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My desserts are usually fruit or cheese, but there are times when I crave chocolate or cookies. Thankfully I found two places to indulge those cravings when they arise 🙂

Lolli and Pops is like heaven for those with a weakness for sweets; they offer ROOMS full of whatever temptation might entice you to replace your meal with a sugar high. If you don’t have a location near you, they make gift packages and will ship to whomever you wish to bestow some sweetness.

 Some candies are sold by piece or weight.

 You can mix and match flavors while as you fill containers of different sizes.

 Some sweets are packaged for you.

 If you are nostalgic, there is an entire room of vintage candy.

 

 If you crave candy from other countries, they stock a few classic items.

 Classic US candies, from Jelly Belly

 to Pez,

 and Gummy Bears,

 each have their own section (or dedicated room).

 They have their in house brand

 as well as famous names like Vosges,

 and Harry Potter.

After wandering through the store and feeling a bit overwhelmed, I decided I wanted a cookie (or two, or three), so I went into the Eagle Rock Italian Bakery. They are also a grocery store and deli, making sandwiches to go, and selling Italian olive oil, balsamic vinegar, semolina pasta, and more kinds of tomato products than I could count. It’s a small selection compared to Bay Cities in Santa Monica, but the products are all curated for quality.

 

I practiced extraordinary restraint by eating only 2-3 of these light buttery treats a day. It’s going to require super-human resolve to limit my purchase and consumption now that I know how delicious they taste!

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I spent my first birthday in Paris eating in a National Monument!

Nicolas Flamel translated manuscripts and made his fortune as an alchemist turning lead to gold. Yes, literally. He also literally shared his wealth by building homeless shelters, and the last one still standing is L’Auberge de Nicolas Flamel.

The charm and history of the original building lends to the elegantly understated decor. The amuse bouche of the two cheese puffs were a savory welcome. The lunch menu includes either starter and main or starter, main and dessert, ether way you also get a drink (wine) and espresso, all for under 25 ($33 US).

The next table was having the shrimp with zucchini cream and it looked so good that I chose that as my starter. It was a wonderfully creamy soup with delicately sautéed shrimp that was presented with an artistic flourish as the waiter poured the zucchini cream in three moves to fill the spaces in between the shrimp.

I chose the Dorade Royale, or gilt head sea bream, which is probably my favorite fish in Europe. If anyone believes they don’t like fish, I would suggest they try this one. The dish was  served with an assortment of fresh green vegetables and a purée of eggplant. The fish was remarkably tender and the green vegetables as fresh as they were pretty. I didn’t care for the eggplant purée, mostly because it was bland.

I did not get the menu with dessert since I wanted to get my dessert elsewhere, but just as they welcomed me with an amuse bouche when I arrived, they also presented me with two pâte des fruits at the end of my meal that were just the right amount of sweetness and apricot fruit.

I may be a year older, but I’m not as old as the Auberge 🙂

I wanted chocolate for dessert, and since it’s been awhile since I’ve had Pierre Marcolini, I headed over to one of their stores.

Every shop is slightly different, and this one on Rue Scribe offers not only his chocolates, but also his macarons.

This 34 piece box for 30€ ($40 US) was my introduction to this chocolatier and I discovered I loved his intense dark single origin chocolates, so I picked a few of my favorites as my birthday dessert.

The raspberry heart added just the right amount of bright flavor and color to my selection.

My birthday cake was Pain des Amis because my life is already sweet and filled with joy:)

 

Spring has finally arrived in Paris and it seems as if everyone came out to the banks of the Seine to welcome it. I finally felt warm enough to walk around without a jacket:)

My bucket list includes restaurants I have yet to try and La Tour d’Argent is one of them. With a dinner menu at 200 ($300 US), not counting drinks, it’s definitely a special occasion meal unless you have a well stuffed mattress.

Speaking of mattresses, just literally steps away from the restaurant was this bedding store where the display was on sale for 17,036 € ($25,000 US), which was 50 % off the regular price. It’s about the price of a midsized car, and I suppose it might be a worthy purchase since most people spend more time sleeping than driving….

So many famous people lived in Paris that certain buildings and sites have plaques noting the former residents, like this one where Picasso lived and worked.

There are also parks named after people who lived nearby, like this one named after Danielle Mitterand who lived in the building you see next to the park.

Walking around touristy areas in the 5th arrondissement by Notre Dame, there are literally throngs of souvenir shops, bars, and restaurants. Some are rowdy and raunchy, like the Latin Corner Café, where waiters strip, and female patrons leave their bras….(I had to take a picture to prove it is a real place)!

