Friday, June 28, 2013

Last Day in Paris, Vendredi. Food Shops, a Lunch at L'Absinthe, and a Dinner Post by Chris

What a spectacular time we've had in France.  The buzz of Paris, the two hour lunches, the adventure of getting around, the friendly people, the long walks, all the sightseeing, the beautiful countryside and of course those sweet cows.  As we sat after our lunch today, we asked the girls if there was anything we missed or anything else they wanted to see.  Stella's only wish was to go back to Normandy for more ice cream.  It was the best there.  The rest of us were satisfied and ready to head home to rest, sleep in our own beds and hug Pacino.  Today, we walked the streets of Paris one last time and visited some specialty food shops.  Pictured above are the small items we've picked up during our trip that we'll be bringing home with us.  Just some little souvenirs of France.  And below, some of the stops we made today.

The above photos are all from Hediard

Black truffles from Maisin de la Truffe

The many duck and goose foie gras products of Fouchon

 The beautiful white ceramics of Astier de Villatte

Lunch was a success at L'Absinthe, on Saint-Honoré, a short walk from our hotel.  Everything we ordered had its own flavor and was beautifully prepared.  We wanted a two hour lunch, a carafe of wine and a Paris experience for our last lunch and we got it.  
One of today's specials, Lobster Macaroni and Cheese
 Ravioli with Crayfish Cream Sauce
 Crispy Pig's Ear with Crisp Lobster and Thai Basil Spicy Jus
Green Asparagus and Smoked Herrings, Poached Egg and Avruga Caviar Vinaigrette

All excellent and worth a return trip.

And Now a guest post from Chris.
I have always been a pizza guy so when I read that Pizza Rossi was ranked number 12 out of 9,788 restaurants in Paris on TripAdvisor, how could I resist.  Little did I know that 7:30pm on a friday in Paris was when all Parisian taxis take a café break (at least I think that's what he said), so we headed off on the estimated 15 minute walk.  45 minutes later we were surrounded by 64 year old Parisian prostitutes wearing thigh high boots.  I had many questions right about now, a) who is frequenting these frightening creatures, b) why is my dream pizza place located here and c) where the hell is this supposed heavenly pizza joint?  Now sweating from a long walk and dodging the oldest prostitutes known to man, we arrived at Pizza Rossi.  Was this a joke?  Surely the folks on trip advisor, as my brother in-law would say, are having a go.  This place would have disappointed if I showed up with my buddies when I was in college, not to mention the last night of a long planned trip overseas with my family.  So we high tailed it out of there to try and find a taxi back to the Japanese cuisine district.  Let's take a taxi, nope still on café break.  Rant here, I have seen more taxis with no people in them in Paris than those with.  What gives?  There seem to be many taxis but no way to actually catch one. Paris better look out when a ride share program like Lyft gets here. All those resting taxis are going to have to start actually driving customers around.  So into the subway we went. Stella reinforced what a great neighborhood we were in when she pointed out "gee there sure are a lot of people jumping the turnstile".  20 minutes later we were back in familiar territory and searching for dinner, liquid refreshment and a bathroom.  Udon was the call, so we knew where that was. Nope, line out the door.  Second udon joint, nope, line out the door.  Thai place, nope, go away.  I know the Izakaya place we ate last night, maybe he will take us in. Yep, score.  So, our last night in Paris lead us back to our best meal and a do over that did not disappoint. We ate a little slower and savored it a little more but it was equally delicious and as Stella said "it was fate that we were lead back here" as she slurped down her portion of soft shelled crab.  I think it was a good end to our adventure. -Chris

I leave you with a few final photos from Paris on our last walk of the trip.  In retrospect, I wish I had gotten a photo of the prostitutes outside Pizza Rossi.  There were at least a dozen of them on that one block.  We did not see any anywhere else, until that street.  I mean truly, what in the world?  We could have put a blinder on to the prostitutes, but the restaurant itself was completely unworthy of a last meal in Paris.  We were not going to stick around to find out if the pizza was good or not.  Alls well that end well though, thanks to Izakaya Issé!

 A living wall on the side of a building

Au revoir!  We'll miss you France!
We're homeward bound!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Back to Paris, Jeudi and a Fantastic Dinner at Izakaya Issé

As we left Chinon this morning and the Hôtel Diderot after another wonder breakfast, I'm left with one lingering thought passed to us as we left..."Paris is not France."  To me, what that expresses, is that France is so much more than just Paris.  It is the charming small towns, the lovely countryside, the winding roads, the fresh air, the peaceful enjoyment of life, and the deliberate living of it.  We have enjoyed that part of our trip immensely. 

The drive to Paris was about three and a half hours and by the time we checked into our hotel and Chris returned the rental car, all we wanted to do was relax in our rooms.  The traffic, once in Paris, was crazy and once again, we could not be more thankful for the navigation system in the car.  It alerted us of a broken down car on the motorway, slowed traffic and course adjustments as a result and lane closures.  We must not have bought a car with that kind fancy bells and whistles in some time.  

With the four of us, the hotel would not let us share one room and so we were forced to book two rooms.  The girls' room has two queen beds in it and we would have happily suffered in silence as there was room enough for all of us.  But, in the end, we were happy we were forced to have our own room with our huge bed, faux fireplace, a grand chandelier, and plenty of space to relax.  

