Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My self-indulgent trip to Paris, Part 2

After finishing lunch at Allard, I walked back down rue St. André des Arts to nearby Metro station Saint Michel and got on the six-car train heading south toward Porte d'Orléans and Metro station Vavin near A la Villa des Artistes to see if my room was ready.

Thankfully it was, so I rode the tiny elevator to the second floor. I walked into the typically (for Paris) small but very well appointed room and dropped my suit case and flopped face down on the bed. The next thing I remember, I heard a cell phone ringing (mine) and the number showed it was cousin Matthias.

Matthias -- a law student at the Sorbonne -- wouldn't be free until after 4:00 PM. I was in a sleep-fog and couldn't remember at that moment the name of the hotel, the street where the hotel was located or how to get there. I did recall that it was very close to Brasserie La Coupole so we agreed to meet-up in front of the restaurant on Boulevard Montparnasse.

I had not made reservations yet for dîner - dinner that night, so now being awake, I set about finding a good place to eat with Matthias. As I said in my previous post, I came to Paris with a list of bistros from Alexander Lobrano in the November issue of Saveur Magazine entitled The 23 Best Bistros in Paris and from David Leibowitz's blog.

As you might guess, being late Friday afternoon, I was told by several of the bistros that I called that they were complet - full for that night. I kept calling and my perseverance was rewarded with a reservation for 7:30 at A la Biche au Bois on Avenue Ledru Rollin in the 12th arrondisement.

At 6:30 Matthias called again and said he was a few minutes away from La Coupole. I grabbed my jacket and headed out, remembering to leave the key card for my room at the front desk as is customary in French hotels.

Matthias was already there when I got to La Coupole. I told him where we were going and he said it would be faster at that time of the evening to take the bus rather than ride the crowded Metro and change lines or crawl to our destination near Gare de Lyon in a taxi.

We arrived at A la Biche au Bois a few minutes before 7:30, which is when dinner service begins. A small crowd of people were already standing near the door waiting for the bistro to open. Since I heard primarily French being spoken, I thought that was probably a very good sign of things to come.

We were shown to a small table towards the back of the bistro near the bar. If you look closely at the picture below, you will see what looks like cabinet doors behind the cart with desserts on top. Those doors lead down ladder-stairs to the cave, or underground storage area for the bistro's wines.

Cousin Matthias at our table at A la Biche au Bois. Wife Shirley calls Matthias her "summer son" since he has come to spend time at our home in California every summer for the past 5 years to perfect his English, which is now very good.

We both ordered the 25,90 Euro four-course Petit Menu for dinner. As the name implies, A la Biche au Bois' specialty is game and wild fowl during the season.

The 2010 Nouveau Beaujolais had been uncorked in Paris for the first time the previous day to great fanfare so we decided to order a bottle of Beaujolais-Villages Primeur to drink with our meal.

When our starters were brought to the table, the server also put down a basket of sliced baguette pieces and toasts and a jar of crisp cornichons to accompany our starter dishes.

I chose the salade Périgourdine which came with a slice of house made foie gras for a 4,50 Euro supplement for my first course; a creamy delicious way to start dinner.

Matthias chose the starter of the day which was a house specialty, terrine de faisan - pheasant. It was also a very tasty dish.

The bistro filled up quickly and an American couple from Philadelphia of mixed-race, she caucasion and he black were squeezed into the small table next to us. We helped them with menu translation since they spoke little French and read none.

They ordered the same starters as Matthias and I and when their starters were brought out, they were given a very small dish of cornichons (not a jar like ours) and no toasts for their terrine and foie gras.

They immediately noticed and asked us why they didn't get the same. It was uncomfortable and I was not sure if it was due to their being obviously American or because of mixed race or purely accident. I hope it was the latter.

For his plat - main course, Matthias chose the coq au vin which was brought out to him in a large cast iron pot. There was enough so I could taste all I wanted. It was a rich, winey, delicious dish of braised chicken parts, potatoes, mushrooms and onions in a red wine sauce. The chicken was moist rather than dry and it was hands down the best coq au vin I have ever tasted.

