October 2017


I’ve had some pretty great fish and chips back home.  Plus, it’s a pretty simple dish, so how much better could it be over here?

It turns out: substantially better.

Fish and chips from Poppies in London, England

I went to a fairly well-regarded place called Poppies, and had what is almost certainly the best fish and chips of my life.  The fish itself was tender, flaky, and perfectly cooked, but what really stood out was the crispy batter.

Most fish and chips joints back home feature an overly-thick crunchy shell that steals the spotlight from what should be the main attraction: the fish.  It’s basically fried batter that happens to have some fish inside of it.

Fish and chips from Poppies in London, England

Here, on the other hand, the batter is crispy enough to provide a nice contrast to the soft fish, but thin and delicate enough that it absolutely never steals the show.

The chunky fries (sorry, chips) were perfect too: crisp exterior, creamy interior.  Good times.

Thanksgiving was last week, and thankfully there’s one Canadian pub in town that saved me from going sad and turkeyless (and considering that it’s called the Maple Leaf and it’s absolutely festooned with Canadian flags, there’s no mistaking it for anything but a Canadian pub).

They served a traditional turkey dinner with pumpkin pie for dessert, and it was actually pretty awful, but hey — it saved me from spending Thanksgiving without eating turkey like some kind of maniac, so I can’t complain too much.

Turkey dinner at the Maple Leaf Pub in London, England

I will say, though, that the whole thing tasted like it was prepared by someone who knew what a Thanksgiving dinner is supposed to be in theory, but who had never actually tasted one.  The gravy was all wrong, the turkey was insanely dry, and though the stuffing was actually not bad, they only give you two golf-ball-sized portions of it, so there isn’t nearly enough.

Pumpkin pie at the Maple Leaf Pub in London, England

As for the pumpkin pie, aside from the fact that it had raisins in it (no dessert in the history of desserts has ever been improved by adding raisins), the crust was mushy and it was served piping hot, which was just bizarre.

I’m sorry, did I say I couldn’t complain too much?  Yeah, clearly I was wrong about that.

Here’s a pretty big bummer: Big Ben is currently under a pretty substantial renovation, which means that the outside is almost completely covered in scaffolding, and its iconic bonging has been silenced.

If you go to London and you didn’t see or hear Big Ben, were you even there?

You wouldn’t know it from this blog, but I’ve actually been in London for the last couple of weeks — I had a fairly substantial backlog of posts that I’ve been working through.  Which is a good thing, because up until a few days ago I was doing pretty much nothing but watching movies at the BFI London Film Festival and then writing about them.

I saw 37 movies at the festival, and wrote about 35 of them.

The best film I saw?  Brawl in Cell Block 99.  It’s a gritty, ultra-violent ’70s-inspired prison thriller featuring an absolutely electrifying performance from Vince Vaughn (if all you know him from are his silly comedies, prepare to have your mind blown).

The worst was, surprisingly enough, Manhunt.  This is John Woo’s return to the type of action movie that made him famous, and it was surprisingly awful.  Please don’t watch it, unless you want to be sad.

Seeing as how I’m a reasonable person who spent some time in Paris, I ate a lot of croissants.  Do you want to hear about them?  Every single one?  No?  Okay, here they are.

Des Gateaux et du Pain
This was a solid croissant — maybe a little bit too aggressively crispy, but otherwise quite good.  Still, it worried me a bit; it was good, but very comparable to the better croissants I’ve had back home. Were Paris croissants not going to be as amazing as I had hoped?  The next one I ate answered that question pretty conclusively.

Croissant in Paris, FranceStohrer
And there it is — the croissant perfection I had hoped for.  The contrast between the perfectly crispy exterior and the soft, buttery interior was pure joy in pastry form.  It was actually kind of insane how buttery this was.  I held onto it with the paper bag as I ate it, and by the time I was done that bag was practically transparent.  And yet it didn’t taste greasy at all — just pleasantly buttery in all the best ways.

