Abri Goes Méga on Mondays and Saturdays

Abri Lunch Bag

On Monday and Saturday afternoons, Abri miraculously becomes accessible. The customarily coveted lunch and dinner seatings hold no bearing against the queue for the biweekly méga-sandwich. That a restaurant heralded for its surprise tasting menus spends two days out of the week forming sandwiches like a conveyor belt does not come as a surprise in a town that embraces culinary evolution. Granted this would not be the case decades ago when—more than any other city—Paris meticulously manicured itself for the ratings of the Michelin guide, but the current of nouvelle cuisine steadily pluses on in the city along the Seine.

Thus the sandwich phenomenon at Abri is an alluring testimony of how far Paris has come from the starchy white table clothes and heavy meals drenched in béchamel sauces of times past. It upholds the prix fixes meal trend by presenting customers with the sandwich without offering modifications or substitutions. It also upholds the burgeoning trend of presenting familiar food in unfamiliar ways.

I unveiled the nostalgically foil wrapped lunch to find a sandwich that looked as though it came from a kitchen in the American South, not north-west Paris. Squares of white bread. Coleslaw. Fried chicken. Ingredients so quotidian I didn’t even have them in my health-nut parents’ kitchen growing up. Thus, it was fortunate for me that I wasn’t expecting comforting flavors when biting into this sandwich inspired by American traditions.

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In between coleslaw and fried chicken sat an omelet flavored with scallions, adding a pillowy texture and Asian flavors. Even more depth lurked between the three centerpieces: a liquid similar to Worcestershire sauce glued the top layer of bread to the chicken, grainy mustard merged the chicken and the egg and a vinegary mayonnaise coated shreds of cabbage, making an Asian flavored coleslaw.

From the quantity of ingredients to how they seamlessly fused together, everything about this sandwich was méga. The sandwich was towering, which in combination with the crunchiness of the toasted bread and fried chicken could have been overwhelming, but all of the sandwiches’ sauces created the perfect level of moistness so that each bite was graceful and shockingly mess free.

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Perhaps more so than Abri’s creative culinary expressions, the prices truly set this restaurant apart. That three course lunches are only 22 Euros and seven course dinners can be as little as 38 Euros is remarkable given the quality and novelty of Chef Okiyama’s dishes. So it should come as no surprise that this adorable lunch of an original (méga)sandwich, drink and dessert is simply 12 Euros. Drink choices are plentiful. I chose a thick and sweet juice of puréed pears by Marcel Bio and this week’s dessert was a  deliciously spongy and moist medallion shaped madeleine.

No reservations are needed for the méga-sandwich—enjoy the lunch in the quaint restaurant or take it to go and have a picnic in one of the nearby parks. Abri does not have a website, for more information call 01.83.97.00.00

Abri, 92 rue du Faubourg Poissonnière, Paris, 9th

Don’t Become a Refuge

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I have an enormous distaste for anything commercial, touristy or corporate. I will be the first to acknowledge how pretentious it is (and the hypocrisy of certain guilty pleasures and my on-call employment with the Ritz-Carlton), but I will defend my stance to anyone who is burdened by my elitism.

Thus it surprises me that I wound up eating at Le Refuge des Fondues, a decidedly unpleasant tourist trap in Montmartre, also a decidedly tourist trap, a sad truth for the onetime bohemian haven. The French customer is few and far between at this raucous restaurant for which the queue never seems to end. Here’s your negative review, Mom.

The moment you walk through the doors of Le Refuge des Fondues, you actually become a refuge, but not to the fondue. A server approaches immediately, giving you a wait time that is certainly inaccurate. When your party is finally ready to be seated, a server will help which ever guests are blessed with a booth seat in the process of stepping over the long, communal table to their seat. Then you are given your only two choices of the night: red or white and cheese or meat. Then the show begins.

Sangria

An superfluously sugared glass of sangria comes first, with a plate of assorted gherkins, sausages, cheese cubes and olives. Then the baby bottle filled with whatever wine you chose arrives, a custom I find concerning for sanitary reasons, which is only more concerning upon looking at the blackened nipple.

Assortments

A bowl packed with haphazardly chopped beef is served with a pot of boiling oil and a bowl of cooked, yet cold, potatoes. None of the food was bad, the beef was inherently tasty and the potatoes fried up nicely if you left them in the oil long enough. The dipping sauces were a rather pathetic variety of mustards that flavored heaps of mayonnaise.

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The cheese fondue didn’t look much more appetizing as it seemed to constantly congeal and harden, leaving many diners with oily bread that had purely soaked in the separated oils of the cheese.

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In all honestly, I don’t want to discuss the dessert of canned fruit topped with a fluorescent maraschino cherry, two fruit phenomena I was happy to leave behind as a child.

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For this lovely experience, it will cost you 21 euros, an appropriately priced meal as Le Refuge des Fondues appeals to the not-yet-21-year-old Americans living it up in Paris.

The Bread, The Butter

“So you think I should go to the westside just for some bread? haha.”

