Friday, June 22, 2018

La Cantine des Tsars

On one of our walks around the hotel area, we saw a Russian restaurant that specialized in pelmeni, dumplings from Siberia. They sounded interesting and looked like a cross between pierogie and tortellini, so we decided we wanted to try them.
I figured we'd go one day for a quick lunch but instead we went one evening for dinner. La Cantine des Tsars is bright & cheery inside with bright yellow and pink tablecloths and a little eclectic with framed pictures and mirrors and a large fancy looking chandelier. We were the only ones there. The woman who took our order and made our food in the kitchen was very nice.

Here's what we ate:
SP ordered salmon roe with blini. The blini were tiny and cute and yummy. I don't eat salmon roe.
We also tried this Russian black bread with tomato & apple topping. It was good.
We each had an order of pelmeni. Lamb for SP, pork for me. They look like dumplings, or tortellini, and are served with farmers creme fraiche, parsley and pepper.
We shared our dumplings so we could try both meats and they were so good. So good that we ordered an additional 10 piece pork bowl to share. I think the Russian lady was really happy we ordered another bowl. When she served it to us, she picked up the spoons we hadn't used and showed/taught us we were supposed to spoon up all the butter and creme fraiche. We hadn't finished all the sauce in the other bowls because, well, it's rich and fat filled! But we dutifully spooned up all the melted butter and cream with our dumplings.
A thin dumpling filled with nicely seasoned ground pork or lamb, boiled until cooked, and served with butter and cream. Yum. My taste buds wanted me to eat even more of them because they were so good, but my tummy said no, 15 is enough.

We were too full for dessert.

Not a lot of veggie in this meal, but that's OK because the pelmeni were so good. When I looked at their web site, I used Google Translate to read about the farms where they get their meat and about pelmeni and making them. I'd never heard of pelmeni before so it was very interesting. If we're back in Paris, I'd definitely stop in again.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Thursday Thoughts

Happy Official Start of Summer! Time for barbecues and fireworks and soon it will be time to celebrate the 4th of July, the annual commemoration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a time to celebrate the history, government, and traditions of the United States. But these days, I'm not sure there is much about the US to celebrate.

There are times when I want to voice some thoughts on the current state of the US executive and legislative branches of government. The news, twitter, social media - it's exhausting and upsetting and exasperating. I don't see people willing to be reasonable, to use common sense, to be practical, to compromise, to look at both sides and see some merit in the other side. I don't see compassion and empathy. I don't see understanding of diplomacy, trade, economics (I have a Masters in International Policy with a focus on trade/economics). I don't see an understanding of history. I see selfishness and greed and hypocrisy and meanness and pettiness. I hear lies and fake news from those who are supposed to lead us and do what is best for us and care about this country and its citizens. I don't see truth. I don't see support for the American dream. I am not hopeful anymore. I don't see nice.

Know where I've seen nice? In France, from fellow Americans. Not that the French weren't nice. They most certainly were. But it was fellow Americans who often stopped to offer assistance if we were struggling to get the wheelchair through gravel or up a big hill or over cobblestones. It was fellow Americans who always moved out of the way and ushered us up front so I could see what we were there to see and not just see derrieres. And no one knew anybody's political beliefs. We were simply tourists on vacation.

So maybe there is hope. But in the 2 weeks we've been home, I just don't feel it.

Back to summer. The time of year when we think we need to always grill. Last Sunday was hot but we grilled a bunch of food.

What We're Eating:

  • Grilled shrimp, grilled kielbasa, grilled chicken
  • Grilled asparagus, grilled melon, salad
  • Dessert: ice cream, angel food cake & berries

What We're Watching:

  • We finished Genius: Picasso. Overall, I enjoyed the series, even if there were a few artistic liberties taken. I enjoyed learning about Picasso, someone whose art I'd never particularly appreciated, but I find myself more interested in it now. But his personal life? As portrayed, he was rather selfish and at times not very nice. To me, another example of reconciling supporting and enjoying someone's art while they were perhaps a giant jerk.

What I'm Reading:

  • The pile of magazines is slowly going down. My inability to keep up with it is making me decide to not renew several of them, especially at the rates they are asking. $45 for a year of Food Network Magazine? Nope. Especially when new subscribers get a much, much better rate. I guess there's no reward for being a long time subscriber?

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Le Café Plume

It turned out that while we were in Paris, so was a friend of ours, B. So of course we arranged to get together for dinner. B met us at our hotel and since we all had done a lot of walking on a very hot day, we decided to eat somewhere close to our hotel. We ended up at Le Café Plume. We sat inside since the outdoor tables were right in the shining sun. I thought it was pretty spacious (for Paris) and relaxing.

