Shops & Markets

Club-Cake by Fauchon

Club-Cake by Fauchon

… or how to botch a perfectly brilliant idea.

This is the story of a disappointment. I hesitate to call it a cruel disappointment, because I was more disappointed the day I learned that Milli Vanilli was all a lie, but it was a sore one nonetheless.

I had business to do around the Place de la Madeleine the other day, and as I was walking past the Fauchon pastry shop, I stepped inside to take a look — you know, nothing out of the ordinary, just research. It had been a while since my last visit, but I was in fact familiar with most of their shiny new creations, as they tend to be very well covered in the magazines I read. Most specifically women’s magazines, where the picture of that lavishly indulgent pastry is often right on the opposite page from a worryingly slender girl, who has been made to look like said pastry might cheer her up.

I studied the pastries lined up behind the glass case, a tempting array created by pastry chef Christophe Adam, and decided that I urgently needed to invest 5 euros in the club-cake, a tricolor confection made to look — how clever! how titillating! — like a club-sandwich. (I might note here that it is a bit of a pain to purchase things at Fauchon: you get in line to select your stuff, receive a ticket, cross the entire shop to get to the register and pay, and then come back to the original counter with a different ticket that proves you are not a thief, and are thus allowed to collect your goods and get the hell out of here.)

I went home, and later in the afternoon, decided with much anticipation to give the club-cake a try. I took the pink Fauchon box out of the black Fauchon bag, and the silver club-cake box out of the pink Fauchon box. The packaging turned out to be Problem Number One: the sandwiches had sort of smudged themselves onto the little window opening (not very elegant), but more importantly the box was all sticky, although you could tell that someone had tried to wipe it down in an effort to clean it. I could certainly have overlooked the aesthetic issue, but trying to open the back of the box was a bit of a fight: it is made of a rigid and sharp-edged plastic that isn’t very pleasant to handle, and keeps snapping back semi-closed as you pull the sandwiches out.

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Tongue Blood Sausage

Boudin de Langue

[Tongue Blood Sausage]

Paris is filled to the brim with little stores that sell produits du terroir, artisanal products from different regions of France: condiments and spices, jam and honey, cookies and candy, traditional canned dishes such as cassoulet or duck confit… You push the door and feel like you’ve stepped right into Hansel and Gretel‘s bread house, complete with cake roof and sugar windows.

Having read that fairy tale and learned my lesson, I am usually a little suspicious of such stores: it has been my experience that they often sell products that look really nifty with their handwritten labels and grandma-made-it-just-for-you packaging, but turn out to be nothing worth rolling on the floor with the spoon in your mouth (which is dangerous, I might add) when you get home and try them.

Besides, they usually charge an arm and a leg for them, or at least much more than you would pay if you were to buy them from the source. They rely heavily on the impulse purchase factor, and the fact that the goods are so out of context in the cute boutique, that it might not strike you as unreasonable to pay 10 euros for a box of crackers you might not even like that much.

When I noticed earlier this year that a new store called Les Papilles Gourmandes (papilles meaning tastebuds) had opened on the lower end of the rue des Martyrs, I peeked inside briefly, and dismissed it as belonging to the category described above. The name also sounded very uninspired (there is another shop called “Les Pipalottes Gourmandes” a few blocks away, how happy they must be) and, what can I say, names are important to me.

However, someone tipped me off recently on the fact that said shop sold Jean-Yves Bordier’s excellent hand-made butter from St-Malo, and although I’ve been able to find it at several other places in Paris before (at the restaurant Chez Michel in particular), this is a much more convenient location for me.

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Pierre Hermé’s Rose Syrup

Sirop de Rose

[Pierre Hermé’s Rose Syrup]

I attended the two-day Omnivore Food Festival in Le Havre last week, during which a number of renowned chefs gave cooking demonstrations.

Among them was Pierre Hermé: he didn’t actually pipe the ganache himself, but rather commented on his pastries as his sous-chef expertly assembled them onstage. The main focus of the presentation was the Ispahan — his signature pairing of rose, litchi and raspberry — and the wide range of variations he has weaved around it over time: macarons, entremets, tarts, chocolate, jam, ice-cream, and even a (non-edible) lucky charm.

