Category: dear reader

Clarence Finally Gets His Dim Sum On: La Chine Masséna

Dearest reader, how was your weekend? Mine was pretty damn delicious. It also didn’t really end until yesterday. This week is inexplicably “Winter Break” at our university, so I have the week off.  And by “the week off,” what I actually mean is: “I didn’t have to go to work on Monday and half of Tuesday like I usually do.” Would it make you feel any better that most of the rest of my time is spent reading dead peoples’ letters about their gonorrhea symptoms and fighting off an overwhelming sense of career-related dread? No? No. I didn’t think so.

I’ve been thinking about blogging a lot lately. Everybody seems to have an opinion about what I could do to get a few more people here. B thinks that a name change is in order. I agree, in theory. But thinking about changing the name to something like “Tasty Paris!” or “A Cupcake Rides in France” immediately causes the barf to rise to the back of my throat.  And I really like “Keeping the Bear-Garden in the Background,” though I’ll readily admit that it’s not very Google-friendly. Another friend suggested that my site become “more lifestyle oriented.”  She was an advertising and marketing major, surprise, surprise.  I think that this is code for “more posts about shit that other people can buy.” There are several problems with this plan, not the least of which being that I myself don’t have a lot of money to buy things and purchasing things in general makes me feel terribly guilty. After years of hiding shopping bags from my mother, I still feel compelled to hide shopping bags from B, despite the fact that he couldn’t care less how I spend my money. The last thing I want to do is announce to the whole Internet how I’m part of the vast system of consumption that is literally bleeding the world dry.  So I don’t think any posts entitled “What I’m Coveting This Season!” are going to be making it here anytime soon. Also who is coveting the entire hardbound Cambridge edition of D. H. Lawrence’s correspondence anyway? Nobody, that’s who.

Many other people have suggested that I need to publicize my blog more in other internet forums, which I don’t really know how to do and makes me feel squeamish. I did, however, figure out how to add a “share” button to the bottom of each entry. It includes such useful applications as “print,” just in case you, like my mother, are compiling a binder of hard copies of each and every thing I write. On the off chance that, uh, the Internet ceases to exist. No wonder I have such an exaggerated sense of apocalyptic thinking. All of that was my longwinded way of saying that there is now a share button at the bottom of each entry, added as part of a reluctant and half-hearted attempt to increase traffic on this site. I say half-hearted, because who needs other people, right? We’re just fine on our own, all eight of us. That’s right, there are eight of us now! Practically a small army. Anyway, now you can now Digg or Share on Facebook or Tweet about me, if you want. No pressure.

Gah, I feel gross. Let’s talk about food.

This weekend was particularly awesome because it was a veritable SOVIET INVASION in Paris, what with M’s husband AC and their (our?!) friend R sweeping into town simultaneously. AC and R are the best kind of visitors because they both have been to Paris a million times before, so we can basically do the normal things that we are planning on doing and they are perfectly happy. Case in point:  I’ve been craving dim sum for about two years now and had read everywhere that La Chine Masséna (13 Place Vénétie, 75013 Paris, Métro Porte de Choisy) was the place to go in Paris. I suggested it for Friday night, fully expecting to be shot down in favor of a stuffy French bistro. To my delight, everybody rallied and schlepped all the way down to Porte de Choisy, all in humoring my desire to eat steamed dumplings off of carts.

La Chine Masséna is pretty great if you want to go somewhere that feels nothing like a stereotypical Parisian restaurant. It’s huge, seating over eight hundred people in a dining room with an enormous, neon-lit dance floor, gaudy red lanterns hanging from the ceiling, and more flat-screen televisions than at your local Best Buy. Along one side of the dining room are a dozen giant fishtanks, holding everything from lobsters, crabs, and sea snails to sole and enormous, beady-eyed carp.  We were seated directly next to the tanks, which meant that every time someone ordered fresh seafood, we would get to watch the waiters come and fish out dinner. I got splashed several times in the process, which was half-awesome and half-grody. The tanks don’t smell excellent, to be honest, so if you are sensitive towards that kind of thing you might want to request a table on the other side of the room. I was happy to watch the lobsters swim around and gleefully heckled the waiters when the slippery sole evaded their nets. But B, who was still recovering from the übervirus, confessed later that the whole thing made him totally nauseous. So, caveat emptor.

As you might expect, the menu is absolutely enormous, with everything from modest bowls of noodle soup to two hundred euro seafood towers fit for a king. We made a beeline for the dim sum, because Clarence hadn’t stopped talking about it for forty-eight hours and nobody fucks with Clarence when he’s got something stuck in his craw.  I’m no dim sum expert, but I really like the format of pointing at what you want to eat on a moving cart.

