Culinary experiences are high on my list when I travel. The only eateries I disdain are chains. Unusual foods, new restaurants, out-of-the-way places that only locals go, famous places that I’ve read about- and salivated over – for years, tiny little spots that offer perfect renditions of traditional ethnic dishes – bring ‘em all on!
So many taste experiences, so little time…
So when I get a recommendation from someone on my internal Trusted Buds List (buds as in ’taste buds’ as well as the traditional sense of ‘buddy’, a person who would never steer you wrong), I try hard to make it happen.
That’s how I had the delightful experience of dining at tiny and wonderful Comptoir Vietnam in Paris last month. A Glover Gardens blog friend who has traveled the world a time or two (or three) recommended it on one of my previous Paris posts, just as I was heading out to a workshop there with several colleagues. He had found Comptoir Vietnam by accident years earlier while taking a walk in the City of Lights. He loved it. He went back. He took loved ones there on later trips. Most importantly (to me), he paid it forward by telling me about it. And now I’m telling you.
You need to know about Comptoir Vietnam. It’s that good.
My colleagues are game for anything, and on the night before our return to Houston, they accompanied me on the very crowded, fairly hot, hour-long Metro ride during rush hour to get to this stellar little place. We weren’t sorry! It was everything we expected, and more.
I’ll set the stage for you. It was overcast and rainy, as Paris often is. (How is it that overcast and rainy in Paris doesn’t ruin the mood, it adds to it??) The Metro experience was a little different than usual as we got close to our stop, with elevated, above-ground tracks that provided a great view of sudden and unexpected street art, a number of huge and intricate murals on the buildings.
We alighted from the Metro and found ourselves in the 13th arrondissement, an area of Paris that was previously unknown to me. A couple of turns down wet, gray streets that were mostly residential but dotted with neighborhood businesses and restaurants (primarily Asian) took us to the humble front door of Comptoir Vietnam.
The interior was very small, with only six or eight tables. The menu was delightfully notin English. This ain’t no tourist trap!
Noticing that we weren’t French or Asian, one of the patrons struck up a conversation with us immediately. She wanted to know how we found the place, because “usually only locals come here”. She helped us interpret the menu and decide what to order, and reinforced what we already suspected: this was going to be a great meal.
Oh my goodness!
We had dumplings that took a little while to arrive, because they were steamed to perfection after we ordered them – three different kinds (shrimp, pork and beef). There were piquant dipping sauces that someone back in the kitchen probably made that day.
Two of us chose Bo Bun Nem, a dish I had never heard of. It was a big bowl of beef and incredibly rich broth and vermicelli or rice noodles and fresh things like cilantro and cucumber and chile peppers and cucumbers and bean sprouts and whole pieces of some kind of crispy spring roll and a deep, oniony sauce – oh my! “This is North Vietnamese food,” my friend had said. “Nothing like we usually eat in the US.” Umm-hmm. And in addition to being super-delicious, it was cheap!
We didn’t talk much at Comptoir Vietnam after the meal arrived, except to revel in our good fortune. So I’m sharing it with you in case you get to the 13th arrondissement of Paris one day. You should.
As for me, I’ll be back in Paris this week, and I really want to go back to Comptoir Vietnam. And if I can’t make it on this trip, then I will on the next one. It’s that good. And there are soooooo many other dishes to try!
A friend of mine from high school posted an absolutely – heartbreakingly – beautiful photo of our lighthouse.
I say “our lighthouse” because if you grew up there, on the Bolivar Peninsula, it feels like it belongs to you. That’s my latest picture of it, just below. It belongs to me. It’s part of my childhood DNA. You understand, don’t you?
You do understand, I know. You have landmarks from your own hometown that belong to you, too. Will you respond to this post and share them???
A pretty picture.
My high school friend posted this lovely picture of the Bolivar lighthouse yesterday on Facebook in a group, the Bolivar Peninsula.
The sun is coming up on the Lighthouse at Bolivar Pointe, he said.
And 312 of us have “liked” it, so far. “Liked” is such a relative term. I love it. It reminds me of happy times when I was growing up. It reminds me of waiting for the ferry when my Mom was taking my brother and me to Galveston once a week in the summers to get books from the library and “gourmet” groceries that couldn’t be found on the Peninsula (no Dijon mustard in a 30 mile radius!!!).
I asked my friend if I could share the picture, and he was generous. More than generous, he was sweet and harkened back to old (good) times.
Yes, of course. I was just talking about growing up in church with you and your family.
But – he also said his Mom was ill.
Please pray for her, or send good juju, or whatever you do to ask for good things to happen for good people.
Mary is good people.