The Bread

That was the response I received in a recent email correspondence with my advisor/friend/food confidant, who is safeguarding L.A.’s food scene while I reside in Paris. I had urged him to eat the bread of Sycamore Kitchen, which is indeed on the West Side, especially for him, who lives in Pasadena. But this raises the ever-present question these days surrounding food’s role in our lives. Many publications have written articles about “foodies,” particularly the twenty-somethings who spend equivalent amounts of money on rent and food and treat meals like jobs—each one meticulously researched and planned out; a stepping stone on the path of life.

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My personal opinion is basic: “to each his[/her] own.” But as this blog will exemplify, money and time are necessary instruments for my own personal sustenance, which I don’t treat as sustenance, but rather, sensory experiences for my eyes, nose, and obviously, mouth. For this post alone, I took an hourlong detour to pick up this bread before class and spent even more hours in search of a particular butter that I had on good authority made a heavenly combination when paired with the Pain Des Amis of Du Pain et Des Idées.

Du Pain et Des Idées

Typically my hunts and dollars are well spent (and this occasion wasn’t any different). My mom often advises me to have more negative reviews on my blog. But the truth of the matter is that I don’t get paid for what I do and I love eating delicious things, and every meal is an opportunity to do so. Consequently, I methodically plan all my meals. I’m afraid positive words will mostly likely continue to pervade my blog. So let’s get started!

Pain des Amis

Outshone by the famous Poilâne bakery, Du Pain et Des Idées has a vehement cult following. Somehow I managed to photograph the boulangerie without the recurrent queue, giving me plenty of time to carefully pick out what I would be eating for this post. The Pain des Amis was a simple choice as it is the boulangerie’s specialty. The crust is very hard—you have to gnaw off each bite and chop through each chew, but the perfect burnt flavor makes it entirely worth every laborious bite. The bread is so thick that I didn’t feel guilty dismantling the crusts and eating the innards separately. The inner bread is so soft and gummy that you can punch it and it’d bounce back to the same form—a sign of a perfectly constructed dough. This bread really is worth all the hype. It’s a bread that is a meal in itself. There’s so much flavor and body, I really cannot imagine serving it along with food or even eating it with cheese. Butter is the way to go. And le beurre bordier aux algues is the butter route I was advised to take.

The Butter

The combination of the seaweed infused butter and charred, yeasty bread was certainly potent. A tasty combination, but something that pertains to a particular mood. This bread can be extremely comforting, but that it is not when slathered in beurre aux algues. The pair is more suitable for a heavy appetite seeking a refreshing novelty.

Olive Oil and Herb

Doughs baked with olive oil are some of my favorite things in the world. The resulting crispy, greasy texture flakes apart with each bite and the salty taste brings out the subtleties of the flour in the dough. Caraway seeds coated this pastry, adding more complexity to the potent flavor of olive oil.

Lardons

The boulangerie sells a selection of these small rolls stuffed with a variety of ingredients. The version with lardons (bacon) and Mimolette cheese tastes as close to a calzone one can get in Paris at a Parisian establishment. The bread even resembles pizza crust with its soft and chewy texture. Similar to Parmesan, while slightly nuttier in flavor, the dry Mimolette pairs well with the saltiness of the lardons.

L'Escargot Chocolat Pistache

Escargots (snails) of all colors and flavors adorn the pastry section of the boulangerie. The spiraling mollusks consist of the same dough used in their croissants—flaky, buttery, and everything a croissant should be. Sweet pistachio paste and rich chocolate chips bring life to this snail, the most popular of Du Pain et Des Idées’ sweets.

Open until 8 p.m., Du Pain et Des Idées stays open much later than most Parisian boulangeries, but you’ll need the extra hours as queues can plague the small shop. For more information visit their English friendly website.

Little Guys

Al Taglio by the Kilo

Al Taglio

The comfort food of America and Italy, pizza can be suitable for most occasions. Pizza’s versatility allows it to be dressed up as rustic thin crust with rosemary, potatoes, and gorgonzola or weighted down with plump Roma tomatoes and sausage in a cornmeal deep dish. Chains across America have commercialized pizza into a mediocre flat circles, but even in its mediocrity, pizza satisfies stomaches and taste buds.

Through living in Southern California my entire life, I’ve had it all: from growing up on Pizza Hut, to upgrading to Costco and Stuffed Crust in high school, and introducing myself to Nancy Silverton’s Pizzeria Mozza and Chicago deep dish as a young adult. Each climb on the pizza ladder augmented my love for pizza. Though I always enthusiastically tasted new pizzas, and I acquired favorites, only one pizza place has remained so potent in my sensory memory that I seriously consider traveling thousands of miles solely to sample its innovative creations.

Last New Year’s trip to Rome had a dim glow cast over it, resulting both from the January weather and a life transition that rendered me culinarily indifferent. My travel companion encouraged me to eat to little avail. That is until I dragged him all over Vatican city to find the minuscule hole in the wall that is Bonci’s Pizzerium. For the first time in 48 hours, my stomach growled. For the first time in 48 hours, my taste buds decided to work.

