Day 4 in Texas: San Antonio to Taylor

April 2, 2021 • 8:30 am

Yesterday morning I woke up in San Antonio after a fitful night’s sleep (was it the tacos?), and hightailed it out of town as fast as I could. I had two destinations, each an hour’s drive from the previous one.

My first stop was the renowned Texas Pie Company in Kyle, a small town (ca. 28,000 people) that had at least one notable resident: writer Katherine Anne Porter spent a few years here as a child.

Now it’s the Home of Excellent Pies. Here’s the store; I was waiting out front when it opened so I could get freshly baked pie. Look at that giant slice of cherry pie over the door!

They sell all manner of baked goods, but of course they don’t call it the Texas Donut Company or Texas Lemon Bar company. YOU MUST HAVE PIE. Their pies are rated highly by food mavens Jane and Michael Stern, as well as others. Fortunately, you don’t have to buy a whole pie: they have 4-inch “mini pies” for $5 and the full 8-inch jobs (four times the area) for $18. Here’s the pie case with the mini pies on the top shelf. It was a hard choice:

I was going to buy two mini pies but settled on four. Shown below, they include a strawberry peach pie, a buttermilk pie (an Indiana and Amish favorite), and two pies recommended by the counter woman (who called me “Honey”): pecan and dutch apple. I’ll have one a day for dessert after lunch, as she said they’d last about ten days at room temperature. I’ve already polished off the buttermilk, which was superb, with a thick and flaky crust and the sweet classic (and slightly tangy) filling of this species of pie.

A four-inch diameter pie is just enough to constitute a hefty dessert! (They gave me plastic forks.) Highly recommended if you’re driving between Austin and San Antonio: it’s right off the main highway.

But my prime destination was another hour to the northeast: the Southside Market in Elgin, famed for its sausages (also called “hot guts” in Texas). The population is about 8,000, and it’s in cattle country, so you see a lot of boots and cowboy hats. Check out the many famous movies filmed in this small town.

A cow or horse trailer parked outside. It was from Louisiana, and empty, so maybe they just delivered a load of cattle.

At noon there was a huge line of cars outside picking up orders. Every car that you see is in the BBQ line. The place is famous for its sausage, but the brisket is also well known.

An old smoker outside the door:

Inside, there was already a huge line by 11:30 am (bbq is often eaten early in Texas). Note the social distancing and masks. Despite the absence of a statewide mask mandate in Texas, most stores and restaurants still require you to enter wearing a mask, and everybody I saw was compliant.

This is a fancy menu for a BBQ joint. I got the “Southside Combo Plate,” which had a sliced sausage, three fat pieces of juicy brisket, two pieces of white bread and a picks (a separate counter had jalapenos, sauce, and onions). My sides were beans and potato salad, which turned out to be good choices.

One of the two eating rooms—this is a big place for a barbecue joint!

Two old timers tucking into their lunch.

My plate, described above. I didn’t see the condiment bar with saltines, but wish I had, as I prefer saltines more than white bread with my meat.

This shot of the brisket shows all four essential bits: the charred bit on the outside, the red “smoke ring” of meat below it, the meat, and the fat. Brisket without any fat is dry, good only for those on a diet.

Closeup of the sausage.

My judgment on the Southside Market: the BBQ was very good, but not great, and that includes the sausage. In fact, both the brisket and the sausage were better at Black’s BBQ in Lockhart, and the brisket was better at the City Market than at either Black’s or the Southside Market. The City Market remains my top choice for Texas BBQ, but I have other places to visit, including the famous Louie Mueller tomorrow.

Many hold Mueller’s to be the best barbecued brisket in Texas (ergo the best BBQ in America), but I’ve never been there before. It’s in Taylor, Texas, just 15 minutes from Elgin, and I’m staying there now so I can be at Mueller’s at opening time of 11 a.m.  If you’re a reader in the area (it’s only 30 minutes from Austin), I’ll be glad to meet you at Mueller’s at 11 on the dot today (Friday).

The Southside Market has plenty of sausages to take home, and they were doing a land office business at the meat counter.

Here’s the list of purveyed “hot guts”:

I’ve finished my pie, and it’s time for a little nap. . . .

In a few hours, on to Louie Mueller!

Wednesday: Hili dialogue

December 23, 2020 • 6:30 am

Welcome to Wednesday, December 23, 2020—only two days till Christmas and the beginning of Coynezaa. It’s National Pfeffernüße Day, which refers to a glazed German gingerbread cookie. (I don’t think I’ve ever had one, but they sound good.) And, for you atheists and curmudgeons, it’s Festivus, made famous by Seinfeld. 

In Mousehole (pronounced “Muzzle”), one of my favorite small villages in England, it’s Tom Bawcock’s Eve, the day to eat starrey-gazey pie (with fish heads protruding from the crust). In Oaxaca, Mexico it’s The Night of the Radishes, in which oversized radishes are decoratively carved.

Here’s starrey-gazey pie (yuck!):

. . . and carved radishes from Oaxaca:

Wine of the Day (below): This 19-year-old Rioja threw a sediment and also had a crumbly cork, requiring decanting through cloth. But it was a good thing, as it needed at least an hour of air to tame the tannins and allow the fruit to shine through.  It is this kind of Rioja that I love: gutsy and flavorful, with an aroma of licorice and pepper instead of the Rioja specimens that are light and oaky, with notes of vanilla. I’ve seen it described as having the nose of “meat,” and although I can understand that due to its power, I can’t detect it.

