Mi Piace has become one of my regular places to meet friends for drinks, a bite, or both in the center of Old Town Pasadena. Its central location, with stress free parking options of a big public parking lot behind the restaurant or valet in front, make it an easy choice. They have daily specials, a happy hour, and a comfortable ambience that is versatile enough for a business meal or event, while also casual enough to go in on the spur of the moment from shopping on Colorado. Prices are moderate, between $15-$25 for most main dishes, less for pasta dishes, and glasses of wine between $9-$18, with bottles beginning at around $40.

One of my friends saw the photo on the drink menu and asked the waitress for “This” pointing to a fruity vodka libation made with fruit purée and garnished with a real flower:) It was a bit sweet for her taste until she stirred it a bit to mix the fruit purée with the other liquids.

They have some vegetarian salads, but some salads, like the Insalata Mediterranea, with salami, turkey, provolone, grilled zucchini, white beans, cucumber, olives, and red onions topped with feta cheese, make for a complete meal on a plate.

Their seafood pasta, with calamari and shrimp, is normally served with spaghetti but I requested angel hair, and added red pepper flakes, making it a personal variation. The serving was big enough for me to take half of it home, and although the sauce was a bit sweet for my taste, but it was done well enough that I looked forward to the leftovers.

Two friends split an order of the full sized pasta Penne all’ Arrabbiata garlic and crushed red pepper flakes in a marinara sauce as a side, so this picture is of HALF of an order.

One of the daily specials was this salmon with mango pineapple salsa, that my friend praised for the freshness of the fish and the bright fruity flavors.

The Piccata di Pollo chicken scaloppini with artichoke hearts in a white wine lemon butter sauce was a classic recipe served in a portion big enough for a large appetite or to take some home for another meal.

Since we had a leisurely late afternoon meal, we had after lunch drinks, of 12 year old Macallan served in beautiful gorgeous crystal before heading off to take naps🙂

Finding good BBQ in France is like trying to find a great baguette in the US; it’s possible, but rare. Some foods are best in their native land, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on some “low and slow” hardwood BBQ.

I’d wanted to try Bludso’s since they opened three years ago in Hollywood, but trying to find the time to drive to Hollywood on one of the nights when they had their beef short ribs was too much of a challenge right before my move. One of the perks of living in LA is that there are several delivery services which will bring you any meal you wish from nearly any restaurant you wish, all for a price. I am NOT recommending the service I used because they advertised a $2.99 delivery, then tacked on an additional $15 of “other” charges AFTER they processed my order, bringing my delivery total to about 30% of my total bill, and that was before my tip for the driver. The price was worth the lesson to either pick up a take-out order myself, or go eat at the restaurant.

I ordered the BBQ Beef Short Ribs, only offered on the Thursday-Monday dinner menu, a half rack of four for $20, and a half rack of the pork ribs for $16. There were two containers of BBQ sauce, one spicy and one mild, and even though I usually like spicy, I combined the two🙂

with a side of collard greens $8 for a pint,

and a piece of cornbread for $1.75

Even though I had waited until a week-end night just to get the beef short ribs, I preferred the pork ribs. The amount of black pepper rub on the beef ribs overwhelmed the meat. Although tender and smoky, the beef short ribs needed the spicy sweet BBQ sauce to enhance the flavor, but I could (and did) eat the pork ribs without any sauce. They could stand by themselves on texture of the meat (not falling off the bone, but easily taken off with a bite), and the rub and smoke both married to the meat in a happy combination.

I was grateful that the collard greens were not cooked to death, and that they still retained some vibrancy along with their rich pork infused flavor. The cornbread was classically and simply made, instantly perked up with some honey or butter; they provided a container of “honey butter” but I preferred using my own.

I’d like to go back to try the beef brisket and pulled pork, but now that I’m back in the land of BBQ, it will be awhile before I go back to one I’ve already tried when there are so many other choices beckoning with masterful techniques and tantalizing aromas.

There are many options for a meal at CDG, but when one of them is Frenchy’s Bistro, it’s an easy decision. Gilles Epié was given a Michelin star when he was only 22, and was the chef at the famous l’Orangerie in Los Angeles. It was a fitting place to eat before my flight at a restaurant run by a chef with a long history tied to Los Angeles.

