Food & Cooking · Seen/Heard/Tried · Summer Bucket List · Tried

French Restaurant Chez Olivier

On my Summer Bucket List (and bucket lists past, for that matter), when I wrote “fancy night around town,” I generally meant that I wanted to dress up for no reason at all and do ordinary things–just for fun. But as I was researching dinners for our anniversary weekend, I came across a perfect reason for dressing up and NOT doing an ordinary thing: Michelin Star-Rated restaurant Chez Olivier.

After perusing the bilingual website and reading about Chef Olivier’s history and approach to his restaurant, I was especially intrigued by the presentation of the meals in the pictures, and at how the menu is always changing with the season based on what is available. Ever since watching The Hundred Foot Journey (a great movie, if you haven’t seen it!),  I’ve been curious about restaurants with the coveted Michelin Star, so I have to admit that was part of my reasoning for wanting to go, too. Since we went to Hakone on our anniversary weekend, this weekend was our chance to visit Chez Olivier with a Saturday night reservation for 6:30.IMG_2324Weeeee! I was so excited! IMG_2325Here is our table set for two before the meal began. This was the stage at which we learned our first lesson: be sure to specify you want TAP water if all you want to drink is water. The waitress (who was truly quite friendly) opened a bottle of Evian with a charge of 1100 yen and I think our hearts broke a bit with each pour. IMG_2326We chose a dinner course with a starter, main and dessert. Before the starter there was a little complimentary appetizer of bread with bits of bacon and other flavors, a drop of soup, and a mussel with hazelnut and herb butter on salt. The waitress recommended we start with the soup (which was on the spoon in the middle), and it ended up being a delightful surprise. We wondered how it could be soup when it looked like a little mound of cheese or something, but upon putting it in our mouths, it burst open and filled our palette with really smooth flavor. So sorry I can’t remember more about the description of each item on this plate as she just told us briefly as it was served. The mussel was my favorite little bite. IMG_2327Next came our appetizers. I chose the Gazpacho jelly with mozzarella, tomatoes, shrimp, and avocado, and it was just fabulous. The little swirls of green were the avocado, which really smoothed out the tanginess of the soup. We were also served complimentary bread (warmed) with fresh-made Hokkaido butter. We may have eaten nearly all of that butter by the end of the meal because it was so creamy yet light, and I have no shame about the matter at all. IMG_2328Sorry this picture is blurry, but this was Chad’s appetizer: Pressed chicken meat, rhubarb, acidulated red onions, and cooking juice. He gave me a bite, and his was also quite nice. IMG_2330Next up was our main course, and both of us chose the roasted duckling fillet with cherry sauce and a creamy polenta. (Chad paired his with a nice red wine.) The duckling was imported from France and was just divine with the cherry sauce. And the polenta! It just melted in our mouths. Absolutely delicious. IMG_2331At this point, depending on how you look at it, we learned our second lesson of the night. We were brought a cheese platter and asked if we’d like some cheese. Chad chose a really nice blue cheese, and I chose Gorgonzola. Our slices were served with a bit of dried fig and a couple drops of balsamic vinegar. The lesson? Each serving added 800 yen each to our bill! On the bright side, we definitely enjoyed the cheese. IMG_2332Next up was a complimentary pre-dessert of assorted cheesecakes. There was rare cheesecake, some cheesecake ice cream with a small bit of lime zest, a raspberry cheesecake, passion fruit sauce, and a couple other little logs of cheesecake. Each bite was soooooo delightful. If only I could just send you a bite or two! IMG_2333Next was our dessert. Both of us chose the Creamy Chocolate ”Caramelia,” mascarpone and maple syrup espuma (a gourmet foam or whip), crispy praline,  and milk ice-cream dessert. IMG_2334The dessert was layered, and I enjoyed trying each layer individually, and then altogether.  IMG_2335See the layers? Don’t you just want to dive in and disappear into chocolate caramel heaven? IMG_2336Before our meal was complete, we were given two cannelés to share, a small sweet which actually originated in Olivier’s hometown of Bordeaux. The outside was crisp and honeyed, and the inside was soft and spongey with egg and rum-flavored crumb.

Overall, our experience at Chez Olivier was delightful. The courses themselves were 4800 yen each, but with the added expenses of the Evian water, Chad’s glass of wine, the cheese and a 10% service charge, we felt a sad little pang when receiving the bill. BUT! Here’s what we thought as we left: we learned a bit about dining fancy, we had an amazing time (we were there for about 2 1/2 hours talking and dining), and the food was just awesome. The staff was pretty friendly and helpful, and the atmosphere was nice. We definitely enjoyed our time, and will be trying more fancy places once in a while in the future.

Have you eaten anything amazing lately?

xx Caitlyn

Around Town

Around Town: Paul (a bakery)

IMG_1904Last weekend Chad and I stumbled across a bakery/cafe called Paul in Shinjuku, and from the amazing smell permeating the air alone, I knew I would have to visit soon. Fortunately, “soon” came this afternoon. We were trying to decide where to go for a walk, and I asked, “How about we walk to that bakery with that giant heart thing?”

