Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Two Delectable Restaurants with Good Friends

Two restaurant reviews: Le 122 and Amici Miei. Both are terrific places and worth checking out.

When my cousin, Sarah, and her companion, Chris, came to Paris, the three of us went to two excellent restaurants. I searched in my favorite book: Le Pudlo and found a "heart throb" (one of his favorite critic categories) in the 7th arrondissement: Le 122 on rue de Grenelle. This is a lovely French restaurant designed by Philip Starck. There are three intimate rooms so although the restaurant feels small, in fact, it is quite large. We had a table in a nook in the rear which enabled us to watch other diners and servers and participate in the rhythm of the restaurant. The food is fine, and the three of us tasted many of the selections from the interesting menu.

The puree of celeri-rave, radis noir amuse-bouche was excellent. Black radishes are long and thin with a black coating that is removed when eaten. I love celery root and the combination was delicious.

I started with a magnificent feuilleté d'escargot aux champignons et beurre d'ail. This is a puff pastry with mushrooms and chewy delectable snails in a garlic butter. Garlic butter with snails is a classic combination but the addition of mushrooms modernizes the dish. Sarah had a royale de foie gras et velouté de topinambour: a duck liver custard with jerusalem artichokes--sumptuous. Chris had six beautiful fresh oysters--a perfect seasonal dish.

For our main courses, there was sirloin steak with a potato-parsnip gratin garnish. The parsnip added sweetness to the luscious potato dish. We also had a wonderful pigeon with cabbage and lardons and a potato cake with foie gras on top of some filo pastry. Thirdly was the very seasonal dish of scallops (the season runs from October to May and at this time of year, the scallops are meaty and flavorful) garnished with a creamy celery root with black truffles. Such elegant and fancy dishes in a restaurant where one doesn't have to take out a second mortgage to dine well is truly a wonderful treat.

After such a rich and lovely dinner, there was really no room for dessert but we did share the Moelleux au Chocolat, sorbet chocolat-passion which is one of my favorites. We were lucky that there was a 15-minute wait during which the moelleux was prepared. In that way, we could digest a bit and feel like eating dessert.

It was a sweet ending to an excellent dinner in a lovely atmosphere.

A few days later, we had to continue to celebrate, so went to my favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant: Amici Miei. Such a terrific place! Sarah wanted me to order for everyone as I had been there many times before, but I had to consult with my friends. Here is our wonderful menu: Bresaola Pizza with arugala, slivers of parmiggiano, mozzarella (delectable); insalata (salad) of arugala and grana cheese; a wonderful spaghetti al pesto with mozzarella di bufala, fresh tomato and basil; Linguine alle vongole; Culurgiones al scampi, asparagi et granchio (handmade ravioli from Sardinia stuffed with spinach and ricotta and garnished with large shrimp, asparagus and crabmeat).

Everything was perfect (as usual). We ordered a wonderful mid-priced Perdera Argiolas Moria di Sardegna (rosso). We are definitely eating sports so we decided to share the ultimate chocolate dessert: il tartufo which is chocolate gelato topped with a dark chocolate sauce.

Anyone who comes to Paris would be thrilled and lucky to eat in this restaurant. Need I say more?

Friday, 10 December 2010

Nobu at the Ritz

About one of the first fusion chefs: Matsuhisa Nobu.

Matsuhisa Nobu is a famous, creative Japanese chef who has made a name for himself all over the world. Opening his first restaurant in L.A., he went on to open others in NY, London, China and Japan and other locations. He studied in Peru and is one of the first chefs to create what we know as "fusion"--a style of cooking that melds the cuisines of two extremely different regions in the world--such as Peruvian with Japanese. He may have even invented the spicy tuna handroll as he often uses hot spices in his Japanese dishes.

The Ritz was hosting Nobu as a guest chef for two months and I had to go to re-experience the master once more. I had dined at his restaurant in New York and loved it. In fact, a Nobu opened in Paris for about 2 years (which I went to several times) but due to problems with management, it was forced to close. Nobu is less successful in Japan as the Japanese prefer pristine classical preparations of their cuisine. Not so in other countries. Of the two London Nobus, one has a Michelin star.

At the Ritz, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that the extensive menu did have the requisite "omakase"--chef's choice of his specialties to create a menu, or that guests could order à la carte.

I went for the omakase and was pleased to taste among the specialties that I remember so well. To start was a salmon tartare with caviar, and a small yamamomo (small mountain peach) as a garnish. It was a lovely dish. Next came very thinly sliced bass that had been quickly seared and served with olive and sesame oils. Nobu calls this preparation sushi new style as the fish is not completely raw and the dish has been modernized.

There was a wonderful sashimi salad with tuna, scallops and shizo leaf--a leaf which is very aromatic and pleasant to the taste. No Nobu menu can go without the famous signature black cod in miso which has been marinated in miso for 24 hours, lightly grilled and napped with some soy sauce. The fish is extremely flavorful and moist.

The main course was Wagyu beef in a balsamic teriyaki--both sweet and tart. The beef was lightly seared and served with a variety of fresh vegetables: an excellent preparation.

After that came a wonderful sushi selection and miso soup. I also ordered off the omakase menu a spicy tuna handroll which, as I said, I believe Nobu invented.

To go with the meal, I chose a Chablis as the prices for the sakes were extremely steep. It was a Domaine de Vauroux 2008 and at a reasonable price, went beautifully with the entire meal.

