Though I have dabbled in numerous forms of writing, I have really fallen in love with blogging. Some of this is the nature of the form – I’m an instant gratification junkie, so the quick efficiency of writing and posting blog entries holds great appeal – but what has really gotten me falling head over heels is the blogging community. Among a terrain not exactly known for its restrained, distinguished discourse, specific blogging communities remain calm, welcoming places of exchange ideas and opinions, experiences and photographs.
I have been accused of being a bit of a social curmudgeon because I’m not on sites like Facebook or Twitter. While I admit to some moderate prejudice against social networking sites, the real reason I’m not on any of them at the moment is that my time online is already maxed out. On a daily basis I’ve got a few dozen links to check on, and were I to sacrifice some of the time I dedicate to those sites for say, “poking” friends-of-friends or harvesting wheat in my virtual farm, I would be losing a significant percentage of time that I use to keep up my preferred social networking: Reading other people’s blogs.
Until recently, reading and commenting on other blogs was about as far as I had gotten into actual socialization with food bloggers. I learned how much of a shame this truly was when I finally made it to a Food Bloggers Meetup, this time at Paris 66 in East Liberty.
When you write about food, you want to talk about food. You want to talk about it a lot. And while I am lucky to have friends that are more than willing to humor my seemingly endless interest in the topic, there’s something very reassuring about being among members of the same tribe. When the food is served and my camera was only one of many pulled out, I got a warm and fuzzy feeling in my stomach – and not just because I had drunk half of my very potent French martini.
– Mike of Foodburgh
– Luke (organizer and former Paris 66 employee)
– Lauren of Burghilicious
– Erin (and Kevin) of Community Cucina
– Clara of Food Collage
– Roddy of Rodzilla Reviews
– Janelle of VegOut Pittsburgh
– Nicole (and her lovely spouse) of Yum Yum
– Laurie of Tuesdays with Dorie
– Me and the lovely Kait Wittig, friend and eating partner-in-crime
In addition to meeting these bloggers in person for the first time, I was also making my first visit to Paris 66. I’m a bit of a sucker for romantic little enclaves of atmosphere and expensive dining, and Paris 66 has all the best traps: Softly lit, furnished in polished wood and tables complete with laminated-antique postcard covers, back patio seating, and, of course, a small, concise menu of French specialties, including crepes, steak frites, duck, and some very foreign- and tempting- sounding hors d’œuvres. Billed as “everyday French cuisine” the menu still finds plenty of room for the mildly exotic.
Kait went for the more exotic of the everyday for her appetizer, ordering the Terrine D’Asperges, asparagus chopped and melded into slabs of chilled gelatin. We were both surprised by the chilled gelatin, but our surprise gave way to delight in the cool, fresh flavors of the dish. The shallot vinaigrette helped it retain an earthy flavor, but light and crisp, like a perfect combination of salad and Italian ice.
Despite how warm it was in the restaurant, I was in favor of starting off with a cup of soup. Our server admitted her reluctance to fully praise the soup du jour, but she heartily endorsed the French onion soup. I could understand why: Normally, French onion soup leaves me a bit disappointed. It’s an easy enough dish to ruin, either with too much or not enough salt, too much cheese, too few onions, too little substance or too much. There has to be enough brothiness to keep it to soup consistency, but without enough tender chunks of onion and bread, the cheese overwhelms the beef broth. This was a perfect compromise, a thick layer of cheese covering a chunky, rich soup that held just enough textural variation without going over the line into stew territory.
Kait and I were both contemplating the duck, but since I didn’t want to order the same thing that she ordered, I was excited when she opted for the Paris 66 crepe instead. I’ll get to her delicious crepe in a minute, but I want to celebrate the duck in all of its glory. It was cooked to perfection, a little greasy, a little crispy on the outside, and perfectly tender throughout. The parsley and garlic were a nice compliment and added the right notes of flavor to a dish that can be a little flavor-homogeneous. The au gratin potatoes were good too, but a tad bland, however the creaminess served the poultry very well, soaking in some of the oiliness and giving the meat a nice neutral base of flavor to work from.
On a side note, a compliment to the portion sizes at Paris 66. All too frequently, cafes and bistros skimp on the sizes of their entrees. Not that I think everything should be “super sized” and yes, we do have a bit of a portion control issue in this country, but there’s a difference between elegant restraint and stinginess. I think they’ve found a nice compromise in a portion that doesn’t promise a lot of extra, but will satisfy most hunger levels…
..That is, unless you’re starving, then apparently the best move is to order one of the specialty crepes. Kait ordered the Paris 66 crepe and… wow. I don’t think the picture does it justice. We’re talking seriously lovely food. [Clara also ordered a crepe, and her pictures do do justice to the presentation, so those prepared to salivate should check her entry out.] I love buckwheat, so I was prepared to love the bite or two that I took of Kait’s crepe. While the buckwheat flavor, as Clara points out, is pretty strong, I don’t think it overwhelmed the other ingredients in the dish, especially the tomatoes and creamy, buttery mushrooms. The inside of the crepe was brimming with egg, ham, and cheese, so that every bite was a forkful. I don’t normally think of crepes, even savory crepes, as hearty, but Kait couldn’t finish hers and had to ask for a box. I think it’s the buckwheat.
I can’t deny crème brûlée, so despite the many terrific options available for dessert, Kait and I knew exactly what we were going to split. What is there to say about a good crème brûlée? I think I might have used up all the adjectives describing the earlier wonders of our meals, so let me just say that Paris 66 does a good brûlée. The caramelized top was hard and brittle, crisped to the edge of the ramekin, with a sweet and mellow custard underneath. I would have liked to go on, but admittedly, I inhaled my half of the dessert, just after I finished off my very strong French martini. Kait, having just finished her Lemon Drop cocktail, admitted to doing the same.
The process of dining with the bloggers took over two hours. We munched and conversed, even got a few minutes with the owners of the restaurant. Plates were passed around the table, camera flashes went off at regular intervals, and restaurant recommendations and compliments were exchanged. Half buzzed on alcohol and half buzzed on sugar, Kait and I said goodbye to the bloggers and made our slow way home.