La Femme Mange a Cabaret dinner at Le Moulin Rouge

A year in Paris has made us as snobby and suspicious about touristic sites as the locals. We roll our eyes at the snaking line outside the Pyramid du Louvre, pooh-pooh the Eiffel Tour and would probably die of shame if our French friends caught us posing in front of  Moulin Rouge, kitschy windmill and all.

The most famous cabaret in Paris

But filial piety trumps good sense, so when my godparents suggested a dinner and show at the Moulin Rouge to celebrate their 36th wedding anniversary, we obediently complied. And truth to be told, I was more than a little excited to see the world-famous show, especially on someone else’s coin.

Bienvenue au Moulin Rouge!

A brief rundown of our evening for those contemplating the dinner and show combo at Moulin Rouge:

6:30 pm – Arrive at the Moulin Rouge (with reservations made well in advance). There are no seating assignments so it pays to arrive early in order to get a table with the best view of the stage. Real estate is at a premium so if you did not arrive early enough to secure one of the few two-tops, do not be shocked if your romantic night for two ends up being an evening with 4 strangers who get placed in the same long table as you.

7:00 – 9:00 pm – Dinner. While there are hundreds of seats in the crimson hall bathed in red light, the service staff are speed monsters, so everyone was seated with champagne within the first 20 minutes of dinner service during our evening there. Likewise, they were constantly hovering around the table to clear plates and usher us out of our seats the moment the curtains came up. The food (3 course dinner menu at 175e and 200e, including the price of the show and half a bottle of wine or champagne) is supplied by Dalloyau, an established high-end pastry shop and caterer. Throughout dinner one is serenaded by a jazz band and two MCs/crooners doing some pretty weak covers of classic love songs. A dance floor is set for those for would like to sway to the beat of music.

9:00 – 10: 30 pm – The famous Moulin Rouge cabaret show named “Feerie” is a spectacle full of glitz and glitter, more Vegas than Toulouse-Lautrec. The cancan may be the only holdover from the Belle Epoque. In between technicolor dance numbers featuring lots of professional dancers showing but skin and feathers were some old-fashioned circus acts that broke the monotony of too much song and dance. In fact, the ventriloquist probably earned the most laughs, the acrobats the most applause and the miniature ponies the loudest “awwwws”.

Norwegian smoked salmon, tarama, trout roe and avruga

Since this is a food blog, I am obliged to report on our dinner, but make no mistake, dinner was not and will probably never be the point of a dinner show. Prepared in advance for hundreds, the quality of the meal was akin to that of soulless banquet hall food, reheated to feed the masses. But Dalloyau is a credible food supplier, hence the quality of the dishes, in particular those that needed no cooking, was fairly decent. For me, the thick, oily slices of Norwegian smoked salmon (from the 175e menu) were actually quite good.

Lobster tarte à la Parisienne

The 200e menu features lobster and foie gras on the entrée list and those who picked this upgraded menu unanimously ordered the cold lobster tart in the fashion of a pastry. The boiled lobster meat was sweet with good texture though overwhelmed by the vanilla-infused cream.

Veal with rice pilaf

For mains, the fish dishes tended to do better than the meat plates, in part because the cream sauces prevented the fish from getting too dry whilst the oven-finished meat tended to be over-cooked. My veal with mushrooms and a rice pilaf was tough, and the blunt knife I wielded made it impossible to cut the meat. Suffice to say I did not finish my plate. To their credit though, I must say the dishes were relatively well-seasoned, not too bland nor salty.

Opera Moulin Rouge

Dessert happens to be Dalloyau’s strong suite, so we had no problems in that arena, happily polishing off our sweets with what’s left of our 3.5 bottles of wine (being 7 that night). The Opera is a cake invented by Dalloyau and the version here comes with a red outer-shell and a chocolate windmill.

