The Chocolate-Hater’s Cookie: Dairy and Chocolate Free, Otherwise Yummy

The Chocolate-Hater's Cookie

The Chocolate-Hater’s Cookie

It’s a chocolate lover’s world.  I should know – I am one of them, and I am thrilled every day to be able to find good, no great, dairy free chocolate products available.  But I know that there are some who don’t like chocolate, for what reason I cannot fathom.  However, these people do exist, and I came face to face with one of them recently, and was inspired to create the chocolate-hater’s cookie with them in mind.

You see, I was at a big outdoor barbecue, for which I had baked two of my favorite cookies, my oatmeal chocolate chip cookie and my double chocolate peppermint cookie.  I had 6 dozen, 3 dozen of each, in a large plastic container, and I was moving through the crowd, offering them to people.  In all, it took me less than 5 minutes to give out every last one of those cookies, making many people happy.  But the person who stood out in my mind was the one who declined a cookie, who said he did not care for chocolate.  The disappointment in his voice was so acute that I made him a promise, that I would create a non-chocolate cookie for next time.

He immediately perked up, and wondered what this cookie might be like.  I improvised, saying it would have dried fruit and nuts in it.  Would it have macadamia nuts in it, he asked.  I have nothing against macadamias, but I don’t usually have them on hand, so I did not promise that it would.  But, I assured him, he would love the result.

And so I found myself a few days ago with time on my hands, and I decided it was time to create this cookie for those who turn their noses up at chocolate.  I based it on what I had in my pantry – and am very happy with the cookie I came up with.  An oatmeal cookie with dried cranberries, dates and chopped almonds, spiced up with cinnamon and Chinese 5 spice – and mini marshmallows to add a bit of decadence.

The Chocolate-Hater’s Cookie
(yield: 3 dozen)

1 stick softened margarine (½ cup)
7/8 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. almond milk
1-½ tsp. Egg Replacer
2 tbsp. water
1 tsp. Chinese 5 spice mix
½ tsp. cinnamon
7/8 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup chopped almonds
½ cup chopped dried cranberries
½ cup chopped pitted dates
¼ cup mini marshmallows

An hour or more before you intend to start baking, remove margarine from refrigerator and leave on counter, in sunshine if possible, so that it gets nice and soft.

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

Take a small mixing bowl or cereal bowl.  Add Egg Replacer and water.  Whisk the two together thoroughly and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, add margarine and sugar.  Using a wooden spoon, mix the two together thoroughly.  Add the Egg Replacer mixture, almond milk and vanilla.  Mix thoroughly once again.

Now add the dry ingredients: salt, baking soda, flour and spices.  If you are concerned about the baking soda getting well-distributed throughout the dough, you can mix all the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl before adding them to the wet cookie dough mix.  But I feel like if you really get all the flour mixed into the dough, that will be enough to take care of the baking soda.  So yes, once you’ve added the dry ingredients, mix once more until there is no sign of any flour and the dough mix is nice and smooth.

Then add the nuts, cranberries and dates and mix well to incorporate them.  Lastly, add the oats, and mix thoroughly so that every flake of oat is incorporated and covered with dough.

Allot a rounded tablespoon’s worth of dough for each cookie.  Bake for 9 minutes on a cookie sheet covered with either parchment paper or a Silpat Non-Stick Baking Mat.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the cookie sheet for 2 minutes.

Cookies Fresh From the Oven

Cookies Fresh From the Oven

Then remove cookies using a Dough Scraper or spatula or your fingers to a cooling rack.

Cookies Cooling on the Rack

Cookies Cooling on the Rack

And last but not least, enjoy!

P.S. If you are like me and you don’t want to be a piggy and eat all 3 dozen cookies, you can always bake a dozen and freeze the rest of the dough.  Freezing dries out the dough a tiny bit, but this is a fairly moist dough to begin with, so when thawed after freezing, the cookies should still come out just fine.  Have fun!

Posted in Baking, Cookies, Dairy Free, Dessert, Food, Recipes, Snacks | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Queen of the Night at the Diamond Horseshoe: Fourth of July Entertainment

Queen of the Night

Queen of the Night

It was a fluke that we got to see the Queen of the Night show at the Paramount Hotel‘s newly-reopened Diamond Horseshoe lounge on the Fourth of July.  The day before Therese was getting her hair cut at NYC Dramatics, and a friend of her hair cutter had a pair of tickets to the show.  Therese texted me to see if I wanted to go, I did some research and thought the show looked interesting, a lot like the Empire show put on at the Spiegelworld a few summers back – a mix of burlesque, acrobatics and comedy, but in this case with food.  I texted her back and said “yes,” and the next evening, we were standing in line waiting for the house to open.

