Franco File Friday: Emperor Norton

3 August 2012

As pervasive as American comforts have become in Paris, a number of foods remain poorly executed, modified for French tastes or entirely unexploited, motivating nostalgic expats to take matters into their own hands**. Doughnuts, glazed and glistening, are one such lacuna – and precisely where the story began for Omid and Alannah, a couple from San Francisco who moved to Paris four years ago for work.

Although settled and immersed in their new home, it was after viewing a scene in Iron Man 2, where Robert Downey Jr. is sitting in the Randy’s Doughnuts sign in L.A. eating doughnuts, that the urge to make some of their own old-fashioned cake doughnuts grew with force. After hours of toiling and experimenting in the kitchen, A + O had their deep-fried prize. Experimentation became a recurring activity. They tested corn tortillas, tamales, and a plethora of other Mexican-inspired dishes, blogging about their creations and encouraging friends and locals to provide feedback. When their personal taste testers begged for more (and offered to pay), they began hosting dinner parties out of their home and quite naturally, Emperor Norton was born. (The name is a nod to the 19th century San Franciscan who declared himself Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico).

Since they turned E.N. into a full-fledged catering business, their artisanal goods have been spotted all over town and they’ve catered a weekly brunch at Coutume Café (oh, the breakfast burrito!), where they are about to end their one-year run. What’s next for the entrepreneurial duo? We’ll know by la rentrée! In the meantime, a bit about their love for France.

Describe what you love about France in three words.

Liberté. Égalité. FOOD.

(You could say we have a bit of a one-track mind.)

Best place outside of Paris (in France) and why?

We went to a rural village just outside of Montauban in the southwest of France for a wedding and it was magical. There was an insanely beautiful old church, expansive fields of sunflowers, fresh country air, and huge barbecues that would likely be doused by the Sapeurs-Pompiers if it were anywhere near the city. It was the polar opposite of Paris. And really reminiscent of more rural parts of the US west coast. So it felt like home away from home.

Favorite spots in the city for drinks and dinner?

Our go-to when friends arrive in town is L’Avant Comptoir. The wines are affordable but excellent. The tapas-style portions mean you can get a really wide variety of flavors in one session. The guys behind the counter are great, conducting traffic between guidebook-toting tourists and grizzled locals and off-duty chefs. And because it’s standing room only, it’s great for getting circulation in the legs after a long train or plane ride.

We also find ourselves holding up the bar at l’ArtSource pretty often, a wine bar that in addition to some nice French bottles from various regions has a respectable international offering as well –including occasional wines from our beloved California. Owner/bartender Martin can be a dangerous man, charming you into one or two more glasses than you intended to drink, but we’re partial to that anyway. Jaume, the Catalan chef, makes some pretty awesome food, too.

If there were an 8th day of the week, we’d probably spend it at La Fine Mousse, a brand new beer bar in the 11th that’s building a wall of 20 taps of French and other international craft beers. No 1664. No
Heineken. No high prices. We’ve considered ditching our apartment and just moving on to one of their big leather sofas.

 Biggest misconception about the French?

That they’re not friendly or welcoming to foreigners. We’ve been incredibly blessed to have amazing French friends who’ve given us advice, support and inspiration along the way. They’re not “instant friends” but they’re lasting ones.

Must amusing interaction with a local?

Not long after arriving in France, we went to dinner at what could be any mid-range bistrot type place. The waiter was one of those older gentlemen who’s been doing his métier for years – proper, professional, courteous. A made her selection, the confit duck leg, and not yet being well-practiced in French, she just looked up at the waiter and said, “connard.” Which, of course, means a**hole. His face suddenly changed until he accepted the panicked explanation that we’re new in France and that she just wanted the “confit de CAN-ard.” Wefeared he’d spit in our food. When he returned later with the dish, he made a big flourish and smilingly presented it: “Votre CONNARD,madame”.

Thanks, guys! Be sure to get to Coutume Café between now and August 18/19 to try Emperor Norton’s fantastic brunch and follow their updates and product whereabouts on Twitter and Facebook. E.N’s scrumptious granola is also now on offer at Télescope (closed after tomorrow for summer holiday until early September). 

**One of the reasons my friend and I started our cookie business, Lola’s Cookies!

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