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.