As one website reported:

The Viña Ardanza Reserva has been elaborated by La Rioja Alta since 1942! it is named after one of the founding families. It is only produced in the best years, and  the 2001 vintage was rated “Excellent” by Rioja Control Board.  La Rioja Alta thought so highly of this wine that it called it Reserva Especial, only the third time one of its wines has earned that designation, along with 1964 and 1973.

It was aged 7 years in barrel (3) and bottle (4) before it was even released.  Looks as if it could improve for another few years. I’m looking forward to the other half bottle tonight, wondering if it will have improved over a day:

News of the Day:

The President-Eject has begun pardoning his buddies, his cronies, and other undeserving federal criminals as the end of his term approaches. He’ll save the most odious pardons for the end. As CNN reports:

President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced a wave of lame duck pardons, including two for men who pleaded guilty in Robert Mueller’s investigation, as well as ones for Republican allies who once served in Congress and military contractors involved in a deadly shooting of Iraqi civilians.

The pardons of former campaign aide George Papadopoulos, former US congressmen Duncan Hunter and Chris Collins, and the four Blackwater guards involved in the Iraq massacre kick off what is expected to be a flurry of pardons and commutations in the coming weeks as Trump concludes his term.
After the New York Times podcast “The Caliphate” was found to have relied on unreliable sources, and after it gave back its Peabody Award and had its Lowell Thomas Award revoked, it now suffers more humiliation: the Pulitzer Prize Board took away the podcast’s “finalist” status in the “international” category. The NYT‘s own story is a bit weird, for it first says that ” the board stripped The Times of its finalist status” but then says that the Times offered to return the citation and the Pulitzer board accepted it. Bad reporting about bad reporting!

Well, according to the Guardian, the coronavirus has finally invaded the last virus-free continent: Antarctica. Thirty-six Chileans at their research base on the Antarctic Peninsula have tested positive for the virus and have been evacuated to Punta Arenas, Chile for quarantine. It’s not clear how this happened, though ships provision the base regularly (h/t: Jez)

The big vaccine debate: if you get the coronavirus vaccine, can you still spread the virus? After all, even flu vaccine is only about 40% effective, but it also reduces the symptoms if ou still get it, so you might not know you have it while still passing it on to others. FiveThirtyEight reports, as we have here, that this aspect of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines hasn’t been tested.  (h/t: Jean)

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 323,002, a substantial increase of about 3,300 from yesterday’s figure—roughly 2.3 deaths a minute. The world death toll is 1,726,169, a HUGE increase of about 15,200 from yesterday’s total and the equivalent of about 10.6 deaths per minute.

Stuff that happened on December 23 includes:

  • 1783 – George Washington resigns as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army at the Maryland State House in Annapolis, Maryland.
  • 1815 – The novel Emma by Jane Austen is first published.

A first edition (in three volumes, below) will run you about $32,500:

What is this Act? Wikipedia explains:

The act enabled women to join the professions and professional bodies, to sit on juries and be awarded degrees. It was a government compromise, a replacement for a more radical private members’ bill, the Women’s Emancipation Bill.

This isn’t actually the first successful kidney transplant, but the first successful one between living patients. This procedure was done between identical twins, reducing the chances of an immunity-based rejection. The recipient lived another eight years and Murray (along with E. D. Thomas) won the Nobel Prize for the work.

  • 1968 – The 82 sailors from the USS Pueblo are released after eleven months of internment in North Korea.

The crew was starved and tortured, which I believe is a violation of the Geneva Convention. The Pueblo remains in Pyongyang as an anti-America museum. Here’s a short North Korean tour of the ship:

  • 1970 – The North Tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, New York, New York is topped out at 1,368 feet (417 m), making it the tallest building in the world.
  • 1972 – The 16 survivors of the Andes flight disaster are rescued after 73 days, surviving by cannibalism.

Two of the survivors hiked out seeking help. One of them, Nando Parrado, encountered two men on horseback and wrote this note, which soon summoned a helicopter and rescue:

  • 1986 – Voyager, piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, lands at Edwards Air Force Base in California becoming the first aircraft to fly non-stop around the world without aerial or ground refueling.

The trip took 9 days, 3 minutes and 44 seconds, and is still a record for a single flight. The emptyaircraft weighed less than 1,000 pounds, but carried 7,000 pounds of fuel.  Here’s the plane:

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1745 – John Jay, American jurist and politician, 1st Chief Justice of the United States (d. 1829)
  • 1805 – Joseph Smith, American religious leader, founder of the Latter Day Saint movement (d. 1844)
  • 1908 – Yousuf Karsh, Armenian-Canadian photographer (d. 2002)

Karsh was a great portrait photographer. Winston Churchill, as much of a curmudgeon as Matthew, gave Karsh just two minutes to take his picture. Winnie then lit a cigar. Karsh plucked it from Churchill’s mouth, whereupon the great man scowled—and at that moment Karsh snapped what became his most famous picture:

  • 1929 – Chet Baker, American jazz trumpet player, flugelhorn player, and singer (d. 1988)
  • 1967 – Carla Bruni, Italian-French singer-songwriter and model

Those who “fell asleep” on December 23 include:

  • 1834 – Thomas Robert Malthus, English economist and demographer (b. 1766)
  • 1953 – Lavrentiy Beria, Georgian-Russian general and politician, Russian Minister of Internal Affairs (b. 1899)
  • 2007 – Oscar Peterson, Canadian pianist and composer (b. 1925)
  • 2013 – Mikhail Kalashnikov, Russian general and weapons designer, designed the AK-47 rifle (b. 1919)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili sees Szaron on the windowsill, where she used to sleep and watch the birds:

Hili: Does Szaron know that this used to be my favorite place?
A: Ask him.
Hili: I can’t because I’m ignoring him.
In Polish:
Hili: Czy Szaron wie, że to było moje ulubione miejsce?
Ja: Zapytaj go.
Hili: Nie mogę, bo go ignoruję.

