Sunday, 20 December 2009

Chic AND delicious!!

If you have a sweet tooth, this destination in central Paris should not be missed! It is a well kept secret that Pain de Sucre is one of the best boulangerie-patisseries in Paris.

I am really surprised that I am just now writing about this superb boulangerie-patisserie. It is a "Must Try" destination--and I mean right away! The two wonderful patissiers (Didier Mathray and Nathalie Robert) who opened this jewelbox of a shop about three or four years ago, (Pain de Sucre, 14 rue Rambuteau in the 3rd arrondissement) used to create the desserts at my favorite haute luxury restaurant: Pierre Gagnaire. I always looked forward to the end of the meal at Gagnaire, so as to taste these chefs' newest additions to the menu (mainly exotic chocolate soufflés were my choice but there was also a splendid dégustation of desserts). Now these geniuses of the sweet course are dazzling tout Paris with their wonderful concoctions that are not only inventive and chic but also delicious. I looked at a tarte today that looked like a classic chocolate tarte but in fact, was filled with lime custard and topped with a thin layer of dark chocolate. At Pain de Sucre, I am always curious to taste everything, and even I will dare to be inventive in my dessert choices. I have tried every different gateau that they create (changing the "collection" every season).

My favorite is Etat de Choc which is chocolate: several thin layers of smooth, dark, crunchy and lovely. They have a baba au rhum which comes with its own vial of rum syrup. The chefs also do marvelous things with herbs. I know that Romarin (rosemary) is my favorite little cake in this family. They also make verrines--little glasses layered with all sorts of lovely flavors and textures. They do use cilantro and I just stay away from those. These geniuses dare to contrast a variety flavors and herbs and the results are always stunning.

Not only are the cakes and I wonderful but all the breads are out of this world, including the buttery breakfast bread, pain de Venise. The baguettes and the pain aux cereales are also knockouts. For me, the test of a truly excellent bakery is in the baguette and these artists do not disappoint. For lunch there are a variety of rustic folded rolls filled with delicious combinations of delights such as sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, cheeses, lardons and the like.

They have also done amazing things with guimauve (which Americans turn into marshmallow) and even make different flavored guimauve lollipops coated in that dark chocolate. Please see my beautiful photos of their stellar creations and run don't walk to rue Rambuteau where you can choose among these wonderful and delicious works of art.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009


About chocolate: French candies and cakes--from an expert chocolate lover

I love chocolate. As far as I am concerned, no meal is complete without a taste. There are many excellent French chocolatiers in Paris but my favorite for gateaux bar none is Jean Paul Hevin. His cakes are stunning and delicious. I think I have tried ten of them. There are three retail shops, and a salon de thé on the rue du Faubourg St. Honoré, near the Place Vendôme. Upstairs, the menu is Japanese style with beautiful photos of each of the offerings to help you decide. My favorites are Caracas, Choco-Passion, Tarte au chocolat, the heavenly and rich Macaron à L'Ancienne and the Raspberry-chocolate cake. No trip to Paris is complete without a stop at this very important locale. His macarons are all variations on the chocolate theme, flavored with lemon, passion fruit, coffee, etc.

For bars of chocolate, however, I prefer Christian Constant on rue d'Assas in the 6th arrondissement. This chocolatier takes great pride in his work and his product shows it. His dark chocolate bars are all distinguished and delicious with beans coming from South America, Africa, Asia, and other hot climates. He knows which are the finest beans and will only use those in his chocolates. The little candies are sensational and are flavored with herbs and flowers. No candies with sweet and cloying centers, these are dark chocolate through and through with hints of flavor such as rose hips, jasmin tea, ginger, to name a few. They are hand made and expensive but worth it as they are the best in the world.

Second to Constant in my book is Patrick Roger with a shop on bd St Germain des Près near Odéon and one on avenue Victor Hugo in the 16th. His chocolate candies are also dark and lovely although some are filled with praline centers which I don't like. His bars, with beans that come from Africa and South America, are all very good. These are extremely expensive candies. The boxed chocolates are lined with a faux paper layer made of chocolate so when you get to the bottom, there is still something wonderful to eat.

Another creator of chocolate bars is the Maison Bonnat near Grenoble. I find these bars at Galéries Lafayette.They are much less expensive than the others I have been talking about. My favorite is Chuao (South America), but others I have tried have been very good as well.

Monday, 9 November 2009

London in October

More delicious dining in London, including a terrific Japanese robata-sushi bar, a favorite Italian, a hallowed hall of gastronomy and where to go for simply prepared fish

Another trip to London and that means great eating. My favorite new discovery was Zuma at Knightsbridge on Raphael Street. It is a sushi bar, a robata bar and a large, noisy, and very attractive modern restaurant. If not for the sushi bar, you would say that this is modelled after the Japanese izakaya--or brasserie. The menu boasts long lists of very interesting salads and hot dishes, and I was able to try a number of them, along with robata (grilled food). To start with I had Hamachi usuzukuri pirikara ninnikugake. Another way of saying it is thinly sliced raw yellowtail with a green chili relish and ponzu sauce. I also had a beautiful chilled langoustine and clear noodle salad with a yuzu granité (Akazebi to shirataki no reisei salada yuzu fumi). It was served in a round glass and was very pretty. From the robata grill, I ordered grilled scallops with umeboshi (tangy Japanese plum), shiso and mentaki as well as grilled sweet corn with hojiso butter. The corn was spectacular and my favorite part of the meal although everything was sensational. What is fun in this restaurant is to sit at one of the bars and watch what other people order and the chefs in action. Everything looks fantastic and judging by the number of enthusiastic people there, it has reasons for its popularity.

At lunch the next day, I met my friend Peggy and we went to Marcus Waering at the Berkeley Hotel. We each ordered a menu dégustation. Peggy had the vegetarian one while I ordered from the regular menu. With our champagne was served a baby foie gras sandwich with quince and raspberry, olive toast and smoked tomato dip with a black olive compote.

Before the meal, we were served a small cup of mushroom soup with truffle foam. A lovely way to begin. My menu was a salade of scallops and cod with cauliflower, macadamia nuts and shallot dressing. This was followed by poached and roasted Dover Sole with beetroot, fresh walnuts, walnut ricotta and gnocchi--wonderful. I also had a small dish of roasted sweetcorn with braised leeks, mushrooms and a thyme salad topped with a coddled quail egg. Very delicate and delicious. Peggy and I shared a half bottle of an excellent Pouilly Fuissé.

The desserts were a pleasant ending to a very special lunch: the pre-dessert with an opera and vanilla cream on an apricot crisp, and a passion fruit jelly with lime sorbet and lemon cream. The dessert was a warm chocolate and salt caramel moelleux with banana cacao ice cream and a banana caramel jelly. None of the desserts are among my favorites (I don't like chocolate with banana) but they were fine nevertheless.

J. Sheekey is a gentleman's clubby restaurant that specializes is preparations of unadulterated fresh fish. I had Dublin prawns and learned then that they are what the French call langoustines. My main course was a succulent grilled West Bay Brill--a firm white fish--with an excellent herb and watercress salad. I chose Cookies and Brownies for dessert. This was a simple delicious meal and is a place that I would return to again and again.

