A Parisian Love Affair In Boston's South End
A Parisian Love Affair In Boston’s South End
It is Marathon Monday in Boston and the city is abuzz with excitement, energy, determination, and goodwill for the test of endurance, the race to the finish line, and the remembrance of those who have been struck and affected by the Boston Marathon Bombing of 2014. As everyone shouts “Boston Strong” and cheer for each participant in the marathon, unfazed by the cold and rain that cools down the runners but freezes the spectators, I retreat to another part of the city…away from the energetic crowd and ice-cold rain. My place of refuge for the day is the French café located at the corner of Columbus Avenue and Concord Square in South End, Café Madeleine.
Café Madeleine is a French-style café providing a tiny bit of French elegance and flair to the streets of South End, Boston. If we were to play a game of word-association then when we hear the word "pastry," more often than not, the associated word will often be a “croissant” or the “French” (well…that’s what I’d say) and such association is not unwarranted. The French are known to have a mastery for the craft of cuisine and they have elevated it to greater heights and marketed it well. If you want to be a successful pastry chef then you have to go to France. In any case, you don’t have to go to France or some fancy French restaurant to experience a Parisian affair, you need only go to Café Madeleine to be transported to Europe. At the café you are served freshly baked croissants, pain au chocolat, tropezienne, éclairs, tarts, and many other delights. The coffee? The coffee here is good (despite the absence of latte art that one might see in Starbucks or Thinking Cup). Be it pastry, coffee, décor, or atmosphere, Café Madeleine will not disappoint. From the weary traveler escaping the humdrum of city life or a Hipster foregoing the San Francisco coffee shop vibe for a more classical feel, the café has a special place for everyone (not literally as the café only seats 6 person at a time).
If I were to describe the café in one word then that word would be “clean” and by that I do not mean that there is an absence of dirt and trash (though that is good too) but “clean,” visually. While there are a number of different textures and patterns in the café they are balanced well. The beautifully ornate ceiling and patterned hexagonal floor tiles are both minimal in style but also balanced by the white walls, light brown wood table surfaces and the use of space (which is also accented by the amount of light that filters in through their huge glass windows). Despite the small size of the café it still feels open not only because of their use of light and open interior spacing but the glass window between the front-end and the kitchen not only entertains café-hoppers with the art of baking at the hands of a master pâtissier (or pâtissiére) but connects both space and food (in terms of its creation, presentation, serving, and savouring). It is a space that is uniquely Café Madeleine and it fits well with me as I read my French fashion magazine (Numéro Homme) with some madeleine and a good cup of cappuccino. I don’t know about you but I’m embracing this slow lifestyle and the Parisian experience.
My Parisian Diet
Being a blogger who covers food by himself can be challenging (to the waistline) so I assure you that I do have self-control when it comes to food (sometimes) but to really know a café and its menu I need to try a number of things and here are a couple of them (so many delicious pastries so small a waist line...and I'd like to keep it that way).
This green pistachio macaron (that’s right, macaron…not macaroon) was absolutely sweet and dainty. You can discern a well-crafted macaron from those made by an amateur through the presence of a smooth top, “le pied” (feet) or the ruffled edges, and a flat base…check, check, and check.
A madeleine baked the “right” way should be scallop shaped and have that bump…and a bump it has. The madeleine that I had today was a classic madeleine with a hint of lemon zest. For a really Parisian affair, try dunking it in tea (In France, the madeleine and tea action has become a metaphor for recalling vivid childhood memories).
A tartine is a French dish featuring an open-faced sandwich with some fancy spread on top and at Café Madeleine their Vegetarian Tartine is both fancy yet simple. With fresh local ingredients their tartine is constructed with an olive oil drizzled ciabatta, some caramelized onions, oven roasted tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, beet, goat cheese, and topped with romaine lettuce leaves. Individually, the ingredients (with the exception of the romaine lettuce) has a very sour note but as a whole it becomes a perfect dance between two set of dancers – an elegant waltz between Sweet and Sour and the enthusiastic Hip Hop choreography of Soft and Crunchy. The sourness of this Tartine is toned down by the water content present in each of the ingredients, especially the lettuce and sweet cherry tomatoes. At the same time, the entire eating experience is sustained by the presence of the “Hip Hop dancers” that ensured the gourmand is not lulled into sleep by popping out “sick moves” of clean crisp lettuce, smooth movement by the softness of beets, tomato and goat cheese, and ensuring an overall powerful performance with a crunchy ciabatta. While I described the dish with two performers, I do not mean to suggest that there is a separation between flavor and texture. Instead, think of it as a delicious modern dance interpretation of the Vegetarian Tartine.
Milk Chocolate Caramel Dome
What can I say about this last piece of gem that accompanied the end of my stay at Café Madeleine? I guess it is most appropriate to start by commenting on the sheen on the Milk Chocolate Caramel Dome which suggests that the chocolate had been tempered masterfully. The sign of a good chocolate is by the sheen, the reflection, that it provides and it reflected me taking a shot of it as though it was a mirror! After admiring the sheen (and taking plenty shots of it...to the point that the dessert has started to melt) I proceeded to cut into my Dome and it revealed the layers of chocolate sauce, mousse, caramel, and a flaky pastry at the bottom.
Each layer meshed together harmoniously to give me a “foodgasmic” (food orgasm) experience starting from my mouth and all over my entire being (I don’t know if it was the cold temperature of the room or the food but wow!) and not many food have been able to do that for me. It was like French kissing a Parisian Violinist with her mastery of music, harmony, and the senses (I jest…I have not French kissed a Parisian…or have I? Nobody knows~). Just like the Vegetarian Tartine, there is a textural interest here too, with that thin layer of flaky pastry it gave the Dome a crispy bite to an otherwise soft dessert.
There is something to be said about experiencing a Parisian affair in Boston. The pitter patter of the rain hitting the café windows slowly giving rhythm to my day; the French music featuring such works as “Le Chat du Café des Artistes” by Charlotte Gainsbourg, “Coeur Volant” by Zaz, or “C’est La Vie” by Coralie Clement transporting my mind back to the car rides to school in my Paris days; the delicious pastries that not only feeds the stomach but pleases the eyes, the taste buds, and the memories; and with the brilliant French magazine “Numéro Homme” I felt that I was given the opportunity to meet up with an old childhood friend of mine from France. The days spent in France may have been long since re-lived but the memories were given a pleasant surprise and I hope to go back to Paris one day…for now, Café Madeleine is my Paris.