I must confess I had a much more enjoyable time at the Moulin Rouge than expected. The entertainment and production values were high, and the performances were not as tired as I had read about on online reviews. The food, as mentioned, was nothing to write home about and very expensive. But I suppose that was the price for good seats as the few spectators who had elected just watching the show (at 105e with drinks) were relegated to the sides of the room. My advice for anyone interested in just watching the show would be to attend the drinks-only second seating at 11pm instead of the 9pm.

Bal du Moulin Rouge

Address: 82 Boulevard de Clichy, 75018, Paris, France

Websitehttp://www.moulinrouge.fr/#

Posted in 18th arrondisement, Cuisine, Eat out, dine in, eating out, Location, Paris, Traditional French | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

La Femme Mange Tartines at La Cuisine de Bar

There are bakeries in Paris, and then there are Bakeries, those that command long lines and equally long magazine write-ups about their bread, the shatter factor of the crust, the creaminess of the crumb etc. Poilane is one of particular renown among the city’s boulangeries for its bread, in particular the miche Poilane that can be bought not just in its stores but also sold by supermarkets and specialty grocers.

Green salad and eau Wattwiller

The tastiest way to eat this dense, slightly sour bread is in the form of tartines, open-faced sandwiches topped with anything one desires. It can be as simple as a thick layer of Nutella spread or nuggets of seared foie gras atop fig paste, your imagination is the limit.

Tartine sardines

It is easy to make a tartine with Poilane bread at home, but even simpler to make a trip to one of the two La Cuisine de Bar branches, the first neighbors to Poilane’s St Germain des Prés’ storefront. At La Cuisine de Bar, a slim, modern restaurant without a kitchen that sells solely tartines on Poilane bread, there is more than a dozen choices to choose from.

Each sandwich costs no more than 10e, making it a light meal for the stomach and the wallet. By ordering the lunch formule, with costs 14.5e for wine/water, a small salad with fantastic dressing, a tartine and coffee/tea, one derives even greater value for money.

Tartine crevette guacamolé

At the petit prix, portions veer towards the small size, ideal for grazers rather than chompers. Still, both dad and husband were happy about their sandwiches: for dad, a festively colored shrimp and avocado tartine laced with a spritz of lemon; for P, the roast beef tartine loaded with slices of rosy rare beef, spicy rocket leaves and savory sun-dried tomato.

Tartine rosbif

I loved the tartine sardine, simply prepared with mashed preserved sardines thickly spread on the miche, with nary a whiff of fishiness.

Tartine tapenade artichaut

Mum’s vegetarian tartine with preserved artichokes and peppers on tapenade was unfortunately rather poorly received, and could do better with a less heavy-handed smear of the salty black olive spread and a way to offset the astringent effect of the artichokes.

coffee and “spoon”

Coffee was excellent, especially when one got to stir the sugar in with an edible spoon made of the same batter as Poilane’s buttery punition cookies. We did not linger for dessert but instead ducked into the neighboring bakery for some sinfully delicious apple tarts to go.

With its stores conveniently located near Le Bon Marché and chic Marais shops, this is a good address for bargain hunters during les soldes. What’s more, with lunch being such bon marché, one can apply the lunch savings to their shopping!

La Cuisine du Bar: 8 Rue du Cherche-Midi, 75006, Paris France (Another branch in the Marais)

Website: http://www.cuisinedebar.fr/en/

Posted in 6th arrondisement, Cafes, Cuisine, Eat out, dine in, eating out, food shopping, Location, Modern French, Paris | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

La Femme Mange Udon at Sanukiya

For the past few years, Kunitoraya on Rue St Anne had monopolized Paris’ udon scene, leading to long lines outside its cramped main branch on a daily basis and the establishment of a second, chic-er offshoot. Now a worthy new competitor in the form of Sanukiya has arrived in the city boasting fat, chewy noodles and excellent side and rice dishes. Kunitoraya better watch out!

Tamagoyaki

The first advantage Sanukiya has over its predecessor is a more comfortable setting. Though the majority of space is dedicated to bar seating, the seats are less cramped in the brightly lit room. Also, there is a small outdoor seating area catering to larger groups.

