Au revoir l’hiver

My favourite season is winter. Yes, the biting cold winter. It may sound ridiculous but for someone coming from tropical Singapore where the only seasons that we have consist of hot, hotter and hottest, I’ve always loved the advent of winter and the promise of snow. Sadly, winter in Paris has been disappointing thus far as we only had two days of snow. The first time it snowed overnight here, I rushed out to take photos from the little balcony of our apartment whilst Bolly looked at his pyjamas-clad wife and looked less than amused.

I see the first hints of spring – the warmer weather and earlier sunrise. Soon the trees will no longer be bare and the thick winter (and often sombre-coloured) coats will give way to tank tops, short skirts and sandals.  Adios, l’hiver and till we meet again 🙂

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Culture on a shoestring budget in Paris

Over dinner with R. and Bolly, we talked about Diane Arbus’ recent exhibition at Jeu de Paume (which incidentally had been amazing!).  I asked R. if she paid the full price for her tickets and she lamented that I did not tell her about the 2-for-1 tickets i.e. €8.50 for 2 tickets instead of €17.  Following this conversation, I decided to write about some ‘tips’ I’ve gathered about visiting cultural institutions in Paris on a shoestring budget. My philosophy, why pay more than you really need to? (P/S: R., this is for you :))

Timing counts

If you are in Paris on the first Sunday of a month and are willing to brave the crowds,entrance fees to many museums and monuments are free on that day. Here’s a list below (obtained from http://www.parisinfo.com/paris-a-petit-prix/paris-gratuit/la-culture-pour-0-euro/dossier/toute-la-culture-pour-0eur_les-musees-gratuits-le-premier-dimanche-du-mois):

Free entrance first Sunday of every month

Musée du Louvre – 1st arrondisement

Musée national de l’Orangerie – 1st arrondisement

Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature – 3rd arrondisement

Musée national Picasso – 3rd arrondisement

Musée national d’art moderne – Centre Pompidou – 4th arrondisement

Musée national du Moyen Âge – Thermes de Cluny – 5th arrondisement

Musée de l’Assistance Publique – Hôpitaux de Paris – 5th arrondisement

Musée national Eugène Delacroix – 6th arrondisement

Musée national Ernest Hebert – 6th arrondisement

Musée du Quai Branly – 7th arrondisement

Musée d’Orsay – 7th arrondisement

Musée Rodin – 7th arrondisement

Musée Gustave Moreau – 9th arrondisement

Cité nationale de l’histoire de l’immigration – 12th arrondisement

Musée national des Arts asiatiques Guimet – 16th arrondisement

Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine – 16th arrondisement

Musée national Jean-Jacques Henner – 17th arrondisement

Free entrance: First Sunday every month between 1 Nov – 31 March

Conciergerie – 1st arrondisement

Sainte-Chappele – 1st arrondisement

Tours de Notre-Dame – 4th arrondisement 

Panthéon – 5th arrondisement

Arc de Triomphe – 8th arrondisement

1.5hrs wait to enter Grand Palais

Save your ticket

If you’re taking a Eurostar train from London to Paris, hang on to your ticket as Eurostar has a tie-up with 6 museums! Upon showing your ticket at any of the museums/galleries, you’ll get to purchase 2 for 1 tickets to ALL paying exhibitions or permanent collections.  With Musee d’Orsay, Quai Branly Museum, Jeu de Paume and Grand Palais amongst the 6 museums (the other two are  Cité de la musique and Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris), I found this to be quite a good deal (*According to Eurostar’s terms and conditions, the offer is available for up to five days after your arrival in your destination, i.e. in this case, Paris. Ignorance can indeed be bliss as I didn’t know this condition existed when I visited Jeu de Paume about a month after getting back from London. I showed them my ticket and managed to get the deal nonetheless. Oooppssss).