Dessert was light and wonderful: a Whisky Cappuccino served in a small demi tasse cup. Starting at the bottom were layers of crunchy speculoos, coffee mousse, vanilla ice cream and a whisky cream. It was light and flavorful and very creative. I have a feeling that the Ritz pastry chef conceived of this course.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010


A wonderful bistrot hidden in the Odeon area

On a sidestreet right near the Place de L'Odéon is a lovely bistrot, L'Epigramme. A popular place with few tables, it is a good idea to reserve. The dishes are beautifully composed and have modern touches. I went there with my friend, Noriko, and she was pleased as well.

I started with a cappuccino of potiron aux crevettes--a thick pumpkin soup with a healthy portion of nicely grilled shrimps in the middle, garnished with a lovely purple pansy. We both ordered the same main course: selle d'agneau à la lavande--a pink slice of lamb infused with lavendar and served with a sweet turnip and caramelized new potatoes. It was as good as it sounds. With the meal, I ordered a their Merlot by the glass and this married well with the dish.

For dessert, I had a wonderful, creamy panna cotta with fresh mango--an excellent way to finish such a lovely meal.

While I was at the restaurant, I thought of other people I would like to take there. It is truly a wonderful place: an authentic bistrot that French people like where the meals are not expensive and the atmosphere warm and welcoming.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Passage 53: a Japanese-French star

A new one-star French restaurant entirely run by Japanese

A friend of mine told me of a new one-star restaurant run by Japanese people. It is called Passage 53 and is just two years old. Since the Japanese are very creative and interested in fine cooking, I couldn't wait to go.

This is another of the small places (22 seats) where there is no menu but a surprise tasting for everyone. There are both a French and a Japanese maitre d'hotel--both of whom are knowledgeable and helpful.

The meal consisted of a parade of small plates, each lovingly prepared and delicious. The first two seemed to be riffs on color. I started with an all-white dish: lightly grilled squid resting on a purée of cauliflower and topped with cauliflower shavings. The purée was made with a very flavorful olive oil and the dish (which sounds bland) was quite stunning. Next came the orange dish which was a sea urchin foam, a piece of sea urchin and a carrot flan: also wonderful.

After that, what came on the plates was more colorful and complex. There was a marlin with a variety of seasonal vegetables beautifully placed on the dish; an amazing sautéed foie gras with salty shellfish juice flavored with yuzu: such a strange combination that worked very well. After that came a baked Cévennes onion which had been taken apart and layered with spicy chorizo and then put back together. Superb! The meat dishes were a very tender roast veal and a wonderful poularde with lots of white truffles and a puree potatoes. This was spectacular!!

The dessert course should have been called "everything you dreamed of ordering but were too afraid to ask". There was a terrific lemon mousse with meringue and crunchy lemon caviar, a wonderful tiramisu, chestnut cake with banana ice cream, mont blanc, a clementine sorbet flavored with green tea and the best chocolate tart I have tasted in many years. I saved that to have with my coffee .

The wine list here is quite extensive but if you just want glasses of wine you can have a Meursault (an reknowned producer of Meursault) with the first courses and an excellet Vosne-Romanée from Arnoux-Lachaux.

Like Le Bigarrade and Sa Qua Na, this restaurant is not cheap but would be a wonderful place for a special occasion.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Two bistrots

Two unassuming Parisian bistrots where the food is terrific: La Marmotte and Le Baratin

A few weeks ago, my cousins Jenny and Andy came to Paris to celebrate their 25th anniversary. You'll have to speak to them about the palaces of gastronomy they visited, but this is a post about a small bistrot that Jenny took me to her last night in Paris. (She stayed an extra day.) It was not easy to find a place both good and open on a Sunday night, but I looked in my trusty "Pudlo" Guide and found a coup de coeur in the 6th arrondissment: La Marlotte, which is open 7 days a week. (Coup de coeur is a "love at first sight" designation that Pudlo awards to his favorite restaurants in each of the 20 districts of Paris.)

La Marlotte was not crowded on a rainy Sunday but those who were there, appeared to be enjoying themselves. We relaxed in our banquette and studied the menu which was quite appealing. Jenny and I always share everything. As this is oyster season, we decided to try a few as a pre-appetizer. We chose the Speciales Prat ar Coum and found that they were very salty. This is probably a characteristic of this particular type of oyster which are very much in demand.

For appetizers, we had a delicious lentil salad with shallots and a lovely bib lettuce salad with fresh, thinly sliced artichokes and parmesan cheese. The main courses were both excellent: roast cod with a delicious red pepper sauce and a wonderful duck with honey and spices. We each chose a side order: frites wrapped in newspaper and served cone-shaped in a glass, and a purée of fresh peas.

The wine that the server recommended was excellent and the least expensive on the menu. It was a Côtes du Rousillon and went well with both the duck and the fish.

The best part were the profiteroles au chocolat. You could tell that they had been freshly made perhaps a few hours before we ordered them. This is one of my favorite desserts and I know how to judge a great one. La Marlotte's version was flawless.

Le Baratin in the 20th arrondissement is a place that is very popular with French people and is a typical small neighborhood bistrot. However, what is special about this place is that the very creative chef is an Argentine woman. She works in a tiny kitchen in the back of the bar and from this little room great dishes emerge. The restaurant also showcases different wines and if you are not happy with your choice, they will be happy to bring you others to try.

I went there with my friend Gaby and we had a terrific meal. We shared a dish of veal brains that were served in a chive, garlic, butter sauce--perfect as a dipping sauce with the excellent crusty baguette. There were also ravioli filled with a spicy pigeon mixture. The ravioli were served floating in a flavorful bouillon with turnips as a garnish.

Gaby and I both opted for the duck dish: cooked in two ways with fresh ginger and crunchy cabbage. Although it was quite good, I preferred the duck I had at Le Marlotte which, in its sweet sauce, was made in a more traditional way. And the flavor of Le Baratin's ginger didn't come through in this preparation.

