the Breizh crêperie in the Marais

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The plan was to attend the Vintage Salon in the heart of the Marais this Sunday afternoon, but we never got there because we were detained at the crêperie. We had to line up for half an hour to get into the Breizh Café. I hate queuing, so while Monique held our place and chatted with a quartet of Trump supporters from Queens, I walked up the road and snapped a few shots.

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We finally got a table and the atmosphere was jolly. We both ordered a ham, cheese, egg and artichoke buckwheat crêpe. I had a small bowl of cider, Monique a small green salad.

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There are two kinds of crêpe – sweet and savory.  The savory ones, called galettes, are made from buckwheat flour called sarrasin. At the Breizh Café (the name Breizh, incidentally, means Brittany in Breton, the indigenous Celtic language), the secret of its success is the authenticity of their products. All products, including the butter, are transported from the French region of Brittany, the home of galettes and crepes, cider, sea-salt caramels and a dozen other delights.

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Monique’s dessert crêpe was pear and chocolate, mine was caramelized apple drizzled with salted caramel.  The both were topped with a spoonful of vanilla ice cream and a spoonful of whipped cream. This place isn’t cheap, although there are simpler, less expensive options on the menu. My dessert crêpe cost 10 euros 50, as did the savory crêpe. Clearly, the Breizh café is a once or twice-a-year event, at least for my pocketbook it is.  But you should go at least once because the service is good, the food and cider exemplary and the ambiance fun.

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Leaving the restaurant, we went to the shop next door where you can buy the products trucked in from Brittany – gorgeous butter, cider, cheese, jams, etc. They are all high quality…and expensive. 

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Chartier

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There’s something supremely relaxing about sitting in a spacious, half-empty restaurant at 4:30 pm on a Monday, sipping a fizzy cocktail and waiting for your roast chicken to arrive.  And what made the experience doubly satisfying is that I’m usually at work at 4:30 pm on a Monday.  But today was my RTT day (basically, one day off a month).  And the weather was so beautiful that I spent most of the day outdoors (a) exploring my old neighbourhood in the 9th arrondissement, (b) popping into Drouot auction house, (c) strolling the picturesque Passages, (d) shopping at La Marelle vintage boutique and buying a pair of fab Carel boots. But all that in another post. For now, let me tell you about Chartier.

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Here’s what Courtney Traub wrote on her Go Paris website – First opened in 1896 as “Le Bouillon Chartier”, a cantine for the working classes serving up simple hot dishes comprised of meat and vegetables, Chartier is now a much-coveted address for inexpensive French fare in a gorgeous setting. The restaurant, set near the bustling Grands Boulevards neighborhood, is housed in an imposing turn-of-the-century hall decked out on all sides with large mirrors, wooden panelling and globe lamps. Chartier is as famous for its inexpensive, basic dishes as it is for its congenial, teasing servers wearing traditional black waistcoats and white aprons, who scrawl your orders out on the white paper tablecloths in front of your eyes.

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Pros:
•Simple, classic French fare for very reasonable prices
•Unbeatable Belle-Epoque setting
•Friendly, vivacious service and warm ambiance abounds
•Nonstop service all day long, including weekends
•Central location: in close reach of several right-bank attractions and interesting neighborhoods

Cons:
•Reservations not accepted; long lines outside often await
•Quality of food is often rather mediocre
•Not ideal for intimate tete a tetes: tables are often shared with other patrons
•Very few vegetarian and vegan options

OK, so you don’t come here for superlative food, although I must say that everything I ate and drank was delicious.  You go for fun, ambiance and low prices.  It’s what my mother would call “cheap and cheerful.”  It gets very crowded at night, especially on weekends.  I went today because it’s in my old neighbourhood and I hadn’t stepped foot in the place for 12 years.  And at 4:30 pm it was quiet, a perfect setting to sit, look around and relax. (hours are non-stop from 11:30 am to midnight, seven days a week)

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So go.  Drink wine.  Eat chicken.  Chat with your neighbours (some tables are shared.)  Enjoy life.

http://www.bouillon-chartier.com/en/

2 gals out on the town – New Year’s Eve

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We’re both originally from Canada and we’re both bloggers.  Caitlin, the gal on the left, was visiting from New York.

The plan was to meet for cocktails at The Lone Palm, a vintage hideaway in the 11th arrondissement purporting to be “Where Paris meets Palm Springs.”  It was closed.  So with lots of time to spare, we ambled over to the restaurant where I had booked us two seats at the bar for 7:30 pm.  It was a beautiful clear, cold night.  And this is where it turns costly.  Had The Lone Palm been open, we wouldn’t have been sauntering up the rue Paul Bert looking for a bar in which to enjoy a pre-dinner drink and I wouldn’t have spied a small vintage shop called Anna Colore Industriale.  We went in.  An hour and 10 minutes later, I had splashed a lot of cash (260 euros) on three items…but what a find and what a deal!  The shop specializes in clothes and accessories from the 1950s to the early 90s, vintage deco furniture and upcycling. 

