A Foodie’s Tribute to Barcelona (Break Week, Part 1/3)

Sorry for the long hiatus in posts!  In the ages it’s taken me to write, I’ve done a bit of traveling beyond my home base of Paris.  (And I am so grateful to be able to call Paris “home base” – at least temporarily!)  Last week was Break Week, so my classmates and I had the entire week off.  It was a bit ill-timed, as we had our French final exams today and have final papers due at the end of the week, but hey, any week of vacation is better than no vacation.  Most of us traveled around Europe (with a large percentage of us seeking out warmer temperatures in places like Spain and Italy), while a few chose to stay in town and explore more of Paris.  Luckily for me, my sister is coming to visit this weekend, so I’ll have a bit of extra time in the lovely metropolis of Paris before heading back to the States (we’re actually heading to London as well!).

Anyway, back to Break Week.  I lived out a trip I’ve been dreaming up for a while…  Two friends and I traversed the Spanish/Portuguese peninsula over the course of 8 days, starting in Barcelona and ending in Lisbon, with Madrid in between.  It was exhausting, but for all the right reasons.  We explored, ate, and walked non-stop.  As this is a food/travel blog, here is my tribute to Barcelona – a highlights reel of our best meals in photo-form.

lunch @ tramoia
tramoia

clockwise, from top left – calamari; baked cod; Spanish omelette; mini chorizo; grilled red peppers with poached egg

dinner @ pitarra
pitarra-1.1

hors d’oeuvres – toast rubbed with tomato and olive oil, Spanish omelette, and olives; asparagus

pitarra-2,paella

seafood paella

veal with grilled tomato and mashed potatoes

veal with grilled tomato and mashed potatoes

dessert time - creme catalan and green tea ice cream

dessert time – creme catalan and green tea ice cream

lunch @ cerveceria catalana
arroz negro (squid ink rice); patatas bravas (fried potatoes with special sauce)

arroz negro (squid ink rice); patatas bravas (fried potatoes with special sauce)

clockwise, from top left - toast rubbed with tomato and olive oil; fried sardines; cured sausage; baby calamari

clockwise, from top left – toast rubbed with tomato and olive oil; fried sardines; cured sausage; baby calamari

Needless to say, we ate really, really well.

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Le Centre Pompidou

A couple of weeks ago, two friends and I decided to visit Le Centre Pompidou, Paris’ modern art museum, after class.  It’s one of the few museums I remember from my family vacation nearly twelve years ago, so I was really excited to go back.  Now that I’ve got my Sciences Po student ID card, I can get into most museums in Paris for free, so I’ve been trying to take full advantage of that.  The best part about free entry is that I don’t feel any pressure to see everything or to stay long enough to get my money’s worth.  Since I’m already a pretty slow museum navigator, it’s nice to just stroll at a leisurely pace and know that I can always come back to see whatever I miss.

On the way to le Centre Pompidou

Palais de Justice on the way to Le Centre Pompidou

The Seine!

La Seine

Afternoon traffic

Afternoon traffic

Tower on the way to le Centre Pompidou

Tower on the way to le Centre Pompidou

Le Centre Pompidou

Le Centre Pompidou

Alexander Calder's Horizontal

Alexander Calder’s ‘Horizontal’

The museum building itself, as you can see, is really cool.  It’s escalators are encased in hamster tube-like structures that line the exterior and offer views of the surrounding neighborhood.  The space bridges the notions of inside and outside — architectural design as art, I guess.

Square in front of the museum

Square in front of the museum

In front of le Centre Pompidou

In front of le Centre Pompidou

Inside le Centre Pompidou

Inside le Centre Pompidou

Tube-encased, semi-exterior escalators

Tube-encased, semi-exterior escalators

The works on display were equally impressive and often striking — here are some of my favorites.

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Furniture?!

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View from le Centre Pompidou

View from Le Centre Pompidou

View from le Centre Pompidou

View from Le Centre Pompidou

Can you spot the Eiffel Tower?

Can you spot the Eiffel Tower?

The Eiffel Tower from le Centre Pompidou

The Eiffel Tower from Le Centre Pompidou

Sacre Coeur from le Centre Pompidou

Sacre Coeur from Le Centre Pompidou

Foodie Friday 7 – Crêperie Josselin

The three C’s of France: croissants, champagne, and…crêpes!

