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.