Monday, February 27, 2012


The other night Elze and I went on an unplanned dinner at the suggestion of our French friend, Segolene. I was hesitant to go since I am trying to save up money for my trip across Europe and life after I leave Paris, but Segolene has such wonderful taste and informed us that this was one of the hottest restaurants in town and so I really had no choice but to attend.

Derriere may be a funny name to us english speakers, but in french it isn't just the behind you have above your legs. And considering the location of this quirky eatery, it's a perfect title. Derriere is at metro Arts and Metiers and sits in one of the many small courts hiding behind the giant doors of Paris. There are a few little establishments in this particular court, each as charming and welcoming as the next.

Derriere is the most sought after location for dinner and is extremely intriguing. The design is what you could call "home-chic" since it's seating ranges from old kitchen tables with a plethora of different chairs, coffee tables with mismatched uposltered seats, a bed sitting next to a big dining table, and a long wooden table flanked by two long wooden benches.

You really feel like you've stepped into somebody's home 
with all the clutter, giving the restaurant an "lived-in" feeling

We sat in a room where one whole wall was taken up by a gigantic red couch and ate from a tiny squat coffee table that hit me at the knees. It was oh so fun and comfy and while there were some older people there it was obviously a hot spot for young Parisians. The menu had multiple items that sounded quite wonderful to me (especially the veal sweetbreads) but I was swayed toward the plate of the day of venison (described insensitively by our waiter as Bambi's mother) and so went ahead with that, doe-eyes and all.

While waiting for our food Segolene shared with us the hidden secret of Derriere and perhaps my favorite thing in Paris. Any C.S. Lewis fans out there will love this nod to The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe since Derriere has a wardrobe of its own. Upstairs past the bathrooms is an unassuming mirrored wardrobe that, while pretty to look at, doesn't seem to be anything special. Segolene, however, led me straight for it and opened one of the wardrobe doors to revel what appeared to be nothing but an empty dresser. But if you push on the lefthand panel you will uncover a hidden passage way into the unofficial smoking room of the restaurant. I was giddy with childlike wonder as I stepped through the doors and into the mysterious room.

The smoking room looked as if it was a parlor in some eccentric old woman's home. There were creepy stuffed animals that (reminding me of the evil twin version of what you see at Deyrolle) with teeth bared, matted fur, and red eyes. The furniture was old and dusty, most likely from all the smoke, and the springs in the couch we sat on creaked and collapsed underneath our weight. There was a foosball that a group of twenty-somethings were playing aggressively on in front of us, and a drunk old man slumped over behind us with a glass of champagne in one hand and a cigarette in the other. There is really no other word to describe it but cool.

We returned to our table in perfect timing and received our delicious meals just as we sat down. And everything was perfect. No frills or stacked food, this was classic french cooking and all of it was good. My venison was served with a glorious sauce and a side of turnips that I gobbled up happily. Our wine was some of the best Rose I've had and by the time I was done with my dinner I was feeling more than happy with my plate was practically licked clean and the wine settling nicely in my tummy.

Our second bottle of the delicious 
Côte de Provence, Château Minuty, Cuvée Prestige 2010 
The Star from St Tropez

Overall, it was one of my favorite dining experiences, and not only here in Paris. (Even the bathroom is cool with a tub sink). With the combination of good food, wine, service and an incredible unique atmosphere, I left knowing that I had experienced something more than worthwhile. It was as if, for a few moments, I had stepped into a scene of a moving set in Paris. This is what this city is all about.

The menu was not overly expensive, for Paris, with plates at 17+ euros, and our wine at 32 euros. However, according to Segolene it is one of the trickier places to get a reservation. They only take bookings on a weekly basis and so you must call first thing Monday morning to try and secure a spot. I imagine it must be similar to trying to be the tenth lucky caller for a radioshow competition, the line busy and busy until finally you break through, only to discover you're too late.

