The last Paris food post

No trip to Paris would be complete without a visit to La Grand Épicerie (thanks for the tip, Divasoria!) an authentic crêpe or a ridiculously sinful dessert. So, I tackle all three in my last Paris food post *sigh!*

Really, anyone who loves food should visit La Grand Épicerie, even if just to look. Because it the place is a shrine to all things delicious. It’s a place to buy food, sure, but a mere supermarket it is not. Aisle upon aisle of the best of the world’s food, glass cases filled with all types of cured meats you can imagine (I counted 4 or 5 types of jamon iberico alone), a prepared foods section that will give you decision fatigue, a boulangerie and an aisle devoted only to salt. Yes. To salt. That’s how serious they are about their food. And that’s why I love it there. (I wish I had more pictures, but this and my previous pastry display case shot were the only shots I dared to take, since photos are technically not allowed.)

.

Regular salt, pink salt, Spanish sea salt, Greek sea salt, French sea salt...

My mom and I were just supposed to make a quick stop to grab lunch while waiting for Chapelle Notre Dame de la Médaille Miraculeuse next door to reopen for the afternoon. I wandered around the store aimlessly ogling at the food so long that my mom had to give me THE look for me to remember that I was there to BUY food, not to just look at it. So we bought a baguette, some lomo iberico, some macarons (duh) and this salad:

IMG_1547

We had to eat on the sidewalk (we had to ditch my original plan to go to a nearby park because of the rain), but this was still one of my favorite meals in Paris. Seriously. Simple but really, really delicious. The lomo in particular, was very good, I wanted to smuggle it back into Manila.

Another must-eat in Paris would be, of course, crêpes. And Crêperie Bretonne, along with Crêpes du Josselin were highly recommended. We ended up in the former because the main Josselin was closed.

IMG_1966

Crêperie Bretonne. So cute, no?

I had a mushroom, ham, cheese and egg crêpe which was OK, but quite frankly nothing to write home about. I suppose the authentic buckwheat crêpe takes some getting used to. I preferred my mom’s crêpe of ham, cheese and tomatoes because I think the flavor of the tomatoes balances out the earthiness of the buckwheat.

What IS worth writing about, though, is this:

IMG_1964

Surprise, surprise, it has caramel.

Dessert was a crêpe with caramel and salted butter with an added scoop of vanilla ice cream (obviously my motto during this trip was “go big or go home”). I know it doesn’t look like much, since the caramel looks like it was carelessly drizzled on the crêpe, and it was. The waiter who was preparing it actually drizzled some caramel on his coworker’s shoes (such a waste of perfectly delicious caramel). But don’t let the mess fool you. It was delicious.

The crêpe, as you can see from the outline of the plate underneath it, is super thin. The result of this is that the edges get a little toasted and crispy, while the middle still stays soft and delicate. And while my waistline will not thank me for it, it was the right move to order the ice cream with it, since with it you get that wonderful warm-and-cold contrast with the freshly cooked crêpe. Also, even in all its salted glory, the syrupy caramel with just the crêpe would’ve been just too much, so the vanilla ice cream provides that balance. And I’m telling the truth here, not just trying to justify that scoop of ice cream. Hehe.

And finally, the other standout dessert from my trip (outside of chocolates and macarons, of course) is this:

The Ladurée Le Saint-Honoré Classique

Basically, it’s a mini-tower of mini-cream puffs on a caramelized-sugar-topped flaked pastry base, finished off with whipped cream.  No further explanation needed, really. How can that not be good?

———————————————————-

And so it ends. I’ve written the about all the food I’ve had that was worth writing about. And now I’m left a little sad and a little hungry, too (naturally). But more than anything, I’m even more determined to go back to Paris and try more of what the city has to offer, as I’ve barely scratched the surface. Plus, I still haven’t even had these. So yeah, I’m definitely coming back. Waistline be damned.

Advertisements

My trip in Instagram/iPhone

I think I’ve been converted. I used to own a Blackberry but switched to an iPhone when I lost my Bold. And I’m loving it.

