February 2014 Newsletter I got two Valentine's Day gifts this year. Valentine's Day isn't really celebrated in France all that much. Mostly it gives

       
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February 2014 Newsletter

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I got two Valentine's Day gifts this year. Valentine's Day isn't really celebrated in France all that much. Mostly it gives the chocolatiers an excuse to flex their talents, like the annual parade of bûches de Noëls that we see before Christmas. And to some extent, the galettes des rois for the Epiphany, which comes after.

I was surprised to be the recipient of a modest-looking chocolate heart, which could be easily broken (zut!), each side being filled with hazelnut praline. It was a gift from Nicolas Berger, the talented chocolatier at La Manufacture de Chocolat and I can't wait for the 14th of February to break it in half and enjoy it. By myself...if I could. But I suspect I'll be a nice guy and share.

My Paris Kitchen-7

Another gift that I couldn't wait to open – but I did – was an advance-copy of my upcoming book, My Paris Kitchen. I spent two years working on it, and to hold it in my hands was pretty exciting. The book is a highly personal look at Paris cooking, with recipes from my kitchen. There are stories (and lots and lots of pictures from photographer Ed Anderson) about markets, restaurants, chocolate shops, and even some of the quirky characters that make Paris such a special city and culinary mecca for people around the world.

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Writing a book is quite a process and My Paris Kitchen explains, and shows, how I cook at home and what I like to eat when I'm out-and-about. There are over 100 sweet and savory recipes, some that encompass the multiculturalism of Paris, others the result of visits from French friends who are great cooks, who wanted to share family recipes.

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And because I couldn't help it, there are lots of chocolate recipes in the dessert chapter, ending with my most requested recipe ever. (Spoiler Alert: It's the last one in the book.) My Paris Kitchen will be released in April and is now available for pre-order from your local bookseller, or online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Indiebound.

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I could probably call this newsletter "The Restaurant Issue" since I'm listing a few places that I've been angling to mention, and rather than share them on my site, I'm sharing them here. It's no secret that I love wine bars and recommend them to visitors since you can sample different wines, enjoy contemporary French food where the vibe is more relaxed than at a restaurant. The casual style of eating means an all-around better experience and one week last month, I realized that I had eaten four meals in a row in wine bars.

The downside is that wine bars can be crowded, especially on weekends, when Parisians tend to go out in droves. So if you want a seat, or even a place at the bar, try to hit them in the early evening; if you can get there before 8pm, so much the better. Or if you get there before I do, save me a seat! - dl

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February Paris Book Event

The Sweet Life in Paris (hi res)

I'll be doing a book signing as part of the Jumble Sale organized in Paris by The House That Jack Built. The event will take place Sunday, February 16th at Le Mary Celeste (1, rue Commines, 3rd) and I'll be there from Noon to 3pm (the sale goes on the rest of the day.)

There will be copies of The Perfect Scoop on sale for a special price, as well as a limited number of copies of The Sweet Life in Paris and Ready for Dessert. You're welcome to bring previously purchased copies of books for me to sign, and I hope to see you then.

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US Book Tour This Spring

My paris kitchen

My super-duper publisher is planning book signings and appearances this spring in the US. And while I'm eager to see where they will be sending me (I'm putting them in charge of it because the last two times I planned trips, the itineraries got screwed up). So far, we've confirmed some appearances at Central Market in Texas. Keep an eye on my Schedule page as my publisher adds more events for the spring and I'll post them there as they are added.

(Unfortunately I'm unable to go everywhere because there is just one of me...unless there's someone out there that my parents didn't tell me about. I'd love to meet everyone but logistics, budget, and my publisher's tolerance for dealing with me on a long-term basis, are dictating the itinerary. If I am not coming to you on the road, come see me!)

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Three Favorite Paris Wine Bars

la Buvette

I've been taken by La Buvette (76, rue Saint-Maur), a slip of a wine bar that features a few small plates and a changing list of wines. There are only three or four tables, so most folks pull up to the bar and are served by Camille, the knowledgeable owner, who will guide you toward some interesting wines. Bottles are available togo and on one visit I ran into the chef/owner of a very well-known restaurant in Paris. When I asked him why he didn't pull out some wines from his own cellar, he said, "I like to try something new to me."

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Just down the street - with a completely different vibe - is Au Nouveau Nez, which features natural wines and has a few tables so that you can sit and have a cheese or charcuterie platter, which might feature blood sausage or a fat-rich terrine, which was delicious. There were also two marinated fish items on the blackboard and the gentleman at the next table looked happy with his duck confit and crushed potatoes.

