Saturday, 16 November 2013


I had the most fantastic time at the brand new Lazare. It has been open two months at the newly renovated Gare St. Lazare. The brains behind the operation is three-star chef Eric Frechon who is at the stoves of his restaurant at the very fancy Hotel Bristol.

The restaurant is not only beautiful but fun. I got a seat at the counter with many walkins and lots of singles and became friends with everyone around me, including the lovely server, Sandrine.

The specialité is the jambon-beurre that you can get in any boulangerie in the country. But not like this one. They must put grams and grams of fresh Normandy butter on the delicious baguette and then stuff it with lots of delicious jambon de Paris. The result is heavenly: rich and flavorful. At 7,50 euros, it will not break the bank and is fine for a filling lunch.

I wanted to have more of a feel for the workings of the kitchen.

The kitchen is open to view and there is a lot going on. I chose a wonderful salade d'haricots verts, coeurs d'artichaut, noisettes grillées, with a wonderful vinaigrette.

It was fabulous!! The vinaigrette was balanced and highlighted the other freshly-made ingredients. They served me another baguette with the salad which I hid in my bag for tomorrow's breakfast.

Another specialty was one of the desserts: the Paris-Deauville. It is a cross between a flan and a soufflé with a light caramel sauce. Excellent!!

I met a number of interesting people while I had my wonderful lunch. One man had a train to catch but at the Gare Montparnasse. He said he came early to Lazare because there is nothing good to eat at the other station!

Friday, 1 November 2013

Some good affordable restaurants in Paris

Le Pantruche is a place really off the beaten track which I found in the Guide Pudlo. Pudlowski is my favorite French restaurant critic because he is not shy about saying what he doesn't like and has been known to "award" broken plates to places that don't meet the muster.

Yumiko and I decided to try Le Pantruche one summer night. We were not disappointed. It is an inexpensive menu for delicious food and is not easily found by tourists.

We chose different dishes on the menu. First was crab in a shellfish bouillon with fresh almonds.

Yumiko had a carpaccio of black mullet (a white fish) with a light cream of salmon eggs and fennel.

Next came more fish dishes: Minute de bar, petits pois bouillon de coquillages (quickly seared bass with fresh peas and a shellfish bouillon).

And a Pavé de Lieu jaune au lard fumé, courgettes, seiche et encre (a more complex dish of a flavorful fish with smoked bacon, zucchini, squid and its ink).

Both were excellent. The fish tasted as if it had just jumped out of the sea. Everything was fresh and flavorful with carefully chosen ingredients.

After these rather light beginnings, we decided to splurge on the Soufflé Grand Marnier, caramel au beurre salé (Grand Marnier Soufflé garnished with the French favorite: fresh caramel from salted butter sauce).

This is a place to watch.

My friends, Rusty and Joel, rented an apartment in Paris for the month of October. They are both excellent cooks but rather than stay home every night, they went to restaurants at lunch and dinner, armed with their Guide Michelin. I joined them several times (served as an adviser as I know many places). Here is a sampling of what we discovered.

Le Villaret

This place is in my neighborhood. The food is very good but I think they use too much cream. The night we went, they had a Squid dish in Cream with Breton white beans and Chanterelles. The squid had been simmered in milk and melted in your mouth. I have never had such tender squid. But the dish was rich.

Steven (Joel's cousin) came along with us and that enabled us to try many of the dishes.

Two of the main courses were Scallops with Breton white beans, tomatoes and chorizo sausage and this was spectacular.

We also had Roast partridge with potatoes and roasted garlic that you could spread on the excellent country bread.

Joel and Rusty shared a Pot au Feu de Cochon which is a very French classic dish of boiled pork with potatoes and vegetables.

We followed up with desserts: Fraise-Basilic Façon Melba (Strawberries Melba with Basil Ice Cream) and Mousse au Fromage Blanc et Rhubarbe Compotée, sable Breton (Fresh white cheese with a compote of rhubarb and a Breton butter cookie).

Au Passage

Also in my neighborhood and a popular place. There is a line after 10 pm but we went at 8:30 (early by French standards). Au Passage has been open for a couple of years and is always hopping. At dinner they serve everything in tapas portions so we just chose whatever sounded good. A fine dinner.

We had my favorite huîtres speciales Roumegas(very meaty oysters from a small town in Brittany) no. 4 (indicating a small size), Belons no. 3, Huîtres Kys no. 2 (the largest of our choices); Terrine Maison (always a must in a place like this--the house terrine of pork and other meats); Burrata (high end mozzarella di bufala) with zatar (a Moroccan spice) and honey.

We continued with Raie with capers and tartar sauce; a very interesting cauliflower with treacle (Christmas sweet sauce from the UK),

and Pintade au Chou (guinea hen with cabbage). Everything was well prepared and delicious if casually served. They didn't allow us clean plates until we demanded them after being served the fish.

