Sadaharu Aoki Cookbook


My folks recently returned from spending two weeks in Japan and brought me back this book, among other Japanese goodies.  It’s part pastry book and part instructional guide, and hands down the best souvenir for a hard core Sadaharu Aoki fanaticbiggrin


The only thing better is a ticket to Paris to taste the real thing.

Papa Knows Best: Papa Hayden

Six months ago, my best friend Maya and I ventured across the ocean for the Parisian version of the girls on the town. We spent ten blissful days soaking in the beauty of the city, and eating up everything in sight! We often talk about doing it again but returning to France so soon is a little out of our reach at the moment, so we decided to recreate the experience in another amazing city – in Portland, Oregon. Lucky for me, Maya and her family live in this Pacific Northwest city and I didn’t have to cross the ocean to see my BFF.

I love Portland the way I love Paris (evident here). It may not have famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, but Portland is an amazing culinary city with many talented chefs whipping up equally impressive dishes. In some cases, the food in the Pacific Northwest may be better than in France.

Papa Hayden, a restaurant and dessert lover’s heaven, located in Northwest Portland (there are two Papa Hayden in Portland and this one is considered the “Westside” location), is a place that can rival any bistros in Paris. Depending on what you order, the dishes may even be better – like the Steak Frites (lovely medium rare steak with compound butter and a side of French fries) out of the daily special that I ordered for lunch.  It was much better than the steak and fries that I’ve experienced anywhere!

Maya’s Braised Lamb with spring onion, wild cress, carrots, and baby potatoes was as impressive. Serviced on a white lopsided plate bowl, the dish made us feel like we were dining in a lovely corner bistro in the streets of St. Germain again.

And anyone who thinks American dessert chefs play second fiddle to French masters, they’re mistaken. Just take a look at these sweet creations and you’ll be able to taste the creativity, master artistry, and the commitment to beautiful plating.  (Check out more Papa Hayden dessert creations here.)  Everything here is very impressive!

I know that Maya and I will return to Paris someday but for now, Portland will do. And it will do very, very well.

A Life Changer: Le Chocolat Chaud

Thelma and Louise is one of my favorite movies of all time. Talk about girl power! I especially love the scene where Geena Davis’ character, Thelma, transforms into a completely new woman — more powerful and self-assured — after spending a night with then-unknown Brad Pitt as she “finally got laid properly.” I guess with an experience like that, life, as we know it, will never be the same.

Excuse me for comparing hot chocolate to hunky Brad Pitt, but that’s how I feel about the whole hot chocolate situation. Now that I have experienced the luscious le chocolat chaud the proper way, the only way, and the way it was originally intended, I can never go back to the powdery, just-pour-hot-water kind of nonsense. I’m ruined forever.

Hot chocolate in Paris is nothing like what you get in the states, unless you to go a reputable chocolatier like Jacques Torres in New York. When you order the drink at a café in Paris, you usually get the hot milk and the melted chocolate in a separate cup, and you get to mix it at your own table. The way the bittersweet liquid chocolate goes down your throat slowly, coating every inch of your chocolate-holic senses is so heavenly, I can only imagine that’s what spending a night with Brad Pitt felt like for Thelma.

Ever since I returned from Paris a few week ago, all I can think about is when I can go back there again (next summer or winter, maybe?).  I haven’t even finished organizing my photos and I have to fight the urge to book the flights to return to my favorite city in the world. But until I can save up more vacation time and money, I will live my life vicariously through the book, The Sweet Life in Paris, a memoir written by pastry chef / cookbook author, and expat living in Paris, David Lebovitz.

Thanks to his wonderful hot chocolate recipe and a funny anecdote about how he found the Paris’ best le chocolate chaud to “die for” that he writes in the book (which does not involve Brad Pitt), I can just close my eyes and pretend that I’m sitting at a neighborhood café, watching the Parisians walk by.

And the best part about this hot chocolate is that non-fat milk works as good as regular (for those watching your figures during the holiday season), and you can add a pinch of cayenne pepper and make it even more delicious!

The Culinary Artist: La Ferrandaise

What is it with French and food? I am even hesitant to call many of the things I consumed on this trip “food,” simply because they do way beyond what food is intended to do – to nourish. The dining experiences in Paris do not only nourish, but they inspire, they motivate, and they move you, like a good book or an act of kindness. It’s definitely an art, a beautiful art, comparable to anything you find inside the Louvre.

