Once upon a summer, my son—who was four at the time—and I traveled to the beautiful City of Light. Paris!
It was magical by day. Jumping up and down on the second level of the Eiffel Tower as we tried to count the moving spots that were people, 115 meters down (377 feet). The panoramic view of Paris from Sacre Coeur. Fun kiddie rides at a makeshift amusement park in front of the Louvre. Macarons. Madeleines. Chocolate. Chocolate. And more chocolate!
It was magical by night. Dinner at a family restaurant with autographed pictures of Muhammad Ali. Champagne. Night views of the lit Eiffel Tower. Sweet French accents everywhere.
But my goal of teaching my son why France and travel in general, is amazing and important is still and always will be a work in progress.
He did fall for the food pretty hard though. We both loved the potato salad at a chicken shop in the food court of a shopping center. I know it probably sounds like a random thing to remember. But it was cheap, delicious, fresh and satisfied my craving for pickles. It was also very different from the American southern potato salad that I’ve eaten all my life.
This Parisian potato salad was chock full of sweet onions, Dijon and grain mustard, and herbs and vinegar. I noticed that it was egg- and mayonnaise-less. But after two bites, I forgot about the missing eggs and mayo. I didn’t even miss the tangy and sweet—and ridiculously high in sodium—relish that I craved on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis.
For nearly five months of lock down, my family and I have enjoyed getting fat from eating too much soul food—not my mom because she eats like a bird and not my son because he loses weight as he gains it. He’s in the Ninja phase.
Also, on our list of quarantine activities are:
fighting like Ninjas
completing online learning tasks (now the endless summer packet)
working from home
reading and watching the news
becoming addicted to the news
getting sick of the news
avoiding the news
loving the videos and pictures of peaceful Black Lives Matter protests across the country
Of course, my all-time favorite activities are cooking, eating great food and hearing how wonderful my food tastes.
During the quarantine, I’ve made a bunch of new things. Among the best is a shrimp and sweet potato fritter. My love for the late, great, and quaint Café Lafayette’s shrimp fritters, inspired me to make it.
Before the treasured Fort Greene spot, Café Lafayette, closed in 2017, my sister and I spent quite a few Sundays brunching in the living-room sized restaurant. Downing mimosas and Kir Royales. Listening to Nina Simone and other Blues notables. Regrettably sharing one chocolate lava cake, instead of ordering two.
Café Lafayette was one of OUR places, which meant neither of us were allowed to bring anyone else there. We also agreed that the shrimp fritter—juicy morsels of shrimp laced with crispy shreds of sweet potatoes and carrots—was a remarkable, tasty and satisfying bite.
My family loved my recreation of this shrimp fritter. Omitting the carrots, I added a bunch of other stuff to add flavor and to “French” it up a bit. It’s definitely lighter, moister and richer than I remember.
Try it and I think you’ll agree that it’s the kind of appetizer that takes the word “appetizer” to whole new level.
For the shrimp and sweet potato fritter recipe and more healthy, French cooking, check out Frealthy, a page for francophiles that love to cook.
Need help fighting off a cold sans antibiotics and/or too salty but still no flavor chicken soup? Or just want juicy, satisfying chicken? Try making my half French, half southern recipe for simply stewed chicken. I made it for my family last week and … rave reviews! It will make you smile at having finally conquered the craving you fail to forget: the unbeatable flavor of down home cooking.
Nothing like a great crepe to warm you in the Winter. It’s almost therapeutic to watch a crepe artist do their handywork. And you’ll forget all about the cold when you, before your first bite, admire the neat, tidy bits of cream and strawberries peeping out of tanned, toasty and crisp folds of a crepe. Any of these five creperies will give you an engaging and memorable dining experience.
Eight Turn Crepe I went to this busy location in Dekalb Market and loved it. Every time I think of my savory shrimp and avo crepe turned ‘round and ‘round eight times—hence ETC’s name—I want to go back for it, and to try more. Eight Turn Crepe’s Japanese rice crepes menu is extensive, so it took me a while to order. Once I finally ordered, service was timely and effective. Not lightning fast but certainly not slow either.
Usually, I like to take food to go, but my son’s affection for eating food right away won on this occasion for two reasons. Crepes have a strict no-travel policy—you must eat them ASAP—that if contested, the crepes will turn soggy in half an hour or less.
