My First Christmas in Paris

Christmas tree made of lights on Champs Elysees

Since moving here in 2008, we have never spent Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s in Paris, preferring to go back to the U.S. to spend them with family and friends. 

In November, as we were readying to leave for our holiday hajj, we decided, since we’d been “flying” so much lately, let’s take it easy this year, and actually see what Christmas in Paris is all about. So, here we are.

I’ve asked friends who are from Paris or who’ve lived here a while about Christmas.  Interestingly, all say that it’s changed, that it’s become more “commercialized” and my American ex-pat friends also say, it’s become more “Americanized.”  

These are my personal impressions of Christmas in Paris: 

Lights along Rue de la Convention

The streets are quite festive. Usually, starting the end of November, each arrondissements (districts), have different festive lights strung high above the streets. I’ve been told that the merchants all chip in and pay for stringing of the lights etc.  Maybe it’s just me, but I found that in the more affluent neighborhoods such as the 16eme, they didn’t have as many lights as in the more residential working class neighborhoods.  None-the-less, they are a beautiful sight to see.

Trees being sold with log stand

Christmas trees start to go on sale in December. They are extremely expensive. My best friend bought one about 7-feet tall for 75€ about $100. Typically they hollow out a log to fit the bottom stump of the tree, and that log is used as a tree stand.  Unfortunately, because of this, the trees dry out faster.  So, you really have to be careful if the tree gets too dry. And, if you are moving here, bring your tree stand with you, as far as I can tell, they do not sell Christmas tree stands.  Also, Christmas ornaments are sold throughout the city, and they are absolutely beautiful. Some can be extremely expensive.

As you walk along the streets you will notice stores decorated as well with festive lights, Christmas trees, all the usual Christmas decoration trappings we have in the U.S. But being a “foodie”, what impressed me even more are all the different "Bûche de Noël" the bakeries have. They have them in all different sizes, and even have individual servings.  And, some are simply works of art.  "Paris by Mouth" has wonderful photos of these pieces of art.

One of many photos from "Paris by Mouth" of a Bûche de Noël

What they do different than the U.S., in Fance they have the "Marché de Noël" the Christmas Markets. They have them throughout the city; however, they’re pretty much all the same. I actually find them boring and uninspiring. They’re usually filled with tacky “tchotkes,” stands selling hot wine drinks and, of course, the proverbial French scarves. 

Marché de Noël, very quaint looking
Another thing I noticed, there are American/English Christmas carols playing all over the city, especially in the department stores and malls, and even in the small boutiques. I was told that this is a relatively new development influenced by travels and U.S. movies etc., since the French have a very small collection of Christmas carols, I heard less than 10, whereas English carols there are about 50. I have to admit, it does put you in the holiday spirit.

Interestingly, my best friend and I went out to the mall and I was expecting it to be packed as in the U.S. It was pretty empty by American and even French standards. I was told that the Parisians prefer to buy Christmas gifts of e.g., perfumes etc. in the downtown area like "Galeries Lafayette" or  "Printemps" or smaller boutiques, preferring to buy everything else (e.g., clothes) during one of the 2-annual sales, which is January followed later by July, at which time the malls will be packed.

Galeries Lafayette

Karl Lagerfeld (Printemps)
Speaking of the downtown department stores, I have to say, they were quite festive with all the lights, and each department store will have their own window display with special designers, designing each window.  This year Karl Lagerfeld decorated the Printemps windows.  Interesting, to say the least.  And, Galerie Lafayette’s building was displayed with lights all over the building, which they do each year. It was actually quite pretty. It sort of reminded me of Las Vegas, with all the lights. 

And, speaking of lights, I personally do not like the Champs Elysees because I find it too touristy and crowded; however, I made an exception this year and visited it to see the lights. The Champs Elysees had beautiful lights along the boulevard and displays worth seeing, if you can handle crowds and like playing “bumper shoulder” or “chicken” with the cars.  Three new stores opened up this Christmas season on the Champs Elysees: Banana Republic, Abercrombie and Fitch, and Marks and Spencer.  As a result, people were queuing in to get into the stores, which also created pedestrian traffic jams. The streets were so packed; they had to have police to control the traffic as well as the pedestrian sidewalks. It was worth my sore shoulders, but doubt I’ll do it in the future. Once is enough for me.

Champs Elysees

Eerily, Christmas Eve was really quiet in a lot of residential areas of Paris. It appears that many people either left for their country homes, or to their hometowns to spend Christmas with their family. Plus its Christmas break and many have vacation.

Hanukkah this year is December 20-28. In San Francisco where I’m from, they always have a Hanukah lighting ceremony in Union Square.  As I wandered through the city, I did not see many menorahs displayed, except in the old Jewish quarters, "Le Marais".  I had heard last year, they had a huge menorah lighting ceremony at the Eiffel tower, and they also had a free concert. I did not see one this year, but I’m sure they had ceremonies in various parts of the city, I just wasn’t aware of them.

Now onto the Christmas meal. In itself, it was quite an eating marathon.  My best friend Steve hosted a Christmas Eve party. Of course there are some regional differences, but this menu is quite typical:

Appetizers: we had oysters on a half-shell with a vinaigrette dressing. We also had canapés of caviar and salmon atop crème fraiche.  In some households, shellfish such as shrimp or langoustines are also served.  And, of course you have to have champagne.  After this first round of appetizers, then we had foie gras with toasted brioche, and served with a special sweet sauterne.

Oysters on a half shell
 Entrée:  We had “Coquilles St. Jacque” lightly poached in butter, served with a dry white wine e.g., sancere.

Plat: We had Cornish game hens, served on a bed of wild rice and haricot vert. Traditionally, fowl is served, such as capons, goose, and even turkey.

Cornish game hens with wild rice and haricot vert
Our featured wine of the evening

Salad and cheese:  Salad and it can be accompanied by cheeses, or cheeses can be served after the salad. 

Buche de Noël

Dessert:  Of course we had the traditional “Buche de Noel”, and a little bit of Americanawe had a huge selection of cookies baked by Steve.