I never miss the River Cafe when I go to London. It is my favorite Italian restaurant outside of Italy and Waltham (see the post about dining outside of Boston). The "calamari ai ferri" is a specialty and is tender chargrilled squid with fresh red chili and rocket. I also had an Insalata di Porcini with rocket, parmesan and lemon--very fresh and full of flavor. For my main course, I didn't order a meat or fish. This time I chose Gnocchi di Patate with chestnuts, sausage, tomato, Chianti and sage. Does that sound good? It was SPECTACULAR and I was very happy with my choice. For dessert I had their famous caramel ice cream with has a pleasant burnt sugar tang that comes from the way the caramel is melted. With the meal, I chose two very good wines and I was in 7th heaven as usual. I always buy one of their books and wish that I could duplicate their cooking expertise. Who would ever imagine that two British women would be such experts at creating authentic Italian food? And their cookbooks are also noteworthy.

Dining outside of Boston

Fine dining in the towns that border Boston, MA including a wonderful Italian, a Middle East treasure, a tiny hideaway with a stellar chef

Over the past ten years, Boston has seen a rebirth. The South End, where no one dared tread is now a chic area full of beautiful shops and terrific restaurants. And there are also several good places to try in Cambridge across the river. I lived in Cambridge for 22 years before moving to Paris and as I still have many friends there, I visit every other year.

The most popular restaurant according to the Zagat Guide is Oleana. It is on an unassuming street in East Cambridge. I have never been to place like this. The cuisine is Mediterranean and one dish is more creative and interesting than the next. I went with my hosts: John and Phil, and we were able to sample many dishes. We shared several starters: Deviled Eggs and Tuna with Black Olives, Armenian Bean and Walnut Pate with Homemade String Cheese, Fried Mussels with a Hot Pepper and Turkish Tarator Sauce, Zucchini Pancakes with a Green Tomato-Nectarine Salad and Haloumi Cheese (what is that?), and Ricotta and Bread Dumplings with red wine, Porcini, and Black Kale. I must say I am a novice at this type of food and never ate as well in Turkey. I didn't know many of the ingredients but the food was terrific.

Our main courses were Swordfish with a Salsa Verde, Kohlrabi Fritters and Maine Yellow Eye Beans; Dayboat Cod with Chanterelles, Chorizo, Chick Peas and Romesco Sauce; and Venison with Pomegranate served with a Celeri Root Purée, Swiss Chard infused with Black Tea, and a Wild Mushroom Garnish. We had an excellent Pinot Noir with the meal. John and Phil told me that the dessert specialty is Baked Alaska so that is what we ordered. I also chose coconut ice cream with a passion fruit caramel. I was so pleased to come to this place as it was thoroughly unusual, fun and delicious.

Out in Waltham, I am always very happy to visit my cousins, Caroline and Andy. Down the street from their home is one of my favorite Italian restaurants: Campania. We go there together every time I am in Boston. Usually, we are a large group but, as Andy and Caroline's children no longer live at home, it was just the three of us. The menu featured many delectable choices and we chose wisely: Pan-seared Foie Gras, Roasted Peaches, Duck Leg Confit with a Gorgonzola Crema and a Port Wine and Orange reduction was the first appetizer we shared. That was followed by a Risotto with Pan-Seared Shrimp and Scallops, Fresh Corn and Chanterelle Mushrooms. I adore corn and get it whenever I see it on a menu. And September is a great time to order it.

Our main courses were Salt-Encrusted Whole Branzino stuffed with Herb Gremolata and accompanied with a "teeny" greens and French pear salad with whole roasted garlic; Osso-Buco with a creamy Parmiggiano Polenta, Sauteed Asparagus and a veal reduction; Duck Leg Confit and Pan Seared Breast with Sautéed Escarole "affogato", poached pear with Gorgonzola "Dulce", and an Apricot and Pear Brandy Sauce. The owner sent over a little present for us: Pan Seared Diver Scallops with Cauliflower Caprino Purée and a saffron vinaigrette. Our fantastic wine was a 2006 Barbara d'Asti from Ca di Pian' Spinetta. We always get both desserts which must be ordered in advance: The chocolate soufflé and the crostata à la pêche served with ice cream and drizzled with caramel. What a great meal and how stuffed we all were!

My friend, Richard Kzirian, is a wine connoisseur and has a shop in Cambridge. He supplies many restaurants in the area with wines from the store. It is always a great treat to go out with him as he invariably knows and likes the chefs of the restaurants he chooses. This time we went to Ten Tables. Ten Tables is a small place in Jamaica Plain that has been very successful. Recently the owner and chef opened a second larger place (17 tables) on a quiet residential street in Cambridge. Richard and I had a lovely meal there. He chose the wines of course. The restaurant features Iggy's bread and that means fantastic. My starter was a wonderful Beet Salad with green apple, grilled pistachios and Fourme d'Ambert--a tangy blue cheese that I like. For my main course, I ordered Uchikiri ravioli with butter, sage and parmesan. Uchikiri is a very sweet Japanese squash and the dish was absolutely delicious. The chef made Richard a special dinner using no milk products and that meant a fish stew which was excellent. We were treated to a baked polenta ribbolita, with Tuscan beans and kale. Ribollita is a delicious soup made with stale bread and lots of beans and vegetables. In an earlier post, I wrote about the one I had in Florence at Da Ruggero. This one was different but also memorable.

My last night in Massachusetts, I went out with friends Tim and Jim to Rialto, another restaurant in the Charles Hotel. One more delicious meal and vows to diet once I got back to Paris! There were three of us and that enabled us to take a little trip through the menu. Some examples: Potato Gnocchi with a Rabbit Bolognese sauce with wild mushrooms; perfect Grilled Littlenecks with qndouille sausage and toasted garlic bread to start. After that, there was Local Grilled Bluefish (which is a specialty in Massachusetts and a favorite of mine) with corn relish, heirloom tomatoes and pickled peppers; Julia Child's Lobster à L'Americaine cognac and clams. We ordered a side of creamed corn to satisfy my craving. Jim always get the Tuscan Beef and that evening was no exception.

After that huge meal, they took me to Christine's in Inman Square for pistachio ice cream: their favorite and a big specialty. It was a lovely way to end the evening.

I ate in a few restaurants in Boston and one of them, Oishii is a big favorite. I wrote about it in a blog two years ago and stand by everything I said then. On this trip, I was most impressed by the "outside of" Boston restaurants I went to.

Pizza wars in NYC

New York magazine came out with an article and review of the "25 Best New Pizzerias in NY" and I tried three of them. Although these were good, they don't depose Grimaldi's under the Brooklyn Bridge.

The biggest culinary news in New York is the renaissance of the authentic pizzeria. New York Magazine and the New York Times devoted many an article on this fact. Frank Bruni developed an interactive critic's article with taped reviews accompanying the photos. Many truly excellent pizza restaurants of all shapes and sizes have opened over the past year and are stiff competition for each other and for the strongholds like Grimaldi's, Una Pizza Napoletana, John's and Lombardi's. The sad news is that Una Pizza Napoletana closed. Anthony, the lone pizzaiola who worked hard and created every single pizza over the past several years, had enough of pizza rolling and sold the shop in order to move to San Francisco. I hope he gets a surge of energy out west as his was my very favorite pizza place.

