Wednesday, December 07, 2016

W Hotel Opera Breakfast Buffet, Paris

On my first trip to Paris, I stayed at the W Hotel in Paris for two weeks.  As part of my stay, I had breakfast included in my room rate, which was a buffet at the Coquette restaurant.

I was warned by friends who stayed there previously that the breakfast wasn't good, but, I do love buffets, and tend to like different things than they do (namely, baked goods), so I went into it still optimistic.

I should have listened.  The buffet really wasn't good, and I can't imagine paying the full price of 38€ for it.

The experience as a guest was a bit scattered.  On some days, I had to sign a bill with my room number.  On others, I didn't.  I was never sure when it was appropriate to leave.

Setting

Bar Area.
The restaurant has a nice vibe and decor, very modern, full of art, it matches the rest of the W nicely.  The bar area was unused at breakfast, but perhaps it becomes occupied in the evening?  I never visited then.
Tables.
Most tables have benches along one wall, and a chair on the other side.  Simple place settings with silverware were laid out.

The restaurant was always nearly empty.  There were never more than two other tables occupied the entire time I was there.  I can tell why, it certainly wasn't worth sticking around for.

Drinks

The buffet included juices, water, and coffee/tea in the price.
Self-Serve Drinks.
Juice (orange and grapefruit) were self-service at the bar, as were water and sparkling water.  Well, most of the time.  On most days, there was an ice bucket with self-serve water and sparkling water bottles in it.  However, on some days it was not set out.  On those days, when I asked for sparkling water, sometimes I was given a single glass of water.  On others, I was asked if I wanted a small or large bottle, and I was then later billed for the bottles.

Such inconsistencies in the experience.
Decaf coffee.
You could order any type of coffee drink (capp, etc) from the servers.  I opted for decaf.  The decaf was served in a tiny cup, and quickly ran out.  I felt bad, but I needed to ask for refills over and over. If you order regular coffee, you get a whole mini-pot, but since I was getting decaf, it was always an Americano, so they came cup at a time.

After the first day, the server remembered my order.  Such wonderful service!

The coffee was shockingly good.  The first day, I worried that perhaps I wasn't actually getting decaf, but, it remained consistently awesome.  It really was the best coffee I had in Paris.

The roobios tea was actually quite nice too, again, a bit of a surprise.  Someone here cared about the experience of those who don't go for caffeine.

Food

Continental Buffet!
The main buffet was set up along one side of the room, all cold items.  The arrangement of the buffet was different every single day.  Items were never in the same location.  Sometimes similar items would be placed together, other days they wouldn't.  So some days the 3 tarts were laid out next to each other, other days they were randomly distributed throughout the buffet.  So strange that they don't have a common setup ... doesn't this make re-stocking it hard?

Speaking of re-stocking, on many days, they ran out of plates, and patrons had to regularly ask for them.  It wasn't like it was busy.
Hot Foods.
In a tiny corner was the hot food selection and toaster.

The hot food selection had:
  • scrambled eggs
  • veal sausages
  • roasted tomatoes
  • roasted mushrooms
  • potatoes
The selection never changed in the entire two weeks that I was there.  I also never saw it get replenished, I don't think many people choose this stuff, and the quality looked so poor that even I didn't bother try it.

Alongside the toaster was was two types of sliced bread.
Cereals, Milk.
The cereal station had three types of cereals: corn flakes, wheat bran, and muesli.  I tried the muesli, and enjoyed it.  Loaded up with assorted flakes, grains, and bits of dried fruit including raisins and banana chips.

There was only a single type of (unlabelled) milk, likely full cream, pretty great with the muesli.
Croissants, Breads.
The bakery section included croissants (plain and chocolate), baguettes (on most days), and brioche.

I had a slice of brioche the first morning.  I threw it in the toaster, I have no idea if that was a faux pas or not.  The brioche wasn't great, and I never tried it again.  I was amused that only about half the days included a bread knife, other days patrons used their bare, unsanitary, hands to rip off chunks.

The most exciting aspect of the breads to me was the crazy pyramid of assorted jams.  They weren't labelled most days, so it took some guesswork (and many tastings).  One day, finally, they were labelled, so it was amusing to see how far off my guesses were.  I'll include the real answer and my guess in my reviews below, in the format Real Answer (Julie's guess), along with my notes before I knew the real answers:
  • Honey (honey): This was just honey, not much to say here. 
  • Apple Sauce (pear butter): basically like applesauce, but, well, pear flavored.  Fine if you are into that sorta thing.  (Yes, I thought it was pear butter, even compared it to applesauce, but, well, I guess it was applesauce.  Maybe the apples taste like pears in France?)
  • Rhubarb Jam ... or Apricot Jam (some kind of caramel): My favorite.  I honestly have no idea what it was, but it was thick like a caramel or dulce de leche, and quite sweet.  Good slathered on just about anything.  It wasn't labelled the first day, was labelled rhubarb the second, and apricot the third.  This one really amused me.  I hate rhubarb!  It also wasn't bitter at all.  It was thick, and I can see how you'd get that from rhubarb, but, it was like candy.  So strange.  I didn't detect any rhubarb flavor, even when I tried.  I think it must have been apricot?
  • Raspberry Jam (raspberry jam): my second favorite.  Just a nice basic raspberry jam.  I really fell in love with this, seeds and all (I don't like seeds generally), and opted for slathering it on just about everything.  It was sweet, fruity, and delicious.  Wish I knew what flavor it was.
  • Apricot Jam ... or rhubarb? (bitter ... something jam):  Again, not labelled the first day, labelled as apricot the second, and rhubarb the third.  This tasted sorta like a bitter orange marmalade, except it clearly wasn't.  No visible orange or anything.  I'm guessing it was the rhubarb?
I was let down by the pastry selection.  I thought there would be more options.  Where were all the danishes?

