Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Day Twenty-Six: Le Tonka, La Grande Epicerie

Egads! Hubby was a bit late getting home from work tonight, leaving open only La Grande Epicerie. While typically their patisseries are not our favorite, this gives me an excuse to wax poetic about the gastronomic epicentre that is our neighborhood grocery store. I ran the block and a half over to find the patisserie cases still nicely stocked at 8:15 p.m. Torn between the Opera and the Tonka, which looks like a chocolate bombe, I chose the Tonka.

But first, a moment about La Grande Epicerie. Affiliated with (and attached to) the Bon Marche Department Store, it is truly a culinary wonderland, and I shop there at least two or three times a week. From day-to-day essentials like rice, canned goods, dairy products and - hard to find in Paris - flavored coffee, to a gorgeous, partly-bio fruit and vegetable section, to a "traiteur" section including a range of hot and fresh foods in a wide range of ethnic flavors (Chinese, Middle Eastern, Alsatian, Japanese, Indian to name just a few). There's a wine section - always offering tastings - stocked with vintages from every region in France, a huge uber-gourmet section of foie gras, caviar, and smoked fishes; a fully-stocked fromagerie, a boucherie, an amazing charcutier, and a fishmonger who will prepare a variety of fish to your needs. It's the place you're comforted to know is there - just in case you're suddenly charged with hosting cocktails or need to pick up a delicious and gourmet dinner for eight.

And of course there's the patisserie counter. Our beef generally has been with the macarons and chouquettes - both slightly chewy and "not-so-fresh" tasting. Always an optimist when it comes to dessert, my hope is that the Tonka is different. And... it's not bad at all!

The outside chocolate fondant layer is creamy chocolate noir - its richness amplified, I am guessing, by traces of the mysterious Tonka bean (banned in the U.S. for use in food because it contains the anticoagulant coumarin). Inside, a double layer of cream: milk chocolate and vanilla. And holding it all up, a crunchy, buttery crust. Top to bottom, the bombe produces the perfect bite, and a slightly dizzying chocolate euphoria.

If I had to rank the top five things I will miss about Paris, the Grande Epicerie would be one of them. I already dread the first Friday night that I can't send Jeff over to pick up the dinner I didn't have time to make, the first Valentine's Day that I can't buy him those perfect fruit jellies he loves, the absence of 50 different kinds of yogurt and fromage blanc. Ain't life grande...

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