Waiting in Line for Entrance to the Queen of the Night

Waiting in Line for Entrance to the Queen of the Night

Therese had some connection to the Paramount Hotel.  Back in the day when she still lived in Maryland, whenever she came to New York City to take in a show, she would stay at the Paramount.  But since the Diamond Horseshoe had been closed for more than 60 years, she had never seen that.

Since the lounge has been renovated and decorated specifically for this show, there is a distinctive atmosphere of “Blade Runner” meets “Brazil“. Some of the decay that came of the many decades of the lounge being in disuse has been allowed to remain alongside the upgrades and atmospheric additions of colored lights and metal poles.

But the skeleton of the original lounge remains.  In the center of the room is an oval stage with a plaster ceiling decoration above it filled with light fixtures.  As we entered and milled around the bar, the queen mentioned in the show’s title stood at the edge of the stage closest to us and menacingly beckoned toward us.  Every so often, one of the entertainers would pick out one of the members of the audience and bring them to the queen.  They would be invited to climb three steps so that the queen could stare directly into their eyes.  Whether she actually said anything to these people, I don’t know.

The Menacing Queen Beckoned Us On

The Menacing Queen Beckoned Us On

While there was ample space immediately around the oval stage for some tables, there was also a ring of daises filling the rest of the room, except for the far end of the room where there was a proscenium stage.

Stage at the Diamond Horseshoe

Stage at the Diamond Horseshoe

At the proper time, we were led to our seats – we were sitting at one of the tables on the raised portion of the room.

The show began with some entertainment.  A mixture of acrobatics and burlesque is the best way to describe the style of the show.  As its title suggests, it is very (very) loosely based on Mozart’s Magic Flute – but only in the sense that there is a character called the Queen of the Night, and another character called Pamina.  In the course of the evening, I suppose we are to believe that the Queen tempts Pamina with power, and that she chooses love instead.  But most of the acts didn’t seem to have anything with propelling a narrative forward.  They were just spectacles showing off bodies and strength, with plenty of titillation thrown in for good measure.  The actors and acrobats were all very good looking and scantily clad, and on plenty of occasions, they caressed each other in both opposite-sex and same-sex pairings.  They also caressed members of the audience as they walked by.  There were even moments where actor-couples engaged in simulated sex, humping up against railings and such.  Was that really necessary for the show?  Who knows.  I think Therese and I could’ve done without that.

Meanwhile, there was lots of awesome acrobatics, done to industrial house music that was a cross between burlesque music and the soundtrack of Eyes Wide Shut.

Acrobatics before Dinner at the Diamond Horseshoe

Acrobatics before Dinner at the Diamond Horseshoe

For example, a man with a large metal double wheel did some amazing spins and spirals around the stage.  My favorite acrobatic feat had to have been when several of the male acrobats took turns jumping and diving through a ring suspended at the different heights from the center of the ceiling.

Then came time for dinner.  A bunch of servers circulated throughout the room carrying cages filled with the main courses for the tables, in very dramatic fashion.

Server Carrying Tray of Food

Server Carrying Tray of Food

Our table received an entire suckling pig on a spit, and several steamed lobsters.  As we sat aghast, our server carved the suckling pig right on our table.

Server Carving Up Our Suckling Pig

Server Carving Up Our Suckling Pig

Besides the pork and lobster, our table had large bowls of salad and roast potatoes.  It was explained to us that other tables had food different than ours.  We had the choice of eating what was at our table, or taking some of our food, and taking it to another table to trade with what that table might have.  Since Therese and I were stuck in the back of our table, we satisfied ourselves with what was already available.  I did abstain from the potatoes, just in case they might have been doused with butter.

Meanwhile, some of our table mates were more enterprising, and they went and did some trading, and brought back paella, which they shared with us.  The food was simple, hearty, and plentiful.  With the pig, I found that the best meat was from the leg.  That meat was well cooked, but still moist.  Some of the meat from the body had lots of fat and connective tissue and was hard going.  Over all, the eating portion of the evening had a very rustic and elementary feeling, as if we were at some sort of feast.

As the eating died down, there was more entertainment, including some ensemble dancing.

