Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Nice, France: La Ville Arc-en-Ciel. Rainbow City

La ville Arc-en-Ciel

I don't know about you, but the excitement over fall colors is already wearing thin. It may be because in the Pacific Northwest, fall colors come in the wet form... Glistening pumpkins; shining evergreen leaves; dripping trick or treaters hopping over puddles to reach the next slippery driveway (well, ok. It poured all day, but the rain did stop tonight when the kids hit the street...) 

Give it another two or three weeks, and all we can hope for - for five more months at least - is a monotonous two-tone scenery: Grey (if you look up) and green (moss and evergreens.) Nothing to be excited about, n'est-ce-pas

Oh, I know. Things could be worse. Seattle could have been on Sandy's path this week when "Frankenstorm" took the East Coast by storm. That region is still reeling from the disaster, and will likely continue to do so for weeks. Hugs to you, East Coast! You were my first [American] love. I did not forget.

But over here, in the Pacific Northwest, we are going to need - and use - every excuse to smile and have a good time over the next few months.

In order to counteract the effect of a S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder,) a condition well-known in Northern latitudes, where Vitamin D is as elusive as a stylish Seattleite at the local Red Robin, a friend recently started researching the benefits of luminotherapy. She gets up 30 minutes early and sits by a small, blue light bulb while sipping her café Latte. Best way to combat the winter blues, she claims. 

Why do I find the idea of replacing natural sunlight with artificial light so depressing? Has mon amie gone "toc-toc?"

Chacun son truc. To each his own. 

But, if the prospect of looking a blue light bulb in the eye several hours a week (or popping in "Happy Pills") does not appeal too you, follow me. I, French Girl, have found the Cure. And I will share it with you, my dear reader. Who says the French are arrogant and indifferent? People who have never traveled to France, that's who!

This French Girl is going to tell you a secret. When you feel down, and need joy and energy in your life, go to Nice, France. Some people know that city as a jewel of the French Riviera. Others have heard her nickname, Nissa la Bella. Beautiful Nice. You may remember I have a soft spot for that Southern Belle.

As I was going through old photos, I thought of a new name for Nice: La Ville Arc-en-Ciel. Rainbow city. Why don't you join me on a colorful promenade niçoise today? You will agree, I know it. Allons-y! Let's go!

The first thing one notices is the sky. It takes on so many different shades throughout the day, and blue does not even start to describe it. It is best to show it. 

Painter Henri Matisse's old house, place Charles Felix

near the Préfecture

Do you see what I mean? Already, you are feeling better. Already, your spirits are up; your energy revived. Forget the blue light bulb. The blue light bulb now sits in the trash, useless, forgotten. 

While approaching the maze of seemingly dark, narrow, and winding streets of le Vieux Nice (the Old Nice,) one might hesitate for a split second. After all, one can't ignore the neighborhood's once shadowy past...

They say la fortune sourit aux audacieux (Fortune favors the Brave.) Come on, follow me...

Is it Italy? Is it France? Old Europe, definitely. Everywhere around you, intense sounds, smells, and colors. Bright façades or unassuming walls. Sleepy houses in the early morning. 

Et les volets de Nice. Did you notice them? Nice's wood shutters. A world all of their own. Unless their American counterparts, they work for a living, keeping houses dark at night, and cool in the summer heat. Sleepy giants who may - or may not - open one eye as you walk by. They serve the city well, as Nice façades reflect into their eyes... Again, colors, so many colors. Shades of ochre, yellow, red, green and blue. You feel yourself smiling. 

Leave la Vieille Ville (the Old Town) behind, and the rainbow follows you... 

Place Masséna
La Grande Bleue. The Big Blue.

At sunset, then at night, Nice, la ville Arc-en-Ciel, shines.

Le port, "en feu..."
The harbor, ablaze

Place Masséna

Place Masséna

Palais Rusca
Place du Palais de Justice

Convinced yet?

Some might still prefer the blue light bulb. 

