Friday, January 13, 2017

Go Pure Vegetable Chips

GoPure makes a variety of chips.  Their largest product line is "classic chips", standard thin sliced potato chips, available in fairly simple flavors, crinkle cut or not.  They also make some "natural crunch" chips, still just potato chips, only, organic and one variety of tortilla chips.

I didn't try any of those things.  Instead, while visiting one of my European offices (I think Paris, but, these aren't actually made in France, they are from the Netherlands), I tried the vegetable chips.  They didn't leave me wanting to try others.
Vegetable Chips.
"GoPure organic vegetable chips have everything: the perfect crunch, refined flavours and different textures. No wonder: each bag of GoPure vegetable chips contains a rich arsenal of carrots, beetroot, the 'forgotten' parsnip and sweet potato. It also goes without saying that these organic vegetables are all batch cooked in 100% organic sunflower oil. The only thing we add is a pinch of sea salt."

Go Pure makes three varieties of vegetable chips, "Sweet Potato" with tomato & rosemary seasoning, "Mixed Varieties" with chioggia beetroot, blue potato, & red potato, and their original vegetable chips, a mix of parsnip, carrot, beetroot, and sweet potato.  It was the later that I tried.
Sweet Potato, Parsnip, Beetroot.
My package said that it contained 64% vegetables in "variable proportions".  I laughed when I read it, until I realized that really gave them free reign to include as much or little of any variety as they wanted.  Which, they did.  My bag didn't seem to include any carrots.  Well, ok then.

The vegetables were all vibrant, the beetroot in particular.  The chips came in decent sized pieces, some curled up in the way I like (extra crispy!).  They certainly looked good.

But ... I didn't care for them.  They were too fried tasting, a bit too oily and greasy.  The salt level was nice, but, I really just couldn't taste any distinct vegetable flavors.  If you blindfolded me I would have not noticed that these were not all the same vegetable.  If you buy veggie chips, don't you generally want to taste the actual vegetables?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Boulangerie Julien, Paris

While in Paris, I ate plenty of pastries.  Some for dessert, some for mid-day treats, some for breakfast.  At one point, I decided I wanted an amazing almond croissant, so I did research into the "best almond croissants in Paris".  I found a blog post that painstakingly reviewed a bunch of almond croissants, comparing and contrasting.  I was eager to seek the top ones out, but alas, the weather failed me (so much rain!), so I opted to stay nearby the hotel and settled for things like mediocre croissants from Liberté, rather than venturing further to the top choices.

But finally, the same came out, and although fairly cool, I headed towards one of the top places: Boulanger Julien.

The distinguishing characteristic of this almond croissant was supposed to be that it wasn't the style where they use a day-old, slice it in half, fill it with frangiane, and re-bake.  Instead it is fresh made, light and fluffy, and still very flaky and risen like a fresh croissant, rather than mushed down like a traditional re-baked almond croissant.  Or so I read.

I was pretty confused when I arrived what I saw didn't match what I read about and anticipated.

It turns out, the blog post I read talked about "Boulanger Julien", which is what I looked for on Google Maps.  Where I ended up was "Boulangerie Julien".  They are not the same.  But it turns out that Google Maps wasn't quite wrong here.  The real name of the place I was supposed to visit is Nelly Julian.  Yes, a boulanger, but called Nelly Julian, not Boulanger Julien as the article said, so Google Maps found me the closest match, Boulangerie Julien.  Doh.

It was made even more confusing because I did actually browse Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews for the place I wound up (not the one I was supposed to be going to), and people mentioned the service, the awards they have won, and the chocolate almond croissant.  The awards were displayed.  Service was what I expected.  People raving in reviews about a chocolate almond croissant at a place with a great almond croissant seemed fitting.  SO almost everything matched up ... except my croissant itself.  Still, I pushed forward and ordered it on that first visit.

At least I didn't wind up somewhere totally random, this place had its own accolades..  They were awarded "Best crescent Paris" by Le Figaro in 2005.  And an award for "Best chocolate bread" in 2007."   I visited several times.

They have 3 locations (although I think one has transferred ownership), but I always visited the same one, closest to my hotel.

The Space

Boulangerie Julien is clearly a local's place.  No one but me stopped to look around at all.  Everyone else rushed in, went straight to register, ordered, and was out within less than a minute.  The line always moves lightening fast.  Oh, and not a single word of English has ever been spoken when I've visited.

