July 2007 Archives

Rick Steves, blogging from Burgundy, meets up with the Snail Lady. Looks suspiciously like the Ham Lady to me. Her name's Anne Marie Penaud, and she runs a charcuterie in Beaune.

Escargot%20lady.jpg Mme Penaud w jambon persille.JPG
Mme. Penaud holding snails for Rick Steves, July 2007; Mme. Penaud holding jambon persillé for Cornichon, June, 2006

Ya think Rick reads Cornichon?

UPDATE: Now also in the Seattle Times under the heading "The Finicky Virtues of the French." (That last part doesn't sound like Rick.)

What to eat, where to eat it

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Crudites at Balzar.JPG

That little voice that gets you into trouble, the one that says "go ahead, how bad can it be?" before you do something truly stupid, also nags. Brush your teeth, make your bed, tie your shoelaces, eat your vegetables. It's not always easy advice to follow when you're on the road.

Businessmen in suits and cellphones allow themselves to be seated at the classic Brasserie Balzar one Paris lunchtime. Tourists wearing pearls sit alongside a pair of girlfriends out shopping. Older gents in ties with much younger, beautiful women. The singles remain out on the terrace eating their croque-monsieurs, but inside it's the full meal deal: appetizer (assiette de crudités), plat du jour (sautéed calf's liver), dessert (wild strawberries that taste like lavender), coffee. Hit and miss at other brasseries. Scrappy infield single at Lipp, where the leeks vinaigrette come topped with chopped hardboiled eggs and parsley (but, alas, not quite free of grit). At Polidor, a $5 plate of crudites wear its four-color modesty (carrots, beets, cucumbers, red cabbage) proudly. But the venerable Procope serves a plate of vegetables "noodles" (fennel and celery run through the mandoline) topped with smoked salmon, that was never formally introduced to the vinaigrette. What's more, the veal scallop is too thick and there's a lemon seed stuck to the carafe of sauvignon blanc. The inside of the carafe, mind you. Hard, the life of the foreign traveler.

Tour de Burgundy

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Not for a couple of decades has the Tour de France gone through Burgundy. This year, it happened on Friday the Thirteenth. We watch and wait, glasses of white wine from these very vineyards in hand.

Wine glasses in Puligny Montrachet.JPG Tour de France zooms through Burgundy.JPG

Burgundy's grand cru Montrachet vineyards span the two villages, no more than a couple of hundred yards of vines, well under a minute's ride along the gentle slope. The leader as he zooms along the old N6 between the villages of Puligny and Chassagne was an Englishman who would finish the day in last place; the peloton follows about eight minutes later.

Meantime, the doping scandals continue. One rider after another, one team after another, dropping like flies ...

Enza serves at Bite of Seattle.JPG Ravioli at Bite.JPG

How easy it is to poke mean-spirited fun at Silverman Festivals, aka Bite of Seattle. The family-owned commercial enterprise, enabled by the City of Seattle in the guise of a community festival, symbolizes so much of what's wrong with America today: greed, exploitation, overweening appetite and tons of just plain crappy food. A cheap and easy target for the smug and self-satisfied. (For one such potshot, see Cornichon's own "Blah of Seattle" post a year ago.)

And still. Working undercover this year, behind the booth, Cornichon comes away with a different perspective. The view is not of the Space Needle or the expansive Memorial Fountain lawn but of that little courtyard behind Key Arena, where celebrity chef Tom Douglas hosts a mini-Bite dubbed "The Alley." A single $8.50 ticket buys tastes from six restaurants.

(Does this sound like the old Kathy Casey's Alley? Indeed, a close look at the URL shows it's still called "Kathy." Gulp.)

Tom's chefs work the first station, serving up grilled steak and lamb, with Queen Anne's six-month-old Sicilian trattoria Sorrentino the only permanent member of the visiting team. Among the others: usual suspects Union Square Grill (pulled pork sandwiches), Troiani (pasta), Salty's (gazpacho); indies Volterra (panna cotta), Crush (sweat pea soup).

Issaquah's Iris Grill shows up on day one with tasty Moroccan lamb chops, topped with a blob of something they keep calling "riata" that's actually a dilled yoghurt raita. (Get it right, guys!) Despite the Friday's rain and sparse crowds, by mid-afternoon they run out of food...so they pack up and go home. For shame, for shame.

Impressive camaraderie: Tom Douglas himself takes turns grilling and slicing when he isn't checking on his crew at Serious Pie; USG's GM Josh Anderson is on hand Friday and Saturday ("This is the fun part of the job"); Jason Wilson of Crush brings wife Nicole and infant son for the day on Sunday. Enza Sorrentino pulls full shifts all three days, dishing out her labor-intensive gnocchi with truffle butter, handmade spinach & ricotta ravioli and sweet Amorosa tomatoes lovingly filled with rice and tuna.

Stuffed tomatoes at Bite.JPG

As for Al Silverman, he stops by regularly to thank both vendors and volunteers from Food Lifeline, the designated beneficiary of the 5,000 or so overfed eaters who come through the Alley. He plants a kiss on Enza's cheek. "If I were 15 years younger, I'd marry you," he says.

She recoils slightly. "Che ha detto?" What'd he say? Alas, at that moment, no one else speaks enough Italian to explain.

