Tag Archive | "dining"

La Mar Cebicheria Peruana: Peru Beside the Bay

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The spacious seaside patio at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana PHOTO Eric Laignel

The spacious seaside patio at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana PHOTO Eric Laignel

By Monique Burns

If you thought you couldn’t find a good Peruvian restaurant in our hemisphere, book a ticket to San Francisco and a table at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana.  The restaurant is at Pier 1 ½, at the south end of The Embarcadero, beyond the seaside attractions of Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. With a big high-ceilinged dining room, a lounge, and a large patio facing San Francisco Bay, you’ll feel as if you’ve dropped into the hacienda of a wealthy Peruvian acquaintance.  Even in laid-back San Francisco, this is one of the city’s most relaxing restaurants, whether you’re escaping lunchtime crowds at Fisherman’s Wharf or seeking a romantic bayside dinner.

Colorful cebiche at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana PHOTO Monique Burns

Colorful cebiche at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana PHOTO Monique Burns

Serving 240 guests in several dining areas, La Mar Cebicheria has a superb kitchen capable of flawlessly preparing large numbers of dishes from its extensive menu, and charming but business-like waiters who will see that you get your meal without delay.  Start with a cocktail, preferably made with pisco, the colorless grape-based liquor that’s the Peruvian national drink.  Traditional pisco cocktails include the pisco sour, made with lime, simple syrup and bitters, and topped with egg-white froth, and chilcano de pisco, made with ginger beer, lime juice and Angostura bitters.  A local favorite, pisco punch, with pineapple and lemon juice, was invented by San Francisco bartender Duncan Nicol in the 1850s.  You’ll also find updates of old standards like daiquiris, gimlets and margaritas, along with the increasingly popular Moscow Mule, made with vodka, lime juice and ginger beer.  Peruvian beers—Cusqueña or Cristal pale lager—are on the menu along with sangria, and red, white and sparkling wines.  My suave and impeccable server, Scott, suggested I pair my cebiche appetizer and fish-skewer main course with cocktails—a tart but creamy pisco sour, followed by a Bay Flower, ever so sweet with raspberries, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, vodka and, of course, pisco.

Cebiche—the Peruvian national dish and the restaurant’s namesake appetizer—is made from the freshest fish from the Pacific marinated to melt-in-your-mouth tenderness with leche de tigre, a citrusy marinade.  My Cebiche clásico was served with red onion, diced sweet potatoes, crunchy yellow corn kernels, habanero peppers, and choclo, large white Peruvian corn kernels.  You’ll find six other cebiches on the menu—including the intriguing Cebiche nikei, made with tuna, red onion, Japanese cucumber, daikon, avocado, and nori seaweed—and several more daily cebiche specials.   It’s no exaggeration to say that the cebiche here is every bit as good and, in some ways, more creative, than what I sampled in Peru.  It would almost be heresy not to try the excellent cebiche at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana.

If you’d rather have a hot appetizer, try one of the potato-based causas like causa limeña, Dungeness crab with avocado puree, quail egg, cherry tomatoes, ají amarillo chili-pepper sauce, creamy huancaina sauce and basil-cilantro oil atop a small dollop of whipped potatoes.  Another good bet: homemade empanadas, crisp-fried half-moons filled with beef, chicken or crimini mushrooms, and served with spicy dipping sauce.

A fish skewer entree at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana PHOTO Monique Burns

A fish skewer entree at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana PHOTO Monique Burns

Several different cebiches, or cebiche with empanadas, would make a delicious and filling lunch.  For an even more substantial main course, order one of the anticuchos. Traditional grilled skewers inspired by Peru’s street food, they include chicken, steak, yellowtail, octopus, and a mixed skewer of beef, chicken and yellowtail, served with spicy sauces.  Or have the more rarefied salmón ayacuchano, grilled salmon atop Okinawa purple potato and quinoa salad with watermelon relish and avocado salsa.  Also a good choice: lomo saltado, a traditional Peruvian stir-fry with beef tenderloin topped with a fried egg, served with fried potatoes and rice.  Vegetarians will enjoy quinoa chaufa, wok-fried quinoa with fresh vegetables, as well as imaginative salads using typical Peruvian ingredients like avocado, hearts of palm and quinoa.

Picarones, traditional pumpkin and sweet-potato donuts, at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana PHOTO Monique Burns

Picarones, traditional pumpkin and sweet-potato donuts, at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana PHOTO Monique Burns

Whatever you order at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana, it will arrive at your table well-prepared and artfully arranged, usually topped with a colorful fresh flower.

 

IF YOU GO

 

La Mar Cebicheria.  Pier 1 ½, The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94111; 415-397-8880; www.lamarsf.com

La Mar Cebicheria Peruana is open daily for lunch and dinner. Menus are similar for all meals.  Happy Hour is daily, 3-6 p.m.  Valet parking is available at Hornblower on Pier 3. You also can take the F train to a nearby stop or a BART train to The Embarcadero station. If arriving by sea, you can tie up your boat for three hours on the boat deck behind La Mar.  To come via boat taxi, contact Tideline Water Taxi at www.tidelinewatertaxi.com or 415-339-0196.

