Wednesday, 16 January 2008

A steak dinner

A truly great but very simple Paris steak place

I love Mark Bittman's column in the New York Times and saved the one about the restaurants that serve the best steak-frites in town. We went to his number one spot: The Restaurant Severo at 8 rue des Plantes. What is lacks in decor, it makes up with flavor. This is not a restaurant for the faint of heart or for any type of vegetarian or even a chickaterian!! Ham or sausage for appetizers and then your choice of steak-frites: filet de boeuf, faux-filet, steak haché (hamburger) or tartare de boeuf. The best and most flavorful cut is the faux-filet. I like it saignant--very rare, and the restaurant did a fine job of not cooking it too too red for me. The frites were crispy and delicious and the wine that went with it (a Mercurey) was delicious. We saw some people being served salad so we opted for that to help us digest. We were served large bowls of mâche in a lovely mustardy vinaigrette. There are classic desserts at Le Severo: mousse au chocolat, tarte aux poires a l'ancienne, crème caramel, but we were really stuffed. Dinner came to about 80 euros including the wine and the coffee. Down the street is Severo Bis where you can get fish and meat. I am definitely going to try that place.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Lunch at Gagnaire and other three-star chefs

Grand Restaurants of Paris including Gagnaire, Senderens, and Robuchon

My friend from NY and Tokyo, Noriko, asked me to go to a GRAND RESTAURANT with her. One of my favorites has always been Pierre Gagnaire where I celebrated my 50th birthday with a lavish lobster dinner followed by a very creative and fantastically delicious chocolate souffle. Unfortunately, such luxury items would cost in the 400 euro range (for the whole dinner including a mid-priced wine and coffee) and I could not afford that now--nor would I want to spend so very very much on a meal. So I suggest to Noriko that we go for the weekday lunch which costs a hefty 110 euros without any beverages. We had a choice between two appetizers, one first main course and then a meat main course followed by four desserts.

It is Gagnaire's style to present each dish with a variety of side garnitures that marry well with the central plate. With the aperitif (pour nous mettre en appetit as they say--to get our appetites ready for the meal) was a crunchy pastry topped with onion marmelade and seafood, a delicious tuile with chopped fresh tomatoes and chorizo that was attached to the plate with a dollop of parmesan cream. There was also a grilled and caramelized hazelnut, a butter cookie flavored with ginger, and a tuile made of roquette topped with gingerbread. There was more but I am now going on to the first course.

The appetizers were a tartare of beef mixed with bass that was very astonishing and delectable; a purple puree of potatoes (the potatoes are naturally purple in color) mixed with sauerkraut and sausage, and a mixture of mussels, celery with the Japanese seaweed, nori.

The first main course was a delicious white fish served with winter vegetables and a luscious beurre blanc. Then came a lovely piece of venison served with a purée of pumpkin, and black rice mixed with red cabbage. Along with this was a preparation of the shoulder of the venison mixed with spaetzle. And the liver of the venison was served on toast--just wonderful.

With each dish, I had a lovely glass of wine that married well with what I was tasting (as recommended by the sommelier).

The many desserts were preceded with a little cookie of fresh strawberry and pepper, a small cake of white chocolate garnished with exotic fruits, a pastry flavored with verbena and almond. Desserts included a seasonal fruit salad with a cookie flavored with parmesan and sugar, an almond and lemon custard served with saffron ice cream, etc.

I loved the meal and had a wonderful time. The service was excellent and although everyone around us was ordering from the à la carte menu, we were treated royally. But when you have had the best, the luncheon menu pales in comparison. I missed my langoustines, truffles and chocolate soufflé. These are the items I had ordered at other times when prices were more reasonable. I didn't even want to look at the à la carte menu to see what I could have ordered had the prices been slashed by 4. (But I did take it home to study it at my leisure). Gagnaire is one of my favorites but I would prefer to go there when I can really take advantage of his talents with the luxury items.

On the other hand, Alain Senderens (whose restaurant, Restaurant Senderens and before that, Archestrate and Lucas Carton, I have visited more than any on earth) understood the problem with the expensive restaurant in our time. He returned his 3 stars and redesigned his restaurant (the decor is smashing!). Now he serves less expensive ingredients at prices most people can afford--each dish married with a glass of wine that goes best with it. Senderens has studied oenology and is passionate about augmenting the flavors of his dishes with wines that complement them. A full course dinner with everything included will be about 125 euros and this is from a three-star chef. Although he gave away his stars, the Michelin was "ornery" and awarded him two his second year of his newly reborn career. This is one of the best restaurant in Paris and I have always loved his style of cooking. His signature dish is Canard Apicius--duck that is flavored with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and other spices. For my birthday dinner, I had stuffed zucchini flowers with crab, poached foie gras with morel mushrooms, a wonderful caramelized pigeon dish, and a special dessert with saffron ice cream, candied red pepper and a lemon curd and finally a made-for-me chocolate gateau. The meal was lovely from start to finish.

Another fun place that is worth the detour is L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon. Robuchon is a legend in his time and a truly talented and passionate artist. His new look is modelled after a Japanese restaurant where the clients sit on stools at the counter and watch what is going on in the kitchen. Basically, the food is a variety of tapas--each one costing about 15-20 euros. Three or four with a lovely dessert makes for a sensational meal. The last time I was there I had crab royale with slivers of celeri rave; a wonderful cream of chestnut soup garnished with smoked bacon and lobes of foie gras, scallops with an acidic seaweed butter which played off very well with the sweetness of the scallops, and sweetbreads (I love them!) with romaine stuffed with more sweetbreads. For dessert was a fantastic chocolate mousse served in a glass under a crust of chocolate ganache and garnished with some wonderful vanilla ice cream. This was a heavenly meal.