La Belle France
After some substantial Eurostar hell, after the stress of finding an alternate route to the distant shores of France (along with +30k people), and after eventually arriving in Paris a few days later than planned, my winter life in France turned out to be wonderful, as usual. I just wish it could have been for longer than 2 weeks.
In the end, we had about 1.5 days in Paris before we headed up to see Mrs. LF’s family in Normandy. In those 36 hours or so, we managed to sample treats from Ladurée, Fauchon, Gérard Mulot, Pierre Hermé, have lunch at a traditional neighborhood bistrot (Chez Janou, on the edge of Le Marais), and dine in what is possibly one of the finest restaurants in the world right now (but that will be covered off in a later post).
Once in Normandy, we had our traditional Christmas dinner in a many centuries-old farmhouse in a remote village with a warm fireplace, followed by lunch there again the next day, and then a very enjoyable New Year’s Eve meal (and dancing) at a newly relaunched restaurant in Caen.
I hope you enjoy my little photo-diary post. It certainly was a delicious and fulsome trip. As always, you can click on any of the images for the full-resolution versions.
Le Menu de Paris
~ Petit-Déjeuner à Ladurée ~
Le Breakfast Room Upstairs at the Rue Royal Branch
Mrs. LF decided on Le Petit-Déjeuner Ladurée while I ordered a few pastries. It was all a bit expensive (as one would expect), but this was one of the better Chausson aux Pommes I've had, and the Kouign Amann - one of my favorite French pastries, and one that is hard to find here - was to die for!
Mrs. LF had an amazingly thick and luscious hot chocolate, while I opted for coffee - I thought the little silver pot of sweeteners was cute
Trading Paper for Pastries
We didn't have any (because it was breakfast time & we were already stuffed) but we spied some of their beautiful macarons on our way out down, heading down the stairs
The usual beautiful decorations within the Galeries Lafayette department store. We shopped the rest of the day & then had our special dinner (not covered in this post), so no more food photos from Day 1 - sorry 🙂
~ Pâtisseries de Gérard Mulot ~
I always try to stop by Gérard Mulot in Rue de Seine to sample some of their wonderful bread or pastries. So, the next morning we opted for some breakfast pastries from Mssr. Mulot & took them to a nearby café to have them with our morning caffeine injection - an inspired idea indeed
The amazingly tempting window of Gérard Mulot in Rue de Seine
I love this photo & it reminds me of my coffee and brilliant bready breakfast morsels from Mr. Mulot (we took them to a nearby café in the French way)
~ Déjeuner Chez Janou ~
My favorite barman in London, Alessandro Palazzi from Dukes Bar in Mayfair, had highly recommended this neighorhood bistrot (they have over 80 varieties of pastis, which is why he may have heard of them), and after Oliver Thring reported that he had a good meal there a few weeks prior to our trip, we figured we'd stop by to warm ourselves after looking through the shops of Le Marais and the art galleries of Place des Vosges
Yes, over 80 types of pastis, impressive...
They have posters from Marcel Pagnol's plays/movies on the walls and it really has a great atmosphere - I mean, if Gregg Wallace had been there, he might have said 'It doesn't get more Parisian than this' 🙂
Starter: Salade d'endives, Sauce au Bleu et Noix - a really nice simple salad to start things off
Main Course 1: Sauté de Lapin aux Olives & Pommes Fondantes - this was a classic bistrot dish that was well done, the sauce was very moreish and the rabbit delicious
Main Course 2: Filet d'elingue, Sauce Citronnel, Riz Pilaf - Mrs. LF's dish was also solid bistrot fare, a very good dish all in all
Dessert: Poêlú d'ananas et Mangue à la Vanille et Lait de Coco - a very refreshing end to the meal, and a great deal overall (they had a 3-course lunch deal for €12.80, not bad eh?). Included in the lunch were also some very delicious marinated olives before the starters arrived and a basket of dried fruits and nuts that were presented with the bill. Tres excellent!
