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Passage 53

February 8, 2016

I left most of the decision-making as far as food goes during our trip to Paris to my husband.  He’s always been really good at finding good restaurants that actually serve food that I’m willing to eat, and that’s the tricky part because I’m a bit of a picky eater.  And in the land of gourmet food such as Paris, being a picky food eater doesn’t always bode well.  When you’re surrounded by escargot and foie gras and pate and other items, all of which I’m not adventurous enough to try, it makes dining at nice restaurants a bit more difficult because I don’t always want to go to restaurants that predominantly serve items that I don’t want to eat.  Luckily, my husband is up to the challenge.  So, one day, he came to me with a suggestion for a little hidden gem of a restaurant that he’d read about that he wanted to try.  Admittedly, I’d be going a little bit outside my comfort zone for this restaurant, but I figured that you only live once and I needed to push my personal boundaries a bit because really, how often am I going to find myself in Paris. Three months in advance of our trip, we were finally able to secure a dinner reservation for this restaurant.  This was to be our last meal in Paris, hopefully it would be a memorable one too.

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Passage 53, a truly hidden gem, located in Paris’ 2nd arrondissement is situated inside this very narrow alleyway just off the main street.  The alleyway, called Passage des Panoramas is a little slice of Parisian history, filled with a couple of cafes and restaurants, but also very old stores that harken back to days long gone.  It was almost like stepping back in time a little bit with antique shops, and stamp collection shops, and clock shops, the alleyway had a charm all its own.  The restaurant, so aptly named Passage 53 is located at 53 Passage des Panoramas.  Nothing about the restaurant or its name gives away any hint as to the restaurant hidden behind the glass doors of the storefront.  In fact, you’d never even know that this storefront contained a world class, Michelin-star restaurant unless you were specifically looking for it.  The storefront bears no name or sign that indicates the business that operates behind the curtained windows.  A small discreet menu, which isn’t really a menu at all, is placed to the side of the front door, and that’s the only thing that even indicates that you’ve come to the right place.  When you look up in the alleyway, the open window of the 2nd floor indicates that there might be activity inside the store, and its only when you’re aware that this is a restaurant that you realize that what’s behind those open windows on the 2nd floor is the restaurant’s kitchen.

Only open for lunch and dinner, Passage 53 is small and intimate, seating no more than 20 people per meal, once per day.  There are not multiple sittings offered for each meal, rather one lunch seating and one dinner seating.  When you come for dinner, you wait at the front door until it’s almost dinner time, and at the appointed time, a tuxedoed man opens the door to let the guests in.  When your reservation has been confirmed, you’re seated at one of the 8 tables inside.  There are three service staff members for the 20 guests for each meal sitting, all dressed in formal wear.  This is not like any restaurant experience I’ve ever been a part of.  Before the meal begins, one of the waiters comes to our table to explain to us that what is offered for each guest is the seasonal tasting menu made with fresh products selected by the chef.  The menu changes daily and seasonally, as we are at the tail end of summer, we are still able to get summer products for our tasting menu.  It was explained that the tasting menu starts off with a seafood and vegetable dish, followed by a fish dish, a meat dish and then dessert.  There are no menus and no decisions to be made by the guests, save one.  The one thing you must decide is on an option supplemental dish made with a special ingredient prepared to the chef’s taste.  Generally, this supplemental dish will either feature caviar or foie gras, to be supplemental, it must be decadent and worthy of being something you can choose to add on to your dish.  For our meal, the supplemental dish was caviar.  After a brief description as to how the dish was to be prepared, we were each asked if we were interested in adding the supplemental dish to our tasting menu (no pressure, no upselling at all).  The offering seemed too good for either of us to pass up, so we both agreed to add the supplemental dish.  Once the explanation of how the evening was to be orchestrated was out of the way, it was just time to sit back and enjoy the presentation.

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Our first dish was a true starter, the corn cappuccino.  I’ve never seen anything like this.  Served in a small shot glass, this “drink” was made with corn and who knows what else because it wasn’t explained to us.  The only direction we were given is that we were to sip this drink and enjoy the flavors of it, savor it.  Like a cappuccino, it was frothy and creamy and even had some notes of coffee-flavoring to it.  But the “drink” certainly was all corn.  While the corn cappuccino was smooth, you could still get the texture of some of the corn kernels and you definitely could get the flavor of the corn.  It was sweet and thick and creamy and was almost like a rich corn chowder.  Sipping the drink and savoring it was such a magnificent start to our meal.  I couldn’t wait to see what the next dish would bring.

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As described by our waiter, the first official dish of the tasting menu was a seafood and vegetable dish.  Presented and served on this beautiful white and elegant plate was a dish of langoustine carpaccio with kombu flakes, kombu cream and kombu jelly with thinly sliced radishes.  Kombu, since I didn’t know what it was before, is an edible kelp generally found out in the open ocean off of Japan and Korea.  Most kombu these days are actually cultivated on the Japanese island of Hokkaido and kombu is widely used in East Asian cooking.  Using the combination of kombu flakes, kombu cream and kombu jelly gave the dish different levels of texture and flavor.  The dry flakes had a nice smoky flavor and the jelly and cream gave the dish a luxurious texture whose rich flavors were tempered by the thinly sliced radish which also added crunch to the dish.  But the star was the langoustine carpaccio which was so incredibly fresh and just literally melted in your mouth.  Langoustine, also known as the Norway lobster, is a shrimp-like crustacean that is actually a small lobster and widely eaten across Europe.  The flavors of the langoustine were amazing and spot on, and in combination with the kombu were perfect.  The dish was tangy and smoky and had just a hit of vinegar or acidity.  This is one of the most refreshing dishes I’ve ever tasted.

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For those in the restaurant that ordered the supplemental dish, this was the next to be brought out to the table.  As I mentioned tonight’s supplement featured caviar.  It was actually French farm sturgeon caviar from the middle of France scooped atop a baked fingerling potato stuffed with potato puree mixed with mascarpone mousse and hazelnuts.  I was originally on the fence about whether or not I wanted the supplement, but when the dish was described to us, I couldn’t resist.  I love potatoes to begin with, and potato puree mixed with mascarpone just sounded incredible.  I expected, however, that when they said that there was caviar on the dish that it would be like a little dollop of caviar.  Boy, was I wrong!  There literally was more caviar piled on top of the potato than there was any other component of the dish, the caviar was completely overflowing out of the potato and it was quite the sight to see.  Beyond the sight though, the flavor was UH-MAY-ZING!  I’ve had caviar before, and I’ve always thought it was ok, but not necessarily something I’d ever go out of my way to order. My husband is the opposite, every time he’s tried caviar, he’s always enjoyed it.  Hands down, this is the most delicious caviar dish I’ve ever had.  You could taste each of the individual flavors of each component of the dish: potato, mascarpone, hazelnut and caviar.  The crunch of the hazelnuts provided texture to counterbalance the creaminess of the potato puree.  The mascarpone really helped create a smooth creamy texture to the puree stuffed inside the potato skin, but it also provided a hint of sweetness to the dish.  The baked potato added some chewiness and difference in texture as it was a terrific serving vessel for the entire dish.  And finally, the caviar added some saltiness to the dish and that special je ne sais quoi.

