Tour France: 6 Culinary Treats to Eat in Paris Over the Holidays

6 Holiday Paris Treats! 

Tour France

One of the great things about French food is that it’s so seasonal….Unlike our large supermarkets where you can find “n’importe quoi, n’importe quand” (anything, anytime), that’s not the case in France. April/May are for strawberries and asparagus. July and August for peaches and melons, and so on. Well, the December holidays, though not during a “growing” season, have some of the most special culinary treats of any time of year. This is the time of year for….

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1. Foie Gras. Too hot to keep well (and too rich) for summer. This is prime time for foie gras. Best served with dried fruits, fruit breads, chutney…Don’t miss out on this. There are even “stands” at some of the Christmas markets that serve this as street food. And also, there are fabulous specialty places that make or bring in the best of the best. We have a restaurant we frequent who does this beautifully.

Photographer Anthony B makes this foie gras with fig look as good as it tasted!

2. Oysters and Champagne. Yes, you can have this along the streets or by the river bank during the holidays only. The vendors are set up, and a heater or fire is not too far away. Contemplate the lit up night sky while having these treats. Best of the best, at the best time of year. Walk to find the best market streets or by the river bank, where the views are “manifique”.Tour France Paris over the holidays

3. Chestnuts. In many forms. Roasted, and sold on the streets, or pureed and served with lamb or venison. Or candied and soaked in cognac (and sold by the best gourmet shops. Try Fauchon for this special treat. They do it particularly well.) A nutty but sweet flavor, that can be an accompaniment to both savories and desserts (think, Angelina’s Mont Blanc)!

photo by Sarah Miller Photography

4. Anything…in a Truffle Sauce. (Still remembering that dish as it simmered for Christmas Eve dinner in a little –very little– bistrot we frequent, on the Left Bank). I met the chef that morning as I was out shopping and he was taking a cigarette break. When i commented on the heavenly smell coming from his kitchen, he invited me in. He showed me the boudin blanc and the truffle sauce he was making. Also cooking a stuffed game hen for the night, he gave me a personal recommendation –Get the hen, and then ask for the truffle sauce. It was sublime!


5. Warm Wines. As we stroll the Christmas markets, there are vendors who sell warm mulled wine, both white and red. They add calvados or cognac to them for an added degree of “warmth” and you take your cup and stroll along the miles of markets looking for your favorite artisan products or gifts. We visit several of the markets each year and highly recommend you too visit more than one. Because some specialize in art and antiques, some are filled traditional gifts and crafts, and others have the best foods…Tour France Holidays in Paris

6. Chocolates. This is the time of year the really fine, and very perishable chocolates come out of hiding–and in full view. Perhaps you’ve heard of the wonderful Maison du Chocolat. Truly a great place. But, there are some remarkable, amazing, smaller (lesser known outside of Paris, but feted as masters in Paris) chocolate houses….And dare I say, it’s worth going to Brussels to experience some of this magic. We often do day or overnight trips to Brussels for just this purpose (along with some mussels, or amazing savory waffles).Tour FranceWe love these little holiday treats. Inexpensive and deceptively light. Try one!
Tour France Paris for the holidays

Contact us if you’d like to celebrate with Bliss!
www.blisstravels.com

 

Tour France: Holiday Chocolates in Paris

Chocolate in Paris

Not all chocolate is created equal. And not all chocolate desserts are either. In Paris, especially in winter, when the heat won’t destroy these delicate creations, we find a plethora of magical chocolate treats. They are chocolates with a richer, deeper, more unctuous feel and flavor than typically exist in the United States. They are in pastry form, liquid form and candy form. Paired with a wonderful Champagne or a digestive, they are the perfect ending to a meal –or a fabulous treat on their own. Imagine sitting on a Parisian bridge with Champagne and a chocolate truffle from the Maison du Chocolat, for example….Pure Bliss! Of that, we are sure!