On the way out we spied some of the many pastis (and other liquid treats) they had at the back side of their bar (which wrapped around and had two sides) - cool place & glad we paid a visit
~ Macarons de Chez Pierre Hermé ~
Alright, the moment had finally arrived. After having breakfast pastries from Mssr. Mulot, we went to pay a visit to the shrine of macarons that is Pierre Hermé. I have always been a loyal devotee of their rival, Ladurée, and was curious to try out what are meant to be the best macarons aorund. It looked more like a fancy shoe shop or something like that from outside. Me likey 🙂
Yes, here they were, finally, all arranged beautifully in the little chic boutique - but which ones to choose...?
And there were some beautiful cakes too - but too big for 2 people walking around Paris
They also had some interesting looking pastries, like this Isfahan Croissant, which I would *assume* gets its name from the famous Iranian region & maybe as it has rose flavoring or something like that (?). We finally tasted the macarons on the train ride up to Normandy and they were unbelievably good. I had previously been a proponent of Laduée, but Mr. Hermé's definitely have the edge: they have more filling, the texture in the middle is a tad bit goo-ier and they have some amazing & original flavor combinations, which appear to change with the seasons (somewhat). I am so glad this guy is finally coming to London in February 2010!
Le Menu de Normandie
~ Building up to the Big Day ~
So, we took the train up to Deauville in time to make it for dinner on Mrs. LF's mother's birthday...and were greeted with bright blue Norman skies - here is a typical house from old Deauville
Hotel Normandy Barrière, smack-bang in the center of beautiful Deauville - it has recently been upgraded to 5 stars, apparently
This little dog (yes - he is real) achieved a small measure of twitter fame when I posted pictures of him a few weeks ago. He was really the cutest thing I've ever seen, and was the mascot of a cute little shop in Trouville. Apparently, when the owners take him out for a walk, he decides where he will be taking them! Cheeky little thing 🙂
~ The Big Christmas (Eve) Dinner ~
We began the annual ritual of Christmas dinner late on Christmas Eve (as is the tradition in France) in a centuries-old farmhouse in a village of less than 100 people with a roaring fire and many presents under the tree. Equally as traditionally, we started with some foie gras, which was accompanied by a lovely jelly. It was very high quality & delectable
The accompanying Jurançon wine went beautifully with the foie gras, a much lighter and less cloyingly sweet wine than the traditional Sauternes, with a brightness and acidity that kept me coming back for more
After the foie gras, a turkey was presented in the middle of the table, after which a bit of chaos ensued
The turkey, which was courtesy of the farm next door, was served with a lovely stuffing and some of the best potatoes in the world - after all, they were from Mr. & Mrs. G's garden right outside
We had a nice little bordeaux to go with the poultry main course, it went down smoothly (quite a few times)
And of course, being in France, even though everyone was stuffed by this point, we had to have some cheese...luckily there were some amazing ones on offer from the region
Which of course necessitated some baguettes
But that wasn't all. You see, Mrs. G has a little Christmas tradition, it's called her secret cake. In fact, it seems to be used for most occasions, as her grandchildren request it for their birthdays and other celebrations. We all love it and look forward to it. And Mrs. LF has finally gotten the recipe after some crafty maneuvering . It is a very Norman cake, as it is essentially 5 tons of butter, layered together with a token bit of coffee flavor added. That is well scientific, innit. But seriously, it is veeeery good. And just look at that cute decoration...
A close-up of that buttery goodness
My 'petit' slice 🙂
The aftermath of the christmas cake - poor Frosty got caught in the fray...
Ah, did I mention we went through a good deal of Champagne both before and during the festivities? (Evidence above)
And so it was, our lovely Christmas Eve celebration...but wait, that's not all...
~ The Big Christmas (Day) Lunch ~
The next day we returned to do it all over again, and we were greeted by Mr. & Mrs. G's striking feline
We were warmly welcomed by the family and then plied with a fresh platter of smoked salmon...
...and the left-over wine...
Putting it all together
...but then realized that this wasn't even the main course...THIS was!