The kitchen 

All the same, I certainly feel that it is worth a try. I know I'm hoping to get a table for when my sister, Kathryn, and her husband, Ryan, are here since it is something I am sure they will enjoy and love. And even though we're non smokers, a visit to the hidden wardrobe room is a must.

The entire restaurant was filled with decor from numerous eras, including this fun lights

address: 69 rue des Gravilliers, 75003 Paris
phone: +33 1 44 61 91 95

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Here and there I have tasted a few things that haven't quite made their way onto a Friday mission for one reason or another. However, since most of the things I ate were quite delicious, they have every right to be featured on my blog and so I decided that it was about time that they were. So here we go, a mishmash of pastries that came to me through convenience. You will see Jacques Genin who I frequent because of his stellar desserts and the proximity to my apartment, and Hugo & Victor because Elze brings treats home for me on a regular basis.

Jacques Genin

Paris-Brest (winner!)

The Paris-Brest is a pate-a-choux dessert that is named for a race that spans from Paris to Brest and is a circle to represent said race. It is normally filled with hazelnut creme and topped with powdered sugar and almonds. It's one of my favorite traditional french desserts that I hadn't known until my trip here and when I heard such good things about Jacques Genin's rendition, I knew I had to give it a try.

Truth be told the first time I saw Genin's Paris-Brest I was completely turned off by it. The mountain of cream mousseline piped between the two shells of choux looked overstuffed and sickening and reminded me of those horrific buttercream cupcakes that stand a foot tall that you buy from Safeway back home. But after hearing from more than one source that these were the best Paris-Brests I went against my own first impressions and bought the thing. And I am certainly happy that I did.

Jacques Genin has the ability to make something decadent and sweet without being too much of either. His use of fresh high end ingredients is smart and noticeable and adds an air of sophistication to his desserts. The hazelnut flavor of the Paris-Brest was strong and tantalizing and was emphasized but wonderful crunches of toasted hazelnuts that had been sprinkled on top as well as small grains of hazelnut tucked within the mousseline. The choux, as usual, was perfection, fresh and crisp with a billowy soft inside.

This is certainly a dessert you can share and really one bite would be enough to make even the most gluttonous of people happy. But then again, when you have the whole thing in front of you, you may find it hard to stop until the plate is empty.

Tarte Citron

Tarte citron, as you very well may know, is one of my favorite desserts, and considering that I already know how fabulous Jacques Genin's tart crust is, I was more than ready to delve into the citrusy custard he had waiting for me. Flecks of green dotted the top and were, upon first appearance, what I surmised to be lime zest, but upon tasting realized were tiny chopped up bits of basil.

The basil added an element that I wasn't expecting, that was different from any lemon tart I had had, and yet that also made perfect sense. It somehow managed to make the crispness of the lemon even fresher while also making it easy to eat, numbing down some of the strong tartness of it. The consistency of the lemon filling was perfect, not too soft and not too stiff and it had just the right amount of tartness so that it tasted fresh but not so much that it came off as artificial.

The crust was, as I knew it would be, delicious, yet somehow I was a bit let down. Don't get me wrong, it's an amazing crust, but it goes so beautifully with the honey-caramel and walnut tart that I was expecting it to complement the lemon in kind. It did admirably, but it obviously is meant to be with the caramel walnut tart, like soul mates.

All in all, a delicious tart and another example of Genin's incredible talent. He manages to create classic French desserts but in such a flawless way that it is as if he were the first to make them.

Hugo & Victor

Religieuse Praline 

Elze has now finished her internship at Hugo & Victor with a tearful goodbye and a job offering which hinges on her ability to get a working visa. While still at Hugo & Victor, she would regularly bring home random goodies for me to try so that I could write about them. It's just one of the many joys of being a pastry blogger living with a patissier.

One of her absolute favorites of Hugo & Victor's was their Religieuse Praline. When she first commenced her internship she detested these little delicacies for their long preparation and assembly, yet once she began thinking of them as Hugo & Victor's own little fashion models, showing off the season's colors, she became enamored with them, and after bringing one home I could not blame her.