Oh – the haiku.
bolivar lighthouse, reminiscent of good times. but we can’t go back
Looking for lunch on a recent trek home from New Orleans, we took the long way along the coast and found a treasure (and I do mean treasure) in the backroads of southern Louisiana. Suire’s Grocery and Restaurant has been serving delicious Cajun food to hungry travelers, locals and hunters since 1976. It was magic: the food, the ambience and especially the people. The Grill-Meister and I were enchanted.
An Experience, Not a Pit Stop
You know it’s going to be a memorable experience instead of a quick bite right when you pull up to the unassuming white building. The menu is painted on the outside, along with a faded but very friendly-looking alligator to welcome you.
Inside, the feeling that you’re in a unique place is immediately reinforced. The walls are crowded with a fascinating collection of Louisiana kitsch, safety awards, family and local memorabilia, and articles from publications ranging from the New York Times to the Houston Chronicle. Referencing the authenticity of the food and the popularity of Suire’s with hunters and locals, the articles point out different dishes and dining experiences from the individual viewpoints of the writers, but they all have one thing in common: glowing reviews.
Menu Choices Galore
We didn’t stop to read the articles at first, though. The menu above the counter where you order at the back of the store draws you in and amplifies your hunger. And that’s only a portion of what’s on offer: there’s also a printed menu with so many choices! There are selections that you rarely find outside of Cajun Country, like turtle sauce picante and three kinds of pistolettes (deep-fried rolls stuff with crawfish, shrimp or crab), and just about every Cajun menu staple you can imagine: alligator, boudin balls, shrimp or crawfish étouffée, twelve different po-boys, multiple fried seafood platters, red beans and sausage…you get the idea. And then there are salads, burgers, sandwiches and sides like Cajun fries, potato salad. Oh my goodness!
A Very Satisfying Meal
It was difficult, but we finally made our selections. The Grill-Meister and I had been in New Orleans for 3 days celebrating a milestone anniversary and had enjoyed numerous Cajun and Creole dishes, but we were happy to continue the trend at Suire’s. He chose the shrimp poboy, and I had the shrimp and crabmeat gumbo plate. They were both spectacular: fresh, delicious, perfectly balanced. Humble ingredients transformed into permanent taste memories.
The Sweet Smell of Baked Goods
House-made baked goods are everywhere, tempting you while you wait for your meal. This is NOT fast food. There’s time to take in the abundant ambience and ponder your dessert choices while the Suire’s kitchen prepares your order. A huge selection of old-fashioned favorites make it really hard to choose. Peanut butter balls or fig cake? Heavenly hash or rice krispy treats? Brownies, cookies or fruit-filled tarts? And who can resist homemade pecan pie??? After some soul-searching, the Grill-Meister chose the fig cake. I know that he loves me, because he gave me a bite.
A Freezer Full
A further temptation is the freezer full of Suire’s specialties, fulfilling the promise painted on the front door:
Don’t feel like cooking? … Frozen Foods – Ready to Eat – Just Heat and Serve
We just happened to have an ice chest with us. (No self-respecting foodies would go on a road trip to Louisiana without a way to bring some of the goodness home.) The ice chest got a little fuller.
Dry Goods and Groceries, Too
I’ve been gushing about the restaurant and the ambience, but shouldn’t ignore the other side of Suire’s – the grocery store. I’m from a very small town in Southeast Texas, and I know that the local grocery store can be the center of a small community, the place where people go to chat and get news, and the source of that one missing ingredient for the big dinner you planned to make.
Saving the Best for Last: the People of Suire’s
The most enchanting thing about Suire’s was the people. We had the great fortune to meet and chat with Joan Suire, who co-owns and runs the business with her sister, Lisa. Happy to chat, she pointed out some of the more interesting articles and photos on the walls and provided backstories. For example: behind the signed celebrity photos from the 1940s was the tale of a relative who worked at the Waldorf-Astoria, met and married a Rockefeller, “and never worked again”.
Jean tells her stories with a charismatic, wry smile and an excellent sense of timing. We could have conversed with her all day; her pride in the family business is evident and irresistible. She told us how here parents had started the business when she and her sister were teenagers, and that she’d never married but has had a great life at the counter of Suire’s. Joan shared a recent testimonial from a customer, a Baton Rouge native who’d just found Suire’s:
Your food resurrected my mother!
Taste memories. They’re important.
It was early Sunday afternoon when we visited, and there was a steady stream of locals picking up to-go orders. Jean knew everyone’s name and asked after their families with a genuine interest.
Southern Hospitality: “It’s My Treat!”