One of the biggest surprises about the iPhone was its camera. I used it during my trip when my camera battery conked out or when I left my memory card in my laptop (stupid, I know). It’s pretty good, no, considering it’s a phone camera? And one of the photos that convinced me that it was a good camera was this:

From the garden at the Carmelite monastery in Lisieux, France (where St. Therese’s remains lay): the Million Flower (that’s what I was told it was called), uh, flower. It was one of those days (yes, it happened more than once) when I left my memory card in my computer. But the flowers in the garden were so pretty, I had to take photos. And these flowers and this photo are my favorite of the lot. I was really surprised how the iPhone camera captured the detail: the veins on the leaves, the teeny-tiny blossoms and the even tinier specks on the bigger flowers. The photo’s so good, it doesn’t look like it was taken from real life.

And here’s another photo of other flowers in the same garden. I love the contrast of the bright yellow against the deep fuchsia:

And although I know some real artists and photography enthusiasts scoff at the app Instagram, I think it’s a lot of fun. It’s real easy to use and is a great help for those of us who want to tinker with the look and feel of our photos but don’t have the time/money/skill/patience to take photos on film or edit digital ones themselves.

And here are some of my favorite Instagram photos from my trip:

The macaron display case at the la Grande Épicerie. I had to take this stolen shot with my iPhone because photos aren’t allowed inside the store.

And the same is true with this shot:

Another stolen shot of another pastry case, this time, Ladurée at Rue Royale.

I didn’t just take prohibited photos of sugary things, of course. I also took photos of the touristy stuff from my iPhone, including one of my favorite photos from my trip:

And proof that throwing a coin into it works:

I threw a 5-peso coin into the Trevi Fountain the first time I was in Rome. And ta-da! I got to go back. But I forgot to throw another one in this time around. Oooops.

Obviously I had fun with my iPhone and tinkering with Instagram during my trip. Instagram, I think, is great way to sort of have a different version a memory of a moment or place , to give a photo a feel that an un-Instagrammed photo can’t capture.

And besides, when the photos are as yummy-looking as this one, don’t you want as many versions of it as possible?

PS: You can follow me on Instagram: tightsarntpants.

PPS: You can see more of the photos from my trip by clicking on the link to my Flickr account, which could be found on the right sidebar.

The Ultimate Macaron Taste-off, Pt 3

I’ve saved the best for last. It’s my favorite flavor of them all: caramel. Not just any caramel, though, but Caramel au beurre salé. Caramel with salted butter. The contrast of salty and sweet… gaaaaaaaaaah… I don’t even know how to describe it and do it justice. But it is seriously one of the best flavor combinations in the world.

But which among the Parisian patisseries makes the caramel macaron I’m willing to travel across Paris for? Scratch that, a macaron I’m willing to travel across the WORLD for. Who made the macaron I took home from Paris to Manila, whose filling I unashamedly licked off the box? Not directly of course, I used my finger.

From top to bottom: La Grande Épicerie, Ladurée, La Maison du Chocolat and Pierre Hermé

Is this what heaven is made of? I sure hope so.

Well, not La Grande Épicerie’s. Their caramel macaron was the most disappointing of the lot. The filling was thin and runny, the flavor of which was overpowered by the cookie, which was just too sweet.

No such problems with Ladurée’s macaron, though. The opposite of thin and runny, their filling was the closest to traditional caramel: gooey, thick and sticky. I mean, look at the photo. And it tastes the closest to traditional caramel, too. Sweet and almost syrupy, but not overly so, as the French abhor anything that is saccharine-sweet. The sweet is balanced out by a hint of saltiness, but for me, not enough of it. I need more of that contrast, a heavier hand with the salt for this particular macaron to take me to gastronomic heaven. So while this macaron is a VERY good caramel macaron, it’s just not a good enough caramel AND salted butter macaron. Especially when compared to the last two on the list: Pierre Hermé and La Maison du Chocolat.

I know I said that caramel and salted butter is one of the best flavor combinations in the world. Well, La Maison du Chocolat, the same people behind my beloved Rigoletto chocolate, thought they could make it even more drool-worthy by adding another layer of flavor: bitter chocolate. And they were right. So, so, so, soooooooo right.  And unlike their vanilla-chocolate macaron, where the chocolate took the limelight from vanilla, the caramel and salted butter is still the star of the show in the Rigoletto macaron. Apart from the color of the filling, I wouldn’t have immediately guessed that it was chocolate that gave the filling that subtle hint of bitterness. If I didn’t know, I would’ve thought that they took the caramel to almost burning point, but the quality of the bitterness was different. Deep and smooth, not sharp and jarring. Bitter, sweet, and salty all complementing each other. *droooooooool* Chocolate DOES make everything better.