Dancers Were Part of the Post-Dinner Entertainment

Dancers Were Part of the Post-Dinner Entertainment

Eventually, the moment of truth came, where the queen offered Pamina power, and the young woman chose love instead, then dancing a very heartfelt acrobatic dance with her lover.  Then the Queen, dejected, removed all her queenly robes and revealed herself to be a tall slender woman, who did a really wonderful solo dance.

To finish the evening, we were invited up to the stage to be fed mouthfuls of chocolate cake by members of the cast.  But knowing that the chances were minimal that that cake would not be dairy free, I abstained, and Therese decided she didn’t want any either, so we made our departure.  It was a fun and fascinating evening, and for me, an enjoyable alternative to the usual July Fourth ritual of watching fireworks and eating hamburgers.

Posted in Broadway Theater Area, Burlesque, Dairy Free, Dinner, Entertainment, Food, New York, New York City | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Cherry Restaurant: Japanese-French Cuisine in Chelsea

Cherry Restaurant

Cherry Restaurant

I found myself wondering recently what Chris Johnson the Sake Ninja is doing these days.  Therese and I had met him at the Wine & Food Festival Grand Tasting last October, where he made us delightful cocktails from sake and sorbet.  So I tweeted him and he tweeted back to say that he is at Cherry Restaurant in Chelsea on most nights (he is the restaurant’s sake sommelier).  I had never eaten at Cherry, and after reading about it, I decided it would be a perfect place for a lovely Friday night dinner.

In New York City, it seems like restaurants and bars pride themselves on being very dark and very loud.  Cherry thankfully does not play loud music, but with its dark velvet interior and furniture, you may find yourself reaching for a flashlight to read the menu.

Cherry's Dark Velvet Interior

Cherry’s Dark Velvet Interior

Luckily, this is really the only criticism I can level at Cherry.  Well, there is the bathroom, too.  Trying to find the bathroom in Cherry is a bit like trying to negotiate your way through the House of the Undying in Game of Thrones.  You walk through a door and find yourself in a room with black lacquer walls and numerous black doors.  It is only when your eyes have adjusted to the darkness and you get within a foot of each door that you discover that most of their signs read “private” and only one reads “men” and one “women.”  Very strange.

But let us leave behind darkness and talk about food.  About exceptionally good food, actually.  For I will give the whole game away, but I will tell you anyway: our dinner at Cherry was the best meal I have had in a long, long time.

Being dairy allergic, I find refuge in Japanese and other Asian cuisines, which usually do not feature dairy of any kind.  However, when I read about Cherry, I learned that Chef Andy Choi is French-trained, and has brought some French influence to bear on the menu he has created for Cherry.  For example, the most popular item on the menu is a foie gras shortrib gyoza (Japanese dumpling).  So I was cautious, aware that there might be some cream sauces and butter in this restaurant’s offerings.

As I examined the menu and consulted with our server, I happily discovered that my trepidation was largely unwarranted.  We had no trouble selecting a delightful mixture of 6 dishes that we shared: lobster tacos, stuffed shishito peppers, sea bass tempura, tempura onion rings, uni crispy rice and a bbq eel roll.

These were all hits with us.  But the last two especially drove us mad with delight.  I tasted uni, sea urchin, for the first time only a few months ago when I was in Orlando, Florida.  This preparation of uni on top of chewy crispy rice with strands of seaweed on top was out of this world: creamy, sweet, salty, chewy, sticky.

Then there was the bbq eel roll.  Among standard sushi rolls, eel is one I will order frequently.  I love the chewy salty eel and the sweet sauce that is usually drizzled over it.  But this roll raises the eel roll to a place of rare decadence and extreme richness.  For it served with avocado and bacon and a sweet barbecue sauce.  Just unreal.

To start the evening off, we had ordered a nice carafe of sake: the Shichi Hon Yari Nigori called “Seven Spearsmen.”  It was not that long ago that we tasted nigori, which is the unfiltered style sake, for the first time.  We love it for its chewiness and how well it holds up to rich food.  And from the lobster tacos to the eel roll, this was a meal that begged for a hearty sake.  This Seven Spearsman Nigori was perfect, and we were thrilled to have enjoyed it with our first Cherry meal.

Shichi Hon Yari Nigori Sake

Shichi Hon Yari Nigori Sake

When we got home from our wonderful meal, I had this uncommon feeling.  I was still infused with excitement and delight from what I had experienced that evening.  I realized that it was the meal.  We had had a truly transcendent dinner, and we could feel its effects.  We were truly happy.

