Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas! I'll be back soon...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

I'll be "Out and About" exploring the island of Sicily until January 5. Please join me on Facebook for photo updates on our Italian vacation!

If you're in Paris, be sure to check out the giant snow globe with 120 trees under the Eiffel Tower and the ice skating rinks at the Grand Palais and the Hotel de Ville.

Giant snow globe with 120 trees at the Eiffel Tower.
Ice skating at the Grand Palais.
Ice skating rink at the  Hôtel de Ville

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Fort Boyard: the French cheese, fortification and television show!

Just a few of the many cheeses that are on display at Androuet  

Depending on which source you consult, France has between 350 to 400 distinct varieties of cheese. An impressive selection of the country's offerings was on display at an award winning cheese shop that I recently visited during a gourmet walking tour of the chic Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood with Preston Mohr of Paris by the Glass.

As I happily snapped photos of some of my favorite types of goat cheese, the log shaped Saint-Maure de Touraine and the truncated pyramid Valençay, I spied something that resembled a ...  Hmm? I couldn't put my finger on it, but there was something vaguely familiar about the shape. Frustrated by my inability to figure out the enigma, I edged closer to read the name, "Boyard". Of course! It was a tiny replica of Fort Boyard, one of the places that Stéphane was determined to visit while we were in the Charente Maritime region of France in mid-November.

Boyard cheese, currently 6.85 euros a piece

En route to Fort Boyard, Stéphane explained that the fortification is famous for being the location of the game show, Fort Boyard. First aired in 1990, the show has been a French and international favorite for 24 years. The fort's precarious location in the middle of the sea off France's northwest coast and its grim history as a prison increase the adrenalin level of the show's contestants and its avid viewers.

Curious to learn more about the pre-television history of the impressive structure, I put my iPhone to work while Stéphane drove. Napoleon ordered the construction of Fort Boyard to guard the mouth of the Charente River, the harbor of the Ile d'Aix and the arsenal of Rochefort. Hindered by storms and attacks by the British, it took more than 30 years to complete. Before it was even finished, Fort Boyard was already rendered useless due to advances in artillery. Nonetheless, the construction of the fort was considered to be such a remarkable feat that a model of it was presented at the Exposition Universelle of 1867 in Paris. Napoleon never saw the finished fortification, which would have cost the equivalent of more than two hundred million euros ($248,000,000) today.

When we reached the windswept coast, I protected my camera from the downpour to take a couple of shots of Fort Boyard with my telephoto lens. Off limits to the general public, it's as close as we could get to Napoleon's fortification ... until I spotted the Boyard cheese in Paris!

Stéphane's surprise treat that evening was some goat cheese in the shape of the famous fortification served with raspberry paste in the indentation, as per the shop assistant's advice.

Boyard cheese is available at Androuet, 37 rue de Verneuil, 75007 and perhaps at some of the cheese shop's other locations.

An aerial view of Fort Boyard via Wikipedia.
Fort Boyard as seen with a telephoto lens from the shore

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Ice skating on the Eiffel Tower! One of the coolest experiences in Paris.

The ice skating rink on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower

One of the coolest winter activities has returned to Paris -- ice skating on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower! In between your camel spins and double Axels, warm up with a cup of hot chocolate or sip a glass of champagne while admiring the view of the Champ de Mars and the golden dome of Les Invalides. For an extra special evening, time your visit to coincide with the twinkling of the Eiffel Tower's lights. This magical sight happens every hour on the hour, for five minutes.

If you're in shape, take the stairs to the first floor 57 meters (187 feet) above the city of Paris. Admission to the rink and the use of skates is included in the 5 euro ticket price. Otherwise, you can take the elevator to the second floor and walk back down to the first floor.

The ice skating rink on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower

Be sure to bundle up and take gloves because the temperature drops as you ascend the tower. If you get overly cold, warm up while watching a film about the history of the Eiffel Tower. It's shown in the room located above the gift store, directly across from the restrooms.

