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Strasbourg, Champagne, and Paris...


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#1 Megan Blocker

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Posted 24 October 2006 - 04:44 PM

Over in the the Elsewhere in Europe forum, I've been chronicling the beginning of my recent two-week jaunt to Europe - five days in Prague! In this topic, I'll be posting about my time in France - three days in Strasbourg, three in Champagne, and four in Paris. We start with the 12-hour train ride from Prague to Strasbourg...

We left Prague around 9 AM, and were first on a train from Prague to Munich. The train was relatively empty, and we managed to snag a compartment for ourselves for the majority of the trip. The food cart came by once in the Czech Republic, and once more after we crossed the border into Germany. On the first go-round, we bought a seltzer water and a hot chocolate. Even the hot chocolate made from powder is EXCELLENT in the Czech Republic. Here's a shot of Louisa in our compartment. We rather fancied ourselves as riding the Hogwarts Express, in shades of grey.

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By the time we got to Munich around 3 PM, we were absolutely starving. We found an ATM (had to stock up on Euros) and snagged ourselves a doner kebab sandwich, topped with tzatziki and some pepper flakes.

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The sandwiches were like manna from heaven to the two of us - we hadn't been hungry in four days, and we weren't pleased with the feeling. Funny story about the sandwiches - the guy who sold them to us offered Louisa his phone number along with the sandwich...she told him she was married, but this didn't deter him.

"Are you Canadian?" he asked hopefully.

"No, American."

"Oh. Huh." And a look of disgust. It was pretty hilarious.

We got back on the train, this time without compartments, just rows, found our seats, and settled in for another five hours of train time. We really enjoyed the views of Germany that we glimpsed from the window - especially a tiny town nestled in the hills that we descended toward ever so slowly, and Ulm, where we had a great view of the Ulm Munster, the tallest church in the world. (Notre Dame de Strasbourg, which you'll see in a bit, used to claim the title, but is now the fourth-tallest.)

On the way, we sampled the candy we picked up in the Munich Hauptbahnhof...some of the fruitiest, loveliest sour patch kids ever, some great gummy cherries, and a few other bits and pieces, the most unusual of which we photographed...

These were sour and sweet, and dissolved into nothing in the mouth.

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This guy tasted like caramel marzipan...

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And, finally - a dried apple covered in chocolate. Rubbery and kinda icky, frankly.

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We finally rolled into Strasbourg at 9 PM, and promptly grabbed a cab from the Gare Centrale to our hotel, Hotel Cathedrale, which was (literally) right across from the Cathedral's western facade and main entrance. The view from our room, taken at sunset...

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That street running off down the left of the cathedral, toward the two-spired church in the distance, is rue des Freres, which is where we had dinner our first night. Invigorated by the cool, crisp Strasbourgeois air, the gorgeous architecture, and the fact that we could speak the language, we dumped our bags in our adorable room and headed out to Flam's, a restaurant devoted to the tarte flambee, one of Alsace's specialties. It's a pizza-like tart, with a really thin crust, cooked in a wood-burning oven and topped, in its most traditional form, with creme fraiche, lardons, and onions.

Flam's was crowded and really warm, full mostly of students having a cheap, late, loud dinner - it's part of a chain of restaurants, and had the requisite menus with pictures on, but the food and wine were good, and our waitress was adorable. We both started with a salad, but were mostly psyched about the main event. Well, and the wine, too. We started with a pichet of Riesling, then switched to Pinot Noir with our tarte, which was half traditionelle, half champignons fraiches (just traditional with mushrooms added).

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The tart was delicious - crispy, but just bendy enough in the places where the creme fraiche had soaked in. The lardons were salty and smokey, and the onions had just a little bite. We both really liked it, and left feeling very positive about the virtues of Alsatian cooking.

After dinner, we headed to a bar on rue des Freres - we'd spotted it on the way over to the restaurant. It's called Les Gayots, named for the courtyard onto which its back entrance opens. Since Strasbourg is a university town, we were a little nervous that it would be overrun with students. The students make themselves known, for sure, but this bar was a little older (skewed to the 25-50 demo), and was great fun. We sat at the bar and had some muscat, and were chided by a delightful guy (French, but went to UT Austin for university) for not ordering the Gewurtztraminer, which he claimed was "the best grape you can get." He was the first person we'd spoken with since we arrived, and he gave the city a ringing endorsement - something that turned out to be quite prophetic, given the excellent time we had over the following three days.

Edited by Megan Blocker, 24 October 2006 - 06:06 PM.

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

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#2 Megan Blocker

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Posted 24 October 2006 - 06:01 PM

Reason #1 to love Strasbourg: You can stumble on a fabulous bar like Les Gayots with absolutely no effort whatsoever.

Reason #2 to love Strasbourg: The cathedral - get this - is pink! Pink!!!