I think a lot of this comes from suburban Denver high school nostalgia. A boy I had a crush on for most of high school took me to my very first dim sum restaurant on what I hoped was a date (it wasn’t) when I was fifteen. It was in a part of town I never spent any time in and the whole affair seemed incredibly exotic. He drove us there in a tricked-out hearse and nonchalantly ordered plum wine for both of us.  I barely remember what we ate, or if I even enjoyed it, but I do remember thinking that the whole thing made me exponentially cooler that I was earlier that afternoon. I do remember him taking the lid off of the pork buns and saying something like “Now these are the best.”  I still think pork buns are the best, and I’m not sure if it isn’t because my high school crush declared them so. Later, I bragged about my glamorous non-date to my best friend, who subsequently started dating the guy the following weekend. He thanked me later for laying the groundwork with my much-hotter friend. I thanked him for introducing me to dim sum.

We ordered a pretty standard array of dim sum at La Chine Masséna, including pork and shrimp dumplings, shrimp ravioli, crab and bamboo shoot ravioli, mushroom dumplings, chicken feet in spicy black bean sauce, pork spare ribs, deep-fried spiny lobster croquettes, and of course my beloved pork buns. While the restaurant has an extensive wine and Chinese liquor list, we stuck with several rounds of cold Tsing-Tao.

M revealed her deep love of chicken feet and treated us to a story from her childhood about her mother making chicken feet soup. We all enjoyed sucking the succulent flesh and fatty skin off of the tiny bones.  From the first second he saw them AC was deeply suspicious of the pork buns.  After spending a good long time poking at them with his chopsticks, he declared that he was having none of that. I guess you need a good-looking teenage boy to break you in to the idea of porc laqué au brioche early on in life.

The dim sum wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, but it was totally delightful by the standards of other Parisian Chinese food I’ve eaten. And the ambiance of the place makes it a fun place to go with a big group of people.  Did I mention that the music is a non-stop hit fest of Brian Adams and Richard Marx? I think that my childhood orthodontist had the exact same lite rock soundtrack. Amazing! La Chine Masséna is actually a pretty fancy restaurant, and most of the Chinese people dining there were dressed up in suits and evening dresses. I suspect that this was in anticipation of karaoke and dancing, which we didn’t stay late enough to enjoy. But we’ll certainly be back. I do a mean “Lady in Red,” especially with a few Tsing-Taos and pork buns under my belt.


Clarence is Hopelessly Besotted with Brother’s BBQ in Denver, Colorado

It’s Christmas Eve, people! Merry merry, if this holiday is something you observe. Many (most?) of my friends are secular Jews, so my mother’s insistence upon wishing everyone she sees a “Merry Christmas!” has been getting on my nerves. Between that and the bb gun that she is keeping next to our door as part of her interminable war on the woodpeckers in our neighborhood, things are getting positively Palinesque around here. I told her that and she quickly responded that Santa could always rescind my subscription to the New Yorker, so I better watch my smart-mouthed ass.

B and I are not spending the holidays together, which has been weirder than I imagined. I’ve gotten used having him around, narrating my every annoying thought to his patient ears. I’m beginning to realize just how patient he is, especially with regards to my many obsessions (Italian cinema, Mexican food, watching people lance giant boils on the internet, etc.). For Christmas, he sent me a handsome hardcover copy of Frederico Fellini’s Book of Dreams, a gorgeous reproduction of Fellini’s amazing dream journals published by Rizzoli in conjunction with Jeu de Paume’s Fellini retrospective last year. It was something I had declared I wanted more than anything in the world and then promptly forgotten about, so it was a grand surprise. My parents have been mighty patient with their temporary custody all of these strange fixations of mine, but my mom finally declared that she couldn’t eat any more Mexican food or watch one more episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Fair enough.

One thing that both of my folks will get on board with any day of the week is my infatuation with Denver’s best barbecue joint, Brother’s BBQ (locations around town, but the original location is at 568 Washington Street, Denver, CO 80203). Starting with one location in 1998, two brothers originally from England (!) have built a veritable barbecue empire in our fair city, one that while known for some yummy food, certainly doesn’t know much about barbecue. I know, I know, you’re probably thinking “what the hell do two BRITISH guys living in DENVER know about one of America’s greatest culinary traditions?!” Well, Chris and Nick O’Sullivan did their homework–traveling around the US and apprenticing at famous BBQ restaurants in various parts of the South. The result was a pretty fantastic understanding of various regional specialties, all served under one roof in a town where you couldn’t get good barbecue fifteen years ago.

Now look, I know I’m no Jeffrey Steingarten (swoon!) when it comes to barbecue. I hope to remedy this next year, and B seems pretty gung-ho about indulging my grand fantasy of a barbecue road trip of the American South (I’ve got to plan these sorts of things to keep y’all entertained when I leave Paris). But in the meantime, I do think that Brother’s BBQ does a pretty fantastic job. I especially love their Memphis-style pulled pork shoulder sandwich (served with two sides for $9.25). They’ve got that spicy, vinegary sauce down pat, and their meat is always perfectly slow-cooked for 15 hours (says the young grasshopper). I haven’t yet tried their signature sandwich, The Brother:  a thin layer of smoked hot links, topped with pulled pork, coleslaw, tangy vinegar bbq sauce, fresh jalapeños (hi Denver!) and fried onions. But how could that not be delicious? My mouth is watering as I type.

Even better is their Thursday night rib special, where you can order up to a dozen St. Louis style dry-rubbed pork spare ribs or hickory-smoked beef ribs (sweet sauce, of course) at half price.  This means that a slab of 12 pork ribs goes from being $21.99 to $10.99, and a slab of 10 beef ribs jumps from $23.99 to $11.99. Pair that with some bargain microbrew beers (god I love Colorado) and you’ve got yourself an evening and a half. Their sides are top notch, especially their spicy, tangy barbecued beans (with pork, of course) and their mashed, skin-on red potatoes with gravy. Perhaps perversely (though necessarily in super health-conscious bobo Denver), they also cater to the vegetarian market with bbq tofu (I know, I know, but remember, they are better, more ethical people than you and I, dear reader), salads, and a fierce mac and cheese.

The decor reminds me of that show starring that neo-Nazi that cheated on Sandra Bullock when she was having a really nice day.  Yanno, fancy-motorcycle and collector license plate kitsch? It’s not my bag, per se, but it also goes a long way in getting the manliest men in the door. If the smell of smoked meat wafting through the parking lot wasn’t enough. Please go here, should you find yourself in the Mile High City. I know the real know-it-alls might have something to say on this subject (And please say it! Why doesn’t anyone ever comment except my favorite reader Hattie?!). I’ll remedy my lack of down-home barbecue knowledge in the coming years, but in the meantime, I’ll be chowing down at Brother’s.

Happy Holidays, dearest reader!  You are my very favorite present, even if I can’t shove you under a tree.

Jesus Saves, I Spend: Holiday Shopping in Paris

Last week, in a particularly delightful class I teach to a group of bright law students, we somehow began discussing American shopping habits around the holidays.  In particular, I described the regrettable phenomenon of Black Friday and its attendant cut-rate bargains, all-night campouts, and homicidal stampedes.  In some regards, I felt kind of bad that I described it in such vivid terms – obviously, most Americans I know don’t shop on Black Friday.  Moreover, I don’t like to be complicit in the ways that the French feel smug towards Americans (and vice-versa, I won’t pick a fight over much these days, but the Republicans in my family can consider themselves on notice if they want to argue that people die in the streets here as a result of socialized medicine). Anyway, while my little Frogs were indeed surprised to hear that people have actually died in the pursuit of a bargain DVD player in the United States, they corroborated my sentiment that the French are just as bad when it comes to holiday shopping madness as those of us from the other side of the pond.  My own neighborhood here in Paris, the Marais, is testament to this very fact.  We live just a stone’s throw from BHV, one of the largest department stores in Paris, and our street has become atherosclerosis personified with blank-eyed exhausted shoppers with lugging huge bags of god-knows-what.

My own family has seriously pared down our Christmas gift giving habits in recent years, much to my relief. If I’m being totally honest, I’ll admit that I’m not particularly into Christmas.  I find the mandatory gift-giving holidays rather oppressive, and find meal-centric holidays far more to my liking (I’ll take a Thanksgiving dinner or an Easter brunch any day over a Christmas morning).  I’ve also always been stuck with the rather lousy situation of having a mid-December birthday, resulting in many childhood years of Happy Birthday/Merry Christmas presents from my more distant relatives. And while my parents always went all out on Christmas when I was growing up (perhaps in compensation for all the double-dipping presents I received for my birthday), we’ve definitely scaled things back to a bare minimum in recent years. I suspect I’ve always been rather difficult to buy presents for.  My only recollection of receiving a Christmas present that I genuinely wanted was the year that I asked for a coconut, which my parents obligingly stuffed into the top of my stocking.  Enthralled by my good fortune, I ignored the hundreds of dollars spent on toys and spent Christmas morning fondling my coconut. My father is relatively easy to buy for and seems psyched about whatever he receives as a gift.  My mother, on the other hand, is a nightmare.  I can’t say whether it is because she genuinely doesn’t want anything (a late capitalist anomaly if there ever was one) or if everyone in the world is just consummately terrible at buying gifts for her.  Either way, I can’t think of anything that I or anyone else has bought her that she’s ever really loved.  Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that my immediate family has finally come to grips with the fact that we are relatively lousy at giving one another presents. My father comes over on Christmas Eve for a big dinner and we swap small gifts (in recent years, he purchased me a dearly beloved apparatus that holds books open and a travel mug for coffee). My mother has gone the practical route, carefully wrapping up socks, sweatpants, and printer cartridges that she has purchased at Costco for me and placing them under the tree, much to my pragmatic delight.

The stakes have changed, a bit, with the introduction of B into my life.  B loves giving gifts and is quite good at it, much to my dismay. He began planning for Christmas in the beginning of October, prodding his family and friends for ideas and compulsively making lists of possible presents. While it’s nice to be the beneficiary of such carefully plotted giving, I do feel woefully inadequate. Gift giving is not my forte and the gifts I give are always leaden with expectation.

That bit of family and personal history aside, I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a shopping related post for a while.  I’ve been reticent to do so, mainly because I am already a bit uncomfortable about the level of consumption already chronicled in this space. It seems that the most popular blogs, or at least those ones written by women my age, are little more than a compendium of spending.  Artful spending, sure! Well-styled spending, of course! But it does seem that many popular blogs are entirely devoted to providing an account of the lovely things that the author buys and how she chooses to wear them or display them in her home. Don’t get me wrong – everyone is welcome to do whatever they please in their own corner of the internet, and I’ve spend more than a few hours thumbing through these types of spaces, green with envy that my own object world is not nearly so well-curated. But I didn’t want this to become that, perhaps because I already feel guilty about how much I like many of the things I buy and how much time and energy their acquisition occupies in my consciousness. I can feel smug about the fact that I don’t write about my quest for the perfect handbag, but that quest still exists. I already write far too much about the quest for the perfect slice of truffled foie gras, which I’m sure makes many people think of me as an unethical monster.

But it’s the holidays, and if the holidays do anything they make people act against their better judgment.  So, over the next few days I’ll be posting a Paris shopping guide, a list of places I spend my money over the holidays and during the rest of the year. Feel free to skip it, if voluntary simplicity is more your bag. In any case, should you be jumping into the madness this season, may your holiday shopping be joyous and stress-free, dear reader.

The List

There seems to be a rash of “life lists” and “bucket lists” circulating on the ol’ blogosphere lately. And while I don’t have too many “life goals” at this point, I do have an ominous event looming at the end of next summer:  I’ll be leaving Paris. I don’t have a firm departure date just yet, but like all good things, this one will be coming to an end sometime in early August 2011. The mere thought of it makes me sad, and a few days ago I sat in the park in front of the Musée Picasso (closed interminably for restoration) and wept at the thought of having to leave this city. I’ve never been happier in my life than I have been living here. And while I’m excited for the next chapter, it’s still going to be a tough transition come next summer.

It’s easier than you think to become complacent when you live in a place like this for a long time. While I’ve certainly done plenty of amazing cultural activities since my arrival, I’ve also managed to avoid some really important one (like, uh, stepping foot in the Louvre). So I have compiled (along with B) a “to-do list” of sorts so I don’t forget all the things I want to do before I leave. I’ll share it with you, dear reader, and periodically update you on my progress. Some of these things are pretty cliché, so I’ll ask you to promise me that you won’t make fun. Telling you about things has been a great incentive to do things over the past ten months.  Better yet, if you are in Paris (or are planning on being in Paris) and want to join me in any of these activities, let me know!

The List

Muesums and other cultural attractions

  • Buy an annual pass and tour the Louvre from top to bottom (this will take a while, so I’ll list the collections so I can cross them off periodically:  Egyptian antiquities; Near Eastern antiquities; Greek, Etruscan, and Roman collection; Islamic art; sculpture; decorative arts; painting; and prints and drawing).
  • See the Jean-Michel Basquiat show at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris before January 30th
  • See the Arman show at the Centre Pompidou before January 10th
  • Visit the Musée National Gustave Moreau museum
  • Visit the Musée de l’Orangerie
  • Visit the Musée Carnavalet
  • Tour the Catacombes
  • Take B and M to the Cimitière Montparnasse
  • Visit the Crypte Archéologique in front of Notre Dame
  • Visit the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle
  • Visit Fondation Dubuffet
  • Visit Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain
  • Visit the Musée du Vin
  • Take B to the Musée du stylo et de l’écriture
  • Visit the Maison Rouge
  • Visit the Musée des arts forains
  • Visit the Musée de la vie romantique
  • Visit the Musée Jacquemart-André
  • Go to the top of the Tour Eiffel 
  • Go to the top of the Tour Montparnasse
  • Go to Versailles
  • Go to Chartres with B
  • Go to Giverny with my mom
  • Suck it up and go with B to Parc Astérix

Green Things

  • Ride bikes to the Bois de Boulogne and have a picnic
  • See the tulips in the Bagatelles in the spring
  • Take my mother to Parc Butte-Chaumont and buy her a drink at Rosa Bonheur
  • Take my dad for a bike ride along the Promenade Plantée to the Bois de Vincenne and rent a boat
  • Return to Fontainebleau with B in the spring and find some morels

Movies and Concerts

  • See Nouvelle Vague at the Casino de Paris on November 30th with M, AC, and B
  • See somebody at the l’Olympia, preferably somebody French and venerable
  • See The Gospel According to Matthew, Oedipus Rex, and Accattone! at Accattone, thus completing the project of seeing all of Pasolini’s films on the big screen
  • See 8 1/2 and La strada, thus completing the project of seeing all of Fellini’s films on the big screen
  • See Les Quatre Cents Coups, À bout de souffle, Pierrot le fou, Les Carabiniers, Masculin, féminin, Week End, Vivre sa vie, and Cléo de 5 à 7 on the big screen

Clarence, King of All Things Good and Plentiful

  • Eat as much charcuterie, foie gras, rillettes, truffles, rabbit, duck, rotisserie chickens, and oysters as possible
  • Try as many French cheeses as possible and keep a record of ones I love
  • Try as many French wines as possible and keep a record of ones I love
  • Learn to shuck oysters and do so for my friends on New Year’s Eve
  • Eat at Spring (B snagged reservations on January 6th , probably didn’t need that kidney anyway)
  • Eat at Yam’Tcha
  • Eat at Frenchie
  • Eat at La Gazetta
  • Eat at Rino
  • Have brunch at Rose Bakery with M
  • Go to Marché des Enfants Rouges as many weekends as possible and take my mom there when she visits
  • Eat a Pierre Hermé white truffle macaron and a foie gras and chocolate macaron (if possible)
  • Throw a proper ex-pat Thanksgiving feast
  • Throw a party for Fête de la Musique and make a thousand paper cranes to dump on the crowds for Raidd Bar’s annual block party

Save Me From What I Want

  • Buy an oyster-shucking knife and an oyster-shucking glove from E. Dehillerin
  • Convince B that the only thing we can afford from E. Dehillerin is an oyster-shucking knife and glove, or, price shipping costs for copper cookware and cast iron pots from E. Dehillerin
  • Buy the rest of Lacan’s seminars in French (four to go!), figure out how to ship books internationally on the cheap
  • Find an amazing set of vintage Laiguole cheese knives, preferably with wood or horn handles
  • Buy the perfect beret
  • Find vintage lithographs of our favorite landmarks in Paris (including the Hôtel de Ville, preferably on fire, Tour St. Jacques, Porte St. Denis, Notre Dame, Église de Saint-Germain-des-Prés, and Sacré-Coeur) at le Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen
  • Find a vintage map of the Marais (Saint-Ouen, you’re on notice!)
  • Visit Deyrolle, the famous taxidermy shop.  Resist buying a stuffed bunny.

Clarence Heads Outside the Schengen Zone: Turkish Delights in Paris

Our dinner at Al Taglio last weekend was a last minute decision, as we had originally planned to eat Turkish food with our new friend ME, who is originally from Turkey and determined to show us that there is more to Turkish food than döner kebab. This lesson in mind, we reconvened on Friday night at the charmingly cluttered Le Cheval de Troie (71 rue de Charenton, 75012 Paris, Métro Ledru-Rollin). I has dumbly asked B earlier in the night why on earth a Turkish restaurant would be called the Trojan Horse. He responded that Troy had been in Turkey, obviously. Like, why haven’t I been working on my ancient geography? It must be getting embarrassing to be with someone like me. All sound and fury and incapable of situating ancient city-states in modern-day nations. I’m drowning in shame.

Anyway, Troy was in modern day Turkey, dear reader. Did you know that? I suggest you get to your Iliad review pronto if you didn’t.

This whole thing was funny to me because B’s latest project involves mapping early Christian sites onto an enormous Google map, combining two of his most obsessive passions: 1) anything Biblical and 2) anything map. Most days he spends his time crouched over his laptop in what must be an excruciatingly painful position, surveying satellite images and making little whimpering noises of joy when he manages to find ruins of the original monastery run by St. Ambrose the Pallid, now gathering moss behind a gas station in rural Egypt. Or something like that.

Anyway, back to Turkish food.

We met up with ME and his daughter E, who has begun reading this blog and would like to be known as EON, the explanation for which I lost in a flurry of 14-year-old energy. Seriously, Friday night made me feel like I was about a hundred years old.  EON was on fire, cracking jokes about everyone and sketching funny anthropomorphic cartoons of us in her notebook. As the night wore on and her energy level only increased, I was struck by one of those all-too-depressing realizations of aging:  I don’t have the energy-level of a teenager anymore. Not even close. I suppose I should have realized this in one of the many classes full of teenagers that I teach, but those aren’t usually at 11 p.m. Even after a Turkish coffee, I was still yawning by the end of the meal, a fact that astounded EON. You just wait, kiddo.  Give it a decade or two.

We were warmly greeted by the proprietor of Le Cheval de Troie, which I first assumed was because of ME’s Turkish banter, but later realized was just the in-house policy.  As per usual with ME and B, we ordered waaay too much food, but everything was delicious and it was fun to try some new things. (Do I sound like a blithe orientalist yet?  No?  It’s coming.) I was particularly psyched about the large jugs of Ayran (sour yogurt drink) that we ordered, as I’m a fiend for yogurt products of all kinds.  The Ayran at Le Cheval de Troie was a lot like buttermilk – tangy and totally refreshing. I could drink it every day.

Eager for us to try everything, ME ordered everyone a plate of Kiymali Lahmacun, a kind of flatbread spread with spiced ground beef.  Really yummy, and quickly devoured by all.

B, M, and I all ordered menus, which were reasonably priced at about 20 euros for an entrée, plate, and dessert.  My entrée was kizartma, roasted eggplant and bell peppers served with a spicy garlic and yogurt sauce:

B ordered sarma (which I know better as dolmas) heavily-spiced rice wrapped in grape leaves and served with garlic yogurt sauce:

M, brave little bird that she is, ordered arnavut cigeri, or lamb livers. Usually a big fan of organ meats of all kinds, I was out of my league with this one and had a tough time getting my bite down. But M was delighted by her entrée, which as usual made me wonder why someone as cool as her still deigns to keep company with me.

Among the many delicious main plates that we ordered, I especially liked my icli peynirli köfte, heavily spiced ground beef topped with melted Kachecaval cheese:

M’s adana kebap, a brochette of ground beef spiced with garlic and parsley, was particularly lovely (no picture).  B had an amazing leg of lamb that was wrapped in roasted eggplant and falling off the bone tender:

They only serve it on Friday and Saturday nights, but it would definitely be worth the trip for on a weekend.

For dessert, we shared orders of baklava, sesame halva, dondurmali sütlac (Turkish rice pudding), and rosewater lokum (commonly known by idiots like me as Turkish Delight). All were really terrific, but the buttery-sweet baklava was something truly special.  I could have eaten an entire tray of the stuff by myself, and only begrudgingly shared my portion with my friends. Sometimes I’m such an only child.

* * *

Let’s say, for a moment, that you are one of these regressive Westerners who think that Turkish food means nothing but döner kebab, preferably eaten late at night while hammered.  In that case, I will humbly recommend what I find to be the two best kebab places in all of Paris. I’m sure anyone who cares about these things will argue that this is not a particularly great town for kebab (you’ve got to head for Berlin for that).  However, we’ve found two places that more than get the job done.

The first, Délice Dégustation (8 rue de Faubourg Saint-Denis, 75010 Paris, Métro Strausbourg Saint-Denis), is in B’s old neighborhood, the, uh, “atmospheric” Strausbourg Saint-Denis. B spent his first year in France living on rue Blondel, one of the oldest streets for prostitution in France. There have been brothels operating on this street since the Middle Ages, including the famous Aux Belles Poules (The Beautiful Chicks), a legendary Belle Époque whorehouse that counted Henry Miller among its regular patrons. Saint-Denis is still bustling hotspot for prostitutes, johns, and men who hang out in betting parlors all day. That said, rue Faubourg Saint-Denis is also a bustling, lively market street at all hours of the day. If you find yourself in the neighborhood, make sure to grab a cheap pint at Le Sully (13 rue de Faubourg Saint-Denis, 75010 Paris, Métro Strausbourg Saint-Denis), B’s favorite bar, before heading across the street to Délice Dégustation (disregard the large pizza signs that seem to trump the kebab, they don’t). Once there, grab a tray and order a veal or chicken kebab in a pita, which here is flatter and more tortilla-like bread that what I’m used to in the States. Make sure to ask for extra harissa, which is made in-house and one of the first genuinely spicy things I’ve eaten in Paris. You’ll get a giant tray of fresh-from-the-fryer fries and a döner kebab that you could easily make two meals from. Sit outside and gaze at the Porte Saint-Denis and watch the riff-raff go by. You might just see B, soaking up “the real Paris” before he scuttles back to his new digs in the Marais.

Or, should you find yourself in Belleville after a late-night concert at La Maroquinerie, La Bellevilloise, or Café de la Danse, may I recommend a stop at the inimitable Döner Burger (52 rue Ménilmontant, 75020 Paris, Métro Ménilmontant).  This place takes fast food to a whole new level. Served sandwich-style in a fluffy bun, their signature döner burger is my bar-none favorite drunk food in Paris.  Or, you can get a spicy, totally satisfying köfte burger.  Either way, make sure and also order an ice-cold two-euro Efes beer, one of the best deals in town. The guys who run the place are really great and seem to be rather obsessed with watching episodes of Dawson’s Creek that have been dubbed into Turkish. I don’t need to tell you that this alone would seal the deal for someone like me.

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We saw the newest Woody Allen flick You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger this weekend. I really enjoyed it, but that of course is kind of a no-brainer for someone like me. B has recently noted that I have kind of a limited taste for genre and tend to gravitate only towards films about neurotic upper-class urbanites. In an effort to counteract this, he has been making me watch Battlestar Galactica, which I wanted to hate but am now entirely obsessed with. This is a big step for me, as I’ve always detested sci-fi or fantasy of any kind. I’ll admit that I still get pretty anxious about how quickly the narrative can spin out of control when you set your television series in “a possible universe,” rather than limiting the scope of the action to the island of Manhattan. But regardless, I’m hooked. B woke up in the middle of the night a few days ago to me yelling “Oh my god!  The fence isn’t real!  The fence isn’t real!  The Cylons are coming!” When he woke me up and asked what I was dreaming about, I apparently eyed him suspiciously and declared that I was confused, but it was still possible that he was a Cylon. I have no recollection of this interchange, but still find it pretty funny. Before long I should be playing Dungeons and Dragons and reading the Wheel of Time. Or not. Maybe I’ll just stick with New Yorker-endorsed sci-fi series for now. Gotta take the long dark path into real-dorkdom nice and slow.

Booze or Lose: Le Baron Rouge

So school started for reals this week, or at least as “for reals” as it ever really is at the husk of a university where I teach. Part of the problem is this rather large strike that has been going on for the past five days with no signs of abating. This means that getting to work has been a veritable hell, with only one train in every three running on the major commuter transit lines. Upon arriving at campus, the buildings may or may not be barricaded by stern-looking policemen or angry students. If I am so lucky as to get in to one of the classrooms, I’m usually greeted by one or two confused students, whom I chat with for a while before letting them leave. On Thursday, the one day that I actually had dozens upon dozens of students show up for my classes, it became clear that a major registration faux-pas had taken place and that nobody (myself included) was in the right place. Unfortunately, all of the administrators and secretaries are also on strike, so I wasn’t able to do much besides take attendance, play half-hearted rounds of the cannibal game (my favorite ice-breaker in which students gradually cannibalize one another on a desert island), and send everyone on their way. Basically, I was a glorified attendance-taker this week. I’m so glad I’ve had 9 years of higher education. Livin’ the dream, baby.  I’m livin’ the dream.

Add to that some other minor irritations and this was the kind of week that warranted one serious after-work happy hour. B and I fantasized all summer about organizing a kind of weekly get-together at one of our favorite wine bars, Le Baron Rouge (1 rue Théophile Roussell, 75012 Paris, Métro Ledru-Rollin).  Think Thirsty Thursday all grown-up, complete with charcuterie plates and witty banter. We “discovered” this place (I’m like Christopher Columbus over here, discovering places that other bloggers have already written about ad nauseum) with BC and J last spring and quickly became devoted patrons.  Le Baron Rouge is seriously awesome. They have an amazing selection of wines available by the (cheap!) glass, listed on large chalkboards. You can give yourself a rather comprehensive lesson in French wines just by gradually working your way down the chalkboard, as B has been methodically doing. Or, you can be a crusty old creature of habit like yours truly and just order a glass of the Pic Saint-Loup over and over again, because you like it, and because the true madness of modernity might just be forgetting what you actually like because you want to try everything.  Or so us crusty old creatures of habit tell ourselves.  Either way, the wines are lovely and the bartenders are both knowledgeable and generous in their pours.  At between two and four euros a glass (and you are getting some pretty knockout wines at the top end of that spectrum), you can afford to have a few glasses to blow off some steam. And, if you really like something, you can take home a bottle for less than you’d spend at your local wine merchant.

Let’s say for a moment that you’re more serious drinker, or perhaps you like boozing at home, or feel a wide-eyed sense of wonder and value when you stroll the aisles of Costo.  You might want to purchase a few liters of wine from one of the big barrels that line the walls of Le Baron Rouge. You pay a one-time fee for the plastic jugs, and then return whenever you want to refill for bargain-basement prices. I like it when my bulk drinking is green. Take that, Leonardo di Caprio. Have fun cruising around in your Prius, you know, the feel-good hybrid with the hideous environmental footprint? I only take public transportation and drink my wine out of reusable plastic jugs. Now who is feeling smug?

More importantly, and lest you think I actually do anything beneficial for the environment besides begrudgingly sort my recyclables and ride Vélibs when drunk, let me tell you about the charcuterie plates. Oh man, Le Baron Rouge is like cured meat nirvana.  Their large charcuterie plate is one of the best parts of my week, with slices of spicy dry salami, tangy garlic sausage, and two of the biggest mounds of foie gras paté and creamy rabbit rillettes you could ever hope for in your life. Most charcuterie plates leave a group of four wild-eyed and lusting after those final cornichons. But the charcuterie plate at Le Baron Rouge is totally satisfying and perfect for a table of four. Party of six?  Add a mixte, which pairs an amazingly smoky Tomme de Corse with more of that great salami. You also then get the pleasure that comes from the opening of the cheese fridge at Le Baron Rouge, a most glorious stink that wafts through the entire joint and causes the Americans to glare suspiciously at their companions.  Don’t worry newbies! It’s just cheese stink, magnificent, tremendous, old cheese stink. If they bottled it in perfume form, I’d be the first girl in line at Sephora.

We gave our Thirsty Thursday plan a trial-spin a few weeks back with much success, with a half-dozen friends showing up to drink and chat around the enormous barrel in the center of the front room.  This past Thursday was less successful, with B and I drinking alone until our table was gradually hijacked by the hoards of French workers that show up after 7 p.m.  We left, disappointed that we weren’t living in our own version of Cheers and resolved to do better next week. So, Paris denizens, Le Baron Rouge next Thursday? I get done taking attendance at 4 p.m., so we’ll aim for a prompt 6 p.m. arrival time. How about it guys? The charcuterie plate is on me.

Clarence Gets Down and Dirty with the Kimchi: Hang-A-Li

Let’s talk about Korean food in Paris, shall we?

Many moons ago I recommended one Han Lim as a possible venue for getting some “spare but functional” Korean food in Paris. It was kind of a throwaway entry – stock photo of some kimchi, a few offhand remarks about how sick of French food I was, and some rather lukewarm praise of the place. Would you believe that this is one of my highest ranked entries? I literally can’t tell you how many people arrive at this site from googling “Korean food in Paris” or “kimchi.” If Han Lim has seen any kind of spike in their Anglophone business in the past six months, it’s entirely my doing. I can be thanked in soju.

Worse yet, I believe the picture of kimchi that accompanies that totally lackluster few paragraphs is now one of the top Google images that comes back from searching “kimchi.” I stole it from some poor (now-anonymous) bloke’s Flickr or something and never even thought of giving credit where credit is due. I’m a jerk, you unnamed-yet-brilliant photographer of spicy fermented cabbage! Contact me and I’ll send you a special Keeping the Bear Garden in the Background thank you gift!

As an aside, I keep telling readers to contact me for their special Keeping the Bear Garden in the Background prizes and they never do. And it’s a shame, because all of these amazing champagne stoppers and lenticular postcards are just gathering dust, when they could be keeping your leftover Prosecco bubbly and your children amused.

All of this is to say that I’ve since found much better Korean food in Paris since I started frequenting the Asian district of the first arrondissement. I’m still nuts for Higuma, but have started branching out to other restaurants off of rue Sainte Anne since their kimchi ramen left me a little bit cold (I’m still a rabid loyalist to their yakatori, however). Anyway, a recent stroll led B and I to discover the nearby Hang-A-Li (7 rue Louvois, 75002 Paris, Métro Quatre-Septembre), a warm and friendly Korean restaurant that is doing some serious and scrumptious cooking.

First of all, their banchan is much closer to what I’m used to from eating Korean food in Southern California. While it’s varied from night to night, you can expect to see baechu kimchi, dongchimi (cabbage in a white brine), oijangajji muchim (pickled cucumbers), sigeumchi namul (blanched spinach dressed with soysauce, sesame oil, and garlic), kongnamul (bean sprouts with sesame oil), and musaengchae (julienned white radishes in a sweet vinegar sauce).  A rather thick, but lovely pajeon (savory pancakes with spring onions) can be ordered as an entrée.

Our first visit, we launched headfirst in the barbeque and weren’t disappointed.  We shared the bulgogi, which was everything that you want it to be and satisfyingly so, and a spicy, peanutty pork dish that uses samgyeopsal (unsalted strips of pork belly).  I’d never eaten anything like it in the States, and oh man, was it delicious.  It was all of my favorite things in one dish:  salty, spicy, nutty, and fatty. For about 14€ a dish, with soup, banchan, and a lovely little dish of lychee-heavy fruit salad included in this price, Hang-A-Li is a good bargain, especially compared to Han Lim (which is much more expensive and not nearly as tasty).

Last night we returned to Hang-A-Li with M.  It was a chilly night and we were all still dressed for late summer. By the time we were arrived, nothing sounded better than a cold Hite beer and a kimchi jjigae (kimchi-based hot pot with pork and tofu). This is one of my comfort foods par excellence, and Hang-A-Li’s version lived up to my high expectations. M, who also ordered one, kept quietly murmuring “I love this soup. I love this soup.” She has much less bombastic, and far better taste than I do, so I’ll leave you with that as the best review imaginable.  B ordered his spicy pork samgyeopsal and spent the rest of the evening with what I’ll call the “blissed-out pork belly face.”  We’ll definitely we spending a lot of time at Hang-A-Li as the weather gets colder, and so should you.

Details: Disregard everything I’ve said about Korean food in Paris until now and scoot over to Hang-A-Li for dinner.