29 November 2017

A visit to 2 small museums in Paris

There are many reasons why my wife and I keep coming back to Paris. One of them is the immense variety of things to see and do there. Every time we return, we have a list of favorite places to see and things to do. But we also have a companion list of new things to visit and do.

Ossip Zadkine, a sculptor's self-portrait. 
The itinerary for our October trip included a pair of small museums that we'd read about - Musee Zadkine and the Musee d'Art et d'Historie du Judaisme. (Both, by the way, are recommended by a French blogger who I follow. Her name is Clotilde Dusoulier. She calls her blog Chocolate & Zucchini.)

Our plan was to go to Zadkine first. It's located close to the Luxembourg Gardens and only a few blocks from the hotel where we stayed. This fit our plan of old and new nicely, since the Gardens are on our must-visit list. So on a bright Monday morning, after getting checked into our hotel, we strolled across the Gardens to find the museum. 

It turned out to be not that easy. We had the correct address. We even had it on Google Maps, but somehow walked by it without noticing. When we finally got reoriented and found the door, we were chagrined to realize that the museum is closed on Monday. Well, no matter. We had plenty of things to see on our list. 

We almost decided not to come back. That would have been a bad decision. On Wednesday, after a breakfast of espresso and a croissant, we made our way across the Gardens again and were pleased to find the doors open and welcoming. We did have one more glitch. Musee Zadkine is usually listed as a free museum. But on our visit, we had to pay an entrance fee of a few Euros. It turns out that there was a special exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary of the artist's death. 

The artist, Ossip Zadkine, was born in Russia in 1890. He studied in London and moved to Paris in 1910. His home and studio now is the site of the museum that features his sculptures. The special exhibit was particularly fascinating, since it included works by many other artists who influenced Zadkine. These included Pablo Picasso and Auguste Rodin. 

Many of Zadkine's pieces are displayed in a quiet garden surrounding his studio.
While the Musee Zadkine exceeded our expectations, the Musee d'Art et d'Historie du Judaisme was ... not disappointing, but also not quite as engaging as we had expected. In fact, if you look at the museum's site online, I think it's more interesting than the actual museum. 

I hope that doesn't come across as too harsh. We did enjoy the museum. It does exactly what the name describes - it provides a broad historical perspective on Jewish history beginning in the Biblical era. It appropriately has a focus on the history of Jews in France, but not exclusively. 

It's located in the Hotel de Saint-Aignan. (The museum's web site provides an interesting history of the building.) Our visit provided us with a nice cultural break after spending the morning sightseeing and shopping in the Marais. (The museum's web site explains that the Jewish presence in the Marais dates back 700 years, but with notable gaps during periods of anti-Semitic persecution and expulsion.) 

The courtyard leading to the entrance of the Jewish museum.

27 November 2017

A fascinating, but morbid visit to a Paris cemetery

We all make compromises with loved ones, right? I don't know if visiting a cemetery would have been high on my list of things to do in Paris. But my wife really wanted to. So on an overcast and blustery day in mid-October, we trekked across town to the gates of the Pere Lachaise Cemetery. 

My first suggestion - learn from our mistake. Don't walk. Take a taxi or public transportation. It was a long walk, 2.5 miles, from our hotel near the Pantheon. It wasn't a bad walk, but the neighborhoods were not particularly scenic. It was nice to see some of the neighborhoods outside of the tourist center of Paris. And, for that matter, it didn't take too much longer than public transportation. It took us around 45 minutes to walk it. The shortest public transit route took 31 minutes (according to Google Maps) and required a transfer. But if you do decide to walk, remember - when you get there, all you're going to be doing is walking around some more. 

My wife had a list of graves she wanted to find. We had a map that we'd accessed on the internet, and there are detailed maps in the cemetery. But still, it's not easy to find specific graves. As we began exploring the winding paths through the cemetery, one of the first things we came across was the Jewish section. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, but even in death the Jews of old Paris were segregated in a Ghetto. There is a Rothschild family vault, but we couldn't find it. (Later on during our visit, we did find newer Jewish graves in other parts of the cemetery.)
Chopin's grave in Paris - pilgrimage for a piano player

We did find the graves of Jim Morrison and Frederick Chopin. We looked for others, including Gertrude Stein and Edith Piaf. But we just couldn't find them. We came across the tomb of Honore de Balzac, though we weren't really looking for it.

