Hermes pony saddle

Paris travel: Sardines and Alec Lobrano overtake chocolate

May 15, 2011 | 3 Comments.

Hermes pony saddle
After purchasing a scarf and a handbag at Hermes, I didn't really have any money left over to buy the saddle for my imaginary pony.Pacing myself at La Maison du Chocolat. The rigoletto (caramelized mousse) -regally displayed in the center - stole the show.
Seems non-intuitive (and sac-religious) to say the most memorable part of today’s first official chocolate segment of my food adventure with David Lebovitz was not the chocolate.  It is hard to narrow down favorites –  Between the private chocolate tasting at the  luxurious (albeit slightly corporate feeling) Maison du Chocolat, where they get their boxes and packaging from the same people as legendary high fashion house Hermes.
Ganache highlights:  Rigletto (caramelized butter mousse) and Dontel chocolate (bits of crisp Dontel cookies laced in the ganache) ruled!
Pacing myself at La Maison du Chocolat. The rigoletto (caramelized mousse) -regally displayed in the center - stole the show.


a visit with the 75 year old pig-tailed spark plug who is a legend in her own right: Denise Acabo – owner of the eclectic A L’Etoile D’or – a confisserie in the Moulin Rouge containing candy and chocolate from France that oftentimes exclusively cannot be found anywhere in Paris aside from her store. One example is the highly coveted Bernachon chocolate bars from Lyon Paris. These bars make you feel like you have hit the “Willy Wonka golden ticket” jackpot as Bernachon is not into shipping these bad boys out of Lyon, but somehow Acabo convinced them to sell to her. 

Taste the Kalouga and you will see what all the hype is about – the salted caramel that bursts out with a slight burnt sugar taste. Lebovitz says what also makes these hefty magestically wrapped bars stand out is the fact Bernachon takes the extra step of actually making their own chocolate – a labor intensive process including purchasing cocoa beans, roasting and grinding them – whereas most chocolatiers in Paris purchase their chocolate before concocting them into brown masterpieces.
I purchased three of the Bernichon Kalouga bars (salted caramel)


I feel like a kid again, who has been transported back to the late 1800’s (like an Asian version of Laura Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie asking Pa for some money to go to the store), where wood panel trim, white doily tablecloths, old-fashioned glass jars, and good ol’ excitement prevail.  Mouthwatering excitement everywhere: Chocolate, nougats, sauterne raisins soaked in chocolate, pralines, quince past, james, biscuits and jams. Acabo runs over to hand me a silver tray to load all of my goodies. She is adamant about not wanting the warmth of my hand to tamper with the consistency of the chocolate.


Don’t let Denise Acabo’s long plaid kilt, and necktie fool you. She does not claim to be a formal or holier than now cat. As Denise excitedly describes her favorite chocolate in the store (a chocolate filled with caramel, to be precise), she uses the word “orgasm” at least six times and encourages us to put the whole piece in our mouth to reach the proper climax. I am not sure if she means literally, figuratively or both.


Play a “Where’s Waldo” game and look for Acabo in the movie Amelie (she is really in the  movie!).
Don't be shy - Denise loves taking pictures with her customers


Ok, onto the winners of the day – Seafood!


1) Plump sardines swimming in olive oil at Lavinia, which is the Paris insider’s wine emporium where 13 of us consume plates of charcuterie, cheeses and swordfish carpaccio family style and wash it down with pristine wine chosen by the in-house caviste. I follow Lebovitz’s lead and spread coveted butter from Normandy on my bread before loading it up with cheese and meat.


This place is definitely a treasured secret. When you first approach the store, the only thing in plain view is a huge store to buy wine They have an impressive selection, but it’s not  too charming. What lies above on the second floor is the real mecca – The oasis of a restaurant upstairs from the emporium where you can eat family style while drinking hand picked out wine.  Magnifique.
Chowing down at Lavinia with swordfish carpacio, cured meats, and Normandy buttered bread
The ossau iraty (at 5 o'clock) had a subtle smokey taste. Lebovitz indicated people back in the day used to store the ossau iraty in their chimney, hence giving it the smokey taste.


2) Chowing down on the house specialty sea bass roasted with almonds on baby spinach salad and Sicilian capers at famed chef Christian Constant’s signature restaurant Le Violon d’Ingres. Texture was king as the sea bass was impeccably crusted (per one food reviewer, it is hard to make the crust light without overcooking or making the batter too thick) and the beautifully puffed vanilla soufflé with salted caramel. In alignment with French people’s preference for equilibrium in their food, the soufflé hits the mark: light with a subtle taste of vanilla backed by a smooth non-goopy caramel with a slight hint of salt.
Crusted Sea bass surrounded by plump Sicilian capers
In addition to the food, one of the key factors that made the night memorable was dining with food reviewer Alec Lobrano – Gourmet magazine’s Europe correspondent and writer for the New York Times and other publications. I found Alec to be inherently good natured, engaging, and modest:  a Southern gentleman of sorts, although he grew up in Connecticut. Perhaps it is his annual summer visits to New Orleans to visit his grandmother as a kid that formed his gentle and quietly charming disposition.

During dinner, Lobrano tells me a story where Pulitzer Prize-winning LA Weekly food writer Jonathan Gold calls him up at 3:30am and says he is going to pick him within the hour so they can go check out a Burmese breakfast place that is a few hours away. Gold, knowing Alec has traveled all over Asia and the world, wants Lobrano to validate whether or not the breakfast is authentic. Gold picked up Lobrano and they headed out. Hearing a brilliant food reviewer talk about his dining conquests with another brilliant food reviewer in an intimate dining setting just rivaled Denise Acabo’s chocolate caramel-induced orgasms.
Vanilla bean souffle with salted caramel
If you want to read about what prompted me to embark on a food adventure with David Lebovitz, click here.


3 Responses to “Paris travel: Sardines and Alec Lobrano overtake chocolate”

  1. I love this! You can feel your enthusiasm for food in your writing. Bravo!

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