Category Archives: French

Voulez vous L’as du Falafel? Ordering falafel in French

L'as du Fallafel

I love falafel. A good falafel is crispy and savory and not dripping with oil, and an overwhelmingly wonderful comfort food. Who knew to transform chickpeas into such heavenly food?

A falafel, however good on its own, can take on phenomenal heights in a pita sandwich. A good falafel sandwich is just as much about the ingredients and accompaniments as it is about the falafel itself. I love a dash of hot sauce in mine,whether it’s Sriracha sauce (aka “rooster sauce” in our household for the rooster on the plastic bottle–or as one of my friends boldly named it, “cock sauce”), or some other piquante (but not salsa) sauce. Oh, and there must be cucumbers and tomatoes (ala “Israeli salad”) and tahini and even good old roasted eggplants. At home, because I favor making hummus, our falafel sandwiches like our chicken schnitzel sandwiches come with hummus instead of tahini.

I have had a number of decent falafel sandwiches, and only a few excellent falafel sandwiches–the best ones in Israel a few months ago, and our “local” Falafel Drive In.

And, we were told, that the falafels at L’as du Falafels would soon join that pantheon.

Could a falafel (in Paris?!) beat the wonderful Falafel Drive In of San Jose? Falafel Drive In has the BEST falafel in the SF/Bay Area, and my husband and I will often make a 100 mile round trip drive just to grab some falafel. That’s how good the falafel sandwiches are. Plus they offer a great banana shake to eat that sandwich with.

Falafel Drive In

But there we were, in Paris, hunting down some falafel place. Falafel–in Paris? Land of baguettes and cream and cheese? Yup.

When I asked my friends for recommendations in Paris, nearly everyone cried, “L’as du Falafel in the Marais!” And David Lebovitz, not a personal friend but someone whose respect I hold high, even listed it as #2 on his aptly named list of “10 Insanely Delicious Things You Shouldn’t Miss in Paris. Number two. Behind the #1 item of macarons at Pierre Hermes (the same macarons that Connie told me that I must try because “they will change your life.”) Well drats. I didn’t have time to hunt down and try Pierre Hermes and change my life. My life was unchanged, my feet firmly planted on the cobblestones. I’ll try the falafel instead!

So hence, the pursuit of falafel in Paris. Not in Israel (where the falafels are delectable-I haven’t been anywhere else in the Middle East to try), but Paris.

The thought of a falafel place in Paris was incredibly intriguing to me. The Jews were all but eradicated from Paris during World War II–any close peek at memorial plaques in the Marais will play out a story–of great regret and grief, as Jews were handed over to the Nazis and subsequently murdered, after Paris’s rapid occupation. One plaque in particular touched my heart; carved on the stone was a story about how the principal, faculty, staff, and students of a Jewish school were sent to Auschwitz to die because they were Jews. There are very few Ashkenazi in Paris–but now, the Sephardim (Jews from outside Europe) have settled into the Jewish neighborhoods and made this a sort of falafel district.

So there we were–one Jew, grandson of a holocaust survivor and me, traipsing through the streets, my footsteps echoing deeply in my mind. This was not just a falafel trip, it was a trip of history and what the neighborhood had become once again.

The falafel corner (for there is a rival falafel eatery across the way from L’as du Falafel) is on the narrow street Rue des Rosiers that resembles Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter book series. At least, that’s what a friend told me when I pointed the picture of the alley and all the falafel eaters out to him. And it does look like Diagon Alley:

Crowd around L'as du Falafel

The street, quiet and gray, comes to life at this bustling corner. Falafel! Want some falafel? The proprietors cry, before guiding you over to the line and taking your order.

Here’s a fella that didn’t even bother to take off his motorcycle helmet before putting in his order:

L'as du Fallafel

The line can be long, but the line goes quickly–the workers at L’as du Falafel are well prepared in the wake of its popularity, facilitating orders in the long line and making sure things move efficiently.

And soon enough, you’re rewarded with a falafel, along with a dash of spicy hot sauce if you nod (vigorously, in our case).

L'as du Falafel

There are trash bags for you to dispose of the napkin in your hand (for you will eat the ENTIRE sandwich). I am thinking these are the ONLY public trash cans I ever saw in Paris or in France on the whole. Where DO the French throw away their garbage? Do they carry their trash all the home with them?

