Archive | March, 2007

Clignancourt & Montmartre: Saturday, 31 March 2007

31 Mar


Originally uploaded by commamommas.

One of the things I was most excited about doing on this trip was seeing the flea markets (les marches aux puces–literally “flea market”) at Clignancourt and Vanves. People tend to have a strong preference for one over the other, and it’s difficult to sort through all the information as to which is better. The short version is that Clignancourt has a lot of stuff. A lot of crap, a lot of pristine (and expensive) antiques, and a lot of stuff in between, all organized into multiple marches (markets). Vanves has much less of everything–much less junk, much fewer nice antiques–and has more of the feel of an American flea market. And it only takes about an hour or so to meander through.

Clignancourt feels like a little city, once you push your way past the booths of jeans, incense, knock-off pocketbooks, etc. (and you do have to push), you get to these organized markets of antiques dealers. Everyone has at least one dining room table in their stall, and around one p.m., I discovered why: they lay out a tablecloth, put out a pretty impressive spread of food, open a few bottles of red wine, gather up their shopkeeper friends, and eat lunch together. It’s really cool.

By the way, my advice is to head straight for rue de Rosiers a Saint-Ouen when you’re going. That’s where La Chope des Puces is, and it’s also the far end of the nice stuff (Marche Paul Bert has the nicest things).

I searched for pots for pots de creme, but didn’t turn up anything. A monsieur, who was very helpful and had a stall of fancy kitchenware, told me they’re very hard to find. I did see a stuffed baby kangaroo and was going to ask the shopkeeper to take my photo with it, but he was eating lunch with his friends and talking to some other Americans. Come to think of it, there was a lot of taxidermy at Clignancourt.

After Clignancourt, I headed for La Chope des Puces, the bar with Gypsy jazz. It’s a tiny place. You enter and the art deco-y counter points right at you. You can take one of the eight seats (at four tables) in the front, stand by the bar, or go and sit at one of the six or so tables in the restaurant part in the back. The musicians–two guitarists–were mostly talking and telling jokes with some friends standing at the bar, but the music I did hear was great. Plus, it was fun to stare at the photos of Django and compare everyone’s version of the de rigeur Django moustache (I liked the bartender’s best).


Originally uploaded by commamommas.

I wandered around Montmartre in the rain Sat. afternoon. Sharlene was right, it’s “very Amelie.”


Reviews: Restaurant a l’Impasse

31 Mar

4 Impasse Guemenee (just off rue St. Antoine between rue de Birague and rue des Tournelles), 4e. Metro: St. Paul.

I just had one of the best meals of my life. After getting totally lost leaving the Louvre tonight, I eventually found my way back to my dinner destination of the Marais, the neighborhood Sharlene raved about from her trip to Paris and where many of Susan’s favorite restaurants are. I wanted to try a tea salon, but Le Loire dans la Theiere, one Susan recommended seemed to be closed, so I decided to splurge on A l’Impasse, which Susan described as a typical, neighborhood French bistro.

Although I didn’t immediately recognize anything on the menu besides the steak, I went in. Maybe I was inspired by Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservationsepisode where he eats all sorts of livers and hearts and such. Let me clarify: I was inspired enough to try something new, as long as “new” didn’t mean “critter guts.” I walk in, wonder if I’m supposed to say, “Bounjour madam/monsieur” when I walk into restaurants (it makes all the difference when you go into a shop, honestly), and before I have time to agonize over that question, the staff all say, “Bon soir!” and one waiter asks me something. “Comment?” I ask. He repeats it. “Je ne comprends pas. S’il vous plait, plus lentement?” “Do you have reservations?” the woman in the kitchen asks me. I say no, and they cheerily seat me anyway. The place was empty, but it seems like the kind of place that would find you a seat.

As I discreetly try to translate the list of plats du jour with my French phrase book, one of the waiters came over and asked, in perfect English, if I needed any help with the menu. With a little help of a food French-English dictionary, he told me it was guinea fowl (he knew it was guinea something) and cabbage. When he took my order, he let my practice my French and was really patient and friendly. He even walked me through some common descriptions of wine, translating them into English when a blank look came over my face.

Speaking a foreign language comes with all the steps of success that playing an instrument does: you might kick ass in the privacy of your own home, but when you have to put it into practice and use it with people who are fluent? It’s a little harder. Once I get past my initial nerves, I usually do OK. Not great, but OK. And pretty much everyone has been willing to work with me.

I took one bite of the cabbage, and I was in heaven. And no, the really nice glass of Bordeaux hadn’t gone to my head yet. I mean, how good can cabbage be, right? It was incredible–subtly flavored and cooked to the perfect texture–not mushy, not too crisp, just right. And the meat just fell off the pintarde. Again, perfectly flavored, yet really simple. I didn’t want to stop eating.

