Tag Archives: Croissant

Frenchie and the Cape Cod Boulangerie

16 May

If you can’t go to France this summer, then just go to the Cape and step inside PB Boulangerie and Bistro.

When I heard last year in March that a French bakery was opening on the Cape, I rolled my eyes and thought “been there, done that”. Yes, it’s that hard to find a good bakery in the U.S. Now, there is a difference between a bakery vs. a French bakery. I’ve found over the years excellent regular bakeries that sold more than tasty baked goods and breads but finding a decent authentic French bakery is hard. Boston does not even have one – it just has bakeries. And yet, yesterday I stepped into my new favorite place within a 100 mile (160 km) radius. A bit far for a croissant fix but so worth it! So leave your passports at home and head to the Cape for a French experience.

Luckily for me, I did not have to wait in line to place my order. I guess the summer season has not officially started yet. But I’ve heard reports of long lines going out the door, around the building and down the street. This place should actually be kept a secret. If you’re staying on the Cape this summer, just get up early in the morning, tell your friends you’re going for a “walk” and come back with boxes and bags of fresh treats for breakfast. If they ask, tell them anything from a French fairy dropped breakfast on your doorstep to FedEx just delivered a package from caring friends in France who pitied your sad dry scones and white bread toast breakfast. Just remember to remove the sticker tag on the box. The reason for keeping it a secret is to avoid hours of waiting in line.

There’s something in the air inside PB Boulangerie. I am not sure if it is the finely grated lemon zest and the heavy double cream from the tarte au citron, or perhaps the fresh yeast and hints of vanilla from the freshly baked brioches. No, it’s definitely chilled butter being rubbed with flour to make a sweet pastry crust. It just smells like a French bakery. Hold on… actually, it smells like cut off bits and pieces of excess pastry dough laying around the fluted tart tins while the crème pâtissière is being spooned on the pastry shell. That’s it!

3 croissants, 2 pains au chocolat and 3 pains aux raisins, please! Yes, we’re hungry!” The bakeries are what I was expecting: authentic, flakey, buttery, dough luscious, delicate and still warm. Fresh out of the oven. When was the last time you had a warm croissant in the U.S.? The variety of breads made me salivate. Olive bread, bâtard, fig bread, pain de mie – it seems they have it all. They even adapted to the local Cape flavors with a cranberry bread. Brilliant! The baguette I bought had a good crunchy crust and just the right amount of chewiness. It’s a small place and there are too many good things to look at with too little time – people are waiting behind! I saw croque-monsieurs that looked gooey cheese delicious. I glanced at the salade niçoise in small containers. They have bœuf bourguignon sandwiches too. And the Norman tarte aux pommes seemed heavy and rich with delight.

Ambiance, charm, smells and taste of France – thank you Philippe and Boris for bringing this to the States. It almost sounded like France too, but not quite yet (Frenchie and the European Noises). It’s only a matter of time. As I left with my flan and tarte au chocolat – yes, there was a second visit right before driving back to Boston – I was already making plans in my head to schedule another French pilgrimage very soon to hopefully sit down and try the PB Bistro attached to the Boulangerie. The menu looks exquisite. And who wouldn’t want to spend more time on the Cape, lounging in the quaint Wellfleet, MA scenery? A must do this summer!

Frenchie and Claude Berri

7 Nov

So I have a secret. I have been following a man. Well, I only follow him once or twice a year, so I’m not “really” following him… ok, yes I am following him actually but I am not a stalker! I think I am following famous French director Claude Berri. Before you judge me as being one of those insane crazed fan waiting outside of celebrities’ houses, let me explain.

It is always very hard to go out and have breakfast at a restaurant in France. It’s not in our culture to brunch with friends or go have breakfast outside of the home – and by breakfast I mean something more substantial than a small cup of coffee at the local café with a croissant while sitting at the bar. If I ask my family, they probably would confirm that they’ve never had breakfast outside somewhere. In recent years though, the idea of brunch has started to emerge in Paris. It’s not uncommon to see brunch menus now being advertised in restaurants and hear people talk about getting together for a Sunday brunch. However back in 1999, when I started to become a visitor of France once or twice a year, finding a place open at 8am serving a real breakfast was like searching for a good decent and tasty pain au chocolat in the U.S.

My favorite place of all time to have breakfast in Paris is La Coupole. I am biased though because I used to go to high school 2 minutes away from there and it was my hang out place between classes when I needed a warm creamy dense dark and real hot chocolate to energize me from the damp and chilly Paris winters. So La Coupole has been in my life all this time and I have been very faithful to it all these years. To me, it is the quintessential grand Paris brasserie where you can still feel the presence of old and notable patrons such as Josephine Baker, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dalí and even Picasso sitting at one of the table or booth, watching passers-by on the boulevard de Montparnasse while sipping a coffee or a cognac VSOP. La Coupole opened in 1927 and is still a hot spot for traditional French food. Whether you want shellfish, lobster, oysters, curried lamb, the traditional sole meunière or just a regular good ol’ steak, they can make it. In the late 1980s, the main dinning room was registered as a historical site but you can still eat in it – strangely enough it looks like a big open train station waiting room. Just like any traditional brasserie, the waiters are mostly men, dressed in black with a long white apron and a black bow tie and just like any traditional brasserie, they are completely inattentive and you are probably miles away from being one of their main concerns.

