March 2007 Archives

Do German cellphones make you gay?

German cellphones make you gay.JPG

Far too many things going on in these ads, plastered all over Munich. What they're actually promoting is an outfit called Debitel, which wants to sell you 3,000 T-Mobile minutes a month, the new angle being you can call anyone on any network. Hence the headline, "Everyone with everyone."

The "models" appear to be the long-dead and much despised East German leader Erich Honecker and former Soviet boss Leonid Brezhnev. Guessing that neither of them ever used a cellphone.

On the other hand, the food here's great, the natives are friendly, and most of the advertising is much easier to understand.

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Toot-toot! Whoop-whooop!

What's that horn? My own? You don't say! All the way to Strasbourg comes a clipping from the latest Seattle Magazine naming Best Restaurants as well as Best Food Blogs.


So here's the first entry, by Matthew Amster-Burton:

Cornichon (
Ronald Holden is a PR agent by day and Belltown's boulevardier by night; he never misses a grand opening and never holds back with his opinion. (Full disclosure: Holden once called me a "normally reliable freelance foodie," which I'm pretty sure is a compliment.) He's also serious about wine, a topic few other local food bloggers broach, and has reported live from France and Italy.

True, Mamster (as he calls himself) and Cornichon have had disagreements, but over the long haul it's more of a mutual admiration society. In addition to restaurant writing for the Seattle Times, he ran the Northwest Forum for and kept a terrific blog called Grubshack, which he retired when his daughter, Iris, was born. His latest blog, no less terrific, is called Roots And Grubs. Class act.

"Belltown's boulevardier"...has nice ring to it, don't you think? The last boulevardier we knew was Maurice Chevalier.

It's the waters

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Her name is Lawrence Duval and she's in charge of promoting "Water and Wellness" for the Rhone-Alpes region of France. At Rendez-Vous France, the big travel trade show here in Strasbourg, this means water tastings. "Water is the skeleton of health," she says.

Laurence Duval.JPG

Always up for something new, we try six of the finest. From Aix-les-Bains, a drop that has a silkiness and balance. "This should be your apéritif," suggests Lawrence. Next comes Evian, almost astringent by comparison. Then the water from Thonon, one village further along the southern coast of Lake Geneva; it's sweet. "This should be your dessert."

We move on to the sparkling. Badoit, in a bright red package, twice as fizzy as the stuff in the familiar green bottle, more like an unflavored Coke. Then César, with a light sparkle and a green, minty flavor. The most interesting so far. "It goes with salad," Lawrence advises. Finally Parot, distinctly salty. She hands over a piece of Madagascar chocolate, redolent of oranges. Now the Parot's saltiness cleanses the palate. And that's far from a complete tasting; the Rhone-Alpes region alone produces 32 mineral waters, all of them good for you.

In fact, France is on something of a health kick these days. "Eat right and exercise" is the watchword of an extensive new ad campaign. That means lots of vegetables, whole grains, lower fat cheeses and lean meats. Drink lots of water, and get half an hour a day of exercise daily.

Good advice. I'll start with a brisk walk to the bakery.

Don't Picon Me

Picon Amer bottle.JPG Picon biere.JPG

Think of Italian bitters like Campari or various Amaro concoctions, or French bitters like Amer Picon or Cynar: they're normally sipped before or after a meal.

Now think of a boilermaker (or its raucous Seattle offshoot, the sake bomb): a shot and a beer. Drink the shot, then drink the beer, or drop the shot into the beer; your choice. In the industrial north and east of France, the local boilermaker is in fact called Picon-Bière, an ounce of Amer Picon in a demi of Alsatian lager.

A secret formula developed in the 1830s by Gaetan Picon, a French soldier serving in Algeria, Amer Picon has never caught the fancy of Americans despite its similarity to the syrupy base of sodas like Coke or Dr. Pepper. Hugely popular in Alsace, though, where it's the top-selling pour at the Taverne des Serruriers (also known as Schlosserstube in bilingual Strasbourg). An 8-ounce glass costs about $3.50.