And here’s a lovely picture of Szaron.

Caption: Szaron helps as much as he can.

In Polish: Szaron pomaga jak może.

From Jesus of the Day. I sent this to several of my cat-loving friends:

From Facebook:

From Bruce: Guess the city with this skyline? I won’t provide the answer; I’ll just affirm the first reader who gets it right:

Uh oh. . . . somebody forgot and labeled the genders as “binary”.

Luana noticed this word change, and I retweeted it:

From Simon, who wondered what kind of mimicry this was. I told him it was “Clausian mimicry.”

Tweets from Matthew. These first ones are about the WSJ’s wonky op-ed section, though I hear they’re good on the news itself.

Look at the size of this monster!

I lectured for years on this caterpillar as an example of aposematic (“warning’) coloration, but it never crossed my mind that it could be a tarantula mimic. It even has eight obvious spider “legs”!

I tell you, Lizy Bean is going places. Look at that journal!


What’s for dinner?

November 26, 2020 • 12:45 pm

I’m taking it easy today and am having a long, vigorous walk along Lake Michigan, followed by a shower and then dinner. Turkeys are too big for me (I wonder if those Butterball 20-pounders will go unsold this year), and so I am having a Jewish Thanksgiving: pork roast.

On the side there will be fresh biscuits and local tomatoes. But this modest meal will be washed down with a very fancy wine—the real centerpiece of the meal. It’s a great Rioja, a 2011 Prado Enea Rioja Gran Riserva from Bodegas Muga, which I bought as a three-pack (in a wooden box with a decanter included) for a pretty penny several years ago.  This is the last bottle of the three, and believe me, it’s ethereal. In fact, the food is just a vehicle to get this wine down:

Normally I’d be sharing this bottle with guests, but guests are rarer than hen’s teeth this year and so this puppy is ALL MINE.  I’ll drink half tonight and half tomorrow.

Of course the purpose of this post is to find out what everyone else is eating and drinking, on the holiday.  If you’re not American, though, you’re probably not celebrating.

Paris, day 7: Perfume and and a mediocre meal

March 1, 2020 • 12:00 pm

It’s been raining cats and dogs all day, and so there are many poodles to avoid. This mandated another indoor thing to do, which involved getting a late start and then wandering the Place Madeleine to find the Place Édouard-VII, a small square in the Ninth Arrondissement built in 1913 and named for King Edward VII, the son of Queen Victoria.

Edward was considered the most French of modern English kings, and one tourist site gives this information (probably a translation from the French):

King Edward VII, made himself the artisan of the Entente Cordiale, between France and England. Paris which he appreciated above all the spirit, gastronomy and women, paid homage to him in 1913. The young Paul Landowski wished to register here, far from the style of his Saint Geneviève or the Christ of Corcovado.  In the great tradition of the equestrian statue. The king, guiding his horse calmly, is represented in his role as chief of the armies. He carries, executed with realism, the uniform of Marshal who befits his rank: helmet with panache, coat, jacket probably red barred with a scarf and adorned with decorations, white panties and boots of rider. The choice of this classical iconography also echoes the portraits commissioned by the Sovereign in his own country. It is that it is indeed an official portrait, to express the nobility and the power, in the center of a place strictly authorised.

At the end of the  18C, there were built  18 private hotels in the  rue Caumartin, a few steps from the Boulevard des Capucines, which was then a place of promenade established on ancient fortifications dating back to King Louis XIII. In the 19C, in the purest Haussmann tradition, this boulevard had seen the erection of monumental buildings of five floors. Finally, in 1913, Nénot, the architect of the new Sorbonne and the Palais de la League des Nations in Geneva, had pierced a street in a piecemeal gap in order to carry out an extensive urban and real estate program. A street that was to take the name of Edward VII, in homage to the King of England who had worked so much in the Franco-British rapprochement.

Some photos:

The statue in the square:

The Théâtre Édouard VII, which you can glimpse in the panorama above. The photo below is from Wikipedia, which also notes:

Important figures in the arts, cinema and theatre have performed there, including Orson Welles, Eartha Kitt, and more. Pablo Picasso created props for a play at the Théâtre Edouard VII in 1944.

The Théâtre de l’Athénée. Converted from another building in 1894 and renovated in 1996, it saw debuts of plays by, among others, Oscar Wilde (Salomé), Jean Giraudoux, and Jean Genet.

After a wander round the fancy interior of the Edward VII theater (we weren’t allowed to see the main stage and hall), we tried to visit the nearby Musée du Parfum, or Perfume Museum, run by the Fragonard Company. Unfortunately, it was closed, so we had a look at the perfume store, and I bought a few scented soaps (my one cosmetic vanity).