The architecture in Strasbourg is really neat - a lot of the gothic and Renaissance architecture in other parts of Northern France fell victim in WWI and WWII to German bombs, but was spared in Strasbourg, due to the city's strategic and symbolic location - the Germans considered Strasbourg German, and the Allies considered its inhabitants French. It's an incredibly international city - its name means "town of the roads," and it's been a major center of trade and travel since the Romans founded the first settlement there - called Argentoratum - in 12 B.C.

The city is now home to one of the locations of the European Parliament, and is the seat of the EU Court of Human Rights. Its university has 50,000 students, which, in a city of under 300,000, gives the place a wonderfully young and intellectual flavor. For such a small city, it feels incredibly cosmopolitan and diverse - it made me think of all the great things New York is on its good days (not that any place could EVER replace New York in my heart). (As you can probably tell, I really fell in love with Strasbourg.)

The city is centered on an island in the River Ill called la Grande Ile - the Cathedral is toward the southern end of the island. In addition to the river, the city is full of canals, a dam, and various locks that move you from the upper to the lower level of the Ill (something we got to experience when we did the ultra-touristy, fabulously named Batorama trip around the city). It's an incredibly walkable city - flat, small, and full of pedestrian areas. The locals favor bikes and the tram system, which is quiet and efficient, and almost all windows - it feels like riding a people mover down the center of the street.

On our first morning in Strasbourg, we got up at a relatively decent hour and stopped in at the hotel's breakfast buffet, which was more than serviceable (except for the constantly empty coffee urn). We then went to check out the inside of the cathedral...like Prague, Strasbourg has an astrological clock and some great gargoyles.

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After the oh-so-grueling tour of the cathedral, it was time for some more caffeine. We hit Cafe Montmarte on rue du Marche-des-vieux-Poissons for a cafe au lait. You know how we've put ads on the inside of bathroom stall doors here in NY? In France, they now put ads underneath the glass tabletops at cafes!

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We walked out to explore Petite France, the medieval tanners' district to the west of the Grande Ile. It's an adorable area, full of half-timbered houses that have survived since the 14th century. It's also very popular with the tourists, though it was far from crowded during the weekdays.

We decided to have lunch at a little vinstub (wine bar/pub type place) called Au Pont Saint Martin. It was time to sample two more Alsatian classics: baeckeoffe and choucroute garnie.

To drink, we had a half-bottle of Gewurtztraminer.

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Baeckeoffe is a casserole of sorts, a dish of beef, potatoes, onions, carrots, broth, wine, and pig's feet. It's baked for hours and served with a green salad in a mustardy vinaigrette. Of all the traditional Alsatian things we sampled in Strasbourg, this was my favorite. Brothy, fragrant, and rich, it goes so well with the Alsatian wines and with the salad...

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Louisa ordered the baeckeoffe that first day, and I ordered the choucroute garnie - "garnished sauerkraut." Kraut cooked in riesling, served with sausages, smoked meat, and boiled potatoes. I really enjoyed it - some of the sausages were really good - sadly, I don't know their names - but it just didn't entrance me the way the baeckeoffe did.

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That afternoon, after stopping back in at the hotel to pick up pens and notebooks and drop off packages, we went down to a salon de the we'd spotted earlier in the day. It's called Christian, and on one of our later walks around the city, we noticed that there seemed to be another location. We ate outside, with this view of the cathedral...

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Louisa managed to resist temptation, and only ordered tea. WIMP! I went for a chocolate eclair, and it turned out to be pretty much the best eclair ever. The pastry cream was devestatingly chocolatey - how do you suppose they did that? And the glaze was just sweet enough to cut through the richness of the cream...oooh, boy. C'etait incroyable.

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Some of the offerings inside Christian's boutique...

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After Christian, we went home for a quick rest and to get dressed for dinner...

Edited by Megan Blocker, 25 October 2006 - 05:02 AM.

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

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#3 rooftop1000

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Posted 24 October 2006 - 06:17 PM

Why would anyone even consider resisting a pastry on vacation in France????



36 days till I leave for Paris


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Edited by rooftop1000, 24 October 2006 - 06:18 PM.

The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers
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#4 Megan Blocker

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Posted 24 October 2006 - 06:20 PM

Why would anyone even consider resisting a pastry on vacation in France????



36 days till I leave for Paris


Tracey

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Misguided sense of responsibility to dinner? I'm not sure, but I've never been afraid to take one for the team. :wink:

Ooooh, I'm so excited for you!!!
"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

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#5 Megan Blocker

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Posted 24 October 2006 - 06:22 PM

I should also note - when I gave her a few bites of the eclair, Louisa said, "Wow. You must really love me." True friendship is sharing the best effing eclair on the planet.
"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

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#6 Pontormo

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Posted 24 October 2006 - 07:13 PM

It's wonderful to see how much hot chocolate you drank with whipped cream in Prague, Megan!

Now, did you check out the portal on the cathedral in Stasbourg that I suggested you look out for? The detail I wanted you to discover is VERY culinary...
"Viciousness in the kitchen.
The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

#7 Megan Blocker

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Posted 24 October 2006 - 07:20 PM

It's wonderful to see how much hot chocolate you drank with whipped cream in Prague, Megan!