During my trip this past fall, I went to three excellent and very different pizzerias. Lucali's in Carroll Gardens has gotten a great deal of press. The pizza is lovingly prepared but I didn't like the crust--more like a cracker-type Roman crust and not chewy at all. However, Lucali's does have its following, as evidenced by long lines. Service is youthful and Brooklyn and friendly. They don't serve beer or wine but you can bring your own. And the corner store sells some basic wines just for this purpose.

My favorite of the new pizzerias that I tried is Co., bar none. It is in Chelsea on 9th Avenue and 20th Street. The chef is a bread maven and his talent shows in the chewy crust. The restaurant is an upscale Chelsea place with butcher block tables and a subdued decor. There are appetizers, drinks, and desserts. Chris started with a fabulous radicchio salad with taleggio cheese and a great balsamic vinaigrette. We had the Popeye--a true winner of a pizza with spinach, garlic and a variety of Italian cheeses. And next was the Fennel and Sausage pizza with crushed tomato, mozzarella,roasted fresh fennel, sweet sausage and chili. The desserts are modern Italian and look great, but I didn't have room to try one. However, the people around us raved about the chocolate torta and the gelato.

Across town in the East Village is Veloce on 1st Avenue at 6th Street. It is the third place I tried on this trip. They serve their take on Sicilian pizzas and these are large, square and chewy. One pizza is enough for two. We opted for a superb tomato salad (when tomatoes are in season as they were, there is nothing like them) and a Porchetta Sausage Sicilian pizza. It had rosemary, sage, fennel, tomato sauce, mozzarella and fresh Porchetta sausage. This was quite tasty and with the house wine, went down very easily. This restaurant is not as upscale as Co.

Now that Una Pizza Napoletana has left New York, I will have to say that until I find another favorite, Co. and Grimaldi's under the Brooklyn Bridge (written about in an early blog) are my favorites.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Newest Japanese restaurants

Three new Japanese restaurants

On rue St. Anne, an authentic "combi" (like a 7-11 in America) opened in place of a travel agency. It is called Kmart and is a combi (convenience supermarket) with a canteen next door. For the inexpensive price of 7 euros, you can get three types of delicious bibim bap (rice with vegetables and seaweed or more vegetables or beef), bento with either salmon or grilled tuna, sushi combos. The room is bright and clean and it is a lot of fun to eat there. There are Korean and Japanese specialties to buy in the "combi" section of the store.

Across the street is Lai Lai Ken. I was just introduced to this place by a Japanese friend who swears by their ramen and she is right. The noodles are al dente and the various broths are very delicious. For example, the shrimp ramen has 5-6 succulent shrimp along with Chinese cabbage. Lai Lai Ken also serves other Japanese canteen specialities such as yakisoba and (my favorite) ebi yaki soba, cha han with lots of vegetables and shrimp, and a kani cha han which features crab flakes. After 6pm, there are other more inventive dishes such as sautéed asparagus and mushrooms, agedashi dofu, and a variety of other Japanese specialities. Lai Lai Ken is a large restaurant and there is rarely a line so you can count on going there and being served right away.

Just four months old, Kiku (which means to listen or hear) at 56 rue Richer is a winner. It is already popular and as it only seats 25, reservations are necessary. At lunch, there are a variety of interesting donburi (fish or meats on rice) with vegetables. The menu states that they do not use tuna as it is endangered, and in its place, I was happy to find yellowtail (hamachi) which is rare on French Japanese restaurant menus. With the donburi come an interesting salad with sesame oil, and a good miso soup. Kiku also serves hardy one-dish meals which come on a small tray with three tsukedashi (amuse-bouches) such as salmon sushi, pumpkin mousse and a small salad. With the little appetizers come either a roast tofu dish on a bed of various winter vegetables, sukiyaki for one in a small oven dish with lots of vegetables, and an interesting chicken dish with a miso-sesame sauce. I want to try that the next time. At dinner, there is a menu dégustation for 35 euros. For that price you get to choose three different dishes out of 12, and the usual Japanese staples are featured. However, they are prepared in creative and delicious ways.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Trip to NY: two four-star restaurants

Two New York Times four-star restaurants in New York: Bernardin and 11 Madison Park

The New York Times rating system is closely followed by foodies and the rare four-star restaurant is a much pursued destination. During this wonderful trip to NY, I had the fortunate opportunity to sample two of these temples of cuisine: Eleven Madison Park (newly elevated to four stars) and Le Bernardin which has had four stars since its inception over 20 years ago. The lunch at Le Bernardin, for 68 dollars is well worth it. There are numerous choices in every category and everything is beautifully and deliciously prepared. I went with my cousin, Jenny, who loves delicious inventive cuisine as much as I.

At the table was rillettes de saumon (smoked salmon) served with toasted country bread. The bread server then made the rounds with several choices of wonderful bread including brioche bread which is my favorite.

For starters, Jenny had tuna that was pounded flat and layered with foie gras, and I chose soft shell crabs served with a lime sauce. We shared everything. For our main courses, there was codfish stuffed with sweet peppers and octopus and topped with a red wine reduction, and crispy black bass served with a braised celery and parsnip custard. The final touch was Iberico ham topped with a green peppercorn sauce.

Desserts were very light and interesting: Pear with cinnamon and caramel, Pistachio mousse with a caramelized white chocolate cream. Neither of us felt like drinking too much at lunch so we ordered wines by the glass. With coffee came a basket of warm financiers.

Le Bernardin is an exquisite New York institution that I discovered in Paris years ago before the Le Coze brother and sister moved west. I recommend the lunch as it is quite reasonable considering the calibre of the cuisine.

The other four-star restaurant I was lucky to experience is Eleven Madison Park. My cousins, Larry and Boots took me there and we had a splendid meal. The amuse-bouches alone were worth the trip: cornet of crisp sweetbreads, warm gougères, radish with butter and sea salt, tortellini of manila clams, quince gelée with foie gras on a savory butter cookie--all lovely and delicious.

I had an extremely superb and interesting appetizer: slow poached egg with farro, sweet corn, frogs legs and summer truffles--like a thin risotto (the farro) garnished with many textures and flavors. Boots had a gorgeous roulade of avocado, Hawaiian prawns, avocado, lime and yogurt. All my favorite things in one dish. Larry chose a lovely salad with jamon Iberico, melons, basil and heirloom tomatoes.

For the main courses, Boots and I shared the best duck I have ever had. It was rare, juicy and crusty at the same time, glazed with lavendar honey and served with butternut squash, figs and other spices. The duck legs came confits with fresh figs and herbs. Larry had a beautiful roast suckling pig with stunning vegetable garnishes. The wine we chose was spectacular: Edna Valley Topanga Syrah 2005. It was really a remarkable wine.

For dessert we had a chocolate-caramel tart, an ice cream sandwich with mint chocolate ice cream and a vanilla soufflé. Throughout the meal we were surprised at how consistently superb and splendid everything was. This is a great discovery and I just hope that chef is happy in his kitchen and stays there for many years.

