Little nibbles

There’s a high-end gourmet shop called Lenotre right around the corner from where we’re staying in Paris. The goodies in the window of this place are so beautiful, I’ve actually been too intimidated to go in there. However, the other day, I was on my way to a playdate at the home of a fellow American mommy and wanted to take something nice along as a hostess gift. I decided this was my excuse to finally venture inside.

Every little tart, cake and cookie inside Lenotre looks like it could be the cover shot for any gourmet magazine on the market today. In addition, they sell beautiful sandwiches, salads, terrines, wine, chocolates and other spectacular fare – every item a culinary work of art. The men and women behind the counter wear smart white button-down shirts, black pants and little black bow-ties. To say this place is classy is an understatement – this place is top-shelf. I believe the company even runs its own pastry classes and culinary school.

I stammered my way through some horribly bad French while browsing the glorious counter, my eyes as wide as a little girl’s on Christmas Day. Hubby had suggested I take macaroons, and I finally settled on a gorgeously packaged box for 25 euros. Ouch. That’s a euro per macaroon – 25 total, 5 each of chocolate, vanilla, berry, pistachio and cappuccino flavors. Still, I mentally argued with myself that hubby and I have been fairly reasonable with our spending throughout this trip, so I felt a splurge was not uncalled for in these circumstances.

The charming hostess immediately recognized the significance of my purchase and I was pleased that she treated the box of macaroons with due reverence. We passed the macaroons around several times at the playdate, and bless her, she sent the remaining uneaten half-box home with me, saying she had plenty of sweets in her home already. I was secretly thrilled. Hubby and I made short shift of the leftovers within the next day and a half, trying our best to savor the delicious cookies with respect as opposed to just wolfing them down as you mindlessly do a bag of chips while you’re watching American Idol.

Now that I’m in the loop, I notice little wrapped packages of multicolored macaroons in the shop windows of almost every patisserie/boulangerie I pass by. Perhaps macaroons are to the French what chocolate chip cookies are to Americans? As I haven’t tasted any others besides those from Lenotre, I can’t speak to the overall quality, but the ones I sampled from Lenotre were amazing. Little melt-in-your-mouth disks about the size of a half-dollar coin, each flavor of macaroon sandwiched with a coordinating filling. The macaroons themselves were light and lovely, almost meringue-like, and shattered teasingly with each bite so that you wondered if you’d actually eaten it or just imagined that it was that good. The richness of the fillings was a perfect foil for the heavenly cookies. All together, every nibble was an ideal blend.

a typical patisserie shop window

a typical patisserie shop window

But enough on the sweet treats… for the past two nights, hubby and I have gone out to dinner with the baby and been treated to small complementary plates of a salty snack at the same time we were presented with our menus for consideration — potato chips! All I can think is that this must be some kind of latest-and-greatest amuse-bouche with lots of eateries jumping on the bandwagon, not to be left behind.

For example, last night, we walked just down the block to a chain franchise called Hippopotamus. Their catchphrase is “specialiste sur la terrain de la viande,” which I think translates roughly to they know their shit in regard to cooking meat. The menu is a testament to this fact, heavy on steaks and such. When we were seated, we noticed ready-and-waiting plates of potato chips at every table. The chips were a little on the greasy side, but we eagerly devoured them nonetheless as we considered our dinner choices.

Hubby and I haven’t really been in sync food-wise the past few days. He tends to snack in the afternoon and then isn’t hungry for dinner until later in the evening. I, on the other hand, usually avoid mid-meal snacks and prefer to stick to three full meals a day at regular intervals. By the time we got to Hippopotamus at around 6:30 p.m., I was starving, but hubby just wanted an appetizer. He opted for a tomato/mozzarella salad and also requested a small plate of pork kabobs.

I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a good burger, and the offerings on the Hippopotamus menu looked darn enticing. I chose a Hippo Burger Savoyard, a perfectly-sized burger cooked “bien cuit” (well done, having learned my lesson with the entrecote last week) topped with grilled onions and raclette, a mild melty Swiss cheese. A side of fries, a glass of nice Chateauneuf de Pape, and I was happy as a pig in poop. The burger was super juicy, surprisingly so for well done, and I was content to polish off every bite.

Tonight, we strolled around for quite awhile looking for a previously untested cafe to try for dinner, but somewhere that was still casual and comfortable. After perusing posted menus all along Boulevard Henri V and then back over up Rue St. Antoine, we finally settled at a place called Dome that we’d walked by many times before but never stopped into.

Dome proved very spacious and we made ourselves comfortable with high hopes for a nice meal. However, after ordering a glass of wine for me and a beer for hubby and checking out “la carte,” we decided it was the trendy kind of place you have a drink, but don’t necessarily stay to eat. Although Dome was plenty crowded, no one seemed to have food at their tables, just beverages. Not a promising sign. However, we did get a complementary plate of potato chips, which we again made short work of.

Alas, the menu choices at Dome proved a little disappointing and overpriced, so we decided to go back to the devil we know for our dinner – Cafe Rempart.

The people at Cafe Rempart get friendlier every time we go in, and I have no doubt this place would quickly become our regular go-to establishment if we lived here in the Bastille area. Tonight, these nice chaps recognized us, greeted us warmly and went out of their way to accommodate us with the baby. Apparently, this is a very rare occurrence indeed in French cafe culture, but I’m definitely not complaining.

While hubby and I were enjoying our second round of drinks for the evening, a foursome came in with, lo and behold, another stroller! And turns out, they even spoke English, nonetheless! We spent an interesting 15 minutes or so chatting with the other new mommy (her adorable daughter Ella in tow at 4 months old) and comparing notes on living in Paris as an ex-pat.

Tonight’s dinner was another Croque Italien for hubby and a ham and cheese omelet for me, both with green salads. We also shared a plate of frites along the way, and by the time baby started piping up, we were finished, content and happy to wander back to the apartment to relax the rest of the evening away.