Verjus – Paris 2016

When you visit Paris, patient the restaurant choices are overwhelming. There are literally thousands of restaurants and they are all good. Or at least as a traveller to the city you think they are all good. Everyone you know who has visited the city will have a different list of about ten restaurants “you HAVE to try” and of course, they are in neighbourhoods that are not remotely close to you or anything you want to see. Then you foolishly think, “Ok. Let me look up restaurants with Michelin stars.” Don’t do that. It is the most futile Google search you will ever perform and you will depress yourself as you don’t have hundreds of euros to spend on lunch to go to somewhere with 1-Michelin star let alone something with 3-stars which the official definition is “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.” It is overwhelming, daunting and borderline annoying to plan meals in Paris.

However, one meal that was easy to plan was our dinner at Verjus. I learned about Verjus while watching The Getaway, a show by ESPN that features B-list actors and their favourite weekend getaways. Paris is the city of choice for Aisha Tyler. In the episode she eats at a few wine bars (Frenchie which was unfortunately missed on this trip) but Verjus really stood out for me. It is run by an American couple who are part of a change that is happening in Paris about how people view food and restaurants. It began as a wine bar with tasting plates or petits plats (which sounds so much daintier than tapas or sharing plates) and has expanded into a full-on restaurant with a tasting menu and a second restaurant called Ellsworth.

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To get to Verjus we entered through an alleyway called Passage de Beaujolais. We were early for our reservation so we wandered through the short alley and down the stairs that took us street level to a whole other world. From there we could see that Verjus is located in an old, 3-storey, very typically Parisian building that is across the street from the Théâtre du Palais-Royal. We felt like we were transported back in time to the 18th century. We meandered through the archways of the théâtre and discovered the beautiful gardens of the Palais-Royal with its wild rose bushes and fountains. As dusk began to fall we headed back to the restaurant to enjoy our dinner.

The tasting menu was 10 courses for 76€ with wine pairings for an addition 55€. We decided to go for it with the wine pairing because who knows when you will be back in Paris eating a tasting menu at an amazing restaurant because you won a free trip? And yes, for those of you doing the math, this meal was almost $400 Canadian, making it one of the most expensive meals I have ever had.

We were seated at a small table close to the entrance and the stairway leading upstairs. I was more than ok with this because it allowed us to be surrounded by windows offering views of the streets below and an opportunity to take a peek at upcoming courses as they whipped their way upstairs.

We started with a course featuring three different appetizers that were all served with a sparkling white wine, Catherine & Pierre Breton’s Vouvray Pétillant “La Dilettante”

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Violet asparagus, with sorrel mayo and wood sorrel.

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Fava bean fritter with herb tahini.

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Trout roe, with house yogurt, on a flatbread topped with arugula.

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Paris 2016

I won a trip to Paris. Yes, nurse you read that correctly. In fall 2016 I was entering contests every day, a result of the fact that one of my friends won a trip to Jamaica. I thought to myself: “If she can win a trip (something which is completely up to chance), I can win a trip too!” Although this was poor logic, I won. Of course, since winning this trip, I have continued to enter contests when I see them, hoping for a similar result.

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The trip was offered though Grand Marnier and was a simple series of information boxes to be completed online. A random draw, a simple math question and I officially had won a trip worth $10,000. The prize was a trip for two and included airfare (business class, oh la la) and four nights accommodations, three in Paris and one in the Grand Marnier Chateaux in Cognac. GC and I extended the trip three extra nights to really enjoy Paris and we were off.

Business class is amazing, ridiculous and indulgent and everyone should experience it: they check your coat, provide you with proper table settings and tablecloths, a glass of champagne before people in economy have even boarded and you are essentially in your own pod, able to fully recline and sleep during the flight. The luxury, food and service established the tone of the entire trip.

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Our first days in Paris were filled with strolls through historic streets, visits to see priceless pieces of art and of course, food.

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I had a few struggles with Paris:

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1. As someone who lives in a major city, you don’t expect to be completely shocked by how expensive everything is. The galleries and museums were very reasonably priced but the food was ridiculous. Paris is easily the most expensive place I have visited and made me realise why people think Spain and Portugal are reasonably priced.

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2. There are so, so many people in the city. And so, so many tourists! Paris is the busiest place I have visited, beating out Rome and London,and we were told that tourism is down 20% since the attacks! We left the Louvre in the early afternoon and the galleries were filling with people who only care about Mona Lisa and when we were at Versailles, the actual palace was filled with people throwing elbows, trying to take photos of every bust in the place. I cannot imagine visiting or being able to enjoy Paris at the height of tourist season.

3. Things are either very posh or very not. This of course happens in every city: in Toronto there is a difference between Yorkville and St. Jamestown but in Paris this disparity seemed even more apparent. Right now there is a huge number of Syrian refugees in the city and it is absolutely heartbreaking seeing young mothers huddling their infants in the streets while people just walk by not caring. And pee. It smells like pee EVERYWHERE. I get it. It’s a city, men can pee standing up but I have never experienced this in any other city. Maybe it has something to do with all the parks?

1134394. The food. French food is obviously delicious, no one is denying that but when you live in a city where you can get almost every type of food whenever you want it makes the lack of variety a little difficult. My next visit to France would include more visits to markets (both for price and variety) and seeking out more of the variety France does have to offer: Middle Eastern and North African food.