I only regret that I was not able to share our delight with the Sake Ninja.  I did not see him at Cherry that night, unfortunately.  But I will share this post with him, and when I see him next, I will tell him about our excellent night at Cherry.

Posted in Chelsea, Dairy Free, Dinner, Food, Japanese Food, New York, Restaurants, United States, Wine | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Dairy and Gluten Free Five Layer Cake: Thanks, Wilton and King Arthur!

Dairy and Gluten Free Five Layer Cake

Dairy and Gluten Free Five Layer Cake

My dairy and gluten free five layer cake was many weeks in the making.  When I first saw the Wilton 5 Layer Cake Pan Set in Sur la Table (where I work part-time), I was intrigued.  The thought of making a cake that is smaller in circumference than regular cakes but has more layers sounded like a great way to go.  But the problem with cakes is always – if I make one, who will eat it?  I can remember in years gone by making cakes and then pretty much being the only one who ate any of them, eating a slice a day until what was left was stale.

Then I mentioned that I might make a gluten free cake, and my co-worker Monica said if I made the cake, she would at least eat one slice.  So that was enough to tip the scale in favor of making the cake.

The next hurdle was deciding what to put in between the layers.  I thought it would be fun to do chocolate mousse (which I’ve made many times) and raspberry mousse (which I’ve never made) and then cover the cake with chocolate ganache (which I used to make all the time years ago).

I used Barbara Kafka’s chocolate mousse recipe as the inspiration for that, and also found recipes on which to base the chocolate ganache and raspberry mousse.

For my cake, I went with King Arthur Gluten Free Flour Chocolate Cake Mix.  I’d used their gluten free brownie mix previously, and loved it, and I’ve also used their gluten free flour.  The only complaint I have with their product is that sometimes there’s a grittiness to the flour that gives cookies, for example, a slightly unpleasant texture.

The mousses and ganache all need time to chill, so I started the day before.  My order of operations was:
Day One: make ganache and raspberry mousse and chill them in refrigerator overnight
Day Two: morning – make chocolate mousse and chill in refrigerator for 4-6 hours (or as long as you can keep it in there)
Day Two, late afternoon: bake cake, then while cake is cooling take ganache out and whip it into frosting, then assemble cake

As for equipment, I would say you need as many mixing bowls as you can find.  I have 8 and I used most of them at one time or another (I will track below how many you need at a minimum).  Also, it helps to have a good hand mixer.  Those purists who would want to do all of this with a whisk and their elbow power have my undying admiration (but I also think you’re a little crazy).

One more thing.  Let’s talk about the coconut milk.  You refrigerate the cans for 24 hours because all you want from them is the cream.  After refrigerating, you can extract the cream simply by turning the can upside down, removing the lid (which was formerly the bottom), and then pouring off the liquid (save that: it’s great for making coconut rice).  What is left is your coconut cream, which is awesome for making mousse and many other things.

Dairy and Gluten Free Five Layer Cake with Mousses and Ganache
(makes 8 slices/servings)

Chocolate Cake with Raspberry and Chocolate Mousses and Chocolate Ganache Frosting

Chocolate Cake with Raspberry and Chocolate Mousses and Chocolate Ganache Frosting

2 cans of coconut milk, refrigerated for at least 24 hours
7 whole eggs
1 egg white
12 ounces of chocolate, chopped
King Arthur Gluten Free Chocolate Cake Mix (1 whole package)
2 pints, raspberries
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. agar agar flakes, mashed in mortar & pestle
2/3 cup plus one tbsp., vegetable oil (for cake mix)
1-1/3 cup water (for cake mix)
3 tsp. vanilla

Day One: make chocolate ganache and raspberry mousse.

Let’s start with the ganache.  Take one of the cans of coconut milk and extract the cream (see above if you are not familiar with this operation).  Melt 8 ounces of the chocolate in a double boiler (BOWL #1).  Put the coconut cream in a mixing bowl (BOWL #2).  Pour the melted chocolate over the coconut cream, and whisk the two ingredients together.  The coconut cream will melt, but don’t worry.  Put it in the refrigerator.

Now we will tackle the raspberry mousse.  Take the second can of coconut milk and extract the cream, placing the cream in a mixing bowl (BOWL #3).  In a saucepan, bring 2 tablespoons of water to a boil and add the agar agar, and cook it for a minute.  Then add the raspberries and 2 tablespoons of sugar, mix them it all together, and let it cook for 2-3 minutes, mashing the raspberries with a spoon, until it is fairly thick and the raspberries seem well broken down.