But it’s not just the proprietors that are special at Suire’s, it’s also the customers. One struck up a conversation with me, sharing that a new porch was being built at her house that day, so she was picking up lunch from Suire’s for everyone. A lovely young woman, she almost glowed as she gushed about the food, saying that the crawfish fettuccini was the absolute best. As she was paying for her order, she gestured for me to come up to the counter and said, “Do you want to try the crawfish fettuccini?” I thought she meant a little bite from some big vat of the wonderful stuff back in the kitchen, but no – she was offering to buy us a meal! We had already ordered, so I declined, but she insisted:
I’m going to buy you a frozen one, then. It’s my treat. You have to try it!
So there you are. An absolute stranger bought us a local delicacy because it’s that good. I think her name was Caitlyn and wish I had written it down so I could thank her properly. (Lovely young lady, if you read this and I got your name wrong, please correct me!) Whenever I think about southern hospitality from now on, this experience at Suire’s will come to mind.
Another Road Trip
The Grill-Meister and I are already planning another road trip, this time with the express purpose to soak up more of that Suire’s magic. Wanna come?
Note: some of the articles I read when I was preparing this “restaurant rave” post suggested that the 2002 New York Times article put Suire’s on the map and made it famous. I disagree. It might have increased awareness about this little gem, but it’s clear that Suire’s has always been famous with the people of Southeast Louisiana and the the travelers, hunters and fisher-people who visit.
Epilogue: Anthony Bourdain was Here
We didn’t know when we found Suire’s two weeks ago that Anthony Bourdain had visited in February of this year for his Parts Unknown series. Wow. The episode, Cajun Mardi Gras Recap, aired soon after his tragic death. The photo below, taken on Ash Wednesday, is on the Suire’s Facebook page and features Anthony with owners (and sisters) Joan and Lisa. “One of the more awesome locations I’ve ever found,” he said of Suire’s. Indeed.
Yesterday I posted about America the Beautiful and a small part of the story behind the icon poem and song, the fact that it was inspired in part by Pikes Peak in Colorado. Fellow blogger Tanja Britton, who “lives and works at the foot of Pike’s Peak”, commented and shared a link to her post with much more information. It’s a good read! Check it out at Pikes Peak.
For my original post, click here. It might include a gentle call to action to start treating our beautiful country better.
On the 4th of July, I’m thinking of our beautiful country. We’re smack-dab in the middle of some gorgeous countryside here at Little House in the Rockies. Just off the western edge of Pike National Forest in Colorado, Little House in the Rockies is surrounded by mountains.
It brings to mind America the Beautiful. The song. The poem.
Originally titled “Pike’s Peak,” Katherine Lee Bates wrote the poem in 1893 during a visit to Colorado. She was inspired by the beauty of the country, having traveled by train from the northeast across the plains to Colorado Springs. It was published a couple of years later to commemorate the 4th of July, and later set to music by Samuel A. Ward. I love the first stanza:
O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain, For purple mountain majesties Above the fruited plain! America! America! God shed His grace on thee, And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea!
More than a century later, this is still inspiring country. I took this photo on Monday during a picnic in Pike National Forest. I didn’t realize until I looked at it on the computer later that there is a tinge of purple in the mountain range. Purple mountain majesties.
There’s a recent poll that says Americans are less patriotic than we used to be. Maybe so, maybe not. It depends on how you define patriotism (in my humble opinion). My patriotism today is focused on our beautiful country, the way that it was portrayed in that famous poem from so long ago.
Are we doing enough to take care of it?
I don’t think so.
Fires and pollution and global warming are taking their toll.
Will it be America the Beautiful in 50 years?
It depends. On us.
We need to do more.
I need to do more.
I will do more. In my own little way. Here in Glover Gardens with my words and conversations with all of you, and by joining the Palmer Land Trust. And by reducing my carbon footprint and the waste I produce. And most importantly, by voting for candidates who will make choices that preserve our environment rather than pillaging it.
I want it to be America the Beautiful forever. For my kids, and yours.
Wildfires abound in Colorado right now. Nearest to us here at Little House in the Rockies (but not an imminent threat) is the Weston Pass fire southwest of FairPlay. It’s about 25 miles away, as the crow flies. We can see and smell the smoke. The photo below is waaay zoomed in, taken last night at sunset by The Girl Who is Always Hungry.
There are fewer birds at our feeders than usual, and I keep seeing them look in the direction of the fire, as though they are planning when to evacuate. They’re probably better predictors of what’s going to happen than any of their human counterparts. A haiku for them:
birds on the lookout – do they know? where’ll they go? they’re my bellwethers
Brown-headed cowbird sentry
Robin on the lookout
This is the view from the back porch this morning, zooming in on the mountain range.
This is how it normally looks, in a photo from late May.
This is a vacation spot for us, and like the birds, we are free to leave at any time. Not so for the full-time residents all over Colorado who are watching multiple fires spread quickly in this hot, dry summer and worrying about their homes, land, pets, livestock and livelihoods. We pray for rain.