Jim Morrison's grave - pilgrimage for Doors fans

For me, the thing that made our visit memorable was a series of very moving monuments to the victims of World War II and the Nazis. Besides several monuments to French Jews who were murdered in various concentration camps, there also were memorials to French soldiers and resistance fighters who died in the war.

Monuments to those sent to Sachsenhausen (left) and Buchenwald (right)

04 July 2017

Enjoying a belated Fathers Day lunch at Coalition in Edina

For Fathers Day, in June, my daughter's present to me was to have lunch together. (Sweet.) I got to pick the location. I wanted to be careful not to pick too expensive, in case she insisted on picking up the check. I didn't purposely pick a theme, but my choices all were along 50th Street in South Minneapolis. Two of the choices were reliable favorites:  St. Genevieve at 50th & Bryant and Terzo at 50th & Penn. The third choice was a new restaurant at 50th & France - Coalition. Tovah picked Coalition. It exceeded expectations.

The South Minneapolis/Edina location is the second Coalition location. The original is located in Excelsior. We seldom go out that direction. I don't think I've ever eaten there. And now I don't have any reason to, since the new location is so good.

The decor at Coalition is sleek and modern with chrome, brick, and high ceilings. My daughter arrived early and got us a high-top table next to the window facing onto 50th Street. That was very nice for our July 3 lunch date. Farther back in the restaurant are tables and booths. They looked very comfortable, but perhaps a little bit dark, maybe a better mood for dinner. Overall the restaurant wasn't particularly crowded. We received a friendly greeting at the door, and our table was close to the entry. I did see one group of 3 come in, also seated at a high-top. But when their fourth person arrived, they moved to one of the tables in the restaurant.

Tovah had scanned the menu online. At lunch, it features several small plates, vegetables, and salads. The entree section of the menu is mostly burgers and sandwiches. There were several items on the small plates and vegetables that looked good, so we decided to order 3 of them to get a variety to sample. We also decided to split a sandwich.

Here's what we had:

  • Burrata (listed as a starter, or small plate) - two generous globes of soft, milky burrata cheese served with a generous scoop of fig jam, some greens, thin slices of American prosciutto, and four pieces of lightly toasted ciabatta bread. 
The burrata platter was my favorite
  • Brussels sprouts - lightly sauteed and served with grilled grapes and hazelnuts. We both thought they had a sweetness that couldn't be explained simply by the grilled grapes. Turns out they are drizzled lightly with some honey.
  • Cauliflower - Our server commented that this is one of their most popular items on the menu. The florets are lightly fried (I think in sesame oil) with a sweet pepper barbecue dressing and green onions. 
  • We also split a chicken sandwich on focaccia with brie cheese and arugula. 
The vegetables were excellent. I can see why the cauliflower is so popular. My personal favorite from this lunch was the burrata platter. The cheese was excellent. It was beautifully presented. The fig jam was good. The ciabatta was good. I'm not a big prosciutto fan, but Tovah liked it. 
Lunch at Coalition, ample servings at a reasonable price

It turns out that those 3 items would have been ample for our lunch. We didn't need the sandwich. The sandwich was good, but not memorable. It was nice that they split the sandwich and plated it separately for us. And I just realized as I'm writing this post - we were given a choice of salad on the side with the sandwich. I asked for slaw. But the salad we were served was more of a tossed salad with a light vinaigrette and tomatoes. It was fine. But my daughter doesn't like tomatoes, and I noticed she left hers on the plate. 

Coalition is open for breakfast as well as dinner. We looked at the menus for both. I seldom go out for breakfast, so I don't anticipate sampling that menu. On the dinner menu, the starters, vegetables, and salads look pretty much the same as the lunch menu. The main difference seems to be that the sandwiches are replaced with full entrees. 

