Shops & Markets

Twelve Hours in Paris

Note: For more Paris recommendations, see this follow-up edition.

My friend Adam has just had what I think is a brilliant idea of a meme, named Twelve Hours in Dot Dot Dot: if you had only twelve hours left to spend in your home city/town/village/oasis, what would you do with them?

Because I lived abroad for a while, I have, on several occasions, spent twelve semi-final hours in Paris, and I admit they usually involved a combination of the following activities: 1) buying several months’ worth of my then-favorite face cream, 2) trying to locate my passport, 3) spending time with people I knew I was going to miss, simply enjoying the normalcy of being in the same time zone.

But I posit cosmetics, traveling documents, and companionable silences weren’t what Adam had in mind for this meme, so I came up with a more suitable — and food-oriented — timetable for my hypothetical last twelve hours in Paris.

It goes without saying that difficult choices were made, and that for every item I included, there were about ten more looking at me with a crestfallen expression. Most of these places are included in my Paris book, Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris, in which you’ll find many more options to fill however many hours you get to spend in Paris (more info here).

I should also note that I chose to assume these weren’t the last twelve hours before I die, first of all because that would be a little depressing, and also because I worked in a few opportunities to buy things I would want to take with me wherever I was supposed to travel next, and who knows what customs policy they have in the afterlife.

Without further ado, I give you my Twelve Hours in Paris, which I’ve decided would take place on a Thursday, from 12:30pm to 12:30am. And of course, if you want to chime in with your own Twelve Hours in Dot Dot Dot, in the comments section or as a post on your blog, I’ll be curious to read your take!

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Exceptions Gourmandes by Philippe Conticini

Update: The pastry shop mentioned in this post is now closed, but it has been replaced by Conticini’s new pastry shops, called La Pâtisserie des Rêves.

I’m sure there are people out there who step inside a new pastry shop, glance at the display, order what they want, and walk out. I have no idea how they do it.

Take, for instance, Philippe Conticini‘s recently opened boutique, which I visited last month, before I left for Australia. It is a tiny thing, just a small room with stone walls, a wooden door, and a window that looks out onto Place du Marché Sainte-Catherine, one of the prettiest squares in Paris (for best effect, visit on a weekday afternoon in early February, when you have the whole place to yourself).

For those of you who went “huh?” when I mentioned Conticini’s name in the previous paragraph, let’s just say he is a prominent French pastry chef who used to work at La Table d’Anvers, at Pétrossian, and at the legendary but sadly defunct Pâtisserie Peltier. He has published a number of books(including one that’s so large it could be used as a tent for hobbits) and has created his own consulting/catering company.

Macarons

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Galette des Rois, the 2007 Edition

Galette des Rois Arnaud Larher

Looking for a recipe for galette des rois? See this post.

And this year’s galette des rois (read more about the galette des rois tradition) was brought to us by Arnaud Larher, a thirty-something pastry chef and chocolatier who opened his own shop in Montmartre ten years ago, after honing his skills at Fauchon under Pierre Hermé’s direction.

I called the day before to order une galette pour six — ordering is not mandatory for such a standard size, but I sleep better if I do — and went to collect it in mid-afternoon. As I walked home and dropped by a handful of other shops for my dinner-making needs, the paper bag bearing the pastry chef’s coat of arms elicited much commentary from these neighboring vendors, whose facial expression (corners of the mouth pulled down, chin jutted forward, eyes semi-closed, head nodding slowly) indicated their respect for the artisan, and their approval of my choice of purveyor. I hurried home for the wind was picking up, and the threat of rain was a dark omen for my fragile disk in its not-even-remotely-waterproof paper house.

Although Arnaud Larher makes a chocolate galette that can’t possibly be anything but very good, my dinner companions and I all prefer the classic version. In Larher’s case, classic means a moist mattress of frangipane* lightly flavored with orange zest — a subtle and tasteful twist — between two sheets of extra-fresh flaked pastry. The ensemble was neither overly buttery nor overly sweet, and was much enjoyed by all.

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Favorites of the Moment

Sables Blancs

Barbie dolls didn’t do much for me when I was little, but I had a passion for plush animals. Each of them had a name and a set of personality traits (often refined by my father, who would improvise bedtime shows for my sister and me, with voices and everything), and they felt more alive than I think grownups can really remember. A direct consequence of this was that, even though I had preferences, naturally — I remember a black crow I’d won at the Jardin d’Acclimatation: it was ugly, it smelled funny, and I couldn’t bring myself to really love it –, I forbid myself to even admit these feelings, for fear of hurting theirs.