Agedashi tofu

The second is a wider selection of dishes including a dozen side dishes (~4-10e), about 2 dozen permutations of udon (both hot and chilled at 8-18e) and solid rice bowls (~15e) for those not inclined towards noodles. The side dishes sound appealing and the tamagoyaki and agedashi tofu we had ordered were indeed correctly made; the tamagoyaki firm, eggy and slightly sweet with a refreshing taste of spring onions, the deep-fried tofu blistering hot, steeped in a dashi stock enliven with grated ginger and daikon.

Kakiagé Udon

Given the unseasonably cool weather, I ordered hot soupy udon both times I visited, the first with the husband at the behest of my baker friend, the second with my parents after they had begged off French food during their visit. There was no cause for complaints each time, the udon toothsome and springy in a umami-packed but not too salty broth. The toppings, though spare in the Japanese fashion, were also of high quality, in particular the freshly fried tempura.

Katsudon

While udon headlines the menu, the classic rice dishes available are similarly delicious and worth one’s while. Both the fried pork cutlet and fried chicken dishes consisted of juicy, tender meat sandwiched between Japanese rice and a barely-set egg mixture, the meat juices and egg sauce flavoring the rice to savory perfection.

Gyudon

More topped the beef bowl: thin slices of tender beef, sweet onions sauteed in soy, a pinch of pickled ginger and cucumber to add a sour dimension to the dish, and a soft boiled egg that tinted the rice and its toppings a rich yellow.

The service by the all-Japanese crew was quick and good during both visits, and the restaurant, while busy was never more than 70% full. Located on a quiet street steps away from the Palais-Royal metro station, the restaurant may lack the foot traffic at Rue St Anne. But given time, I’m sure the udon eating crowd will start descending in droves.

Address: 9, rue d’Argenteuil, 75001, Paris

Posted in 1st arrondisement, Cuisine, Eat out, dine in, eating out, Japanese, Location, Paris | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

La Femme Mange a discounted meal at Krishna Bhavan

Paris is an expensive city to live in, and it is most apparent to us whenever we eat out during our travels to the other parts of the country and find ourselves with a bill 20-30% or even lower than what we normally pay in the capital. These days, 35e is a good deal for a 3 course meal in a decent restaurant. No wonder the average Parisian, contrary to common tourist perceptions, do not eat particularly well during the week and often subsist on baguettes or worse, cheap frozen meals. Thus the dining deals courtesy of lafourchette.com are welcome news for many including us.

A pink and Gandhi-ed room

La Fourchette is a website where one can make lunch or dinner reservations online at thousands of restaurants in Paris and other French cities. It is a highly practical service, especially on those days where one needs to make a last minute reservation or has no clue where to eat. Certain restaurants, cheap and expensive alike, also offer promotions and reductions to drum up business. Krishna Bhavan, a vegetarian Indian restaurant that opened up earlier this year in our neighborhood is one such restaurant offering 40% off the bill during dinner hours. Naturally we were a little skeptical since popular restaurants would not need to resort for heavily discounting their menus, but the sizeable crowds during lunch (when the restaurant does not offer the promotion) convinced us that the restaurant was a decent one that merely needed to boost dinner numbers after the office workers who make up the lunch business leaves the area.

Samosas

Krishna Bhavan is a small chain of Indian restaurants in Paris and its La Chapelle (Paris’ little India) branches are quite well regarded amongst Parisian diners. P was initially worried about not finding much to his liking on the all-vegetarian carte, but with crowd-pleasers such as crispy samosas (filled with potato and some gluten products), biryanis and mango lassis on the menu, the food is accessible to Indian food novices and meat lovers.

Bajji aux aubergines

For entrées, we ordered the aforementioned samosas, freshly fried and lightly spiced, as well as eggplant beignets called Bajji that we found somewhat laden and bland. The raita and chutney accompanying the entrées, though a little sweet and not as spicy as I would’ve liked were rather refreshing.