Now, did you check out the portal on the cathedral in Stasbourg that I suggested you look out for?  The detail I wanted you to discover is VERY culinary...

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More hot chocolate than should be legal, really.

I DID! I saw the foolish virgins, the man with the apple, the whole deal...but I couldn't make out what was behind him (L'ouevre de Notre Dame continue, madame, et il y a beaucoup de barrieres.)! Tell me, tell me! :wink:
"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

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#8 Pontormo

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Posted 25 October 2006 - 07:06 AM

Now, did you check out the portal on the cathedral in Stasbourg that I suggested you look out for? 

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I DID! I saw the foolish virgins, the man with the apple, the whole deal...but I couldn't make out what was behind him (L'ouevre de Notre Dame continue, madame, et il y a beaucoup de barrieres.)! Tell me, tell me! :wink:

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Well, there may be a better photograph on the Web, but the third image here is a large detail of the
jamb figures of south portal that represents the Bridegroom leading the Wise Virgins with their prepared lamps to the (ultimate) wedding feast on the right side of the door (not shown) and on the left, the Seducer holding out a luscious, crisp fall apple to a row of Foolish Virgins who are so caught up with the Things of the World that they neglect to tend their lamps and do not hear the call.

It's hardly noticeable, but you can see some squirmy bumps beneath the straight folds of the king's courtly garments. They are toads and snakes who are intent on eating his rotting flesh until there is nothing left but bone. Very Halloweenish, no?

The moral, of course, is that this young, charming, richly attired man may flirt and offer delicious treats, but he, like you, shall one day be rotting corpse, food for worms. So, heed not the pot of hot chocolate that calls out your name. Light your lamp. :raz:
"Viciousness in the kitchen.
The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

#9 Megan Blocker

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Posted 25 October 2006 - 07:31 AM

The moral, of course, is that this young, charming, richly attired man may flirt and offer delicious treats, but he, like you, shall one day be rotting corpse, food for worms.  So, heed not the pot of hot chocolate that calls out your name.  Light your lamp. :raz:

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But it calls my name so well! :wink: And he makes some mighty fine hot chocolate...

Interestingly enough, Strasbourg was the only place where I met a truly charming man. :biggrin:
"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

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#10 bleudauvergne

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Posted 25 October 2006 - 11:59 AM

Absolutely gorgeous trip report, Megan.

#11 ludja

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Posted 25 October 2006 - 12:14 PM

I should also note - when I gave her a few bites of the eclair, Louisa said, "Wow.  You must really love me."  True friendship is sharing the best effing eclair on the planet.

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That eclair does look great... :smile: After hearing a friend's description of his time in Strasbourg I 've always wanted to go; your report reinforces this desire! Tarte flambee...

Edited by ludja, 25 October 2006 - 12:14 PM.

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"


#12 Megan Blocker

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Posted 25 October 2006 - 02:44 PM

I should also note - when I gave her a few bites of the eclair, Louisa said, "Wow.  You must really love me."  True friendship is sharing the best effing eclair on the planet.

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That eclair does look great... :smile: After hearing a friend's description of his time in Strasbourg I 've always wanted to go; your report reinforces this desire! Tarte flambee...

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Ludja, you really must go! I've become a one-woman tourism office for the city of Strasbourg. I've already convinced a colleague - she's going for a long weekend in November. I think I may try to go back next spring, if not earlier.

My connection to Strasbourg really took me by surprise - it's pretty much the only place besides New York to which I've felt I could move with no misgivings. I really think I could live there. Which is an interesting point - it's not the most exciting city I've ever visited, but it has a lot of really positive energy, and just made me feel happy at every turn.

Edited by Megan Blocker, 25 October 2006 - 03:44 PM.

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

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#13 docsconz

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Posted 25 October 2006 - 03:22 PM

Great reports, Megan! I am very much looking forward to the rest. My experience and knowledge of prague is minimal to say the least. I am a bit better acquainted with the offerings of Strasbourg though I have never been. It is fun visiting and tasting through your experience.
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#14 Shaya

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Posted 25 October 2006 - 04:41 PM

I should also note - when I gave her a few bites of the eclair, Louisa said, "Wow.  You must really love me."  True friendship is sharing the best effing eclair on the planet.

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I don't. Share. My eclairs. Whenever we go to back to Montreal to visit my family, I always stop at my favorite patisserie and stock the fridge with 2 or 3 eclairs. For my own consumption. Somehow everyone knows this. Except for my brother in law. I really had to hold my tongue one night when he took the last one, ate it all in front of me, then asked, "Oh, were you saving this?"

I also had that wonderful tarte flambee when I was in Lyon a few years ago. It took me completely by surprise when I received it, as I was expecting more of a traditional pizza. But man, was it great. I have been collecting recipes for it ever since, and am trying to work up the courage to cook with all that creme fraiche.

Once again, you have captivated me with your photos. I have not been to this part of France, but something tells me that must soon be rectified!

