Vocab Friday: Earmuffs!

Image: Conde Nast Traveler

If you live in Paris and like eating out, follow the restaurant scene or, god forbid, call yourself a foodie (please don’t), then you’ve probably heard of Iñaki Aizpitarte’s super popular Le Chateaubriand over in the boho 11th. You’ve probably also tried to get a reservation. And failed.

That’s because this place is so hot right now (please say that like Mugatu). Everybody is fawning over the market fresh, 5 course plus several amuse bouche menu, offered up in a hip bistro setting for a relatively affordable price. It even clocked in at #11 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

So of course I was dying to go. And when I called last week for a reservation, they giggled and said no way. But they let me in on a secret: The last reservation is at 8:30. So if you show up after 9:30 on Saturdays, you can sit at the bar and wait for a table to open up.

And by “sit at the bar and wait for a table” they apparently meant stand in the rain for an hour and a half, wondering how all these people in line are going to fit into the restaurant. We were hoping that the doors would open and everybody would flood in. But that never happened, and at some point one of the wait staff came out and slapped his forehead in amazement. He returned a few minutes later and took a photo.

That didn’t seem promising, but he said if we stayed, we’d eat by 11pm. Several people bailed at that news, so we at least moved up under the awning. We decided to stick it out.

And promptly at 10:50 we were ushered in from the cold and offered a spot at the bar. The place was still hopping, but the staff seemed to be taking it in stride. The French guys in front of us got some champagne and started cracking jokes about people trying to cut in line. All was good.

By 11:15 we were finally sitting, ready to let the gastronomy commence. Our waiter was super friendly and pretty hilarious, which helped make the epic wait time slightly more palatable. Then we got our amuse bouche: some kind of bouillabaisse with tiny fried crab legs, a radish and parmesan salad, a tiny cooked duck heart. (Yes, duck heart. I couldn’t think about what it was as I swallowed, but it tasted like steak.)

The main courses were just as interesting, and if they didn’t blow our minds, we could at least amuse ourselves with the tables on either side: to the left, a foursome of the most uptight preppy young Americans you have ever laid eyes on, complete with navy sport coats and pearls. They complained loudly when the busy waiter wouldn’t call them a cab right away. I wanted to punch them.

On the other side was an increasingly rowdy group of French people. The ringleader seemed to be a middle aged guy who at one point pretended to pee into his carafe of wine, joking that the bathroom line was too long. Hilarious!

But somewhere around the roasted lamb dish, things took a turn for the worse. Funny French guy made a disgusted face and sent his plate back. A bit later he said in disdainful, very loud French that the place was full of Americans. At dessert time, there seemed to be some issue with the cheese plate, and all hell broke loose. Earmuffs, children:

Ce restaurant c’est merde! Absolument boulot de merde! He shouted.

Et le service? Le service! Connards!

Le chef? Il est un con!

It was kind of awesome and horrifying at the same time. The waiter refused to come back to their table. So the manager came over to appease them with discounts and desserts, to no avail. Then the guy had the nerve to order a round of digestifs, take one sip, and send them back. It was absolutely obnoxious.

So of course I leaned over to let him know that I was one of the stupid Americans in the place, and that I spoke enough French to catch his drift.

Quel est le probleme, monsieur? I asked innocently.

He blinked for a minute. “Oh I knew you were American! This place is full of them. The dinner was terrible, terrible! And we waited for hours. You know, when I eat something at a place like this that everyone is talking about, I want an orgasm in my mouth. And I didn’t have an orgasm in my mouth.”

Fair enough. So I asked him where he would recommend eating in Paris.

“Oh, I have no idea. I live in Seattle.”

Of course. Perfect proof that you don’t have to actually be Parisian to totally act like a stereotypical Parisian a**hole.

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Today we’re going to learn some curse words, thanks to our jerkface of a table mate. I’m not totally 100% on the translations, but here’s my vague understanding of their various vulgar meanings. Enjoy!

1. merde

Pronunciation: maird

Definition: You know this one! It’s shit.