Last week, my friend Hanna and I went on a search for great crêpes in Paris.  We decided to try Crêperie Josselin, a small, charming place in the 14th arrondissement that came at the recommendation of her friend who was in Paris last quarter.  We headed there for lunch straight after class and arrived a little before 12:30, just in time to squeeze in without a wait.  And good thing, too, because there was a line out the door by the time we were served.

Crêperie Josselin

Crêperie Josselin

Creperie Josselin

Inside Crêperie Josselin

Hanna in the creperie :)

Lunch buddy/fellow foodie :)

The restaurant itself was cozy and cute with lots of dark wood accents and warm lighting, and the constant chatter of happy diners filled the room.  You could tell that this place has quite the reputation from the good mix of tourists and French locals.

goat cheese & spinach crepe and __?

Savory crepes: goat cheese & spinach (L) and tomato, cheese, & sausage (if I recall correctly)

The crêpes were delicious and unlike any savory crêpe I’ve ever tried.  They were generously filled with hearty ingredients and were grilled to crispy, buttery perfection.  I particularly liked the goat cheese/spinach combo, in part because I’m partial to goat cheese.  The creamy texture of the cheese nicely complemented the crispy, doughy crêpe.

Despite being absolutely stuffed after our meal, we had to stop by Amorino, a gelateria just down the street that Hanna’s friend had also recommended.  Since I hadn’t had gelato since I left Rome, I was excited to see how it would compare to authentic Italian gelato.

Gelato!

Gelato at Amorino

Pretending I'm in Italy with a combo of caffe, pistacchio, e nocciola

Pretending I’m in Italy with the perfect combination of caffe (coffee), pistacchio, e nocciola (hazelnut)

There wasn’t a huge selection of flavors, but they had the basics – chocolate, vanilla, hazelnut, pistachio, lemon, etc.  I paired pistachio and hazelnut (two of my favorite flavors) with coffee, just because the coffee flavor looked good (it was topped with real coffee beans!) and sounded like it would go well with the other two.  As I learned in Italy, the best cups of gelato are those that match flavors well.  Though I’ve had better (and worse) hazelnut and pistachio, it was great gelato overall.  I’d go back if I were in the area on a non-freezing day.

Bubble Tea & Notre Dame

A couple Fridays ago, a friend and I headed to Notre Dame to check out the cathedral and the surrounding area. On our way, we passed by a bubble tea café and just had to give it a try.  After all, who knows when we’ll find another boba joint in Paris?

Boba in Paris (!)

Boba in Paris (!!)

The tapioca balls were surprisingly good (and I like to think I know good boba considering the many variations I’ve tried in LA).  It was on the soft/chewy side of the boba spectrum (yes, there is a boba spectrum) and a tad bit sweet, which I liked.  The tea itself was a standard black milk tea.  We decided to take a brief break from the cold and enjoyed our drinks at a small table inside.  I always finish my boba faster than I intend, so it was gone before I knew it.  But that just meant it was time to head to Notre Dame!

A visit to Notre Dame

Notre Dame, the Seine, and me

2013 is its 850th anniversary!

2013: Notre Dame’s 850th anniversary!

Famous façade

Famous façade

Inside the cathedral!

Inside the cathedral!

Beautiful chandeliers

Beautiful soft lighting

Chandeliers and stained glass

Chandeliers and stained glass

Apse and altar

Apse and altar

Beautiful.

Beautiful.

A portion of the huge chandelier that used to hang in Notre Dame

A portion of the huge chandelier that used to hang in Notre Dame

Nativity scene

Nativity scene

Candles

Candles

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to climb up to the bell tower, so we’ll definitely be back to catch those great views of Paris.  But the cathedral’s interior was plenty to take in for one afternoon – beautiful, majestic, and awe-inspiring don’t do it justice.

‘Le Marais’ from Jenny the Explorer!

My friend Jenny (a fellow UChicagoan in Paris) recently started an awesome blog of her own. Check out her post below on our weekend adventure to Le Marais! It’s also one of my favorite areas in Paris so far… Who can resist a delicious falafel pita?! And for 5,50 euros, it’s a steal.

