In our hotel in the Beaubourg neighborhood, right around the corner from the Centre Pompidou, a fine fine breakfast was served to us.
I want to know from other Parisian hounds what on earth the French do to make their chocolat (chaud) so good?
The hot chocolate I was served, in the charming stone-vaulted "cellar" of this hotel, was by far the best I've ever had. I couldn't see what the serveuse was doing in the back room, but I heard the whooosh of the milk steamer, so I know the milk was heated and frothed. I've tried to reproduce this at home by frothing 6-8 ounces of whole milk, and then adding various amounts of melted bittersweet chocolate -- anywhwere from 1 - 2 ounces. I can't reproduce it.
The chocolat was full-flavored, but not intense. Chocolatey, but not overly sweet (one of my Philistine sisters dropped sugarcubes in hers -- sacrilige!). Is it the milk that's so much better? Is there a specific French product (a chocolate, a syrup, a powder, a mix, etc) that I could buy or import to reproduce this?
Moving on to other small delights. On the Ile St Louis any tourist knows about Berthillon. There are at least 3, maybe 4 outlets, the mothership being on the Rue Ile St Louis. This place makes the best ice cream I've ever had. First I tried cerise (cherry) -- oh yeah-type good, but a bit tart just for my tastes (the sour cherry people would be over the moon with this flavor). Next I had caramel -- it tasted a lot like dulce de leche from Hagen Daz. Now, I love Hagen Daz just as much as the next person, but I don't need to go to France to get it. That said, it was good. Had little frozen chunks of caramel in it.
On our last day I went for "trois boules" -- you can get it in a little double, or triple scoop-accomadating cone, the scoops side by side, or in a "patisserie"=waffle cone, or in a cup. My three boules were vanille, orange sanguine, and fraises des boises, which was an extra 50 centimes.
Whoa baby! What a fantastic flavor explosion. Being a creamy sort of person, I never thought I could enjoy a fruit flavor as much as a creamy or chocolate flavor, but my favorite flavor of ice cream is now fraise de bois. Never mind I have to go 6000 miles to get it, and can only get it a few months of the year, but wowie! The wild strawberry flavor can't really be described. It's like all the times you've had something strawberry, and you hoped it would taste like this, but you only got a whiff of the true flavor.
Orange sanguine, blood orange, is a very very close second for favorite. If you don't like the flavor and smell of blood oranges, then don't try this, of course, but most people seem to like the flavor -- and it's so intense. Sweet without being sticky. An actual improvement on the finest, ripest fruit.
Vanille was a smokey, almost boozy tasting (reminded me of brandy) creamy little wonder, filled with thousands of visible vanilla seeds. It must cost a fortune to make. All these flavors must cost a fortune.
I was too distracted by food lust and worship to carefully note the prices, but Berthillon ain't cheap. I think une boule is like 1.50 Euros, and goes up from there as you add boules. Each boule (scoop) is about the size of a golfball. It is so worth it.
We took the metro out to the Place de la Madeleine (beautiful church, btw) to go to the humbling food palace that is Fauchon. I bought a small box of chocolates for my husband that cost 44 Euros. Many of the delights behind the service counter were in excess of 100 Euros per pound (it was in grams and kilos, but we figured it out). I have NEVER seen anything like the prices here. I bought pates de fruits (6 ounces for 22 Euros) and I have to say I was dissapointed. They are not remarkably better than pates des fruits I've had in the US -- but maybe I'm a Philistine in this instance. The yellow flavor (pineapple? yellow apple? I can't tell) has a weird and faintly nauseating peel-flavor to it. The mules (blackberry) flavor is very good, as is raspberry. No doubt these are from whole fruits -- I've run into quite a few seeds.
We hit these sections -- the confiserie, the grocery-store type place, and the jam/condiment/packaged candy/wine place. I bought low-sugar fraises des boise confit (what else, after that Berthillon experience). It was 5.65 Euros for about 5 ounces. Wow! Doesn't taste low-sugar to me! It's full and rounded, and not a jewel-like color as you'd expect, since the fruit isn't as completely preserved as in regular jam. I think anyone who would fully sugar a fraise de bois would have to be out of his mind, so loaded with natural sugar and flavor that they should shine forth, almost naked, on in their glory.
Why, oh why, can't we grow this glorious fruit here in the US? And are they really wild? Does anyone know if they are a wild variety that are just grown commercially, or if they are truly wild and strictly a gathered crop, like cloudberries? I'd be interested to know -- the only sites I've found are in French and my French isn't that good.
I also purchased for our group to share a box of 18 fleur de sel caramels. I think it was 14 Euros. Worth every penny.
I won't go and bore you anymore about how good the bread and croissants are. You already know, by experience or by fame. I'm lobbying Mr. Smith to move us to France as I type.