Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Le Glacier Jeff de Bruges, Paris

Jeff de Bruges is a chain of chocolate shops that started in France in 1986.  I remember walking by several the first time I was in Paris and taking very little notice.  Chocolate shops are fairly common, and this one didn't look particularly special.  Plus, a chain?  Meh.  They are now worldwide with nearly 500 shops.  You too can own a franchise if you want.  I guess they've been pretty successful?

But like I said, just a chain chocolate shop, whatever.  I paid no attention last time I was in Paris.  But on my second visit, something strange happened.

I arrived late in the afternoon, plopped my stuff down in the hotel, and eventually went out for a walk to stretch my legs after a day of travel.  I had no real destination in mind, and it was Sunday evening, so many places were closed.   You'd think I'd make a beeline for the nearest patisserie, if I could find one open, but, I had just spent the week in Lisbon and really over done it on Portuguese pastries and baked goods (including on my flight over from Lisbon, where of course I brought a bag of baked goods to tide myself over for the arduous 2 hour flight).  Foolish on my part, no doubt, knowing I was coming to Paris, but, alas, it was what it was.

As I strolled along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, watching street performers, and just kinda taking it all in, I randomly decided I wanted McDonald's, to try the Le P'tit Hotdog (yes, I know, I was in Paris, and that is what I wanted?  What?  But I love hot dogs, and I love trying McDonald's items in other countries, and had liked the croque McDo last time).  But a block away from McDonald's I got sidetracked by the Jeff de Bruges shop.

I'm so glad I did.
Line Out Front.
There was a line extending out onto the sidewalk.  There were people milling around with really fabulous looking ice cream cones.  I suddenly *needed* ice cream.  Can you tell what kind of state I was in?  I had many great ideas for places to eat in Paris, and treats to seek out, yet here I was veering off my McDonald's path for random ice cream I knew nothing about, from a chain chocolate shop?  I had travel brain fog.

But I was also really missing my daily soft serve.  Back in San Francisco, my office has a froyo machine, and it is an essential part of my daily life Mon-Fri.  I'd been traveling for a week without this normal source of frozen delight, and I was feeling it (although, to be fair, on the first day of my trip, the previous Sunday, I got Ben & Jerry's out of the vending machine at the airport, and on Tues, Wed, and Friday I got amazing frozen yogurt at Weeel in Lisbon (more on that soon), and on Saturday I tried the crazy "soft serve" Cornetto from a convenience store in Cascais.  So, uh, actually ... I only had two days without ice cream or frozen yogurt?  Yet I felt very deprived.

Or something.  I don't know.  All I knew is that the cones looked good, the ice cream was fairly brilliant colors, and, well, there was a line.  It didn't matter than it was fairly cold (particularly after being in Lisbon) and I had a jacket on.  It didn't matter that it was nearly 8pm and I should be getting some "real" food.  I needed ice cream.

So I joined the line.  They actually seem to often have lines, and have signs up to form separate lines for ice cream and chocolate, so as to not overwhelm the chocolate shop.  While I was there though, I literally saw no one go through the line for chocolates.  We all wanted one thing: ice cream.
The options.
Signs were in both English and French, making this very easy for me (although I like to think the language of ice cream is universal).

The shop had 4 dispensers, each with 2 flavors, which could of course be swirled if on the same machine.  One machine was frozen yogurt (2%) and had original tart and pomegranate frozen yogurt.  The rest were ice cream, with the choices of Madagascar Vanilla + Super Strawberry, Raspberry + Citrus, and Chocolate + Caramel.  I have no idea why the strawberry was "super".  Many reviews I read later mention pistachio flavor, but, alas, not offered on my visit.

Options were cups or cones in 3 sizes without toppings, or sundaes with unlimited toppings for 3€ more for each size.  There didn't seem to be anything in-between, aka, no way to get say a small cup with just one topping.  I was momentarily at a loss.  When I get soft serve ice cream in the US, I always just get a baby cone with sprinkles or flavored dip.  I just love licking soft serve ice cream from a cone, and think sprinkles are so fun.

I've basically never had soft serve ice cream in a cup, or as a sundae, besides at McDonald's.  But when I get froyo, I always get it in a cup, and I always load on the toppings.  This total contradiction has never occurred to me before.  I also basically never get soft serve ice cream unless it is a warm summer day, and I eat my cone out in the sun, frantically licking it as it melts way too fast.  

So here I was, getting soft serve ice cream, on a cold evening, and considering adding toppings, and, apparently a full sundae.  I was really stepping out of my mold.

I didn't see sample cups, nor anyone asking for samples, so, I realized I had to make my decision without trying any flavors, again, not my usual mode of operation.  I quickly ruled out the froyo, I didn't want chocolate at night, and I don't like citrus, so I was left with caramel, vanilla, strawberry, and raspberry.  Caramel sounded great, but I feared it might be too sweet, and without being able to taste it first, that was just too much of a risk.  I also don't really tend to like strawberry ice cream.  Ok, down to vanilla and raspberry.  Black raspberry is usually my favorite soft serve ice cream, so I hoped the raspberry might be like that.  Still .... risky.  But vanilla is so boring.  I wanted both.  So I asked if it was possible to get two flavors, even if they weren't on the same machine.  I was told yes, but, only in the large size.  I didn't want a large, even the small here looked pretty large, and no baby size was available.  I asked again, a bit differently, "I don't mean swirled or fancy, just, a little of one kind, a little of another?"  The server smiled and told me that the rule was only one unless a large, but, that didn't mean he *couldn't* do it.  He then pointed out that his manager was not there.  Lols.  So, I suggested to him the two flavors I wanted, and, well, I got them.  +1 point for customer service!
Crunchy Toppings.
Then it was time to pick my unlimited toppings.