Cauliflower dosa

Carb lovers might find it difficult to make a decision between steamed idlis or oven baked chappattis or griddle-fried dosas. I chose the latter, and thoroughly enjoyed my cauliflower dosa, the thin, crisp rice-based crepe tinged with a slight sour flavor and the fragrance of Indian herbs. A generous portion of potato and cauliflower made it an extremely filling plat.

Thali

P’s thali, a steel tray with several indentations each containing something different (rice, curries, vegetables, dal, even a sweet sago dessert) was a smorgasbord of food, ideal for the adventurous. On this tray, one could taste spicy, salty, sweet, sour, creamy flavors in the same seating. Furthermore, each dish tasted different from the others much to my pleasant surprise, after having visited Indian restaurants where one dish tastes alike to the next. Neither did the dishes taste stale or reheated, another common complaint in Asian restaurants. Again, the spice levels have been dialed down to cater to local tastebuds, but the dishes were nevertheless properly seasoned and aromatic.

The restaurant is not an expensive one to begin with, but with the 40% reduction, our bill for 2 entrées and 2 plats came up to slightly under 20 euros, which is less than a simple salad or a hamburger in the random cafés that line our neighborhood. Definitely a positive first outing at Krishna Bhavan and on lafourchette.

Krishna Bhavan: 46 Boulevard Garibaldi, 75015, Paris 

Posted in 15th arrondisement, Cuisine, Eat out, dine in, eating out, Indian, Location, Paris | Tagged , | Leave a comment

La Femme Mange Akelare, San Sebastian, Spain

If you only had an afternoon in San Sebastian, the sunny Spanish coastal city filled with gourmet tapas bars and more Michelin stars/capita than anywhere else in the world, where would you eat? Normally, the husband and I, on a cheapo budget, would most likely opt to graze at the offerings of beachside bars. But since this trip coincided with a major birthday in the family, my dad decided to treat us all to a splurge-worthy meal at Akelare.

On the day of our visit, we were running late from the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao due to city traffic and a missed exit on the highway, and I was silently panicking about missing our lunch reservation by the time we wound up the hilltop restaurant, more than 30 minutes late. But the welcome was warm and effusive, and the maitre d’ quickly put us at ease. Undoubtedly, being seated in the bright, uncluttered room with a million dollar seaview also helped.

Amuse-bouche: “sea garden”

Together with its Michelin 3-star brethren Arzak and Mugaritz, Akelare resides at the pinnacle of San Sebastian’s dining scene. Its chef-owner Pedro Subijana is considered alongside Juan Arzak as one of the founding fathers of modern Basque cuisine since founding Akelare in 1975.

The food, classically prepared with some Basque influences for the most part, did not strike me as being particularly innovative or challenging. But it was fun, playful and presented with more than a touch of whimsy. Consider the tray of amuse-bouches, each item resembling the contents of a child’s sand bucket down to the finely milled dehydrated shrimp “sand”. Coated with algae and other seafood flavors, these little bites were beautiful to watch and fun to eat, be it with a cold pint of beer or crisp champagne.

Prawns on fire

There were two 8-course tasting menus (145e) available, each heavy on seafood though the flavors of the Aranori menu tended to be lighter than the Bekarki menu.

Prawns and French beans

For the first course, one chose either the small but succulent shrimp that danced in alcoholic flames,

Xangurro in Essence, Coral blini and Gurullos

or a densely puck crabcake sitting on top of a disk of umami-rich coral “blini” made using the fatty orange roe of crab. The texture of the “blini”, smooth like liver, made for an interesting contrast against the shredded crabcake and little pasta grains. A very good dish packed with flavor.

Mollusks in Fisherman’s net

I thought the mollusks in fisherman’s net was ordinary despite the pretty presentation, though admittedly the quality of the seafood, in particular a softly poached oyster, was excellent.

Razor shell with Veal shank

If the former dish meant to evoke the ethereal feeling of being at sea, the next dish, a strip of razor shell served besides braised veal shanks and cauliflower mushroom reminded us of something earthier, heavier. In fact the veal shanks tasted Chinese, akin to soy braised sea cucumber.

