My Parisian Restaurant Map

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pierre Herme

I used to think that LaDuree was the best place to eat macarons in Paris. But I was wrong.

Laduree can be proud of their amazing macarons, with a hundred something years of experience behind
making them. The flagship store on the Champs Elysee is in the most wonderfully pastel green,
lavishly ornate building, perfectly preserved and reflective of what plush Parisian parlors must have
been like in the early 1900's. But its location is also its downfall; being on the Champs means that 99%
of your customers are tourists, and that obviously brings it's image down to another level, making it
lacking in true Parisian sophistication and overflowing with Americans wearing sandals with socks. But
I used to think that this was the mecca and pinacle of the french macaron, and I'm sure that many
people probably think the same.

But walking home one day, I noticed that a brand new colorful, brightly lit shop had opened right around the corner from my house. As I crossed the street, I noticed mounds of colorful little pyramids, made up of hundreds of different colors and patterns. What on earth could they be selling? A closer look at the window revealed the mystery: Pierre Herme had set up shop.
Now these macarons reside in a whole other dimension compared to Laduree's. They're smaller in circumference, but fatter in width, and the array of colors, decorations and flavors is just mind
boggling. Judging the price per kilo (a mere 80 euros), I knew I had to select my three macarons carefully, in order to get the best representation of the diversity of their flavors.

So I chose:

  • magnifique: strawberry wasabi-white with pink speckles, tasting like strawberry shortcake
  • mogador: milk chocolate and passion fruit-orange tops and bottoms, with a light brown filling and a  dusting of cacao powder
  • infiniment vanille: a creamy, off-white macaron, made of vanillas from Tahiti, Mexico and Madagascar. A prime example of brilliance found in simplicity of flavor.

These three little morsels of heaven cost me 1.85 each, 5.55 total. A small price to pay for heaven.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Paris Cookbook Fair, aka Paradise

As I mentioned earlier, this Valentine's Day I had the good fortune to be invited to the Paris Cookbook Fair. And let me tell you, if you're a foodie, then this fair is your heaven.

When you enter the building, you're flanked by cooking demonstrations taking place on your left and right. In the corner, an all day long wine demonstration, or degustation, is taking place. In front of you, a large ramp leads you up towards the mecca of cookbooks, where fittingly bright white lights transform the grey hall into a light flooded paradise, where plates of macarons and glasses of armagnac go floating by, where the white-aproned chefs that mingle through the crowd could easily be mistaken for angles. You can almost hear that 'ahhhhhh' sound that you hear in movies when people walk through the gates of heaven.

One of the really amazing things for me (apart from all the free alcohol tastings) was the chance to see Michael Kalanty, teacher at Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco, demonstrate how to bake petits pains from his award-winning book, How To Bake Bread: The Five Families of Bread. Needless to say, the little bread rolls that we were served at the end of the demo were tiny slices of heaven. I have never, ever tasted bread that good. And to top it off, Kalanty's style of teaching is not only incredibly clear and concise, but also hilariously funny and interactive. If you have the chance to buy his book, I've heard it reads just like he teaches, which means you're in for a laugh and a damn good loaf of bread.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Indian Dinner at the Slow Food Cafe

It's taken me way too long to get around to writing this post, but alas, I was detained at the Paris Cookbook Fair and was having way too much fun to come home and write.

Last weekend, the teacher of a class I'm auditing (about food in Paris) asked me to help her cook an Indian meal for 60 people at the Slow Food Cafe in Bastille. The theme was Indian, and being the only other Indian person in the class, I obliged. (Not to mention that I love doing this kind of stuff)

So I spent the next 12 hours of my Saturday, from 10 am to 10 pm, chopping, peeling, stirring, frying, currying, tasting and drinking. It was a wonderful learning experience, especially because the professor is South Indian, which means I knew nothing about the food we were going to be cooking.  I met her equally food crazy students, who were all there to help us turn this idea for a meal into something truly delicious. The metro ride home was particularly embarrassing, as I found out what it means to really be perceived as 'a smelly immigrant'. But I don't blame them; I looked dead tired, reeked of onions and ghee, had pieces of food in my hair and on my clothes...

Thanks to Courtney who was the food paparrazi and documented our entire amazing, tiring, onion-smelling day.

The kitchen

First we made the ghee, the basis of all the dishes. You make this by slowly boiling butter, then skimming off the frothy white bits and saving the clarified, golden syrup that is left at the bottom.

Then we made the raita, a garlicky yogurt dip with grated cucumbers. The purpose of this side dish, which is almost always to be found on an Indian table, is to soothe the palate if the curry is too spicy. 

Then we prepped the veggies for the rice pilau, a rice dish made with vegetables that are first sauteed in the ghee along with various spices, and then added and cooked together with the rice.

Then, the dahl, or lentils. These are yellow lentils, called moong dahl. They should be soaked before hand, and then they don't take too long to cook. This particular type is usually fed to children in India when they have a fever or a cold.

Making the turka for the dahl. This is the spice base for the lentils, made with onions, chilies,cloves, cardamom and mustard, cumin and coriander seeds, all fried slowly in ghee until caramelized, then stirred into the lentils at the very end. 

Then came the curry; chicken, sweet potato and tamarind in a tomato sauce, topped with fresh coriander. 

And last but not least, the dessert: halva, or sooji, is basically semolina fried in ghee, then cooked in water with sugar, cardamom, cinnamon and spices until it turns soft and velvety. Topped with cashews fried in more ghee.

All in all, an amazing experience that culminated in an amazing dinner. (Plus a couple of nice additions to my recipe collection)