But as much as I would like to go on and on an on about La Maison du Chocolat (I kinda did already), there’s still one more macaron left standing: Pierre Hermé’s Infinement Caramel. And Mr. Hermé  doesn’t need the help of chocolate to make a fantastic  caramel au beurre salé macaron. With the texture of whipped butter, the filling of this macaron is absolute perfection. There’s not one thing about it I would think to change. The sweetness is just right, the saltiness is right on the money and there’s a slight creaminess to it all that I think comes from the butter. And, as with most of PH’s macarons, the filling is laid on THICK (I mean, look at that bottom macaron!), a fact that we should all be thankful for everyday.

And so who wins it? Who makes the ultimate  macaron? It was tough to choose, I even ate extra macarons to come to the decision, but in the end, I couldn’t. Pierre Hermé and La Maison du Chocolat tie for the best caramel au beurre salé in Paris.

————————————————-

And so it ends, my very serious, very scientific search for the best macarons in Paris. But there will always be more patisseries and chocolatiers who will make more and more of these delicious little buttons for me to try and compare with the others. Hopefully, I’ll make it back to Paris to try them all (well, not all…).

But if I don’t,  Pierre Hermé, La Maison du Chocolat and Ladurée are only just a short flight away in Tokyo.

The Ultimate Macaron Taste-off, Pt. 2

And so here we are, part 2 of my taste-off, where I find the best vanilla and chocolate macarons in Paris.

Like I said in part 1, I think these flavors can make or break a patisserie. If you don’t get vanilla or chocolate right, then what hope is there for other, more complicated flavors? But I’m not here to find out who among La Grande Épicerie, Ladurée, La Maison du Chocolat and Pierre Hermé got theirs right, it’s a given that their macarons would be good. I’m here to find out who among them made theirs better than everyone else’s.

Vanilla: from top to bottom: La Maison du Chocolat, Ladurée

IMG_1992

Ok, so I feel like I’m cheating here a little bit. I only have two contenders here, and La Maison du Chocolat’s vanilla macaron, as you can see above, is actually vanilla and chocolate. So why the too-short list? Well, La Grande Épicerie doesn’t really have a vanilla-only macaron. When I was there, the only macaron with vanilla that they had was the Kalamansi and Tahitian Vanilla one, and that obviously can’t compete in this category. On the other hand, Pierre Hermé’s Macaron a l’Huile d’ Olive et Vanille, with an actual olive in the middle of it, is not something I’m willing to go through again… and so I’m left with the two above. And if I’m being totally objective, I’d be down to one contender, because La Maison du Chocolat’s is actually, in essence, a chocolate macaron, not a vanilla one. So, by default, the best vanilla macaron in Paris can be found in Ladurée. But that’s not to say Ladurée doesn’t deserve it. Their vanille macaron is delicious, not too sweet or overpowering but still distinctly vanilla, and not some vague, sweet, creamy flavor. So who’s to say that there’s a better vanilla macaron out there?

Chocolate: from left to right: Pierre Hermé and Ladureé (note: I didn’t include La Maison du Chocolat and La Grande Épicerie anymore because I knew they couldn’t stand up to these two anyway)

This was tough. Really. I had to take multiple bites of the macarons because I really couldn’t decide which was better, and no, that’s not just an excuse to eat even more macarons. Like I need an excuse. In my opinion, these two are very similar. They even look the same, apart from the sprinkling of cocoa on the Pierre Hermé one. Both have fillings based on dark chocolate, not milk chocolate, so they’re less sweet, more chocolate-y. But one has a slight edge over the other, in that its flavor is slightly more intense, slightly richer and slightly more bitter. The differences are, in my opinion, very slight, but when you’re looking for the best of the best, the smallest differences matter. So who won this round by the slightest of margins? Pierre Hermé.

And so, the grand dame and the bad boy of the Parisian patisserie scene each win one round in this battle. As it stands, it’s Pierre Hermé-2,  Ladureé-2, La Grande Épicerie-1 and La Maison du Chocolat-0.

But it’s not over yet. In the final part of this series, I saved the best flavor for last: Caramel and Salted Butter. Yuuuummmm.

The Ultimate Macaron Taste-off, Pt. 1

And, finally, I’ve been able to do it. After battling with a cold (and an impaired sense of taste) during the first few days and getting in some preliminary taste tests (it’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it), it’s done. I’ve found the best macarons in Paris.