After days of decadent and wonderful French food, it began to wear on us. My husband and I live in a place where we can have different kinds of cuisines everyday–and in our multicultural household alone, we have the legacy of at least three different cuisines that inform our homecooking. So the falafel was a welcoming and surprising break between beouf bourguignon and cheeses and creams and souffle and steak (yes, poor us!).

The falafel was terrifically good. We demolished our sandwiches, our falafel eating experience and hunger helping us leave nary a stain on our clothes, spilling very little onto the sidewalk. I still stand by Falafel Drive in located in San Jose on San Carlos Blvd (close to Santana Row and Valley Fair Mall), but L’as du Falafel is a must when visiting in Paris. I’ll agree with the thousands of others who recommend this place with a big thumbs up.

And now–I must find a way to make falafel from scratch, here at home. Chickpeas, here I come!

Beaune and Loiseau de Vignes: happy lunches in Burgundy

Loiseau de Vignes gougeres!

We were in Beaune, the capital of France’s Burgundy wine country, for a friend’s wedding…and from a foodie point of view, that meant we had dinner plans. But what to do for lunch? We were staying in the Hotel Le Cep, where I heard Bernard Morillon, a lauded Michelin rated restaurant, was housed. But when we arrived on a beautiful day in wine country, there was no such restaurant–instead, there was a sign that said “Bernard Loiseau” and beneath that “Loiseau de Vignes.” Apparently, there had been a change.

Not sure of this new development, and having arrived in town too late for lunch, we meandered through the ancient city center of Beaune, marveling at architecture hundreds of years older than anything in the United States, let alone California. We always tend to marvel at architecture in other countries for this very fact, before also admiring the particularities of French Belle Epoque, for instance, or English Edwardian. Or in Beaune’s case, architecture from the Middle Ages.

Late in seeking lunch, we settled down at a crowded, nondescript brasserie full of European tourists and took our chances. I ordered a non-risky simple croque monsieur and the husband ordered a classic Burgundy dish.


Escargots. Otherwise known as snails, slathered in butter and cooked. He happily ate them, and he allowed me a taste. We were definitely in Burgundy, and this set off a food theme for the next day’s lunch. I was going to eat food indigenous to the wine region.

So the next day, having woken up late again (jet lag, jet lag!), we hurried out of our room, eyes on a clock that moved closer and closer to 2pm, closing time for all the “good restaurants” in town. No time to search for a place to eat–we looked at each other and thought, “Let’s try Loiseau de Vignes.”

Loiseau de Vignes for lunch

We checked out the menu, salivating at its classic mien–the rehearsal dinner had been replete with ornate cuisine. Standing there, our bodies a bit parched from the previous evening’s wine and still groggy from jetlag, we wanted nothing but simple and straightforward. The menu, a stark white reflecting the midday summer sun, and printed in equally stark block print, appealed to us in both its aesthetic and content. Simple and straightforward it was.

So we stepped in.

And commenced on a delicious lunch that helped lift the food of Burgundy in our eyes. This was–fabulous!

I have to admit, at this point, that I do not speak much French at all. In fact, I would say I could not speak French at all, if not for the words, “au revoir” and “bon jour” (I learned “bon soir” and “bon nuit” on this trip) and “merci.” Yes, it’s that bad. I know more culinary French than conversational French–but you see that that’s not such a high bar. (Thank goodness my hubby speaks a good amount of French–my pronunciation of the 5 phrase French phrases I knew, as well as French words on signs, drove him nuts).

So ordering was a delightful guessing game at times. What EXACTLY was my boeuf bourguignon on a bed of? What EXACTLY was my pate accompanied with? And what were the dishes I did overlook? Was I passing by something amazing in favor of dishes I could identify? It was a delightful escapade, at least at Loiseau de Vignes, where everything came out delicious…and simple…and straightforward. (Even the interior decor of the restaurant is carried on in that vein–medieval and unadorned stone walls, unadorned cutlery, white plates).

Our meal started off with the most gorgeous, hot out of the oven, poofy, gougeres. If you know about my one and only previous attempt to make gougeres, using a bad recipe out of Ruth Reichl’s otherwise brilliant book Garlic and Sapphires, then you know my ongoing fascination with perfect gougeres. Mine were such a miserable failure, that I am in utter admiration of perfect gougeres. Popping gougeres into my mouth, while peering at the menu at a table next to a window looking out over the hotel courtyard (complete with our friend the nervous bride in jeans and sweater pacing back and forth the morning of her wedding) was a wonderful start.