Still, I was in Paris, and if the random hotel I stayed at in Buffalo, NY could impress me with croissants, clearly this hotel would at least do a decent job, right?

Wrong.

Yes, the outside was flaky, and yes it was light and airy, but, it just wasn't buttery.  It wasn't ... anything.  As generic as can be.  Even slathering it in the tasty spreads didn't really help.

So I tried the chocolate croissant.  If at first you don't succeed, add ... chocolate, right?  Well, it was slightly better?  A bit flaky at least, but perhaps just because it was older and more stale.  The chocolate inside was decent, but still, just not a good croissant.
Cookies and Muffins.
The final pastry selection was little sweets.  Two types of hard style cookies, and two types of cake (labelled muffins).

The first day I opted for the white cake.  I thought there would be something interesting about it, but alas, there was not.  Just a plain little cake.  Slightly sugary, but no real flavor.  The top was a tiny bit crispy.  But really, not interesting at all.

The next day I tried the chocolate.  Again, really boring.  No deep chocolate flavor.  No chocolate chips.  Nothing interesting.  Kinda spongy.  And while labelled a "muffin", there was nothing muffin-like about it besides the shape.

I was disappointed that there weren't any other sweets.  Isn't this what Paris is known for?
Madelines.
One day, there was a random addition to the lineup.  They looked like madelines, and in fact were still inside the madeline baking pan.

But ... they didn't taste like madelines.  They weren't exactly sweet cakes, were more like eggy popovers.  Slightly more breakfast appropriate I suppose?

They weren't great, but when you covered them in butter and the raspberry jam, they, like anything, became edible.  That butter and jam were really, really great.
Fruit - fresh and stewed.
The fruit selection was rather comical.

On one platter, fresh sliced fruit.  Since the platter contained watermelon, I had to skip it entirely, but it didn't look that appealing.

The three containers had assorted stewed fruit.

One was a fruit salad mix, with melons, so again, I had to skip.

Another was ... whole oranges, just sans their peel.  I've never seen such a thing before, and was fascinated.   It went on the list of things to try if I ran out of other interesting options.

The final was poached pears one day, poached peaches another.  The peaches were actually quite good, sweet, soft, but whole.  I cut some up in yogurt, but it was still a bit hard to deal with a whole peach.
Yogurt, Cheese, Butter.
 Next was an assortment of yogurts.

Most were Ferme des Peupliers brand, available as nonfat plain, full fat plain, vanilla, or strawberry.  One other was a soy yogurt and the final was an athletic probiotic shot.

A single type of sliced cheese (unlabeled) was available, another curious selection.  Weren't the french known for their cheeses?  Another day it was at least a triple cream, but, rather unremarkable.

I did appreciate the large, quality, pats of butter.  It turned out to be some of the best butter I had on the trip (my office actually had totally amazing butter.  As in, so good that I'd literally just eat it by the spoonful.  Don't judge).
Ferme des Peupliers Yogurt: Strawberry.
The presentation of the yogurt was nice, in a glass pot, layered with strawberry puree in the bottom.   I was thrilled with the first spoonful actually, right from the top.  But then the yogurt got more runny, more generic.  Turns out, they top them with a cream top, no wonder I liked that part!

The cream top was nice, the rest of it was fine, not particularly interesting, just yogurt.  The strawberry puree on the bottom was sweet.

Overall fine, but pretty generic, fairly runny, yogurt.
Smoked Salmon, Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Hardboiled Eggs.
I never tried anything from the smoked salmon and sides station, as they didn't look very fresh.
Cold Cuts.
Nor did I try the very generic looking cold cuts.
Quiches, Tart.
The final selection was a trio of unlabeled quiche (labels did appear later on in the week).

The first was salmon.  I eagerly took a slice, but ... well, hated it.  It was really fishy.  The second day this was replaced by ham and cheese.

But the next was a winner, "vegetable quiche".  Mushroom and some sort of green chile.  While the crust wasn't that buttery or flaky (again, disappointing, come on, Paris!), the layer of egg was thin (bonus for me, I don't actually like quiche generally because I'm not an egg girl), and the flavor of the mushrooms and green chiles was great.

The vegetable quiche changed daily however, most days I didn't like it.  The final day it was loaded with chunks of broccoli, green beans, other veggies, and cheese, and it was decent, but nothing compared to that first green chili quiche.

The final one was a sweet seasonal fruit tart.  The crust was again lackluster, but the filling was assorted stone fruits, nicely cooked down, sweet.  It was fine, but not great, and really would be better with some whipped or clotted cream.  If only we were in England!
Read More...

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Les Fables de La Fontaine

Les Fables de La Fontaine is one of many Michelin starred restaurants in Paris.  On my recent, way too short, trip to Paris, I was in the city for only Monday - Thursday.  I ended up stuck in the office Monday night, had a team dinner planned for Wednesday, and needed to leave in the early afternoon to catch Eurostar to London on Thursday, so, I had only one free night for dinner with Ojan.

I wanted to have a good meal, but, I also was going to be heading to dinner straight from the office, and knew I'd be exhausted.  We almost went back to Les Cocottes, our favorite fairly casual restaurant from our previous trip, but I really did want to try somewhere new.  I selected Les Fables de La Fontaine.

I knew it had a Michelin star, yet was on the casual side, and was reasonably priced.  As a bonus, the menu is seafood focused, generally my top pick for cuisine.  The history is also a bit interesting, although the English translation on their website isn't the easiest to follow.  I think I got this right though ...  it sounds like the restaurant was owned by Christian Constant (same owner as Les Cocottes), but he then gave it to his head chef to take over, who then in turn brought on a new executive chef, a young 21 year old woman, who then earned the Michelin star?  Anyway, reviews were all very strong, and it sounded like a good fit for our needs, so, on our one free night, I made a reservation, and headed there for dinner.
Beautiful plating throughout!
Overall, it was basically exactly what we were looking for.

