Monday, 30 April 2012

Bar Le Passage: Alain Senderens

Gourmet Dining from a starred chef for a real bargain price

In the 48 years I have been visiting and then living in Paris, I am sure I have dined at Alain Senderens' restaurant at least 40 times. I am now friends with the director, M, Loic and on good terms with the chef, his wife and many on staff. I used to come at 11 am when the crew was setting up, and would have coffee with them while they had their lunch.

Perhaps ten years ago, M. Senderens decided that he wanted to make his restaurant more accessible to everyone and so turned in his 3 Michelin stars. The restaurant went through a total renovation in design and on the menu so that a meal there is now about 125 euros apiece, whereas it was in the 400 euros per person range. He also opened a bar upstairs where tapas was served until the early hours of the morning. Now that space, called Bar Le Passage serves a real lunch and dinner. Lunch is 36 euros and dinner is 39. So for very little money you can taste from an historic and many- starred French master of cuisine. The restaurant received 2 stars the first year they worked in the new way and have kept these stars since then.

I had never been to Bar Le Passage except for a drink several years ago when it was still a bar. I went to today with a friend and we had a delicious, copious lunch for the 36 euros. On the menu was a lovely crème de courgette for the amuse-bouche; an escabèche of lieu on a bed of potatoes; delicious caramelized, braised veal with vegetables and green asparagus; and a wonderful grilled pineapple served with walnut ice cream. There was so much to eat that I could not finish everything. At night, it is chef's choice after they have discerned your particular likes and dislikes and there is one more main course in addition to what is served at lunch.

Here are pictures of the amuse-bouche and the veal. I was so interested in the conversation and in eating the food, that I forgot to take my usual picture at each course.

My friend and I both thoroughly enjoyed the lunch as the service is very attentive, yet discrete and dignified. True to fashion, there are à la carte items as well as a short and well-selected wine list. M. Senderens is particularly interested in the pairings of wine and food and the staff is ready to counsel you should you wish to indulge.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Vegetarian Dining in Paris: Not easy to find...

The visit of a vegetarian friend spurs me to fine good veggie eating in Paris.

It's not an easy feat to find restaurants for vegetarians in Paris. A friend of mine was visiting and I set myself to the task to find a place where we would all be happy. I wanted something interesting, after all. My friend and her two adult children are not even fishatarians but google came through with a long list of places to research. I chose Godjo--an Ethiopian restaurant that many people had recommended to me. I had eaten at a wonderful Ethiopian restaurant in Nashville, so the thought of trying Godjo was pleasing to me too. Although they take reservations but don't honor them, and although we waited for about 45 minutes for a table, the evening was balmy so we didn't mind standing outside and chatting. This is what we had when we finally sat down and ordered. And it was great

The name of the dish is Ye Tsom--the house specialty for vegetarians. You can also get it with pork or chicken. It comes with a sampling of all the very flavorful vegetable dishes on the menu: eggplant, roasted red peppers, spinach, green beans, chick peas, fava beans, lentils, avocado, etc. Each vegetable is cooked soft and mixed with a variety of herbs and spices resulting in different interesting flavors. You eat this all with spongy bread that is not flavorful but has a wonderful soft texture. We all thought that for the price, the restaurant was well worth the wait. The quarters are cramped and there is an even smaller room downstairs. But there is always a line, and that means good eating.

Two weeks in Indonesia

Creating an authentic Balinese meal as orchestrated by a wonderful chef.

I had a lovely time in Indonesia and rather than write about restaurants, I would like to tell you about the new dishes I learned about and enjoyed.

The high point in the cuisine story was the wonderful cooking class I went to where we made 8 Balinese dishes and three or four sauces. It was at the home of Wayan and Puspa and is called Paon Cooking Class. (My travel agent knew about it. You can find them on the web and the class costs 35,000 rupiah or about $37 American dollars.) Not only was it a hands-on experience but the meal we had was a real feast.

Three of us started in the market in Ubud, Bali, where Maday took us around to show us some of the exotic fruits you now see in very gourmet shops in your town like rambutan or mangoustan. Maday is known at the market so there was not problem with her opening up some of these fruits for us so that we could taste them.

Next, we met the rest of the group at the rice fields, where Wayan showed us the rice plants and seeds and showed us how to husk them. It is a very tedious and long job and I wondered with him why rice isn't more expensive. I guess it is the story of cheap labor.

From then, we went to his home and met charming Puspa.

They spoke to us about some interesting Balinese customs, like the fact that everyone who is the first born has the same name (Wayan) and so on until number 4 (Ketuk). For a fifth child, the name is Wayan again. Of course, each person has a family name and a given name so although I met many Wayans and Madays (number 2), they do go by a different name within the family.