I knew to expect this, since I had actually read reviews of the correct place, and everyone mentions how efficient they are.  Once I made up my mind, I stepped into line and ordered my croissant the best I could, and tried to smile and be nice, and was quickly delivered my prize before I could even blink an eye.

I did appreciate the experience of going to a real locals place, stepping outside the more comfortable tourist-ville.  And the prices were incredibly cheap.
Like many Parisian boulangeries, the storefront was adorable to me, just a big sign that said "Boulangerie" an an awning.  No seating.
Ordering Counter, Register, Bread.
Inside was narrow, with glass display cases along the side with cakes, tarts, and savory items.

The bread and pastry line up was behind the register at the front, where everyone orders and pays.


As with several other boulangeries and patiseries, I was intrigued in the packaging mechanisms.
Most impressive was the packaging.  Not because it was fancy like many patiseries I visited, but because the worker did it in one swift motion in literally less than a second.  She grabbed a paper, used it to pick up the croissant, folded it around it, and twisted it up, I think even with one hand, as she rang me up at the same time.  Woah.

The paper was totally saturated in oil by the time I got back to the hotel, less than 20 minutes away, even though this was just an almond croissant.

On another visit I ordered a cheesy savory treat, and that paper actually became translucent, quickly turning into an oily mess.  Um, this paper doesn't exactly do its job.


Macarons, Verines, Cakes.
On my first visit, since it was breakfast time, I looked past the decadent line up at the first counter, beautiful small cakes, verines, and macarons.
Cakes, Eclairs, Tarts, Flan.
And I had to skip past the next section, with even more cakes, eclairs in more flavors than I could imagine (including a speculoos one!), and assorted fruit tarts.  Oh, and flan (in 3 flavors) with a flaky pastry crust.  OMG.  These items looked amazing.

Moving past these goodies was really quite hard, and I vowed to return at a time more fitting for flan (sadly, I never did).


The next section contained savory items (pizza, sandwiches, salads, quiche).  I'm not normally one to pay attention to the savory lineup at boulangeries or patiseries, but at Julien, the goods really did look tempting, and on one visit, I got a savory to take for later.
Pizza, Sandwiches, Salads.
Nearly everything in the savory area did look appealing.

The pizzas had great toppings, and, since from a boulangerie, the crust must be amazing right?

Even the quiches really drew me in, and I don't usually like quiche because I don't like eggy things, but the flaky pastry crusts looked fantastic.  The leek one in particular looked great, with giant slices of leeks perched on top.

Oh, and what about the cheesy stuffed breads?  Or the cheesy hot dog in their housemade rolls?  I really wished that we had visited sometime for lunch, since they (optionally) warm all these items up.  
The only savory items I wasn't tempted by was the sandwiches, although I'm sure those were quite good on their obviously awesome bread.
Tarte Feuilletée: lardons, reblochon, pomme de terre.
One afternoon, I swung by to get something to bring back to hotel with us for later that evening.  I really wanted the pizzas, but I wasn't really sure I would want cold pizza (not that cold pizza is bad, obviously, but I wanted something more likely to be better cold).

So I went for a savory tart, not that different from pizza.  I'd still get cheesy, and I'd also get amazing pastry crust.  Even better than pizza!

Narrowing in on which tart to order was a hard choice.  The simple Provençal was tempting.  As was the one with onions, bacon, and Emmental cheese.  But I settled on the most unique one, Tarte Feuilletée, with Reblochon cheese.  Reblochon is a soft triple cream from France, banned in the US, so this was truly an experience I would not get in the US.  (Yes, I knew that this too would be better hot, but I thought it might still be good cold).

It was good, but I'm positive it would have been better warm.

The crust was everything I wanted it to be.  Flaky and rich.

The crust was covered in a layer of cream fraiche.  Because, Paris.  I'm not one to say no to pastry covered in cream!  So far, so good.

Next came a layer of potatoes.  Now these I could do without.  Maybe the potato would have been better warm?  But cold, soft, potato slices were not appealing.

And then ... the cheese.  I'm sure this is a cheese that is great when melty, but even cold like this, it was pretty good.  I liked the crispy nature to it, and the rinds, still included, were flavorful.

