Saturday, 7 June 2014

Two Paris Winners: Le Comptoir and Albion

Paris is full of culinary surprises and that is what makes it such a popular tourist destination. A foodie friend of a friend contacted me early in May and I thought it would be great to meet at a favorite place of mine: Le Comptoir du Relais. Open several years by the noteworthy Yves Camdeborde (who began the bistrot revolution for affordable and delicious reasonably-priced restaurants) it has been operating with an enthusiastic crowd willing to stand on line to nab a table for several years.

I suggested to my new friend that we meet for a late lunch to avoid a long line. We met at 2, and were seated after 15 minutes. Seating is cramped and this adds to the fun and conviviality of the place.

Le Comptoir's lunch menu is rather diversified and you can spend within a large range for a full meal or for a sandwich, but all the prices are reasonable. Gan ordered a three course meal (being a foodie on vacation) whereas I just had one main course. There is a full wine list and you can also order by the glass.

I was most interested in Gan's choices, which were beautifully prepared and delicious.

This was a wonderful foie gras with spice bread crumbs worked into the silky liver: Foie gras de canard mi-cuit au pain d'épices.

He followed this with  Carré d'agneau rôti au thym, haricots Tarbais. In other words, rack of lamb rubbed with thyme and served with white beans from the SW of France. 

 Not to be outdone, I chose one of  my favorites. It was Thon rouge rôti "bleue" à la plancha, légumes de saison. This is a chic way of saying just grilled tuna served sushi rare with seasonal vegetables. This is a beautiful dish.

I loved the desserts here and often think of coming when everyone has left (at around 4) just for dessert. Gan chose a wonderful Crémeux au chocolat noir Guanaja, huile d'olive, fleur de sel. Another way of saying a superb chocolate mousse-like concoction.

Le Comptoir is open daily for lunch from 11:30am until everyone leaves and all day on Saturday and Sunday. In the evenings during the week, there is an excellent prix-fixe menu (very few choices) that changes daily. One must reserve 6 months in advance for a table inside or outside this small popular restaurant. It is at 9 Place de l'Odéon in the 6th arrondissement.


Albion is a noteworthy and relatively new find off the beaten track on a street that is becoming a foodie destination,  at 80, rue du Faubourg Poissonière in the 10th arrondissement. The chef is British and used to work at a reputatable fish restaurant, and the manager-sommelier is from New Zealand.

Right now, many expats are opening noteworthy French restaurants all over the city.
After reading about a number of these newcomers, Albion was the choice and it was an excellent one.

The room is large, modern and spacious, the service very efficient and friendly, and there is a wine shop at the entrance. Entrées range from 9-16 euros, mains are 24-26 and desserts are all 10. There is also a cheese plate for a little more. There is a full wine list and the Vins de la Semaine at lower prices.

If you don't understand French, the menu is hard to understand, mainly because the products are market-driven and the regions from where they come are noted, but everyone speaks English, of course.  I will delete the geographical areas which are named on the menu.

My friend, Gaby and I split two wonderful appetizers:

Thon blanc cru, concombre épineux, fruits rouges, crème aux herbes (raw white tuna, spiny cucumber, berries and an herb dressing); 

and a wonderful dish of ris de veau croustillants, mini navets, soude, pamplemousse blanc (crispy grilled sweetbreads--an offal which we love--, baby turnips, a succulent seaweed, and white grapefruit.

Main courses were also superb: Pluma iberica (Spanish pork), purée de betterave (sweet beet purée), chèvre, sésame noir (goat cheese and black sesame);

and my delicious Cabillaud (a firm white fish) with small shellfish, gnocchi, baby leeks and pecorino (a mild Italian cheese).

Desserts sounded so fabulous that we had to choose two and they were both sensational. Gaby especially loved her interesting lime cream tarte with celery sorbet and pieces of celery in the cream. It really was superb. I had a more classic chocolate cake with chocolate ganache.

The atmosphere is also fun. Although the tables are nicely spaced, you can enter into a conversation with your neighbor, should you so choose. We had a lively back and forth with the owner and manager of a famous wine bar in Paris.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Refined Japanese Dining Close to Home

My new friend, Danielle, told me about a Japanese restaurant in our neighborhood: Kushikatsu Bon. Never to turn down an opportunity to try a new restaurant, I suggested we try it. We met for lunch and were transported to another world when we entered this quiet beautiful pristine restaurant with a long counter and beautifully set places.

Like so many authentic Japanese restaurants, this one had impeccable, friendly service and served lovely food. Kushikatsu are brochettes that have been lightly breaded, fried and immediately served on a beautiful dish with a grate so that the brochette remains crisp. This style is from Osaka where the chef, Ito-san, came to Paris just 9 months ago. He was able to speak French rather well having just arrived, but we also spoke Japanese.