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If you can believe it, we’re now on to dish number four of the night, and this is still considered part of the starter, or entree, if you’re French.  This dish was chanterelles from France with crispy chicken and egg served with a size of bread.  The bread was used to sop up the rest of the egg and other juices from the mushrooms and it was delicious.  The bread was super crusty on the outside, and doughy and yeasty on the inside.  This was one of those dishes I was concerned about because I don’t generally like mushrooms and usually do whatever I can to avoid them.  But, in a setting like this, I sort of knew I’d be compelled to try things I wouldn’t normally eat, and mushrooms were one of them.  Honestly, I will say that this wasn’t that bad, or not nearly as bad as I thought it could be.  The crispy chicken was delicious and amazingly flavorful.  The mushrooms were very woodsy and added an earthy quality to the dish.  I loved the addition of the egg which added the creaminess and richness to the dish and brought it all together.  The flavors of the dish were just incredible.  And my husband actually said that the bread that was served on the side had the most amazing crust on bread that he’s ever eaten, in fact, even a few dishes later, he was still talking about the amazing crust on the bread.

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Alright, it was finally time to move onto the next course in our tasting menu.  What follows are the seafood courses.  The first seafood dish was blue lobster from Brittany, which is in the south of France, served with lobster sauce, lobster mousse, jerez vinegar, which is a sweet vinegar from the south of Spain, cocoa powder and white grapes.  After having the blue lobster dish at L’epicure, I was so excited to taste this dish.  The flavors of the dish were amazing!  The dish had these huge chunks of blue lobster meat which were sweet and tender and perfectly cooked.  There was incredible lobster flavor in each bite, especially with the lobster sauce and lobster mousse enhancements.  But what was really surprising was the use of cocoa powder and how amazing that brought all the components of the dish together.  I really thought that you wouldn’t be able to taste the cocoa powder and that it put on the dish for visual appeal and as a gimmick, but I was very wrong.  The cocoa powder was incredibly noticeable and added a bit of savoriness and sweetness to the dish at the same time.  It’s hard to explain exactly but the blend in flavor between the rich lobster flavor and the tang of the jerez vinegar and the smoothness of the cocoa powder was just a perfect match.  And that vinegar, it was surprising and refreshing, especially since I’d never connect something such as vinegar and how it would taste when put into a dish with sweet seafood.  Finally, the few white grapes on the dish added a fresh burst of flavor, a little tang and sweetness to the dish.  Just beautiful.

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The second seafood dish was more mushrooms.  The dish was monk fish with porcini mushrooms and porcini sauce.  As this is a seasonal menu, and porcini mushrooms had just come into season the same week we were at Passage 53, the chef chose to use this dish to feature this popular mushroom.  This dish was a bit overwhelming with mushrooms, but again, it tasted much better than I had imagined it would.  The pairing of the monk fish with the porcini was wonderful.  The porcini sauce was sweet, but yet had the earthy woodsy flavor you’d expect from mushrooms.  The monk fish was perfectly cooked and it had such great body that it just soaked up all of the flavor of the porcini sauce.  And the fresh sliced porcini had great body and texture which was just complimentary to the fish.  I’m still not a lover of mushrooms, but this wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be.

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Before starting the meat portion of the main courses, it was time for a palate cleanser.  Passage 53 served us a green apple sorbet with jelly made with green apple and small slices of green apple and topped with an edible verbena flower.  My husband and I absolutely loved this palate cleanser.  The tartness of the green apple definitely cleansed and refreshed our palates.  But it wasn’t all just tart, there were hints of the sweetness to the dish as well.  Using the combination of jelly and sorbet was perfect because it was chilly and the differences of texture just coated your mouth with this terrific green apple flavor.  The addition of actually slices of green apple added the texture and crunch needed to complete this course.  Ready to move on to the meat courses now.

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The first meat course was tender baby veal with lemon dressing on the side, topped with wildflowers of the season and eggplant with cream for smoky flavor.  While I love meat, veal was one of those meats that I could eat, but didn’t love.  However, after one bite of this dish, I think I’m in love.  The flavors of the sauce with how delicately cooked the veal was made it absolutely perfect.  The combination of the wildflowers and the earthy flavor with the bright tang of the lemon sauce was absolutely insane.  The wildflowers also had a little bit of a licorice or bitter flavor to them that my husband absolutely loved since he’s always been a licorice fan. The crunch and texture of the wildflowers was absolutely amazing, and yet so fresh and beautiful and the eggplant sauce that the veal was sitting on top of was just an amazing combination of flavors and textures.  This dish not only had amazing visual appeal from the beauty of the wildflowers, but it delivered 100% on flavor as well.

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We were served a second meat dish which was beef from the North of Spain, dry aged from 8 – 10 weeks and served with sweet pimento peppers and a caramelized shallot sauce.  First off, the caramelized shallot sauce was absolutely delicious, it was sweet and rich, but at the same time had a little peppery bite.  My husband enjoyed the sweet pimento peppers as they gave the dish a slight bite of flavor.  The beef was cooked a beautiful medium rare and was full of flavor and body.  All the ingredients to the dish seemed quite simple, and yet the preparation of them was so delicate and beautiful that all of the flavors just harmonized with one another.  Spectacular finish to our meal.

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Time for dessert!  Or actually, as our waiter told us, the next course was the pre-dessert, the dessert before the dessert.  This dish was everything lemon featuring lemon cream with crumble, lemon sorbet, lemon juice and lemon chips.  Wow, this dessert was both sweet and tart at the same time and intense.  My husband loved this pre-dessert because the flavors were right up his alley.  This almost felt like eating a completely deconstructed lemon meringue pie with all the components, but about a million times better.  It certainly was lemon everything, as every component of the dish had lemon incorporated into it, but what was amazing was all the different forms of lemon in the dish that created not only amazing flavor, but spectacular textures.  The sorbet was probably the most tart component of his pre-dessert, but it was so smooth and creamy and so cool and refreshing.  The lemon cream was sinfully delicious and not too sweet and not too tart.  The play of the different textures, especially with the crumble, was fantastic.

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The actually dessert itself, which was our last course, was composed of three mini desserts.  The first was a creme brulee flavored with elder flower.  The creme brulee sat atop an acacia flower ice cream and atop the brulee was honey sorbet.  To really experience this dessert, you needed to taste everything together, a spoonful of the ice cream with the creme brulee with the sorbet.  It’s such a delicious combination because you get the floral notes from the ice cream which bring together the earthy note of the creme brulee and the honey sorbet rounds it all out with a bit of sweetness, but the combination of the floral notes and the honey together are just perfect.  Combining everything also gives you the textural contrast of the creamy ice cream, the rich custard and the silky sorbet all in one bite.  This dessert had just the right balance of flavors with just a little bit of sweet.

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The second mini dessert was apricots with vanilla rice pudding and buckwheat ice cream.  This was so interesting as I’d never heard of buckwheat ice cream before.  In fact, I’d never have thought of taking buckwheat and turning it into an ice cream flavoring.  But the combination of the slightly savory slightly doughy ice cream worked really well with the sweetness of the vanilla rice pudding.  Nothing was too sweet in the dessert as even the sweetness of the apricots was mellowed by the rice pudding.  Again, this dessert was all about the combination of the textures and the flavors coming together and how everything just paired so beautifully together.  Each dessert was like a work of art, but one that tasted just as good as it looked.

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Our final mini dessert was the house special dessert which is always served, a small slice of chocolate pie.  In fact, it’s actually more like a small slice from a chocolate tart rather than a chocolate pie.  It was light and delicate.  The dark chocolate was perfect as it was sweet and bitter, but the portion was small enough that the sweetness of the chocolate wasn’t overwhelming.  The mousse in the pie was so creamy and thick and rich, it was like a perfect bite of chocolate in each spoonful of pie.  I’m glad that this was a mini dessert and not a full sliced chocolate pie as I was so stuffed after so many courses.

