Latin Quarter restaurant nice neighborhood option

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

Les Bouquiniste across from the Seine

The entrance to Les Bouquinistes faces the Seine across the street

Walking west along the Seine facing the Left Bank it was easy to spot Les Bouquinistes, named for the iconic souvenir and antique book and magazine vendors that line the banks of the Paris river in that neighborhood. When we arrived at midday early in the week at the corner restaurant, there was already a small group of ladies waiting for the restaurant to open. I tried the door and entered to discover two friendly staff members making the final preparations.

The restaurant decor was contemporary with neutral colors

The restaurant decor was contemporary with neutral colors

Moments later, after surrendering our winter gear to a staff person, we were seated in the rear most section. Wall size glass windows provided us an ample view of the side street we faced. For a few minutes we were the only guests in that section and shared the restaurant with the group we had seen on our arrival. Although there was no wall to separate our section from the main dining room it seemed to have a cozy ambiance. The eatery had a contemporary decor by Jean-Michel Wilmotte where charcoal gray and black were the dominant colors. High ceilings with recessed lights contrasted with the glass walls and windows. Black wood chairs without cushions faced our Corian and wood like trim table. It was set with place mats in lieu of tablecloths and dressed with Couzon dinnerware.

Amar Atya and Peruday Tupinier

Amar Atya and Peruday Tupinier

An oversize wine rack occupied a prominent place across from the bar.  The rearmost wall next to our table had bookshelves filled with a variety of cookbooks and gourmet books. Les Bouquinistes menu was designed by Guy Savoy of the eponymous restaurant, and Stephane Perraud. The staff on duty that day were Amar Atya, Peruday Tupinier and Nils Marie.

Half cooked white tuna

White tuna half cooked (click picture to enlarge)

Soon other guests arrived and the pace picked up. A server appeared at our table with a basket of epi baby baguettes. An amuse buche of half cooked white tuna with bold smokey flavor and a touch of pepper arrived with our glass of well chilled champagne. Without our asking our server kindly offered to described the dishes in English or French. We relied on the staff to select our meal and wines.

Langoustine course

Our langoustine course with vegetables (click picture to enlarge)

In the foreground, we could hear the loud mobile phone conversations of other diners in neighboring tables; in the background, some kitchen sounds reached us. A tepid bouillon with langoustine and "roasted" vegetables was first. The vegetables were aromatic and the dish flavorful, crunchy and mildly spicy hot.

Scallops with pureed cauliflower

The scallops with pureed cauliflower (click picture to enlarge)

Roasted scallops were next. They were served with a cauliflower puree, trumpet mushrooms, almonds and chorizo. Then, we had a Jerusalem artichoke soup with serrano ham was served with a side salad of artichokes and black radish that had a touch of truffle. Suckling pig with mushrooms and lentils and pork with black peppercorns followed. Pear ice cream was served for dessert. It was served with pear chips, vanilla jam and chocolate fondant.

Just across the street, the bouquiniste were open for business

Just across the street, the bouquinistes were open for business

Our first wine was a Saint Aubin premier cru from Burgundy. A 2012 red Cotes du Rhone was next. We enjoyed the tasty, well prepared and well served meal and the casual dining ambiance within minutes by foot of our central Paris accommodations. Should we be staying in or near that part of the city again we would consider the restaurant for lunch. Les Bouquinistes, 53, quai des Grands Augustins, 75006 Paris, France, +33 (0)1 43 25 45 94, fax +33 (0)1 43 25 23 07, http://www.lesbouquinistes.com/

Liwonde National Park luxury tented property offered outstanding elephant sightings

Photos by Josette King

The common areas at Mvuu Lodge

The common areas at Mvuu Lodge

Surrounded by river floodplains Mvuu Lodge in Liwonde National Park, one of Malawi's premier game viewing reserves, offered land and water game viewing options and luxury amenities in a comfortably casual atmosphere. Known best for its hippo population, the luxury tented bush camp was notable during our contributor's stay for abundant elephant sightings. She was able to observe, at close range from a small motorboat, a whole bachelor herd of big tuskers for an entire morning, a unique experience for her.

Elephants played and relaxed on the banks of river

Elephants played and relaxed on the banks of the river

When her group first spotted them, they were drinking and splashing themselves with powerful trunkfuls of water and feeding on the high savanna grass along the shore.  On the banks of the Shire River within the park, she saw a variety of antelopes, and many raptors and waterfowl. There were so many of them she could have spent a morning viewing them.

The room had a deck with an outdoor shower

Her tent had a deck with an outdoor shower

At the rear of her boat, a member of the staff cooked a bountiful brunch for the guests. The warm service, amenable accommodations and rewarding game viewing at Mvuu Lodge afforded her an outstanding ideal introduction to the wilderness of Malawi.

Iconic Paris restaurant ideal for Valentine celebration

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

The iconic Eiffel Tower in Paris

The iconic Eiffel Tower in Paris on a sunny day

While the list of gourmet dining venues in Paris is long few restaurants can compete with the famous Le Jules Verne when it comes to sheer romantic appeal. Midway atop the French capital's best known landmark the restaurant, in the capable hands of the famed Alain Ducasse staff, offers a stunning view of the city combined with expert service and fine dining.

A light souffle with pears

A souffle with pears, one of our desserts

On our most recent stay in the City of Lights we again had the pleasure of lunch at Le Jules Verne. We approached the monument from the Left Bank to find the restaurant's dedicated entrance in the South Pillar of the Eiffel Tower. At the foot of a medium brown awning extending outward from the pillar, a glass encased menu reminded us of the selections listed online and available at the restaurant some 125 meters above the city. After passing through a metal detector and having our personal belongings searched, we were invited to the restaurant's private elevator on the ground floor of the tower pillar.

