Monday, 29 March 2010

Choc du Chocolat

I was down in the Marais area today hoping for some falafels at Mi-Va-Mi but unfortunately they were closed... as was L'As du Falafel (until April 6 for L'As, I'm unsure about Mi-Va-Mi)! So I had to settle for the only one that was open, Chez Marianne. I'll do a separate comparison review on the three shops some other day, but in a nutshell I will not visit Chez Marianne again unless the falafel craving becomes desperation and that's the only shop open.

Then... I had a chocolate craving.

I decided to try a new shop and went up to Rambateau.

Pain de Sucre
Add: 14 Rue Rambuteau, 3rd
Metro: Rambuteau
Tel: 01 45 74 68 92
Thurs-Mon 8am-8:30pm (Closed Tues and Wed)

at de choc (state of shock) - 4.8Eur

This is the only dessert I tried, a chocolatey goodness that isn't very cheap. It's a chocolate cake/cookie crust layered with chocolate cream sandwiching crisp hazelnut wafer-like bits and topped with dark chocolate ganache. Oh, and don't forget the thin dark chocolate sitting proudly on top of this creation!

Taste: 8.5/10 Very chocolatey and not overly sweet. I admit I do like dark chocolate (72% and above) but I'm sure those who prefer milk chocolate will also enjoy this treat when the craving hits. The hazelnut layer prevents the dessert from being boring and complements well.

Texture: 9/10 I love how there are different textures to this seemingly bland chocolate "cake." The crunch of the hazelnut, smooth chocolate cream, dense chocolate ganache, slightly heavier cake/cookie layer and melt-in-your-mouth dark chocolate all add to the gastronomic experience.

Value: 7.5/10 I'm sorry, but almost 5 Eur for this humbly-sized chocolate cake didn't sit too well with my wallet. In the end, I still felt like something was missing - it's not that the treat wasn't satisfying, it just wasn't... spectacularly original or interesting. By all means it's a great dessert and I urge you to try it, but I probably won't go back - there are too many patisseries to try in Paris to dwell on this one!

Happy tasting :)

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Pierre Hermé Macarons

I've had Pierre Hermé's famous macarons before starting the food section of this blog but this time around I chose some more intriguing flavors. After having Pierre Hermé's heavenly masterpieces, other macarons just can't seem to hit the spot for me. The macaron shells exhibit just the slightest crisp resistance when you sink your teeth in one, there is no overpowering almond flavor, the fillings are flavorful and melt in your mouth, and is not overly chewy. My opinion only; I'm sure there are others who disagree.

Flavors for today: Black sesame x green tea, Chocolate x foie gras, Chestnut x green tea, and Milk chocolate x Earl Grey.

Imagine - Thé vert macha, croustillant au sésame noir (Black sesame green tea)
This green tea packs a punch - finally I've had a macaron that actually tastes like matcha (thus not too sweet) without compromising the quality of the dessert itself in terms of shell texture and "melt-in-your-mouth" factor. The texture of this is different too - perhaps the filling was also dusted with matcha powder because there was a certain "powdery-ness" when I bit into it. There is a layer of black sesame paste/cream on top of the green tea filling (see it beneath the top macaron . The macaron shells are different colors.

Taste: 9.5/10 - The black sesame adds a dimension to the macaron, the most apt description would be "香." I know that literally means fragrant, but in Chinese when we describe food as such, it just means... well.. somehow more engaging of other senses as well as tastebuds and leaving a ghost of an aftertaste that makes you want more. Okay, now you know how much I fail at translation and describing taste. My apologies. I was very impressed with the green tea flavor!
Texture: 9/10 - the matcha powder (I'm assuming that's dusted on the filling) adds a dimension, but as with all Pierre Hermé macarons I've tried, I wish they were just the tiniest bit chewier to offset that sometimes-too-cloying buttery sweet taste and texture.