I chose filet de boeuf poêlé au poivre - pan seared beef filet with peppercorn sauce accompanied by house made fries. The filet was tender and flavorful; the fries tasted very good but I would have preferred them to be a little more crispy.

We were already quite full so we skipped the cheese course and went straight for the desserts. Matthias chose île flottante - floating island, sometimes called œufs à la neige, served over crème anglaise - vanilla sauce. This is one of Matthias favorite desserts and he pronounced it very good.

To finish my wonderful meal, I chose the chocolate tart with crème anglaise.

This was a wonderful meal in a classic Parisian bistro and I would return happily the next time I am in Paris. I am indebted to David Leibowitz for his post about this wonderful bistro.

Check back to read my next installment about my self-indulgent trip to Paris in Part 3.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

My self-indulgent trip to Paris, Part 1

Last weekend, I took a self-indulgent trip to Paris. I figured out that I was going to be short a few thousand miles for me to maintain 1k or 100,000 miles flyer status with United for 2011 unless I took an unplanned trip before the end of the year.

As those of you who fly frequently on United know, there are some nice benefits for 1k status such as free domestic upgrades, priority for standby flights, priority for international upgrades and no fees to check bags, so I decided I should take a trip to get the miles I was going to be short.

I calculated that a trip to France would get me the perfect number of miles I needed to maintain my 1k status. I didn't have enough time to go to Sablet so I went to Paris this past weekend; I flew on Thursday, arriving early Friday morning. My flight home was on Sunday afternoon.

Thanks to a recent post by Karen Fawcett at Bonjour Paris about some of her favorite neighborhoods and hotels, I got a room at a great little hotel in the 6th called A La Villa des Artistes. At least for this weekend, the room rates were a very reasonable (for Paris) 139 Euros per night.

As I said, I arrived early Friday morning (Thanks to my 1k status, I got upgraded for free to business class). After standing in line to get through passport check at Roissy Airport and an hour long ride in a taxi with a chatty driver through morning rush hour, I arrived at the hotel.

As those of you (whoever you kind souls are) who read Our House in Provence blog know, I am a foodie and wino and co-owner of a small French bistro in Northern California called Bistro Des Copains. So my agenda for my short visit to Paris was simple: eat two lunches and two dinners in good bistros.

Before leaving, I did a little research to help me choose where I would go for my bistro meals. I made my choices based upon an article by Alexander Lobrano in the November issue of Saveur Magazine entitled The 23 Best Bistros in Paris and a recent post by David Leibowitz on his blog.

Since it was way too early for lunch, I headed off to the area of Les Halles in the 1st arrondisement where the central wholesale food market used to be located to the culinary shops that are in that area. I was very happy to see that my hotel was just a few steps from the Vavin Metro station

Vavin Metro station is on line 4 which takes you directly to the Les Halles area without having to change metro lines. Besides being a relatively cheap and easy way to get around Paris, my favorite thing about the Paris Metro, is the musicians performing in the stations. This group was very good!

I spent the morning in foodie heaven, wandering in and out of Mora, La Bovida, and E. Dehillerin. There is every pot, pan, knife and culinary gadget imaginable for sale in these stores. Nearby G. Detou is stacked, literally floor to ceiling with everything a cook or baker could want.

I see many things I would buy if I could figure out how to get them home to California or to our house in Sablet. Since it seems to be more trouble than its worth right now, I limit my purchases to a tall Peugeot pepper mill for the Bistro and a smaller one for home.

When I walk out of the last store, its just before noon and time for lunch. I decide to walk to Allard since its a nice fall day in Paris and not too far away on Rue Saint-André des Arts in the 6th arrondisement.

Allard is one of Paris' oldest and one of its most beloved bistros (according to the Saveur article), established in 1931. You enter the bistro into what appears to be a tiny kitchen. You are not actually in the kitchen but you do have to dodge servers as you walk back to the dining room.

The server brings me a menu and list of the chef's daily additions. Since the 2010 Beaujolais Nouveau was released the day before (the wine is always released the third Thursday of November no matter when the grapes were harvested), I get a glass to accompany lunch. For once, the Beaujolais Nouveau is pretty good.

