Tour France: Dinner in the Home of a Paris Chef

Tour France: Bliss Travels has dinner in the home of a Paris chef

Have you ever dreamt of dining in the home of a chef in Paris? Maybe learning his/her secrets? Being treated to a special menu and feeling like a local as you sip wine in his living room, or peak into his kitchen?

Of course you have! We all wish we could do this!  Otherwise, how else can you explain the stunning popularity of the Food Network and our cult like obsession with “Celebrity Chefs” (all of whom we all know by name, and whose lives and travels we can intimately discuss, as if they were our own family)?

Our obsession with all things “food” is based upon our desire to get and insider’s exclusive access to this sort of experience! Bliss Travels has had the some extraordinary opportunities to do these sorts of “insider” foodie experiences. Our most recent, and, at the moment, favorite “insider” foodie experience, is our exclusive invitation to the home of a rising Paris chef for a gourmet dinner.  We truly enjoyed collaborating with this chef, formerly of Alain Passard‘s gastronomic Arpege, and loved having our clients visit the charming Paris apartment he shares with his wife and little (bien sur) Yorkie. We spent months creating a custom tasting menu and wine pairings to share with our clients. For sure, this will be something we do again and again! 

Our menu was truly special, as you can see below. An added bonus was the chance to  watch the chef plate his dishes and to enjoy them while learning how he made these signature preparations.  Here is our menu and some of the food photos of this truly “exclusive” dining experience.

Terrine of foie gras,  onion chutney and sauternes gelee with toasts

We paired this with a wonderful Champagne. And we watched as our chef showed us how he prepared this traditional holiday treat. (One of our foodie travelers, normally vegetarian, asked for, and received “seconds” of this dish, which she took for her breakfast the next morning (paired with a great fruit preserve the hotel was serving! Now, how often can you do that on a trip other than with Bliss Travels?)

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Endive salad with red onion, shaved parmesan, lemon, and truffle oil

 A refreshing segue into the meal. The bitter endive and the truffle oil paired beautifully with our Champagne as well as our first white, a white from Burgundy, and one of our most favorite villages, the picture perfect village of Meursault

Meursault, Narvaux, 2009.

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The famous Arpege  “perfect egg“ was our next dish.

I confess that I was so enraptured by the chef’s description of this dish, and dual temperatures of the one egg, along with the taste of this perfectly simple and elegant dish, that I forgot to take a picture!! We paired the egg with our second white, a rich, buttery Meursault Les Charmes 1er Cru, 2009. This was not just a  perfect ‘egg’ it was a perfect ‘pairing’!

Veloute of carrot, with tarragon

was an intense, non dairy carrot preparation made from caramelized carrots, cooked under pressure and reduced to a velvety richness. The two fold preparation of carrot (one caramelized, the other steamed led to this deep dark color. This dish had no meat and no dairy, and yet tasted richer than any beef based stock I’ve tried.

This rich dish led to the last drop of Meursault and a nice transition to our red wines.

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Salt crusted roasted beet root

Next our chef demonstrated how he made this absolutely perfect vegetable, salt crusted, intensely juicy and truly an unexpected star dish! We opened our 2007 , 1er Cru, Pinot Noir from Gevrey Chambertin, made by a winemaker and friend in whose 14th century cellars we get to enjoy exclusive barrel tastings  (We do love Burgundy!)

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Pan seared beef with a parsnip puree, creamed spinach, sweet and sour peppers and a red wine jus

A 2007 Premier Cru Burgundy from Gevrey Chambertin

One client enjoyed this dish so much, not only did she have 2 servings (a nice little perk of being in the home of a chef, instead of a restaurant, but also she said this was the best dish she had ever tasted.)

 

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Last, but not least, a real surprise for all was the dessert

A moist and delicious Olive oil cake, served with stunningly good Greek yogurt ice cream, Nutella powder and chervil

The Nutella powder was the “dark horse”. Nobody really expected to love that –but he made this using a great trick of molecular gastronomy and turned what is (in my opinion) a cloyingly sweet “kid’s” dessert, into a sophisticated delicious (please, sir, may I have more) end of meal. This was served with a fortified sweet wine from the south west of France.