Chocolat au lait & thé Earl Grey (Milk Chocolate Earl Grey tea)
This smells amazing. I could smell the tea and of course the chocolate. The texture of this was a little more solid, a little more strength than the black sesame green tea one. Earl Grey flavor adds a light, sweet, different taste. Overall, I think more people would like this one over the green tea one just because it's less foreign-tasting while still unique. This one is slightly sweeter.
Taste: 9.5/10
Texture: 9.5/10

Chocolat & foie gras (Chocolate and foie gras)
Oh. So. Pretty! It's a bright red bathed gold dust! The two flavors ound like a bad combination (chocolate and LIVER?!) but hey, I love chocolate and I love foie gras and I adore macarons. What could go wrong. The texture is unbelievable - REALLY like biting into a colorful cloud. Unbelievably delicate. There's a slight tinge of saltiness from the foie gras and it actually complements the chocolate without overpowering. Very interesting...! However, I do admit that it tastes different enough to be a little weird. Definitely worth a try, but I'd recommend splitting it with a friend.

Taste: 8.0/10 No matter how much I love foie gras, chocolate, and macarons, something is still just the slightest bit off. Worth the risk though - I can imagine people who'll love it. Of course, the converse is also true.
Texture: 9.5/10 I hesitate a little on this one. The texture is divine but if you're looking for something with more oompf this is not it.

Marron & thé vert matcha (Chestnut and matcha green tea)
This is a work of art. It is a beautiful sunbaked bronze with glimmery golden dust. I could wear it as a pendant with my little black dress, I swear! While the Imagine had a predominant matcha taste, this one had a predominant chestnut taste. I feel that the green tea only serves to balance out the chestnut, but the aftertaste is where this macaron shines. First, the sweet, slightly grainy chestnut cream enrobes your taste buds. After swallowing and with a little patience, you can savor the light yet distinctly fresh green tea aftertaste while admiring the beauty of the macaron and finding the perfect angle for the light to hit it.

Taste: 9/10 I find the chestnut a little too sweet and I was about to give this a 8.5, but the delicate aftertaste merits a higher score.
Texture: 9/10 Texture-wise, it is quite consistent with the other ones.

Of course, Pierre Hermé's genius in flavors does not end here. I can't afford to try all his flavors, but his Magnifique - strawberry & wasabi flavor - deserves a special nod - the wasabi was not at all overpowering or pungent, but added an interesting depth and tingle to the otherwise original macaron. The olive oil and vanilla one I personally did not like because, well, I hate olives. There were tiny slivers of olives sandwiched between the macaron shells and the filling! Salty and sweet. I would love to try the truffe blanc et noisette (white truffle and hazelnut), but perhaps this will have to wait until next week. Of course, there is also the stunning Ispahan - a one-of-a-kind delectable desert that merits its own review.

Happy Tasting (:

Friday, 19 March 2010

Tantalizing Tarte au Citron!

All in the name of research! I've been trekking around Paris these past few days vintage shopping and scouring the best patisseries. Yes I know - lame excuse seeing as I haven't been updating my blog. Again, today, I found the desperate need to broadcast my love for this AMAZINGLY delectable treat. Lo and behold - it's another tarte au citron!

Au Levain de Marais
Add: 32 Rue de Turenne, 3rd
Metro: Chemin Vert
Tel: 01 42 78 07 31
Tues-Sat 7am-8:30pm

In total I splurged and got three treats here - tarte au citron (lemon tart), tarte au chocolate et framboise (chocolate and raspberry tarte), and a macaron framboise (raspberry macaron) for a total of 7.20 Euros. The reviews for the latter two will be written at another time.

Tarte au citron - 2.80 Eur

Pure heaven. This is the BEST tarte au citron I've had thus far. Yes, yes I know I said that on my previous post about the one at Veronique Mauclerc... this one IS BETTER. Oh and it's actually cheaper! To cut a long story short, the filling is comparable which makes it stellar already. The crust, mes petites, is the tiebreaker.

Filling: (I couldn't help myself - Almost half gone already!)
Taste: 10/10 tangy, burst of refreshing citrusy heaven and just sweet enough. A complete dream. The aftertaste it leaves just keeps you fantasizing about the next time you sink your teeth into one of these!
Texture: 9.9/10 Smooth, refined, and creamy. Only reason I didn't give it a 10 was that my initial impression said that it could be just the sliiiiiiiightest bit creamier and, what if I find another lemon tart that beats this one later?