The 30 euro menu included salad, soup, rice mixed with fish and takenoko (bamboo shoots), and a small dish of Japanese pickles. Usually these dishes are served at the very end of the meal, but at lunch, everything is served all at once.

First we were shown the raw ingredients that would go into our kushikatsu.

Next came the various sauces including salt and pepper, lemon, soy sauce, a sweet and spicy mustard sauce and a vegetable sauce. The chef would tell us which brochette went with which particular sauce.

We were served our rice, salad and soup

There were seven kushikatsu including fresh shrimp from New Caledonia, chateaubriand, white asparagus with quail egg and grated turnip, goma tofu (a "tofu" of sesame paste) that the chef makes himself, green beans with a crispy rice coating, foie gras with eggplant and grated daikon. Each brochette came as a little mystery packet--looking about the same except for the shape and going with a different sauce. Biting into it revealed the treasure within.

The white asparagus with quail egg was especially ornate:

There were seven brochettes in all and we were given the choice of more if we wanted.

We were treated to green tea soba with baby Japanese mushrooms in a dashi-soy sauce.

Then came two desserts. The first a warm chocolate ganache fried and served over vanilla ice cream:

Break into it for the treasure:

For our second dessert, there was a choice among three. Danielle chose friend green tea ice cream and I chose yuzu sorbet. The third dessert was fried mochi with red bean paste wrapped in a sakura leaf. I was stuffed!!

Kushikatsu Bon serves a 60 euro dinner with different sorts of brochettes--12 in all. I would never make it! The restaurant is at 24 rue Jean Pierre Timbaud in the 11th arrondissement of Paris.

Authentic Peruvian Dining in Paris

After my trip to Peru, my friend, Adriana, did a search for Peruvian restaurants in Paris. I was surprised but she found 4. She also consulted a Peruvian friend about this and came up with a fifth. I got to choose where we went that evening and I asked Adriana to reserve at Mi Peru.

We arrived rather early and it looked like we would be dining in a rather empty restaurant but within 45 minutes, the place filled up almost completely. A very kind Peruvian woman served every table and she was only assisted by someone at the end of the evening.

The menu is quite extensive with all the classic Peruvian dishes and included authentic Peruvian corn as a garnish along with Inka Cola, and Chi Cha, a sweet beer that tastes like grape juice. The minute we arrived, we ordered the compulsory Pisco Sour (everyone in the room did) which I would give a fair grade. I could make better.

The entire restaurant also ordered the seafood ceviche.

This is not really an authentic Peruvian dish as the ceviche of Peru is usually just one white fish, for example, bass or sole. They don't serve shrimp and mussels and scallops and squid as they did at Mi Peru, but I didn't complain. One thing that is typically Peruvian is the size of the portion. After all, this was an appetizer and it was enough for dinner!!

When I was in Peru the dish I ordered next was not in season. It was Chupe de Camarones which is a thick soup with huge jumbo shrimps.

This was such a shame because the dish was delicious and perfect, but after that large portion of ceviche, I was unable to finish it.

I definitely want to return to Mi Peru and the next time I will get just the ceviche or just the Chupe but could never consume both!

Mi Peru is on rue Rondelet in the 12th arrondissement.

Dining in Lima, Peru

They say that Lima is a gastronomial capital and they are right!! I had fabulous meals there and also took a fun and delicious cooking class which included a market tour, learning to make ceviche and Pisco Sours, and then having a wonderful lunch with many classic Peruvian specialties.

Before I left for Peru, I tried to learn about specialties of the region and made a list of things that sounded great to me. I had the traditional dishes in cities other than Lima because Lima is where you find creative Peruvian dishes.

Here is some of the traditional fare:

This is Rocoto relleno, a specialty of Arequipa. It is a mild chili stuffed with meat, raisins, olives, hard boiled egg, and served with melted cheese then baked. The chili is very hot when raw but mild when cooked. This is an appetizer!

This is Causa which is a cold dish of mashed potatoes made into a nest and filled with various foods bound with mayonnaise.

Ceviche is the national dish and is made with various types of flat fish, served with cold sweet potato and Peruvian corn.

The raw fish is marinated in lime and expresses its fish juice. This becomes a milky liquid which is known as Tiger's Milk.

Of course, every evening, I had a Pisco Sour.

Lomo Saltado is a wonderful dish. It is stir-fried beef with vegetables but I had one made with alpaca meat. The alpaca is leaner than the beef and delicious. Mine was served with five different types of potatoes of all colors.