As we didn't want a whole bottle of wine, we were able to order from the list in a size made to our wishes. Instead of a full bottle of 75 cl, we had them open the bottle and serve us 50 cl and this is acceptable and done quite frequently. Our Chinon was full and fruity and went well with the duck.

I was very happy with end of my meal: a perfect smooth luxurious mousse au chocolat. When it comes right down to it, I so prefer delicious and simple desserts that are perfectly made than the many creative concoctions that are offered both in restaurants and in the best bakeries.

One of the best things about Le Baratin is the price. You can get a wonderful meal for about 50 euros with wine and coffee. With the chef's talent, notoriety and popularity, the owners could definitely move their restaurant into fancier and more attractive quarters, but they seem to enjoy what they do so well: running a simple neighborhood bistrot that is always full and always noisy with happy customers.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Three Days in Honfleur

Two wonderful restaurants recommended by the Michelin Guide in the charming town of Honfleur: Le Breard and Sa Qua Na

After reading an article in the New York Times travel section about Honfleur, and receiving a promotion for a cheap train fare, I could not help but make the necessary arrangements to go for a few days in November. I chose to stay in the wonderful La Maison de Lucie that the article mentioned. I always double check with the Guide Michelin, however, because where France is concerned, this is absolutely the best guidebook to use.

La Maison de Lucie is a small inn with stunning rooms and suites. Breakfast is served in one of a half-dozen sitting rooms, each one more charming than the last. At that season, a warm fire was burning in the fireplace day and night. The staff is friendly and helpful and they have a gorgeous and atmospheric hot tub/spa room that is a lovely place to pass a relaxing hour.

When I arrived at the Deauville train station, I waited at the bus station for the next bus to Honfleur. There, I had the most unbelievable experience: I ran into my friend from Tokyo, Kyoko!! I had last seen her in April when I was in her country. She had decided to come to France for a week, but it would make more sense for me to run into her in Paris or any place in Japan and not in a tiny town in Normandy. We took advantage of the small world experience and once we both arrived in Honfleur, met in a café for one of the strong apple drinks: either Pommeau or Calvados.

I have spoken about the Bib Gourmands in an earlier post (noteworthy restaurants where one can get excellent meals at reasonable prices), and chose one for my first meal: Le Bréard. There I had a wonderful meal for 48 euros without wine. Starting with the interesting huîtres pochées; bouillon de pomme glacée, algues et cèpes (poached oysters in a warm apple bouillon with cèpes and seaweed). I moved on to the excellent noix de St-Jacques nacrées, bouillon de châtaignes, potimarron aux cinq épices et citron vert (golden scallops in a chestnut broth with 5-spiced pumpkin and lime). This dish was generously garnished with chestnut pieces and was, in a word, spectacular.

For dessert, I could not resist the passion fruit soufflé served with a coconut biscuit and fresh fruit salad. At the bottom of the soufflé was another layer of soft biscuit that had been soaked in passion fruit liqueur making the dish quite bold and flavorful.

Not only was the food great, but the price was right. The chef, Fabrice Sébire, is one to watch.

For my second evening in Honfleur, I chose the new two-star restaurant, Sa Qua Na. This stands for santé, qualité, nature (health, quality, nature) but is also a play on the word sakana which means "fish" in Japanese. The youthful staff and the way the meal was presented reminded me of another favorite two-star restaurant in Paris: Le Bigarrade.

I chose the more copious menu and was served a parade of inventive and delicious dishes. Some of the standouts were the Pascade Aveyronnaise which is a sweet/savory pancake filled with chives and napped with truffle oil. It is from the Aveyron, the chef's native region. To continue with some of the high points: un daurade juste cuite, boulette de canard poêlé, romaine, semoule, jus moussé à l'huile d'olive. In other words, a lightly cooked piece of a firm white fish with a small ball of duck meat served with semolina, romaine, and an emulsion of olive oil. There was a wonderful poached salmon with sesame, fennel, clams and an oyster cream; a curly julienne of raw beef, celeri-rave, seaweed served as a pasta dish with a spicy seafood sauce; agneau de pré salé rôti, pâte de coing, jeunes poireaux; jus de persil (roast lamb with quince, young leeks, parsley jus). This winning dish consists of lamb that has been raised in the salt marshes of Brittany so that its meat is naturally salted because of the salty grasses the lambs graze on.

After an excellent assortment of cheeses, desserts continued in the same vein. I especially liked the succulent pear cake with beaten cream and caramel dribbled with walnut oil.

As the menu is long and complex, a nice touch is that they hand you a small printed copy so that you can follow along as you are served and as you taste.

On my last day, I explored Honfleur and also took the bus back to Deauville and Trouville--two beach towns that are separated by a bridge. Deauville is chic and fancy and Trouville is a blue collar town which I find more interesting. I wandered by the port and through the fish market and wished I could buy the shellfish I was admiring. To quench my desire, I sat down at the famous brasserie Les Vapeurs and ordered a sea food plate with langoustines, jumbo shrimp, periwinkles, whelks and clams: wonderful. A specialty is steamed mussels that they serve with whatever you like, but most people choose frites. It is a great place to watch the day go by while you are enjoying your meal.

Italian in New York

Stellar Italian Dining in NYC: Da Umberto, Marea, Motorino, Basta Pasta, Centolire

Coming from France, I don't want to have French food when I travel unless I am travelling in France! During this trip to NY, I reserved or asked friends to reserve in Italian restaurants, as the NY restaurants do extremely well in this department. I also went to Mario Batali and Lydia Bastianich's latest creation: Eataly--an enormous Italian food store which is full of restaurants as well.