For my entrée - starter, I choose a roasted beet and mâche salad dressed with a creamy vinaigrette. The salad is brought out in a bowl with enough salad for two people.

For my plat - main course, I decide on the côtes de veau forestière, veal chop served with roasted potatoes and girolles mushrooms.

To finish, I decide I want to compare Allard's apple tarte tatin to the one we serve at Bistro Des Copains. The tarte was brought to the table with a little pot of crème fraiche.

I think the apple tarte tatin made with Gravenstein apples we serve at Bistro Des Copains is much better; you be the judge.

The meal was OK, certainly not the best one I had in Paris last weekend as I would find out. In part 2, I will tell you about a much better meal.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Roundabouts - Roaix

We are fascinated by the roundabouts in the Vaucluse. Many are beautifully designed, have some type of art form and reflect something important about the town or village where they are located.

There are many pretty roundabouts in the Vaucluse Department of Provence where we live. For the next few weeks, I am posting pictures of different roundabouts in the Vaucluse. Today's roundabout is near Roaix.

A close up view of the roundabout; note the sign pointing in the counter clockwise direction that cars must go.

Check back to see other roundabouts that catch my eye in the Vaucluse. I will post these between my usual posts about our dining experiences, visits to interesting places and reflections on life in Provence.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Le Girocèdre Restaurant, Puyméras

As I told you in my last post, the reason we went to Puyméras in the first place was because after multiple attempts, we finally were able to secure reservations for lunch at Le Girocèdre Restaurant.

We found Le Girocèdre Restaurant after a short walk up the hill from where we parked near the fountain and wash house.

After walking through the red iron gate, we entered into the beautiful tended garden of this restaurant in the heart of Puyméras.

The restaurant's exterior wall is covered with ivy.

The garden is planted with trees and ornamental and vegetable plants. There are many nice touches such as this pretty wrought iron bench.

There are tomatoes in the garden

and herbs for the kitchen.

The restaurant has an "open kitchen" where chef Sébastien can keep his eye on what is going on in the "dining room" under the trees.

It was a beautiful sunny day and we were shown to a table shaded by the many trees in the beautiful garden.

We were not seated very long before a server brought bread and a dish of olives for us to nibble on while we looked over the menu.

We decided that a glass of nicely chilled rosé wine would be the perfect accompaniment to our lunch in this beautiful setting.

For her lunch, Shirley chose a combination platter consisting of melon, a yummy eggplant flan with fresh tomato sauce, rice, sliced tomatoes from the garden and a green salad. She loved her lunch.

For my first course, I chose the eggplant flan with tomato sauce accompanied by green salad.

For my plat - main course, I decided on the sauteed veal served with rice and purple carrots.

For dessert, Shirley finished with the chocolate mousse.

I chose the café gourmand which consisted of chocolate mousse, panna cotta, cookies and espresso.

When asked what I love most about Provence, I generally answer leisurely lunches on sunny days seated at a table shaded by trees. Le Girocèdre Restaurant is my idea of the quintessential place to have lunch in Provence.

If you go, you should know this is not Michelin star food and thankfully so as far as I am concerned. It is delicious, simply prepared from very fresh, local ingredients.

We will return many times I am sure.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Puyméras, a Pretty Village in the Northern Vaucluse

I have tried to reserve a table at Le Girocèdre restaurant in Puyméras several times but it never worked out because they were complet - all tables were reserved, the restaurant was on fermeture annuelle - annual vacation or it was fermeture hebdomadaire - the day the restaurant closes during the week.

Because we had not been able to reserve a table, we had never visited Puyméras. Our perseverence was finally rewarded and we got a table for lunch one Tuesday a few weeks ago. After spending the morning wandering through the various stalls at the market in Vaison la Romaine, we headed up the road to Puyméras.

Puyméras is located just a few km northeast of Vaison-la-Romaine, so it is a convenient spot for lunch after the Tuesday morning market or from our home in Sablet. It turns out that Puyméras is a pretty village at the northern tip of the Vaucluse near the border of the Department of the Drôme.