Monique Burns is a longtime travel writer and editor, and a European Correspondent for Jax Fax Magazine, a travel magazine for U.S. travel agents.  A former Travel & Leisure Senior Editor, she travels frequently to Europe, but can sometimes be found in far-flung locales like India and Asia.  After more than 30 years in the travel business, she still appreciates the world’s many cultural differences and can honestly say that she’s never met a place she didn’t like.

Monique Burns is a longtime travel writer and editor, and a European Correspondent for Jax Fax Magazine, a travel magazine for U.S. travel agents. A former Travel & Leisure Senior Editor, she travels frequently to Europe, but can sometimes be found in far-flung locales like India and Asia. After more than 30 years in the travel business, she still appreciates the world’s many cultural differences and can honestly say that she’s never met a place she didn’t like.

 

Restaurant ANZU: The Fun of Fusion Dining

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Restaurant ANZU at Hotel Nikko San Francisco

Restaurant ANZU at Hotel Nikko San Francisco

By Monique Burns

Like any great city, San Francisco has its fair share of fine-dining establishments.  A major port, the West Coast version of Ellis Island, it’s especially well-endowed in ethnic eateries. Beyond Asian offerings in Chinatown, Japantown and elsewhere, and ubiquitous Mexican fare, you’ll find top international tables like La Mar Cebicheria for Peruvian specialties, 1601 Bar & Kitchen for Sri Lankan fare, and Piperade, Chef Gerald Hirigoyen’s Basque outpost—to name only a few.

So, why would anyone choose to dine on ethnic cuisine in a hotel?   

The short answer is: They wouldn’t.  Unless, of course, it’s Restaurant ANZU in downtown’s Hotel Nikko San Francisco. (Read Monique Burns’ complete review of Hotel Nikko San Francisco here)  A superb restaurant in its own right, ANZU uses only the finest local products in its offerings, billed as California Cuisine inspired by Asia and other corners of the world.  From California and the West come free-range Petaluma chicken, lamb from Sonoma County and heavily marbled Japanese-style Kobe beef from Oregon-grown Wagyu cattle.  Herbs are plucked from Hotel Nikko’s own kitchen garden.  The only exception to the restaurant’s home-grown ethos is fish.  For ANZU chefs— especially its ultra finicky sushi chefs—nothing less will do than fish flown in daily from Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market, the world’s largest wholesale seafood market.

Prices at ANZU are remarkably moderate given the foodstuffs’ provenance, the care with which it’s prepared, and the swanky dining room, with its black walls, black chandeliers, and black-and-white tables and chairs, accented by an orchid-emblazoned carpet and hints of green.  You can sample both American and Japanese breakfast buffets for $24; à la carte dishes range from $10-$15.  At lunch, sandwiches cost $14-$16; the prix-fixe “Express Lunch,” with soup or starter, entrée and dessert, is only $18.95, and a complete à la carte lunch is roughly $30.  A full-course dinner, without drinks, costs about $50-$60.

ANZU is tailor-made for adventurous eaters, especially globe-trotters whose palates have grown accustomed to fine fare with foreign accents. But conservative diners will also find satisfying dishes.  At breakfast and weekend brunch, there’s a create-your-own omelet station, an extensive American buffet, with familiar selections like scrambled eggs, pancakes, applewood-smoked bacon, and bagels, and a Japanese buffet with miso soup, broiled salted salmon and Japanese fish cakes. Stay in your own comfort zone or mix-and-match dishes for a Japanese-American breakfast.

A perfectly constructed appetizer at Restaurant ANZU PHOTO Matthew Millman

A perfectly constructed appetizer at Restaurant ANZU PHOTO Matthew Millman

Wander into à la carte territory, and familiar breakfast dishes morph into remarkable palate-pleasing fusions like Anzu Eggs Benedict, with sushi rice cakes wrapped in Serrano ham and wasabi-infused Hollandaise sauce, and Fried Chicken Waffle with mustard greens, homemade pickled vegetables and aioli flavored with katsu, a Japanese soy sauce with applesauce, onions, tomato paste and carrots.  For the Healthy is a protein-and-vegetable-rich wake-up call of scrambled eggs, diced tofu, ginger and green onion, topped with peppery Thai sriracha sauce.

Expect similar creativity at lunch.  For starters, Cioppino, San Francisco’s signature seafood stew introduced by 19th-century Italian fishermen, gets an Asian update with tiger prawns, lemongrass and kaffir lime. Farallon Snow Crab Soba Noodle Salad combines Peruvian-inflected scallop ceviche with buckwheat noodles and wasabi vinaigrette.  Braised Pork Belly is served with pomegranate vinaigrette and plantains. The Anzu Burger, made with Wagyu beef, is topped with homemade Asian-style pickled vegetables, while the grilled Thai BBQ Chicken Sandwich arrives on an Italian-style focaccia bun.  Felicitous fusions continue with main dishes like Braised Prime Short Ribs with eringi mushrooms, celery-root puree and Brussels sprouts, and Herb de Provence Pappardelle with kale, maitake mushrooms, and manchego sheep’s cheese, originally from Spain’s La Mancha region.

