"The reluctant Francophile..."

My husband Jack has always wanted to live in Paris and learn French. I thought it would be good for him to achieve his life time dream. Hence, we moved to Paris in 2008. My first year was difficult. I started "missives" to relieve some stress and chronicle my life so friends back in the US could read what I am experiencing. I currently write about my food and travel experiences, which is my passion.

It is definitely a challenge to live here, but each year it gets easier, and quite enjoyable, in large part because I value friendships over locale. I have a love/hate relationship with Paris as do most Parisians, mais La vie est belle (but life is good)!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Culinary Classes -- "Paris on the Edge"

with Allison Zinder
Website:  http://parisontheedge.com/

I recently had a wonderful opportunity to attend Allison Zinder's cooking classes that she recently launched in Paris. Having lived in France since 1995, Allison has acquired a vast knowledge not only of its people, culture, and history, but also its cuisine. In 2007, she focused her love of teaching and began teaching culinary arts in a technical school in the 19eme.

We were in total 7-people. Some amateur cooks and 3 of us were trained chefs. So it was quite a diverse group in not only culinary skills, but also age and language. Note: Allison is bilingual and can easily switch between French and English.

Our menu for today: (Recipes can be found on her website listed above)

Pumpkin chestnut soup

Lemon confit and ginger-toasted veal

Fluffy flourless chocolate cakes with Earl Grey crème anglaise

All-in-all the dishes were fabulous. You will learn skills, cooking techniques and also some of the French cultural nuances as it relates to food, culture and dining etiquette. Allison's warm, patient and nurturing personality is infectious and goes a long way when teaching several different personality types. This probably has to do with her many years teaching teenagers.

Should you book; I say ABSOLUTELY.  What an absolutely wonderful time spent cooking, then even more fun, getting to taste the fruits of our labor.


Allison also provides walking tours, so please visit her site. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Restaurant Review -- Fogón

45, Quai des Grand Augustins, 75006 Paris
Tel:  01 43 54 31 33
Web: fogon.fr
Metro: St. Michel (Line 4)
Rating Standards: 5-Stars = Extraordinary; 4-Stars = Excellent; 3-Stars = Average; 2-Stars = Fair; 1-Star = Poor
€ = Inexpensive: 30€ and under; €€ = Moderate: 31€-49€; €€€ = Expensive: €50 -75; €€€€ = Very Expensive: more than €76 (prices based on minimum 2-courses)
1-Bell = Pleasantly quiet (less than 65 decibels); 2-Bells = Can talk easily (65-70); 3-Bells = Talking normally gets difficult (70-75); 4-Bells = Can talk only in raised voices (75-80); BOMB = Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)

4.50 - Star......................................................€€ ................................................... 2 - Bell

It was a cold dreary, wet day in Paris, so we went to Fogón for a late lunch. JJ had been there before, and he had raved about it. It's a Spanish restaurant known for their paella.

It's a really cute restaurant. Quite spacious by Parisian standards, and the location couldn't be better. The restaurant is very playful, and as we were searching for our utensils our wait person told us we each had a drawer with our napkins and utensils. A cute idea.

Although they had an October tasting special, we opted for the 51€ per person prefix-menu for two which came with several entrées, and you can select what type of paella you wished to have. We selected the "paella negro" which is a black paella seafood paella made with squid ink.

For our amuse bouche we had lovely popsicles of cucumbers and cantaloupe. Although a little gimmicky, we were first given an aromatic of fig to to smell and sweeten our olfactory senses. It was very refreshing, and I can see this being a big hit in the summer.

For our first entrée we got the "crevettes bagnées dans l'eau de morue" (bagnées water shrimp and cod). The Chef appears to like "agar-agar" or should I say 'gel', both dishes had a thin layer of it. The dishes were innovative, fun and a great entrée to start with.

Our second entrée was "la plage à la marée montante" (the beach at high tide).  This was a very playful dish. It was the Chef's interpretation of what the beach would look like at high tide. There was seaweed, and various other shell fish such as cockles and also a side of a poached cabillaud. This dish was not only innovative and beautifully presented but was delicious, the "jus" was out of this world delicious. Again, he had a thin layer of a jellied sauce under the cabillaud. I could've lived without, but all-in-all a delicious dish.

Then onto the main course. We had "Le riz en Paëlla noir" (seafood paella with squid ink). It's not an attractive dish by any means and maybe 'off-putting', but don't let the ugliness of the dish fool you. It's packed with tons of flavor since the paella is flavored with squid ink. The rice was cooked, al dente, which may turn some people off, but we enjoyed it tremendously.

For desserts JJ had the rhubarb creme brulée and I had the Manchego cheese. The Rhubarb brulée was excellent and the manchego cheese was aged where it almost tasted like a parmesan, reggiano. Both was excellent.