Next, lardons.  The bits of bacon were obviously nice, not fatty, crispy bits.

Overall, I'm glad I tried a savory item.  Without the potatoes, I really would have loved it.  Even so, it was flaky pastry, awesome cheese, and bacon.  Who says no to that?

Next time I'm in Paris, I need to carve out a lunch visit, so I can get something warm.


Most of my visits focused on the viennoiseries, located at the front register.  Many of these items came in two sizes, regular or mini.  The minis were 0.65€ each, and included croissants, pain au chocolate, pain aux raisins, and chocolate brioche.  I loved that they offered these, a perfect way to try a bunch of things, or to just have a little treat.
Cookies, Viennoiseries.
The viennoiseries took up two entire cases.

The top row held super caramelized palmiers, meringues, and huge cookies.  Below them was muffins, canneles, crepes, and sable.  The bottom row held sweet breads, beignets, apple turnovers, croissants, pain au chocolat, croissant aux amandes, and pain au chocolate aux amandes (the aforementioned chocolate almond croissants that everyone loves).

I almost grabbed a mini cannele, since I could obviously squeeze in a mini cannele, no matter what other treats lay ahead of me that day, right?
The other side of the display held even more tempting creations, any of which I could totally pretend were breakfast, right?  Chocolate brioche, bostock, brownies, and more.

It is no wonder I was overwhelmed by decision, and just ordered the almond croissant, even though it didn't look anything like I was expecting.
Croissant aux Almandes. 1.90€.
As as I said, this wasn't what I was expecting.  It was clearly the style of a day-old croissant, split in half, filled with frangipane.  It didn't look great, flat like a pancake.

And it wasn't great.

It was loaded with frangipane.  As in, way too much actually.  You couldn't even see the original croissant shape in the final product, as so much frangipane spilled out that it turned it into a near rectangle.  The inside was also still loaded with frangipane.

Inside was moist from the filling, but the frangipane that was outside the croissant was crazy crispy.  This was actually kinda interesting, like an almond cookie/macaroon/etc.  Not what I wanted, but, interesting.

As for the croissant, due to the re-baking, it was basically burnt.  There were some bits on the bottom that really were black, burnt, very off putting.  I like crispy, but, the burnt taste was just too much.  It didn’t have any lightness to it, no airy, flaky croissant layers, it was dense, dense, dense and mushed down.

The top was absolutely coated in powdered sugar and there were tons of sliced almonds on top adding more crispiness.

Also, it was massive.  It weighed a ton.

So did I like it?  Well, sorta.   It was really was too heavy, too large, and didn’t exactly leave me filling great afterwards.  And it wasn't what I was seeking in the first place.  But, it was sweet and crispy, and interesting at least.

This monster was only 1.90€.  I wouldn't get this again, but, if I had even more time in Paris, I'd certainly consider returning, to try the chocolate almond bread that everyone raved about.
Mini Croissant. 0.65€.
On my next visit, I went simple, a croissant.  And, since I wanted to try a couple things, I opted for the mini.

In full size, Boulangerie Julien offers two types of plain croissants: croissants ordinaires (the more curved, softer looking croissants made with margarine), and croissants au beurre (less shaped, pure butter, usually flakier and crispy).  But I just wanted a mini-treat, and the minis only appeared to be in one, unlabelled, form (in addition to chocolate version of course).

Which were these?  I couldn't be sure.  From the looks, they didn't look as crispy as the croissants au beurre, but their shape was less curved than the croissants ordinaires ... but if I had to guess, I'd say it was an ordinaire?

Also, in full disclosure, I picked this up late in the day, which is never when you are supposed to get a croissant.  Croissants are for morning only, and have a shelf-life of like 20 minutes right?  But I wanted just a little something one evening, and wanted something more exciting than just bread.  So, a mini-croissant it was.

It was fine.  The exterior wasn't crispy, it wasn't flaky, and didn't make a mess as I broke off pieces, so it certainly wasn't what some people have in mind as the perfect, flaky croissant.  Instead, it was softer, although obviously still a croissant, with laminated dough in layers.  I actually kinda prefer this style, as strange as that seems.  It had a decent chew to it, not spongy, not too dense.