Then after all is said and done, more champagne followed by a digestif.

My special Parisian family

After all the food and drinks, it was time to head on home. We actually live in walking distance of Steve’s apartment, but I was feeling a bit tipsy, so I took the tram.  FYI,  public transportation runs on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  Interestingly, the streets and public transport seemed really deserted.  We live next door to a Church, and I noticed as I got closer to home the only people wandering the streets were people leaving Church after midnight mass.  Although France is a predominantly Catholic country, not many attend midnight mass as in the past.

On Christmas day, Steve and Eric took Eric’s Mom on a visit along the Champs Elysee. Surprisingly, he told me some of the stores were actually open.  How Las Vegas is that?

All-in-all, I’m glad we have good friends to spend the Christmas holiday with. The "City of Lights" truly lived up to its name this holiday season, and it has been a great holiday season; the weather has been unseasonably warm.  I heard last year this time, it was cold and snowing!  I guess we brought the California sunshine and weather with us…

À votre santé. Je vous souhaite une Bonne Année! 

Note: In the U.S. if a holiday falls on a Sunday, the following Monday is typically a holiday as well.  Surprisingly in a country that has more holidays and vacations than Imelda Marcos has shoes, banks, post offices, and most stores are open.


Le Sot l'y Laisse -- Restaurant Review...

Address: 70 rue Alexandre Dumas, 75011
Nearest transport: Alexandre Dumas (2)
Hours: Dinner, Monday-Saturday; lunch, Tuesday-Friday; closed Sunday
Reservations: Book a few days in advance
Telephone: 01 40 09 79 20

Rating Standards: 5-Stars = Extraordinary; 4-Stars = Excellent; 3-Stars = Average; 2-Stars = Fair; 1-Star = Poor
€ = Inexpensive: 30€ and under; €€ = Moderate: 31€-49€; €€€ = Expensive: €50 -75; $$$$ = Very Expensive: more than €76 (prices based on plats--main course)
1-Bell = Pleasantly quiet (less than 65 decibels); 2-Bells = Can talk easily (65-70); 3-Bells = Talking normally gets difficult (70-75); 4-Bells = Can talk only in raised voices (75-80); BOMB = Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)

  4 - Stars.............................................€ (pre-fix menu)..............................................2 - Bell

Our friend John of "John Talbott's Paris"  recommended that we try this restaurant in the 11eme.  Our other good friend  Marie Johnston, "The French Market Maven"  joined us as well.  This tiny restaurant with a capacity of maybe 25-seats has gone through several owners in the past couple of years, with Eiji Doihara, a Japanese chef with a classical French resumé holding the current reigns.  It's an extremely simple restaurant, and devoid of almost any decoration, save for the table of bottle wine displayed by the window, and the large billboard where their handwritten menu is hung prominently on one of two large walls. Despite the lack of decor, it's the food we wanted to focus on.

I was expecting French cuisine with a fusion of Japanese flavors, just because. I don't know, maybe wasabe flavored beets or something.  Instead, we got some excellent classical French dishes with incredibly simple and beautiful presentation. The Japanese influences were there, but very subtle.  For one, his Japanese aesthetics were quite evident when it came to his "plating." The balance of colors, textures, and taste was a hit with all of us.  As you will see from some of the photos, they're art onto themselves.

Pre-fix lunch menu

OK, let's start with the menu.  They had a pre-fix lunch: 2-courses for 18€, and 3-courses for 24€. 

We opted not to have the pre-fix lunch and go "a la carte."  Our wait-person, explained to us that ordering from the main menu would take longer.  Hmm, that's a good sign.  In my book anything that takes longer means, maybe they're actually cooking the food, or parts of it versus warming it up and plating.  

After we all made our decisions, two of the items we wanted: Crepinette de pied du porc au vin rouge et foie gras poélé, lentilles vertes (pig's feet), Pigeon ramier d'esossé aux champignons sauvages, sauce au sang (pigeon) were only served for dinner, not for lunch.  We had a discussion how we found it annoying that they don't put a star or asterisks next to the dish to say dinner only, rather then getting our hopes up, but that's the way they do in Paris, oh well. 

Foie gras with balsamic reduction

John and I had the "foie gras poêlé aus figues, réduction de viniagre balsamique" -- Oh my God, not only was it presented beautifully, but was nicely seared on the outside and melt it your mouth tender inside.  He probably was able to accomplish this by slicing the foie gras thin to avoid over and/or undercooking. 

Consommé of oysters and grilled winter vegetables

Jack had the "consommé, aux huîtres chaudes, légumes d'hiver grillés." When I first saw the dish, my first thought was what are those little balls? So, as I tasted it it was like little crackers of some sort.  We asked our wait-person and she said they were "puffed rice." Aha, so here's the Japanese influence, aside from the presentation. The broth was delicious, and the juxtaposition of the different textures came together fabulously. A definite hit. 

Leek terrine

Marie ordered the "terrine de poireaux au vert." Marie loved the dish. It was encased in a gelée to keep it's shape. Again, the presentation was beautiful, we're seeing a trend here. 

Roasted duck breast

For our entrées John and Marie had the "margret de canard rôti aux légumes, croquants de Thiebault, sauce aigre-doux."  John had asked that the duck breast be cooked as the Chef would want it to be eaten, so it was on the rare side. I tasted it, I loved it. It was very juicy. But I am a sucker for anything duck. 

Turbot fish

Jack and I had the "filet de turbot rôti, sauce Noilly Prat, purée de betterave poirée." this to me was the most beautiful dish of all. It had color, texture, and height.  Sounds like I'm talking about interior designing, but I loved the beauty of it.  And, the fish was absolutely mild and perfectly cooked.  The crispy purple potatoes and crispy parsnips brought me back to my childhood when I use to put potato chips in my tuna fish sandwich.  I've come a long way, n'est-ce pas?

Poached persimmons with white wine gelée

And, now for dessert.  The three had the "kaki poché à la gelée de vin blanc, coulis de fruits rouges."  Since I'm trying to cut down on my sugar intake, I had the "assortiment de fromages."  My companions were kind enough to let me taste their desserts.  Oh my God, loved the wine gelée and the poached persimmon was wonderful.  

