Loving French Fast Food…and Toilets

Quick Boursin Balls

Cheesy, Herby, Garlicky Boursin Balls at Quick

There’s something to be said for a sit-down meal at a fancy French restaurant.  Now’s not the time to say it.  I’ve been on the road, and I’ve been eating street food.  And it’s the funnest thing about eating in France.

NICE Quick

The Quick at the Nice Airport

Quick Frites

The All-Important Point of Comparison: The Frites at Quick

Quick Frites No Salt

Quick frites are not salted after cooking--an interesting contrast

Quick Fish Sticks

Cheesy Poisson-Shaped Fondue-Stuffed Quick Fish Sticks

In the Nice airport, I went to my first Quick–the French answer to McDonald’s (although, don’t tell anyone I said it that way).  I’m obsessed with eating strange things off of foreign McDonald’s menus, and that’s always kept me busy enough to keep me away from Quick.  But, they are truly the French fast food joint.  We had such oddities as fish-shaped fish sticks filled with cheese fondue.  Actually seriously good.  And Boursin balls–the French answer to the mozzarella stick, made from little rounds of melty garlic and herb cheese, breaded, and fried, in a box.  Those went quickly.  They had beignets, but I didn’t get that far.  Some fries and a side salad topped with shredded beets (only in France), and I was up to my ears in French fast food.

TOULOUSE Hot Dog Cart 1TOULOUSE Hot Dog Cart 2Then, driving around Toulouse, we stopped at a gas station.  I laughed out loud.  Outside of the little mini mart, was a New York style hot dog cart, selling hot dogs in a bun with mustard or pickle relish for 3 whole Euros.  The dogs looked a little gray, but I had to smile at the American bun, the squeezy condiments, the hot dog hot tub, and of course, the signs that read: Manhattan’s Hot-Dog, Hot-Dog New Yorkais.  Being New Yorkaise myself, I ate it up.

Villeroy & Boch Toilet


And can I just make one note about bathrooms, which probably shouldn’t be on a food blog: is it only in France where highway rest stops has Villeroy & Boch toilets?!  Roll it up with the Mercedes taxi cabs.  The highways and byways are the real culinary adventure out here!

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Categories: Provence, Toulouse, Voyages

French in a Flash: Simple Carrot Salad with Mustard and Walnuts

Carrot Salad

Carrot Salad with Spicy Dijon Mustard and Walnuts

Get the whole story on Serious Eats.

A reader on my blog wrote that her favorite dish in Paris was a simple carrot salad.  And I knew just the kind she was talking about.  In France, they sell pre-shredded carrots in the grocery store, grated so fine it is a kind of carrot floss.  I often see it piled on one side of a salade composée, or served in a small dish.  And I thought, since I am writing this column from France at the moment, it was time to create my own.

A simple dressing of walnut oil, olive oil, hot Dijon mustard, and cider vinegar is light, nutty, and a touch spicy.  I toss the threads of carrot with the dressing and chopped walnuts (French walnuts are amazing), cover it, and let it wilt slightly in the fridge for at least two hours.  Overnight is best.  Then, I serve it, still crunchy, a touch sweet, but also savory, as a slaw with a sandwich, or along with a big salade verte.  Perfectly simple and healthy and delicious.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Cheap, Easy, Eat, French in a Flash, Recipes, Series, Soup, Soup & Salad, Vegetarian

French Finds: Special K, Feuilles de Chocolat Noir

RECIPE: My Must-Have Shopping Stops in France
Special K Feuilles de Chocolat Noir Flakes

A scientific close-up of the best cereal ever.

Eating out in France is definitely something to write home (or blog) about.  But I get even more excited when I’m here about buying “my products”.  That includes orange flower Le Petit Marseillais body wash, spray bottles of organic argon oil, extra fine BIC Cristal pens (really–I bought 30 this week), Monoprix reusable shopping bags (I bought hot pink this week!), Carrefour coolers, and LU Petit Ecolier cookies that I can buy anywhere but only buy when I’m in France, because that’s how I justify the calories.  I have to stop in Princesse tam.tam (best bathing suits ever–Emma Stone is wearing one in Vanity Fair), Petit Bateau (where I get half my striped tees), and Aigle (which I think is fair because they either don’t exist outside of France, or are much cheaper here–I’ve been to all three in Nice and in Aix and Toulouse).  But, I admit, my travel companions may be family, but my French shopping obsessions try their patience, which may be beginning to wear thin.

Special K Feuilles de Chocolat Noir Bag

It's in the bag.