Tour France Paris for the holidays

Liquid gold: The hot chocolate is thick. Served like an expresso in a small cup, it is an elixor of sorts. No children’s treat, this one. Originally served only to the most privileged. It was a drink served as if it were a coffee. It was black, intense and served as a morning or after meal beverage. This drink is meant to warm, arouse and fill.  There are many Parisian boites claiming to be the “best hot chocolate” in. Let us know yours, and we’ll take you to ours!

Little Jewels: Chocolate candies in Paris are small, less sugary bits of wafer thin intense flavor filled with seasonal, sometimes subtle and intriguing ingredients. Champagne truffles. Chocolates filled with flavored ganache. Typicallysmall and delicate these are treated almost like a medicine. The French even refer to the recommended serving size as a “dose”.  Chocolate is good for you and you should have just a bit at the end of a meal, or as a late afternoon break. Not packets of sugary froth —just a taste of something more pure –to warm you up and cheer you up in the cold of winter.

(From the Parisian Christmas markets. Do not miss out on this!)

And the pastries….Well, over the holidays, those include whipped, pureed, and melted chocolates flavored and seasoned with hazelnuts, cardamom, cinnamon , walnuts, salted caramel and orange as well as pear, chestnut and liquor.  Whether it’s a Bouche de Noel –the famed Christmas log –rolled chocolate cake with a mousse of Grand Marnier (as we had last year) or chestnut or hazelnut…covered in chocolate and decorated with meringue –perhaps confectionary mushrooms and other woodland items –

Tour France Visit Paris for the holidays

or an éclair filled with a rich dark chocolate cream –or perhaps even, an opera –with chocolate and hazelnut –it is the lack of sugar and intensity of flavor that make a French pastry distinctive.

We have our favorite places and items for all of these. But, it’s always wonderful to hear other people’s opinions as well. Please let us know what you think.

What are the best choices for holiday confections in France? If you introduce us to something new, we will treat you to Champagne and pastry in Paris as our “merci”! N’importe quand. (whenever) you are there!

(Love Brussels too for the holidays and for the chocolate ….mmmmm! Want to come with us, let us know.)

A Bientot and happy holiday planning,

Wendy

Holiday Vacation in Paris: Paris Pastry, Party & Holiday Treats

Holiday Vacation in Paris: Paris Pastry, Party & Holiday Treats

The LA Times wrote about Paris pastries, and I am quoting below, because this is the time of year we start to think of sweet treats –the holidays are approaching and we are busy planning so that our holiday travelers experience the best of that Paris has to offer in the form of sweats and treats.

“The next time you’re in Paris, drop your concern about carbs and surrender to sugar. The jewelry-like pastries these top-tier tastemakers turn out make it worth putting aside your intestinal fortitude for a bit of heaven.

Pierre Hermé: In this chic shop on Rue Bonaparte in the St-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood, a serious discussion is taking place between a well-dressed Frenchwoman in her mid-40s and the store clerk. The salesperson is inquiring about what cuisine and wines the hostess will be serving, the purpose of the occasion and even the dress code.

After gathering all the information he deems necessary, the merchant makes his recommendations. The hostess affirms his choices with a brief nod and, with gloved hands, he removes a selection of macarons from their place in the case and places them gently in a round box with orange piping that says simply, “Pierre Hermé.”

Pierre Hermé is one of several famous patisseries in Paris that have become well known for their macarons — a delicate cream-filled cookie with a crisp outer shell. Part of what has made these macarons so popular, despite their price tag of about $2.50 each, is the unusual flavor combinations, such as Arabesque, with apricot and pistachio; Mogador, made from passion fruit and milk chocolate; and Magnifique, a combination of strawberry and wasabi.

One of the top pastry chefs in Paris, Pierre Hermé has managed to marry the dense taste of an exotic cake with the light crunch of a sugar cookie — creating nothing short of a macaron movement.”