What does it taste like? Well, you're basically adding a shot of orange-flavored bitters to a lager...which makes it darker, fruitier and more bitter. Kinda like an ale, wouldn't you say?

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Good stop for lunch, too: frankfurters and a delectable German-style potato salad dressed with a mustardy vinaigrette.

Building bridges

It started half a century ago, this modern Europe, precisely 50 years ago this weekend, with a series of documents collectively known as the Treaty of Rome. Signed by leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg, it created the legal framework for international economic cooperation--the European Common Market--and political integration--the European Union--which currently has 27 member nations.

Pedestrian bridge over Rhine.JPG

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the weekend is that there were no big celebrations. France is about to hold presidential elections; there's no consensus about the most fundamental issues of national identity. Divisions are internal and contemporary; they're no longer ancient, intractable disputes about borders.

Here in Strasbourg, there's a concrete symbol of unity. The Rhine itself, one of the most contentions borders in modern history, no longer divides enemies. France and Germany have become the twin pillars of a united Europe, and it's fitting that the river is now spanned by a graceful pedestrian bridge.

No passports to show, no border guards. You stroll through a park on the outskirts of town on the French side across the wide river to a well-kept, middle-class, residential neighborhood in Germany. No formal plaques with sanctimonious phrases are necessary. Dogs and children frolic. There's a bit of a chill in the air, but the bright sunshine of spring is forecast for tomorrow.

On & off the rails

Strasbourg--seat of the European Parliament--has a population of 265,000, less than half Seattle's, yet in the past 15 years it has built four interconnecting lines of light rail with some 50 stops. That's in addition to 35 bus lines, over 250 miles of new bike paths and plenty of bike racks at tram stops.

Strasbourg tram.JPG

Another element in the plan: integrated municipal parking. Nineteen new parking garages for 6,000 cars in addition to 10,000 street spaces; cost is between 1 and 2 euros an hour, depending on proximity to the city center. As a result, the parking system alone has 3.6 million users a year. Parking a private car on the outskirts is easy and inexpensive; using it to travel to the city center is difficult and costly.

There's even a Flexcar-like vehicle sharing program that rents cars to subscribers for about two bucks an hour.

Getting to this point was not without pain; streets were torn up for years. But Strasbourg today is a model of an urban transportation system that works. No matter where you live, there's public transportation--tram, bus, shared car--within blocks, every five or ten minutes.

What made the diff was political leadership: a new mayor dumped the previous administration's expensive and disruptive plan for a glamorous subway system. It also helped that the national Transportation Ministry had picked a single standard for tramways throughout France, so the light-rail technology was already on the shelf.

Not to mention a political tradition that expects local officials to just get on with it. Are you listening, Christine? Ron? Greg? Frank?

Strasbourg bitter, Strasbourg sweet

Four hours and then some on the A4 from Paris to Alsace. Snow as we drive across the Vosges. Stuck in traffic for another hour, getting around and then into Strasbourg--crossroads of Europe--on a freeway system that's just overwhelmed at rush hour. Three months from now, the new TGV Est will do the run in two hours and change.

On the other hand, once you're in Strasbourg, there's a new tram network to speed you along. Lots of bike paths, too. Sweet! Are you listening, Seattle?

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La Petite France is Strasbourg's picturesque, 16th-century neighborhood of half-timbered houses surrounded by canals. A friendly Penelope-Cruz-lookalike pours welcoming glasses of Crémant d'Alsace at a winstub. Everyone's eating Flammkuchen, ultra-thin crispy dough topped with onions, mushrooms, bacon or cheese. And ever so delicious!

In the less touristy spots, the favored drink is a concoction called Picon-bière, which mixes the bitter apéritif Amer Picon with local brew. In fact, almost three-fourths of all Picon's production is sold in the north of France for just this purpose. Will investigate further.

