Though I thought I would miss them living here in Paris, I have found burgers all over this city.  Expecting a weird french version of the American classic, le cheeseburger, or simply le cheese,  can be pretty damn good.  Hefty patties of rare, deep-red, french beef, minimal fixings (often just grilled onions and cheese), and a fluffy bun make for a fine burger.  And they're not just for the Americans in town; everyone here seems to love le cheeseburger, and in their own special way.  Danielle and I often marvel at the many consumption methods Parisians employ, almost exclusively with a knife and fork: we've seen people cut dainty bites and dab a little mustard and mayonnaise on each one; we've seen burgers deconstructed entirely and eaten in stages; and my favorite, one man cut his burger into quarters and ate each quarter in one bite, with a fork.  Four bites.  The French may be known for fine, delicate cuisine, but they also know how to simply grub down on a burger.  And, contrary to what many Americans might think, it is totally okay to ask for ketchup.

Here are my top three Paris burgers.  So far, that is.

Le Louvre Ripail, 1 Rue Perrault, 1st
This is the fancy burger, mostly because it costs €20 and it's across the street from the eponymous Louvre museum.  But it also has a magical, meta-beefy flavor, almost as if the thick patty was infused with a beef stock reduction.  The fries were delicious golden-brown, one-inch-tall cubes.  I am curious to try the other things on the menu.

Café Crème, 4 Rue Dupetit-Thouars, 3rd
Situated on a deeply tree-shaded lane, Café Crème offers three burger options.  The Hamburger Buns  is the standard burger on a bun (just one, contrary to the name) with great beef, good cheese, lettuce-tomato-onion, a slice of perfectly chewy, porky poitrine (bacon) and standard thin fries, served on a wood cutting board; next is the Hamburger Muffin, same as above, except with a slightly smaller patty, served on an english muffin; and lastly, the Hamburger Diet, same as the Hamburger Muffin, but served with a pile of sautéed veggies instead of fries, but I think you still get the bacon.  French diet style.  One time we asked for avocado instead of bacon and our waiter recoiled and said "Really? On a boorgoor?"  I explained, "We're from California, we put avocado on everything, it's really good..."  He cut me off as he walked away, "No no no, it's fine,"  and whispered, "I try it tomorrow."

Chez Prosper, 7 Avenue du Trône, 11th
This classic Auvergnat brasserie is always packed, and serves burgers everyday except Saturday, which has always seemed weird to me because if there is any day of the week that is a burger, it's Saturday.  But whatever.  Their cheeseburger auvergnat is simple, french burger perfection: a sizable patty of excellent beef, onions, emmental cheese, served with classic bistro fries, a side salad, and a small ramekin of sauce maison, something akin to a creamy, shallot bearnaise sauce.  They also serve good steaks, big dinner salads, and delicious desserts, my favorite of which is the Nutella Tiramisu, served in a flip-top glass jar.  This is where the guy ate his burger in four bites.  Me, I cut the thing in half and eat it with my hands, dipping each bite in the sauce, which, in French manner, lasts for exactly one burger.

(*Auvergnat means "from Auvergne", which is a mountainous, forested region in central France.  A great majority of the brasseries in Paris were started by people from Auvergne in the mid 19th century.  Many men from there worked as coal porters and their wives would set up inns and restaurants at their houses where people would come to buy coal.  Even today, around three-quarters of the brasseries in Paris are run by auvergnats.)

Hamburger Muffin at Café Crème
But as much le cheeseburger has charmed me, there is still a certain burger spirit that I miss from my homeland.   And it has to do with one word: ranch.  One, there is no ranch dressing here for the onion rings which are also missing.  Two, the burgers are not cooked ranch-style, that is, flame-grilled.  There is something intuitively, undeniably magnificent about fire and food.  And ranch dressing, it's just delicious.  I've had many in many places, but I think I've finally locked in my favorite California burger: Good Ol' Burgers in Paso Robles, CA.  If you're ever driving on the 101 between San Francisco and Santa Barbara, or any towns on either side of this burger, I insist that you schedule a lunch stop here.  It used to be just a shack on an unpopulated road that branches off the 101 toward the 1 and Hearst Castle.  Now, a strip mall has popped up around it, and it has had a makeover that hints at franchise, but don't be deceived.  This is the California ranch-style burger joint at its finest.  There is a small range of burgers, wraps, salads, dogs, etc., but I just go for a Coyote Burger, Wagon Wheels (their onion rings), a side of ranch dressing, and a Pacifico.  Yes, they serve Mexican beer.  If you choose to sit in the back dining room, you'll see a large window, on the other side of which is the grill and behind that the rest of the kitchen.  In my book, it is always a good sign if a restaurant isn't afraid to let you see your food being made.  Click here for all you need to know about Good Ol' Burgers.

