The carafe of water

One of the eternal questions that plagues me here in Paris is the question of the carafe of water. Why is it that every time I order une carafe de l'eau I stand a roughly 30% chance of getting it? And why is it that whenever a French person seems to order absolutely anything — even just a tiny coffee — they seem to get a liter of water alongside? Why? My food comes. My wine comes. But hardly ever do I get the water without repeating my request several times. I am now practicing how to say, "Monsieur, I am dying of thirst. The carafe, please!" in French. Is this some secret way for the French to stick it to me while still being polite?

For the French speakers

Here's one for my foodie French-speaking soon-to-be-or-already-are-in-France friends: Les 100 meilleurs bistrots à moins de 30 €. Note: The link points to ones in Paris, see the sidebar for those outside the Île-de-France. For the non-French speakers out there, it's a list of "The 100 best 30 € and under bistros."

I've been to two on the Paris list so far this visit: L'Ami Marcel (which was mentioned in the April 2005 Gourmet article "The Bistro Boom"); and L'Epi Dupin. Both were very good and I'd recommend either for a lovely meal. And see, if I were less lazy, I would have written posts about eating there! As penance, if my dinning companions post about the meals, I promise to make the appropriate links.

Eating on a Saturday night

I've been doing a fairly good job of eating at lots of yummy places while here in Paris. Obviously I've been doing a fairly crappy job of documenting those meals, mostly out of sheer laziness. But last night we decided to eat in for a change, and to soften the repeated blows my wallet has taken during this trip. To turn the documentation tide, I present a photo of what we had for dinner on Saturday night.

For our shopping, we decided we'd head to La Grande Epicerie Paris, the amazing food market at The Bon Marché — one of Paris' grand department stores. We started in the wine section and being, in reality, poser gourmands and wine afficionados, we just grabbed two bottles that looked good and tried to escape before the woman started speaking to us in French about wine. My French class hasn't gotten to that level of interaction yet, and I wasn't up to the challenge. The take? A half bottle of Domaine Pradelle Crozes-Hermitage, 2002 (white) and a full size 2000 Saint-Joseph from Ferraton Père & Fils. Where they good? Seemed so to us. We're pretty much happy with anything from the Rhône.

Next stop, the meat counter where we procured some mousse de canard. Somehow I managed to leave it out of the nice photo, so here it is just tossed on a plate. Then, on to the cheese counter!

Here we were at a loss as there were just too many cheeses to choose from. Though I have French Cheeses: The Visual Guide to More Than 350 Cheeses from Every Region of France, it was no use among the vast selection (because I didn't have it with me and hadn't memorized it all, yet…). So I used my every-improving French to explain our predicament to Madame la Fromagère:

(In French, sort of)

Madame, we do not know the cheeses well of France. Is it possible that you make a selection of three cheeses for us to know more the cheese?

Of course!, she replied, quite happy to be put to such a test. So she asked a few more questions and we ended up with a Brie de Meaux, a Comté Rivoire, and a bouton Charolai which was a button of a lovely aged goat cheese. They were all excellent, and Madame chose well for us. The Charolai was my favorite new cheese in a long time.

We had also picked up a saucisson sec aux myrtilles, a dry sausage with a blueberry(!) coating. It was good, but didn't have much blueberry flavor. And of course, the requisite baguettes upon which to spread our yummy cheese and mousse. It was tasty and easy and I have to say, I want to do it again very soon!

Getting out of ruts

From On Cruise Control: How to get out of a life rut by Cynthia Hanson:

Along the journey of life, we're destined to fall into some ruts. Sometimes, they're big (think career change). Other times, they're small (think new exercise routine). Either way, experts say it's inevitable that we'll become bored with one or more facets of our lives.

This article talks about identifying ruts and then how to go about getting out of them. Something good to think about and be aware of.

Beware the “wild” salmon

This is really disturbing: the New York Times reports that Stores Say Wild Salmon, but Tests Say Farm Bred in several stores in New York City.

Tests performed for The New York Times in March on salmon sold as wild by eight New York City stores, going for as much as $29 a pound, showed that the fish at six of the eight were farm raised. Farmed salmon, available year round, sells for $5 to $12 a pound in the city.

Emphasis mine.

Given the contaminants found in farmed salmon, this deceptive practice troubling for consumers trying to make informed healthy decisions. I used to eat a lot of salmon but have really dropped the amount I eat in the past few years. Now it's less than once a month whereas it used to be twice a week, if not more. It's too bad because I love salmon, but it's too difficult to determine its source, especially when suppliers appear to be lying.

I found the Sox in Paris

Yay!! Red Sox in Paris. I know, it's a terrible photo but I really couldn't get a better photo of the TV. But the bar, if you need to know, is: The Highlander Pub, 8, rue des Nevers, 6° Paris. They will show the rest of the Sox games, as long as they don't conflict with Scottish Football. And yes, we won. Finally. It's a long season, but this was a very good win. 🙂

Cooking Under Fire on PBS

Finally, a reality TV show I can get into! On April 27, Cooking Under Fire will premiere on PBS.

Tracking 12 finalists plucked from the country's restaurants and culinary schools as they embark on a coast-to-coast cooking competition, this documentary-style series will bring viewers behind the scenes and into the kitchen. Each week, the aspiring chefs face intense cooking challenges, difficult deadlines, and the heated pressure of working against the clock. In order to survive, they must combine their kitchen savvy, unique style, and skills of organization and creativity to serve the judges a winning meal.

Contestants who fail to perform will run the risk of being "86ed" — taken off the competition menu and sent home. But success will bring them one step closer to the ultimate culinary prize: a chef position in one of restaurateur Todd English's Manhattan restaurants.

Michael Ruhlman — who you may recall is the author of some of my favorite books (see my The Soul of a Chef review) — will be one of three judges in the competition. It should be good since I've really enjoyed every PBS reality show I've seen (Frontier House, Colonial House, etc.) I'm looking forward to it!

Speaking of French cheese

According to this article, French mobilise to save cheeses under threat of extinction France is losing cheeses as producers are dying and taking their cheese making secrets to the grave.

A worrisome trend is looming in this country of cheese-lovers, where the nation's rich palette of 1,000 cheeses is being nibbled away at with the annual demise of several varieties…"The Mont-d'Or galette, which had been produced for some 400 years, disappeared this summer following the death of the last producer who knew the secret of how to make it."

That does sound worrisome. What's also worrisome is the reference in this article to "National Cheese Day" on "Friday." Did I just miss National Cheese Day?!?! Why weren't there big cheese posters everywhere telling me about this? Sure, they take the time to hang a giant neon sign for the Olympics on the Hôtel de Ville, but why not a giant poster of Brique de Brebis? No wonder a disastrous cheese extinction looms!