Saturday, January 18, 2014

"Restaurant" Review: Angelina

Angelina - brunch on January 2, 2014
When I first went to Paris after I graduated from business school, I remember passing a place supposedly famous for its hot chocolate. Back then it was 6 euros, I had just graduated with a load of student debt and wasn't scheduled to start my post-b-school job until after I returned and I was using the last of my savings to pay for the trip. Therefore, forking over 6 euros for a cup of hot chocolate was a little outrageous to my thrifty soul. So at the time, I passed on it.

This time around, I'd been working for a number of years, all debts except my mortgage have been paid off and I had enough discretionary budget to splurge on a visit to that same tea room so famous for its hot chocolate: Angelina.
My nieces and I went here after the Louvre and before Notre Dame. We joined the line coming out the door and waited 20-25 minutes before we were finally able to get it. There's a little gift shop at the front and a large room that serves as the tea room behind it. The lighting was rather dim so I didn't get a good picture of it. Like most places in London and Paris, the tables are placed rather closely together and there's not much room to maneuver but that's okay since we were there for the pastries and hot chocolate.
Tarte Fromme (Apple Tart)
We each got a pastry: croissant, apple tart and chocolate ├ęclair and shared so we could get a taste of each other's orders. Overall I'd say they were pretty good - remember, you can't get bad food in Paris. It must be some kind of city ordinance or just national pride. However, Angelina is pretty pricey and I have to admit, while the pastries were good, I don't know if they were worth what we paid. Not when there are a million other patisseries in Paris just as good that charge less. So going to Angelina was more about the experience than what we actually ate.

Eclair Chocolat 
I will say however, the hot chocolate was delicious. Thicker than the hot chocolate made from cocoa powder and hot water that I'm used to, it was like sipping a liquid truffle of the highest chocolate caliber. It was smooth, creamy, perfectly chocolaty but not overwhelmingly so and just rich decadence. It probably redefines both "rich" and "decadent" in any culinary vocabulary. The only time I've come close to something like it was when I took a class at Sur La Table with Emily Luchetti as the instructor and she made her hot chocolate recipe from A Passion for Desserts. That was also like sipping a liquid truffle but Angelina's hot chocolate was even more creamy and decadent than even that. Another item to check off my foodie bucket list.
The Famous Angelina Hot Chocolate
But much as I enjoyed the Angelina hot chocolate and much as I have an appreciation for fine chocolate in any form, I have to admit that I don't know that one little pitcher of the best hot chocolate I've ever had was worth 8,20 euros. At today's exchange rate, that's over $11 for hot chocolate. I don't pinch pennies when I'm on vacation and I don't have any problems indulging while I'm traveling but that's probably not something I'd spend $11 on again. I'm glad we went and Angelina is worth experiencing once to try it but I'm okay not going on a repeat visit. There are other places to go in Paris to get great food and drink that won't break the bank.

I also have to mention, I wasn't overly impressed with their service. Everyone was nice but they took an inordinate amount of time to take our order. Once we had given our order, it came out very quickly so no complaints there but afterward, there was another interminable wait for the check. We tried to be sensitive to the cultural differences and not be the impatient Americans demanding service so we politely waited to catch someone's eye to both give our orders and later to ask for the bill but there definitely wasn't much concern about turning the tables over and getting people in and out to make room for the others still lined up outside. Sometimes it felt like the wait staff went out of their way not to make eye contact so we had a harder time getting their attention to ask someone to take our order. Since we had time while we just sat there waiting, I noticed this phenomenon occurring throughout the room with other people at other tables. Maybe it's a French thing or an Angelina thing.
After we had eaten our pastries and drunk every drop of the expensive hot chocolate, I went to poke around in the little gift shop outside the tea room while my nieces agreed to wait for the check. It was fun to look around. Not as fun as at Laduree but it was set up so that I could actually browse the shelves and the display cases. And we know I can look at nicely packaged, delicious food for hours on end.
Angelina also offered macarons but since I had already eaten the ones at Laduree, I wanted to try something different.
Angelina macarons
I ended up selecting this Florentine cookie and a chocolate-enrobed disc of caramel for our snack on the train.

Of course they were both pricey but at that point, in for a penny, in for a euro so I just went with it.
Both were good choices that we enjoyed on the train ride back to London. The Florentine cookie was good: caramelized sliced almonds with one side covered in milk chocolate. It was more chewy than crisp and thicker than the more traditionally wafer-like Florentines I've had. But the caramel confection was my favorite of the two. I love caramel anyway and it's hard to go wrong when it marries chocolate but one bite of this and my immediate thought was "this is the good stuff". I don't expect anything less from Angelina or Paris or France for that matter.

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