Michelin star level cookery and crafting of dishes, with beautiful plating, but without extras thrown in like an amuse bouche, palette cleanser, or petit fours.  Portions were all reasonable sizes, yet reasonably priced too.  Service was good, but without some of the extraneous extra bits that often come with fine dining like a server coming to brush away non-existent crumbs from the table.  We felt very welcome, the setting was relaxed and comfortable, yet it was high end cuisine.

I'd gladly return, although, I'm likely to try somewhere else, just because I know there are so many amazing choices in Paris.

Setting

Les Fables de la Fontaine is located in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, not far from the Eiffel Tower.  I remember walking by it on our way to Les Cocottes {LINK} on my first trip to Paris, and being drawn in by the curb appeal, and later, once I did a bit more research, the menu.
Outdoor Seating.
The restaurant looks very inviting in the evening, with a row of tables out on the sidewalk, and soft light streaming out from inside.  We were offered a seat outside, but opted to go inside, as I was worried it would get chilly.

The outside area was composed of 7 2-tops, which I think was actually more than could fit inside.  Dining al fresco is certainly a thing here.
Tables Inside.
The inside has a lot of outside elements incorporated, like stone walls, wide plank wooden floors, and wooden tables that show the grain.  The palette is muted, mostly beige and brown tones.

Tables are set with placemats, no table clothes, and wine and water glasses.  The overall feel was comfortable, not cozy exactly, but more comfortable and relaxed than many Michelin star settings.

We opted for sparkling water, which came in a glass bottle with the restaurant name written on it.  Our server poured us our first glass each, but the pour was so tiny I drank it in two gulps.  When we ran out of water, a new bottle was not offered.

The interior space is fairly small, only a handful of tables really.  Reservations are required.
High Table.
In the center of the room was a high table, and in the back, a curved stairwell that went ... somewhere.  I really wanted to know where it lead to, but wasn't ever brave enough to ask, as I don't speak French, and even though the staff were friendly enough in English, I didn't want to push it.

Cuisine

Menu.
As always I had done my research in advance, and arrived at the restaurant with a plan.  The only problem?  The online menu was out of date, and, several of the dishes I planned to order were no longer available.  Doh.

The menu was in both French and English, on the same menu.  There were 5 choices for entree, 3 Plats and 2 Signatures for main, and 5 desserts (including a cheese course).  Not a huge menu, and mostly seafood focused (which I knew going in).  Nothing vegetarian at all.

I did ask the server if the dish I really wanted that wasn't listed was possibly available (a signature dish of butternut squash cannelloni with calamari and pumpkin cream that just sounded amazing), but, alas, it was gone.  Ojan and I were both not very hungry, as our bodies were still a bit time zone confused, so we opted to share one starter and two main dishes (one from each section of the menu), and hopefully leave room for dessert.  I appreciated that the menu listed the desserts on it, as the dessert menu I had seen online wasn't very appealing, and these sounded better.
Bread and Butter.
Unlike many Michelin star restaurants, the meal did not begin with an amuse bouche.  Instead, we were brought a selection of bread and butter, soon after we ordered.

The bread offering was a slice of baguette for each of us, a slice of focaccia with olive oil drizzled over it, and a little bowl of butter, plated on another wooden element, a tray.  We were not provided with bread plates.

The baguette was pretty boring, crusty bread, better than most US baguette slices I guess, but not life changing like most other baguette I had in Paris.

The butter, mixed with herbs, was hard, and as such, difficult to spread on the slice of baguette.  Ojan and I both laughed, saying, "-1 star", but, I think we were both a bit disappointed at this point.

The focaccia I did like, although it was completely soaked in olive oil, making it rather spongy.  The oil was clearly high quality though, it had a deep grassy flavor to it.  On top was a flavorful red powdered herb and a fennel crust.  I loved the flavors here, but, it was just too oily.  When I asked Ojan what he thought of it, he said simply, "well, its oily".
Entree: Crispy Egg Yolk, Leeks Vinaigrette Seaweed, Raw and Baked Haddock. 15€.
"Jaune d'oeuf croustillant, poireaux croquants en vinaigrette d'algues haddock cru et cuit."

For the starter, I selected what I knew was the signature dish, even though it wasn't called out on the menu in any way.  Our other starter options were mullet and smoked eel tartar, another mullet dish, roasted chicken oysters, or smoked oysters, so even if I hadn't read a zillion great reviews of the crispy egg yolk, I likely would have gone for it anyway.

The starter, er, entree, came about 15 minutes after the bread, a slightly longer delay than we would have preferred, but, not bad, again, particularly given that we weren't really hungry.  Although we indicated that we were sharing, no share plate was brought.

The dish looked great, and it was clear at this moment that we were indeed at a Michelin star establishment, even if we didn't have an amuse bouche or a share plate, and even if the bread wasn't impressive.  This plating set the tone for the rest of the meal.

So what did we have here?

In the center was the "crispy egg yolk", literally, a deep fried egg yolk ball, perched on top of a round crispy crouton, surrounded by alternating chunks of leeks, and two types of haddock (raw and smoked).  This dish also seemed to be sprinkled with red powder, like the focaccia.

I didn't take a photo once I cut into the egg, but, it did ooze egg yolk porn all over the rest of the dish, soaking into the crouton below, which I'm sure was by design.  It was like an egg yolk raviolo, except, well, just the deep fried yolk, rather than pasta-encased.  The crouton was too crispy for either of our liking.

The crispy egg yolk was ... fascinating, but I found it too oily.  Which is also how I felt about the vinaigrette.  I realize I sound anti-oil now, after describing this and the focaccia as too oily, but I really don't mind oil.  It was just all more than I'm used to.