The woman who translated the reservation question for me took my plate, and I wasn’t sure if “I could die right now” would have the same meaning in French as in English, so instead I just said, “C’est tres, tres bon” and made googly eyes at my empty plate, hoping I was speaking the international language of food lust. I was going to try Berthillon for ice cream for dessert, but the entree was so good, how could I not see how their desserts were?

So I ordered the “sublime au chocolat,” a slice of dense chocolate mousse surrounded by a vanilla-coffee cream. The presentation was so beautiful, I nearly took out my camera to snap a photo. I kind of wish I had.

It was, of course, sublime. The coffee flavor in the sauce was very subtle, but it perfectly balanced the richness of the mousse. I finished my meal, read some more of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, listened to the animated conversation between the patrons and the staff, eventually looked up how to ask for the bill, and basked in the afterglow. A bit of a splurge (25 euro for main course and either an appetizer or dessert, and glasses of wine are between 4 and 7 euros), but sooooooooooo worth it, both for the food and the exceptionally friendly service. I want to learn how to cook French bistro food now. Maybe on my next trip to Paris. When I’ll also be buying an apartment here. After I win the lottery, of course.

The two books that have made my trip so much easier

31 Mar

1) Plan de Paris: This book has an index with 6,000 streets, cross-referenced with the section of the arrondissement map that the street appears on. I just bought it today, and already it’s been indispensable. Besides Chez Marianne’s falafel and Pelligrino, it may be the best 6.50 euro I’ve spent so far.
2) Berlitz French Phrase Book & Dictionary: I hemmed and hawed at Luton over whether to buy this, but I knew it would come in handy helping me fill in the gigantic gaps in my useful vocabulary.

Vocabulaire d’aujourd’hui: vendredi, 30 mars 2007

30 Mar

I can’t vouch for the spelling of anything…
pour emporter: to go
mignardise: small ramekin-type things, as in the pots for pots de creme (which must go by another name in French)
echarpe: scarf, as in the very long strips of cotton and intentionally wrinkly silk the Parisian women oh-so-chicly drape around their necks
pintarde: guinea fowl
chou: cabbage
l’addition: the bill, as in “L’addition, s’il vous plait”

Today was definitely an adventure day. I trucked off to the Centre Pompidou, the modern art gallery, earlyish this morning (the Pompidou doesn’t open until 11. How civilized). The first two paintings I saw were a Mark Rothko (I love the gigantic orange and purplish Rothko at the SFMoMA) and a Jackson Pollack–two artists the SFMoMA docent who led our tour a few weeks ago talked about.

She had asked us to think about “the body” as a theme. For Pollack, the body wasn’t a representational thing, it was more about his impact, as the painter, on the canvas–the physicality of the drips from his paintbrush, the physicality of the goops of paint on the canvas (she didn’t say “goops”).

The Pompidou’s Pollack was after the drip period and had big, thick white brushstrokes that sculpted an abstract figure of a human body out of the negative space of the black background. It was really cool. And the Rothko was dreamy reds and blacks. I didn’t get lost in it like I do the one at the SFMoMA. I find that one so meditative, with its gigantic size (the viewer’s body is an integral part of the perspective of the whole piece) and gradations of the color that just really pull me in.

I picked up a Plan de Paris and decided to track down Chez Marianne, the place where Susan says she and Michael always stop to get a falafel as soon as they arrive in Paris. I would never have found it without the Plan. Seriously. In Paris, streets will be one or two blocks long; they change names two, three, more times; and it goes without saying that nothing is on a grid. And I’ve discovered that many of my friends’ favorite restaurants are on streets that aren’t on the tourist maps. Maybe for good reason.

Chez Marianne was hopping. I practiced my French and (I think) asked for a falafel to go. Once the cashier had a spare second to enter my order, the falafel came within a minute. And it was delicious. Perfectly soft and warm eggplant, falafel cooked to a perfect crisp, and pickled cabbage in the bottom (surprisingly good). No french fries a la Ali Baba’s Cave in SF. Remembering that French people don’t eat while walking, I devoured it with all the other to-go window patrons of L’As du Falafel, watching orthodox Jewish pre-teen twin boys pass me by and listening to the guy from the falafel place across the street from the hopping L’As du Falafel try in vain to drum up business. (There are about five falafel places in a one-block radius.)

One of my goals in Paris is to get real pots de creme pots, like the ones Martha always shows in her recipes. My first stop was Dehillerin (18-20, rue Coquilliere), where I tried to describe what I was looking for (“Je cherche les pots pour pots de creme”). The helpful man showed me pitchers, at first (“pots of cream,” makes sense), then asked me what I meant (“comme mouse au chocolat”), then showed me heart-shaped things with holes in the bottom, then said, “Oh! I know what you’re looking for. Mignardise.” He then taught me how to pronounce it. Their mignardises weren’t quite what I wanted, so I went across the street to Verrriere des Halles (15, rue du Louvre) where I was allowed to go into their stock room. I thought I found the perfect little jars, just like Martha’s, when the guy pointed out that they had “un chapeau” (a hat). They were sugar containers. I didn’t know how to ask if they were oven-safe.