But now that I’m more or less an adult and have a pretty strong hunch that inanimate objects can’t get upset, I feel comfortable listing a few of my current edible and drinkable favorites from recent food shopping excursions. (If, however, the rest of my pantry turns sour all of a sudden, I may have to remove the post, I’m sure you’ll understand.)

~ Beurre au sel fumé (smoked salt butter) by Jean-Yves Bordier

Bordier can be described as the butter darling of the French gastronomic scene. His hand-beaten, hand-shaped butter is indeed outstanding, and his latest creation (yes, we now live in a world where the line between the artist and the artisan is blurrier by the day) is unlike anything I’ve tasted before: it is a butter that’s flavored with a mix of salt and spices — I understand this smoked salt follows a Norwegian technique — to give it smoky, almost earthy notes that reveal themselves in the back of your palate, in the aftermath of the rich yet refreshing butter kick.

It is splendid on fish and steamed (or mashed) potatoes, it can be spread on rye bread to eat with oysters, and I had such interesting results using it in a mini-batch of shortbread, that I must try it in salted butter caramels.

I buy my Bordier butter from Les Papilles Gourmandes, a neighborhood shop I’ve mentioned before (they also stock the unsalted, salted, and seaweed varieties), but it can also be found elsewhere in the city (La Grande Epicerie, Da Rose, Fauchon, Pascal Trotté’s cheese shop…) and, of course, right at the source in Saint-Malo.

Jean-Yves Bordier Map it!
9, rue de l’Orme – 35400 Saint-Malo
02 99 40 88 79

Les Papilles Gourmandes Map it!
26 rue des Martyrs – 75009 Paris
01 45 26 42 89

~ Sables blancs, a lightly flavored white tea from Le Parti du Thé

I like Mariage Frères as much as the next girl (though probably not as much as this next girl) but these days I am much more excited about the teas at Le Parti du Thé. This independant tea seller was recommended to me by Valérie Gentil of Beau et Bon (a quirky food shop I just as heartily recommend), and the first time I visited I had to physically restrain myself from buying a bit of each of their varieties — since they have over three hundreds, you can imagine why restraint is important.

The three kinds I’ve liked best so far are the Sables Blancs (“white sands”, a Pai Mu Tan Imperial white tea with discreet notes of coconut and vanilla, pictured above), the Oolong Fleurs d’Oranger (semi-fermented tea from Taiwan with orange blossoms; Beau et Bon carries it), and the Pousse-Pousse (a mix of semi-smoked teas).

Le Parti du Thé / Map it!
34 rue Faidherbe – 75011 Paris
01 43 72 42 04

Beau et Bon / Map it!
81 rue Lecourbe – 75015 Paris
01 43 06 06 53

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Algerine Pastries

Algerine Pastries

Walking through the Oberkampf neighborhood this past Friday on my way from one appointment to the next, I glanced at my watch and gleefully realized I had just enough time to drop by La Bague de Kenza, a luxurious Algerian pastry shop on rue Saint-Maur.

There was a line snaking outside onto the sidewalk — it was still Ramadan then and many of the customers were buying sweets for the nightly fast-breaking feast — but this gave me time to be entertained by the verbal fight that broke out when one lady accused another of trying to cut in front of her (if you hadn’t eaten or drunk anything all day, you would be nippy too), and to admire the colorful multitude of picture-perfect delights filled with almonds, pistachios, walnuts, figs, or dates, and flavored with honey, rose water, orange blossom water, mint, citrus, or vanilla.

It’s okay not to know the names of all (or any) of the little guys: the staff often caters to novices, so you can just smile and point, or ask for an assortment. I myself ordered eight different ones: a pistachio skandriate and a lemon and vanilla cornet aux amandes (pictured above, top and right), a sugar-coated corne de gazelle and a walnut baqlava (pictured here, left and top right), a doigt de Kenza, a rfisse (a mix of semolina, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, date, and honey, ground into a marzipan-like, pleasantly grainy paste), and two more that I unfortunately can’t name: a piped round of almond and walnut paste flavored with orange blossom water and topped with an unpeeled almond (pictured above, bottom left) and a meringue round filled with pistachio paste (pictured here, bottom right).

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