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This is a nice little spot, marred a bit by the music that reminded us of – well, let's just say, a different era. (One better left an era back...) And the tables are set up around the center of the shop, so I wouldn't call it hyper-cozy. Still, if I was in the area or wanted to taste some interesting natural wines with a very friendly clerk (who is bi-lingual), it's a sweet place to stop in for a bite.

Savoie wine

On a recent Tuesday night, I was surprised to find La Cave de l'Insolite packed. The two friendly brothers who own the place, Arnaud and Axel, were skirting around the wine bar, pouring wine and bringing out plates of food from the changing menu, scribbled on a blackboard brought to your table. We were mostly there this time for drinks and stuck with a satisfying white from the Savoie (although when they brought us some interesting white wine from the Jura to taste afterward, I vowed to go back and pick up a few bottles of that.)

We had thin bits of ham with tiny pickled chiles, an excellent terrine of foie gras with a salad and pickled fennel and radishes, and a plate of farmhouse cheeses, which were the perfect nibbles. It's a good place in a neighborhood more known for places struggling to be trendy and hip, rather than good and it's nice to see young talent doing such a good job with such little pretense. And I have to say, they have the best bathroom in Paris. When you shut the door, you realize you're in a ‘70s disco. It's pretty great.

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Paris Restaurant Notes

We had double reserved at Bistrot Bellet (84, rue du Faubourg-Saint Denis) by accident, so my friends called to cancel their reservation since we only needed one table for the four of us. (Which I thought that was the right thing to do?) But when we were told as we sat down, "You have 5 minutes to decide what you want," I couldn't tell if the host was trying to make a joke, or what. So I scanned the menu quickly to make my decision.

My very generous platter of house-smoked salmon, which came with a salad and herb cream, was just fine, although needed seasoning – mostly in the form of salt. My other half had the moules Bouchot which he said weren't flavorful (he also said that mine were better, which you could probably take as a subjective opinion), and a friend at the table had a lovely roasted chicken consommé with pristine winter vegetables.

bistot bellet

For my main course I had the cod with cauliflower roasted à cru (raw) – which confused me (roasted and raw?). The ingredients were top-notch and technically it was fine, but the fish wasn't seasoned either; it was a piece of sautéed fish on a bed of cauliflower. My friend has a steak that he polished off and said was just fine.

For dessert, I went with the crème renversée (flan), which was sort of okay. One friend had the ganache tender au chocolat amer, sauce caramel, which was a ball of dense chocolate mousse in an superb caramel sauce. My other half said that his red wine-poached pear wasn't ripe and was hard, lacking in flavor. It was served with a terrific, tangy sorbet of fromage blanc, and a cookie that was made with nuts that didn't taste right.

When the waiter came to collect our plates and noticed that we didn't finish, he asked if we liked the food. Trying to be polite, we hemmed and hawed, but that half-eaten pear wasn't moving, kiddos. He said that everyone else liked the food and that it was a celebrated restaurant, and left. Having cooked in restaurants all my life, if I had served a cookie that a customer said had off-tasting nuts in it, I would have gone into the kitchen and tasted one to see if they were right. Because I would certainly like to know. (Restaurants/people/cooks goof up and there is always the possibility when you're using a bunch of nuts there may be a bad fella in the lot. It's not the end of the world. If they're right, apologize, and bring them something else.) Others have told me they've had great meals here so perhaps I should give it another chance.

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I don't know why, but I hadn't been to Bones, which just celebrated its one year anniversary. A chef/friend was in town from Sydney (the chef at Bones, James Henry, is Australian as well) and since she was staying nearby, we decide to meet up for dinner.

The servers were just wonderful; friendly and knowledgeable. And from my first encounter with a staff member working the bar when I was waiting for her to arrive, I knew I was in good hands. Once seated, our raw sea bass with pickled cucumbers and shaved house-made bottarga was delicious. Next up, strips of veal, which could have used a bit of salt, took a backstage to a marvelous panache of vegetables that were the star of the plate. Main courses were lamb heart with pointed cabbage and kale pesto, and the best, most succulent magret de canard I've had in a long time, tasting richly of duck (the breasts are from the same birds that produce foie gras.)