Of course, that wasn’t really the end (it never is). We finished with a big bowl of creme fraiche caramels to take home. Yum! An absolutely Bliss-ful evening we intend to repeat with the next group of special foodies looking for something truly unique.

2013-12-23 11.20.57Let us know what you think. And let us know what dishes you’d like to see in your  “dinner at home with a Paris chef”

A bientôt,

Wendy

Paris for the Holidays: Tips & Travel Bargains

Tour France: Paris for the Holidays: Tips & Travel Bargains

Paris sparkles over the holidays. In so many ways. We find it pure Bliss and the best way to celebrate. Below are tips for bargains and beating the mad holiday travel rush.

Traveling over the holidays can be exciting –and a great deal. As the New York Times points out, holiday travel bargains can be found by checking flights on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and keeping your schedule flexible. In addition, they point out that purchasing 8 weeks in advance is ideal for airline bargains.

Trusted traveler programs also help make your trip easy and pleasant. Global Entry (apply through the US Government sites) can help you bypass long customs and immigration lines. While others may wait hours, you can proceed to a kiosk where you are allowed to use the automated system. This typically takes less than 5 minutes.

There are also “trusted traveler programs”. If you qualify, these can help you navigate airport security so much quicker!

The same sort of “ease” is true for vacations and hotels if you book early. Booking early can get you great deals and save you time and trouble later in the event that your favorite activities book up. If you book trips where transfers and activities are included, you will often save money and always save “hassle” and time.

Visit the big things: Notre Dame for Christmas mass –just for the experience. And the Christmas markets for hot spiced wine, delicacies, crafts, gifts and little trinkets.

 

But, don’t forget the less obvious, less touristic things. The holidays are a food and wine lover’s paradise. Champagne, oysters, scallops, foie gras, roast meats, truffles and chocolates…all winter fare. Don’t miss out! Try the French hot chocolate, thicker and less sweet that what Americans typically have. Try the homemade chocolates and seasonal pastries (we always do a private tasting and wine pairing over the holidays. Yum.)

And of course, non chocolate desserts!

And truffled pizza, mais oui! The best ever! This is really Bliss –in our opinion! Let us know if we can help make your holidays special.  Contact us now for great travel deals during or after Christmas.

 

Burgundy in September: A Wine Tour of France!

Burgundy in September: Tour France through Wines!

September in Burgundy is the grape harvest. Our group was here for that. We’re in Burgundy. There was one day of sunny harvest and one day of rainy harvest. Production of grapes for 2012 is much lower due, in part, to the weather this year.

This first post is a few group shots of what we’ve done. We’ve sampled small production wines in caves, homes and restaurants. The restaurants have been quite special with dishes such as roast breast of duck with cassis and poached lobster in a red wine butter with baby vegetables.

First a Champagne reception in Paris on the Left Bank.

Luxembourg Gardens on day 1. We walked the Left Bank –visited 12th century streets, toured the gardens as well as St Sulpice and one of the covered passages. After our gourmet lunch in a Michelin starred restaurant, we visited the Place de la Concorde, the Louvre, the Tuileries gardens, and the Pont des Arts.

Champagne first followed by a dinner at Bernard l’Oiseau. Off a side street in one of Burgundy’s best wine towns.
One of our favorite main courses was a line caught roasted fish filet served on a bed of black risotto, topped with squid, tomato and grilled chorizo. I am always partial to the flavors of Southern France –even when dining in Paris! Wine tasting in Nuits St George, of wines from the Haute Cote de Nuits led by Charly. Next up: October in Chateauneuf du Pape and Provence. Ask us about that trip (we have one room left) or talk to us about Provence or Burgundy 2013. Last year sold out 6 months in advance.

