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Few places in Los Angeles embellish their eating establishments with extravagant displays during the Winter holidays like they do in France. Bottega Louie is an exception, with a towering “tree” of macarons, including gold ones, reaching to the ceiling, one of several throughout the restaurant and market, but the grand centerpiece in the dining area can be seen from the pastry counter at the other end of the cavernous space.

I’ve been enthralled by this place ever since my first meals here years ago, so much so I wrote two posts, back to back on it back in 2011. Since my return to the US, I have been wanting to revisit some old favorites, and when friends came into town for the week-end, it was a perfect opportunity to meet for brunch downtown.

After years in France, the macarons looked very bright to me, but I’m sure the intense colors sell well here, where bright intense colors are an enticement.

If you can’t decide what to choose, you can always opt for one of the prepackaged gift boxes of varying sizes (they will ship many of their products if you don’t want to carry it back home).

Some things can’t be shipped and should be eaten fresh, like their viennoiseries and

bread, which are very good even to a bread snob like me. The big baguette is pricey at over $5, but it is huge and it freezes well if you can’t eat it all the same day.

Since I usually came for lunch or late supper, this was the first time I encountered the brunch choices, like this freshly squeezed pineapple juice for $7. They had other choices like melon, carrot, and “green”, if you want something other than the usual fruit and citrus.

Once one of my friends saw the table next to us eating the two eggs with turkey sausage, potatoes, and smoked bacon, she didn’t want to get anything else, and she was very happy that they made her order exactly as she wanted, right down to the “burnt” whole wheat toast for $17.

Another friend and I both ordered the Lobster Hash for $20 with lobster, yukon potatoes, shallots, brussel sprouts, and two poached eggs napped with a smoked paprika hollandaise. I liked how the poached eggs were slightly runny, but she preferred her eggs runnier; I thought that the kitchen did a nice job of “middle ground” eggs in a dining room with over 200 seats. Our server was very attentive and literally followed every request with a smile and “Yes, of course”! Including one for warmed milk with the filtered coffee ($.50 surcharge), and as I mentioned earlier, making sure the wheat toast on the side was “well done”.

When we had all cleaned our plates, I tempted everyone to get an order of beignets ($12) to split; the table next to ours chimed in on my description and echoed that they were indeed wonderful. These are still the best beignets I’ve ever had 🙂 Light and buttery, with the raspberry compote so addictive that my friends were licking it off their fingers and “double dunking”!

No one had room for anything else,

but our eyes feasted on all the pastries as we left 🙂

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Since my motto is “I will travel for great food”, the main reason I went to Rome was to eat 🙂

I ate so many delicious things in one week that I may have been channeling Elizabeth Gilbert in “Eat, Pray, Love“. I believe that there is very little in life as satisfying as the pleasure of taking your time to savor all the flavors and delights of great food, sharing it with others perhaps, but I got to do that a bit later in the trip.

The only appointment I had made for a sight was for the Vatican Museum and Pizzarium is literally one block from the Metro Station Cipro which is the stop for that attraction. The place also goes by the name Bonci, the creator/owner of Pizzarium, who was there one of the three times I went, training staff on how to dress some slices properly. A rarity in Rome is that they are open every day of the week, although the hours vary a bit on Sunday. If you don’t want to wait during Lunch and Dinner go in the lull of the afternoon or late at night. The first day I went around 1pm and waited about 30 minutes, another day I went around 6pm and there was no line at all. If it’s crowded, grab a number and watch for it to be posted on the screen above the counter. You order on the left, pick up your drinks and then go pay as you wait for your order to be delivered on the right side of the counter. Condiments are also on the right side of the counter, but I didn’t want to ruin the perfect flavors by doctoring up my slices.

