Sunday, February 21, 2010

Day Eleven: Tartelette Caramel, Le Pain Quotidien

After a leisurely meal of raclette, Jeff and I are settling comfortably into our ex-pat bubble, preparing to watch our DVR-ed Meet the Press and This Week, and tuck into today's pastry.

Why, what's raclette, you ask? I'm happy to tell you, as it's one of the most fantastic winter meals a dairy-lover can ask for. Actually invented by the Swiss (sacre bleu!), what most Parisians refer to casually as "raclette" is actually an assortment of charcuterie (meats) and vegetables with a thin layer of melted raclette cheese dripped over it. Raclette restaurants, similar to fondue restuarants (and often one and the same) are popular here, but all the key ingredients are readily available at the neighborhood supermarket. All you need to make this delectable meal at home (and yes, I mean Port Huron, Chicago, Washington, Seattle, and Bath as well as Paris) is a raclette maker. Tefal makes an inexpensive model you can purchase in the U.S. for this fun cold-weather treat. Each person gets his or her own tray (or trays) on which they can arrange a selection of meats and veggies topped by a piece of raclette cheese and then slide under a heat element to melt and meld. I like to serve a salad alongside (mostly to assauge the guilt that follows eating so much melted cheese) as well as champagne or a crisp white wine to balance the richness of the cheese.

Now that we've discussed raclette, we'll move along to our pastry of the day. But before we get to that, I must reveal the most dreaded, the most reviled, the most feared word to any Parisian gastronome. That word is....


That's right, Sunday. Why dimanche? For starters, scarcely anything is open: no grocery stores, few wine stores, few restaurants in which any self-respecting Parisien would want to dine (MAJOR EXCEPTION: Cafe Parisien, in which we had an amazing "American Brunch" today - with a line of about 20 Parisiens going out the door). The single bright spot in this bleak 24 hours is the Raspail Marche Biologique (organic farmer's market) just a block from our doorstep. There we can procure fresh potato pancakes, "English muffins" made by an American-sur-Loire and his wife, gorgeous produce, fair trade coffee, amazing meats and fish.

For the large part, patisserie are also closed. There are a few, like Laduree, that are open, but the majority of your neighborhood places are shuttered for the day. Another exception convenient to our end of the Septieme? Le Pain Quotidien. Je sais, you've been to Le Pain Quotidien in Manhattan, Belgium, St. Louis, etc. Parisians probably consider it "chain food." Still, it's a decent bakery and great brunch place also - which also usually has a line throughout Sunday. The highlight at LPQ, as those of us in the know call it, is their line of amazing butters: praline, hazelnut, "blondie"... but I digress. I'm there for two things: a baguette to go with my raclette, and today's pastry. I briefly survey the options and decide on a tartelette caramel (still craving that beurre-sale combo since last night's Riz au Lait).

The word tartlette of course never fails to remind me of the "Friends" episode in which Monica is visited by restauranteur Jon Lovitz. Not knowing he has smoked marijuana before her audition dinner, she prepares a seven-course meal beginning with an amuse bouche, an onion tartelette - and finding the word tartelette hysterical, as any stoned person would, he keeps repeating it over and over.... before diving into a box of Golden Grahams.

I wouldn't let Jon Lovitz near this tartelette - it's light and delicate, perfectly balanced layers of crunchy, buttery pâte brisée, vanilla custard, and salty caramel. Accompanied by a kir (white wine and creme de cassis), it's the perfect end to a lazy, Sunday night dinner.

Bon dimanche, tout le monde!

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