The haddock chunks were served cold, and I didn't really love either style, although I liked the baked more than raw.

The leeks though ... those I liked.  Large slices of leeks, fresh and really refreshing, very crisp.  I think I was really craving vegetables at this point in my travels, which I'd see again in the next course.  The dish had a bit of kick to it, perhaps that was from the red powder?

Overall, neither of us loved this dish, although it was beautifully presented, and the fried egg really was different.
Plat: Line-caught giant seabass with shellfish, green curry emulsion, chips and shallot powder. 25€.
The main dish options were filet mignon, braised beef cheeks, or seabass, plus two signature seafood dishes.  We stuck with all seafood.

Our main dishes came 20 minutes after the starter, again, slightly longer a wait than we would prefer given that we were tired, but, really not bad.  And again, beautifully plated, this time on a large white bowl with an extensive rim.  All dishes came with very unique serving vessels.

Ojan started with this dish, although we planned to share, so I got to see his reaction first.  He reacted, visibly and audibly, to the chips on top, 3 large, round disks.  He kept telling me how thin and crispy they were, which, I mean, I could see they were chips, so I didn't quite comprehend until I got my turn at the dish.  Indeed.  The chips were insanely thin, and, well, insanely crispy.  You could see through them they were so thin.

Under the chips was the seabass, served skin side up.  The skin was crazy crispy, just like the chips.  The fish was very well prepared, moist, yet with this amazing skin, but, it was just seabass, not particularly an interesting fish.

The shellfish element was mussels on the side, which I don't care for.  I didn't ever really find a "green curry emulsion".

But under this all was tasty bits.  I think it was stewed, caramelized leeks and shallots.  Soft, and so very flavorful.  I didn't really want it with the fish, but I was happy to just eat spoonfuls of this flavorful mush, although it was a bit salty on its own.

Overall, this was a fine dish, well prepared, well presented, but just not very exciting.  Oh, and it too had some red powder sprinkled on it.
Signature: Cod fish Aïoli, seasonal vegetables steamed, lagoon olive oil “Fuente de Piedra”.  24€
 "Aïoli de lieu, petits légumes de saison glacés, huile d'olive de la lagune "Fuente de Piedra""

Speaking of presentation.  When the second main dish hit the table, another signature dish, I think my jaw might have dropped a little.  It was served on a huge yellow rimless platter, with dots of aioli and red beet sauce all around.  Many of the pools of aioli had little tiny herbs sticking up in them.

The cod was well cooked, very moist, very mild, very flaky, and, uh, drizzled with oil and red powder.  This restaurant clearly knows how to cook fish, and really likes oil and whatever that powder is.

The vegetables were laid out behind the fish, mostly baby veggies, lightly cooked.  We had baby carrots, leeks, artichoke hearts, parsnips, red torpedo onions, saffron potatoes topped with more aioli, and kale chunks.  I really liked the sweet onions, Ojan liked all the veggies.

The red beet sauce added a vibrant color, but I didn't think it went very well with the dish, flavor-wise.

It was served with a little pitcher of oil on the side.  Our server explained that we should pour it on.  I really can't say I understood this.  Where would we want the oil?  The fish was already lightly covered in oil, and we had the aioli to dunk it in.  We tried the oil, and it was good quality, but, we didn't find ourselves wanting to use it with the dish.

And finally, the aioli.  I saved the best for last.  The aioli was perfectly creamy, and incredibly garlicky.  It was awesome.  Seriously, the best aioli I have had in my entire life.  I wanted to dunk anything and everything into it.  The cod obviously went well with the aioli.  As did the firmer vegetables.  My favorite though?  The pieces of kale, just absolutely slathered in aioli.

The plate, as you can see, really had a ton of aioli, far more than we needed, but I loved it so much that I didn't want to give it up.  After we ran out of things that made sense to dunk into the aioli, aka, everything that came with this dish, I started seeking alternatives.  I salvaged my last bit of oily focaccia, and used that.  I finally resorted to just, uh, my fork.  Really, this was incredible aioli.

So, overall?  Another beautiful dish, more food prepared really well, and in this case, the winning element of the aioli made it a standout.  Seriously, that aioli!  I really enjoyed this dish.
Dessert: Raspberries and mint, pistachio financier, bora bora panna cotta. 12€.
And finally, dessert.  The online menu was not particularly appealing: a cheese course, a chocolate dish (not for me in the evening), poached pears (one of my least favorite things), a lemon pie (again, not something I like), and a soufflé, which was promising, except that it came with passion fruit in the center and mango sorbet, not things I hate, but, not things I was particularly excited about.  Luckily for us, the menu was out of date.  Our options still included a cheese course, the lemon pie, and a chocolate dish, but the soufflé was replaced by a far more exciting sounding fig soufflé, with a "bitter almond heart flowing" and fig sorbet, and the poached pears were replaced with this dish.

If we were more hungry, I'm sure we would have also gotten the soufflé, but as it was, we really weren't hungry, and, to be honest, I was pretty satisfied by all that aioli.  Still, you know me, I love to finish on a sweet note, and can't ever really skip dessert, particularly when there is a panna cotta on the menu.

Once we ordered, it took another 20 minutes for the dessert to arrive, and, well, as expected, it too was beautifully presented.  There was no palate cleanser offered before moving into dessert, and no mignardises afterwards.

We didn't really know what we were ordering.  What is a "bora bora" panna cotta?  I still don't know.  And how a financier and a panna cotta belonged in the same dish I also wasn't really certain of.  I certainly wasn't expecting sorbet, yet this came with a scoop of raspberry sorbet perched on top.  Speaking of perched on top, there was also a sugar decoration, with a flower inside of it?  And fresh raspberries.  And a crumble.  And puffs of cream.

There was a lot going on here.  It took a lot of digging into it to try to understand it.  While I pondered it, Ojan dug in, and declared it "very refreshing", which is certainly not what I expected from panna cotta.