My cousins, Larry and Boots took me to Da Umberto and we were pleasantly surprised. We had been there more than 20 years ago when it was full of tables with red-and-white checkered tablecloths and lots of noise. After the owner died, his son had the restaurant redesigned, making a quieter more dignified atmosphere. We had a pleasant evening dining on wonderful food and enjoying the conversation. I had a lovely and delicious pasta dish: cavatelli with wild mushrooms and marscapone, followed by a copious and flavorful fish soup (caciucco) of just-caught fish in a tomato broth. Larry and Boots shared a salad with thinly sliced fresh artichokes and followed this with a baked orata for two. For dessert we shared the wonderful ricotta cheese cake and a terrific tiramisu. With dinner, Larry ordered a 2006 Santa Cristina Chianti Classico Superiore of the Antinori family. Although we were having fish and this is a red wine, it married quite well with the wonderful meal.

A few days later, I went out with my foodie friend/cousin, Jenny, to Marea--a reknowned and much-appreciated restaurant. In fact, I had read a review of the place earlier that morning in which the critic highly recommended throwing pocketbook caution to the wind and going there. True to its reputation, we had a spectacular lunch. Some of the outstanding dishes were granchio: lump jumbo crab with figs, duck prosciutto and white cheese in a salad; a mixture of slow-cooked calamari with lobster and shrimp in a tomato sauce; roasted sea scallops with grilled peach garnished with tomatoes and eggplant; and a wonderful semolina spaghetti tossed in crab and sea urchin. I just love sea urchin when it becomes a sauce on spaghetti. Jenny and I shared everything so that we could taste many of the very appealing dishes. For dessert, we had the rosemary panna cotta with figs, pignoli, and a wine reduction and an array of home-made sorbets. This was truly a memorable meal.

Marea's chef, Michael White, is not Italian but spent many years there and has opened a number of great Italian restaurants in NYC. I can't wait to go to another one the next time I am in NY.

High school friends met me outside of Union Square at Basta Pasta. It is an Italian restaurant owned and operated by Japanese people and is modelled after the original restaurant in Ebisu, Japan. Thank goodness that Mickey was there, as he pointed out that the specialty of the house is a parmigiano reggiano pasta dish with prosciutto. To make it, they take a huge parmigiano wheel and cut it in half, then scoop out the inside of the wheel to make a large cavity. Next, they chip away at the cheese. The warm tagliatelle are then tossed inside the wheel and the warmth of the pasta melts some of the cheese so that it clings to the tagliatelle. The pasta is then served garnished with velvety prosciutto. This is a spectacular dish. There are also other wonderful pasta dishes on the menu, and so as to take advantage of the best of all worlds, I had a 1/2 portion of two. My second pasta dish was Linguine alla Pescatore with clams, mussels, sea scallops, shrimp and squid.

That sounds like enough, but I went on to order a roasted Canadian turbot with clams, parsley, snow peas and crab-infused foam. A magnificent dish. For dessert, we shared a melting dark chocolate cake called the Vulcano,
named after the Greek God.

The restaurant is very popular and noisy but it just started to serve lunch. I don't know if it would be any quieter at that time, but it sure is good!

My dear friend, Freda, took me to Centolire--the Upper West Side haven of Pino Luongo. This chef has owned and operated many successful Italian restaurants in Manhattan. We had a terrific meal, catching up and savoring the excellent cuisine. We shared interesting salads and a brilled branzino for two. I had a small portion of pasta after the salad: Rigatoni Buttera with sweet and hot sausage, peas and cream. I loved it.

Although Freda refrained, I could not resist choosing the tangerine soufflé. It was beautiful and perfectly cooked.

At lunch one day, I went to Eataly which is the new huge bright space for everything Italian including products and restaurants. It is the latest brainchild of Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich. You can buy anything Italian there (both imported cans and jars of food and fresh food). Inside the space are several restaurant areas including the pizza-pasta area, the roast vegetable area, the panini area and a fresh roasted meat sandwich area. There is also a "real" restaurant hidden away in a corner called Manzo. True to its name, it showcases beef dishes. The gelato and cappuccino bars should not be missed. This is a very large and fun place to go at lunch. Be prepared to wait on line if you want to snag a table.

Before I close, I just want to put in a plug for Motorino in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The pizza there is definitely spectacular and ties with Two Amys in Washington, D.C. Now that some of my favorite pizzerias in NY have gone by the wayside, I have to say that this one is my favorite and the best. Although it is in Brooklyn, it is an easy subway ride from Union Square on the L train.

Dining in Washington, D.C.

Several Great Restaurants in Washington, D.C.: Nora, Central Michel Richard, Two Amys, Zaytina and Jaleo

I spent ten glorious days in Washington, D.C., dining out with different friends and members of my family. The first evening I was there, I went to Zaytina which is a wonderful mezze bar (Mediterranean appetizers) with my friend, Ann, from college days. Unfortunately it was extremely noisy and hard to converse. That always puts a damper on my experience as you find that you can only appreciate the food and not your companion.

We did have some great "tapas" though: Havuc Koftesi which are wonderful carrot-apricot fritters; Octopus Santorini (marinated grilled octopus), Kotopoulo Youvetsi (a chicken, orzo, cheese and tomato dish), and a delicious dish of veal cheeks with preserved lemon. The food was fine but I would recommend this restaurant at lunch or with a very loud talker!

The same chef has a Spanish tapas restaurant on the other side of town called Jaleo. I had the traditional ajo blanco (chilled garlic-almond soup) this time it was garnished with fresh crab, a tortilla with potatoes and onions, and sautéed gambas (jumbo shrimp) in garlic. This was a delicious and very filling lunch.

