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The food trucks that have become ubiquitous around Los Angeles are rare sights here, but the concept of pop up restaurants is gaining in popularity. Le Comptoir du Marché is only open until January 5th, but the permanent restaurants, Le Comptoir du Relais and its little cousin L’Avant Comptoir will continue to serve tapas, burgers, and full plates, all year.

Yves Camdeborde is one of the creators of bistronomy (bistro + gastronomy), and having come from big name old school restaurants like La Tour D’Argent and The Ritz, he took his classical training and made places featuring accessible, casual, and fun food. One of the best signs of being talented in your field is being respected by your peers, and his chef peers rave about his food.

There are three menus at three counters (comptoir means counter), each catering to a slightly different kind of taste. The main counter has the daily special dishes from pork belly to grilled octopus.

The outdoor counter has burgers made with things like boudin noir (blood sausage) or smoked ham. There is another wine and beer counter with plates of sliced charcuterie and tapas like croquetas.

Live music begins at dusk, and the communal tables became stage side seats for a range of musical talents.

This is the boudin noir hamburger, which is really more of a panini with a bit of ground meat, lots of boudin noir and cheese. For only 5.50 € (about $8) it was a bargain for the quality of ingredients.

One of the specialties for the winter is the hearty soupe châtaignes for 5€ (about $7), a chestnut soup, a thick purée made with shallots and garlic.

This wonderfully thick slice of grilled pork belly was served on a creamy bed of mashed potatoes. If you love bacon, this is the ultimate slice of bacon, with very little salt and lots of flavor. For only 13€ (about $16), this was almost enough for a meal, even though it was served as a bite. Wines and beers run between 3-5 € a glass for good quality choices, so you can mix and match your bites as you imbibe. The tables are all communal, and people are friendly, so don’t be shy about asking what they are eating and ordering the same thing!

I wanted a crepe for dessert and a few blocks away, I saw a long line waiting for organic crêpes!

I got the citron (lemon) for 3 € and it was probably the best crêpe I’ve had here! Look for the green “Bio” banner to find this place on the Champs-Elysées near the Grand Palais. They even serve organic juices!

The famous French soccer team has a tag line “Revons plus grand” (“Let’s dream bigger”).

To walk off the food and for a change of scenery, I went to the Gourmet Lafayette inside the Galeries Lafayette department stores and found something to dream about, a kilo (2.2 pounds) of black truffles for 1800€ (about $2400). I heard from someone inside the business that they are shutting down so maybe they will go on sale when Gourmet closes. La Grande Épicerie in Au Bon Marché is now reopened, so marvelous gourmet choices will still live on at the grande dame of grocery stores. I’ve had many dreams come true, so why not this small one? And to dream bigger, perhaps a bottle of 1961 Haut Brion 🙂

Joyeux Noël!

Cartier. The name is an icon, having adorned royalty and celebrities for decades, the pieces on display at the Grand Palais in Paris until February 16, 2014 are breathtaking. The only Cartier piece not shown is Elizabeth Taylor’s 69.42 carat diamond, but with so many other dazzling works of art, it was not missed. I didn’t take notes as I took pictures, so today’s post will be mainly a feast for your eyes:)

Many tiaras and crowns were on a rotating display as you entered the room.

My favorite was the one worn by the Princess of Wales, Diana 🙂

Crowns came in colors too.

There were also necklaces with colored stones and diamonds.

This necklace and matching bracelet was privately commissioned by the Maharajas of Patiala and the value would probably be the budget of a small country today.

Grace Kelly’s jewelry was at the exhibit.

The necklace she wore on the cover of Match magazine

and her engagement ring.

This was Queen Elizabeth’s brooch that she wore on the cover of Time Magazine.

Queen Elizabeth’s brooch was not the only one on display.

There were watches throughout the exhibit and one case had about 40 from various eras.

Sets of earrings and brooches, bracelets, bags, and even binoculars were shown throughout.

The immense perfect stones in some pieces seemed to defy nature.