Perfumes and soaps (the sticks in the last row enable you to smell the scent without putting it on):

I can’t resist selfies in weird mirrors:

A late start, and so it was time for lunch, heading toward the Third Arrondissement from the Opera. On the way, I photographed one of the gilded figures atop the Opera:

The restaurant was an old favorite of mine, the Ambassade d’Auverge, featuring the cooking of that area of south-central France. When I lived here in 1989 and was relatively impecunious, this counted as a fancy restaurant. The food has been consistently good, but there have been high and low periods. Sadly, today’s meal appeared to be at a low period.

The restaurant:

A YouTube video of the restaurant. Here you can see them making the restaurant’s speciality: aligot, a mixture of mashed potatoes and lots of cheese. It is “stretched” for the diner before it’s served, to demonstrate the high titer of cheese in the dish:

The interior. Note the d*g; canids are allowed in restaurants in France. Sometimes they’re even given food by the restaurant.

Pork rillettes to start:


Trio of smoked fish: salmon, trout and cod. This was pronounced mediocre.

Warm lentil salad with bacon. This is always an excellent dish, made with green lentils of Puy and bacon bits, doused with a dressing made from mustard and pork fat.

Les plats:

Parmentier de confit de canard au foie gras. Again, pronounced so-so:

My sausage with aligot. The potatoes were very good but the sausage below par: pre-cooked and barely warmed before serving.

Stretching the potatoes for two tables of diners, including us:

We did not try the cheeses, but here are the four on tap, including a Bleu d’Auvergne, a Cantal, and a Fourme D’Ambert:

The wine, a Saint-Pourçain, had considerable floating sediment, and the carafe of water smelled faintly of fish. Given all this, we pronounced the meal a semi-disaster and decided to skip dessert, heading instead for pastries at Isabelle’s and Aux Merveilleux de Fred.

My pastries. A small kouglof from Isabelle’s:

And a chocolate merveilleux from Fred’s. Both of these were fantastic, especially the merveilleux, which had two meringues sandwiched around a cream filling sitting atop a biscuit, all sprinkled with chocolate and topped with whipped cream. This was incredibly good, and I now know why the Parisian dowager I followed out of the shop the other day started eating hers on the street—something rarely seen in this city.

A cross-section of this pastry from NancyBuzz:

A bad meal made good by desserts.

Paris, day 3: More food, cats, and scenery

February 26, 2020 • 11:30 am

Another day, another 3 hours of walking, followed by a big lunch followed by a food coma (I am again forgoing a nap to write this). The walk revealed lots of goodies, including food, cat-related items, and other interesting accoutrements of Paris.

This morning mandated a visit to La Maison d’Isabelle, a bakery at the intersection of the Rue Monge and Blvd. St. Germaine, where there’s a small group of gourmet stores. Isabelle’s became famous because, as you can see from the sign beow, it was awarded the first prize in 2018 for the best croissant in Paris and the Ile de France region, where competition is stiff. Paris Unlocked tells you more:

One of the great annual rituals of Parisian culture is the awarding of top prizes to local bakers and pastry chefs, who work hard year-round to snag top billing for their baguettes, pastries, viennoiseries and other creations.

The competition for the all-butter croissant, or croissant au beurre, can be particularly fierce. Why? Well, it’s extraordinarily difficult to achieve the right balance between flakiness, chewiness and melt-in-your-mouth softness embodied by the “ideal” specimen.

Many bakers are automatically disqualified, since only croissants produced using artisanal, hand-made techniques can enter the fray– and 80% of croissants in France are made using industrial methods and ingredients.

Another strict rule? To get a shot at winning this revered contest, bakers must use a specific, high-quality butter bearing the Charentes-Poitou AOC label.

For those who make the cut, however, the payoff is profound. Earning the right to call oneself meilleur ouvrier (best artisan) in any culinary category not only attracts droves of customers: it puts a permanent feather in your professional cap. It can secure reputation, and a thriving business, for years.

This is not a fancy bakery inside, and croissants are the same price as elsewhere—just one euro—but the products are excellent. And of course they’re proud of their prize!

More from Paris Unlocked:

Made with organic “Gruau” flour and top-quality Charentes-Poitou AOC butter from the Pamplie creamery, the croissants au beurre on display at the bakery are pleasingly golden, with a distinct sheen and visible layers of thin, flaky pastry dough.

Appearance does matter quite a bit: it turns out that a full 60% of the scoring system for the annual butter croissant competition relates to looks: “cuisson” (bake– 20%), “brillance” (sheen–20%) and “forme” (regular, even shape– another 20%). The croissants sold here clearly meet the mark on all three counts.

Now these are croissants! Look at that beautiful color!

They’re even prettier under natural light:

In the excitement of actually getting one (there was a line, but it was short), the first croissant fell out of its twisted-up piece of paper and landed on the pavement. So it got thrown away, a pigeon got the crumbs, and it was back in line for another.

A lucky bird!

I just had a nibble as lunch was only three hours away, but it was fully as good as it looked, with lovely, butterly layers and a slight crispiness on the outside.

Next door was the fromagerie (cheese shop) Laurent Dubois (there were a few photos of it yesterday), as described in Paris by Mouth:

Laurent Dubois is a Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF), the highest designation for a cheesemonger and affineur in France. Especially strong in their selection of aged Comté, brebis from the Pyrenées, and small production chèvres. In the caves below the shop, Dubois ages a few cheeses well past the point where other affineurs (and the AOC system) are willing to go – a Sainte-Maure de Tourraine at 100 days, for example, and an extra old Fourme d’Ambert. In-house creations like Roquefort layered with quince paste and Camembert stuffed with marscapone and apples macerated in Calvados make for the perfect dessert.