My brother, David, took me and his companion, Kapri, to Nora. This restaurant is known for the fact that it uses organic, seasonal ingredients in its dishes. I started with a roasted chanterelle and creamy goat cheese tart which was garnished with a red pepper emulsion: sublime. Kapri had a red and gold beet salad which had feta cheese, orange and grapefruit segments, bitter greens and a pomegranate dressing. That was great too and very inventive. David also chose a salad. This one contained local baby lettuces, Medjool dates, almonds, gorgonzola, and a honey vinaigrette. The dinner was off to a running start.

As I adore corn and can really only get it in the USA, I had the salmon garnished with corn, herb pesto, and an oven dried tomato pea-tendril and radish salad. Kapri chose the wild Alaskan halibut with pepper piperade, heirloom tomatoes, green beans and roasted eggplant. David went for the succulent gnocchi with broccoli rabe and a variety of wild mushrooms swathed in a rosemary-almond pesto.

We shared a caramelized pear with Amaretto, served with a chocolate ganache and also the luscious pineapple upside down cake. With our dinner, we had a lovely South African chardonnay.

Another great place is Central Michel Richard. M. Richard is French and moved to D.C. from LA many years ago. He has a number of restaurants in the city, and this the newest edition to his "empire". It is billed as a place for wonderfully prepared comfort food. I went to Central with my cousins, Ben and Becca and we had a terrific time. Becca ordered a salad frisée with lardons and a poached egg followed by a beautiful scallop dish garnished with corn and wild mushrooms. She was not happy with her scallops. I had a flavorful yellow tomato gaspacho with lump crab meat and then enjoyed the short ribs with pappardelle and syrah sauce. Ben chose creamy burrata (a mozzarella) with tomatoes. For his main course, he chose the bucatini with meatballs. That was a true winner and definitely fits into the gourmet comfort food category. Desserts were the weakest course: Michel's chocolate bar (like a kit kat bar); apple pan dowdy with vanilla ice cream; chocolate lava cake à la mode. They were all too sweet and mediocre.

Saving the VERY BEST for last, I happily went to Two Amys twice: once alone, just for pizza, and once with my good friend, Howard. According to me and to other friends who have been there, Two Amys serves some of the best pizza in the states, perhaps in the world (!) and is matched by a favorite place of mine in NYC. Just by looking at the photo, you can see how luscious and beautiful the pizza is. At dinner time, TA serves a variety of Italian appetizers. We had suppli al telephono: rice balls filled with meat and cheese and then lightly fried golden; a beautiful and tasty shrimp and beet salad; sheep ricotta and heirloom tomato plate and pizza!! Unfortunately no room for dessert. The pizzas have thin crusts just thick enough to be chewy. For me the flavor of the tomato sauce (excellent) and a chewy crust are primordial. This is truly a wonderful place.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Le Bar à Huitres

My brother David surprised me with a morning call saying he was coming to Paris on business with a colleague. We decided meet for dinner and left it to me to find a fish restaurant near his hotel. I chose Le Bar à Huitres where I always buy oysters when I have guests.

When we hopped out of the cab in front of the restaurant, David's friend, Jon, could not hide his enthusiasm. He decided then and there that I had chosen the best restaurant for us. I reserved judgment until we actually ate the meal.

The restaurant has its own menu of Plateau de Fruits de Mer--assorted oysters and seafood on a dramatically presented platter, but I decided that we should choose for ourselves. The two men deferred to me, and I told the waiter that I would be ordering for the table. For our starter, we had three sorts of oysters: the flat belons which are redolent of the sea, the succulent speciales, which are my favorite as they are the most meaty, and the delicate fine de claires which have a green hue from the seaweed that grows among them. We also ordered a portion of wonderful pink prawns.

After that, we chose our main course and each came with its choice of garnish. Jon and I shared that magnificent fish, turbot which was simply grilled. With that we had sautéed potatoes and piperade--a Basque assortment of peppers of various colors enhanced with a bit of Espelette hot pepper. With David's wonderful lotte à la provençale came lovely French haricots verts.

Since fish is relatively light, we felt like sharing some of the tempting offerings on the dessert menu. For the table, we ordered a melting chocolate cake with dark chocolate ice cream and a wonderful sablé (buttery pastry) with fresh raspberries, whipped cream and spun sugar.

After the dinner, I could agree with Jon and say that I had chosen a great place.

Sunday, 26 September 2010


A spectacular gastronomic discovery of a new two-star restaurant.

My friend, Carol, came to visit me for five days from Boston. Although we have been friends since the age of 3-4, we crossed several hiatuses of not being in touch during our lives and this time, had not seen each other for 20 years. So it was a great reunion.

I had heard of a new restaurant, Bigarrade, that had received two Michelin stars in just two years. Of course, I wanted to go there and called as soon as I read about it. I had to ask them when they had free tables as there are only 20 seats in this jewel-box of a space. Luckily, one of the available dates fell when Carol was here.

The restaurant is very attractive and the staff casual and friendly. The tables are nicely spaced and one can view the activities in the kitchen, as it is in the same room. There is no menu but they do ask if there are things that you don't eat. Of course, I had called ahead about the cilantro issue.

One's only choice is between the 45 euro and the 65 euro menu--a bargain for a restaurant of this caliber. We chose the smaller menu for our lunch. I started the meal with a coupe de champagne from a small producer: Fleury Blanc de Blanc 2004. After a fresh fried anchovy amuse-bouche, we were served our first course. It knocked our socks off--simply a fried softshell crab. The French do not know about this species of shellfish and the man at the table next to us had never seen one. It was crunchy and delectable: to be eaten with your fingers.