Here's what we enjoyed:
Complimentary snack of crostini and I think a topping that was peppers? Maybe a bit of tomato? I didn't try it. SP did and liked it.
Beverages: Sancerre, Hendrick's Tonic Cucumber, Classic Aperol Spritz (Aperol, Frizzante wine, sparkling water).

There was a burrata & arugula appetizer, but I forgot to take a photo. It was yummy.
For me: The Chicken Paillard (cream of ginger, fried onions and fresh coriander). I didn't know what to expect. Chicken breast? Tenders? Parts? I never thought it would be chicken sliced so thin it was like lunch meat! It was a wee dry, but when eaten with the cream sauce, so good. That ginger cream sauce was amazing. So many chunks of ginger. One of those lick the plate clean sauces.
My Garnish (side): Heart of lettuce. I didn't expect a head of lettuce! OK, maybe an exaggeration, but there was a lot of lettuce in that bowl.
B & my mom chose Authentic Pepper Steak (flambé with cognac and black pepper mignonette). I think B said this was the first time he'd ordered steak et frites in Paris (he been there a week already and had visited before). Sadly, both were disappointed in the steak, saying it was chewy/tough. But B liked his frites and my mom liked her Crushed Potatoes with Olive Oil.
SP chose The Sea Bream Filet (marinade with fresh herbs and lime) and the side bowl of lettuce. He said the fish was good and he ate everything plus some of my lettuce.
SP's dessert: The Whole Lemon Emotion (lemon confit shortbread, lemon cream, whipped cream). Definitely an SP dessert and he said it was delicious.
B really likes chocolate, so he chose The Chocolate Sphere Valrhona (red berries heart and hot chocolate pot). The server poured the chocolate pot over the sphere:
He said his sphere was quite tasty.
I chose The Pie of the Moment but of course I forget which fruit were in this pie (tart?) other than raspberry. I ate the tip of my slice before the mug of whipped cream arrived (and before taking a photo) and then my mom swiped off the tip of my whipped cream. I thought this was very good. To me, it's more of a tart than pie (the French menu said la tarte, so English translation issue, maybe?) and it was the kind of tart I really enjoy.

So SP & I enjoyed our meals, B & mom not so much. But we all agreed that our server was great. She didn't speak much English but we managed, especially after she brought the English menus after we'd all been using our phones to Google Translate the French menus! She laughed a lot, with us, I hope, and not at us, as the crazy, tired, sweaty Americans figured things out. I'm not going to say that this is a place to go searching for, but if you're near the Louvre/Palais-Royale/Les Halles area (Rue Saint-Honoré) and looking for a place that has English menus, isn't snooty, is reasonably priced (in our opinion), and friendly & relaxing, then this place is a good choice. Also, for those in a wheelchair, the first floor is accessible (maybe a wee lip/step, I forget, but no problems).

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Bruneaux in Sewickley

Last week, we made reservations for Saturday dinner at one of our favorite restaurants in the city. We figured we could deal with Pirates traffic. But then we found out about Saturday Night Market & Concert Series in Market Square, which is where we were headed. Then we found out that the Liberty Bridge was going to be closed with traffic diverted to the Fort Pitt tunnel/bridge. Ugh. We have sat in horrible traffic going to a Pirates game on weekends. We have sat in horrible traffic when the Fort Pitt/Parkway West work was going on (and on and on and on). Both a sporting event plus bridge closure plus markets/concerts in the city on a summer Saturday? Nope. No thank you. So we changed our plans. We decided to try a new-to-us restaurant: Bruneaux in Sewickley.
We were a little early for our reservation and were seated right away. On OpenTable, when you make a reservation, you can select indoor or outdoor dining. We selected outdoor. There is a lovely patio area out the back of the restaurant with spacious tables covered by large umbrellas. There is a stone fireplace which looks like a cozy area to have a cocktail on a fall evening. It was peaceful and relaxing.
When it's just the two of us, we never order a bottle of wine. We just don't/can't drink a whole bottle. But I saw a sancerre, sold only by the bottle, so we ordered a bottle (and took the leftover wine home). I've been loving sancerre and rose since we returned from Paris.