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I saw an Yves Saint Laurent shift dress from his Mondrian collection in merino wool.  It was my size.  I saw a pair of Italian Pollini boots made from leather so soft and luxuriant I wanted to weep.  They were my size.  And I saw a mint condition leather handbag that smelled of attic, but it was a nice grandmotherly atticky smell.  All circa late 1970s, early 1980s.  After purchasing the items, the generous Esther didn’t put them into an ordinary paper sac.  As a New Year’s gift to me, she placed them in a gorgeous ruche-fabric tote bag from Florence.  Wow.  Merci, Esther! 

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There is also furniture, including this stunning vintage Danish sideboard in perfect condition for only 890 euros.

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So we said our goodbyes and headed over to the sister restaurant of Paul Bert which is called Paul Bert 6. Whereas Paul Bert is traditional and cozy, Paul Bert 6 is edgy and innovative. It was my first time there and I will definitely go back.  The chef, we were told, is from Québec.

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The menu, specially concocted for New Year’s, was a tasting menu. To be honest, I’m not a fan of small multiple dishes, but prix-fixe menus are the norm in France on New Year’s Eve.  I do, however, like sitting up at the bar. 

IMG_4095IMG_4098This wine from the Côtes-du-Rhône region was stellar.  So was the price at 55 euros a bottle.IMG_4116

And so the evening proceeded with one startling dish following the next, each one inventive and bursting with flavour.  Yes, the portions were small and yes, I would have preferred to tuck into two substantial courses, but the friendly ambiance of the place, the smiling waitstaff, the superlative wine and the interesting conversation with my dining companion all conspired to make it an extremely pleasant evening.  Until the arrival of the maple syrup pecan tart.

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Now I mentioned that both Caitlin and myself are Canadian, as was the chef which is probably why he served something with maple syrup in it.  It should be known that Canadians LOVE maple syrup.  I have shamelessly drunk it straight from the bottle. And when I go to Montreal, I buy those sugary maple candies in the shape of a maple leaf.  So one lone tart was placed before us on a plate at the end of the meal.  We stared at it. What were we supposed to do with it?  Share it, evidently.

Oh, come on!  For a menu costing 80 euros per person?  I don’t think so.  I wanted my own maple syrup tart.  We protested mildly and in good humour.  Our waiter had a word with the chef, but word came back that there weren’t enough to go around, so share we did.  Funnily enough, after two small bites I was stuffed and could barely finish my portion.

The Paris metro was free all night.  At around 11:20 pm, Caitlin and I split up at Concorde and I changed lines to the central number 1 line.  300,000 revellers, it was reported, were converging on the Champs-Elysees to ring in the New Year at midnight.  And I swear there were 300,000 passengers waiting for the train on the platform at Concorde, all of them eager to get off at Franklin-Roosevelt, George V or Etoile which are the Champs-Elysees stops.  I was going further than that.  I thought that the RATP, the Paris metro system, provided an exemplary service.  Every 4 minutes a train arrived and I finally stuffed myself onto one.  Each carriage was full to bursting.  At each stop I was spat out onto the platform, caught in a maelstorm of shrieking drunken revellers – all languages, all nationalities.  All shapes and sizes.  The entire world was in Paris last night and they were all on my subway line.  As the crowd surged towards the exits, I had to claw and push my way in the opposite direction to get back onto the train.  I felt like an upriver salmon.  This repeated itself three times.  It was awful.  Finally the train emptied at Etoile and I rode the rest of the way in peace, grateful to head back to my quiet flat and call it a night.  Or rather, a year.

I wish you a peaceful and prosperous 2015.

pre-Christmas dinner at Paul Bert bistro

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In an earlier post this year (April), I put up photos of a rollicking dinner we had at our favourite bistro in the 11th arrondissement, the Paul Bert.  Last night was a slightly more sedate affair, but in terms of food and company, equally delicious.

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A Swedish Christmas elf offered me a gift that happened to be on my Christmas list (see preceding blog post) – – a box of marrons glacés (candied chestnuts) from Paris’s best chocolatier, La Maison du Chocolat.  A glass of champagne was ordered for the occasion.  And then an English Christmas elf, who had also referred to that list (which I didn’t think anyone would actually consult!), offered me a Diptyque Feu du Bois candle.

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As a starter, I ordered the marrow bone simply roasted and sprinkled with fleur de sel. My companions had foie gras and roasted scallops.

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I then chose the roast venison with celeriac puree and juniper berries while my friends enjoyed pepper steak with a load of hot crispy fries.  Paul Bert is known for their delicious, hot and crispy fries.

