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.

Marseille: Gastronomic Dining

Dining in three hallowed restaurants in Marseille with excellent experiences all around.

Three days in Marseille--what a pleasure. The most important dish to get is bouillabaisse and I chose the best of the best: Chez Michel des Calanques. (Les Calanques is one of the many neighborhoods of the city.) Although there is no outdoor dining, the room is airy and the view is of the sea. Michel agreed to prepare a bouillabaisse for one and I was completely thrilled with his rendition. The broth--redolent with tomato, orange and saffron was spectacular. This was not a fancy Parisien bouillabaisse with langoustines and gambas. Rather, Michel prepares a traditional bouillabaisse and the evening I was there, he used St. Pierre and Vive. With potatoes and home-made croutons spread with aioli, it made for a satisfying and filling repast: two servings of bouillon into which one can't help dipping the fish and potatoes which are served on a separate plate. I slurped and swallowed and was in 7th heaven. This was the best meal I had in the seaside town of Marseille.

The next day, I had a reservation at Le Petit Nice. Gerald Passedat obtained his third Michelin star here in 2008 and this was the reason for my trip. I reserved for lunch, and had my champagne aperitif with amuse-bouches on the terrace with a stunning view of the sea. Moving inside the restaurant for the serious dining, I was also privy to a spectacular view.

I chose the Menu Evolution, billed as light and featuring the best fish and seafood imaginable. For starters was the Sea Anemone in three different preparations: in a foam with caviar of Aquitaine, in a fritter simply fried and delicate, in its shell with a parsley coulis, a mussel and some clams. This was a lovely starter. Next was a wonderful line-caught bass with a lemon sauce, eggplant, fennel and a rice cake. This dish was also very light and flavorful. Passedat serves a raw fish dish in this menu--flavored with bergamote (citrus oil) and a yuzu vinaigrette and garnished with zucchini in tempura: very Asian and very delicious. This dish was garnished with a julienne of baby vegetables that were marinated in a lovely fresh tomato sauce.

La pièce de resistance was the lobster. It was prepared with vegetables and a mango salad alongside a granny smith purée. It was called Homard dans un Jus Mauve and that is the color of the light jus that embellished the preparation.

The desserts were very light: strawberries with a frozen cheese from Corsica, garnished with fraises des bois. This dish was pretty but disappointing--it had no soul.

I chose wines from the region for the meal and treated myself to a fancy glass of Puligny Montrachet Emile Sauzet 2005 to have with the lobster.

My first criticism of this meal was that it was ultra-light. Although I don't want to leave the dinner table feeling totally stuffed, I do want to experience the pleasure of the meal for several hours afterwards. In the case of Passedat, the meal was so light that I was ready to eat a pizza dinner a few hours later.

Most of all, when I go to a three star restaurant, I expect to have a truly spectacular meal. This was a good meal but nothing more than that. It didn't sparkle and shine for me. Nor did it make me want to return to try more of the chef's creations.

For my last evening in Marseille, I chose a 1-star restaurant down the street from Passedat's place: L'Epuisette. The menu looked extremely promising. I arrived at sunset and saw a stunning one from my seaside table. The apéritif was my favorite champagne: Billecart Salmon Rosé. This came with a lovely assortment of appetizers including a puff pastry of cod, a tempura of St. Pierre and a lovely fresh pea soup.

The real amuse-bouche (to put you in the mood for the meal) was a luscious crème brulée de foie gras. Although smooth and sensual, it was much too salty.

For my appetizer, I had a very inventive and beautiful saute of jumbo shrimp on a provençale pizza with tomatoes, zucchini and olives, and garnished with a purée of avocado. All of this was topped with a perfectly poached egg.

Rouget is the thing to get in Provence, so I steered away from my favorite turbot in favor of the rouget dish. The tiny fish were garnished with a flavorful mushroom risotto, slivers of parmesan and a reduction of morel mushrooms. The risotto was full of succulent cèpes. This was a spectacular dish.

Unfortunately, the maître d'hotel misunderstood my dessert order and the kitchen sent out something I didn't want. By that time in the evening, there was no more of the wonderful chocolate dessert I craved. As a result, I chose the sablé Breton with berries and a bit of chocolate garnished with berry sorbet. It was light and lovely but not what I had wanted. If this had happened in the states, the dessert would have been offered but here in France, the best I could do was with an "I am sorry" on the part of the maître d'hotel.

Despite that little disappointment, I had a very nice meal at this restaurant.

In fact, I liked every restaurant I went to in Marseille. It is a truly foodie town for fish lovers like me.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Searching for Pizza in Marseille

A fruitful search for pizza including an expensive taxi ride and the names of the best pizzerias in Marseille.

I had heard that Marseille pizza is on the top ten list of the greats so of course, I had to venture out to the best place. Everyone talked about Chez Vincent so I asked my taxi driver to take me there. It was quite a long ride from my hotel, and on the way, I discovered that we were talking about two different Chez Vincents. However, both his (the best in the city, he said) and mine (number one on the list in my guide book) were closed for the summer vacation. From there, I chose Chez Etienne, not far from the second Chez Vincent and in what is called the Five Avenues neighborhood. No luck there so we proceeded to Chez Sauveur.

On the way, I had a tour of many of the neighborhoods in Marseille. Although the city is organized into "arrondissements" or districts, the Marseillais refer to the different neighborhoods by name--such as Le Panier, Les Cinq Avenues, Le Vieux Port, Les Calanques, etc. I must say that the city itself is not very attractive but the views are spectacular.

We went to two more pizzerias (closed) and then close to the next one our combined lists, we ran into a big traffic jam. I was watching the counter mount up, so I told the driver I was ready to walk. He directed me to Chez Noel. After about 15 minutes, I began to lose hope, but when I turned a corner, there it was: open!!!!! The taxi ride had cost me 40 euros (about $55) for a very inexpensive meal.

Ordering the pizza was interesting. They had a menu of set ones and I chose the anchovy pizza--remaining true to the region. However, I had to order the mozzarella as well! The basic pizza comes with dough and tomato sauce and that's it. The pizza was as good as the best pizza I could get in Paris--that is not very terrific at all. The bill came to about 15 euros for pizza, wine and coffee. I thought of the experience as a private tour of the city ending with a pizza dinner.