The base was the "bora bora panna cotta", which was a thin layer of a thick custard, with some sort of subtle flavor that I couldn't quite figure out.  The texture was great, but I really wanted a deeper bowl of panna cotta to dip my spoon into.  The cookie crumble gave a nice crunch and another textural component.  The puffs of cream were super rich and fluffy.  The fresh raspberries were nice.

I didn't care for the financier, as, meh, cake, but it did have a strong pistachio flavor.  I also didn't care for the sorbet, as I don't tend to like sorbet, and it was just very sweet.  Ojan mirrored my thoughts, saying, "If this didn't have the sorbet or the financier, I'd really like it."

Overall, I liked the pudding, the crumble, and the fruit together, and enjoyed it.  And like all the dishes, I appreciated the crafting of it and the aesthetics, even if all the elements didn't quite add up for me.
Read More...

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Pascade by Alexandre Bourdas, Paris

On our first night in Paris, I didn't plan an epic dinner.  I know this isn't my style, but I had no idea if we'd want to crash early.  If we'd have the energy to go out.  But of course I had a list of easy options ready to go.

So when dinner time rolled around, and we deemed ourselves not up for grand adventures, but wanted to sit and eat a light meal (we snacked at the office all day long), I had a no-brainer suggestion: Pascade.
A light meal.
Pascade was on my list for a couple reasons.

The first is simple: it is a Michelin Bib Gourmand, within 5 minutes of our hotel, and 10 minutes from the office.  This means it was likely decent food at a reasonable price and conveniently located.  Good.

Next, I knew it was casual.  We could go without needing to return to the hotel to change out of our "engineer" clothing.  We really didn't have the energy for dressing up.

Next, it was already on my list due to its Bib Gourmand rating and close proximity, and when I asked  local colleagues for recommendations, not one, but two, immediately suggested Pascade.  If locals like it, that is a good sign, right?

And finally, it sounded unique.  Pascade serves pretty much one thing ... pascades.  What are pascades?  Yes, that is something I was trying to understand myself.  I read, and was told, that it was like a cross between a crepe and a souffle, except shaped like a bowl, and filled with things.  Savory or sweet.  While I don't love crepes or souffles, the unique nature of it drew me in, plus of course the promise of sweets.

Overall, I'd say our visit was a success.  I didn't love it, but I'm glad I tried it.  The concept seems solid.  Service was polite and tolerant of our non-French speaking (English menus were provided).  The atmosphere was pleasant, simple.  We weren't under dressed, and felt comfortable.  The meal was fairly efficient, it probably only took about 15 minutes for our order to be ready.

The Setting

The decor is casual, modern, clean, simple.
Tables for two.
Almost the entire restaurant is tables for two.

The tables, the floor, and the chairs are all wooden, but different types of wood, with different styles of grains.
Long Table.
The center of the space is filled by a long table.  I imagine this is communal seating, but when we were there, it was never occupied.  The restaurant only had 3 other tables filled the entire time we were there.  We were clearly on the early side for Parisian dining.

The back wall was stonework, which integrated nicely with the wood tones.
Silverware.
When we first sat down, these wells in the table held paper menus, rolled up.  Once the staff realized we were English speaking, the menus were taken away as they were in French, and we were provided English menus.

After ordering, the holes were filled with metal tubes.  I must have looked very confused, as the server quickly removed the lids on one of the tubes.  Inside were cloth napkins and cutlery.  We each had our own tube.

I don't think this is normal in France, right?  I thought it was fascinating at least.

Along with the cutlery, a small bowl of cherry tomatoes was brought out.  I was too busy photographing and being amused by the cutlery to get a photo of the tomatoes before Ojan ate them all.  He really liked them, saying it was a refreshing starter and something quite different.

Our experience was starting out as unique as I hoped.

Food & Drink

Menu.
The menu at Pascade is fairly simple.

For starters, there is a meat plate, cheese, a single salad, and a simple pascade drizzled with truffle oil.

The main attraction is obviously pascades, and there are 4 savory and 3 sweet available, and the varieties rotate out seasonally.

On our visit, our choices for savory were: pollack, calamares y chorizo, green risotto, veal chopped parsley, and shrimp.

I didn't want veal, neither Ojan nor I were interested in risotto, and Ojan vetoed the shrimp.  I was fascinated by the shrimp, as the description read "roasted shrimps with garlic, penne, coconut milk & citronella, aubergine dip".  Penne ... in the pascade?  I guess not much different from risotto inside?  But ... aubergine dip too?  It sounded crazy.  But alas, Ojan vetoed it, thus the other seafood option is what we went for.

For sweets, our choices were: lemon cherry, citrus fruits chutney, and "only chocolat", or a tasting platter.  The dessert pascades were 11€ each for a full size version, or, 15€ for a 2 person mini tasting.  I really only wanted the citrus fruit chutney one, and Ojan really only wanted the chocolate one, and we had no idea what would actually come on the mini platter, so, obviously, we had to just get that and make no decisions ourselves.
Coteaux d'Aix en Provence 2013 Chateau Revelette. 8€.
To go along with my selections, I opted for a glass of red wine.  There were 3 choices by the glass, one for 5€, one for 8€, and one for 11€.  With no other real signal into what they were, I just opted for the middle choice.

I didn't care for it.  It was too tanic for me, but, this isn't the fault of the restaurant, I had no idea what I was ordering.

I did appreciate that the full bottle was presented to me, a small taste was poured first, and then my glass was filled.  Of course, I guess I could have said no at that point, and almost did, but I really didn't want to be complicated.

Ojan opted for sparkling water, served in a Pascade branded bottle, for only 3€, not bad.
 Pollack, calamares y chorizo.  21€.
"Roasted pollack, squids, celery purée, chorizo and riquette."