Another thing I MUST GET (I got the extra large box!) is my favorite cereal OF ALL TIME: Special K Feuilles de Chocolat Noir.  Now don’t go rolling your eyes at me that Special K is Special K.  This is different!

Special K Feuille de Chocolat Noir Box

This is the box to find, and buy!

The flakes are different–really multigrain and hearty.  And then there’s the chocolate.  I started eating this cereal I think about 13 years ago, before chocolate became healthy in the States.  I thought it was so cool that you could buy a healthy chocolate cereal.  Feuille de chocolat means “leaves of chocolate,” and it’s like some took a vegetable peeler to a block of good dark chocolate and dropped millions of chocolate curls in among the flakes.  They melt on contact with your tongue.  They are just sweet enough.  I thought when our American Special K Chocolaty Delight came out, it might be a new name for the same thing.  Do NOT be fooled.  Different flakes.  Different chocolate.  On the whole, inferior.  Feuilles de chocolat is where it’s at, and it’s being 8:46 in the morning Toulouse time, I believe I will go pour myself a bowl.

You have to your hands on this stuff!

Note: I just suggested the cereal to Mr. English, and he said “Cereal?!  I can have cereal in London.”  That’s what he thinks.  Let him have his French bread.  Is the word “ignoramus” too harsh?  He approves ignoramus.  More for me!

My Must-Have Shopping Stops in France

Petit Bateau

for striped tees and nightgowns

Princesse tam.tam

for bathing suits and pajamas (the summer sales are killer here)


for fashionable rain boots and sportswear


for little household goods, reusable "green" bags in cute pouches, for great pears and eggplant caviar, for my organic argan oil spray bottles


Because it's the Target of French supermarkets.  I buy neon cooler bags, BIC pens, Petit Marseillais body wash, and, of course, my Dark Chocolate Special K.  And a million other things!

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Categories: Côte d'Azur, Finds, Paris, Provence, Voyages

Macarons Au Naturale in Aix

AIX Natural Macarons 2

Plain Giant Macarons in Aix

I swear to you, this is going to be the next big thing.  I’ve seen them in Paris in an outdoor market on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, and in Aix-en-Provence at the outdoor market, and in shops.  “Rustic” macarons.  Not dyed pretty pastel Marie Antoinette colors.  Not flavored with anything obscure.  Just simple, handmade, almondy macarons.  Most are flavored with nothing–just two shells pressed together, tasting slightly of marzipan, a bit chewier than the Ladurée counterpart.  I’ve seen simple, regional flavors like lavender or lemon.  But a few days ago, in Aix, I saw a patisserie taking the rustic macaron to new levels, stuffing the homespun shells with little creams and ganaches, in flavors like pistachio and rose.  My favorite was the chocolate-raspberry, the almond shells spiked with cocoa, stuffed with a very strong, fruity raspberry cream.  But my favorite is still “nature”–or plain.

AIX Natural Macarons 1

The macarons aren't handled with gloves--just kept in candy jars.

Crisp on the outside, and chewy, but substantial within, they taste like sweet almond in a farmhouse way.  I love that something so elevated is getting back to its roots.  I hope these will follow Ladurée over to the states.  As beautiful as the fancy macarons are in their Easter egg hues, so these are beautiful in their simplicity.  As fanciful as the macaron flavors can be, so these are lovely in their unassuming regional best.  They are sort of what we all aspire to with the French–effortless, artful, natural beauty and style.  Looking like there is no diet, no makeup, no effort.  When in reality, there is a master at work.

AIX Natural Macarons 3

On the same subject: Snapshots from the South of France: Rustic Macarons

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Categories: Provence, Restaurants, Voyages

Extra! Extra! Ladurée to open in New York!

Laduree Box CartoonAfter years of pining, and wishing, and hoping, it’s finally happening.  Vogue reports in its August 2011 issue (page 147) that Ladurée is opening in New York.  Ladurée is my favorite purveyor of Parisian macarons, and hot chocolate, and other gorgeous, pastel, delicately flavored pastries.  They make fantastic, crisp, sweet, giant palmiers.  And beautiful floral flavors, like the violet religieuse and orange flower macaron.  Vogue reports the new store will be opening this summer, at 864 Madison Avenue (between 70th and 71st).  The Ladurée website makes no mention of the upcoming opening, and from the Vogue article, it is unclear as to the range of pastries the NYC shop will be selling.  But macarons are definitely on the list, with the signature “cinnamon raisin” flavor created especially for New York.  We’ll see which others made the American list.  I can’t.  Hardly.  Wait.

