26 September 2009

I HEART Bistrots

My first love for french cuisine started with Je Suis Gourmand at Fort Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. I still miss its quaint vibe, friendly staff and oh-so delicious entrees particularly, the cheese onion tart salad. A major plus, although I'm uncertain if it has changed, are the reasonable prices and portions which always left my stomach and wallet feeling satisfied.  Little did I know that my dining experience at Gourmand would be a prelude to my life of bistrot-feasting in France. 

                                            duck magret with melon slices


Here, bistrots are everywhere--uh, obviously!?  It is a very common type of French dining dating back to 19th century which initially started as a wine and jambon beurre (ham and butter in a baguette) joint for the workers. Perhaps it's safe to say that it is like how ihaw-ihaw(or a Chicken House) is to us, Pinoys.  

To give a brief history, bistrot was coined from the Russian word bystro, meaning "quickly", during Russia's invasion of Paris in 1815  and naturally, its restaurants, too. Another theory just as apt is from the French word bistrouille which is brandy mixed with coffee. Both sound correct to me but there is much more to highlight than just its rapid service and loyal coffee-drinkers.  Especially nowadays where we have bistrots owned by former sous-chefs of Michelin star restaurants producing fine gastronomique quality food for less than 40! And it is these type of bistrots that I remain loyal to any day over those fancy, trendy restaurants offering stiff dining experiences. 

                              at Swann et Vincent, my first date with the hub        

Bottom line, I enjoy its cozy, casual and almost rustic setting. I mean who wouldn't want to feel as if they are back home in their mom's country-style kitchen for a Sunday lunch?

I relish the first moment of entering a bistrot in France. Its space is perfectly small; the wooden tables are arranged close together that it could pass as a communal dinner party; there is a friendly noise of chatter among the diners that pretty much replaces the house music; the nearly tipsy state of the guests rubs off a Friday-evening feel to the restaurant's ambiance and the best is the lingering aroma of long-cooked stews infused with melted butter and fresh-baked bread. Aaahhh, incroyable (incredible)! 

                                               a typical bistrot set-up

Needless to say, the food plays the starring role in a bistrot spectacular. It is comforting, hearty and has subtle touches of innovation with its presentation and choice of ingredients in season. 

                      an unforgettable goat cheese salad with artichokes

                                          Autumn  parmentier of lamb confit   

                                           chevre salad with bacon

                         another goat cheese salad with strawberry dressing

Usually, they ask if you would like to have an apéritif (cocktail, alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink) while either waiting for your table and/or menu ( la carte) or menu chalkboard .  

One time, my husband was, for some reason(or not), in celebratory mode and ordered absinthe: the potent, classic way. Towards the end of our meal with the help of a bottle of wine, his brain was almost ab-sent. Moderation is key, readers!

   order wines from the region you are visiting: a bottle from Vierzon, Centre region of France

In most bistrots, it is also a custom to serve pica-pica like olives or plainly, bread, before ordering. The French also like their formule , our version of 'combo meals', which is an order of either an entree+main or main+dessert or sometimes, all 3 for a bargain price. Lunch formule could be from 18-25 while dinner is approximately 30-40.  

  French-Basque entrées at our favorite bistrot, Le Troquet, located in the 15th arr

                                Summer Pot-au-feu beef stew with truffles


                                 coeur de filet de beef sur charlotte de potatoes

Also, they have the degustation which serves you 6 different plates (or less) for 40; the endpoint being--stuff yourself good! Lord, we did this before and had to refuse the 6th plate --dessert--because it was too much for our over-bloated stomachs. 

                              Vanilla macaron strawberries gariguette                         

Surprised with our refusal, the servers with great concern had to clarify if there was a problem with their food. Ha, ha. Moderation, where were you?

Finally, bistrots are reasonably priced considering the quality of service and food that goes along with it.  

So if you are a bistrot-lover like me, please do me the favor of sharing some of your favorites as I would love to try them out one day. Whether it is in Manila, Paris, New York or elsewhere, trust that I will always stay true to them, bistros, and be its #1 diner (together with my husband).