I was taken by the “layered” cheeses and photographed several (I didn’t buy any). First, an old Gouda with pistachios and other inclusions:

And a “Pomm’Calva”, which must be the “Camembert stuffed with marscapone and apples macerated in Calvados.” Yum!

Marzipan pigs in a nearby bakery:

Baba au rhum cakes with the rum ready to be squeezed inside at your volition. (Presumably you don’t want your cake to be soaked with rum until you’re ready to eat it.)

A nearby pharmacy had an unusual door handle:

And the pet-food store a few doors down had a chat et rat. Here I’m reflected twice:

As I said, you see all kinds of things walking around, and the shops are often full of interesting items—like this greeting card with cut-out black cats:

The Place Monge Market takes place on Wednesdays and Fridays, and has been going since 1921. All markets are worth a visit, and also help work up an appetite.  This medium-sized one still has dozens of stalls, each specializing in one genre of food (fruits, veggies, cheese, olives, and so on).

Fingerling potatoes (with a finger for scale).

Blood oranges (my favorite orange):


I’m not sure what species of mushroom this is, but these reminded me of nudes:

Beautiful carrots in various hues:

I’d never seen purple cauliflower before:

A honey stall:

Homemade jams:

Fresh fish (I don’t know the species):

And the flounder, whose eyes move from one side of the body to the other as it develops and then lies on one side. You can see the asymmetry, as there’s just one gill opening and one pectoral fin on this side.

A gaggle of sausages:

My dining companion, Monsieur Ours:

The Grand Mosque of Paris, built between 1922 and 1926.  This is just the tower; there are also several buildings, including a big hall of worship, and gardens on the inside. I didn’t want to pay to see the place, so I took one picture from the interior: the clock giving the five times of worship:

Oysters in the Rue Mouffetard market:

A beautiful Art Deco cat lamp from 1924 in a store specializing in Art Deco items. I wanted it badly, but it was 400 Euros, ran on 220 volts, and it would have been hard to carry home. Isn’t it lovely?

And cat pillows in a store nearby:

Lunch was at another favorite of mine (tomorrow’s a place I’ve never been): Josephine Chez Dumonet, a classic old bistro that is pricier than most but has impeccable food, well worth the extra money.

The interior:

On the wall, as in one of my erstwhile favorite restaurants that went downhill (L’Ami Jean), is a drawing of a cat by “Philippe Geluck” (born Paul Schlesser), famous for drawing the comic strip Le Chat, one of the most popular strips in France and Belgium.  There are 23 volumes of Le Chat strips. Apparently Geluck leaves a drawing of Le Chat behind when he dines out.

The amuse-bouche: A shot glass of cream of lentil soup with crispy pork bits and balsamic vinegar.

Appetizers: House cured salmon with crème frâiche and toasted bread on the side. It was sooo good:

And morels in wine-reduction sauce stuffed with foie gras and another meat. Even better!

Les plats. Gigot (leg of lamb) carved at the table and served with gravy and white beans.

And the house’s famous boeuf bourguignon, in a thick wine-y sauce with vegetables, mushrooms, and tender, fall-apart chunks of beef, served over house-made noodles.  This is a half-portion (Josephine’s is one of the few places that lets you order half portions of their main dishes. Without that option, we’d be unable to roll out of the restaurant!)

Dessert, a monster millefeuille, not too sweet but very crispy with a buttery, almost baklava-like crust. It was meant for one, but was enough for two.

I have roused from my food coma, and will take a walk now instead of a nap.

Two more lunches in Paris

November 12, 2018 • 10:45 am

A quick post with two more lunches in Paris (one more to go today, at my old favorite Chez Denise, and I’ll report later on that and our lunch in Chartres).

The unanimously voted Best Lunch of the Trip was at the venerable old bistro Josephine Chez Dumonet near the Tour de Montparnasse.

The outside:

The inside (from both ends). A happy boy about to eat:

An amuse-bouche: a glass of cream of cauliflower soup to sip with the good bread:

Appetizers: foie gras (a half portion) and smoked salmon (a half portion, and fantastic). Due to my having sent a bottle of wine back because it was corked, the appetizers were half eaten before I remembered to photograph them. One good thing about Josephine’s is that both entrées and plats come in half portions, and believe me, you don’t want more than that!

The house special is bouef bourguignon, an intensely rich beef stew cooked with wine and vegetables. It’s served with house-made noodles, over which you slop the beef and sauce. This is a half-portion, and believe me, it’s enough!

So rich!

One dessert must be had: the soufflé Grand Marnier, with a side glass of the liqueur to pour onto the hot souffle:

They were nice to us there (perhaps because of the bad wine, which they exchanged), and after the soufflé, they put the whole bottle of Grand Marnier on the table so we could have an aperitif. It’s imperative to scrape every bit of the souffle out of the bowl, especially the crispy bits on the edge:

Coffee is a big deal there, as it comes with all kinds of treats. This is just one coffee (note the house-made madeleines):

A view of the kitchen (yes, we were put in the “foreigners” section behind the partition, a bad habit of the restaurant. But I’m not complaining, as they treated us very well and the food was fantastic.