Laduree Macarons

Pistachio, Lily of the Valley, and Granny Smith Apple Macarons at Ladurée in Paris this Spring

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Categories: Uncategorized

Bouillabaisse in Villefranche-sur-Mer

VILLEFFRANCHE Kerry Bouillabaisse

Me and My Bouillabaisse--with a Bib.

I had my first “real” bouillabaisse two years ago in Cassis.  It was something I was looking forward to with such tail-wagging excitement, I think Mr. English and my family considered my certifiably nuts.  I think it’s just, I spend so much time renovating the French classics I know and love, that I can’t wait to take a bite of another stalwart so I can break it down and build it back up again.  I collect meals of classics French dishes like some women collect Chanel and Hermes bags.  Beautiful, forever, well made, and worth the cost.

So, back to bouillabaisse.  I’d done some digging up of information and discovered that the best was served at Chez Gilbert in the Cassis harbor.  The man at the next table said he drove down for Paris that day especially for that bouillabaisse.  I was the only one at the table who ordered it; they were all fools.  It came in courses.  An urn of thick fish soup with saffron.  A plate of whole local fishes filleted before my eyes, with little mounds of peeled steamed potatoes.  And toasts, and rouille–that condiment named for rust stuffed with garlic, saffron, and chili.  I ate and I ate and honestly, I’ve never seen so much food in my life.  It was one of those things you remember.  Maybe because it’s the dish of the city where Maman was born–Marseille.  Maybe because it’s one of the few French classics with seafood, because I prefer fish to anything else.  Maybe it was like getting an orange Berkin–Hermes orange and rouille are very close in color.  Whatever it was, I loved it and remembered it and cherished it.

So, when my cousin messaged me on Facebook saying that if I was in Beausoleil, I had to check out La Mère Germaine in Villefranche-sur-Mer for the best bouillabaisse of my life, I listened.  I told my family that really, it wasn’t a selfish desire, because my father is pescatarian, and wouldn’t it be nice for him to try a local dish that he could eat.  Wink wink.  Had nothing to do with me at all!

We arrived at this restaurant just at the very brink of the water, filled with sailboats.  There was a tank of lobsters, and a view of the graying waters in the dusk.  We ordered rosé, because that is what one seems to always do in the South of France.  And it’s my favorite anyway.  My father and I shared our favorite appetizer: mussels, with mignonette sauce, brown bread, and fancy butter D’Isigny.  Then, Maman had the lobster, in a lobster sauce, with mashed potatoes.  M. Français had pavé de veau.  But my father and I (New Yorkers are so smart!) had the “mini” bouillabaisse, served as one course for one.  There were four fishes, but I only caught the names of bream and John Dory.  The broth was thick in a way that I can never recreate.  Heady with garlic and saffron and vegetables–onions, and fennel.  It coated the fish, and was a soup at the same time.  There were shreds of Parmesan, a tub of rouille that I dumped onto everything in site.  Rouille may be my favorite thing.  It means “rust” in English, for its color, and is a homemade mayonnaise spiked with garlic, saffron, and chilis.  Toasts were served to dip into the sauce, and to smear with rouille, and whole pieces of garlic to rub on them to add even more garlic to the whole experience.  It was delicious, but in one of those satisfying ways where you know you’re getting the best possible thing for your money and your time.  I have to say, and it pains me to write this, it was even better than Chez Gilbert!

The Bouillabaisse


Toasts for Dipping and Smearing with Rouille


The Condiments: Rouille, Garlic, and Grated Cheese

VILLEFRANCHE Bouillabaisse

The Main Event: Bouillabaisse

The Rest


"The time has come, my little friends, to talk of others things. Of shoes and ships and sealing wax. Of cabbage and kings."

VILLEFRANCHE Oyster Condiments

Sauce Mignonette, Brown Bread, and Butter for the Oysters

VILLEFRANCHE Pissaladière Squares

Amuse-Bouche: Pissaladière Squares


Gateau de Crabe--so different from a crab "cake" back home! A bed of couscous, crab meat, diced tomatoes, and chive oil.


Lobster, à la Française. But I love the Maine way too.


Veal with Ratatouille and Potatoes

And for dessert, peaches seared with thyme, with raspberry sorbet.  The picture was too low quality to publish!

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Categories: Côte d'Azur, Restaurants, Voyages

In Cassis, Aix-en-Provence, and Menton

CASSIS Chocolat Chaud

Hot Chocolate and Croissants in Cassis

Two summers ago, Maman rented a little apartment in this town none of us had ever heard of: Cassis.  Spelled like the black currant liqueur, but the “s” is silent when you say the town’s name.  Mr. English and I stayed for a few weeks, and we toured around all over Provence, and some of the Riviera, discovering gorgeous seaside villages and majestic perched medieval towns.  I wrote about it all in the Papiers Provence.  So, as my father was in town, and because he had never seen our little seaside getaway, we drove the two and a half hours to Cassis.

