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Grand Central Market has evolved into a food mecca, with far too many great options to try all in one day, but a friend and I tried to eat our way through the market anyway 🙂

We started off at Belcampo with their $14 lamb burger, made with garam masala aioli, tamarind chutney, mint, cilantro, and red onion on a wonderfully soft bun. I love that all their meats are grass fed and that they have complete control of every aspect of their operation from raising the animals to processing and butchering them. Yes, the prices here are higher than your local chain grocery store, but I prefer to buy less from places with practices I want to promote, than feed the corporate machinery.

We split the medium rare burger and loved the textures and flavors. If we had not planned to try other places in the market, we would have eaten one of these each!

We also shared a plate of the sweet potato fries, seasoned with celery salt, and they were so crisp, salty, and sweet that we fought over the last fries!

Ramen Hood was our next course. It was the only vegan ramen I’ve ever tried, with sunflower seed broth, king oyster mushroom, bean sprouts, scallions, and chili threads, we added a vegan egg for $2 more making the total bowl $12. It was much better than we imagined, with full flavors and the “egg” not only looked like an egg, but the texture was very close to one. A satisfying bowl, but next time I think I would try the spicy version that I saw my neighbors eating at the counter simply because I think some added heat might enhance the flavors even more.

We were pretty full but wanted to try a small bite at Madcapra, made with locally sourced organic ingredients, so we got just the green falafels for $3.50. They were dry and bland on their own, but once we added the dipping sauces, they were good.

Sticky Rice serves organic locally sourced Thai comfort food, like this rice noodle plate with beef that was so big I had to take half of it home! The assortment of condiments was a very nice way to add heat and zing to any dish on their menu.

We ended our eating spree with a walk to the now closed Fabrique for some lattes; I chose the lavender, which was smooth and creamy

and my friend had the rainbow latte, a beautiful ending to a great day of food:)

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There were many parts to the 626 Night Market, ranging from anime, art, plush toys, and live music.


After all the savory food, it was time for something sweet and cool to end the day:)

 I chose Hawaiian shaved ice, half pineapple, half lilikoi 🙂

 

After all the food and crowds, I wandered over to the Santa Anita Racetrack directly behind the festival.

Time to say goodbye 🙂

 

 

Although I have traveled to about 18 countries, I’ve never been to Asia. 626 Night Market brings a bit of the flavor of the bustling open air food stalls to the US, and like a tourist, I explored for the first time this past week-end. (There will be 3 more week-ends this Summer if you want to go). I took so many pictures, I will be posting a Part 2 tomorrow, but in the meantime, enjoy today’s photo journey 🙂

I went as they opened, so it wasn’t quite a “night” market, but the crowds grew so big by the time I left 2 hours later that I was glad to have missed the long lines I saw later in the evening.

The only downside to going early is that many of the vendors were not set up yet.

I don’t know if they had not yet put up any signage in English or if this it….

A few had displays of their food.

 

Some places gave out samples.

It was fun to watch some of the preparations:)

I decided on grilled squid for my first bite and just as in Asia, none of the cooks spoke English.

The squid on a skewer for $6 was HUGE and delicious with a spicy BBQ sauce!

After walking around all the food stalls twice, I settled on a steamed bun for my next bite.

This was the biggest bun I’ve ever eaten, at least 6″ in diameter and very very hot.

I chose seafood with a side of garlic sauce for $5.50 and it was a very savory filling choice in a pillowy fresh bun with a medium sized shrimp in the center.

Time to get some more cash before continuing my adventure….

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 🙂

Blé Sucré is on so many lists as the best croissant in Paris that I had to taste them for myself 🙂 The tiny shop has a few tables outside if you want to have a coffee and eat facing the park, but I didn’t want my croissant accompanied by the melody of screeching children, so I took mine to go. This is a pâtisserie not a boulangerie, which means they offer pastries but do not sell bread. If you want a baguette, go elsewhere, but come here for the madeleines, the pain au chocolat, or the croissants. The croissants here are HUGE by Parisian standards, easily twice as big as others.

The airy light layers and satisfying crunchy flakiness make for the best of combinations, and I added these croissants to my favorites list along with all the others who came before I did 🙂

Not far away is another kind of pâtisserie, La Rose de Tunis, specializing in North African sweets infused with honey, nuts, and spices. This one is in Belleville in the 11th, but there are other locations in the 15th and 18th, as well as in other cities throughout Europe. There is always a line out the door, so be prepared to wait for your sweet treats.

