Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Charlie and the chocolate factory: Rochoux

A compulsory stop when wandering around in the Saint Germain area is the marvellous chocolate shop of Jean-Charles Rochoux. The shop is small, but the products are grand.

Mister Rochoux invents the recipes and makes his chocolates backstage, but sometimes he gives his sales assistant a helping hand too. He is a very nice man, and is likely to invite you to taste something (he knows that once you have tasted, you cannot resist!).

The shop opened about four years ago, but mister Rochoux learnt his "métier" long time before that. For several years he worked in one of Paris' most famous chocolateries. He has also been dessert chef in the three-star restaurant Guy Savoy.

He makes some absolutely stunning "truffes". However, as the recipe comprises cream, the treasures must be kept in the fridge, and are thus not suited for being brought back home, if you are a tourist. In that case I rather recommend you buy some small, individual chocolates. Have a box filled up, or simply ask for a few pieces in a bag. My all time favourite is "citron" (lemon), but Mira, rose and "framboise" (raspberry) are strong cards on Rochoux' hand too...

Common for them all is that the thin chocolate coating crunches, and that the subtle and tasty ganache cream transport you to the land of perfect well-being, and lets you stay there - indeed the taste lasts for a long time. Simply delicious!

16 rue d'Assas 75006 PARIS . Métro Rennes (line 12)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The final hours of a Queen: La Conciergerie

Marie-Antoinette was an average woman with a huge destiny. During the French revolution she tempted to flee Paris together with her husband, the king Louis XVI, and their children. Their plan failed, and they were placed in arrest. La Conciergerie is where the incredible life-journey of Marie-Antoinette ended. That is, she was decapitated at Place de la Concorde, but spent her last time in her cell at La Conciergerie in the Palace de la Cité.

As the first royal palace in Paris, this palace had its hour of glory under the Capetian monarchs. In 1793, La Conciergerie became the main prison of the revolutionary law courts. In addition to the revolutionary tribunal, it housed up to 1,200 male and female prisoners at a time. The tribunal sat in the "Great Hall" between 2 April 1793 and 31 May 1795 and sent nearly 2,600 prisoners to the guillotine. Its rules were simple. Only two outcomes existed — a declaration of innocence or a death sentence — and in most cases the latter was chosen.

When visiting the palace as a tourist, you can benefit from a historical presentation of the tragic hours of the Terror. Several cells have been reconstituted, including that of Marie-Antoinette. Today the palace also houses several of Paris' law courts.

Boulevard du Palais, 75001 Paris. Métro Ile de la Cité (line 4)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A quiet pearl: Le musée de la vie romantique

This atmosphere museum has kept the lure of the bygone-day Nouvelle Athènes quarter townhouses untouched. It once belonged to painter Ary Scheffer and his nephew by marriage Ernest Renan, and became a shrine to writer George Sand, one of the Romanticism’s leading lights. The museum contains a certain number of pieces of furniture and personal items (portraits, jewellery etc) that used to belong to George Sand, and that were later donated by her daughter Aurore Lauth-Sand. Upstairs you can study some of the works of Ary Scheffer as well works made by some contemporary artists.

Across the courtyard, you will find the atelier where Ary Scheffer worked – and met Chopin, Liszt, Lamartine, Tourgueniev, Delacroix and other celebrities – from 1830 to 1858.

In summertime, the premises of the museum invite you to a romantic moment; sit down in the quiet garden, enjoy the perfume of the roses, drink your afternoon-tea and allow yourself a delicious piece of cake.
Hôtel Scheffer-Renan, 16 rue Chaptal, 75009 Paris
(métro Pigalle, line 2 and 12, and Blanche, line 2)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Perfection all the way: Apicius

Finding a good restaurant in Paris is easy. The same goes for an excellent restaurant. However, finding a place where you feel like Alice in Wonderland (if you're a girl, that is...) may require some more efforts. The good news is that there is a simple and guaranteed way to make your most exquisite culinary- and service -related fantasies come true. Simply elect "Apicius" as your dining room.

Nestled in a beautiful garden in the very center of Paris is the splendid mansion housing Apicius. The building is said to be owned by a famous French film producer who also happens to be a good friend of the divine chef Vigato. If it is on a summer evening that you choose to enter the premises, you are likely to be greeted with a multitude of candles spread out on the tables in the garden. It's magic.

The long corridor leading to the dining room is often very hectic. Indeed, it links the kitchen and the diningroom. However, when your welcoming waiter walks you through it, the corridor is yours alone. The unpronounced exclamation "freeze!" - that your presence as a guest automatically leads to - pastes all the staff to the walls and makes them bow while uttering "Madame, bonsoir". If you did not get that Alice in Wondeland feeling when entering the garden, you will definitely be filled with it now.

The dining room with its (at least) 5 meter high walls and well-chosen colours and textiles exudes quiet elegance and luxury. The food is nothing but divine. When I have had the plesure of dining at Apicius, recurrent thoughts of mine have been "Is this really fish? Or is it some kind of magic invention made from scratch in the kitchen?" "How can a soufflé be SO perfect?" "I did not know that endivie could taste heavenly!"

What makes Apicius so special is the harmonious combination of location, cuisine and service. The latter comes level with the food. Being Alice in Wonderland is not a free exercice, but the incomparable experience justifies spending some money. The cost of the adventure is not shocking - at least not for special occasions.

20 rue d'Artois, 75008 Paris Métro Saint-Philippe-du-Roule (line 9)