Friday rain.JPG Sorrentino serving at Bite.JPG

And Paris when it sizzles

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Crossing the Pont Alma.JPG

Summertime lunch (pasta, Frascati) with the ParisPal, occasional commenter on these pages, and I carry on about the failures of Velib (see preceding entry) as if it were the end of western civilization. When we pass a Velib "station" near the Arc de Triomphe, I triumphantly demonstrate that American credit cards won't work. Then ParisPal swipes his Amex...the gates of Paradise swing open and a 3-speed bike is released from its stanchion. Blazer and shoulder bag into the bike's basket, and I'm off in the mid-afternoon sun, no helmet (this would never fly in Seattle), down the bone-jarring cobblestones of the Champs Elysées, right at Le Fouquet's, past the George V and the American Cathedral down to the Place de l'Alma and across to the Left Bank, passing directly above the Princess Di crash site.

I can't believe I'm cycling past the Eiffel Tower! Once I'm on the Boulevard St. Germain, there's a dedicated lane shared by bikes, buses and taxis. On TV last night, a "cycle-ologist" showed viewers how to do this: stick to the right and you're fine. Unlike my bicycle demeanor in Seattle, I dutifully stop for traffic lights and don't climb the curbs. An 80-year-old guy gives me the thumbs up. "A bit heavy, but practical," he says. "Bonne visite," says a young Frenchwoman. A hot, 45-minute ride. Bike reattaches to rack near my hotel. ParisPal, I owe you a euro!

Okay, you Fremont Naked Bike Riders: I get it now.

Paris when it fizzles

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Reading about Velib.JPG Trying to rent a Velib.JPG
Reading about Velib is easy, with ubiquitous articles, TV spots and blog entries; renting a Velib, on the other hand, is not.

Stendahl dedicated his books to "Les Happy Few," the small number of readers who would get it. Velib (short for "velo en liberté"), a new one-way, short-term bike rental program for Paris, is like that. You can't get it unless you have a French bankcard or a transit pass issued by a local authority that requires an attestation by your French employer. No short-term exceptions for the 25 million visitors to Paris, many of whom would no doubt love to pedal around for an hour or two. Les Happy Many!

Launched over the Bastille Day weekend with great fanfare, Velib had a big flat tire by midweek. Nothing was working properly: not the day passes meant to be available by swiping a credit-card at the hundreds of automated booths around town, not the multi-lingual instructions, not the locking mechanisms that shut down the debit to your account.

City officials, having made their media splash, retreated into their habitual stance toward awkward questions: a Gallic Pff! Ticket sales and information were supposedly available at Metro offices (where the bored ticketseller handed out brochures), post offices ("not here, Monsieur"), tourist offices (two summer interns, giggling but unhelpful), the main City Hall (two bored civil servants, "Not here, try the neighborhood mairie"), the neighborhood mairie (where the woman already had a sign up: "Complaints about Velib, call 01 30 79 79 30"). Call that number and you get a telephone tree of sales pitches for the service without any opportunity to leave a message of complaint.

Right now all those complaints are being directed toward the entrepreneur behind it all, JC Decaux, the folks who put up public toilets in exchange for advertising space. Decaux--a giant media company involved in far more than "urban furniture"--installed a system of red bicycles called V'Love in Lyon that we wrote about last year; it's hugely successful. The Parisian Velib may yet come around, but not this week. The elegant website (which belongs to the city of Paris, not Decaux) doesn't work worth a damn, and crashes completely when you try to register online.


What makes it maddening is that Velib is such a great idea. Ten thousand bikes are already on the street, waiting (and waiting, and waiting, since the system doesn't work) with twice as many bike stations as Metro stops. The price is right: first half-hour free, second half-hour, one euro, with increasingly steep rates thereafter. Idea being that you get where you're going and return the bike to the nearest "station." Think of it as a one-way Flexcar rental.

Those JC Decaux toilets, for all that, work fine, and they're free.

Lucky 070707 in Burgundy

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Kerry Sear with mousserons.JPG Tomatoes from Brittany.JPG

According to the rental car's dashboard digits, it's 11:11 on 07 07 07, the temperature is 22.2 degrees and I've driven 333.3 kilometers since leaving Paris. What does it all mean? That would be the coincidence of crossing paths with Seattle chef Kerry Sear at the bustling Saturday market in Beaune, of all places.

Normally, he's leading tours of the Pike Place Market, then returning to Cascadia to make lunch for the gang. But he's winding up a two-week vacation in France split between Paris and Burgundy. And at today's weekly farmers market, he's seriously impressed with the richness of produce, meat and cheese, from $1.25 a pound on-the-vine tomatoes to the piles of foraged mousserons and girolles. "No big fuss about 'organic' here, is there?" he observes. "No need."

In Paris last week, Kerry spent a day in the three-star kitchen of the George V, another day watching 14 line cooks prepare small plates for the 24-seat at the Atelier Joel Robuchon. Back home, it's going to be Urban: Paris with Paris-on-the-patio wine tastings in August, Rural: Burgundy in September. Inspiration, that's what vacations are all about, n'est-ce pas?

About this Archive

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

June 2007 is the previous archive.

August 2007 is the next archive.

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