Couscous at Le Dattier (IMBB6)

Couscous at Le Dattier

My cooking resume, if I had one, would have to say “Grilling experience : little to none”.

Growing up in the city, in a non-grilling family at that, BBQ has never been part of my gastronomical landscape. In fact, I attended my first barbecue in the US, at the ripe old age of 21. I do love it though — the smell and taste of grilled food, but also the atmosphere, the joy of cooking outdoors and the fascination of working so close with fire, king of all elements.

I have no grilling gear, indoor or outdoors, and my recent schedule didn’t allow me to properly prepare anything for the 6th edition of Is My Blog Burning?, the collaborative food blogging event, hosted this time around by Too Many Chefs on a grilling theme. But of course, not participating at all wasn’t an option, so I chose instead to go out for a grilled dinner with Maxence, and share it with you.

In Paris, one of your best bets if you feel like a little grilled meat (grillades in French), is a couscous at a Moroccan restaurant. As it happens, there is a very good one called Le Dattier (“the date tree”) just around the corner from my parents’ apartment, where they’ve lived for the past seventeen years. It’s been owned by the same family for as long as we can remember, and it was a regular destination for us when we felt like eating out, and a very convenient and stress-free way to entertain guests : pre-dinner drinks would be had at home, and then everyone would head out animatedly, walk twenty meters up the street, and take a seat at the pleasant terrace.

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I am not the biggest ice-cream fan you’ll ever find. I like Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s, but in fact I have realized that I would love it even more if they would just cut the ice-cream itself and leave me with the chunky things inside, chocolate chips, fudge, cookie dough, caramel, pralines, macadamia nuts. And when you really look at it, eating ice-cream as an alibi to eat chocolate chip cookies isn’t really going to hold in court, is it?

But still, even if it isn’t my favorite thing in the whole world (you know what that is : it starts with a “c” and is included in the name of this blog), I do sometimes feel like eating something sweet, cold, and creamy. We happen to have a Haagen-Dazs café just two blocks from us, at the foot of the Sacré-Coeur, which is rather convenient. I am personally not a fan of the renowned Berthillon ice-cream, which I find overrated and often too sweet. But I recently discovered Amorino, introduced to me by Laurence, one of my best friends who, having lived for a while in Milan, is quite the Italian ice-cream expert.

Amorino makes Italian-style ice-cream, and has several locations in Paris. An interesting thing to note about Amorino is that they’ll serve you as many flavors as you like, in a cup, a waffle cone or a focaccina (a little loaf of brioche) : I’ve seen a lady ask for six flavors in just one little cup, and the waitress obliged, without so much as raising an eyebrow.

Their ice-cream is laid out in the most lascivious way, filling those big metal vats in rippling ribbons, making it so appetizing you would dive in head-first if a glass casing didn’t protect the ice-cream from such uncontrolled behavior. Some ice-cream flavors are also decorated with matching toppings, which may very well land in your cup if you’re lucky (or if you ask nicely).

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Clotilde’s Corsican Sandwich

Le Sandwich Corse de Clotilde

[Clotilde’s Corsican Sandwich, as seen at Cojean’s]

I cannot begin to tell you how gratifying Chocolate & Zucchini has been, since the very early days. But this, having a sandwich named after me at one of my absolute favorite lunch places, is a benefit I clearly hadn’t foreseen. You must forgive my candor, but : how unbelievably cool is that, I ask you?

Okay, a little explanation is in order. Cojean is a sandwich and salad restaurant, founded by someone named Alain Cojean. Being a great fan of that place, I wrote a review for Bonjour Paris, and mentioned on C&Z that one of their sandwiches had been the inspiration for my Salade Figue et Poire à la Bresaola. This caught the attention of Fred Maquair, Alain Cojean’s associate, who liked C&Z and got in touch with me, to express his thanks.

I was delighted of course, but not half as much as a few days ago, when he sent me an email to let me know that a new menu was coming out, featuring a sandwich inspired in turn by my Tartine Corse, which was thus to be named, quite simply, “le sandwich corse de clotilde”.