A place 'pour toutes les poches'

This literally means a place 'for every pocket' (or every pocketbook). What follows are three Parisian restaurants at three levels of expense which are all noteworthy.

First: Chiberta which has one Michelin star (quite an honor) and which will run you around 100 euros per person if not a bit more depending on the wine you choose, of course. I went there right before a big trip to the states with a friend I had met at the wedding in Puerto Vallerta.

The amuse-bouche was a delicious and beautiful cold creamy pea soup with a dollop of whipped cream garnished with toasts slathered with fresh peas.

We started with gambas à la plancha (grilled large shrimp) flavored with grapefruit and served with a millefeuille (layers) of white and green radish and avocado. Very light and delicate but flavorful. Gail had marinated sardines with sweet Espelette peppers from the South of France, tomatoes, and a gazpacho sorbet. Both appetizers were lovely and light and a nice opening to an excellent meal.

For main courses, I chose duck sautéed with foie gras and stuffed zucchini. Gail had saddle of lamb roasted with thyme and eggplant served three ways. For dessert, I had a hot apricot soufflé and that was heavenly. It came with a verbena sorbet which goes very well with either peach or apricot.

Our wines were well chosen by me counselled by the sommelier--a not too expensive but very flavorful Monthélie by Pierre Morey. I know this name from long ago when I sat at the same table as Morey's father in law and then learned that his is a prestigious house in Burgundy.

Before she moved back to Japan, I treated Yuko (a wonderful Japanese friend with whom I have been doing a language exchange for about a year and a half) to a delicious meal in a place suggested by my dentist. His recommendations are always superb. This place is called Le Bistrot de L'Alycastre and is open everyday. It is in the center of St. Germain des Près. To fête this event, we had wonderful glasses of Laurent Perrier champagne. This bistrot, although in the moderate price range, has an excellent wine list.

For starters, I had a sauté of chanterelles (girolles in French) and Yuko had wild gambas (large shrimps) served in a carpaccio with lime and lemon-flavored oil. Lovely. I adore turbot and had it as a filet served with a wonderful risotto with cèpes. Yuko had something she will not get in Japan: succulent sweetbreads served with cèpes and small potatoes. We shared a dark and creamy chocolate soup and left the table sad to say goodbye but very pleased and satisfied with the meal. I will see Yuko the next time I go to Tokyo which should be very soon (for the cherry blossoms in early spring).

Finally, I tried Cucina Napoletana with my friend, Alex. This is a very small restaurant in the Marais which specializes in Italian food served family style. They have a marvelous antipasto plate for whatever number of people are at the table. We chose a superb linguine with a whole lobster in fresh tomatoes and were in heaven. Wines are served by the glass or by the bottle and the list is well representative of Italian wines.

There are several pasta dishes as well as daily fish and meat specials. Rare is it to get well-prepared pasta in France, but this place does the real thing. Depending on what type of main course you choose (lobster is on the expensive side), you can get away with paying very little at this lovely place. The owner of the restaurant is rather cold, but the level of the cuisine is well worth the frosty welcome. Reservations are necessary as there are just a few tables in the restaurant.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Paris Thai and day in Lyon

A new Thai restaurant in Paris and an excursion to Lyon for some fine dining

Eric and I went to Reuen Thai restaurant in Belleville. Recommended by a Japanese friend, this restaurant serves very authentic Thai preparations with the beautiful presentations that are so ubiquitous in nice restaurants in Thailand. I had a delicious soft shell crab with crispy garlic starter. I love spicy food and so ordered a green bean concoction with squid that was served in a hot pepper sauce with sweet red peppers. To counter the heat of the dish,I chose a lovely plate of sautéed noodles and vegetables which was also very good. Eric chose a whole bass baked with ginger and vegetables. I find that the whole fish preparations are usually extremely dependable choices in the Thai restaurants.

About a week later, I took a day and went to Lyon, the city known as the Stomach of France. There are so many wonderful restaurants there, but most serve extremely heavy lyonnais food: quenelles de brochet in a cream sauce, or sausages in brioche crusts. However, there are also more contemporary restaurants which serve upscale dishes. I chose a one-star restaurant known as Les Terrasses de Lyon. It is in the old part of the city atop one of the hills. The diningroom has a gorgeous view of the city.

I decided to opt for the menu dégustation, as I had come to Lyon to eat. However, the restaurant does serve a lovely 3-course menu for lunch that costs 48 euros without beverages.

My menu dégustation began with four petites amuses bouches. There was an egg shell filled with a bit of egg, tomato gelée and baby vegetables, topped with cream; salmon sushi with raifort; an oyster on a toast topped with a balsamic vinegar gelée and a cube of foie gras with a compote of figs. A very nice opening to the meal.

My first course was a dish of two large roasted gambas served with small vegetables and squid ribbons. The squid sat atop a little toast and was very nice. Next was a whole lobster tail served with a spring roll of vegetables: a very luxurious dish. It was sauced with citronelle and galanga--straight from Asia. The main course was a delicious pigeon with a tartine of confit of onions and a little sausage made of the offal of the pigeon. I love offal and ate this part up right away. The pigeon was braised in a little clay pot and flavored with verbena and white peaches. Delicious!!

To go with each course, the restaurant proposed some excellent wines including a Puligny Montrachet with the lobster. This selection could be chosen at the beginning of the meal and was well worth it.

Unfortunately, I had no room for cheese and so went on to the dessert courses. To introduce the main dessert was an ice cream bar of passion fruit sorbet wrapped in chocolate and accompanied with a tiny cup of chocolate mousse. I chose the soufflé au chocolat for dessert. Although it was beautiful, it was the only disappointing part of the meal as no one can make a soufflé as well as I or my mother can! I am usually not happy with restaurant chocolate soufflés but since I love them, I make the mistake of ordering them. With coffee came a lavish assortment of petit fours and chocolates.
The lunch was extremely expensive but I did order the menu dégustation which is usually served at dinner. I was happy with the menu and all in all, it was a successful journey. I am sorry I forgot to bring my camera as the view was lovely and the meal was beautifully presented.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Paris dining in July

Some great restaurants that are open until late July and where you will get wonderful meals; straightforward restaurants with regional cuisine; a stir-fried "choose your own ingredients" place; haute Japanese; and the best fellafel in Paris

Kazumi-san, my enthusiastic Japanese friend, works everyday with only Sunday off. When she found out that I was staying put in Paris for the summer, she suggested that we dine out together and that I choose the restaurant. That is a small challenge at the end of July on a Sunday but I found Le Petit Nicois--open daily except for a vacation in August--in the 7th arrondissement. What a find!! The menu presents food from the sunny south of France including a superb bouillabaisse redolent of saffron and chock full of seafood and pieces of fish. It is served with rouille and toasts. But before I get into our main course, let me praise the appetizers. I had marinated raw sardines that were so fresh that they seemed to bring the sunshine with them; Kazumi had a luscious salad of gambas with a delicious garlic dressing.

The other main courses all have the theme of Nice and Provence in them: Ratatouille, Petits Farcis, Pieds et Paquets, Marmite de pecheur, Loup roti, to name some of the classics.