France Food Tour: This Summer’s Dining Experiences in Paris, Provence & Med

France Food Tour: This Summer’s Dining Experiences in Paris, Provence & Med   This summer provided for some interesting gourmet discoveries and some wonderful repeat experiences. Below are some of the highlights of our fine dining and country fare.  Everything from Michelin stars to picnics on the grass to lunch overlooking the Mediterranean.   First: Dining in Paris….Reach for the stars! Foie Gras with cherries and chutney. Clams…with a parmesan foam. OMG.Tomatoes with almonds over a base of mackerel seviche –before the chilled almond soup was poured on top! Pigeon with a rhubarb fruit puree…  From Paris to Provence and the Mediterranean. Fish and the freshest produce dominated those wonderful menus…

Fresh Trout pulled from the local stream and cooked at out local auberge.

Aioli –a favorite dish…cod, carrot, haricots verts, cauliflower, tomato, zucchini –and in this case, a special touch of mussels!Rouget. Another great Mediterranean specialty –seen mostly in the South of France. In this case, filets served with a variation on ratatouille.Last, but not least –fresh wood grilled sardines served with olive oil to drizzle over them, a wedge of lemon and a fresh green salad.What more could you want? Oh, that’s right….Picnics of all sorts…From the rustic but gourmet…To the impromptu apres Marche picnic on the castle grounds…To the custom dining based upon local produce… It’s absolute BLISS. Contact us now if you’d like to experience Bliss

Tour France: Culinary Bliss

Tour France: Culinary Bliss!

Our trip highlights always include culinary adventures. This trip is no exception. A spectacular tasting menu, a private luncheon, even a special cafe…whether formal or casual, it’s truly Bliss!

Foie Gras…compote….what more can we say?Marscapone ravioli with parmesan foam make the perfect accompaniment —Tomatoes and an incredible fresh ceviche in an almond milk…squab, cherries, and rhubarb….

A nice finish to the day!

 

Top New Food Trends in Paris & Provence

TOP NEW FOOD TRENDS

As culinary and wine specialists, we watch the food and drink trends in France closely. As everywhere, the trends are for fresh, seasonal and local. But, as usual, the French take this to a new level…

Top restaurants have been getting rid of menus. Many places now offer only seasonal, not printed, menus. These vary by the day– by the time, even the table. You are asked what you don’t or can’t eat. Special requests are always honored. But, after that, it’s up to the chef. Brilliant, if you think about it. Now the chef can buy top product, even if there are only small quantities. There is no waste. Nothing is left “un ordered”. It’s local, fresh, conserves energy, limits waste, and, most importantly, allows the chef to showcase his or her talents –which is the reason you are there to begin with!

 

Below was a wonderful seasonal dish of asperges et seche, offered only that evening, and only until it ran out!The other thing this trend away from printed menus created was the trend to little plates, and tiny tastings of many things. Freed from the need to purchase XX kilos of something, each plate could be prepared with small tastings of small batch artisan products and heirloom treats. Plus, this means the chef has greater opportunity to be creative  -as you can clearly see from the mini tasting plate below.

The highlights were numerous. However, see bass with a sweet potato puree seasoned to perfection and another plate of baby squid with black ink risotto and lardons were stand outs!
This trend continued to dessert, which is served in two courses. Traditionally the sweet is followed by a chocolate. Here we had homemade macarons and miniature cream puffs.We are excited to see what the Provencal chefs make of these trends this spring and summer given the extraordinary access to produce that they have. I think this year will be a banner year for French cuisine as these new trends migrate  across the country (and even the world). We are on the cusp of a new style of dining. And, it is timed in such a way that popular movements like Slow Food and local farm to table programs will only magnify and speed the development of these new trends.

As always, Bliss will be ahead of the curve and exploring these new trends and others.

A Bientôt,

Wendy

Soul-full (of) Winter Wonders in Paris (Valentines?)