For a casual lunch from 21 euros or dinner from 80 euros, the restaurant 58 Tour Eiffel is located on the same floor as the ice skating rink. Reservations are highly recommended if you would like a table near the window. There are also self-service buffets with limited seating on the first and second floors.

Until February 15, 2015, the 190m² ice skating rink is open every day from 10:30 am until 10:30 pm. The 6 meter (20 feet) shimmering red Eiffel Tower near the rink is a good spot for photos.

Eiffel Tower ice skating rink

Advance ticket sales for access to the second and top floors. Stair entrance tickets, which give visitors access to the first and second floor, are not sold online.

Important notice: Access to the top floor of the Eiffel Tower will be closed from January 12 - 30, 2015.

By metro to the Eiffel Tower
Line 6, metro station "Bir-Hakeim" : if you take this line, which runs above ground, you’ll get a view of the Eiffel Tower as you approach the Bir-Hakeim station. It's always an exciting moment!
Line 9, metro station "Trocadéro"

The ice skating rink on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower

Friday, December 5, 2014

Le Meurice and Cédric Grolet celebrate the holidays with the "Dalí Bûche de Noël". And, hitting the pistachio pastry jackpot in Paris!

Afternoon coffee is a deliciously decadent affair at Le Meurice!

After finishing a spicy Korean lunch last Sunday afternoon, Stéphane, Édouard and I started chatting about pistachio flavored pastries, or the lack of them, in Paris. If this sounds like a rather unusual topic of conversation, let me explain that Stéphane and Édouard take their pastries seriously ... very seriously ... and fondly recall the individual attributes of their favorite ones. Since neither of my pastry tasting buddies could think of a French dessert featuring pistachios, imagine my delight when Cédric Grolet, the talented pastry chef at Le Meurice, introduced me to a couple of his fabulous new creations.

Cédric's interpretation of the traditional Paris Brest features choux pastry filled with pistachio mousseline cream and pistachio praline and is decorated with ground pistachios and caramelized pistachios. After savoring each and every bite, I sent Stéphane an exultant text message saying that I had just won the pistachio pastry jackpot.

Another one of Cédric's tantalizing creations is a golden hazelnut pastry. Its liquid caramel hazelnut center is surrounded by a hazelnut mousse, all of which is enrobed by an extra fine, milk chocolate shell. Gorgeously presented on a delicate Bernardaud painted porcelain plate, it's an artistic treat for the eyes and the mouth.

Le Meurice and Cédric Grolet's Dalí Bûche de Noël 

To celebrate the holidays and its upcoming 180th anniversary, Le Meurice and Cédric Grolet are paying homage to the hotel's most legendary guest: Salvador Dalí. Every December for thirty years, the famous Surrealist and brilliant artist took up residence at Le Meurice.

This Christmas, Le Meurice invites you to indulge in an exclusive Bûche de Noël decorated with Dalí's iconic melting clock. Starting with a crunchy chocolate biscuit base, the Yule log cake features a honey-glazed pear center between chocolate buckwheat biscuits. It's then encased in velvety dark chocolate mousse, creating a smoky flavor with authentic woody notes.

You can experience Le Meurice's Dalí Bûche de Noël for lunch, afternoon tea or dinner at Restaurant Le Dalí from December 16 to 31, 2014. The price is €16 per portion or 115€ for a log (8 persons), upon request from now until the 16th of December. Orders can be placed via +33144581004 or

Inspired by Dalí's painting, The Persistence of Memory, the Bûche de Noël has been approved by the Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí.

Holiday decorations at Le Meurice in Paris

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Burberry's "A Magical Christmas Journey" at Printemps - Holiday Decorations in Paris

Burberry's Magical Christmas Journey at Printemps Department Store in Paris

With A Magical Christmas Journey, Burberry's holiday windows at Printemps department store tell the tale of a little boy and his teddy bear's windblown journey from the Burberry flagship store in London all the way to Printemps in Paris.