La Ferrandaise is a restaurant Maya found for us in the book, Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to City’s 102 Best Restaurants, which, by the way, is a great book if you are looking for great, neighborhood establishments (or just good food writing). This place was a bulls-eye! It was exactly the kind of food and the experience that we were looking for. I don’t blame author Alexander Lobrano for being “… half reluctant to share the name of this excellent bistro, which has the vital ballast of a loyal following of diverse Parisian regulars – it’s their exigence that keeps the kitchen on course and the atmosphere quite wonderfully local.”

We didn’t make a reservation but we got lucky to be seated right away. We sat in the upstairs table, next to a lively foursome – three from U.S. and one French native who seemed to be showing them around town. As soon as we were seated and ordered a glass of wine, the service staff brought a cauliflower and leek soup. The soup, drizzled with what tasted like truffle oil, was rich, creamy and absolutely decadent. It was so good, I almost put my finger in the cup to wipe around the side! I know, that wouldn’t be very French.

I wasn’t particularly hungry that night but the only things I saw on the menu were three-course meals. Knowing that French food come in smaller portions, I figured I would be okay, even with a dessert. And boy, am I glad I did!

To start, I ordered julienned fish with a spicy tomato compote. The Parmesan chips on top of the tomato sauce were crisp and perfectly salty, and went perfectly with the tangy, vinegary fish. And I loved the level of attention — flower-shaped carrots!

Maya ordered the guinea fowl, hazelnut and apricot terrine. For me, terrine — a loaf, very similar to pate, made from mixtures of ground and lean meat emulsified with fat — represents so many things that make French cuisine extraordinary. The complex flavors, as well as beautiful presentation makes this dish bar none.

For the main course, Maya and I both ordered veal, but mine was a casserole (Casserole of “Ferrandaise” veal with mushroom and fennel that came in an individual dutch oven.

And looked like this when served on a plate.

And hers was Pieces of “Ferrandaise” veal with a fondue of leeks, and a Mikado Beetroots.

We both ended up ordering the same thing for dessert – poached pear with a side of sage sorbet. The pear stood on top of the shortbread-type cookie and drizzled with luscious chocolate syrup.

The dining experience at La Ferrandaise was unquestionably the best one I had in Paris. The food, the ambiance, the service is absolutely world class here. It reminded me a lot of my favorite restaurants in Portland, Oregon, called Palye’s Place, especially with the usage of locally grown produces. I would go back to Paris again just to take its wonderful seasonal offerings!

La Ferrandaise
8 rue du Vaugirard (6th Arrondissement)
Metro: Odeon

The Best Picnic Ever: Jardin du Luxembourg

Maya and I took Eurostar back to Paris, after spending a wonderful two days in London. It might sound strange to call Paris my home, but I felt like I was coming back to a very familiar place. This was Maya’s final full day in Paris before flying back to the states so we decided to make the best of the day by doing perhaps the touristiest thing to do in this City of Lights – go to the Eiffel Tower, of course!

But before that — Jardin du Luxembourg.

Sitting at this breathtaking park, located a mere steps from the hotel, was by far my favorite part of this entire Paris trip. I think this was one of Maya’s favorite experiences in Paris as well. Relaxing on the reclining park chair (although not comfortable but I didn’t care), eating delicious takeaway lunch we purchased at our favorite shop, Gerald Murot (Maya got the sausages with cooked peaches, and I got the steak with potato gratin – both delicious), and just taking in everything with my best friend was exactly what I needed.  I thought about many things — how lucky I am to have the opportunity to come to Paris, have the best friend who came to share this special experience with me, and have wonderful people waiting me at home.  And how I’m going to miss this place when I leave in a few days …

It was not the perfect weather where one part of the sky were blue and the other black but we were glad that it didn’t rain. I, too, was leaving Paris in two days and I wanted to soak up as much of the beauty and energy of this city as possible. I really wished I could just sit there and watch the pigeons walk by forever. I am absolutely head-over-heals for Paris.

By the way, I noticed that pigeons in Paris are, um, rather plump. I’m sure they are well-fed by tourists around here. I guess the French paradox does not apply to birds.

We walked around the park to figure out where the original Statue of Liberty stood. We thought the statue might be a big deal here, as in the states, because of its beauty and we although that it would be standing proud in the center of the park somewhere but we were completely mistaken. Lady Liberty was at the quiet part of the park … and noone seemed to care here in Paris. I still thought Lady Liberty was beautiful.

Oh, and yeah, the Eiffel Tower!

Breakfast with the Locals: Cafe De Flore

When I watched Parisian business people in suites with Blackberry sip a cup of café slowly and peaceful (and even reading a newspaper) in the morning at 11:00 a.m. at a famous Café de Flore in St. Germain with no real urgency, I began to wonder what time they actually go to work in Paris. When I sat down at this legendary café frequented by celebrities, intellects, and tourists alike one morning, the place was packed with locals and they didn’t look like they were in a hurry to go anywhere, on an early lunch break. Living in a place where you are at your computer by 9:00 a.m., I found it strange that people took sweet time getting to work in the morning. I bet they take siesta, a quick nap, after they take equally long and slow-paced lunch. What a luxurious lifestyle.

