Friday, March 28, 2014

Birthday in the Best City in the World, Paris!

After the TGV from Stuttgart delivered us to the heart of the 10th district at Paris Est in less than 3 hours, we were in celebration mode and ready to eat and drink our way through the City of Light.

We quickly stashed our bags in a locker and walked 20 minutes along the Quai to Restaurant Pierre Sang in Oberkampf. I had first read about this restaurant in an NYT article and was intrigued to see how Sang combined his South Korean heritage and his French upbringing in his cooking. The meal did not disappoint. For a mere 35 euro per person, we enjoyed a 5 course lunch (wine extra) that was inventive and delicious. The waiters changed it up a bit by presenting the food, letting us try it, then coming back to see if we could guess what it was. I don't want to toot my own horn, but I was pretty good at it. I was even able to identify the tripe course. Oh yeah, you should probably be willing to try anything when you go because its a tasting menu, meaning the chef presents what he pleases.

Although stuffed from lunch, we managed to find room for dinner at Bistrot Paul Bert. While generally recognized as one of the best Parisian bistros by almost every dining authority, we weren't particularly wowed by the experience. Sure, the steak was tasty and the sauce savory, but it seemed overhyped. Not to mention everyone in the restaurant was American. I guess we need to keep searching for our authentic Parisian bistro.

The next night was the eve of my 30th birthday so we decided to go all out. L'Ami Jean seemed like a fun place, they spoke English on the phone and accepted our reservation so that's about all we could ask for! Located in a residential part of the 7th, this restaurant was a little hole in the wall and barely noticeable from the street. Inside was a different story. The place was a non-stop whizz and whirl of waiters rushing around cracking jokes with the cooks in the back yelling and shouting instructions to each other. Guests were crammed practically on top of each other so a romantic evening was definitely out the window. However, we were seated next to a very friendly, food obsessed couple from Singapore, so we had a great time exchanging opinions on which restaurants and cafes have best food in the city.  We opted for the tasting menu and a bottle of red burgundy. Immediately we were presented with an appetizer of pate with rustic farm bread. We were served wonderful food over the course of the night but the highlight of the meal was the risotto with a squid ink sauce topped with shaved squid. I also loved the ride pudding with salted carmel for dessert.

For my birthday brunch, Kent found Un Dimanche a Paris in the heart of St. Germaine. Attached to a very famous chocolate atelier, we dined on baguettes with chocolate, smoked salmon omelets and assorted pastries, before packing up and catching the train back to Stuttgart.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Pardon My Frenchie

I would say my obsession began about 10 years ago when I was studying abroad in Spain. On the ferry to Ibiza with some friends, I noticed this dreadlocked Spanish fellow that had this adorable dog sitting across his body in something similar to a baby bjorn. The dog was so calm and chill despite the severe rockiness of the boat and general seasickness of the human population. I immediately knew this little pup was something special.

Later I learned that he was a French Bulldog and I would see others like him every so often while traveling around Europe in 2004. Then I didn't see them much until I moved to San Francisco in 2007. My friends will attest to the fact that every time I would see a Frenchie on the street, I would run and fondle it until it became inappropriate and/or the owners became visibly annoyed. This Frenchie fondling continued merry and well until I moved to the land of the Germans.

Like their owners, German Frenchies do not like to be greeted on the street and fondled. Actually most German dogs do not want attention from anyone but their owners at all. Our German landlords also put a big kibosh on my Frenchie plans, specially writing into our contract that we were not allowed to have dogs, cats, rats or lizards in our apartment. This was heart wrenching but my fiancé was able to help me prioritize my love to travel with flexibility over my love for a pup.

But two years later, all bets were off. I was getting desperate. I forced Kent to call our landlords and have a conversation about the possibility of getting a dog and miraculously they consented with some small provisions, such as we would take the dog in the elevator vs. the stairs (duh, nobody wants to walk down 4 flights of stairs). Of course we also had to agree that the dog would not relieve himself on the terrace and that we would take out a liability insurance policy in case he attacks anyone. A common warning told to new arrivals in Germany is that if your dog scares a German and he falls off his bike and has to go to the hospital, he can sue you.

However now that my Frenchie dreams are finally within reach, it looks like I might not get one after all. Frenchies have become the dog-du-jour: they are everywhere from print ads to Anthropologie. This has led to an increase in cost (we are talking thousands here) and more people who are breeding the pups for the first time to try to cash in on this opportunity.