2. boulot de merde

Pronunciation: boo-loh de maird

Definition: shitty/crappy job

3. connard

Pronunciation: cohn-ard

Definition: stupid bastard, idiot, mother F*er. Not to be confused with canard, which is a duck.

4. con

Pronunciation: just make a nasally awh sound after the hard c

Definition: stupid jerk, bloody idiot, a**hole

5. BONUS! I found this one while double checking my definitions and it seemed appropriate:

Il a peté les plombs!

Definition: He blew a gasket! Flipped out! Or literally, He farted lead!


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Cocottes and culottes.

It’s cold here in Paris. And I don’t think I’ve seen the sun in, oh, almost 3 weeks. I know I won’t garner much sympathy, what with a major blizzard slamming the midwest. And the fact that I am still in Paris. But it’s getting depressing around here! It’s endlessly gray and dismal, and they’ve taken down all the sparkling Christmas lights that made December somewhat bearable.

It’s the kind of weather that makes you want to hibernate, that pushes you into an unbreakable state of inertia. This past Saturday Husband and I slept unthinkably late, then rushed out to make the market before it closed. After an hour of fighting old ladies in the bread line, we returned with a full cart and promptly curled up on the couch for the remainder of the day.

Drastic measures were in order to break the winter spell. We needed dinner. We needed warmth. We needed comfortability. So we snagged some good friends and met at a little place in the 7th called Les Cocottes. It’s a bistro run by chef Christian Constant that specializes in…wait for it…food cooked in Staub cocottes. And if a sizzling cocotte full of French comfort food can’t cure the bleak doldrums of January, I don’t know what can.

It was absolutely packed, even at 7:30, which isn’t even dinner time in France. But a just few apéritifs later we had a cozy table and 4 adorable miniature cocottes in front of us. Mine was filled with the most unbelievable langoustine ravioli in a velvety pink broth, steaming with hearty goodness. Upon the first bite I felt moved to stand up on my chair shout to the world C’est comme un petit Jesus en culottes de velours!

Except that I’ve recently been informed that it’s not cool to say that anymore. Friends back home actually broke it out at Epcot Center France, and so impressed the staff that they were crowned King and Queen (still wondering if they meant figuratively or literally). Then the waitress promptly informed them zat nobody says zat anymore een Frrrench.

Ouch.

So I’ve been running around promoting the colloquial slang equivalent of “Groovy!” and “That’s the bee’s knees!” But you know what? I don’t care. It’s still hilarious. In English or French. So that Epcot waitress can stuff it in her velvet pantalones.

100 Funny Things.

This is officially my 100th post – Cue the fireworks and free bottles of champagne! Yaaaahoooooooweeeee!

(I’m totally ignoring the fact that this being only my 100th post in about a year means I really need to try harder to post more often. But who wants to rain on their own champagne infused parade? Let’s just consider it New Year’s Resolved.)

Looking back through all my anecdotes and diatribes has made me realize just how much we’ve all learned over the past year. You readers are so totally prepared for life in France now! You’ve got Paris covered, no sweat. Why? Because I’ve shared all there is to know about dog poo covered sidewalks and how to call someone a “nice beetch.” You know all about hoo-ha molds, danger bees, and of course, baby jesus in velvet pants. You have been well versed in the many merits of champagne and pain au raisins for breakfast. And the looming danger of butter brain.

And let’s not forget the informative pieces on pictogram ovens, boob vocabulary and most importantly, sharts.

There have been bike trips and toenail clippings, giant vats of chocolate mousse and master bites. There were lessons on pre-pubescent pickpockets and avoiding Sephora at all costs. I’ve given you the lowdown on castle dwelling in the Loire, excessive wine sipping in Bordeaux, and tan seeking on the Cote d’Azur. I’ve shared the critical details of proper Oktoberfest attire. And just for your sake, I’ve repeatedly tasted and reported on eating oysters, rabbit, rare steaks, pigs feet, kilos of pizza, duck fat fried anything, beignets, baguettes, croissants, pâté, fois gras, pork belly, and cheese. Lots and lots of runny, dead-body-smelling cheese.

