Sunrise along the Seine

The most peaceful time to see any city is the hour before sunrise, when it is just beginning to wake. On my final morning in Paris, I woke up early and headed to the River Seine to catch these views of the city.

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With the help of the internet, I was able to determine not only what time the sun would rise but also from what direction. Comparing that against a map of Paris, it was not difficult to figure out that I would need to be somewhere between the Jardins du Trocadero and the Pont de Bir-Hakeim to see the sun rise somewhere behind the Eiffel Tower. It was easy enough to flag down a taxi at 5:30 on a Saturday morning and within ten minutes I was walking down the terraced Trocadero gardens towards the river.

The most beautiful colors are actually in the hour before sunrise, I find. So as the sun neared the nearly clear horizon, I started walking east along the river, down on the footpath that lines the Right Bank.

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There are numerous houseboats moored along the river, beautifully maintained and many available to hire for river cruises. In the distance you can see the bridge (Pont de Bir-Hakeim) from which I shot the previous picture.

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The tower is so large that it dominates your view. It looks different from various perspectives and I enjoyed watching how this changes as I walked along the river. Eventually as the river curved, I crossed to the other bank to keep the sun across from me.

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About a kilometer along the river, just past the Pont de l’Alma, is Promenade des Berges de la Seine, a public park and promenade that includes five interesting floating gardens, barges that have been turned into public parks similar to the High Line in New York City.

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Nearby was La Boudeuse, a 100-year old three-mast ship built originally in Hollande but now moored in the River Seine after a renovation a few years ago. This photo appeared in Instagram and has been tampered with a bit for effect.

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Looking back at the Pond des Invalides, the lowest bridge crossing the River Seine.

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Another kilometer or so and I arrived at Musée d’Orsay, the beautiful former train station that is now a fine museum. The Beaux-Arts exterior was glowing in the morning sun.

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Another half-kilometer along the river there is another turn at the Île de la Cité comes into view, sitting smartly in the middle of the river. It is one of only two remaining islands in the river and is the site of the medieval city was.

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Finally, I reached the end of my nearly five-kilometer walk along the river, crossing over to snap this picture of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. This beautiful walk gave me the chance to contemplate Paris on my own, watching as it went from a sleepy sunrise to a gradually awakening city.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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?

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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.

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

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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

A classic French lunch at Le Soufflé

There is perhaps no dish more French than the soufflé. And one of the best places to have a soufflé at a reasonable price in Paris is Le Soufflé, an elegant dining room located a short walk from the Louvre and Tuileries Garden.

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We found Le Soufflé quite by accident, intending to have lunch at a recommended Asian restaurant just a few doors away. They were full, however, and we popped in at the upscale-looking Le Soufflé based on the charming exterior and the Zagat and other stickers posted by the front door.

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The young man greeting us was friendly and when we explained we had not reserved, he looked around the room and told us that if we could return in twenty minutes, he would have a table for us. After a short stroll around the block, we returned and were rewarded with a generously-sized table in the middle of the room.

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With a clientele that seems mostly made up of local office workers and older-school establishment types, I felt a little self-conscious. (“Look, the American!”) But the friendly and diverse staff made us feel welcome. In fact, the restaurant reminds me a bit of Cafe Jacqueline in San Francisco, in that the staff can seem a bit stern from the outside but they take good care of their guests.

The menu is relatively simple with a limited selection of soups and salads, a selection of savory soufflés and a selection of sweet soufflés. We ordered a set that included a salad and two soufflés.

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The soufflés (mine with a black olive tapenade and Tawn’s with smoked salmon) arrive relatively quickly. You sense that they must be preparing the choux base in advance and then folding in freshly-whipped egg whites. The size looks large, of course, impressively puffed up – but remember that a soufflé is largely air so a person can consume one relatively easily.

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For dessert, I opted for a rhubarb soufflé. This is one of my favorite fruits and was just in season so it appeared on many menus. The tartness of the rhubarb cut through the richness of the soufflé and made for a pleasant end to the meal.