The exhibit expanded my imagination for what is possible:)

As everyone who loves foie gras already knows, it became illegal in California last year:( For those of you who are vegetarians or support the ban, please stop reading. Anyone still reading may want to go get a bib now:)

One of the things I love about living here is that daily shopping at the bakery, butcher, and produce market, all create human connections that form the community. I see the same people several times a week and when I finally choose the merchants I like for my food, bonds develop which go beyond commerce. My sausage lady knows the entire family from Sweden. The cheesemonger knows the ripeness required for a repast that evening. The fruit guy knows I love clementines. The bakery knows when I come in that I want one well done baguette tradition.

My friends have lived here for nearly 40 years and are still considered “new” compared to the families who have been here since the time royalty ruled. Forty years of connections means that even when their favorite butcher retired, they remained in contact, and since I’ve been friends with them for over 30 years, I was treated to a private lesson in their home by a professional butcher on how to make foie gras!

The first part of the lesson was choosing what to buy. It should look like this:

Note that it must be labeled “Indication Géographique Protégéé” to truly be foie gras. It’s like a stamp of authenticity, because without it, the foie could have come from China and merely packaged in France. It should also never be more than 700 grams or 1.5 pounds each because if it weighs more, it was probably treated with hormones or injected with something. We had two foies for a total of 60 € (I compared prices at Galeries Lafayette and found he gave us a wholesale price because retail was double this cost) or $90 to make a terrine that would easily serve 12, so it’s about $8 per serving.

The butcher brought everything from the porcelain terrine to the white port and white pepper.

The first thing he did was slice open the packages of raw foie and let them come to room temperature while having a coffee. Have I already mentioned how life here is slower and people take their time? It’s a challenge when waiting for repairs, returns, and deliveries, but it’s a welcome change when it comes to cooking and eating.

Once we finished our coffee, we took the two foies out of their packages and got an anatomy lesson in how the veins run through the livers. The butcher warned us against buying deveined foie because as you will see later, if you don’t buy the actual foie in one piece, anything can be made to look like deveined foie. Carefully spreading open the foie, the butcher, Monsieur Rocher, pointed out the biggest part of the vein at the top of the picture.

Spreading out the interior with his fingers like clay, Monsieur Rocher started at the top of the vein and gently pulled out the rest. It was a bit like taking out fish bones from the head to the tail, except this was much messier and more delicate. My friend put on rubber gloves to keep the foie from going into her nails, but the butcher said, it’s better to do it with bare hands so you can feel the veins as you do this.

The veins from one of the foie.

By the time all the veins were removed, the foie looked like blocks of clay.

Because they were at room temperature, they were as soft as cookie dough.

The next step was to season liberally with white pepper, salt and the white port.

Once seasoned, the butcher rolled up the foie gras like you would a jelly roll and put it into the terrine he brought.

Cleaning up the edges with a paper towel, and smoothing out the top with the back of a spoon, we were ready to put the prepared terrine into a bain marie (a bigger pan halfway filled with hot water).

Then into a convection oven for 15 minutes at 160C or 320F on a rack set at mid or low, whichever makes the top of the terrine top reach the middle of the oven.

That’s it. Once you remove the terrine, spoon the fat evenly over the top so when it sets you will have an even coating on top. Let it cool near an open window until the terrine is room temperature, then cover with plastic film and refrigerate until you want to serve it. It will keep for about a week, so we are eating this for Christmas:) When you are ready to serve, take it out 20 minutes before serving and run the bottom and sides of the terrine with warm water, or dip the terrine into a bain marie, and a warm a sharp knife with hot water water. Slice and eat!

Since my boxes arrived, I now have my heavy coat and plenty of clothes to layer, so I can venture out and enjoy the lights adorning the city.

There are no less than five huge Christmas trees within five blocks of where I live. It’s nice to have the pleasure of seeing all the festive decorations without having to do anything other than walk around:)

My friends had two birthdays within a week, so they combined the party and made a “simple” dinner. Yes, this is their version of simple for seven adults and three children. There was foie gras (which I haven’t had since they made it illegal in California), stuffed cherry tomatoes, spicy sausage, and a tuna appetizer. Of course no celebration here is served without champagne, so we shared several bottles, along with some wine with dinner.

Dinner was a simple green salad with chives, this tuna and tomato tart, and a quiche Lorraine baked without a crust.

We saved room for dessert, a Vacherin Glacé, made of sorbet, ice cream, whipped cream, and meringue, with one candle for each birthday person and a raft of candles for the kids to blow out.