Executive Chef Philippe Schiffeler, Restaurant ANZU, Hotel Nikko San Francisco

Executive Chef Philippe Schiffeler, Restaurant ANZU, Hotel Nikko San Francisco

Perusing the menu, you can’t help but think that some combinations sound like recipes for disaster. How could anyone marry such diverse ingredients and actually make those mixed marriages work?  Chalk it up to a combination of imagination tempered by experience and know-how.  Executive Chef Philippe Striffeler, also ANZU’s Food & Beverage Manager, trained under some of Europe’s top chefs, including Jean Troisgros who founded the Troisgros restaurant outside Roanne, France, and Roger Vergé of Le Moulin de Mougins on the Riviera.  In 2009, as American team captain at the 2009 Taipei World Culinary Cup, Striffeler won a Silver Medal.  With culinary chops like those, it’s no wonder Chef Striffeler has both a sure knowledge of classic technique and a deep understanding of various foodstuffs.

As for his familiarity with foreign cuisines, Swiss-born Striffeler has worked for or opened restaurants in Amsterdam, Hanoi and Osaka, and has traveled extensively through Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Striffeler, Executive Sous Chef Thuy Tran (who hails from Vietnam) and the rest of ANZU’s culinary dream team form a kind of miniature United Nations.   Their multicultural backgrounds, along with extensive training, give them an intuitive understanding of the world’s foods and a deft touch when combining them.

Dinner, of course, is the main event.  Unwind with one of the restaurant’s many craft cocktails, perhaps The Ichigo, with Ketel One vodka, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, Chartreuse and strawberries.  Or Sake 75, a concoction of gin, lemon juice and Hana Hou Hou Shu sparkling sake. Pair your cocktail with a starter from the restaurant’s Sushi and Raw Bar.  Besides excellent sushi and sashimi, there are specialty rolls, and appetizers like spicy salmon tartar on a rice cracker with pineapple, flying-fish roe and unagi sauce. If you’d prefer a hot appetizer, order The Rock, the restaurant’s dramatic signature dish.  Cook thin slices of beef fillet on a heated river rock, then dip them into any of three piquant sauces: spicy ketchup made from Korean chili paste, garlicky cilantro pesto, and honeyed wasabi mustard.

ushi Bar at Restaurant ANZU PHOTO Matthew Millman

Sushi Bar at Restaurant ANZU PHOTO Matthew Millman

Main courses will satisfy diners of all ilks.   Among meat dishes are lamb loin with purple cauliflower puree, roast chicken made with free-range organic chicken from Mary’s Chicken, a local supplier, and Duck Breast “Tagine” cooked in a Moroccan-style pyramidal clay pot with orange peel, kumquats, preserved plums, lemongrass, raisins and almonds.  Fish entrees include Misoyaki Black Cod with purple potato confit and ginger-truffle dashi sauce, and Macadamia Nut Crusted King Salmon with Balinese black rice, wasabi and beurre blanc.  Vegetarians will enjoy Forbidden Rice Pilaf, made with purple or black rice once served only to Japanese emperors, while vegans dig into the Clay Pot Tofu with red quinoa and spring vegetables.

With such highly flavored dishes, you might be tempted to drink your way through the craft-cocktail menu while dining.  But then you’d miss out on ANZU’s extensive list of wines, beers and sakes.  At last count, the restaurant had 25 sakes, including still and sparkling.  Try Eiko Fuji Ban Ryu, a versatile sake whose name translates to “Ten Thousand Ways.”  Kuro-Bin, or “Black Bottle,” has aromas of cashew nougat and jicama.  Yuki No Bosha, which means “Cabin in the Snow,” is redolent of peaches and strawberries.

Gastronomic geometry of  ANZU's Sashimi Bento Box PHOTO Matthew Millman

Gastronomic geometry of ANZU’s Sashimi Bento Box PHOTO Matthew Millman

You’ll also find at least two dozen wines from France, New Zealand and Argentina as well as Washington State and California Wine Country.  Beers run the gamut from Europe’s Heineken and Stella Artois to Japanese Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo.  For domestic brews, choose San Francisco Anchor’s Steam Draft or Lagunitas IPA Draft from nearby Petaluma.  The hotel’s private-label ANZU BRU pale ale, which debuted in 2014, has hints of kaffir lime and ginger.  It’s made by Working Man Brewing Company, a microbrewery in nearby Livermore, California.

By the time you get to dessert, you might be ready for something that sounds a little closer to home, like Valrhona Chocolate Bread Pudding, with triple espresso gelato and Bailey’s crème Anglaise, or The Fog, a dark chocolate cake with banana cream and butterscotch sauce.