Croissant in Paris, FranceMaison Decorde
This actually wasn’t on my list of places to check out — apparently most bakeries in Paris are closed on Mondays, so after striking out a couple of times, I wound up at this place completely at random.  And the croissant was pretty good, with a lightly crispy exterior and a mild buttery flavour.  But the texture of the interior was weirdly tough; it was still a pretty good croissant, but this is Paris, so pretty good is actually kind of awful.

Croissant in Paris, FranceChatillon Pascal
Easily the daintiest croissant I’ve had, this had an ultra-light, almost ethereal outer layer of crispiness, and a super fluffy interior. It was also a little bit sweeter than the other croissants I’ve had so far. Not mind-blowing, but quite tasty!

Croissant in Paris, FranceBlé Sucré
I actually wasn’t crazy about this one. Though it was mostly okay — nice crackly exterior, fluffy interior — it was the greasiest croissant I’ve ever had.  It left my mouth and lips unpleasantly grease-slicked, like I just took a swig of oil.  And yet it didn’t have a particularly pronounced buttery flavour.

Croissant in Paris, FranceMaison Landemaine
Well, that was extremely middle-of-the-road. It was mostly pretty good — nice and buttery, good interior texture — but it was lacking the exterior crispiness that you’ve gotta have in a great croissant.

Croissant in Paris, FranceCafe Pouchkine
Quite good, but extremely untraditional — aside from the fact that it’s lightly glazed in some kind of syrup, the interior is sprinkled with a small amount of cocoa (I think — there was very little of it, but there did seem to be a mild chocolaty flavour). It’s actually really tasty for what it is, but come on, man. Don’t mess with the croissant. Also: at two Euros, this was the most expensive croissant I’ve had by far.

Croissant in Paris, FranceEric Kayser

Croissant in Paris, FranceDominique Saibron
I actually had to stand in a pretty long line for this one, so I had high hopes that it would be something special. And though it was one of the better croissants that I had in Paris, the exterior crispiness wasn’t quite there.

All in all, it might seem like I’m pretty negative on a lot of these croissants.  I was being tough on them, being in Paris and all, but I’d be happy to eat any one of them back home.  I did peak early though — the best croissant was easily the one from Stohrer.

It might seem weird to go to Disneyland by yourself, but you know what?  It’s the happiest place on Earth.  You know what’s weird?  Not going to Disneyland by yourself.  Yeah, that’s right, I turned it around on you.

Disneyland Paris actually consists of two connected parks — Walt Disney Studios Park and Disneyland Park.

Walt Disney Studios Park is the smaller of the two, and could probably use some updating (there’s a studio tour ride that references new and hip films like Pearl Harbor and Reign of Fire — yes, Reign of Fire, that fifteen-year-old Matthew McConaughey movie that you forgot existed, features very prominently in the ride).

Disneyland Paris, France

But!  It had my favourite ride of the day, a Ratatouille-themed ride that used some pretty mind-blowing technology to make you feel like you’re running around with Remy.

That park also had my least favourite ride of the day, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, which actually would have been pretty fun if it didn’t make me feel like I was going to throw up and/or pass out (or both — both seemed like a very distinct possibility).

Disneyland Paris, France

Disneyland Park is the main event, and there’s so much to see there that you could probably be entertained just walking around without doing any rides.

Disneyland Paris, France

Some other thoughts:

It’s a Small World is still as insanely catchy as ever.

Disneyland Paris, France

Disney owns Star Wars, which is something they won’t let you forget; it’s everywhere in the park.

Disneyland Paris, France

I feel like they need to take another shot at a Haunted Mansion movie, because that ride is kind of nuts; it starts out like a pretty standard haunted house, and gets pretty insane by the end.  I feel like a movie version of that, done well, would be fun.

Disneyland Paris, France

They don’t sell churros in the park like a bunch of jerks (isn’t that a Disneyland standard?? ) but this cookie, which has a bunch of Nutella in the middle, was quite tasty.

Disneyland Paris, France

They have a really interesting exhibit at the Art Ludique Museum in Paris that’s DC-Comics-themed.  There’s a bunch of original art from various DC comics, not to mention costumes from pretty much all of the DC films from the last few decades.