As you can see from the menu, prices are very reasonable for a quality meal inside an airport. Set menus promise that you will be served within 30 minutes so you can be sure to make your flight at the gate just a few steps away.

My friend ordered the pasta special which was a filling dish with the cream sauce and cheese. It was not particularly noteworthy, but a good option for vegetarians.

I chose the classic Steak Frites with salad and a glass of wine, all for under $25 USD. The steak was tender and cooked rare as I requested, served with a light red wine sauce, the fries were crisp and hot, and a small green salad with a vinaigrette on the side made for a classic French bistro lunch.

Part of me will always be in Paris, no matter where my physical address may be🙂

Moving can be a thrilling and exciting experience. Sorting and discarding the old as you prepare for the new possibilities that await is a cathartic process. Moving is also an excruciating experience because transitions are never completely smooth nor simple, especially when moving from one country to another. I am very fortunate to have wonderful friends all over the world because with their help I have been able to retain my sanity through two overseas moves in three years🙂

As with all moves, once the kitchen is packed, there are certain things that must be modified in order to eat. My wonderful friends and neighbors lent me some silverware and cooking utensils so I could at least make coffee and eat on real plates. Fortunately there were some great options for take out nearby like Happy Nouilles. They serve a mix of Asian food, from sushi to satay, and although they are in a suburb catering to French tastes, their dishes are fresh and have enough Asian sensibility to satisfy my picky palate.

Their garlic shrimp actually tasted like garlic with nice sized fresh shrimp.

The mixed vegetables included authentic Asian ingredients like wood ear mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and water chestnuts.

The Thai basil beef had a nice aromatic flavor as well as peppers, onions, and real Thai basil.

Even the side dish of noodles included fresh vegetables and had a nice light sauce.

The shrimp shu mai were a bit bland, but in keeping with French taste preferences.

Because my order totaled over 20 Euros ($22 USD), they included some shrimp chips

and a coconut “snowball” mochi dessert that was quite tasty.

While I still had some furniture, I invited some friends over for one last apéro at my place. It was a French version of a potluck. I provided (bought) roast chicken, sand carrots & radishes. One friend made mayonnaise (she whipped it by hand in a bowl) with avocados and shrimp; a neighbor brought some bottles of wine he had helped harvest; and his friend brought

 cheese that was literally made that morning, along with

with three others:)

We ended the evening with a raspberry sorbet; a sweet ending to a bittersweet evening of au revoir.

Finding a favorite restaurant is always a pleasure; the joys of great atmosphere, professional service, and delectable food, combined in one place is as rare as winning the lottery.
La Cantine de Marius is a winning jackpot, with a view of the Chateau from the terrace, efficient, knowledgeable service, and a chef who uses an array of fresh products in beautiful presentations. They could easily charge twice as much for their menu, but in keeping with what makes them remarkable, they keep their prices affordable enough so that you can go frequently enough to know everyone by name; on several occasions the clients had inside jokes with the servers, bantering as friends, breaking the invisible French wall of reserve between client and establishment.
Lunch menus range from 16,50 Euros to 21 Euros ($18-$23 USD), depending on whether you have 2 or 3 courses. Wine is a modest 5 Euros ($6 USD) per glass and delicious whether you choose a white or red.

The interior is as comfortable as the terrace, even more so on hot muggy days or cold chilly nights.

The first course on the lunch menu was a light salad of shrimp and grapefruit in a citrus vinaigrette that was as refreshing to eat at it was to look at on my plate.

Another appetizer was a variation on the same theme, with avocado replacing the grapefruit.

Dinner service began with an amuses bouche, or tempting taste offered for the table. One night it was a creamy velouté of zucchini; even though we were a table of three, they gave us four, and we fought over who got the extra one:)

The fried smelt and calamari appetizer was plenty to share or even make as a course if you are not too hungry. The homemade tarragon mayonnaise was a nice side, even though the appetizer was good with just lemon and salt. At only 8 Euros ($9 USD), it was a bargain for the skilled light touch of the chef and the generous quantity.

 They do slight variations on classics, like this beef tartare with a basil pesto.

One night the special was filet of bar with a side of confit leeks for under 20 Euros ($22 USD) that was as expertly cooked and seasoned as a plate twice the price elsewhere.

Lunch menu portions are a bit smaller, but equally satisfying, with fish like Merlu on a bed of polenta.

