10 August 2005

Pierre Herme & Hot Live Girls

Herme_miss_gla_gla_2

Paris-based French pastry chef Pierre Herme revolutionized the industry by creating defiantly modern signature seasonal sweets - and presenting them at edible fashion shows.

This year he previewed his work to the press not in the context of couture clothing - but quite the opposite. This line - dubbed Desirs - Desires - was unveiled at Crazy Horse - the club internationally renowned for the Art of the Nude.

That's right - I said nude.

I tragically did not witness the - er - unveiling. It was shortly after we won our second Michelin star at Les Ambassadeurs at the Crillon and I could not in good conscience tell my chef that I needed to abandon our kitchen to go to a nude club to taste pastries.

I said pastries - not pasties.

But I have had more than my fair share of Pierre Herme creations since then - from the limited edition collection as well as the classics. Pictured above are what might be the two most lasciviously viewed ice cream sandwiches in the food blog world. They first made their debut on chez pim. I believe they are only rivaled by Clement's masterful patisserie riffs. What you see here are mine and Pim's Pierre Herme Miss Gla'Gla's - macaron ice cream sandwiches - moments before they met their destinies. They were had after our wondrous lunch at L'Astrance with Clotilde.

The chef/owner of L'Astrance - Pascal Barbot - is a gastronomic artist, gentleman, and scholar. I've had the great honour and pleasure of accompanying him on his weekly pre-dawn visit to Rungis - just hours after closing the night before. He's also quietly experimenting with a molecular gastronomy scientist I know who works with Herve This.

The desserts were a generous and beautiful procession of sorbets, emulsions, flawless fresh fruit, buttery herbal madeleines, and ethereal custards in egg shells - yes, more egg shells! They were an absolutely perfect finale to a luxurious lunch.

But I have a weakness - I consider it almost a personal failing - in that I have a strong need for chocolate and/or ice cream for dessert. Sorry my pastry chef friends - I'm one of those clients.

Clotilde had to leave us after lunch - but I told Pim I knew just the perfect thing to satisfy our unsatiated dessert needs - but that it'd be a secret. On that unseasonably warm afternoon, we walked purposefully under the Eiffel Tower, through the Champ de Mars, hopped on the number 87 bus - in which we were promptly shushed by a 7th arrondissement matriarch because of our audibly feverish anticipation.

Pim - while she'd never been on a Paris bus - knows the city's culinary hot-spots well-enough that she sensed our destination before we disembarked - Pierre Herme on rue Bonaparte. And there - waiting within - was our journey's prize - Miss Gla'Gla.

The legendary line moved quickly - I chose the chocolate and Pim selected the Ispahan. We slipped out, crossed the street, and wordlessly - profanely - devoured our treasures on the steps of St. Sulpice.

The chocolate was richly aromatic - macarons delicately crisp yet firm - embracing ice cream deep in flavour, studded with crunchy cacao nibs, and enlivened with a suggestion of a turn of pepper and the fleeting finish of fleur de sel.

Pim and I swapped briefly - her Ispahan revealing a whole other world of sensations in an exhilarating rush - the rose fragrance intoxicating, the raspberry sorbet electrifying, and the lychee sorbet elusively seductive.

Pierre Herme currently has no website. He has two boutiques in Paris currently closed for summer vacation. They re-open on August 24th - at 10AM. Miss Gla'Gla's will be available until sometime in mid-September - depending on weather and availability. Ice cream by the liter is sold year-round - flavours vary according to availability - at 24E per liter. A Pierre Herme isothermic bag - resembling his coveted teardrop-perforated shopping bags - is available for 8E - it holds two precious liters.

Miss Gla'Gla Spring/Summer 2005 Collection
- Montebello: pistachio ice cream, strawberry sorbet, macaron sandwich
- Eden: peach sorbet, saffron and apricot ice cream, macaron sandwich

Miss Gla'Gla Classic Collection
- Celeste: passion-fruit ice cream, strawberry sorbet, rhubarb/strawberry compote, macaron sandwich
- Satine: fromage blanc sorbet, orange coulis, passion-fruit sorbet, passion-fruit macaron sandwich
- Ispahan: lychee/rose sorbet, raspberry sorbet, rose macaron sandwich
- Chocolat/Chocolate: single origin Madagascar chocolate sorbet, cacao nib nougatine, fleur de sel and pepper, chocolate macaron sandwich
- Caramel au Beurre Sale/Salted Butter Caramel: salted caramel/caramel crunch ice cream, sable sandwich

All for a mere 5.50E each.