Comté, chèvre, and brie

The cheese plate had comté, chèvre, and a soft brie.  I forgot to mentioned, we loved the bread that accompanied our meal. And, I especially loved it with the cheese. I swore the bread was from "Poilâne". We asked our wait-person, and she said, no she got it from a bakery in the 11ème.  I did some research and discovered that it was definitely from Poilâne, they have very distinctive breads that cannot be mistaken, but they get it from their neighborhood boulangerie that sell Poilâne bread, voila, my taste-buds have been redeemed!

Summary:  First of all "chapeau" (compliments) to John, excellent choice. If we had ordered from their pre-fix menu our bill would have been much, much less and it really is good deal. However, we went a la carte, so our bill came to almost 66€ for each person which included two bottles of wine, 2-glasses of white wine, and coffee.  it was worth every centime! Definitely go for the food, since decor is lacking.  I would go back in a heartbeat!

Note: The restaurant was filled to capacity, and people were being turned away, so reservations are highly recommended. 


Thanksgiving in Paris...

Our Paris family--Thanksgiving celebration 11/26/11
 Tips and tricks to having a happy, great and successful THANKSGIVING in Paris!!!

Our normal routine is we would leave for the U.S. a week before Thanksgiving and stay there until well after the New Year, so we can visit and spend the holidays with our friends and family.  About 2-months ago, we decided, let’s give Paris a try for the holidays, since we’ve never experienced the holidays here. And, voila, here we are.

Imagine in the 4-years we have lived in Paris, this is the first time we’ve actually been here for the Thanksgiving festivities.  We’ve had early, simple Thanksgiving dinners in Paris before, but they were typically small and intimate, and we usually have them just before we leave for our annual winter “Hajj” to the U.S. for the holidays

In a lot of ways, it’s the same as in the U.S.  Although some ex-pats have Thanksgiving on the actual day (Thursday),  most ex-pats have it either the next day on Friday evening or as for us, on Saturday, which would enable our friends who work, to participate as well, of course, American Thanksgiving is not a holiday in France.  

We all stress out, because we want to make sure we have enough food, and what if we have too many desserts etc., or not enough “greens” etc., etc.,   A lot of out French friends don’t understand why we get all frenzied and worked-up, and I try to explain to them it’s part of the whole process, the excitement, the stress, the anticipation, and then the actual day of catharsis and enjoyment. Surprisingly many more French know the Thanksgiving holiday from movies.  And, they sometimes ask me is the turkey really that large, is it really that big of a festivity, and I respond, yes, to their amazement. I try to explain to them it’s the “biggest” non-denominational holiday where we will travel for miles to spend this one meal with our family and friends. 

My best friend Steve and I pretty much organized the whole Thanksgiving and there were definitely some challenges. What started as a small group of maybe 10-people reached 16.  There was a mix of American ex-pats and French.

Granted, there are several places that serve Thanksgiving dinners, and "Paris by Mouth -- Thanksgiving"  put this excellent list together where to eat; however, Steve and I wanted it to be traditional, in a home with good friends.
Let’s start with some of the obstacles we faced, needless-to-say it can be fun and challenging:

 Most of us in Paris are “room-challenged.”  Most of our apartments are small. So, Steve volunteered to hold the festivities at his apartment; by Parisian standards he has a large living/dining room combination that can easily accommodate 20+-people.  And, more importantly, he has a large kitchen.

Now this is probably the most challenging.
·        Turkey--turkey parts are easily sold in the supermarkets, e.g., thighs//legs. However, whole turkeys are not and must be ordered at a butcher shop or many of the speciality stores, such as "Thanksgiving in Paris Store".   The turkeys are medium sized and one must be careful when ordering, since Parisian apartment ovens tend to be much smaller than our American counterparts. In other words, "measure twice, cook once..." Note: Turkeys are extremely expensive. For a 10-lb turkey it can cost upwards of 70€.

Steve getting ready to put the turkey in the oven
·        Giblet gravy—If you are like me, you have to have giblet gravy. Unfortunately, you don’t always get the giblets, neck or liver from the turkey.  I have come with up a great solution.  Make your gravy as you would normally; however, buy a can or bottle of “confit gésier de canard” It’s the gizzards from the duck that have been cofit’d.  It adds incredible flavor and the gizzards are typically nice and tender.  You can also buy chicken livers in the supermarket, and you can add to that as well.
·        Corn meal—They have the “farine de maïs” (corn flour) at health food stores such as Naturalia; however, it’s not the same, nor is the Italian polenta.  I find that Latin American markets such as “Latino Market 55 Rue Firmin Gillot in the 15eme carries corn meal, and is exactly what you find in the U.S.
      Appetizers--try to serve cold or room temperature appetizers beforehand, hence, freeing up space in your kitchen and more importantly, freeing up your oven.

Room temperature appetizers

·        Cranberries (canneberges)—this can be challenging to find. Yes you can find them, but they’re typically in very small bags, almost the size of a bag of M&M’s, and quite expensive (4-5€), in places such as Bon Marché, or Monoprix.  Personally, I would recommend that if you have a friend coming in from the US just before Thanksgiving ask them to transport fresh cranberries. They can be stored in a small portable cooler and placed in your check-in baggage. If you don’t care about having fresh cranberries, they do sell canned cranberries at International markets such as Bon Marché or Thanksgiving in Paris store etc.
·        Pumpkin (potiron)—canned pureed pumpkins do not exist; however, fresh pumpkins can easily be found in Paris. You will; however, need to bake them, and mash them to use for your e.g., pumpkin pie.
·        Pecans—for e.g., pecan pie can easily be found in Paris. Try to get them in bulk at the markets.  Pecans and walnuts are extremely expensive. I typically bring costco size bags when I return from the US.  And, as for corn syrup, you can easily find them at the Asian markets in the Korean or Japanese section, and they're usually labeled in English, along with Korean or Japanese.  If you prefer using maple syrup, this is now easily available at any major supermarket.