Here's a collage of the highlights


The original owner of this restaurant named it after the model number of his Peugot. I had been there many years ago, when he was still working. That evening, his son was the manager. He took good care of me, especially when I told him about my aversion (allergie) to cilantro (coriandre). The bad news for me is that every dish is prepared with it except a few appetizers. I decided that the sauces would mask the flavor of the cilantro and I would be happy. Luckily, for the things I chose, I was right.

The restaurant is very atmospheric and especially dark so there are not photos of this meal. It was delicious though, if you like cous cous dishes and tagines. We did and had a sampling of many. I was thrilled with my fresh yogurt and cucumber salad appetizer. Others chose a lentil soup with cilantro and shrimp in crunchy filo. The main courses were superb tajines and I loved my chicket tagine with pears and fresh almonds. Other choices were lamb with artichokes and peas as well as one with raisins, prunes and fresh almonds. We didn't spend much money for a wonderful meal in a very friendly environment.

Le Baratin

This place, in the Belleville area, is always a welcome surprise. The lone female chef is an Argentine woman who has mastered the art of complex, flavorful French cooking. I have written about it before but the lunch we enjoyed there deserves a replay.

That first day we went with Steven and so tried most of the dishes on the menu.

The 3-course meal is 19 euros which is the first bit of good news. The proof is in the menu. Starting with the house terrine,

we moved on to a delicious garbanzo bean soup with cumin

and a salad of judiones (large fava beans) with herbs.

Main courses were saucisson (thin sausage) with a smooth velvety mashed potatoes;


a fricassée of chicken with spices and vegetables,

and a slab of swordfish with mussels and cilantro. I actually ordered the latter but it was so aromatic with the cilantro that I was about to return it when Rusty happily offered to trade with me. I was very pleased with my chicken.

We had eaten enough but dessert was on the way. We had wonderful soft pudding of apples and almonds, pots de crème a la vanille (rich vanilla custard), and a portion of the cheese St. Nectaire

This was a wonderful end to a delicious meal.

I am looking forward to Rusty and Joel's next visit!

A fun place on the UWS

I had a little interlude in New York this fall--a trip to my mother's 94th birthday party. That was a great occasion and was held at a lovely French country restaurant where she celebrates her party every year.

A few days later, I contacted my foodie cousin Jenny and suggested lunch. As usual, she knows the new and excellent places to try and within a few hours we found ourselves waiting for a table at Red Farm.

I have no idea how to categorize this place except to say that it serves delicious and interesting food. Is it Asian, do they have Chinese buns? Are the salads examples of fusion cooking? And what of the main courses?

Jenny and I wisely chose four dishes from among the appetizer and salad plates. Each dish was beautiful prepared with fresh flavorful ingredients and presented in an interesting and appetizing way.

We loved the Diced Tuna with Crispy Noodles: cubes (raw) tuna on a bed of salad with crispy wide noodles, summer berries, salmon roe, greens and jicama,

The Shrimp and Snow Pea Leaf Dumplings:

Another set of dumplings, Crispy Duck and Crab Dumplings were presented in a very different way, sitting on the crab shells:

and finally, a very spicy and filling BBQ'd "Black Foot" Berkshire Pork Belly wiht Grilled Shishito Peppers.

The restaurant, Red Farm, has another location in the Village and that probably accounts for the tremendous popularity it is showing after just a few days. The place is pleasant with butcher block tables and a very plain decor. They do serve main courses, but we were too stuffed even to look at them!

Delicious pizza and other wonderful things to eat in Italy

I spent two weeks in Northern and Central Italy including Milano, Bellagio in the Lake Como area, Bologna and Rome. I will talk about some superb three-star restaurants that I was lucky enough to try. In the other towns, I had my fill of spectacular food in one star restaurants (Rome) and some excellent trattorias in Bologna. This review will concentrate on some casual and delicious, but serious food.

To start with, I had to go to Florida for pizza al taglio. My friend, Maureen, the brilliant food writer told me about it and I expected to have to traipse somewhere to find it in that large city. I was so fortunate to find that it was exactly a five-minute walk from my hotel and near to the Piazza Fiori di Campo. This meant that I could go there more than once, and it was so good that frankly, I felt cheated on the days when I couldn't make it there for lunch!!

Pizza can be dreadful in Rome with the cracker-like crust and fake tomato sauce that is prevalent. But pizza that is well made is very serious business. A simple viewing of the variety of the pizzas served is but a poor substitue for the delight one has when biting into the chewy, crunchy crust and superb toppings.

It is hard to spend more than 5 euros per person with drinks and I had to stop myself from going behind the counter and hugging the servers. I ate in on a stool and high round table, but most people take out. Florida is open all day but closed on Sunday. I will definitely choose the same hotel next time so that I can get there easily and as often as possible!