Moi, I have found it, my Happy Place: It is a lively, hospitable city on the shore of la Grande Bleue (the Mediterranean.) I have a friend in la Ville Arc-en-Cielanother one nearby, and that makes it all the more special.

One day soon, I will go back. Until then, whenever I need a dose of good old-fashioned joie-de-vivre, I can look at these photos and pay Nice a visit. And now, so can you. 

A bientôt.

My table is waiting...

All photos by French Girl in Seattle

Do not use, repost, or Pin, without permission.
Thank you.

Note to my readers: 

I am having a hard time getting used to the new Blogger format. It seems I have a tendency to push "Publish" instead of "Preview" as I am writing my stories. This is why some of you may have received early notifications... for a post that did not exist yet. Je suis désolée. My apologies. Better late than never. I hope you enjoyed this story.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Ballade gourmande (*)... Seattle's best pastry shops

Fall has arrived with a vengeance. Wait, not fall. More like premature winter. Brrrrr... I have been drinking Fauchon tea almost daily, and this only happens when I am cold. 

It looks like I will start wearing my new charming French doudoune, Mademoiselle Plume, a lot sooner than expected. Yes, it has arrived, and it looks even better in person. So cute. So warm. So light. Je t'aime, Mademoiselle Plume. Oh, and for all the readers who expressed concerns about puffer coats (what a horrible name!) I am happy to report Mademoiselle Plume is not puffy at all. I believe I am lucky enough to own the only, stylish, streamlined Doudoune in the universe. 

Ce n'est pas moi, mais c'est bien Mademoiselle Plume!
(This isn't me, but it is, indeed, Mademoiselle Plume)

Long story short, it is cold, and wet, and about to get worse... for a long, long, long, time. What's a French Girl to do? Indulge her cravings, that's what.

A few days ago, I headed for Seattle (not a fast trip from our corner of the boonies,) determined to check out a few local pâtisseries friends have raved about. Even though I have reviewed some of the Emerald city's French-flavored restaurants and bakeries in the past, I wanted to add a few notches to my list.

I had three names, and found another one along the way (it seems Seattleites have great taste and a penchant for French-themed eateries.) 

The first two pâtisseries were located in a favorite neighborhood, Ballard. Let me say right now that I would have never hit my targets without the help of a favorite sidekick, Tonks(**), my cute little car. I love it when she talks to me in that firm, no-nonsense voice of hers and points me in the right direction every single time. I do not trust easily, but I have learned to trust Tonks.

Tonks: Always ready for new adventures!

Then there is the other sidekick, of course, le fabulous and highly capable Panasonic Lumix LX 5. He and I have been on most excellent adventures together! I have learned to trust Le Lumix the way I trust Tonks. Thanks to my skilled friend, I have also learned to believe in my skills as a budding photographer when taking over manual controls on the camera. 

I love the old-fashioned styling and that bright, ultra-wide angle Leica lens!

So, on a chilly but dry fall morning, Tonks, le Lumix and this French Girl headed to the Ballard neighborhood in search of a couple of phenomenal (according to the critics) pastry shops. 

We hit Café Besalu first. If you look at the sign hanging outside, you immediately know what their specialty is.

I had been warned about the long lines that often meander around the block on weekends. It took me under ten minutes to reach the counter, as I peeked at the patrons' selections. Two gentlemen were kind enough to let me take a picture of their table, an impressive display of American efficiency: At 10:00am, they had managed to combine breakfast and lunch, and were enjoying a large café latte, quiche, and an appetizing plum danish (I prefer the French name, "tartelette aux prunes.") When they found out I was French, one of them, a francophile, broke into an enthusiastic - if booming - rendition of "La Marseillaise." I congratulated him (he even knew the meaning of the words!) 

Bon appétit, Messieurs!

An arduous selection process began, and I decided to focus on French pâtisseries, including the famed Café Besalu croissant... à emporter (to go,) of course, so Les Boys could help me sample all the goodies in the evening. 

Seattle, land of the fancy coffee drinks...

The kitchen where small miracles happen daily...