Our fabulous dessert table

·        Buttermilk—for your biscuits can easily be found at the Arab markets or at the supermarkets in the yoghurt section and labeled under “Lait Ribot” or “Yoplait, lait fermenté”.  Note:  they tend to be much richer than your American counterpart.
·        Sweet potatoes (patates douces)—These too can easily be found at any produce store.  However, the color is a little anemic compared to the American version, but works and tastes great.  If you are going to make sweet potato pie, you’ll need to bake and mash the potatoes as you would regular potatoes.
·        Cream Cheese—This was once very difficult to find. I remember getting cream cheese at Bon Marché at 4€ for 4-ounces.  The American “Philadelphia” cream cheese have been recently introduced to the French market and can be easily found at almost any French supermarket at a cost of 1.50€ for 4-ounces.  Note: if you are making a cheesecake, speculoos cookies found everywhere, makes the perfect crust.
·        Crusts—Although you can find all sorts of store-bought crusts in France, I find them to be a lot tougher than our flaky crusts back home. And, there's no beating homemade crust. With that said, I would suggest for a flakier crust, make it yourself. You can purchase "graisse végétale" a great Crisco substitute which is typically found in the butter section, and in some cases the freezer section of the grocery store.
·        Flour—you can find all purpose flour called, “tout usage” (all usage) at some markets.  If you need flour for specific type of baking see the following:
American Cake & Pastry: Type 45
American  All-Purpose & Bread: Type 55
American High Gluten: Type 65
American Light Whole Wheat: Type 80
American  Whole Wheat: Type 110
American Dark Whole Wheat: Type 150

Cooking in a typical Parisian kitchen can be quite challenging.  First of all the ovens are much, much smaller. And, in some ovens as in Steve’s, the heating element is at the top and bottom of the oven, which is normal operation.  You cannot just have the bottom heating element on. This poses quite a challenge, since the top of the turkey takes up about 90% of the space.  Hence, the top portion of the turkey (e.g., breast) is about 2-inches from the top heating element.  With that said, you will need to tent the turkey with aluminum foil until maybe the last 30-45 minutes of roasting, at which time you can remove it to crisp the skin. Note: temperatures are in centigrade, hence, a typical 325F = 162.8C; 350F = 176.7C; 375F = 190.6C.

Proud daddy posing with his 10-lb baby!
Don’t even think about deep frying a turkey.  With such tight quarters chances of a grease fire are much, much greater.  And, smoking a turkey is also out of the question, since it’s illegal to have BBQ’s or smokers in residential apartments, even if you have a terrace or balcony.

            Tips and Tricks:
  • ·        Having 2-ovens is unheard of in Paris, unless you had your apartment remodeled to American standards.  Desserts should be made the day before. And, if you have a small refrigerator try and stay away from anything that needs to be chilled.
  • ·        Stuffing, candied yams, spring bean casserole, corn bread, rolls, etc. that need oven time should be made first, because once you have the turkey in the oven, that’s it, you will not have any room for any other food items.  You can always reheat e.g., the casseroles in the microwave.
  • ·        Keep mashed potatoes over boiling hot water or a warming plate to keep warm, and put it aside somewhere, which will allow you to use your stove-top to cook or use as a prep station, since many Parisian kitchens have very little counter-space.
  • ·        Always, always clean as you go to avoid unnecessary clutter in the kitchen and give you more work space. And, if you have a dishwasher load as you go and immediately wash, and unload for the next following batches.
  • ·        Try to limit the number of people in your kitchen, or just yourself if you have a very tiny kitchen.  It can be very dangerous, especially if knifes are flying around.

Food, glorious food!
 Most of the American ex-pats are from different parts of the US.  So, with our regional differences, many brought dishes typical of their family or region.  For example, our good friend Gina made a “corn pudding” a very southern dish which I’ve never had, and it was delicious.  Steve’s family hails originally from Ohio, and he made a fresh cranberry jello pudding, again it was my first time to ever have this, and it too was delicious. Zabie made baked onions stuffed with spinach,  and I made a vegan "Poor Man's Sushi" which hails from Hawaii, and so many other dishes were made which truly made this bountiful meal a diverse and joyous holiday.

Needless to say, we had a most wonderful, wonderful Thanksgiving. Although I miss my family, I don’t regret staying here for the holidays, because of all our wonderful friends who have become our families.

Here's some great entertaining reading:

Art Buchwald on "A Turkey with French Dressing"


When Continents Collide: The Tribulations of Making (and Serving) Thanksgiving Dinner in Paris by David Jaggard

  (see comments section for extra tips)


Cobéa -- Restaurant Review

Cobéa Restaurant

11, rue Raymond Losserand
75014 Paris
tel : +33(1) 43 20 21 39
Closed Sunday and Monday
Rating Standards: 5-Stars = Extraordinary; 4-Stars = Excellent; 3-Stars = Average; 2-Stars = Fair; 1-Star = Poor
€ = Inexpensive: 30€ and under; €€ = Moderate: 31€-49€; €€€ = Expensive: €50 -75; $$$$ = Very Expensive: more than €76 (prices based on plats--main course)
1-Bell = Pleasantly quiet (less than 65 decibels); 2-Bells = Can talk easily (65-70); 3-Bells = Talking normally gets difficult (70-75); 4-Bells = Can talk only in raised voices (75-80); BOMB = Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)

  2.5 - Stars.................................................................................................1 - Bell

An online friend, John Talbott, who is now my "BFF", has a very popular food blog I’ve been a big fan of since moving to Paris in 2008. He invited us to join him for lunch. I didn’t really care where we were going  for lunch, I was more excited to finally meet him in person.  He recommended Cobéa it was recommended by a friend, so it would be a new experience for all of us.

The restaurant was a concept from Philippe Bélissent, formerly of Laurent, Ledoyen, and Le Restaurant in L’Hôtel, and his partner, the maître d’ Jérôme Cobou, located close to Montparnasse. Recently opened, a little more than 2-months ago.