Bliss Travels Review: What I find most interesting are the places they chose to write about. Among them are Pierre Herme and Gerard Mulot, two renown pastry chefs with quintessential Left Bank shops. You certainly don’t want to miss the pastries at either. I’m surprised though that no mention was made of Pierre Herme’s “2000 feuille”. What we commonly call a “Napoleon” –a pastry confection piped with caramel and vanilla cream –is one of his best treats. The “real” name for this is Mille Feuille (thousand sheets/leaves). This refers to the paper thin layers of pastry that are piled below, between and above the filling. Chef Herme’s is called 2000 Feuille –an obvious nod to his opinion (accurate) of his pastry and its delicacy. So, all of this is by way of saying that the LA Times sure found some hot spots…Pierre Herme is no slouch. But, they didn’t find some of the best kept secrets in Paris pastry. (Or maybe they did but they didn’t want to publicize the places and change the nature of what they made and how they made it.)

 

The places we most enjoy frequenting, in addition to what the LA Times mentions are the little shops with small production of what can only be described as a cross between a gastronomic feast and a work of art. 

Whether they are items that are color coordinated for the holidays, double as decoration, or are little jewels packed with astounding flavor, as only the French can do, we encourage you to explore and try them all. They are a feast for the eyes as well as the mouth. The experience is Bliss! So, plan your pastry extravaganza through Paris, or come with us!

Christmas Tastings….In Paris

How do you spend Christmas in Paris? From the culinary perspective, that is!

First, you must visit the markets for the seasonal treats.And, of course, visit the best pastry shops! We led a pastry and chocolate tasting to taste some of the best of what Paris has to offer….ho ho ho!After walking through the shops and munching on things like millefeuille, lemon tart, madeleines, candied chestnuts, and more, we took a stroll through  the Luxembourg Gardens and St Sulpice. Then we relaxed in our own private lounge, sipping real Hot Chocolate and sampling artisan pastries and a selection of 5 different chocolates and caramels.Of course, we also had “real meals”! Hope you all have a very Merry Christmas. We will. We’ll be dining in a cozy traditional bistro on French fare such as oysters, foie gras, scallops, truffles, lamb, bass and duck…What are your favorite holiday dishes to dine on if you are away for the holidays?

What says “Christmas” to you when you sit at your table? And, what would you try if you were in Paris –during the holidays or any time?

In Paris & Brussels, Tis The Season for Chocolate

Now that the weather outside is frosty (hear the tune in your head), it’s time for chocolate! Real chocolate. Delicate chocolates. Chocolates that don’t like too much heat because they are filled with real, fresh, flavored cream, or stamped and painted with gorgeous drawings, or melted and stirred into thick unctuous decadent drinks. Is your mouth watering yet?

Each winter –in both December and February (Valentine’s Day, anyone?) Bliss Travels visits the most magnificent chocolatiers and patissieres to see what new creations and exciting treats are available.  (And, we don’t just visit, we taste, and taste…and then have a glass of Champagne –whoops, got distracted. Sorry!)

This year is no different. Even if you can’t come on our Christmas week trip (where we do this in Paris) or our Valentine’s weekend or add on a visit to Brussels, you can still look at these amazing treats and learn what to find here. What could be better ?

Smaller than American confections, and typically more delicate, with thinner shells, these treats also have significantly less sugar, making them (in the opinion of Bliss Travels) practically a health food! (Truth: they are less fattening, and less addictive, because there is less sugar and nothing that’s chemical in them.) If you talk to an artisan in Brussels or Paris, they will tell you chocolate in proper “doses” is medicinal and very good for you.  I wouldn’t argue with that if I were you. I sure don’t!

Some of the flavors below include lavender and a fresh cream of tiramisu!
The chocolates in this photo are from Neuhaus. You can buy this brand in the US, but you cannot buy the fresh creams. They are too delicate to travel. The photo here depicts chocolates filled with a very light flavored whipped cream (this is not the cloying sweet gummy stuff we call “creams” in the box of assorted chocolates you get in the US). You must get these in BRUSSELS.

So, what to do here. Look for small batch chocolates, make by artisans. Look for higher quality (and darker, more pure) chocolates. Avoid anything with a list of ingredients with things you personally wouldn’t cook with. Look for smaller pieces, interesting flavors, freshest ingredients.

Then there are other things you can do with chocolate…If you’re in Paris or Brussels! Take a look at a typical, well done treat. (But, you have to know where to go!)