But if your tastebuds are so stimulated by your gastronomic trip around the world that they’re inwardly daring the chefs to bring…it…on, choose Apple & Apricot Crisp with Sapporo beer-infused ice cream and vanilla Chantilly cream sauce.  Or White Chocolate Green Tea Cannoli with blueberry ganache, spun sugar, and a dash of fleur de sel, a traditional French sea salt now also produced off the Oregon coast.   Have sake or wine, or a cup of coffee or tea, perhaps a Numi Organic Tea like Jasmine or Moroccan Mint.

So endeth your evening at Hotel Nikko San Francisco.  Or maybe not.  One benefit to dining in a full-service luxury hotel is that, afterward, you can enjoy a nightcap in the hotel bar and maybe some entertainment. Take your last bite at ANZU, then take in the show downstairs at Feinstein’s at the Nikko, the hotel’s posh little nightclub showcasing America’s top soul, jazz, rhythm-and-blues and Broadway acts, and serving light fare from ANZU and a full drink menu.   After the Friday or Saturday-night show, repair to the Kanpai Lounge next-door for “Sake & Sound,” an evening of drink specials and DJ music.   Who said dining in a hotel wasn’t fun?

IF YOU GO  

Restaurant ANZU.  Hotel Nikko San Francisco, 222 Mason St., San Francisco, CA 94102; 415-394-1100; www.restaurantanzu.com.  For tickets to Feinstein’s at the Nikko, call toll-free 855-636-4556 or 855-MF-NIKKO, or log on to www.feinsteinssf.com.

 

 

Monique Burns is a longtime travel writer and editor, and a European Correspondent for Jax Fax Magazine, a travel magazine for U.S. travel agents.  A former Travel & Leisure Senior Editor, she travels frequently to Europe, but can sometimes be found in far-flung locales like India and Asia.  After more than 30 years in the travel business, she still appreciates the world’s many cultural differences and can honestly say that she’s never met a place she didn’t like.

Monique Burns is a longtime travel writer and editor, and a European Correspondent for Jax Fax Magazine, a travel magazine for U.S. travel agents. A former Travel & Leisure Senior Editor, she travels frequently to Europe, but can sometimes be found in far-flung locales like India and Asia. After more than 30 years in the travel business, she still appreciates the world’s many cultural differences and can honestly say that she’s never met a place she didn’t like.

Letter from Paris: Benoit

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Benoit. Credit C.-Sarramon

Benoit. Credit C.-Sarramon

By Alexander Lobrano

Paris without Benoit, a wonderful old bistro on the edge of the Marais that’s been in business since 1912, would be almost as unimaginable to me as Paris without the Eiffel Tower. Why? Though I’ve occasionally had a bone or two to pick with Benoit through the years, it remains an august monument to the eternal goodness of Parisian bistro cooking. And that’s why today I’m grateful to Alain Ducasse for taking it over in 2005. I was a bit skeptical at the time–after all, what could Ducasse bring to a bistro register as brilliant as the one perpetuated by the Petit family for 93 years? Not much, as it turned out, but in his quiet role as a restaurant curator and collector, he saved this place.

Without Ducasse, Benoit might have suffered the same ignominious fate as Le Grizzli, a once charming old-fashioned Auvergnat bistro across the street where I used to love the fricot de veau (veal stew with wild mushrooms) that’s now become an insipid could-be-just-about-anywhere  type of table–I mean, does anyone really come to Paris to eat skewered chicken with sate sauce?

My most recent meal at Benoit was born of a heart-felt desire to lift the spirits of a much-loved friend, a longtime American resident of Paris like me, who’s going through a very hard time. Aside from daily phone calls, I was trying to think of what I could do to cheer her up, to distract her, and then it occurred to me that a really good meal with some great wines would be perfect. So I invited her to join me at Benoit.

On the way to dinner, it was a soft Paris night in May when the air was scented by chestnut flowers, a distinct but soft and fleetingly floral moment in the city’s annual calendar that never lasts more than a few days, and I thought of the first time I went to dinner at Benoit, with Ken, a handsome guy from the corn-belt in Ohio who used to work for the same company I did. He liked to eat as much as I do, and we drank a what-the-hell expensive bottle of Cote Rotie with our meal, which wasn’t a long-planned event, but rather an off-the-cuff let’s-go-out-to-dinner feast before obligatory reservations strangled such spontaneous pleasures. Yes, there really was a time in Paris where you could walk in the door of a very good restaurant in Paris and get a table. What a shame it is that meal planning has become as strategic, intricate and carefully plotted as D-Day.

Asparagus with a truffled mousseline sauce. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

Asparagus with a truffled mousseline sauce. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

What was racketing around in my head on the way to dinner was my recurring exasperation with several of the most exhausted cliches of contemporary food writing, to wit, women love salad and fish, while men want meat and more meat, and younger people don’t want traditional French bistro food like older ones do but would rather have pizza, sushi and cheeseburgers. None of these ideas are true, actually, but their persistent existence throws any discussion about good food in Paris way off course. Many of the women I know and love are even more enthusiastic eaters of offal and big bloody steaks than I am, and a good number of my youngest friends crave blanquette de veau and coq au vin even more than I do.  So do you care to guess which one of us ordered the asparagus with a truffled mousseline sauce?

