Shops & Markets

Chestnut Honey Madeleines


One bite in these unassuming madeleines and the hair in your nape will stand to attention, as you suddenly register the intensity of the chestnut honey aroma, and the smooth, moist, melting texture of the crumb dissolving in your mouth. You will taste it again to make sure it wasn’t just a fluke or a tastebud hallucination, and to your amazement it will get even better with each bite, until the madeleine is entirely consumed. You will lick the remaining sweetness from your lips and smile with satisfaction, happy to have found such a delicious treat, but wisely deciding that you will keep some for tomorrow and the day after that.

If you want to be punctilious (and who would blame you) these are not , striclty speaking, madeleines: in addition to chesnut honey from the Cévennes (a region in the South of France), flour, butter, sugar and eggs — that’s it — they are made with almond powder, an ingredient that is key to their wonderful texture but altogether absent from the classic madeleine recipe (honey is tolerated). These are, in fact, madeleine-shaped, honey-flavored financiers. But let me ask you this: do we care? Not really.

These madeleines come from a store I have mentioned in the past called Bellota-Bellota, which specializes in rare and luxurious food items*, imported from Spain for the largest part.

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Sadaharu Aoki

Opéra au thé vert

Having heard many great things about Parisian-Japanese pastry chef Sadaharu Aoki, I was very eager to taste his edible creations for myself. I had often admired them at the Lafayette Gourmet store (okay, now I make it sound like I spend my life there when really I don’t, I go home to sleep and shower), but since I don’t usually buy pastries unless there is a good occasion — or at least deserving friends who will be happy to share them with me — I had so far limited myself to pure eye-candy enjoyment.

Sadaharu Aoki was trained in the art of pâtisserie in both Japan and France, so his work offers interesting Ginza-meets-Saint-Germain twists, slipping Japanese ingredients into typically French confections, and applying the Japanese sense of detail and intricacy to his presentation and packaging. His line includes pastries and entremets, cookies and cakes, chocolate confections and macarons — all of them strikingly beautiful and perfect, but never to the point of losing their appetizing power over the innocent, unsuspecting onlooker.

He has two boutiques in Paris, a corner at the Lafayette Gourmet store, and a handful of restaurants and salons de thé in Paris (all listed on his website) feature his pastries on their menu.

The perfect excuse to sample some of them recently presented itself, on an afternoon when I knew Maxence and I would be dining with our neighbors. I selected four (always a heartbreak — what of the others? will they be hurt and forever traumatized? must go back and make it up to them.) that we shared later that night after an excellent roasted chicken dinner:

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El Bocadillo

El Bocadillo

It may have become apparent by now just how much I love sandwiches, and it is always cause for elation to discover a new source for superior sandwich indulgence.

Bellota-Bellota is a store in the 7th that specializes in fine food products from Spain and also operates as an upscale tapas bar. A string of such venues opened a few years ago when the Paris food scene realized with a start that gastronomy did not stop at the Pyrenées — all things Iberian have been riding that trendy wave ever since. The company behind Bellota-Bellota, called Byzance, has a few locations in and around Paris, including a corner inside Lafayette Gourmet, the food area of the Galeries Lafayette department store.

I was there just the other day, it was lunchtime, I was hungry, and their bocadillos (bocadillo simply means “sandwich” in Spanish) looked like the perfect option. A glance at the little menu confirmed the intuition, describing the bocadillo with the following:

“Un pain au naturel farine biologique, cuit au feu de bois comme autrefois. De fines tranches de palette de Pata Negra. L’écrasée de tomates maison à l’huile d’olive Arbequina, fabriquée en Catalogne. Quelques pétales de manchego au lait cru des brebis manchega. Un trait d’huile d’olive.”

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Afternoon Snack (almost) at Pierre Hermé’s


[Afternoon Snack (almost) at Pierre Hermé’s]

Yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure to meet Louisa, my own personal kitchen hero, and Andrea, her charming roommate from Mexico who also works at Les Ambassadeurs. When we discussed time and place, Louisa suggested we meet at Pierre Hermé‘s boutique, as Andrea had yet to discover it. Needless to say, I nodded vigorously (for the sole benefit of my living-room wall, as we were speaking on the phone) and happily agreed.

Pierre Hermé doesn’t have a salon de thé area in which to sit down and gape at your purchases before diving in blissfully. I’d always thought it unfortunate, but now Louisa has introduced me to the unofficial Pierre Hermé salon de thé, and for this she will forever have my gratitude. Just a block from the pastry shop is a café called “Café de la Mairie”. It looks and feels like countless other cafés in Paris (a little drab and flavorless, one has to admit) but for two invaluable things: one, it has a non-smoking room upstairs — an absolute prerequisite if you want all your taste buds to be alert and atiptoe — and two, the waiters will look the other way when you open your precious boxes and use your coffee spoon to savor their content.*

And here is the selection that Andrea, Louisa and myself enjoyed, taking spoonfuls in turn and yumming in unison, discussing our tasting notes and comparing them with the descriptions from the little catalog (the perfect bedside read for guaranteed sweet dreams).

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Paris Chinatown

Chinatown Loot

Saturday was the first day of my vacation, and Maxence and I decided to take a little trip to Asia : all it took was a twenty-minute motorcycle ride to the Parisian Chinatown where I had, for reasons I cannot fathom, never been before.

We sat down at a Vietnamese restaurant for a bo-bun (a delicious salads of noodles and beef with lemongrass, soy sprouts, mint and ground peanuts), then did a little shopping at Tang Frères, a gigantic Asian grocery store — so huge and busy they’ve even built a private railroad track that leads to their warehouse.

There, we marvelled at all those unusual and unknown fruits and vegetables, but since we were leaving just the next day, we couldn’t get too much fresh produce. We did get two big Kent mangoes, sweet and juicy. We adore mangoes, and it seems to be a really good year for them : they are everywhere these days, excellent and very affordable. We also got a few ears of fresh corn, which are nowhere to be found in regular stores : in France, corn is eaten mostly from a can and used in salads, so corn still in its husk is a rarity. Corn on the cob, here we come!

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