Well, ok. I need to qualify this a little bit. As much as I would’ve loved to try every single macaron in the city and compare them all with each other, that’s obviously impossible. Every single patisserie worth mentioning, even your friendly neighborhood one, even McCafe for crying out loud, offers macarons. I’d have to spend a year in Paris, hundreds of Euros and thousands on dental care if I wanted to do that. So I’ve narrowed the sources down to four places: Ladurée, Pierre Hermé, La Grande Épicerie and La Maison du Chocolat. The last one wasn’t supposed to be in my original plan, but after sampling their macarons earlier this week, I realized it would be a travesty to not to give its caramel one a chance, hence the inclusion.

Also, I didn’t buy and try every single flavor each place offered. To be able to compare them to one another, of course I had to pick the same flavors across the stores, so my choices skewed towards the staples: Pistachio, chocolate, etc. I also have ruled out certain flavors I didn’t like (PH’s Vanilla and Olive Oil) or knew didn’t stand a chance (La Maison’s chocolate) or wasn’t adventurous enough to try (anything flower-based, licorice, etc.).

I bought them all the same day, all within about an hour of each other, so no one had a freshness advantage over the other. As you can see, I took all this very seriously. As I should, because we’re talking about roll-your-eyes-to-the-back-of-your-head-delicious here, people.

And so, here goes. Part one of my search for the best macarons in Paris, where I tackle the flavors Pistachio, Lemon and Coffee.

Pistachio: from L-R: Pierre Hermé, Ladurée, La Grande Épicerie


Right off the bat, I found Pierre Hermé’s too sweet. Too much vanilla, I think. If I tasted it with my eyes closed, not knowing what it was, I probably wouldn’t guess pistachio right away.

So just like that, it’s down to Ladurée and LGE (that name is just too long). Ladurée’s macaron filling was light and fluffy and had the most aromatic, essence-of-Pistachio (sorry, I can’t find a better way of describing it) flavor among the three. LGE’s, on the other hand, has a milder flavor, but is still very much Pistachio. Its filling is a little on the oily side though, which is never a good thing. Overall, though, I found the aftertaste of Ladurée’s a tiny bit too… pistacho-ey. I know that that’s probably the wrong thing to complain about, but it was just a smidgen too much for me. And so the winner of the Pistachio round is La Grande Épicerie.

Lemon: from L-R: Pierre Hermé, Ladurée, La Grande Épicerie (although their macaron is officially Kalamansi and Tahitian Vanilla)

Knowing Pierre Hermé’s penchant for strong, bold flavors, his Citron macaron comes as a disappointment. It’s relatively weak, compared to the hard-core lemony-ness of Ladurée and LGE’s. I honestly expected more from Mr. Hermé. But enough about the disappointing ones, let’s get on to the two remaining contenders, shall we? LGE’s combination of our very own Kalamansi (actually, I didn’t ask if it was the same kind, but I’m assuming it is) and vanilla was surprisingly good. The vanilla doesn’t overwhelm the citrus flavor at all, the Kalamansi is still center stage with this one. I guess the vanilla was added in there to balance out the bitterness that Kalamansi can have sometimes. But for sheer concentration of tart, lemon-y goodness, I’d have to give it to Ladurée. Their lemon macaron is just that. Lemon. No frills, just pure and straightforward (almost over-the-top, even) LEMOOOON. And you can’t really ask for more than that in a lemon macaron.

Coffee: from top to bottom: La Grande Épicerie, Ladurée, Pierre Hermé

I’m a wuss when it comes to the flavor of actual coffee for drinking, but when it comes to coffee- flavored food (ice cream, cake, candy, etc.) the stronger, the better. And that is why this particular flavor was an easy one to decide on for me. I just had to pick what was the strongest-tasting of them all: Pierre Hermé. The other two, particularly Ladurée, might as well have been made from instant coffee compared to PH’s.

And so at the end of part one of my taste-off, La Grande Épicerie, Ladurée and Pierre Hermé all win one flavor each. But lemon, pistachio and coffee are not the macaron flavors that will make or break a patisserie. In my opinion, the measure of how good a macaron-maker a bakery is are its vanilla, chocolate and caramel macarons, all of which I’ll tackle in part two of my taste-off.

In the meantime, whose other macarons should I have included in my very scientific and serious study? Let me know in the comments!

If it’s good enough for Ms. Blair Waldorf…

It should be good enough for us, no?