Whenever we talk about Paris in December or February, people think of the traditional winter foods. Foie gras, truffles, oysters, chocolates, chestnuts, roast and braised lamb…the list goes on! But, there are other types of sustenance. Food for the Soul. Paris if full of things that feed your Soul. And in winter, those things are more peaceful, less crowded, and lit up more beautifully. That’s why we go for Valentine’s Weekend and Christmas Holidays….See some of what we mean below. These shots were taken on normal days, normal hours, but at this time of year. Imagine having the courtyard of the Louvre to yourself! Or having an entire Chateau open for your wine tasting?

Or  wandering down a street, and turning the corner to find…


Don’t get me wrong. Paris still feeds you in all the other ways. Look at some of the wonderful winter fare we’ve encountered!
Red label and AOC chickens and game, along with foie gras and caviar fill the windows of this wonderful butcher…
A flatbread pizza with thin sliced potatoes and topped with black truffles… A rustic apple and raisin tart made especially for our lunch…

And something lighter than air! Tell us what your favorite Parisian treats are…

5 Tips on how to find a GOOD restaurant in France

Everyone likes to eat well. But, just like not everyone knows how to cook, not everyone knows how to find a restaurant or pick a dish that  meets their expectations –especially when traveling to another country. Given that it’s Thanksgiving weekend (gobble, gobble) and we are only 3 1/2 weeks away from our Christmas week in Paris, I thought a few pointers would be helpful. What I’m saying is particularly true in France –though in general, this could be applied in other countries.

1. Get off the Beaten Track: While you may not be able to find the truly “off the beaten track” spots, you can, and should, avoid the huge boulevards in favor of smaller neighborhood streets. (Unless you’ve decided to eat in a very expensive world class gourmet restaurant, where the chef’s reputation and the gastronomic offerings support that sort of “store front”)  Why? Because the big tourist streets come with “big” rent. That means that to survive, the typical restaurant must make a number of culinary concessions just to pay their rent. They have to turn tables, buy bargain “product”, and, in general, crank out enough business to keep the lights on. So, don’t be seduced by the big, bright restaurant with the large dining room. Find a more intimate setting. You’re likely to have a better (and better priced) meal.

2. Read Menus: What is on the menu? Does it highlight a particular sort of cuisine? Do the dishes on the menu feature seasonal products? Do they have “blackboard” specials, or is everything special, every day? Other than the exceptional chef (who you are unlikely to “discover” as a tourist), most chefs have a particular cuisine that is their specialty, and a few signature dishes or techniques (cooking show video). I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “Jack of all trades, master of none”. Well, if the menu looks like it’s a United Nations manifesto –you may be dealing with a master of nothing. Also, if the menu seems to be the same 12 months out of the year, providing the diner with the comfort of eating the very same things in December as they eat in June, then it probably relies on packaged, processed or frozen foods. Things simply aren’t fresh year round! And fresh tastes better. Find a chef who knows what he likes to cook, is influenced and inspired by seasonal products and the food will be good. Look at the menu and see if you can identify the type of cuisine and that the products are seasonal.  For example, this Christmas in Paris, our menus will have things like scallops, chestnuts, foie gras, lamb, oysters, and chocolate (not on the same plate of course)!  Why? Because these things are winter specialties. In summer we see melon, tomato, peach, zucchini and similar produce dominate our meals.


3. Similarly, don’t read “English” menus. If it’s been translated, then they are telling you that tourism is their mainstay. You can have people cater to your “American” tastes when you’re back at home, right? Why not try something that speaks to the French culture? Find a restaurant with a French menu, in French, that’s market fresh, and ask them what their specialty is. Order the “prix fixe” (the set menu) even if you don’t know what the dishes are. They will be the market fresh chef’s specials of the day (not the left over meatloaf). Then, order the local wine to accompany the meal and sit back and relax.