The village was built on a rocky outcrop surrounded by beautiful countryside dotted with homes, vineyards and lavender fields. The appearance of a few olive trees and fruit trees among the vineyards is what remains of what used to be a diversified farming area which suffered a devastating frost in 1956 so only the vineyards remain.

One of the pretty views from Puyméras.

As I said, it is a small village with a little over 600 Puymérassiens - the people who live in Puyméras.

The Romanesque church of Saint-Michel et Saint-Barthélemy with its distinctive belfry in Puyméras.

A pretty water spout we spotted as we walked around Puyméras.

As you walk around the village, you will spot beautiful old homes.

Even the post office is pretty.

Another view of the belfry of the Saint-Michel et Saint-Barthélemy church.

If you climb to the very top of the village like wife Shirley, you will get to the clock tower.

The front side of the clock tower.

The mairie - town hall of Puyméras.

Me standing near the church looking out over the surrounding countryside.

Shirley standing near the fountain and lavoir - wash house.

I will tell you about our wonderful lunch at Le Girocèdre restaurant in my next post. Regardless of whether or not you eat at Le Girocèdre restaurant, it is worth the drive to come and take a leisurely stroll through Puyméras.

Another reason to come to Puyméras are the red wines which are classified as Côtes du Rhône Villages. These wines which are a base of Grenache and Syrah and/or Mouvedre grapes are grown on stony terraces spread out over 5 hilly communities in the Drôme and northern Vaucluse.

Enjoy your visit.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Roundabouts - Sablet

One of the first things I am asked by friends who are planning to visit France for the first time is what is it like to drive in France.

They have usually heard scary stories about the French driver's reputation for driving fast, driving close behind other cars, passing cars on blind curves and honking the horn if you hesitate or impede their forward progress in any way.

I have not found it terribly different or hard to drive in France although for some reason I have been honked at many times. I read French just fine so I understand the various traffic signs. There are also cute symbols on most signs to help non-French readers understand the message the sign is intended to convey.

The biggest challenges for me was figuring out how to buy gas when the tank was empty and how to navigate around all of the rond-points - roundabouts you find in France.

For those of you who don't know, a roundabout is a type of circular roadway where cars must travel in one counterclockwise direction around a center island where roads or streets intersect.

Drivers entering the roundabout must usually yield the right of way or give way to drivers already in the roundabout. Roundabouts are very popular with French traffic engineers. It is estimated that one-half the world's roundabouts are in France (30,000 in 2008).

I would estimate that 80% of the times I have been honked and yelled at by French drivers has occurred when I was entering a roundabout or while I was navigating my way around a rond-point - roundabout.

Besides being safer than traditional intersections, there are several other advantages for roundabouts; if you are unsure of which road to exit out of the roundabout, you can simply keep going around until you figure it out. I have been known to go around 3 or 4 times till I figured out where to go.

In addition, you can make u-turns in roundabouts within the normal flow of traffic, which is often not possible at other types of intersections. If you find that you are headed in the wrong direction, be patient, you will get to a roundabout before too long and you can safely do a u-turn and get yourself going in the proper direction. I have done this many times.

The best thing about roundabouts in Provence is that many are beautifully designed or some type of art form and reflect something important about the town or village where they are located. There are many pretty roundabouts in the Vaucluse Department of Provence where we live.

For the next few weeks, I am going to post pictures of different roundabouts in the Vaucluse. The first is the roundabout at the entrance to Sablet, where we live. You can see the sign for Sablet behind the roundabout.

The same roundabout with Sablet and the Dentelles de Montmirail in the background.

Check back to see other roundabouts in the Vaucluse. I will post these between my usual posts about our dining experiences, visits to interesting places and reflections on life in Provence.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Avery's Sleepover with Papa and GG (greatest grandma)

Last night on my way home from Bistro Des Copains, the small French bistro I co-own with my friends Cluney and Ferney, daughter Tricia told me that her 4 year old daughter Avery was doing a sleep over at our house.