The set lunch including a glass of wine and a coffee to follow was only EUR 28, about US$ 32. For the quality and quantity of food, it was quite a bargain. Le Soufflé is on my must-visit list for a quintessential French experience.

Le Soufflé
36 Rue du Mont Thabor
75001 Paris
+33 1 4260 2719
Closed Sundays

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

Chinese food comes to Paris

While in Paris, we visited two Chinese restaurants, one that playfully combines flavors, ingredients and concepts and the other that tries to more faithfully represent X’ian style cooking. One is more successful than the other, based on our visits.

La Taverne de Zhao

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The first stop was La Tavern de Zhou, located in the 10th arrondissement near Place de Republique and Canal Saint-Martin. This tiny restaurant is reputed for its faithful recreation of Xi’an dishes. In fact, multiple websites and reviews crowned it one of the best Asian restaurants in the city.

We arrived without a reservation but were shown to a table. Service  was a bit haphazard – I don’t expect California-like friendliness but they did seem a bit dismissive. We worked our way through the French menu and selected just a few items, highlighted specialties.

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The first was the raojiamo, or griddled steamed bun with meat filling. In this case, the choices are pork, pork with chilies, or tofu and egg. We ordered one with the pork and one with the pork and chilies. They were tasty although we added more hot sauce to both as they were in need of more seasoning. Perhaps Parisian palettes are delicate.

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The second dish was liangpi noodles. The making of this dish is interesting. I found this description on SeriousEats.com:

“…liangpi noodles are made by first washing a wheat or rice flour dough in water until its starches are completely rinsed off. This starchy water is then allowed to sit overnight until the starches collect at the bottom. The clear water above is poured off, and the ultra-starchy liquid below is steamed until it forms thin sheets with a uniquely crunchy-but-soft texture.”

The version here was dressed with a sesame oil and black vinegar sauce with cucumber and bean sprouts added. It was tasty but overall uninspiring. From what I’ve been told by friends who have visited, Xi’an offers a lot of really interesting, flavorful food. Based on what we tried (which was admittedly just a limited selection of the menu), it isn’t worth your time to eat here unless you live in Paris and are really desperate for Chinese food.

Address:49 Rue des Vinaigriers, 10eme arrondissement
Hours: daily except Monday
Telephone:01 40 37 16 21 (Reservations accepted, walk-ins welcome)

 

Siseng

The second place we visited was completely different. I would dub it the “Little Bao of Paris” in homage to my favorite restaurant in Hong Kong, which served steamed Taiwanese buns made into various types of burgers.

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Siseng, located adjacent to Canal Saint-Martin, has both a similar menu and a similar vibe. The space is small and cramped. The music is good. The energy is high. In short, it is a fun place to be.

IMG_0958Despite (or perhaps because of) the tight quarters and busy evening, the staff is extremely efficient while remaining friendly. Service in English was welcomed and they were patient when we tried our rusty French.

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The menu is much less bao-heavy than at Little Bao. In fact, there really are only two types of bao burgers. The rest of the menu has only about a dozen items plus a good selection of drinks and cocktails. We ordered these fried risotto balls that were made with coconut milk and lemongrass, which were spectacular. The flavor was rich and aromatic.

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We also enjoyed a vaguely Vietnamese dish called the “bo bun” – the menu says “don’t hesitate to eat it all!” – which are rice vermicelli with a chopped beef in curry sauce on top. Lots of fresh herbs and vegetables come with it. Authentic? Hardly. But tasty? Absolutely. This was a fun dish to eat and had great flavors.

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For the bao burgers, we had them both. This one, the Kaï, was a marinated chicken breast breaded and fried in katsu breadcrumbs and served with a basil and coconut milk pesto and a red pepper confit and homemade coleslaw.  The meat was tender and flavorful, the breading light and crunchy. It was a good bao burger.

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The second bao is the five spice burger, featuring a beef patty marinated in Chinese five spice mixture, served with a caramelized tamarind sauce, tempura fried onions, confit onions, rocket and spinach. It was nicely cooked and flavorful. The bao don’t seem to hold up quite as well as I would like, but that’s quibbling about details.