I found myself trying to relax, as much as possible, in noisy and so-not-comfy Dekalb market. But the thought of a totally not crispy crepe was almost painful.
My mouth was literally watering as I watched other patrons pick up their orders. Finally, it came to me. And it was ridiculously beautiful, crispy edged, mouthwatering and a lot tastier than I’d hoped.
Cloud 9 Crepes A cute and quaint spot with lust-able rice crepes that made me walk to the other side of Bed-Stuy on a sunny but cold afternoon. Buses are not convenient during the day. But I was on a mission and no amount of inconvenience could stop my crepe craving, so I made it there and back in record time: about two hours. The longest time ever.
By the time I inhaled it, my chicken salad crepe was of course soggy but still flavorful with Dijon mustard dressing. Sogginess aside, I could tell by the thickness of the crepe that it was a bit different from what I’m used to and what I prefer in a crepe.
Cloud 9’s space is sugary sweet though. What an adorable, child-friendly space for a friends’ get-together.
Lakou Café Three words, curry chickpea crepe, lingered in my mind for days till I finally ordered it for lunch. Not only did this wow-worthy vegetarian crepe exceed my expectations, it also destroyed any meat protein cravings for the rest of the day. Moments like these reaffirm my belief that Brooklyn is home to some of the best dining in the world.
Lakou’s distinctive Haitian menu is a cool mix of classic French fare with adventurous Caribbean highlights. The Jerk Jackfruit crepe is on my long list of next times from local restaurants. “Next time, I’ll try this … next time I’ll try that.”
By the way Lakou Café is the second Haitian resto this month that has blown me away with its undeniable flavor. And more Haitian restaurants are popping up. I see a guide to Brooklyn’s best Haitian cuisine on the horizon. It’s too spectacular to be overlooked.
Madame Poupon Picture it! Valentine’s day 2020. You and your honey meet here at this authentic and intimate French restaurant. There’s candlelight, red roses and soft French music playing in the background. You find yourself sharing first, the vegetarian crepe, then second, the Daoulas crepe—fresh strawberries, chocolate ganache, vanilla whipped cream and black pepper—by taking turns to feed each other. What a perfect night for love.
I hope to visit Madame Poupon sooner than Valentine’s Day next year, especially since it’s very conveniently located for me. But if I don’t make it there sooner then, it will skyrocket to the top of my list. The Daoulas crepe is one of a few sweet crepes that I’d like to try. Looks like dessert is the winner at Madame Poupon.
Take a Break and I’ll Bake Café & Creperie Southern-French is always a favorite of mine. Cajun and Louisiana Creole cooking comes to mind. But Take a Break and I’ll Bake Café is about a fusion of American southern and European (French and Italian) cuisine.
The decadent Peaches & Cream (Peach cobbler filling), and the Campfire (rich dark chocolate, marshmallows and graham crackers) crepes seem promising.
The darnedest things happen when your kid has to use the bathroom, so you run into a favorite Cobble Hill bakery/cafe/treasure trove of pastry lobster tails, tiramisu cakes and one of the best diner style strawberry shortcakes in Brooklyn, and you see it …
Your favorite new snack. A delicious mini version of your most cherished French dessert. Something blogworthy, finally.
The crème brûlée cupcake at Mia’s bakery! Follow these do’s and don’ts of experiencing this very French and very memorable cupcake. Trust me. You really need this eating guide.
Do order three macarons and a chocolate cupcake—or whatever y’all agree on—as an enjoyable distraction for your child, while you finally focus on this special treat for yourself. Moist and delicious, you won’t want any interruptions.
Don’t let anyone have a clue, including your kid, as to how much the crème brûlée cupcake is making your mouth water. They might ask you for a bite and you won’t want to share.
Do resist the urge to buy two or three because despite its small size, this cupcake is satisfying and simply delicious. One is a good guilt-free indulgence. Two would be over-the-top richness.
Don’t take your order to go. Instead enjoy Mia’s quaint, clean and comfortable enough for a quick dessert stop café. I’ve seen people linger as though they’ve been sitting in the same place for hours but to me it’s not that type of place.
Do marvel at Mia’s cute cupcakes to-go policy. They use Chinese takeout containers as portable cupcake holders.