We did not leave the hotel until dinner time.  We went for an early dinner, the first seating, at Izakaya Issé, a Japanese tapas style restaurant.  This is the restaurant we had tried to go to on Chris' birthday, but could not get a table.  It is a fairly small restaurant with seating for maybe 16-20 inside.   We arrived at 7:30 and were the only ones there for a while, but we were in heaven.  For most of our adult lives, we thought ourselves huge fans of French food.  I don't know what happened, but we were all dying for something other than French.  We have been, in general, underwhelmed with the prepared food we've had.  There have been some hits here and there, and the classic baguettes, croissants, ham, etc have been fabulous.   Have we been completely unlucky in our restaurant choices?  Perhaps we are not spending enough money to get a good meal.  Perhaps our tastes have shifted and we have been spoiled with variety, which is something we have not had here.  There is a huge variety of excellent foods in Seattle and so much innovation has occurred there of late.  Whatever the reason, tonight, we were like kids on Christmas morning.  Thank you Izakaya Issé!

 Eggplant with bonito flakes.
 Octopus, seaweed and cucumber salad
 Fried softshell crab in a sweet and sour type sauce
Seared tuna 
 Braised pork belly
Beef teriyaki

We left the restaurant and walked straight back to the hotel to relax with our happy bellies and ready ourselves for our last day in France.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Chinon, Mecredi. The Best Breakfast Setting, Two Châteaux, and a Wandering Drive

It was a stellar morning at Hôtel Diderot.  The hotel is the most quaint, the most charming and the most memorable hotel we'll have stayed.  It is not because it is fancy, but because it is simply beautiful and comfortable.  We were on the fence yesterday when they asked if we wanted breakfast this morning.  Other than the simple breakfast we had at the apartment, we are normally not breakfast eaters.  But we had a feeling breakfast here was not to be missed.  We were right.  It was a blue sky, sunny morning.  The birds were all chirping and the air was mild and fresh.  Our table was beautifully set at the back right corner.

They make in the hotel, more than 1400 kilos of jam per year, with over 50 varieties.  I had a delicious sampling of raspberry, strawberry and peach jams and a giant fabulous croissant.  The apple juice was fresh squeezed from local apples, the fresh chèvre was made on a local farm, and the yogurt from local cows.  This was living.
And the hotel would not be complete without Boubi, the cat.  He chose a spot next to Chris' chair to lay in the sun.
After a leisurely breakfast, we left to visit a couple of châteaux.  The first, Château d'Azay-Le-Rideau, was a smaller châteaux, surrounded by a moat and lovely gardens.

 This is the attic.
This is the kitchen where I would love to do some cooking!

Our next stop was Château Ussé, which they also call the Sleeping Beauty Castle.  The full photo of the château is the first one on this post.  On the property was a chapel, wine cellar, stables, gardens and of course the château itself.  

Once we were finished here, we decided to just drive the countryside randomly and get our last fill before we head back into Paris tomorrow.  This has been my favorite stop because of the beauty, the peacefulness, and probably because it came at just the right time.  After a week of vacationing, we've settled into our holiday and are truly relaxed.  We are so impressed by how pristine it is here and the attention to detail.  Everything is kept up and clean.  Even the snack bar at the tourist areas are kept in perfect order and serviced as if you were at a proper café.  They certainly are doing it right here.

Here are a few more photos of the beautiful countryside.

We finished our evening with dinner in Chinon.  The food was just okay, but the walk was most enjoyable.  Everywhere we've walked around this area, there's been a sweet smell in the air and we've discovered this is due to the flowering Tilia tree.  It is just fantastic and I want to have one back home.  If you are ever in this area of the world, come to Hôtel Diderot and drive the countryside.  It is magnificent.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Chinon, Mardi. A Long Drive South to Chinon and the Cutest Hotel Diderot

We woke this morning and quickly made our way off Mont Saint-Michel as the droves of visitors were arriving.  The entrance we took onto the island had flooded with the high tide and so an alternate exit was used.  It was about a 200 kilometer drive to our next stop, Chinon, in the Loire Valley.  It was a picturesque drive and I just can't get enough of the lush green fields and those beautiful cows grazing the green pastures.  We've also noticed the lack of any 'farm' smells at all.  The air is fresh and I'm telling you, those cows are so clean and beautiful, we are beginning to wonder if they are show cows.  If Chris would only come to a complete stop on the motorway, I could get a closer photo for you.

We stopped in the small town of Sablé for lunch before moving onto Chinon.  As we entered the Loire Valley, a large vineyard lined the road.

Just before arriving in Chinon, we came upon Cave Monplaisir where we stopped to take a quick look.  It was a 2500 square-metre quarry that has since been converted into a cellar for storing and aging wine.  There are 700 barrels full of Chinon wine.

 After this quick stop, we drove a few more minutes into Chinon and arrived at the cutest hotel, Hôtel Diderot.  Chris came through once again.  The hotel is framed with beautiful gardens and the building itself has so much character.  We had booked two rooms and the girls' room is so sweet and charming, Chris and I are a little jealous.

I realize I've gotten away from talking about food in my food blog.  At the risk of being lambasted, I have to confess, the meals we've had overall have not been overly impressive so, I haven't been sharing as much.  The exceptions are the baguettes, croissants, jambon and paté we had from the boulangerie and boucherie by the apartment we rented.  Everything else has tasted much the same and nothing stands out much.  Perhaps we've been unlucky?  We all miss a little variety in our cuisine.  Everywhere we go, it's pretty much the same things on the menu and we are ready for a different flavor.  Is that a pathetic and sacrilegious statement when one is in France?

Tonight's dinner had one stand out item, the foie gras ravioli with ham.  It was delicious!  We ate at Restaurant La Bonne France.  The service was excellent and friendly, some items were better than others, but the foie gras ravioli was the best.
A nice walk around town capped off our day.  Tomorrow we shall have a leisurely day and visit a couple châteaus.  Bonsoir!