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And so, as always at Paul Bert bistro, a good time was had by all.  We walked off into the dampish night, each of us headed to different destinations over the holidays – Sweden, Holland and south-west France.

lunch date: Chez Mademoiselle bistro (and a stroll afterwards in the Marais)

Marais Easter 21 avril 2014 019Easter Monday was a national holiday in France.  I met up with my Swedish friend, Andreas, at a cute little bistro in the Marais.Marais Easter 21 avril 2014 010Not far from Saint Paul metro station, Chez Mademoiselle is situated at 16 Rue Charlemagne, a quiet street in the southern half of the Marais (near the river).Marais Easter 21 avril 2014 009They serve up traditional French cuisine and their portions are generous.  I had the roasted cod fillet with potato purée and a red pepper sauce.Marais Easter 21 avril 2014 022Andreas had a plump-looking duck and chicken combo.  The bistro offers a fixed price menu at 17 euros 50. You can choose between a starter and a main course or a main course and a dessert.Marais Easter 21 avril 2014 020For starters I had a crudité salad and my lunch companion had a plate of fresh scallops.Marais Easter 21 avril 2014 016After lunch we strolled northwards, walking in the direction of rue du Temple, number 44 to be exact, to a boutique called ESSENTIEL.  Based in Antwerp, Belgium, this is a colourful Ready-to-Wear collection for men and women.  At reasonable prices.Marais Easter 21 avril 2014 045Andreas was looking for shoes, I wasn’t looking for anything.  In the end, he bought a pullover and I bought a carry-bag.  Here he is….looking very GQ indeed.Marais Easter 21 avril 2014 030Marais Easter 21 avril 2014 031Blue is his best colour.  It matches his ice-blue Scandinavian eyes.Marais Easter 21 avril 2014 034As for me, I spied this leather carry-all bag.  I love squishy bags that you can throw things into, sling over your shoulder and GO!Marais Easter 21 avril 2014 038Marais Easter 21 avril 2014 036Marais Easter 21 avril 2014 028Once our respective purchases made, we stepped back outside and continued walking north.  I never tire of the history and architecture of the Marais district.Marais Easter 21 avril 2014 048Marais Easter 21 avril 2014 046We were on our way to the rue Charlot which is lined with interesting boutiques on either side.  This fabulous boutique below sells fabulous leather products.  All products are entirely conceived and crafted in their Montreal workshops.  Mais oui, m0851 is Canadian.Marais Easter 21 avril 2014 054Yves Andrieux and Vincent Jalbert, at number 55, are a designing duo who transform antique fabrics into clothes, bags, cushions and throws.  Marais Easter 21 avril 2014 055Had this nice-looking Italian café been open, I would have popped in for an espresso.  But it was closed.Marais Easter 21 avril 2014 058Below you’ll find the links of these three boutiques.Marais Easter 21 avril 2014 002

http://www.m0851.com/home/

http://www.vincentjalbert.com/en

http://www.essentiel-antwerp.com/

dinner at Paul Bert bistro

Paul Bert bistro Paris avril 2014 068Three ladies made their way to the 11th arrondissement in Paris last night to meet, eat and swap stories at the much-loved bustling bistro, Paul Bert.Paul Bert bistro Paris avril 2014 028The third lady is behind the camera.Paul Bert bistro Paris avril 2014 031Paul Bert bistro Paris avril 2014 032My friend Rosemary from London had steak entrecote with bearnaise sauce and the bistro’s signature crispy fries.Paul Bert bistro Paris avril 2014 036Beth from Toronto and I shared a stew of slowly-braised beef cheeks in red wine served with sea shell pasta called conchiglie.  It was deliciously satisfying.Paul Bert bistro Paris avril 2014 037Paul Bert bistro Paris avril 2014 039Rosemary tactfully dissuaded me from ordering Chinon again (I’m always ordering Chinon. I’m a Chinon buff.)  We all agreed that a nice Crozes-Hermitage would fit the bill nicely.Paul Bert bistro Paris avril 2014 040Towards the end of the meal, Rosemary saw a soufflé go by and said she simply had to have one.Paul Bert bistro Paris avril 2014 044I saw a crème caramel go by and the sight of it gave me a fillip. I used to make crème caramels – in a bain marie – when I was a teenager. I thought I was being terribly sophisticated.  Not having tasted one in over a decade, I put in my order.Paul Bert bistro Paris avril 2014 045And I was so glad I did!  This was the mother of all crème caramels. Light and silky and doused in a sweet caramel sauce.  I swooned with each spoonful.  Beth went for the cheese plate and a wooden plateau arrived laden with different fromages.Paul Bert bistro Paris avril 2014 049The service was impeccable; the skilled waitstaff patient and charming.  The convivial atmosphere of Paul Bert has you striking up conversation with the diners beside you.  It helps when they are Americans: friendly and sociable. This couple hails from New Orleans. He’s writing a novel, he told us.Paul Bert bistro Paris avril 2014 064And these young people are from Brooklyn.Paul Bert bistro Paris avril 2014 059I think we were all making a lot of noise towards the end of the evening. I’ll bet the French were thinking “Those loud Anglo-Saxons with their cameras….and snapping pictures of a common crème caramel. Grands dieux !”  (that’s the equivalent of “good grief!”)  Oh well.  A good time was had by all.