Don’t be hasty when removing this adorable cupcake from its close-fitting container. You don’t want to mess up the best part of this cupcake: its créme brûlée frosting.
Do eat the fresh berries that top the cupcake immediately, and simultaneously tune out your kid who finishes his snack, notices the pleasure you’re taking in savoring your delightful indulgence and whines for a piece.
Don’t hesitate to take three medium-sized bites—or however many bites it will take to finish—of this fantastic, one-of-a-kind cupcake. My only wish is that the filling oozed down the center of the cupcake.
Do leave Mia’s feeling like you just won a prize. If only you could get paid for eating crème brûlée cupcakes…
If you like créme brûlée and you also like vanilla cupcakes, you’ll love this clever dessert fusion at Mia’s.
Sometimes you want something extraordinary. Soft and stinky brie. A long, garlicky kiss goodnight. A really great bread. It’s subtle yet extraordinary and if you’re not a master baker, you probably can’t explain why or how some bread is great, not only nostalgic. It’s just steeped in its own special greatness.
I could tell right away though, why Maison Kayser’s bread basket’s fresh baguette (and other breads including rye, whole wheat, and tourte de meule) is memorable. In addition to its intoxicating aroma, this lovely baguette offers a crisp crust, with a soft, delicate crumb. It’s served fresh and hot—hot enough to melt the cold butter that comes with the bread basket—and even my picky eater enjoyed it thoroughly.
We struggled to finish our tasty entrée, because we filled up on bread till it was completely finished. I traded my heart (and all the benefits of my usual morning cardio workout) for its buttery, probably calorie-laden glory. Served complimentary with an entrée in Maison Kayser’s cafe, it was an absolute filling treat for our two-person party. I’m sure it would be sufficient for groups of three or four.
In 2012, when its first NYC locations opened, there was much fuss about Maison Kayser’s amazing baguette. It was promptly rated the number one baguette of NY by New York Magazine in 2013. But has something changed?
As I read the so-so online restaurant reviews of Maison Kayser’s various NYC locations, I’m in disbelief that the success of this brilliant bread boss is wavering. Some patrons report that the negative reviews are not the food’s fault, but instead blame the service for Maison Kayser’s occasional two-star reviews. I’ve not seen one, single negative comment regarding the food at Maison Kayser.
Maison Kayser’s service was great for us. Our server was friendly with a warm, genuine smile, just as was the bread basket that our server brought to our table—warm and authentically French. The environment was clean and comfortable.
Service is extremely important, but so is Maison Kayser’s bread basket. So, I hope that poor service alone is not the sole culprit that ultimately brings my favorite (and only) baguette behemoth down.
Here’s a short list of Maison Kayser menu items that I’m eager to sample:
Shakshouka tartine—a very flavorful, sometimes spicy, petite Mediterranean version of baked eggs on toast.
Crab and avocado tartine—fresh crab and Dijon dressing with a kick excites, pleases and does anything else it wants to your palate, if you’ll let it. (I’ve already sampled this smile maker.)
Salmon Tzatziki—simply roasted salmon topped with a refreshing, cucumber and dill yogurt sauce; a winning duo for sure.
My only two regrets of my visit at Olmsted’s Japanese-French spinoff Maison-Yaki is passing on the chawanmushi and resisting the urge to order two of everything.
I kept staring at the menu and contemplating if we should order the chawanmushi even after we—my son and I—ordered the bulk of our meal:
• tempura frog legs—the melt-in-your-mouth miracle. The frog legs are delicate, buttery, savory and unforgettable. Served piping hot with a tasty green dipping sauce. This dish is a reason of its own to visit this yaki-topia. Any picky eater will love frog legs the way mine does.
• king trumpet mushrooms—Pick this plate to indulge in pleasantly chewy and satisfying mushrooms served with a diced sweet peppers and tomatoes sauce. Not sure if these mushrooms are the ones grown in house but they probably are!
• lobster & sauce americaine—Divine. A lobster patty that’s been fried and skewered then drenched in a savory sauce. We ate this all too fast.
• chicken breast and sauce allemande—Very good! Cooked perfectly and retained a good amount of moisture.
• duck a l’orange—I loved this fatty piece of caramelized duck but the sauce was the brilliance of this particular plate. A mini egg yolk posed in the middle of an orange sauce waiting to be mixed. The end result was a luscious, creamy crave-worthy dressing.