Jenny the Explorer

Le Marais is one my favorite neighborhoods so far. It’s a quirky little district with little vintage shops and falafel stands. It’s known as a Jewish and LGBTQ neighborhood, and one of the few places open on Sundays in Paris. Grace and I went to try the “best falafels in Paris” according to many. One of the stands, L’As du Fallafel, is apparently endorsed by Lenny Kravitz as his favorite. Alas, when we went to try, we realized it was closed due to Shabbat. Next time we’ll know not to go on a Saturday… Luckily, Mi-Va-Mi across the street seemed pretty packed so we figured the falafels there had to be just as good if they were to hold their own against L’As du Fallafel. And boy was it good. The sandwiches were stuffed to the brim with vegetables and tahini sauce. An interesting fact is that food is…

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The Perfect Café – Part 9 [Café Craft]

After a long hiatus, the “Perfect Café” series is back, now reporting from Paris!

I’m writing on a snowy Sunday afternoon from the 10th Arrondissement, where there’s a canal that I hardly knew existed before stumbling upon its mention in a series of helpful Yelp reviews (for the record, it’s called Canal Saint-Martin and is near Gare d’Est).

Canal Saint-Martin

Canal Saint-Martin

A foot bridge and a possible dam?

A foot bridge and a dam

The snowy canal

The snowy canal

Lot of bundled up Parisians, out and about

Lot of bundled up Parisians out and about

There was a guy in an aloha shirt and shorts who was posing for a picture... Fortunately, after his friend captured the perfect shot, he put real pants on.

There was a guy in an aloha shirt and shorts who was posing for a picture… Fortunately, after his friend captured the perfect shot, he put real pants and a jacket back on.

The canal at night

The canal at night

The canal at night

Another night shot from further up the canal

Just down the street from this quaint, wintry scene is Café Craft, a warm haven for laptop-toting students, work-centered coffee lovers, and the occasional pair of conversationalists.  The relatively small space offers a medley of espresso concoctions, tasty baked goods (their banana bread is divine), and soft, relaxing tunes that range from jazz/easy-listening to folky alternative-pop.

Café Craft

Café Craft

Banana bread and a café creme

Banana bread and a café creme

Despite it’s tiny store front, the café accommodates a surprising amount of people — it’s really easy to settle down here for a few hours, either on your laptop at the (very popular) long table with other internet-browsers or on the little couch corner in the back.  The latter is more conducive to sitting back and enjoying your cup o’ joe than doing reading, but, given a lack of alternatives, I can assure you it’s not a bad spot to get some work done.  It’s well-lit throughout by a collection of modern light fixtures and has practical little additions (like hooks on the wall to hang your coat) that made me feel right at home.  And, best of all, the bathroom is spotlessly clean.

This distinctly Parisian café, with its good coffee and mod decor, reminds me of Seoul’s café culture, one of the things I miss most about Korea.  The ambiance is great and the coffee is ridiculously expensive (shoulda checked the prices before I ordered… 8 euro for coffee & banana bread!!).  But, as in Korea, you end up paying for the wifi and the hours you spend on their couch.  I know there must be more (hopefully cheaper) cafés like this in Paris; all I have to do now is find them.

Street art just around the corner from Café Craft

Street art just around the corner from Café Craft

Café Craft

24 rue des Vinaigriers, 75010 Paris (10ème Arrondissement)

Metro lines 4/5/7, Gare d’Est/Jacques Bonsergent

I Spy… Le Tour Eiffel!

Over the course of the two weeks I’ve been in Paris, I’ve seen the famous Eiffel Tower from a number of different vantage points.  Here are my favorite shots.
The Eiffel Tower in the context of normal Parisian life. An appropriate first sighting of the famous landmark.

The Eiffel Tower in the context of normal Parisian life. An appropriate first sighting of the famous landmark.

The Eiffel Tower and the Seine.

The Eiffel Tower and the Seine.

Last shot from night #1 - the Tower sparkling on the hour!

It sparkles on the hour!

Pretty incredible view from a museum café.

Pretty incredible view from a museum café.

Another view from the museum café, this time lit up and including a bit of the museum courtyard area.

Another view from the museum café, this time lit up and including a bit of the museum courtyard area.

I had to include at least one picture of me with it...

Up close and personal. I had to include at least one picture of me with it…

The Sparkling Tower, take two.

The Sparkling Tower, take two.

On the Seine, once again.

On the Seine, once again.

I spy Le Tour Eiffel! (Taken at Centre Pompidou)

I spy Le Tour Eiffel! (Taken at Centre Pompidou)

The view from Centre Pompidou, the awesome modern art museum in Paris.

The view from Centre Pompidou, the awesome modern art museum in Paris.

A Little Seoul in Paris [aka Foodie Friday 6!]