I was elated to hear this since Avery has not done too many sleep overs so far. Tricia warned me that Avery generally wanders to their bed and before the night is over, Avery is horizontal and Tricia and husband Alvin are fighting to not be pushed off the bed.

When I got home, wife Shirley had the light on in the bathroom next to the room where Avery was sleeping and the hallway lit up so Avery would have a well-lighted path to our room. Well, come 7:00 this morning when I got up, I discovered that Avery had not left her room.

Shirley tells me that although we didn't have to fight with Avery for room in the bed last night, she (Shirley) had to listen to Abbi (our 150 pound Newfoundland) and me snoring all night. She was undecided about if having Avery in our bed would have made it any worse. But I digress.

I went downstairs to check emails and read the blogs I follow. Before too long, Avery came down and promptly informed me with a big proud smile, that she had slept in her bed all night! Of course, I had to give her a big hug, and then another one for good measure.

We read stories from Walt Disney's "Classic Storybook" including Sleeping Beauty, Mary Poppins, Dumbo, and Goofy, Movie Star. By the time, we were finished younger daughter Stephanie had stopped by to drop off some tasty baked treats that she had picked up at the Downtown Bakery and Creamery.

We weren't paying too much attention and Abbi did some counter grazing and snatched one of the fresh blueberry muffins and swallowed it whole or it seemed like that when wife Shirley was cleaning the muffin off the floor where Abbi threw up. A little set back to start the day.

Daughter Tricia arrived with clothes for Avery, an outfit that Shirley acquired during one of her shopping expeditions on a Friday morning in Carpentras a few weeks ago.

While I diligently scour the Carpentras market for wonderful things to eat, Shirley wanders the streets checking out the stores. Most often, she ends up with clothes for the grandkids. Here is Avery wearing an outfit that GG (greatest grandma) bought for her that morning in Carpentras.

I can't wait for the next sleepover.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

L'Essentiel Restaurant, Avignon

As I have told you previously, we go to Avignon to shop for household items at the super stores in Le Pontet like IKEA or Darty or before or after visits to our cousins André and Mauricette across the Rhône River in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon.

We also go to Avignon to hang out in Place de l'Horloge and so wife Shirley can shop for cute clothes for our grandchildren at the various kids stores like Petit Bateau that are located in the center of Avignon near the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes).

One day a few weeks ago, we headed to Avignon to shop for the grand kids before we returned to California. By the time Shirley finished shopping, it was time for déjeuner (lunch). I knew from the Michelin Guide to Les Meilleures Adresses a Petits Prix (best good value restaurants), that one of those restaurants was in Avignon.

I checked the map and found that L'Essentiel Restaurant was located near the Palais des Papes on Rue Petite -Fusterie.

We walked over to the restaurant and were welcomed by the chef's wife despite the fact we didn't have reservations. L'Essentiel has a few tables along the street in front of the restaurant, a small dining room, and a stonewall courtyard where most diners were seated on the warm sunny day.

We both chose the 3-course menu for 28 Euros and a glass of 2007 Perrin & Fils Vacqueyras. Orders placed, Shirley and I enjoyed an amuse bouche of olives and cheese biscuits while we waited for our starters to be brought to the table.

For my starter, I chose an olive oil poached egg nestled in brandade de morue with a drizzle of oil, chives and piment d'espelette (a variety of chili pepper). It was served with an anchovy mouillette (bread stick).

None of the options for starters appealed to Shirley's mostly vegetarian taste buds so the chef kindly substituted a simply dressed salad of arugula and baby spinach. Shirley thought it was perfect.

For her plat (main course), Shirley chose a pan sauteed fillet of rouget (red mullet) with a thin layer of black olive tapenade served over creamy polenta.

For my main course, I chose Suprême de Volaille, chicken breast sauteed in butter and served with a cream sauce generously loaded with oyster mushrooms. The breast was perched on olive oil crushed potatoes.

To finish, we both decided on the warm thin apple tart served with caramel ice cream. A very good way to complete our meal.

We enjoyed our meal at L'Essentiel very much and with a location close to Palais des Papes, I am sure we will return many times.