Black/Gray/White interior

Our reservation was for 12:30, and as we stepped in I noticed a very monochromatic color scheme of white, black and gray.  It was pretty devoid of any color, probably so diners can focus on the food.  The restaurant layout was actually quite nice, if you like that modern feel. It didn’t seem French to me at all.  And, they had an interesting glass floor by the bathroom where you could see the wine cellar below.

Glass floor overlooking wine cellar
John showed up shortly after we arrived, and our waiter gave us the menu and wine list.  We started first by ordering wine, primarily by price (cheapest), Rasteau Cotes du Rhone Villages, but turned out to be one of the highlights for lunch.

We pretty much all decided we were going to the pre-fix menu for 38€, which included the following:

Razor-fish; squid and parsley or Foie Gras; pan-fried, pasta and girolles
Cod Fish; cauliflower or Wild Young Partridge, caramelized chicory
 Desserts and coffee

Gimmicky hand wash


We got a small little white rolled up tube, what looked to me like a tampon, sorry if I offended any of my woman friends, but that's what it looked like.  Our waiter explained that we needed to plop into our glass, then use it to clean our hands.  And, as I did, it literally sucked up all the water.  I was curious if there was any lemon or alcohol in this hand wash, so being the crude person that I am took a sip of it, yuk, oh well, you can’t take me anywhere!

Chevré balls

Our amuse bouche was a croquette stuffed with chevré (goat cheese). I liked it, but it was deep-fried and who wouldn’t like something fried, n’est-ce pas?  Surprisingly, another amouse bouche came out and it was a teeny, tiny stuffed crab. I liked it because it tasted like crab. John is from Baltimore, renowned for crab, he mentioned that typically French crabs are not very good.  But for me, it was tasty, but I’m not a crab connoisseur.

Stuffed teeny-tiny crab

For our entrées, Jack got the razor back clams which was the highlight of Jack’s meal. He loved it, I tasted it, I don’t particularly care for “foams”, but it was extremely tasty. 

Razor clam
Foie gras with stuffed pasta

John and I had the foie gras, and the pasta with girolles.  The pasta was a small shell pasta stuffed with girolles and some type of unidentifiable meat. The pasta was not al dente, but rubbery. However, the foie gras was nice and seared on the outside and nice and tender inside.

Now here’s where we start going down hill, our main courses:

Jack and I had the Cod Fish and cauliflower. I have to say it did look pretty; however, I haven’t tasted anything so bland in a long time.  I would’ve even preferred it to be fishy over having no taste at all. It desperately needed some acid, lemon would’ve definitely given it some depth.  The sauce was also quite glutinous, almost “”cornstarchy”, if there is such an adjective.  We had to ask for salt and pepper. I must’ve doused so much pepper, the pristine white plate looked like someone splattered dirt on it, oh well.

John had the partridge. I had a taste of it, but it was a bit rubbery, and it was not very exciting.  John did ask for it to be on the more rare side; unfortunately, it was more on the well done side. For all I know it could’ve been a piece of overcooked chicken.

Interestingly, John uses a phrase called “U” meal.  Wow, I asked, “what does this mean?” Basically, the food is on a high then it starts declining and maybe goes back up again.  So, I asked if I could use this phrase, ‘cause I love it.


Jack was the only one who had a cheese course.  He had the comté.  It was accompanied by a sabayon (which he didn't want). I thought for sure it was going to be a sweet sabayon.  I tasted it, and it was not pleasant. It was savory and “salty” that could have been used on the fish.  I can’t imagine adding that sabayon to the comté, since comté already has a strong taste.  The cheese had “colored” sprinkles on top of it, according to Jack it didn’t taste like anything, it was just superfluous.  Well the red did give the restaurant some color at least.

Afterwards, desserts came:

It was an odd mix of very, very sour dishes and very, very sweet dishes.  I get sweet and sour in one dish, but this was a bit odd for me.

Spéculoos Mousse

For our first dessert we got a sorbet of lemon and ginger. I wanted to say, man this is sour, but my lips puckered up so much, I couldn’t even say the words.  It was one of the most sour desserts I’ve ever tasted.  The second dessert was a spéculoos mousse over a spéculoos cookie sitting atop some chocolate ganache. The mousse was very creamy and as you dug in and hit the chocolate it was a nice little surprise. I happen to like spéculoos, so it was good dessert for me.

Passion fruit

Then we got a plate of passion fruit (lilikoi) and some lemon tarts.  The passion fruit was just awful. I'm a tropical fruit, so I know my fruit. Whoever their provider is, needs to be fired. Passion fruit should be succulent, sweet, aromatic and make you want to be passionate.  All it did for me was make me bitchy.
Lemon tarts

The lemon tart crust was interesting, it was encrusted with “demara” sugar. I liked the crust part better than the filling.


This is an expensive restaurant for the type of food you get. For 3-people, the bill came to almost 200 Euros.  All of us gave the food a 2 over 5 score; however, I gave them credit for their service. The service was excellent, so I bumped up my overall score to 2 1/2 .  Would I go back?  probably not. Will it improve? I hope so, because they do have a great concept albeit a lot of clichés.  And, in their defense, they still are relatively new, so probably still refining their menu.


Back to the “Promised Land” – my thoughts on Israel

Dome of the Rock, with the Western Wall below

I’ve always wanted to visit Israel.  A close friend, Joel had a life long dream to become an Israeli citizen. So, when he told us last year, he was going to Israel in October to fulfill his dream, we made plans to go to Israel and help him celebrate.  Voila, we left October 4 from Paris.

Leaving from Charles De Galle Airport, my favorite airport in the world (yeah right), we first flew to Luton airport, and then took a connecting flight to Tel Aviv. Once we arrived in Luton, we had to go through customs, and clear security.  I was expecting security going into Israel to be much stricter; however, it was business as usual. 

