Archive for September, 2010

Nicolsen Chocolates

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010
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Nicolsen Chocolates
(c) Discover Paris!

Nicolsen has been making chocolates for eighteen years. We recently purchased three varieties of spicy, dark-chocolate ganaches from its shop on rue Mouffetard.

Poivre – The first bite tasted semi-sweet and smoky, followed by a tingly aftertaste of pepper on the tongue.

Cannelle – This has the same dark-chocolate shell and dark ganache as the first, but it is flavored with zesty cinnamon rather than pepper. The ganache has a slightly grainy texture.

Gingembre – Biting into this chocolate is similar to eating candied ginger. The ganache contains chewy ginger fibers and is quite piquant.

Nicolsen has one shop in Paris, one in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, one in Boulogne, and one in Chavenay, where its production facility is located. As well as its own artisanal chocolates, it also sell Berthillon ice cream. Yum!

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Celebrating Raï with Khaled and his Friends

Sunday, September 26th, 2010
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Maurice El Medioni (left), Khaled (center), Abdelhoued Zaim (right)
(c) Discover Paris!

The organization Festival d’Ile de France has been giving a spectacular series of concerts since September 5. I had the opportunity to hear Baaba Maal on September 11 (see my blog of September 12). Last Friday night, I heard Khaled and his friends at the Cirque d’Hiver. This concert was devoted to raï, a musical form that developed during the 1930s in the coffee houses and cabarets of Oran, in Algeria.

I was not sure whether I would even like this type of music, but, because the event promised a great line-up of raï stars, I figured that I had better get there to see for myself what it was all about.

The Cirque d’Hiver is a circus venue, built in Paris in 1852 and inaugurated by Prince Louis-Napolean . Today, it is still used for circus performances, as well as concerts. I imagine that France must have been a nation of small people at the time that the performance hall was built, because the seats are quite narrow and restrictive. My knees pushed against the back of the seat in front of me, and I had trouble placing my feet flat on the floor. During the show, however, I became so absorbed by the music that I largely forgot my discomfort.

As soon as Maurice El Medioni, the first performer to appear on stage, played his opening notes, a great roar arose from the audience, followed by shrill ululating. That high-pitched, trilling sound was an unmistakable signal that most of the spectators were Algerians or people of Algerian descent. It was also an indication that they knew that some wonderful music was about to be played!

Maurice El Medioni, a pianist born in Oran, is a specialist in Judeo-Arabian music. After he played the first number, he announced that it was a pure Andalusian melody. I found the music enthralling, even dreamy.

Cheba Zahouania
(c) Discover Paris!

Then, just as El Medioni began another tune, the star of the show, Khaled, appeared at the top of a grand stairway to the wild acclamation of the audience. For the rest of the show, he would dominate the stage, singing with three other stars as they appeared in sequence. If Khaled is known to Americans, it would be for his popular song Aïcha, which came out in 1996. He sang this number, but for the most part his songs were in the rolling, rhythmic style of raï that sounds, to my ears, like wailing. This wailing sound is the reason why I thought that I might not enjoy the concert, but here, with it being performed live, I listened with fascination.

The three other performers were Cheb Sahraoui, also born in Oran, who was the first raï artist to tour North America; Boutaïba Sghir, who sings popular styles of raï; and Cheba Zahouania, one of the great female voices of this musical genre.

Toward the end of the show, the orchestra—consisting of musicians playing drums, bass, keyboard, accordion, guitar, derbouka (a percussion instrument), and oud (lute)—performed a number of melodies. One of the tunes sounded just like Latin jazz—all that was lacking was the brass!

By the end of the show, spectators were swaying in their seats, waving their arms, and dancing in the aisles. It was a great musical performance!

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A Repeat Performance

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010
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Mélodie Arsene, Co-owner
Mères et Filles
(c) Discover Paris!

Last night we returned to Mères et Filles, a wine bar and restaurant located at 8, rue Saint-Paul, for dinner and drinks. As we wrote a
review about this establishment on March 15 of this year, we are pleased to report that the service is just as gracious and the cuisine just as delicious as we remember it. My Tartare de crabe et avocat, a salad of crab meat and avocado, was particularly appetizing. I also tucked into a Woc de calamars et légumes, a dish of wok-fried squid and string beans. My partner ordered only a main course—Black Angus beef with chimichurri sauce. She was delighted with this mouth-watering dish.

We asked Mélodie, one of the owners of the bistrot and the server for the evening, to advise us on the wines, which we ordered by the glass. Her advice was beyond reproach!

The bread was fresh, soft, and chewy. Mélodie changed suppliers as a result of our March review, in which we reported the bread to be dry. She told us that her new boulanger won the best bread in Paris award.

The greatest joy, of course, comes from dessert. Monique ordered the Baba au rhum, as she did back in March, and I again ordered the NY cheesecake. Both were superb, with Monique’s rum-soaked baba served with a small glass of rum on the side (as if the rum in the rum-soaked baba was not enough!). My cheesecake was served with a small goblet of raspberry coulis. Sweet and delectable!

Our friend Michele, who hails from Chicago, joined us for dinner and enjoyed herself as well. She has promised to contribute an article to the blog about a French restaurant in her town whose chef worked with Guy Savoy in Paris. We are looking forward to this!

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Parisian Personalities: Maxime Marcon-Roze

Friday, September 17th, 2010
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Maxime Marcon-Roze, Manager, and Constanza Bouyat
Brûlerie des Gobelins
(c) Discover Paris!

Maxime Marcon-Roze hails from Chelles, a town that lies about 22 km to the east of Paris. At some point during his university studies in biology, he discovered the world of coffee and decided that that was the field in which he wanted to work. He has been in the business for five years now, and is manager of the Brûlerie des Gobelins.

We wrote about this coffee-roasting store in 2007, when we interviewed the owner, Mr. Logereau. Mr. Logereau has since retired from the business, but before leaving he taught Maxime his techniques of roasting, permitting Maxime to continue offering the same kinds of coffees, roasted in the same way.

This brûlerie specializes in blended and unblended Arabica coffees. For example, Maxime sells an unblended Moka Harrar from a specific estate in Ethiopia whose proprietor identifies his coffee with the image of a horse and the name “Harar-Horse” stenciled on the burlap bags in which the coffee is delivered. The image of the animal reflects the proprietor’s interest in the pure-blood horses that run wild on his plantation. Maxime describes the coffee as “strong, but not aggressive; smooth; long finish; robust, woody aromas.”

Harar-Horse Coffee from Ethiopia
(c) Discover Paris!

When I asked Maxime to name his favorite coffees, he replied without hesitation that he prefers Ethiopian and Yemenite coffees. He described another Moka that he likes, the Sidamo: “smooth, soft, fruity, and full-bodied.”

Maxime says that he has two kinds of clients—experienced coffee drinkers and novices. He directs those in the first category to specific kinds of coffee that he thinks they will like. For those in the second category, he will recommend what he calls “classic” coffees, such as a sweet, low-acid coffee from Brazil. In each case, he takes the time to describe the flavors and aromas of the coffees to his customers.

Maxime attends a coffee tasting once a month to seek out new coffees to propose to his clients. He calls the coffee that he selects his “coffee of the month,” and stocks it for about two months. The “coffee of the month” is always announced on a chalkboard that stands at the entrance to the store. This month’s coffee is Guatemala Antigua Panchoy, “a full and balanced coffee with no bitterness.”

Maxime enjoys meeting foreigners who come into the shop. He has a particularly fond recollection of a Korean coffee roaster who declared that his best sales were also Harrar and Sidamo. As for Americans, he says that they make up a tiny fraction of his customers.

In addition to coffee, the shop offers a good selection of tea, cakes, cookies, candies, honey, chocolates, and jams and jellies.

Brûlerie des Gobelins
2, avenue des Gobelins
75005 Paris
Metro: Censier-Daubenton or Gobelins (Line 7)

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Celebrating the End of Ramadan with Baaba Maal

Sunday, September 12th, 2010
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Baaba Maal and Aliou Diouf, Drummer
(c) Discover Paris!

I first heard Baaba Maal sing many years ago on Afropop Worldwide, a radio program dedicated to promoting popular music from Africa. At the time, I greatly appreciated his music, but over the years other interests drew me away from listening to it. Just recently I learned that he would give a special performance in Paris celebrating Korité, the conclusion of the Islamic holy month of fasting. With my interest in hearing him sing rekindled, I quickly purchased tickets.

The performance was sponsored by Festival Ile-de-France, a cultural organization that brings music from throughout the world to the Ile-de-France region. Intriguingly, the performance would be held on the stage of the Académie Fratellini, an organization that teaches circus performance arts. This would be a great occasion to hear the great singer from Senegal!

Monique and I arrived early to enjoy a buffet-style dinner served by a charitable group called La Femme aux Milles Bras. Monique ordered poulet boucané, alocco (fried plantains), and a dessert of beignets of coconut and ginger. I chose the shredded carrot and corn salad, beef maffé (made with peanut sauce) and alocco, and a milk-based dessert called déguié. The food was simply presented, but quite tasty! During the dinner we noticed that many African men were dressed in colorful boubous. The women wore clothes that were even fancier—they sported colors that would rival those of the bird of paradise flower!

Nattily Dressed Concert Attendees
(c) Discover Paris!

After this informal dinner, we left the hall and entered the circus big top. This is a fabulous structure built out of wood that holds 1,600 spectators. For the musical performance, though, it looked to me as if only half as many tickets were sold, so that there would be nobody sitting behind the performers. I would guess that about three quarters of the audience were wearing the beautiful Wax Hollandais fabrics that we had seen during dinner.

A big cheer went up when Baaba Maal came out on stage. During the course of the concert, he was joined onstage by six other musicians who comprised his band.

What was truly surprising about this concert was not the music, which was a joy to listen to, but the reaction of the audience to Maal’s presence on stage. People came up to dance in front of him, to leave money at his feet (presumably in response to the plea that he made for Africa’s children at the beginning of the concert), to touch his hair, to be photographed next to him, to try to convey messages to him, and to bow before him. During the entire concert, I found that the main attraction was not Maal’s music (the reason that I had come), but rather, this vision of dozens of people who came onstage to try to engage him in some way.

Spectator Dancing on Stage
(c) Discover Paris!

There were times during the concert when Maal and his band were literally mobbed by fans! Several bodyguards, including a particularly burly one who remained on stage at all times, had a devil of a time warding off people who wanted to take a close-up picture of Maal or of a friend who came up from behind to stand next to the singer. The musicians were apparently used to this adulation because they did not flinch, miss a beat, or falter at any time during the performance.

I found this spectacle rather distressing, as the view of so many people coming onstage to get close to Maal distracted from his masterful musical performance. In my mind, there was a real danger that the adulation could quickly degenerate into pandemonium. But Maal and his band remained cool during the whole performance.

Towards the end of the performance, his bodyguard scooped up the money that lay at Maal’s feet and stuffed it into a bag.

We left the concert early to catch an early train home. We were surprised to find that we had to pass through a phalanx of police massed outside the gates to leave the concert grounds. A large crowd of people was waiting peacefully in the street beyond them. I wondered, “Is this a normal gathering of the forces of law and order after a concert?”

As we made our way to the train station, we could sense no trouble brewing. We had an uneventful wait at the station for the train’s arrival, and an equally uneventful ride back to Paris.

Thank you, Baaba Maal, for your wonderful music!

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La Truffière – Our Monthly Restaurant Review

Thursday, September 9th, 2010
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Chef Jean-Christophe Rizet
Photograph courtesy of La Truffière

On the first of each month, we publish a restaurant review, which we call “Le Bon Goût,” for the readers of our Paris Insights newsletter. In it, we not only describe our dining experience, but also write about the chef or the proprietor, and illustrate the review with a photograph of him or her.

We have been reviewing restaurants for many years, and have met many chefs and proprietors who are passionate about the art of preparing great cuisine. By writing about them, we hope that we can communicate their passion to you, their customer.

In the September edition of Le Bon Goût we review La Truffière, a gourmet restaurant located steps away from place de la Contrescarpe in the 5th arrondissement.

Chef Jean-Christophe Rizet prepares delicious dishes there, drawing inspiration from Italian and Japanese cooking.

Access to the review is available to paid subscribers of our newsletter. To enter a subscription, click here.

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An Evening at Shakespeare and Company

Saturday, September 4th, 2010
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Shakespeare and Company
(c) Discover Paris!

Last Sunday evening I attended an event at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore that featured author John Kirby Abraham speaking about his new book Paris Made Me… I thought that John gave a great presentation, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. The occasion was, however, the first time in the eighteen years that I have been living in Paris that I ever entered this venerable institution.

Upon reflection, I now understand why. It is because I do not like to enter narrow, crowded quarters where there is little room to move about and where, in the event of a fire, there is little chance of getting out. The bookshop is a confined, decrepit place, whose history and charm do not, in my mind, compensate for its state of disrepair. As I entered, I had to push my way past customers standing in the narrow halls and climb a narrow staircase up to the room on the first floor where the reading was being held. Then I had to make my way along another narrow hall to enter the reading room, where there were seats arranged for the presentation. But what an arrangement! All of the seats were pushed tightly together to accommodate as many persons as possible. Many were simple stools, and many were fragile-looking things. Fortunately for me, I spotted Sylvia, the daughter of founder George Whitman, removing the “Reserved” signs from two comfortable-looking chairs in the front row. I quickly sprang up from the awkward stool upon which I had perched and occupied one of the chairs. What luck to find a tiny island of comfort in this jumble of a place!

John Kirby Abraham
(c) Discover Paris!

From the moment that he began the presentation, I could tell that John had extensive experience as a public speaker. Indeed, he served as a broadcast journalist for Radio France for many years. He engaged his audience, asking questions from time to time that required specific answers or asking for a show of hands to questions such as “How many here are from the United States?”. His presentation centered on his reminiscences and, given that he has interviewed many interesting people, he had a lot to say. I was delighted when he played a tape of his interview of Josephine Baker that had been recorded just before she gave her last performance (she died in 1975). I found his interview questions thoughtful and her responses equally so. I was also surprised to hear that her voice was a rich, commanding voice—not the tinny one that I have heard in her songs and in the movies.

After the presentation I purchased John’s book, which I asked him to autograph. A young woman came by and handed me a glass of red wine, so I moved out of the reading room in order to drink it. In another room I met a young man who introduced himself as an illustrator from Barcelona. His name is Sergio Lifonte and he is in Paris to find a publisher for a book of strip cartoons that he has written and illustrated. He described the book as an Alice-in-Wonderland fantasy in which his principal character recurrently finds himself. Fascinating!

After I finished the wine, I took leave of the place. As I made my way downstairs I noted that the shop was still full of customers browsing through books. It was heartening to see so many people on a Sunday evening engaged in the search for a good book to read.

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Another Jewish Paris

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010
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Victoire Synagogue
(c) Discover Paris!

When one mentions “the Jewish quarter” of Paris, an area called the Marais usually comes to mind. In this month’s Paris Insights newsletter we explore another Jewish Paris—the neighborhood called Faubourg-Montmartre, located in the 9th arrondissement.

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Bonne lecture!

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