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To end the meal, in a traditional French way, we were offered coffee, espresso, cappuccino, tea or any other after dinner drink we wanted.  I had to go with a latte, foamy steamed milk over a shot of espresso is just perfect.  Served alongside some cubed pure cane sugar for sweetness, a good cup of coffee is always a nice way to end any meal.

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And to our surprise, our after dinner drink came with our last goody of the evening, some home made mini madeleines.  So buttery and rich, and baked to a golden brown outside and a nice fluffy inside.  These little mini madeleines were a perfect ending to an incredible 12 course meal.

Hands down, for me, this was the most amazing restaurant experience I’ve ever been a part of.  Of all the meals that we had pre-planned for our trip to Paris, this was the one I was most nervous about.  A true chef’s tasting menu at a restaurant where menus are not handed out at all and you just are supposed to enjoy whatever is in season and at the chef’s whim to create.  That was my worse nightmare, because even though I enjoy fine dining, when it comes down to it, I’m a picky eater.  So, I was quite concerned that there were going to be multiple courses of food served that I either couldn’t eat or wouldn’t enjoy, and what we were actually served was quite the opposite.  Each and every single course of food presented to us at Passage 53 built upon the previous course, each course was more creative, more flavorful and more enjoyable than the next course.  The service at the restaurant was also immaculate.  Every course was beautifully presented with a full description of what we were about to enjoy and how it was created.  The waiters were friendly and nice and we had a good time talking to them.  But the star of the restaurant was the food.  Passage 53 deserves its amazing reputation and its easy to see why this is a 2-Michelin star restaurant.  While my husband enjoyed our experience at L’epicure better, and with good reason, Passage 53 still ranks up there in the top 5 restaurants of all time in his book.  For me, it is my #1 best restaurant experience ever and I’d have no hesitation recommending it to anyone who finds themselves in Paris.

Berthillon

February 3, 2016

Having a sweet tooth, I’m always on the lookout for amazing desserts and sweets no matter where we travel.  Sugar is, after all, a universal language, and everyone loves a little sweet ending, no matter where you go and what language you speak.  I had read in a couple of guidebooks, and then again online of a particular ice cream shop in one of Paris’ ritziest neighborhoods that is said to have the best ice cream in the city.  With that kind of reputation, you know I was going to work it into our schedule so that I could go and sample this amazing ice cream.  Unfortunately, my plans were temporarily foiled as the first time my husband and I walked by the shop, we discovered that it was closed and had been for a little bit due to what seems to be the annual French tradition of taking “holiday” in August.  Essentially, everyone goes out-of-town, or out of the country, on vacation for the month and stores just shut down!  Luckily for us, the sign on the door indicated that the shop would be opening back up again in just a few days, so I moved a few items around on our itinerary and I re-worked our schedule so that we could come back again after the shop was open.

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Located on the exclusive Ile Saint-Louis, Berthillon is the manufacturer of and retailer of what many call the best and finest French ice cream and sorbet.  Having operated from its Ile Saint-Louis location since 1928 when Monsieur Raymond Berthillon opened a bistro at the location, the ice cream shop today is owned and operated by the Chauvin family, Berthillon’s direct descendants.  The discovery of the wonders of Berthillon ice cream was made in 1961 when a French restaurant guide, Gault Millau, wrote about “this astonishing ice cream shop hidden in a bistro on the Ile Saint-Louis.”  Since that time, Parisians and tourists have been flocking to the shop to get their hands on some artisan ice cream and sorbet.  It’s not uncommon to find the line for Berthillon out the store and around the block.

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Old school, or old world, in its design with a wood and glass fronted shop and an almost high-end soda shop-type feel inside the store, this place seems like anything but a high end purveyor of France’s finest ice cream.  In addition to the ice cream and sorbet the store did also seem to sell jams, cookies and chocolates.  But truthfully, everyone was there for the ice cream.

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At the front of the store, there’s a display in French (with English translations) to all of the flavors of ice cream and sorbet being offered on that particular day at the store.  Once you know what you want, you place your order with the girls behind the counter who scoop up your choice in either a cup or a cone.  The ice cream is made by Berthillon in small batches which ensures the high quality and flavor of their artisan creations.

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We were lucky enough to get there early enough in the day that there were only a couple of people in line ahead of us when we arrived at the store.  The following flavors were being offered when we arrived:  rum & raisin, vanilla, chocolate, coconut, praline, pistachio, caramel nougat, hazelnut, amaretto praline, coffee, stracciatella, nuts & praline flavored chocolate, passion fruit, apricot, peach, melon, strawberry, mango, cherry plum, pear, raspberry, black currant, vine peach, rhubarb, grapefruit, and roasted pineapple & fresh basil.  You certainly had your standard ice cream and sorbet flavors such as vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, pistachio and coffee, but there were definitely some surprises such as the roasted pineapple & fresh basil, the nuts & praline flavored chocolate and the caramel nougat.  After debating back and forth, my husband and I both decided to get a two scoop cup of sorbet.

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My husband chose the black currant and passion fruit.  The passion fruit I wasn’t surprised about because my husband loves passion fruit and any time he can get his hands on anything passion fruit flavored, he’ll do it.  But the black currant was surprising.  I wasn’t aware that my husband liked black currant, or maybe it’s just that we don’t see many things in the States flavored using black currant, but he said he wanted to try something a little different to see how it was.  Besides, the black currant was this really rich dark maroon color which was just gorgeous.  My husband said that the black currant was his favorite of the two flavors.  He thought that the passion fruit was a little too light in flavor without enough tang to it and was just overpowered by the black currant.  What my husband did enjoy was that both sorbet flavors were incredibly fresh and the quality of the sorbet really shines through.

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For my selection, I chose melon and mango.  From the first bite, you can tell that essentially there is little to no sugar added to the sorbets, what you get is what the fresh, raw flavor of the fruit used to make the sorbet itself is.  You’ve got to appreciate an ice cream maker who can make ice cream this fresh and high quality.  For me, the mango was my favorite flavor.  It literally tasted like it was pure mango puree.  It was sweet, delicious and refreshing.  The melon was also refreshing, but the flavor of the mango trumped the melon completely as the melon flavor was much more muted.  I could have had a whole pint of the mango.

Berthillon prides itself on its reputation of being the best ice cream in Paris, and there are numerous cafes and restaurants around town that advertise the fact that they sell Berthillon ice cream.  My husband and I both thought that their ice creams and sorbets were delicious and probably worthy of their reputation.  However, their reputation also comes with a price tag, whereby Berthillon’s ice cream is more expensive than your average ice cream, and their scoops are probably 1/2 to 1/3 the size of a normal ice cream scoop, so you’re paying a lot more and getting a lot less in the form of tiny little scoops.  As a tourist, it doesn’t bother me because you know if you want to try something that is supposedly that good, it’s going to cost you and perhaps you shouldn’t be so concerned with your budget when you’re traveling.  But at these prices, Berthillon probably wouldn’t be my first choice for ice cream on a regular basis.

 

 

 

L’Eclair de Genie

January 28, 2016

After a morning of walking around the famous Louvre Museum in Paris, and having seen everything we were hoping to see, our feet were tired and we were just looking for a way to exit the museum and move on to our next destination.  The exit we ended up taking took us through an underground mall which eventually lead to an escalator that took us back up to street level and out of the museum.  As we were exiting this underground mall, we walked right by a little pop up food stand that was so bright and colorful and caught my eye right away.  It also was selling a treat that I am absolutely in love with.  While we weren’t planning on stopping for a treat, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity and dragged my husband to the little stand to check out the delectable treats.