#15 Lori in PA

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Posted 25 October 2006 - 05:40 PM

Oh, Megan, this is an appealing city! The Husband would love it -- France, germanified.
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#16 Megan Blocker

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Posted 25 October 2006 - 07:06 PM

Oh, Megan, this is an appealing city! The Husband would love it -- France, germanified.

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Exactly - the best of both worlds, really. Just orderly enough for this anal retentive New Yorker, with enough French laissez faire and style to make it wonderful.

Dinner on our second night in Strasbourg was absolutely, totally and completely one of the best meals of our trip. It cemented Strasbourg in my affections forever, and I have some really terrible news: I did not bring my camera along that night. I carried my little clutch, and had no room for it - I didn't expect what we got!

Late that afternoon, after lunch but before Christian, we took a walk and happened to turn down a little street called rue des Sangliers, which cuts from Place Kleber, the commerical center of the Grande Ile, to la Place de la Cathedrale, where our hotel was located. We passed the most adorable little vinstub, called Chez Yvonne. We were both complete enchanted with what we could see through the windows - it looked a bit more old-fashioned, and more restaurant-y than pubby, than some of the places we'd eaten thus far. The name sounded familiar to me, so when we got back to the room, I checked my eG printouts (oh, yeah, they came all over Europe with me, baby), and found this:

For typical winstub experience :
the famous (and fairly good)
Chez Yvonne, 10 rue du Sanglier, near the cathedral.

Or (better food IMHO):
S'munsterstuewel, 8 place du marche au cochon de lait (200 m from the cathedral,
towards the river). The "wadele" there is fantastic.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but we decided to go through with eating there in any case. And, boy, am I glad we did.

I have to admit, I do not have clear recollections of everything Louisa ate, and I can't remember the name of the bottle of Riesling we shared, but I'll do my best.

We arrived at Chez Yvonne around 8:30, and were seated in the upstairs salon. To our right were a pair of men who were on their first courses when we arrived and who lingered over their cafes until after we left two and half hours later. The hostess brought us the menu, wine list, and the specials, which were outlined on a chalkboard and propped up on the table to our left (A table later occupied by a delightful couple from Bucks County, of all places - we had lots of Pennsylvania stories to share, since Louisa and I met at Bryn Mawr.).

Louisa decided on the fig and goat cheese tart with a green salad, and for her main, the quenelles de foie with sauteed potatoes and - wait for it - yet another green salad. The menu went into absolute raptures about those potatoes - where they were grown, how they were harvested, and so on. I started with a special - foie gras poele. My French isn't too bad, but my food vocabulary, oddly enough, is sadly lacking, so I wasn't quite sure what poele (with a circumflex over the first e and an accent agu over the last - I've never been able to figure out accents on my American computer, sorry!) meant. But foie gras is good in any form, so I felt quite safe. For my main, I chose the poussin braised in muscat, which came with spaetzle.

Our entrees arrived, and I discovered, to my delight, that poele means seared! (I looked it up when I got home, and discovered that the noun, poele, means skillet.) There were two lobes, each with an incredibly thick, crispy, seared crust, drizzled with a caramel sauce, sprinkled with fleur de sel, and accompanied by a few luscious, dark grapes.

This was the best foie gras I have ever had in my life - the crust was thicker than I've had, but in a good way, and the interior was like liquid held together by some kind of alchemy, a lusciousness that contrasted with the crust and blended with the slightly bitter caramel. Apparently, the faces I made as I ate it were a sight to see - and I wasn't alone. Louisa tasted it (again, I am a VERY good friend), and we agreed that it was the absolute Platonic ideal of foie gras.

The fig and goat cheese tart was also fantastic - rich and earthy, with gorgeous figs and a delicious green salad with mustardy vinaigrette alongside it. The tart went really well with the Riesling, as did the foie gras.

Our mains were similarly excellent. Louisa's quenelles were...um...unphotogenic, to say the least. Slightly pink, they came to the table dressed in a creamy sauce, with a green salad on the side and a Staub skillet of the famous potatoes placed in the center of the table. One bite, though, and you got right over the quenelles' appearance. They were rich, tender, and so full of creamy flavors that it almost tasted like eating butter, but better.

And the potatoes? It's not often that you encounter two Platonic ideals in one sitting, but I think we managed to do so. Never before have I had a potato that tasted so much like a potato - and I've eaten lots of potatoes, some right out of the ground.

Finally, my chicken. Small, delicate, and perfect, it arrived at the table in the middle of a large plate, sitting in a shallow pool of dark brown sauce. I couldn't resist - I reached out and dipped just the tip of my finger in the sauce and tasted it - it tasted like essence of chicken, like concentrated chicken-ness. The skin wasn't crispy, but it wasn't soggy, either. It was like slightly wet gold, full of flavor and with a darker taste than the chicken itself. The chicken was tender and juicy, and even the spaetzle were good, pan-fried rather than boiled, and tossed with herbs and butter.

After devouring my foie and my chicken, I couldn't face dessert, but I ordered a coffee. Louisa ordered lemon sorbet drowned in lemon eau de vie, which was delicious and very, very strong.

