Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Loving Paris in June

And let the summer travel posts begin...

Last week I spent two days in Paris on my way to Israel (I tell myself that this is a way to get used to the time zone, but let's face it, really it's an excuse to produce a post like this!), and the beautiful pastries wet my appetite for my three weeks in Paris in August.

This was a visit that, more than the others I took this past April or in May 2008, reminded me of the significance of my student days in Paris. Perhaps it was the time I spent in the Marais this time, or the long hours I took walking the city, but whatever the reason, these two days brought to mind the girl I was 9 years ago, just at the cusp of developing into who I am now.

The semester I spent at the Sorbonne in 2001 was a formative point in my adult life; in particular, I was at an important place in developing my sense of aesthetics. I was constantly struck by design throughout Paris - in the art museums, in architecture, in advertisements, in clothing, in the juxtaposition of the new and the old in an historic but modern city. I gathered pictures from magazines and ads until I had a notebook stuffed with scraps of paper, and I even tried to draw a little bit. Living outside of the U.S. allowed me to let go of my perceptions of what art is, and simply listen to my personal experience of sensory expressions - which brings me to the food in this post again.

My aesthetic sensibilities are at their happiest, perhaps, with beautiful food. I know I rave constantly about Pierre Hermé, but really, he is an artist. His medium is of the highest quality - no one could beat the textural and flavorful perfection of his macarons - while he also executes a creativity in flavor combinations and presentation that takes the technical work to a level of sophistication that is so pleasing to me. The photo above is of his Ispahan croissant; Ispahan is his signature "fetish" collection flavor that combines raspberry, rose, and lychee, with some almond paste as well in the croissant. Brilliant, right?

I devoured this croissant, and then ate the crumbs from the bag. Amazing pastry, striking filling, lovely sweet glaze.

And OF COURSE I got some of his macarons, in flavors I hadn't tried yet (except for the caramel): clockwise from upper left, Mosaïc (pistachio, griottine cherry, and touch of cinnamon), Mogador (passion fruit and milk chocolate), Arabesque (apricot and pistachio), and Infiniment Caramel (salted butter caramel). I am always surprised by the touches of bitterness or sourness he allows to remain in his flavors; the passion fruit was certainly on the sour side for me, and the caramel actually has a bitter edge to the burned sugar flavor. Few pastry chefs would make that gusty choice in the States! I think Mosaïc was my favorite this time.

I ran into this place while walking around town, and while its Asian-inspired flavors were interesting, I just had to buy... of these: a Chocoron, or Chocolate-Dipped Macaron. Oh yes.

Raspberry and chocolate isn't my absolute favorite combination, but I could not resist the colors of this amazing confection. Sadaharu Aoki's macarons in general had stiffer shells, which structure fit the chocolate dipping better than a soft Hermé would have done. It is truly difficult to look at this photo without being able to take a bite of one right now.

Berthillon's ice cream was a must-try, and I was glad I sat down to eat it at Ma Bourgogne at the Place des Vosges, even though it cost three times as much as getting a few scoops on Ile St. Louis. The honey nougat and the café dauphinois were fabulous with the gavottes that accompanied them.

And the final culinary highlight of the two days was this religieuse from Des Gâteaux et du Pain; I literally have wanted to try this for two years, and this time happened to be staying a few blocks away from the bakery. After this trip, I highly recommend staying in the 15th arrondissement for high quality pastry and baked good options.

Choux pastry (think cream puffs) filled with salted caramel pastry cream, coated in caramel icing, held together with caramel buttercream piping.

I don't usually talk like this, but...GET IN MY BELLY!

A bientôt, Paris!
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