Le Petit Nicois proposes a three-course menu, but really, when you have bouillabaisse, that it enough!! However, the appetizers came as one of the abbreviated menus and that is why we indulged. We had to forego the desserts (Baba au rhum, Ile Flottante, Candied cold lemon filled with strawberries, and a chocolate mousse). Next time, I won't get the bouillabaisse and will choose the three-course dinner for 32 euros.

Friends I met in Puerto Vallerta were in Paris for two weeks and asked me to reserve dinner for us. We went to one of my favorites: Le Cameleon. It was a classic and tired bistrot that was taken over by the restaurant maven, Jean Pierre Arabian. He is a terrific host and knows how to create the perfect space and find the best chefs. This is really a great place--right in the center of Montparnasse. There were four of us and we were able to sample a number of the specialties. Patrick started with a delicious gazpacho that had a tomato stuffed with langoustine floating on it. The two Lees (there was another in our party) had a very refreshing lobster salad with shaved celeriac and a lime vinaigrette. Stephen chose hearts of lettuce with a delicious dressing garnished with baby summer vegetables.

For our main courses, three of us chose the meat offerings and they were all perfectly prepared. I ordered gigot d'agneau and stressed that I like it rare and that is how it came. So often, they overcook lamb in restaurants but this was terrific. Lee got the specialty of a thick slice of calf's liver deglazed with a red wine sauce and served with macaroni and melted parmesan. Stephen had never had tournedos Rossini and so he treated himself to that. It was served with a lobe of sauteed foie gras. Patrick was the conservative member of the group and got cabillaud (flakey codfish) with a vegetable sauce. Everything was excellent including the reasonably priced Margaux we ordered: exquisite!!

Desserts were great too: Baba au Vieux Rhum, Mousse au Chocolat, Nougat aux Fruits Rouges. I don't like nougat desserts but this one was special.

Kyoko Kato was in from Japan. She is so much like me. She lived in Paris for two years and spent the whole time discovering the best restaurants. This activity included making trips to the provinces to try some of the three-star palaces that I have made pilgrimages to over the years. Tonight, I chose a new place, Ozu, which is open everyday as it sits in a public museum. The kitchen is overseen by Thierry Marx (I dined at his wonderful restaurant outside of Bordeaux about two years ago and wrote it up in this blog), who did a lot of culinary learning in Japan. I was sure it would be fusion food and I didn't want something totally Japanese so that the restaurant would be new and amusing for Kyoko.

The restaurant is in a wonderful space--part of CineAqua in the Jardins du Trocadero. Our blond oak wood table was right next to a floor-to-ceiling glass case behind which were many different types of fish swimming freely. It was a lovely sight. The chefs are all Japanese and there is a choice of a large number of small plates with different Japanese offerings. Your meal consists of your choice of dishes. Kyoko and I chose about 14 delicious jewels of Japanese food. We had delicate gyoza (pork dumplings) in a clear broth. I am only familiar with the fried gyoza and this preparation was much more subtle. We had slices of roasted pork with endives and a delicious fried fish dish with tiny bites of fish to savor with different vegetables. There was a crab and seaweed offering and (the only fusion dish) magret de canard sushi--fantastic. We also had assorted crispy tempura of three different types of fish and shellfish, and a wonderful crispy salmon-skin maki. Although this was not fusion food, we were very happy with what we ordered as well as the price. 14 dishes with wine and sake came to 50 euros apiece.

To keep up with the Asian trend, I went to a place in my neighborhood called Wok Cooking. I have passed by it many times and have always wanted to go in. There are a variety of appetizers but on my first visit, I opted for the main course only. You are given a bowl with your choice of rice, egg noodles or rice noodles. After that, you go to the wok bar to choose from a bevy of vegetables, meat and fish. I chose shrimp, salmon, squid, and a variety of vegetables including oyster mushrooms. After that, you go to the cooking area and order a sauce and herbs and spices. I chose the spiciest sauce (Thai Sauce). The chefs cook up the mixture for you and you have a very healthy meal full of fresh ingredients for just 15 euros. I can't wait to go back. This is my kind of food: light, healthy and spicy and close to my house.

Finally, I have never spoken of L'As du Fellafel--known far and wide as the best fellafel sandwich this side of Israel. There is nothing more to say except that you can order at the window and eat it on the street or pay 2 euros more and sit at a table. This is another place where your order is filled just as you make it. All the vegetables are fresh and crunchy; the eggplant is sensational as are the fellafel. The first time I went there was a year ago. A friend's daughter was studying in Paris for the summer and she mentioned it to me. After my first visit, I make a point of going once every 4-5 weeks. It is always open except on Shabbat and on Jewish holidays.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

My New Favorite Restaurant

A new one-star Parisian restaurant that is one to watch

I was so lucky to go to Arôme the other night. It is run by perfectionist Eric Martins who is a long-time friend and a most charming host. Arôme is his creation and he has hired a superb chef who earned the restaurant its first Michelin star. The champagnes that Eric chose for the apéritif are wonderful: Vranken Diamant Bleu 1999, and a Veuve Cliquot Rosé 2004. I tried each one and loved them both.

Before our appetizers, my friend, Noriko (who hails from NY and with whom I dine in great restaurants when she visits Paris) and I were served brochettes de gambas aux zestes de citron vert (jumbo shrimps tempura-style with lime zests) placed in a round glass half full of a mousseline aux fruits de mer (light seafood sauce). What a delicious way to start a meal and what a lovely idea for an amuse-bouche.

Noriko had an first course of fresh mackerel placed on a rectangle of grilled watermelon and garnished with cucumbers and a mild pepper sauce. It was a stunning combination. I had a rouleau de printemps (spring roll) stuffed with fresh crabmeat that had been lightened with verbena and served with a sauce ponzu à ma facon (the chef's way).

For our main courses, Noriko chose the beautiful belly of tuna just grilled, served with zucchini, sundried Pacchino tomatoes and cilantro flowers. I won't eat cilantro but for those who do, this is an excellent dish. I had lobster served with grilled spring and summer fruits and vegetables including yellow peaches, white asparagus and baby yellow squash. It was absolutely lovely.

The sommelier suggested glasses of Riesling Domaine Gapée 2006 Grand Cru that was very flavorful and married well with our dishes.

Our desserts were chocolate soufflés flavored with cinnamon and served with a wonderful salted caramel ice cream served separately in a dark chocolate sauce. The combination of the flavors and the hot and cold was excellent.

Arôme serves an 89 euro tasting menu without wine or that menu with wines for 129 euros. It is closed on the weekends and open for both lunch and dinner during the week. It is a lovely restaurant with a modern decor and is quite large. However, reservations are strongly recommended.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Le Comptoir at Place d'Odéon

An all-time favorite that serves basic delicious French dishes, is always crowded, and attracts French people more than tourists: the brain child of one of France's most innovative chefs

I have been to Le Comptoir many times. At night, one must reserve 6 months in advance for this tiny restaurant that saves 1/2 its tables for the hotel next door. At dinner, you will be served a prix fixe meal with no choices for 50 euros without beverages and it is well worth it. The meal consists of five courses and a beautiful composed wonderful meal by the chef, Yves Camdeborde, who started the "young chef revolution" in France. Many years ago, he and some other very good chefs worked with Christian Constant, and after that, created their own restaurants where they would serve delicious food at reasonable prices. Camdeborde's first restaurant was La Regalade in the 14th arrondissement. And that place was always crowded.