Saturday lunch was at Ambassade Auvergne, specializing in the hearty food of this region in south-central France. It’s on an unprepossessing street near the Centre Pompidou near Les Halles. I ate there fairly regularly during my first sabbatical nearly 30 years ago, and was curious to see how it had held up. Very well, it turned out.

The inside, though, is warm and inviting. Although the place is frequented by tourists in spring and summer, we were the only non-French diners in the restaurant. In fact, during all of our dining in this off-season, we found only a single American in a restaurant, and he was a frequent visitor to the city and had lived here as a wine writer.

Amuse-bouche: rillettes and good bread:

Entrées: The local salad with green lentils, ham, and a lovely mustardy dressing. This is a house special, and it’s terrific.

And a big plate of delicious house-cured ham:

The aligot (mashed potatoes with copious lashings of melted cheese) is famous here, and I had mine with a local sausage. The waiter demonstrates the big titer of cheese in the aligot by stretching it at the table. Here’s a video:

And my plat:

Another plat, the daily special. Roasted guinea fowl with mashed potatoes mixed with diced morels (mushrooms). It was juicy and really good, and the potatoes otherworldly:

Dessert was chocolate souffle dished out from a huge crock, served with some Auvergne-style cake. I could barely get down the last bite, as I was really full (the ham entrée was huge). Yes, I know it looks like dog poo, but it was rich, creamy, and dark:

I photographed the local cheeses, which I didn’t try, on the way out. When I last ate here in 1989-1990, I was able to get down a cheese course before having two portions of mousse. Ah, to be young and hungry again!

Lagniappe: Femme avec ours

Two meals in Paris

November 9, 2018 • 9:30 am

Wednesday lunch was at a rare venue for me: a Moroccan restaurant. Le Sirocco, near the Gobelins Métro stop, was highly rated, but I haven’t been to a non-French restaurant in Paris since 1990. Feeling a jones for tagine and perhaps a break from heavy French food, this was the place to go. It turned out, of course, that the food wasn’t that light, but it was excellent.

The outside:

The cozy interior:

At the end of a three-hour lunch, the place—full shortly before I took this photo—was almost empty. But most of the diners, who appeared to be French businessmen, has spent at least two hours there. I don’t know how people can go back to work after a lengthy and copious repast!

Entrées: A Moroccan salad and a chicken bastilla, described asMorocco’s famous chicken pie. A light, crispy warqa pastry shell conceals savory saffron chicken, spicy omelet stuffing and a crunchy topping of fried almonds sweetened with orange flower water. A garnish of powdered sugar and cinnamon adds to the fabulous blend of flavors.”

This “entrée” (in France an “entrée is an appetizer, not a main course, which here are called “plats”) was substantial enough to be a plat:

Lamb couscous (the two big pieces of lamb on the bone arrived separately):

Lamb tagine with almonds and prunes (the two white hemispheres are halves of a boiled egg). All was washed down with a bottle of Moroccan red wine

This is a good place, but service was slow as there was only one guy to take care of at least a dozen tables. Dessert was skipped in favor of excellent mint tea—a great digestif.

Lunch yesterday was at one of my perennial favorites: a superb restaurant which, at least at lunch, seems to get little business. Yet it’s one of the best reasonably-prices bistros in Paris, and the food is terrific and copious.

It’s the Auberge Pyrénées Cévennes, near the Place Republique, and I’d advise you to go there if you’re lucky enough to be in Paris. If you’re really hungry, get the cassoulet, but I bet you can’t finish it, no matter how hungry you are. This time I gave it a pass, much as I wanted to have it; but I also didn’t want to go into a food coma. A food coma ensued anyway.

The outside, on a drab and unpromising street, gives little hint of the gastronomic treasures within:

Entrées: A plate of charcuterie (the paté with pistachios, and the dried and undried hams, were particularly good), and a “light” Caesar salad with chicken and shaved cheese:

Main courses: A classic French dish (as seen in Anthony Bourdain’s trip to Chez Denise), blanquette de veau (veal stew), and pour moi the magret de canard, served with a side of whipped squash and potatoes. All of this was washed down with a pot (60 cl) of Beaujolais, the traditional small bottle served in Lyonnaise bouchons (bistros). This restaurant specializes in the cuisine of Lyon.

En dessert: chocolat pots de creme: very thick chocolate mousse/pudding, and Tarte Tatin (a tarte with caramelized apples), both served with a huge side dish of crème fraîche:

This all induced a serious food coma and a two-hour nap.

Paris lunch, day 2

November 7, 2018 • 11:30 am

While I arrived here Saturday afternoon, the full-scale lunching didn’t begin until I recovered on Monday. The plan, which I’ve worked out over the years, is to have walking/sightseeing activities in the morning, a big slap-up lunch at 12:30 or so, and then either a nap or light afternoon activities. There’s only coffee for breakfast and no dinner; ergo, I can eat a lot but not gain weight. The walking also helps: yesterday there must have been four hours on the hoof.

For lunch yesterday I returned to one of the first places I ate in Paris—when I moved here in the fall of 1989 for a six-month sabbatical. I lived in a tiny garret apartment on the Rue Jacob in the 6th Arrondissement: the literary area of the Left Bank.

Although I worked way out in the suburbs, nothing was going to stop me from living in the center of Paris. Every day I commuted an hour each way to the CNRS evolutionary biology labs in the suburb of Gif-sur-Yvette; but I didn’t mind the long commute (the only time in my life I haven’t walked or biked to work) because I was living in Paris!