Well, we both did, but that was after we’d shared an order of Langue de Lucullus, a speciality of Valenciennes in northern France comprised of fine layers of smoked tongue interleaved with pork-liver pate; it’s a dish I never eat without thinking of Bruno’s lovely mother, who now insists I call her “Maman,” because I’m her ‘American son,’ since she was the one who introduced it to me. It’s sturdy old-fashioned French food, and as much as I love it it always induces an apprehension that I might soon be a worthy model for Rodin, the sculptor of large solid people, if he were still alive.

Boeuf Wellington. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

Boeuf Wellington. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

There were ever so many tempting things on the menu at Benoit the other night, but what caught my eye, oddly, was Boeuf Wellington, that ur American suburban dinner-party show-off recipe from the Seventies, which consists of a filet of beef anointed with a sauce Perigueux (foie gras and truffles) wrapped in pastry. I hadn’t eaten Beef Wellington in beyond the nets of recent memory, but since it’s served here for two (until the end of May 2015, as part of a tiny collection of wonderfully retro recipes) I had to be sure my friend was onboard as well.

She was, so we did, and it was wonderful, because the beef wasn’t the insipid filet most often found in the same preparation in North America, where tenderness is the ultimate and rather sorry measure of good meat, but juicy mineral-rich French beef with a pleasantly chewy grain. And as I ate it, I thought of the long butterfly-print culotte halter dress that my mother wore with tangerine sandals when she wanted to buck back against a world of make-up-free suburban women in wrap skirts with the same bob haircuts they’d had since they were twelve. Mind you, my mother was all scorn (and still is) when it comes to anything that might be construed as feminine wiles, but she still occasionally felt the need or desire for a little bit of glamour, a timeout from the spaded femininity of American suburbs in the Northeast in the sixties and seventies, and it’s true I’ve never ever known a man who looked at a metal duck-head belt buckle, one of the embarrassing emblems of female preppy privilege, and gone wild with desire.

So certain dishes become repositories of memory in all cities, all countries and all cultures. And this was why it was so poignant to eat Beef Wellington at Benoit–it fused France and America in a gentle subconscious soup of happy memory for two gastronomically exigent American expatriates (and I’d still insist that I’m not an expatriate, but rather an American whose curiosity led him to chose a life abroad). Mind you, the impulse could have gone very wrong if the dish hadn’t been so beautifully prepared–and this is Benoit’s glory, it’s Vieille France glorified by exquisite modern cooking methods and the exalted sourcing of the best Gallic produce.

Mind you, it’s expensive, and the service is still organised according to an unspoken and not always accurate table plan of snobbery that these days is probably snubbing some of the most interesting people in the room. To wit, people who still dress up get seats in the prized corral in the heart of the restaurant, those who are deemed runners up sit up front in the area adjacent to the bar, and everyone else is sent to the backroom, a dull dining room that was one of my bones to pick with Ducasse when he took this place over. The decision was all business, and it blunted the restaurant’s charm.

Poule-au-pot sur assiette. Credit Pierre Monetta.

Poule au pot sur assiette. Credit Pierre Monetta.

Benoit is still the kind of place, though, where you might have a gracious and unexpected surprise during dinner. The beautiful woman from Manila sitting next to us with her American husband insisted we try some of her luscious poule au pot, because she couldn’t finish it but must have been sporadically listening to our frenetic chatter about good French food, and when asked, the waiter didn’t blanche. After barely being able to finish the beef Wellington, it was stretch to eat anything more, but this bird was beautiful and the pool of bouillon it rested in was rich, restorative and earthy.

And then we finished up with an exquisitely made strawberry Charlotte, and a flirtatious little plate of chocolate-sauced napped profiteroles, which came to the table because the waiter liked us and wanted to please and provoke in equal measure. Our whole meal tasted of the food which made us decide to live our lives in Paris a longtime ago, but it was also fresher and more vivid than any of those remembered dishes of yore. This is where Ducasse, and acting chef Fabienne Eymard, have so admirably succeed, since there’s a very good possibility that the bistro cooking served here is even better today than it was when the Petits owned it. Memory is slippery by definition, but taste very rarely lies, because it’s so primal: Benoit is still a very good bistro.

Benoit. Credit Pierre Monetta.

Benoit. Credit Pierre Monetta.

20 rue Saint Martin, 4th Arrondissement, Paris, Tel. (33) 01-58-00-22-05. Metro: Chatelet or Hotel de Ville. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Lunch menu 39 Euros, Average a la carte dinner 85 Euros. www.benoit-paris.com

aleclobranohungryfe4e99_2 2Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He has written about food and travel for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Saveur, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 109 Best Restaurants (Random House), which was published in a second edition in 2014, and is a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014. Visit his website, www.alexanderlobrano.com  (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

 

Le District: Paris on the Hudson

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Le District, in lower Manhattan.