Useful Tips:
  • Tap water is potable so don't be ashamed to ask for une carafe d'eau (pitcher of water)
  • Always check if they accept your credit card (normally VISA, hardly American Express)
  • Reserve in advance as bistrots, especially the good ones, are always full!
  • Tips are not a mandatory %  like in the US so leave the amount you wish. If we are satisfied with the overall meal and service, my husband and I like to give 2-3 euros. To each his own.  
  • For a listing of top bistrots in Paris, check out this link (le top 5 des meilleurs bistrots parisiens). Our all-time favorite, Le Troquet, lands in the #1 spot.
  • To locate your bistrot via Google Maps, click on my entry "Locate a spot in Paris now!" and you will get directions in a snap.

21 September 2009

Tourist Tips for a Parisien "Virgin"

Being in Paris for the first time can be overwhelming. The language barrier and the city's golden treasures could blind a tourist into taking costly 'dead ends' that only wastes one's time, money and patience. This entry hopes to guide first-timers away from expected tourist traps and as much as possible, give them a taste of  Parisien living without having to spend a fortune.  

Airport Charles de Gaulle (CDG) 

At  CDG's Customs and Immigration point, expect some basic questions like length of stay, hotel details etc. If they are rude, which is more likely expected from Parisiens, my never-failing solution is to simply smile and greet them with a "Bonjour!". Don't be offended by their smug nature; blame the cold or their boring job but remember, it's nothing personal. 

Transportation from Charles de Gaulle airport to your temporary residence/vice-versa

Thanks to my friend, Jill, my reliable guide during my first-ever trip to Europe/Paris, I was introduced to Parish Shuttle, a cheap airport shuttle service van, which you can choose to rent privately for a higher cost or share with other passengers. Cost for one person each way is 25€   . Normally tourists prefer this because the chauffeurs speak English; but to cite a bad experience, I actually had used them another time for my parents' arrival and we waited for our pick-up for almost an hour! Horrible. Although there is a cheaper shuttle service, 19€ each way, Airport Paris Transfer, used by a friend and he had no complaints.

Now, I prefer to line up at the airport's official taxi stand which costs approximately45€ ( with a 3€  tip) to reach my place in Paris(south). Do not go with the unregistered taxis whose drivers  wait by the exit doors to propose a 'special' deal. As what happened to a couple I know, the ride was not metered and they were charged an absurd fare per person!

A more frugal and adventurous option is to take the RER B subway train from your arrival terminal (either 2 or 3) which will get you to any part of the city. The price of an RER ticket from the CDG airport  to Paris (and vice-versa) is 8.50€  .   Make sure you grab a metro map (free) which you can ask from the representative at the metro ticket booth. You can pay by card when purchasing RER and metro tickets. Take note that the RER--crosses Paris to the suburbs-- and metro trains --only within the city--are entirely different and thus, have their own tickets. A single metro ticket is 1.60€   and for a set of 10 tickets (un carnet), it's 11.60€.


 Always asked by many vacationers--which hotel is affordable and nicely located? My recommendation is to steer clear of the predictable hotel scene and try out a French apartment! There are great sites that rent out well-equipped flats for a short period in the district of your choice. Homelidays is a vacation site we used for apartment hunting in Corsica and Tuscany and they have equally great options in Paris. With apartments,  its rates are inexpensive, plus, you have the chance to feel like a local,  experiencing a day-to-day life in their quarters!

If you prefer a more hassle-free nook, then you can check out hotels in the areas which in my opinion are the coziest arrondissements: 3rd and 4th -Le Marais for an artsy flavor,  5th and 6th- Latin Quarter where every place is walkable, and 11th and 12th-Place de la Bastille.

Getting Around

Unless you are with people who have trouble walking, I highly suggest that you put on your comfiest flats/sneakers and roam around the city on your feet! Especially after those foie gras and cheese-filled meals, it is the only way to get you feeling less guilty about the calories and to truly discover your way around Paris even if that means getting lost. Generally the streets of Paris are safe but at night, don't think you can carelessly walk through 18th,19th and 20th arrondissements without a 'local' to guide you.

