Travels

Best Eats in Lille, From a Local

Lille

Travel season is upon us, and I want to make sure you see and taste the best France has to offer! When it comes to Paris I’ve got you covered, but there are many other cities with exciting and delicious things for you to experience. So I’ve asked a team of French bloggers from different cities to share their favorite spots, and I am offering them to you in this new series.

In Lille, Izabela recommends…

Izabela Lille ConfidentialTo walk us through Lille, I’m happy to introduce Izabela Jeanneau, author of the blog Lille Confidential. She has dilligently tested all of her recommendations, and lives by the motto “Only the best!” It’s the only trilingual (!) blog in the region, available in French, English, and Dutch. Though Izabela is Parisian by birth, she considers herself an adopted Lilloise since moving there in 2009 by way of Singapour, Abu Dhabi, Jakarta and Luanda. Izabela prides herself on her unique perspective on Lille as a cultural and food capital between Paris, London, and Brussels.

In addition to her blog, I recommend you follow Izabela on Twitter and Instagram. (The photos in this post are hers.)

A market or food shop: Les Épicentriques

Epicentriques Lille

A gourmet shop in the Halles du Marché de Wazemmes run by the passionate Jean-Paul Lafitte. Here, you will find high-quality products that can sometimes be more difficult to score: oils from Alexis Munoz, Escuminac maple syrup, a wide selection of spices, including rare salt and pepper and vanilla, as well as teas, coffees, Claudio Corallo chocolate, Corsican honey from Pierre Carli, Bellotta-Bellotta charcuterie… a true gem of a store!

The Wazemmes market is one of the two most traversed markets in Lille. It is located in a working-class neighborhood that becomes very cosmopolitan and animated on market days.

Also: Le Marché du Vieux-Lille

Marché du Vieux Lille

Smaller, and with a more “see-and-be-seen” vibe, but with a pleasant and charming ambiance. On Sundays, there is a very lively atmosphere, and regulars love to sit on the café terraces around the Place du Concert to have a drink and snack after shopping. A few steps away lies the famous shop Aux Merveilleux, where they sell the traditional Northern pastry of the same name, consisting entirely of meringue and whipped cream. Not to taste it would be a sin! They are also open on Sunday morning.

Where to go for sweet eats: Alex Croquet

Alex Croquet

If you haven’t heard of Alex Croquet, who describes himself as bread crazy, he is considered one of the best bread makers in the world, revered by some of the most famous chefs. His breads contain no additives, and sourdough as the only leavener, which Croquet nurtures himself.

Croquet extends the same care to his sweet treats, from the crisp croissants to the citrus zest brioche. On the pastry side, the star is the clementine tart, but in keeping with the seasons, right now it’s a delicious tarte à la rhubarbe, with a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity.

Also: Benoit Chocolats

Benoit Chocolats

This shop holds the best artisanal chocolate in Lille. With more than 60 different varieties of filled chocolates, from praliné to ganache, as well as tea, chili pepper, lemon, and pepper, all expertly crafted. The result is a chocolate that’s not too sweet; rather, it tastes of real chocolate!

Where to get tea or coffee: Méert

Meert Lille

This is certainly one of the better-known food destinations of Lille, but one filled with history, and it remains the perfect tea-time spot. In this authentic Lille institution, you find yourself surrounded by superb period décor, but also the beautiful (and no less delicious!) pastries. Don’t forget to leave with a souvenir box of the famous Méert waffle cookies, it is a must!

Also: Coffee Makers

With a more modern vibe, Coffee Makers serves the best coffee in Lille. These excellent beverages (the beans are roasted on site) serve as the perfect accompaniment for their addictive homemade pastries.

A fun restaurant for dinner with friends: Jaja

Jaja Lille

A beautiful wine bar with a sharp selection of wines by the glass and the bottle, as well as an appetizing selection of plates filled with charcuterie, smoked fish, and the scrumptious Frères Delassic cheeses. The interior is decorated in a vintage-chic style, with long tables, metal accents, unfinished wood, and patent leather. In short, the perfect combination for a relaxed evening between friends!