Since I went to the Yelp event at Les Piaules, I wanted to explore the Belleville area a bit more along Blvd Belleville with all the streetside vendors making freshly grilled breads filled with your choice of meat, tomatoes, onions; think of it as an alternative to pizza:)

The stores sell products I’ve never seen before, like Rose jam!

There were also markets that sell products I knew very well,

like roasted ducks and char siu.

Off Rue Belleville, which intersects Blvd Belleville, the famous graffiti of Rue Denoyez adds color

 and art to everything from the storefronts to the plant holders.

Some artists were working as I passed by, but this area will be transforming in the next few years to “modernize” the street and about 30 of the local workshops and artists will be displaced despite a petition with over 10,000 signatures trying to preserve the character of this street.

The most surprising thing I saw in the neighborhood wasn’t the rose jam or the graffiti, but a Lamborghini, the only one I’ve ever seen in Paris 🙂

I went back to the marché in Versailles on Sunday when the center square was filled with food vendors instead of clothing vendors. A big difference, even at 11am, was there were many more people,

and many more vendors.

Honey from all over the EU & from Lavender honey from Provence for 20 Euros ($22 USD) a Kilo (2.2LBS).

Strawberries are in season and as delicious as they look.

 All the ingredients for a ratatouille.

 As much asparagus as you can eat in both white and green.

 Herbs galore for about 1 Euro a bunch ($1.15USD).

Teas

and spices from all over the world.

 If you don’t want to cook your Sunday meal, chickens are available roasted with potatoes.

 Only two blocks from the Chateau de Versailles, Les Halles de Versailles is a much more local experience than the busloads of tourists at the gates (which you can see the the end of the street).

Nearly everyone who comes to Paris goes to Versailles, but unless you live here (or nearby) Les Halles, or the markets of Versailles, just a few blocks from the Chateau, are a hidden treasure. First I went to see the organic (bio) markets by the church St. Louis, but the market was tiny, with literally less than ten stands in front of the church.

Les Halles the big market, is open from Tuesday through Saturday from 7am- 7:30pm and on Sunday from 7am-2pm, the covered square and open center square attract locals more than tourists. With easy parking underneath the square, many bus stops within a block or two, and an easy walk four blocks from the chateau, make this a worthwhile stop if you are going to Versailles.

The permanent stands are all in the covered buildings surrounding the open area and feature several cheese shops,

vegetable and fruits vendors,

all kinds of poultry, raw and cooked,

seafood and fish stands,

prepared foods if you don’t want to cook,

prepared skewers for your BBQ,

prepared roasts for your oven,

and mountains of shellfish.

If you want dessert, there is of course sweets and patisseries galore.

All around the outside of the covered stands are cute cafés with outdoor terraces if you want to be served your meal and just window shop the vendors 🙂

1776 was a a big year in the US, and the same year Cour du Commerce was built in Paris. Yes, while the US was literally being born, this street was already home to the Procope restaurant, which was established 90 years earlier in 1686 and frequented by people like Voltaire and Robespierre. You can eat there for a very reasonable 29€ menu of classic dishes like escargots and duck breast, or chose one of the other newer places in the passageway.

Today the street has some new additions like this marvelous shop, Première Pression Provence, which specializes in olive oils from Provence used in everything from cooking oils to soaps and lotions.

Next door is the hip spot Un Dimanche à Paris where brunch will set you back 38-54 € ($45-70 USD) for things like omelets or Scottish salmon. Of course you can also just buy something at their tea salon or chocolate shop to take home like the woman in the picture.

If I want to buy overpriced gourmet goods, I would rather do it in the Grand Épicerie, which recently remodeled and installed all kinds of high tech gadgets like these so you can scan your groceries and have your bill ready at the cash registers!

Where else could you find peanut butter for 15.40€ ($20 USD) next to Marshmallow Fluff for 4.30€ ($7 USD)?

I must admit I loved perusing their wine selection no matter how much more they were than the same wines from my local Nicolas.

They say the best things in life are free, like this tiny park, the Square du Vert Galant

which must be the cutest park in the middle of the city,

rivaled only by the one next to Notre Dame, the Square Jean XXIII, especially when viewed through cherry blossoms 🙂

 

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 🙂

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!

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