Thursday, March 20, 2008

She does get a gold star

When I first read about Denise Acabo and her Pigalle confectionery shop, I knew that one day, I would have to pay her a visit.
It was not just that her L'Etoile D'Or is stocked with the finest chocolates & candies in the world that I found intriguing, but also the fact that Denise wears braids and a traditional schoolgirl outfit. The combination was just too much for me to bypass. Also, she gift-wraps her treats in comic pages. All great choices!
I couldn't wait!
We took a taxi directly to her door, as I did not have time to dilly-dally around. Denise opened the door of her shop and came out onto the sidewalk to greet us and make sure all was alright with the taxi driver. She speaks in rapid-fire French, and welcomed us heartily as we followed her into the shop, delighted by the feast for our eyes.

The boys were rendered speechless by Denise and the glittering array of chocolates and candies they found themselves surrounded by.

Mirrored walls multiplied the shop's contents, transporting us to a Wonka-like room of deliciousness. When I told Denise that I'd read about her in the blogs of Clotilde and David Lebovitz, she enthusiastically showed me a bevy of press clippings and raved about David. She clearly adores him as much as he likes her.
The whole experience had my head spinning so much that after selecting a little assortment of chocolates from one glass case, and grabbing a bag of salted butter caramels for Troy, I forgot to get the big bar of Bernachon that I'd had my eye on!
Upon taking our leave, Denise gave us explicit instructions on catching the right bus to the top of the hill, as well as an entertaining tutorial on how to spot pick-pockets. She was sweet. Nothing less than what I expected.

When I arrived home, I found that I actually had selected, amidst the flurry, one bite-sized piece of Bernachon chocolate filled with salted-butter caramel. It was seriously smashed from travelling, but still perfect to me, and I savored every nibble.

L'Etoile d'Or
Denise Acabo
30 rue Fontaine
75009 Paris

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Happiness in St.-Germain

You may or may not know that I loathe Disneyworld, but that's another story for another time. While that kingdom of faux tries to convince us it's the Happiest Place on Earth, I've known for years that this is not true. Now, however, I think I know the place most deserving to rightfully hold title.
It's Ladurée.
What was it that Holly Golightly said she loved so much about Tiffany's? That nothing very bad could happen to you there. Ladurée is my version of that dream. Specifically, the Ladurée Bonaparte, located on the corner of rue Jacob & rue Bonaparte in the Saint-Germain.

On the outside, it is the quintessential charming Parisian storefront. Inside, a beautiful world all its own, where time seems to stand still. The cozy, slightly exotic salon de thé, is tucked up in the back, with an upholstered banquette stretching the length of two walls, heavy wooden tables, and leather chairs reminiscent of my favorite type of fantasy atmosphere: civilized colony.
The boys and I positioned ourselves in the best corner of the room, and ordered hot chocolate and caramel macarons. The hot chocolate is a proper drinking chocolate, so intense that I really could only handle about an espresso-cup's worth. The boys, however, asked if they could add sugar to their cups, most likely because they could not resist touching the natural sugar lumps tantalizingly waiting to be grabbed from a tiny silver bowl on our table. I refused at first, but then softened and allowed them to eat one nugget each.
Ladurée was the ideal place to find ourselves in the late afternoon of a drizzly grey day. We fortified ourselves with the hot drinks and sweets, and I gazed about the room, imagining all the back-stories of those around us, young and old, sharing this heavenly respite from the hustle-bustle. An elderly French couple; four young Parisian ladies, one recently married; an American mother and her daughter; a table full of Japanese visitors; each group unique, with a tale of its own.
It was the perfect pause at the end of a lovely day, and we left smiling and renewed.
An oasis of civility.
And, as it turned out, it was the perfect place to go, several days later when we were back in Paris. Somewhere along the line, it had occured to me that the perfect gift to take home for Troy would be a box of assorted macarons. Even if it hadn't been, a return might have been inevitable, but here we had a very good reason, and I'm so glad we did! We went to the front counter and selected a variety of macarons, all perfect. Caramel, chocolate, blackberry, raspberry, lemon, vanilla, pistachio, and rose petal. The young man who served us knew he was in the best place in the world. You can see it in his smile.

Our business finished, we sat once again in my favorite corner, and this time, I ordered the boys hot chocolate and tarte tatins. For myself, the rose petal tea. The porcelain teacups & saucers were white, with wide bands of soft pastel colors, and the hot chocolate arrived in its weighty silver pitcher. The rose tea was subtle, providing the faintest waft of one of the world's most romantic and beautiful flowers. Just a suggestion. I took a second sip and asked if I could try a bite of Wyatt's tarte tatin.

There it was: the best thing I've ever tasted in my life! Ever. Soft apples, butter, caramelized sweet, slightly salty, and layers of puff pastry. To top it off, a small dish of creme fraiche. It was perfect, the kind of sensory experience you want to bury your face in and inhale so you can try to absorb the whole of it through every pore. I refrained.

Notice how the tarte tatin is moving closer to my place setting.