After that came a parade of fish and seafood dishes prepared in very creative and delicious ways: squid with porcini mushrooms, green tomato and onion flowers; a succulent piece of rouget with black radish, red onion and seaweed; cabillaud (cod) with bacon attached to its topside, red Japanese shizo leaf and lime-infused oil. This was garnished with grilled spinach and salmon eggs.

With our meal, we opted for wines by the glass so that we both could choose. I had a lovely Anjou and later, a glass of Riesling which had a deep golden hue. Carol chose a Chenin Blanc.

After all the fish courses came a lovely plate of cheese: conté, fromage de chèvre with an orange confit and cumin seeds. This was wonderful.

Then came a trilogy of excellent desserts. Outstanding was the lemon cream with cauliflower. The cauliflower has a very mild taste and just adds some crunchiness to the dish. There was a small cup of pear juice with a peanut and mint in the cup; fabulous hazelnut ice cream garnished with tiny bits of sweet beet, raisins, caramelized hazelnut, and orange zests. Finally, they brought the ganache au chocolat with a small brownie garnished with a fresh raspberry and fromage blanc. I am not a fan of ultra-creative strange desserts but all of these played up the individual flavors of each part of the dish and were thoroughly enjoyable.

The restaurant is in a small space in the 17th arrondissement near metro Brochant. That is to say, it is not in the center of town. But like most Michelin 2-star restaurants, it is definitely worth the trip.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Le Bistrot du Paul Bert

A spectacular French meal with an old friend at one of my favorite neighborhood haunts.

On the day of the big strike, my old friend, Randy, and his wife Marilyn ventured to my neighborhood for a dinner date we had been planning for weeks. I had not seen Randy since 1969 but we picked up where we left off and spent a wonderful evening together. Randy asked me to choose a typically French bistrot for us. I knew that it would have to be within walking distance because there was no public transportation in Paris that night, but it was no problem to choose the marvelous Bistrot du Paul Bert which is just 20 minutes from my house.

At 8:30, the restaurant was filled with happy eaters. The atmosphere is very jovial and the service upbeat and fun. We eagerly checked out the chalkboard menu and ordered.

I started with the Feuilletée d'escargots "petits gris" aux champignons des bois and Marilyn and Randy chose the beefsteak tomato salad with red onions, red basil and Sicilian salt. Everyone was pleased with the appetizers.

For the main courses, Marilyn chose the Barbue de Guilvenec au beurre blanc et petits poireaux. (Guilvenec is on the coast of Brittany.) This is a firm white fish with a butter sauce, garnished with roasted leeks. I tried to say the same thing with my New York-style French accent, but the waitress heard me say the pavée de veau. When I thought about it, I thought that that dish sounded good, so I went for it. It was a wonderful thick slice of veal with a creamy sauce full of chanterelles, garnished with the inimitable French purée (unbeatable mashed potatoes as thick and silky as whipped cream). Randy ordered the most authentic French meal that one can in Paris: le steak-frites which this time was the excellent cut of beef known as entrecôte.

Desserts continued along the same excellent vein with the soufflé au chocolat being the stand-out: crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside and very very chocolatey. Marilyn and I were conservative in our choice of the pêches pochées au cerdon (a sparkling red wine).

The three-course menu at Bistrot du Paul Bert is a mere 32 euros but the wines are another story. The list, albeit extensive and excellent, tends towards the expensive wines. Randy asked me to choose and I found a reasonably priced Marsannay "En Montchevenoy" Charlopin Parizot 2007 from the Burgundy region.

What an excellent dinner and what a lovely evening we all spent together. We promised not to wait so long before the next time we get together!

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Rome: four days in the eternal city

A review of some of the best restaurants in and around Rome.

I spent four glorious days in Rome, and thanks to my culinary critic friend, had four excellent meals. My friends, Maureen and Franco, took me to some of the best and one night, Maureen made a wonderful meal for us.

The first evening, we went to Il Pagliaccio which has two Michelin stars. Although everything was delicious, it was a little too creative for me. For example, I chose a gnocchi dish that was presented in such a way as to mask the real taste of the gnocchi. They were stuffed with sea urchin and were crispy rather than the soft succulent gnocchi I know and love. For my main course, I had guinea hen which came as a cylindrical construction filled with corn, tamarillo and earl grey-flavored grapefruit. Franco ordered a truly wonderful wine for our meal: Le Vigne de Zamo, Il Re Fosco 2008 and that was marvelous. My dessert was fine: two "cigarettes" filled with warm melted chocolate garnishing a poached pear with lemon thyme.

Maureen and I had a girls' night out the second night on the Gianiculum Hill at Antico Arco. I had been to this creative trattoria before, and couldn't wait to return. It was wonderful. Everything was well-prepared and recognizable. I started with spaghetti coated in a spicy cacio (cheese) sauce that was absolutely delicious. The restaurant serves small portions of what your companion orders so that you can taste everything. Maureen's Fettucine al Farro (a grain) with porcini mushrooms and grated sausage was also excellent.

For my main course, I ordered a gallinella (a firm white fish) with asparagus in a light cream sauce. It was a winner.

Throwing caution to the winds, I ordered dessert: a very rich and wonderful tortino al cioccolato with rum ice cream. This was a warm chocolate cake with a soft interior and one of my favorite sweets. I love this restaurant and will happily return.

The next night, Maureen decided to make us a simple dinner at home: trofie al pesto and a wonderful insalata alla Caprese. Two beautiful and delicious dishes. Trofie are braided short pasta from the region around Parma. The dish includes potatoes and green beans. I first learned about it from an American vegetarian cookbook! The insalata was simply gorgeous.