I was very interested to learn that Pierre Hermé invented the Ispahan as he was working for Ladurée. It wasn’t a popular pastry back then and he sold very few. But still, he persisted and kept making them, because he thought the flavor pairing worked well, and he felt sure the public would come around eventually. He was right of course: when he set up shop under his own name on rue Bonaparte, the Ispahan quickly became — and remains to this day — his absolute best-seller.

What I really enjoyed about Pierre Hermé’s presentation was how precisely he described the recipes that were being demonstrated, making sure he shared the ingredients and the corresponding amounts. He seems to have enough confidence in his team’s skills and his own resources of creativity not to hoard secrets: his latest book documents his work over the past ten years in great detail, and he has helped create a pastry course at the Parisian cooking school Grégoire Ferrandi.

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Grocery Store Staples

Staples

I don’t really mind waiting in line at the grocery store. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t choose the slowest cashier on purpose: that usually happens without any special effort on my part. But I do enjoy this idle time, during which I can study the latest chewing-gum innovations (they seem to come up with new ones every other week), mentally review my shopping list (and make the occasional frantic dash for that one capital item I forgot), and more importantly, peek into other people’s baskets and try to picture their life from the mundane little things they’re buying.

It was a particularly long wait the other day (someone hadn’t weighed his apples, or perhaps was applying for a membership card and wanting to hear all the details, I forget), so much so that I ran out of strangers’ baskets to study, and had no choice but to turn to mine. It dawned on me then that I hardly ever mention grocery store products here on C&Z. Suddenly all the little guys in my basket were staring at me with a sour look. “Yeah, why is that?”, they cried accusingly, “Why the injustice? Don’t we deserve a kind word once in a while? A bit of recognition for all the hard work? For heaven’s sake, is that too much to ask?”

A bit flustered, faintly worried that they might start a riot then and there, I had to promise I would write a post and turn the spotlight on those loyal supermarket favorites. That seemed to appease them, and we were able to proceed through the register without further grievance.

So. If you find yourself in line behind me one day and crane your neck, chances are my basket will contain:

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Christmas in Paris: Shopping

Holiday Shopping

This is the third and final part of our special series of holiday tips for New York (thanks to the Manhattan User’s Guide), London (thanks to Urban Junkies) and Paris, and this one is all about shopping and gifts!

[New York Shopping] [London Shopping]

Food gifts

If you’re unable to attend the previously mentioned Salon Saveurs but still want to find food gifts that will travel well, the classic recommendations are La Grande Epicerie de Paris and Lafayette Gourmet: these never disappoint and the broadness of their product range will guarantee you don’t come out empty-handed. If you feel more comfortable in smaller shops, Da Rosa is a great purveyor of interesting condiments, vinegars and spices, and I have to put in a good word for G. Detou as well, which specializes in baking supplies sold in bulk, but also offers regular-sized and very reasonably-priced fine goods — chocolate, mustard and a variety of canned items.

La Grande Epicerie de Paris
38 rue de Sèvres, 75007 Paris
01 44 39 81 00
Lafayette Gourmet
48 bd Haussmann, 75009 Paris
01 40 23 52 25
Da Rosa
62 rue de Seine, 75006 Paris
01 40 51 00 09
G. Detou
58 rue Tiquetonne, 75002 Paris
01 42 36 54 67

Les Créateurs des Abbesses

For non-food presents — you know, clothes, jewelry, decoration items, we need those too — you can opt for the unique experience of being squished to death in the insanely crowded department stores (Le Bon Marché, Le Printemps, Les Galeries Lafayette, Le BHV — note that La Samaritaine is now closed because the building threatened to collapse, which was kind of a problem), or you can choose to take a walking and shopping tour of the small designer stores nested in the streets of Montmartre. Rue des Martyrs (start at the very bottom, in the 9th), rue Houdon, rue d’Orsel, rue des Abbesses, rue Yvonne-Le-Tac, rue des Trois-Frères, rue de la Vieuville, all of them are peppered with little boutiques where you will find unique gifts and stocking-stuffers.

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