The Hugo & Victor Religieuse is certainly the prettiest I have seen. It wears its perfect, shiny fondant and chocolate accessories well, and achieves height without making it impossible to eat. And once you pull yourself away from gazing at it and actually eat it you'll find that it doesn't taste too bad either.

The hazelnut cream is light and soft though perhaps just a smidge too soft, if I'm being picky, and could have, perhaps, used a tad more hazelnut flavor. However, the flavor is boosted by the thin, secret ninja layer of straight praline butter hiding in the choux. This layer of praline is, in my opinion, pure genius, for it not only adds flavor but also an intriguing texture making it difficult to stop eating the dessert!

The choux itself is quite nice though not the perfection that you get at Jacques Genin. It could use a bit more crunch to the outside but I did appreciate that the softness of it made it easier to eat. Also, the flavor was nice and subtle without being to eggy and overwhelming the religieuse. On top were little candied hazelnuts which not only added visual beauty, sparkling and cute, but also added bursts of crunchy hazelnut flavor that kept my mouth interested while munching along. Certainly the best looking and tasting religieuse I've eaten.

Eclair Chocolat 

Let me just start by saying, "WHOA!" This is chocolat to the max. For those of you out there who believe that chocolate is the end all be all, proof that there is existence of an afterlife, both heavenly and damned, then this is the eclair for you!

This is yet another beautiful choux dessert brought to us by Hugo & Victor, and brought home to me by Elze. Sitting on top of this dark beauty is a long thin plat of dark chocolate that at first concerned me slightly. I was worried that it would make it difficult to eat but it was tempered perfectly and so thin that it broke of easily and evenly when I sunk my teeth into it, allowing me to eat the entire thing fluidly.

The chocolate creme filling was deep and rich in chocolate flavor and the thickness of the creme matched its flavor well. It had the well rounded flavors you find in good quality dark chocolate with a smooth liquor taste and a faint bitterness. This is certainly the eclair chocolat for true chocolate lovers and would go beautifully with a glass of ice cold whole milk.

Hugo Caramel (honorable mention) 

This is one of those desserts that is so beautiful it reminds you that pastry is art. Not that I need reminding, but some people, I believe, do. The caramel milk chocolate dome sits on its little dacquoise throne practically begging you to crack it open and uncover what's hiding within. Yet, at the same time, it also wants you to admire its beauty and feel somewhat guilty for demolishing and devouring it. But I try not to feel guilty so I cracked into it as soon as I had finished my photo shoot.

The inside was not as appetizing looking as I had hoped, though it certainly photographed beautifully. Somehow the ring of cream was unappealing to me and I wished it had been a smooth filling instead of showing the piping. I didn't let this turn me off too much though and quickly delved into it, uncovering the delicious caramel creme and the oozing caramel sauce that was tucked underneath it. Chunks of macadamia burst in my mouth here and there and added a wonderful crunch and butteriness to the dessert. The bits of caramel chocolate dome also added texture and flavor and the dacquoise was so wonderful and chewy that it rounded out the entire thing nicely.

My only gripe, and I must make my apologies to Elze when I say this, is that the chocolate of the dome was just a bit too thick. This is one of those times when I was happy to be a critic and not a chef for I completely understand the difficulty in making milk chocolate thin while still being able to work with it. Add to that the fact that you have to melt two hemispheres together without breaking them and it's practically water boarding.

However, when it came to eating the dessert the thickness of the chocolate made it impossible to eat gracefully. Elze suggested that I burrow in from the top next time and eat it that way. But still, it was difficult to break into manageable pieces and I had to decimate the poor thing just to get it into my mouth. But, considering that I am not just a critic but also a chef, I understand that this could be asking too much and did not find it so distracting as to detract from the overall effect of the dessert.

This is certainly a dessert I would recommend if you're trying to impress someone's eyes and mouth or if you're just in the mood to pamper yourself with a decadent treat.