Crust: (Close-up beauty shot! Can you see the texture?)
Taste: 9.9/10 It tastes great by itself - fully flavored and ready to crumble. There's a hint of cinnamon that adds to its depth. My opinion only, but by itself there's a... slightly odd taste of herbs or spices I can't quite put my finger on it. Eaten with the filling, as you're supposed to, is simply divine. You don't taste any of that somewhat strange flavor.
Texture: 9.9/10 Buttery, crumbles when it's supposed to with just the tiniest suggestion of a crunch, this pairs perfectly with the creamy, tangy filling. Honestly, the only reason I didn't give it a 10/10 is because, well, I'm a little scared of giving full marks now. I'm not ruling out the possibility that there's a better tarte au citron out there, so I'm leaving room for that. I think I might just have to edit my previous post about the tarte at Veronique Mauclerc...

Overall Appearance: 9/10 I thought it was quite pretty! The nonchalantly caramelized top and dusting of confectioner's sugar add a nice touch to the dollop of lemon custard sitting on a butter cookie. Even better? When it's in your mouth.
Overall Value: 10/10 This stunning. And it's really, really not overpriced at all for a lemon tart. The chain bakeries I've seen charge more than 2.90 Euros. It costs less than the one at Veronique Mauclerc! Do your taste buds a favor and run, fly, SWIM to Au Levain de Marias to savour this tarte!

Oh and did I mention? The whole package is handed to you in a pretty wrapped box :)

...and while you're at it, check out the nearby(ish) vintage shops on Rue de Rosiers. Will post a more detailed entry of specific shops when I find the time... it is now 2 am.

Happy tasting! :)

Monday, 15 March 2010

Paris, Je t'aime

2010! My Spring semester of exchange.

Happily in Paris and with school started only a little more than a week ago, I'm still new to this city and it thrills me. Luckily for me, my three amazing friends visited me last week (they left yesterday) and we visited all the touristy places together. They've inspired me to do a food blog, with specific emphasis on macarons and pastries. Well, actually, just plain good food.

Now, I'm just your normal university girl with no professional culinary knowledge. I'd like to think I bake kick-butt lemon bars but that's my ego speaking. All these reviews are my sole opinion only and I'm flattered if it is at all useful to you, dear reader. Please understand that I am still new at food reviews and will not be sure what to rate them on. Most importantly though, I do love food. And here, without delay, my first review.

La Boulangerie par Veronique Mauclerc
Add: 83 Rue de Crimee, 19th Arr.
Metro: Laumiere
Open Thurs-Mon (closed Tues and Wed) 8am - 8pm

Lemon Tart - Tarte au Citron, 3.90Eur

We stopped by this bakery before dinner because we reached this neighborhood an hour early. It took some finding but little did I know how worth it this trip was. I ordered the lemon tart to go and decided to keep it as a post-dinner treat when I get back to my dorm.

In all honesty, I didn't even think about starting this blog today. Then I bit into this humble-looking tart. What struck me the most is how creamy yet tangy and citrusy this tart was. The filling is silky smooth and melts on the tip of your tongue. Your tongue instinctively curls to the roof of your mouth to taste the last bursts of flavor and your tastebuds are jolted by the intense tang of the tart. The delicate balance between sweet and sour is epitomized here. The juxtaposition of the buttery, almost-crunchy shortbread crust with the creamy, light but weighty citrus filling completes the experience.