Coyote Burger, Wagon Wheels, and a side of Homemade Ranch Dressing at Good Ol' Burgers

Also, I couldn't talk about California burgers without mentioning In-N-Out.  It is the classic drive-thru.  They use all natural ingredients and they've kept the menu the same since the fifties, at least the written one.  If you've been to one, you know about the secret menu.  If you haven't, you should go and find out.  In-N-Out.

And just to balance it out with my three Paris burger recommendations, my third California burger pick is my hometown favorite, The Hamburger Habit of Goleta, Santa Barbara, and Ventura.  Great all around for burgers and other things.  I'm not ashamed to admit that I usually order the Teriyaki Chicken Sandwich and, of course, onion rings.  It's especially good if you are exhausted from surfing and you've had too many burritos in a row.  The Habit.

Posting by Adrian


Local Black Olives from the Farmer's Market & Mariella in Jean-Claude's Walnut Grove meadow 
We went on a road trip to visit various friends in Southern and Southeastern France and discovered magical villages tucked into small corners far from the toll roads. This story features the first stop on our trip, Caunes-Minervois, about 20 minutes from Carcassonne and at the foot of the La Montagne Noire (The Black Mountains). Our friend Imelda's father lives here. Imelda, her partner Francesca, and their new baby,  spend as much time down here as they can. We were lucky enough to be invited to join them for some Summer sun and Bastille Day festivities ( more commonly known as Le Quatorze Juillet in France). There is a strong Spanish influence in this region, which is why it seemed too perfect to experience Francesca's Paella on our first day in the village. We stopped by the farmer's market and found some delicious home cured olives and a big basket of strawberries and walked over to find them in their back yard (a former Monk's garden). Jean-Claude lives directly behind a beautiful 8th century Abbey.

 Francesca's Sangria & The Table in Jean-Claude's Garden under a Wysteria and Mulberry Canopy

Californian-Spanish friend, graphic designer and inspired cook, Francesca, prepared a delicious Sangria before the Paella prep began. With lots of fresh oranges and tart green apples, I couldn't imagine a better afternoon drink on a super-hot Summer day in Southern France. We stepped into the kitchen and immediately jumped into the Paella assembly line. 

Toasted Saffron freshly ground in a Mortar and Pestle
First she toasted some saffron and ground it using her mortar and pestle. She added the saffron to a simmering broth later to be used for the Paella rice to give it that distinct earthy flavor and warm yellow color.

The outdoor Paella Kitchen & Francesca cooking the diced onions, minutes before the rice gets added

We all helped chop and prep while Francesca got her ingredients lined up on the garden cooking table. I like when everyone has a hand in the meal, because the atmosphere feels instantly family style. The ingredients: extra virgin olive oil, diced white onions, chopped tomatoes, green beans, green olives with pimentos, saffron broth, short round Paella rice, squid, shrimp, clams, mussels, and sliced roasted red peppers.

Toasting the Rice with Olive Oil and sautéed Onions

 Saffron Broth going into the Rice Mixture & Green Beans being added after the Broth

After sautéeing the onions for a bit, she added the rice  and some chopped tomatoes. Once mixed together, she added the Saffron broth and the green beans. This is the stage where you employ the secret perfect Paella trick: don't stir the rice. After the rice mixture cooked for a tiny spell,  she added the chopped green olives ( stuffed with red pimento) and began the seafood layering process.

Clams waiting their turn
Shellfish laid out in a circular motif. First the Clams, then the Mussels.
 Shrimp and Red Peppers added after the Mussels. This is the moment before the last step, the Squid

The finished Paella, with perfectly steamed Squid added at the very last moment & Lovely Imelda plating it up
Á Table
This was the first time I've eaten such a delicious Paella. The seafood was added in such careful order, so that every bite was perfectly cooked. YUM.
Local Cheeses from the Laungedoc Region, including the pretty wheel of Cathare raw-milk cheese

Imelda's Apricot Tart

We ended the meal with a sampling of some local cheeses and a homemade apricot tart, baked by Imelda. She made a perfect buttery crust and added only a pinch of sugar in order to allow the apricot's lively tartness to come through. Thank you, Merci, Gracias to the Picherits and Bautistas!

