cakes, prose, woes -- the photos, food & thoughts of a french-speaking seattle-native in brazil

In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it. -AB
In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Does 2 + 2 Equal 4 or 22?

Happy Birthday to MYSELF - Some Mario Batali, What! - and "The Very French Bakery" in SeattleI'm 22 now. It is not as exciting as 21. Was 21 exciting? I worked last year. Right now I don't have a job. Because I'm a lazy-ass nobody. Ah well, at least there is cake.

What do yo want for your birthday? I was asked. My answer: Bourdain on DVD, Cake, lots of wine, and more cake. And I want to eat the whole cake by myself. And the wine too for that matter. No for serious mallory, you don't turn 22 every year. Well that's for damn sure. So, my dear old dad invited me out for lunch, and then like a good agent--i have many an agent propelling my career as executive food journalist--he led me to a French bakery at Pike Place Market, a bakery actually called "Le Panier: The Very French Bakery" should we be a little skeptic?...Just a little? We are pretentious snobs. But this is Seattle, so i'm hopeful. Let's investigate. On y va.

Le Panier is a "traditional French boulangerie" --do you not agree that the French probably are tired of hearing that--where could we find credentials. Upon entering one is thrown into a cute little bakery with an atmosphere wholly uuncommon to those in France, though on the other hand, after quickly glancing through the sugary scented glass, it must be noted that they did in fact stock the essentials. Pain au chocolat, croissants, financiers, palmiers, quiche, Madeleines, macaroons, meringues, and of course, le baguette held vertical in its stall behind the counter operators. Alright, so they had it all. So what. I don't feel like i'm in France. mallory--that is because you are not in France. So instead of so what we decide rather on so plenty: Le Panier is a perfect representation of what a parisian bakery is like. It is a bit of something good trying to show what else is out there--maybe one day a good-to-do Seattleite will watch a flaky skin slowly fall from his pain au chocolat to his knee, resting softly on his trouser, giving him the idea of do they taste like this in France? What else, I wonder, could they have as well? And the next day he is at the departures gate at Seatac on a direct to CDG. All of that from a French pastry shop? Yes, yes indeed. And it's right here in Seattle.

Le Panier was opened in 1983 on Pike Place and the corner of Stewart Street by a Frenchman and a University of Washington French studies graduate. The boulangerie has been serving hot baguettes year round ever since to not only the bubbling hot tourist crowd, but to old and new locals as well. The new line of multi-million dollar condos built just above the market on the hill gives the area a new "residential" crowd, so watch out tourists, you've got Seattleites to deal with now. Don't make them angry. You might either get a fish thrown at you, or perhaps a coffee burn. Stereotyping my own city into a Travel Chanel cliche? Why yes. Flying fish, coffee junkies, tree hugging sea people in Sperry Topsiders and North Face fleece? Alright alright, but there is one description i have heard that I am beginning to think is right--Seattle: obsession.

What does one find inside the shop? Surprisingly it was not overcrowded. Living in Paris one knows that the morning and evening baguette queue at nearly every corner boulangerie can oftentimes snake out the door and wind around the corner as if reenacting a 1940's rationing bread line. Today at Le Panier, the wait was not bad at all, the hot weather, of course, could well be a factor. Whereas Parisians can and do eat baguette everyday regardless of time of year; bakeries in the United States statistically are overwhelmingly more popular in the autumn and winter months. Seattleites--if the weather gets above 17 degrees (fine, 65F) then pull out the ice box, put on the bathing suits, it's summer time! Screw the bakery, we're getting ice cream and margaritas! Don't forget to put on the sunscreen.

Once inside, one finds seated around the room at the many available tables (what one would never find in a boulangerie in france) patrons sipping cappuccinos and oranginas straight out of the little round bottle. A busy staff in crisp blacks running to a fro behind the counter, restocking the tarts and crisps as they quickly disappear. On the whole the place is an A+ for a little France outside of France--but not France itself, that, is impossible. The prices--a little hefty i must say at $2.50 for a pain au chocolat, though, on the other hand, the $1 for the meringue, which yes, I once again have become the slave of, is a deal as its Parisian brother runs at the much higher 1euro. Chouette.