After dinner, we headed to Les Gayots for a few drinks. I'm sorry to report that whatever champagne they have by the glass is kind of icky, but happy to tell you that all you need to do to get chatted up by two Brits is be the only two English-speakers in the bar. :wink:

We stumbled home, four drinks later, tottering the whole three blocks to the hotel to gulp down water and air out our smoke-filled scarves. Walking home tipsy, something I generally associate with Second Avenue and the need to avoid frat boys shouting into their cell phones in front of my building, is an experience made infinitely better by the towering shadow of that cathedral.

Edited by Megan Blocker, 26 October 2006 - 06:18 AM.

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

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#17 Megan Blocker

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Posted 25 October 2006 - 07:17 PM

I don't.  Share.  My eclairs.  Whenever we go to back to Montreal to visit my family, I always stop at my favorite patisserie and stock the fridge with 2 or 3 eclairs.  For my own consumption.  Somehow everyone knows this.  Except for my brother in law.  I really had to hold my tongue one night when he took the last one, ate it all in front of me, then asked, "Oh, were you saving this?"

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Oh, my - that is one of the funniest stories I've heard in a long time. I can just picture the look on your face...why do people do things like that?!?!?

Once again, you have captivated me with your photos. I have not been to this part of France, but something tells me that must soon be rectified!

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Oh, thanks, Shaya! :blush: I have to tell you, it's been hard to stick to the food stuff (I have some great stories about all the things we saw and learned), but I'm trying to give you some of the local flavor along with, well, the flavors. :wink: In Strasbourg and in Prague, the scenery was a huge part of what made our stays so wonderful.
"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

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#18 Megan Blocker

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Posted 25 October 2006 - 07:24 PM

Well, I can't let this thread go a whole day without new pictures!

The morning after Chez Yvonne, we woke up too late to grab breakfast at the hotel, so we decided it was time for another visit to Christian. We headed downstairs and snagged a sidewalk seat (quite a feat, given how much more crowded the city was at the weekend), where we ordered coffee (capuccino for Lou, grand cafe noir for me) and breakfast. I went for a viennoiserie - a croissant, to be exact. Miss Louisa decided to order a pain d'epices - chocolat!

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The chocolate in its center made the pain d'epices a little too much for us - imagine really spicy gingerbread with dark chocolate inside. Just too much going on, especially at breakfast (well, ok, BRUNCH) time.

The croissant, on the other hand, was fantastic. It looked a little brittle at first glance, but barely crumbled when I pulled a piece off. Turned out that the crust was crisp but not crumby, and the inside was tender and fluffy. I'm normally a confitures with my croissants kind of gal, but not that time. I just had to enjoy it all by itself.
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#19 markk

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Posted 25 October 2006 - 09:36 PM

My connection to Strasbourg really took me by surprise - it's pretty much the only place besides New York to which I've felt I could move with no misgivings.  I really think I could live there.  Which is an interesting point - it's not the most exciting city I've ever visited, but it has a lot of really positive energy, and just made me feel happy at every turn.

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I'm loving this thread, and love that you said this!

I discovered Strasbourg when I was in Germany on business for many months in 1991, and the lady we rented an apartment from told us "and just an hour to the south, you have France!" We went and instantly fell in love with the place, and I have been back more than a dozen times since, sometimes for weeks at a time; I think they have more food shops (pastry, foie gras, meats, cheeses, bakeries) than they have citizens! And not surprisingly, what happy people they are, tucked away like that, sheltered from so many things that would intrude on their way of life.

The first restaurant we fell in love with was L'Ami Schutz, in the Petite France section (it had what was probably the only separate no-smoking dining room in all of France, if not all of Europe), and I loved your comment from Chez Yvonne...

Louisa's quenelles were...um...unphotogenic, to say the least

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...because they all are. If I may, here's one in a photo of the Choucroute Garni from L'Ami Schutz:

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Edited by markk, 25 October 2006 - 09:49 PM.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”
Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”
Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”
Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

#20 Megan Blocker

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Posted 26 October 2006 - 06:18 AM

Great reports, Megan! I am very much looking forward to the rest. My experience and knowledge of prague is minimal to say the least. I am a bit better acquainted with the offerings of Strasbourg though I have never been. It is fun visiting and tasting through your experience.

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See, John - now you have a reason to go and sample all those good things in the flesh! You simply must have the foie gras at Chez Yvonne. No time like the present, I say. :wink:
"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

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#21 markk

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Posted 26 October 2006 - 08:16 AM

This was the best foie gras I have ever had in my life -

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Of course, Strasbourg is the Foie Gras Capitol of France, though perhaps not many people realize that.

Here's a scan from the Strasbourg Yellow Pages - note that the category is "Foies" - you just don't see many yellow pages any more with a category called "Livers":

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As you stroll the streets of Strasbourg, you can stop in just about every fifth store and buy it freshly made in terrines and other preparations, you can buy those same preparations canned, and you can buy the various duck and goose livers raw, and wholesale.