Around the corner were Tunisian desserts galore

and at the corner, Georges Larnicol‘s fabulous chocolates all decked out for Easter.

Time to go walk off some of that chocolate 🙂

I won a chocolate lottery with DeBauve & Gallais last month! Many people dream of winning the lottery, but money is not the only prize when it comes to the pleasures of life. The most valuable gifts are those given with ribbons instead of strings, and I have been the lucky recipient of many generous gifts, from cameras, cookware, Kindles, and tablets (merci @John8600), to books from authors (merci @LauraFlorand & @Anne_Frasier), and delightful DVDs and CDs. It is the thoughtfulness that I appreciate the most and that is worth more than anything that is given.

The fun of winning chocolate made by one of my favorite chocolatiers was surpassed by how I received my prize. Monsieur Poussin, who is one of the direct descendants of the chocolatiers and the President/CEO, presented my prize to me personally in their corporate office, which is next door to their store on Rue St. Pères in the 6th arrondissement. 

Since spring has arrived and Easter is approaching, the storefront is filled with colorful heralds of the season.

 A closer look shows the details on all the hand painted chocolates.

You can also buy hand painted eggs inside the store filled with praline for your Easter egg hunt (I would advise making a map to be sure you find all the ones you’ve hidden).

They are of course known for their chocolates, since they made them for royalty. Since chocolate was taken as medicine, it was prescribed and originally they were pharmacists who mixed in ingredients to fortify the health of the royals. M. Poussin explained that some ingredients in the original confections are still under the domain of pharmacists so when they became chocolatiers, their recipes had to be changed. 

They sell tea as a natural complement to chocolate since both are considered health fortifiers and the flavors of certain teas with certain chocolates enhance the enjoyment of both, much as wine and food pairings do the same.

The displays are as varied as they are tempting and you can literally spend all day tasting every flavor they make with both your eyes and your palate.

My favorite is the “Palet Argent”a ganache covered with 85% dark chocolate, and M. Poussin kindly offered me a piece in addition to my prize box.

 If you can’t decide, you can always buy a preselected assortment in any size you wish.

After inhaling all the heady aromas of the shop, I went upstairs to chat with M. Poussin in the corporate office. This is a French chocolate company, so the office is nothing like anything you would find in the U.S., it felt more like a refined residence with treasured pieces from all over the world, and his office looked out over a small courtyard. There was a magnificent teapot from China on the table, and the shelf behind him holds ceramics which were used to serve chocolate when it was served with water, not milk as a beverage.

Several boxes from their other locations worldwide adorned the other shelves, from red for the Asian stores, to ones with large gold logos for their Dubai store. Their chocolate making is done in Provence, so I didn’t get to live out a Willy Wonka fantasy, but that’s probably good 🙂 In M. Poussin’s private office, he had scales which were used to measure out the ingredients, a series of books which described the places to see, eat, and visit in Paris from centuries past

 and an original chocolate box which used gold leaf and glass on top of drawings.

 Today’s presentations are just as lavish, with a gauze bag and gold foil ribbon encircling the box.

 Beautiful printing on the box

and delightfully wrapped chocolates. Les Incroyables, or “The Incredibles” are Nougatine pearls of roasted Spanish almond grains that are caramelized, then filled and coated with a delicately bittersweet chocolate. They are said to have been Van Gogh’s favorites and I can see why. They ship worldwide, so you can get your own by ordering here.

 

Merci DeBauve & Gallais et M. Poussin!

Walking through the maze of covered passageways in Brussels there are a myriad of treasures to covet, whether it’s a crocodile handbag for over 14,000€ (about $20,000), to more affordable treats which might tempt you with sweetness.

Speculos are cookies that have been made for over 100 years and Maison Dandoy has molds from the tiny to huge if you want to make your own. If you’d rather leave it to professionals, they sell a variety of sizes, flavors and shapes. They use only natural ingredients and a recipe that’s 180 years old, so if you want to taste the authentic version instead of the industrialized supermarket one, try them here.

My friend who introduced me to Pierre Marcolini’s chocolates said her new favorite is Chocolatier Elisabeth, so I went in and got some to taste test.

A small assortment is only 9,40€, or about $15.

Meert is famous for their waffle cookies made with all natural ingredients like vanilla from Madagascar, but their chocolates are also wonderful. My favorite was the honey and dark chocolate which tasted like a caramel infusion without being overly sweet. You can taste their specialties in France,  at one of their international locations, some of which have tea rooms which serve brunch.

One of my favorite chocolatiers is Pierre Marcolini who started in Belgium but now has several locations in France.