Add the brown sugar to the coconut cream and, using your hand mixer, beat the cream until peaks form.

Add the raspberry mixture to the coconut cream, and whisk until well-mixed.  You could cool the mousse in the fridge right in this bowl, but I transferred it to dessert dishes so that it would cool faster.

Day two: prepare chocolate mousse, bake cake and assemble cake.

After the breakfast dishes have all been cleared away, it’s a good time to make the chocolate mousse.  I made half of Barbara Kafka’s recipe, because I am only making enough mousse for the cake.  Take two mixing bowls (BOWL #4 and 5) and separate 3 eggs into them.  Add the extra egg white to the bowl of whites.  Whisk the egg yolks thoroughly.

In a double boiler (still yesterday’s BOWL #1, presumably), add 4 ounces of chocolate, 2 tablespoons of water and one tablespoon of water, and melt the chocolate, stirring to incorporate with the water and oil.  Remove the chocolate from the heat and let it cool, just for 5 minutes.  Now whisk a tiny bit of the egg yolk (maybe about 1/2 a yolk at a time) into the chocolate at a time, until it has all been used up.  Finally, whisk in a teaspoon of vanilla.  Set the chocolate mixture aside.

Turn to the egg whites.  Using a hand mixer on a medium setting, beat the whites until they are quite stiff.

Finally, fold the whites into the chocolate a spatula-full at a time.  Be gentle, but make sure the whites are well-incorporated into the chocolate (i.e., you shouldn’t see any white showing).  Put you mousse into the refrigerator to cool.

In the late afternoon, a couple of hours before you’re going to make dinner, say, prepare your cake using the instructions on the box (BOWL #6).  I will tell you that for most of the mixing, the mixture was quite rubbery and stuck to the beaters on my hand-mixer; but as I kept adding the water, eventually it softened and came loose.

When I transferred the 5 pans of cake to my cooling racks, it smelled so good that my wife wanted to taste it right then and there.  But I was firm! and made her wait until the cake had been assembled.

Layers of Cake Cooling

Layers of Cake Cooling

As the cake cooled, I took the ganache out of the fridge and let it warm up for a while.  When it was looking like it had a bit of softness to it, I took my hand-mixer and frothed it up for about a minute.  The color of the frosting lightened to a medium brown and it became a bit airy and light in texture.

Finally, when the cake had definitely cooled, I assembled it.  I alternated chocolate and raspberry mousse twice, and then started icing the cake with the ganache.

Adding a Layer of Raspberry Mousse

Adding a Layer of Raspberry Mousse

My intention was to cover the entire cake with ganache; but when I got the top covered with icing, that seemed like enough.  So I sliced the cake, and presented Therese with the first piece.  She had been so patient, waiting until the cake was done, and this was her reward!

Slice of Dairy and Gluten Free Five Layer Cake

Slice of Dairy and Gluten Free Five Layer Cake

The rich dense cake was a nice contrast with the light airy mousses and icing.  A thorough success, I would say!

Posted in Baking, Cake, Chocolate, Dairy Free, Dessert, Food, Recipes | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Bar Six: A French Moroccan Bistro in Greenwich Village

Bar Six

Bar Six

Over the years, I have walked past Bar Six probably hundreds of times.  Many of those times, I would be walking down the Avenue of the Americas towards Lifethyme Market (with the iconic Jefferson Market Library in front of me) to get some goodies from Lifethyme’s excellent vegan bakery (and I am remiss for not telling you about that – a subject for a future post, no doubt).  And when I would pass Bar Six, I would think, “wow, that looks like a really nice restaurant – I’ll have to try it out sometime!”

“Sometime,” I am happy to report, finally arrived.  Bar Six was brought to our attention by Broadcast Eats NY, a service that offers discounts via email to featured New York City restaurants.  We read the offer for 30% off dinner at Bar Six, and thought, “French Moroccan? Why not?”

At first, we were thinking we would be spontaneous.  But wouldn’t you know, we called on a Saturday afternoon for an evening reservation, and they were booked!  So then we made a reservation on Open Table for the following weekend, but it turned out that we never made it there that weekend (being good diners, we called and cancelled).  Finally, on the third try, we made our reservation, and honored them, and had a very nice Saturday evening dinner.