IMG_1902IMG_1948These sandwiches looked just like the ones we had in France…

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IMG_1950The massive heart “thing” (a palmier) I had my eyes on last weekend can be seen above on the bottom shelf!  IMG_1951 IMG_1953Drooling yet?

IMG_1954IMG_1963I loved the look of this bakery, both outside and in. Gorgeous glass windows showcased bread and a few pastries to view from outside, and the glass cases inside tempted us with everything else. Additionally, the ceiling was made of really pretty wood, there were simple prints throughout the bakery, and very subtle splashes of soft color.

IMG_1956After arriving home for the day, I researched a little bit about Paul and found out that it is a chain that started in France. The corporate history is kind of neat, and there’s other information on the international site if you’re interested, too.IMG_1957Chad and I decided to split a raspberry frangipane tartlet, and it was quite lovely.

IMG_1958 IMG_1960 IMG_1961The balance of the almond crust with the creamy cheesecake-like filling and the juiciness of the raspberries made for a delightful afternoon dessert.  IMG_1964We decided to get the chocolate covered palmier to go for tea time later. Apparently, palmiers are made with puff pastry in a similar way to croissants, but without yeast. You know how much I love a good croissant, but I also really appreciate the light, flaky, crunchy texture of a good palmier. And now, rather than referring to them as heart-things, I will remember the actual pastry name!

Have you tried any new cafes lately?
xxCaitlyn

Food & Cooking

Nutella + Croissants = Love

Breakfast in ParisBreakfast on our first morning in Paris, March 2012. Croissant, baguette, and hot cocoa.

When we took our 18-day FISH trip a couple years ago (France, Italy, Spain and Holland), we enjoyed some awesome food. I especially indulged in eating croissants in France–sometimes just buttery and flaky ones, other times buttery and flaky ones with chocolate inside. Since going to France, I have yet to enjoy croissants that are as delicious as the ones we ate in Paris. (I mentioned before that Starbucks’ new La Boulange line has some croissants, but they can’t compare.) Elizabeth Bard describes croissants perfectly in her book Lunch in Paris, which my sister-in-law and I made recipes from for our book club months ago.

I like flake, a croissant with an outer layer so fine and brittle that you get crumbs all over yourself from the first bite. When you pull it apart there should be some empty space, pockets of air between the buttery layers of dough. When you finally do rip off a hunk to dip in your coffee, it stretches a little before it breaks. More crumbs, but utterly worth the mess.

Ahhhhhhh *drools*….oh yeah…where was I? Oh yes, I was reaching a point about all this croissant-love. After leaving Paris, we headed to Rome, and part of the breakfast served at our hotel was croissants and Nutella. This was my first experience eating Nutella. (I had always mistakenly thought Nutella originated in France–when in actuality it’s from Italy–because when I studied abroad one of my French dorm-mates was constantly eating the stuff. That was the first time I had ever seen or heard of Nutella, so I wrongly assumed Nutella was French. My error was corrected by one of my lovely French friends a couple weeks after we got back from Europe, but when we were in Rome I was like, “Wow, Italians love Nutella, too!”)

Apparently, everyone loves Nutella (and why wouldn’t they!?), because the Nutella-croissant combo was also offered to us at our B&B in Barcelona. I quickly realized that I was developing an unhealthy addiction to the new-to-me breakfast treat, so it was good to return to Japan where Nutella was too pricey to buy regularly.

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Believe it or not, I actually never did purchase Nutella–not until I needed some for our bake-off last weekend. In honor of those glorious days in Europe, I decided to whip up some Pillsbury croissants this morning to have with some of the leftover Nutella. Of course the little meal wasn’t the same as what we had on our trip, but it definitely was good enough for a stand-in on a blustery winter morning. I’ll never tell how much I ate.

Do you have any foods that just aren’t the same as ones you had while traveling? What are some breakfasts you enjoyed while on a trip?

Food & Cooking · Learning · Seen

Lunch in Paris

paris

Paris, March 2012

So this post isn’t actually about a time I had lunch in Paris (like we were about to in the picture above!), but about the book Lunch in Paris, by Elizabeth Bard. I mentioned my sister-in-law Ariel and I have started our own book club, and for our first book we chose this “love story with recipes.”

20130818-100402.jpgWith Lunch in Paris open on the countertop, I gave one of Bard’s recipes a try!

Ariel and I decided to try out some of the recipes in the book to eat way too much of nibble on while we discussed the reading questions, so I chose to make the yogurt cake (recipe after post). I stuck with the recipe’s directions and used apricots, but Bard also suggests using other seasonal fruit, like raspberries or blueberries mixed with a little brown sugar (and to possibly add a streusel topping!).

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I thought the cake turned out quite well–it was sweet without being overwhelmingly so. I mentioned to Ariel that the cake’s flavor reminded me of Japanese sweets. American sweets tend to have intense bursts of flavor all at once, while Japanese sweets have a subtle sweetness that makes you feel as if there is a secret you want to take bites of to discover more. Ariel and I talked a lot about similarities between France and Japan, and how meals in Japan & France contrast with those in America–specifically how Americans tend to favor convenience, speed and overindulgence over the preparation and enjoyment of each meal (meals which in France and Japan–also contrary to the typical American meals–tend to last over an hour or more).

