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.

Searching for the Best Lobster Roll in Massachusetts and in Manhattan too

B and G Oyster, Boston, The Squealing Pig, Provincetown, and the Lobeter Place, Chelsea Market Manhattan

On a pouring Friday afternoon, I went off to B and G Oyster, Barbara Lynch's latest restaurant in Bay Village. Lobster is expensive now but this place is over the roof. I sat at the bar, had a nice glass of crisp white wine and actually had an appetizer of lovely fiddlehead ferns.

Since I was in an oyster house, I had to order oysters. They were extrememly fresh and flavorful: 2 Wellfleet Oysters (delicate and flavorful), 2 Naked Cowboys (meatier)

And the pièce de résistance and reason for my presence there: The Lobster Roll.

This was the most expensive lobster roll except for the one in Paris that I reported about last year (and a lot of that has to do with the exchange rate). The roll was not adequately toasted and buttered and it needed a bit more mayonnaise. The lobster, of course, was excellent. The fries too. I gave it a "B" for the weaknesses I cited.

The next day, in Provincetown, I went with a group to The Squealing Pig. This place looked like a plain diner and I was concerned about ordering anything there. The Bloody Mary's were the best and strongest I ever had, so already I felt I had started on the right foot. This wonderful lobster roll on a toasted and adequately buttered roll was deserving of an A-.

The best lobster roll I ever had was in the early '80's in a shack on Nahant's beach. At that time, we thought they were expensive at $8!

Several months later, I found myself in NYC and went to Chelsea Market where I remembered a lobster stand. The place is now a full-fledged stunning seafood shop and adjoining restaurant. You get the lobster roll at a take out counter and then search for a seat in the market. We were there for a late lunch so there were no seats but we sat on a high baseboard until a table cleared. This lobster roll was superb and as I remembered it. I give it a B+.

Since I am in NY quite a bit these days, I will make a point of coming to this place (at least until my next trip to Provincetown).

Around Boston: Sycamore, Blue Ginger, The Painted Burro

Sycamore is a brand new restaurant in Newton Centre recently opened by a young chef with a glowing reputation: David Punch. I met him when he ran Ten Tables in Cambridge. Even with reservations, we had a long wait but the food was sublime so we forgot our initial discomfort. I went there with Sophie, Mason and Diane and as a result, we were able to taste most of the spectacular menu.

Even a simple salad was garnished with goat cheese, hazelnuts, dried pears and champagne vinaigrette. But there was also a dish of asparagus, laughing bird shrimp (what is that?--probably a pretentious name for small shrimp), 5-minute egg, honshimeji (a Japanese type of) mushrooms, and nori (the seaweed which appears around makizushi).

For the main courses, we tried Pan Roasted Arctic Char with celery root, green peppercorns, and pea greens as well as Rabbit Two Ways: one way was bacon-wrapped and the other braised, garnished with nettle gnocchi and maitakes (another type of Japanese mushroom).

For the health fad nuts, we ordered some sides of vegetables: the obligatory kale sautée, and cauliflower roasted with raisins and pine nuts.

Dessert was thorough wonderment. There was a chocolat pot de crème, chantilly with caramelized banana and peanut brittle. I skipped the side section and went straight for the pot de crème. I gave in when I tasted that peanut brittle! We also tried and loved the warm-sugared beignets served with house-made milk jam. The beignets were excellent.

Sophie is a bit of a wine expert, having learned the art from her father, my good friend, Richard. She chose a nice wine for us, but of course, I was sorry it was a French one, since I come from France where French wines are what we have all the time. But it was very good and married well with the main courses: Baronfosse "les Blemnites" Côtes du Jura, 2007.

Blue Ginger in Wellesley was next on the itinerary. I wish it had been there when I went to that college. It was recommended to me by my old, dear friend, Carol, and we went there with her husband, Ed and with very old friends of mine, Susan and Eric.

This was the perfect place as I love Asian Fusion Cuisine. The chef, Ming Tasi, is well known from his food channel TV show: East Meets West. We shared several appetizers and chose our own main course.

The signature Foie Gras Shiitake Shumai in Sauternes Shallot Broth were gobbled up before I had a chance to take a photo! They were delicious. We also shared Crispy Fried Calamari with Thai Dipping Sauce--another winner.

For the mains, there was Sake-Miso Marinated Sablefish with a Vegetarian Soba Noodle Sushi;

Pan-Seared Scallops with Tamarind Sauce, Creamy Thai Barley Risotto and Sautéed Haricots Verts, Seared Duck Breast with Sweet Wasabi Sauce, Applewood Smoked Duck Leg, Wild Fried Rice and Shiso-Bartlett Pear Purée; And Korean-Marinated New Zealand Lamb Rack with Asian Mole, Yuca-Potato Cake and Chayote-Kale-Asian Pear sauté.

I was very happy with our Sauvignon Blanc from the Napa Valley.

A stunning chocolate cake was a fit end to a memorable meal.

The Painted Burro

This might be the best Mexican in already Mexican-crowded Davis Square, Somerville. It is certainly the newest and the noisiest with the longest list of Tequilas. I went there with Mark and Jesse. Mark and I shared Street Cart Chicken: a 1/2 roaster with achioto-citrus marinade, more of that kale (the latest of the ubiquitous vegetables), fried plantain, creamy poblano rice and tamarind butter. It was both beautiful and tasty. Jesse had already eaten so he "just" ordered Fundido: Oaxaca, Chihuahua and Jack cheeses served with corn tortillas and with black bean "refrito"--very rich indeed.

I was not a big fan of the churros with caramel-chocolate sauce but Jesse and Mark gobbled them up.