The flight is about 5-hours from Luton. Upon arrival, we prepared for an inquisition at passport control. So, we had documents showing where we were staying and what escorted tours we were going on, and swore that I was not a militant anything, except for maybe marriage equality (but we didn't need any of these).  The immigrations officer, who was probably 12-years old, asked if I wanted a stamp in my passport, I said no, so she stuck a pink slip of paper in my passport, which was later taken by the customs officers.  We did this primarily because we plan on visiting other middle eastern countries, and some do not allow you in the country if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport.  All-in-all, it was relatively easy.

Ben Yehuda street
Although they do not have a subway system in Tel Aviv, public transportation is plentiful (trains/buses).  My thoughts on the train and buses, they’re air-conditioned and relatively clean, go figure? The trains run much slower than the RER in Paris, and another thing I noticed, there are a lot of young soldiers, some with rifles slung around their shoulder, I'm assuming they're going home for the week-end. (Note: weekday is from Sunday to Thursday). We took a train and then a bus to our hotel, which was located on Ben Yehuda street, it’s a great location only a block from the beach, and in walking distance to our friends Joel and Paul’s apartment, and lots of shops and restaurants.

Israeli Restaurant next to beach

We met up with our friends for dinner after we unpacked. I did notice something very odd on our walk to our friend’s apartment, bicyclists ride on the sidewalk, and not the streets, imagine that? After seeing how Israeli's drive, I now understand.  It helps if you can walk in a straight line.  Well I don’t do anything straight and that includes walking, especially after a few glasses of wine. So I almost got hit a couple of times. Oh yeah, if you have a hearing aid wear it, cause most don’t have little bells on their bikes, and they usually make funny noises or say something in Hebrew as they approach you, I’m sure they’re saying, “bitch, out of the way…”
All the side dishes and more came, imagine that?

It was about 10 pm when we got to the restaurant; however, it seems you can eat any time you want to in Tel Aviv, there is no set time for meals.  It was a warm evening so we sat outside. We had a typical Israeli Sephardic  type meal. What I was impressed was all the side dishes of vegetables (e.g., tabouli, baba ganoush, various humuus’) all very fresh, and it was volonté (all you can eat—the vegetable portions anyway). You don’t typically see a lot of vegetables in a French restaurant, so this was quite a pleasant surprise. I was later told that many Israelis and Palestinians eat quite a bit of vegetables. A friend told me when he and his family were in Paris, as they were in the check-out, someone said to them you must be Israeli? They asked how did he know, and he replied, “only Israelis get this much vegetables at one time.” Also, you’ll notice a lot of fresh fruit stands, where they’ll freshly squeeze e.g., orange juice, pomegranate etc.,  I suggest you bring pepto bismol or immodium if your body is not use to eating so much "organic" vegetables and fruit juices.

One of the best octopus salads I've ever had!

Next day we took a leisurely walk along the beach to Jaffa (Yafo) , believed to be one of the oldest port cities in the world. Along the way, we stopped for lunch, and I had an octopus salad, it was so tender it melted in your mouth. The seafood is incredibly good and fresh,  it should be considering its proximity to the sea, I’m sure most was from water to table.  Wow, I’m starting to like this.

Jaffa (Yafo), I found really interesting with all the markets, food stalls, and interesting restaurants. If you like to shop, always bargain.  If they give you a price, but you really want it, pretend you’re going to walk away uninterested, it’s amazing how they’ll come down in price. As a result, I bought a cotton shirt originally told it was about $20 and I got it for about $12.

"The boys" background is Jaffa (Yafo)

As we climbed up to the tower, it reminded me of  Montmartre, since there’s lots of artists and wonderful arts and craft galleries.  I couldn’t help myself and I bought a ring and Star of David made by Yemenite_Jews, all hand crafted and just beautiful.  The inscription on my ring in Hebrew is, “I am to my beloved, as my beloved is to me."

I recently wore the "Star of David", and someone commented, "funny you don't look Jewish?" and, he was caucasian with a Chinese character tattooed on his arm, guess how I responded?

One thing I did notice in Jaffa, there are a lot of stray cats, and later I noticed a lot of stray cats as well in Jerusalem. I was told that the British brought them to Israel to control the rat population.  I’m deathly allergic to cats, so I tried to stay clear of them, but one insistent cat kept sneaking under our dinner table one night, I guess he knew I didn’t like him, so he was trying to annoy the crap out me, go figure? So, I bribed that cat by dangling a piece of meat and throwing it across the street, I almost knocked down a pedestrian with that piece of meat, oh well.  Anyway, it didn’t work, he came back for more, oy vey!

The many fresh juice stands throughout Israel

That evening Tel Aviv was buzzing with activity, because it was the night before Yom Kippur. Restaurants were crowded.  We actually did not get seated until 11 pm.  Another thing I noticed is that restaurant prices are relatively inexpensive when compared to Paris or San Francisco and before the evening of Yom Kippur we were told that EVERYTHING would literally be closed around 1 or 2 pm. Since our friends do not cook, and typically go out to eat every evening, we decided we best get some food to cook for dinner.  The grocery stores were packed. People buying for a “pre-sunset” meal before the start of Yom Kippur and the day long fast (no food or water after sunset).  Religious holidays start at sunset, and end the following sunset. True to their word, at around 3 pm all public transportation and shops were closed, and later at sunset Israeli TV channels closed too.

Since none of us are religious and I’m hypoglycemic and must eat, some of my friends are probably shrugging at this statement, but I truly am hypoglycemic, I cooked dinner, and we had a lovely evening meal on our friend’s balcony. Only one incident happened as we were eating, a cop was running down the street, at first I thought he was going to run up to our apartment and arrest us for eating and drinking.  However, it was a car illegally driving down the side street and he telephoned for back-up and a chase ensued, imagine that?

We were told on the day of Yom Kippur, you will see secular Jews and non-Jews  strolling the streets and lots of bicyclists. Also, it’s advisable not to eat or drink in public as respect to those who do fast. It was interesting to see EVERYTHING literally closed. Just people walking and lots of bicycles.  You can even walk down the middle of the road if you like.  On the day of Yom Kippur we basically just walked around the beach and enjoyed the view.  However, I did see people eating and drinking on the beach, blasphemes!