The first set of toppings was the dry, crunchy ones, including bits of roasted pistachio, speculoos cookie crumble, bits of caramelized macadamia nut, waffle cone chunks, meringue pieces, and dark chocolate cookie chunks.

For my sundae, I opted for some of the caramelized macadamia, since I wanted nuts, and I like macadamias.

Interestingly, the standard nut choices I'm used to, like walnuts and almonds, were not options.  Not that I minded, pistachios and macadamia seem much more exciting to me.
Sauces, Crunchy Toppings on Right, Fruit on Left.
The final two crunchy toppings were "fine crepe pieces" and dark chocolate sprinkles.  I added the dark chocolate sprinkles, and found it pretty interesting that they were different than sprinkles in the US, in that they were much shorter.

Next came the sauces, all in squeeze bottles, which was a bit odd.  Here they had fruity options (raspberry, strawberry, cherry) and sweet ones (hazelnut crunch, speculoos, coconut), but, notably, no chocolate sauce?  At a chocolate shop?  Isn't chocolate sauce the number one ice cream sauce topping?  Also no caramel, but, that is less odd.

From here I selected two sauces, the hazelnut crunch and coconut.  Actually, I asked for hazelnut crunch, and the server accidentally picked up the coconut, and squeezed it on before realizing.  He was ready to start over, but I told him it wasn't a problem, and just got both.  Since he adds the toppings, but they are unlimited, it is a bit odd, as he sits there squeezing the bottle until you stay stop, and he chooses how to distribute things around.  Not ideal, but, it is what it is.

I'm not sure where they kept the cans, but the signs also listed that you could add whipped cream for 1€, strange to not be included in the unlimited toppings set.
Fruit Toppings.
Next came fresh cut fruits and berries: blackberry, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, kiki, roasted banana, and uh, grapes?

They were all mislabeled ... the blackberries said "strawberry", the kiwi said "mango", and the grapes said "pineapple".  Lols.  It was not just a lost in translation thing either, as the signs were wrongly laid out in both English and French.

I opted for blueberries (whole) and kiwi (cut).
Candy!
And last, candy toppings, assorted gummy candies and jelly beans.  I decided against any of these, although I'm not really sure why.
Small Sundae. 7€.
Here was my final creation, with both Madegascar Vanilla Ice Cream and Raspberry Ice Cream, topped with coconut sauce and hazelnut crunch sauce, kiwi chunks and blueberries, candied macadamia pieces and chocolate sprinkles, assembled as my server desired.

The ice cream was rather amazing.  It was creamier and richer, yet fluffier and more airy than I've ever had in soft serve before.  The thing that kept coming to mind is that this is what soft serve gelato must be like, but I don't even know what I meant by that.  It melted faster than I expected given that it wasn't hot out, but it even melted differently.  I think it really must have used a different (likely higher) fat percentage than soft serve in the US?  I was incredibly fascinated by the texture.

I'm glad I went for two flavors.  The Madagascar vanilla was wonderful, an off-white color, with real true vanilla flavor.  The raspberry though I didn't quite care for, it was too sweet, and too fruity.  Just not what I was in the mood for I guess.  I was relieved I didn't get one all of that flavor.

The fruits were both ripe, fresh, and flavorful.  The fruit was refreshing and a good contrast with the fairly rich ice cream.

The caramelized macadamias were a great pick, they were super crunchy, and I liked the extra sweetness from the caramelization.  Probably my favorite topping.  The chocolate sprinkles, besides being an unfamiliar short and stout shape, were basically just little sprinkles, otherwise lost among the other toppings.

Both sauces were pretty thick, not really "sauces", but were sweet and tasty, and I enjoyed them both.  Far more interesting than standard caramel or butterscotch sauce, although, not nearly as fun as the "rafaweeel" I discovered in Lisbon (again, stay tuned).

Overall, this was a success.  If I had even more time in Paris, I actually would go back.  I'd try the vanilla and caramel next.  I'd keep the same two sauces.  I'd probably go for roasted bananas and strawberries just to mix it up.  I'd maybe try the pistachios, or another crunchy topping.  I'd definitely add in the waffle cone pieces, I actually meant to this time, just somehow forgot.  And .... maybe even go crazy and add whipped cream?

But, alas, only 4 days in Paris, and while I enjoyed this quite a bit, it didn't seem worth one of the very few dessert slots I had remaining.

The 7€ price is certainly more than I usually pay for ice cream, and even just a small with no toppings is 4€, far more than the huge parfait creation I got at Weeel in Lisbon just the day before.  Yup, Paris is an expensive city.  But, delicious.
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