Overall, actually, decent, but yes, just a basic croissant.  The mini size was just right too, bigger than traditional mini croissants, and plenty satisfying.  The 0.65€ price was fine, although a full size was only 1€.
Mini Chocolate Brioche. 0.65€.
A few days after my first visit, I found myself wandering by, just after consuming a giant pastry, but couldn't resist stopping back in.  I knew Boulangerie Julien sold minis, and I could eat a mini later, right?

The chocolate brioche looked more interesting than a simple croissant, but less sweet than a raisin snail, exactly what I wanted at that point in the day.  Rather than attempt to order it by name, I pointed, smiled, paid, and said "merci", and went on my way within just a few seconds.  I was getting the hang of things!

Sadly, I didn't like it.  The bread was a fairly eggy brioche, sorta like a choux pastry, which I'm really finicky about.  Too much egg.  And only a little chocolate.  Just not very exciting.

The 0.65€ price was in line with mini viennoiseries at other pastry shops.
Chocolate Brioche. 1.80€.
A few days later, I went back for another breakfast treat.  I wasn't in the mood for a croissant, and almost got a filled beignet (they had fresh, huge beignets filled with raspberry, or chocolate, or cream!), but I decided to get the more unique choice.  I could get a great donut in San Francisco.  But I hadn't ever really seen a bread like this chocolate chip one before, so I pointed, ordered, and went on my way.

It turned out to be the large size of the mini I had a few days prior, even though it really didn't look it.  Had I realized that, I obviously wouldn't have gotten it.

But what it looked like was a shiny, fluffy brioche, stuffed with a gooey custard, and chocolate chips.  Doesn't that sound great for breakfast?

And that is what it was, except, well, it was overwhelmingly eggy.  The bread was soft, but, eggy.  And the custard, which is really what drew me in, was really, really eggy.  There was tons of it, and if you liked the custard I'm sure it was great, but alas, this was not for me.  I did like the chocolate chips.

I also wish I had thought to ask for it warmed up (not that I had the language skills to do so).  I think the chocolate when a bit melty would have been awesome.

But alas, I did not.  I won't get this again.


Of course, this is a boulangerie, and thus they also have bread.  They have won awards for their baguette.
The breads are located in baskets behind the displays at the front register.
Tradition, Demi.
One night, Ojan wanted to "be Parisian", and have baguettes with cheese (and butter!) for dinner.  I'm not a fan of just simple bread, but, I was happy for an excuse to swing back by Boulangerie Julien to get him a baguette (and me a little something else ...).

Of course, he didn't want a whole baguette himself (he's not *that* Parisian), so I was happy to see that they also offer half-sizes.  Or at least, it seemed like they did, as I saw full baguettes and half-baguettes behind the counter.  But it almost looked like those were just ones that had broken off?  I really had no idea, and didn't know how to ask for what I wanted.  I browsed the bread list, but couldn't even find "baguette" on it, so I was at a loss.

I observed as local after local came in, asked for "un tradition", and walked away with what I thought was a baguette.  Aha.  So, I don't order baguette, I order tradition.  And then I saw on the list a "demi", and all of a sudden my ancient ballet training came rushing back.  A demi plie is a half plie, right?  So a half-tradition, would be a demi tradition, and a tradition seemed to be a baguette.  So very uh, confidently, I finally approached, and asked for a demi tradition.  The correct item was handed over, and I was quite proud of myself!

That bread was fine, nice crust, good chew, soft interior.  But I'm just really not one to have strong opinions on bread, so, subtleties of how good it really was were lost on me.  Ojan enjoyed it loaded up with cheese, a nice simple meal in the hotel room.

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).
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.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Cathay Pacific Lounge, CDG Airport, Paris

To return to San Francisco from Paris, I flew with British Airways.  Since they don't have a lounge in Charles de Gaulle airport, I had the choice of using American Airline's Admirals club or the Cathay Pacific's lounge.  Or ... both.

I visited the American Airline's Admiral's Club first, which I reviewed last week, since everyone said it had the better food.  They also said Cathay had the nicer space, so that is where I'd want to wind up to spend my time, hence, it made sense to eat at AA, and then go hang at Cathay.

I couldn't help but compare the two lounges.  The space was mostly the same.  American had more extensive food options, but not necessarily better.  Cathay had better drink (alcoholic and not) selections.  Cathay's seating looked nicer, but American's was more functional.  It is a tossup which lounge is best, pick based on your own priorities, or, just visit both, as they are located next to each other.

The Space

The Cathay Lounge looks much nicer than the American one, but, the space wasn't actually quite as usable.  If you care about what the furniture and decor look like, go to Cathay, but if you want comfortable seats and more abundant power, go to American.
The entrance to the Cathay Lounge is directly next to the American one.  Lounge hoping is made easy here!
Cafe Seating.
The layout was nearly identical to the American lounge, with cafe seating (small tables for two), at the entrance, adjacent to the food selection.
High Bar Seating.
And just like the AA lounge, there was a higher bar for seating as well.  However it was far less comfortable, no backs on the seats, and, no power ports.
Lounge Seating.
Soft furniture filled out the rest of the lounge, all the way to the windows, where you could watch aircraft take off.  There were power ports in this area, but not many.

Food & Drinks, 9am

While everyone told me the American Airline's lounge had better food, I think it was a toss up.  Cathay clearly won on the drinks front though.


The Cathay drink lineup was impressive, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.
Cold Drinks.
Coolers held a really fun assortment of canned drinks.  Yes, Sprite and Coke, tonic and iced tea, but also some soy drinks, Fanta, purple ... Orangina, and a fruity something called "Tropical Oasis" that I kinda enjoyed.  Beer was also in here.
Hard Alcohol, Cereal.
The liquor lineup included everything you'd expect, and was laid out with ... the cereal.  They go hand and hand, right?  Cereal was Kellogg's brand, individual boxes/packets, which I appreciated.  I hate cereal dispensers as they always get clogged, dump too much product, or, are full of stale cereal.
Water, Juice, Wine.
Next was a mix of water (still or sparkling), with lemon slices, juices, white wine, red wine, and bubbles.

I appreciated the lemon slices, and the larger bottles of water.
Coffee, Tea.
And finally, coffee and tea.  Ojan was sad that there was no rooibos, or even mint tea, only fruity decaf teas.

I opted for a decaf coffee, ground to order, but not particularly notable.


Unlike the American Airline's Admiral's Club, which had a large lineup of breakfast, savory foods, snacks, and desserts, Cathay only had regular breakfast options.
Noodle Window: Closed :(
Sadly, the signature noodle window wasn't open yet, since it was only 9am.  I can't have noodles for breakfast?
Toast, Jam, Fruit.
The fruit selection was just apples and oranges.  Next to that was simple sliced bread and baguettes, just like American.  But the jam was little pots of Bonne Maman, much higher quality than what AA had.  I enjoyed the apricot jam.
The pastry selection was nearly identical to American: croissants, chocolate croissants, raisin snails, apple turnovers.  I tried a croissant, it was pretty mediocre.  The AA one was slightly better, but neither were particularly good.  Greasy, not really fresh.
Charcuterie, Cheese, Yogurts.
A couple different yogurts, cheeses, and what looked like ham and perhaps turkey bologna came next, plus generic butter, tomatoes, cucumbers, and pickles.  Olive oil and balsamic were available to make a dressing of sorts.

American clearly won here, with real salads, much better looking cheeses and meats, and, well, labelled items.
Hot Foods: Scrambled eggs, baked beans, sausages, roasted mushrooms.
The hot food lineup was also far less extensive.  No pancakes or quiche here!  Just basic scrambled eggs, baked beans, sausages, and roasted mushrooms.
Congee, Toppings.
But they did have one more item: congee!

It sounds silly, but sometimes, I really like congee.  Warm, comforting, basically pudding right?  It was fine, except that it wasn't really warm.  Fairly cold.

Garnishes included chives, parsley(?), and peanuts, plus soy sauce.

I enjoyed it, but it would have obviously been better if hot, or even warm.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Treats from Pâtisserie des Rêves, Paris

Pâtisserie des Rêves is one of those pâtisseries that those who haven't visited Paris just cannot fathom.  At least, I couldn't.  Even though I had seen plenty of photos, even though I did my research, I still was blown away by the presentation, and the elaborate nature of, all the goodies.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Pâtisserie des Rêves had, at the time of my visit, 6 locations in Paris.  They now have only 5 (the shop I visited has since closed), but they also have locations in Milan, Tokyo, and Abu Dhabi (and opened and closed one in London).  Of course, they started as a single shop, in 2009.

Everything looked incredible, and the displays are something that dreams are made of.

The Setting

I visited the (now closed) location inside the BHV Marais shopping center.  It took me a while to find, winding through a maze of a department store before I finally was able to discover it.  I had some fear that I was in the wrong place, it was that difficult to find.
As is customary in Paris, a menu card was outside the entrance, on the wall.  It was entirely in French, and listed the desserts and pastries, hot and cold drinks, plus the savory selections (a handful of sandwiches and salads).  This is the only location that had savory options.
From the entrance, a bright, white space awaited, with a circular counter in the center of the room, surrounding an open kitchen.
Treats on Display.
Each dessert item was on display under a lit glass dome.  These domes were set on top of the beautiful marble counter.
I'm not entirely sure what the kitchen area was used for, as it didn't look big enough to really be where they produce the pastries.  Perhaps this is used for the light savory food menu?
In the back was a barista area, off on the side.

The staff were incredibly friendly.  The barista saw me taking photos, and even posed (although my camera lagged too much to capture it).  I really appreciated that they didn't treat me as if I were being annoying!

They were also perfectly happy to speak English with me, although all signage was in French.  I was clearly off the beaten tourist path slightly, as most places had English signs, or at least printouts available.

The Lineup

The main pastry attractions span from completely innovative to elaborate updates on French pastry classics, like an eclair, that rather being coated in chocolate, actually surrounded by a chocolate shell, or a kouign amann that comes in the form of a stick.  They also produce beautiful, and only slightly modern versions of what they dub Childhood Pastries, described as "French pastry classics, revisited", like a famed paris-brest, saint-honorê, lemon meringue tart, rhum baba, tarte tatin, millefeuille ... yup, all the basics.  And for those who want truly basic, there is a line of cookies, brownies, and standard croissants.  These items are all in displays in the center of the room, available to eat there or bring home.

The sides of the room hold packaged treats to take home, gourmandises, from which I also selected some items.
Bavarois Fromage Blanc Verveine Citron (L). Tarte Citron, Tarte Rhubarbe (R).
Each dome held several items.

Here, the one of the left offered up the bavarois fromage blanc verveine citron in either a full size or individual, and under the right done was a large tarte citron and an individual tarte rhubarbe.

As am not a fan of citrus desserts, nor rhubarb, I easily moved on, after admiring them of course.
Paris-Brest, Saint Honorê, Tarte Abricot.
Next came a trio of individual French classics, any of which I could easily have picked.  Even though fairly basic in French patisserie terms, the paris-brest and saint honorê get many, many rave reviews.

Prices are given for eating in or taking away, with takeaway prices 2-3€ less.
Fruitter Fruites Rouges, Tarte Framboise (2 sizes).
Next we moved into some red fruits, with a Fruitter Fruites Rouges and Tarte Framboise, again offered in two portion sizes.
Gran Cru Vanille. Chou: Vanille Citron, Chocolat Praline, Pistache.
Next came their signature cream puffs, in an assortment of flavors.  These also get a number of rave reviews, as they have a completely non-traditional crunchy streusel top.

Above that was the Gran Cru Vanille, the item I ended up ordering.
Eclair au Chocolat, Charlotte Vanille Fruits Rouges.
Next came another red fruit item, and, the aforementioned eclair actually wrapped in a chocolate shell.
Calisson (2 sizes), Millefeuille.
The final dome contained layered creations, including their famed millefeuille and another cake that was available in two sizes.
Madeleine, Madeleine Chocolat, Cookie, Kouign Amman.
The other side of the counter is where the baked goods lived, in more standard display racks.  This selection looked more picked over, which makes sense, as it was evening, and these are mostly morning items.

Here we had two types of madeleines (regular and chocolate), a few chocolate chip cookies, a single flan tart, and, the kouign amann sticks.  This was certainly the most unique form of kouign amann I've ever seen, a flaky, twirled stick.  I was so tempted to get it given my love of kouign amann, but to be honest, it didn't look to have the crispy caramelized exterior I love in a kouign amann.
Financier, Croissant, Pain au Chocolat (2 sizes), Chausson aux pommes.
The final baked goods section had croissants (regular, chocolate, mini chocolate), apple turnovers, and assorted financiers, again, picked over, normally morning items.
Packaged Treats.
The sides of the shop are lined with pink packages containing all sorts of goodies to take home, gourmandises.  Here we had all sorts of chocolate covered items, candied nuts, biscuits, candies, dragêes, pâte de fruits, and more.
Chocolates, Spreads.
Next came their line of chocolate bars and assorted spreads (fruit and nut based).

Guimauves (Marshmallows).
And last, fancy marshmallows.  Remember when I predicted, years ago, that marshmallows would be the next big thing?  I still think it!


I'm including a section here on packaging, only because it became novel to me to compare how all the fancy pâtisseries did this differently.  Some totally impractical, some functional, some minimalistic.  Given the elaborate display cases inside this shop, you can probably guess which direction Pâtisserie des Rêves favors.
Bag and Box.
Pâtisserie des Rêves was more on the practical side, while still being quite nice.  The bag was a quality bag with handles, the box sturdy.  It stayed together on its own, but was sealed with a label too.  So much better than the box with no structural integrity from Pierre Hermé!

In the box bottom, a thick cardboard tray was placed, to keep the box even more strongly put together.  Points for Pâtisserie des Rêves on their packaging!


So, anyway, what, of all this great stuff, did I get?

Let's just say, I was faced with a pretty serious case of indecision.  I walked around drooling at the items under the domes.  I finally made a decision, and ordered the seasonal raspberry Tarte Framboise, but, the person who took my order told me that was good, but, his favorite was the Grand Cru Vanille.  If someone was going to, unsolicited, tell me that something else was better, what choice did I have?  I took his advice, and changed my order.

Grand Cru Vanille. 6.80€.
I obviously couldn't want to get back to the hotel to dig in, so I stopped at a fountain nearby to explore my treats.  Only then did I realize that no cutlery was provided in the bag.  Doh!  Other places always included that.

However, there were two pink plastic ... things.  I'm not sure what they were for really.  Decoration? They didn't hold up anything.  They were like little spears with cakes on top?  But, they sorta worked to slice off a bite.  I took a few token bites, then rushed back to hotel, where I knew silverware awaited.
Grand Cru Vanille: Inside!
"For the pleasure of real aficionados, Philippe Conticini has applied his talents especially to the flavour of the vanilla bean: subtly crunchy Nduja vanilla; vanilla sponge; creamy black vanilla filling; white chocolate and vanilla mousse – for a taste sensation as sweet and intense as a warm hug."

I'll be honest, when I took my first bites, I was pretty disappointed.  I didn't really like it.  But my first bites were all the outer mousse.  It got better as I dug in and uncovered the center.

There were four distinct components.

Starting from the bottom was what I guess is the "subtly crunchy Nduja vanilla".  It was a crunchy layer, with tiny bits of what I think were almonds perhaps, although maybe it was the Nduja vanilla itself?  A nutty taste for sure, awesome texture, and, a bit salty, which I really appreciated with the sweet.

Above that was the vanilla sponge, just a thin layer of vanilla cake.  It wasn't really what I think of as cake at all though really ... it was moist and I almost didn't realize that the bottom two layers were different, but it didn't have any crunchy bits in it, so it was certainly different.  Another texture to play with.

Above that was the "creamy black vanilla filling".  What was it?  I honestly don't know, but it was black and creamy, and well, tasted like vanilla?  Strongly of vanilla, in a nice way.

And finally, the "white chocolate and vanilla mousse", which was the dominant component, as it was not only the thickest layer, but it encompassed the entire thing as well.  It was light and fluffy.  Flecks of vanilla were quite visible.  It wasn't too sweet, which I did somewhat worry about.  I didn't want sweet overload.  But the flavor was ... odd.  It grew on me, particularly when combined with the other flavors, but it still wasn't something I liked.

Overall, this was a lovely celebration of vanilla.  Balanced and not too sweet.  The mousse was perfectly fluffy, and I liked the contrasting texture of the crunchy base.  I easily finished it, begrudgingly saving a single bite for Ojan.  But I wouldn't get it again.

The  6.80€ takeaway price was very reasonable for a high end creation like this.


I couldn't really leave this amazing place with just a single item, could I?  But I didn't want more to eat right then (or, even later that night).  Thus, I also grabbed a few items from the "gourmandises" area, aka, items that I could bring back to the hotel, or possibly even back home, and consume later ...
Guimave Surprise: Vanille/Caramel. 9€.
"Chocolate-coated marshmallows with a surprise filling."

