Our Dairy Free Restaurants in Paris

The first three days of our upcoming trip to France will be spent in the capital, Paris.  I have picked out a variety of restaurants for our meals on those days, a combination of: (a) those that specialize in dairy free (and vegan) cuisine, (b) those that are just coincidentally dairy free, and (c) those where I am going to rely on Therese’s command of the French language to pick out those dishes that can be successfully rendered without dairy.  In looking for restaurants, I have been leaning heavily on Patricia Wells‘s excellent book, The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris, which I have on my Kindle/phone.

Here are some of the details of what I have planned out for us.

Friday, April 25

Le Loustic.  We arrive in Paris on late Friday morning.  After taking a taxi to our hotel, the Ecole Centrale Hotel, and dropping off our bags, we will waste no time in beginning our sightseeing.  However, if Therese wants a good cup of coffee to get her day started well, Le Loustic, I understand, serves some of the city’s best coffee.  And it is a couple short blocks from our hotel.  I honestly don’t know what might be there for me, but I will be saving my appetite for our next stop.

Gentle Gourmet Cafe.  Four Metro stops from our hotel is the Bastille stop, the sight of the former famous prison, but most importantly, just two blocks away is Gentle Gourmet, a vegan restaurant about which I have heard a great deal.  I am a little doubtful about the cafe, because their website has been down, and my efforts to contact them to confirm that they are still open have been unsuccessful.  But a reader on Facebook has been in contact with them, and assures me that they are open.  In any case, going there doesn’t take us too far out of our way.  And if they ARE open, all indications are that this will be a glorious vegan lunch, full of French standards like the Croque Monsieur, all prepared vegan!  Just the way to start off our vacation.

Au Sanglier.  And now for something completely different (as they say)!  Our walking tour of the Marais neighborhood will take us down Rue Saint Antoine and right past Au Sanglier, which I understand sells some excellent charcuterie.  If they do take out, I will be happy to pack away some salami and sliced ham (and maybe some baguettes or crackers) for noshing on one of our upcoming long train rides.

L’As du Fallafel.  Another of the streets down which we will be wandering, Rue des Rosiers, is the heart of the old Jewish quarter in the Marais.  This street is known for having Paris’s best falafel.  L’As du Fallafel got pretty high marks in Wells’s Food Lover’s Guide.  This might be where we get our dinner from, although I think they do mostly take out.  Hmmm, a little au courant dinner in Place des Vosges?  Maybe.

Saturday, April 26

On Saturday, we will be taking an early train to Chartres, and probably eating breakfast on the train – maybe a baguette and some of whatever we pick up at Au Sagnier on Friday.

L’Escalier.  After exploring the iconic Chartres Notre Dame Cathedral and taking a guided tour of the same, we will have some lunch at L’Escalier, a cafe at the head of Rue des Ecuyers, a picturesque street in the middle of the historic section of Chartres.

Chez Jenny.  We will return to Paris by train in the late afternoon, then probably take the Metro to our hotel and chill for a bit.  Then, we have reservations for dinner at Chez Jenny, a brasserie just a few blocks from our hotel.  Brasseries typically offer Alsatian specialties like Choucroute, a dish made of pork products stewed in sauerkraut with boiled potatoes, and platters of steamed seafood on ice, both dishes that are dependably dairy free, and incredibly yummy.  Chez Jenny offers a sauerkraut special that sounds amazing, but there is also the strong possibility that Therese and I will split a Royal Seafood Platter, filled with several different oysters and clams and shrimp and other seafood curiosities like cockles and welks.

Sunday, April 27

Ecole Centrale Breakfast Buffet.  We have planned a rather ambitious itinerary for Sunday, which will start with breakfast in our hotel.  Not sure what there will be for me to eat, but if they will make me a couple of eggs cooked in oil instead of butter and have a decent selection of fruit, I’m sure I will be satisfied.  And if the worst they have to offer is peanut butter, jam and banana on some nice bread, and some hot tea to wash it down, that won’t be so bad either.

Paris Opera Cafe.  Our first attraction of the day is the Palais Garnier, the original Paris Opera House, beloved to fans of Phantom of the Opera as well as fans of the work of Marc Chagall – Therese assures me that Chagall’s ceiling of the main auditorium of the opera house are to die for.  After exploring there, we will have lunch in their cafe.

The rest of Sunday afternoon includes a Metro ride out to St. Denis to see the legendary Basilica, and back again, a visit to the Musee Gustave Moreau, reputed to be one of Paris’s best small museums, and finally one last Paris Metro ride to the Gare de l’Est, where we will pick up our train to Reims, the next city we will visit during our vacation in France.