This past Sunday, three fellow Korean-American friends and I headed to the Pyramides (pronounced peehr-ah-meed) stop on Lines 7 and 14 of the metro for some comfort food.  And by comfort food, I mean Korean food, of course!

We were a little worried about finding a place that was open since it was Sunday, but we found one within 5 minutes of walking around (good thing, cause we were hungry!).  Pyramides isn’t actually Paris’s “Koreatown” – that’s apparently near the Commerce/Cambronne stops on Line 8 and 6, respectively, but that trip is for another day.  However, K-Mart, a Korean market, is located right by Pyramides.

K-Mart!

K-Mart!

Asian munchies...mmmm

Asian munchies…mmmm

Packs of frozen mandu, aka easy dinners.

Packs of frozen mandu, aka easy dinners.

The restaurant, called 태동관 (Tae Dong Gwan), was actually bigger and more crowded than I expected.  The main dining area was full when we walked in, but they had plenty of open tables downstairs, so we were seated right away.

Downstairs seating area

Downstairs seating area

The entire menu sounded enticing – they had everything from 비빔밥 (bibimbap, ‘mixed rice’) to 짜장면 (jjajangmyeon, noodles in black bean sauce).  We started off by sharing a 파전 (pajun, green onion pancake), and then I had a 불고기 (bulgogi, grilled marinated beef) set as my main course.

Bulgogi set with salad and miso soup!

Bulgogi set with salad and miso soup!

Our server (who was Asian but not Korean) spoke good Korean, so we all used that instead of French.  Honestly, it was a relief not to have to think so hard about how to say things.  And the meal was incredibly satisfying – great food, and great company.

In general, I’ve noticed that foreign/ethnic cuisine is much more widespread in Paris than in Rome.  Though Paris does have a significantly larger immigrant population than Rome, I’ve been kind of surprised at how much I’ve felt the difference in the two weeks I’ve been here – I’ve seen a multitude of ethnic restaurants (and a few speciality markets), and the prices seem pretty reasonable (especially if you go in expecting to pay a bit of a premium).  Next stop, Koreatown and Chinatown!

A Taste of Paris

Last Friday was our first class excursion – to the famous Musée du Louvre, of course.  Our tour, entitled “Black Images in European Art”, led us on a winding path through the maze of galleries over the course of an hour and a half.  The tour guide put it best – “We’ll be passing lots of masterpieces along the way, so I’ll try to stop and point them out, but I won’t have time to say much about them.”  To channel my inner Instagram/Twitter/social media user, I believe the following hashtags are in order: #OnlyAtTheLouvre #Paris #awestruck

The Louvre!

The Louvre!

Our great tour guide.

Our great tour guide.

Winged Victory

Winged Victory

Mona Lisa and her admirers.

The Mona Lisa and her admirers

The view out of a window in one of the galleries.

The view out of a window in one of the galleries.

Inverted glass pyramid in the Carrousel du Louvre.

Inverted glass pyramid in the Carrousel du Louvre.

Our tour was in the evening, so upon its conclusion, a couple of friends and I headed to the Marais area for some authentic French food.  Though we had originally planned to dine at a place called A La Biche au Bois (The Deer in the Woods), it was full when we arrived, so rather than wait an hour for a table, we headed next door to Bar Tarmac, a half-bar, half-restaurant.  They had an incredible prix-fixe menu for 26 euro, so we were happy with the alternative.  As a side note, yes, 26 euro is kind of expensive, but just wait until you see all the food we got.  Besides, the three of us were willing to splurge a little on a nice dinner, so it all worked out.

First, we enjoyed apertifs (pre-dinner drinks) – white wine mixed with a little blackberry juice.  We also got a quarter-liter of red wine and a half-liter of rosé — too much wine for the three of us, but oh well.

Wine galore

Wine galore

Next, we had a choice of appetizers: potato croquettes, cured salmon (Gravlax), or 2 tapas of your choosing.  I went with the tapas, and chose manchego cheese with citrus marmalade and eggplant toasts.

Tapa #1: Cheese and marmalade. Simple and delicious.

Tapa #1: Manchego cheese with marmalade. Simple and delicious.

Tapa #2: Aubergines and red peppers on toast.

Tapa #2: Eggplant and red peppers on toast

Our main course options were the “Big Tarmac” burger, lamb with cous cous, beef tartare (aka raw beef), ginger chicken with plantain fries, salmon with potatoes, or ravioli in tomato sauce with rocket and Serrano ham.  I went with the lamb, which came at the suggestion of our waiter and seemed like one of the more ‘French’ dishes.