Here's what we ate:
Bread and butter.
Shared appetizer: Butter Poached Lobster (arugula/asparagus salad, lobster sauce). I'm glad I thought to ask about garlic because even though it wasn't listed as an ingredient, the dish is usually finished with garlic on top. Fortunately, they were able to just leave the garlic off. I've had some terrible, rubbery, overcooked lobster outside of Maine but this lobster tail was cooked just right. Yum!
Shared salad: ​Buratta (figs, arugula, truffle balsamic). There were dried apricots, too. A yummy salad.
SP's entree: Bouillabaisse (mussels, clams, prawn, saffron lobster broth, dipping bread). He said all his seafood was excellent and he spooned up his saffron broth. I don't remember the bread with his dish, but it's possible he ignored it because of carbs/sugar and knowing he wanted dessert.
My entree: Summer Scallops (lobster butter, asparagus, rosemary strawberries). Such a beautiful presentation! Originally I wanted the meatloaf, but there is garlic in the meatloaf, so I chose the scallops. They were delicious. Once again, nicely cooked and a fantastic sear, better than most places I've had scallops. I was surprised how much I liked the rosemary strawberries (rosemary, for me, being one of those sometimes I love/sometimes I hate flavors).
SP's dessert: Peach Cobbler. There were raisins, which he likes and I dislike. I didn't try any. He said it was good.
My dessert: Tiramisu. I rarely pass up tiramisu. This was nice and light, not too heavy after all the other food.

It's a shame we don't think to go to Sewickley more often for dinner since it's only 15 minutes from where we live. Bruneaux, Cocothe, and Vivo are all on Beaver Street. We really enjoyed our meal at Bruneaux. The servers did a nice job. Our food was delicious. The meal was nicely paced. The outdoor dining area was lovely, spacious, and the tables well shielded from the sun. Definitely a place to which we'll return, maybe even for lunch or brunch since I saw some dishes on those menus that interest me.

Bruneaux Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, June 18, 2018

Lemon-Speculoos Ice Cream

It's almost summer time (it officially starts this Thursday) but it certainly feels like summer the past few days. To me, summer time is ice cream time and last summer we didn't churn much ice cream. I want to change that this year. Back in May we made Coffee Ice Cream, which is possibly my favorite homemade ice cream. Last week I wanted to try a new-to-us flavor so we flipped through The Perfect Scoop and agreed upon Lemon-Speculoos Ice Cream.
I was a little unsure about this flavor combination but SP was all for it because he loves lemon and he loves spice flavor. We made a lemon ice cream way back when we first started making ice cream and I didn't like it at all. I think it used buttermilk and I've discovered I am not a fan of ice creams with buttermilk, sour cream, etc. I also wasn't sure about the speculoos cookie because in the past, I have really liked some speculoos flavored treats and really not liked others.
The speculoos cookie was super easy to make. Lots of cinnamon, allspice, ginger, and molasses flavor - yum!
I really like this ice cream. The lemon ice cream is full of lemon flavor without being too tart and it's nice and smooth and creamy. The cookie adds a nice bit of spice against the cool lemon. This one may not have made it to the top of my favorite ice cream flavor list, but it's definitely near the top.

Recipe here.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Julien Boulangerie

We got to our hotel in Paris right around lunch time. Since I had spent some time looking at restaurants near the hotel (we always like to know what is within walking distance), I knew there was a bakery just around the corner: Julien Boulangerie. So that's where we grabbed some lunch and our first treat. We walked about a block from the bakery and sat on some steps while we ate. I have no idea if that's acceptable behavior, but we were really hungry and needed to sit to eat!
SP had a Cheese Quiche. Those 3 rounds are rounds of chevre. He liked it a lot. It was my first taste of a stronger tasting chevre (to me), one that I am not sure I like.
I had Quiche Lorraine & it was delicious! Nice chunks of bacon. And cheese.

After the quiche, we ate the Raspberry Eclair in the top photo. Oh my. So good. Yes, I got the cream all over my face and a bit in my hair. But so fresh and flavorful and everything I expected from a pastry treat in France.
The next day, in between a driving tour of the city and a Seine River cruise, we stopped at the bakery and ate a quick lunch in our hotel. SP & I shared a ham, tomato, egg, lettuce sandwich and our second treat:
I think it was a hazelnut cream? I'm not sure. But it was delicious. I cannot decide which of the two eclairs I liked better.

There were many more treats from Julien Boulangerie (like croissants/quiche every morning for breakfast) but I didn't take photos.

So. Good. I would stay at out hotel again just because this bakery is so close.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Thursday Thoughts

It's Thursday. I'm in Pittsburgh, sorting through a lot of photos from vacation. So my thoughts are still on vacation.