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L’Eclair de Genie sold nothing but a large display of colorful, delectable gourmet eclairs, the likes of which I’d never seen before.  The color and design caught my eye, but the fact that they were eclairs is really what sealed the deal for me.  I just couldn’t leave without sampling one or two of the eclairs.  The brainchild of Christophe Adam, who not only makes gourmet eclairs but also makes gourmet chocolate and bon bons, he has 5 boutique stores in Paris and 3 more in Japan.

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If you’re a lover of eclairs, like I am, how can you walk by a display of eclairs that looks like this and not stop and browse?  Better yet, how do you prevent yourself from buying one of everything?  Ok, so the signs are in French, and while I don’t speak or read French, interpreting the signs to figure out what flavor each éclair was, wasn’t too difficult a task.  And it helps that each éclair not only looks amazing, but really looks like a piece of art into itself.  The day I was there, the flavors they offered included praline chocolate, crispy strawberry and green apple vanilla.  I’m not sure about green apple vanilla as I don’t really like the combination of tart and sweet together, but the praline chocolate and crispy strawberry would be right up my alley.  In fact, I seriously considered crispy strawberry until something else caught my eye instead.

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There was also vanilla with pecan for those who are nut lovers, apricot and salted caramel.  I know that a lot of people like the whole salt and sweet thing together, so salted caramel would be perfect, but I had my eye on something else.

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The last three flavors offered were chocolate, citron yuzu and passion fruit strawberry.  They all looked so yummy, not only with the flavor glaze atop the éclair, but also with the embellishments added atop the éclair as well.  The look and the color certainly draws in the eye.

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In the end, my husband and I each decided to select one flavor each.  He took the citron yuzu, which isn’t surprising as he’s a big fan of lemon and the citrus tang.  I chose the passion fruit strawberry.  I really like the tartness of passion fruit and I like strawberry so it seemed to be a good flavor combination.  Besides, it’s a flavor combination you just don’t run into every day the way you are used to seeing a chocolate éclair.  The sales associate boxed up our eclairs nicely for us and we took them out into the pavilion to enjoy with a view of the Louvre Pyramid.

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My husband really enjoyed his citron yuzu éclair.  He’s already a huge fan of lemon and the tart and tang of lemon, with the added benefit of yuzu flavoring in this éclair, it just makes the éclair even more tart and adds a terrific sharpness to the flavor profile.  Not only do the eclairs have a glaze on the outside of this citron yuzu flavor, but it has a pastry cream filling with the same flavors.  The little embellishments atop the éclair also added a little texture, crunch and flavor as well.  The eclairs are perfectly baked, and the choux pastry is flaky and light and what you want out of your éclair.  My husband, who wasn’t even all that interested in getting an éclair to begin with, was impressed and happy he decided to give in and let me have an éclair.

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I loved my passion fruit strawberry éclair.  The glaze on the outside of the éclair was all passion fruit and had that wonderful sweetness, and hint of tang to it.  The pastry cream filling inside the éclair was passion fruit, with strawberry filling running down the middle.  I really liked how they combined by the two flavors by essentially keeping them separated inside the éclair.  You definitely tasted both the passion fruit and the strawberry and both were wonderful.  The embellishments atop the éclair were almost like crunchy, freeze-dried strawberries.  They provided great texture, but they were also a burst of flavor.  I loved the uniqueness and playfulness of the éclair and the flavors were perfectly spot on.

It’s always fun finding these hidden little gems.  Often times, because we are traveling, my husband and I tend to plan out our meals and research everything so that we make sure not to miss any of the things we really feel like we need to eat.  But every now and then, as you’re just strolling by somewhere unexpected and you run into something you just have to try, you find something fun, and unique and special.  Sitting outside in the courtyard of the Louvre, watching the crowds stroll along and enter the museum through the glass pyramid, watching the pigeons flying around, sitting there eating these wonderful treats from L’Eclair de Genie, it was just perfect.  It’s one of these snapshots in your mind that you just won’t ever forget.  Quintessential Paris.

 

 

Laduree Paris

January 26, 2016

There are certain restaurants, boutiques or patisseries that many people think of when you think of Paris.  There’s the famous Cafe de Flore in Saint Germain, there’s the Moulin Rouge, there are famous sidewalk cafes in the Montmartre, and then there are the famous French macarons.  When one talks about French macarons in Paris, inevitably, one patisserie comes to mind where the baked goods, including the macarons are served up in boxes of a light green-blue color that’s almost as iconic as the Tiffany blue box.

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Laduree is famous the world over for its pastries and baked goods, but especially for its French macarons.  Today, Laduree boutiques can be found the world over, not just in Paris, but Paris is where the Laduree story begins.  In 1862, the Laduree family opened up a bakery in Paris.  After a fire that destroyed the bakery’s kitchen in 1871, Laduree reinvented itself into a pastry house whose decoration and design was entrusted to a famous artist and poster artists who helped transform the Laduree name.  Today, the Laduree name is synonymous with French macarons and French pastries.

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As iconic as the name Laduree is the macaron tower.  As soon as you step into the Laduree store on the Champs Elysees, you’re greeted by French macaron towers in all sizes, from small 5 tier towers all the way to gigantic 13-tier towers.  Made solely of macarons and a little bit of frosting as “glue” to keep the macarons sticking together, these macaron towers are as classy as they are tasty and unique.  You know I couldn’t go all the way to Paris without stopping at Laduree to try some of these amazing French macarons for myself.  Much to my husband’s chagrin, I dragged him into the pastry shop to see what all the fuss was about.

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While Laduree is known for its French macarons, it is also a full-fledged patisserie and candy shop.  There was a whole display of boxed meringues in various flavors from raspberry to chocolate to mint.  And Laduree even sells its own line of coffees, teas and bottles of Laduree champagne for those special occasions.

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There’s also baked goods.  The traditional croissant or pain au chocolat, better known as a chocolate croissant in English.  Or there’s homemade madeleines and mini chocolate bundt cakes.  You could stock up for your morning pastries here.

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But we came here for the macarons and that’s all I was looking for.  The macarons are Laduree’s number one selling item, and with their colorful display of various flavors, its easy to see why.  At the shop, the day we were there, Laduree was offering 17 different flavors of macarons.  As we were going to be taking these in a box to enjoy back at the hotel, the sales associate told us that a small box of macarons could easily fit 15 macarons.  So, we decided to make a box of 15, one of each of 15 different flavors, leaving 2 flavors out of our box.  After perusing through the flavor selections, we decided to leave licorice and iced mint out of our box.

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The box we took home included lemon, pistachio, rose, orange blossom, coffee, chocolate, caramel banana, raspberry, maple syrup, date fig, Marie-Antoinette tea, salted caramel, vanilla, coconut and strawberry candy.  I was hoping there would be a passion fruit flavor so we could compare it to what we had at Pierre Herme and La Maison du Chocolat, but that was not to be.  The macaron’s were good, but not great.  The macaron cookie itself had a nice crunchy shell, but it was missing the body inside the shell that was nice and soft and chewy.  So, the cookie was almost more like eating meringue than a macaron cookie.  The ganache filling between the macaron cookie was delicious and flavorful, but when you put together the whole package, I think that I was expecting a bit more from the macaron based on the reputation of Laduree and therefore was a bit disappointed.  I’m not saying that the macaron wasn’t delicious, but it also wasn’t the best macarons I had during this trip to Paris.