After all that, I’d be shocked – SHOCKED! – if you felt you needed a real travel guide to France. Fodors and Lonely Planet? Pshaw. They’ll just recommend a bunch of touristy restaurants and point you straight toward hell on earth, otherwise known as the Louvre. Me? I’ll show you how to get nice and tipsy at the perfect picnic, then make an ass out of yourself trying to speak french to the locals.

So yes. You’re welcome.

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Update: I’m back, I’m no longer jet-lagged, and I’m ready to write. So we’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming starting next week!

Hidden Kitchen

I am not the first Paris blogger to write about Hidden Kitchen. Heck, the NY Times, Food and Wine Magazine and about 8 million other blogs beat me to the punch years ago. But I still feel it’s my duty to report back on what was one of the most awesome dinners I’ve had so far in Paris. In life. Ever.

Ok, some of that effusive HK love could be the 6 or so wine pairings plus one spectacular vodka/champagne/pomegranate cocktail talking (3 days later). But there really were so many things that made the evening exceptionally special. Let’s start with the premise: HK is a private supper club, founded by two fairly recent (I’m talking 3 years ago) college grads  when they moved to Paris. They thought hosting 10-course tasting menu dinners for 16 strangers would be a fun way to meet people.

Flash forward to now: Laura and Braden (hi! remember me? I want to be your intern!) are hosting guests at their beautiful Parisian apartment twice a week, and are currently booked through FEBRUARY. Oh, and because they just couldn’t possibly be any cooler, they consult on the side for places like Whole Foods and Williams-Sonoma (god I feel like a worthless old fart).

Not bad, huh? I would still be wallowing in jealousy and self hatred if it weren’t for the fact that I cannot get the tiny rabbit pot pies out of my head. Yes, a bite size, mustardy, shredded rabbit pot pie with a perfectly flaky crust. Or how about the crispy pork belly, dressed up with broccoli-cheddar potatoes inspired by Wendy’s? And please do not forget the fact that after an obscenely apt fall dessert of gingerbread and persimmon sherbet, we were presented with homemade Reeses peanut butter cups.

I think that’s about when I offered to help out, ANY TIME THEY NEEDED ME. Braden graciously laughed, I chuckled, and then looked him dead in the eye and said, No really, I’ll be here first thing Monday. Thankfully Husband swooped in and pushed me out the door before anyone could see the crazy in my eyes.

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Hidden Kitchen

Reservations: The good news? All you have to do is email. The bad news? There’s a looooong wait. But they apparently often get cancellations, so checking in with them can’t hurt. All the info you need is here.

Location: At Braden and Laura’s apartment. They keep the address secret until about a week before the dinner. That’s the “hidden” part.

What you’re in for: A welcome cocktail; 10 tasting-menu size courses, made with market fresh, seasonal ingredients; Wine pairings that you’ll struggle to keep up with because the conversation and food is so good; A table full of 15 other guests from all over the world. Oh, and this lovable little guy:

Grocery store hate.

After nearly a year of living here, I have quickly learned that France is a place of many contradictions. It’s a land where stunning beauty nearly knocks your socks off at every corner, but also where dog poo threatens at every turn. Where one can fathomably subsist on cheese, pastries and wine and still not gain a pound. Where people will not hesitate for one second to mount a fierce strike or protest against even the smallest infringement, but only if it doesn’t interfere with les vacances.

But I’ve found these contradictions in national character to be no more prominent than in the grocery store aisles. Where else in the world can you find more than 200 kinds of cheese and 20 varieties of cream, but not one single can of beans? No beans, people! Not dried, not canned, not anywhere to be found. Only lentils. Man do these people love their lentils. But any other bean? N’existe pas.

Now, I can fully understand when I go in search of Worcestershire sauce or instant oatmeal or canned pumpkin and come up empty handed. Those are weird American things. But beans? Aren’t they an international magical fruit? It’s ludicrous. And it just further confirms my love/hate relationship with the supermarché.

You see, I try to shop at the open air markets as much as possible. They’re wonderful. Spectacular. A regular cornucopia of fresh goods. But it also means you have to speak French to lots of different people, explaining what you want, when you want to eat it, how you were thinking of cooking it. And you have to plan really well, because the markets are only open certain days, for certain hours.