The wine server (it feels too lofty to say "sommelier" in the place like this) pointed us toward different wines from the huge selection of wines by the glass, offering us tastes and even opening a few bottles to expand our by-the-glass options. ("Don't worry" he said, "We'll sell the rest.") Dinner is currently €49 for a set menu, but while I was waiting for my dining companion, I noticed all the small plates available at the bar – from oysters and house-made charcuterie to aged côte de boeuf, all served with bread made in the restaurant. So we went back the following week and had a marvelous time at the bar. It's rare to get aged meat in Paris and the enormous platter of meat with polenta and salad were worth returning for--as was the wine and upbeat service provided by the engaging staff. Note that Bones gets packed, so if you go and want to sit at the bar, get there early. Reservations for first seating only, second seating is first come, first serve.

pavlova

Folks come to Paris armed with lists of places that they want to visit. And, unfortunately, they all have the same list. Meaning that everyone is trying to get into the same places, and most have only around a dozen tables, more or less. Yam'Tcha is at the top of many people's list, due to the outstanding food by Adeline Grattard that is available with a wine or tea-pairing. I was really lucky that a friend I ran into at a wine bar earlier in the month asked me if I could use his reservation, since he couldn't make it. Um.. yes!

Because we were all reeling from a little too much vin in December, our little group went with the tea pairing, which used to seem complicated to me, with lots of little cups and teapots coming and going from the table. But now that I know what to expect, it's interesting tasting all the different teas. And you don't leave feeling like you need a major sieste after the meal. (Unlike when you do a wine pairing.)

We started with a lovely, delicate amuse of noodles with crab, then went on to a striking bowl containing a perfect prawn and scallop with bergamot (sweet lemon) sauce. A seared cube of foie gras was excellent, layered over strips of sea urchin - although I wasn't so sure about the thin strands of fuzzy seaweed underneath. Crisp pork belly as good as you'll have, but at the relatively lofty prices here, it's something you can get elsewhere. And yes, there was foam.

Everyone else at the table finished off the steamed buns filled with amarena cherry and Stilton, but I found the cheesy filling, which oozed yellow butterfat, to be overwhelming after a meal composed of such delicate flavors. Dessert was a scoop of vanilla ice cream in a citrus nage and a riff on Pavlova, a neat rectangle of fluffy egg whites with a tiny dice of Victoria pineapple, passion fruit, and a thin sheet of crisp meringue. The meal was interesting but at €100 per person (not including the tea pairing), it's definitely a splurge. On weekdays there is a less expensive option (€60pp) which is worth going for – if you can manage to snag a coveted reservation.

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Places On the Web Where You'll Find Me

Check out my recipe for Salted Caramel Cream Puffs with Chocolate Sauce in Food+Wine magazine and at their website.

A short piece on the new-wave of éclair shops in Paris.

I give some inside scoops on Paris to The Sunday Times of London. (Subscription required to read full article.)

I loved chatting with Blogher about blogging, life, and other relevant topics.

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New Paris Cocktail Pop-Up

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I was invited to a preview of Chamber Paris, a membership club for cocktail enthusiasts and it was great fun to connect with old friends and make some new ones at the fabulous soirée. I hadn't had a gin & tonic in aged..and man, did I need it!..and we tasted other cocktails made with everything from elderflowers to ...um.. I forgot after the third one! Thank goodness for taxis.

Future events will be small and intimate, at a special (and secret) swanky location in Paris, and cocktail experts will be on hand to mingle and chat while you sip drinks and nibble on snacks.

To kick things off, they're offering free trial memberships for three months. So if you live in Paris, or are planning a visit, you might want to check them out! (Visitors passing through can get a one-time membership.)

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New Camera - yikes!

I finally ponyed up for a new camera, a Canon 70D which I bought myself for my birthday about a month ago. (I kept waiting for one to arrive and since it didn't, I had to take it upon myself.) So in addition to tackling the task of trying to learn Lightroom for cataloging and editing my shots, I gotta figure out what all those little black dials mean. To ensure I have no free time until 2016, I also have 60,000 pictures from the last fifteen years stored n'importe quoi (aka: whatever/wherever). It's been fun playing with it; it has a touchscreen, (so I don't have to deal with so many tiny dials), I can shoot pictures in even lower light, and it has WiFi, so I can take nicer pictures and upload them to Instagram.

The upside of all of this is that I am finally getting (or try to get) organized. The downside is that explosion that you've heard 30,000 miles away, is my head exploding. Thanks to a few photographer friends, I'm slowly getting the hang of things. I've been writing another post about food photography, but it came off as dorky. So I've updated my Food Photography post and there's more info in there.

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Favorite Posts from January

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I learned to love Boudin noir.
Time to Pay! highlights Franco-American differences in how we pay for things.
White chocolate and lemon come together in a fabulous (and simple) White Chocolate Cake with Lemon Glaze recipe.
En Vrac wine bar in Paris offers bring-yer-own bottle of wine, to-go.
A delicious, buttery almond-filled Galette des rois recipe.

Whew! That's it for this month.

Happy Valentine's Day!

David

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