The food here is, of course, a revelation to nearly all Americans, and as I learned about the restaurant culture and how to eat, I worked my way up from cheap student dives to fancier bistros and restaurants (I conserved funds by having a quotidian dinner at home of salad, a baguette, and France’s fantastic cheese). But our go-to restaurant in the neighborhood was La Lozère, a humble but wonderful bistro specializing in the hearty food of the Lozére, a department in southern France.

I hadn’t eaten there since I left Paris in the summer of 1990, but looked it up to discover it wasn’t only still going, but also had really good reviews. And so to lunch again—28 years later. But first, a brisk three-hour walk through the Marais, an old and colorful area of town.

One of the few medieval half-timbered buildings left in Paris:

Below is the Agoudas Hakehilos synagogue in the Marais, the only Art Nouveau synagogue I know of. Completed in 1914, it was designed and built by Hector Guimard, who also designed the fabulous Art Nouveau Metro signs that you can still see in Paris (e.g., here). The Germans dynamited it and six other synagogues in 1941, but it was restored.

Security at the synagogue is very high, as I learned when I watched someone with an appointment try to get in (sadly, there was no chance of me going inside, though I’d love to see the interior). This is, of course, because of the terrorist attacks on Jews in Paris.

A 17th century carving of a winemaker on a building across the Seine, just one of the many  uncelebrated sculptures you can see if you keep your eyes peeled while walking around the city.

Some of the shops have retained their old and colorful business signs. This store once sold cooked vegetables, but now purveys confectionary from Provence. The Parisians are rightfully proud of their history.

Crossing from the Marais to the Left Bank and the Quai de la Tournelle, you get a great view of Notre Dame, with all the buttresses flying:

Here is La Lozère, exactly as it was three decades ago. It’s near the Place St. Michel: one of the few decent bistros in the area. (Allard is also near, but pricier, and I’ve not eaten there.) And, I found, it’s still very good.

The cozy interior. I reserved for noon, half an hour earlier than usual, and by 12:30 the place was full of diners who had reservations. Lots of others without reservations tried to get in, but were turned away. And everyone inside (except two of us) were French. Wine at lunch is de rigueur, though I don’t know how French workers can be productive after a bibulous lunch.

Appetizers: Charcuterie from the Lozére and foie gras sauteed with pears (note: anyone wishing to comment adversely on my choice of food should immediately leave this site). The wine is an inexpensive specimen from the region, a Côtes du Roussillon. (I never drink fancy or pricey wines in Paris.)

One difference from when I ate here in 1989-1990: back then, the charcuterie was a huge basket of whole sausages and a knife; you’d cut your own portions—as much as you wanted. But you still get cornichons (small gherkins) and butter to go with the excellent bread (which you do cut yourself from a big half loaf).

Lamb chops. The only misstep in the meal was that they were overcooked: they should be pink in the middle. Shredded squash and potatoes are on the side.

Duck breast (god help me). This was properly cooked: rosé, as a good magret de canard should be. But I am doubly damned, for this was not only duck, but it was cooked with HONEY. Honey! Potatoes and squash are on the side here, too:

The desserts were superb: a flaky apple tart with puff pastry, whipped cream, and dark honey, and a fantastic chestnut cake with a chocolate center and vanilla cream on the side. It’s chestnut season, and today I bought myself a special treat: marrons glacés, or candied chesnuts, which I adore.

I’d never had chestnut cake before, nor do I know how it’s made, but it was wonderful, with a heavy flavor of chestnut that melded perfectly with the coeur chocolat.

Last night’s feed

June 27, 2017 • 12:30 pm

(Trigger warning: MEAT)

My old friend Ivan from Berkeley came to Chicago for a meeting yesterday, and I offered to take him to a Chicago steak restaurant (he took me to many great places when I visited him two years ago during the Great Cross-Country Trip). My first choice, which was a BYOB (I prefer to bring a really good bottle and pay corkage than buy from an always-overpriced wine list), was full, so we went to a place I’ve been before: the Chicago Cut Steakhouse.

The restaurant is on the north side of the Chicago River, and is right along that river, so you can have your meat outside with a great view of the water and the center city. Walking from the train station to the restaurant, and over the LaSalle Street Bridge, you get a great view of Chicago and its splendid architecture:

Ivan cabbed in from O’Hare, and I met him at the place. Here he is:

And here he is in 1972 when we first met—as graduate students at Rockefeller University. This is my group of pals among the first-years.  I’m in the center and he’s on the right holding the guitar. 45 years have done a job on both of us. But we’re still here—and scarfing down steaks!

The appetizers: foie gras on buttered brioche toast for me, a salad (iceberg wedge salad, bacon lardon, and Maytag Bleu Cheese) for Ivan. This is not a place for vegetarians, though they do have, I’m told, good seafood:

Our steaks: we each had a big 35-day, dry-aged ribeye. Mine was rare, Ivan’s medium rare. This one’s MINE!:

The side dishes with the steak, which we shared, were sauteed mushrooms and truffled scalloped potatoes with cheese. The wine was a 2013 Guigal Gigondas, and was fine.

