

*In Brussels, dark storm clouds are always brewing, the dry periods are few and far between, and I find it even gloomier than London.