In Bologna, I was very happy with two trattorias that I discovered. I went to the first both for lunch and dinner. It is a famous little place called Drogheria della Rosa. Although the owner is not very attractive, he loves the ladies and usually discounts their meals! I learned this the easy way, by drumming up a conversation the first time I went. The next time, he sat with me at the end of my dinner and was horrified when he saw that I had paid the full amount. He said I was his guest, but of course, he couldn't be crass and give me my money back. Anyway, next time I will be slow on the uptake and take some time before I make a gesture to pay.

The restaurant's pride is its Tagliatelle Classiche with perfectly executed Bolognese sauce.

It is wonderful. This is what I had both at lunch and the second time I went, at dinner.

At dinner I followed the pasta dish with a superb grilled beef with rosemary, roasted potatoes, little green chiles (sometimes one can be hot) and baked tomatoes.

They are always handing out things to taste and this time the waitress went around with a large basket of new purple plums. This was followed by an excellent Torta al cioccolato, crema inglese.

It is a cute restaurant.

Bologna is a very serious eating town and I know I'll be back. I went to two other trattorias:

Diana, where I had an excellent example of lasagne verde,

and Antica Trattoria della Gigina. This is a great place. Before ordering, an assortment of antipasti including mortadella, fried vegetables, egg and potato frittata, and little puffs of cheese were placed before me. I then started with another classic of Emilia Romagna: Tortellini in Brodo

the perfect meat tortellini in a flavorful broth. On two separate visits I tried a rich appetizer of Gnocchi con Spinaci in Fonduta di Parmigiano e Tartuffo di Estate,

a dish of roasted Faraona (guinea hen) that had been boned and roasted, and roasted rabbit. The restaurant is a real find in that it is tradtional, inexpensive and excellent. It has a Michelin indication for impressive restaurants at low prices, the "Bib Gourmand". In France, those indications are most reliable but not in Italy (according to Maureen). Nevertheless, in Bologna, it is very hard to go wrong since the inhabitants and chefs are so proud of their foods and tradition.

ITALY!!!! Three star restaurants

I can't talk about my trip to Italy without talking about my trip to Osteria Francescana, recently named #3 on the San Pellegrino Best Restaurants of the World list (an important accolade but what does that really mean, and what or who is San Pellegrino if not sparkling water?). The restaurant also has three stars and that indicates fine dining that is well worth the trip. So off I hoped to go!

It is not easy to get a reservation for one of the 12 tables in the osteria, which is located in Modena. Such a feat requires persistence and exact timing, and I am very good at both. So off I went one morning by train from Bologna (an excellent and serious food city). I was excited.

Everything was a big surprise on the multi-course menu.

These dishes were, from top to bottom: a delicious pigeon dish with beets; a dessert called "a thousand layers of leaves" with sugar-coated greens, chocolate, strawberries, eggplant, pumpkin; and finally, "OOPS!! I dropped the lemon tart" which was, well, a spectacular spectacular lemon tart.

The menu, called il menu sensazioni, was a journey throughout the different regions of Italy. One of the starters was "think green":

a purée of fresh peas, broccoli, herbs and flowers and a parmesan cream.

There was also a risotto "where the river meets the sea" which was a delicious seafood rice dabbed with chlorophyll.

I enjoyed the wine pairings--approximately five different kinds of wine for the 12-course luncheon.

Osteria Francescana is a very pleasant and beautiful restaurant--not at all fancy--where the effort is aimed at pleasing the guest and creating a serene atmosphere in which to enjoy the dishes, which are works of art. The chef came to my table twice to commiserate about the sad state of affairs in Italy (post-Berlusconi) and to say that he and his friends wished to give something good back to the country. I believe he is doing a wonderful job.

Two days later, I was back on the train to go to Canneto sull-Olio. It is quite a trek from Bologna, requiring changing trains in Parma to end up in Piadena (which even the ticket saleswoman had never heard of) and from there, a private taxi to the restaurant: dal Pescatore.

The Santini family has been running this lovely classic restaurant for years. Everyone in the family takes part with the mother and her son in the kitchen, and the husband as director. The sommelier is another son and his wife is in charge of the diningroom. The menu has a photo of the whole family signed by each family member.

This is a seafood restaurant and is outstanding from start to finish. I chose the tasting menu and started with a wonderful lobster terrine with oscietra caviar,

followed by guinea-hen ravioli with porcini mushrooms in an eggplant and black summer truffle sauce.

Next followed potato gnocchi with a tender white fish (galinella) garnished with teeny cherry tomatoes.

The first of the main courses was ombrina, a flavorful thick filet of fish served with seasonal greens and flavorful Tuscan olive oil.

