Monday, 8 September 2008

Weekend in Nancy

Nancy: a charming city in Alsace and its best restaurants

I had a spectacular weekend in Nancy the weekend of Assomption when everyone is travelling--not to Nancy, however. The smartest move was to stay at the Grand Hotel de la Reine which is on the beautiful Place Stanislas. This is a stunning square that is quiet and clean because no cars are allowed. The buildings surrounding the square are all the same style and at every corner are beautiful baroque gates with iron gates, gold leaf decoration and ornate statues. Beyond the square is a lovely park, another beautiful square, an arch of triumph and streets to the main sections of town. The city is known for its art nouveau architecture and its works of art nouveau in the various museums. In addition there are some very good restaurants.

I had a huge meal at the one star restaurant, Le Grenier à Sel.I chose the menu dégustation and here are some of the delicious items I was served. Tomato-Grenouille Rillettes, a cone of a Bavarois d'avocat with fresh crab meat, a transparent large ravioli with oysters, ham and cucumber. The next course was a medley of foie gras with superb Cavaillon melon, a gingerbread tuile served with a wonderful sweet Côteaux de Layon that married so well with the richness of the foie gras and the sweetness of the melon. There were spring rolls of green asparagus, and of roast langoustine garnished with baby vegetables on a cucumber jelly. To refresh my palate, a delicious sorbet flavored with olive oil was served. I had had enough at this point, but the meal had only just begun. The pièce de résistance was a delectable filet mignon coated with a tiny bit of wasabi and served with kale layered with ham alongside a mountain of fresh chanterelles. This was a truly wonderful dish.

For my pre-dessert, I had an Irish Coffee--revisited. This consisted of a lady finger, coffee mousse, a touch of chocolate, and whipped cream. Just wonderful!! And frankly, sufficient. However, the real dessert was raspberry profiteroles with a lovely thin layer of chocolate coating the plate to flavor the profiteroles. I had tea which is a very effective digestive and this was served with mignardises. Although the dinner was exquisite from start to finish, it was hard to eat that much. One feels like one needs to train for such a long gastronomic experience and I felt out of practice!!

My favorite meal was much less elaborated and at the small V-Four. This tiny restaurant has the coveted I--a Michelin rating which means a restaurant that serves an excellent meal at a great price. I always seek out the Bib Gourmands and suggest that you do too. Thusfar, I have been pleased with the results. V-Four rose to the occasion. My I was a lovely green asparagus cappuccino--which just means a foamy and delicious warm green asparagus drink. I started with a carpaccio de Coquilles St Jacques served with thin slices of parmesan and salad. This was simply delicious with the cheese adding a surprising note of flavor. My main course was dorade on a thin polenta tart served with an herb oil and balsamic vinegar. This was a very unusual and interesting savory dish. I chose a local wine to go with it (Côtes de Toul, Domaine Regina 2007) and that was a very good.

The desserts looked terrific but after the meal of the night before, I decided to go with the Soupe de Fruits Rouges infused with Szechuan Pepper. This delectable concoction was the perfect ending to a wonderful meal. With a choice of excellent coffees, the meal came to just under 60 euros and was worth every cent.

Paris Update: A long time coming

Some fancy and not so fancy finds in Paris; a few hideaways that the French particularly like

It has been months since I have updated my Paris restaurant list and I have many restaurants to write about. A wonderful find that I went to twice in the same month is the new L'Ordonnance. This restaurant is in the 14th arrondissement (the middle of nowhere for me). The name means "prescription" and my dentist recommended it to me rather than writing me a real one. The food is inexpensive, classic, and simply delicious. The beef is wonderful, desserts are out of sight the wine list very sophisticated, and everything on the menu is worth ordering. This is a little unknown place so don't tell too many people about it! Eric and I went there after my visit to the dentist and loved it so much that we agreed to go back there to celebrate my birthday. On that evening, I had an assortment of fresh natural tomatoes of every color and size that was spectacular. (See the photo of the beautiful tomatoes.) The main course was capon with fresh chanterelles and a wonderful baba au rhum.

For the day of my birthday, Mary treated me and I treated her to a wonderful meal at the two star restaurant La Table de Joel Robuchon. It is open every day of the week and at lunch there is a lovely 55-euro menu which includes wine. You can't do better than that especially at such a temple of fine dining. However, we were most intrigued by the list of tapas and decided to order à la carte. We had a fresh artichoke with langoustines and a type of guacamole garnished with fresh baby squid; craw fish in a clear bouillon with tiny fresh pea ravioli, quail with foie gras and the famous compulsory buttery and creamy mashed potatoes that is the specialty of M. Robuchon. Dessert was a soufflé of passion fruit. This was a spectacular luncheon. Mary treated us to wonderful Burgundy white and red wines by the glass. It was a remarkable dining adventure.