More fun for me is to go at lunch or at any time on the weekends. There are no reservations and when you are seated, you are privy to an extensive menu with everything from a salade Niçoise à ma façon to a smoked salmon croque monsieur, to beef cheeks, hardy paté, or tuna juste saisi servi bleu or even a fancy lobster salad. The desserts are sensational. Appetizers range in price depending on how complicated; entrées are usually in the 20 euro range and desserts are 8-10 euros. No frites with steak, thank you! On the mirror in the restaurant are written the day's specials.

My friend and Japanese teacher, Yumiko, and I met for lunch and toasted the event with glasses of Michel Drappier Blanc de Blanc Champagne. Yumiko chose a delicious brandade de morue with a golden brown crust on top, served with a hearts of sucrine salad with toasted croutons. I had the red shrimp à la plancha simply grilled that was garnished with grilled sweet red peppers, almonds, and a parsley pesto. It was spectacular. For dessert, I had the creamiest panna cotta I have ever had covered with a marmelade of fresh apricots, and Yumiko had a sablé of roasted fresh peaches accompanied by a flavorful brebis milk ice cream. We asked if it is possible to come just for dessert and coffee and they said that after 3:30pm or 10pm would be fine for that.

The atmosphere is convivial and lunch service goes from about 11:30-3:30. On weekends, the restaurant is open from about 11:30am-10pm and serves non-stop.The restaurant is always packed and well worth a visit. Camdeborde comes from the south of France and many of that region's specialties are featured including a succulent paté de campagne.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Fish in Paris

Three very different but wonderful restaurants specializing in fish preparations

Here are three quick recommendations for different fish restaurants in Paris. The first is Sushi Marché. I went there with my trusty sushi friends, Alex and Mary. Not only is it good, reasonably priced, and comfortable to sit in, but the staff is very pleasant (unlike other more expensive sushi places we have tried in Paris).

We all ordered from the dinner menu which gave us our main dinner choice, two appetizers and dessert. Alex had his favorite Chirashi Royale, I had Mixte Royale and Mary had Sashimi Royale. Royale means a much better and more varied selection of fish than the basic assortment. Mixte means that there are sashimi, sushi, maki and one hand roll on the tray. The Chirashi Royale is particularly inventive with different types of fish and seaweed flavoring the rice. We were all very satisfied with the quality, freshness and variety of the fish. I would recommend this place to anyone including a Japanese person.

My sister-in-law and nephew were in Paris and they took me to Les Fables de la Fontaine--a restaurant I have tried and enjoyed before. There is one meat dish on the menu and the rest of the choices are fish. Every preparation we ordered was delicious including croustillants de langoustines (something like a modern version of langoustine tempura but rather wrapped in a paper thin and crispy dough), a salmon preparation on a fresh blini with an avocado-cilantro sauce (not for me however!).

We chose three different main courses so that we could share many things. The dorade, mulot and cabillaud were all prepared in different ways with lovely sauces and garnishes that accentuated the flavor of the fish. Each dish was excellent. These are simple basic white fish but were relegated to royalty by the preparations. Jeremy chose a roasted cabillaud (cod) with bacon, crusty polenta and cuttlefish sautéed in a parsley-garlic sauce. Catherine had simply grilled hake with green asparagus, in a lovely sauce flavored with chicken broth, parmesan and chanterelles. I had the poached bass with a purée of sweet peas, a tuna cream sauce and grilled baby artichokes. By the time we ate everything, we could not think of dessert but did decide to share one thing: a poached apricot with apricot sorbet; almond cream and a warm butter biscuit. With our meal, we ordered a Petit Chablis which was very good. The Michelin awarded this restaurant one star and it deserves it.

Today, Mary and I went out to her favorite seafood place: Au Chien Qui Fume. It is a very old restaurant in Les Halles. In the old days, it was right in the bustling market but now it is next to the garden of the Halles and on a street that has no traffic. Mary told me that she likes to find places that have outdoor seating that is not in traffic. Neither of us can understand what the French see in dining outside in the midst of honking cars. Another plus for this restaurant is that the staff is very pleasant and especially helpful to women dining alone.

I had a plateau de fruits de mer which took the entire lunch period to finish. I chose my favorite speciales (meaty oysters), pink shrimp and bulots (winkles). Everything was fresh and delicious. Mary had a more classic meal starting with foie gras and continuing with a half roasted lobster served with a sauté of foie de lotte(fish liver). It was very good. We both had light desserts of fruit with sorbet. To arroser the meal (as the French say) we ordered a 1/2 bottle of Sancerre.

The South of France

Six days in the South of France: a hole in the wall in Nice, a starred restaurant near Monaco, other special Nice restaurants and a visit to a tiny town near Avignon.

My six day vacation prior to foot surgery was in Nice and in Provence. My friend, Simona, lives in Nice and we met the first afternoon to dine at La Zucca Magica. This is a lovely vegetarian restaurant at the port. There are no choices: you are served a five-course meal. This is what we had: court bouillion de legumes with a ricotta flan flavored with safran and zestes de citron--lovely; courgettes de pays farcis de pesto et fromage: sandwich d'aubergine, parfumé de vinaigre balsamique; cannelloni of red peppers, olives, smoked scamorza, shallots and tomatoes; and a lovely tarte aux fraises. It was a copious, delightful meal. Although this restaurant is not in the Guide Michelin, it was written up in the New York Times several months ago. It is very famous and quite popular among the Nicois.

The night before, I had chosen to go to a one-star restaurant run by a Japanese chef. The name of the place is Keisuke Matsushima (name of the chef). Everyone who works there is Japanese and so I spoke to them in Japanese, of course. They have a 35 euro menu but everything you would want to order comes with a supplement so I chose the 60 euro omakase (chef's choice). I started with a parmesan macaron served with summer truffles. The first course was a soupe de courgettes with trompettes de la mort (a wild mushroom). Next was a risotto de courgettes, morilles, and Iberian ham--this was a terrific dish. I go crazy for morilles. The fish course was rouget with a purée of chic peas and a sauté of three different colored sweet peppers. And the main course was gigot d'agneau with basil, lardons and baby vegetables. With each dish came a wine to bring out the flavor of both. At the end, I was so full that I chose a salade de fruits exotiques. With the coffee came pine-nut financiers(small almond cakes). I had a very good meal at this restaurant.

Perhaps one of the most famous places in Nice is Merenda. Of all things, the restaurant has no phone. It is small so that reservations are required. You can either pass by and reserve or write a letter. They do honor your reservation either way. The kitchen is in the diningroom and there are only low stools at small tables. The food is delicious, provençale, seasonal, and cheap. I started with beignets of fleurs de courgette, and then a wonderful dish of saucisses aux lentils. With a half-bottle of a simple Côtes de Provence, I was in heaven. The dinner came to 35 euros.