While this entry is mainly to further convince you of the delights of Pierre Hermé and Laduree (if my brilliant writing hasn’t done that yet already), I am also using this as an excuse to post pictures of the rightful king and queen of the UES.

Blair: Why aren’t you in Europe?

Chuck: I was in Paris I was only to get your favorite macarons from Pierre Hermé.

– From “The Goodbye Gossip Girl”, Gossip Girl Season 2 Finale

“You were right. I was a coward running away again. Everywhere I went, you caught up with me. I had to come back.”

In the Season 4 priemere, S & B go to Paris to mend their broken hearts and fill up on Laduree macarons.

See! They’re so good, S & B had to make an exception from their no-carb diets!

And I need to squeeze one more lovely picture in:

Just as everything should be

I can’t wait for the GG Season premiere!

Photos from justjared.com and bauergriffin.com

Why I’ll be going back to Paris

One word, thousands upon thousands of calories: dessert.

I’ve seen most of what needs to be seen in Paris and while everything was beautiful, I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to see them again (with the exception of Versailles, but that deserves a post of its own). But the same cannot be said about the wondrous, sweet, buttery bounty offered by the City of Lights and the bastions of pastry and dessert perfection: Laduree, Pierre Hermé and Berthillion.

Laduree

It’s been said that fifteen thousand of Laduree’s macarons are sold every day.  Judging from the number of people walking the streets of Paris with those elegant celadon paper bags, I would say that figure sounds just about right. And, yes, while the main draw would of course be the sweets, the sinful confections are by no means the only reasons to make the pilgrimage to their stores on Champs Elysees, Rue Royale and Rue Bonaparte.

Laduree at Champs Elysees

The stores are just pretty from the outside, with the gold and celadon arcs and display windows with piles and pyramids of macarons.

Inside Laduree

Inside, a sort of hush falls on you (parang bawal mag-ingay) and the beautifully-lit pastry counter draws your attention and holds on to it, until you need to make the agonizing decision between a milk or bitter chocolate macaron.And of course, the place smelling of fresh-baked goodness doesn’t hurt as well.

But enough boring talk about display cases and smells.  Let’s move on to the pièce de résistance, shall we? While I don’t really buy into hype (Nicholas Sparks, Twilight, K-Pop), I am happy to report that Laduree’s macarons deserve every single bit of sugar-addled praise they get.

First of all, look at them. How pretty are they? They come in the loveliest pastel colors, the brightest of yellows and the deepest browns and almost-blacks. And, as if they don’t look good enough on their own, you could choose to get them in the prettiest of boxes. And I mean PRETTY. Mine was pink with silver embossed trim, but it was almost as hard to choose a box as it was to choose flavors (check out the boxes here). The macarons, cradled in the tissue paper in the pink Napoléon box look almost too good to eat. Almost.

From L to R: Vanilla, Coffee (I think), Lemon, Raspberry, Pistachio and Bitter Chocolate

The texture of the cookies is the perfect balance between chewy, crispy and soft. It’s sturdy enough that it doesn’t collapse when you sink your teeth into it but it’s delicate, too, in that you have handle them with that little bit of care. And the fillings, oh, the fillings. While all of them were great, the standouts for me would be the Lemon, the Raspberry and the Bitter Chocolate. Why I only bought six to try is beyond me. Hence, the need to come back to discover the pleasures of Caramel with Salted Butter (aka: my biggest Laduree regret), Praline, Red Fruits, Chestnuts, Amande, Orange Blossom and all the other brightly colored rounds of heaven.

But a girl can’t just live on macarons, no? And fortunately, Laduree offers a girl other delicious options: Tarts, Eclairs, Croissants, Religieuses, St. Honoré cakes, L’Isaphans, Millefeuilles, each confection probably more fattening (and difficult to pronounce) than the last.

My Raspberry Millefeuille. Just don't ask me to pronounce it.

And, as with the macarons, all the pastries are a sight to behold. All of them perfectly glazed, iced and adorned. And the wonderful part is, in contrast to the rigid beauty of a fondant cake, despite all their decoration all Laduree’s (and perhaps all French) pastries look like they’re begging to be bought and enjoyed. And who am I to deny them their request?

Decisions, decisions...

I shall be back, my dears, and I shall have you all.

Next post: Laduree’s rival and Blair Waldorf’s favorite Pierre Hermé

Photo credits: Laduree exterior and interior pics from isabelsbayani.tumblr.com (thanks, Tin!); pastry display picture from paulamaack.com