Pierre Herme
72 rue Bonaparte
75006 Paris
01 43 54 47 77

185 rue de Vaugirard
75015 Paris
01 47 83 89 96

This is the third in a summer series on ice cream in Paris.

Each post is dedicated to a charity that works in the fight against worldwide hunger. Please donate now to Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders. Thank you.

05 August 2005

Amorino - Cold War

Amorino_cone_case

On a small quiet island in the middle of Paris, a cold war rages. It's French loyalists versus Italian insurgents - Berthillon ice cream versus Amorino gelato.

Amorino first invaded Paris in the sweltering summer of 2002. Two Italians living in France dared to open a gelateria on the home turf of ice cream aristocracy Berthillon on the tiny Ile St. Louis. Their voluptuously undulating gelatos displayed brazenly in an expansive glass case might be a common sight elsewhere in the world but are a striking contrast to the user-unfriendly cone counter at Berthillon. There, wondrous ice cream and sorbets are plainly held in deep, dark metal containers - almost purposely disguising the treasures within.

And the Amorino cones themselves are stunning. I could easily believe culinary anthropologists if they told me that ice cream was essential to earliest human survival - based on my own hard-wired desire tripped at the mere sight of one of these creamy confections.

But how do they taste? I recently tried five chocolate-based gelato flavours on a single cone - at Amorino you're welcome to have as many flavours as you want. I had Ciccolatto/Dark Chocolate, Stracciatella/Chocolate Chip, Bacio/Chocolate Hazelnut, Nutella, and a seasonal flavour of chocolate ice cream with crumbled orange cake. Initially they were notably creamy with a dense, full mouth-feel - with distinct, intense flavours. The chocolate with orange cake was my favourite - with a rich cocoa aroma and taste - offset by pleasantly bitter zest in the cake - which itself provided interest to the texture. And as I've admitted previously, I do like stuff in my ice cream. But as much as I enjoyed the experience, I found that the gelatos overall lacked depth to their flavours to sustain them beyond the initial excitement.

On a Foccacina - a sweet egg bread creation that redefines the ice cream sandwich - I tasted Frutti di Bosco/"Fruit of the Woods"/wild berries sorbet, Yogurt gelato, and Frutto della Passione/passion-fruit sorbet. The sorbets were vibrant at first taste, but again lost interest soon after. However, the surprise came with the yogurt gelato - an interesting and delicious balance of sweet, acid, and a barest trace of salt - an element you find makes the best caramel and chocolate that much better. The yogurt gelato is actually the favourite flavour of all the gelato and sorbetto sculptors at the St. Germain location that I visited.

Amorino_ic_sammy

Amorino cones and cups come in three sizes - mine was the mere mortal medium. They suggest no more than six flavours at once to best appreciate their tastes. Their tip is to request all of your flavours together - different gelatos have different consistencies - and those can vary each day and even more throughout the day - only your sculptor knows from working them - from the feel through the paddle. If you request all your flavours from the start, they can construct your cone with consistencies in mind for optimal structural integrity - with the densest gelatos at the center.

Their gelato is made throughout the day at each location except Ile St. Louis and the Marais which are too small for production facilities. The kitchen in St. Germain supplies those two - and is the largest and busiest of all the boutiques.

By the way, Amorino stays open all summer - no traditional French vacation closure.

Amorino
six locations in Paris

This is the second in a summer series on ice cream in Paris.

Each post is dedicated to a charity that works in the fight against worldwide hunger. Please donate at least the price of a single cone now to UNICEF. Thank you.

21 June 2005

Berthillon

Berthillon_cone_board

Berthillon opens in the morning with at least 32 of their fabled ice cream and sorbet flavours. By the time they close they might have 10 left. Ice cream aficionados from the world over make their pilgrimage to the small shop hidden at the tail end of the Ile St. Louis. They fervently murmur the names of their favourite flavours - melon, peach, blood orange, and the nearly mythical strawberry of the woods - fraise des bois. As they approach the narrow storefront, their eyes scan anxiously over the nameplates on the flavour board. They're often with generations of family in tow, some who've only heard the legend, but all feverishly whispering their flavour prayers.