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Just before we reached the cashier to purchase our box of macarons at Laduree, we saw a display of some more sizable pastries and my husband couldn’t resist picking up a little something for dessert back at the hotel.  These pastries looked delectable and were essentially large, ornate macarons.  Most of them used giant macaron cookies and exaggerated fillings to create these amazing pastries.

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My husband chose a giant raspberry macaron pastry.  It was made with two big raspberry macaron cookies filled with raspberry ganache and fresh raspberries, and then topped by a pretty red rose petal and a Laduree chocolate piece.  My husband said this was fantastic, the cookie was exactly as it should be, crispy and crunchy on the outside, and soft and chewy on the inside.  The fresh raspberries were delicious and tasty with the raspberry ganache.  This is the type of macaron cookie we wished was replicated on the smaller macaron cookies we purchased.

While looking at the gorgeous macaron towers on display at Laduree are mouth-watering, I’m not sure that the reputation of this patisserie lived up to its reputation.  Being the most well known, and most popular macaron shop in Paris, I guess I had high expectations for how amazing these macarons should be, or perhapsI was so spoiled by how delicious the macarons at Pierre Herme were that I expected Laduree to be so much more. It’s not to say that Laduree wasn’t delicious, this is just to say that it just wasn’t as good as I had expected it to be and I had just built up their reputation so much that I had expected more. The dancer of being so well-known, its hard to live up to that reputation.

L’epicure

January 20, 2016

Months before we ever left for Paris, my husband told me that while we were in Paris he wanted to experience French cuisine to its fullest and that we were going to live large by going to some of the best restaurants in the world.  Paris is the gourmet food capital of the world after all, and anyone one who is anyone in the food world, knows that some of the finest chefs and some of the world’s best restaurants can be found in Paris.  So my husband took this philosophy to the max and told me that he wanted to dine at the restaurant that consistently is ranked #1 of all restaurants in Paris by Trip Advisor.  However, since we were talking about a very high-end restaurant we compromised and decided to dine at this particular establishment for lunch rather than dinner.  Not that it really made a difference because we are still talking about an out-of-this-world, over-the-top 3 hour dining experience to rival any dining experience we’d ever had.

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L’Epicure by renowned chef Eric Frenchon and located at the ultra luxurious, 5-star Bristol Hotel in the heart of Paris, is world-renowned in its own right as a 3-Michelin star restaurant.  3 Michelin stars is the highest rating that any restaurant can achieve and this would be the first time I’d ever dined at a 3-Michelin star restaurant.  With ratings like this and a reputation to live up to, you know this is going to be good.

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A good three months before our arrival in Paris, my husband was able to secure highly sought after reservations at L’Epicure.  The restaurant is airy and light with a mixture of modern minimalistic style and some very traditional French opulence such as the beautiful gold chandelier that hangs in the middle of the dining room.  With less than 15 tables inside the restaurant, just securing reservations can be a challenge.

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The dining room looks out into a garden courtyard inside the restaurant and we were lucky enough to be seated at a table right in front of French doors that open directly onto the garden.  Everything about the restaurant was exquisite and immaculate and we knew we would be in for a treat.  The large round table we were seated at, which easily could have sat four, was turned so that the two seats it accommodated faced out towards the garden with a front row seat.  Beautiful fresh flower displays were placed on every table along with this beautiful glass butterfly.  One thing I’ll note that I’d never seen at a restaurant before, not only was there a coat check at the hostess desk (which I’d seen many times), but once seated at our table, a gorgeous stool was placed alongside the chair of every woman dining in the restaurant as a place for her to place her purse down beside her so that it didn’t have to hang off the arm of the chair, or sit on the floor beside her, or anywhere else a woman might put her purse.  I’d never seen a restaurant go to such lengths to accommodate something as simple as a woman’s purse, and it was these little touches that other restaurants don’t think of that really made L’Epicure stand out in a class of its own.

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Even the place setting on the table when we were seated had this beautifully engraved floral design as did the accompanying bread dish and the polished silver silverware was beautiful and flawless. It’s like the restaurant considered every single detail of their guests dining experience and made sure that everything was presented with the utmost care and consideration.  Everything was above and beyond what you see in any normal day-to-day dining experience.

After we both settled on ordering the seasonal chef’s tasting menu for lunch, the fun began.  Lunch isn’t just lunch here, and things aren’t always as they seem.  While the chef’s tasting menu included a choice of first course, a choice of main dish, and a choice of dessert, we soon came to find out that what we were actually receiving was something akin to multi-course feast of the eyes and the senses.

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First off, we were given bread and butter, but it wasn’t just bread and butter.  The bread display was actually brought around by one of our servers and filled with a selection of various freshly-baked breads.  When in Paris, my husband and I both chose the beautiful baguette.  So crusty and crunchy on the outside, and warm and airy and delicious on the inside.  Fresh baked baguettes in Paris were one of my favorite things.  And in Paris, butter isn’t just butter served at a table.  Butter is like an art form.  There are dairy shops you can go into where all they sell is different types of butter, and in these shops there is a master butter maker who can take large blocks of fresh churned butter and using a couple of wooden paddles roll out for you the exact amount of fresh butter you want to buy.  Each store is unique in the designs of butter rolls they use and they distinguish themselves with the initial or emblem of their store which they stamp on their butter.  We received butter at our table from one of these master butter shops and wow, the butter was just delicious and amazing and of perfect quality and consistency.  I’m drooling over the bread and the butter already and we haven’t really gotten to any of the food yet.

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The first course of many chef’s courses brought to our table for our delight was a small sample of three separate items.  They were all one- or two- bite amuse bouche dishes.  To the left in the small ramekin was limoncello foam over watermelon gelatin.  The combination of the sweet watermelon with the tart lemoncello was terrific and the creation was light and airy.  A true palate cleanser that helped to awaken the senses.  In the middle, presented on a skewer that is intended to be eaten in one bite was a crispy seaweed cracker surrounding something inside that I only understood to be curried.  However, what it was, I don’t know, and at this point, as I’m not a huge adventurous eater, I don’t think I want to know.  The combination between the crispy seaweed cracker that was slightly salty and the curried protein of some sort that it was wrapped around, was a perfect pairing of texture, and flavor.  A little crispy and crunchy, a little salty and creamy and a little chewy.  Finally, the last offering on the plate on the right was foie gras wrapped in choux pastry.  Again, going out of my element here as I’ve never tried foie gras before.  But it was bottoms up, again an offering intended to be eaten in one small bite.  The choux pastry was perfect baked and light and flaky.  The foie gras inside was actually quite flavorful and packed a punch for something that small, and yet, it was creamy and rich.  The play with using choux pastry reminds you of dessert, and even the richness of the foie gras can fool you into thinking that this is a rich, decadent dessert.  You just need to not consider what it is you’re actually eating.  For my first experience with foie gras, it wasn’t bad.  Hey, I’m trying to expand my horizons.  My husband, who has had foie gras before, loved it.  Sweet, like candy, as he described it.

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Served along with this trio offering was a small bowl of some sort of special house-made bread made with olives, bacon and sundried tomatoes also presented to us on our table.  Olives aren’t really my thing (I know, it’s horrible how there are so many things I don’t like), but this bread was quite tasty.  The saltiness from the bacon, the chewiness of the home-made bread, the acidity of the sundried tomatoes all created a heady, and pretty hearty combination for bread.

