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mardi 22 mai 2012

Bio in Great Britain

As far as I'm concerned, the best way to orient oneself with an unfamiliar city is by immediately localising two things: open-air markets and independent record stores.

Both will usually lead you to pretty cool quartiers and, if you're lucky, you might find some great souvenirs while visiting.

So, instead of googling good bars or highly-reviewed restaurants when I plan a trip to a new city, I diligently look for local markets and am sure to consult The Vinyl District before hitting the road.

Cardiff (home of the "oldets record shop in the world") holds a lovely Farmers' Market each Sunday. A stone throw away from Wales' famous Millenium Stadium , the market welcomes local farmers, bakers, butchers, soapmakers, and other artisans.

Seasonal vegetables such as broccoli rabe, cabbages, and carrots are on sale along with local specialities such as Welsh salted butter and scones.

My market guide and good friend Nick introduced me to Welsh Cakes. The small cakes were hot off the gridle and melt-in-your-mouth good, the raisin filled cakes are an ideal addition to any tea time ritual.

Vegetarians are welcome at the Cardiff market, with take-away menus that include polenta and bean burgers, and omnivores of all persuasions are invited to pull up a bench at a picnic table to enjoy their purchases sur place.

With a large selection of organic items, as well as products that are representative of the region, Cardiff's Farmers' Market is a worthy of inclusion in your Welsh itinerary.

When I think of London markets images of Borough Market immediately spring to mind. On my last trip to the city I discovered a formidable and complementary market at the Southbank Centre, where the Real Food Market is held every weekend.

This market expands on the esprit (and hours) of Borough Market while adhering to the guidelines of "bringing you great tasting, sustainably and ethically produced food".

Here free-range chickens bear Gordon Ramsay's  seal of approval and everything from organic curries to whoopie pies are on offer. Veggie, cheese, and meat vendors along with hot food stands are set up from mid-day to dinner time on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday- making the perfect weekend trinity complete: Borough Market brunch, a stroll through Tate Modern, and a goûté of potted bread, cabbage and ricotta strudels, or organic cheesecake.

For dinner, you could head to Vantra in the all-things-alternative embracing Soho neighborhood of London. A change from Fish & Chips, this organic food bar functions as a self-serve cantine for the ethical food set.

Vantra caters to different diets (vegan, raw, gluten-free, etc.) and does so reasonably well. As Parisien vegan Aurelia D'Andrea astutely pointed out to me over dinner one night, vegetarian restaurants aren't necessarily the best finds- even for dinners with vegetarian or other special diets. Vantra may be an example of this phenomenon, as there are surely better restaurants in the city where one could order a veggie meal. Iùm not entirely sure that Vantra caters to vegetarians, but moreso to the veggie-curious who want to try organic out for a night.

My (mislabeled) soup was not what I expected and disappointingly bland (much like the house white wine), but the veggie curries were wholesome and refreshingly spicy. The spread is ample and for 14.90 GBP, it's all-you-can-eat. I piled my one-visit-only plate (11.90 GBP) high with salads, stews, and slaws and had enough to eat, but for those having a one night stand with a 100 % veggie dinner, return trips may be in order.

Vantra's décor and the general ambience is warm and relaxed. The meal is a good deal for the price (and neighborhood). If you are spending an extended period of time in London and are looking to pass on the pub food for a night, I recommend you head to this reso for at least one trip to the buffet bar.

Cardiff Farmers' Market
Fitzhamon Embankment
Open Sunday: 10h-14h

The Real Food Market
Southbank Centre
Friday 12h-20h
Saturday 11h-20h
Sunday 12h-18h

11-13 Soho Street
Monday-Saturday 12h-23h
Sunday 12h-20h

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mardi 15 mai 2012

Yannick Alléno's Terroir Parisien

Yannick Alléno's new bistrot Terroir Parisien is pretty cutting-edge for the Paris scene. Its menu is solely sourced from the Ile-de-France region and its prices (contrary to Alléno's other address, Hotel Meurice) remain reasonable- despite the fact that diners could likely be cajoled into paying higher prices for Alléno's reputation and ingredients.

When I went to lunch at Terroir Parisien on a recent Wednesday afternoon, I expected the restaurant's vibe and décor to match the exceptional aims and exuberant reviews surrounding this new addition to Paris' dining scene. I figured the revolutionary (to Paris) mission of locavore cuisine would be accompanied by an equally radical interior design.