I did bring the leftover Brussels sprouts and cauliflower home. My wife and I had them with a meal at home. She really liked them and said she'd like to try the restaurant. So I'm sure that we'll make a return visit, probably for dinner (maybe after a movie at the Edina Theater). 

Also, I did pick up the check for lunch. My daughter objected. But really, the joy was in having time alone with her, and not having her pay for our lunch. 

31 May 2017

Travelogue NYC: Enjoying it in spite of myself

I don't really like New York very much. I serve on the board of Mazon, an anti-hunger advocacy organization. Mazon has a yearly board meeting in New York. That's really the only reason why I go there. If it weren't for Mazon, I probably never would go to New York.

And yet ...

It seems like my wife and I always have a good time when we go to the yearly meeting in New York. We walk around a lot. We see a lot of interesting things. We enjoy some good food and hear exciting jazz. Sometimes we visit acquaintances who live there. My wife usually does some shopping.

Our most recent trip in May turned out that way. Here's what we did.

My board meeting was scheduled for Monday. We flew in on Friday. Our flight was supposed to arrive early afternoon. But, first we had a delay taking off from Minneapolis. That put us an hour behind schedule. Then when we landed, at 2 p.m., we encountered horrendous traffic delays getting to our hotel. That took an hour and a half. (Our driver lamented that normally, it should have taken no more than 30 minutes.) By the time we got checked in, it was 4 p.m., and we hadn't had any lunch yet. Luckily, happy hour at the hotel's rooftop lounge started at 4 p.m. So that's where we went for a bite to eat and liquid attitude readjustment.

Our dinner reservation (9 p.m.) was at a jazz club. It was a 2 mile walk down Broadway; took us right through Times Square. Then after dinner, at midnight, we walked back. Times Square was still hopping.

The next day, was a major walking expedition. We walked over to the High Line trail. In case you don't know, it's a walking path that follows the route of an old elevated railroad line. The north entrance is on 34th St. W. and 11th Ave. and it stretches to the Meatpacking District, ending at the Whitney Museum.

The TriBeCa Band performing at a street fair

On a previous trip, we went into the Whitney after walking the High Line. But this time, we had a different destination in mind. After coming down from the High Line, we picked up Greenwich Street and followed that all the way to the 9/11 Memorial and the new World Trade Center building. It was really an impressive and sobering experience. Before beginning our hike back to the hotel, we went into the Oculus, which is the centerpiece of the World Trade Center transportation hub.
At the 9/11 Memorial

Along the walk back to our hotel, we took a break for shopping in the West Village on Bleeker Street. Linda scored a piece of jewelry. The route to our hotel took us through Times Square for the third time. On a Saturday afternoon, it was unbelievably jam packed. I swore that I would not go through it again (at least on this trip).

By the time we got back to the hotel, we barely had enough time to rest up before we had to leave. We had an 8 p.m. table reserved for the first set at a jazz club back in Greenwich Village. After all the walking, this time we took a cab. Once again, the traffic was horrendous. We should have gone by subway. Our 10 p.m. dinner reservation was back up near Central Park. So when the first set ended, we hopped in another cab and headed back uptown. Thankfully, by this time, the traffic had thinned and it didn't take too long to get there.

Total walking distance for Saturday in New York: 10.8 miles.
Brilliant day for the AIDS Walk

Sunday we spent much of the day wandering through Central Park. By coincidence, Sunday was the New York AIDS walk. We went over to the main stage and listened to the speakers for a while, then continued our stroll. We took a break for brunch and to browse through the Greenflea Market. It was fun checking it all out, but we didn't buy anything. Then we went back into the park. It was a beautiful day for walking aimlessly with no destination in mind.

Our dinner on Sunday night was near our hotel. Afterwards, we took a short walk to settle our stomachs. We enjoyed seeing Lincoln Center and Columbus Circle at night. With my board meeting the next day, we didn't go out for music after dinner. Total walking distance on Sunday: 10.7 miles. (It didn't seem that much, but that's what the app on my iPhone said.)