Book-signing at W.H. Smith bookshop, then dinner

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No, it wasn’t my book that was being signed at W.H. Smith (dream on, Jules). It was a charming new book entitled Quiet Paris that I purchased and had signed by the author. Two years ago I bought her Quiet London edition; I still love and use it.

Here’s the publisher’s blurb: Paris is a beautiful city with astounding architecture and world-famous museums and restaurants. Because of its many attractions, however, it often feels as if there is nowhere to escape from the crowds. Siobhan Wall, author of Quiet Amsterdam and Quiet London, has sought out hidden, tranquil places so that Parisians can find some respite from their busy lives. She has gone in search of small museums and cafés so that visitors to the city can discover another, quieter side to this entrancing metropolis. From formal gardens to light-filled art galleries, chic boutiques, small tearooms and gourmet delicatessens, Quiet Paris has over one hundred and twenty tempting places to savour the quiet delights of this most seductive of cities.

I recommend this book because it lists off-the-beaten-track places that are quiet and noteworthy.  I’ll personally be exploring some of them, just as I explored the places she recommends in London.

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Leaving the bookshop at 6:30 pm, I had no desire to cook dinner at home, so I took myself to a favourite restaurant four minutes away from W.H. Smith. Located on the rue de Rivoli across the road from the Tuileries Gardens, it’s called L’Imperial. Sometimes when you’ve been working all day, you just want to sit quietly in a restaurant and have your meal brought to you. A restful interlude. I ordered a Martini Bianco on ice and leafed through my new Quiet Paris book.

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A nice little bar at the back   Hmm … who’s that man?

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This is an eatery geared more for tourists with the exception of lunch during the week when the place fills up with Parisians who work in the area. They do some nice lunch specials. A few years ago I worked near the Place de la Concorde and came here for lunch with colleagues. I particularly like their filet de cabillaud rôti à la provençale écrasée de pommes de terre à l’huile d’olive (provençal-style roasted filet of cod served atop mashed potato with olive oil.)  I ordered some.

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Service is swift and professional, portions generous and served up hot. They also do a nice boeuf bourguignon served on mashed potato for 15 euros, onion soup for 10 euros, roast chicken and mashed potato for 14 euros, an omelette for 10 euros, a cheeseburger and fries for 14 euros, a croque-monsieur for 8 euros, three different cuts of steak served with fries (called and spelled steack-frites in France), a selection of large salads and other items. For the location, the prices are very reasonable indeed. I’d just like to add that for those who think that the most favourite dish of the French might be, I don’t know, coq au vin or confit de canard, they’re wrong.  The most popular dish here is steack-frites served with red wine, crusty baguette, and maybe a small green salad on the side and cheese to follow. Below I’ve listed a few addresses where you can enjoy this substantial and heavily calorific meal.

When the warm weather comes, I recommend that you sit outside during lunch hour when the sun hits just nicely the row of tables lined up along the side of the restaurant, allowing you to enjoy a bain de soleil (a sunbath) while you eat. Afterwards you can stroll in the Tuileries Gardens or visit the Louvre museum. Or pop into the gorgeous, independent bookstore, Galignani, at 224 rue de Rivoli.

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L’Impérial, 240 rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris, between Tuileries and Concorde metro stations.

Steak-frites:  There’s a rather pricey restaurant on the rue Marbeuf, just off the Champs-Elysées near Franklin Roosevelt metro station, that serves up really good beef, fries, wine, etc. But it’s not cheap and I’ve read mixed reviews about the place lately, so be forewarned.  La Maison de l’Aubrac, 37 rue Marbeuf.  Aubrac is a region in France known for its cattle breeding (raised for meat), delicious Cantal cheese and Laguiole knives.

Now this place, on the other hand, is popular and reasonably priced. It’s called the Relais de l’Entrecôte and there are three locations, one of them at 15 rue Marbeuf.  You have to line up but the queue moves fairly quickly and there’s only one dish so you don’t order, you just tell the server how you like your meat cooked.  She brings you a small green salad followed by a platter filled with thickly-cut slices of beef covered with their delicious secret sauce and a mound of hot fries.  The portions are fairly small but once finished, she brings a second helping.  The atmosphere is fun and convivial.  Unless you’re a snob, you’ll enjoy the place.  The other two locations are in the 6th arrondissement at 20 rue Saint-Benoît and 101 blvd. du Montparnasse.