Paris City Hall

No such thing as a free lunch but at the Paris City Hall (otherwise known as the l’Hôtel de Ville), admission is free to its temporary exhibitions. Located along Rue de Rivoli, you can time a spot of shopping followed by a dose of cultural pleasure in the City Hall.  In 2011, the City Hall held an exhibition featuring “Paris at the time of the Impressionists” which had been very well-received. For the moment,  over 300 original drawings from Jean-Jacques Sempé, a famous French cartoonist who had previously also worked for the New York Times, is on display at the City Hall. Check out this link: http://www.paris.fr/english/english/the-drawings-of-sempe-at-the-hotel-de-ville/rub_8118_actu_107168_port_19237

 (*Beware though, French locals enjoy visiting museums especially when admission is free.  Long queues are pretty much the norm for entry to the exhibitions at the City Hall so I guess there’s a price to pay afterall).

L'Hotel de Ville

For the nocturnal souls

As part of a Europe-wide event entitled “European Night of Museums”, Paris’ museums/galaries/monuments (including the famous Louvre, Centre Georges Pompidou, Rodin Museum and Musee d’Orsay) open late into the night  – up to 1am – on one specified day in May. Special events are organised and admission will cost you nothing! In 2011, close to 200 museums and galleries opened their doors to the nocturnal owls.  Somehow I missed the event last year but will definitely head for this year’s event, the Nuit des musées,  on Saturday 19 May 2012.

With all these means of gaining free entry to museums, all I need now is MORE TIME! 🙂

Be ‘ZEN’ in Paris

Zen Restaurant located at 8, rue de l’Echelle of the 1er arrondisement is certainly one of the more authentic Japanese restaurants in Paris.  Zen is located close to rue Sainte-Anne which is ubiquitously known as the Japanese haven in Paris (That being said, while there are many Japanese restaurants along rue Saint-Anne, most of them are over-priced or are actually managed by Chinese/Vietnamese).

When Chee told me that Zen was awarded with ‘bib gourmand’ in the Michelin guide, I decided to give it a go. If you go there for lunch, the menu is a bit shorter and cheaper than during dinner. When Chee and I crave Japanese cuisine, Zen is where we head to.  Sushi, sashimi, ramen, and the list goes on.

In Chee’s opinion, the ramen served in Zen is one of the best in Paris!  What distinguishes Zen’s ramen is the richness of its broth (choice between shoyu – soy sauce and miso styles) and the perfectly cooked chewy texture of the noodles.  In order to savour the noodles like how the Japanese do, we are supposed to pick up the noodles with chopsticks, slurp the noodles while taking a breath in.  As ramen is supposed to be eaten while it’s piping hot (i.e. noodles stay chewy), the combination of slurping and breathing in helps to cool the noodles. If you get the chance to sit beside a group of Japanese in the restaurant, do not be surprised by the loud slurping next to you. We once sat next to 4 Japanese ladies that had no qualms about slurping their noodles and made quite a bit of noise doing so.

Lunch menus vary from 10€ for a bowl of ramen accompanied with gyoza or Japanese curry served with rice or 25€ for a complete meal served with 2 small appetizers, a plate of sashimi (5-6 pieces), miso soup, a main dish from a list of 5 items (e.g. Karaage – Japanese fried chicken,  Tonkatsu – deep fried pork cutlet) and a scoop of ice-cream in typically Japanese flavours of green tea, black or white sesame.

We were at Zen for dinner this time round and there was a wide selection of ‘à la carte’ items or different set menus.

Chee chose the Tanpopo combo: miso ramen accompanied by Tonkatsu (or gyozas).

Craving sushis, I ordered a plate of mixed sushi as well as black cod with miso. A small appetizer and miso soup was served along with the mix sushi.

From the photo, you can see how fresh the sushi was and it was oh so yummy!

As a side dish: Aubergine with miso was served with 2 types of miso, Akamiso (赤みそ)or ‘red’ miso and Shiromiso (白みそ)or ‘white’ miso.

We have been back to Zen several times and have yet to be disappointed.  Zen has become our Japanese canteen 🙂 (*Do save space for dessert. We stuffed ourselves this time round on the savoury items and had absolutely no space for dessert).

Tip: For lunch time, they only take reservations from 12 to 12.30pm.  After that window, tables are on a first-come, first-served basis and it gets crowded.

Da Fiore: Carnivalian lunch in Venice!

