Paris: Crêpes from street to chic
Walk down almost any Paris sidewalk and you're likely to be struck by the sweet smell of crêpes. Every city has its own street foods, and the favored snack in this town is a thin pancake stuffed with melted savories or sugary spreads.
Street crêpes are inexpensive, portable, and available at any hour, which makes them perfect for moments when you don't have time or money to spare. Native to the northwestern French region of Brittany, crêperies have proliferated around the country. Parisians flock to them at lunchtime for cheap combo deals like a drink and a galette (a savory crêpe made with buckwheat flour) for €5. Afternoon snackers stop by for their sweet fix: the crêpe au sucre (with sugar) or au citron (with lemon) are favored choices. Kids and Americans (that's me on both counts) go for the chocolate/hazelnut mess that is Nutella.
I still remember my first encounter with a street crêpe in Paris. After hours of flea market foraging at the Marché aux Puces, I headed to a vendor on the street. In the wintry outdoor air, that first crêpe arrived hot and oozing with salty cheese. I cupped my cold fingers around the steaming mass and nibbled it like a rare treasure, not realizing at the time that the delicious bundle was probably the worst crêpe I'd ever eat.
Even when they're soggy and filled with inferior ingredients, a bad street crêpe is still pretty good. But a great crêpe, as I've learned through years of extensively caloric research, can change your life. When I'm looking for a transformative pancake (and I often am), I head to the Crêperie Josselin (67 rue du Montparnasse, 14th arrondissement, 011-33/ 1-43-20-93-50). This sit-down restaurant is a dark and wood-filled, with lacy curtains and tiled walls. Your first sight upon entering will be an enormous slab of real Breton butter. The cook uses it on his griddle, giving the crêpes a golden color and a crisp, lacy edge. My regular lunch order (approaching fifty visits), is the complète: a galette that's stuffed with ham, egg and melted cheese. This glorifed egg McMuffin comes with a bowl of Breton cider and a dessert crêpe for only €10. Because it's served steaming on your table within minutes, it also qualifies as the best haute fast food in Paris.
For those who want a more modern take on the crêpe, the Breizh Café (109 rue Vieille du Temple, 3rd arrondissement, 011-33/1-42-72-13-77) is another wildly popular destination. Here, an impressive list of artisanal ciders and shellfish starters complement some very creative crêpe cookery. The ingredients at this Marais hotspot are all organic, and the light-wood interior is a departure from traditional Breton décor. The crêperie's location, just down the street from bars like La Perle (78 rue Vieille du Temple) make the Breizh a great place for a pre-crawl dinner with friends.
A few good links: Throwing beads edition
Bright Spot in the Big Easy Checking in with New Orleans' Magazine Street. [New York Times] Good times rolling on for Mardi Gras New Orleans doesn't see any downturn from last year. [CNN] Strike a Pose A new exhibit in New York looks at the studied weirdness of fashion photography. [Slate.com] Advertise for the May Fair Hotel on Your Butt To celebrate London's fashion week, the publicity-hungry hotel commissioned jeans with 14-karat gold touches. [HotelChatter] Next upgrade for the A380: Bunk Beds? The Aerobus may have tiny, but cheaper, lay-flat seats. [Gadling] Ryanair to do away with check-in desks. The low-cost carrier continues to cut. [USATODAY] Green Island: Rethinking Tokyo Fanciful photos show a much greener Tokyo. [Treehugger] Hostels hustle to add an upmarket tag…and see our own list, too. [Boston Globe]
Remembering 1969: New exhibit to open in Montreal
1969 was a monumental year in pop culture for lots of reasons—Woodstock, peace signs, the moon landing, Janis Joplin. It was also the year John Lennon staged a "bed-in for peace" in Montreal with his new wife, Yoko Ono. The pair stayed in bed for a week in Suite 1742 of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. They did it to protest the Vietnam War, letting reporters hang out with them. Their stunt was well-documented—350 radio stations in the U.S. alone picked up the story. To commemorate the event, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts will host Imagine: The Peace Ballad of John and Yoko beginning Apr. 2. The free event, co-curated by Ono who loaned many of the items on display, includes drawings, videos, and unpublished photographs, along with other mementos from John and Yoko's life together. Montreal was the second bed-in; read about John and Yoko's first in Amsterdam in our recent article on Sexy Hotels. And as you might expect, the Queen Elizabeth has a package offer, so you can stage your own bed-in.
Paris: Food gifts that are light on everything but calories
When it comes time to buy food presents for the people back home, the City of Light can turn any suitcase heavy. But years of transatlantic gifting have taught me how to scale down both the size and the cost of these purchases. Here are some ideas that I found while shopping for a recent trip from Paris to New York. They brought great smiles without breaking either my back or my budget. Luxe Fauchon. The hot-pink diva of gourmandise, Fauchon is filled with pricey food treats. Looking for caviar, foie gras, or your very own truffle? You'll find them here, and they'll sometimes be more expensive than your hotel room. I like to come to this den of luxury for something decidedly more modest—the pretty little pots of confit de lait. This milk jam is very French, very delicious when spread on toast with salted butter, and very cheap—just over €2 ($2.50). Fauchon also sells its products at Charles de Gaulle airport if you want to leave your shopping until the very last minute. 30 place Madeleine, 8th arrondissement IndieEpicerie de Bruno. Around this corner from the market-heavy rue Montorgueil, this independent shop makes choosing a gift easy by stocking only a small selection of superb food treats. Bruno’s family has been in the business for three generations, and he'll be happy to impress you with his knowledge of spices, chocolate, and the English language. One of the things I picked up was a bar of chocolate made with cardamom, but that never made it out of Paris. A few doors down at #58 is G.Detou, a well-known foodie wonder-store. From here I scored some prestige vanilla en poudre, a pure powder of crushed vanilla pods that’s highly prized but hard to find in America. It costs less than €5 ($6.40) for 50 grams. I also loaded up on Valhrona chocolate, the premium (and practically only) French chocolate brand. Bars of the dark, rich stuff (70% cacao) were €2.50 ($3.25) 30 rue Tiquetonne, 2nd arrondissement Bargain Monoprix (more than 50 stores acros the city). Selling clothes, cosmetics, and food, Monoprix is the closest thing to Target that you'll find in France. Walk ten minutes in any direction and you're bound to see their red neon sign, or else head to 140 rue de Rennes (6th arrondissement) for a particularly good-sized store. My go-to gift at Monoprix is always fleur de sel. This superior salt is sold in cute cork-topped cylinders for €3.40 ($4.30)—that's half the price charged at many American gourmet stores. On a recent visit I also picked up a box with three tubes of crème de marron (chestnut cream) for €2.78 ($3.57). I'm a sucker for the haute Nutella taste and pretty packaging. In the wine aisle I grabbed a few bottles of moelleux for €8 ($10.25). The sweet wine (serve it with with dessert, foie gras, or cheese) comes in skinny bottles, making it easier to carry than your average Bordeaux. To top it all off, I bought a dried sausage for €4.29 ($5.50). Well-wrapped in plastic, it managed to make my editors very happy without making my suitcase smell like cured pork. If you'd like to bring some fromage from Paris, consider this: the United States prohibits unpasteurized (lait cru) cheese that has been aged for less than 90 days. Honest travelers buy pasteurized versions of their favorite cheese to carry in their checked luggage. Lawbreakers favor the premium raw milk cheese from the Androuet case in a food shop at Charles de Gaulle airport. Buying your cheese in duty free helps it to stay colder longer, and packages are vacuum sealed for stinkless transport. At least that’s what we hear…
This weekend: Flower power in Providence
A $17 ticket buys you the world this weekend—well, a tour of the world's gardens, at least. The 16th annual Rhode Island Flower and Garden Show, kicking off Thursday in Providence, represents all the regions of the world in 30 unique gardens. Explore landscapes with plants typical of Mexico, France, and Egypt, and also see an Australian Outback display and a huge New England woodland exhibit. In addition to the displays, there are lectures and demos by gardening and landscaping experts, many of them covering organic products and techniques. Roger Swain, host of PBS's Victory Garden, will make the case for a federal "fruit and vegetable czar." For those of you with small spaces, there's a demo that will teach you how to have your own tiny organic herb garden. And for fans of British gardens, Paul Miskovsky shares his experiences working at the Chelsea Flower Show in London. (By the way, check out our related Real Deal). You can save a little money by visiting the show after 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The date night promotion will get you tickets for $14 each ($3 off tickets at the door) and 20 percent off food at local restaurants. And if you're thinking of of staying, the Radisson Hotel Providence Harbor has a package that includes admission. Thursday through Sunday, beginning at 10 a.m. Rhode Island Convention Center, One Sabin Street. Tickets are $17 at the door. PREVIOUSLY Experts pick their favorite gardens