On a completely random note, I read that this café enjoys a long-standing rivalry with the equally famous Les Deux Magots, across the street, in a Pat’s vs. Geno’s Philly Cheese Steak fashion. I didn’t go to the latter due to time, but I read that, while Cafe de Flore is known for omelets, Les Deux Magots is famous for serving fabulous hot chocolate.

I ordered a cup of Cafe Le Creme, which is a shot of espresso with cream (because I needed a caffeine boost), but hot chocolate was my absolute favorite drink during my stay in Paris.  A hot chocolate served in Paris is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, like what you’re accustomed to in the states (no powder stuff). They literally melt a great quality chocolate and add milk to it. I know that espresso drinks are very tempting, but please take a moment to order a hot chocolate when you’re in Paris! It’s a pure liquid crack.

It wasn’t that I was particularly hungry or like egg dishes that much but I had to try it here.  I ordered the ham and cheese omelet for breakfast, before I realized that I was the only one eating the traditional American breakfast meal at this time of the day. Perhaps omelet is not something that people eat before noon but I ate it anyway. I enjoyed the dish with generous portions of ham and cheese, and cooked perfectly with the middle still somewhat runny. The omelet was too big for one person, I thought, and ended up eating only half, but I was very satisfied, having tasted perhaps the best omelet in the world.

I liked this café, especially watching the locals coexisting harmoniously with tourists. Although it was very crowded, I felt like I was in my own, comfortable space here, where I can just sit for hours, write a journal, read, and soak up the wonders of the city.

This is a design of the place mat at Cafe De Flore. How adorable is this?

Café de Flore
173 Boulevard St. Germain
Metro: St. Gremain des-Pres

Blood-Sucking Commerce: L’Alsace Champs Elysees

I am in love with Paris. I am one of those tourists who is so smitten with the city, the people, the food, and the style, that this place pretty much can do no wrong. There is, however, one place that I don’t care too much for, and it’s the Champs-Elysees.

This stretch of the boulevard that is the home of world famous shops like Louis Vuitton and Laduree ending with picturesque Arc de Triomphe, is nothing more than a blood-sucking commerce with overpriced and pretentious cafes, ready to take tourists for their money.

I was incredibly weak that day. Although it was only me and Maya’s second day in Paris together, I already had extra four days and high mileage on me. My legs were already overly fatigued and painful by this time and I really needed a nice long rest once I got to the Champ Elysees, after a long day of sightseeing.

We stopped at the first café we saw called L’Alsace Champs Elysees, which turned out was the biggest bloodsucker of them all, with below average food and non-existence service. The lack of service part was not an issue for us (we, in fact, enjoyed that we were left alone) but we were extremely disappointed with the low quality of food, especially in Paris where food should be above par pretty much anywhere. And we even ordered dishes that this city is known for, in a bowl of French onion soup and fresh oysters!

The French Onion Soup was served luke warm, with not much of flavors or any of the things that make this highly complex soup extraordinary. Because the soup was already cold, the cheese had hardened and lost that lovely stretchy consistency that makes cheese, well, cheese. Chewing on that cheese felt like chewing a cheap bubble gum.

The raw oysters didn’t taste fresh either, and had the strange smell / odor that I hated. There are hardly any oysters that I disliked but I was only able to eat one and that was it.

Baba au Rhum, a cake drenched in rum syrup made with rum, vanilla, and sugar, was actually quite good, although it was so strong that I almost got drunk off of it!

We ended up spending about two hours resting our tired feet at the restaurant and even though we willfully bent over and had the restaurant take advantage of us, we found a bit of pleasure in experiencing the pretentious side of Paris first hand.

At least at the end of the road was a beautiful Arc de Triomphe.

The Neighborhood Gem: Gerard Mulot

As I mentioned on previous posts, I stayed in the 6th arrondissement in Paris during this trip. Paris is divided into 20 small districts called “arrondissement” and each neighborhood has its share of charms. Understanding the layout of Paris can be a little tricky at first since the numbers spiral out from the center of the city outward, as opposed to in a grid-like fashion in, say, Manhattan. It took me a while to figure out why the 6th arrondissement is right above the 14th, etc., but once you figure out the general blueprint, navigating through the city is very simple. And the metro system in the city is simply amazing. You can get around anywhere by using the metro (subway) and a train system called RER. Think of RER (there are a total of five lines, A, B, C, D, and E) as main arteries and metro lines as small veins running through your body.