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The next course brought to the table, again, not actually part of the tasting menu we ordered, was the chef’s play on a deconstructed salad nicoise with anchovies, olives, pepper jelly sauce, a quail egg presented at room temperature, topped by creamy foam, dehydrated crunchy croutons and diced red onions.  First off, this dish was just beautiful to look at.  It certainly didn’t look like any salad, deconstructed or otherwise, that I’d ever seen before.  But these are the creative, unique touches that give Epicure the reputation it has.  I thought I wouldn’t like this dish too much because it had olives (you’ve already read how much I don’t like olives) and pepper jelly sauce (and I don’t like peppers either… ok, I’m picky!), but honestly, I was surprised by how incredibly flavorful this salad nicoise was.  The pepper jelly added a little layer of very subtle heat, the creamy foam added body and texture, but the anchovies and the olives and red onions added the flavor – the salt, the tart, the sweet, it was all present in this dish.  It was literally like an explosion of flavor in my mouth.  And the creaminess of the quail egg was just phenomenal and the perfect complement to this dish.

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Finally, our first dish from our tasting menu was served.  My husband and I both chose the blue lobster dish as our first course.  Described in the menu as “grilled avocado with roasted sesame, a dressing of honey infused with coriander seeds” the dish is so much more than the menu gives it credit for.  Blue lobster is the name for the common lobster found in Europe mainly from the Atlantic ocean, Mediterranean Sea and parts of the Black Sea.  It’s closely related to our American red lobster, except that it generally does have a blue-ish tint when alive, but turns red when cooked.  The plate was filled with chunks of succulent, delicious and slightly sweet blue lobster.  Artfully arranged with the lobster were dollops of avocado mousse along with grilled avocado slices, some micro greens, thin slices of Granny Smith applies and crispy rice paper.  Once the dish is presented at the table, the dressing made of honey and coriander seeds is drizzled over the top of the dish.  The remainder of the dressing is left for you at the table so that you can continue to dress the dish yourself as you eat.  The dressing was absolutely phenomenal, the mixture of the sweet honey and the powerful coriander was just delicious.  It was a nice touch for them to only lightly drizzle the dish and allow you to continue to dress the dish as your taste buds saw fit.  Taking everything in at once, the combination of the crispy rice paper, the succulent lobster, the tartness from the Granny Smith apple, and the creamy richness of the avocado all mixed with the sweetness of the dressing and my husband and I looked at each other like we had died and gone to heaven.  Just one simple bite of a dish that on its own seems so simple was music to my mouth.  I could not stop eating this dish and I had to eat every last bit of avocado mousse and apple slice and micro greens and of course, the lobster.  This was single-handedly the best dish I’ve ever had in my life.  There are lots of dishes I’ve loved through the years, but nothing compares to this blue lobster dish.  It is the single best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth.

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The next dish that we received was actually a dish off of the a la carte menu that we had ordered to add on to our tasting menu.  My husband had read about this dish and decided he just had to have it.  I wasn’t actually planning on having much, if any, of the dish at all, except that the restaurant was actually nice enough to take one order of the dish and split it into two dishes for us so that we could both enjoy it (they had no way of knowing that I had just intended for my husband to enjoy this dish on his own).  Presented with my own dish, I kind of felt like I had to at least eat it and if I had any leftover than I could have given it to my husband.  Stuffed macaronis was the dish.  As the name would indicate the dish really was just stuffed macaroni pasta, but yet the name does the dish no justice at all because it’s not as simple as it seems.  The macaronis were stuffed with black truffle, artichoke and duck foie gras, all the decadence you could ever imagine.  The macaronis were then finished with grated mature Parmesan cheese and baked until melted.  Talk about over-the-top decadence.  Again, you’ll remember that I said that I’d never had foie gras before this meal and here I am being presented with foie gras for the second time today.  Let me just say, one bite of this dish and I don’t know where to begin.  There was such flavor in everything.  The richness of the duck foie gras and the added body of the artichoke.  You’ve got the black truffle in the sauce, and believe me that black truffle packed a wallop.  Then you’ve got the saltiness of the Parmesan cheese baked into the macaroni.  This dish was pure decadence, it was almost too sinful to eat.  My husband absolutely loved this dish and was incredibly happy he decided to order it as an extra to our meal.

Finally, the main courses from our tasting menu was served.  I’m not sure I mentioned it before, but we literally had a whole team of waiters serving our table for our meal.  For every course served at the table, someone comes from the kitchen carrying a tray with the dishes, and then once at your table, a waiter for each dish appears.  So, your dishes are presented to you on the table, usually under some sort of a lid, simultaneously by your own individual waiter.  Then both waiters lift the lids on the dishes at the same time before one of the waiters gives you a detailed description of exactly what you’re about to enjoy and how it was prepared.  It was service heads and tails above anything I’d ever experienced before.

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For my main course, I chose the red mullet roasted in a zucchini leaf with “harissa”, zucchini semolina with argan oil and crispy zucchini flowers.  First off, the dish is so beautiful prepared, it’s a work of art in and of itself.  The red mullet was very flaky and mild in flavor and well cooked.  The flavor from the zucchini leaf actually does infuse into the meat of the fish during the steaming process.  The harissa sauce was artfully presented on the dish to make it look like the top fin on the fish.  However, I’m not a huge fan of harissa, so I actually liked that it was presented separately and not as a sauce over the fish.  The zucchini semolina was delicious and I was actually given an extra bowl of the semolina on the side to enjoy with the dish.  What I really loved about the dish was the crisp zucchini flowers that were added in with the zucchini semolina.  Using every part of the zucchini to create this terrific dish, the crispy flowers added a nice balance of texture and flavor to the dish.  This dish was flavorful, fresh and light, which was good when I still had quite a few courses to go.

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My husband went with a dish that was very traditionally French, the young pigeon.  The pigeon was medium rare roasted with citrus fruits and vanilla, served with caramelized onion, onion puree served with cooking juice.  I admit that the dish was so beautifully presented, but it would not be something I’d order.  I’m just not adventurous enough to eat pigeon, but for my husband, we’re in Paris and this is what the French eat, so why not?  He’s way more adventurous than I am because he says I overthink everything and maybe that’s true.  First off, my husband said this dish was absolutely delicious.  The pigeon was perfect roasted and was medium rare on the inside, but nice and golden on the outside.  The caramelized onion and onion puree was a terrific accompaniment, and the cooking juice just enhanced the terrific flavor of the pigeon.  My husband thought that the pigeon was wonderfully prepared and tasted amazing.  It was meaty, but not gamey at all.  In fact, my husband loved it so much that he ate every single last bit of the meat off the pigeon and every single last edible part of the dish.  And he didn’t just eat it, he devoured it and said he would order it all over again.

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The next course presented to our table was the cheese course.  Such a French tradition, my husband who loves cheese, loved this course so much.  A large cart is wheeled to our table and on the cart is laid out approximately 20 different kinds of cheeses – cow’s milk, sheep’s milk and goat’s milk, from all over the world, along with some accompanying bread, fruits and jams.  A presentation is given to us of all of the different kinds of cheeses available and then we are each asked to select some cheeses we’d like to try.  Once chosen, the waiter cuts a section of each of the cheeses, arranges it all on a plate, adds any accompaniments you want, and then you’re presented with your very own cheese plate.  If you’re not quite sure what kind of cheese you want, the waiter can help recommend some cheeses for you based upon what your taste preferences are.  I chose a plate of Camembert, Comte and Roquefort cheeses with a candied apricot.  These are all theses I’ve had before and have enjoyed.  I’m not nearly as adventurous as my husband when it comes to cheese either and I’m definitely not as big of a cheese lover as he is.  For his selections he also chose the Camembert, a different type of blue cheese than the one I chose, and a ripe funky French cow’s milk cheese that smelled awful, but tasted great.  I loved all the different selections and types of cheeses they offered, I only wished I was a bigger cheese fan so I could truly enjoy it.

