French Lesson with the Crepe Guy

Please meet my new friend.  Let’s just call him Pierre. Okay, we’re not exactly friends. To him, I’m just a customer who shows up at 9:00 p.m. every night and orders a crepe with Nutella, with two bottles of water. But for me, Pierre is a friend who brings such joy to my life, and I look forward to our conversation every night.

Pierre: Bonsoir, madame.
Me: Aaahh … uummm … crepe … with … Nutella, souuuu vuuuu plea?
Pierre: Crepe with Nutella, sure.
Me: Aaaah … and … dou “o.”
Pierre: Sure, two bottle waters.
Me: Merci!
Pierre: You’re welcome. That’ll be 720 Euro.
Me: Weee.
Pierre: (Hands me the crepe and water bottles.) Have a wonderful night, madame.
Me: Merci.

It took exactly a block for me to realize that he was actually speaking to me in English. 

French people, and I guess Europeans in general, are impressive. Everyone speaks beautiful English, even kids. Even the ones who say, “I only speak a little English” can speak it fluently!  They’re just being humble and polite. 

I try to speak as much French as possible but since the only French vocabularies I know are “bonjour” and “merci,” it’s a bit of a struggle (Note to self:  Buy Rosetta Stone). I even find myself blurring out random Spanish words for no particular reason. Maybe it’s because my brain automatically associates a foreign language with Spanish since that is the first “second” language I learned (Japanese and English excluded) but it’s quite embarrassing, if you can imagine. (I actually did the same thing in Brazil the time I was there, although I was fully aware that Portuguese is spoken there, and not Spanish.) But they are very generous about trying to understand you.

Despite all the stereotypes, I truly feel that French are some of the kindest and most helpful people around. And they sure know how to make amazing crepes.

See you tomorrow, Pierre!

Metro:  Odeon.  It’s right when you exit the Odeon metro station.

Cure for the Lonely Heart: Le Danton

I have an embarrassing confession to make. It’s really embarrassing, but here I go. Despite the fact that I’m in Paris, perhaps the most exciting city in the world, I managed to spend most of the day in bed, sleeping and being lazy. Yes, I had wasted away a full day of my precious vacation in a tiny hotel room, watching a video game-loving (and very lovable) teenager “make” himself into a Tae Kwon Do master in French-dubbed version of MTV’s Made! It was a lethal combination of fatigue, jet-lag, and loneliness that kicked me to the bottom of this sloth. It was also a double-edge sword because the more I felt terrible about myself, the more I wanted to stay in bed and do nothing.  I missed my boyfriend and my family back home, and thinking about all the work I left behind made me want to hide under the sheet and cry.

Then it hit me that I am on vacation, which meant that I can do whatever I wanted to do, however I wanted to do it, without any guilt. If sleeping and being lazy was what my body and mind needed, then that’s what I’m supposed to do, despite the fact that I’m 6,000 miles away from home. And work will always be there, whether I stress over it or not so why bother. After I made peace with myself, I felt so much better, like a ton of weight had lifted off my shoulder. That’s when I decided to peel myself off the bed, take a hot shower, and go out for dinner – my first meal of the day.

David Lebovitz, an American cookbook author and a pastry chef who now lives in Paris, said in his book, The Sweet Life in Paris, that the moment he shaved and put on a nicely ironed shirt just to go a few steps from his door to the dumpster to throw away trash, he knew he had become a Parisian. Although I’m no close to calling myself a local, I know exactly what he meant. Just to go across the street to a neighborhood brasserie for quick dinner, I too took a long shower, put on a full make-up, did my hair, and wore my favorite black sweater that I bought just for this trip!

I had walked by this restaurant, La Danton, a several times yesterday and was very curious to try it. It was very well-lit and lively, with solo diners and large parties sharing good meals and good time. The menu outside also showed promise for some delicious eats, so I walked right in! I sat in the small table facing the glass window, overlooking the busy intersection. I love people watching. When Briana and I were in Paris last time, we would sit for hours to watch people go by and make up funny stories about them. Several things that I noticed tonight – that Parisians love black pea coats, and many of them still smoke cigarettes! All restaurants now prohibit indoor smoking but there are still lots of smokers outside.