Pasta Carpaccio

The next few dishes arrived with an element of surprise: The carpaccio dish was not anchored by slices of meat but a thin layer of pasta kneaded with iberico ham stock, so that it absorbs the color and salty, porky flavor of jamon.

Foie Gras with “salt flakes and grain pepper”

The “trompe l’oeil” effect continued on a dish of delicious seared foie gras served with fresh grain peppers and an unhealthy amount of salt crystals at the table. But wait! The peppers aren’t real but somewhat chocolatey while the salt was in fact sugar.

Hake in monkfish “habit” and mussel beans

The fish courses were unfortunately not really to my taste, and consequently, descended into unmemorable zone.

Turbot with its Kokotxa

The turbot struck me as too meaty and too firm, and the man-made kokotxa cooked in traditional pil-pil sauce (man-made because the flatfish does not have jowls) tasted fishy and lacked the smooth gelatinous quality of the real thing.

Red mullet with sauce “fusilli”

The red mullet filet was perfectly cooked, crisped on the outside with juicy flesh underneath. A spread made of the fish’s head, bones, liver and onions smeared between skin and meat boosted the flavor of the otherwise mild fish. Unfortunately, the fusilli, hollow gelatine corkscrews filled with soy, parsley and ajo blanco sauce looked better than they tasted. Besides, if one committed the mistake of biting into one of these fusillis (especially the soy) on their own instead of using them strictly as condiments, one could unwittingly end up with a mouthful of sauce.

“Desalted” cod box with shavings

The cod too tended to be heavier tasting without being distinctive nor memorable save for the lovely presentation in a bacalao box, with edible chips masquerading as shredded paper.

Carved beef, tail cake

Luckily things picked up some during the meat course. For me, the beef steak was so-so, but the potato cake stuffed with foie gras and slow-braised shredded oxtail was to me the highlight of the dish.

Charcoal grilled lamb with wine lees

Those who had the lamb marveled at its tenderness, with nary a whiff of gamey-ness. Musty cooked wine lees and finely spun green tea-flavored sugar acted as sweet and sour counterpoints to the lamb’s savory flavors.

Roast Suckling Pig with tomato “bolao” and iberian emulsion

A dish of roast suckling pig was no doozy too, with impossibly soft meat under the lacquered skin. But being Chinese, we would’ve preferred the skin to be even crispier.

“Xaxu” and Coconut Iced Mousse

The pre-desserts and desserts were fun, fun, fun. Xaxu, a traditional Basque dessert was remade here to be filled with oozy, slightly salty egg-yolk. Dwarfed by 2 towers of airy coconut mousse, the interplay between the cold, coconutty mousse and slightly warm xaxu, whose flavors reminded me of those custard buns one would find on dim sum menus, was yummy and memorable.

Milk and Grape, Cheese and Wine in Parallel Evolution

The milk and grape platter, ranging from curded milk to torta of Casar’s grape was artfully designed with each cheese component paired with a type of grape-based complement, going from mild to strong. But truth to be told, I’ll take a good old cheese platter with a smelly piece of camembert over this variation anytime.

A Different Apple Tart

The apple tart made up with crisp, buttery puff pastry layered with apples would’ve been ordinary if not for the printed fruit leather draped over it.

Layered strawberry and cream

Strawberry and cream would’ve been any Hello Kitty loving 8 year old girl’s dream dessert. Unfortunately, it wasn’t mine, neither was it my dad’s. In fact, the sight of him, a distinguished looking middle-aged man trying to crack the floridly pink white chocolate shell to dig into the cold, too sweet strawberry cream was rather disorientating.

Mignardises

Though we protested that we couldn’t eat another bite, the servers dropped plates of mignardises on our table regardless, so we felt to try them, finding them quite run-of-the-mill.

I found our 4 hour lunch at Akelare to be great fun. The views for the Bahia de la Concha were to-die-for and the atmosphere in the room was the least pretentious of all high-end restaurants I’ve eaten at (the dress code being no dress code. Indeed we spotted a man in shorts.). The staff, seemed somewhat lacking in polish (the wine steward dripped wine all over the table), but everyone, from the student server to chef Subijana made it up for their enthusiasm and friendliness. Menu prices were much friendlier to the wallet than the Michelin starred restaurants in Paris, and the wine list was chockful of well-priced bottles. The food did not make me swoon, but the mischievous, fun-loving spirit of the restaurant did.