We ordered their meringue and fruit dessert along with the chocolate cake with pistachio ice cream for dessert (sorry the pictures did not come out), and they gave us this chestnut tiramisu for dessert, just because three people shouldn’t have to share 2 desserts! All were fine endings to our meal and range from 6-8 Euros each ($7-9 USD).

No meal is complete in France without a café

sipped with a view of a chateau🙂

Romance in France is part of the culture and I can think of few things as romantic as a wedding. The daughter of a friend recently got married in Provence and I was honored to be among the guests invited to their week-end celebration.

In France the civil ceremony is the legally binding one, but most people opt for both a civil ceremony at City Hall and a religious one in a church which usually includes two days of festivities. Today’s pictorial post covers the days before, during, and after the ceremony, so enjoy the celebration:)

The venue for the celebration was a large private property which sleeps 30, a large patio,

 a vineyard behind the parking area,

 and a “water spot” technically not a legal pool🙂

The couple’s friends stayed on the property while everyone else rented other accommodations. Our lovely rented home included an outdoor patio under vines,

and very treacherous old stone steps (where I fell)!

The day before the ceremony we wanted to do some test shots and two of the groomsmen obligingly stood in as body doubles for the bride and groom:)

The ceremony inside a medieval church ended with a shower of rose petals,

and the couple drove off to the reception property in an electric jeep.

Champagne, wine, and cocktails awaited, along with eight tables of hors d’oeuvres.

As night fell, we walked over to a large tent for our dinner.

Several courses and drinks later, speeches and toasts

led to dancing the night away.

 

The next day was the more casual celebration where nearly everyone enjoyed the “water spot”.

I had not brought a bathing suit and was about to jump in clothed, but the bride lent me a bikini🙂

Brunch was buffet style, with self serve coffee, tea, juice,

cheese, and of course rosé.

By the time all 200 guests had left, we still had to put away the furniture, collect the trash, and take all the empty bottles to the recycling center. Apparently the caterer said those tasks were not included in the $$$$$ contract…..everyone pitched in and we got it all sorted in the end.

I split the 12 hour drive back with the bride’s father, but we did take a lunch break on the way back to enjoy the view at a rest stop🙂

The Abbey of St. Remi is less well known than the Notre Dame Cathedral, but definitely merits a visit if you are going to Reims for more than a few hours. Although it’s not in the center of town, it is an easy bus ride away and if you have good walking shoes, easily reached on foot from downtown.

The remains of St. Remi are here along with several other dignitaries.

 This is the left side of the tomb,

 this is the right side of the tomb,

 and this is the view above the tomb.

The peaceful beauty of this abbey is evident the moment you enter, but there is a reminder on the ground🙂

Since today is my birthday, I thought it only appropriate to write about my favorite experience in Champagne🙂

Champagne is my prefered drink for nearly every occasion, so when our AirBnB host suggested we go for a glass of champagne on the grounds of the five star hotel Les Crayères, we did not hesitate🙂 Les Crayères is behind the Pommery estate, but a world away from its mass commercial enterprise atmosphere.

If you want to stay on the property, rooms start at around $400 USD, and meals at the main restaurant by a MOF chef, start at about $200 per person, not including beverages. If you want to enjoy the space without taking out a loan, there is a garden cafe with a set menu beginning at around $40, or you can enjoy the veranda views with glasses of remarkable champagne beginning at about $30 per glass.

The view of the veranda in the back is as stately as the entrance.

Some of the views from the veranda.

The foot paths throughout the property invite strolling.

You can see the hotel from the far end of the domaine.

They grow their own herbs and vegetables on the property.

I chose a Laurent Perrier Rosé and my friend the vintage Tattinger for about $70 USD.

Parmesan crisps and fine jambon were complimentary accompaniments.

Vineyards surround the property, a reminder that there is no substitute for terroir🙂

Reims is close enough to Paris in both distance and lifestyle that the town empties for vacation in the summer. My friend and I went in July but the residents had already left, so I imagine August is even more of a ghost town with many places closed for les vacances and the places that are open usually have seasonal staff, e.g., students working summer jobs, who are both inexperienced and have no interest in gaining any expertise before they go back to school.

The center of town is the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Opera House, which serves as the central transportation hub for trams and buses.

The number of people you see here are the maximum we saw during our entire stay.

Just two blocks away there are some very nice pedestrian streets, with attractions like this fountain sculpture and chain stores like Galeries Lafayette and Sephora.