Penelope Cruz pours cremant.JPG

Ultimate Sauv Blanc

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Sauvignon blanc from New Zealand: think of Cloudy Bay as the shining star, the lighthouse, the beacon. All the others, Kim Crawford, Nobilo, Villa Maria, Giesen...perfectly delightful but not in the same league. Comes now Delta, and it's a new game entirely.

Delta SB at Juveniles.JPG

From Marlborough, the country's best wine-growing region. From a winery known for its outstanding pinot noir. From a winemaking team that has Matt Thomson on the production side and David Gleave MW on the distribution side. So it's also priced well below Cloudy Bay...about $20 retail in the US, if you can find it. On the table at Juveniles in Paris, it was 28 euros, about $36.

Nothing like it. Medium bodied, with a stunning nose of intense grapefruit and a mouthful of bright, complex flavors (citrus, grass, gooseberry, minerals). Blown away!

One more thing: it comes with a stelvin closure. You know, a screwcap.

The flip side of glory

Paris, City of Light, is the color of a salmon's skin this early spring day, dark gray and bright silver. I'm slogging through the damp arcade of the Palais Royal in the unexpected chill.

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A fine March mist, almost snow, waters the formal gardens of the courtyard. I'm wearing a pair of uncomfortable loafers that keep eating my socks. Stomping awkwardly on the damp flagstones, I pass a tiny shop selling old military decorations. I used to buy charms and souvenirs here, enamel lapel pins of intertwined French and American flags. Today I see the faded ribbons and oversized medals and imagine a line of impoverished veterans, surrendering evidence of their honor, pawning their long-past heroism to buy a baguette and a glass of red. Le revers de la médaille, the flip side of glory.

A glint of sun and the scene changes; still cold, but suddently radiant, exhilarating. Off to lunch!

Bread & butter in Paris

Once you've had your breakfast tartine, there are few occasions in France when butter is served with meals. Inevitably, though, you get brown bread and butter with oysters. A dark rye. At the best places, you get the best butter, too: from the Isigny cooperative in Normandy.

La Coupole.JPG Banc huitres at La Coupole.JPG

Brown bread, mayo, butter.JPG Oysters w bulots La Couple.jpg

If you order bulots as well as oysters, as we did at the grande brasserie La Coupole, you get the richly eggy, mustardy French mayonnaise, too. Bulots are whelk, a sort of sea snail poached in aromatic broth; chewy, spicy, delicious.

The oyster assortment was lovely, including the prized flat oysters from Belon and several spéciales oysters from a well-known shipper namedGillardeau; they're grown in the intertidal waters of the Marennes estuary, on the Atlantic coast south of La Rochelle.

Perles Blanches oysters.JPG Serving Perles Blanches.JPG

A rival to Gillardeaux are the so-called Perles Blanches, from another shipper, Ancelin. Parisians are great oyster-eaters; these were being served--along with bread and butter, naturally--at close to midnight in a modest brasserie in the Marais.



Tip o' the hat! What would a traveler do without the Internets and news of Seattle nominees for the James Beard Foundation awards?

Kathy Casey's Northwest Table is one of three contenders for best cookbookbook in the "Food of the Americas" category.

Canlis is one of five nominees in the Best Restaurant Service category.

Rebeka Denn, currently on leave, is one of three nominees for newspaper writing for her restaurant reviews in the Seattle P-I.

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James Beard Foundation nominees Kathy Casey, left; Maria Hines

Belltown favorite Leslie Mackie of Macrina is one of five finalists in the Outstanding Pastry Chef category. She's been nominated twice before. Let's hope third time's a charm. Wait, three times before. Now seriously overdue!

Two alumni of the W Hotel's Earth & Ocean are among the nominees for Best Northwest Chef: John Sundstrom, who left to launch Lark, and his successor at E&O, Maria Hines, who founded Tilth just last year. The two other Seattle nominees are Joseba Jimenez de Jimenez of Harvest Vine and Holly Smith of Café Juanita.