On Monday, while I was at my meeting, Linda went shopping. Rain had moved in overnight. But fortunately the shops she planned to visit were close by. When the rain let up around midday, she even went back to Times Square one more time, this time to stop in at the Hershey Store. In the evening, we were heading to TriBeCa for dinner. The weather was still threatening, but after sitting in a meeting all day, we decided to walk it, figuring we could duck into the subway if the rain got too heavy.
Looking across the Hudson River at New Jersey

After dinner, we fully intended to take the subway back to the hotel. But we'd been tipped off to a walking path along the Hudson River that we'd never walked before. We ended up walking all the way back. Total walking distance on Monday: 7.5 miles.

I'll post some additional information about our hotel, the jazz clubs we visited, and the restaurants we ate at. But I'd have to say that despite my general disregard for New York, we did have a nice time.

06 April 2017

Recipe: Tagine de Legumes du Cafe Aion

When my wife and I spent a few days in Boulder in March, my favorite restaurant was Cafe Aion. We had great French food at Brasserie Ten Ten and great Italian at Via Perla. But the lunch we had at Aion was so delicious and memorable that I'd have to say it was my favorite.

As I wrote in my original blog post about Aion (click here for the full post), I liked the vegetable tagine so much that I sent an email to the restaurant requesting instructions on how to replicate it. I got this quick reply:

"Roast vegetables with a little olive oil and salt - high heat in the oven. (we use carrots, butternut squash & cauliflower)
"Make the mix: sauté equal parts of chopped ginger & garlic in olive oil. when they are starting to turn golden add in ground cumin, coriander, cinnamon, chili, bay leaf & saffron, stir briefly to release aromatics Then add in canned tomatoes and let simmer until it has thickened a bit. Then add in cooked chickpeas, the roast veggies and let the whole mess simmer for a bit (might need to add a little bit of veg stock)  to really come together! 
"We like to top ours with fresh chopped herbs (parsley, cilantro & mint) as well as preserved lemons & fresh chilies."

That was good enough for me to give it a try. I made it for our family Friday night dinner recently when my sister-in-law and her husband joined us; he's a vegetarian. I basically liked how it turned out, and I'm using my experience to suggest a recipe. I did consult some other posted recipes for tagines and particularly for vegetable tagines. The New York Times Cooking web site has a very useful and instructive post on how to make tagine. I'd recommend it. 

When I made this tagine, I think I used too much saffron. I used two healthy pinches of saffron threads, and the resulting dish had a very pronounced saffron flavor. Usually, I think saffron should be more balanced with the other spices, as it was in the tagine I had at Aion. So in the recipe, I've called for less saffron. I did saute some chopped onions before I added the canned tomatoes. I envisioned the garlic and ginger and spices to be the basis for a tomato sauce, and I just thought some onion would be good. 

I used home canned tomatoes from my mother's garden. They tend to have quite a lot more liquid than commercial canned tomatoes. The instructions I got from Aion suggested adding vegetable stock if the tagine seems too thick. With the home-canned tomatoes, I didn't have to add any more liquid. But I think that might be necessary if using commercial canned tomatoes. 

My version of this dish has more chickpeas than what I was served at Aion. I liked having more chickpeas in the dish, and they helped make it more substantial for the vegetarian. I served the tagine with brown rice. Aion serves it with pita bread. 
My version is on the left. I was trying to replicate Aion's on the right

Since I'm making the recipe up, I took the liberty to name it. But I also believe in giving credit when it's due. So I'm calling this: 

Vegetable Tagine from Cafe Aion

Roasted vegetables
1 small to medium head of cauliflower, cut into florets
1/2 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (2-3 cups of cubed squash)
3-4 carrots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about the same quantity as the squash)
Olive oil

4 cloves of garlic, minced
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced (about equal to the amount of garlic)
Olive oil
3/4 tsp. cumin
3/4 tsp. coriander
3/4 tsp. cinnamon 
3/4 tsp. chili powder
4 bay leaves
1 large pinch saffron threads
1/2 large onion, chopped
28 oz. canned tomatoes (or 1 qt. of home canned tomatoes)
Salt & pepper (as needed)
2 c. cooked garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
Water or vegetable stock as needed 

2 tbsp. minced fresh parsley
2 tbsp. minced fresh mint
1 preserved lemon (discard pulp and mince the rind)

Combine vegetables in a bowl. Coat veggies with olive oil and season lightly with salt. Spread vegetables on a large baking sheet. Roast in 400 degree oven until tender and beginning to brown (30-45 minutes). 