It’s a simple town.  Not fancy.  Right on the sea.  With sailboats docked, and a petanque court, and a pebble beach.  It is a natural cove, between the giant calanques, these seaside cliff inlets, that blockade it off from Marseille.  But what I love about Cassis is it’s not to touristy.  The shops sell lovely things.  The restaurants have good food.  There’s an Amorino gelato bar (I’m an addict), and a real beachside ice cream and sandwich vendor that sells me my merguez frites sandwiches for 4.50.  The sea is cold and fresh.  And the sunset against the huge stone cliffs is breathtaking.  There are little garden restaurants that serve ceviche of the local scorpionfish, and seaside terraces that serve “the best bouillabaisse from here to Paris”.  We arrived early, around 9, and I sat down for my breakfast of champions: chocolat chaud and pain au chocolat.  I think only an American would ever order that much chocolate, but I loved it!  Then, we boarded one of the tour boats for the calanques, and a small merry band of us set to sea.  We wove in and out of the secret inlets, the sea so bleu-marine that it was like a siren’s call to dive in and escape the clear sun.  We could see straight to the bottom of the deep sea, and almost straight to the tops of the cliffs.  We arrived to shore windswept, and sad that we’d already seen the whole tiny town, and were moving on to Aix.

CASSIS Calanques 1

Cap Canaille in Cassis

CASSIS Calanques 2

The Cassis Calanques

CASSIS Calanques 3CASSIS Calanques 4


The Deep Blue Sea in Cassis

I first came to Aix when I was fifteen–my mom took me on a little vacation in the South of France for an early sweet sixteen gift.  I was breathlessly in love with the whole place.  And Aix was my favorite.  We stayed right on the Cours Mirabeau, a shady eighteenth century-looking avenue through the middle of town, with platane trees that tangle their fingers up over the road, and a building that looks held up by two famous Atlas figures bearing up the lintel of the front door.  I tried to take a picture to share them, but they are being cleaned.  I guess a shower after a few hundred years is probably a good thing.

I found Aix, back then, almost sleepy.  Not so two years ago, and not so now.  It is bustling, full of all my favorite French-only shops–Princesse Tam-Tam, Petit Bateau, Aigle–and restaurants and crowds.  But the markets remain my favorite, and they sell purple asparagus, pistou-soaked green olives, zucchini flowers, fruits-de-mer, and my favorite, this homespun, completely not Laduree macarons.  I have a whole post coming on those, because I think they’re the next big thing.

AIX Vegetable Lasagna

Ratatouille Lasagna in Aix-en-Provence

We dug up an old favorite lunch spot of ours, Le Pizza, and ordered one of those dishes that you dream about and drive anywhere for (my French In-N-Out burger): vegetable lasagna.  It sounds weirds, I know, to drive hours for a vegetable lasagna, but this one is à la Provençal.  A layer of chunky ratatouille in the bottom of a gratin dish, covered in fresh lasagna noodles, a simple tomato sauce, and a mix of mozzarella and Gruyère bubbling on top.  I had to stop myself, so I could save room for my rustic macarons, which I bought in chocolate-raspberry, lavender, and pistachio.  Again, more on those to come…

AIX Natural Macarons 1

Jars of Macarons, au naturale, in Aix

AIX Natural Macarons 2AIX Natural Macarons 3

AIX Crazy Savory Macarons

Some crazy, savory macaron flavors in Aix: Smoked Salmon with Dill and Fruit Coulis; Shrimp with Anise and Lemon Confit; Foie Gras with Fig and Speck; Goat Cheese with Bacon and Tapenade

We drove back to La Turbie, desperate for our “local”–Café de la Fontaine.  But they were booked.  We drove to Menton, and everywhere was absolutely booked.  Lesson: on the Riviera, in summer, make a reservation.  No matter how crummy some these places look, and how all their tables are empty, they’re “booked”.  Starving and cranky, we tumbled into a little café that I would never recommend because the service was so rude, but we had the best bowls of moules marinière I’ve had in a while.  With itsy-bitsy, tiny mussels.  So much sweeter and less like dead tongues in your mouth than those giants everyone oohs and ahhs for.  I woke up the next morning still tasting the garlic.

MENTON Mussels Mariniere

Teeny, Tiny Moules Marinière in Menton


The Mussels Came "Frites-Salade"


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Categories: Côte d'Azur, Provence, Restaurants, Voyages