It was an indoor version of the lights on my pedestrian street, lit up at dusk every night and illuminated until past midnight. The outdoor LED bulbs twinkle, so it’s like walking under a canopy of stars on my way home:)

As night began to fall around 5pm, the Christmas lights started illuminating the Champs-Elysées.

People were strolling and shopping from the Village Noël to the Arc de Triumph, making traffic on the sidewalks as congested as on the street.

Luckily there were options for people who got tired of walking, from man powered

to engine powered (rental rate was 89 € or about $120 USD per 20 minutes, which explains why a group of young men hovered around the Ferarri but no one was driving it).

The stark snow white globes and trees decorating the transition between the Village de Noël and the brick and mortar shops lit up once it got dark.

and became huge Christmas globes.

Leaving the Village de Noël to head to the Arc de Triumph the pink twilight glow of Paris added a painter’s palette to the lit trees

and even the traffic couldn’t detract from the beauty.

Once I reached the stores past the Village de Noël, I remembered why I haven’t been here for years,

Yes there are French stores like the now world famous

or perfume house

or the classic La Durée, which made macarons with tea famous,

or Fouquet’s which is famous for their prime location and correspondingly pricey menu.

People come from all over the world to shop here; it is the Rodeo Drive of Paris.

One of the big differences is that here Levi’s is considered chic.

Yes, you read those prices correctly, the clothes on that Levi’s wearing mannequin cost up to $300 US for the coat and those 511 trousers are about $150 US!!!

I love shoes (what woman does not?) and these unusual ones ranged from about $700 US to over $1000 US, even though I am not a big fan of cats, I thought these were cute, but not worth $1000.

Flats were the same price as heels.

If you like Zanotti, and you think $1600 US is expensive for a pair in the US, try 1850€ for a pair in Paris (about $3000 US)!!! Yes, you are better off buying designer shoes in the US, even Louboutins are half to a third LESS expensive in US (especially considering that the euro is about 35% higher than the dollar right now).

Granted this is one of the priciest streets in the world, and the shoppers here have budgets beyond most, so some choices are geared exclusively to the “money is no object” shopper.

And this is not a city where people keep their furs in their closets; many women wearing fur coats walking around, and while men may not have been wearing full length fur coats,

fur collars were popular on men’s leather jackets which cost over $4000 US.

Even the toilettes on the Champs-Elysées are luxurious, especially compared to the rudimentary ones at the Village Noël which were like large porta potties for ,50€ (about $0.75).

What was billed as the cleanest public toilettes had services ranging from basic for 2 € (about $3 US) in various styles, from chic to ethnic, to extra (paid) services ranging from diaper changing areas to make up mirrors. Every stall is manually cleaned after each patron, and I would bet there is always enough toilet paper in every stall.

The animation at the Village de Noël started as evening fell. Busloads of these men descended

and started playing music from Christmas tunes to the French national anthem, La Marseillaise.

and even Santa made an appearance in the sky

The lights of Paris

for the holidays

shone through the cold

and reminded me why I love this city:)

This will be my first Christmas here, so I went to my first Christmas village, the biggest one in Paris, Le Marché et Village de Noël on the Champs-Elysées. It began Nov 15th and will be in place until January 5th from 10am until about midnight.

It begins at la Place de la Concorde with a huge Ferris Wheel.

It extends to Franklin D Roosevelt, where you can continue strolling and shopping at the brick and mortar stores.

The stands have an alpine theme.

Both sides of the street have almost identical booths.

There are a few artisan and entertainment venues which make it worthwhile to stroll along both sides.

There are amusements for kids and adults, including a skating rink (one part is reserved for kids), complete with skate rentals.

Some entertainment was definitely meant for kids, from a Santa train to a bungee trampoline.

Other attractions drew nostalgic adults or hip kids into retro.

Food choices ranged from US classic fast food named after places in the US,

to French fast food, like hot lentil, mushroom, or onion soup,

if you want something more filling, there’s wood grilled salmon and

 if you prefer to make your own charcuterie picnic, the stands sell hams, sausages, and cheese.

For drinks, you can get hot chocolate, hot cider, or hot mulled wine,

 and of course there are hot chestnuts, churros (called chichis here), hot waffles, or crepes for dessert, but the best dessert for me was watching as twilight fell.

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