Off we headed to Venice for Canival earlier this month. Chee was definitely excited about heading to Venice to soak in the atmosphere and people-watch as fellow revellers don elaborate costumes along with their Venetian masks. I was actually more keen on where/what to eat since Italian gastronomy is one of my favorite!

From the recommendation of my friend, I made a reservation at restaurant ‘Da Fiore’ for lunch (http://www.dafiore.net/en/index.html)

Once there, warmly welcomed, the waiter brought us to our table which was just in front of the small terrace on the canal.  The restaurant’s decor was modern and the table set-up was elegant. For lunch, the restaurant proposes either the ‘à la carte’ menu or 4 different set-lunch menus at 50 €uros. We decided on taking two different set-lunch menus.

Before starting our lunch, we received a mise en bouche (a small appetizer) that was a fishball with sabayon (* a frothy unsweetened sauce that’s usually made with champagne and is used to dress fish or shellfish)

Chee’s lunch: *Tagliolini gratinati con scampi e radicchio rosso di Chioggia (Gratin of tagliolini with chicory and shrimps)

* Calamari arrostiti in graticola ripieni di radicchio di Treviso, noci e pistacchi (Calamari baked with red chicory, walnuts and pistachios)

* Arance alla Sorrentina (Spiced caramelized oranges)

The gratin may not look so appetising but it was actually very tasty and satisfying!

My lunch:  * Baccalà mantecato servito con bruschetta profumata all’aglio (Whipped venetian codfish)

* Tagliata di tonno al rosmarino (Seared tuna slices with rosemary)

* Semifreddo di tiramisù (Tiramisu parfait)

The perfectly-sliced and seared tuna was divine and the tiramisu parfait was by far the best tiramisu I had during this trip.

 

Although we did not order coffee, we were served Italian biscuits to end off the meal.

 

 

 

By the way, the costume “party” goes on even in the restaurants as many of them head to restaurants with their costumes. Check out this Russian couple.

We were very happy with our lunch and we will certainly come back on our next trip to Venice. Thank you ‘Da Fiore’.

Le Troquet in Paris 15th arrondissement

What’s a ‘Troquet’ ?  Troquet is a familiar name for a small bar serving drinks and sometimes food, in our case it’s a bistro-style restaurant in the 15th arrondissement of Paris.

We will always remember this place as it was the first restaurant where Chee, my family and I had dinner when we first moved to Paris in 2011. It was also a “lucky find” as we were new to Paris and didn’t know where to have a decent meal.  Thankfully Chee found the place after reading good reviews about ‘le Troquet’.

For a bistro, it’s important to have a good quality for price menu (in french “rapport qualitéprix”).  At ‘le Troquet’, the base menu is 32€ for starter-main-dessert and you can choose from different dishes hand-written on a board.  On another board, you can find more seasonal suggestions which usually comes at extra cost.

One of the interesting (and yummy!) starters is the ‘charcuterie’ from a friend of the owner (Louis Ospital), if you order this starter, you will receive a huge basket of ‘charcuterie’ and you are sure that everybody can try it.

Other starters we tried: Salad of scallops with black truffles (supplement of 12€ which is reasonable for black truffles) and Crostini with dried ham, tomato, pesto and parmiggiano.

For main course: Stingray Grenoble-style (capers, pulp of lemon, croutons and brown butter) with quinoa, Wild ‘Colvert’ duck with ‘grenailles’ potatoes.

Desserts: Cherries marinated in liqueur with yogurt ice-cream & rhubarb pannacotta with ‘madeleine’ biscuit.

As for the wines, they have a good and varied selection and the prices are not too high. The average price for a decent bottle is between 25 and 35 euros.

we’ve now been back to ‘Le Troquet’ 4 times and have always enjoyed the nice reasonably-priced bistro-meal in a friendly atmosphere.

We highly recommend you to book in advance if you want to have dinner there during the week-end. The restaurant usually has two services, one starting around 8pm and one after 10pm. We’ve always had dinner during the first service and they have never chased us away to accommodate the next service (thumbs up for the service!).

Tip: try not to sit at the first table next to the entrance as there are often plenty of people waiting for a table during the second service.