Also: La Royale

La Royale Lille

This small, quiet restaurant in the old part of the city pays homage to the classic style of a French bistro. The inviting ambiance, fresh, seasonal products, generous servings, and a penchant for uniting terre-mer (the French equivalent of surf and turf) are all part of young chef Mickaël Braure’s style. Add a selection of wines from hand-picked small producers and you have the perfect encapsulation of the bistro spirit.

Where to go for an intimate dinner date: La Table du Clarance

La Table du Clarance

This magnificent spot, with a mix of modern chic and period décor, is located in an 18th century building that is now a boutique hotel. The restaurant, driven by Nicolas Pourcheresse, holds the only Michelin star in Lille (awarded in 2016). The inventive cuisine features superb ingredients, clever flavor pairings, and cooking methods that captivate. For more intimacy, you can dine at the single table that’s set in the former library. And, on balmy days, in the charming parish garden with a view of the Saint Catherine Church. 100% romance guaranteed!

Also: Rouge-Barre

Rouge Barre Lille

Though perhaps slightly less spectacular than my last recommendation, Le Rouge-Barre offers a cozy ambiance typical of Old Lille, with its exposed red brick walls. Steven Ramon’s cuisine shines with a originality and flavor, and it’s a beautiful spot for a romantic evening en terrasse (al fresco) this summer.

Wild Card Spot! Le Bloempot

Bloempot Lille

My permanent favorite is le Bloempot — I call it the restaurant of happiness. The second restaurant of charismatic chef Florent Ladeyn is the most joyful spot in Lille. The pretty and low-key dining room, all wood and exposed brick, is just as cool, authentic, and welcoming as the chef. For this offshoot of his countryside restaurant (starred restaurant Le Vertmont, located 30 minutes outside of Lille), Ladelyn has brought a little patch of nature to Lille, and he rocks Flanders cuisine like nobody else. His is a creative, intuitive, and sincere cuisine inspired by local products. There is no menu — the daily offerings are created based on the season and what vendors on each side of the border can provide. Each plate is a delicate and delicious interpretation of Flemish terroir that you can accompany with wine, or even beer for a more surprising pairing. Oh joy!

Also: Le Gabbro

Gabbro Lille

A young duo is at the helm of this small restaurant in Old Lille, the best value in Lille: Simon Pages in the kitchen and Matthieu Durand as the house sommelier. The restaurant boasts a simple, intelligent, and surprising cuisine, with a short yet wonderful menu. The wines from independent vintners beg to be tasted immediately. This gem of a restaurant is an authentic return to the roots of bistro culture, with generous servings, quality products, and gourmet dishes, all without hurting your wallet. Proof that miracles do exist.

Thank you so much for sharing, Izabela!

You’ll find all these addresses mapped out below:

Do you have your own favorite spots in Lille? We want to hear about them in the comments below! And is there a particular city or area you’d like featured in this series in the future?

Best Eats in Bordeaux, From a Local

Bordeaux

Travel season is upon us, and I want to make sure you see and taste the best France has to offer! When it comes to Paris I’ve got you covered, but there are many other cities with exciting and delicious things for you to experience. So I’ve asked a team of French bloggers from different cities to share their favorite spots, and I am offering them to you in this new series.

In Bordeaux, Bénédicte recommends…

Benedicte Baggio-Catalan of my little spoonFor our first destination, I’m happy to introduce Bénédicte Baggio-Catalan, the author behind the French blog My little spoon. Bénédicte is originally from La Rochelle, but she fell in love with Bordeaux in 2002. She created her blog in 2008, in which she shares seasonal recipes for daily cooking and for entertaining. She is currently working for the Cité du Vin, a new venue devoted to wine that will open in Bordeaux very soon.

In addition to her blog, I recommend you follow Bénédicte on Facebook and Instagram. (The photos are hers unless otherwise noted.)