Then we set to work and everyone participated. Maday was there to oversee along with Puspa and one other family member. The large kitchen with dining areas was outside. There is a long workspace with counter and several burners. Opposite the opposite the modern area is the outdoor fireplace where Puspa made coconut oil. Puspa talked to us about all the ingredients and explained what we would be making.

Indonesian and Balinese Cuisine is very spicy and they use a lot of vegetables. I love Urab Urab which is a delicious cold vegetable salad with a spicy sauce often served as a side dish. There is the Indonesian curry, usually with chicken but also with tofu. They use tempeh (fermented tofu which comes in a cylinder) and either fry it up so it is crunchy and serve with a spicy sauce, or add it uncooked to gado gado, a famous dish with tofu, tempeh, vegetables in a delicious sauce. Tuna is also to be found on the menu quite often. Ours was steamed in banana leaf.

The class was great because Puspa rotated all of us into different jobs.

After several hours of work, we sat down to a fantastic meal. I have not yet mentioned the clear mushroom soup, chicken sate, and white and red (rarer) rice to accompany all the dishes. Puspa put chopped chile and served it in separate bowls for the people who wanted to up their spice quotient for this feast.

I went to many restaurants in Bali, Jogjakarta and Lombok and had variations on the same theme everyday. But I must say that the meal that was the most fun and most delicious was at Wayan and Puspa's home.

Singapore: Where Everyday there's a Food Festival in this Ultra Modern City

Three places in Singapore not to be missed for sumptuous cuisine and a fun experience.

I was excited to go to Singapore as I had read and heard that it is full of restaurants. Not only can you get cuisine from all over the world there, but there is also the flavorful Peranakan Cuisine, native to Singapore. I had my first meal at True Blue for this type of cooking. The lovely manager let me choose any table I wished as the place was not crowded at lunch. And then, since I knew nothing of this way of cooking, I asked him to choose for me. I started with a salad of Jantong Pisang (banana blossoms with cucumber) which was flavorful and crunchy. I loved those blossoms. Next came a spicy dish: Ayam Buah Keluak, chicken stewed and served with black nuts and rice. The black nuts look exactly how they sound. You are to scrape the outer tough skins and mix this paste with the rice for a flavorful combination. The chicken was extremely tender and the dish just delicious. With my meal, I had Logan tea which has a natural sweetness without sugar.
The Peranakan Cuisine was beautiful presented, delicious to the taste and a lot of fun as I had never had anything like these dishes before. I was so pleased that the concierge at my hotel recommended it to me.

The next evening, I took a taxi to one of the hawker centers that are a necessary stop for any visitor to Singapore. You can get a meal here for $3 (you even buy your napkin) or $25. I heard that pepper or curry crab are the best things to get but I was not in the mood to fight with crab shell covered with sauce that evening, so I trolled all the stands until I found some dishes that looked and sounded appealing. The hawker center is a large place full of food hawkers behind their stands. You can get all sorts of Asian food here besides the crab, and a particularly popular stop is the satay barbecue stand. It is very hot in the city and I wondered how the man behind that flaming barbecue withstood that intense heat all night. My delicious meal consisted of a dish with tender squid and crunchy celery--perfectly spiced to my taste. To go with that was a noodle dish with tofu. It was $4 Singapore dollars which is about $3.50 American.

The taxi driver overheard me talking in the taxi to my guide, who proclaimed my interest in food. The taxi driver then told us that the traffic jam was due to a big food festival being held right near my hotel. Chefs from all over the world came together to demonstrate their signature dishes. I went the next day and was surprised to find Alain Passard there with his specialty of poached egg with maple cream. Unfortunately, he was too busy to talk to me. At the festival was a store where you could find food from all over the world including La Vache Qui Rit! One man's junk food is another man's gourmet item.

My last night was a celebration. I had heard about this restaurant, Indochine, on Trip Advisor and I too give it high marks. There are several locations but I chose the one view at One Empress Palace. I had a table right next to the water and across from the Asian Civilizations Museum. What a meal! This is Thai food at its best. I was off to a great start with Tam Som Talé, a lovely papaya salad with dried shrimp. It was the best of these I have ever had--so flavorful and well balanced. My main courses were The Chefs Special Grilled Tiger Prawns with a spicy citrus sauce. This dish was almost too beautiful to eat.
Instead of plain rice, I ordered Mee (a yellow noodle) Khmer with chicken, tofu and vegetables. This was the best meal: excellent service and a beautiful setting, but it had a lot of competition. I am thinking of the next time I can take a pause in Singapore on the way to another Asian destination.