His latest line of macarons had me swooning:)

I lived in sunny Southern California for so long that I don’t remember what seasons are, other than warm (75-85F) and cool (65-75F). I arrived in Paris in September to rain, so it was a temperate change, and with an umbrella, boots, and a raincoat, I was fine. There was definitely a difference in November as night fell earlier and the crispness in the air began to chill to the point of being cold, requiring layers of clothes and the very Parisian art of wearing scarves. Menus changed to include heartier dishes like soups and braises, and oysters started arriving at all the fishmongers and restaurant terraces.

My friends and I met for an afternoon meal and found five cafés at the Place du Marché Sainte Catherine, all with sheltered patios and heaters. Since all five cafés had variations of the same formule, or lunch special of entree+plat or plat+dessert for 14,50€ (about $20), we chose the one which had the plats we wanted the most that day. Open 7 days a week (a rarity in France), Le Marché is the one with the green patio at 2 Place du Marché Sainte Catherine 75004. We all ordered the lentils with saucisse, a cold weather comfort food staple. My dish could have been hotter, but the flavors were so good that we all scrapped every last bit of lentil with bread to clean our bowls.

One of my friends rarely eats red meat (yes, she is French, and yes, she ate the lentil & saucisse appetizer:), so she ordered the curry shrimp which smelled so good that I want to order it next time! The shrimp were lightly sautéed and it was a very generous portion for the price.

My other friend is as much of a fan of red meat as I am, so we both got the steak frites with green peppercorn sauce cooked bleu (almost raw). She said it should have been warm in the center, but I’ve only ever had a steak cooked bleu cool in the center. We both agreed it was better to have a steak arrive bleu and cool than warm and (to us) overcooked.

The green peppercorn sauce was divine and I used it more as a dip for my frites than as a sauce for my steak. The fries could have been crisper, but they were good enough that my shrimp curry eating friend ate half my portion.

I don’t watch much television here, but one of my friends recognized this guy (in black leather jacket seen in profile) at a neighboring table from a local television series. She waited until we were leaving to go up and talk to him and made his day by recognizing him in front of his friends!

We walked to the nearby Place de la République where numerous demonstrations are held and it seemed one was about to take place as a fleet of Gendarmes (police) were in formation with helmets and shields.

So we left the monument and went window shopping on nearby Rue Meslay, where wholesale stores sell shoes and clothes. A few will sell retail (look for a sign that says “detail”), but most sell only in lots or half lots. As in any business, if it’s a slow day and you have cash, you might be able to get what you want even if it’s not their official policy to sell individual items. You won’t find high end designer names here, but you might find something for a lot less than you would buy it for in a department store.

At the end of Rue Meslay, near the Strasbourg St. Denis Metro is this arch at the intersection of Blvd. Saint Martin and Rue Saint Martin.

A few blocks away at Rue St. Denis, this arch will remind you that this was one of the oldest streets in Paris, originally laid out by the Romans.

Keep in mind that the oldest profession is still practiced around this area, so if a young woman approaches you and acts very friendly, be aware that her company has a price.

My vices run more along the lines of food and wine (as anyone reading this blog already knows), so when author Laura Florand said Jacques Genin is her favorite chocolatier in Paris, I had to taste his wares. She writes romance novels about chocolatiers in Paris, so she has to do extensive research to make sure the details are on point. It’s a tough job, and I’m glad she has taken on the task so enthusiastically and thoroughly for the sake of her readers!

Jacques Genin’s shop is the inspiration for the shop that she wrote about in one of her books, The Chocolate Touch. There is a beautiful tea salon where you can taste the chocolates, caramels, and colorful jewel like pâtes de fruits, as well as one of the richest hot chocolates in Paris. Eat lunch somewhere nearby and come here for dessert.

I came for the chocolate and caramels so I got an assortment of both. The gray metal box which holds the chocolates is a great souvenir of the tastes you savored and can serve as your place to stash anything else you treasure after you’ve finished the treats inside it.

Of course the collection you chose for your box can be customized to your tastes and the presentation is as sophisticated as you would find if you bought fine jewelry.

The smallest box of nine cost 11€ (about $16 USD), but they offer boxes as big as a flat screen television, so you must decide on the appropriate size for your appetite 🙂

I’ve spent many holidays here in France, but this was my first Halloween. The holiday is not celebrated here as it is in the US, but the Salon du Chocolat just happened to open to the public on October 31. It is said that there are no coincidences and I believe that is true 🙂

It was crowded as chocolate makers and chocolate lovers filled two floors of the Parc des Expositions at the Porte de Versailles. The 1st floor (2nd floor in US terms) was the chocolate floor with over 150 stands, and the ground floor was the confiserie floor, with confectioners showcasing all things sweet. The 13€ entry fee ($18 USD) covered both floors for one entry and one exit for one day. Discounted tickets were available for younger people, seniors, and those with memberships to stores like FNAC (French version of Best Buy).