I’m not sure yet where we will be eating dinner on that Sunday night.  A lot of restaurants in Reims are closed on Sunday evenings, but our hotel in Reims, the Hotel Porte Mars, emailed us a couple of suggestions.  I will talk about where we expect to eat in Reims and during the rest of our trip in a future post – stay tuned!

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Meals from the Union Square Greenmarket

Two Saturday morning ago, Therese made our first visit to Union Square Greemarket of the spring, and we came back with quite a nice variety of high-quality groceries.  I thought it would be fun to highlight some of our favorite Saturday vendors at Union Square by telling you about the lovely simple meals we created from their wonderful products.

Body & Soul Vegan Bakery – Gluten Free Mini Apple Pie

Vegan Gluten Free Mini Apple Pie

Vegan Gluten Free Mini Apple Pie

We always make a stop at Body & Soul, usually for muffins (mmm, chocolate chip), but sometimes we are adventurous and try something they are highlighting.  On this occasion, among their gluten free (and vegan) options, they had some delectable-looking small pies.  Therese and I decided that these would make for a nice treat, for Sunday breakfast.  They were absolutely scrumptious, with just one misstep: the crust had a slightly gritty texture.  I have noticed this texture when I have used King Arthur Gluten Free Flour mix – I wonder if that is what Body & Soul uses? In any case, this seems to be a little problem for gluten free baked goods.  But other than that touch of grittiness, Body & Soul’s apple pie was yummy.

Shushan Valley Hydro Farm – Duck Breast Salad with Market Greens and Tomatoes

Duck Breast Salad with Market Greens and Tomatoes

Duck Breast Salad with Market Greens and Tomatoes

I had a couple of duck breasts I had bought from Whole Foods in the refrigerator, and we bought some nice greens from Union Square (sorry I can’t remember that vendor’s name) and some lovely yellow tomatoes from Shushan Valley, and made a really nice salad for lunch.  I grilled the breasts in a pan, let them rest, sliced them, sliced up the tomatoes, arranged it all on plates and drizzled some Whole Foods Honey Mustard dressing over it, and we had a spectacular lunch.  Therese says next time we should make our own dressing, but otherwise she loved it.

Knoll Krest Farm – Fresh Pasta with Bacon and Vegetables

Leftover Fresh Pasta with Bacon and Vegetables

Leftover Fresh Pasta with Bacon and Vegetables

We love Knoll Krest Farm‘s fresh pasta – they have penne and shells as well as the fettuccine that we bought this time.  We also bought some of their organic eggs.  For another lunch, I cooked up the pasta, and meanwhile rendered down some bacon, poured off the fat and laid the bacon aside, and cooked up some onion and red bell pepper in the bacon essence (with some olive oil).  I tossed the pasta, vegetables and bacon together, sprinkled some Daiya Mozzarella Shreds over it, and had a very nice lunch.  In fact, I had some leftover that I used for my lunch at work the next day, definitely a highlight of the day!

Hudson Valley Duck – Roasted Duck Legs with Sunchokes, Onions and Apples

Duck Legs with Sunchokes and Apples

Duck Legs with Sunchokes and Apples

I asked for 2 legs at the Hudson Valley Duck Farm counter, and wow, they pulled out two monster sized legs for us.  I seared these in a saute pan and then added chopped apples, onions and sunchokes (all of which I also bought at Union Square) and roasted it all in the oven for about 2 hours.  The skin crisped up and the meat was well-done and the fruit and vegetables were all creamy and succulent.  And I poured off about a whole cup of precious duck fat.  I was very impressed with these duck legs, and next time I go to Union Square I will be buying more of these!

Considering how early it is in the growing season, I was impressed with how much there was to buy of great variety at Union Square.  Our vacation is coming up and it will be probably 3 weeks before we get back to the Greenmarket again, but I will be curious to see if there is even more then.  Therese is eager for pears, and I would love to see some bell peppers.  We will see what there is there in May!

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Bean & Bean: Dairy Free Coffee in the FiDi, Part Four

If it weren’t for my niece Hope, Therese and I might not have visited Bean & Bean Coffee.  After all, Bean & Bean does not carry almond milk, which was one of the main precepts for choosing coffee shops to visit in the Financial District.  But Hope mentioned that she heard they carried Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee, which she tried one time and thought was marvelous.  So between that enticement, and the fact that Bean & Bean is the furthest west of any of the shops I am planning to visit (all the way over on Broadway!), we put it on our list.