Restaurant Akelare: Paseo Padre Orcoloaga, 56 20008 San Sebastián, Spain

Websitehttp://www.akelarre.net/public_home/ctrl_home.php?lang=en

Posted in Basque country, Beyond Paris, Cuisine, Eat out, dine in, eating out, Location, Michelin Stars, Spain, Spanish | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

La Femme Mange 12 hours in the French Basque Country

When traveling, my family prefers to take things easy. Neighborhood strolls and café breaks tend to be as important as, and sometimes even taking precedence over monuments and museums. Even when we only had a day to tour the French Basque country together, the pace was leisurely, with much time to smell the flowers and eat, eat, eat.

Biarritz’s indoor market

9 am: We fueled up at Biarritz’s marketplace, 2 indoor structures in the middle of town packed with vendors, shoppers and tourists alike in the early morning. Like most French markets, there was an admirable array of goods: fresh garden greens, local cheeses, seafood, sausages, foie gras etc for sale. Since we had no intention to cook in Biarritz, all we bought were a kilo of sweet cherries now in season and a gorgeous gateau basque chez Maquirriain.

Gateau Basque

Gateau Basque (Basque cake) is a traditional local dessert, more tart than cake. Filled either with thick cream or local cherry preserves, the highlight for me is the sinfully butter-loaded crust whose texture resembles a less crumbly scottish shortbread. Good the day of, and still good the morning after with a cup of hot black coffee.

Basque music on the street

1030 am: We reach Bayonne, the capital of French Basque country. Only 15 minutes away from Biarritz, the cities’ vibes are decidedly different: Biarritz glitzy, luxurious and trendy, Bayonne traditional and charming. We followed the sound of music through crooked medieval lanes to end up in the midst of choristers joined in song, belting out traditional tunes in their native Basque tongue.

Bayonne ham, sausages and ribs

Our promenade through the city yielded other finds: finest Bayonne ham, rich foie gras and oily sausages fragrant with pepper at Pierre Ibaialde, where the saleslady let us loose in the ham-filled demonstration room with a platter of charcuterie samples.

Along Bayonne’s chocolate row

Then we strolled the row of artisanal chocolate shops housed under the arcades of rue Pont Neuf. Bayonne is the first chocolate-making city in France after exiled Jews who fled the inquisition from Spain and then Portugal migrated there, bringing with them the chocolate making tradition. We stopped by Daranatz, its quaint, proper decor reminding us of old-fashioned apothecaries.

Florescent bars of chocolate

Inside, the chocolate bars are cloaked in psychedelic covers, the dark chocolate inside intensely flavored and smooth.

La Ferme Gourmande

1:30 pm: Despite all that snacking, we were famished by the end of the 45 minutes trip from Bayonne to La Ferme Gourmande, perched high up on the hilltops near Ossès. What I had assumed to be a working farmhouse turns out to be an excellent restaurant in a standalone old stone house complete with the typical red roof and window shutters. Gorgeous amidst the verdant slopes.

Inside La Ferme Gourmande

Inside, the restaurant is classy and comfortable, oozing a modern farmhouse chic style with plenty of space between tables, a luxury we miss in Paris.

Peas, egg and shrimp mimosa

The modern menu (29e for 4 courses) is short on choices (3 entrées, 4 plats and no cheese or dessert choices) but long on looks and flavor. A white plate and equally pale mimosa of chopped eggs and shrimp are clean backdrops to the bright green peas displayed in 5 different forms.

Veal headcheese wrapped in piquillo peppers

A plate of veal headcheese was presented in little aspic nuggets wrapped in bright red peppers, accented by green avocado guacamole and tan peanut cream. Beautiful and delicious with fresh, subtle flavors, though the proportions of the peanut and avocado cream would have been more appropriate smaller.