Le District, in lower Manhattan.

By Beverly Stephen

Photos courtesy of Le District

After a solemn and sobering visit to the 9/11 Memorial Museum in lower Manhattan, a snack could be in order.  What could be more restorative than steak frites and a glass of hearty red?

ld9So why not go to France? Or at least a French market by simply crossing under the West Side Highway via a space age tunnel that emerges in the soaring Winter Garden with panoramic views of New York Harbor.  There beckons the newly opened Le District, a 30,000 square foot Gallic fantasy divided into four districts—restaurant, café, market, and garden.  Within these districts all culinary needs for eat-in or take-out can be met from poisson to  patisserie from fleurs to fromage. Tourists and worker bees from the likes of Goldman Sachs and Conde Nast are likely to eat-in at one of the restaurants, at one of the counter seats scattered throughout, or on the 7,000 square foot plaza looking out to the Statue of Liberty. Residents and perhaps the same office workers on the way home can buy the raw materials for dinner.  And don’t forget the flowers. Even if you’re staying in a hotel, there’s nothing like a bouquet to make a room feel like home. Fleuriste  Yasmine Karrenberg offers an array of chic arrangements at her shop inside Le District.  “I’ve been doing flowers as long as I can remember!” she says. “As a child, there were lilacs, peonies and lillies of the valley in our family garden. Then my parents always had five bouquets delivered to the house every Saturday!”

Le District is the brainchild of restaurant impresario Peter Poulakakos of HPH restaurant and development company and his business partner Paul Lamas (they pretty much have downtown cornered with Harry’s Café and Steak, The Dead Rabbit, The Growler, and Financier Patisserie among others). They took inspiration from Parisian markets such as La Grande Epicerie and even other countries that have been touched by French culture such as Morocco and Vietnam. Chef Jordi Valles, an El Bulli alum, was recruited to be culinary director of the whole project. Under him is an army of chefs and cheese mongers, butchers, bakers, and sausage makers. It’s part of the stunning development of Brookfield Place, formerly the World Financial Center, which is now home to a carefully curated food court called Hudson Eats, a bevy of high end retailers such as Theory, Hermes, and Burberry and the newly relocated International Center of Culinary Education.  Time, Inc. and Saks are coming soon.

 

 

Little more than a decade has passed since the area suffered the devastating 911 attacks. And then there were the angry flood waters of Hurricane Sandy. Now FiDi, (Financial District), arguably the hottest real estate in the overheated Manhattan market, has literally risen from the ashes.ld

 

The first thing you see entering Le District is the riotously colorful French  candy store La Cure Gourmande which offers an astonishing array of nougats, caramels, biscuits and even olives au chocolat (chocolate covered almonds in disguise) all available in gift worthy tins. This is the first U.S. outpost of the store that originated in Languedoc-Roussilon and now has 45 locations around the world.

The chocolate mousse bar

The chocolate mousse bar

Across the aisle is a creperie, a waffle station, and a patisserie displaying jewel-like French pastries. And of course a coffee bar.  Save room for dessert! But proceed to other temptations—freshly baked breads, cheese, charcuterie, salads, and sandwiches (I chose a delectable roasted lamb sandwich with ras al hanout and hummus white sauce), brasserie style meals, wine, and beer. And packaged goods for Francophiles to take home—French olive oils, argan oil, mustards, spices, salts, and sausages.  If you prefer to avoid temptation, graze before 4 p.m. when the salad bar transforms into a chocolate mousse bar offering eight different varieties white and dark with such toppings as orange confit and speculoos cookies.

Poulakakos himself was standing in the aisle munching on a crepe when I stopped him to ask about his vision. “I’ve always been thrilled with French cuisine,” he said. “It’s the backbone of precision.”  As for the customers. “I want to be there for everyone. People who live and work here love it.”  Of course, he’s not oblivious to the fact that 12.4 million visitors were counted in downtown Manhattan in 2014 and more are expected this year.

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Foie gras cones

Comparisons to Eataly, the insanely popular Italian food hall, seem inescapable. Le District  has already been dubbed the French Eataly. But who’s complaining?  Eataly has become one of the top tourist attractions in New York City behind the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. Last year seven million shoppers crowded its aisles while the cash registers rang up $85 million in sales. Should Le District be far behind? Mais non!

Visit Le District

 

Beverly Stephen, the former executive editor of Food Arts magazine, is currently an independent journalist and consultant specializing in food, travel, and lifestyle. She began her career as a newspaper columnist and reporter with the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Daily News.

Beverly Stephen, the former executive editor of Food Arts magazine, is currently an independent journalist and consultant specializing in food, travel, and lifestyle. She began her career as a newspaper columnist and reporter with the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Daily News.

 

 

 

Letter from Paris: Auberge Bressane

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Auberge Bressane at lunchtime.