Our main pescade really was lovely.  I had seen photos online before, but it still looked even more dramatic than I expected.  Almost too pretty to break into!

It also didn't taste anything like I was expecting.

I loved the dough.  It was ... sweet.  Yes, this was our savory main course, but the dough was sweet.  Not sugary exactly, but certainly sweet.  It was crispy, but light and fluffy.  I suddenly understood the descriptions I had read.  It was not just crispy and chewy like a crepe.  It had the airiness of a souffle, except, well, it was thin.  Really fascinating texture.

Inside was a generous amount of seafood, 3 large chunks of pollack and assorted pieces of squid, plus slices of chorizo.

The seafood was ... ok.  The pollack was nicely cooked, tender, moist, but just wasn't a fish I was interested in.  Ojan also didn't really care for it, and one chunk went unfinished.  The squid was also ... ok. It was kinda chewy, not particularly great.  But I liked it more than the pollack.  The chorizo was good, flavorful slices of meat.

I didn't find "celery purée", but there was a cream sauce.  It was orange in color, mild in flavor, and quite creamy.  What it was, I honestly have no idea.  But I love cream, and it went great with the crepe-like base.  A little arugula, "riquette"?, was on top.

Overall, it was all fine.  It was a unique thing for sure, and I liked it more than a crepe or souffle.  The crust really was quite good, but the fillings just weren't quite for me.  I would consider trying another savory one sometime, although none on the current menu really appealed.  I think I'd really like the simple appetizer one just drizzled with flavorful truffle oil.

The price of 21€ seemed ok, higher than a crepe obviously, but there was a lot of seafood.
Les ''minis'' – dégustation pour 2 personnes. €15.
The mini platter was presented on a wooden board, one each of 4 types of minis, so 8 total.  This meant we got to try all 3 from the regular dessert menu, plus a bonus one!  Yes!

The presentation was quite cute, I must say.

All had the same shell, crispier than the main savory pascade, and caramelized.  I imagine if you get the full size ones the shell winds up similar to the savory one, just with more sugar in it.  Personally, I really liked the mini size since it was crispier and seemed more like a kouign amann.  The bite (ok, two or three) bite size was also enjoyable, just as finger food.

Starting from the front, we had:

Lemon Cherry:
Butter & lemon cream, toffee, cocoa biscuit and cherries".
This was my least favorite, and even though tiny, I didn't finish mine.  I would have never ordered this one though, as I don't like lemon flavors in dessert.  It was like a creamy lemon meringue pie filling, just not something I ever want.  Topped with a cherry half.

Coffee Cream:
This was the bonus one, so I don't have a full description.  My second favorite.  I avoid caffeine at night, and planned to only take a single bite of this, but, well, I couldn't resist finishing it.  The coffee cream was smooth and a lovely flavor, and it was topped with even more whipped cream.

Only Chocolat:
"A slightly hot soufflé of dark chocolate mousse."
My third favorite.  This one was quite different from the others, in that it didn't have a cream filling.  Instead, it was molten chocolate!  I wish I had taken a photo, but it was too messy to do so.  The moment I bite in, I had to quickly put the rest in my mouth, as it exploded molten chocolate everywhere.  This was Ojan's favorite, but only my third pick.  Interesting, but I preferred the cream flavors.

Citrus Fruits Chutney:
"Mascarpone cream & biscuit with passion fruit juice, citrus fruits chutney."
My hands down favorite, and, predictably, the one I would have ordered if only ordering a single full size dessert.  I didn't really taste any particular citrus fruit, but it was full of creamy, delicious mascarpone.  I love mascarpone, and the crispy shell, the creamy mascarpone, and the sweetness of the fruit chutney was a wonderful match.

Of the four, I would gladly get the mascarpone one again, and would share the coffee one, but the others I'd skip.  Again, I'd love to see what other flavors rotate though though, because I really liked the concept behind them.
The Bill!
The bill came rolled up and presented inside a metal tube.  The little touches of the decor really were quite nice.
Read More...

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Club Europe, BA 336, LHR-ORY

The flight: BA 336, LHR-ORY
Travel class: Club Europe
Departure time: 4:40 PM,
Meal served: Afternoon Tea.

Our final leg of the journey to Paris was on board BA 336, a A319 .  This was not my first time flying Club Europe, so I knew what to expect.  Skipping all the general preamble here, since you know know it by now.

The Cabin

Middle Seat - with fancy tray.
The seat was slightly nicer than what I’ve seen in the past.  The middle seat was blocked off, as is standard for Club Europe, but this time we had a nice tray in the middle, perfect for setting drinks throughout the flight.  The space under the seat was also large enough that both Ojan and I were able to stow our bags, keeping the space under our own seats free, greatly enhancing our foot space.

Service was friendly and efficient.  It started with an offer of a scented hot towel, something I noted was missing from our previous long haul flight.  I was really impressed with how quickly they got meal service going, but I guess it was kinda necessary, given the short flight time.

Food

Afternoon tea on British Airways is always a bit sad.  A trio of dry, stale finger sandwiches on a plate/bowl with a spring of limp lettuce, a boxed “sweet treat” from Do&Co, and warm scones.  At least they have clotted cream.
Afternoon Tea.
The selection of sandwiches for the day was:
  • Cheese and chutney on white
  • Egg mayonaise with chives on rye
  • Tandoori chicken on wheat
I tried a nibble of each, and, as expected, the bread was totally stale.  The cheese and chutney was my favorite, but I couldn’t really identify what kind of cheese it was, nor what kind of chutney.  It reminded me of a non-grilled version of the grilled cheese my Dad always made with american cheese slices and relish.  The egg mayonnaise was a bit off putting because it was warm.  I didn’t try the tandoori chicken, because, well, chicken.