Overall, I think Siseng is a bit more “Asian-ish” versus Little Bao’s solid roots. Despite this, I think Siseng is one of the more interesting places we ate in Paris and is on the “visit again” list for our next trip.

Address: 82 Quai de Jemmapes, 10eme arrondissement
Hours: daily except Monday
Telephone: 06 68 89 77 88 (Reservations not accepted)

 

Inexpensive dining in Paris: La Kantine

For a less expensive meal while in Paris, La Kantine, a cafeteria on the top floor of Le BHV department store in the Marais district, offers a wide selection at reasonable prices plus a well-lit dining area with a rooftop view of the neighborhood surrounding Hôtel de Ville in the fourth arrondissement.

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The new, modern BHV Marais department store is an update of the old Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville created in 1856. It is a good place to shop for souvenirs – the selection of teas, confections, etc. is extensive so if you want to bring some relatively inexpensive gifts home that aren’t the tacky touristy items, this is a good place to find them.

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The restaurant is a buffet: grab a tray and help yourself to whatever food you like. There are stations on the left that prepare foods to order including pasta dishes. There are a selection of quiches, soups and meat platters. There are different cheeses and desserts, as you would expect. And prices are clearly marked.

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The seating is bright and airy, a combination of communal tables and some smaller tables. There is a good view and one that might feel a bit out of the movie “Ratatouille” – the rooftops of Paris. There is no feeling of being rushed, so you can also use this as a place to catch your breath and plan your attack for the next part of the day.

Information:

Address: 52, Rue de Rivoli
Telephone : 0977 401 400
Located near Métro station Hôtel de Ville (line 1)
Open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 am until 8:00 pm (Wednesdays until 9:00 pm)

 

Holybelly

What would happen if an Australian or American style brunch place landed in the City of Light? No need to hypothesize: head to the 10th arrondissement and visit Holybelly to find great coffee, great breakfasts and friendly service.

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Holybelly is located near the Canal Saint-Martin, a working class neighborhood that has been increasing in popularity over the past few years and is gentrifying at an increasing rate. It still has its rough edges but the yuppies and hipsters of Paris are plentiful.

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The narrow interior leads to a larger, skylit seating area near the kitchen. The restaurant would be at home in Melbourne or San Francisco and differs from most breakfast restaurants in Paris by being coffee obsessive and offering a larger range of foods on the menu.

One notable difference from Parisian peers is the restaurant’s bold friendliness: the board above the coffee bar announces “Welcome to Holybelly, where the customer is always loved but ain’t always right.” The menus also offer similar salutations in both English and French. Tawn and I were first to arrive followed quickly by a rush of customers, most of whom seemed to be regulars, greeted warmly in French and English by the employees.

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The menu is fairly simple. We chose eggs cooked to order with two sides: roasted and pan fried mushrooms with thyme and garlic, and a homemade pork sausage patty. Everything came with beautiful artisanal bread from Du Pain et des  Idees bakery, where we had nearly wound up with a dozen croissants the previous morning. They also offered some varieties of pancakes and homemade granola for breakfast. A brief lunch menu kicks in mid-day.

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The highlight is the savory stack: a stack of griddled pancakes with fried eggs, bacon, homemade bourbon butter and maple syrup. You can turn that into “The Champ” by also ordering a topping of roasted and fried mushrooms. It was a pretty outrageous, and outrageously delicious, dish!

The coffee was fantastic, brewed from locally-roasted beans from la Brulerie de Belleville. Nice to have a proper latte after several days of cafe cremes that showed that Parisian coffee these days isn’t as great as it once was.

If you want to better understand Holybelly, read the facts page on their website, complete with Game of Thrones references. Better yet, fly to Paris and visit them.

Holybelly
19 rue Lucien Sampaix
75010 Paris

Open 9:00 am weekdays, 10:00 weekends, closed Tuesday and Wednesdays