Mackerel and langoustines

Mains were simple and generous. The women loved their seafood, while the men quickly gobbled down a hearty plate of sausages and sesame-crusted foie gras.

Sweet gourmandises

After a platter of 2 local cheeses we plowed onwards to desserts, or a trio of fruit based desserts: a bowl of crust-free apple tart, a scoop of rum-spiked ice-cream and a square of strawberry shortbread. Full as we were, we gamely finished it all.

Frolicking in the Basque countryside

4 courses and 2 hours later, all we wanted was to lie down on the green grass surrounding the house and take an afternoon nap alongside the chef’s adorable dogs. Alas, we still had a few more stops to make, so we drove slowly down the windy roads towards Irouléguy, Basque country’s wine producing region and the smallest appellation.

4:00pm: We spent a half-hour at La Cave d’Irouléguy, the wine cooperative that makes  wine for about 40 producers in the region. Incidentally, the cooperative was hosting a festival the day we visited, so besides tasting wine and peeping into the wine-making facilities, we also got a glimpse of how oak barrels are made, but skipped taking the jeeps up the mountainous vineyards and the horse-drawn carriage ride through town.

A typical Basque country house

5:00 pm: A stop by Espelette was in the cards. For what?

Pepper garlands in Espelette

Why, the famed Espelette peppers of course! They definitely make impressionable wall hangings, strung on the facade of every shopfront in the 2-street town, including the post office.

Espelette products

We would be remiss to leave without a momento, and proceeded to one of the many specialty shops for a piment d’espelette tasting. On its own, the dried pepper powder is not overtly fiery, with a fragrance akin to szechuan peppercorns but without its stinging numbness.

A bottle of Basque cider

8:30 pm: After Espelette, we sped through Ainhoa, an even smaller hamlet reputed to be one of the most beautiful villages in France, and headed back to Biarritz through the seaside town of St Jean de Luz. We washed down a pintxos dinner at Cafe Jean with local cider (Sagarnoa in Basque), which is nothing at all like its Breton counterpart. For one, there are no bubbles and the golden drink is also less sweet but more apple-y in flavor. With 6% alcoholic content, this was also a potent nightcap to round up our 12 hours in the French Basque country! To be sure, 12 hours were barely enough to scratch the cultural and culinary surface of the region, and those with the luxury of time could potentially attempt one or several of the culinary routes proposed by Pay Basque’s route gourmande.

Addresses:

Maison Maquirriain (Gateau Basque): Les Halles de Biarritz, 12 Rue Broquedis 64200 Biarritz, France

Pierre Ibaialde (Bayonne Ham): 41, rue des Cordeliers 64100 Bayonne, France

Daranatz Chocolatier (Chocolate): 15 Rue Port Neuf 64100 Bayonne, France

La Ferme Gourmande: Le Bourg, Maison Landaburia 64780 Ossès, France

La Cave d’Irouléguy (Irouléguy wine): Route de St Jean Pied de Port 64430 St Etienne de Baïgorry, France

Espelette: 64250 Espelette, France

Posted in Basque country, Beyond Paris, Chocolate, Cuisine, Desserts, Eat out, dine in, eating out, food shopping, Location, Traditional French | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

La Femme Mange Biarritz

The French Basque country has been on our travel list ever since we tasted our first glass of Irouleguy wine and munched on Louis Ospital’s superior charcuterie at the southwestern restaurant on our street. So on the final long weekend before we leave France, we flew into the Basque country with our parents and godparents for a few days of sun, sea and local specialties, making Biarritz our base. Even though it is the least traditional of the towns, more a chic beach resort with awesome surfing conditions than anything else, Biarritz’s beautiful beach views and ample amenities made up for the lack of authenticity.

La Grande Plage, Biarritz

In Biarritz, it is de rigueur to dine at least once overlooking the sea. Our hotel recommended Chez Albert, but by the time we walked to port des pecheurs and surveyed the menu, we decided to go to its neighbor, the much more casual Casa Juan Pedro for dinner.