If you don't wish to move those buns, try to cruise through the city's monuments via boat, Batobus, a hop-on hop-off service running from February to November. I also booked my parents on l’Open Paris tour which is the same concept but on an open top deck bus with several routes to choose from. For Batobus the adult rates for passes are: one-day(12€) , 2-day(16€)  and  5-day(19€)  while L'Open Paris tour charges 29€ for a day and 39€ for 2 days.

                                               commute along the Seine river

As for taxis, it is not like New York wherein you spot them yellow boxes every minute. Normally you call for a taxi via Taxi Bleus by dialing 0891701010*. They are operational 24 hours a day.

 Metros are the most convenient for me. They are open as early as 5:30 am until 12:30am weekdays and 1:30am during weekends. Important: there are random checks in the metro so never throw away your tickets unless you have completely exited the station.

Velib is a popular alternative to getting around the city without the hassle of renting a bicycle and storing it. These are generic bikes with its own magnetized pods stationed in almost every avenue of Paris. The idea is to borrow a bike which is possible by registering your credit card onsite and when done, find an available pod for its safekeeping. To use it for a day, it costs 1€  and for 7 days, it is 5€ . Talk about a great initiative to combat car pollution!

                                             Velib bikes and its 'home' pods

Don't be Fooled!

I know you are a tourist but try not to be spotted and fooled like one.

People may approach you in the middle of your monument-gazing asking if you speak English. Say "No" and walk past them. If you pause and try to help, they will also try to get you to take out your wallet and trap you. Before as I was walking to work at a very decent neighborhood, a guy stopped me and picked a ring from the floor asking if it were mine. I quickly walked away and snubbed him. Five seconds later, I hear the man performing the same stunt on the person behind me--unbelievable!

           view of the Eiffel tower from the 15th district, former workplace

Do not get sucked into those trinket shops selling the same tourist souvenirs in every corner of the street. Most products are MADE IN CHINA or elsewhere. If you want authentic French gifts to bring home, go to specialized shops!

Avoid going to the cafes or brasseries which are a few meters away from an important monument or site because you will be paying the price for your order + the view to go with it as well. And let's not forget the quality of food which is nowhere near its price. Don't be afraid to walk further and explore the streets which don't look too busy.

                                                  Chez Plumeau at Montmarte

To land in a good bistrot or restaurant, you must do your research. Ask friends, locals or go online and read comments of diners; that way, you are prepared to order the right dish and wine within your spending means.


Street food equals divine crepe! Hey, that isn't bad at all! To see that it is freshly done,  choose a stall which has it prepared before you and as a plus, you get a whiff of some heavenly butter! Another cheap alternative are the bakeries (boulangerie) selling delicious French pastries like croissant( a must-try!!), pain au raisins (raisin bun) and pain au chocolat (croissant bread crust with chocolate); for lunch, they have fresh sandwiches (3,50-4€ each sometimes including a drink), using of course their baked, straight-from-the-oven baguettes, ranging from a club to tuna. Paul is a reputable bakery found everywhere in France and they also have quaint tea rooms if you wish to be seated.

                                        a neighborhood bakery (boulangerie)

For now, I am going to stop here (activities in Paris will be reserved for another entry). These tips should suffice for a Parisien 'virgin' vacationing in the city of Light. Let me end by stating that the FIRST time is always the best and most memorable experience so enjoy every mistake, unintended luck and the sweet romance!


18 September 2009

Sunday Morning is to Fresh Market

For the French, going to the fresh market on a Sunday morning is almost a ritual as your breakfast tea or coffee. And for my friends and family who know how much of a morning(le matin) person I am will automatically understand what a delightful duo that is for me--breakfast time + outdoor food stalls! It wasn't in Paris where I first fell in love with the fresh food vendor experience but in a farmer's market in L.A. where my sister took me to hunt for elephant ears as yummy as the ones we had first tried in Portland.

But here I am now living 5 steps away from an avenue hosting weekly markets of fresh produce from bio(local term referring to a product as organic) fish from Brittany to Provencal olives including oriental ready-to-eat dishes and products! C'est formidable, how great!