From the moment we walked in the door of Bean & Bean, things just did not go well.  We indicated that we were interested in the Jamaican Blue Mountain.  Therese asked if she could get a latte made with it, and the counterperson rolled her eyes and said “no, lattes are made with espresso, and this is only available as coffee.”  What about a cafe au lait, then?  No, they couldn’t do that either.

So we said, ok, we’ll each get a cup, and then we’ll add our own milk.  Therese handed the person her credit card, and then things went from bad to worse.  I asked if it would be possible to get an iced coffee with the Jamaican Blue Mountain, and I saw the girl visibly shudder, as if someone had just stabbed a voodoo doll in her image.  No, they couldn’t do that, either.

At this point, she took it upon herself to explain to us that the only way Jamaican Blue Mountain is made at Bean & Bean is by the pour over method.  It is a much more expensive coffee than the others that they sell, so they treat it in this special way to make sure that you get the most out of the coffee.  Therese asked if this was similar to using a French press, which met with another shudder.  No, we were told, pour over makes a much stronger coffee, as much as twice as strong as conventional coffee (hmm, I did some research later, which said that pour over is actually very similar to French press brewing).

Pouring Over our Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee

Pouring Over our Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee

At this point, if we hadn’t already paid for the coffees, we would’ve walked out.  This counterperson was rude beyond belief.  I understand that we did not “get” what we were asking for.  There are a hundred different ways that that could’ve been explained to us without making us feel like complete idiots.

So we took our coffees, and Therese took two large paper cups, and we made our own drinks.  I of course murdered the soul of whoever invented Jamaican Blue by doing half soy milk and half coffee with several spoonfuls of sugar.  Therese did something similar but with Splenda and not quite as much milk as me.  And you know what?  That was some really good coffee, no doubt.  Was the full amazingness of it lost on us coffee cretins?  Yeah, probably.  However, I went to Bean & Bean wanting to get an experience of what Jamaican Blue is all about, and I accomplished that.

So from a taste perspective, our visit was a success.  But from a customer service perspective, this young lady who waited on us was a disaster, and I will most certainly never again set foot in Bean & Bean.

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Empire Coffee & Tea: Dirty Chai Latte near the Port Authority

Empire Coffee & Tea

Empire Coffee & Tea

Yesterday afternoon found me in Midtown Manhattan wanting to kill some time before a family dinner at Becco Restaurant on 46th Street.  I ended up spending that time at Empire Coffee & Tea, which was rather unexpected, but a lucky thing as well.

I had come back from lunch in New Jersey with my Mom, and my phone was nearly dead, so my first priority was to find a place where I could plug in to re-charge it, while I chilled.  I originally considered a Starbucks on 8th Avenue and 39th Street, but there were no outlets to be found there! So then I decided I would walk up 9th Avenue, thinking that whatever place I might find there would probably be less crowded than shops on 8th Avenue.

So that was how I managed to come across Empire Coffee.  Of course, my first question upon walking in there was, do they have almond milk?  Yes, they do, and they charge the least for it of any shop I have seen so far – 25 cents (most places charge around 50 cents).  I ordered a Dirty Chai Latte with Almond Milk.  For the chai flavoring, they use Oregon Chai Tea Latte Concentrate, which I have never seen before (it is dairy free, btw).  The counter person made my drink “dirty” by adding a shot of espresso! (I wouldn’t call that dirty, I would call it turbo-charged!)

Once I had my drink, I found a chair in the front of the store with an outlet nearby (in the middle of the wall actually -  garish place to put an outlet, but convenient for me!)  The store has an interesting vibe – with sacks of coffee beans lining one side, and the counter on the other, it feels to me almost like a barber shop or a shoeshine store.

Empire Coffee Interior

Empire Coffee Interior

My dirty chai latte was strong – I tasted the chai with the espresso in the first sip, but after that the strong espresso blew out my palate, and all I tasted was coffee.  Next time I am there I will stick to a straight chai latte.

Dairy Free Dirty Chai Latte

Dairy Free Dirty Chai Latte

As I drank, I did some writing, and felt quite satisfied.  Sure enough, with its location behind the Port Authority Bus Terminal, Empire was not crowded at all.  In fact, it was nice and quiet.  Next time I am in that neighborhood, I will definitely stop in at Empire again!

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Egg Roll Hunt: First Stop, Chinatown!