The next day, I took a taxi up into the hills near Monaco. We drove on the Moyenne Corniche until we arrived at La Turbie and the Hostellerie de Jérôme. This place had been recommended to me by a Japanese foodie and I have always wanted to go there. It is a beautiful little restaurant with a pretty terrace surrounded by flowers. I had a lovely dinner there: classic cuisine but perfectly prepared and served with delicious wines. As they say, I would return in a heartbeat. True to form, the people outside of Paris treat their dinner guests like royalty but are friendly at the same time. At this hostellerie, the maître d'hôtel was very warm but also pleasantly formal. One of the amuse-bouches was also one of the best things I tasted that evening: a chausson de canard aux mousserons (wild mushrooms)served with a cream sauce of mousserons. It is like a braised duck envelope and the pastry dough and meat are both succulent and wonderfully flavorful. It is a grande classique de la maison house specialty).

My appetizer was a beautiful steamed 1/2 lobster served just warm with apricots--a very light dish. I think I would have preferred more of a substantial sauce. This was really very light. However, it was just the thing to introduce my rich main course: ris de veau croustillés, green asparagus, truffles, comté and large cèpes. (See the photo.) This dish was served with a creamy mashed potato dish that only the French can transform into a dish for a king. I marked in my book that this dish was FAB!!!! with several hearts. It is rare that I don't order sweetbreads when they are on the menu, and this preparation was particularly memorable.

After this wonderful meal, the dessert followed in style. I had a tarte aux pêches that were roasted with verbena served with a delicious verbena ice cream. This modern pairing of peach with verbena has become a grand classic in French cuisine and is also a favorite of mine. I was so impressed by the restaurant that I sent my friend who recommended it a thank you card. The ride back to Nice was very pleasant and I was ready to have a nice sleep after such a delicious repast.

For my last evening, I wandered down to the port and dined at a fish restaurant called Aux Pecheurs. I found it in the Guide Michelin and it was quite good. I had another lobster salad to start and frankly, I preferred this one. It was served with an acacia honey sauce which made for an interesting flavorful combination. After that,I had a whole grilled daurade served with ratatouille. Dessert was a wonderful panna cotta with passion fruit coulis.

I left Nice the next day and took the train to Avignon, from where I drove to Venasque in a rented car. Venasque is a very picturesque tiny village in the Mount Ventoux area. The village is so small that there is only one restaurant and no ATM machines! For the time that I was there, the few galleries that do exist were closed. As a result I drove to the next town (St. Didier) which had a bustling food market, one ATM machine, and three restaurants. This is an area from which to explore the beautiful provençale villages. I stayed in a chambre d'hôte--that is, in the home of a couple that opens up its rooms to travelers. They serve breakfast and dinner on their terrace and you admire the stunning view while you are eating basic but good French cuisine and drinking local wines. The first evening, I ate in the restaurant next door and had an excellent dish of ravioli with an interesting pesto cream sauce, a daube de poulpe (octopus stew) and a wonderful crème brulée à la lavande. The next evening, at the chambre d'hôte, we were served a fried quail egg and pancetta to start, a refreshing gazpacho, and finally a confit de canard with home-made ratatouille. I enjoyed both meals quite a bit.

It was good to get home to the crowds and noise and ATMs of Paris. I am really a city girl at heart and although it is nice to do nothing from time to time, I am always happy to get back to my life.

Six Days in London

A variety of restaurants in a gastronomic capital including a power dining locale, an ubiquitous London chain for Asian food, a fusion place that has a branch in New York, a Gordon Ramsay creation and one of my favorite Italian restaurants: The River Cafe

I spent six delicious and glorious days in London at the end of May. The weather was so good that people were saying it was scary!! No rain for all that time--just warm, clear, sunny days. Coincidentally, my friend Mary (a die-hard foodie) was there at the same time so we went to many restaurants together.

Recommended by my friend, the food critic, Maureen, I went to Pearl the first evening. The restaurant food style is nouveau French with a Japanese chef. First of all, the amuse-bouches were indeed very amusing and flavorful. There were many of them, but I remember the watermelon gazpacho with pine nuts and goat cheese, and a delicious Roscoff potato filled with braised veal. There was also a bit of mushroom risotto with cèpes (porcini in Italian).

I started my meal with a beautiful and delicious rabbit dish. The rabbit was made into a lasagna layered with langoustines and garnished with fresh peas and morels. A sheer delight. For my main course, I chose a roast halibut with chorizo, caramelized squid, chic peas and squid ink. Very inventive, original and very delicious.

For the pre-dessert, I was served a terrific crumble with English strawberries and vanilla foam. And I chose a hazelnut chocolate parfait with a sponge cake. The meal was quite copious and not cheap but I think that it was worth it for the level of pleasure and creativity.

The next day, I went to the most popular restaurant in London: Wagamama. It is a big chain with a restaurant or two in every neighborhood. I would call it a Pan-Asian cafeteria-type place although you are served at table. All of the Wagamamas are in big spaces with blond butcher block communal tables. The atmosphere is youthful. The service is quick and the food is very hardy and delicious. You can get several Japanese soups as well as Japanese gyoza; Thai-spiced combination dishes (no cilantro for me, thank you); and a variety of interesting Asian style salads. It is not very expensive and is a perfect place for a fun lunch.

That evening, Mary and I met at Asia de Cuba. The food is very good. The atmosphere is noisy and the service is quite nice. I started with calamari salad with hearts of palm, banana, cashews, and a sesame-orange dressing. To die for were the Asian pesto grilled prawns served with lotus root chips and wok-charred tropical fruit: an excellent combination of sweet and savory, succulent and crunchy. For my main course, I had a wonderful coconut-mustard Chilean sea bass with crab-corn flan and chimichurri greens served with a jalapeno-plum coulis. Sensational! The drinks are also very good at this restaurant and so we ordered those rather than choosing wine.

Maze is Mary's absolute favorite place. It is a Gordon Ramsay restaurant run by Jason Atherton. Basically, you are served a variety of dishes in tapas portions. I think that three or four tapas and one dessert is a good amount to order. And with each dish, the French sommelier, Laure, can choose something appropriate for you. I started with a lovely chilled I that had pieces of lobster. The BLT is terrific: served in a martini glass. No bread. Tomato I, pieces of bacon, lettuce I and onion rings. It is very amusing and very delicious. I also had a wonderful cèpe risotto that had a quail egg hidden in its center. The slow-cooked quail, braised leg and wood sorrel was also an excellent choice.

You can't leave London without having lemon curd and that is what I chose for dessert: a sort of baked Alaska with lemon meringue, citrus curd, lemon sorbet and basil sorbet. Very refreshing and flavorful.

I have already written about the River Cafe. I go there every time I am in London. This time, the weather was so warm that I chose to dine outside. The tables were set up on the lawn next to the Thames. I had a very unique meal: taglierini con ortichi(nettles) which were fine green noodles with the spicy green nettles, sage, and butter: excellent! And for my main course was piccione al forno stuffed with romarino. It was in a Chianti-pancetta sauce and was served with vignole which is a seasonal dish of vegetables (artichokes, broad beans, peas). My friend, Maureen served this to me in Rome several years ago. It is very rare to find it on a menu as the season is so short. This dish gets an A+.

I had an apricot crostata for dessert as I had had the signature chocolate nemesis the last time. This was a lovely warm pastry served warm and filled with fresh apricots and garnished with double cream.