Sometimes you just want the old isolating American shopping experience, where you don’t have to interact with anyone and you can go at whatever time you want (well, almost). Other times you just really need toilet paper and diet coke, so a trip to the grocery store is a necessary evil.

I say evil because the grocery stores (in Paris at least) all seem to give off a communist Russia vibe. They smell bad. They’re not particularly well stocked. The isles are cramped and full of old ladies who won’t hesitate to run over your toes to get the last jug of milk. They haven’t yet caught on to the idea that if you make the food look nicer, people will want to buy more of it. And in mine, if you want to buy toilet paper, you have to go up three floors from the food level, where it’s stashed in between children’s toys and office supplies.

Many an afternoon I stumble across the most perfect sounding recipe ever, only to find out that the MonoPrix is out of flour and cannellini beans are considered an exotic legume. It’s super frustrating, and further supports my theory that the French government is secretly giving everyone crappy ovens and smelly grocery stores to bolster the restaurant industry. Which, now that I think of it, is pretty brilliant. And totally fine by me.

I don’t know what this is.

But I’m pretty sure I want absolutely nothing to do with it.

I was too afraid to cross the street and get a closer look, especially since I had flakes of pastry crust clinging to my sweater. But I’m going to go ahead and guess that the menu looks something like this:

Entrées:

  • Hot water with lemon
  • Spritz of Chanel #5

Plats:

  • Louis Vuitton Lean Cuisines
  • Coffee
  • Cigarettes (unlimited)

Desserts:

  • Coke (not the kind you drink)
  • Enemas
  • More cigarettes

Bon appétit!

Master bite.

Yesterday I think Husband and I had what could be considered the best lunch of all time at Le Comptoir du Relais. For starters, it was a Monday. Thank you Mr. Columbus for getting yourself a national holiday celebrated by U.S. government workers around the world!

On top of that, it was the most gorgeous fall day here, one with that electric blue sky and special sunlight that gives everything a golden glow. Which, let me tell you, is all the more enjoyable when viewed from a cozy café table set with a meal that looks like this:

Yes, that was my lunch. Well, part of it, anyway – because before I engaged in a love affair with that belle pièce de boeuf, I dallied with a warm bowl of bisque de homard and a nice glass of rosé. It was lobster soup like I’ve never experienced before, velvety smooth yet somehow still light; intensely lobster-flavored without one single chunk of lobster meat. And at the bottom? Something that I can only describe as lobster tapioca balls, which you wouldn’t even know were there unless you really dug down to the bottom. Like a reward for scraping your bowl clean!

But back to the boeuf – a supremely cooked piece of steak, bathed in an earthy mushroom sauce. Perfect on its own, but raised to a level of ungodly pleasure when dabbed with a bit of tangy-sweet champagne mustard. And it was this combination, my friends, that I deemed the Master Bite.

You heard me. The Master Bite. The most perfect combination of ingredients, balanced in harmonious wonder at the end of your fork. And it doesn’t just happen, people. One must take great care to ensure that every bite reaches its fullest taste potential. That means a forkful here and there of just mushrooms or just beef is fine, but only if it’s part of a larger inquiry into the best taste ratios when eaten together.

The Master Bite doesn’t just apply to fancy french food, either. I use it regularly when hunting and pecking for the fully fluffed piece of popcorn, enrobed in salty butter but not drenched. Or searching for the ever-elusive crispy-but-not crunchy french fry. And let’s not forget the daunting task of balancing the icing-to-cake ratio in an oversize cupcake (which should have rich, creamy, not-too-sweet icing and dense, moist cake).

Obsessive? Sure. But why waste valuable stomach space on a less than worthy morsel of food?

I am such a firm believer in optimized food enjoyment that I’ve been known to spy a Master Bite across the table on Husband’s plate, and, unable to resist its siren call, go in for the kill. That’s usually about when I get stabbed in the hand with his fork. Which brings up a very important tenet in the religion of extraordinary eating: Thou shalt not steal thy partner’s Master Bite.

Unless he’s not looking.