The hubby ordered a Millefeuille d’Aubergine:

vegetable mille feuille

He was kind enough to let me have a bite of this dish that was quite a display of eggplant–fried pieces of crispy eggplant, with creamy eggplant puree in between. How decadent.

Because I heard that Bernard Loiseau (this restaurant is in homage to him, no?) is a stickler for French classicism, and because I was in Burgundy and was on a mission to eat all that was classic to Burgundy, I decided to go for a pate, Boeuf Bourguignon, and a Grand Marnier souffle.

My pate en croute:

I prefer foie gras pate (if you know me, you know this goes without saying)…but I rather enjoyed this!

But things got even better with the boeuf bourguignon. The day before, my hubby had ordered the same dish at the tourist-ridden brasserie, and he looked with envy at my plate of beef, so tender it fell apart, doused with an aromatic red wine sauce. Say it together, please: Mrmmmmmmm…..!
boeuf bourguignon

On a bed of pasta, mushrooms, and croutons. And yes, I did let my husband have some boeuf bourguignon.

He wasn’t starving, he was having a filet mignon de porc:
porc filet mignon

But the best was yet to come. We each ordered a grand marnier souffle–normally, if we’re both ordering the same dessert, we decide to share. Maybe we were starving, maybe we each just wanted a souffle to ourselves (I mean, really–isn’t it fun to take the first bite of a souffle? And who wants to fight over that privilege?)…but this time, we each ordered the souffle, which arrived like chiral images on our table.

They looked magnificent–even as I took this picture, it only deflated the slightest amount, holding its loft for the camera splendidly.

It was infused with grand marnier and vanilla beans were everywhere…and the ice cream accompaniment was a classic pairing. Oh, are you just not so jealous? You should be, we were in heaven!
grand marnier souffle

Lunch was a great deal at about 30 euros per person. The restaurant has an exceptional burgundy wine list–with a good selection of wines by the glass (something I find sorely missing in the U.S.)

I hear that the restaurant, just recently opened, was limited to guests of Hotel Le Cep until July 24th, when it opened to the public. By the time I got to Paris, where we had an internet connection again, I found very little information on Loiseau de Vignes–only word that it had a lot of promise, in the hands of Patrick Bertron, who was the late Loiseau’s second in command for 20 years, and Dominique Loiseau, Bernard Loiseau’s wife. I also hear that this is a bistro version of the restaurant Loiseau itself. All this, I read after the fact–which I think made our experience all the more unblemished and without prejudice.

We were just looking for a good simple meal. And we found one.

Liberté, Fraternité, Egalité!

Bastille Day is this weekend, (July 14, to be
specific) and besides attending the San Francisco
Chocolate Salon at Fort Mason on Sunday, I will
celebrate on Saturday by eating cheese and
charcuterie.  The cherries and red onions I pickled
last year will make a nice foil as well as cornichons
I will pick up from the store.  Oh, and beaucoup du
vin is required.  My cheese plate is not entirely
assembled yet (so far, only a Langres).  Although I
have yet to test out my Kitchen Aid meat grinder and
sausage stuffer, I am not confident in my curing
skills to produce my own saucisson.  However, I have
decided to make my own paté.  (I was also going to
make brandade, but a miscommunication resulted in 2
pounds of fresh rock cod/snapper in fridge instead of
1 pound of salt cod.)   I’ve been curious about making
a foie gras torchon, but my friends are not foie gras
eaters.  But no fear!  The paté recipe I have is
plenty rich and smooth.   Marina, my Lyonnaise expat
friend, gave me her recipe (passed on by her
godfather).  I tried to seek out fresh duck liver with
my local butcher contacts, but it was too late.
Marina usually uses chicken liver, so that’s what I
went with.  Her recipe is amazingly simple:

Take one pound of liver and marinate it overnight in
white wine, bay leaf, onion and thyme.   Drain the
liver and sauté it until pink inside, then puree with
2 sticks of butter in a food processor until smooth
like cake batter.  Pour into a container and cover
with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

This recipe is obviously open to variation, so I
cross-referenced Julia Child’s MTAFC, and it’s pretty
similar.  I decided to incorporate a little of Julia
by soaking the livers (after rinsing with water) in
milk for two hours to flush out the blood, then
rinsing and draining again.  I used about half a
bottle of dry white wine, half a sliced yellow onion,
8 branches of thyme and 2 bay leaves.  I also added 5
or 6 crushed green peppercorns.  Since I wanted to
ensure that my pate was extra smooth, I removed the
onion and the herbs after I drained the marinade.  I
used duck fat to sauté the liver, though butter is
fine.  I also added a dash of cognac (no more than a
teaspoon) and flambéed it towards the end of the
sauté.  I drained the livers again, seasoned with
kosher salt and pepper and pulsed the livers, adding
the butter a few pieces at a time.  Once the butter
was incorporated and the mixture smooth, I pressed it
through a sieve to remove any particles.