Bar Six Dining Room

Bar Six Dining Room

God knows that there are any number of New York City restaurants who claim to be just like French bistros.  Usually, all that means is that the tables in those restaurants are the size of a postage stamp, and the menu is overpriced.  In the case of Bar Six, though, I think they earn the title.  Take it from Therese and I, who were in Paris just a few weeks ago.  We walked into Bar Six, and immediately felt like we were back in Paris.  The tin ceilings, ceiling fans and mirrored walls (with the day’s specials written on them in grease pencil) give it all the ambiance of a French bistro.

Bar Six's Mirrored Walls

Bar Six’s Mirrored Walls

The food confirmed our first impressions.  I started with a lobster and avocado dip with a red pepper aioli and toasted pita chips for dipping.  The aioli had just a hint of Moroccan spice, and the toasted pita chips were perfect for gathering many perfect bites of lobster morsels, creamy avocado and spicy aioli.

Lobster Dip with Pita Chips

Lobster Dip with Pita Chips

For my main course, I had hanger steak frites with Bordelaise sauce.  My first experience of Bordelaise sauce had been just a few weeks earlier at Brasserie Paul in Rouen.  Here, as at Brasserie Paul, it was no problem apparently to create the sauce dairy free.  I was excited to see if Bar Six’s would be anything like the rich Bourdeaux wine sauce in Rouen.

Hanger Steak Frites with Bordelais Sauce

Hanger Steak Frites with Bordelais Sauce

This was indeed a very respectable steak with Bordelaise sauce, with a couple of alterations.  First, in keeping with the restaurant’s French Moroccan theme, there was definitely a hint of North African spice in the Bordelaise sauce – but in this case, the spice made little impression on the flavor and only gave the sauce a bit of an orange-ish tint.  Second, the frites were the kind of skinny fries we tend to favor here in the U.S., rather than the meatier fries favored by French restaurants (and Belgian frite aficionados).

I must fault myself for not asking for the Bordelaise sauce on the side (as I had thought to do at Brasserie Paul).  While having it on the plate was nice for the slices of buttery soft hanger steak, the frites that rested in the sauce grew soggy, and if there’s one thing that has little appeal for me, it’s a soggy frite.  Luckily, with such a huge plate of frites, many did not swim in the sauce and therefore retained their crunchiness.  All the better, to wash them down with a lovely glass of Chimay Blue ale.

Like a true French restaurant, there was nothing dairy free on the dessert menu other than a bowl of sorbet (or a dessert wine).  But that was of no consequence, since two courses had been plenty to fill me up.  As the last slice of hanger steak found its proper resting place in my belly, I was very happy to be transported, in decor and in food, back to our wonderful time in France.  It may have taken me many years to get to Bar Six for the first time, but it won’t be years before we return!

Posted in Dairy Free, Dinner, Food, French Food, Greenwich Village, Moroccan food, New York, New York City, Restaurants, Reviews, United States | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Hotel de Sens, Café des Musees: Last Day in France, Part Two

Hotel de Sens

Hotel de Sens

On our first day in France, we explored Paris’s Marais District, starting just beyond its eastern border at the Place de la Bastille and heading westward.  On this last day, I thought we could do the opposite, i.e., start to the west at the Hotel de Ville and wend our way eastward, heading toward the Hotel de Sens and hitting some other highlights of the area along the way.

We emerged from the Hotel de Ville Metro stop into the open area next to Paris’ City Hall.  Therese told me how when she was in Paris with Valentina, our daughter, in 1998 – which was when France hosted the World Cup of soccer – there was a huge television screen set up in that plaza, and hundreds of fans watching every match.  On this occasion, though, I didn’t find much of interest here for us – I was keen on finding our way to some half-timbered Medieval houses on Rue Francois Miron that were mentioned in a TripAdvisor review.  We had seen plenty of them in Rouen a few days earlier, but there are hardly any left in Paris, so I had to see them.  Plus, they were on the way to Hotel de Sens.

Half-timbered Houses in Rue Francois Miron

Half-timbered Houses in Rue Francois Miron

And all of a sudden, there they were!  On a street full of unassuming vaguely old buildings, to see those two extraordinary Medieval buildings with their wooden beams on display is remarkable.  From there it was just a couple of blocks to Hotel de Sens.  And I have to say, there isn’t much to see there.  Sure, it is quite a fortress with its early 16th-century towers, but not being there to take the tour, the gate was locked to us, and all we could do was have a look from the street.

And having looked, we realized that, of course, we were now not far from the river.  And you know, when you visit Paris, there are certain things it is good to see – to “have a sighting,” as Therese says – and the Seine is one of them.  So we walked down there and had a look.