Egg Roll

Egg Roll

Recently when Therese and I were having dinner at No. 1 Little House Restaurant in the FiDi, Therese remarked that it had been a long time since she had had a good egg roll.  So the first chance we got, we shot off to Chinatown in search of that most iconic, ubiquitous appetizer of American Chinese cooking.

Welcome to Chinatown

Welcome to Chinatown

Why Chinatown?  Two reasons.  First, there is a concentration of Chinese restaurants there unparalleled at least in Manhattan.  Second, the population of Manhattan’s Chinatown has traditionally been Cantonese, from Hong Kong, and I associate the egg roll with Cantonese cuisine – along with so many other conventional Cantonese dishes like Shrimp Toast, Scallion pancakes and Fried Pork Dumplings.

Now I should say just a few words about what we were looking for in an egg roll.  The filling should have more than just cabbage and bean sprouts – hopefully there will be a couple other vegetables, like mushrooms, and meat and/or seafood is always welcome.  But I don’t see anything wrong with a vegetarian egg roll, as long as the skin is right.

And what should the skin be?  To me, it should not be rice paper – a roll wrapped in rice paper is, to me, a spring roll, not an egg roll.  I look for a roll covered in a Wonton wrapper, deep-fried, so that the roll is bumpy, and when bitten into, is crunchy yes, but holds together and has a nice chewy, almost leathery texture.

My idea about where to search for our egg roll was to start at Canal Street and Mott Street, and then walk down Mott, branching off to Bayard and Pell Streets (and maybe Doyer Street).  We would stop in every restaurant we found that (a) had an A Health Department Rating and (b) had an egg roll on their menu.  We would buy one portion of 2 egg rolls (they always come in portions of 2 rolls, not 1) and when we finished our hunt, we would taste whatever we had purchased, side by side.

My friends, we did not have much luck.  We found only 2 restaurants – yes, that’s right, I said 2!  That met our two criteria.  Many many of the restaurants, I am sorry to say, had B ratings – I am sorry that we did not sample their egg rolls, but hey, we don’t want to eat something that might make us sick.  And a bunch of the restaurants that did have A ratings did not sell egg rolls!  What, no egg rolls?  We wonder if maybe the trend nowadays is away from egg rolls, toward spring rolls?  Obviously, we need to do more research into this.

In any case, since we were not having much success in our egg roll search, in the middle of our trek down Bayard Street, we stopped to get some wonderful hand-ripped noodles at Xi’an Famous Foods.  We have been to Xi’an’s sister restaurant, Biang in Flushing, and sure enough, many of the things we enjoyed there are also present at Xi’an – for example, the spicy cumin-seasoned lamb with large rustic hand-made noodles.

We nibbled and slurped, and then put our leftovers in go boxes and went back to our egg roll search, buoyed a bit by the yummy food in our bellies.  And we did find one more egg roll to add to our sampling after that.

So which egg rolls did we try?  The first was from Hoy Wong, on Mott Street not far from Canal Street.  Indeed, this was the first restaurant we stopped in along our crawl.

The second one was from next door to Xi’an Famous Foods, at 69 Chinese Restaurant on Bayard Street.  This place is noteworthy for its eccentric interior decoration – the walls, ceiling, and everything else is covered with dollar bills that have been signed by customers.

We finished up our crawl by walking down Doyer Street, where every restaurant on the street has a B Rating! and then decided to just hop in a cab, get home quick, and eat our egg rolls.  And this is what we found…

Hoy Wong’s roll, while the size of a proper egg roll, is covered with rice paper.  So while it had some nice flavor, I feel like it didn’t qualify as a true egg roll.

69 Restaurant’s egg roll was the real deal.  Chewy wonton wrapper, lots of cabbage inside, held together well while dunking it in the usual day-glow sweet orange sauce that came with it.

OK, so we got one decent example of an egg roll out of our jaunt.  Not bad.  But I am convinced that there are more, and better, egg rolls to be found on the island of Manhattan!  And Therese and I will find them.  I can’t tell you when we will go on our next egg roll hunt, but I am thinking that it will probably be in Midtown Manhattan.

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No. 1 Little House: Chinese Food in the FiDi

Two Fridays ago, after enjoying some warming beverages at Financier Patisserie, Therese and I were feeling like Chinese food.  I am always up for Chinese food, for one reason that I love the cuisine, and also it is usually reliably dairy free.  Usually when we have this craving, we hop on the subway and ride the short way to Chinatown, since there are so many Chinese restaurants there, many of them quite excellent.  But this time, we decided to try one of our neighborhood restaurants, No. 1 Little House, which we have walked past plenty of times after visiting some of our favorite places down there, like Luke’s Lobster and Dubliner Tavern.