The day was still young when I headed to the second stop on my gourmande map: Honoré Artisan Bakery. This was also a small place, with a few tables and some window seats. I liked the comfy Adirondack chairs outside even if the weather was too chilly to sit down for long. Honoré is more of a traditional pâtisserie than Café Besalu (that seems to specialize in what we, French, call viennoiseries, or flaky dough type of pastries.) The selection is colorful, appetizing... and pricey. They are famous for their macarons (le trendy, chi-chi French cookie,) and other specialties such as le Cannelé (imagine a soft custard center in a caramelized crust...) 

Macarons et Cannelés

I left with a couple of boxes, and about $30 lighter, all in the name of thorough investigating.

The best surprise awaited me outside. I noticed I was in an older and quieter corner of lively Ballard. There was no rush: Le Lumix and I decided to take a walk. This French Girl can never resist an urban vibe...

Along the way, I was reminded that Seattle is a city full of granola-eating, free-thinking, fleece-wearing tree-huggers...

Curbs are so much more attractive with an improvised city garden...

Seattle: Friendly and civilized all the way to the roundabouts...

The houses were a sight to behold: Most reflected pride of ownership... and artistic freedom (no restrictive covenants in this neighborhood, no sir-ree!)

La maison violette

La maison verte

La maison bleue...

It was obvious Halloween was around the corner... The Great Pumpkin will not fail to make a stop there. The Great Pumpkin is no fool and will always choose an éclair au chocolat over that vile dessert Americans name "pumpkin pie"...

Le chat noir

Oh, la, la!

Do not drink and drive, kids!

But there was more work to be done, and this investigator had to press on. Mighty Tonks drove me to another favorite Seattle neighborhood, on historical Queen Anne hill. 

I bumped into Café de Lion by chance; a cozy, elegant lunch place and coffee shop, with a French flavor (including Parisian background music,) a limited selection of savory dishes and an even more limited collection of beautifully executed pâtisseries, crafted liked art pieces... The owner explained that his wife had taken private lessons with a Ritz Hotel Chef while in Paris a few years ago... Lunch was delicious (a croque-monsieur with a tree hugger twist.) I had to wait to enjoy dessert and dutifully ordered a couple of pastries to go. 

Will power, folks; it's all about will power.

One of ze French touches...

The nicest packaging of all the pastry shops I visited that day...

Croque Portobello: Entirely vegetarian. Entirely organic.

It was almost time to head back across the lake so I could be home when Junior returned from school. I made one last stop at charming Le Rêve; a tea room, coffee shop and boulangerie-pâtisserie all in one. This was a special place. It made you feel like lingering on, in the dining room or on the patio. Once again, I made a few selections... to go. 

That evening, it felt a little bit like Christmas chez nous... Les Boys could not believe their eyes: What a grand finale to a busy week that was. Each item was sliced in several pieces so we could sample our loot over the next two days. 

Dedication, folks; it's all about dedication...

Viennoiserie selection from Le Rêve.
Pain au chocolat, croissant, croissant aux amandes, and Kouin Aman (a specialty from Brittany)

Viennoiseries from Café Besalu:
Pain au chocolat,  croissant, plum danish, Sacristain

Pâtisserie selection:
Tarte aux poires, macarons, canelés, éclairs au chocolat (Honoré Artisan Bakery)
Kouin Aman (Café Besalu)
Mont Blanc, macarons (Café de Lion)

The winner? All of the above. There were a few differences, of course, but all in all, Le Husband and I agreed that these were superior products, redefining the expression "sweet little nothings." And that, my friends, is great news for all of us Seattleites, natives or imports, because as long as one can indulge in one of these incredible pâtisseries once in a while, then surely, life is good, even in the cold, even in the rain...

A bientôt.

Unless otherwise noted, all photos by French Girl in Seattle
Please do not use, repost or Pin without permission.

(*) Gourmand (goor-mahnd:) noun. 1. a person who is fond of good eating, often indiscriminately and to excess. 2. a gourmet; epicure. 3. a person with a sweet tooth. 
(source: and French Girl in Seattle)

(**) If you need to ask about the name Tonks, I know you have never read Harry Potter!