Every hour and every day, there are new selections, and everything is sold by weight. Prices range from about 20 Euros to over 30 Euros per kilo, a good sized portion will run you 8-12 Euros or about $10-15 US. If you want to try more than one flavor, ask for small slices so you can eat two because their scissors work fast and cut generously unless you tell or show them you want smaller slices. I learned that Rome is almost like the US when it comes to portion sizes, but without doggie bags unless you order your pizza to go:)

I went three out of my seven days in Rome, and never tried another pizza place after my first bite here! The first pizza I got was a spinach, buffalo mozzarella, and anchovy on tomato sauce. The toppings were outstandingly fresh (these were not the canned anchovies you find in the US), and the crust had a crunchy bottom, but the soft chewy texture of a great baguette on top. It was the best combination of topping and crust I’ve ever tasted in a pizza. There was a reason there was only a small bit of this choice left in the case, and I was glad I got some before it was gone. At first I thought it was too much to finish, but I couldn’t stop eating and “somehow” I polished off the entire serving.

My second time I went for something more traditional, a tomato basil, and an artichoke heart and potato dusted with pecorino cheese. Once again, astounding crust and incredible vegetables. This combo would be a vegetarian’s dream, and this time I got two smaller slices and a beer to wash it all down.

For my last day, I went back and saw Bonci putting out the sausage, ricotta, tomato, and basil, so I had to try that as well as the kale with cured lard and mushrooms which Bonci dressed himself with more kale and olive oil. I couldn’t stop smiling from happiness with every bite. I could happily eat here every day. With an ever changing menu, friendly staff, and an owner who is passionate about his pizza, you can’t go wrong with any choice.

Italy is famous for their gelato, so one day for breakfast (yes, I really did channel Elizabeth Gilbert), I got some at Sora Lella on Isola Tiberino (the island in the middle of Rome). I wasn’t the only one, getting gelato for breakfast at 11am 🙂

Since it was a nice day, I strolled over to the bank of the river and ate it with a view of the water.

My friend Chantal had just been to Rome a few months ago for her birthday and she told me I HAD to go to La Romana because she didn’t even like gelato and loved it here so much that she went daily.

Just as Bonci’s Pizzarium was the best pizza I’ve ever eaten, La Romana was the best gelato I’ve ever eaten. They make it there, and have been since 1947. I chose a “small” Fiordelatte (flower of milk) and Sacher (like the chocolate torte flavor) for 2 Euros, or about $2.30 US, which included chocolate or vanilla sauce in the cone, AND home made whipped cream on top! I only added the chocolate at the bottom of my cone and luckily I had plenty of napkins because I forgot and bit into it making a delightful mess like a kid eating a sundae:) The consistency is lighter and smoother than any gelato I’ve tasted, and the flavors range from the unusual to the approachable, like tiramisu.

La Romana is near Termini Station, so grab a cone or cup on your way to or from the station. It’s behind the ruins and across from the government buildings with all the armed guards, not far from the planetarium which had this inscribed above the door, a quote from Dante’s Divine Comedy, “Love that moves the sun and other stars.” Dante may have been referring to the pizza and gelato in Rome 🙂

Any day in Paris that begins with blue skies is a reason to celebrate, what better way to inaugurate a good omen than with sweets from La Durée? Of course they are famous for their macarons, and my friend is still raving about the orange blossom one she had (her first), but I had to start my day with something more substantial and a bit breakfast oriented. My friend devoured her macarons as her breakfast appetizer, then had a Bostock, which is an almond pastry. I went with the classic pain au raisin, which was healthier because it had raisins 🙂

It was a great way to get breakfast on the go when we had many sights to squeeze in on a short visit. The sweetest surprise of the morning was a gentleman who told one of the many beggars who came up to us to leave us alone (coming out of La Durée with bags of pastries automatically makes you a target for people asking you for money).

 

After several photo stops (Arc de Triumph, Place de la Concorde, and the Opéra), we were ready for lunch at the very unParisian hour of noon, so since our last stop was the Opéra, I steered us to the Grand Café des Capucines. It’s open 24/7 seven days a week, so if you are ever stuck for a place to go on a Sunday, this is a safe bet for decent food if you are starving and your flight just landed at midnight.

The interior is classically art deco and it’s been renovated, so it looks a bit fresher. I’ve been coming here almost as long as I’ve been coming to Paris. It’s not my favorite restaurant, but I always take people who have never been to Paris here just to soak in the atmosphere. The food is not spectacular, but it is good, and the prices are reasonable, with menus of two courses for less than 25 Euros ($30 US).

The gazpacho with espelette pepper was a refreshingly cool way to whet our appetites, with a touch of heat from the pepper that gave the soup a nice zing. I could have had two bowls of this with some baguette and been perfectly happy.