• lamb leg & herbes de provence—Gamey, medium on the inside and roasted/grilled on the outside lamb with a light herby sauce. We loved it.
The plates came out fast and not in any order. Maison Yaki doesn’t course, so you get what you get when you get it. I loved this philosophy. It was so refreshing, like every plate that came out was a burst of surprises. Lots of flavor, lots of juicy meats and lots of French sauces that hit the spot. We surprisingly felt full. Each skewer is only two bites but the flavor was amazing. Next time we’ll need 2 (or 3) orders of frog legs.
After all of that goodness, I was still thinking about ordering the chawanmushi until my son insisted on ordering dessert. After weighing our options, we decided that we’d get the Japanese cheesecake this visit—my son promised the wait staff, the manager and the other patrons that we’d be back next week. He gets carried away about great food like his mom.
The cheesecake was a cloud. We found ourselves floating on air while eating it, it’s so light and fluffy. The best I’ve tasted, hands down. And it’s served with plums that thankfully, tasted like tart, saucy cherries. A flawless end to a flawless meal.
’Twas a Friday night like every other Friday night of late—for the last seven years. I brought my son to La Cafette at around 6:30 p.m. for dinner. The ambience is quite romantic, modern, simple and versatile. It’s perfect for girlfriends’ brunches, family dinners, and date nights.
Of course my Spider-man wanted to sit next to the window at a high-top tablebut it was a chilly evening, so I insisted we sit further away from the restaurant’s entrance to offset any chance of him falling out of the open window on purpose.
We sat down at a fabulously chic table and immediately felt warm and comfy. Two Shirley temples, two glasses of happy hour half-priced wine, one cheese plate, and a whole rotisserie chicken that comes with potatoes and mushrooms later, we were stuffed, satisfied and homeward bound.
The cheese plate delivered some great options. A mild but flavorful goat, a memorable camembert, a moderate “French cheddar”—as our waitress said it was most like—and oh-so-stinky brie served with walnuts, a fruit paste (maybe apricot) and swoon-worthy slices of soft-on-the-inside, crispy-on-the-outside baguette. We, or rather I, devoured it.
Our waitress mentioned that the chicken would take 25 minutes. About 40 minutes later a show-stopping roasted chicken arrived at our table. Its skin almost perfectly crispy was seasoned well. Its meat was tender and soft but not juicy, just a tad dry. I appreciated its natural jus that enhanced the flavor of accompanying vegetables, but I yearned for more zing.
We had an amazingly authentic and simple but delicious time at La Cafette. Going back for brunch soon—French toast with caramelized bananas!
The best summer days are defined by each Brooklynite’s attitude. If you’re positive, light on your feet, addicted to yoga and meditation and don’t mind sticky and sweaty humidity in the subway, then please create a blog so that I can easily follow you, and learn from the best at appreciating life and all that it has to offer.
But if you’re in my category of need to lose ten or more pounds when you’re a foodie, addicted to Époisses, creamy mushroom sauces, binging Netflix while eating, and southern California-dreaming, then have no fear fellow frenchie. Here is one surefire way to combat your negatives.
Finding chill things to do during the summer months, when Brooklyn and Manhattan are bursting at the seams with fantastic and often free, or cheap, events to attend is easy enough, but now made even easier by the following list of francophile-approved activities.
Of the list, I am mostly looking forward to the huge Smith Street Bastille Festival hosted by Bar Tabac among other French-American sponsors, the Banana Farm for free French cookies, and two French films at Transmitter Park, presented by the Films on the Green festival.
June 1-7 One Sings, the Other Doesn’t
30 Lafayette Ave
Brooklyn NY 11217
718-636-4100 ext 1
Tickets: https://www.bam.org/film/2018/one-sings-the-other-doesnt A 1977 film that follows two women who, in the midst of life’s wins and losses, become great friends and create a bond stronger than space. Even after their lives go in different directions, their experiences continue to motivate each other to live inspiring lives in action. Sounds like the French appreciate and understand the beauty and power of genuine sisterhood.