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The next course we received as a refresher or palate cleanser.  After having the very strong and ripe cheeses, it was time to freshen up the palette to prepare for dessert.  The palate cleanser was a pink grapefruit granita with fresh grapefruit wedges and a grapefruit jelly, all topped with gold leaf.  Wow, was this a palate cleanser.  The grapefruit did its magic and really refreshed our palates and reawakened the senses.  The tartness of the grapefruit really hits your tastebuds, but it’s the fact that the grapefruit is served in so many different forms – the granita, the jelly and the fresh grapefruit – that really refreshes your mouth.  I loved the cool, crispness of the icy granita.  This dish was so simple, yet so well done.

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For dessert, my husband chose the Bergeron apricot roasted with honey, nougats with dried fruits, fresh almond milk ice cream and served with a shot of apricot liqueur.  My husband said that the two green dots on the plate were some sort of sour candied apple that really added a punch to the dessert.  Again, the dessert was beautifully presented, and the flavors of the apricot were fantastic, sweet, yet not overpowering.  The texture of the nougat, and the softness of the apricot combined with the silkiness of the ice cream not only tasted good but was texturally pleasing.

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My dessert was called strawberries from open fields freezed with a Norman farmer cream and marshmallow flavored with wild strawberries, all presented on this clear glass, see-through bowl.  The presentation was beautiful and charming, and much like my husband’s dessert, mine was also finished off with a gold leaf.  The strawberry cream inside the glazed strawberry dome was a thing of beauty.  It really was a frozen cream with the flavor of strawberry because it definitely wasn’t ice cream, but it wasn’t a mousse or gelatin either.  The texture was so pleasing and the little dollops of strawberry sauce, freeze-dried strawberries and the strawberry marshmallow were fantastic.  I loved the playfulness of the dish using something as simple as freeze-dried fruit and homemade marshmallows, and yet the flavor profile was spot on.

 

Served alongside our dessert was a small one-bite post dessert dish that was thrown in as extra course to our meal.  Served on individual serving spoons was something the restaurant called strawberry bubbles (unfortunately I was so excited by the dish and the other desserts I forgot to take a photo!).  The strawberry bubbles was a rounded sphere made of an outer gelatinous coating and liquid strawberry inside, the whole thing was then topped by a gold leaf.  We were told to put the whole thing in our mouth and eat it all in one bite since the liquid strawberry wouldn’t work for more than one bite.  This strawberry bubble was effervescent and bubbly and very strawberry and like a one-bite wonder in my mouth.  A terrific ending to a decadent meal.

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And yet, that wasn’t the end of the meal.  It wasn’t until after the desserts were served that we were asked if we wanted coffee or any other after meal drinks.  I figured why not, and I ordered a latte.  My latte was brought out along with some homemade mini madeleines as an after dinner treat, yet another surprise of the kitchen.

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Again, we weren’t quite done yet.  The final course of our magical meal was the magic box.  The server wheeled over to our table a box, which they call the magic box.  This magic box is like a trunk, once it’s brought to the table, the doors are opened to reveal the magic hidden inside.  In this case, the magic was more dessert treats, as if we hadn’t had enough food yet.  There was a whole selection of macrons, homemade candies and homemade marshmallows and some homemade caramels and chocolate as well.  Each goodie inside the magic box was described to us and then we were told to pick out anything we wanted to enjoy and it was plated for our pleasure.  For my plate, I chose a lemon, coconut with mil chocolate and chocolate with nutella macaron, a homemade almond nougat and a passion fruit mango caramel.  My husband decided he wasn’t quite as full as I was and chose the raspberry with ginger and black currant with violet macarons, along with dark chocolate orange sticks, passion fruit mango caramel, almond nougat and at the urging of the server some of the mint marshmallow.  First off, the mint marshmallow was really minty and soft and chewy.  Homemade marshmallows are always amazing when done right.  The dark chocolate orange sticks were terrific and citrusy.  The passion fruit mango caramel was my favorite as it was chewy, but it had that terrific passion fruit tang to it.  And the macarons were luscious and delicious.  By the end of all of this, we were stuffed.  This was way more than anything either of us had ever expected.

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Before we left Epicure for the day, I asked if it would be possible to take home a copy of the menu as a souvenir.  To my surprise, not only did we get a copy of the menu, but they actually printed our exact menu of what we ordered and put them into a gorgeous portfolio for us bound together with a beautiful gold tassel.  And the menus were reproduced with the date of our visit, plus my husband received one with his order from the tasting menu and I received one with my order from the tasting menu, it was far and above anything I’d ever expected.  The personal touch that we received, even in something as simple as a souvenir menu was taken to the extreme to make our experience that much more memorable.

For my husband, hands down, L’Epicure is the best restaurant he’s ever dined at, both in terms of the food and the service.  Up to this point, I also agreed the L’Epicure was the best restaurant I’d ever been to, until later in the trip when another restaurant, in my book, trumped L’Epicure.  But, I do agree that in terms of service, attention to detail, and making the guest feel like royalty, I’ve never seen another restaurant with the level of service that L’Epicure offers.  Everything at the restaurant is above and beyond in decadence and luxuriousness, and this is considering we only had lunch there.  I could only imagine how over-the-top dinner service at L’Epicure must be.  There’s a reason this restaurant is consistently ranked as the #1 restaurant in Paris, it is very deserving of every accolade it receives as you’ll never have another dining experience like this at any other restaurant.

Brioche Doree

January 18, 2016

After a long, long day of sightseeing that saw us walking over 14 miles throughout Paris, we were tired by the time we got to the end of the night.  Our last sightseeing stop for the night brought us to the Arc de Triomphe and the famous Champs Elysees.  Home to many a chic and trendy stores including Louis Vuitton, Sephora, the Gap and others along with car dealerships such as Peugot and Mercedes-Benz, the Champs Elysees has a little something for everyone.  And for the weary traveler, there are tons of cafes, restaurants and patisseries to be found here.

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By the time we finished exploring and realized we still needed to grab dinner, it was late and we just wanted to find something quick, almost a grab-and-go.  Wandering the Champs Elysees, we came upon Brioche Doree.  Not a fancy French café by any stretch of the imagination, but rather a quick, almost fast-food type of place serving simple sandwiches and quick bites, exactly what we were looking for.  Turns out that Brioche Doree is a chain and we actually found one a few days later not too far from our hotel.  What they offered turned out to be exactly what needed and it hit the spot just right.

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Talk about affordable food, Brioche Doree offered a dinner deal that included a sandwich, a drink and a dessert for just about 8 Euros.  How can you beat that deal when you’re not looking for fancy?  Their refrigerated display case held a number of different sandwich and dessert options to choose from, essentially a little something for everyone and every taste.  My husband settled on a ham and cheese sandwich in a baguette along with a raspberry tarte.  Maybe not the world’s best dinner and dessert ever, but for that price, in this location, at this time of night, it worked.  My husband really liked the baguette bread for the sandwich.  No matter where we were in Paris for the week, we never had bad bread.  The ham and cheese hit the spot and the raspberry taste was a sweet ending.

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I chose a poppy seed roll filled with prosciutto, cheese, tomato and arugula.  The combination of the slightly salty prosciutto, the acidity from the tomato and the peppery bite of the arugula was a terrific combination.  Again, the poppy seed roll was terrific.  The sandwich was quite substantial, and as hungry as I was, I couldn’t finish the whole sandwich.  Considering the price, we really got large sandwiches.  My dessert of choice was a simple chocolate eclair.  Maybe not the world’s best eclair, but a tasty and delicious chocolate eclair none the less.