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Ariel made delicious Coconut Macaroons

Ariel and I both feel like we generally try to combat that stereotypical “speed and convenience” attitude when it comes to food–that we try to recognize that when we make a meal, we are working to produce something that is shared together in an intimate, familiar place. Sitting together at the table allows us to focus on each other while connecting over good food and possibly sharing symbols of our family “culture” or our culture at large.

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This wasn’t a competition, but I would say the macaroons won! 😉

One passage that really struck a chord with me in Lunch in Paris was toward the end of the book, where Bard wishes there were an “in-between” place in which she could experience the things she loves about each of her cultures, leaving the not-so-good stuff behind. I could completely relate to that feeling: I want ramen and tonkatsu, but I also love a good roast or having turkey on Thanksgiving. I love all of the kawaii stuff everywhere in Japan, but I also love the convenient, cheap toiletries, makeup, lotion, art supplies, etc. here! I love crazy Japanese fashion, but I also enjoy the practical styles (that I can fit into!) in America. I want the Japanese transportation system, but sometimes nothing is better than going for a car ride with the windows rolled down. I love the focus on presentation and tradition in Japan, but sometimes it’s better to break rules if they don’t make sense and to live a little out of bounds. I’m forever homesick for one place or the other.

We had a lot of fun with our first book, and have decided that we’d like to try recipes out with future books, too! You can look forward to more recipes in the future, but for now, see the recipes we tried below. You can also find the reading guide we used here.

YOGURT CAKE

Gâteau au Yaourt

1 cup plain yogurt

1 cup sugar

A large pinch of sea salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup vegetable oil

2 large eggs

1 2/3 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

Zest of 1 lemon

One 16-ounce can apricots, drained and quartered

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil a 10-inch round cake pan and line it with parchment paper.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar, salt, and vanilla, whisking until smooth. Add the oil in a steady stream, whisking to combine. Add the eggs one by one, whisking to incorporate after each addition.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda; add to the yogurt mixture; whisk lightly to combine. Stir in the lemon zest.

Transfer the batter to your cake pan; top with the chopped apricots. Bake on the center rack of the oven for 45 minutes, until golden brown and slightly risen. A toothpick in the center should come out clean.

Lift the cake by the parchment paper onto a wire rack to cool. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. This cake actually gets moister with age, so it tastes great the next day. Simply cover the fully cooled cake with aluminum foil; an airtight container or plastic bag will make it soggy.

Yield: Makes on 10-inch cake

*I adapted the recipe slightly by flipping the cake over after it cooled to make a little dome shape, and by dusting powdered sugar on top. I think the presentation would be even prettier with a couple of fresh apricot slices placed in the middle!

*Recipe originally posted here.

AUNT JOYCE’S COCONUT MACAROONS

2 2/3 cups grated coconut (the fluffier the better!)

14 ounces sweetened condensed milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Extra grated coconut to finish

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

In a medium mixing bowl, gently combine 2 2/3 cups of the coconut, the condensed milk and the extracts. Using 2 teaspoons (or even better, a melon baller), form into 1 1/2 inch balls. Work gently, as you would making meatballs; you don’t want your macaroons to be too dense.

Bake in a slow oven for 15 minutes. Depending on the absorbancy of your coconut, the macaroons may ooze a bit; pat them gently back into shape and roll them in additional grated coconut.

Cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container. These are more like candy than cookies, so serve them sparingly, with good strong coffee.

Yield: Makes 20 macaroons

*Ariel said her macaroons oozed a bit as the recipe predicted they might, but they turned out fabulous. We sampled our desserts with peppermint tea.

*Recipe from Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard (pg 314 of our edition).

Have you read any good books lately that you’d like to suggest? What recipes have you tried lately?

Around Town · Tried

Hysteric Jam

The other night we went out with some friends and got into a discussion about how we tried so many foods from different cultures for the first time while in Japan, rather than in our own countries. I mentioned in my post about 10 New Foods I Tried between March 2012 – March 2013 that we tried a lot since traveling while in Japan, but even before that we were introduced to many delicious foods from around the world while living here. For example, before visiting Korea, we tried bibimbap in Japan. Before visiting Italy, we tried carbonara in Japan. And before visiting France, we tried crêpes in Japan.

I think the first time I had crêpes was while living in Kobe, and after remembering that delightful experience, I decided we should make a trip to have some as a special Golden Week treat. We headed to a lovely crêpe shop called Hysteric Jam, and stood in front of the huge glass display case, debating between flavors before finally settling on our choices.

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Chad chose one with berries, chocolate and nama cream (bottom left, above), and I chose a heavenly one with brownies, chocolate and custard.

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Someday I want to try savory crêpes, but on the rare occasion we have crêpes I can never seem to convince myself to choose savory over sweet! Have you tried crêpes before? If so, what are your favorite toppings?