Bicyclists on main street along the beach to Jafa (Yafo)

Once the sun sets and the fast ends, we were told that restaurants would be crowded, so we made reservations a day earlier at a popular Italian Israeli restaurant in the hip and trendy area of Neve Tzedek.

The day after Yom Kippur, we took an excursion to Masada and the Dead Sea.  First stop was Masada, what can I say except the history of what happened was amazing. I was lost for words, probably cause it was over 100 degrees and I didn’t have energy to talk. I could go into the history of Masada, but my brain got fried, so check this site on Masada.


After Masada we went to the Dead Sea, I was really looking forward to this since it’s reputed that soaking in the water helps alleviate arthritis, skin problems, and the mud is filled with potastium and minerals that you can smother on your skin for a minimum of 5-minutes will rejuvenate you, hmmm, I’m thinking if I look 20-years younger after doing all this and cured of all my ailments, then I’m building me a beach front house to move there permanently. Our gang of misfits decided since I was reborn from the Dead Sea, it would be appropriate for me to be baptized and renamed, so we unanimously came up with the name Gabby “Langue” Finkelstein, because after-all she has the gift of gab.

I hate mud, what we do for health and beauty

Everyone helping themselves to a  bucket of black mud

I loved the dead sea, literally everything floats, I tried standing a couple of times, but my legs kept wanting to float, so I fell on a salt mound and scrapped my arm. I didn’t feel it though, so I guess it’s also a miracle anesthetic, anti-pain, imagine that?  I now know why whales stay afloat, it’s the sea water; however, the dead sea has almost 9 times more salt than sea water. After the dead sea we headed back to Tel Aviv, and called it a night.

The next day we packed for a 3-day excursion across Northern Israel and then we’ll subsequently wind up in Jerusalem.  We met 2-lovely sisters, Rina and Tiffany with their mother Ginny. We all immediately became best friends on this trip. There was a lot of driving involved, thank god for air-conditioning.  Our first day we went to Tiberias and visited the Saint Peter’s Church. It’s a beautiful church, but I came across an interesting sign oh well, I guess I’m a heathen. Interesting city, it’s below sea level and quite warm.

Signage at the town square, go figure?

How appropos

After Tiberias we went along the Sea of Gallile and had lunch at one of the proverbial tourist places that served St. Peters fish, more commonly known as Tilapia. With the exception of the fish, the restaurant served God awful food and it was expensive, oh well. So, I suggest if you go to these tourist spots, go for the sandwiches, or in this case pita sandwiches.

After lunch we headed up towards to the Golan_Heights. It was captured by the Israeli’s in 1967 in the six-day war. It is a very important military strategic area for the Israelis.

Golan Heights

Later we headed down to the Jordan river where Jesus was baptized.  As we arrived, we were lucky enough to see a Russian orthodox baptismal in progress. Very interesting.

Russian Orthodox baptismal, Jordan River

B'Hai Temple
We went to so many other places in Northern Israel, that I would need to write a novel to capture everything. I did find Haifa really pretty. It was very hilly, just like San Francisco, and most of the city had views of the sea. It does have a hot humid climate, and I can see why many would go there for vacations.  I was impressed with the B'Hai Temple, and the surrounding areas. The gardens were just beautiful.

Is that a gun, or are you happy to see me?

One of my more memorable photos was when we were at the border of Israel and Lebanon. There was a huge gate with a huge sign that said, "no photos beyond this point;" however, next to it I saw the border sign.  An Israeli soldier who was all about 4 feet tall came up to me, I thought he was going to shoo me away with his rifle or kill me for getting to close to the border gate, instead, he took his hat off and put on my head and stood next to me for my photo shoot, almost as if to say, "Mr. De Mille, I'm ready for my close-up."  I was verklempt, how touching.  I asked if I could hold is rifle since I've never been that close to a machine gun before, but he kept saying "lo,lo", oh well... You gotta love a man in uniform, I didn't ask and he didn't tell.

Sukkot, to be used later that evening for dinner
Next stop Jerusalem. I was so excited about visiting Jerusalem, the history, being able to walk where Jesus walked, and where all the major religions converged.  On our first night, we went to the restaurant area near the “Old Jerusalem” the “walled city”. It was the night before Sukkot .  It was quite festive and crowded. I saw a sea of yarmulkes/kippa  and bad wigs. FYI…, for ultra orthodox Jewish women they must cover their hair with a scarf or a wig. We went to the Mt. Zion hotel restaurant, as we entered, they asked us meat or diary. They literally separate those who are eating meat and those who eating dairy, in accordance with  "kosher"  laws.  Since I’m lactose intolerant and Gabby is as well, we said meat. The food is what it is, kosher. I found some of the dishes a bit strange. No, worries, I behaved myself and did not try and order a pork chop. Chicken wings is a very popular appetizer or main dish.  They’re usually fried and served with a sweet/sour sauce. I had the Chicken livers with figs, it was way too sweet for me, but the breads were really good, I almost made a faux pas when I nearly asked for butter, but caught myself. So, this was probably the one not so good meal we had. At least we got seated at an outside table and entertained ourselves watching all the festivities surrounding us.

Mt. Zion Hotel/Restaurant dressed up for Sukkot

While at the restaurant we noticed more than 80% were Americans, apparently there is an American Yeshiva  close by. 99% of the patrons were ultra conservative Jews. Imagine me in that mix, 99% ultra orthodox Jews and 1% Randy, that was quite a sight.  They were probably trying to figure out what tribe I came from. I was going to make one up and say “Oriental” tribe, but that term already exists and is used to refer to Sephardic Jews. Oh well, so I just told them I was a tropical fruit version (Note: I was wearing black/white, their uniform du jour).  So, we befriended a bunch of teenagers at the table next to us, American students from the Yeshiva. We asked if they spoke Hebrew, they responded,  “not really” wow, how odd is that? isn’t the Torah in Hebrew, go figure?  They were like any normal college kids drinking lots of beer, but discreetly checking out the women.