June 3 and July 7
Fey Nan Bwa: A Haitian Herb and Song Workshop with Sirene
Having Christian parents from the South, I’ve always been one to avoid Vodou like it’s the plague, but this workshop might shine a light on the truth about Vodou’s connection to nature and its challenge to conventional medicine. Look for an upcoming guide to Haitian culture and restaurants in Brooklyn, “Flatbush Vodou: Brooklyn’s Little Haiti,” on BKfrench.com
June 7 and every 1st Thursday
Open House at the Banana Farm-French Cookies A Go-Go
A name like Banana Farm is all I need to excite my palette for sweets. I’m not particularly fond of bananas unless they’re in a cream pie but something about “bananas” just stirs my sweet tooth up. If you need more of an incentive, the Banana Farm’s Open House includes a “supersonic cookie tasting,” and a baking lesson among other sweet reasons to attend.
A showing of three controversial Senegalese short films by Vieyra—one of which was censored by the Senghor government, another selected by the Cannes Film Festival 50 years ago, and another instrumental and groundbreaking for Senegalese film—is sure to be uniquely informative, sometimes depressing and sometimes entertaining.
Look at this beautiful melting pot called Creole. A delicious cultural gumbo of about 30 different countries that will come together in celebration of the cuisine that unites and defines them. If I hadn’t already purchased my ticket for Saint Joan on Broadway, I’d be yummin’ up some Creole food from five different global regions.
Yet another reason to admire the very quaint Bisou Bisou, besides its name, its cute and warm-in-the-winter space, and its speakeasy vibe that’s perfect for date night cocktails is a cabaret dinner dedicated to 1920s Paris. I AM, a female group of three performers, will make its exciting debut NYC appearance, which will honor the artistry of cabaret icon Edith Piaf.
June 1-Sept 6
Films on the Green
I’m hoping to see La Bûche and Garçon, the only two films presented in Greenpoint’s beautiful Transmitter Park by the “Films on the Green” festival. Showing in various NYC parks, this free festival offers up 12 French films about the dynamics between the art of French cooking and culture. Some of the other films are a tempting reason to take a subway ride into the City.
Being a clear reflection of its influences, The Blue Dahlia’s music is a beautiful blend of its group’s backgrounds—American, French, Senegalese, Japanese, Argentinian, and Mexican—and then some. Imagine French chanson and reggae living side by side, in the same song. Now have a listen and confirm the only label it needs is happy music. Check out France Rocks for more contemporary, French-inspired music.
Of the 20 NYC bistros and brasseries featured in “French Restaurant Week,” none are located in Brooklyn. Such a shame because Brooklyn is home to quite a few great classic French and French-fusion restos that deserve a lot of attention.
That being said, I’m looking forward to Jubilee’s tasting of mussels (prepared three ways), the whimsical puff pastry of chicken and shrimp in a cream sauce at Deux Amis, and Boucherie’s Pistachio Bombe Glacee. Nothing looks more insanely decadent than the pouring of rich, silky-smooth, warm dark chocolate over a dome of ice cream. I can’t wait!
My love/dislike relationship with sometimes snooty Downtown Bk won’t stop me from attending (at least a small part of) this celebration, which includes a Petanque Tournament, live music and food. The celebration is hosted by La Defense, a notable French-American restaurant that serves traditional bistro fare in an American diner’s space.
For some reason, probably the lengthy amount of really great bars and restos, the snootiness of Smith Street has never affected me. Bar Tabac hosts this chill neighborhood’s Bastille Day Celebration which brings thousands of people from all over the world. Smith Street’s Festival is also a Petanque tournament with live music and food. Its only difference from Downtown BK’s Bastille Day Celebration is the down-to-earth charm of Smith Street and the people that love it.
It isn’t very moi to purchase tickets to a French Opera Ballet. 1) It’s far away in Midtown East. 2) It’s an Opera Ballet. And 3) the subject matter is a biblical tale with complex characters at its center. But the above three reasons that make it “not for me” are also the reasons I should probably attend. I might just learn something.
Many years ago, I had my penultimate Manhattan brunch. (The very last one that I remember was at Cookshop, a great Chelsea restaurant, right below The High Line.) For some crazy reason, my sister and I chose to brave the crowded Theater District and agreed on a bustling “French” bistro for our Sunday brunch. It was overhyped, touristy and not even good for a hot chocolate. Not authentically French at all! From that moment on, we both swore off Manhattan brunches and promised to remember that brunch in Brooklyn, overall, is by far the better place for the meal that can make or break a girl’s weekend. But why is brunch specifically just plain better in Brooklyn?