It's so nice when you come across a restaurant that really tickles and excites the palate. The food and service were excellent. We felt like we were in a 3-star michelin restaurant without paying the prices. If I have any complaint at all is that he used too much jellied this and that, which is a style preference more than anything else.  They do have a monthly tasting menu, which was the same price as their prefix meal, 51€ per person. With a glass of sangria and a coupe de champagne, and 2-glasses of their of white and red whites our bill came to 155€.  Would we go back ABSOLUTELY.  This will be my new go to restaurant for Spanish food.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Restaurant Review -- La Cagouille

10 Place Constantin Brancusi, 75014 Paris
Tél : +33 (0)1 43 22 09 01 / Fax : +33 (0)1 45 38 57 29
Metro : nearest station: "Gaîté" (line 13)

Rating Standards: 5-Stars = Extraordinary; 4-Stars = Excellent; 3-Stars = Average; 2-Stars = Fair; 1-Star = Poor
€ = Inexpensive: 30€ and under; €€ = Moderate: 31€-49€; €€€ = Expensive: €50 -75; €€€€ = Very Expensive: more than €76 (prices based on minimum 2-courses)
1-Bell = Pleasantly quiet (less than 65 decibels); 2-Bells = Can talk easily (65-70); 3-Bells = Talking normally gets difficult (70-75); 4-Bells = Can talk only in raised voices (75-80); BOMB = Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)

4 - Star.........................................................€€...................................................... 2 - Bell

We joined a friend for lunch at this restaurant on a warm beautiful Saturday. So warm in fact, many people opted to eat on their fabulous terrace.

The restaurant is located in the 14eme, in fact the morning market is located in that area, and coincidentally the fish monger was housed directly in front.  This restaurant is known for their seafood. It has gotten mixed reviews over the years, and bottom-line, people either hated it or loved it so I was anxious to try it.

We perused the menu. They had a lovely selection.
Once we ordered we were given a nice plate of cockels to share as an amuse bouche.  Cockels can be tricky if not cooked well, in fact, it can be down right nasty if it's overcooked and have the texture similar to chomping on rubber bands.  But these cockles were perfectly cooked, tender, beautifully flavored and not too salty.


Two of us had the mussels. The mussels were great, they were in a simple nice wine sauce with the right amount of garlic. You got a heaping portion, in fact it was so large, we were unable to finish them.

JJ had the razor clams. They too were delicious.  Whereas the mussels had a nice wine sauce, the razor clams had a wine and butter sauce. I only had one minor complaint with the dish, it could've been scrubbed more, since some still had sandy grit on them.  Otherwise it was a very good dish.


JJ had the mackerel.  The mackerel was beautifully grilled. Mackerel can be very salty and also very dry and fishy if not cooked well.  This mackerel had a nice searing and the flesh was quite moist and tender. The sauce was a mustard butter cream sauce, although it sounds heavy, it was actually a great accompaniment.

One person had the cabillaud (cod). It was nicely pan fried and lightly grilled on top, and sat atop a sauce of light garlic. The fish was perfectly cooked and the sauce was a a great accompaniment.

I had the Salmon where the skin was every so lightly pan seared, but the flesh was raw. This fish sat atop some steamed spinach. One person made the comment that they would've probably sent it back since it was basically raw. I decided since I like sashimi, what the hey, I'll eat it as is. I later discovered this was not a good decision.


Only JJ got the dessert. He got the apple and pear crumble. Although nothing out of the ordinary it was good and hearty.

This restaurant is known for the collections of cognac, so our friend got a glass of the "Ragnaud-Sabourin Grande Champagne 1er cru de Cognac". I had a taste of it, I have to admit it was excellent!


We all enjoyed the food tremendously. So we're in the camp that really like this restaurant. With exception of the minor flaws in the razor clams everything was on par. Their service which has also been criticized was excellent.  Now here's a word of advice, if you cannot digest raw fish, then I would suggest that you ask them to cook the fish "a point" -- medium.  I've discovered recently that I can no longer tolerate raw foods whether it be fish or tartare, and I suffered for it later.

So, would we go back, absolutely.  With a bottle of Sancere, our bill came to about 60€ each.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Wallace -- Restaurant Review

90 Rue de Cambronne 15eme
Tel:, open 7/7
(Metro: Line 12 -- Vaugirard) 

Rating Standards: 5-Stars = Extraordinary; 4-Stars = Excellent; 3-Stars = Average; 2-Stars = Fair; 1-Star = Poor
€ = Inexpensive: 30€ and under; €€ = Moderate: 31€-49€; €€€ = Expensive: €50 -75; €€€€ = Very Expensive: more than €76 (prices based on minimum 2-courses)
1-Bell = Pleasantly quiet (less than 65 decibels); 2-Bells = Can talk easily (65-70); 3-Bells = Talking normally gets difficult (70-75); 4-Bells = Can talk only in raised voices (75-80); BOMB = Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
2.50 - Star...............................................................€€€........................................................... 2 - Bell

Our friend wanted to try a restaurant in our neighborhood in the 15eme; great since it was a beautiful day, we decided to walk there. It dawned on us as we approached that we've gone by this restaurant quite often since this is our bus' route. And, I also noticed that during nice weather it's generally crowded with young people because they have a large outdoor seating area.