But what is it that makes it different besides it being in Seattle (obviously)? Well, there is the smell--where is it, what is it? All Patisseries and boulangeries in Paris have the smell; it permeates the sidewalk for meters, and hits you like a shot of liquor as you cross the threshold into one. It is the smell--is it flour? The mixture of sweets? Maybe just a different kind of four, any way, I have no idea what it is, but it is unique to the boulangeries of France. If I can smell the smell, no matter what where or how, if the smell is there, then France has finally been duped and cloned. Until then, we have Le Panier, a little piece of France, rather a little representation of the good things, and my friends, France, is the goods things.

A quick purchase of a baguette for my dad, and a meringue for myself, and we leave Le Panier to flaner a little around the market, ending at the flower stalls for the choosing of yes, the most beautiful bouquet in the market. I very much so love flowers. Have you caught on to that yet? Pike Place market is the mecca for beautiful fresh flowers. Wanna impress? Get a Pike Place bouquet.

It is awfully nice to see Seattle again; it truly is the emerald gem of the US. A quick day trip there and back--my Seattle stays the same, but now, now it looks just a bit smaller. But, they say, the smaller the cozier. After the bakery we returned home--where my family, and the myriad windows of which earlier I had graffitied with the phrase chouette awaited my return. My mom, after my brat-like answer of "cake and wine for dinner" planned her own menu of poulet cooked in wine and mushrooms (some call it coq au vin) along with a risotto and green salad. Awfully nice....but where are my presents!

The star of the evening--aside from the autographed Mario Batali "Italian Grill" book which my dad secured for me along with a photo of the man himself autographing the thing (thanks dad--c'est trop chouette) --was the three layer gf birthday cake of vanilla and chocolate with a raspberry butter cream, baked by mom and decorated by GR (Ryan, her name is Ryan, Ryan Noel, actually, would you like her social security number? her favorite color is green and she has a fear of velvet) beautiful, very beautiful. A decor of flowers, did I mention i love flowers? perhaps, I received many. Many alongside the mini-barbeque, chouette! It is for my new back yard--complete with grilling utensils, napkins, (wine) glasses, trays, and all that jazz. Let us see if Mario can teach us a few tricks.

Just glad it wasn't Bobby. No I jest--I'd grill with Bobby anytime, because im a slut for celebrity what can I say. Though the minute Bourdain arrives, I throw my 360 and it's all trash talk on you grill boy. Mario, you're safe though. You're safe. N'inquietez pas.

Twenty second birthday; why do I feel like a little kid still sticking my tongue out. Ah, n'importe de quoi, maybe I am. This means now that I really do need to start eating 22 haricots verts instead of 21.

Cake, famous chef autographs, cake, family, cake, my poulet, cake, wine, cake, and a little reminder that just because I am no longer in France, doesn't mean I cannot see, find, and create France around me. Thank you family, for the wonderful birthday, it is great to be back in my cidade; my cidade....for now.

à bientôt


Laranja com Canela said...

Happy Birthday ou Feliz Aniversário.


Anonymous said...

Joyeux Anniversaire!



Rachel said...

happy birthday!

is "cidade" a french word? it means city in portuguese but anyway...

Mallory Elise said...

merci bien for all of the birthday wishes--

haha no city in french is ville; Cidade is my favorite Portuguese word. so i like to use it. a lot.

Aran said...

wow... I am so happy I found your blog. This piece was hilarious! I am Basque but have been living in the US for 10 years now and the one thing I miss are the bakeries. I have been to Le Panier and I thought it was just like you described it. The bread was really good but of course, the ambience or people's behaviour will never be like in France, because it is not France but Seattle. I also happen to love Seattle and I think you are incredibly lucky to live there!

Christy said...

Happy Belated 22nd Birthday!! I love history too and wish I speak French, and yes, I agree on your thoughts about Anthony Bourdain. I want his job too, so you might just have to fight me (and about a million other people) when he really kicks it. How fabulous it is to spend your days traveling and eating and not having to pay for it.

Tartelette said...

Joyeux Anniversaire! Miss the scent and atmosphere of bakeries back home. We have nothing that comes even close to that. Gorgeous cake!