When I visited Paris five years ago, I stayed in the 10th arrondissement because the hotels were relatively less expensive than other posh neighborhoods but it turned out that there was nothing really happening in the area. I ended up “commuting” to St. Germain, a more fashion-savvy area full of exciting shops and legendary cafes in the 6th Arrondissement daily, and I promised myself then that the next time I visit Paris, I will make this place my home away from home. I think of the St. Germain neighborhood as something like Robertson Blvd. in Los Angeles, that is full of modern and artsy boutiques, as well as high-end brands.

As you can tell, I am a huge fan of this area and consider this to be the best neighborhood to stay in, even though the hotels can be little pricey. If you are a fan of Ina Garten, aka Barefoot Contessa, like me, you can find many shops that she introduced in her cookbook, Barefoot in Paris, as well as the Food Network special on Paris here.  In fact, her Paris apartment is located on the border of the 6th and 7th arrondissements, on Boulevard Raspail, only a few blocks from the hotel Maya and I stayed called Odeon St. Germain. Some of Ina’s favorite stores, such as Poilane, Gerard Mulot, Bethelemy cheese shop, Café de Flore and Pierre Herme, are a mere blocks away.

I was particularly thankful that Gerard Mulot, a pastry and deli shop loved by the locals and the tourists alike, was right across the street from the hotel.

Maya and I frequented this lovely shop almost daily, sampling from staples like Pain de Chocolate (chocolate croissant) and Croque Monsier (hot ham and cheese sandwich), and fancier offerings like Salmon and Avocado Mousse and several different types of quiche in buttery dough. And the macarons here, as you can imagine, are absolutely to die for.

There is a reason why, in the city where you can find wonderful pastry shops virtually in every corner, this place is considered the best in Paris. It’s a pretty impressive reputation, where even the not-so-good shops are probably ten times better than the best ones in the states!

Gerard Mulot
76 Rue de Seine, 6th arrondissement, and other locations
Metro: Odeon or Mabillon

Thank you, Maya, for taking some wonderful pictures used here!

My Sweet Religion: Patisserie Sadaharu Aoki

After we grabbed a quick but wonderful lunch at Cuisine de Bar, Maya and I headed over to Patisserie Sakaharu Aoki for another round of dessert. I am not over-exaggerating when I say that this Japan-born and trained pastry chef, who now runs an extremely successful pastry business in France with numerous store locations in Paris, as well as in major department store like Galleries Lafayette, is the reason why I now am obsessed with sweets. I have not had the honor of trying his famous pastries until this trip but it’s the concept of incorporating wonderful Japanese ingredients like matcha green tea, yuzu (Japanese citrus that is slightly more bitter than orange), and goma (sesame) into French classics that inspired me to do the same in my little kitchen.

The moment Maya and I reached the store on Rue de Vaugirard, a 10-minute walk from Cuisine de Bar, I almost kneeled down and cry. Okay, that’s a little melodramatic, but I felt a powerful energy rush through my body, like I have finally arrived to my culinary mecca.

The shop was everything that I had imagine – a very simple, white and black / silver interior, with rainbow-colored macarons and chocolate- and green tea-inspired cakes filling the showcases. There were many kinds of confectioneries, like candied orange and other heavenly morsels lined up against the wall.

I had to fight the urge to buy up the entire store, and settled on the following: Bamboo, a green tea opera cake; Fuwafuwa Fraise, a soft and airy sponge cake with whipped cream and strawberries (“fuwa fuwa” is the term Japanese use to describe something airy, like a cloud); Citrus Tarte; Green Tea Eclaire, and five different kinds of macarons. I tried matcha, hojicha, jasmine, chocolate, and wasabi. I know that wasabi-flavored macaron can sound a bit strange for some, but it was one of the greatest sweets I’ve ever had – along with all his other creations.

Because there was no indoor seating, Maya and I “smuggled” our purchases to a nearby café, where we sat and enjoyed hot beverages with our cakes. It started to rain but we got the best seats inside a tent, under a warm lamp, overlooking the beautiful St. Sulpice church. The waiter didn’t mind that we brought in our own desserts. In fact, he looked more curious as to what we were about to indulge! And if any of you are wondering, yes, we ate all the dessert in one sitting!

I am so glad that I had the chance to experience the wonder that is Sadaharu Aoki. He made me fall in love all over again with pastries and Paris, the birthplace of all things wonderful.

Patisserie Sadaharu AOKI Paris
35 Rue de Vaugirard and other locations
Metro: St Sulpice or Renne