Monday, March 14, 2016


Before settling into Paris we took a quick weekend trip to Lyon, France’s second largest city. I didn’t know much about the city going in, except that I enjoyed the Anthony Bourdain Lyon episode when he ends up at legendary chef Paul Bocuse’s hunting lodge for an outrageous meal. (Lyonnaise food is every American offal-loving hipster’s dream; think veal feet and liver and pig’s ears etc.). And it’s true that Paul Bocuse is a major figure looming over the city.

We stayed ten feet from Lyon’s beautiful theater.

The old town above the Seine is a Saltzburg-esque, Rick Steves–approved playground, complete with a beautiful cathedral, the ruins of a Roman theater, and requisite adorable squares.

The view down the hill is great, too.

On the way to (Paul Bocuse’s) Les Halles (the big indoor market), we stopped at a memorial/chapel to look for the name of an ancestor of mine on a list honoring victims of the Reign of Terror of 1793–94 (when the French revolution went really, really awry. We have a fascinating memoir of a 19th-century relative detailing the horrors). 

I can only do so much (grim) history on vacation, so Les Halles was a needed corrective. I’ve been reading Julia Child’s wonderful memoir of her early years in France, in which she explains that  French chickens are better because, in part, Americans are much more squeamish about how they buy theirs.

 If Life in France mentions Brittany Sea Urchins, I haven’t gotten to that section yet.

A flavorless and watered down espresso at Les Halles — at what was supposedly a new-style coffee roaster — confirmed the stereotype that coffee isn’t very good in France. Julia Child wrote that one of the few things she missed about the U.S. in the late 1940s and early 1950s was the good strong coffee … and given the state of coffee in America in 1950, this tells you all you need to know about coffee in Paris. Another book I read for this trip (and which I highly recommend), The Sweet Life in Paris, by David Lebovitz, riffs hilariously about the bad coffee in Paris and how even when a cafe has an actual manual espresso maker, French café workers (I won't call them baristas) seem to treat the espresso tamper as ornamental. John insists that this 2009 book is a bit out of date, and that if you know where to find the bearded hipsters, you can secure a good espresso in Paris. I don’t doubt it — actually, I intend to verify this hypothesis in the next few days — but these new American-style cafes are the exception that proves the rule. European coffee overall remains trapped in a terrible no man’s land of automatic machines that often deliver something between an espresso and a cup of drip. Couldn't they at least pick one and do it well? This morning I tried one of those Nespresso pod machines that tennis star Roger Federer is always hawking — and I was amazed at just how flavorless something that looks like espresso can be. And really, Louvre, a Nespresso in your café? The fact remains that a café near any American college, even one in, say, a small city in central Kansas, likely delivers a better coffee than the thousands of generic cafés (outside of Italy) where Europeans linger over cigarettes pretending that it's warm, or at least that they are warm in their thin urban-wear jackets and scarves. 

And speaking of what else the French could learn from Americans … well not even this blogger was stupid enough to drink beer rather than wine at a nice restaurant in Lyon. But it still broke my heart to see this:

To think this is what Lyoners (? ... the Lyonnaise?) must think is a high-end, specialty-store American beer. I mean holy %^&9, $32.50 for a 6-bag of InBev’s Blue Moon? Then again, maybe the beer wasn’t so expensive compared to 11 Euros for corn syrup and 8 for flour.

Not sure what a doughnut costs here.

We stuck with what the French do best. Julia Child described learning how to make basic fish soup during her year in Marseilles (on the Mediterranean), and so at Paul Bocuse’s bistro in Lyon, Le Sud, where one can get a great meal without taking out a loan, like at his three-star, I had to try it.

Excellent, and as much a classic as a Dover sole. Much better than the veal’s feet.

Speaking of classics, check back in a few days after I’ve had a chance to search for Duck a l'Orange in Paris ...

Friday, March 11, 2016

A Proper Entry

Well there’s no need to beat around the bush. What finally inspired me to break the blog’s longest-ever hiatus was the Grand Opening of Proper Burger and the connected bar/Proper Brewery and our new line of full-strength bottled beers. See, if you give a bit of money to a new brewery, you not only get to annoy the primary owners with endless (and let’s be honest, politely ignored) suggestions (whole wheat buns! Turkey burgers with zucchini and cumin inspired by Ottolenghi’s Plenty cookbook! Proper logo espresso cups!), you get to have your picture taken with them, including the central-casting looking-but-actually-a-marketing-wiz brewer. Thanks Andrew, Liam, and Rio for all the great work so far, and good luck!