Before leaving for the train station, I met Mary at the restaurant of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. We dined on the terrace and had a lovely lunch of crab cake served with a lobster claw and fresh provençale vegetables; and shortcake with strawberries, sorbet and whipped cream. Mary ordered a beautiful and luscious panna cotta with raspberries and raspberry coulis. Our waiter was from Chicago so it was fun to converse with someone who did not have a British accent. I left London with a happy stomach and many fond memories.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

More Paris tidbits

An authentic Breton crêperie run by Japanese chefs, Italy's best gelateria, a chic brunch at the Hyatt with friends

I went to Breizh Cafe today. The chefs are Japanese and the direction is Breton. It is an authentic Breton crêperie and you will find nothing better anywhere else. I love galettes and crepes and have been all over Brittany for great ones but this is the best. It is at rue Vieille du Temple and rue du Perche in the third arrondissement. Always crowded, it is a good idea to reserve. I had a Breton artichoke galette today with gruyère, ham and delicious fresh artichokes. There is a list of excellent cidres and I chose the 1/2 carafe of house cider--enough for two or three. I always start with their fresh oysters from Cancale and never have room for the numerous dessert crepes. One day I will skip the oysters.... The restaurant serves non-stop from lunch to the early evening.

Grom is an Italian gelateria that originated in Italy. I discovered it in Florence only to find that one opened not only on the rue de Seine, Paris but also on 7th Avenue South near Bleeker in NYC. The ingredients are all natural; the ice cream is smooth and creamy and this is definitely a keeper! It is authentic Italian gelato made from all natural ingredients as opposed to the fake style Italian gelato that Amorino serves.

My friend, Eric and I had a wonderful meal at L'Accolade on the rue Guillaume Tell in the 17th arrondissement of Paris. It is a bit off the beaten track but well worth the trip. Everything is well prepared and presented beautifully. Eric had a delicious fresh grilled swordfish on smashed potatoes and I had de-shelled langoustines on a cheesy risotto. We both started with a lovely refreshing tuna tartare in which the tuna was presented as pieces and not shopped fine. My apple-pear crumble (hazelnuts instead of crumble) with salty caramel ice cream and caramel was superb and the home-made profiteroles au chocolat were addictive. My dentist recommended this place. I can always count on him for a good restaurant report.

Last month, I had a fancy brunch at the Hyatt Vendome with my friends Sophie and Loic. It was a very pleasant and delicious experience. For 75 euros, you are treated to champagne, a vast buffet and one main course and coffee or tea. I had the delicious omelette aux morilles. At the buffet were all sorts of fancy dishes including a superb crème brulée au foie gras, saumon fumé, seafood salad, cheeses, and a wonderful baby club sandwich. For main courses (I had the omelette) there was pain perdu with honey and ham, exotic Spanish ham, and tartare de boeuf among other things. The buffet had a variety of beautiful desserts including fondant au chocolat, tartelettes aux framboises, crème caramel, the classic opera, etc. etc. And we chose a rosé Champagne Billecart Saumon to anoint the meal. It is a lovely event that can be experienced on Saturdays and Sundays.

Sunday, 17 May 2009


A visit to Strasbourg (a gourmet's delight) where I went to two pillars of gastronomy for fine cuisine and a number of local small eateries for traditional Alsatian food.

Strasbourg is known as a gastronomic capital. I spent four food-filled days there and was not disappointed. For kugelhopf (the breakfast pastry with almonds and raisins that comes in various sizes), I ran to Christian which has two locations--both in the old city and one in the Place de la Cathédrale. Get there before 11 am, otherwise they will have run out. They also serve a lovely lunch there and you can have Alsatian specialties. I went for a delicious chocolate extravaganza and was not disappointed.

That day, for lunch (and before the chocolate gateau) I had the compulsory flammekeuchen which is a thin crusted pizza covered with lardons, oignons; crème fraîche--what a delight.

For my first dinner, I went to the Buereheisel which is a lovely restaurant in the Parc de L'Orangerie. Years ago, the chef was Antoine Westermann and the restaurant had three Michelin stars. Père Antoine retired and his son took over the kitchen. Now the restaurant has one star and, nevertheless, is really wonderful. I chose the menu gastronomique and was very impressed.

For starters, I had roast lobster with curry and white asparagus, followed by frogs legs with spaetzle, sole with green asparagus, lemon and fresh tomato, sweetbreads with morels (a truly luxurious dish), roast lamb with baby vegetables and rosemary, and a beer-caramelised brioche cake with roast pear. This menu was spectacular!!!! and reasonable at 145 euros with wine. To have all these luxury foods at that price quite wonderful. Had this been the three-star restaurant, the same menu would have cost twice this much and have been equally delicious. I left feeling happily sated and blown away by the perfect performance of the chef as well as the excellent service.

The next day, I had the pleasure of dining at Au Crocodile (which has two Michelin stars). Everyday, there is a bargain menu of 87 euros for six courses, wine, water and coffee. You really can't find that anywhere as most menus include food only. This day, I had several amuse-bouches including a spectacular gougère with spinach, and a tiny flammekeuchen and a cappuccino de choucroute (the regional sine qua non). My courses were white asparagus (an Alsatian seasonal specialty) with blinis and caviar followed by the river fish, sandre with morels and creamy polenta, and culminating with a series of pre-desserts which introduced a strawberry soupe with Gewurtztraminer (a regional wine) with a pepper ice cream which was a perfect light ending to a lovely meal. I had a number of Alsatian wines with this wonderful menu and at the end, several mignardises (pistachio cake, basil cotton candy, raspberry tart, passion fruit tart with red fruits). With coffee came two lovely chocolates (with cumin and with coffee). A truly memorable experience.

I went to a very picturesque and interesting town the next day: Colmar, and had lunch at a Bib Gourmand which is a Michelin restaurant that serves good food at reasonable prices. It is always wise to seek out the "bibs" in any city. At Les Trois Poissons, I sat outside along the Ill river and had a delicious sandre choucroute au beurre blanc. This was a simple, light and memorable meal. The sandre skin was crisp and tasty and the meat of the fish was prepared perfectly. With this, I had a glass of Riesling and was happily sated.

When in Strasbourg, one should not miss the Winstubs. They are the casual wine bars where people go for terrific regional food. I chose Le Clou which has the coveted
Bib Gourmand. No pomp--but a warm welcome and delicious food. I ordered a portion of warm white asparagus (spring asparagus are a stable of Alsatian cuisine) with a vinaigrette dressing, and Brotwurst sur choucroute. The choucroute garni looked fabulous but was too copious for me. For dessert, I had Mirabelle sorbet with mirabelle alcool. This was my favorite meal: hardy, no-frills, and delicious food served in a friendly and boisterous atmosphere.

If you can believe it, I had one last lunch to write about: at La Maison des Templiers. This is a temple to Alsatian food in the charming part of Strasbourg known as La Petite France. At a lovely table on the terrace along the river, I had coq au riesling--pieces of succulent chicken in a redolent cream sauce. This dish is only found in the most traditional Alsatian restaurants and I chose this place precisely for this dish.

I left Strasbourg with plans to diet and with the wonderful memory of all the terrific dishes I had sampled. It was a wonderful stay in a beautiful and delicious town.