I was in the mood to try heavy dishes tonight but knowing that this was my first meal of the day, I settled on something light. Yes, I ordered a Salad Nicoise (surprise, surprise).  It was perfect because it was light enough not to upset my still-sleeping stomach, while still providing some flavor and substance along the way.

I must say that the salad here was much better than the one I had at Le Mondrian last night. The dressing was much more flavorful, and I loved that it came with a bed of boiled potatoes and some olives. Although the anchovies weren’t as tangy as the other ones, I was very satisfied with the overall dish.

The wait staff who took care of my table was really sweet and attentive, making sure that I had enough baguettes at all times. In total, I probably ate an entire loaf of the French bread because it was so delicious! I was pleasantly surprised how delicious Boudeaux wine was since I remembered not liking it much in the past. I ordered 25 ml of the red wine which was about two glasses. A nice couple sitting next to me offered some wine of theirs. They said that they couldn’t finish it and wanted to share it with me! Score!

For dessert, I had the luscious homemade pear tart with fig ice cream which made me melt! I washed them all down with a rich cup of café latte.

This meal was exactly what I needed tonight. And thanks to the curiously strong espresso, coupled with 20 hours of sleep, I ended up staying awake all night. I have no idea how my body will react after literally no rest.  Please wish me luck as I have a lot planned to the day, to make up for the lost time.

Two more days until my best Maya arrives in Paris!  I can’t wait!

Le Danton
103 Boulevard Saint-Germain 75006 Paris
Metro: Odeon

Sweet Homecoming: Le Mondrian, St. Germain

After I settled in the hotel room and took a few minutes of rest, I strolled out to the streets of Paris to do some window shopping before dinner. It was still raining outside and the neighborhood was less lively than I remembered. I learned later that many of the restaurants and shops are closed on a Monday, which explained why the streets were a little calmer than before. Also, it was around 7:00 p.m. which was still considered early for Parisians. Many places actually don’t open until 8:00 p.m. for dinner.

After walking around aimlessly for about an hour, I spotted an adorable bistro that looked friendly enough for a solo diner like me. Dining alone has not been an issue for me for a quite some time (although it used to be my biggest fear in life before I tacked it with my previous European trip) but it still takes a bit of courage to go in to an eating establishment by myself. It’s not that I care about what other people think about me eating alone but it’s still something. I always check out the atmosphere to make sure that I would feel comfortable dining there.

Le Mondrian, located on busy Boulevard St. Germain, is a type of French bistro that you would see in movies, with cozy outdoor patios and all. It is so cozy and lovely, that I simply had to go in. I also saw many solo diners inside so I knew that I would feel at home here. Unlike the restaurants in the states, it looks like you can seat yourself anywhere in Paris, so I took the small round table that faced the window in the back. After watching people walk by, I realized that this was the exact same restaurant that my then-travel partner Briana and I had our first meal in Paris back in 2004. And coincidently, I had ordered the exact same thing – Salad Nicoise with a glass of red wine. No wonder this place felt very familiar. I guess the more things change, the more stay the same.

It was nice to return to one of the first places that started my addiction to this salad, piled with greens, haricots verts (a fancy term for those thin green beans), tuna, boiled potatoes, black olives, tomatoes, boiled eggs, and most importantly, pickled anchovies, served with vinaigrette dressing. My first encounter with the salad was in the South France, in Nice (where it originated, hence the name), and I had tried Salad Nicoise at almost every restaurant I visited in Paris and in the states ever since. And I intend to do it again on this leg of the trip — a quest to find the best Salad Nicoise in the world.  🙂

The Salad Nicoise at Le Mondrian was good but not anything special, just as I remembered. The best part, however, was the anchovies, which was very, very vinegary – exactly the way I like it!  It actually reminded me of well-marinated saba (mackerel) at a sushi restaurant. I thought the dressing was more on the bland side (and I wanted more of it) and I was a little disappointed that it came with no boiled potatoes or olives, but all in all, it was a great way to start my Salad Nicoise adventure.

On the way home, I stopped by a crepe stand in front of the Odeon Metro station and treated myself to a Nutella crepe for dessert. Of course, this was after I stopped by Gerard Mulot patisseries, conveniently located across from my hotel, to pick up several macarons.  If you didn’t know, in addition to Salad Nicoise, I’m on a mission to find the world’s best maracon as well.  🙂

Le Mondrian
148 Boulevard St Germain, 75006 Paris
Metro: Mabillon or Odeon

Bonjour from Paris!