Also on the tray was the standard Wilkin & Sons strawberry jam, Rodda’s classic clotted cream, and whole milk to go with tea or coffee.

A basket came around with warm scones soon after, raisin or plain.  Again, no tongs, you had to reach in with your hand, as did everyone before you.

I opted for the raisin scone.  The scone was a standard BA scone.  Awesome?  No.  But tasty enough,  particularly when slathered with the entire pot of jam and clotted cream, and, uh, the unfinished clotted cream of your travel companion.

The "sweet treat" this time around was a new one for me, an orange hazelnut slice.  It wasn't good, but it wasn't awful.  Nice grittiness from the hazelnuts, orange flavors to accent, but certainly not a fresh baked good.
Read More...

Monday, November 28, 2016

Pierre Hermé, Paris

It is no secret that I adore desserts.  And baked goods.  Ok, basically anything sweet.  So it shouldn't surprise you that finally visiting Paris was a bit of a dream come true for me.  Pastries, sweets, everywhere!

One realm of desserts I am never excited by however are cookies.  Yes, even if they are macarons.  I've just never really liked macarons.  Why eat one?  I just don't get it.  I want more textures, more ... something.  I dunno.  So this is one area I was a mismatch for Paris.  Parisians, it turns out, are quite serious about their macarons.  Like Starbucks stores here (or Dunkin' Donuts for you east coasters), they are on every single corner.  And of course, there are great epic debates over who makes the best macaron (the answer seems to be Ladurée or Pierre Hermé, depending on who you ask).  Both of these brands have several shops around town, so I obviously ran into them over and over again.  Luckily for me, they don't just make macarons.

I sought out Pierre Hermé for one specific reason.  Another grand debate in Paris (along with where to get the best croissant, baguette, etc) is where to get the best mille-feuille.  Not an item we see all that often in the US, so I was definitely interested to sample some local options.  For the uninitiated, mille-feuille is a layered dessert with crispy flaky puff pastry and cream.  Usually 3 layers, but some pastry chefs go crazy adding more.  Usually stuffed with vanilla pastry cream, but sometimes it can be whipped cream, or other flavors.  The top usually has just confectioner's sugar, but I saw many that were iced too.   You might know these as napoleons, or a vanilla slice perhaps?

Anyway.  According to the all knowing internets, Pierre Hermé makes THE BEST mille-feuille in Paris (unless of course, you want one that is always made to order to ensure maximum crispness, in which case, there are other answers ...)

So I sought it out, venturing to the location in the 6th Arr.  There were several closer locations, but only a handful of Pierre Hermé shops actually sell the pastries, most sell chocolates and macarons exclusively.

There is no seating available, so all goods are packaged to go.
Macarons.
One large counter area was devoted to the famous macarons.  I quickly moved on.
Pound Cakes and Confectionary.
Opposite the macarons along the wall were assorted jams and spreads, and beautifully decorated pound cakes.  Still, not interesting to me.
Individual Chocolates.
The wall also had a display case of individual chocolates.  While I was browsing, I was offered a chocolate.  Chocolates are the other big speciality of Pierre Hermé, so I wasn't about to say no to that, even though it wasn't a flavor I was excited by Mogador, "passion fruit and milk chocolate ganache, enrobed with milk chocolate"

The chocolate was fine, and I liked the smooth creamy chocolate ganache, but the fruity flavor of the passion fruit inside the chocolate wasn't my favorite.  Still for a free chocolate, I was happy (these are not cheap!)
Pastry Case.
But I had my eyes on the pastry case, filled with stunning creations.
My Prize!
It turns out, I must not have been the only one who wanted the mille-feuille.  There were only two left!
Packaging.
After I ordered it, I was given a ticket, and sent to the cash register.  I paid.  And then I waited.  And waited some more.  Finally my treat was delivered to me.  They weren't just being slow or lazy.  They uh, take the packaging seriously.  Every order, even if just a single item, goes into a special box, with some marketing materials, in a bag.  I didn't need the bag nor the flyers, but, ok.
Fontaine Saint-Sulpice.
Since there was no where to sit at Pierre Hermé, I walked just a half a block away to the Fontaine Saint-Sulpice, and sat on a bench in the sun, prize in hand.

Let's just say I was excited.  I also knew that Pierre Hermé did not sell drinks, not even bottles of water, so I brought along my own coffee.  Because desserts need to be paired with coffee!
The Un-Boxing.
It was a bit difficult to get into, as the box was the type that kinda falls apart and is held together by a sticker.  I quickly realized that I couldn't eat it inside the box with the high walls, so I had to keep deconstructing that elaborate boxing job.
2000 Feuilles. 7.30€.
"Flaky caramelized puff pastry crust, crispy praliné with Piedmont hazelnuts, praliné mousseline cream."

It was beautiful, right?

I grabbed the PH logo thing on top, assuming, as it was part of my dessert, assuming that it was edible, and tossed it in my mouth.  It was not.  What, seriously?  I assumed it was printed on chocolate, or at least edible paper.  Nope.  Ok, major strike, this is worse than a garnish on a plate you aren't supposed to eat!

I carefully cut a slice, getting all the layers.  I tasted it.  Hmm.  I wasn't happy.

I seem to have missed an important memo ... the mille-feuille at Pierre Hermé is hazelnut based, not vanilla.  I don't really like hazelnut.  This isn't what I wanted!  I won't count this against them though, this is my own preference and fault.

So, take everything from here on with the knowledge that I was very disappointed.  I know I had read that it was "praline" and I saw it wasn't white, but somehow, I just didn't think about what I was getting.  It was supposed to be the best, I didn't question it further!

Anyway.  There were three layers of the crispy puff pastry crust.  This is what I like about mille-feuille, the contrast of that super crispy, caramelized crust with the cream inside.  It was crispy.  It was flaky.  But it tasted burnt.  There is a line between burnt and caramelized, and they went over it.  Was it supposed to be this way?  I'm not sure.  But it was bitter and burnt, not sweet and caramelized.  Strike two.