Upon entering we were seated in the front by the open doors, but had to move because the "lounge chairs" were just so uncomfortable, so we got a table in the back with a more rigid, but more comfortable seating.

There were two menus, the menu of the day as well as their regular menu. The menu "du jour" looked fine, but what confused me was their regular menu. There was no separation between the entrée, plats or dessert.  And, what really intrigued me was they had a huge cocktail menu. If I didn't know any better, I would've thought I was at an American watering whole.

We thought we knew what we were ordering, but when our wait staff finally came to take our order, she told us they were out of the many of the dishes featured on their menu "du jour" (and it was only 12:30, long before most people showed up) as well as their regular menu, and additionally they did not have the wine we wanted, oh well. So, it took us a few minutes to reorder close to what we wanted.


One of us had the "Ceviche de dorade, avocat" (Ceviche or white fish and avocado). At first glance I though, wow, this is huge, this is definitely not an entrée size.  The fish was actually served filet, rather than cut-up or cubed. It was actually very good. The fish was fresh and it was a delightful dish, with the right amount of vinegar to "chemically" cook the fish, but still retain its freshness. It was served with thin slices of carrots as well. On the other hand the avocado was not so ripe, oh well. But overall the concept and the presentation was nice.

I had the "Maraîchère de légumes croquants au saumon fumé et oeuf poché" (Crunchy vegetables with smoked salmon and poached egg), this too was an enormous dish for an entrée. It was nothing special, a simple salad of salmon, greens and carrots with a mild vinegarette. I do have to say though, they forgot the poached egg, oh well.

Please note, at this point it was a quarter to 2 pm and we originally arrived at 12:30 pm, and we finished our entrées, and we were still waiting for our mains. I asked the wait person twice about our mains. We were just about ready to leave in frustration, but the mains finally came within 5-minutes of us wanting to leave. Even by French standards the service was ridiculously slow!


One person ordered the Épaule d'agneau de sept heures, (Seven hour lamb shoulder).  The lamb was very good and very tasty. In fact, it had a nice "charring" on the outside, despite it being stewed for hours. It was accompanied by potatoes, carrots (they seem to love carrots in this restaurant) and snow peas. Very good hearty dish, no complaints.

I had the "Plancha de saumon laqué" (Lacquered grilled salmon). This was a very good dish. The fish was perfectly cooked. It was a little pink in the middle, just the way I like it. It had what tasted like a sweet soy, and was accompanied by again, carrots and bok choy! Only complaint I have is I wished they had left the skin on. There is nothing like tasty grilled salmon skin to add another dimension to it!

Lastly, JJ had the "Salade de poulpe aux légumes du soleil" (Octopus salad with summer vegetables) This was a very simple dish. Although the squid was cooked perfectly the salad was very simple, in other words in had no real flavor.  They did have as condiments on table "sprayable" olive oil and balsamic vinegar.


At this point we were debating whether we should get the dessert or not. If we're lucky we joked, maybe we'll get it by dinner time. I recommended we go ahead and get it, cause they're probably already made.

As usual, I got the cheeses, which consisted of a French manchego and a brie de Meaux. Both excellent cheeses, although JJ thought the brie was weak.

And, two split the "Financier tiède abricot" (Warm apricot Financier).  It was a typical financier with apricot and ice cream. Very good warm, typical French dessert.

We had two-glasses of wine, two bottles of wine and coffee for a total of €136 for 3-people. It was pricey, but we did have 2-nice bottles of wine.


If you asked me one word to describe this restaurant, then it would be "SLOW". Even by French standards the service was slow, albeit they were really nice. I also had issues with the fact that many of the dishes they had on their special and their regular menu weren't available, and that included the wine we originally wanted? I understand running out of dishes, but we were one of the first ones to arrive and they had already run out of their daily special?

We also noticed that people came and went fast, so it appears that it caters to the working crowd who  ordered only one dish. One couple next to us actually ordered two-dishes, which I assume one was an entrée and a plat, which came out together. Hence, that explains the menu having no discernible distinction between the entrées, plat etc.