A market or food shop: La Recharge

La Recharge Bordeaux

Photo: Jules Rivet

A grocery store that sells products in bulk only: you bring your own jars, bottles, and bags — no pre-packaged goods at all! They have a lot of everyday products, but I also love to find new, unexpected products. It’s local, seasonal, smart, and economical. Too bad it’s a bit far from my house; we need more stores like this in Bordeaux!

Where to go for sweet treats: Hasnaâ Chocolats Grands Crus

Hasnaâ Chocolats Grands Crus Bordeaux

Hasnaâ Ferreira was a contestant on Masterchef here in France. She has been through a chocolatier training and has now opened her own chocolate shop, where she offers high-quality chocolates with interesting aromatic profiles. The latest, le Venezia, features Piemont hazelnuts paired with the fabulous “Marabout” Ethiopian coffee from my friend L’Alchimiste Torréfacteur (“the alchemist roaster”).

Where to get tea or coffee: Black List

A small coffee shop on Place Pey Berland. Yes, the coffee shop trend has caught on in Bordeaux! The wooden shop is decorated with Scandinavian accents and crates filled with fruits and vegetables, and it offers a daily selection of fresh dishes and American-style pastries. But, most of all, it has good coffee!

A fun restaurant for dinner with friends: Mampuku

Mampuku Bordeaux

Meaning “full belly” in Japanese, Mampuku is the latest restaurant from the Miles team. While they are not physically in the kitchen, their team delivers with the same spirit: creative, fresh, and convivial, with dishes that blend Asian, Mediterranean, and European inspirations. You don’t order your own dish here; rather, you order many small plates for the table to share. It’s the best place for relaxed yet refined finger foods in a lively setting.

Where to go for an intimate dinner with a date: Garopapilles

Garopapilles Bordeaux

Chef Tanguy Laviale had his heart set on opening a welcoming, home-style restaurant, in the most noble sense of the phrase, while still offering a cuisine that is refined and personal. Tanguy offers a single surprise menu with two appetizers, a main course, and a dessert that he creates and modifies frequently. I also love their wine selection. Truly one of the most inspiring restaurants in Bordeaux right now.

Wild Card Spot! Chez Boulan

Chez Boulan Bordeaux

Photo: Chez Boulan

Natives of the region know oyster producer Boulan for his unique oysters from Le Cap-Ferret, and now he has his own restaurant in Chartrons, a neighborhood in Bordeaux. There, chef Pierre Rousseau cooks a marine-inspired, fresh, innovative cuisine. I’m still dreaming about his raw sea bass with yuzu, ginger, cilantro and almonds, paired with mushrooms confit in sake and a runny egg yolk. It’s rare to get such good seafood in a city setting.

Thank you so much for sharing, Bénédicte!

You’ll find all these addresses mapped out below:

Do you have your own favorite spots in Bordeaux? We want to hear about them in the comments below! And is there a particular city or area you’d like featured in this series in the future?

Terroir Products: What to Eat in the Jura

Montbéliard cows, just chillin'.

Montbéliard cows, just chillin'.

This is a guest post written by Anne Elder, my wonderful intern, about the recent class trip* she took to the Jura. The photos are also hers. Take it away, Anne!

When I drive through France, the roadside signs always make me feel like I’m about to meet a celebrity, bearing names of towns I only know from the perspective of my tiny Paris kitchen, and the labels on my favorite foods.

I felt that very excitement traveling through the Jura, a French region that’s just south of popular oenophile destination Burgundy, but one that is oft overlooked by tourists. It is a lush mountainous region near the Swiss border, where the land lends itself to the production of many delicious terroir foods.

The concept of terroir is pervasive in French cuisine (and increasingly in America, too), dating back centuries.

Eating a produit du terroir means you are indirectly tasting the ground in (or on) which it was made — tasting the soil, the climate, the craftsmanship. This notion ranges from cheese, and how the hay eaten by the Montbéliard cows impacts its flavor, to wine and how the precise fusion of soil and climate and skill meet to grow grapes that are pressed into such a complex beverage.