Saute onion in a 3-quart Dutch oven until soft and translucent. Add garlic and ginger and continue to cook for 2-3 minutes. Stir in spices; cook for an additional minute. Add tomatoes, bay leaf, and saffron. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the tomatoes start to thicken (15-20 minutes). Taste the tomato sauce and season as needed with salt and pepper. Add garbanzos and roasted vegetables. Cover and continue to simmer to blend the flavors, another 10-15 minutes. Add water or vegetable stock if the tagine is getting too thick. The finished consistency should be like a thick stew.

Pour the tagine into a large serving bowl or platter. Remove the bay leaves. Garnish with chopped fresh herbs and minced rind from a preserved lemon. (You can see in the photo that Aion uses the bay leaves as an additional garnish.) Serve with garlic toasted pita bread or rice or couscous. 

04 April 2017

Fish sandwich praise proves to be restaurant bait

Our local restaurant reviewer has a blog that he calls Burger Friday. Each week, he writes a post about a different burger served in Twin Cities restaurants. I do keep his comments in mind when considering different restaurants around town. But truthfully, I seldom order a burger.

This past Friday, however, his post was about fish sandwiches. (Click here to read it.) I do have a favorite fish sandwich, which I've noted in a previous Kriks Picks post. (Click here to read it.) But when I was downtown at lunch time today, I thought about his blog post and decided to try the fish sandwich at Sea Change. I've written several posts about Sea Change. It's one of my favorite special occasion restaurants. (Click here for my most recent.)
Fish sandwich at Sea Change

When I reread my previous post about Sea Change, I realized that this wasn't the first time I've had the fish sandwich. I did like it both times. The fish is thick and moist and flaky. It's served with a slice of yellow cheese melted over the top. That component to the sandwich is totally unnecessary. The fries served on the plate are very good. They're also optional. My server told me I could substitute a salad if I preferred. (I didn't.)

I asked for a wine recommendation. He suggested a Gruner Veltliner from Austria. I'm not very familiar with that variety, and I almost opted for a Pinot Grigio from Italy. But I decided to go with his recommendation, and I'm glad I did. The wine is very crisp and powerful. It balanced the sandwich very well.

The ambiance at Sea Change is relaxing, at least for a later lunch. I arrived at about 1:15 and there were only 3 or 4 other diners in the restaurant. Service was prompt, attentive, friendly, and knowledgeable. 

03 April 2017

Lunch in Winter Park before Disney immersion

In early February, my wife and I took our daughter and her family to Florida. We attended a family wedding in Boca Raton and then drove to the Orlando area to take them to Disney World (grandchildren are 7 and 5 years old).

It was a long and somewhat grueling ride. There were six of us with luggage jammed into a Chevy Tahoe. I'm not used to driving a vehicle that large. Of course, we never could have fit into any smaller vehicle. But it still was crowded and a long drive from Boca.

My daughter went to college in Florida. She had made plans to meet a college friend for lunch. So before driving to our Disney resort, we side-tracked to Winter Park. They met at a casual cafe on Park Avenue, right across the street from Central Park. We didn't want to intrude on their reunion. And besides, we wanted to walk around a little to stretch out the kinks after our long ride. Oh, and we wanted a nice quiet place to relax and have a glass of wine before going to Disney World.
My half of the crab cake sandwich

I suppose that Park Avenue is Winter Park's downtown. Anyway, it's quiet and quaint. As we moseyed through an alley, we spotted The Bistro on Park AvenueThe ambiance of the Bistro was appealing and the menu looked tempting. So we got a table.

I had a glass of pinot grigio. My wife had prosecco. We split the daily special, which was a crab cake sandwich. It came with a small side salad with blue cheese dressing.They did charge a plate fee to split it. But they also split the lunch in the kitchen for us. (Often, we find that restaurants will provide you with an extra plate for sharing, but don't often actually split the meal for you.) 

It wasn't a big lunch. But we enjoyed it.