The sunset on the walk back to the train (taken with an iPhone). Chicago can be a lovely town when you’re enjoying its architecture with a belly full o’ beef:

Travels: Around Glenorchy

March 18, 2017 • 8:30 am

Today (yesterday when you read this, though remember that if you’re in the US or UK, it’s tomorrow already!), we toured the environs of the small (population 300) town of Glenorchy, about 45 km north of Queenstown. Our first stop was the beginning of the Routeburn Track, a very famous 32-km (usually 3 day) hike through the southern Alps. Kevin and I (see Kevin’s previous two photo contributions here) just did the first hour up the track, as we were doing a general tour of the area.

It rained during the night, and was still very overcast at dawn, but later the clouds broke up completely and now (4 pm) it’s completely sunny and clear.  This is the view from Kevin’s deck at dawn.

The same view just now, at 4:30 pm. I’m told the weather is extremely changeable here.

The beginning of the Glenorchy end of the Routeburn Track:

There’s a small exhibit showing the birdlife of the park at the entrance; many of the endemic birds are endangered—often by introduced Australian possums and by stoats. They poison and trap the predators to protect the birds, but many are declining or on the edge of extinction, including the Mohua or yellowhead (Mohoua ochrocephala) shown on the poster:

It’s mossy and wet for the first part of the track, even now in the dry season. No wonder this area was used in the film “Lord of the Rings”:

Then a dear little gray bird with a black beak and feet hopped onto the trail in front of us. It turned out this was a bird famed for its inquisitiveness and fearlessness: the South Island Robin (Petroica australis). There are two subspecies, one on the South Island and one on Stewart Island, 30 km south of the South Island. As I photographed it, it moved closer and closer:

Then it hopped on my shoe and began pecking at my shoelaces! It was so light that I couldn’t feel it land on my foot, but the pecks were gentle and perceptible. My guess is that it mistook them for either a worm or nesting material.

Then it hopped on Kevin’s foot and tried to steal his shoelace! What an adorable little creature it was.

Kevin, my genial host:

We saw another bird in a tree at the track entrance. I don’t know what species it was, but I’m sure a reader will identify it below:

Dew in the grass:

New Zealand is of course full of sheep, but seems almost as full of cows. The dairy industry in this area is famous, and produces good ice cream. Here’s a big bull that got out of the field and was lying by the road. Intrepid as ever, I approached him to take his photo:

Meanwhile, a cow urinated in the field nearby. Notice how daintily she lifts her tail to avoid soaking herself:

Although there doesn’t seem to be a problem with biting mosquitos in New Zealand, the replacement in that niche is sandflies. There are 13 species in the genus Austrosimulium, but just two species bite: the New Zealand blackfly (A. australense), and the West Coast blackfly (A. ungulatum). I’m told that in some places they make camping very difficult, and in once place I was bitten many times almost instantly. Below are two bites at the base of my thumb; you can see where the fly just drills a hole in the skin, and quickly! Fortunately, the swelling and itching abate within an hour or so:

There are two named places of note in the area. The first, as one reader pointed out yesterday, is the village of Paradise, which seems to consist of only one house—the residence of the family who owns the adjacent sheep station. You can see it behind me in this photo:

Now I almost share the plight of singer Charlene, who, in one of the world’s worst pop songs, sang these words (among many others):

Oh I’ve been to Nice and the isle of Greece
While I sipped champagne on a yacht
I moved like Harlow in Monte Carlo and showed ’em what I’ve got
I’ve been undressed by kings and I’ve seen some things
That a woman ain’t s’posed to see
I’ve been to Paradise, but I’ve never been to me

Remember that godawful song? (“I’ve been undressed by kings.” Really??) It may in fact be the worst pop song I know of. If you wish, you can hear Charlene’s version, a paean to antifeminism, here. Well, now I’ve been to Paradise, but I’m not sure if I’ve been to Me.

The other place of note is the River Jordan, which most of the year is a small, dry, and rocky creekbed:

Because I wanted to be baptized in the River Jordan, which inconveniently offered no water, I had to pour water over myself while standing in the creek bed (all photos of me are by Kevin):

Now I iz baptized in River Jordan. I can haz Hevin now?

After a long day of walking and touring, Kevin and I repaired to the Glenorchy Cafe for lunch. His repast was a BLT, mine a pork steak sandwich on a cibatta with grilled onions, vegetables, and cheese, served with fries. We both washed down our food with a local brew, Speight’s. The food was superb, especially for a town so small. It’s a highly rated place.

Thus endeth yesterday’s (Saturday in NZ) jaunts. I’m writing this the day before it’s posted; when you read this, I’ll be moving to a backpacker’s hostel in Queenstown (the town is packed out for lodging) and getting ready for Monday’s all-day tour (by boat) of the Milford Sound. Of the 12 hour trip, 10 hours involves getting to the sound and back by bus and only 1.5-2 hours is on the boat. Still, it’s supposed to be one of New Zealand’s most spectacular sites, and has whales, three species of porpoises (porpoi?), and penguins. I’m excited because of its reputation; Wikipedia says this:

Milford Sound / Piopiotahi is a fiord in the south west of New Zealand’s South Island within Fiordland National Park, Piopiotahi (Milford Sound) Marine Reserve, and the Te WahipounamuWorld Heritage site. It has been judged the world’s top travel destination in an international survey (the 2008 Travelers’ Choice Destinations Awards by TripAdvisor) and is acclaimed as New Zealand’s most famous tourist destination. Rudyard Kipling had previously called it the eighth Wonder of the World.

The world’s top travel destination! (I would have thought the Taj Mahal was a contender.) Stay tuned for my report.