Jura is a goldmine when it comes to seeking out terroir. Equipped with rain boots and notebooks, my classmates and I were determined to learn how to taste France. We drove over hilltops, past rows of sapins (spruce trees, which are cut down into boards where the cheese will be left to age) and stayed in a gîte, a no-frills guest house.

During our five days there, we were afforded the opportunity to see the cheese production from the farm to the aging cellar, taste wine still ripening in oak barrels, and sample many more local recipes and products cooked by gracious hosts.

If you are able to travel to Jura on your next trip to France, here are the terroir products you must not miss.

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Minimalist Kit for the Traveling Cook

Minimalist Kit for the Traveling Cook

I am going to be traveling these next few weeks, doing some simple cooking in a couple of rented kitchens, and I’ve had enough hair-pulling experiences with crappy, dull knives and flimsy plastic spatulas to be stashing a few key utensils in my luggage this time.

Because I am also traveling with a toddler and a baby who need their own minimalist traveling kit — including such essentials as toy diggers, special blankets, and stuffed monkeys — I really need to make my kit as trim as possible, and have elected to bring along:

~ My paring knife, freshly sharpened: rented kitchens are notoriously lacking in this regard, and since half of cooking is cutting, trimming, slicing, dicing, chopping, and paring, this qualifies as an absolute must-bring. I will be following this tip on how to wrap knives for traveling.

~ My vegetable peeler because, again, anything that’s supposed to be sharp is going to be dull in a rented house, and a dull vegetable peeler is worse than no vegetable peeler at all. Also, a good vegetable peeler allows you to cut vegetables into tagliatelle and papardelle to make all kinds of pretty summer salads such as this zucchini noodle salad.

~ A pair of locking tongs because it’s rare (especially in France) to find it in a home cook’s utensil drawer, yet I rely on it heavily for handling ingredients, for stovetop cooking, and for grilling. As a bonus, it doubles up as a toy for the toddler, who uses it to catch imaginary fish.

~ My Earlywood scraper made of bloodwood, sturdy and smooth with a thin and sharp edge, and a fantastic multipurpose tool that can be used for stirring, cutting, lifting, and scraping. I have written about Brad Bernhart’s handcrafted utensils before, and they’ve become cherished items in my kitchen that get used every single day (including his latest creation, the adorable coffee scoop, which I use daily to serve my paleo granola).

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San Francisco Highlights

San Francisco View

Maxence, Milan and I have recently returned from a positively idyllic, two-week stay in San Francisco, for which we swapped apartments with our friends Heidi and Wayne.

We had a blissfully relaxing, inspiring, and delicious vacation. It was crazy good to be back, catch up with friends and family, and meet some of you lovely readers at my Omnivore Books signing. And now that I am starting to crawl out from under the pile of work that awaited me on my return (not that I’m complaining), I would like to revisit some of our favorite eats and share my best San Francisco recommendations with you if you’re game.

Smitten ice cream

~ Thriving on a diet of (almost) one ice cream a day — mostly from Bi-Rite Creamery on Divisadero (outstanding walnut maple banana ice cream sandwiches); but also from Smitten in Haighs Valley, where the ice cream is freshly mixed and churned in liquid nitrogen before your very eyes (pictured above: TCHO chocolate, and maple brown sugar squash); and, on a slightly less refined, but no less enjoyable level, from Easy Breezy in Noe Valley, where the organic frozen yogurt and toppings are self-serve (dangerous!) and you pay by the weight.

Kale salad

~ Eating kale of all kinds practically every day, and especially loving the red kale salad I made a couple of times with avocado, cilantro, and pomegranate seeds (pictured above).

~ Sampling the best carnitas burrito ever from La Taqueria, thanks to a recommendation from my friend Emily (who is also, unrelatedly, my lovely Pilates instructor in Paris).

Morning bun

~ Starting the day with the buttery, cinnamon-y morning bun from Tartine.

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