The first thing we wanted to find out, before we walked over there, was what was No. 1 Little House’s Health Department Grade.  I know, not very romantic, right?  But ever since reading Anthony Bourdain‘s Kitchen Confidential, in which Mr. Bourdain heartily recommends that you not eat at any restaurant with a grade below A, Therese is very strict about following that advice.  So I whipped out my handy smart phone, looked it up, and sure enough, No. 1 Little House gets an A.  Yay!

The restaurant was fairly empty, unfortunately, but we didn’t take this as a statement of the restaurant’s quality.  It is a sad thing that our neighborhood empties out in the evenings, especially Friday night and over the weekend.  Sunday evenings are totally desolate, with practically nothing open.  So that we were, for a little while, the only diners in No. 1 Little House didn’t bother us in the least.

A quick assessment of the menu showed us that they have many of the typical American Chinese restaurant staples – Moo Shoo Pork, Beef with Broccoli, General Tso’s Chicken.  Therese ordered the Lemongrass Shrimp Roll, while I went with Fried Shrimp Dumplings – I have always loved shrimp dumplings, but don’t recall ever having them fried before.  Therese’s roll was shrimps rolled in rice paper and deep-fried – a bit greasy, but good – while my dumplings were quite good – the dough was not too doughy but gave them a bit of chew, and the shrimps were nice quality.

For main courses, Therese got Vegetable Chow Fun, and I went for one of my favorites, Shrimp with Lobster Sauce.

I often judge a Chinese restaurant on the quality of their Shrimp with Lobster Sauce – this was a really good one.  The prawns, huge shrimps (yes, I know, an oxymoron), were excellent, fresh and tasty.  And the sauce, with its egg strewn through it and ample peas, was luxurious and well-seasoned.

Therese’s Chow Fun was also quite good.  It was not greasy, and the noodles, while soft and succulent, were not mushy.

So our assessment of No. 1 Little House was that it is a quality conventional everyday NYC Chinese restaurant.  Our assessment was somewhat dampened by our realization that the food was, we believe, heavily laced with MSG.  Not that this is terribly unusual – it is common practice in Chinese restaurants to add MSG to everything. In this case, We based our assumption on the fact that both of us had trouble sleeping that night – we felt like we were hyped up on something.  Whether this was directly due to the restaurant’s overuse of MSG or not, when we go back, we are going to ask them to leave that seasoning off.

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Blue Spoon Coffee: Dairy Free Coffee in the FiDi, part three

Blue Spoon Coffee

Blue Spoon Coffee

Blue Spoon Coffee may turn out to be my favorite stop along my slow crawl over the coffee shops of the Financial District.  It’s a fairly tiny place, with a couple stools and a countertop along one wall and 3 little tables with chairs along a second wall.  I don’t know if it has Wifi (if it does, I could actually work there, which would be cool), and I don’t know if any of their cakes are vegan.  But it just has the right vibe – Therese and I instantly felt at home there – and my chai latte with almond milk was awesome, easily the best I’ve ever had.  The spices tasted like real spices, and not just a pre-packaged mix – they easily cut through the creamy almond milk.  It was pre-sweetened, but not too much so.  Good job, Blue Spoon!

My Almond Chai Latte

My Almond Chai Latte

As for the coffee, Therese enjoyed her iced latte, but said that so far, Oren’s Daily Roast has had the coffee she liked the best.  But when pressed, she agreed that she would certainly come back to Blue Spoon without any reservations.

The decor, while simple, is very clean, and the shop has a nice retro meets modern vibe, with its silver-painted tin ceiling.  The young ladies who work there are very friendly – the one at the counter didn’t blink when I asked whether adding almond milk to my chai latte would make it dairy free.

Did I mention that, like Financier Patisserie and Oren’s Daily Roast, Blue Spoon is on William Street in the heart of the Financial District?  I guess you could call that street Coffee Central (there is also a Starbucks on William Street!)  So yes, the store’s location is perfect also.  Sitting inside at one of the tiny tables, sipping on my excellent chai latte, looking out the window at the bustling Maiden Lane crowd nearby, I felt truly relaxed and happy.  I have a few more coffee stops to make around the FiDi before I am done, but they will have to really be great to unseat Blue Spoon as tops in my heart!

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