Proper Burger and Proper Brewing Company are located in two adjoining buildings at 9th and Main. They have Skee-ball tables and a big screen and a full-strength bottle shop and fries as delicious as those at the Avenues Proper (which remains open) and, of course, reasonably priced kick-ass burgers ($4.49 for the Plain Jane). The favorite from two nights’ worth of soft openings seemed to be The Hipster, with pesto and onions and caramelized red onions, and if you have $25.99 in change in your pocket, the Truffle Shuffle with truffles and caviar can be yours. This being Utah, the two adjoining establishments also currently have a remarkably absurd array of licenses and rules. You know, why give us a full license for the opening? Why not just call us a tavern until May, when the full license kicks in, to confuse everyone during our first few weeks? Why not allow us to serve only 3.2 beer in the bar, where you can buy a full-strength bottle in the case (but not drink it), but then allow us to sell the full-strength bottles in the burger restaurant? Got it? Thanks Utah GOP — that sure is being pro-business and helping people start new companies. But don’t let this rant detract you — you won’t know the difference, and after May 1, you can get the real beer in either location. And if you are confused about whether you can carry a bottle from the bar to the burger joint, or carry a kid from the restaurant to the bar, well don’t worry about it. Just ask your friendly Proper staff member for guidance. Just don’t let the kid carry the beer. 

Jack wasn’t quite up the task yet, but then again, maybe he was still in shock from learning that Epic Brewing — formerly your favorite local bombers-centric brewery — uses a distribution company nearly 50% owned by the Evil Empire InBev (aka Budweiser). 

The beer pictured with Jack is Recommend Rye, a rye saison, and it’s terrific. You might as well start there when you visit the bottle shop. Or start with the Faultline IPA, a red IPA (Proper Brewing has boldly declared an end to the (golden colored) IPA madness. Sure, you can get the Utah-point Hopspital in bottles now, too, and it’s great for a day on the porch, but the new flagship line consciously seeks to move beyond the cult of the IPA). Regardless, try them all.

I’m not sure why we didn’t take more burger-exposed burger porn. We will next time.

This picture gives you a sense of the inside of the bar.

 And these a sense of the outside of a) the bar and b) the restaurant:

And this one a sense of how much fun Rio is having with his new toys.

And finally, this picture gives you a sense that Tom refuses to smile naturally for the camera.

Three-year old Ben highly recommends the onion rings. When we asked him where they went. He said unabashedly, "I ate them all up!” 

Alexis is too little to either pose with a beer bottle or devour onion rings.

So where has the blog been, you surely have been wondering? Well that’s simple. The snow came relatively early this year, and until it stopped all of a sudden one day around February 10 — when the flip magically switched to what looks like will be an epically snowless and warm and I hope not the new norm February and March — we were having a decent winter, and I just haven’t figured out a way to teach three classes and Nordic ski 5 days a week and blog all at the same time. (February 10 to March 10 was the the 6th warmest on record ... the warmest such stretch coming in 2014. What a coincidence skeptics.) One highlight was doing a 26 kilometer classic race near Driggs on Paul Allen’s ranch — open to the public for skiing only one weekend a year for this race. Nobody has kick in the Teton Ridge Classic — watch this video if you want to see what I mean 

— and I kept up with Gary for all of 2k — but it was still a blast. The day before, in the parking lot, my comrades in arms for the weekend and I randomly met The Dunk, aka Duncan Douglass, a 1990s U.S. Olympian biathlete. We then did our day-before-the-race “easy” ski with The Dunk, which turned out to be a horrible idea. (Note to self: do not keep up with Olympian in pre-race ski for the sake of saying you kept up with an Olympian. His heart rate was 49 the entire way.) All I remember from the next day is wiping out on the first big sharp downhill as I stupidly tried to pass a woman (look, I’ve supported Hillary from the start; getting chicked is a serious matter, no matter how much of a feminist one is), while The Dunk, at age 50, went out and won the whole race. Then again, maybe it wasn’t the warmup ski but the lack of kick that slowed me down … 

If the name sounds vaguely familiar, Paul Allen was one of the founders of Microsoft. Dude has some nice property in the Tetons. Here’s one of the “cabins” on the trails.

Here’s Paul and Gary and me enjoying a perfect-winter-before-winter-stopped-all-at-once day

I'm pretty sure this is the only Square One Bank bag used as a race day bag. 

All in all it was a good season, and here's the proof (statistical analysis of my weak age group not included): 

We had great Sundance luck for the second straight year, too. We saw Morris in America, a funny and sweet film about a pudgy 12-year-old African American living in Heidelberg and of course meets the attractive 15-year-old German girl; Certain Women, a sparse but excellent film set in rural Montana with Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart that slices together three loosely related short stories; and Maggie's Plan, with Mr. Sundance Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore. I highly recommend putting all three in your queue. They were worth standing out in line in the cold for.

But enough on minor Utahiana like Sundance. Be sure to check out Proper Burger and the new line of Proper bottled beers. The bottles should be in state liquors store soon, too, and thereafter, please harass bars to serve them. The marketing strategy is to go deep and not wide — no InBev distribution for us, thanks — but a few bottles have already made their way to Paris. 

Photo credit: Sarah Creem-Regehr