Nothing will ever compare, and that's okay, because now I know it's there. I will always remember those wonderful two visits with Wyatt and Griffin, in this haven where a person can be, as Holly might say, divinely and utterly happy.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

High times

Being in Paris, I was overwhelmed by a sense of time and history. To walk along cobblestone streets that have existed for centuries and tread by some of the most influential people in the world, well, it's almost hard to grasp how many momentous events have transpired at the very points on which you stand.
Can you imagine having a lifetime to explore the city?
My goal in Paris was simple: to have a good time with Wyatt & Griffin, show them some key sights, and please all of us. It was easy to do. They're great travellers, and they gamely go where I suggest.
On our first night, I sought out a restaurant that had been recommended to me by a friend: Le Relais de L'Entrecote.
This was a perfect choice after a long flight and a full day, because there are very few decisions to be made. Sometimes (usually) when I'm tired, I can't make a decision for the life of me. Like, if I'm at a restaurant looking at a menu with a lot of good options, my brain starts to ping-pong inside of my head and I get stuck in a loop of indecision.
Voila L'Entrecote. This is a restaurant where they serve steak and frites, and that's it. My friend had told me that the frites were excellent, and so, going in, I knew that if nothing else, Griffin would be happy.
Another good thing: no reservations are taken. I'm not a big planner, so this works well for me. We arrived before 7:00 p.m., got a nice table by the window, sat down, and made Decision #1: what to drink. Easy: a half-bottle of the house red wine, a San Pellegrino, and two Cokes.
How did we want our steak? One rare, one medium-well, and no steak for Griffin, just a plate of frites.
The absence of decision-making was as good as a tranquilizer; I was like a content communist. I sat back, breathed deeply, and smiled at my two boys. Life was good!
We chatted and the waitress brought us a basket of bread, then green salads, lightly dressed with a vinaigrette, for Wyatt and me. The pace was leisurely, unhurried, yet not painstakingly slow. When our steak & frites & frites arrived, everything was hot, and the steak was dressed with L'Entrecote's "secret sauce." I would guess that it's made of butter and olive oil, onion, some garlic, and thyme. Whatever it is, it was excellent on top of the perfectly cooked, tender steak; and the frites were golden, crispy, and hot. Everyone was happy!

There was also some Dijon mustard on the table, which added the perfect note of zing to my steak. Griffin even tried some.

Our friend had said, "Eat a profiterole for me." So when we had finished our main and our waitress asked if we wanted dessert, I ordered a plate of profiteroles for us to share.

Stuffed with vanilla ice cream and covered with a dark chocolate sauce, the first taste struck the boys as revelatory. Paris was a hit!
We left the warm glow of the restaurant smiling and full, and fueled with enough sugar to propel a brisk walk to the Eiffel Tower.
The boys were really excited, and decided we should scale the tower, like Spiderman.

There were no crowds, and there was no line (benefit of travelling in wintertime). As we rode the old elevator up to the very top, I thought to myself, "Oh, I'm glad I had that wine at dinner. How old is this elevator?" Well, it didn't bear dwelling upon; we were in. At the top, we looked out upon the whole city, sparkling in the cold air, and the boys gasped and said, "Oh, WOW!! AWESOME!!"

It really was.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The infamous couch

Last year, the boys got a wicked stomach bug and barfed all over Venice, but mainly all over the hotel. As a mother, I felt simultaneously sorry for my sons and horrified that they were throwing up on our hosts. The worst case being when Griffin barfed on the red velvet sofa in the hotel lounge.
The staff couldn't have been kinder, I swear, and despite my offerings to help clean up, or pay for any damage, they insisted there was no problem and then they miraculously made it look like nothing had ever happened to this beautiful fabric. I should have asked them for some cleaning tips to use back home on our own furniture, but I was preoccupied with following the boys around with towels and getting them up to bed.
2007: A look back at the beginning of the horror...the horror...

2008: We happily arrived to warm greetings, after which I confirmed that all of our stomachs were A-O.K.

We then bounded into the lounge to check on the couch and order two hot chocolates and one Bellini.
And they all stayed down.

As you can see, the red velvet is still looking bellisima. Whew.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Return to Venice

It's hard to take a bad picture in Venice, it's such a visual treat for the eyes. Everything seems elevated, as if rising to the beauty all around. Walking a dog. Feeding a bird. Drinking hot chocolate. The ordinary can be extraordinary sometimes.
When we arrived at the crest of the Accademia Bridge to look upon this Grand Canal scene, I felt content.

Griffin loved the pigeons of San Marco, he was so happy feeding them and interacting with them, that I see a bird in our future.

One of my favorites: spaghetti with clams. I love the jingling sound the clam shells make.

Hand-made gloves. If I lived in a cold climate, I would be a glove addict.

A candle lit for a friend.

Inside the Palazzo Ducale.

Eating pizza.

Il Dottore!

This is not The Chambermaid's laundry. I can't get my whites that white.

I'm hard pressed to think of any symbol cooler than the winged lion. Pax tibi. Peace to you.

Treasures from the sea, at the Naval Museum.

More pizza.

A room with a view.