Auberge Bressane at lunchtime. Photo @Alexander Lobrano, all rights reserved.

By Alexander Lobrano

After a morning of musing on the question of where to go to lunch with a friend from London who loves old-fashioned French bistro cooking, the Auberge Bressane suddenly bobbed up in my mind as a possible solution. True, I hadn’t been to this Gaullist gastronomic redoubt in a very longtime, but a quick glance at their menu online left me with a pulse-quickening desire to eat there again. And besides, I’d already allowed the work of choosing a restaurant for us, complicated by the fact that many places are closed on Monday, to take more time than I really had.

The problem, you see, is that I’ve always taken the business of choosing a restaurant very seriously. Not only is there something both sad and vexing about a bad meal eaten anywhere but at one’s own kitchen table (happily, I can’t remember the last time that happened either, although if he were around this afternoon, Bruno would doubtless chime in to reprimand my free-handed tendency with the garlic and the chile peppers when I make marinades), but the remote possibility of a disappointing meal with a friend who loves good food as much as I do is something I’d work to avoid at almost all costs.  It’s complicated, though, since beyond the necessity of great food, they’re many other inputs to be considered as well–the price, bien sur; the atmosphere, which is a unique-to-every-restaurant mixture of the decor, service and clientele; the time allotted for the meal; accessibility; and the personalities and tastes of the other diners. Going to a restaurant is like casting yourself into a play, so it’s generally a good idea to make sure that there’s a role that appeals to you and suits you before you show up.

Auberge Bressane

Auberge Bressane. Photo @Alexander Lobrano, all rights reserved.

Of course counter casting can be fun, too, and that’s the sociological posture I chose in deciding to ignore the fact that the Auberge Bressane is so profoundly vieille France, or a bastion of the bourgeoisie, an address favored by penny-pinching aristocrats, and a place popular with conservative blowhard politicians. My friend and I didn’t tick any of these boxes, but we do like a good show and since we’re polite, our shaggier bohemian traits and attitudes can occasionally be concealed behind a scrim of manners. So we settled at a table in the very back of this restaurant with its oak-paneled walls, vaguely Violet-le-Duc mock medieval style woodwork and chandeliers, and all of the coats of arms and signage in typefaces that evoke France in the Fifties and Sixties and got to work with the menu, which looked like a mimeographed page like the ones I dealt with in grade school, minus, that is, the smell of the toner, which I’m certain was potent enough to make any receptive second-grader a tiny bit high.

Salade de pissenlit avec lardons.

Salade de pissenlit avec lardons. Photo @Alexander Lobrano, all rights reserved.

Since we were both “a la cherche des gouts perdu, ou presque” (looking for the much loved tastes, textures and smells of old-fashioned French bistro cooking), we had to have the salade de pissenlit avec lardons (those big chunks of bacon that are one of the top five reasons with bread, cheese and good cheap wine that I could never leave France) et oeuf poche, or a salad of dandelion greens with chunky bacon and a poached egg in a perfectly made vinaigrette. But what stumped us was that we absolutely wanted three main courses–veal sweetbreads braised in cream with morels, chicken braised in cream spiked with vin jaune from the Jura and morels, and a bouchée à la reine, or a puff pastry filled with chicken, mushrooms, kidneys and other tasty morsels in cream. Oh–do you see a theme emerging here? “Bouchée à la reine, that was something I adored when I lived in Paris in my twenties,” said my friend, who had to have it. So then I got it.

When the waiter came, I explained we’d start with the salade and a bouchée à la reine, which we’d like to split, and then I’d have the poulet and Madame the ris de veau (I wanted the ris de veau, too, but the resident of any city always cedes the mutually desired dish to the visiting guest when it’s a question of this being one of those meals where you want to taste as many things as possible).

We nibbled homemade gougères and sipped our excellent Crozes-Hermitage until our first course arrived. And the pleasure of seeing my friend, ditching my computer in the middle of the day, and the enchantingly unselfconscious fly-in-amber atmosphere of this restaurant quietly guardedly raised my hopes while we waited for our first courses to arrive. And then they did, and because we’re both obsessed, the first thing we cooed over the beautifully made and presented salad, a relatively easy hat-trick in the large scheme of things, and turned our attention to the bouchée à la reine with both of us wondering exactly the same thing: Was the pastry homemade?

Bouchée à la Reine, or a puff pastry filled with chicken, mushrooms, kidneys and other tasty morsels in cream

Bouchée à la Reine, or a puff pastry filled with chicken, mushrooms, kidneys and other tasty morsels in cream. Photo @Alexander Lobrano, all rights reserved.

Examining the bottom of the pastry cap, it was yellow and beautifully laminated, so we were delighted to conclude that it really was homemade, something the waiter later confirmed. The contents of the puffy case were succulent and individually cooked–the fowl needing more heat, for example, than the kidneys–and a there were a lot of expensive morels in the composition, too. “This really is lovely, and so is the salad,” said my friend, and I relaxed into the knowledge that we’d have both a good meal and a good time.

