June 28, 2009

Episode 2: Paris - the story of ice cream gods and the battle of macaron...

Tour Eiffel
Our next stop was the French capital, and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. There is no denying that Paris is an extraordinarily beautiful city. In fact, it is so breathtakingly stunning it almost makes you angry. You will rarely stroll more than a few blocks without passing some world-famous institution or other iconic landmark, and I have never before been so enticed by the allure of apartment-style living.
With some of the more trendy arrondissements pushing well in excess of 100,000 inhabitants per square kilometre, the popularity and intensity of this glamorous city is ever apparent. Paris is a Mecca for fashionistas and the beautiful people and I can understand why it is touted as the city of romance, although those who know me well will appreciate why, that precisely for these reasons, it is also the exact opposite to my idea of falling in love. I'm not sure I could live there, but would happily visit often. After all, there is always the culinary reputation of this gorgeous city to consider...

Jardin des Tuileries, Cimetiere du Montparnasse
Awakening to the heavenly aromas of freshly-baked pastries, and collecting a still-warm croissant on our way down to Parc du Champ Mars and le Tour Eiffel was such a wonderful way to start the day. Even the simple things were exceptional, and I must say that ham and cheese baguettes in Paris are incredibly delicious. What made them so, I believe, was the butter. Dairy in Europe is different, and the flavour is something you must experience for yourself. Regardless, that such basic lunchtime fare could be so scrumptious was simply tremendous.
Our travels took us through a number of quaint street markets offering attractive fresh, organic produce which, due to a lack of kitchen, was sadly just eye candy for the Pretty Bake ladies, although we were able to satisfy our yearnings for archetypal French fare by collecting picnic supplies in the form of pate and terrine from the operatically stunning Galeries Lafayette.

Galeries Lafayette
There were three items on our "must do" gastronomical inventory, the first of which being a trip to Glacier Berthillon on the Ile St-Louis. In my opinion, ice cream for brunch is excusable when on holiday, and in retrospect it was wise to have visited early because this ice cream was SO good we had to return for a second helping later that day. The intensity of flavour and deliciousness of Berthillon ice cream is frankly indescribable, and the decision on what to try was extraordinarily difficult. I started out with a refreshing raspberry and rosewater sorbet, and Miss Rose made first contact with her soon-to-be overwhelming obsession that came in the form of the luscious and delectable salted butter caramel. We lashed out on our return visit and treated ourselves to two scoops, so while I indulged myself with sublime bitter chocolate and a rhubarb sorbet that was simply killer, Miss Rose fortified her burgeoning fixation by opting for two more scoops of salted butter caramel. It must be said that the creators of these icy treats are undeniably gods amongst men.

Glacier Berthillon – Ile St-Louis
Our second Parisian stipulation was to consume a macaron or two, and we thought it only just to compare three of the major institutions in what became the colourful battle of the macarons. A constant was selected to serve as a point of reference, and each delicious morsel was judged on appearance, texture and flavour. The contenders were…
Laduree, the most famous of all Parisian tea houses, with their pistachio, salted caramel, chocolate and blackcurrant with violet…

Laduree – Avenue des Champs-Elyseés
Fauchon's salted caramel, hazelnut praline and pistachio…

Fauchon – Place de la Madeline
And the rose, pistachio, caramel and passionfruit treats from Pierre Hermé.

Pierre Hermé – Rue de Vaugirard
The winner was unquestionably Laduree, whose macarons were perfect in form and texture, and so impeccably delicious. Pierre came in a strong second with slightly softer meringue and more butter-creamy fillings, but showed impressive presentation and I enjoyed having my palate challenged by the unpredictable combination of passionfruit and chocolate. Fauchon was left languishing well behind with flavours that failed to impress, a texture too soft and irregular shapes that just weren't quite right. I'm sure had there been no point for comparison they would have been perfectly satisfactory, but as an air of arrogance pervaded our level of expectation, there were certain high standards which had to be met.
Lastly, we returned to Pierre to fulfil the third of our Parisian desires. Pierre Hermé is rather famous for the invention of his own flavour, ispahan, and in our world at least, for the most extraordinary lemon cream tart recipe with which you should by now be quite familiar. Ispahan displays notes of raspberry and rosewater, and when wrapped in layers of buttery croissant is honestly rather delicious. As for the citron tart; it was certainly most extraordinary, but to be honest I think we stacked up quite well against the creator.

Ispahan croissant

Tart au citron
And as if this post weren't already gargantuan enough, it's now time for five of my more memorable Parisian experiences:
1. Strolling the banks of the Seine – one of the more pleasant ways to experience the aesthetic pleasures of this beautiful city.

The Seine
2. The catacombs – to pass through through these dusty underground tunnels lined with the bones of a truly incomprehensible number of Parisians was both fascinating and somewhat overwhelming.

3. Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris – located on the lovely Ile de la Cité, in spite of all its literary and historical distinction, Notre Dame is first and foremost a spectacularly stunning cathedral.

Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris
4. Musee du Louvre and d'Orsay – while it houses masterpieces such as the Mona Lisa, Aphrodite (Venus de Milo), the Winged Victory of Samothrace and an incredible French sculpture collection all of which are certainly an absolute privilege to see, the Louvre itself is quite a magnificent space. Musee d'Orsay houses an irresistible Impressionists collection featuring the works of Degas, Monet, Renoir, Manet, Cezanne, Pissaro and Van Gough to name but a few, and offers a wonderful view from its clock towers.

Musee du Louvre

Musee d'Orsay, Basilique du Sacré Coeur
5. The Eurostar – I could not think of a better way by which to end the second leg of my journey than hurtling across the French countryside at 300 kph towards the most anticipated of all my travel destinations.

Gard du Nord
And so I commend those who have made it this far through such a ridiculously long post and beg that you return soon for the final instalment, as I still have so many wonders to share.
Until then, au revoir

1 comment:

pinknantucket said...

When my thesis is finished, how do you feel about a macaroon day? I am inspired...