Paris Thoughts:
  • A lot of people still smoke. It definitely dampened my enjoyment sitting outside at a cafe, enjoying wine and maybe a treat, when I smelled cigarette smoke. It was also gross when we'd be out walking and the smoke from people in front of us would hit me in the face. Several of our tour guides told us that there is a campaign to get people to quit and that 1 million people had (the government had just released these numbers). That's great, but I think a few more million need to quit!
  • Driving in Paris is insane. Not that we did it. Nope. No way. But we took a driving tour and there were several times I couldn't believe we didn't die in a ball of twisted, crunched metal. They are fearless drivers. That circle around the Arc de Triomphe? Crazy. I can see why all the tourist information said to not try to cross the road to get to it (use the underground passage). We also took a driving tour in Normandy and while there was less traffic, it still seemed nuttier than driving here. Driving around Robinson on weekends now seems so tame and calm and civilized.
  • If you're in Paris near the tourist destinations, a lot of French shop people and servers can (and will) speak English and often have English menus (or English translations under the French). This was helpful as it has been a long time since high school French. But we always tried in French first! Trying out your très mauvais français and asking "parlez vous anglais?" is always appreciated before they smile and hand you the English menu. (I thought it was très mal français but translate tells me otherwise-?).
  • I had problems sticking to English and French. I kept blurting out words/phrases in Japanese. Whoops. I did major in Japanese, lived there for 2 years, and worked for a Japanese company. For instance, I couldn't get the hang of saying oui, I kept saying hai, which probably sounded like hi, so instead of yes I was always saying hello. But I meant yes - in Japanese.  
  • I had a good giggle when I was finishing my thé et tarte noisette au chocolat at a cafe and watching SP across the street, inside the fromagerie, trying to purchase some cheese. He later told me that there was a Chinese woman in the shop, too, and between the French/no English cheese lady, Chinese & English speaking/not French speaking/not knowing much about cheese woman (tourist), and SP with his 6 words of French & newly acquired cheese knowledge from our food tour, the three of them managed to pick out cheeses and complete 2 cheese transactions.  
  • We're already missing our daily doses of mimolette and saint-nectaire cheeses.
What We're Eating:
  • Steak with Tomatoes-Mozzarella-Basil
  • Pasta Salad
  • Dessert: Lemon-Speculoos Ice Cream
What We're Watching:
  • We missed The Americans series finale (vacation). We finally watched it and I liked it. It made me cry. So much more powerful than simply having someone(s) die or go to jail. Everyone lost, everyone had their life shattered, no one will ever be the same. The person who chose to get off the train and the reactions of the people on the train when they see that person got off? Wow. The whole garage scene when it all comes out? Wow. Excellent show. I will miss it.
  • Supergirl is still going on, and it's OK but I'm a little tired of this storyline.
  • I caught up on the first 3 episodes of Animal Kingdom. I didn't really think that would happen with Baz, but it did, and it's interesting to see where things will go now.
  • We started watching Succession on HBO. We liked the first 2 episodes.
  • We also starting watching the new season of Six on History Channel. So far, we're enjoying it.
  • And we started watching Genius-Pablo Picasso on National Geographic. It's not grabbing me the way the Einstein series did, but we'll stick with it.
What I'm Reading:
No books. Just a giant magazine pile. Huge.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Taverne de l'Arbre Sec

Our first night in Paris we were very tired. Like many flights to Europe from the eastern US, our flight was an overnight flight and got in at 9:30 am. We spent the afternoon walking around in hotter than expected weather and around 4 pm, we called it quits and went back to the hotel. But what about dinner? We knew we had to eat, especially me because my stomach gets angry if I don't feed it on its idea of a schedule. I did not want to spend the next day desperately seeking a bathroom after eating for the first time after skipping a meal. But in France, people eat later. Many restaurants do not open for dinner until 7 pm. Even if a brasserie/cafe is open in the afternoon, sometimes the kitchen isn't and won't open until closer to that 7 pm dinner time. We did not want to wait that long (even though we eat dinner around 7:30 pm at home). So we decided to try the tavern that was a 1 minute walk from our hotel: Taverne de l'Arbre Sec 
It was here that we (well, I) pulled out my high school French for the first time. I didn't have a clue what was said to me so I put on what I hoped was a 'please forgive the stupid American' smile and said,"Parlez vous Anglais?" "Oui, Madame." Oh thank goodness, because my brain was fried from lack of sleep. (I did know from their website that they have an English menu, so I was hoping they spoke a little English, too, but we were prepared to muddle through with the help of Google Translate). We were seated outside under the yellow awning. It was around 5:30 pm and it turned out that the kitchen didn't open until 6 pm, but we figured we'd have a drink and think about what to order for half an hour!
I saw they had sancerre on the wine list, so that's what I ordered because I rarely see sancerre on wine lists here. It was quite nice. After the sancerre, I tried a rosé. It was quite nice, too, a super light pink color, and I was pleased to find a rosé I like.
We ate at Taverne de l'Arbre Sec twice, and stopped by for drinks a few times.