One of the first things I saw was this stand with what looked like Nespresso capsules, but they weren’t coffee, they were chocolate! Hautot makes these marvelous chocolates filled with pralines and ganaches; the perfect accompaniments to coffee or for someone with a Nespresso machine. My friend bought several for her Nespresso loving brother since they were having a special buy 3 get one free special during the exposition. At 9,05€ ($13USD) for 6, this was not expensive for luxury chocolates and Hautot himself was behind the counter, ready to answer any questions.

Some big names had big spaces, like Jeff de Bruges, and they were busy with people who wanted to take advantage of specials run during the exposition.

Smaller stands had much more modest displays and offered simple presentations of various specialties.

Some retailers sold their wares by weight rather than by the piece.

Some well known chocolatiers like Pierre Marcolini (one of my favorites) had an entire mini museum set up with explanations of the process of making edible chocolate and examples of the raw materials. They also had working machines showing how conching is done, and someone was actually making physical bars in the stand!

Some artisans like Pascal Legac, offered free samples of whole pieces. Yes, you read that line with the surprise I intended to convey; most did NOT offer free samples, so it is worth noting that a well known chocolatier was offering free tastes!

Big companies like Godiva and Leonides had stands packed with people taking advantage of special deals.

Smaller shops, like Chapon, attracted customers with whimsical displays which showcased the Parisian venue.

The aroma of Jean-Paul Hévin’s hot chocolate was like a drug enticing addicts to his stand from other chocolatiers.

The best drugs are warm,

made by hand,

and sipped slowly as the crunch of chocolate covered toasted bits melted into the rich foam. An older man in his 70’s said this was the best he ever tasted in his life, and even though I am not as old as he, it was the best hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted too. The other side of the hot chocolate stand was the chocolate case, so you could indulge in both vices here.

For those who want something warm but thicker than hot chocolate, there were several chocolate fountains offering tastes for a few €uros and your choice of fruit or cake.

Famed Pierre Hermé had both his macarons and his chocolates nearby to tempt connoisseurs even more.

My favorite new discovery was Franck Kestener a MOF and Pastry Champion of the world.

One of the things I appreciate about France is that food stars work in their self named shops and restaurants. Franck was working behind the counter at his booth alongside all the others in the same booth.

You could buy by the piece or the box.

Some pieces were obviously more popular than others.

I opted for two boxes for some friends coming from Belgium next week. Starting at 14€ ($20 USD) for a box of 18, these chocolates are a bargain for the quality of the work and chocolate.

The most impressive display on the chocolate floor was the Leonidas display.

A close up of the sculpture showed that the column is made up of pieces of chocolate!

Part 2 will be posted as soon as I fortify myself with some chocolate 🙂

Choosing a favorite chocolatier is like choosing a favorite pair of shoes or a favorite song, it depends on my mood that day, but there are always old favorites and new ones to try.

Located on Rue des Saints-Pères in the 7th arrondissement, Debauve & Gallais was my first taste of luxurious chocolate in Paris. They were founded in 1800 and began selling to the public in 1913 because before then they only sold to royalty. My favorite here is the palet d’or, and they have an online store in the US which is (hopefully) temporarily offline.

Chocolates were “hygieniques”or hygenic which would translate to being good for your health! The fact that this shop is directly across the street from the Medical University must mean that students are encouraged to eat chocolates for their health 🙂

Chocolaterie Grandin in St. Germain-en-laye was founded more than two decades later in 1822 and still does a thriving business even though it’s located outside of Paris and next door to both Nicolson which sells Berthillon ice creams and chocolates, and Confiserie Yvin. A few blocks away are Patrick Roger with his fanciful chocolate sculptures, and Pascal Le Gac, another award winning chocolatier.

One of the things I love about buying chocolates here is they put as much care into the presentation of the package as the making of them. After all, we all eat with our eyes first and the festive bonbon wrapping is a subliminal suggestion of sweet treats to come.

The smallest gift box looks like it contains jewelry (which it does in that the gold stamp is a signature of Grandin and the town emblem which reminds everyone that King Louis XIV was born here).

This video shows you more of the interior of their shop, which also sells pastries, and they do catering for parties (including non sweet items). The box contains two layers, so 16 chocolates total (which you can customize) for 10,50€ (about $15 USD). Each one is a dense rich exquisite bite of flavors so fresh and intense that one or two pieces would be the perfect ending to a meal.