Off to the Louvre, where Dave Walker’s advice to “picture the Mona Lisa as tiny. Think of it as the size of a postage stamp and you won’t be disappointed” was helpful, especially considering the maybe 2 ft. x 3 ft. Mona Lisa is hung directly across from the 18 ft. x 30 ft. The Marriage Feast of Cana. (Apparently, Da Vinci so loved the Mona Lisa that he carried it around with him for years. Maybe he wanted it to be small enough to fit in his carry-on.)

I focused just on the big sites: Winged Victory of Samothrace, Venus de Milo, Hammurabi’s Code, etc., and still spent about 2.5 hours there.

On my way out, I almost ordered a latte from the museum cafe just so I could ask them to draw the Mona Lisa in the foam. Then I realized that they’re French, so they’d probably refuse AND mock me. But then I saw the Starbucks in the Louvre… You’ll never truly be able to appreciate the sfumato technique until you see it in coffee on foam.

Leaving the Louvre, I headed in what I thought was the direction of the Marais for dinner, but ended up SO FAR AWAY it’s not funny. I was momentarily distracted by a cute store, where I realized my 1.5-day-old-dream of owning a French scarf (and found the cool vinyl decals that were in either Domino or Lucky a few months ago).

Once I realized I wasn’t getting closer to the Seine, I also realized it was getting dark and I was in the Les Halles area, the area my guide book says is lousy with pickpockets and drug dealers and basically adds, “Don’t go here at all, but seriously, DO NOT GO HERE AT NIGHT.”

I started trucking as fast as I could without looking like a streetwalker. (According to my dad, who only knows this because he tried to ask one what time it was and she was walking so fast he couldn’t keep up, prostitutes used to get booked on loitering charges in Paris, so they had to keep walking to stay ahead of the law–literally and figuratively, I guess.) Some teenybopper asked me for change for the Metro, and although I kept cool, I half thought that if I played it wrong, I was going to get jumped by a band of drug-dealing gypsies. I’d like to believe that my chic French scarf and confident, “Desole, je ne peut pas” convinced her I wasn’t a tourist, but I think that’s pure delusion.

Oh, and on the way back from A L’Impasse, I saw and heard my first accordion player since arriving in Paris AND saw about 100 inline skaters zoom around a corner. I wondered if it was the French version of Critical Mass.

C’est dommage

27 Mar

I’m waiting in JFK airport right now. My flight was delayed three hours, which was exactly the amount of time I left as wiggle room between when I arrive in London and when I leave for Paris. C’est la vie. I just spent the past hour or so on my computer researching different ways to reschedule my trip. I was this close to taking the TGV to Paris, but I couldn’t figure out a good way to get from Heathrow to the TGV station, and I didn’t want to have to do any more rescheduling. So ultimately, I just changed my cheap flight, which with the change fee is no longer so cheap. It’ll be fine, though, and now I can comfortably make all my transfers.

The upside is that the travel insurance I accidentally bought should cover the change fees. Yay!

Colleen’s Recommendations: Paris

27 Mar

Colleen used to live in Paris, too. Here are her picks:

this is a good restaurant guide, you should also absolutely get my friend jon’s new guide book, he has amazing taste in all things.

if you like architecture, be sure to visit all the jean nouvel buildings (the arab institute, the cartier foundation and the brand new amazing museum of man near the eiffel tower)….

my favorite tea place for mint tea in the paris mosque in the 5th, and my favorite little bar/cafe in the 4th “le petit fer a cheval”……….

Note: Colleen also mentioned that the Mosque has a Turkish bath.

Avram’s recommendations (Pt. 2): Paris

26 Mar

Here’s more from Avram:

okay here’s some stuff:,+France&sa=X&oi=local&ct=title – it’s even got a picture of the same guy i shot that video of.
and do you know about this: it is so cool.

and the other cool flea market is by the Vanves metro stop. you gotta check it out. it’s just about a block and a half or so from the stop. i believe the name for flea markets is something like “marche des puces” (and i think puce or puces means flea …)
and, here is the shop i got my django guitar at.
over there they are often called manouche guitars and “django jazz” is often called “manouche jazz”
there are two places in my friends neighborhood that they really like. one is chez janou and the other is le petite fer au cheval (i need to check those spellings)
the neighborhood is the marais – not far from the bastille and place de voges. there is a street near there called (i think) rue de rosiers but it’s not the same as the one with the gypsy bar (way different neighborhoods) and also a big street called rue saint antoine (which turns into rue des rivoli as it gets close to the river and ends up by the louvre). it’s a great neighborhood for wandering around. the picasso museum is also there.