The restaurants in Lima where I dined were all wonderful. I had received many recommendations from Peruvian acquaintances and had also checked with guide books and Trip Advisor. Every person I spoke to or article I read topped the restaurant list with Astrid y Gaston. This is Gaston Acurio's restaurant and is number 14 on the San Pellegrino list of best restaurants in the world. Of course, I had to go!! Unfortunately, the restaurant was moving to a new location and undergoing a complete renovation when I was there. This means that I just have to go back.

I did go to others of Gaston Acurio's restaurants, most notably Chi Cha in Arequipa (which was wonderful) and La Mar in Lima. La Mar is a cebicheria, open only at lunch. It is very popular and if you arrive after 1, you will have to wait. I had the traditional ceviche of the day and causa along with a Pisco Sour and was in 7th heaven. They make several types of ceviche using different herbs. It is a very fun place to go.

One of the top restaurants I found in Trip Advisor was Mirasol. It is far from the main part of the city and was rather a long ride from my hotel by taxi. When I entered, I wasn't sure I was in the right place as the restaurant was rather strange-looking and at 9pm, no one was there. It was a huge room with a long bar and plain wooden tables here and there randomly placed all over the room. I quickly checked the Trip Advisor site and saw that, in fact, I was in the right place. I hesitated but sat down.

No one else was at the restaurant, but the service was also a bit strange. It took quite a long time for me to get my dishes. I started with Tequenos de Lomo Saltado:

I had not seen these before. They were pockets of fried corn dough with lomo saltado inside. The dish is served with a variety of sauces. It was thoroughly delicious. I love corn tacos for example. These were crisp, and warm. The beef was excellent. It was a wonderful dish.

Next I ordered something I had wanted to have for a long time and their version was excellent: arroz con mariscos

The rice was garnished with fresh peas, carrots, lime, sweet pepper and julienne of green pepper and amply studded with squid, shrimp and octopus. I couldn't get enough of it!

My last night in Lima, I saved for Maido. Lima has a large Japanese population and as a result, there are many superb Japanese restaurants--rather, fusion restaurants. They feature Japanese food using Peruvian products, herbs and spices. Nobu Matsuhisa of Nobu restaurant fame (superb restaurants in Southern California, London and New York) lived in Peru and brought Peruvian-Japanese cuisine to the US many years ago. I knew for sure that I would definitely go to one or two Japanese restaurants while I was in Lima, and I did precisely that both my first and last nights in Peru.

Maido was spectacular. I sat at the counter as I enjoy doing.

I started with sashimi:

Next came the maki--Peruvian style.

This sushi roll was treated with a flame to toast the outside quinoa coating. Quinoa is an ingredient liberally used in Peru.

Everything was fresh, beautifully prepared and spicy.

The most unusual dish was Atun Yukke. this was tune served in a bowl with yukke sauce, that is an egg yolk, the rocoto (spicy chili), and rice cracker. Mixing everything together in the bowl, all the ingredients form a delicious sauce.

For lunch the next day, I reverted to the classic Peruvian dishes, knowing full well that I would be back in Lima before long.

Monday, 13 January 2014

La Ménagerie de Verre--a well-kept secret in the 11th arrondissement

During an appointment with my physical therapist, she told me about a new place that is cheap and innovative and delicious. It is not a restaurant but a small café-like space in what is a Dance Center with performances and classes. They serve lunch there during the week only. It is very cheap!

I was game to try it and so went today. I was amazed at the beauty of the dishes and creativity coming from the kitchen--all for a very low price. The menu changes daily and they serve lunch until they run out of food.

There are two choices for each course. I chose the Velouté de Butternut au piment d'Espelette. This is a wonderful thick squash soup with a hint of spice. It was a perfect beginning on a cold day.

The main course was wonderful: Filet de Poulet au gratin de chou-fleur au conté. The chicken was prime white meat, delicately sautéed and served with a beautiful green salad and served with cauliflower that had been gratinéed with conté.

The other appetizer was a mackerel tartare. The vegetarian main course was a tatin d'oignons.

I was too full for dessert which was poire pochée au chocolat blanc et aux baies roses. There was another dessert of fondant au chocolat à la crème, noix, fruits.

For two courses and coffee, I paid 13 euros!!! This is the equivalent of about $16 for what I would consider a gourmet lunch. With dessert you would add another 3,50 euros.

The canteen is right near my house and I can't wait to go back. It is at 12 rue Lechevin in the 11th arrondissement of Paris.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Soufflés of all types

One of the very first restaurants I ever went to in Paris was Le Soufflé right near the Place de la Concorde.