Burberry's Magical Christmas Journey at Printemps Department Store in Paris

In an innovative move, the holiday window displays are designed to be interactive. Curious to try this new bit of technology, I used my iPhone to connect to "_Voyage _Magique", the free WIFI network that's accessible when you're in close proximity to the Printemps department store on boulevard Haussmann. I guess I'm old-fashioned, but the ability to change the weather as the little boy journeys over the Channel, move giant umbrellas and create digital postcards with my smartphone proved to be an unnecessary distraction from the festive scenes in the windows. As I watched a group of children mesmerized by the electric choo-choo train whizzing around a track, I was reminded that it's often the simple pleasures that we treasure the most ... especially at Christmastime.

For more holiday enchantment, don't miss the pop-up Burberry store in the basement of Printemps and the animated storefront displays. Click here to see more photos on Facebook.

Decorated for the holidays - Printemps department store in Paris

Monday, December 1, 2014

La Bûche de Noël as interpreted by Guy Martin's "maisons": Le Grand Véfour, 68 Guy Martin and Atelier Guy Martin

The bottle of champagne is actually a Bûche de Noël! Le Grand Vefour's "Festive" (left) and Atelier Guy Martin's "Savors of the Season" (right) 

A couple of years ago, I was a newbie trying to figure out how to "do" Noël in Paris. There was the Christmas tree question, the search for the nonexistent Saint-Sulpice holiday market and the dilemma about the bush ... oh, sorry, that's Bûche de Nöel. While it's still impossible for my lips to perform the necessary amount of puckering to pronounce the French words for Yule log, I've come to realize the importance of this holiday cake popularized by Parisian bakers in the 19th century.

These desserts are such star attractions during holiday meals that chefs start considering the combination of flavors for next year's Bûche de Noël while the rest of us are still savoring this year's Yule log cake. At the beginning of November, I was invited to sample the Bûche de Noël as interpreted by Guy Martin's maisons: Le Grand Véfour, 68 Guy Martin and Atelier Guy Martin.

Le Grand Véfour's Champagne Yule log cake

Holding a plate with three, yes three (!!!), slices of cake, Michelin starred chef Guy Martin suggested that we start our tasting with Le Grand Vefour's festive bûche. In the shape of a chilled champagne bottle, the subtly fresh flavors of quince, mandarin and Japanese persimmon are enhanced by Ruinart Rosé. The result is a delicately flavored treat. If you would like to put one of these cakes on ice, be sure to order it at least five days in advance. It's available for two to six people.

Le restaurant 68 Guy Martin's perfumed Yule log cake

Of the three desserts, my favorite was the one inspired by a whiff of Shalimar perfume. With its lively notes of bergamot, lemon and mandarin, Le Restaurant 68 Guy Martin's Yule log cake is an invitation to travel to exotic lands. Trying to pin down a subtle flavor that wasn't mentioned in the tasting notes, I was pleased when Guy Martin confirmed that it was ________. No, I'm not going to tell you! As M. Martin said, a good chef never reveals all of his secrets.

Put your taste buds to the test. 68 Guy Martin is a relaxing spot for afternoon tea and a slice of perfumed Yule log cake (6 euros). The restaurant is located in Guerlain's boutique at 68 avenue des Champs Élysées. Click here to read my recent review of lunch at 68 Guy Martin.

L'Atelier Guy Martin's "Savors of the Season" Yule log cake

Ruinart champagne, in my opinion, goes well with almost everything. But, I think that the L'Atelier Guy Martin's "Savors of the Season" Yule log cake would have paired better with a cup of coffee than with the glass of bubbly I was sipping. The wintertime flavors of pear, citrus peel, spiced cookies, coffee and mascarpone conjures up memories from past Christmases.

If you're feeling adventurous and would like to make your own Bûche de Noël, L'Atelier Guy Martin is offering courses for Yule log cakes on December 2, 6, 9 and 13. Please refer to the cooking school's website for additional details.

Guy Martin (middle), Flavien Martin (far right) and the rest of the team.