I'm all about the whole dining experience. What we had was good and some were excellent, but I don't think we'll go back, unless someone tells me they've gotten their service act together.  I do believe they also caters to a younger "cocktail" crowd.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Le Petit Célestin Bistro -- Restaurant Review

12 Quai des Célestins
75004 Paris 
Metro: M#1 Saint Paul or  M#7 Sully - Morland
web: http://www.lepetitcelestin.fr/
Open: 7-days a week
M-F -- 8 am to 2 am
Sunday -- 10 am to 2 am

Rating Standards: 5-Stars = Extraordinary; 4-Stars = Excellent; 3-Stars = Average; 2-Stars = Fair; 1-Star = Poor
€ = Inexpensive: 30€ and under; €€ = Moderate: 31€-49€; €€€ = Expensive: €50 -75; €€€€ = Very Expensive: more than €76 (prices based on minimum 2-courses)
1-Bell = Pleasantly quiet (less than 65 decibels); 2-Bells = Can talk easily (65-70); 3-Bells = Talking normally gets difficult (70-75); 4-Bells = Can talk only in raised voices (75-80); BOMB = Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
3.00 - Star...............................................................€€........................................................... 2 - Bell

It's a pretty well known fact that it's almost impossible to find a good restaurant open on a Sunday and oftentimes Mondays. Many have to chance it at tourist areas, which are just basically bistros that rewarm pre-made food.  Imagine my excitement when a friend suggested we eat at this tiny bistro in the 4eme in the Marais and right across the street from Ile St. Louis not only on a Sunday, and talk about LOCATION!.  It's also it's open 7-days a week, unheard of in Paris!?!

We went for lunch, it was a warm sunny day. We were the first ones to arrive. Although normally I like eating 'al fresco' it was a bit too warm and sunny for me so we chose to eat inside, perfect, because we got the shade, but also since the windows retracted all the way, we got great outdoor ambiance without the sun beating down on us.

It's a cute, small restaurant and I was particularly surprised to see how small the kitchen is. Well this is Paris and it's amazing what chefs can do in a little space.

We perused the menu, they had their 'suggestions of the day', which wasn't very exciting to me so two of us ordered from the regular menu while one person ordered from the 'suggestions of the day.' 

First we got a delicious amuse bouche of a sweet pea purée; it was quite good and refreshing. And, I had a glass of their house chardonnay, which was pretty crisp, but I liked it. 


I had the "Fond d'artichaut œuf poché crème pleurote" (Artichoke heart poached with egg cream oyster sauce), I have to say this was my favorite dish. The artichoke heart was enormous and I'm a sucker for poached eggs on anything. It was surrounded with wonderful mushrooms and julienne greens. The cream just added to the richness of the dish. I loved this dish!

One person had the Boite de sardine millésimé et beurre salé (Classic sardine and salted butter). Now, this entrée I thought was a bit strange. It's literally an open can of sardines with some butter. Some might say it's whimsical and playful, I say, I could've done it at home. So, even though this dish was good, especially with the butter, this got a thumbs down for me. 

Lastly, one person got the Poêle de girolles, ail et persil (Pan sautéed mushrooms, garlic and parsley). Our friend liked this dish, and I have to say it was very good. The mushrooms tasted like mushrooms and some of them were actually a little crispy, which added texture to it. It was a hit. 

One person had the suggestion of the day, which was Salade de tomates anciennes vieux balsamique (Heirloom tomato salad with aged balsamic vinegar). OK, this to me was more of an entrée (appetizer) than a plat (main). Granted it was a large dish and it was good, but tomatoes with balsamic vinegar does not a meal make!  

Two of us had the Gambas rôties brunoise de légumes, duxelle de pleurote  (Roasted prawns with vegetables, oyster mushroom sauce).  Although the surrounding starch was creamy, it did have little bit of the characteristic wine reduction bitterness, but I liked this dish. The shrimps were tasty, and the rocket offered some green and freshness to this dish. I only have one wish, I wished they had not removed the shrimp heads. I think this dish would've been perfect had they not chopped it off. 

As usual I had the cheese plate. It was a combination of comté and brie de Meaux cheese. No complaints, the cheeses were excellent. 

Two shared the Tarte tartin (Apple tart) served warm and with a rich crème fraiche. The tart alone tasted ordinary, but with the added crème fraiche it was a delicious dish. 

This is on my list of places to go when everything else is closed, plus it's in a great location. A little tip, you need to really peruse the menu and understand what you're getting. There were hits (artichoke entrée) and misses (sardines). Now that I understand the menu a little better I know what to order. Although the prices for the meals are on par with other bistros in this class, what brings the prices up are the wines. For 3 of us we paid 188€, which is pretty expensive, but granted we had a pastis, a glass of chardonnay, a bottle of Sauvignon blanc, 2-pichets of Bordeaux and coffee. Their wines are a little more on the pricey side, so if you're on a budget you can trim the price down by ordering their house wines.

They serve good wholesome French bistro food. Would I go back? Absolutely, especially on the off days when other restaurants are closed.