In the general-interest Writing on Food category, it's a battle of the heavyweights: Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, Bill Buford's Heat, and David Kamp's The United States of Arugula.

In the food-related websites, Cornichon failed once again to make the short list. Alas, totally outclassed by nominees Dr. Vino, Epicurious and Leite's Culinaria.

Again, congrats to all the nominees. Winners to be announced in early May.

Dinner chez Jim


Jim Haynes studies guest list.JPG Guests at Jim Haynes studio.JPG

On the phone, Jim Haynes invites me to come for dinner on Sunday, something he's been saying to visitors for decades. By now, well over 100,000 people--most of them total strangers--have accepted his invitation. mostly, but not exclusively, American visitors.

In a not-particularly-fashionable neighborhood in the southeast quadrant of Paris, a high metal gate swings open. You walk into a courtyard and enter a high-ceilinged artist's studio. Jim is on a stool next to the stove, welcoming new arrivals (or on the phone, talking to strays who got lost). By 9 PM, the apartment is crowded with perhaps 75 or 80 guests.

Jim gives directions.JPG Kitchen at Jim Haynes.JPG

The three-course menu is unpretentious and tasty: salad, boeuf bourguignon over pasta, ice cream with poached pears. On the landing, you help yourself to decent, bag-in-box wine. And you meet people, you converse. Jim makes sure of that. He calls out names. "Pierre, talk to Julie! Mitch from Cleveland, right? This is Suzanne. She lives in the neighborhood." He doesn't refer to his guest list, has it down pat. "Ronald, Seattle, Bruce, Seattle." Bruce ignores me; he hasn't come this far to meet neighbors.

A few of the guests are newcomers, some come regularly, others whenever they're in town. To be sure, some are just cruising, but many are couples. "It's a nice way to spend a Sunday night in Paris," says a Belgian expat.

"Ronald, you speak French. Sit over there by the bookcase with Martine and Danielle!" Jim is from Louisiana, a theatrical type (as if you couldn't guess), clearly enjoys his role as stage-manager. Why does he do it, this whole permanent floating crap game of an international dinner party? A pause, a smile. "Why not?" he answers.

Martine and Danielle, who live in the suburbs, tell me they've heard about Jim's soirées for years, finally decided to see for themselves. And yeah, by the end of the evening, they've both given me their cellphone numbers.

Bag in box at Jim Haynes.JPG Danielle and Martine.JPG

To reserve a dinner spot, call Jim directly at 01-43-27-17-67 in Paris, or visit his website, To see if he's available to spend a couple of weekdays with visitors, contact

Final note: Carol Pucci of the Seattle Times had a terrific feature about how to meet Parisians earlier this month; Jim's dinners are supposed to be in next Sunday's paper.

St. Paddy in Paris

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Frog Rosbif.JPG McBrides Irish Pub.JPG

Artificial holidays give us an excuse to put on a funny hat and start drinking. You certainly don't have to be Mexican to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, to name just one. Halloween, Beaujolais Nouveau, Mardi Gras, even the Fourth of July, Bastille Day and, of course, the granddaddy of celebrations, St. Patrick's Day, when everyone becomes Irish for the night.

Line outside Guiness Tavern in Paris.JPG Jameson whiskey poster.JPG

It's no different here in Paris. British pubs abound, and were jammed into the wee hours. Yes, they served green beer. Big night for Irish whiskey, too.

Georges at Pompidou


The jeune homme bearing our $24 club sandwiches (you'd never call him a garçon) is wearing an impeccably styled Joseph Abboud tuxedo, the kind Nordy sells for six or seven Benjamins. The hostesses are in stylish Christian Lacroix miniskirts or tights with designer tops depending on rank. They walk as if on a fashion runway, which, in a sense, they are.