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In fact, we liked the convenience, ease and prices that Brioche Doree had to offer enough that we actually ended up stopping by there to eat dinner again on a second night when it was late and we were tired and just didn’t want to dine at a fancy place.  The second time around, we didn’t even go for a full meal since we wanted to grab and go, so instead my husband went for his same ham and cheese sandwich and I opted for a slice of cheese pizza warmed up in the oven.  It might not have been an Italian pizza, but delicious bread, tangy tomato sauce and some melted cheese and it was hearty enough to be a good dinner for me.

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One of the greatest things we discovered at the various Brioche Doree locations we ran into around the city was that they all offered flavored icee drinks.  As it was still rather warm and humid when we were in Paris, and considering that we were running around the city playing tourist all day long, we would wear ourselves out and get pretty thirsty.  These beauties kept us hydrated and refreshed.  The icee’s were offered in a ton of different flavors – grape, green apple, pina colada, raspberry, and tropical punch to name a few – we couldn’t help ourselves from ordering a couple of cups to quench our thirst.  We chose the half cola, half cherry icee to make our own cherry cola.  Tangy, ice, and sweet, this was a terrific drink.

Maybe Brioche Doree wasn’t the exactly the quintessential gourmet French food when you think of dining out in Paris, but that wasn’t what we were looking for when we stopped in for dinner.  We wanted something tasty, quick and easy and affordable and Brioche Doree checked all of those boxes for us.  Eating gourmet food that costs you an arm and a leg for every meal while you’re on vacation just isn’t feasible, or smart, and sometimes you just need quick and easy food.  Brioche Doree was the solution to our problem and my husband and I would choose it again.

La Maison du Chocolat – Paris

January 12, 2016

After a very long day walking around Paris and sightseeing, my husband was ready to call it a day and go back to the hotel to cool down and to rest and relax for a little bit.  However, I had one more stop I wanted to make before we could go back to the hotel.  There was another chocolate shop that was supposed to be pretty close to the hotel that I wanted to check out.  Again, like Pierre Herme, this chocolate shop made the list of one of the top 10 chocolate shops  in the world.  And because it did so, my husband relented and agreed to go with me to this chocolate shop before we went back to the hotel.

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La Maison du Chocolat – Paris began in 1955 with master chocolatier Robert Linxe.  Born in the Basque country, Linxe completed an apprenticeship in chocolate in France before moving to Switzerland to perfect his art.  In 1955 he opened up his first shop in Paris, called “Marquis de Presles.”  In 1977, Linxe sold the store so that he could establish the first Maison du Chocolate shop.  The first chocolate shop was set up in what used to be the wine cellar of the shop he had purchased.  And it is here that Linxe began to create his chocolate, including taking a huge risk and creating flavored ganaches.  It was his creation of such items such as Zagora, chocolate ganache infused with fresh mint leaves that he was dubbed the “Wizard of Ganache.”  Ten short years after the opening of the first store, it is such a success that a second store is opened.  Linxe goes on, three years later to create the famous chocolate éclair which is his reinvention of the popular pastry and one of his stores opens in New York.  Today, with boutiques that can be found in Paris, New York, Tokyo and London, La Maison du Chocolate is a chocolate force to be reckoned with.

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Inside the store, it was so immaculately and minimally decorated that it was hard to know where to begin.  I think like many boutiques you see in Paris, or even just in Europe in general, it’s all about sleek, minimalistic design.  Counters are packed with goods, and shelves are stuffed to full with different product options here in the States, but in Europe it’s a completely different story.  Very few goods are actually laid out and presented to customers, so it’s almost as if you already have to know what you want when you walk into a shop.  At a chocolate shop, they have just a few pieces of each of their different chocolates laid out for you to choose from, and once someone buys a piece they have on display, only then do they replace it with supplies they have kept behind the counter.

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One of the first things we saw when we stepped into the store was a small display of La Maison’s selection of French macarons.  They were selling their macarons by the piece or you could make boxes using combinations of flavors of your choosing.  The smallest box was for 12, so we decided to get a box of twelve to take home with us.  As they only offered 9 different flavors of macarons, we had to choose a couple of flavors to take multiple of so that we could get to the 12 we needed.

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We definitely requested that they give us a couple of the Maracuja, which is passion fruit pulp with dark chocolate ganache.  We loved the Mogador at Pierre Herme so much we wanted to try La Maison’s version of passion fruit.  While the Maracuja was delicious, it was definitely more dark chocolate ganache than it was passion fruit, and we definitely wished that the passion fruit was more intense and more defined.  The Malaga, which is sweet Corsican citron in a dark chocolate ganache with lemon zest was tangy and delicious.  There was a Venezuela which used pure origin dark chocolate from Venezuela with spicy cocoa notes.  The Rigoletto was made of creamy chocolate ganache mixed with silky caramel and sea salt.  The Macapuno featured dark chocolate ganache mixed with a hint of lime for tanginess paired with a sweet coconut cookie.  The Salvador was the traditional raspberry cookie with the raspberry cream inside.  And the Romeo, roasted Arabica coffee mixed with half dark chocolate and half milk chocolate ganache.  The macarons were definitely tasty.  However, in comparison to Pierre Herme, my husband and I agreed that we both liked Pierre Herme better.  The cookie that makes up the macaron at Pierre Herme was tastier and of better consistency, crunchy on the outside while remaining soft and creamy on the inside and overall the flavors of the filling of the ganache were tastier with the Pierre Herme macaron as well.

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Sadly, we didn’t try any of La Maison’s truffles or chocolate bars, and we probably missed out by not trying it.  As I mentioned, the store was so minimalistic in its design that it was really hard to get a feel for what kinds of truffles, bon bons and chocolate bars they offered, and as we were in a hurry to pick up some chocolates and leave, we didn’t spend any time browsing through the store’s entire chocolate collection.

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However, we did notice that in the front window of the store there was a display of various pastries that included cakes, tarts and eclairs.  Being a true lover of eclairs, I couldn’t leave without buying an éclair to try back at the hotel.  And being the follower, my husband decided to get an éclair as well.

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We ended up with a chocolate and mocha éclair.  At this point, I had no idea that La Maison was well known for their chocolate eclairs, so it was rather fortuitous that we had even gotten an éclair.  The chocolate éclair was for my husband, the mocha for me.  I’m a chocolate fan, but when you add coffee or mocha to anything chocolate, that will always grab my attention.  My husband and I both agreed that the eclairs were delicious.  The choux pastry was light and soft and perfectly baked to be chewy.  The filling inside, the chocolate for my husband, mocha for me, was rich and delicious.  There was just enough filling to provide sweetness to the desert, but not so much that it overwhelmed the éclair or detracted from the flavor of the pastry and the glaze atop the éclair.

Overall, our review of La Maison du Chocolat was mixed.  The macarons, while delicious in their own right, and with good flavor, just couldn’t stand up to the macarons we picked up at Pierre Herme.  And while it might not be fair to compare one chocolate shop to another, it’s kind of hard to when you visit so many good chocolate shops on consecutive days.  The taste and experience from shop to the next lingers and you can’t help but compare what you’re currently enjoying to what you enjoyed previously.  So, while La Maison’s macarons and eclairs were delicious, this was more of a case of, “…I’m glad I tried it, but if I had to pick one to go back to, it would be Pierre Herme.”  And believe me, we did go back to Pierre Herme.