                         a biologique (bio) stall, more expensive of course

                        artichokes, green olives in different marinades, tapenade

                      apero delight: calamares, tarama, sun-dried tomatoes

The first time the hubby took me to a market was at Place de la Nation, a district famous for 2 things in history books: city walls(Wall of the General Farmers) now destroyed but were used in the 18th century for the control/taxation of goods entering Paris and second, a guillotine area during the french revolution--yikes! To revert to happier things, the market was fabulous and I was stopping at almost every booth asking for translation and demanding my husband to explain how the  ingredient is locally cooked. (*Flashback: Now that explains why my husband was horrified in my country to not find 'veal' at our local 

grocery or market. Frankly, when he first asked me to help him look for it, I had to ask a second time,"uh, you mean beef as in cow right?" He quickly clarifed, "a calf!". ) Well, zorry monsieur! But I don't blame him considering the crazy, quality choices of meat, poultry and fresh produce over here! And believe me, it's easy to get led into a gourmet trance thinking you can cook up a banquet and voila!  

 All was dandy until I pointed out a beef-looking red meat for my husband to name. I asked, "What is Chevaline?", and he nonchalantly responded, "Oh, that's horse".  What tha? Oh-kay. Not all that's French is lovable; that's for certain. 

Another shocker was seeing a furry rabbit carcass hung in the middle of a poultry (volaille) booth. Nope, I never really planned on eating lapin until my mother-in-law cooked it months after at their home in the south of France and you know how that story ends especially when the dish was introduced as a 'specialty'. For those interested, it tastes like tough chicken. 

So we ended the tour of stalls with some tapenades (a spread of olives) and a baguette which we couldn't resist feasting on at a brasserie(a typical cafe with a terrace) we stopped by  to order a glass of wine (un verre de vin).


I may not entirely enjoy the taste of the French like charcuterie (cold cuts: precooked & cured meat) and frogs(les grenouilles) but seeing couples, parents, kids or the aged regularly walk through the market stalls whether it be during ice-cold winters or sweaty summer days makes me believe that fresh ingredients sold to you by  trusted, friendly faces will probably in the end, make a more scrumptious, soulful Sunday meal! Bon appetit!

                      a Sunday meal, Lamb Tagine from Mom-in-law's kitchen

Useful Tips:

  • Bring change when you go to the market and do not expect the vendors to accept a big bank note like a 50 or a 100 not unless you plan to shop for the same amount. Oh, some stalls accept credits cards (carte blue) so try to inquire in advance.
  • Vegetables and fruits tend to be a lot cheaper in the fresh market as compared to the hypermarche like Monoprix or Franprix. 
  • Sometimes, to get good deals, my husband and I arrive at the market 30 minutes before it shuts so we can avail of their last minute promos. They close shop and dismantle their stalls at 1:00pm.
  • Don't forget to greet the vendors with a "Bonjour!". The    French pay attention to that quite well.
  • The Parisians are trying to go GREEN  nowadays so avoid using plastics sacs by switching to a rolley-cart (pousette) or a recyclable bag.
  • Here is a list of all the fresh markets  in each arrondissement ( district) of Paris.

17 September 2009

Picnics in Paris

Everybody loves to picnic. As for me, it brings back childhood memories of my friends and family at our lil green nook, ACC 'polo field', for some time-out and pica-pica. The best part about picnics are not just the food spread but the leeway granted for everyone to do such things in public: space out, observe surroundings/people, lie down, sleep and read.  Although it was only in France that I had experienced an additional item to the list of "things to do in a picnic" --drink wine! Magnifique! To state the obvious, I am older now, therefore, I gladly embrace the joys of wine over shots of Tequila;  and second, it is legal in France to be drinking in public so how terrible is it to face the glittering Eiffel Tower as I am lying down  next to empty wine bottles munching on husband-made quiche? Boy, am I glad to not be missing out anymore. 