The intimidatingly long line and cacophony of ingredients atop multiple pizzas led us to make rushed decisions. I remember bitter swiss chard, sweet cheeses, spicy truffle oil, among other fresh ingredients. Though the flavors were incredible, my most vivid memory from Bonci’s is visual. Bonci’s serves pizza al taglio—the Roman style of pizza formed in rectangular slabs that are cut apart with scissors and served by the weight. Watching these chefs cut through the thick focaccia covered in thick layers of toppings transfixed me, possibly even more than the Sistine Chapel I had stood beneath an hour before. As the scissors sliced through the pizza, it rolled like an undulating wave.

In addition to being a frequent topic of conversation since, my travel companion from Rome and I have also searched for a comparable experience in L.A. Sadly we never followed the one lead we had. While on the European side of the Atlantic, I wouldn’t continue to shame our quest. Upon reading about the appropriately named Al Taglio in Paris, I didn’t waste any time in paying the restaurant a visit.

Now I’ll finally commence my review of Al Taglio, though the allusions to Bonci’s are most likely going to continue.

Seating

More customer friendly than Bonci’s, I was struck by the plentiful seating options inside of Al Taglio, as my friend and I ate curbside after waiting patiently for Bonci’s pizza inside of the packed Roman pizza kitchen.

Al Taglio didn’t just please me by allowing me to escape the cold streets of Paris. Each pizza I sampled fulfilled the longing I had suffered for a year. Thick, crunchy, chewy pieces of focaccia. Sundry, fresh toppings culminating into colorful flavor combinations. Al Taglio had it all.

First Set

The first round included some of Al Taglio’s signatures: the Pachino Piccante—chewy focaccia studded with cherry tomatoes, red onions and oregano and the Salami Piccante—an even spicier salami and artichoke covered pizza. The third pizza had a sweet flavor juxtaposed with potatoes and black truffle oil.

Second Round

The next round included a festive pizza covered in burrata and sundry veggies, including slices of sweet eggplant, tangy black olives and juicy tomatoes. A simple and salty cheese pizza with large slices of prosciutto rounded out the savory options.

Dessert

Concluding the meal with a dessert pizza, the Nutella and mascarpone sandwich oozed all over the place as I ate, but the mess was worth the powder sugar covered focaccia that tasted like a sweet and chocolatey doughnut.

Throughout the course of the night, the small restaurant experienced the same congestion problems suffered at Bonci’s, meaning my dining partner and I had the joy of watching unique slabs of pizza rotating through the display case. For more information on Al Taglio, visit their website.

Home-cooking at Chez Van

Chinese New Year

On Sunday, parades, lanterns and brothy cuisine signaled the end of the beginning of the Chinese New Year. Children ran through the streets of Paris’ Chinatown with incense and balloons while inanimate dragons serpentined through the crowds. While hardly as grand as the Chinese New Year festivities that parade through Downtown Los Angeles, participating in this cultural fête made me feel at home. Since that windy Sunday wasn’t going to provide me with any sun, all I needed to continue feeling at home was some steaming hot Chinese food. So into Chez Van I went, where bowls of homemade noodles and cakes awaited me.

Chez Van

Because everything, from the broths to the sundry noodles, at Chez Van is made in-house, the small restaurant is heralded as one of the best cheap, Chinese eateries in Paris. The restaurant has an airy brightness dissimilar from most bustling Chinese restaurants I’ve experienced.

A lunchtime meal at Chez Van includes multiple plates that steadily arrive one after another. Though Parisians are known to extend meals into long durations, a typical Chinese meal is characterized by a similar tendency to linger over successive plates.

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In addition to its noodles, Chez Van is known for its mini-galettes. These Chinese cakes oozed with a salty broth that kept the flavorful ground beef and scallions moist and tender inside the gelatinous pastry. Each bite contained varied textures of crunchy meat, chewy crust, and oily broth.

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With a filling similar to the mini-galettes, the dumplings differed little in flavor. Nonetheless, the steamed dumpling wrappers created an entirely novel experience. The beautifully slimy exterior melded into the ground beef so cohesively that the meat took on an entirely new dimension of moist tenderness.

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The first set of noodles were thick and cooked so that they withheld some body. The sweet sauce overwhelmed the flavors of the seafood, but I’m sure that the small shrimp and squid were not fresh in the first place. As the seafood and noodles were cooked perfectly, the textures of the dish excited me, though the flavors seemed to miss the mark. With the only noticeable flavor being sugar, this certainly was the most “Westernized” of the dishes in the Parisian Chinese restaurant.

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Despite the saucy disappointment, Chez Van picked itself back up with its signature broths. Fresh vegetables, succulent pieces of beef, and a piquant stock encircled thin, al dente noodles in this refreshing soup. The dish was spicy and hot, just want an American girl, cold in the Parisian weather, needed.

Open Tuesdays through Sundays for lunch from 12 to 3pm and dinner from 6:30 to 11pm, Chez Van can be found just down the street of Les Gobelins at 65, boulevard Saint-Marcel.

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