All of these desserts were delicious and all things I would recommend and try again and now that Elze is no longer working at Hugo & Victor I know I will miss the days when she would randomly bring me home offerings from her job. I also know I'll miss being just around the corner from Jacques Genin, one of the best patissiers in Paris, when I finally leave this wonderful city.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


My sister rocks, and thanks to a glorious day basking in her big sister glow I was able to experience a day converse to the fiasco filled one I was forced to endure a few days ago. It's difficult to get some sister on sister time these days since she's often busy in "mom mode" and I don't blame her one bit. She has three boys for heaven sakes, and a husband who loves explosives. But today my wonderful brother in law took my two older nephews off to see a museum full of weaponry, armor, and other things dripping with testosterone and masculinity, and so I got some luscious sister time in with my oldest sis.

I'm off to bed now (walking around Paris can be exhausting) and so will delve into the depths of our sororal outing tomorrow. I also have some restaurant reviews, MISSIONS, and more for you to look forward to this upcoming week. Try not to mess yourselves in excitement!

Friday, February 24, 2012


Yesterday was not my favorite day. Hectic, I believe, is an accurate word to describe such a day. Perhaps another, better person would have been able to take all that was thrown at me in stride, but I tend to bubble with uncontrollable frustration when so many things go wrong.

The day started out fine enough. Kellen and Bode had yet another sleepover at my apartment and aside from a small quarrel the previous night about not wanting to share a bed and some kicking, they were perfect guests. We woke up and had breakfast and I awaited word from their parents on what exactly would be happening that day. According to our conversation the night before, Todd was coming to pick them up and the whole family would be off to Belleau Wood to reminisce over some WWI battlefield that Todd was particularly excited to visit. However, instead of an email update, I received a call from an unknown caller who turned out, in fact, to be Abigail.

"We're taking Sam to the American hospital," she told me, cool as a cucumber, "he fell off the bed and cracked his head on the glass table and I think he may need stitches."

I don't exactly know how to properly respond in these situations and the weight of her words didn't sink in until later. Plus she had spoken with such a calm manner that I responded in kind saying that the boys and I would have fun until we heard from them.

Not knowing just how they would be able to contact me I decided that sticking around the apartment was the best tactic and so had to rack my brain for ideas on what we could do. We started with some hide and seek which of course, in an apartment this size, resulted in each seeking lasting only a few minutes. I eventually started helping the boys hide so that they could, at the very least, have sessions that lasted a bit longer.

From there we went on to coloring because I, by some miracle, happen to have a set of colored pencils and more than enough blank pieces of paper. This went smoothly until Bode became frustrated with the fact that his drawing was not as good as Kellen's. So I brought out a thick black marker and drew an amateurish outline of the Eiffel Tower for him to color in. This seemed to calm the waters but it was only later that I noticed that the marker had leaked through onto the table and I can only pray that nail polish remover will remedy this.

You see, for some reason, I am absolutely terrified of my landlord. Perhaps it is because I have a roommate that she did give an "ok" for, or perhaps it is because I really really really want my deposit back. Whatever the reason, anytime anything goes wrong my chest fills with a terrorizing tightness and I scramble frantically for any solution. But the marker on the table paled in comparison to the fiasco that occurred only a few hours later.

After the tattooing of the table I decided that vegging out until the family arrived would be the best thing to do and was, in fact, what I felt most like doing. The little altercations over who had which color of pencil and other trivial quarrels would certainly stop once some moving pictures were placed in front of them. So, like any good Aunty, we sat down to eat some chocolate and watch some Disney.

Hours after the bizzarre call from Abigail, she and Todd buzzed and they came up with a giggling Sam who now possessed to freakish looking staples in the back of his gigantic pumpkin head. A bit of blood matted his angelic blonde hair but he did not seem to mind one bit. The whole family rested here for a moment before returning to their apartment, their Bellawood trip cancelled.