 Sunflower fields tucked in-between vineyards outside of Carcassonne

Caunes-Minervois celebrates Bastille Day one day early. They do this because the neighboring city of Carcassonne has the largest fireworks show outside of Paris. To avoid the competition, they have a beautiful tradition take place on the 13th, in front of the Mairie (and outside our hotel, Hôtel d'Alibert). All children are invited to carry a colorful paper lantern, handed out in the town square, and then walk with the procession to a field where the firework show awaits.  This tradition has been in place for many years, and the entire town comes alive with music and dancing, all in the glow of the flickering candle lit lanterns amidst the old village buildings and narrow streets. Magical.

The Children of Caunes-Minervois with their Paper Lanterns

We spent the afternoon of the 14th in Carcassonne before the madness began, and got lost in the surrounding vine covered hills. We caught a glimpse of the entire fortified old town from there and it was like a fairy tale vision come to life.

Cité of Carcassonne
Horse led Wagons walking along the Ramparts of Cité

On our last night, we had our friends over for dinner at the Hôtel d'Alibert. Our hotelier, Fréderic, was a jovial character to say the least. He made us laugh and took good care of us. The hotel is well known for their local cuisine. They serve hearty regional dishes like Cassoulet and Daube (red wine stewed beef). We loved staying here and had a fantastic farewell dinner.
Our bedroom window at Hôtel d'Alibert
Hotel d'Alibert's inner Courtyard and Restaurant Terrace
Our Breakfast Table in the Courtyard

Foie Gras Créme Brulée at Restaurant d'Alibert. Insane.
One of the days found us up in the marble quarries in the hills of Caunes-Minervois. It was one of the most striking places we have ever seen. Rose colored thick slabs of marble that created an amphitheater like space. I could take photos here all day. The rosey marble of this quarry was made famous by it's use in palaces like Versailles. It was a favorite of Marie-Antoinette.

Rose Marble Quarries of Caunes-Minervois

Another Guest's Summer Kit



Adrian and I went down to San Sebastian, on the north coast of Spain, last month. It's still fresh in my mind so I thought I would post a few highlights. First of all, this place is an ideal town in a lot of ways. It's small, so you can get around by foot to all that's worth checking out. The Parte Vieja (old town) is where most of the pintxo (Basque tapas) cafes and bars are, and is the part of town right in between the two beaches. The Playa Concha is the more serene beach (no surf, great swimming and lounging) with hotels that look out onto the  mellow, pristine beach. The other beach in town, La Zurriola, is where all the surf shops are and where there is a beach break. Adrian rented a board from Pukas Surf, directly facing La Zurriola.  The neighborhood adjacent to La Zurriola is called Gros, where there are also a few popular Tapas bars and cafés.  It's all very close and pleasant to walk through.  We really liked how many cultural events were going on despite the town's small size. It reminded us of our hometown, Santa Barbara. Also, Don't forget to take the footpath up to the top of the hill (the hill between the two beached) and take in the view.

Playa Concha, San Sebastian
Our favorite pinxto bars in the old town: 

La Cuchara de San Telmo (Calle 31 de Agosto, 28) The chef designed the menu to have miniature complete dishes rather than the more traditional tapa. Now most of the bars in the old town serve haute-cuisine in miniature form, following La Cuchara's step into this direction. Some of the specialties at La Cuchara were seared foie gras  (tasted carmelized) with an apple compote, braised beef cheeks, Skate with local mushrooms, Gazpacho,  Queso de Cabra (local goat's cheese) baked  and served with fresh greens on top, Txipiron Relleno (stuffed squid) and lots of other small dishes that change daily on the chalk board behind the tiny bar. The attitude is friendly and excited to serve the constantly revolving clientele of the Txikiteo (pintxo bar hop). The Basque hang out in each bar for 20 minutes;  they enjoy one or two pintxos, a Zurito (beer) or the local white wine.  Txakoli is a tangy, slightly sparkling, local white typically poured with finesse from high above the glass to maximize the fuzz. All these dishes are generally priced at around 3.50 - 7.50 euros.  This is really the brilliance of this kind of dining in San Sebastian: you can try a few Michelin-esque dishes and move on to the next bar for another mind-blowing food experience.
Phone pics of the bartender at Cuchara pouring Basque Cider and the seared Foie Gras with Apple Compote

We also loved Ganbara (C/ San Jerónimo, 21) for their wild mushrooms. They have a beautiful display of their tapas crowded on the bar, featuring piles and piles of local Cepe (Porcini) mushrooms. We ordered a serving of their mushrooms which were perfection.