From a restaurant in the Strasbourg suburbs, here's their first course, the Quadrilogie of Foies Gras:

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Foie gras of duck, foie gras of goose, marbled foie gras with artichokes and Sauternes, and smoked foie gras!

(I should credit the restaurant: Auberge du Cheval Blanc, in the town of Schweighouse-Sur-Moder.)

Edited by markk, 26 October 2006 - 08:27 AM.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”
Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”
Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”
Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

#22 Simon_S

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Posted 26 October 2006 - 08:24 AM

"Quadrilogie of foies gras". Four simple words to bring joy to the heart!

<drool>

Si

#23 Dave Hatfield

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Posted 26 October 2006 - 09:38 AM

This was the best foie gras I have ever had in my life -

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Of course, Strasbourg is the Foie Gras Capitol of France, though perhaps not many people realize that.

Here's a scan from the Strasbourg Yellow Pages - note that the category is "Foies" - you just don't see many yellow pages any more with a category called "Livers":

Posted Image

As you stroll the streets of Strasbourg, you can stop in just about every fifth store and buy it freshly made in terrines and other preparations, you can buy those same preparations canned, and you can buy the various duck and goose livers raw, and wholesale.

From a restaurant in the Strasbourg suburbs, here's their first course, the Quadrilogie of Foies Gras:

Posted Image

Foie gras of duck, foie gras of goose, marbled foie gras with artichokes and Sauternes, and smoked foie gras!

(I should credit the restaurant: Auberge du Cheval Blanc, in the town of Schweighouse-Sur-Moder.)

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Quite a few other locations in France would hotly dispute Strasbourg's claim to be the foie gras capital.
Its sort of like who has the best casoulette.

#24 Dave Hatfield

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Posted 26 October 2006 - 09:49 AM

Oh, Megan, this is an appealing city! The Husband would love it -- France, germanified.

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Exactly - the best of both worlds, really. Just orderly enough for this anal retentive New Yorker, with enough French laissez faire and style to make it wonderful.

Dinner on our second night in Strasbourg was absolutely, totally and completely one of the best meals of our trip. It cemented Strasbourg in my affections forever, and I have some really terrible news: I did not bring my camera along that night. I carried my little clutch, and had no room for it - I didn't expect what we got!

Late that afternoon, after lunch but before Christian, we took a walk and happened to turn down a little street called rue des Sangliers, which cuts from Place Kleber, the commerical center of the Grande Ile, to la Place de la Cathedrale, where our hotel was located. We passed the most adorable little vinstub, called Chez Yvonne. We were both complete enchanted with what we could see through the windows - it looked a bit more old-fashioned, and more restaurant-y than pubby, than some of the places we'd eaten thus far. The name sounded familiar to me, so when we got back to the room, I checked my eG printouts (oh, yeah, they came all over Europe with me, baby), and found this:

For typical winstub experience :
the famous (and fairly good)
Chez Yvonne, 10 rue du Sanglier, near the cathedral.

Or (better food IMHO):
S'munsterstuewel, 8 place du marche au cochon de lait (200 m from the cathedral,
towards the river). The "wadele" there is fantastic.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but we decided to go through with eating there in any case. And, boy, am I glad we did.

I have to admit, I do not have clear recollections of everything Louisa ate, and I can't remember the name of the bottle of Riesling we shared, but I'll do my best.

We arrived at Chez Yvonne around 8:30, and were seated in the upstairs salon. To our right were a pair of men who were on their first courses when we arrived and who lingered over their cafes until after we left two and half hours later. The hostess brought us the menu, wine list, and the specials, which were outlined on a chalkboard and propped up on the table to our left (A table later occupied by a delightful couple from Bucks County, of all places - we had lots of Pennsylvania stories to share, since Louisa and I met at Bryn Mawr.).

Louisa decided on the fig and goat cheese tart with a green salad, and for her main, the quenelles de foie with sauteed potatoes and - wait for it - yet another green salad. The menu went into absolute raptures about those potatoes - where they were grown, how they were harvested, and so on. I started with a special - foie gras poele. My French isn't too bad, but my food vocabulary, oddly enough, is sadly lacking, so I wasn't quite sure what poele (with a circumflex over the first e and an accent agu over the last - I've never been able to figure out accents on my American computer, sorry!) meant. But foie gras is good in any form, so I felt quite safe. For my main, I chose the poussin braised in muscat, which came with spaetzle.

Our entrees arrived, and I discovered, to my delight, that poele means seared! (I looked it up when I got home, and discovered that the noun, poele, means skillet.) There were two lobes, each with an incredibly thick, crispy, seared crust, drizzled with a caramel sauce, sprinkled with fleur de sel, and accompanied by a few luscious, dark grapes.

This was the best foie gras I have ever had in my life - the crust was thicker than I've had, but in a good way, and the interior was like liquid held together by some kind of alchemy, a lusciousness that contrasted with the crust and blended with the slightly bitter caramel. Apparently, the faces I made as I ate it were a sight to see - and I wasn't alone. Louisa tasted it (again, I am a VERY good friend), and we agreed that it was the absolute Platonic ideal of foie gras.