The next day would be the start of Sukkot and we were told that all public transportation, except taxis, and all restaurant and stores would be closed, except for the “Old walled city” where the Muslims and Christian stores and restaurants would be open. So we decided to go to the Old city for our meals.

The following morning we walked to the old city, it was about a 40 minute walk to from our hotel…, downhill.  As we were walking downhill, I kept thinking do I have to do this in reverse? Please tell me no.

Where Jesus laid after his crucifixion
I found the Old City, Jerusalem fascinating at first. The wailing wall, the Church of the Sepulcher, the Arab quarter, Armenian quarters, simply all the old history.  But after I did all that, I just saw one tacky bazaar after another selling tacky souvenirs and tacky t-shirts. I guess there’s no escaping that no matter where you go.

Western "wailing" wall, I inserted a prayer I wrote

After spending a couple of hours there, Jack and I decided we needed to go back to the hotel freshen up and nap, maybe I could hitch-hike (note: cars are allowed to run, but not public transportation)! FYI…, when you hitch hike, instead of sticking your thumb out, you point downward with your index finger as if to say “stop here”. So we told Paul and Joel that we’d meet them later, and we’d have dinner at the Armenian restaurant.

Keeping the peace and ensuring our safety, on Via Dolorsa, the street where Jesus carried the cross (stations of the cross)

So, we trudged back up the hill to our hotel, got to our hotel and I literally passed out from exhaustion.  Then it was time to go back to the old city, again we had to walk another 40-minutes, but it was at least down hill. I swear if I don’t lose weight from all this walking it was for naught.

We met at the Armenian restaurant, talk about a beautiful restaurant. So, I start talking to the waiter, and assumed he was Armenian, he said no he was Palestinian, that in fact, no one in the restaurant was Armenian, maybe the owner was a quarter Armenian, so much for authentic Armenian food, served by Armenians.  None-the-less we had a great time.

Armenian Restaurant, where else, but the Armenian section of the "Old City"

After dinner, I could not bear the idea of walking back to the hotel, so Joel bargained with a cab driver (Note: you can either have it metered or you can bargain for a cab ride, if you’re a good bargainer, best to do that than have it metered).  Got to our hotel and literally passed out.

Arab Section of the "Old City"

The next day, was still a public holiday so everything would be closed until that evening. So once again, we all trudged to the Old City, but this time we took a different route and walked around the non-tourist Arab section which I found quite interesting, as well as the touristy sections.

I needed a nap, plus I was getting tired of seeing the "walled" city, it was getting “old and tired” sorry for the pun. So, I told them we were going back to the hotel, take a nap and we’d meet them at the restaurant area outside of the old city at 8. 

After our nap and freshening up, at about 7:30 pm we noticed the buses and trams came back to life; however, the trams we needed did not start yet, I took it personally, they’re punishing me for being a heathen, and we needed to leave a tout de suite. So, once again we walked back to the restaurant area; fortunately, it was half way to the old city.

It was relatively cold that night, and since it was still the holiday of Sukkot, I did not want to do another kosher restaurant, so we went to an Italian restaurant, which was just OK.  This would be our last meal in Jerusalem, since we were scheduled to fly to London the next day and then return to Paris the following day. So, we had an early night.

Photo of Tel Aviv taken from Jaffa (Yafo)

We were right next door to the bus terminal, so we took a bus into Tel Aviv and then transferred to another Bus for the airport.  A few thoughts. Israeli’s make no qualms about ethnic profiling. As we got on the airport bus, the only one’s that were asked for their ID from an armed solider was an Arab man.  As we got into the airport, we noticed that a young Palestinian was being interrogated thoroughly, and later we found out he was also “strip-searched.” 

Also, any single woman traveling will be interrogated. Inquiring minds want to know why. Single women are targets for terrorist to try to steal their love and affections. I think there was a movie about this. Oftentimes, they may be tricked into bringing a package on board or do an illegal errand, interesting no?  Regardless, I felt very safe with Israeli’s well renown security screening. Interestingly, I did not have to give up my bottle of water or required to take off my shoes.  Apparently, all of their machines are state-of-the-art. 

The Ben Gurion International airport is beautiful. Very clean, lots of places to sit and also get food and do some last minute duty free shopping.

My final thoughts on Israel. I really enjoyed being there. I found Tel Aviv more hip and happening, and with more to do, especially for the young. The city itself is a relatively new city, so there are a lot of sort of non-descript buildings. My favorite areas were along the beach and Yaffa (Yafo).

Jaffa (Yafo) from one of our favorite spots on the beach

Jerusalem is a fascinating city with the major religions converging into the “Old City.” It was awe inspiring to be able to walk where Jesus walked, touch where part of the old temple Western Wall  stands, and see the Dome of the Rock,  they all still exist today.  As for living there, I would find it a bit more difficult. Many of the young secular Jews are moving to Tel Aviv, since there are less religious restrictions for them.  Jerusalem, according to our tour guide is becoming an extremely religious city.  The population of Jerusalem is growing because of the influx of the Ultra Ultra Orthodox Jews from around the world and their belief to follow the tenants of the old bible and procreate. On average they have between 8-12 children. Many of the secular Jews call them “penguins”  I do not know if this is an endearment or a sarcastic term. It's not a city for everyone, because it is an extremely religious city.

Statue in Tel Aviv that I just related to...
On the food, I loved most of the food we got there. I leaned more towards the Sephardic cuisine, with all the various side dishes of vegetables and fresh squeezed juices were incredible!  The freshness can’t be beat. The best hummus I’ve had to date is in Israel. They have such a variety.

One big suggestion I have if you visit Israel, do not go during the high holidays (e.g., Yom Kippur), there is literally nothing to do, and you have no public transportation, all stores, restaurants etc. are closed, and in some cases cars are not allowed on the streets. 

Would I go back, for a wedding, bar mitzvah, bat mitzvah, absolutely! And, if ever I got a chance to go back to the "Dead Sea" -- you don't have to ask me twice.  All-in-all, we had a fabulous vacation! Thank you Israel and thank you Joel and Paul!

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