These "Marshmallow Surprises" were available in three varieties: praline chocolate, praline lemon coconut, and caramel vanilla.  I'm really not sure why I opted for caramel vanilla, as praline chocolate sounds far more appealing to me as I write this up ...

Anyway, what was it?  A thin chocolate shell, with a fluffy marshmallow inside, with a well in the center stuffed with liquid caramel.

Sounded great, but for some reason neither Ojan nor I liked them.  It is really hard to say why, as all the ingredients are things we like.  Chocolate, caramel, marshmallows ... the chocolate was good quality, the caramel nicely gooey.  The marshmallow was a bit of a strange texture, sorta crunchy yet soft.  But still, I'm not sure why we both disliked them so much, and opted to give them away to friends instead.

The 9€ price was high, for a container with I think 5 of these in it total, but, well, it was a fancy shop, so this isn't totally surprising?
Guimauves Gout Guimauve, 2 pack. 1.85€
"Classic, delicately-flavoured marshmallows."

I also grabbed a little 2-pack of marshmallows, mostly out of curiosity.  Years ago I claimed that marshmallows were going to be a thing, the new cupcake, and while they haven't had quite reached the level of cupcakes, they still show up everywhere, including in Paris.

Available in a wide range of flavors: vanilla, coconut, orange blossom, "marshmallow", and baby cologne.  I went for "marshmallow" flavor, because that sounded somewhat ridiculous to me.  A marshmallow flavored marshmallow?  Uh, sure?

The marshmallow was a perfect texture and consistency, super fluffy and light.  But I didn't like the flavor at all.  It seemed kinda floral.  I hope I didn't accidentally grab the "baby cologne" flavor?

Anyway, texture great, flavor bad, so not a winner for me either.
Praline Rose. 14€.
Before this trip to Paris, I guess I had no idea what pralines really were.  I mean, I thought I did, it was a term I was familiar with, always invoking thoughts of some kind of candied nuts.

I've had plenty of chocolate with praline, like chocolate coated in praline bits from Godiva, and bars filled with bits of praline by Galler, Cailler, and Chocolat Moderne, and Vosges.  I've had my share of praline flavored ice creams, like Praline and Cream ice cream from Häagen-Dazs and Baskin-Robbins, ice cream with almond praline clusters from Ben & Jerry's, a ice cream Drumstick topped with praline peanuts from Nestle, pecan praline froyo from Yogurtland, and even a Praline & Cream McFlurry from McDonald's.  I've had other praline desserts, like spiced pecan praline cookies at Back Yard Kitchen, and the praline cream inside paris-brest in Tokyo.  And, apparently, a lot of foie gras and praline dishes, like the ridiculously good foie gras ice cream bar with praline mousse at Alexander's,  the foie gras mousse topped with pistachio praline at Lafitte, and a chocolate and foie gras mousse cake with praline sponge cake (and bacon ice cream) at La Folie.

Like I said, I thought I knew praline.  And then I went to Paris.  And discovered pink pralines, which apparently come from Lyon.  Nuts, usually almonds and/hazelnuts, coated in a pink candy shell.

I discovered them in the best place, inside the magical brioche Praluline from Pralus,  I wished I had known to grab a box of the pralines at Pralus, and regretted it as soon as I left.  So when I saw a box of pralines at Pâtisserie des Rêves, I snatched it up.  I knew I'd devour them on the spot, so I hid them in my bag, determined to not break into it until I got home.  And ... I succeeded, which made for a wonderful treat once I was back in San Francisco.
Praline Rose: Close Up.
My tube of pralines had two shapes of nuts, some nearly round, others oblong.  I think the mix was almonds and hazelnuts, but it was hard to know exactly what the nuts were, given the thick coating.

The coating was vibrant pink sugar.  It was crazy thick and sweet.  And delicious.

These were downright addicting, impressive given how sweet they were.  I devoured half the tube in about 3 seconds.  Oops.

I think pralines are normally used inside baked goods, crushed up and cracked, but, for a very sweet treat, I think they were perfect as they were.  I'd certainly get these again, even though 14€ for a snack that lasted me only a few minutes is a bit steep.  And next time, I'd get them at Pralus too!