The fig and goat cheese tart was also fantastic - rich and earthy, with gorgeous figs and a delicious green salad with mustardy vinaigrette alongside it. The tart went really well with the Riesling, as did the foie gras.

Our mains were similarly excellent. Louisa's quenelles were...um...unphotogenic, to say the least. Slightly pink, they came to the table dressed in a creamy sauce, with a green salad on the side and a Staub skillet of the famous potatoes placed in the center of the table. One bite, though, and you got right over the quenelles' appearance. They were rich, tender, and so full of creamy flavors that it almost tasted like eating butter, but better.

And the potatoes? It's not often that you encounter two Platonic ideals in one sitting, but I think we managed to do so. Never before have I had a potato that tasted so much like a potato - and I've eaten lots of potatoes, some right out of the ground.

Finally, my chicken. Small, delicate, and perfect, it arrived at the table in the middle of a large plate, sitting in a shallow pool of dark brown sauce. I couldn't resist - I reached out and dipped just the tip of my finger in the sauce and tasted it - it tasted like essence of chicken, like concentrated chicken-ness. The skin wasn't crispy, but it wasn't soggy, either. It was like slightly wet gold, full of flavor and with a darker taste than the chicken itself. The chicken was tender and juicy, and even the spaetzle were good, pan-fried rather than boiled, and tossed with herbs and butter.

After devouring my foie and my chicken, I couldn't face dessert, but I ordered a coffee. Louisa ordered lemon sorbet drowned in lemon eau de vie, which was delicious and very, very strong.

After dinner, we headed to Les Gayots for a few drinks. I'm sorry to report that whatever champagne they have by the glass is kind of icky, but happy to tell you that all you need to do to get chatted up by two Brits is be the only two English-speakers in the bar. :wink:

We stumbled home, four drinks later, tottering the whole three blocks to the hotel to gulp down water and air out our smoke-filled scarves. Walking home tipsy, something I generally associate with Second Avenue and the need to avoid frat boys shouting into their cell phones in front of my building, is an experience made infinitely better by the towering shadow of that cathedral.

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Megan, what a wonderful trip report; I'm loving every word of it. Takes me back to my first adventures in Europe more years ago than I care to admit to. You are doing a great job of describing the places, the food, the ambience and the excitment of new places. Can't wait for the best of the trip.

The way you describe them I think the two dishes are far more erotic than platonic. Ideal, yes, but sensually so. No matter, they sound scrumptious whether platonic or erotic.

Keep it up. Please!

#25 ludja

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Posted 26 October 2006 - 09:55 AM

Oh, Megan, this is an appealing city! The Husband would love it -- France, germanified.

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And fun for someone that knows French and German.
vinstub for Weinstube... :smile:

I'm sure it's ok to slip in some observations of the town and people alongside the food...

I'm sure you had plenty of other things to see, but did you have a chance to visit any food markets?
"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"


#26 markk

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Posted 26 October 2006 - 10:18 AM

Quite a few other locations in France would hotly dispute Strasbourg's claim to be the foie gras capital.

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Well, they'd be wrong (he says smiling).
Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”
Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”
Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”
Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

#27 Megan Blocker

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Posted 26 October 2006 - 10:24 AM

This was the best foie gras I have ever had in my life -

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Of course, Strasbourg is the Foie Gras Capitol of France, though perhaps not many people realize that.

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Quite a few other locations in France would hotly dispute Strasbourg's claim to be the foie gras capital.
Its sort of like who has the best casoulette.

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So true...it's actually something that both guidebooks mentioned - Strasbourg's competition with the southwest to be crowned queen of foie.
"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

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#28 Megan Blocker

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Posted 26 October 2006 - 10:29 AM

The way you describe them I think the two dishes are far more erotic than platonic. Ideal, yes, but sensually so. No matter, they sound scrumptious whether platonic or erotic.

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:laugh: :laugh: :laugh: Touche!

Ludja, sadly, we didn't get to visit any markets while in Strasbourg. I'll soon be posting about the rest of our Saturday, and while we were hoping to visit the farmer's market, we were on a quest to refill our book supply before we hit the quieter environs of Champagne - something that sent us on a bit of a goose chase around town (though it was a great excuse to ride the tram).

Must get back to work now...back-to-back meetings all day...but I'll be posting about Saturday and the beginning of our Champagne adventures soon!
"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

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#29 Megan Blocker

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Posted 26 October 2006 - 12:00 PM

My 2:00 got cut short, so I have some time to post about our Saturday afternoon! :biggrin:

After our breakfast of champions at Christian, we made our way back toward the Gare Centrale, in search of what my Rough Guide promised us was a good English-language bookstore. Both Louisa and I are big readers, and we'd both gone through our supplies, mainly due to the long train ride through Germany.

We didn't have any luck finding the store (grrrr), but we had a great time riding the tram out to the northern side of town, and also walking around the neighborhood by the Gare, which was full of Indian and Middle Eastern groceries and restaurants, once you got a block or two in from the river.