There were also three layers of the cream, "praliné mousseline cream".  It was creamy, it was hazelnut flavored.  It was fine.  Not much more to say there.

Wait, how were there three layers of cream, if there were three layers of pastry?  Because they added a bonus layer, the third from bottom.  Instead of another puff pastry layer, it was ground hazelnuts with more hazelnuts embedded in it.  Even more hazelnut flavor, but at least I liked the texture.

The ends were covered in feuilletine (those flaky little pastry crunch things).

Overall, it hit some checkboxes: yes, the pastry was crispy.  Yes there was a creamy layer.  The bonus hazelnut layer added some needed texture.  But ... it wasn't sweet enough.  The cream wasn't sweet, the hazelnuts were rather bitter, and the pastry layer was incredibly bitter.  It just wasn't what I was looking for.  I can deal with hazelnut, but it needed to be balanced by sweet (or chocolate!).

The 7.30€ price is also pretty high, but makes sense, given the elaborate nature of all of it, including the packaging.  Serious meh from me.
Read More...

Friday, November 25, 2016

Marie Morin Packaged Desserts, France

Marie Morin is a french producer of desserts, specifically potted desserts, mostly puddings, available in grocery stores.  Except they aren't like the sorts of puddings we get in the US, no plastic cups, no plastic taste.  These are legit puddings, served in glass containers.  Right away, you can see why they caught my interest.  I love puddings!

I quickly looked the company up.  A family run business, started by, you guessed it, Marin Morin.  After success in France, they expanded to Canada too, but I had them while I was visiting Paris.

The product line in France has chocolate mousse (both milk and dark chocolate varieties), chocolate cake, ile flottante, citron yuzu tart, pistachio cake with a chocolate center, apple crumble, cheesecake (chocolate or caramel), some kind of almond pear dessert, cherry clafoutis, rice pudding, and creme brulee.  They also make potted yogurts.  The product line in Canada is smaller, and consists of chocolate mousse, chocolate souffle, lemon cheesecake, creme brûlée, apple crumble, and caramel custard.

I didn't actually go out and purchase these at a grocery store myself, instead, they were stocked in the microkitchen at my office, so I wasn't able to sample the full product line.  Sadly, the rice pudding never appeared there, but I did get to try the creme brûlée, which I was obviously very skeptical, and interested by.

Overall, the items I tried were far better than the equivalent, mass produced, generic grocery store stocked, long shelf life products we have in the US, but they were not exactly the quality level of something freshly made.  Still, wonderful to have on hand for a snack anytime.
Mousse au chocolat noir /  Dark Chocolate Mousse.
The first item I tried was a lighter colored chocolate mousse, still called a dark chocolate mousse (noir), but not as dark as the old fashioned version.

It had a nice flavor, and I liked that the very top was a bit thicker, but, the pudding itself was pretty runny and I didn't care for it.
Mousse au chocolat à l'ancienne / Old Fashioned Chocolate Mousse.
"This old fashioned chocolate mousse recipe Marie Morin is prepared with only natural ingredients without artificial coloring or preservatives: chocolate 100% pure cocoa butter, eggs and salt butter.

Under its cover, see the firm texture of the mousse very creamy and generous chocolate. Powerful aromas of chocolate in the mouth draw a beautiful cocoa for a delightful dining experience.

Fresh, simple and authentic, this chocolate mousse recipe is THE recipe Marie Morin, worthy of a chocolate mousse house."

The old fashioned dark chocolate mousse was ... almost good.  The texture was really light and fluffy, which was appealing at first, but it somehow broke down immediately.

The chocolate flavor however wasn't very strong at all, which was a surprising given how dark it was.
Tarte au citron meringuée / Lemon Meringue Pie.
Next up was one I'd never normally pick since I dislike citrus desserts, but, it was the only option that day, and I do love meringue.

The lemon pudding had a decent flavor, but was fairly gritty in a strange way.  And, because lemon, it certainly wasn't to my liking.

The meringue looked great, even toasted on top, and tasted pretty good too.  It scared me a bit though, how did it stay stable for weeks?

This item has been replaced by a version with yuzu infused in it.

Amandine aux poires caramélisées / Caramelized Pear Almond Cake.
"Almond cream and semi-candied pears and caramelized bring him a nice juicy and tart notes. This fruit dessert is delicious and generous, no doubt, with him you will make happy." -- Google Translate

This was the first cake style item I tried.  It wasn't awful.  A moist, dense, almond cake, with some sweet caramelized pears in the base.  It isn't really what I tend to go for, but, for what it was, it was good.

The instructions say to microwave it, which I didn't see until too late.  I'm curious how different it would be if warm.
Crème brûlée.
"The top cream. Cream, milk,eggs,sugar are the main ingredients with our personal touch… A creme brulee so unique, so tasty, so creamy, so…with a thin layer of caramel crisp..."

And last but not least, one of my all time favorite desserts: crème brûlée!

This one was a bit more involved than the others, as it came with a packet on the side of additional crystalized sugar that you are supposed to sprinkle on top (and, ideally, bake).
Crème brûlée: Topped.
I didn't have an oven, so, I had to settle for just sprinkling the sugar on top, and not actually bruleeing it.

That said, I still really enjoyed it.  In some ways, yes, it was just packaged pudding, in a fancy glass jar, but, it really was quite tasty.  Thick, rich, vanilla pudding.  I wish our grocery stores had this instead of Snack Packs.

The huge sugar crystals were good even when just sprinkled on top too.  Not crème brûlée obviously, but, they were sweet and added a nice crunch.

Overall, quite tasty, my favorite of the products I tried, and I'd gladly have another.
Read More...