Sadaharu Aoki Cookbook

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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

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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