I cannot go to Paris without at least eating one breakfast at La Coupole. Their traditional French breakfast presented on a gigantic silver tray offers everything I am craving and what I’ve been dreaming of at home in the U.S. while eating a dry boring bagel for breakfast. They’re not stingy on the fresh crispy bakeries. You’ll get a choice of croissant, pain au chocolat, pain aux raisins – sometimes they will even have fresh chausson aux pommes! Oh and sometimes they have other French regional specialties like kouglof, the brioche from Alsace! And if you haven’t had enough carbs, don’t worry because you also get a side of fresh baked bread. Around this wonderful display of bakeries, which aroma transports you straight inside the baker’s oven, you also get wonderful tasty jellies and real salted butter to spread joyfully on your bread. The juices are freshly squeezed, the coffee is hot and strong, the tea comes in those fancy little nets and the hot chocolate is thick and… well, you will want to get every last drop from the chocolate pourer with your finger!

So since I started to go to La Coupole for breakfast, I am always – and I mean it here… always – sitting at one of their long central seats in the main room next to none other than Claude Berri. Yes, Claude Berri! Well, before you ask any further, I think it’s a Claude Berry look-alike, but this is rather peculiar. For the past 11 years, every breakfast I am enjoying at La Coupole – twice a year mind you – it is in the presence of my faux Claude Berri. So I came to expect him when I go there and as a true La Coupole regular, he never fails me. I don’t want to tell him I am following him because it’s not really true and I don’t want to scare him. I never said hi  and while I can be memorable, he probably does not remember someone he only sees twice a year! He is always sitting at the same spot, only has small cups of coffee, a book open next to him, some documents and files flying around, dressed in black, small glasses on the tip of his nose, a scruffy beard, a balding head and a black scarf tied around his neck. Who is this man who must have breakfast there every day of the year? What is he doing? What is he reading? What’s his job? Sometimes, people come to his table to talk – I say they talk “business” and about future scripts. They stay one hour and then they go. But he stays. Is La Coupole Claude Berri’s office? I amuse myself every time I go because it has become my tradition – my own French breakfast with flavors of Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources, both directed by Claude Berri.

Claude – I think I can call him Claude now after all these years – died in January of 2009. That year, I went back to France twice in April and September. I had breakfasts twice at La Coupole, as usual. Was Claude there waiting for me at his own favorite seat? All I can say is that as usual I had a big smile on my face walking in my favorite Parisian brasserie.

Breakfast at Claude's

Frenchie and the Curse of the Buttery Croissant

16 Oct

On a recent trip to Iceland, I overheard a French couple staying at the same hotel complaining about the fact that there was no croissant served at breakfast. The food available for this free breakfast, since it was included with the room, was made up of regular Continental items as well as a variety of local breakfast foods such as herrings, some other pickled fish and veggies, smoked salmon etc. While I am not used to eating herring early in the morning, I jumped on the occasion to try mixing the flavors of fish with a bitter orange jelly toast on the side: when in Rome, eat as the Romans do.

The French couple probably thought they were the only French-speaking tourists in the breakfast room since most of the languages spoken around were Danish, Swedish, Icelandic sounding as well as English. They freely discussed and argued that it was un scandale that there were no bakery items available to eat and that it was absolutely dégoûtant to eat fish for breakfast.

It got me to think about this article I had read from Time Magazine about a recent poll on the World’s worst tourists. Europeans and the French especially love to call out Americans as being the worst tourists: they’re so loud, they’re so uncultured, they’re so demanding etc. But for the third year in a row, the French won the title again for worst tourists! Now how about that?? Not just elected worst tourists… re-elected for the third time. Now that’s a title you don’t want to win over and over again.

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1909526,00.html

http://voyages.liberation.fr/actualite/les-francais-reelus-pires-touristes-au-monde

So what did the French couple do in light of their croissant disappointment? They called the manager in charge and asked why there was no bakery available and if such items could be available the next morning. With a strong Icelandic accent, the poor manager tried to find his most polite English words and clearly explained that this was not something they were accustomed to serve and he pointed out the various toasts and small breakfast rolls. The French couple unable to come to terms with the idea that they would have to wait to land at CDG to smell the deliciousness of buttery croissants huffed and puffed – so French, I loved it… and yes, I do that too! – and said under their breath: “Let’s make sure next time we book a trip in a non-poor country”. Ouch!

Are the French forever cursed by the Ghost of Breakfast Past, Present and Future? Is the Mighty Croissant something we after all cannot live without? Or is it just that we’re so inflexible and so not ready to adapt that we do indeed deserve the Worst Tourist Trophy?

Croissant-Free Zone

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