Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Amsterdam - Bikes, Coffee Shops, & Canals, Oh My!

Nothing says Amsterdam like bikes, coffee shops, and canals.  Bikes are literally everywhere!  In the streets, parked everywhere, and darting in and out of traffic like kamikazes.  No one wears a helmet, there weren't many baby seats (I saw a ton of babies riding in the front basket/handlebars), and people can text / smoke / hold groceries, all while riding.  Coffee shops are on every other corner and there is a significant difference between coffee shops and cafes.  I had 'coffee' at a number of places and couldn't find any strong enough (I even tried the coffee baked brownies and nada). My 3 favorite places were 2e Kamer, Barney's and Stone's Cafe. Last but not least are the canals - nothing says, "welcome to being lost" like trying to read the names of the canals in the dark: Oudezijds Voorburgwal, Oudezijds Achterburgwal, or Prinsengracht.  The best way to explore a city is by getting lost - you discover things that you would not have ordinarily found (like the "all you can eat" cheese samples).       

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Paris - The Foodie Mecca

The whole cafe scene in Paris is a culture all of its own.  You sit down, order a drink, and watch life pass by.  Good luck trying to get a check/bill (AKA l'addition) after asking two or three times for it (it was amusing the first few times, but my New York patience ran thin).  A 15% tip is already included in the price of food/drinks which would explain the slow service.  Aside from that, we had a number of great meals.  Here is the rundown:

Day 1
- Laduree
- Malakoff
- Chez Andre

Day 2
- L'Alsace
- Symposium

Day 3
- La Flamme Cafe
- La Bonne Franquette
- Tutti Sensi
- Le Mere Catherine
- La Galette Des Moulins
- Le Relais De L'Entrecote

Day 4
- Le Pure Cafe
- Amorino
- Les Deux Magots
- Le Flamme Cafe

Day 5
- Bostrot de la Tour Eiffel
- Boulangerie
- Le Fumoir
- Le Grand Colbert

Day 6 
- Laduree
- Le Comptoir
- Le Relais De L'Entrecote

My main discovery in Paris were macaroons from Laduree.  I've had coconut macaroons before (which are no where close to related), but these were addictive from the first bite.  The worst part about it is that they make them in every possible flavor: vanilla, pistachio, raspberry, dark chocolate, lemon, etc. Luckily, I was able to find them in NYC at Bouchon Bakery (the pumpkin macaroons can inspire a new religion).
You can't go to France without eating frog legs (its like going to Spain and not having tapas).  And guess what?  They actually taste like chicken wings with less meat.  We had them at Le Grand Colbert (where they filmed Somethings Got To Give) and they were pretty good in their sauce (I practically drained the sauce with the bread).  The veal stew was amazing there too, which is surprising because you would think it would be a tourist trap. 
Same thing goes for french toast - you can't go to France and not have it (no matter how clique it sounds).  Laduree (again) made an incredibly perfect fluffy french toast - without cinnamon or eggs.

My favorite place was Le Relais De L'Entrecote.  There is always a big line outside, but it passes quickly.  The brilliance of the place is that they only serve one thing: steak au poivre.  You sit down and they ask you how you want your steak.  They serve you a salad and then comes the best part: 2 servings of crispy fries with steak and an amazing pepper sauce.  The concept is so simple, but if you do two things perfect, you can't go wrong.    

Notable places that I wanted to go to, but didn't have advanced reservations: L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Du Pain et Des Idee (closed because of holiday), Aux Lyonnais, and Frenchie.
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An American in Paris

I finally made my foodie mecca to Paris in November for the gf's birthday.  We were originally supposed to go for my birthday, but the flights were super expensive due to the aftermath of the Iceland volcano.  The weather was surprisingly pleasant (mid 50's) and the people were not unfriendly as automatically presumed (people think the same about New Yorkers).  Here are a couple more of my observations:
  • The Metro is easy to navigate and the trains come every 6 minutes (it beats walking 7 miles a day, taking expensive cabs, or collecting blisters/strawberries)
  • Man + Dog = Homeless Man (it seems like every homeless man owns a dog)
  • I'll never understand the half glass shower door - why can't it be a complete sliding shower door?  I always soak the floor, even with a towel on the floor.  
  • Sauces and butter make everything better.
  • In tight quarters, you can catch a whiff of the smelly underarm phenomenon - I guess that's why the French perfected perfume (but nothing beats deodorant).
  • People are kissing everywhere (its hard to go 10 minutes without seeing a kissing couple)!
  • Even in 40 degree weather, people still eat/drink at outdoor cafes.
  • Beware of gypsy beggars - they'll try to swipe anything they can off of your table.   
  • Everyone is well dressed - from young children to old people to men (I don't think they sell sweatpants in Paris).     
  • Strangers take the absolutely worst pictures imaginable (nothing is ever centered, they never wait for people in the background, cut off your head, etc.).  I'd rather continue to take my own self portraits.
Working in Lower Manhattan, I pass a ton of tourist everyday and always wonder why they take pictures of random buildings, parking garages, and street traffic.  I'm guilty of the same offenses on vacation - I have quite a collection of churches, fountains, statutes, and buildings.

I actually had enough patience to wait until there are no people or traffic.... 

Luckily, a lot of people speak English because I butchered French with my made up English-Spanish-French mashup.

Hotel concierge: Bonjour!  (translation: Hello or Good Morning)
Me: Monsieur! (translation: Mister!)

I bumped into countless people and instead of saying "Excuse e Moi" or "Pardon!", I would say "Miso!" (which is half of 'permiso' in Spanish which means "excuse me")

I bumped into the legs of a waitress and hit her with every french word I knew (mumbled in a inaudible whisper): "Bonjour, cote de boef...." (translation: Hello, side of beef....)
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