Trés simple, non?  So if you go to the store tonight,
you might be able to make a batch in time for your own
fête this Saturday.  Bon appetit!

Cherry Clafouti

Cherry Clafouti

Everywhere I turn, there are cherries, brilliant dimpled burgundy globes bedecking grocery produce shelves. And tomorrow is the 4th of July–which makes the call of cherries even louder. I mean, wild cherries, indigenous to North America, are truly an American fruit.

How wonderful it would be, to sit under a shady tree, barefoot, eating a bowl of cherries on the 4th of July!

But–I am allergic to stone fruit (a sad recent development)…which limits me to only cooked versions of this magical fruit. This has had me on quests for excellent ways to cook stone fruit, such as the almond plum buckle, a heavenly and delightful cake, last year.

ready to make cherry clafouti

But back to cherries!

Aside from the beautiful assortment of pies (oh, I do love a good peach pie, or cherry pie)…how to cook stone fruit? One of the classic recipes for cherries is a cherry clafouti (and I found Julia Child’s iconic recipe), a dish that is a simple and wonderful showcase for the fruit.

And so I began on the clafouti–and was amazed at its simplicity and incredible result. The most labor intensive part of making this dessert was pitting the cherries (which I did by hand, splitting each cherry open and extracting the pit), a happy and juicy task.

cherry clafouti in progress

The end result? Delicious. The cherries were still juicy and insulated in a custardy, eggy cake. I can’t wait to eat this under the fireworks tomorrow.

Recipe follows after the jump…

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oh foie gras!

foie gras sign

Michael Bauer has a post up entitled, “Gourmands protest: Eat more foie gras”. As a foie gras lover myself, how could I stay away from such a post? And really, how could I stay away from such a suggestion? I’d be happy to eat more foie gras, as much as my body could handle.

In his article, Bauer has a list of restaurants with enviable foie gras dishes: Circa, Cyrus, Ame, Bushei-Tei, Scott Howard, Village Pub, Myth, Vetri, and Lampreia (in Seattle). Sadly to say, I have not been to any of his suggested foie gras haunts–even though I find Ron Siegel’s foie gras dishes at The Dining Room over the top and Michael Mina’s foie gras trios decadent. And nevermind the places outside of San Francisco!

Course One

But I suppose a foie gras lover always has her special sources. I’ve got a whole lobe in the freezer (yes, I know it’s bad but I got the lobe for a GREAT deal and couldn’t resist purchasing it) waiting for a day of searing (or slumping). In the past, I’ve seared my foie gras.

Foie gras -- before

I guess it’ll be time soon to invite a bunch of friends over for some seared foie gras. After all, despite Bauer’s wishes, one just can’t eat a whole lobe by herself.

from summer to autumn: provencal tomato soup with rice

tomato provencal soup with rice, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

I went to watch “Stranger than Fiction” today (which incidentally is a wonderful movie, especially poignant for fiction writers). The connection with this movie to tomato provencal soup? The movie theater was across the street from a Sunday farmer’s market.

Though I love farmer’s markets, and find them incredibly invigorating and fun, I’m often too lazy to coordinate my schedule and get myself over to a bounty-of-local-harvest-that-is-only-available-for-a-few-hours-once-a-week. I know. Horrible. I kick myself every week as I browse through second tier fruit and veg at a chain grocery store during my odd night hour shopping expeditions. Even my local favorite, Berkeley Bowl, cannot keep up with produce a mere few hours off the farm. But–I am not so lazy that when a farmer’s market is across the street from I’m supposed to be that I will not go visit! So off to the farmer’s market I went.

Visits to the farmer’s market bring me a weird inner peace and inspiration. How can I feel that way about produce? But I do. For me, I have similar experiences staring at art pieces in a museum. Maybe it’s not so big a leap: after all, these are all creations.

