Monday, June 13, 2011

Iceland/France/Italy Day 11: Montmartre, Chocolate and Fancy Dinner

May 9, 2011
France Day 11: Montmartre, Chocolate and Fancy Dinner

This morning we got up and took the Subway train to Anvers, my "home" station when I was last in Paris with my buddy Ans! The plan was to spend a great day in Montmartre, and we certainly did! We started with the classic dodging-of-the-bracelet-guys at the bottom of the Sacre-Coeur hill as per advice from the locals and my experience last time in Paris! No worries though, they weren't as pushy as last time which was nice. We walked up the Montmartre hill and up to Sacre-Coeur, where there was a harp player. That was super amazing. It was a nice, clear day for a city view and we really enjoyed it. We looked around inside Sacre-Coeur for a bit and then saw a great Dispatch-style band outside.

From there it was off to the Artist's square, and a quick "Coca" (Coca-Cola) and coffee break near the artist's square but away from the crowds. In fact, this was the same corner as I saw the cat on the motorbike 4 years earlier... I saw some motorbikes parked in the same place and thought, "I wonder if the same cat is here?" Low and behold, there he was. Same exact cat, same exact corner!! He had the same markings as the cat I remember and came right up to us. Then I chased him to get a good photo and took lots of him. That was so cool.

We then spent some time wandering the Artist's square. We noticed some artists seemed to be just sitting there selling other people's work, and that seemed dodgy. So we headed back around to the area were artists were clearly working on their own paintings. Norm was really excited to get something and once looking at the paintings, I saw one I reaaaally liked too. I bought this little bike painting, with a door that looks just like the one on our street which our apartment is hidden behind!

From there we walked further down the Abesses area and had lunch on a bench. We saw the Moulin Rouge, got an apple strudel at a bakery that I remembered well, and spent ages trying to find an open bathroom for a pit stop. Then we arrived at "A L'Etoile d'Or", the famous chocolate shop that Heev recommended to me via the hilarious food blog post by David Lebowitz. His review ( explains the shop well.

To quote David's blog:
The most photographed and revered woman in Paris is Denise Acabo. With her braided pig-tails, necktie, and crisply-pleated kilt, Denise is the sweetest woman in Paris...

...I give myself at least one hour to shop. Minimum. Words fly out of her mouth in rapid-fire French. She’ll often use the tu word, instead of the formal vous, which suggests immediately comradery. Don’t understand a word of French? That’s ok, Just nod. She’ll keep going.

The main reason to visit A l’Etoile d’Or is simply because it’s the only place outside of the original shop in Lyon that sells Bernachon chocolate... Bernachon is one of the handful of chocolate shops in the entire world that makes the chocolate they use from scratch. That’s right, folks. They buy sacks of cacao beans, then roast and grind them into pure, dark bittersweet chocolate. And what chocolate it is!
I took David and my buddy Matt's recommendation to heart and WOW this place was super epic.

I started off explaining in broken French that I had learned about her shop from the blog of "David Lebowitz" and instantly her eyes lit up. "Ahh yes, David Lebowitz!" she said, as she started to point at stuff. "David come here, buy many things. One hour after he leave, this shipment arrive!", she said, and then made running motions - I think she meant that David really liked this particular chocolate and came zooming back after the shipment arrived to buy some more. As David's blog mentioned, she talked in speedy French and I tried to keep up and nodded, attempting to understand. Soon she suggested I try lots of different things and opened up the cabinet and I picked lots of different kinds to try, loading up a tray. I also bought the Bernachon Milk Chocolate "Kalouga" bar by David's recommendation. It was so hilarious to follow Denise as she ran around the store, she wanted me to try lots of different truffles and kept saying "Mmm... Mmm..." haha. SO hilarious. I ended up with several truffles and some Henri LeRoux "C.B.S." (Caramel au Beurre Salé) caramels, and some Passion Mango caramels. Denise was such a character and kept showing us her photo in lots of different Japanese magazines. I'd read that she is essentially a celebrity in Japan. Haha, so awesome.

After the excitement we headed home for a bit to chill out and try all the chocolate. The caramels were INSANE. So smooth and tasty, and you could just tell there was no way you should eat these if you weren't walking all day like we have been in Paris, they must be sooooo full of butter! So tasty though. The Passion Mango caramels were an incredibly smart purchase. We should have bought WAY more, I think we only bought 3 of them. The truffles were insane too. We had a coffee one and a praline one, lots of different choices, and they were all Bernachon brand too which was very awesome. The Kalugua bar was no exception - it was the tastiest caramel I've probably ever had and the combination with the chocolate was life-changingly amazing.

We were then in need of some proper food, so I spent some time on my Yelp app to find a place for dinner. I tracked down a spot called "Boullion Racine", a really cool looking Art Nouveaux "Boullion" restaurant, built in 1906. From Boullion Racine's website:
The beginning of the twentieth century saw the birth of the Bouillon Racine as we currently know it. It was in the atmosphere of Art Nouveau where Parisian workers and then the upper-class city folk first met.

The first Bouillons appeared in 1855 thanks to an astute butcher, Pierre Louis Duval. He proposed a single dish of meat and a bouillon (soup/stock) to the workers of the Halles. In 1900, nearly two hundred and fifty Bouillons could be found in Paris. They became the first popular chain of restaurants.

Some other Bouillons, more "upper-class", offered a reading room or some entertainment.
So that sounded pretty amazing and we decided to go. We had a hilarious waiter who loved our compliments on his restaurant and fish-de-boning skills. The restaurant was right on the edge of the 5th and 6th arrondissements, in St. Germain du Pres, so we got a nice walk to and from the place as well. I got a steak dinner which was excellent and the Onion Soup was good too. We all had fun and the building was really cool and felt oh-so Parisian!

After a nice walk home, we had just enough room left for some more Loquats and Orange-Mango juice with fizzy water. What a great day.

View of Paris from Montmartre
A St Pierre de Montmartre, a store near the Artist's Square in Montmartre...
Notice the same store? This is a photo I took in 2007 when I first visited Montmartre with my buddy Ans. Check out the cat on the bike...
It's the SAME CAT!!! On the same street corner!!! I was wondering if we'd see him and he came right by! Then I took a bunch of photos of him.
Now he's wondering why I keep taking so many photos
Mom and Dad enjoying the sights of Montmartre
Moulin Rouge
Denice Acabo, the famous chocolatier of Paris!!
Dad checking out the chocolate orange peel
Denise picking out some truffles for me to try
Denise explaining to me (in French, of course), how to savour the chocolate, and enjoy the taste with your eyes closed. Hilarious and awesome.
The haul from Denise's store
Bernachon "Kalouga" caramel milk chocolate
Some smaller truffles, Henri Le Roux "C.B.S." (Creme, Beurre, Sale) Caramels, and Mango-Passionfruit Caramels
Mom and Dad out for dinner
Boullion Racine, this awesome Art Nouveaux restaurant, built in 1906
Waiter cutting up our fish
Steak dinner
Cool candles
Upstairs at Boullion Racine
Outside the restaurant
Dad having a great time
The bicycle and french door painting I bought in the Artist's Square in Montmartre

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