On my last day, we took a drive to Fiumicino (that is the town where the airport sits). It is also a village on the Mediterranean with a lovely port. The main draw for us is the wonderful Ristorante Pascucci al Porticciolo.--a spectacular seafood restaurant. We all ordered the superb tasting menu.

After the stuzzichino (amuse-bouche) of raw marinated mackerel, we had the first course: crudo di mare: a panoply of raw fish including scampi, caviar, rouget and a tartare of swordfish. This was an elegant and tasty dish.

Next came the signature calamari fritti al composta di arancia e cipolla: fried calamari to dip in an onion-orange garnish. The calamari were tender and not at all greasy and the sauce introduced a tangy and sweet flavor to the dish. Wonderful!

Next was an beautiful pasta dish: Maltagliati di grano Saraceno alla paranzella con vongole zucchine e bottarga (see photo). This is a postage stamp-shaped grain pasta with clams, zucchini and a pressed fish egg concoction that was shaved on the plate. Maureen suggested we mix in the bottarga to get the full flavor of the sea. This was an interesting and savory dish.

The main course was Arrosto di mazzancelle con finocchi al limone polvare di zenzera et liquirizia: huge roasted scampi in the shell with fennel, pulverized lemon, ginger and anise (licorice). Such an elegant and flavorful dish. There were four large scampi garnished in a very creative and pleasing way.

We all chose the Fichi rossi caramellati in forno al rosmarino, sorbetti di fichi e marsala de Batoli for our final course. This is roasted caramelized red figs with rosemary, fig sorbet and Marsala wine. Franco thought that the dish would have been better with a sweet wine and I must agree. However, it was very good even with the spicy Marsala.

After such a big meal, we took a short walk along the port and then slowly made it back to Rome.

Monday, 30 August 2010


A truly memorable experience at a three-star restaurant which has been a temple of creative cuisine for many years.

For restaurants in France, the Guide Michelin is my bible. Every restaurant in it is one that the inspectors (who always dine in cognito) have approved. In other words, they refrain from listing a place that is not acceptable. The coveted stars ensure a restaurant's future and the Bib Gourmands are also tried and true indicators of places to seek out.

About a month before visiting Paris from Tokyo, my friend, Noriko contacts me so that we can make a plan to go to a grand restaurant--meaning one with stars and/or a great reputation. We have been to many together but today's experience was particularly memorable. It sparkled in the way I want a restaurant of this caliber to sparkle.

Alain Passard was the main chef for Alain Senderens for many years in the latter's restaurant L'Archestrate. Senderens had three stars for many many years and finally decided to move to bigger quarters. When this happened, Passard took over L'Archestrate, had it totally redesigned and opened it as Arpège. He was immediately rewarded stars, and 10-15 years ago, received his third.

Passard is an extremely creative and innovative chef and has developed a passion for vegetables. For our lunch at Arpège today, we chose the vegetable tasting that is representative of his art. Also on that menu is a choice of either fish (today's choice was poached lotte) or fowl (pigeon today). Noriko and I both chose the lotte but, in fact, when the restaurant began its parade of gâteries (treats) we were able to taste the pigeon as well.

The vegetable menu was fresh, original and delicious. During the meal, I remarked to Noriko that this really was a one-of-a-kind gastronomic experience. I never would have thought that vegetables could be so lovingly prepared and that new combinations of them could be so remarkable and so tasty.

With our aperitif came a bit of beet that had been roasted in a salt crust and served with a caviar of blackberries. The sweetness of the beet and the berries contrasted exquisitely with the salt. A simple mesclun salad came with a bit of sweet praline sauce and slivers of parmesan and that too made for a superb combination of salt, sweet and savory.

There was a wonderful green tomato gazpacho that had a scoop of celeri-rave/mustard ice cream: splendid. Light vegetable ravioli were each stuffed with something different and equally textured and wonderful. There was a gratin of red onions that was enhanced with lemon zest and black peppercorns. The onions became caramelized and so added a bit of sweetness whereas the pepper corns added savoriness and the lemon tartness.

Passard's signature vegetable dish was a medley of fresh vegetables (baby carrots, white asparagus, tiny grape tomatoes, cabbage, turnip, etc. etc.) each of which had been cooked separately and upon which was strewn semolina. The semolina added a bit of depth and consistency to what would have otherwise been a more pedestrian plate of vegetables. This dish was truly spectacular.

Passard has so much respect for vegetables and with his creative hand, transforms them so that they are definitely the stars of the show.

As time went on, we were regaled with other vegetable dishes that were not on our menu but were equally lovely. It seemed that we had gone to heaven!

For the main courses, we had both the lotte, which came in a light vin jaune cream sauce with smoked potatoes and crunchy fresh cabbage and the pigeon which was roasted in herbs and served with a smoked eggplant caviar. Although we didn't order both dishes, the staff wanted us to taste them both. And they were sublime.

We chose wisely when it came to the cheese cart as we were already quite full and had our dessert to anticipate. I had a three-year-old conté and a chèvre and tried something wonderful called the Tommette de Lorraine. The delicious bread also came with an irresistible butter that definitely held its own.

I don't know how to describe the three wonders that were our desserts. First was the tarte aux pommes "Bouquet" de roses with a caramel sauce made of salt butter. The "roses" that comprised the tart were basically apple ribbons that had been made into the shape of roses. The picture explains it better than I do. I thought that our meal was over, but then, one of the servers came out with a table to prepare our next dessert: the tomate confite aux 12 saveurs servie avec une glace mélisse.. This is a candied tomato in a very flavorful sauce served with a sublime herbal ice cream. The tomato is actually a ball of diced pieces of vegetables and tomato covered with the candied tomato skin.