Filling: (Apologies for the blurry photo)
Taste: 10/10 - perfect balance between sweet and sour
Texture: 10/10 - smooth, creamy yet tangy, melts on the tip of your tongue, non-sticky, amazing.
Smell: none, I really don't smell anything
Taste: 9.5/10 - Slightly buttery,on itself it's obviously a little bland, but it's a perfect complement to the filling. There's a hint of chopped nuts in there too that seems to add to its taste and texture. There is hardly a hint of sweetness.
Texture: 10/10 - slightly crispy and crunch, nuts to enhance different mouth feel. Pairs perfectly with the filling.
Overall Appearance: 8/10 Nothing special. There's a sprinkle of chopped pistachio and a dark chocolate coin on top. However, this humble tart delivers MUCH more than its looks!
Overall Value: 9/10 This tart is simply too mind-blowing to worry about 3.9 Euros. And frankly, that's not a lot. Tarts at chain bakeries I've seen are around 2.8-3.5 Euros anyway, so paying a little more for this one is fine for me. I believe Pierre Herme ones are around 6 Euros.

Overall: 9.5/10. It really is a perfect lemon tart. Really. The only reason I didn't give it full marks was because I think eating is an experience, not just a simple chew and swallow. In terms of appearance and packaging (it was unceremoniously tossed into a brown paper bag), it doesn't complete the experience. Honestly though, this is hands down THE best lemon tart I've ever had.

***Edit: Sorry, I made a mistake about the bakery - I mixed up this bakery with another one (Arnaud Larher). The changes have been duly made.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Prospective Students for GBUS/HKUST? P. I

Long time no write. I've been indolent and... well, much too self-conscious to post. I felt that something has been expected of me, that my poor writing and inane entries would not stand up to the calibre of a "Global Business Student."

Almost a year and a half here. I wish I could more clearly articulate my gradual evolution. Before I broadcast my own knot of thoughts, perhaps what would be more interesting to others would be what HKUST/GBUS is like, at least in my eyes. At least, that's what I get asked most of the time. Funnily enough, I just got asked that through Facebook.

Because I will be talking about HKUST/GBUS through my lens, it's only fair that you know where I come from and how my lens is biased. I'm from an international school and I entered through "non-Jupas" with the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma. I am, however, considered a "local student" because I have a Hong Kong Identity Card. For the record, though, I've never lived in HK before university. I'm afraid I would not be able to offer any information regarding entry using HK public examination results.

International Students
Please come to HKUST with an open mindset. I learned that the hard way. I somewhat expected HKUST to be more international than my high school, that it would resemble a private university in the US. HKUST has many international students and the trend is that it will get more international. At the time being, expecting it to be thoroughly diverse in terms of nationality is a little over-demanding. It is still a young school that has been very successful in earning itself a respectable reputation. It is still growing.

In terms of athletics, I also expected it to be like a US uni. Note that HKUST is more academically-oriented. As captain of the swim team and water polo team, I can tell you that my high school team was better. We have amazing facilities though - the outdoor pool is great, right next to the sea, and we have all equipment necessary for building a formidable swimming and water polo team. Here, schoolwork comes first and I respect that. It may be a little difficult to ask for resources to support your team too - our swim team training sessions are now on Tues and Thurs mornings which conflict with class time for many swimmers (classes can be anytime between 9-6pm, with certain classes/tutorials ending at 7pm) because the SAO (Student Affairs Office) has asked us to train during non-peak hours in the indoor pool (smaller than the outdoor pool and hence space is more precious). Unfortunately our usual time of 7-9pm which suits all athletes falls under peak hours. In all due respect, it took much negotiation and compromise to even reach the non-peak hour training timeslot. Originally the SAO said that it will not support swim team training sessions in the indoor pool at all. We are immensely grateful that at the end we are still able to train.

It's late, I'm sick, time for bed.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

B-School - Value and Ethics. (?)

Global Business Analysis class finished half an hour ago and left me with an insane urgency to publish a post. Values and Ethics. How many times have we all heard of this? How many times have I suppressed a yawn when any topic veers close enough to this?

Yet this "soporific" subject has special pertinence to me. And my own "boredom" was probably due to the fact that I never really cared enough to look deep enough. Everybody has values. Blah blah blah. I, really, didn't really care. And I, really hate preaching. Which is usually what a lecture on V&E usually is. Of course the world would be a better place if we could all be good people.