But I fell in love with the duck breast served with some velvety mashed potatoes and served with Mostarda, preserved fruits subtley flavored with sharp mustard. This was an astute combination.

Mostarda also came with the Gorgonzola and resulted in a beautiful pairing.

Look at dessert:

which was two "penguins" filled with a delicious fruit-thyme mousse in dark chocolate cups. Ice cream after a big meal, always feels like a light touch.

I left the wine choice to the sommelier and he did a beautiful job, presenting me with a variety of wines from Friuli and Tuscany.

dal Pescatore is a country restaurant in a small, remote town. Again, it has three Michelin stars and is definitely worth the trip. The lovely diningroom looks out on a verdant garden and inside, the diners bathe in the warmth of the family that loves its fine art.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Back in Paris: Abri, La Dame de Pic

My friend, Gaby, was planning to go out of town when she learned that her house sitter would not be coming. She contacted me in Provincetown and I offered to take over and care for her precious cat, Nera, since I would be back in Paris before Gaby left. Gaby usually likes to have someone live in the apartment while she is away and as I live downstairs, we decided that I would spend time daily with Nera and that would be fine for the two weeks of her absence.

Apparently, I did a good job and, and to thank me, Gaby invited me to a wonderful lunch at a tiny new restaurant called Abri. I'll start out by saying that I was extremely impressed and to my dismay, found that getting a dinner reservation there requires quite a lot of planning as it is a tiny pearl of a restaurant with about 9 tables.

The staff and chefs at Abri are Japanese and the food is French fusion. The menu is a surprise and there is no choice (although you do choose your main course). Before you are served they ask if you do not eat a particular food. With me it is always cilantro.

Different people in the restaurant are served different dishes. We started with a dish of squid rings, artichoke purée, and morel mushrooms which I love and which were in season. Next came gnocchi maison (home made) with a purée of white asparagus, grilled parmesan, and onion flowers.

We each chose a different main course so that we could taste each other's. There was lieu jaune (a delicate white fish) with a coconut milk emulsion, citronella and spring vegetables

and a juicy piece of roast lamb with broccoli rabe flowers and delicious rich potato purée.

We saw that they were serving both a dark chocolate and an apple dessert and requested one of each. They told us that that was not possible. I found that to be an annoying and senseless policy.

So we both got the apple dessert which I had requested. They called it a millefeuille de pomme à la glace vanille.

It was a wonderful end to a superb meal. Dinner is inexpensive and quite copious. I can't wait to go with a different special friend.

For my birthday, I always invite someone or some people to a great restaurant. I chose La Dame de Pic this time. Sophie Pic, the daughter of Jacques, fabled chef, was the first woman to get three stars for her Restaurant Pic in Valence. She continues to create her food there and also to run a cooking school. This year, she opened a nice place in central Paris and within months, was awarded one star.

The restaurant is quite large with different alcoves so you don't feel that you are part of a mass of people. They have a strange process of handing out perfumed papers and asking you which you like the best. One of the three aromas goes with one of the three menus suggested. Usually the aroma you choose as your favorite is also the menu you prefer. It almost worked that way for us, but I wanted to switch my first course and that was fine. Each of the three menus proposed is a five course dinner.

As our amuse-bouche, we had a lovely gaspacho de melon, mousse de chèvre frais, cafe Blue Mountain.

The name of my preferred menu was Agrumes Aromatiques (aromatic citrus fruits), and Gaby's was Terre Epicée (spiced land or soil). I chose my first course from Gaby's menu.

We started with Le Petit Pois which was served in a cold soup flavored with vanilla and bergamote (a citrus flavor).

I love fresh peas in season and this lovely cold soup was a marvel.

Next Gaby got the beautiful Oeuf Mollet (lightly baked egg) with tomatoes tricolors, chutney de tomate, café Blue Mountain, safran. Blue Mountain coffee seems to be a favorite condiment here.

I had the Rouget de Mediterranée, baies rose, citro kabosu (some type of lemon).

For our main courses: Gaby had the Pièce de Veau, lard de colonnata, safran, pissaladière avec une purée aromatisee . The veal is served with a bit of Italian ham, as well as a provençale tart of parsley and garlic.

I had La canette de la ferme de ciels, suprême fumé, navets, combava (an exotic vegetable).

We both loved our dishes and tasted each other's.

Desserts were Baba au Rhum (Gaby) (three tiny babas in a strawberry sauce) and Le Citron de Menton (a lovely lemon tart with Menton lemon). They were both delicious.

After dessert came the requisite mignardises of delicious tiny chocolate cakes and lemon tartelettes.

I really loved the food and enjoyed the service and the decor. I was puzzled by the introduction of the perfumed samples though. To me, it was a pretentious gimmick in the name of originality.