Main Course: Lamb with cous cous

Main Course: Lamb with cous cous

View #2 of the lamb

View #2 of the lamb

Though the lamb was delicious, the cous cous was the real highlight of the meal.  It wasn’t too dry, which is hard to achieve with cous cous, and it had interesting flavors and well-paired garnishes – Persian spices along with pieces of dried fig and apricot.

Last, but definitely not least, was dessert!  We each ordered different ones so we could try each others – a very useful and delicious strategy.  The crème brûlée was the best I’ve had so far – light, creamy, and perfectly caramelized and crispy on top.  The yogurt ice cream (their house speciality) was unique and pretty good, and the molten chocolate cake was great, as usual (how can it be bad?).  All in all, a great meal for a great value.

Dessert! Yogurt ice cream with a cookie (house specialty), créme brulée (best I've had so far), and molten chocolate cake

Dessert! Yogurt ice cream with a cookie, créme brulée, and molten chocolate cake

C’est Les Soldes!

It’s Sale Time in Paris!

Yesterday, January 9th, marked the beginning of the semiannual Paris sales (“les soldes”).  The next six weeks (until February 12th) are the winter sales, and the second (and last) round of the year will take place during the summer season.

If you’re reading this in the States, you may be a little confused — I certainly was last week, when people started mentioning the upcoming “sales”.  Eventually, my friendly next-door neighbor in the dorm cleared things up.  As she explained, sales in France are nothing like sales in the U.S.  While stores in America run promotions year-round (constantly, it seems) and almost always have reduced-priced items in designated areas, this is not the case in Paris.  Here, sales are government-regulated, and thus they run at specific times of the year (usually winter and summer).  The sales in Paris last for about six weeks and are meant to clear out seasonal apparel and other items.  I somewhat luckily (somewhat because it’s certainly not lucky for my wallet) happen to be in town for one of them.

They (the internet) say the Paris sales can be pretty crazy…  And it’s no wonder, because items can be marked down by up to 80% by the end of the sale period.  This means you can’t get anywhere without seeing a “SOLDES” or “SOLDISSIMES” sign in a shop window or on a metro billboard.  After all, it’s not just clothing establishments that run promotions – electronics stores, Target-esque retailers, and jewelry shops partake as well.

Sign advertising the sales (from http://www.galerieslafayette.com/)

Sign advertising the sales (from http://www.galerieslafayette.com/)

As I now know, you really should develop some sort of shopping strategy before heading out into the frenzy…  At least make a list of what you are looking for to avoid being seduced by the 50% off tags and fashionable overcoats.  I avoided any impulsive buying yesterday by keeping my wallet shut and browsing the racks for some fashion inspiration amid the masses (of Parisians and tourists alike – and let me just say, the well-dressed Parisians provided just as much inspiration as the clothing on sale).  My visit to Galleries Lafayette, a huge French department store, ended up being quite the cultural experience — I’m sure I’ll head back in the near future for some real shopping!

The amazing color-changing ceiling of Galeries Lafayette

The amazing color-changing ceiling of Galeries Lafayette

Ground floor of Galeries Lafayette

Ground floor of Galeries Lafayette

Looking down from the second floor of Galeries Lafayette

Looking down from the second floor of Galeries Lafayette

On our way out of Galeries Lafayette, my friends and I stopped at a macaron display within the department store.  It happened to be Pierre Hermé, a well-known macaron store/brand.

Pierre Hermé macarons

Pierre Hermé macarons

Of course, I couldn’t resist, so I bought two – Truffe Blanche & Noisette (white truffle and hazelnut) and Noisette (plain hazelnut).

Truffe Blanche & Noisette (L) and Noisette

Truffe Blanche & Noisette (L) and Noisette

White truffle and hazelnut macaron (see the little hazelnut pieces inside?)

White truffle and hazelnut macaron (see the little hazelnut pieces inside?)

They were both incredibly good – nothing like macarons in the U.S. (and much better than even the fancy ones from ‘lette).  The white truffle and hazelnut one was particularly good because it had such an interesting flavor – earthy from the truffle and nutty and rich from the hazelnut.  There was a generous amount of light cream inside, and the cookie portions were melt-in-your-mouth delicious.  Macarons from Ladurée are next on my list!