 Cepes and other local wild mushrooms at Ganbara

Phone pic of Angulas, Basque baby eels at Gandarias
A local favorite, and one of ours, is Gandarias Taberna (C/ 31 de Agosto, 23). Here you should order off the little bar menu, or sit down and eat. In fact, it's better to ask the bartender for the made to order dishes off the daily menu than to eat the pre-made items displayed on the bar (except for maybe the baby eels!). I would recommend ordering this way at most of the Pintxo Bars. This one is a very welcoming little restaurant. Gandarias is also the favorite tapas bar of our dear friend Eirik Bøe, from Norway's Kings of Convenience. We went there because of his enthusiasm for it. Their dishes include the Duo (Queso Cabra with bacon), Crepes Bacalao, and baby eels, among many others.

For dessert on Adrian's pre-birthday (stroke of midnight) we went to La Viña (C/ Abuztuaren 31) for Tarta de Queso (Basque cheesecake). This dessert is one of the best sweet things I've ever put in my mouth. It was fluffy, almost like a marshmallow, but still with that dense, creamy quality that I love about American cheesecake.

 Phone pic of the Tarta de Queso at La Viña

Fuego Negro (C/ 31 De Agosto / Abuztuaren 31-KO Kalea, 31)  has a young staff and a more contemporary take on pintxos. This is where you can get your foams, emulsions, powdered sauces, etc.  Sciency food, but still in the small-plate, affordable format.  We had something they were calling a Jamón Café (ham coffee) which was actually a frothy cured ham soup served in a small espresso cup with 'cookies' on the saucer which were actually crisped-up sweet breads. It was fun, delicious and not all wanna-be. 
We stayed at the Hotel Niza, a small hotel on the Playa Concha. Make sure to ask for a room with an ocean view and balcony. It's a beautiful hotel with an antique elevator that is super fun to ride. The rooms are pretty and kinda minimalist chic. The hotel features a lot of work by Basque artist, Chillida, whose sculptures you can see around town and out on the ocean rocks.

The Hotel Niza and a Museum Poster featuring Chillida, San Sabastian

Adrian walks with a rented surfboard on the 1920's Puente de la Zurriola bridge between beaches and a small street in Parte Vieja, San Sebastian

On Adrian's birthday, we drove into the countryside near St. Jean de Luz, a sweet little seaside town with a cove-shaped beach similar to San Sebastian's Playa Concha. The restaurant was called L'Auberge Basque and it was just over the border in France's Pays Basque (Basque Country).  It's a modern  restaurant (with hints of it's older self) with an inn dating back to the 17th century. One of the dishes from our tasting-menu extravaganza, was a sous-vide egg and vegetable flan with a Pipérade sauce, piment d'espelette, and herbs perched in the middle. With the sauce poured on top (by the waitress, at the table), it transformed into a tomato.  A lot of people roll their eyes at high level imitative food presentation, but if it tastes amazing and I'm also entertained by the way my food looks, I mean, why not?

Phone pic of Sous-Vide Egg with Pipérade Sauce and Jambon de Bayonne, L'Auberge Basque

We've been back in Paris a few weeks now, and spent last Sunday afternoon at Yves Camdeborde's L'Avant Comptoir, next door to the mega-popular Le Comptoir du Relais.  It turns out to be a San Sebastian style bar with pintxos and delicious wines.  The man behind the bar, Tomas, was  suprisingly friendly and ended up having an hour of conversation with us while we tried some of the best food we've had in Paris (cooked by him, behind the bar, as we chatted).  He lived in San Sebastian for 7 years (he likes Cuchara) and teared up when describing  the tuna collar he loves at  one of his favorite little restaurants in town, Le Verre Volé (Rue de Lancry 67, Paris 10th) over by the Canal St. Martin.

L'Avant Comptoir's Tomas (left) with Yves Camdeborde (middle) and co. 
(photo: Lexpress)

Other posts you might like...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...