Then, today rolled around. Professor Paul Forster invited a special guest to our lecture today, Dr. Karen. Leadership and values. Dear reader, if you know anything about BMGB 101, you will know that it is anything BUT proselytizing. I knew better than to expect a sermon.

"Leaders wield great power" - we all know that. That's why everybody in that class wants to be one. "Leaders make big decisions." Once again, of course. "These decisions are subtly influenced by individual values and ethics." Now that it was clearly stated for me, I felt like slapping myself. That connection's pretty freaking obvious. Yet I never thought about it. "Values" = time to zone out. "Ethics" = time to doodle. I am always, so silly. And because leaders, well, lead their companies, they influence the entire organization's values, decisions, and environment.

Enron. Being the insular imbecile that I am, I only vaguely heard of that company when Dr. Karen mentioned it. Ex-CEO Jeff Shilling's values and ethics (or lack of) trickled down to the traders and infested the entire enterprise. The only incentives were extrinsic. Money. 15% of the workforce was fired every year based on "peer evaluations" (the exact wording I've forgotten). One employee said, "If stepping on a colleague's throat would double my bonus, I'd STOMP on his throat, you know?" (Something like that.) Ex-CEO Jeff Shilling had truly Darwinian beliefs - survival of the fittest. And that money is the only motivator. Talk about leadership and establishing an organizational culture!

When the ex-CEO was at Harvard Business School, one professor asked him, "Are you smart?" He replied, "I'm f***ing smart." Sometimes we are deluded by our own brains. Sometimes we think we're doing good. Perhaps the trader at Enron thought he was doing good for the company by fabricating accounting entries. It was made doubly easy for that trader to believe so when everybody else was doing the same thing.

"When money is the only motivator, perhaps something's amiss."

This is especially poignant for me. A little more than a year ago, I thought I was going to become an investment banker or actuary after graduating from university. It makes no sense when you take into account my personality. I love interacting with people. There really shouldn't be much appeal in a job that entails being locked up in a cubicle all day long. But you get paid obscene amounts of money. I admit it. I was attracted to that career because of extrinsic motives. I thought that I could separate "work" from my life, that "work" was simply a means to get money. Dr. Karen also shared her own experiences of working at an I-bank. Coupled with the financial crisis, this was my wake-up call.

Maybe the financial crisis was solely because of greed.

Or maybe it's karma.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Academically me, part I

So far, I've refrained from commenting on life @ UST as a student studying global business. I've decided that it's not fair since well, I've only experienced less than a month of GBUS-specific courses. In the first semester, the core courses for GBUS (shorthand for global business) are the same as Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) students. Oh! Core courses are different from required courses, I came to realize. Core courses cannot be flunked, deferred, or dropped. Required courses can be deferred. Unfortunately, all my classes this semester are core classes and I have seven. No flexibility in choosing courses for now!

So, what's so special about this semester? *drumrollllll....* BMGB 101! The course that makes GBUS special. Okay, not really, but it's the GBUS course. Our textbook consists of business cases that focus on (gasp!) globalization of companies. We analyzed a Zara case last week. Did you know it's Spanish? That it rarely outsources? That its main value is speed? That shops are updated almost twice every week?

....I just broadcasted my nerdiness, didn't I.

Anyways. Some students have said that BMGB is basically an extension of Labu (language for business, which also is a case study class). Besides the fact that they both analyze cases, I'd say the similarities end there. In Labu, you get quite a bit of guidance. The issues in the cases are incredibly clear and the worksheets/packets tell you what you need to know. However, in BMGB, the potential pitfalls are much harder to spot. My groupmates and I are analyzing a L'Oreal case and... well, we spent an hour discussing, groping for problems the company has, and failed. (Digression: Shu Uemura is L'Oreal's. Seriously.)

No doubt, I'm a complete newb at this analyzing thing. I'm probably as competent as an elephant trying to belly dance. My only consolation is that after this semester of case after case after another cursin' case, I'll improve. With a sprinkle of a miracle, maybe I'll even be able to crack out incisive comments.

Almost 8pm! Time for a swim. I think Part II will consist of a rant about cases.