The Art of DC, Paris Art Ludique museum

There’s something pretty fascinating about seeing the original comic book artwork — it’s all done in a computer now, but it’s interesting to see the way they had to physically paste the titles onto the page.

The Art of DC, Paris Art Ludique museum

It’s also pretty neat to see all of the original costumes — they have all of the Batmans (Batmen?), from Michael Keaton to Ben Affleck.  They even have the infamous George Clooney batsuit, nipples and all.

The Art of DC, Paris Art Ludique museum

Though maybe I’m being a cheapo, but this thing cost about the same as the Louvre (it’s fifty cents cheaper), and I mean, come on.  It took me like twenty minutes to see everything.  Get out of here with those prices.

The Art of DC, Paris Art Ludique museum

I was trying to go to a bistro called Le Comptoir du Relais; it was completely full (it almost never occurs to me to make reservations, so this actually happens a lot).  They do, however, have a small take-out window with sandwiches and pastries.  I figured this was a pretty good opportunity to try a ham and butter sandwich, which is supposedly the second most popular sandwich in France.

(The first?  Burgers.  Everyone loves burgers.)

It was so good.  The crispy (but not overly crunchy) exterior of the baguette combined with the pleasantly chewy interior makes this the perfect bread for a sandwich like this.  Combined with the really good quality ham, a very generous slathering of salted butter, and a few slightly sweet cornichons to add some crunch and balance out the rich butter and the fatty ham, it was close to sandwich perfection.  It was maybe the best ham sandwich I’ve ever had.

Crepe with butter and sugar

For dessert?  The butter theme continued with a beurre-sucre crepe (butter and sugar).  This is exactly what it sounds like — it’s a crepe, brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with sugar.  It doesn’t sound like much, but the slightly buttery flavour combined with the slight crunch you get from the sugar works shockingly well on the freshly-made crepe.

Holy crap, the Louvre is impressive.  I know — that’s kind of like saying “the Beatles are a pretty good band” or “hey, you know Citizen Kane?  It’s worth watching!”  Everyone knows this already.

But it’s still worth repeating: if you find yourself in Paris, you should probably go to the Louvre, even if you’re not a big museum person.

For one thing, the sheer volume of great art on display is almost exhausting.  There’s so much to see.  I wasn’t lingering all that much, and I might have missed parts of the gallery (the way the museum is laid out is super confusing), and I was still there for almost three hours.

The Louvre, Paris, France

Plus, I had assumed it was mostly paintings, but there’s also an impressive amount of sculptures and other art on display.  I was there for over an hour before I even saw my first painting.

The museum itself is something to behold; there’s one room in particular that’s absolutely breathtaking.

The Louvre, Paris, France

I should note, however, that the way they’re exhibiting their most famous painting (and probably the most famous painting in the world), the Mona Lisa, is exceptionally dumb.

Aside from the fact that it’s behind plexiglass, there’s a big wooden barrier that would theoretically keep everyone about five or six feet away, and then another barrier (because apparently the one barrier isn’t good enough?) that ensures that no one can get within about ten feet of the painting.  It’s absurd.

The Mona Lisa

You’ve probably heard that the Mona Lisa is surprisingly small — between the size, the glass barrier, and the sheer distance you have to squint at it from, it’s completely impossible to actually appreciate the painting.  The way they have it set up basically just gives you the right to say that you saw the Mona Lisa, and… that’s about it.

It kinda sucks, but then let’s face it — the Mona Lisa isn’t the nicest painting in the Louvre by a long shot, and it’s the only one with the absurd security measures.

The Louvre, Paris, France

But it’s obvious what everyone’s there to see.  The room with the Mona Lisa, and the rooms surrounding it, are a complete madhouse.  But everything else is only slightly crowded.  The floor above the Mona Lisa — which has some amazing, very well known paintings — is practically deserted.  Everyone’s pretty much like “is it the Mona Lisa?  Is it Mona Lisa adjacent?  No?  NOT INTERESTED.”

There are some fun paintings too, like this internet famous one.

The Louvre, Paris, France

Or this one of a woman and her baby both giving some pretty serious side-eye.

The Louvre, Paris, France