I had a visit from the cat, she was hungy for left-overs too 🙂
~ Indulgences Between Christmas & New Year’s ~
In the intervening period between Christmas and New Year's, Mrs. LF and I visited old friends and indulged some more...and some more...this was some champagne we had at a friend's house, which he said was his favorite (the only one he drinks). It was rather nice - anyone ever heard of it?
The same friends had prepared some homemade foie gras as well (it's all the rage right now in France), which was lovely with the champagne
As some of Mrs. LF's family lives in Caen, we spent a good deal of time there too...this was a nice shot of one of the many churches (it was soooo bright there during our trip)
I was quite proud of this shot taken from a back-alley in downtown Caen
After all that walking in the cold, we were hungry and decided to go to an Italian place which was packed (when most other places were empty) - it turned out to be a good decision & this was my HUGE turkey escalope w/ pasta (where did they think they were, America?), which was very good & satisfying
Mrs. LF's very satisfactory pizza from La Buona Tavola in Caen
I really liked the little bowl they served the parmesan in - it looked like the skin that usually encircles the rind
And my petit café to get me through the rest of the day
Another night, we went for a couscous with friends in Deauville - it's called Restaurant Berbère (www.berbere-deauville.com) & they served some of the best couscous I've had - look at the beautiful snow-like couscous, it was feather-light & amazing!
The main courses were beautifully presented & really delicious
The meat fell off the bone and was to die for - yum!
~ Images from Another Year’s Passing at Villa Eugène ~
We had a very small New Year's celebration with Mrs. LF's brother and wife. We went to a new & very stylish restaurant in Caen called Villa Eugéne (www.villa-eugene.fr), which had a great all-inclusive New Year's Eve menu for €82/person, including about 7 courses, canapés & une coupe de champagne
We started with an assortment of canapés, which came with a glass of champagne (I believe it was Moët and it was nice)
Ah yes, here's a shot of that Moët champagne - they had very pretty water glasses too
Oeufs de Caille au Foie Gras & Toc' l'oeuf aux Truffes - a very well presented and delicate start to the meal
Carpaccio de Homard Juste Tièd à l'huile d'Argan - a nice little lobster dish perfumed with Argan oil
Saint-Jacques Trufées en Habit d'algues, Services avec une Crème Truffe - the scallops were cooked well & cleverly concealed in green (algues), though the truffle didn't exactly come through for me
We were drinking a fairly nice bottle of Pouilly-Fumé alongside all of this fishy stuff…but back to the food
Mrs. LF's brother had decided to order some red wine to accompany the main course. It was a wine known by the short-hand name of 'Moulis' in France, and is apparently quite well known. It was a nice little wine, and all the components were there, I think it just needed a year or two more in bottle for it to really shine
Suprême de Chapon au Foie Gras et Morilles - the poultry main was served with two little fried numbers alongside (right), with a sauce of morille which was quite rich. Chapon is a castrated chicken, and this procedure is meant to increase tenderness, moistness and mass...it certainly was tender and tasted good but nothing out of this world. The stuffing within the chapon was a nice little surprise
Cromesquis de Camembert, Bouqet de Salade - these were some pretty ordinary cheese balls, but they were prettily presented as everything else had been
Chocolat Éphémère - this was a 'solid' chocolate dessert, whose shell melted when the hot chocolate was poured on top...I enjoyed it, but then again I enjoy most things with dark chocolate 🙂
Mousse Mangue Nougat aux Éclats de Macarons - this was actually better than the chocolate dessert and a very refreshing end to what had become a very long & enjoyable evening/morning
Well, the music was getting louder, people were dancing, I was a minor celebrity (being the only American, everyone wanted to tell me how much they had enjoyed their vacation there - whether 1 year or 20 years ago), it was now 2010 and I was going to need some coffee to get me through this night. It was served in those great cups that look like they're crinkled plastic...I saw them in the Conran Shop not long ago and have been tempted to buy them...I think they're really cool!
And so it was, a grand finale to 2009. Here’s looking at you 2010 – in the words of John Lenon, I hope it’s a good one…!