As we stood on the Seine’s Right Bank, we were momentarily indecisive.  Should we keep walking along the river for a while?  Should we cross the first bridge we come to, and explore the Ile Saint-Louis (which I have never seen)?  Should we wait another block or two, and then cross over to the Ile de la Cite and have an up-close sighting of Notre Dame de Paris?  Or should we turn right at the first street and head north, back into the heart of the Marais?  There were so many possibilities, each of which was more than appealing to me.

But in the end, I had to choose the last option, and keep to my original idea of walking around the Marais.  Not that I had any specific destination in mind – it was really more like wandering.  We did stop for a bit to have a coffee – the atmospheric Les Philosophes cafe caught our eye and we found an empty table outside.

Then we turned a corner and saw that we had returned to a part of the district that we knew – Rue des Rosiers and Rue des Francs Bourgeois and the area surrounding those streets.  When we got to the latter street, which of course is a great shopping street, Therese mentioned her idea of getting a charm for her Pandora bracelet to commemorate our trip.  It didn’t take long to find the Pandora shop, which was not far from the Musee Carnavalet.  They had a chateau charm that evoked Paris perfectly, and we chatted with the clerk, a very sweet young lady, about New York while she wrapped up the silver charm for Therese.

At this point it was starting to feel like dinnertime – it was probably 7:30 in the evening – and when Therese asked about dinner, I revealed that I did have a restaurant picked out.  It was not far, and once I figured out exactly where it was, we turned in that direction.  My aim was for the Cafe des Musees, another restaurant highly regarded by Patricia Wells in her Food Lover’s Guide to Paris.

Cafe des Musees

Cafe des Musees

When we entered the restaurant, we could hear a patron in front of us asking for a table and being told that the earliest that there would be one free would be 8:30.  Ugh, we didn’t want to wait an hour just to be seated!  But then we saw that there were seats at the bar free, so we asked if we could sit there, and we were seated immediately!

Let me be clear: the bar is actually in two sections.  The part to the left is a regular bar, and I’m sure you could get a drink there while you waited for your table to be ready.  The section to the right faces right onto the open kitchen, with Chef Pierre Lecoutre and his two sous chefs working right in front of you.

It was at the latter section that we sat, and for the next two hours, we ate wonderful food, and also saw everything that went on in the kitchen.  On occasion we would see the chef do something, and Therese and I would whisper, “Is that…?” And without skipping a beat, Chef Lecoutre would nod at us or make a quick comment.

What did we eat?  It almost didn’t matter.  I got a sense of – I know it’s a cliche, but this is what I felt – complete respect for the ingredients, so whatever was placed in front of us was prepared in such a way as to shine its brightest.  After an initial glass of champagne and some olives and bread to nosh on, we both had the steamed lobster appetizer to start – half a Maine lobster with some fresh-made mayonnaise for dipping.

For my main course, I had a rib-eye steak that came with large cloves of roasted garlic still in their skin (with a glass of Bourdeaux red wine, of course).

Pork Chop with Roasted Garlic

Rib-eye Steak with Roasted Garlic

For anyone who has never roasted garlic in the oven, I have to say this is the most excellent way to enjoy it.  The cloves turn to butter inside of their skins, and while the garlic retains its strong flavor, roasting mellows that a bit and turns it sweeter.  Once my cloves had cooled a bit, I squeezed out the flesh onto the top of my steak, rubbed it in a bit with my knife, and each bite of excellently prepared pork chop with garlic was to die for.  As for the salad that accompanied it, the greens were absolutely fresh, but I cannot tell you what they were – I guess I have to bone up on French greens!

The steak came with a plate of frites, which were almost too much for me.  But I appreciated them since they were cut just the way I like them, like what we call steak fries – nice and thick.  They were well-fried on the outside, nice and crisp, but with lots of soft potato interior.

Frites at Cafe des Musees

Frites at Cafe des Musees

Up till now, they had been very good about accommodating my allergy.  The lobster was no problem since it had been pre-steamed.  The main course was done without a finish of butter, and of course the fries were done in oil.  But as usual with the dessert, there was nothing available that didn’t have dairy in it.  So I went with a nice glass of dessert wine to finish off the meal.

Sweet Dessert Wine to Finish

Sweet Dessert Wine to Finish

After such a splendid meal, we needed to walk a bit.  And since our hotel was not far, we figured, why not walk home?  It was a nice warm evening, after all.  Just the kind of evening to make us wish that we did not have to leave Paris the next day!