A new MOF (Meilleur Ouvrier de France) Patissier-confiseur just opened his shop literally two blocks away from Patrick Roger’s original shop on Blvd. St. Germain in the 6th arrondissement.

Georges Larnicol has beautiful window displays for Halloween.

He has a chess set in white and dark chocolate, kouign amann, mendiants, caramels, and of course chocolates. His shop is more casual than any MOF establishment I’ve ever entered, with bins of self service varieties so you can pick as many or few of his creations as you would like and items are weighed at the counter. His designs are literally works of art, recreating eggs, mussels, and truffles but made with chocolate!

Of course I didn’t just buy three pieces…

After all I have to taste a variety from the caramels to the seashells to see which one I like best! With so many choices, I’m taking my time tasting every one 🙂

Air Tahiti Nui is one of my favorite airlines for trips from LAX to Paris, not only are their flights ALL direct, but their crews are friendly, their coach seats have amenities most business fares offer, and their rates for excess and overweight luggage are lower than most other airlines flying this route. The only downside is that they do not fly daily, so it helps if you can be flexible with your dates of travel.

The flight was scheduled to take 11 hours, but we arrived an hour early 🙂

Inflight coach lunch was coq au vin with a choice of red, white, or sparkling wines, salad, a camembert, and a dessert (which I did not taste). It was on par with a Business class meal on American Airlines. The breakfast the following morning was terrible, so I would recommend ordering a kosher or vegetarian meal online before you travel (at no extra cost).

Every seat had its own iPad size screen with flight details, movies, Tahitian TV program, music, and games.

The only time I am truly happy in the morning is when I am awake because I am landing in a city I love, like Paris 🙂

Most buildings do not have elevators and the ones that do are usually only big enough for 2 people or 1 person and 1 piece of luggage, so be ruthless in paring down what you are packing. You might be lugging baggage up FIVE flights of stairs. For views like this, it might make the exercise worth it. If you are booking a rental, remember that the ground floor does not count as a floor, so the 1st floor in France is the 2nd floor in the US.

With open air markets several times in week in every neighborhood, you can pick up fresh fruit, bread, and local wine for a meal or picnic and live like a native.

The natives love chocolate (who doesn’t?) and sometimes the best finds are new chocolatiers who worked for famous ones befor opening up their own shops like Pascal Legac who the creative director of La Maison du Chocolat and was voted one of the 12 best chocolatiers for three years in a row.

He makes caramel (they were sold out) and chocolate eclairs (this was the last one left at 1pm), chocolate tarts, and chocolates with single origins and he will DELIVER if you are in France!

To celebrate my return to France, I picked up the last bottle of Drappier 2006 Millésime on the shelf. This full bodied velvety finish champagne was the perfect welcome home 🙂

It’s my birthday today, so I’m indulging in a post devoted to chocolate 🙂

As fellow chocoholic Laura Florand will attest, there are countless chocolatiers who craft delectable treats in shapes, forms and combinations that will entice you to try them all. Depending on where I am in the world, I have different favorites, and even those favorites evolve with the arrival of new talent and new discoveries.

I recently discovered Amella’s agave chocolate sea salt caramels, made here in California. If you aren’t sure you like caramels, or sea salt, or dark chocolate, try these. They are not too sticky, too sweet, too salty, or too rich, so if you like a smooth balance of flavors this is the perfect introduction to caramels and sea salt.

I found these at the Conservatory for Coffee and Tea, but if you have trouble finding them, try their website or Whole Foods.

If you are more adventurous, go to John Kelly Chocolates in either Santa Monica or Hollywood. They are also available online or at Neiman Marcus, but fresh is best. These are everything Amella’s are not, with larger pieces (1 oz) and bold rich flavors.

DSC_0013-1The three pictured below are all truffled bites: Dark Chocolate Pink Alaea Hawaiian Sea Salt with caramel, Dark Chocolate with Habanero and Jalapeño, and Dark Chocolate with Gray Sea Salt. If you like spicy, they have mild or hot; I chose the hot and loved it, but there is a milder Chipotle and Ancho version.

The gray sea salt interior with rich truffle filling and generous sea salt.

The Pink Alea Hawaiian Salt Truffle bite with a thin layer of caramel.

Of course there is still my favorite all around chocolatier, Madame Chocolat, who will ship her gorgeous glitter truffles throughout the US. I love her regular truffles, even without the glitter 🙂

IMG_3963Her chocolates are the closest to French chocolatiers I’ve ever had in the states 🙂

So many chocolates, so little time 🙂

John Kelly Chocolates on Urbanspoon

Madame Chocolat on Urbanspoon

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