Just look at these green onions:

farmer's market: beautiful green onions

How beautiful are they? How the purple and green interplay? How there is such a perfect and striking balance? Could I write a story so natural and brilliant?

Or take a look at these tomatoes:

farmer's market:  last tomatoes of the season

They’re the last tomatoes of the season–all over the market were signs that declared, “Last week for grapes” and “Last Early Girl Tomatoes.” Immediately, before they had even disappeared, I became nostalgic! I missed them already!

I stood, in the middle of the market, arms weighed down with yams, tangerines, mushrooms, and one huge brussel sprout stalk, feeling kind of sad and also inspired and also peaceful and happy. There were fewer stalls than I’d been last, in the height of summer, and there was a sort of empty feeling. Then again, it’s autumn, my favorite season, and I delighted in this very natural transition.

How to deal with these mixed feelings? I stared at the tomatoes. How could I not have the “last Early Girl tomatoes” of the season? They felt more special somehow. I gathered a couple pounds of them, feeling their soft smooth skins in my hands; they were tender to the touch. So fragile, and vulnerable these last tomatoes were!

What could I make with these tomatoes? I thought of Sam at Becks & Posh who herself bought a 20 lb box and made sauce reserves of the last tomatoes, so precious are the taste of summer tomatoes. I felt ambivalent and yet whimsical: Summer, Autumn. Tomatoes…and soup. I decided that these tomatoes were enough to make a soup to pay homage to both summer and autumn.

No normal soup would do, either. It could not be an “average tomato soup.” So I decided to make a provencal tomato soup with rice. I am a fan of this particular recipe for the balance between decadent saffron and irreverent red-pepper. It makes me think of the French countryside with a bit of a kick. What a way to celebrate the last tomatoes of the season.

Recipe follows after the jump…

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Bouef Bourgignon

Inspired by this month’s book club selections, Heat and The Nasty Bits, Eric posted recipe selections from Babbo and Les Halles last Saturday. One of the recipes I chose to make last weekend was boeuf bourgignon because I already had most of the ingredients on hand (also, the moules mariniere recipe is basically the same as Reichl’s). I picked up a 2 pound shoulder roast from Cafe Rouge – they’re accustomed to my bizarre requests. A tip about any decent butcher: if what you want is not displayed, ask. They often have it in the back, or they’ll order it for you. As I was cutting up the roast into 1.5 inch cubes, I realized that this recipe was different than any of the other bourgignon recipes I’d used before (my French coworker’s mom’s, MTAFC, Bouchon). Most of them required an entire bottle of wine and only one onion; this one required four onions and only one cup of wine. also, the recipes I’d used before incorporated bacon and mushrooms. But Julia says that there’s more than one way to to arrive at a good boeuf bourgignon, so I figured I’d follow Tony’s recipe. Besides, I reasoned, as I measured out the one cup of wine, I can just drink the rest while I cook! How Julia is that?

A few of the major points I’ve learned from Judy Rodgers in the Zuni Cafe Cookbook is to dry the surfaces and salt your meat generously and early, and also to bring it somewhat close to room temperature before you start cooking. After thoroughly blotting the moisture from the cubes and seasoning them, I let them stand for about an hour. I might have even considering salting the entire roast (before cutting it up) a few days ahead of time if I was planning to make it later. The cubes browned beautifully in two batches in my Le Creuset dutch oven. I realized, though, as I was sauteeing the onions, that I might have miscalculated. I did use four, but two of them were huge. We’re talking grapefruit sized onions. And instead of waiting until the onions browned, I added the flour about two minutes into the saute. When I added the cup of wine, it seemed like a pitiful amount of liquid in comparison to the amount of onions. Oh well, I thought to myself. The vegetables will probably release more liquid, but what doesn’t need more wine, as I poured myself a third glass. (Perhaps *that* had something to do with my miscalculations). Though I couldn’t resist tossing in a couple slices of pancetta, I followed the rest of the recipe, adding carrots and a bouquet garni, water to cover plus a few spoonfuls of demiglace, then skimming, scraping and stirring over the next couple of hours. Despite my level of intoxication by the time the recipe was done, it tasted pretty damn good, though it looks nothing like the picture. It looked (and tasted) more like an onion stew with beef. The onion flavor was pretty assertive – very sweet, and the wine flavor was just a whisper. I can see why this recipe remains popular – you can drink the rest of the bottle (after browning the beef, that is) and it’ll still turn out tasty!