The following morning, we enjoyed one last meal in Paris before heading to the airport and then home to New York.  I will leave you with photos of that breakfast at the nearby Cafe des Arts et Metiers.  Goodbye, France!  We will be returning soon, you bet we will!

Posted in Cafes, Dairy Free, Food, France, French Food, Paris, Restaurants, Travel, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mont Saint-Michel to the Marais: Final Day in France, Part One

Mont Saint-Michel

Mont Saint-Michel

Our final full day of our trip to France started in Mont Saint-Michel.  It was a traveling day, a day to get back to Paris, but there would be some time to enjoy a little more of Paris before heading back home to New York the following day.  And while it would be a traveling day, with a long bus ride and a high-speed train ride as well, it wouldn’t be quite the ordeal it had been getting to Mont Saint-Michel two days earlier.  For one thing, the time was considerably less (6 hours instead of 10).  Also, we felt now that we were veterans and knew the lay of the land, so there would be no angst and uncertainty to drag us down.

We woke that lovely Sunday morning, the second sunny day in Mont Saint-Michel in a row (which happens not even once a year we were told) to the view of the Couesnon River from our Mercure Mont Saint-Michel room.  Therese had made sure we had a river view, rather than just a view of the parking lot, and it was lovely to see some green.

Le Couesnon River

Le Couesnon River

After breakfast at Le Pre Sale, Mercure’s restaurant, we wandered across the street to the supermarket, really more of a large souvenir shop.  But they did have some scrumptious looking snacks, and I chose some to take on the train with us.  The one that excited me the most was a heart-shaped metal container of Maxim’s de Paris Dark Chocolates.  Dark chocolate with almonds and honey sounded very good to me, and sure enough, they tasted divine, and did not survive long enough to be brought back to the U.S.

Maxim's of Paris Dark Chocolates

Maxim’s of Paris Dark Chocolates

The bus trip to Rennes was no sweat.  Being veterans already, we knew just where to wait for the bus, just off the road at the edge of the southernmost parking lot.  We got a seat near the front, so we could take in the sight of the many tiny hamlets the bus passes through on its way to Rennes.  When the bus let us off at the Rennes bus station, we crossed the courtyard to the train station, took the escalator up to the main level, and waited for our track number for the train to Paris to be posted.  While we waited, we got some sandwiches from a boulangerie called Valentin.  I chose a Sandwich Americain, which often is a steak sandwich but in this case was ham and slices of hard-boiled egg with mayonnaise.  Presented, of course, on a wonderful crusty baguette!

The best feature of the train from Rennes to Paris is that it is a high-speed TGV train.  It takes just a bit more than 2 hours to get from Rennes to Montparnasse station in Paris.  By contrast, if you take the train to Pontorson from Paris, it takes roughly 4 to 4-1/2 hours.  The benefit of that is that Pontorson is only 10 minutes by bus to Mont Saint-Michel, while it takes 90 minutes to get there from Rennes.  All things considered, I think we made the right choice, since our Mont Saint-Michel to Rennes to Paris trip left us with time to still enjoy the day in Paris.

When we arrived, once again, at Hotel Ecole Centrale in Paris’ Marais District, we got a wonderful surprise.  We had been upgraded to their best room, one of their two Deluxe rooms!  When we had stayed there the previous weekend, we had made friends with Shiam, the day receptionist.  Before we left, he pleaded with us to go on TripAdvisor and give the hotel a 5 star rating.  Since he was so nice, and we had such a good time there, Therese and I both did that.  I thought that this upgrade was their way of thanking us.  But the stated reason for putting us in this room was that it had just been renovated, and they wanted feedback from us as experienced world travelers on the room (Shiam particularly wanted to know if the English instructions for using the jacuzzi tub were clear, since he had written them himself!).

The room was more of a mini suite – like the rest of the hotel, it was cozy, but it had all the amenities.  The bathroom set apart from the rest of the room by only a thin scrim.  On the top floor of the hotel, it had two skylights that were controlled electronically.  We started out by opening the skylights so that we would get some cross-breeze to cool off the room for the evening.  Later that evening when we returned, I had every intention of trying out the jacuzzi bathtub!

But for now, we intended to enjoy the rest of the afternoon and evening, picking up where we had left off a week earlier in our exploration of the Marais District.  In part two of this post, I will describe our explorations, and finish up our entire trip to France!

Posted in Chocolate, Dairy Free, Food, France, Lunch, Mont Saint Michel, Paris, Snacks | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment