Monday, February 27, 2012

Midnight in Paris

Paris is a lovely city and full of surprises too! Two Fridays ago, I took the Eurostar after work to meet Keenan in the City of Lights for a short weekend getaway. He had arrived earlier in the day for a business meeting and kindly checked us into the l'Empire, a boutique hotel off of Rue du Rivoli in the 1st arrondisement. The stylish room at this smart hotel was extremely spacious by European standards with a king-sized bed, fluffy duvet, and a big flat screen TV. It was a very comfortable stay and the location couldn't be better, just a stone's throw away from the Louvre. 

Alighting at Gare du Nord at 9:30 pm, I made my way to the 11th arrondisement for dinner of steak and frites at Bistro Paul Bert, a much-loved and lively neighbourhood restaurant serving up classic Parisian dishes. The three-course menu costs €36 which is considered good value for Paris in my opinion. We started off with foie gras and beef carpaccio as appetizers, and then moved on to our mains: a juicy well-flavoured steak for Keenan and a slightly over-cooked veal for me, but still solid French cooking, paired with medium-bodied Bordeaux red. Desserts at Bistro Paul Bert were amazing (and huge!). We ordered the chocolate souffle and the house specialty "Paris Beast," a donut-shaped puff pastry filled with luscious chocolate hazelnut cream. It was enough sugar to put both of us into a diabetic coma, but it was so delicious. Ummmm...

The next morning we indulged in some retail therapy by taking advantage of the late winter sales in Paris. While strolling along Rue du Rivoli looking for a wine shop, I randomly ran into my friend from graduate school whom I haven't seen since I moved to London. Turns out she is currently living New York City working for the World Economic Forum and was in Geneva for work but was also visiting Paris for the weekend. Completely random, but I was so happy to see my friend and grateful for the opportunity to catch up on life over a delicious falafel from L'as du Falafel the next day.

Little did I know, my childhood best friend's niece, who is also my kid sister's good friend, was also in Paris that weekend to celebrate her birthday (look at these jet-setting kids!). I offered to take her and her boyfriend to Angelina's for afternoon tea but she respectfully declined as it was a short 5 day trip and they had an ambitious itinerary for the day.  To top it off, another friend from graduate school who lives in Paris had her second daughter that weekend. Paris really is full of love and surprises!

All the excitement for the day was making me hungry for lunch. We walked to Da Rosa, a great little restaurant known for its signature hams from Spain and Italy, in the fashionable Saint Germain-des-Pres neighbourhood. We meant to have a quick-ish lunch of a charcuterie of Iberico ham, manchego cheese, and foie gras, but ended up lingering around for hours over a bottle of 2009 Baume de Venise. We also got gelato from Grom, which is my favorite gelateria in Florence. Be careful...if you step on to Rue de Siene, you may leave 5 lbs heavier. 

We continued our foodie extravaganza with dinner at Rino's, which is also located in the 11th arrondisement. Here at Rino, the cooking is modern European with an emphasis on Italian flavours.
Rino is a small 20 seat restaurant with basic decor on creme walls and a jovial atmosphere -- all Parisians except for us and another table of New Yorkers. You can pick from the four-course (€38) or the six-course (€55) menu. We opted for the ladder with the six-course tasting menu -- I'll let the photos speak for itself. The flavours were subtle, fresh, and sophisticated; in fact it reminded me alot of Californian cuisine. It turned out that one of the chefs at Rino previously worked at Zuni Cafe and Bar Tartine in San Francisco, hence the strong Californian-Italian influence. We left the restaurant relaxed and happy, if slightly annoyed that the machine didn't read our UK credit cards and we had to pull cash from a nearby ATM. Overall, very good restaurant.


As per usual when we visit Paris -- it was a beautiful Sunday morning. We followed our Sunday-in-Paris ritual, albeit lazy ritual: sleeping-in, lunch at L'as du Falafel, riverside walk along the Siene, window-shop on Champ de Elyse, afternoon drinks, quick dinner, and then the Eurostar home to London. Eating and drinking on Sundays in Paris is always tricky but this time we found an adorable little cafe/bar just behind the Lourve called Le Fumoir. The handsome leather chairs and dark decor gave this bar a cosy library feel. A great spot to rest your feet after a long day of sightseeing or shopping. 

Another wonderful weekend in Paris, and a bonus for running into my grad school friend. We'll be back in no time as we're taking my kid sister to Paris in June as an early graduation present. I can't wait to enjoy the long summer days in Paris. Until then, I'll be sure to watch Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. à bientôt Paris!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I Heart Brunch

I love weekend brunch. Back when we lived in California, Keenan and I would catch up with friends over eggs benedict, French Toast, and a strong cuppa of Peets coffee. We miss the Provencal-style brunch at La Note in Berkeley, the ever-popular Bette's Diner on 4th Street, the American-style breakfast at Rockridge Cafe, and the homemade granola at Cafe Fanny on rough-around-the edges San Pablo Avenue. 

When I first moved to London some three years ago, I was sorely disappointed about the brunch scene in London. It just wasn't the same as San Francisco. Here in the U.K., weekend 'brekkie' is generally known as the artery-clogging 'Full English' consisting of fried eggs, sausage, bacon, baked beans, mushrooms, potatoes, tomato, and black pudding. It's heavy and I find myself on the verge of passing out after my Sunday "brekkie." Over the past year, however, several excellent brunch places have opened up in London. I've been doing my best to try out as many places with my fellow brunch buddies. Below are some of my favorites. 

St. Ali (
27 Clerkenwell Rd, London EC1M 5RN) - An excellent addition to the restaurant scene in Clerkenwell. The second outpost of this Melbourne-based cafe exudes the cool, laid-back vibe Aussies are known for. The restaurant is spread over two floors with an in-house roastery, exposed brick walls, and large communal tables. My friend and I met for brunch here last weekend and the place was buzzing with great energy. We both enjoyed the scrambled eggs with grilled haloumi, tomato salad, and a large cup of flat white.

Modern Pantry,  48 St. John's Square, London EC1V 4JJ - Another great restaurant in the Clerkenwell neighbourhood. Food aside, which is simply delicious, I just adore the interior design in this converted Georgian building. The downstairs dining room is light and airy with lovely touches of copper pendants and antique traiteur. I normally order savory dishes but I couldn't resist the ricotta pancakes with milked berry compote and creme fraiche...heavenly. 

Ottolenghi, 287 Upper St, London N1 2TZ
- Great spot on Upper Street in Angel, and hands down one of my favorite brunch places in London. Tasty seasonal Mediterranean-inspired salads. I love the Dualit toasters on the table top during brunch where you can toast your own bread. A killer wait but well worth it. 

The Table Cafe, 83 Southwark Street, London SE1 0HX - I met a high school friend here whom I hadn't seen since graduation. She had just arrived to London for graduate school. Since she had planned on visiting the Tate Modern, I suggested we meet at The Table Cafe for American-style pancakes. Minimalist design with an open kitchen and a smallish outdoor patio. In keeping with its philosophy, The Table Cafe sources its produce locally and coffee from Monmouth, no less!

Nopi, 21-22 Warwick Street, London W1B 5NE - From the same team of Ottolenghi, this is an upscale restaurant tucked away on Warwick Street in busy Soho. Gorgeous interior design, even the ladies room was ultra plush. The breakfast menu was small but everything was well executed, again blending flavours and textures from Ottolenghi's Middle Eastern background. My brunch partner ordered the North African braised eggs, while I had the smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on toasted focaccia. Lovely place for a sophisticated weekend brunch.

Looking forward to visiting my next brunch destination...

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Snowy London 2012

It's been bitterly cold here in London; nothing like the extreme subarctic temperatures experienced in Eastern Europe. Last week was filled with beautiful sunny days albeit freezing, but last night we finally had our first snow fall of the season. The snow started falling as we were leaving the Royal Festival Hall where we attended a concert by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The tube ride home took 15 minutes longer than usual as the London transportation system tends to freak out when snow touches the ground.

By the time we reached Clapham Common station, the streets and common were covered by 1.5 inches of snow. For the most part this winter has been very mild in London, however, I was secretly hoping for one and only one snow day. Glad it happened over the weekend for all of us to enjoy. 

We're also pet-sitting for a couple friend of ours who is back on the East Coast for pleasure and business. Their dog, a ginger mixed breed named Haile, is the sweetest dog ever and so well-trained. She's very easy-going, gentle, and a lot of fun. I'm a big dog lover so I am absolutely delighted to watch Miss Haile for the next two weeks. I love her adorable face; somehow she always has this confused puppy look. We've been taking her on long walks around the Clapham area, and even took her to our favourite pub on Northcote Road called the Draft House where we got the chance to catch up with another couple friend who just returned from a month-long trip to Thailand and Vietnam, and of course to introduce them to our houseguest, Haile.

This morning Keenan and I woke up early for some fun in the snow with Haile. I brought my Nikon along to take some picturesque photos although it was a bit foggy this morning. Kids on sleds, little snowmen, and dogs filled the snow-covered common. Haile enjoyed the snow as much as we did, frolicking around with other dogs - a big sloppy Golden Retriever who desperately wanted to play catch and two black Labradors came around to say hello. Enjoy the fun photos below. 

Happy Super Bowl Sunday! Still wish it was the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl. They had an amazing comeback season so maybe next year.