Before our coffee, the server asked if we wanted to taste le millefeuille--an offer we could not refuse. This was layers of flakey pastry and in between the layers were plums and blackberries--no heavy crème patissière (the part of the millefeuille that I particularly don't like).

Noriko and I spent 3 1/2 memorable hours at our table tasting dish after dish of edible jewels. It truly was a luncheon I will never forget.

Le Bib Gourmand

A review of Le Troquet--a Basque restaurant in Paris that has the coveted Bib Gourmand in the Guide Michelin.

What exactly is Le Bib Gourmand? It is a notation much like the Michelin star that identifies a bistrot of outstanding quality where you will get a terrific meal at a reasonable price. I always look out for the little smiley Michelin man's head that is that symbol. I am rarely disappointed.

Eric took me to Le Troquet (a Bib Gourmand restaurant) in the 15th arrondissement to belatedly celebrate my birthday. Arriving on one of the first days after les grandes vacances (summer vacation), we were surprised to find a full and bustling restaurant at the early hour of 8:30. I thought to myself that many people had found the secret of this little hole in the wall and I was even more excited to check out the menu.

Le Troquet has a menu dégustation for 40 euros and a three course meal for 32 euros. Le menu dégustation consists of six small dishes representative of the chef's talents: 2 appetizers, a fish dish, a meat dish, cheese and dessert--all chosen from the à la carte menu. Everyone at the table must agree to choose this formula.

We decided to go for three courses and ordered many of the same things. First was a luscious dish of marinated salmon with red cabbage and fresh pistachios garnished with crème fraîche. Following this wonderful beginning, we each ordered a poached fish with sauce vierge--a sauce of capers and diced vegetables. Eric's dorade royale came with a purée of celeri rave (celery root) and my filet de bar was delicious without an accompaniment.

To end our wonderful meal, we each chose the panna cotta with a marmelade de pêches et d'abricots. This was a sensational ending to a perfect meal.

Many of the restaurant's offerings reflect the Basque roots of the chef. Charcuterie is well-represented as are regional aperitifs and wines and the delicious gateau Basque. What seems to be missing are the Basque peppers which you will find on every menu in the south.

We happily munched on our bit of Basque cake as we enjoyed our coffee at the end of the meal.

Once again, the Guide Michelin came through.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

La cuisine est mon violon d'Ingres

A visit to a Parisian classic, Le Violon d'Ingres, that has evolved over the years and proves itself again and again.

The story has it that the painter, Ingres was enthralled with the violin. So when French people talk about their hobby or passion, they say that it is their violin d'Ingres. Such a lovely way to characterize a rather mondaine concept. My passion is definitely cooking, food and restaurants and the chef, Christian Constant was thinking the same thing when he opened his restaurant, Le Violon d'Ingres on the rue St. Dominique.

I decided to take two friends who had just arrived from Japan to lunch at this lovely restaurant. Their luggage in the cloak room, we sat and ate and talked. Le Violon offers a 30-euro 3-course lunch during the week but if you don't like the choices, you will find many on the à la carte menu.

After our celebratory Taittinger coupes de champagne, we studied the menu and decided to go for the à la carte main course offerings and dessert if we had room.

Toshio chose the grilled Acquitaine beef that was garnished with a wonderful macaroni and cheese (gratin de macaronis). Yuko chose the grilled selle d'agneau with provençale vegetables and I had a wonderful open raviolo that was filled with Breton lobster, girolles and fevettes (chanterelles and fresh lima beans). Every dish was a winner.

With my dish, I wisely chose a glass of Chablis, but as my friends were completely jet-lagged, they decided to stick with their glass of champagne.

Desserts were wonderful but after a copious main course, we chose from the more light offerings. I had a pêche melba of pêches de vigne (do we have them in the US?) They are purpley-red peaches. This melba was served with a lovely violet ice cream. Toshio had some home made raspberry sorbet.

The service in this fine restaurant was excellent and our server was very helpful with my friends' luggage as well as making sure that they got into their taxi headed for their next next stop (La Gare du Nord for the train to Brussels).

Constant is an historic contemporary chef. Those he has trained have gone off to start a young chef revolution in Paris and he himself has two one-star restaurants and two excellent bistrots on the rue St. Dominique.
He has devoted his life to changing the face of French cuisine into a continually evolving phenomenon with an attention to fresh ingredients and low-cost preparations.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Something's Gotta Give

Lunch with a friend at a wonderful brasserie in the center of Paris

Do you remember the film with Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson: Something's Gotta Give? Diane raved about the restaurant, Le Grand Colbert, and after that it became a destination for America tourists. But it is French through and through.

As it was August, and very few good restaurants are open during that month, I thought it would be fun for me to go there with my friend, Noriko.

The restaurant is very proud of its notoriety since the film was released and they even show the entire film in the back hall. There is a review of the film at the entrance.

This is a beautiful authentic French brasserie with classically prepared dishes such as grilled salmon with tagliatelles, lamb chops with gratin dauphinois, grilled rognons with a sauce béarnaise. Light eaters can choose one of the copious salads.

Noriko had the Salade Le Grand Colbert with hard boiled eggs, anchovies, sun-dried tomatoes and thinly sliced parmesan. I had the avocado salad with shrimp and grapefruit. Both were excellent. Since we had room for dessert, I chose the baba au rhum with chantilly with its tiny pitcher of sweet rum syrup, and Noriko had a beautiful raspberry and blackberry tart. I think that this is a place to bring friends from other countries who want to take part in a truly French experience. The service is attentive and friendly and the price is right. The restaurant is truly a classic.