Here's what we ate:
Croque-Monsieur (country bread, white ham, emmental cheese + salad). I ate several croque-monsieurs while in France and this was one of the top 2. It sort of looks small, but it was not. It was definitely big enough for me, plus SP's help with the last couple bites.
Caesar Salad with chicken. A filling salad with chicken, mushrooms, poached egg.
Gazpacho - one of SP's favorite soups. He said he wasn't hungry the first night but then he hoovered up the soup and all the bread in the bread basket and then helped me finish my croque-monsieur.
Italian Salad - with lots of prosciutto & mozzarella & melon. Yum!
Shepherd's Salad - with fried goat cheese, apple, mushrooms. Really good as well. I did find the goat cheese a little different from goat cheese here, maybe grassier? Tangier? Stronger?
More drinks - rosé and Aperol Spritz.

We really liked this place. We liked the excellent croque-monsieur and the large, tasty salads, especially since we are always mindful of eating enough vegetables while on vacation. The 3-4 people who worked there were super nice and friendly, spoke enough English and us enough French that it was not stressful or difficult. They have an English menu. I had read that the French can be particular about special requests to meals, like dressing on the side or something left out, but we asked nicely for dressing on the side, if it was possible, and they said of course. And it was super close to our hotel.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Paris Vacation

Food was not the focus of our trip to Paris. We went to see the iconic landmarks, the art, the city, to stroll along the Seine, to sit outside at cafes, sipping rose and watching people. Sure, we wanted patisserie and boulangerie and fromages and souffle and macarons, but although I did some research to see what "food places" were near our hotel, we didn't plan anything, we didn't make reservations. We just went.
When we travel, we always go with the idea that we might not ever get back to that place so we had better see/do everything we want to see/do and we should take our time and enjoy. Monterey, CA is near the top of my list of absolute favorite places, but it took me 21 years from finishing graduate school to return to Monterey. We have so many places to visit for the first time, and so many places to return to, and not enough free time. So as much as we wish to return to Paris, it will likely be a long time, if ever.
So, this trip. We spent 11 days in Paris + 2 travel days. We took advantage of Delta's non-stop Pittsburgh to Paris flight and while it was still a long flight, at least it was non-stop. Here's what we saw/did on vacation:
Driving Tour
Palais Garnier Opera House
Right Bank Walking Tour
Left Bank Walking Tour 
Latin Quarter, Sorbonne
Walking Food Tour
Église Saint-Eustache
Day Trip: Normandy (Sainte-Mere-EgliseNormandy American Cemetery and Memorial, Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument, Normandy Airborne MuseumUtah Beach, Normandy Beach)
It seems like a long time, 11 days, 9 of them in Paris, but our days were always full and never rushed. After 11 years together, we have a good idea of how to plan a vacation day to make the most of our time and see what we want to see at our pace and not be rushed and not miss out. Sometimes, we think people just run around, ticking things off a check list on their vacations. If we're going to, say, visit Notre-Dame Cathedral, we want to get the audio-guide and spend 1-2 hours learning about it and appreciating the architecture. And sometimes, allowing an afternoon and evening at the Louvre is a very good idea if it takes you 30 minutes to find the first work of art on your downloaded "wheelchair accessible walking tour of 10 must-see art works" itinerary. True story. That place drove me nuts! I swear we read the directions, in English, and followed them, yet we still got lost. We walked past the room for the Mona Lisa 3 times. So frustrating. We eventually found everything.
And sometimes, even if you must be up early the next day for a scheduled tour, you have to make time to catch the late Paris sunset, standing on a bridge, looking at the Eiffel Tower in the distance, poking up behind buildings.

I really hope we make it back one day. Especially since SP missed out on the Catacombs. He had purchased a ticket online before we left for vacation, but due to strike days, they were closed the day his ticket was good. He tried to go another day, but it was also a strike day. He was sad because he's always wanted to see the Catacombs, so I guess we have to make going back to Paris happen.