It is a classic restaurant and although you can get all sorts of dishes, the specialty is of course, le soufflé. Since they are just a preparation of eggs and a meat, fish or cheese or a dessert flavoring, they are not very expensive.

A soufflé lunch consists of two soufflés, a salad and a glass of wine for just 27 euros!

I recently went back there, craving soufflé au fromage. I wasn't disappointed. It was cheesey and airy. I must say I prefer my soufflés a bit more creamy--that is, cooked just a little less so that center becomes like a sauce. But nevertheless, this rendition was very good.

The mixed green salad with a creamy vinaigrette was also fresh and well seasoned.

With the soufflé, I chose a Brouilly from the Val de la Loire. It was a perfect match.

Dessert was a rich chocolate soufflé with a chocolate sauce and crème chantilly. This was not only beautiful but delicious. Nevertheless, my only criticism is that I like my soufflés creamier.

This restaurant has been open for years and years and is a wonderful secret on a quiet street right in the center of a bustling historic area full of museums, shops and other restaurants. It rests on its firm reputation and is always full. The restaurant is on rue du Mont Thabor in the 1st arrondissement.

Pizza on the UWS: Numero 28

I discovered Numero 28 at its flagship restaurant in the Village, but the offshoots are all excellent. The one on Amsterdam and 92nd takes reservations, which is a great feature. I met my friends, Sophie and Mason there for my last dinner in NYC on this trip.

It is a simple meal but my favorite: pizza and red wine. What could be bad about it? Sophie and Mason chose the San Daniele which is a regular tomato and cheese pizza with prime prosciutto and arugala. It is delicious and one I will order the next time.

I got my usual D.O.C. which is the appelation of (in this case) pizza that includes the guidelines for the authentic Neapolitan pie. It has bufala mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes and fresh basil. It was excellent and authentic.

We all wanted some of the tartufo pizza which includes fresh mushrooms and truffle cream, so we ordered the 18" rendition. Spectacular!!

With our meal we had beers and glasses of Montepulciano di Abruzzo rosso.

I adore pizza and this place was excellent. It was great that we didn't have to stand on line for a table especially on a cold winter evening.

Another Successful Lunch at Red Farm, UWS, NYC

I met Chris for lunch before I was to fly back home to Paris. We chose Red Farm, which I wrote about last October. Once again, the lunch was stellar.

To start with, we had tiny Bass-Avocado tarts which were a special that day.

They were crispy, savory and creamy with the fresh avocado. A good way to start a lovely meal.

This was followed by a spectacular Salad of Cold Sesame Noodles and Chicken. The cooked and cooled noodles formed a 1/2 dome covering a wonderful mixture of succulent chicken, blueberries, avocado and a sampling of different fresh vegetables. Beautiful to look at and wonderful to eat.

La Pièce de Résistance was the Long Life Noodles with Lobster. This was fabulous, if not a bit messy. We were served a whole cut up lobster that had been roasted in a spicy sauce and served over delicious noodles. There were lobster crackers of course, but a lot of the work was with our hands. The food was succulent and delicious and we couldn't get enough of it. A spectacular dish.

With the meal, we each had a glass of Chardonnay Dry Creek "Foggy Oaks" 2011.

By then, I had had enough, but Chris is always up for trying a bit of dessert. I let him choose and was not disappointed with the Ginger Panna Cotta with Blueberry Sauce.

The service is efficient, youthful and very helpful. Everyone knows the menu well and can gear you to the best dishes. I love this place.

OUEST on the Upper West Side

When I was in NY in December, it snowed three times in just one week! Andy, Jenny and I had big plans to go to the Village for dinner at one of the best restaurants in the city, but with the snow on the ground and the cold, we didn't feel like venturing very far so we chose, instead, to go to Ouest. It is a really excellent restaurant on Broadway and 84 St.

After drinks, we ordered an excellent Sangiovese Amaranta Rosso Toscana 2011 and had that with our superb meal.

There was a Raviolo with pumpkin and brown sage butter; Warm Barley and Kale Salad with mushroom, bacon and feta; House smoked Duck Breast with crispy egg, bitter greens and Parmesan. This was followed by our main courses: Crispy Duck Breast, Pine Nut stuffing, onions, honey nut jus;

Rack of Lamb, and sautéed spinach.

And finally, Mahi Mahi, white bean purée, shaved trumpet mushrooms, sage brown butter.

With the Mahi Mahi, Andy chose a glass of Chardonnay Au Bon Climat Sta Barbara 2011.

This restaurant is a jewel among the many excellent restaurants in this part of the city.

We were stuffed but had to sample one of their beautiful desserts to be shared among three:

Dense Chocolate Cake (of course) with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream