A light lunch at La Cuisine de Bar

Fancy a soup and sandwich while exploring the Left Bank? For a light lunch, this narrow restaurant in the 6th arrondissement offers a simple menu built around bread from the acclaimed next-door bakery and Cuisine de Bar owner, Poilâne.

IMG_1164

We visited the location in the 6th arrondissement although there is another in the 3rd arrondissement as well as in Chelsea, London. The setting is cozy (read: tight) but also welcoming. The kitchen is a bar on the right, dining is along a banquet to the left and a small room in the back. The setting is bright but a bit warm from the open salamanders (broilers) in the kitchen.

IMG_1158

The menu is quite simple. Set menus or individual items. Sandwiches are all open-face slices of next-door bakery Poilâne’s beautiful loaves with a few simple toppings. The tomato, mozzarella and basil one was a delight.

IMG_1159

The smoke salmon was also nice. There were sets including the soup of the day and a glass of wine, reasonably priced.

IMG_1165

A view of the narrow kitchen. You can see where the heat was coming from! The staffing the day we visited was minimal: one person in the kitchen, two waiters and a person clearing and washing dishes. Based on how hectic and slow service was, I suspect they were short-handed at least one person. Who knows? Perhaps this is the way they normally run the show.

The service was polite but rushed. Trying to flag someone down to take our order was excruciating, until I realized that the waiter understood the order in which people had arrived and was taking the orders according to that. The wait was just something we had to deal with. It would have been nice to have been asked for some patience (the woman dining next to us seemed a bit put off) but we were on holiday, so why not just relax and enjoy the atmosphere?

IMG_1160

There were a few desserts including this very nice strawberry tart. As the rush was slowing near the end of the the lunch service, we took the time to enjoy a slice along with the coffee drinks that accompanied the set menu.

IMG_1163

With a cute cookie spoon with which to stir your coffee!

IMG_1167

The simple exterior of the restaurant on a sunny and warm Spring afternoon. Overall, I think La Cuisine de Bar is a worthwhile stop if you are on the Left Bank and are looking for a simple lunch. The bread is nice (buy a loaf next door!) and sometimes you want a simple lunch that still feels sophisticated.

La Cuisine de Bar
8 Rue du Cherche-Midi
Paris 75006
+33 1 45 48 45 69
Open daily

Breton Galletes at Breizh Cafe

The crisp buttery crunch was followed by the nuttiness of the buckwheat. Every bite that followed was comforting and hearty until the last bite, after which I was left satisfied but a bit sad. Such was the story on both of our meals at Breizh Cafe, a popular cafe in the 3rd arrondissement that produces succulent galletes – buckwheat crepes from Brittany – in a cozy, international setting with friendly service and, somewhat unusual in Paris, nearly a “no reservations” policy.

IMG_1189

The branch of this cafe in Le Marais, a district full of beautiful buildings and charming restaurants and shops, is cozy with tightly-packed indoor seating and a handful of tables on the sidewalk.

IMG_0781

Reservations were accepted for the following day when we arrived late and could not wait, but for the most part it is a first-come, first-served basis. The service is efficient, though, so waits seem mostly tolerable. The staff is welcoming and is happy to speak English, although they were quite patient with my broken French.

IMG_1183

In addition to crepes, they offer a range of ciders (available in the traditional bowl) as well as smoked sausages of various types. These made a lovely appetizer and I badly wanted to buy some from the next-door shop to take home.

IMG_0775

The main courses, a fixed menu plus some seasonal specials, are all the galletes – the buckwheat crepes that are surprisingly filling. The portion size is enough for one person, although you will be hard-pressed not to share! What I particularly enjoyed about Breizh was that they make the crepes nice and crisp. The texture adds such a nice contrast to the cheesy fillings.

IMG_1187

Desserts are made from wheat flour so they are lighter. This was a pear with salted caramel sauce. The neighboring show sells the caramel sauce and homemade salted caramels from Brittany. (Several tins of which made it back with us to Bangkok!)

This is definitely a must-visit, so much so that I ate two meals there on this trip.

Breizh Cafe
109 Rue Vieille du Temple
75003 Paris
+33 1 42 72 13 77

 

Pastry in Taipei – Boîte de Bijou

While in Taipei for Andy and Sugi’s wedding banquet, I visited a cute little patisserie called Boîte de Bijou (“Jewel Box”). Both visits were to their second location on AnHe Road in the Da’An district, just across the street from Far Eastern Plaza mall. The first visit was fantastic. The second visit was a disaster.

This location is not very large but has a stylish, modern decoration that mostly showcases the beautiful pastries they create. You can select many of your own items and fancier, more delicate items (cakes, for example), can be selected at the counter.

Indoor seating is limited to one communal table and a half-dozen seats at the counter at the coffee bar. With beautiful marble-lined walls and a great view of the barrista, who is preparing most of the dishes on the menu, the counter is a good place to be.

The pastries are fantastic. Beautiful, well-executed, and nicely presented. This blueberry tart featured beautiful ripe berries and inside the tart was a hidden pocket of jam.

This pistachio cake was beautiful to look at and had a delicate foamy texture with a cookie crumb base and a raspberry filling. 

A surprise find was kouign amann, a Brittany-style pastry that has been gaining popularity worldwide. It is made similar to croissant dough except that sugar is sprinkled on each layer as it is folded and rolled out, making for a sweeter, more caramelized treat. The kouign amann here was a little tough and not as special as the other desserts.

Andy, Sugi, and I had a very pleasant afternoon break while Tawn was back at the hotel, taking a nap. Sadly, when I returned with Tawn a few days later, eager to share this cute little find with him, we ended up with a bad taste in our mouth.

Most of the seating at Boîte de Bijou is in an outdoor patio. When we arrived the second time, all the tables were occupied except one. Tawn sat down and I went inside to order pastries. As those were being prepared, I went to the coffee bar to order some drinks. The (manager? supervisor? random employee?) asked me where I was sitting and when I said we were sitting outside, she said that there was no room outside. I assured her we already had a table and even walked outside with her to show that Tawn was already sitting at the table.

In the next sixty seconds, my pleasant feelings about this patisserie melted away like spun sugar in a warm mouth. 

“Oh, that table is reserved,” she said. When we asked why there was no sign or any other indication that the table was reserved, she simply repeated that the table was reserved. When I asked where we should sit instead, she replied that they were full. “But I’ve already ordered our food,” I explained. “We’re busy today,” was her response.

I understand that there was probably a bit of a language barrier. We didn’t speak Mandarin and English is probably not her first language. But for so classy a shop, there was absolutely no class to their service. No apology, no attempt to accommodate us, nothing. The ideal solution would have been something like, “I’m so sorry we forgot to put a sign on that table. Since you’ve ordered your food already, could we prepare it to go and I’d be happy to give you your drinks for free to make up for your inconvenience.” 

Instead, she seemed uninterested in helping us, so we decided to leave. No food, no payment, just walked out the door, abandoning our pastries.

So if you make it to Taipei, there’s a really cute patisserie down a small lane. But before you go, be aware that their customer service lags behind their baking skills.

 

Food in KL – Limablas

While in KL, a former colleague from the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (now, mercifully, called CAAMFest), met me for lunch, taking me to a charming restaurant called Limablas

Located in the eclectic Mesui neighborhood near upscale Bukit Bintang, Limablas (which means “15” in Malaysian) resides in an old shophouse that has been meticulously restored. The co-owner, Uncle John, keeps an eye on the business and visits with guests, many of whom seem to be regulars.

The interior is a veritable museum of antiques and a meal there feels a bit like a trip back to the middle of the 20th Century. Old glass jars hold ingredients used in the dishes, including dried chilies and dark, sulfurous palm sugar.

The collection of decorative items can lead you to wonder whether you should sit at a table or simply stand and admire it. That said, sitting is a good idea so you have a chance to enjoy the food!

The menu is pretty straight-forward, filled with a selection of basic Malaysian and Chinese dishes. Both Bryan and I ordered the mee siam, which is a noodle dish with a curry sauce that is ostensible Thai-style. More than anything, this illustrates a common food heritage stretching from southern Thailand (think Phuket) into central Malaysia. The noodles were simple but tasty. Since this was lunch and I had enjoyed a large breakfast, I didn’t try anything else from the menu. Prices were reasonable, especially for this area, and other reviews I’ve read online praise the food as authentic and tasty.

For a combination drink/dessert, I had cendol. The bowl is filled with (sorry, not visible in this picture) thin, green pandan-flavored flour noodles that look a bit like worms. Shaved ice is mounded on top and then the rich, molasses-flavored palm sugar syrup is poured on the ice, followed by coconut milk. Perfect for the warm weather. Probably not so perfect for my diet! This dish also speaks to the common culinary heritage of the region. Probably originating from Chinese traders, the same basic dessert is found in Thailand, too.

For a final thought, I will leave you with this cute picture of a couple huddled over their smart phone amidst the brightly colored walls and open air well at the back of the restaurant. If you find yourself in Kuala Lumpur around lunch time, I would suggest you stop by Limablas for a bite.

 

Maui Food Madness Part 4

Sorry for being absent from Xanga for over a week. We returned from the United States with my sister and brother-in-law in tow, and have been showing them around Bangkok, leaving little time for blogging. With that said, let me pick up where we left off in Hawai’i. For the final segment on food in Maui, we visit a lavender farm, a goat dairy, and eat some fantastic fish tacos.

Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm

One of the interesting things about Maui is that it is agriculturally more diverse than you initially expect. While there are wide swaths of land dedicated to sugar cane and other tropical produce, as you ascend the slopes of Haleakala (the volcano that forms the eastern 75% of Maui), you pass through a more temperate zone. The combination of rich soil, moisture-laden air, and the filtered tropical sun provides a fertile growing environment for a wide variety of produce. Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm is a great example of this. 

P1010104

Situated 4,000 feet above the ocean in the town of Kula, the Ali’i farm stretches over 13 sloping acres. Different varieties of lavender are cultivated and the grounds are largely open for self-guided walking tours. In the early afternoon, the breeze was pleasantly warm but we were protected by a thick layer of clouds that reminded me of the fog of my native San Francisco, but without the need for multiple layers of clothing.

P1010095

Here, Sugi and Tawn pose amidst a field of lavender on the upper edge of the farm. The farm offers settings for private events including weddings. While the steep slopes might prove challenging for guests with limited mobility, the views (and fragrance!) would be unforgettable and worth the effort.

P1010115

Close up of one variety of lavender. The air really is perfumed with a subtle, but pleasant aroma from the acres of lavender.

P1010127 P1010142

In addition to the lavender, the farm has extensive gardens with many different plants and beautiful flowers. Many of the plants were familiar to me from growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, which has a similar climate. I was excited to see the fuchsia (on the right) because my father used to grow these in our back yard.

P1010148

No trip to the farm is complete without a stop at the gift shop for a snack. Beverages include lavender lemonade and tea.

P1010168

The highlight is the lavender scones served with passion fruit and lavender jelly. A few years ago, I purchased some food grade lavender but rarely used it. Tasting these scones, I was sorely tempted to buy some more and make it a point to cook more frequently with this beautiful flavor.

P1010174

Sitting on the shady balcony outside the gift shop, we were visited by a flock of small birds who waited not so patiently for scone crumbs. Tawn decided to share his crumbs with them and they gingerly approached and pecked them from his hand.

Surfing Goat Dairy

P1010257

Just down the hill from the lavender farm is the Surfing Goat Dairy, another example of the agricultural variety found on Maui. A working farm that produces more than two dozen varieties of goat cheese that are used at restaurants across the island, Surfing Goat Dairy proudly claims to make da’ feta mo’ betta!

P1010216

One of the younger goats playing on a surf board.

P1010186

The dairy offers tours and there is a small gift shop that sells a variety of their products. Recommended are the cheese tasting flights, which feature both fresh and aged cheeses.

P1010261

We sampled six cheeses, a mixture of fresh and aged. From the back left, clockwise: fresh feta, “Ping Pong Balls” (drained chevre, rolled into balls and marinated in garlic olive oil), Ole! (chevre with jalepenos, lime juice, artichokes, and cilantro), Udderly Delicious (plain, salted chevre), Garden Fantasia (chevre with fresh garden herbs), and French Dream (an aged cheese with herbs de Provence). Lots of fantastic cheese here, many of which have won national awards. 

P1010277

A pleasant, shaded seating area was populated with a friendly farm dog and cat, both of which came over looking for some attention. Despite being outside, both animals had exceptionally soft, well groomed coats. Perhaps the result of drinking plenty of goat milk?

P1010377

Before we left, I snapped a picture of these kids feeding kids. Ha ha…

Coconut’s Fish Cafe

P1210785

The final entry about Maui food concludes with a stop at Coconut’s Fish Cafe in Kihei. This restaurant, which is in a strip mall, looks like nothing to write home about but surprises you with tremendous quality. The must-eat item is fish tacos, which are prepared from fresh, locally-caught fish.

P1210782

The owner, Mike Phillips, who is in the shop most evenings, supervises operations and comes out to chat with customers. He took this picture for us. He explained that they are just setting up franchises on the west cost of the mainland, with the initial store to be in Santa Cruz. If a Coconut’s Fish Cafe opens near you, please make sure you try it. As Mike explained, the only advertising they do is customer word-of-mouth. So from my mouth to your ear: word.

P1210781

The beautiful fish taco, made with fresh mahi mahi, crunchy cabbage slaw, and a sweet and tangy mango salsa. This taco was so good that I would seriously consider stopping in Maui next time I’m flying back to the mainland US, just to eat here. My only quibble is that the toppings are cut in very large chunks, making them a bit hard to eat. Smaller bits would ensure you get a little bit of everything in each bite, but that’s a tiny complaint.

There you have it, the conclusion of my Maui Food Madness entries. I hope you enjoyed them!

Part 3
Part 2

Part 1

 

Food in LA: Metro Cafe Culver City

For our first three nights in Los Angeles, we stayed near our friends’ house at the Travelodge Culver City.  While I would normally worry about a Travelodge (especially one in a big city) being a bit sketchy, the one in Culver City received really good reviews – lots and lots of “10’s” – on TripAdvisor.com.  Sure enough, for about $100 a night, they offered these very large rooms with two king beds (and room for at least one more if they wanted to add it).  A recent remodel had included a lot of thoughtful touches such as ample cabinets, granite countertops and tiling, and even the shower curtain rod that bows out from the tub so the curtain doesn’t cling to you.  A surprising find for what is normally considered a two-star hotel.

P1130372

An even bigger find is the Metro Cafe, a coffee shop that is located in the front part of the hotel.  Guests of the hotel get a coupon good for $5 off at the metro and the Serbian owned restaurant received just as many good reviews as the hotel itself.  It is every bit the kitsch cafe of the 1950s without trying too hard to be that.  In fact, with the solid ceramic coffee mugs, sturdy chairs, and laminate tables, it may just be the real article, still extant.

We had breakfast our first morning there and had we not made arrangement with friends to dine elsewhere during our stay, we would have been very happy to have eaten all our breakfasts there.  The lunch menu looked good and everything I read – and heard first-hand from friends who have eaten at the Metro Cafe – indicates that the dinner is very nice including many Serbian specialties.

P1130376

After a full night’s sleep and a cup of joe, Tawn looks ready to tackle LA.

P1130378

One item that caught my attention was the French Toast.  Thick slices of fresh brioche were lightly battered and fried on a well-seasoned grill.  Fresh strawberries and bananas were accompanied by a homemade raspberry sauce.  This was one of the most enjoyable French Toasts I’ve ever had.

P1130381

Tawn had the eggs benedict, which was unpretentious and expertly executed.  The potatoes were well-seasoned with crisp edges.  Just a really satisfying start to the day.  We’re here for another 10 days or so.  I think we really need to come back!

P1130383

After breakfast we set out to run some errands.  For the two days I will be at work, Tawn will have the car and be on his own, so he wanted to get back behind the wheel in the US, the first time in the more than six years since he moved back.  The car, a Dodge Charger, was a bit more powerful than what he drives at home, but he did a good job getting reacquainted with driving on the right side of the road.  And also scaling back that Bangkok style aggressiveness behind the wheel!

P1130388

In the afternoon we did some browsing in West Hollywood, sharing a veggie burger and fries at a shop on Santa Monica Boulevard.  The patty was tasty but had no cohesion as a burger, falling apart as we tried to eat it.  The fries were tasty but I prefer the fries at in-n-out burger.  The bun was nice, though.

 

Saturday Cooking Part 1

Saturday a week ago, the one before Valentine’s Day, was a full day spent cooking.  There were two separate events, both of which will get their own blog entry.  The morning event was the soft opening of the Seagull Cooking Cafe, a cooking school that the makers of Thailand’s premier line of stainless steel cookware products have opened on Sukhumvit Soi 63.

P1090953

The menu was Linguine Carbonara, Chocolate Truffles, and a mocktail called the Cinderella.  One of Tawn’s cousins, Wan, is friends with the daughter of the family that owns the Seagull company.  In additional to inviting her two sisters, Wan also invited Tawn and me to participate.

Tawn comes from a big family – he is number 35 out of 38 grandchildren on his father’s side of the family.  Keeping track of all these cousins is a bit of a challenge, especially those cousins here in Bangkok.  While I’ve met several of Tawn’s Bangkok cousins once or twice before in passing and am connected with some of them on facebook, this was my first opportunity to spend any significant time with them.

This opportunity fit perfectly with my plan to build connections with the rest of the family, in anticipation of the day that Tawn’s father, who regards me with something akin to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, either changes his mind or is no longer a factor – to put it delicately.

P1100004

The school is on the top floor of Seagull’s headquarters in a large and brightly lit space.  There are fifteen working stations, each with stainless steel tops (no surprise there!) and all the other equipment you would need.  Tawn and his cousins were at the front of the class.

P1090990

We started by making the chocolate truffles as these would need to be refrigerated.  Here, Tawn poses with Som and Wan as they squirt chocolate ganache from a pastry bag onto parchment paper.

P1090987

My partner for the cooking was Pueng.  Despite her good humor and many talents, her ganache came out looking like little chocolate poos.

P1090989

See?

P1090992

After refrigerating the chocolates for a bit, we were able to shape them by hand, ostensibly rolling them into balls.  In practice, this didn’t work out so well.

P1100012-1

The end result of our efforts?  Some damn ugly and unevenly-sized truffles.

P1100030

Som’s two-year old daughter, First, was there as well, spending most of her time playing with her father.  Tawn was playing with her but she seemed a little shy.

P1100053

While not officially involved in the project, Chef Ian Kittichai (who has several famous Thai restaurants in New York, Barcelona, and Mumbai) had chefs from his organization conducting the class.  Tawn has appeared on his local TV show before as a guest (just chat with the chef and help as he cooks) and also knows his wife through common friends.  Had a nice chat with him about the challenges of managing restaurants around the globe and he provided some assistance with our truffles.  All the ones that are actually round were rolled by him!

P1100060

Next up was the Linguine Carbonara, which actually was not a Carbonara sauce since it contained milk and cream.  Nonetheless, Pueng practiced her technique of putting the pasta into the boiling water, twisting a standing bunch of dry pasta so is splays out.

P1100082

Somehow, partners were swapped during the course of the cooking so Tawn ended up helping me finish the pasta.

P1100084

Looks quite pretty, doesn’t it?  I hadn’t cooked the bacon as crispy as I could have and didn’t salt the water sufficiently.  Nonetheless, it was tasty.

P1100090

Pueng, Tawn’s elder, feels compelled to help him eat his pasta.

P1100097

I poked my head into the adjacent kitchen to see the cleanup process.  This being their trial run, they had tons of staff on hand and still seemed a little overwhelmed.  I think they didn’t anticipate just how much counter space they will need to handle the cleanup from fifteen cooking stations.

It was a fun experience and I enjoyed the chance to spend more time with Tawn’s cousins.  It is fun watching them interact with each other and I look forward to the day when I can be a part of family events.