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5. I just didn’t love it. Paris is beautiful and filled with history, art, culture, wine, food and so many things I love but I just didn’t connect to the city like I thought I would. Paris is a city of neighbourhoods (or arrondissements) and this made it difficult for me to feel really connected to the city. Our hotel for the first half of the trip was in the first arrondissement which is primarily a business and administration area. I started to enjoy the city and its neighbourhoods more once we moved to our AirBnB in the sixth arrondissement; a neighbourhood known for being expensive but with a bohemian and intellectual vibe. This was a neighbourhood I could see myself living in with my local bakery and flower shop on the corner, the metro less than a 10 minute walk away and historic sites literally being across the street (our apartment was across the street from a building that Gauguin and Modigliani had lived in).

But there were things I absolutely loved about Paris and France in general:

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1. Cognac. If you visit France, you must visit the south/wine country/outside of Paris. The train ride alone was gorgeous, passing fields of farmland, vineyards and thousands of wild poppies. Once we arrived in Cognac we learned so much about the history, the process of making cognac, the barrels and importance of wood and soil, and the difference between Grand Marnier and other cognac. I am officially a huge fan of Grand Marnier, having switched from my token gin and tonic to GM and tonic and cannot say enough food things about this company and the people who met who work for this company.

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2. The seafood. I loved walking past restaurants and smelling the ocean. The seafood in Paris is fresh, salty and brining from the ocean because it was literally in the ocean that morning. We visited Restaurant La Coupole and both ordered ridiculous platters of seafood. It was some of the best seafood I have ever eaten.

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3. The parks. I love the public parks and amount of green space in Paris. It makes you feel like you aren’t even in the city. Our apartment was about a five minute walk from the Luxemburg gardens which were expansive and beautiful. My favourite thing about the parks in Paris is they have hundreds of green steel chairs set-up in every park and no one steals or defaces them. They remain in the park for everyone’s common enjoyment.

4 10 18 19 24 26 44 474. The food. French food is delicious and I ate the most amount of cheese in a week that I’ve probably ever eaten. And probably should ever eat. We enjoyed French cuisine the way the French do, rich food over long meals with good wine and better conversation. Our best meals were in Cognac but I loved the atmosphere and energy in the French bistros and cafes, perfect for people watching.

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5. The art. I saw Mona Lisa in person for the first time and I absolutely feel in love with her. I likened seeing this painting to seeing pandas in person for the first time: you want to hate it, you want to think it is overrated but in reality, it is worth the fuss. Mona Lisa is beautiful, so vibrant in colour and energy and not as small as you think she is. You can get close enough to have your 30 second moment of her and then you are off to see the thousands of other priceless works in the Louvre. The highlight of the trip for me was the Musee de l’Orangerie which houses 8 massive paintings of Monet’s waterlilies. It left me breathless and in awe.

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6. The Queen’s Hamlet at Versailles. Yes, Versailles is epic, overwhelming and the embodiment of the ridiculousness/amazingness that was Louis XIV. The palace itself is beautiful and ornate but GC and I were both more impressed with the palace in Madrid. The garden at Versailles are incomparable but unfortunately, the fountains were all off when we visited. The Queen’s Hamlet is the most perfect picturesque place I have ever seen, looking like the town right out of Beauty and the Beast. I was so in love and at peace in the hamlet, able to actually stop for a minute without getting elbowed by an eager tourist and take in the history and beauty around me.

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I would visit Paris again, for a few days between cities or on an extended layover. Several people I have talked to have said they didn’t fall in love with Paris until their second visit. Maybe Paris is like a stinky, strong, French cheese: at first you are overwhelmed and confused by what you are tasting but then the taste grows and builds on your palate, revealing layers of flavor, passion and history.

Grignotant heureux! Or happy munching!

Chicago 2012

Oh, hey! Remember when I had a blog? Things have been incredibly busy over the past month with work, travelling, baking, appointments and Christmas. There is a list on my phone of about 10 posts that I have to write and I’m hoping over my Christmas break (5 days off of work, then back for 2 days and then off for 4 more!) I can catch up on life and food.

On American Thanksgiving weekend we went to Chicago for a wedding and a little getaway. The wedding was of a friend I had met in university, Nicole and her now husband, Andrew. They are a beautiful young couple and they are so in love it just makes you smile. I’m glad we were there for the wedding, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world!

We were there from Friday, November 23rd to Tuesday, November 27th with the wedding taking place on the Saturday. As like any other trip I take, the majority of my pictures and highlights revolve around food. Here is a day-by-day breakdown of where and what we ate and some details about what we did in Chicago.

Friday, November 23  On Black Friday we were walking up the Magnificent Mile which is probably one of the worst ideas we have ever had. It was packed, crowded and terrible – a very bad first impression of Chicago. As we would learn the rest of our stay, Chicago is nothing like this. It is relaxed, friendly and comfortable.  GC and I met up with Cynthia and we tried to go to The Purple Pig but it was packed so we opted to try some legendary deep dish pizza at the chain Giordano’s.

Me and GC with a deep dish Chicago-style pizza. Photo credit: Cynthia

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