What could be a better gift than Chocolate –well, taking that person tasting in Paris –but, if you can’t do that, find the real thing here. It makes a difference.

We wish you a truly sweet season….And hope you’ll join us soon! It’s Bliss

If you want to know more, write me. I love to hear from people! Wendy@blisstravels.com

How to Fall in Love in Paris: A True Story

Paris is the city of Love and Romance. Mais Oui! And never more so than over Christmas and Valentine’s Day. This is a true story about finding love in Paris. One I like telling as I begin to plan for all the holidays.

About this time, two years ago,  Bliss Travels, was leading a group through France for a photo shoot of wedding gowns for Nicole Miller Philadelphia, when the first of three paralyzing snow storms hit the East Coast of the US.  The photographer and I arrived in Provence for our destination wedding photo shoot, only to find that the model and all of the clothing were snowed in at home.

Our intrepid photographer and I were sitting in a tiny village restaurant having a Christmas lunch with the town (yes, pretty much the entire town)

trying to decide how to photograph a destination wedding without a bride or bridal clothing when our waiter appeared-handsome, blue eyed and very photogenic. As we munched on pâté and warm toast, followed by a red wine soaked Provencal daube (for her) and a duck confit (for me) and the traditional 13 desserts (okay, it wasn’t a hardship!) we hatched a plan with the town councilwoman whose hospitality we were enjoying.

When we told her we’d like to hijack the waiter as our model and she saw the look in our eyes, she knew we were serious. She jumped up from the table and ran out of the restaurant to find the keys to the ancient hilltop church before anyone changed their minds. She needn’t have worried. Once we told Julien it was “pretend”, our waiter graciously agreed to put on a suit and tie and come with us to the astounding church whose origins date back to the 5th century, and say “I do”.

For the next 36 hours as we received frantic updates from our ‘bride’ saying she (and our wedding dresses) were in transit, Julien continued to show up for photo shoots with a bow tie and a grin.

Finally, on our last night in this little village, we invited Julien to dinner and told him that our “bride” would be waiting when he arrived. Secretly, Sarah and I joked that Julien could not possibly believe we really had a model on the way. There had been so many canceled meetings.  As this became more and more comic, we plied Julien with pre dinner aperitifs and attempted to convince him -over his laughs and eye rolls — that our “bride” did exist. At that moment, our “bride” , Mia Calona, sauntered in as if she was only “fashionably late” for a party.  Julien took one look at her, smiled and said “oui, oui” (without asking if it was pretend).

However, like any ‘marriage of convenience’, theirs was over before it it began.  Julien was off to see his family for the holidays and we left for Chateauneuf du Pape and Paris. We spent three more days of photography and then spent Christmas Day in Paris (which I highly recommend) together celebrating the success of our trip.

The next morning, another paralyzing storm hit the East Coast, and Sarah found herself stuck in Charles de Gaulle airport for several hours, unable to leave France. So, she struck up a conversation with another delayed traveler (yes, part French) and, you guessed it, they hit it off. Within weeks, he had moved to Philadelphia. Within months they were engaged. And, now they are getting married! So, finding love in the City of Light and Love is always possible.  Just ask Sarah!

5 Holiday Treats You Can Bring Back from Paris for Family & Friends!

It’s all just too good! Right? That’s what you’re thinking as you take another bite of something wonderful or walk by another specialty shop or Christmas market chalet…Too much to try and too little time!

And what about your sister, best friend, mother, boss, neighbor….Wouldn’t it be great if they could just taste this? Maybe then they’d believe you that it really and truly is better in Paris!

So for those of you who are traveling to France over the holidays (you lucky guys and girls), even if you aren’t traveling with Bliss Travels, here are some treats you can safely bring back to the US to share and extend that fabulous holiday experience (video)! Continue reading

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!

Black Friday Travel to Paris for Christmas Sale!!!

dFor Black Friday only, Bliss Travels is offering any of it’s Paris trips for sale at 10% off the retail price, if a deposit is made by the end of  Black Friday (anytime between now and the morning of Saturday November 26, 2011). The Ultimate Gift…Paris over Christmas at almost $1,000 off for two people!