Upon their departure I noticed that some pigeon who had apparently eaten something greasy and gastric-ly abusive had taken a disgustingly large crap on my bedroom window. Not exactly the view that I was looking forward to observing from my window every morning. Luckily there was a nice long squeegee in the bathroom specifically for cleaning these windows. The windows in my apartment are funny in that they snap in at the top and with a brisk and forceful tug open on a hinge that attaches halfway down each side. It then spins on its axis letting in the fresh Parisian air. The window (which was now dappled with greasy pigeon shit) in my bedroom had, for sometime been sticking and required most of my weight to open it. However on this occasion, as I spun it around to present the outer, dirtied surface towards myself for cleaning, I heard an accompanying "CRACK" of what I knew was splitting wood. This did not bode well.

Before freaking out I scrubbed off the culprit that had started this entire production and squeegeed it streak free and clean. I was quite proud of the sparkling glass and revelled in this for a moment or two, knowing that my next task was going to, undoubtedly, be ripe with disaster.

I tried to shut the window but to no avail, and with each attempt I heard the painful cry from the wood, begging me to stop. I examined the hinge that was causing such a problem and saw that it somehow had slipped off-kilter. I tried to gently tug it into place and while I was able to semi-close it, it was so crooked that it could not shut entirely. And then, with another attempt, the inevitable happened. The hinge broke free from the abused wooden window frame and the only thing holding it in place were my now tired arms.

At this moment I began to panic. What was I going to do? The tight terror that was my fear of my landlord pulled at my chest yet again. I had visions of the window crashing down to the street below and killing an innocent bystander. Would I be sued? Would I go to jail for manslaughter all because this damned window had slowly been deteriorating with each destructive opening? I didn't know the outcome of this disaster, but I did know that I would have to put the window down if I was going to call for help. And luckily for my sake, and the people on the street below, the other hinge held it strongly in place.

I called Marie, the landlord, and she had no response, kind or cruel, except that she was out of town and her friend was coming to look at it. He arrived and feebly tried to shut it but it wouldn't budge. He went to fetch his friend and the two tangoed with the window for over an hour before getting it into place and holding it there by tying it with a ribbon to two screws which they screwed into the bottom frame, bits of wood and white paint littered the floor below. It wouldn't shut completely, letting a brisk breeze and traffic noises in, but I was, at the very least, happy that they didn't have to remove it entirely.

I then decided that it was time for a nap. This was, of course, interrupted by numerous beeps from my phone and my horrible disco ringtone and so ended up being more of a resting of the eyes than anything else. After call number three I answered to find Elze on the other line informing me that we would be hosting a dinner tonight and if that was ok. I didn't exactly feel in the mood to entertain but didn't feel that I could tell her "no" either.

Elze and Audrey came with their coworker Theo, followed shortly by Suanne. Theo was apparently cooking us an incredible recipe of risotto and while I was feeling grumpy and antisocial, the fat kid inside me was looking forward to the cheesy, creamy comfort food. However, just as they arrived Grant informed me that I needed to make a phone call regarding our trip across europe. I had to reserve two seats for us on a train and needed to call immediately because there were only four seats left. So I called and was greeted by a friendly non-english speaking woman, commencing what would become an hour long ordeal that spanned the entire prep, cook, and plating time of Theo's risotto and which was interrupted every few moments by Elze's chipper voice asking me if everything was okay. I wanted to strangle someone.

Sure, everything turned out to be fine, but I was unable to take it in stride and resented the company in my house and the positive attitude of Elze. Nothing is more obnoxious when you're grumpy and pissed off than an upbeat roommate who wishes to hug you and help you out, immature though it may be. Alas I managed to exhibit some self control and everyone survived the evening, well everyone except the window hinge, but that should be cured by the end of next week. And I guess, if I were looking on the bright side, things can't get much worse than head staples and a broken window. So I'm going to attempt to move on, be a bigger person, and enjoy my last few moments here in Paris, which I am falling in love with more and more every day. Today is, after all, a brand new day.