Casa Juan Pedro

Casa Juan Pedro sports a Spanish name, maybe because the proprietors are Spaniards, or simply because at only 30 minutes from the French-Spanish border, Biarritz’s culinary traditions is often influenced as much by Spanish cooking as it is by bourgeois French cuisine. A no-frills fish shack set on the extreme end of the port, Casa Juan Pedro, or Chez Jean et Pierre in French, serves seafood to clients sitting around foldable plastic tables on stackable plastic chairs. Mum called it a French “dai pai dong” or roadside stall. Indeed, the loud and unpretentious atmosphere and the clientele, fresh off the beach with sand in between their toes, reminded us of our local Singaporean kopitiams.

Baby squid on sticks

The menu, focused on fresh, grilled seafood, is cheap for Biarritz’s standards. We sampled our way through the majority of dishes, including a litre of wine, for around 16e per person. And though the speciality here is seafood, there were a few concessions like Bayonne ham and even duck confit made for those who shun eating fish.

Grilled gambas

We found the simplest dishes, the prawns, squid and sardines seasoned with salt, pepper and a lot of olive oil the tastiest, especially after ditching our cutlery to tear into the sweet flesh with our fingers.

Tuna steaks with Basque sauce

The larger plates were decent with generous steaks of fresh and firm fish. Unfortunately the accompaniments, like the tasteless yellow rice and watery tomato-base basque sauce, were found lacking.

A line for dinner

Note that this address is extremely popular with locals and tourists alike looking for a quick and inexpensive bite. By the time we left shortly before 9pm, a considerable line had formed. My advice would be to arrive earlier for an aperitif before digging in!

We took our other meals around Biarritz’s market in the sister establishments of Bar Jean and Cafe Jean.

Bar Jean’s red bull

Bar Jean is best-known in this area for its hopping tapas scene in the evenings, and the evening we walked past, it was indeed packed to the rafters with a young and well-dressed crowd. We instead breakfasted there after a short shopping trip at the market, enjoying a leisurely meal with great coffee and a yummy baguette with extremely chewy crumb.

All calm in Cafe Jean

At Cafe Jean that evening, we were lucky to squeeze into the last large table sans reservation right before a party of at least 40 descended on the restaurant. It’s to the servers’ credit that food and drinks came relatively promptly even with the madness of serving a large group all at once.

Shrimp tempura and grilled scallops

If Bar Jean’s selling point is tapas, Cafe Jean’s is pintxo, the Basque take on tapas, though the portions here are larger than what one usually expects for finger food. The servers recommended 2-3 orders (7.50e) each for a full dinner, which came to be around the amount we had ordered along with some large salads.

squid with rice

The pintxos were a few notches more gastronomic than our simple dinner at the fish shack the night before, with each dish well seasoned and garnished. The seafood dishes were great, especially lightly crusted and slightly spicy shrimp tempura, and the not-quite risotto, not-quite paella squid-ink rice topped with local squids.

Ox tail

Of the meat dishes, the most memorable was that of a greek style grilled lamb and 2 big pieces of slow-braised oxtail that melted in the mouth, sitting atop sweet squash puree.

Tarte tatin

Desserts brought our evening to a sweet ending. Godpa loved his deconstructed black-forest cake (a trifle-like dessert with cherry preserves) though I wasn’t a big fan as cherry jam always reminds me of cough syrup. I appreciated the tarte tartin more, here an entire cored apple poached in not-too-sweet caramel syrup and perched daintily on thin, crispy flakes of pastry.

Tomorrow, we get out of Biarritz to tackle some Basque specialities!

Addresses: 

Casa Juan Pedro: Quai Du Petit Port  64600 Biarritz, France

Bar Jean: 5 Rue des Halles  64200 Biarritz, France

Cafe Jean: 13 Rue des Halles  64200 Biarritz, France

Posted in Basque country, Beyond Paris, Cuisine, Eat out, dine in, Location, seafood, Spanish, Traditional French | Tagged , | Leave a comment