Happily, the bistrot's style is about as unembellished as a dining establishment could be. Function and utility are key to the backdrop of Terroir Parisien, which provides a stage for the real stars: fresh and seasonal ingredients raised in the Ile-de-France.

The walls are adorned with chalkboards and shelves, the chalkboards announce where each ingredient comes from and the shelves stock examples of the locally grown vegetables. Large windows allow for ample light- a scarce commodity in this dreary Paris Springtime- to enter into the dining space and further illuminate the natural beauty of the whole foods.

A reassuring mix of classical and modern- this restaurant is comfortable in its location cuddling up to the historic Maison de la Mutualité and would be equally at ease nesstled somewhere along the Northern California coastline.

My second worry about dining chez Alléno was that, as a vegetarien, I would be sipping on soupe à l'oignon for lunch, while lamenting an otherwise meat-based menu.

Once again I was happily surprised when I saw that the menu not only offered veggie options, but is also organised so that you can go wild with side dishes and "plats de résistance" à la carte to get your veggie fix and pair these sides with a large selection of main dishes.

I imagine that the selection for vegetarians will only get better- and more varied- as the Summer approaches and we see tomatoes and eggplant arriving on our plates.

The locavore movement is safe in Alléno's hands and Terroir Parisien is the proof. The chef adheres to the Ile-de-France rule (the wine being the only exception) with laudable dedication all while making eating local fun. Really fun.

As someone who scours markets for locally-grown produce and cherishes every treasure that I find along the hunt, it was a thrill to have the opportunity to order local gems- champignons de Paris, asperge d'Argenteuil,  épinards Montfermeil- all off of one menu.

For lunch, I settled on the champignons de Paris stuffed with escargot, accompanied by a side of spinach that was grown a mere 17 km South of Paris.

Everything was delicious- but that was no surprise. I'm a convert to the locavore lifestyle and I think that anyone who has a meal at Terroir Parisien will quickly convert, as well.

One more piece of advice- stay for dessert! My lunch date ordered the house specialty "Niflette Feuilleté" and it was to die for. Served with an artilery of cutlery, the pastry bursted with across-the-board flavors from sweet to citrus- a pleasure to tackle at the end of a thouroughly enjoyable meal. (Thanks Christy for taking a picture of the desert- and for sharing both with me!)

Terroir Parisien 
20 rue Saint Victor, 75005
m° Maubert-Mutualité (line 10)
Open everyday 12h-15h & 19h-23h

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lundi 7 mai 2012

Marché du Mois: Marché sur l'Eau

After successfully launching their innovative projet de marché in the Summer of 2011, the association Marché sur l'Eau is back! The maiden voyage of 2012 took place on May 1st and this year the market is more ambitious, promising a year-round presence in front of the Rotonde at Stalingrad.

I love the idea behind this marché- which brings local produce from the Seine and Marne region to shoppers in Pantin and Paris. Boats are charged with seasonal produce grown by independent producers and then make their way towards the city using the canal de l'Ourq.

The boat is able to do the work equivalent to 10 trucks, making it an ecological and functional alternative to truck delivieries.

The transport is what happens behind the scenes- but what the consommer sees once the stage is set is just as exciting and enough to get you engaged. The produce is gorgeous and very resonably priced. For €7,20 I picked up 2 heads of lettuce, a huge bunch of bright orange carrots, and a hearty helping of blettes.

You can visit the market and choose your produce on Saturdays and Tuesdays, or you can sign up for a panier which will be prepared and waiting for you on market days. Panier prices range from 9-15 euro in Winter and 10-17 euro in Summer. Your account can easily be managed through Marché sur l'Eau's website and you can modify your pick-up days or reschedule in case you're out of town or otherwise unable to pick up your veggies that week.

A typical winter panier includes potatoes, green onions, spinach, and parsley. Things promise to brighten up in the warmer months, when zucchini, bellpeppers, heirloom tomatoes, and eggplant get into the mix!

The Marché us staffed by members of the association that are eager to talk about the project- so if you have any questions I highly recommend checking out the Marché sur l'Eau and learning more about what they're about!

Marché sur L'Eau

Grands-Moulins (m° Hoche - line 5)
Tuesday: 11h30-14h

& Quai de L'Aisne (m° Eglise de Pantin- line 5)
Saturday: 12h-14h30

La Rotonde, pl. de la Bataille Stalingrad
(m° Jaures- lines 2 & 5, m° Stalingrad- lines 2, 5, & 7)
Tuesday: 18h-20h30 & Saturday: 11h30-14h

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