The short answer is Brooklyn brunches are more French—due to a higher level of food quality, more personable service and often a unique, art-loving environment. The long answer is present in my top three discoveries about Brooklyn brunching, complete with brunch restaurant suggestions.
The Greener Good
Most Brooklyn restaurateurs are focused on using local, seasonal and sustainable ingredients with vegetarian options, which has one main benefit: quality, unequivocally fresh fare. And nothing tastes better when it’s organic, freshly plucked from a nearby farm, or grown and/or hand-processed on the restaurant’s premises than eggs, milk, cheese, fruit, bacon, etc.—basically all the components you need to make a fabulous breakfast or brunch.
For a sometimes intoxicating with sweets, sometimes fresh with veggies brunch make ressies for the famous Olmsted in Prospect Heights. Classified as a “vegetable-heavy” restaurant by its chef/owner, Olmsted has a lush green wall in its garden that isn’t just for show but its greens are actually used in dishes and listed on the menu. When I finally am able to go to this restaurant of veggie dreams, my first Olmsted brunch pick will be the very French-sounding Duck Duo. But if I were in the mood for a savory, laced with greens brunch, I would order the Spanakopita Shaksouka. Olmsted, 718-552-2610, http://www.olmstednyc.com
Although I’m convinced that Brooklyn has the best NYC sights—French restaurants, Botanic Gardens and pizza (except for a couple of tourist-trap pizza spots in Dumbo)—there are so few longstanding gimmicky restaurants that seek to drain your pockets, while giving you little or nothing and getting away with it only because they’re close to a popular site for tourists.
Brooklyn’s lack of overhyped eateries has two prime perks: stability for family-run, neighborhood staples and a good amount of space for the younger generation of spots that serve everything from classic Eggs Benedict to Asian-fusion dishes for brunch.
Popular Crown Heights diner Tom’s, for example, has been serving the same fare since 1936, according to its website, and is still receiving the praise, that some say it deserves. Try the lemon ricotta pancakes and you probably won’t be disappointed. I couldn’t wait to try mine. The line to get in was long but went by in a decent amount of time.
Even with the hefty amount of unique nightlife experiences, most of Brooklyn is really for families. And where it’s meant for revelry till 4 a.m., cool “kids” create their own extended families. (An earlier BkFrench.com post, “Family-Friendly French” lists several eateries that cater to larger groups with children.) Carroll Gardens’ own Buttermilk Channel, one of the most famous of family-friendly Brooklyn restaurants, is crowded with a serpentine line for brunch. Most say though that its kid-friendly offerings, like the walnut sticky bun and the pecan pie french toast are well worth the wait. The kids menu itself is also intriguing. This restaurant’s name says it all, “Get the pancakes.” But rave reviews for Buttermilk’s chicken and waffles abound.
A walk down Smith Street in the Gowanus area, also known for family-friendly French cuisine, will bring you to the freshly opened, hubby-and-wife run French restaurant, Dumonet. Surrounded by the rustic charm of brick walls, mocha banquettes and tin ceilings, you’ll enjoy classic brunch items—Croques, brioche french toast, and poached eggs—as well as the stuff you’d only get at a French resto—cheese soufflé, tart flambée, and a very mouth-watering version French onion soup. Dumonet, 718-625-0963, https://www.dumonetbrooklyn.com
An exploration of Brooklyn brunches often leads to an exciting encounter with a hipster-loved storefront window eatery or rather with the five-star worthy egg sandwich that it serves and proudly touts as its paramount creation.
Don’t overlook the small cafes or even the storefront window restos that remain in high demand with thick lines down the block, regardless of their short menu of only a few or sometimes two, well-executed items. They disregard the unwritten rule of creating an extensive menu that attempts to please the masses, choose to go with what they know, and are often successful because of it.
For brunch on a quaint scale, indulge yourself in The Little Sweet Cafe in Boerum Hill. With fluffy crepes, a popular dirty chai and an indecisive half Anthropologie and half Paris vibe, I wanted to stay here all afternoon, despite it being a wifi/computer free zone. Definitely meant for francophiles that savor a quiet, minimalist ambience with touches of rich, artsy culture everywhere.