“Aflutter with joy” is an understated description of yours truly, upon hearing the news.

Of course, I took a trip to Cojean’s as soon as I could, digital camera in hand, to immortalize the moment. I stepped in, right in the middle of the lunch rush, and quickly located my spiritual baby. “Nouveau“, said a little yellow label. “Le sandwich corse de clotilde”, said another, baby blue label. “Oh my”, thought I. I asked a waitress for permission to take a picture : “I’d love to take a picture of the sandwich corse de clotilde”, I said, “because um… you see, I am Clotilde.”

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La Table de Lucullus

La Table de Lucullus

[Update: La Table de Lucullus is now closed. Nicolas has plans to open a new one on L’Ile d’Yeu, but I don’t have the details yet.]

This past Friday, I took Maxence out to dinner at La Table de Lucullus. The official excuse was to mark a job-related occasion, but in truth, I had wanted to take him to that restaurant for a little while, and was just waiting for an alibi. In fact, it was second on the list when I invited him to Aux Lyonnais for his birthday back in January.

La Table de Lucullus is hidden in the not-so-swanky part of the 17th arrondissement, where kebab hole-in-the-walls are aplenty, and where the existence of a gastronomical restaurant sounds unlikely, to say the least. But still, this is where Nicolas Vagnon, a chef in his late twenties, decided to open his restaurant and serve the kind of food he’s passionate about : seafood in all shapes and forms.

The restaurant is rather small, with no more than seven or eight tables, and up on the wall are three gigantic blackboards on which the daily selection is written out, in Nicolas’ large, loopy — and not always entirely decipherable — handwriting.

It is the chef himself who welcomes the guests and handles the service, announcing the menu in his booming voice (in French or in excellent English), taking the orders and bringing the different dishes ; introducing them, pointing out details and answering your questions, eager to discuss the food with you and genuinely happy — no, ecstatic — that you share his enthusiasm.

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Aux Lyonnais

Aux Lyonnais

Last Friday, on the eve of my darling Maxence’s 25th birthday, I took him out to dinner. Usually, I know exactly where I want to take him, and like to make the location a surprise. Last year was easy : I had heard great reviews about a restaurant called “Le Maxence”, where the chef was the talented David Van Laer. It fit the bill perfectly and we had a lovely evening with wonderful food.

But this year, for some reason, I was very irresolute about it. There were about twelve different restaurants I wanted to try, but couldn’t decide which one I liked the most or, more importantly, which one Maxence would like the most. I spent a week agonizing over this, researching reviews, changing my mind every few hours, and actually making four (yes, four!) different reservations, three of which I ended up canceling, with apologies and as much notice as my indecisiveness allowed. The good thing is that I now have a fully qualified list of the top-twelve Parisian restaurants I want to go to!

When the whirlwind of doubt ended and the dust settled, the winner turned out to be Aux Lyonnais. This is a restaurant in the 2nd arrondissement, close to the Bourse (the Paris stock exchange). It is over a century old : first opened in 1892, it has been operating non-stop ever since, serving dishes typical to the French city of Lyon. Even more interesting is that this place was bought out, renovated and revamped just two years ago by no other than national hero Alain Ducasse. His brilliant idea was to take this somewhat declining old-fashioned restaurant and turn it into a sophisticated version of itself, lightening and sprucing up the traditional menu.

I set my heart on it because I know Maxence is partial to authentic historical settings, and has a weekness for charcuterie and down-to-earth popular dishes : he is known to eat pied de porc, oreille de cochon or croustillant de tête de veau without batting an eyelash, so I thought Aux Lyonnais would cater to this penchant. I gamingly kept the exact address a secret until the very last moment, narrowing it down only when absolutely necessary, to the general area, then to the street, and even then I arranged to meet him at another street corner. You would think I was trying to cover my tracks from mafia thugs or something.

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