This may look like salmon, but it is actually rose colored trout over couscous which had accents of apricots, green onions, pine nuts, and raisins in a buerre blanc sauce. I found the accompaniments a bit sweet and the sauce a bit lackluster, but the fish was good and service was excellent. We walked in without a reservation, but if you are eating during regular Parisian meal times or want to sit on the patio during a sunny day, it’s best to reserve either online or with a phone call.

After all that food we needed to walk, and not just somewhere touristy, so we headed to the Luxembourg Gardens. We were too big (or old) to climb in the jungle gym, but it was almost as fun to watch the kids.

I suppose we could have sailed some boats, but they were having a race,

 so we contented ourselves with a stroll around the flowers 🙂

 

Le Flore en L’Ile is one of the first places you’ll see as you walk or drive to Ile St. Louis on the Quai Orléans, and like every place on the island, they serve Berthillon ice cream. If the line to Berthillon is too long, or it’s after 8pm, you can enjoy your cone or cup on this lovely terrace with a view of the Seine. The line on the right was for scoops to go and the line was almost as long as the one at Berthillon.

If you are lucky enough to get a warm sunny day in Paris, take advantage of your treasure and spend some time soaking in the living street theater of life at a café like this one. Since this is a prime location, prices will be higher than places tucked away on a side street, but remember that you can sit all day for the price you pay and some people looked like they had spent the entire afternoon sipping their wine or coffee.

My friend had never been to Paris, so we had to order a quintessential French dish; a ham quiche with salad. She declared it the lightest tastiest quiche she had ever tasted, and loved the simple vinaigrette on the salad. It was a very generous portion and we split it since we just wanted a snack, not dinner.

We came to the island for her to taste Berthillon ice cream, so she got 2 scoops with a caramel sauce, a tuile almond crisp, and whipped cream. This dessert cost 12€ ($16 US), which was more than our quiche, but she declared it was worth every Euro.

Just north of Ile St. Louis is the Marais neighborhood and I decided to introduce her to classic bistro at the Café des MuséesI loved their lamb, but after eating a substantial “snack” earlier, my friend and I both opted for the special fish of the day, a St. Pierre, simply grilled on a plancha, with cauliflower and watercress, served on a bed of tomatoes for 23€ ($28 US). It was a perfect summer dinner, and I drank a lovely generous glass of Chablis for under 6 € ($8 US).

My friend is a dessert lover, so she savored the thick rich chocolate terrine with two sauces for dessert, while I ordered another glass of wine for my dessert. 

Sweet travel tip : a great way spend your first day in Paris is eating at least two desserts upon arrival:)

On a rainy gray day in Paris, one of the most fitting places to wander is the Montmartre Cemetary near Sacré Coeur.

If you want to truly explore the grounds, set aside over an hour to see the graves of artist Degas, composer Berlioz, and filmmaker Truffaut, along with 22,000 others covering about 25 acres.

 

 

 Paupers have markers throughout,

 some graves are completely covered in fresh flowers.

Nearby are the steps up to Sacré Coeur 

(there’s a funicular next to it which you can take for the price of a metro ticket).

This is the only hill in central Paris, so lots of steps throughout this area.

Nice to end the afternoon with something sweet, like a glass of rosé and a waffle with fresh fruit at Le Pain Quotidien 🙂

 

Walking along the waterways is always a pleasure, especially now that the weather has warmed up and the trees and flowers are starting to bloom. Even on an overcast day, the paths along the waterways make for pleasant strolls.

Canal St. Martin has plenty of places for small children to play

and lots of pétanque areas for big kids.

With cafés along the water, you can just indulge in the popular sport of lounging

and soaking in the view of the boats on the Canal.

If you want to make it a party, you can rent a boat for a few dozen or hundred of your closest friends.

The dangerous excess weight and labor needed to cut and continuously remove the locks on the bridges made it worth the expense of changing the rails to these.

The new rails have the side benefit of less tourists taking pictures and unobstructed views along the Seine.

For those who can’t imagine life without a car, this ad for 2 parking spaces at $140,000 US may make you ask whether the expense is worth it here.