Bonjour from Paris!  No, not Paris, Texas!  Paris, as in France! 

I decided to go to Paris a few months ago after watching the movie, It’s Complicated, and hearing how Meril Streep’s character Jane went to Paris to take a six-day pastry course and ended up living there for a year. After watching the movie for who knows how many times, I found myself enrolling in a two-day bread making course at Le Cordon Bleu. A day later, I received an email response from the legendary culinary institution confirming my enrollment. There was, however, a little hiccup with my credit card company (it placed a hold on the payment as it raised a flag for being an international transaction) and I have not heard back from the school after that so I’m actually not 100% certain that I’m still enrolled, but I didn’t care. I still went ahead and booked a flight to Paris anyway. And that is the reason why I’m here in the City of Lights, blogging away from a little petit Parisian hotel in the lovely 6th Arrondissement neighborhood of Saint Germain! 

The flight from Los Angeles to Paris was a breeze. Despite a slight turbulence in several areas, everything went smooth. The in-flight meals in Air France were a lot to be desired (chicken with Dijon mustard sauce sounds so much better on paper than on a plate) but the service was very good. I was particularly impressed with the selections of in-flight movies (they were showing Toy Story 3, Inception, Salt, and many other new releases). Out of pure curiosity, I tried watching The Sex and the City 2 in Japanese but it was so awful that I only got through the first five minutes! They made Miranda sound like the Japanese interpretation of white trash! Everything was lost in translation and I couldn’t stand to watch my favorite girls get butchered like that, even by my own people!

Once I arrived to Charles De Gaulle Airport, I was ushered to a Custom officer who took a quick, two-second glance at my passport and let me through. No paperwork, no “how long are you going to be in the country” questions, nothing. After I collected my luggage, I saw another custom officer who asked me the standard questions in perfect English and after I answered “no” to everything (no, I don’t have $10,000 or have any valuables to claim), they let me through. A second later, I was outside, on the street of Paris, breathing the Parisian air!

From the airport, I took the RER B train to the St. Michel / Notre Dame station, a mere 30-minute train ride. The ride was about 9 Euro. The ticket machine only took coins and since I didn’t have any, I stopped by a nearby kiosk, purchased a pack of candy, and got some change. After I arrived at St. Michel / Notre Dame, I changed the train to Metro Line 4 to Odeon. After I got out to the streets, I had no idea which direction I was suppose to go to get to my hotel, so I just headed to whichever direction I was in the mood for. It turned out that I was going a wrong way (of course) and a kind guy at a magazine stand pointed me to the right direction. The hotel was literally two blocks from the station but I ended up walking for at least 15 minutes, in the rain, until I realized that I was going the opposite way (a very typical of me).

Hirono 0.  Paris 1. 

After I checked into the hotel – a hotel that received many raving reviews on travel Websites, by the way — I unpacked my luggage and rested a little. I was a bit disappointed with the hotel because the room is very small and there are no lights, expect for a few dim-lit stands, but I’m sure this is a typical of Paris hotels. It’s charming, sure, but there’s no bathtub, no bed stands, nothing. It’s pretty much just a bed, a little desk, and a bathroom in here. Because I’m staying for 10 days, I was updated to a master room of some sort, with extra space with two chairs and a round table, but I’m not sure what’s master about it. But all in all, the staffs were courteous, the room is clean and comfortable, and I have a free WiFi access, so there is nothing to complain about! Oh, and the complimentary toiletries are from L’Occitane!  YAY!

I still can’t believe I’m in Paris. I pinch myself every minute to make sure that I’m not just dreaming. And I’m sure I’m going to be pinching myself for a while, until my cheek turns bright red, like pomme (that’s apple, for you and me).

Here’s my first French lesson: Cold in French is “froid” and hot is “chaud,” so naturally, your faucet will say either “F” or “C.” I mistaken “C” as cold so I turned the faucet to “F” and waited for a long time for the water to get hot, until I realized that I went a wrong direction … again. 

So far, Hirono 0, Paris 2.

P.S. The two photos you see on top (of the Metro sign and the train station) were taken on my previous trip in 2004. Since it’s raining here, I haven’t had the chance to take any good photos yet … but I thought I’d share a slice of Paris with you!