That means $460 off for Paris over Christmas, per person! Must make deposit via paypal from the website by November 26th. Contact wendy@blisstravels.com  with questions.
Marketing never looked so good! Stroll with us, wine in hand.

 Enjoy the holiday in a new way!

Discover Bliss Travels – a personal, small group experience.

 


5 Tips for Eating and Drinking in France Like a Local

Eating and drinking are different in France. Why? Because the culture is different. If you are going to travel to France –or anywhere, for that matter –why not try it “their way”. If nothing else, it should provide you with an interesting experience and a better understanding of the culture. So, here are some tips for how to do both like the locals. I bet you’ll have a few “ah ha” moments when you realize you may have misinterpreted things in the past!

1. How to order Coffee! Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Well, I don’t know about you but I think it’s complicated wherever you are. In the US Starbucks has turned ordering coffee into a multi lingual tongue twister. In France, it’s very simple –as long as you follow the custom! Cafe au lait (or any coffee served with milk or cream) is a  breakfast drink, and not generally served after noon, or with meals. A “cafe normal” or “espresso” is just that –expresso in a small cup, served with a small cold glass of water. that’s served during “coffee breaks”, at cafes, and after meals. Can’t take “expresso”. Then order a “cafe Allonge” (literally “stretched out”) or a “cafe Americaine” –both are watered down espressos –in other words, a typical strength coffee.

2. Dessert comes Before Coffee. Not with. You can’t have it with. The waiter will say yes, but if the place is any good –or even remotely authentic– this won’t happen. Don’t worry. It’s better after! You finish your meal, and get the nice “pick me up” of the cup of coffee. Need something sweet?  Never fear. Coffee comes with a little something sweet, always –a chocolate (in the basic cafes) or tiny pastries of some sort in the “nicer” restaurants.

3. Sauces in France won’t make you fat, and don’t come ‘on the side’. “Hmmm”, you say, “how is that possible?” Glad you asked. Because the meals are balanced, the portions, including sauces, are smaller, the food is very fresh, and we don’t snack endlessly on things between meals because the meal itself is completely satisfying. If you order sauces on the side, you will (a) either ruin your meal, or (b) consume more of the delicious sauce than you would have had you let the chef dress the dish with what was probably a teaspoon to a tablespoon of sauce (rather than the 1/4 cup they might bring you).

4. Be Patient. We really value prompt service in the US. But, that’s not the case everywhere else in the world. It’s neither bad nor good, it’s just different. Don’t expect a waiter to run to your table when you arrive. It’s customary to allow people to “settle in” and relax before pressing them for their food orders. Also, don’t expect the check to be delivered as soon as the dessert spoon (or coffee cup) drops from your hand. Unless you’re at a sidewalk cafe (or the place knows you’re American and is trying to accommodate you). It is the height of rudeness in France to plop a check down on the table unbidden. It is tantamount to telling the diner to leave. You are at the restaurant to enjoy yourself. You are meant to relax. Thus, nobody is going to bother you by asking you to pay or leave, until you are ready to do so. So many times I hear stories from clients who say that “the French do not like Americans.” And their justification for that is that the “waiters ignored them”. They were left to languish at the table with no service and couldn’t get the check….Time to reinterpret that behavior. The peaceful enjoyment of your meal and the people that you are with is what the French dining experience is about. So, you will not be bothered to leave or pressed to order. Enjoy it for what it is. You’ll be home soon enough!
5. Order from the Prix Fixe menus. The specials and the meals really are special. They are not “left overs”. They are the market fresh items. Order the 3 or 4 courses. In most places the portion sizes in the prix fixe menus will be made small enough to make this an enjoyable tasting experience as opposed to an endurance contest. As a general rule, the larger the number of courses, the smaller the portion size of each course. The goal of these multi course menus is to give you a taste of what’s best and leave you happy, not to overload you with food so you feel like you got supersized and not to make you feel you need a stretcher or a stomach pump.
Any ideas for customs you wish to explore, let me know. We’d love to discuss it!