                           at the garden of Tuileries with the Louvre behind us 

                                                                a picnic's divine ending

As in other beautiful cities like New York, Paris has several outdoor spots for a perfect picnic particularly during the summer. My favorite place with the best view of Paris' marvels is at the Tuileries Garden which is surrounded by fountains and marble statues and joins into the Louvre's courtyard; in the opposite direction there is the Place de la Concorde, piercing its way up into the sky and a decent angle of the Eiffel tower.

 our picnic spot; conveniently, to the right is the metro stop,Tuileries

Aside from the relaxing vibe of picnics which I normally prefer over bars during the summer, it is no doubt a cheaper option for catching up with friends, partner or husband with everybody arriving with their contribution of wine, cheese, cold cuts (charcuterie) or homemade dish. Even if you run out of wine in the middle of it all, you will be happy and surprised to find people selling some bottles, incognito, but with marked-up prices as what happened to my husband and I with a big group in Champ de Mars. And to the desperate smokers, they sell some, too. Come to think of it, it was almost midnight at that time--a picnic that late? Only in Paris!

                                                      crowded Champ de Mars
Useful tips:
  • If you are like me who needs to p** almost every other hour, don't go walking in search of a brasserie which could take too long and lead to a messy accident. Instead, remember your camping days and do your business in the bushes. Trust me, you won't feel too bad after seeing the rest of the used tissue lying around (and condoms, too,yuck!). Important, only do this when you are DESPERATE as I don't wish for you to develop a bad habit and worse, get caught by the roving police!
  • Unless it is full-on summertime, bring a shawl or a light cardigan to cover up because Paris weather is just as moody and unpredictable as women tend to be.
  • And if you get hungry in the Tuileries, there is an outdoor branch of France's famous bakery, Paul, which sells country-style savory and sweet pastries and drinks. Facing the Louvre from the garden, it is located just before the museum's courtyard on the sandy surface.

Paul bakery booth (middle)

the welcoming bushes of the Tuileries, remember, only if you're desperate!

    16 September 2009

    Smile and Say "Cheese!"

    I arrived in Paris 2 years ago not knowing what to expect. All that was certain was that I left a  stable life back home: loving family, childhood friends, awesome career, my dog Popo and all the trifle things which completed a typical, happy and comfortable environment for an independent woman in her late 20's. So why did I leave the picture-perfect home? Simple. I was in love with a French man. Call it cliché, a fairytale romance or whatever but I couldn't believe that I was about to live a dream which I thought would only remain as one in my head.

    My first few days as a 'resident' of Paris were a blur since I was recovering from jetlag and sad "goodbyes" at the airport but my husband-to-be fortunately knew me well and whipped out something which would instantly comfort me--food! I distinctly recall the first cheese platter he prepared at home and the sweet thoughts that swept my head seeing that I was finally living in cheese-and-wineland. It was nothing fancy, I remember, but the display of fresh cheese (fromage) like goat(chevre) , ewe--mature female sheep--(brebis), hard &  soft ones paired with pickles (cornichons) and of course red wine(vin rouge) made me smile..BIG!

    I tell you, back where I am from, the cheese I grew up with, in other words readily available and afforable, were the industrial ones like Kraft Cheddar or Magnolia Quik Melt and the highly priced imported ones from Europe were normally sold in gourmet stores. It is no hidden fact that the French love their cheese but to be living in a culture where the real cheeses are just as affordable and necessary as it is buying a big 1.5L bottle of water is every foodie's dream! Every supermarket(hypermarché) like Monoprix  will carry a perfect array of cheeses and particularly more charming are the numerous cheese stalls in the Sunday fresh markets (ooh wait for that post).

                                                       types of fromage de chevre

                                                                     Ashed chevre

    And thanks to the many cheese platters I have feasted on during cocktail (hour) or apéro, a common word uttered by the French  every 6pm, I soon developed a better palate to know which ones I prefer the most:

     Etorki a Basque--southwestern France--cheese made from pure brebis  which I like to pair with fig or apricot jam(confiture) and Comté a strong-flavored  cow's milk cheese great to sprinkle over warm soups--heavenly combination of the nutty-tasting melted cheese + soup. I can go on endlessly concerning the godliness of cheese in France and its extreme co-dependence with its French consumers and vice-versa but I will save that for another entry.

                            fig jam and brebis cheese platter at restaurant in Corsica
    So that was my first happy awakening  in Paris. The city has enough fromage to pair with my different moods as I learn to adapt to the French way of life, living it to the fullest and the cheesiest, of course. hee-hee.