4. Look at the patrons. Walk around, especially if you’re in Paris. If you’re in the countryside, you will be able to tell who is dining where by talking to people as well as doing a bit of “sightseeing”. As you stop and read the menus (all menus are posted outside the restaurant) look at and listen to the patrons. First, are there patrons? Second, are they local or tourists? What language are they speaking? If the answer is that the restaurant is full of people who look like a group you’d want to socialize with, and they are speaking French (for the most part), then it’s a good bet that this restaurant has something wonderful to offer! However, it also might be full and require a reservation. The places we go require not just reservations, but relationships. They are popular local spots (or open for us) and they have creative chefs…

And if you want that, then you may have to plan in advance (or come with us)!!! If you’re on your own, you’ll need to know whether “dropping by” is the best way to get a table (counting on last minute cancellations or snagging a late or early table) OR whether making a reservation for the next night or lunch is better. Some of this requires more information than you are likely to have as a tourist, but give it a try. If they’re too full, ask if coming back later or making a reservation for a different date or meal is a better idea.

5. Consider the Source! If you’re choosing your restaurants based upon recommendations –in books, by reviews, or because “someone” recommended it  (friend, concierge, person you meet while traveling), then it’s very important not just to listen to what they are telling you, but to listen to who they are so you know what they know! I don’t know about you, but I would consider a recommendation from a friend who lived in the area, and who was a chef or in the “food” world much more seriously than I would from someone I met while standing in line for a movie! But when people travel, all of a sudden, literally everyone they meet and everyone they chat with, has the “it” spot that they “must” go to! People blindly follow internet reviews or tourist guides, as does everyone else who’s traveling. Sometimes, I think that Air France should offer a shuttle directly from the plane to the restaurant being profiled by the “big guides” and save me the trouble of booking the same old thing for people! Again, if you’re not talking about the top few world renown Michelin chefs, who, of course, everybody knows, then seriously consider the source of your recommendation.

Nobody can guarantee a perfect meal, but find someone local, or in the food profession or with extensive travel experience in France  to recommend the dining experience that you crave. You’re more likely to have a “blissful” experience, than if  just blindly follow your neighbors’ brother’s cousins’ recommendation. Who knows what he considers “good”!

And, then Bon Appetite! How apropos to discuss eating well on Thanksgiving weekend!

Paris Postings…What’s Up This Season in the City of Light!

Paris is always beautiful. Paris has an excitement that permeates the air. Whether we’re strolling through the Luxembourg Gardens or visiting the Christmas Markets, there’s just nothing that’s better than a spin through this city.

Where else can you find a 1000 year old church (in which an emperor was crowned) built on the site of a 2000 year old church, which was in turn, built on the site of a temple to Jupiter? Oh, and just to make things a bit better, just around the corner is a place that serves the best “n’importe quoi” (anything) for dinner served with a glass of absolutely marvelous wine….Enough said. A picture is worth at least a few words. So, let’s post some from Anthony Bianciella, our favorite traveling photographer (and the one who will  be chronicling our holiday trip, making DVD’s of the highlights for everyone, and also offering one-on-one photography lessons, tips and help for people taking their own shots.)

Maybe just a little stroll before dark? Or if you’re too tired, a bike ride!

From whatever angle, the Left Bank is pretty close to perfect.But, what truly sparkles with beauty is Paris over the holidays. Not a lot of tourists. Lots and lots of lights. Christmas tree displays, mile long holiday marekts in every corner of town, decorations and different sorts of tress by every monument…

Even in the Chocolate shops! Look! It’s true. This Left Bank shop is a real gem, and quite beautiful over the holidays in particular (when chocolates won’t melt).

Next up…Gourmet treats ONLY served during the holidays!

Food

Bliss and all things culinary….

Fall meals, casual and gastronomic, from our week in France…Anyone want to know what wines we like to pair with these dishes? Which one pairs with a Muscat de Beaume de Venise, and which one a Rose? Which one can stand up to a red?

Moules!
Rascasse a la ProvencaleThe cheese and olive bread, meringues, and pastries from the best place in town!

Truly fine dining –wild mushrooms, girolles, riz de veau ….mmmmm!
Foie gras, chutney des fruits sec, figues…There’s really nothing more to say, is there!