My friend Noriko comes to Paris twice a year (from New York). She is a private cook and once or twice each trip, she likes to treat herself to a fine meal with me. This time, I chose Restaurant Auguste (chef Gaël Orieux) which has one Michelin star. The dinner is not cheap--we paid about 100 euros apiece and only ordered wine by the glass. The style is Breton: fresh fish, oysters, carré d'agneau. For dessert, we had a wonderful chocolate soufflé which is my favorite dessert. If you remember, my mother made me that for my tenth birthday party. Although expensive; I would go back to this place in a heartbeat.

Not so for Spring which Noriko chose. This small restaurant has had lot of hype and it is booked up months in advance but after my experience there, I don't know why. The restaurant has 22 seats and one menu--no choices. On the evening that we went, it was extremely hot and there was no ventilation. Sitting through that dinner was just torture. It went on and on interminably and the food was mediocre so even when served, one did not feel a sense of relief. I have been to small restaurants where one can choose what one is going to eat and is served much more quickly and adeptly than at this place. I could not wait to get out of there. The entire meal was rather tasteless except that the chef used his salt much too liberally. The wait staff was also very unfriendly. The 42 euro price tag was much too expensive for a place of such low calibre. No one wants to spend a cent on food that they do not enjoy.

Another new place that is also very popular is Les Itinéraires. It used to be Le Temps Au Temps and was situated in the 11th arrondissement. They did so well as to be able to move to a more popular and larger location. However, I thought that the service and food were mediocre. The ceviche de saumon with a purée of beet was interesting but as I don't like the combination of salmon with beets, I didn't enjoy it. I ordered beef cheeks half-heartedly for main course, and was almost finished when I saw that they had failed to tell us the evening's specials--both dishes I would have greatly preferred. Such a gaffe on the part of the server is inexcusable. The desserts were terrible. Again, the meal was too expensive for what it was which was a whole lot of nothing.

My brother David was in town for a few days and he took me to two great places. I had already been to the first one and chose it with enthusiasm: Le Cameléon. I love this place. It used to be a boring bistrot that was taken over by a master restaurateur: Jean Pierre Arabian. He has done a spectacular job of renovating the place and choosing a great chef. The food is wonderful and every item on the menu is tempting. David started with a very rich foie gras and I with a tuna sashimi salad. Our main course was a delicious cold salmon dish with tarragon, ginger on a refreshing bed of glistening diced cucumber. It was lovely. Desserts were fine: a chocolate mousse with a cocoa sorbet and a light lemon cream with fresh tangerines and oranges. We had glasses of champagne and a bottle of wonderful wine that was recommended by M. Arabian. The meal came to less than 100 euros per person. Lunch is less expensive and just as wonderful with many of the same dishes as part of a 35-euro menu.

The second evening we went to a more upscale place called Citrus Etoile off the Champs Elysées. I remember the chef, Gilles Epié, from his wonderful restaurant, Miravile, many many years ago. Since then, he spent time in the states, married an American and moved back to Paris to open this relatively new restaurant. The service was absolutely charming and friendly. I had an interesting warm lobster salad to start with. The lobster was piled with angel-hair strands of fried onions. David had a beautiful octopus salad with white beans from Paimpol, green tea infusion and celeri rave. It was light and tasty. My main course was an excellent meunière of sweetbreads. This is a very original rendering of that wonderful dish as sweetbreads are usually served poached and then en brochette. David had a savory dish of lotte on a fresh tomato sauce. For dessert I had a superb Grand Marnier soufflé and David chose a beautiful almond tarte with large succulent red cherries. This meal came to just over 200 euros.

Our final meal together was at a restaurant from the past. About 40 years ago, our father had a year's sabbatical in Paris. I was in college at the time, but came to visit in the summer. David and our two other brothers spent the year here. Every Sunday they went to the neighborhood pizzeria: Da Pietro. It is still going strong. For the most part, I think that Paris pizza is horrible. However, this place does an excellent job and when I crave a pizza, I come here. The personnel are very friendly and all the food is delicious. Pizzas run between 11-13 euros and it is hard not to finish the whole thing. The French love Italian food and as a result, this place is always full.

To end this post, I must recommend Le Clos des Gourmets--recommended to me by two different people I trust. Here is an example of a tiny restaurant with friendly service and a variety of delicious dishes. I went there with my friend, Gaby, and we both had a terrific time. She started with a cold white bean soup with pieces of smoked duck breast while I had a glass of cold mussels, cauliflower and a foamy emulsion that was lightly spicy. Both dishes were superb. My main course was a wonderful turbot with mashed potatoes flavored with pesto. I can't wait to make that myself. It was also served with a copious portion of fresh chanterelles--some of my very favorite foods all in the same dish. I loved the combination of textures and flavors. Gaby had an absolutely wonderful roast chicken that had a very powerful meaty sauce. This was a simple, yet spectacular dish. For dessert, I had sauteed mirabelles with verbena ice cream and Gaby chose a tart of black figs. This was a spectacular meal. The menu is 35 euros but many of the dishes have an additional charge. Gaby's meal was 35 whereas mine with the turbot was a bit more expensive. However, it was well worth the cost. I can't wait to go back to this place.