Pastry chef Philippe Muze

Philippe Muze, the pastry chef

From our window side table we could see part of the north side of the city including the Seine River, the Golden Triangle, and in the background the Sacre Couer church. The light haze did little to mar the scene and the bright afternoon light enhanced the beautiful view, inspiring us to walk along the outer deck one floor below the restaurant following our meal. We were so bewitched by the views that we returned to climb the stairs another day and take the elevator (the only way to reach the summit) to the top of the tower.

The chef and his team

Chef Pascal Feraud and his team (click to enlarge)

Attentive and friendly service coupled with a well presented and perfectly prepared delicate multi course meal made the afternoon memorable. Le Jules Verne is on our short list of fine dining restaurants in Paris, in particular for special occasions and celebrations.

Flower and fruit liquid infusions add flavor, sparkle to special occasions

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

Graham Beck sparkling wine and Orchid Elixir

Graham Beck sparkling wine and Tropical Orchid Elixir

When it comes to bubbly I tend to go for brut varieties. I recently added a splash of a new fruit and floral blend to my glass of sparkling wine that made me change my mind. Tropical Orchid Elixir, a hand made exotic infusion of organic mango, orchid and jasmine, made my well chilled high quality brut sparkling wine extraordinary. It took it up a notch to make it a celebratory drink for special occasions and to partake with friends at social gatherings. The blend of the sensual flavors of mango, fragrant jasmine and orchid flowers with champagne (or sparkling wine) is a perfect Valentine's Day beverage.

Orchid elixir mixes to enhance the flavor

We particularly enjoyed the Orchid Elixir with sparkling wine

I shared the fruit and flower sweet liquid with friends who prefer non alcoholic beverages. They enjoyed it with sparkling and still water. The Floral Elixir Company of Cleveland, Ohio makes four handcrafted floral infusions using floral extracts from around the world into Floral Elixirs designed to add a unique twist to foods and drinks including cocktails and non alcoholic beverages.

Hibiscus Elixir

The Hibiscus Elixir bottle

The other flavors available at the time of this writing were Rose, Lavender, and Hibiscus. Described as all natural and low in sugar, the Floral Elixirs were recommended with champagne, spirits, teas, water and sodas as well as with vinaigrette dressing, marinades, cheeses, desserts and fruit salads. Beginning in 2009, Nora Egger, a native of Vienna, Austria, wanted to share the exotic and botanical flavors she discovered in her years of international travel with friends and family. She still makes each bottle by hand with a small team.

 elixer-9

The Rose Elixir

The Rose Elixir was made from Damask Rose extract, harvested only a few weeks every summer before dawn in the Valley of the Roses in Bulgaria. According to promotional materials, the Royal Wedding in the United Kingdom had a signature cocktail with that rose essence and champagne. The Lavender Elixir was an infusion of English lavender with organic blueberry.  The fruit softened the strong floral fragrance and flavor that usually accompany lavender. It was recommended with champagne, vodka and gin martinis as well as with sparkling water and teas.

"I decided on classic flavors such as Rose and Lavender first, as I realized that it was so difficult to find these that were of high quality (not soapy or perfume scented or flavored….)," said Eggers by email when asked how she started to produce the flower beverage enhancers.

Lavender Elixir

The Lavender Elixir

"Rose and Lavender also have relaxing properties, which I really liked and have been used for centuries in food and drink around the world. After having researched the incredible health properties of hibiscus and that all around the world it is used or consumed in some manner by cultures near the equator, I decided I wanted to make a Hibiscus Elixir. It's full of Vitamin C and antioxidants, helps reduce blood pressure and helps increase the metabolism. Hibiscus literally cools the body in the summer and that's why it's so popular in warmer climates. Tropical Orchid became a playful, exotic Elixir, as it's a tropical combination of citrus notes, mango, jasmine and essence of Andean Fire Orchid. This one is the bold Elixir which is my fantasy creation!"

I sampled the Hibiscus Elixir with organic red tea. Its tart berry sweetness drew out the natural aromas of the South African caffeine free beverage. We added a dash of Hibiscus Elixir to homemade caramels. The tart flavor contrasted well with the lightly sweet buttery flavor of the caramel base. It was made from hand pressed hibiscus flowers. Egger recommended it with vodka martinis, champagne cocktails, mojitos and low calorie sodas.

Hibiscus Elixir added to holiday caramels

We added Hibiscus Elixir to homemade caramel with a splash on top for decoration

"Lavender is the most popular flavor for those unfamiliar with any flavor in my line, as it's the most recognized. I put a touch of a blueberry undertone to my Lavender Elixir to give it complexity and make it smoother, and it's a big hit with martinis!" Eggers said. "Those with a culinary background or are familiar with the essence and quality of floral notes, my Rose Elixir is always the favorite (also happens to be the most expensive one for me to make because of the Damask Rose Extract! But it's absolutely worth it, as to appreciate Rose, it must be exceptional. Rose Elixir adds a touch of luxury to any drink…). I mull over adding an Elderflower line as St. Germain, an elderflower liqueur, is quite popular, and always reminds me of my childhood in Europe."

Lavender Elixir

The back of the bottle of Lavender Elixir offered preparation suggestions

While my favorite was the Tropical Orchid Elixir for its wow factor with bubbly, the Rose was second thanks to its prominent and well rounded versatile flavor. In the end, I enjoyed all four varieties. The drink enhancers, made in the United States, were sold in nine ounce glass bottles of 18 servings of 20 calories each. Major retailers such as Williams-Sonoma carried the Floral Elixirs nationwide. They were also available directly from The Floral Elixir Company for $12.95 per bottle at www.floralelixir.com, sales@floralelixir.com.