We then hopped back on the tram to ride clear to the other side of town, toward Place de la Republique and the university. We loved the trams - they were fast, quiet, efficient, clean, and modern. They're almost all window, and they sit very low to the ground, so it's almost like riding in a glass bubble.

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That's the tram in the background, at the Republique stop. A bus is passing in the other direction up front.

During our walk back from the university area, we passed this church, St. Paul (which is the two-spired church viewable in the distance from our hotel room window):

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We also spotted a young, student-y couple kissing on a riverbank, and many, many couples kissing on the small bridges that criss-cross the Ill (no, you sleazy people, I did NOT take their pictures :wink:). This will be important to our story later, I promise.

One of the eG-recommended bierstubs was Les Trois Brasseurs (The Three Brewers) on rue des Veaux, just north of the river on the Grande Ile. We stopped in there for lunch, and I promptly ordered a glass of the blonde biere.

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I knew I wanted baeckeoffe, since I'd spent lunch the day before jealously eyeing Louisa's portion, and Louisa wanted a salad. She ordered a green salad topped with foie de volaille and a poached egg, expecting a small liver on top of a big salad. Well, the salad was big, but check out the pile of liver on that baby!!!

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It doesn't have quite the same impact on film as it did in person, but that is one big pile of chicken livers, I promise.

My baeckeoffe was excellent, better than the one we'd had the day before. Its broth was more deeply flavorful and better-seasoned, and the pig's knuckle buried within gave the dish a rich, gelatinous quality (in a good way, not a Jell-O way). The piquant, cool salad was a lovely counterpoint, and my beer wasn't too bad, either.

Les Trois Brasseurs was awfully dark inside, so we were grateful to emerge into the (slightly grey) light of day. We continued our walk along the quai, eventually reaching the aforementioned "Batorama" dock (I feel like its name really should have an exclimation point after it, even in legal documents.), where we purchased two tickets and got in line to board the next barge making its way around the city. We were promptly cut in front of by a large group of French tourists. :hmmm:

The latest thing in our list of ultra-touristy activities, the boat trip was a great way to see the city. We'd planned to do it the day before, but the water had been too high, and the boats weren't running. So we felt like old pros as the boat went through Petite France, past the Ponts Couverts, through the medical school, and up the lock just past the Pont St. Martin. We also went out to the Institutions Europeennes, which meant that we got to see the Parliament and Court of Human Rights buildings without having to trek out on foot through the residential and embassy-rich neighborhoods around them.

On the way back to the Grande Ile, we passed by St. Paul and the neighboring riverbank - upon which reclined the SAME student couple, in the SAME position, four hours after our first sighting of them. That is some impressive stamina, people.

Upon our return to dry land, we decided it was time to buckle down, find some books, and eat some frites with mayonnaise. We walked over to Place Kleber, where I had a vague recollection of seeing a bookstore with the word international on its sign. On the way, we grabbed this, the seemingly-bottomless cone of frites, served with a squeeze-packet of tangy French mayo.

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Mmmmm...

We got ourselves some books (Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood for me, About a Boy by Nick Hornby for Louisa) and headed back to the room to stash them before dinner.

Edited by Megan Blocker, 27 October 2006 - 09:41 PM.

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

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#30 Megan Blocker

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Posted 26 October 2006 - 06:24 PM

Dinner that night was at a more casual vinstub on rue du Marche-aux-cochons-de-lait , about a block south of the cathedral, called Le Gruber. We were seated downstairs, next to a really wonderful French family (father, mother, and young adult daughter), who were incredibly friendly and very indgulgent of our French.

On the table when we arrived was an egg cup filled with something white and brown, dotted with green...when the bread basket finally came, we spread some on the bread and gave it a go. I couldn't quite tell what it was until the gentleman next to us leaned over to me and said, "C'est schmaltz." Mon dieu! Schmaltz, with cracklings, on bread.

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For our entrees, Louisa ordered a salad with chevre chaud, and I went for a tarte a l'oignon. My tarte came with a green salad, and was irresistibly rich and creamy. Served at room temperatue, the contrast with the salad wasn't as sharp as I might like, but it certainly wasn't bad.

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For her main, Louisa went for an oldie but goodie, a tarte flambee all gussied up with even more chevre chaud!

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I was craving meat, and went for the onglets de boeuf, served with a shallot sauce and some really excellent frites (Twice in one day!).

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For dessert, we split a creme brulee. The creme part was great - really custardy, very creamy, rich, and just the right amount of vanilla. However, it just wasn't bruleed enough! There was sugar over the whole top, but only the very middle seemd to have seen the business end of a kitchen torch.

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We headed home, walking slowly but surely toward the hotel, and hit the sack in sated peace. The next morning, it was up early for breakfast at the hotel (where a fellow guest and I campaigned for a refill of the coffee urn, en francais, mais oui!), and then we boarded the train to Champagne!

Edited by Megan Blocker, 28 October 2006 - 11:35 AM.

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

Queenie Takes Manhattan
eG Foodblogs: 2006 - 2007