I've been to 4 different households all over Northern California to see potential pups and I've walked away each time because I didn't feel confident that the people were interested in breeding dogs in order to create a better, healthier overall species but rather they felt like they would give breeding it a shot to see how they did. Because Frenchie are prone to a number of illnesses, its critical that the healthiest dogs are being bred. Its heartbreaking.

I can only encourage people who are interested in getting a Frenchie to make sure that they are getting a puppy from a breeder that has experience, can provide references, lets you see both of the parents and make sure that both parents have good personalities and are not aggressive. Also I would recommend trying to bargain on the price as I've seen the cost of several Frenchies go down as the pups get older. One lady was asking $2,800 for her dog, and now she is down to $2,000.

Frenchies will always have a special place in my heart and I will probably get one eventually but now is not the right time for me.

Friday, March 7, 2014

When in Rome...

Here is a quick list of some of my favorite things in Rome:


Gelateria del Teatro: This newly remodeled gelato place has unique and enticing flavors like prickly pear and cinnamon. They will also let you combine multiple flavors into one cup- amazing for those of us who can't make a decision when there are so many amazing options. The gelato is made on-site and you can see those dear Italians hard at work from the street thanks to a large window into the workspace. The next best thing about this place are the stairs that are directly outside the shop so you can sit, enjoy your gelato and watch people go by. Its on Via die Coronari, which is a wonderful street featuring boutiques, antique shops and cute cafes. 

View of Teatro from the street
Inside of Teatro

San Crispino: Located 2 streets back from the Trevi Fountain, this place is a haven among horribly touristy restaurants and stores. There's no seating and the place is very basic and unsuspecting but totally delicious. My personal favorite is the banana. Be sure to get a sample of your choice selection because some flavors can be creamy while others can be more ice-y. 

First gelato of the trip!
Gelateria dei Gracchi: This one is on my list for my next trip to Roma. Its a nice break if you are close to St. Peters and the Vatican. 


Le Cupole Bar at Grand Hotel De La Minerve: I love this place for so many reasons. First would be its location right off Piazza della Minerva, which features one of my favorite sculptures in Rome, Bernini's Elephant and Obelisk, and best loved churches, Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Second would be the amazing Art Deco decor inside the hotel and third (and favorite) is the incredible sweeping views of the city provided by the rooftop bar. 
Bernini's Elephant
Interior view of Santa Maria sopra Minerva

Drinks on the rooftop bar
View of St. Peters at sunset

Antico Caffe della Pace: I am obsessed with this cafe and this area. I'm not quite sure what the neighborhood is called but its in the centro storico and optimizes old school Italy. A few winding streets behind Piazza Navona, this section has tons of adorable cafes, restaurants and boutiques. This cafe is right in the heart of it. The building itself is covered in busy, green ivy and has several little tables set out front. The inside is decorated with beautiful, funky antiques and the waitresses are friendly hipsters. Its a wonderful place to take a break from sightseeing and enjoy the Italian pace of life. 
Enjoying a drink at Caffe della Pace
Bar del Fico: Located around the corner from Caffe della Pace, Bar del Fico is a funky cafe and restaurant with a decent amount of inside seating and free wifi. Warning: the website is NSFW but should be seen for sheer wonder. 
Tree lined streets in centro storico

Da Francesco: Again located in the centro storico next to Bar del Fico, this restaurant is the epitome of an Italian eatery. Crazy, hectic, entertaining, a little rude but delicious. Get there early or be prepared for a bit of a wait. And don't expect your own spacious table, especially if you sit outside. You will be right on top of your neighbors but who cares if they are Italian and cool.


Hotel Fellini Inn: My friend and I stayed here for two nights last September and it was nice, clean and centrally located (only 2 or 3 blocks to San Crispino! and the Trevi Fountain). Its nothing out of this world but it suited our needs. They do offer a complimentary breakfast that was basic but had good coffee. It was a little tricky to find because I kept trying to ring the wrong door. I didn't walk far enough but I eventually figured it out. 

Trevi Fountain


I guess if its your first time to Rome its important to see the Coloseum, St. Peters, the Sistine Chapel, the list could go on and on. I have a love/hate relationship with these places. On the one hand, they are amazing, incredibly important contributions to history and art and humanity, but you will be there with nothing but other Americans and foreign tourists, in line and waiting for most of it. So be sure to take your time walking from one destination to the next to wander down side streets, step into random stores, look in as many churches as possible, to see the most of Italy as possible. 

Enjoy your trip!

Wonderful fountain on Italian side street
More views of Rome at sunset