The floor is alumunum, the chairs white leather, the tables translucent and adorned with a single tall red rose. A DJ at the entrance is spinning tunes. Silver-painted tubes shaped like giant molars anchor the back of the room. The outside walls? Well, this is the 7th level of the Pompidou Center in Paris, so the outside walls are all glass. And they overlook, well, pretty much all of Paris: Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Sacré Coeur.

Eiffel Tower from Pompidou Ctr.JPG View of Notre Dame from Georges.jpg

It's a café called, simply, Georges, a jewel run by the reclusive Costes brothers atop the now-30-year-old modern art museum.

Could have had a carpaccio of scallops and salmon, could have had osetra caviar, or a veal chop or turbot with béarnaise. We don't. We have the perfectly fine club sandwich with homemade gaufrettes (so much more civilized than Tim's Cascade), a salad of fresh green beans, and a half bottle of Sancerre. Not the sort of lunch that tourists expect; the one Merkin family we spot sits down, puzzles over the menu for a couple of minutes, and takes French leave.

Club san at Georges.JPG

But it's all about da view, boss, da view! You're not up too high (Eiffel Tower) or too far away (Sacré Coeur). You're front-row center. More? There's a webcam: click here,

Closest thing in Seattle, sigh, is probably the SAM Taste Café in the glass-sided Paccar Pavilion at the Olympic Sculpture Park. It's run by Bon Appetit Management, a catering outfit serious about sustainability and local sourcing. But they'd be the first to admit that Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower trump Calder's Eagle.


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Should you tire of life in Paris this spring, Eurostar will whisk you through the Chunnel to London in about two and a half hours. (When new, high-speed tracks on the British side are finished, it'll be down to two hours flat.) Promotional round-trip fares for 66 euros (about $85), says this clever takeoff on the famous, 40-year-old album cover featuring slightly taller Beatles.

Les Beatles.JPG Beatles album cover.jpg

Sadly, there's a big, dangerous fire on the line near London this weekend; service has been suspended until further notice. The Octopus's Garden will have to wait; we're heading over to the Jardin des Tuileries.

Staff of Life: Paris


Paris may well be a movable, moveable feast, but the shops of the rue Montorgueil are fixed. Pâtisseries, bars, cafés, sandwich stands, fruit & vegetable stalls, butcher shops, cheesemongers, fishmongers, charcuteries, a florist, a news vendor, they're all on our doorstep.

Rue Montorgueil.JPG

Bread is essential. An ordinary croissant, pulled apart and dunked into a frothy grand crème while standing at the zinc-topped counter of a corner café tastes astonishingly wonderful. A tartine, French bread slathered with unsalted butter, is even better. The best is a long, thin loaf called a flûte, very Parisian, with Echiré butter (from a remote area of western France where the cows feed on unique local grass). The best of the flûtes is called Gana, invented by Bertrand Ganachaud over 40 years ago.

Storefront.JPG Loaves in basket.JPG

The Gana difference is a pre-fermentation process that produces a starter known as poolish, which gives the bread a nutty taste. The dough is formed by hand and baked in a wood-fired oven under licenses the Ganachaud family has granted to some 200 bakers across France. Cost of a half-pound loaf? Buck fifty.

Paris viaduct

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The Seine is high again today, with a thrilling flush of wind lapping against the quais. (Apologies to Lawrence Durrell.) On Sunday, motorized traffic is banned; bikes and Nikes have right-of-way.

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I'm here with well-known Seattle Slogger Dominic, who brings along a fresh eye and an absentee Viaduct ballot. We find the right spot for the money shot, Notre Dame in the background. Click!

Dom studies ballot-47.JPG

All that's left is sending it in. The ballot? No and Hell no, the post!

Dom on computer.JPG

Would leave it at that except for reaction from "Fnarf," whoever the hell that is, railing against "phonies" who opine after an hour on the scene. Does he know that Dominic's first hours, days, weeks, were, in fact, spent in France? (His parents were living in the Dordogne at the time.) That this is his sixth trip to Paris? C'mon. Within a couple of hours, 30 comments! Not a record, but close, especially when you think of the distances.