I can buy lots of gelato for that kind of money, and the Amorino shops make sure it’s a feast for the eyes as well as the palate:)

 

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 🙂

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:)

The good thing about living close to the beach but not AT the beach is that I don’t have to suffer the throngs of people who descend on the week-ends, I don’t have to deal with cars blocking my driveway (“for just a minute”), and I can enjoy virtually marine layer free blue sunny days. Can you tell that I am glad I no longer live at the beach? All this being said, it’s still fun to GO to the beach. Just like it’s fun to rent a convertible even though you may not enjoy owning one (yes, I’ve been there and done that too).

So when friends came in from out of town who also used to live at the beach, we went to the beach! Venice’s Abbot Kinney was a funky artsy area before all the high end hipsters, but the “revitalization” has added some great places to eat in addition to what used to be the only good place to eat, Joe’s.

Feed Body & Soul has a beautiful facade, a covered patio, and that rarity that makes it worthy of a visit even on Summer week-ends, an adjacent valet parking lot.

We sat on the patio and since we all wanted to taste everything, we decided to literally taste three dishes by each eating a third of a plate and passing it on to the next person.

The crabcakes with a habernero sauce on a bed of organic greens with avocado was not as spicy as it sounds, but rather a lightly spiced salad that highlighted fresh crab. If you are a crabcake lover, you will be pleased with this choice.

The sesame crusted seared ahi with micro greens, wheatberries and a wasabi sauce was done perfectly rare. If you don’t like tuna tartare or tuna sashimi, do not order this, but if you do, this is a whole grain version of a dish you might find in a sushi restaurant. The wasabi sauce was quite spicy, so be forewarned.

My favorite dish was the one I ordered, the wild salmon on a bed of quinoa with spinach and a pea shoot sauce. The fish was perfectly cooked, the greens and grains moist and tasty, and I would have definitely eaten all of this dish without sharing!

The portions were not huge and our total for the three of us including tax and tip was about $90 without drinks, but for the atmosphere and the food, this is definitely worth the price for the quality of ingredients.

We went across the street for dessert at N’Ice Cream. They make their gelatos and sorbets fresh every day from ingredients that are organic in other countries but have not been certified as organic in the US. If you love creamy gelato, this is the place to go in Venice. In Hermosa, I prefer Paciugo, but for a place closer to me and with excellent flavors, this is a great find. Prices are about the same starting at $4 for a single serving. I chose the pistachio, a very creamy version made with imported Italian pistachios.

One friend got the maple and it tasted as fresh and creamy as my pistachio.

The third person of our trio chose the chocolate which was soooo chocolaty that I my one bite taste was enough to satiate me!

Maybe next time we’ll rent a convertible when we go to the beach 🙂

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N'ice Cream on Urbanspoon

Today’s post is short & sweet because the place I am writing about is small and sweet 🙂

Churros Calientes lives up to its name, the churros are freshly made with organic flour, and come out piping hot. The storefront is only about 300 square feet with a counter and two tables inside, and a few outside, so you instantly bond with the other patrons.

The owner asked me to compare his churros to ones I had eaten in Spain and I would have to say these are BETTER. They are crisp, tender, and lightly dusted with organic sugar, adding a touch of sweetness that makes them excellent plain. Because they are also freshly made (and fried in a light oil), they are a bargain at $3.85! Where else can you get a made to order hot dessert for that price?

I ordered the churros con chocolate for $6.75 which included a thick creamy drink made of organic cacao beans with the churros. When asked why I was not drinking the chocolate, I responded that I use it to dunk my churros, just like in Spain. If you are a serious chocolate fiend, perhaps you can drink the super rich hot chocolate, but after one sip, I used it as a “sauce” for my churros.

The small cafe also serves soups, salads, paninis, and a range of organic coffee and teas, so if you want something besides churros, you can get it here. Several people came in for orders to go, and since I couldn’t finish my order, the owner packed my leftover chocolate & churros to go for me.

They are only open in the evening and since they are literally next door to the Laemmle Royal cinema, it’s a great place to stop after a foreign movie. Where else besides Los Angeles can you watch a German film, eat at a Japanese place across the street, and get a Spanish churro next door? (Ok, maybe New York, but we have better weather here:)

Churros Calientes on Urbanspoon

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