The New Convivialist

Month: January, 2012

Paris: yes, it was a working trip

I am finally back in Berlin after a whirlwind week-long tour that ended with a few days in Paris. I hadn’t visited the city for nearly eight years, and the second I emerged from the Gare du Nord, I knew that that had been much too long. After being in Berlin, Paris was like a real city. It felt loud, dense, energetic and diverse.

Though my trip to Paris was work-related, I couldn’t help but poke around the neighborhood where I was staying, Montmartre, in order to discover some of its culinary offerings. To my delight, the best Parisian baguette of 2011 was located in a tiny bakery just down the street. Au Levain d’Antan, not far from Sacre Coeur, sells a delicious baguette indeed, with just the right balance of crisp outside and chewy inside. My three colleagues and I took our mornings from the table at our small apartment slowly, discussing our work schedule for the day– and the subtle, unattainable-anywhere-besides-France perfection of a baguette with President butter and fig marmalade.

We also found a fabulous local coffee shop nearby, not an easy feat for Paris, where the cafe au lait (read: bitter coffee-flavored milk) just doesn’t live up to the city’s acclaim as a culinary Mecca. Kooka Boora is admittedly American in look and feel. I could easily imagine the cafe in any one of the bourgeois enclaves of western Brooklyn. I think I even heard (gasp!) English being spoken behind the counter one morning when I picked up coffees to go. Regardless, the friendly morning baristas serve wonderfully potent espresso drinks and drip coffees to stay or to go.

Years ago I discovered the Rose Bakery cookbook, published by Phaidon, and have wanted to eat there ever since. The French-British cafe has three locations around the city, but on a typical afternoon, as I experienced, it is not easy to obtain a table without waiting in a tight entry corridor. The rustic simplicity of the place is echoed in the open kitchen, with irresistible aromas and huge bags of flour flowing out into the dining spaces. The homey nature of the sweet and savory dishes behind the counter makes you feel immediately comfortable, as if you just wandered into a countryside bakery owned by your best friend.

I had my share of non-French food: Ethiopian one night, sushi another, not to mention a bit of overpriced tourist food, eaten out of starvation/desperation. But we did eat in a classic, tiny bistro one night, one of many hole-in-the-walls lining Rue de 3 Frères in Montmartre. We wandered in by chance, tempted by the fish of the day, ending up choosing the rich smoked duck in potato gratin. The bistro was pleasant in the best sense of the word, not fancy or pretentious, just the kind of neighborhood French cooking that you always wish you actually had in your neighborhood.

Paris, I will be back.

yeah yeah, Herald Tribune. I admit, my French is terrible.

Best Baguette of Paris 2011- breakfast with butter and jam

Eating in the New Year

Happy 2012 and frohes neues Jahr. May this year be one in which I never again have a nearly one-month gap in my entries on Convivialist! Unbelievable? Yes, but in my defense, I was busy with a rather last-minute trip back to the US for the holidays. I certainly ate well over the past weeks, enjoying my family’s often-quirky little culinary traditions such as “crabbies”, “spritz cookies” “cheese balls”, and “cannoli from Mike’s Pastry”, but my most memorable food experience on my spontaneous trip was the dinner that came after a spontaneous wedding of two dear friends.

Who: Martin and Yvonne, both from Germany but beginning a new life and new year together in New York. When: 3:16 pm appointment on December 30, 2011. Where: City Hall, Manhattan. How: Adorably, with laughter and lightness. Why: Well, many reasons…

In all, it was as beautiful as any wedding could be. My boyfriend Paul and I were the only two guests. We helped make the rings and the bride’s veil an hour before showtime. We took the subway. We ate the wedding cake before dinner. In its simplicity, it couldn’t have been more true or authentic.

 Now, since this is a food-based blog, I will briefly tell you about our pleasant after-wedding dinner at Pulino’s in Manhattan. Open for barely two years, Pulinos is the next in line of Keith McNally, owner of New York staples such as Pastis and Balthazar. The place has a convivial, celebratory atmosphere, the warmly backlit shelves of whisky bottles softening the crowded dining room. We captured a cozy table by the wood burning pizza oven. Admittedly, we were stuffed after our appetizers, already having polished off half of a Magnolia bakery cake after the ceremony. We ate sultry roasted olives, nuts and dried fruit; creamy baked ricotta with grapes, mosto, and fennel seeds; roasted squash and watercress salad with smoked parmigiano; a divine honeycrisp apple salad with walnuts, horseradish and pomegranate; oven roasted vegetables with a surprising round of warm baked scamorza cheese… need I go on? Well, we managed to put a dent in some pizza afterwards, namely a butternut squash, black kale and walnut pesto one, plus a prosciutto arugula pie. Everything was fantastic (though I admit the walnut pesto on the pizza reminded me a touch of peanut butter) and we slowly made our way through our meal, passing on dessert but ending with a nice digestivo.

It was a fine way to end 2011.

My next culinary vignette from New York was running over to the newly opened Gasoline Alley in NoHo. On New Years Eve, a few hours before I was scheduled to fly back to Berlin, I said hello to my friend Neville Ross, who recently realized his dream of opening a coffee shop in New York City. In a sleek sliver of a space, with entrances on both Lafayette Street and Mulberry Street, the gentlemen behind the bar pull gorgeous shots, serving up a strong cappuccino made from beans by Intelligentsia. I love the wooden counters they have installed along both large windows, as well as the bare Plumen lightbulbs that hang from the high ceilings. My boyfriend bought me a bag to bring home, and when I arrived back in Europe on New Years Day and opened my carry-on bag, the whiff of fresh ground coffee made me immediately forget the red-eye flight.

finishing off the wedding cake the next day

looking out on Lafayette Street after a cappuccino at Gasoline Alley