Japanese in Paris


"Eating a variety of foods, for the French," says Sandra, "is like learning to read." Half-Argentinian, half French, she's part owner of a tour company that takes visitors to out-of-the-way places. So, being both literate and hungry, we walk through the Japanese quarter of Paris, behind the Palais Royal, between Louvre and Opera. Elegant, minimalist sushi joints everywhere.

Lamen at Higuma in Paris.JPG Sandra Hoyois.JPG

It's just after noon, and already there's a line outside Higuma, a non-descript spot on the rue Sainte Anne that's often called the neighborhood's lunchroom; it's the most authentic lamen-ya--noodle parlor--in Paris. Businessmen, salarymen, Japanese regulars, local bargain-hunters hunch over steaming bowls of ramen dished up by terse, fast-moving waitresses. Huge, filling portions of noodles, vegetables, calamari, pork and broth. Delicious! And the tab is under $10, a heck of a deal in any language.

Seattle, from Paris


Woke up in Paris this morning, glorious sunshine, bustling market on the rue Montorgueil. Bakery sells exquisite, baguette-like loaf called La Flûte Gana; will get photo tomorrow.

Sculpture at St Eustache.JPG

Online, check the Seattle Times: feature in the Pacific Northwest supplement on the Ozette potato. Looks familiar! Ah, that's right, it's a story we ran here on Cornichon almost four months ago, back when it was, er, "news." Way to go, Times!

Enza writing menus.JPG

Friday's Post-Intelligencer had long-awaited review of Sorrentino. Fill-in restaurant writer Leslie Kelly was disappointed that Mamma Enza hadn't stopped by her table at a dinner where she and a friend ordered enough for a party of four (and then complained that the bill was $150). I was saddened by the review; so was Enza, whose English is halting and who hasn't mastered the role of gladhanding host. I could post a really snarky blog entry, but Enza's going to turn the other cheek. "I want to write her a thank-you note," she told me. "But it will have to be in Italian."

And we're back!

Server was down for ten days. You could see us, but we couldn't see you. Still can't upload thumbnails, so multiple images will have to wait ...

Picking up where we left off, with Mount Gay rum, Elliott's Oyster House did a "Get Your Rum On" dinner last night. Unlike Marazul's bizarre cocktails, Mount Gay Extra Old was just fine served neat, tasted surprisingly sweet.

Rum dinner lineup sm.JPG Tom Arthur makes Cafe Diablo sm.JPG

Best-tasting dish: Jamaican Jerked Ahi Tuna with sugar-cane seasoned rice cabbage rolls. Served with a shot of Bacardi 8 Reserva Superior. A bit on the clunky side for anyone who's ever eaten sushi rolls at Shiro's, but that's hardly the point, it, Matey?

Most successful matchup: Pyrat with pecan-seared Mahi-Mahi from Costa Rica. Plate came with sweet potato fries and a fussy compote of bananas and habaneros set off with a fresh herb salad dressed with passion-fruit vinaigrette. Fortunately, the best rum of the night, Pyrat XO Reserve, smoothed everything out.

Flames lit up the night as floor manager Tom Arthur concocted a Cafe Diablo foritifed with Remy Martin cognac, Galliano and Sailor Jerry rum.

As we've mentioned here in the past, rum's a drink that's part of seafaring history. You wouldn't want to eat six course feast like this every night, but it's a refreshing new take on food & wine dinners. Elliott's rum promotion runs through March.

A travel note: Cornichon's off to Paris tonight on the start of a monthlong road trip. Will keep you posted, literally.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from March 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

February 2007 is the previous archive.

April 2007 is the next archive.

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The oldest and most comprehensive blog about Paris, BonjourParis, produced by a stellar team of writers and editors (including occasional contributions from Cornichon).

Maribeth Celemente's blog, Bonjour Telluride, with regular updates to her shopping guides, The Riches of France and The Riches of Paris.

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