 We saw this crêperie downtown and the nice terrace tempted us to try it for lunch.

 The decor of Louise was cute and it’s a lovely place for some wine

or water with delicate bubbles (most French people will not drink regular Perrier with a meal because “the bubbles are too big”).

Although we were tempted to come for crêpes, my friend ordered a ham and cheese sandwich,

and I ordered a gésier (gizzard) salad. We both enjoyed our choices and decided to split a dessert crêpe.

The lemon juice dessert crêpe was undercooked and we left about half of it on the plate, but for a lovely light lunch at a reasonable 20 Euros ($23 USD) each with wine, we were quite content with our choice.

For dinner we decided to try La Villa which had gotten great reviews from both websites and people we knew. Since we were in champagne, we splurged a bit with a glass of champagne to start our meal at 12 Euros ($14 USD) each. The small producer choice was much better than the Pommery we had after our tour of the cellars.

The summer staff’s inexperience was very evident as we tried to place our order, giving us a comedy routine akin to “Who’s on first” à la Abbot & Costello. We saw white asparagus on the appetizer menu and wondered about it since white asparagus was out of season in July, so we asked the waitress about it. She checked with the kitchen, came back and said “Yes, white asparagus is out of season. They will substitute green for the white.” We said, “Ok that’s great, then we’ll have the asparagus appetizer.” Our waitress replied, “Oh no we don’t have that.” My friend and I looked at each other wondering if we had both just heard her say they were substituting green for white asparagus. So we asked, “Didn’t you just say the kitchen is substituting green asparagus for white?” Her reply was “Oh yes, all the dishes with asparagus will have green, but we are not offering the asparagus appetizer.” We decided to order pasta and skip any appetizer after that conversation.

My friend chose the gnocchi with jambon cru and although the gnocchi were fresh and light, they were literally bathing in a cream sauce that filled half her bowl.

My seafood spaghetti was likewise freshly made but also bathed in a cream sauce and lacking enough garlic to really make it sing. As my friend and I remarked, the dishes were done for French tastes, which actually is a good thing in a restaurant because that means it has local regulars. The prices are very reasonable, under 20 Euros ($23 USD) for a main course, and it is a lovely space, so I would not hesitate to go if you like your pasta with cream.

 We opted for an easy tram ride instead of walking 20 minutes back to our rental🙂

La Cantine du Coq is the only place we revisited for food during our stay, and we would have become regulars if we lived in Reims. It is just a block away from the forum plaza, and there is another location that is more of a wine bar closer to the Notre Dame Cathedral.

We were drawn to the place because it was not in the “trendy” plaza. As we walked by it was clear that this was the local lunch spot for residents because everyone knew everyone and service here was very professional and efficient because they cater to clientele who have to get back to work after their meal. Even though we were the only tourists, we were treated as hospitably as if we were neighbors. On our second visit the owner welcomed us back with, “One of each special like last time?”

We each had a glass of cool refreshing rosé to start our meal at 4 Euros ($5 USD).

There are only two menu choices for appetizer, main and dessert, and for two courses it’s only 16 Euros ($18 USD). If you arrive late, they may be out of choices. The fish purveyor was eating at the bar on our first trip, and on our second visit, the owner had his meal at the end of service with another supplier; all reiterating the local fresh connections that make this place a warm and friendly place serving a few choices well.

One day the appetizer choice was fresh mozzarella with arugula and dressed in balsamic vinegar,

or a lusciously ripe melon with uncured local ham.

Another day the choice for appetizer was either a cold pasta and mushroom dish,

or hand made blood sausage with apples.

A main course choice one day was a tender filet of fish in buerre blanc with vegetables,

or a chicken in a cream sauce over pasta that was so copious I couldn’t finish my plate:) I was amazed that as plain as this dish looked, the pasta was so tasty and the chicken so moist that I continued to eat long after I was full.

On another day, a hearty main course of braised beef and purée of potatoes,

or delicate salmon in buerre blanc over carrots.

Since my friend had the fish, she opted for a dessert of homemade apple clafoutis with freshly whipped cream. She adored the tart, but didn’t like the apples which were a bit too sweet for her taste, so she ate around them🙂

We ended with two cafés, wishing we could transport this wonderful place to where we lived; our consolation was that Reims is an easy trip and we could easily come back:)

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