I have not been one of the faithful. I first tasted Berthillon ice cream in the fall of 2000 - one of the coldest and rainiest in recent Parisian history. I thought it was good, but not great, with scoops too small and relatively expensive. After a sit-down visit inside I perceived inhospitality towards my dog, so I wrote them off. I joined the opposing ranks - those who defame the ice cream house's name - decrying their long lines, slow and rude service, and stingy portions of overpriced, uninspired ice cream.

In fact, just recently, when over the course of two days off, I decided to taste what I believe are some of the most important ice creams in Paris at the moment, I left Berthillon off for last. After tasting nearly 30 ice creams in less than 48 hours, I expected Berthillon to be flat and confirm my dismissal.

I confess - I was wrong. I was surprised to find that Berthillon not only impressed my overwrought taste buds, but also offered an unsurpassed sensuality. I was lost, but now I'm found.

Above you see my chocolate ice cream on the left, the darker chocolate sorbet on the right, and fraise des bois sorbet on top. Click on the photo to see all the day's flavours.

Founder Raymond Berthillon has long said that the flavour by which all ice cream should be judged is vanilla. It is the mantra of purists. I understand, and while I've worked with some of the finest and most alluring whole vanilla beans available on the market in my gastronomic training, for me, there is but one personal standard - chocolate.

At each shop I tasted their chocolate ice cream, chocolate sorbet if they had one, and one other flavour - either their signature or most popular creation.

At Berthillon, what struck me first was that the texture of the scoops was impeccable. Soft on the tongue, remaining firm at the center, holding shape beautifully, while yielding to the warmth of the mouth. I found tiny, whole, frozen fraises des bois in the sorbet - tart, vivid flashes of its wild nature. The chocolate ice cream was the ideal - silky, rich, and comforting in its milky chocolate. But it was the chocolate sorbet that left me breathless - uninhibited by cream, it drew me deeply to the dark side.

I spoke with Monsieur Berthillon's granddaughter, Muriel Delpuech, at the shop. Her mother works mornings - she works until close. Like keepers of the faith, there's always a family member watching the store.

She told me that during last year's vacation closure they were finally able to expand into their longtime neighbor's space - Berthillon celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. They opened the new salon de thé - tea salon - at last year's rentrée - or return - from summer vacation in September. They also renovated their existing space - moving the pastries and blocks of ice cream and sorbets by the liter towards the back. Most importantly for the majority of visitors, the family was finally able to add a second scoop station in front. The lines are still long - reaching down the street and around the corner on warm and sunny days - but they now move briskly. It's only after clients receive their blessed cones that they still slow, absorbed, and then drift away.

The new flavours this season are a peach and mint sorbet and a thyme and lemon sorbet. There have been over 70 flavours in 51 years, with only one notable failure - a peanut ice cream back in the 90s. While that sounds enticingly like peanut butter to Americans, the French are no fans of our lunchbox staple.

At the height of their summer production, Berthillon will make one thousand liters a day. They'll sell 500 liters alone at the boutique. The remaining 500 will be scooped in and around the city. The family has no desire to increase production much less become an international brand.

Muriel's favourite flavour is vanilla - fraise des bois when it's in season. She has a 5-year-old daughter - fourth generation in the Berthillon family. Her favourite? Vanilla too. Purists.

Me - I might be saved but I'm still a heathen. I want that chocolate sorbet and I want it now.

Berthillon
31 rue St. Louis en L’Ile
75004 Paris
Métro Line 7/Pont Marie
01 43 54 31 61

Open 10:00 to 20:00. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

Cones or cups cost 2 euros for one scoop; 3 euros for two scoops; 4 euros for three scoops. 20 centimes extra per scoop for fraise des bois - only available in the summer - and marrons glacés - glazed chestnuts - only available the winter. Cones are for takeaway only.

The boutique will close from 17 July until 01 September 2005 for their annual six week vacation, but production will continue - ensuring fresh Berthillon ice cream and sorbet in and around Paris all summer long.

This is the first in a summer series on ice cream in Paris.

Each post is dedicated to a charity that works in the fight against worldwide hunger. Please donate now to America's Second Harvest. Thank you.