A mountain of hot homemade frites.

A mountain of hot homemade frites. Photo @Alexander Lobrano, all rights reserved.

With the possible exception of the price–there’s an excellent value 24.50 Euros lunch menu, but it’s expensive to order a la carte, which we did–everything about this meal pleased. Served in a copper saucepan, her sweetbreads had a very light golden crusting and the texture of set custard, as they should, and came with a side of homemade mashed potatoes that I suspect might have been gently goosed by a little celery root, and she loved them. The mountain of hot homemade fries with my chicken was a treat, and the farmyard bird was pleasantly firm, lean and gently gamey.

We ate and we talked and we laughed and we gossiped and we kept going. And then I noticed we’d finished our wine, and when I looked over my shoulder to find the waiter so that we could see dessert menus, the restaurant had already emptied. But never once during this meal did we have the impression of being rushed, and having launched our meal just a little after 1pm, it was 3.15pm when we ordered a baba au rhum, one of our mutually favorite desserts, to share.

Staring at the fleur-de-lys motifs and the ship symbol of the city of Paris woven into our jacquard tablecloth, it occurred to me that this might be a perfect setting for a freemasons’ luncheon, but this idle thought vanished with the arrival of one of the best baba au rhum I’ve ever eaten. The particularities of this one were that it was homemade and that there tiny black currants suspended in its eggy crumb.

Baba au rhum.

Baba au rhum. Photo @Alexander Lobrano, all rights reserved.

 

The service was cordial and attentive throughout this meal, and stepping out into the bright sun on the sidewalk after three hours of gastronomic ardors brought on a version of the deliciously selfish and evanescent melancholia that can follow some good rutting. So after saying good-bye to my friend, who was sensibly going to try and walk down some part of the quart of cream she’d just consumed by returning to the flat where she was staying by foot, I raced home by Metro to try and meet a deadline. And to console myself before I got to work, I read the weekly lunch menu at the Auberge Bressane, usually posted on their site, and thought: Anyplace that serves up ‘Poireaux Mimosa” (Poached leeks with riced hard-cooked egg) and pot-au-feu as part of their 24.50 Euro lunch menu is going to be seeing me again very soon. And the 29.50 Euro “Menu du Dimanche” will tempt me back soon, too, both for the food–maybe a green bean and mushroom salad, coq au vin, and crepes flamed with Grand Marnier, and the show this place offers when the usual posse of God-fearing locals take their doddering elders out for some air and a meal. And come to think of it, I hope someone will kindly do the same thing for me when that day dawns.

L’Auberge Bressane, 16 Avenue de la Motte-Picquet, 7th Arrondissement, Tel. (33) 01-47-05-98-37. www.auberge-bressane.com Open Sunday to Friday for lunch and dinner. Saturday dinner only. Lunch menu 24.50 Euros. Sunday prix-fixe menu 29.50 Euros.

Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine and has written about food and travel for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Saveur, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 102 Best Restaurants (Random House), and a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014.  Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine and has written about food and travel for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Saveur, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 102 Best Restaurants (Random House), and a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014. Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

 

A Visit to St. Petersburg

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By Marian Betancourt

I had long wanted to visit this fabled city by the sea built by Peter the Great in 1703 to open Russia to the West.  Inspired by the country’s great novelists and poets and Robert Massie’s splendid biographies of Peter and Catherine and the Romanovs, I was determined to get there someday. My chance finally came this summer, but no sooner was my travel booked, when the crisis in Ukraine occurred.  I kept my fingers crossed and sighed with relief when I learned my tour was still a “go.”

St. Petersburg tourism officials acknowledge that the crisis has caused a drop of about 15 percent in American tourists, a group this city appreciates because we spend more than others. Tourism is the leading industry in this city and there are so many large tour groups following a guide with a raised paper flag or umbrella, huge crowds at museums, and massive traffic jams on the roads, it was almost as if I hadn’t left New York.  But this was definitely not New York. There are no skyscrapers here, just palaces, lots of them.

PASTEL PALACES

Everything you want to see is housed in a palace and most were built on the embankments or the city’s many rivers and canals. Palaces are pastel colored, I am told, because this creates a “sunny” aspect to counter the long dark winters. Over the span of Russia’s 20th century history many of these palaces were turned into war rooms, hospitals and offices for Soviet bureaucrats, but in recent years they are being restored to their imperial glory.  Best of all, you can actually stay in a palace.

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Lion Palace is a majestic yellow building with white colonnades and stone lions guarding the entry. It was built in 1820 by Prince Alexey Lobanov-Rostovsky, a diplomat, writer, and art collector close to Czar Alexander I, who wanted something built on the unsightly empty triangular plot of land next to the magnificent gold-domed St. Isaac’s Cathedral. The Lion Palace served as an apartment building for royalty until the revolution in 1917 when it became the Ministry of War. Today it is a gracious Four Seasons hotel with 177 elegant rooms and suites and a multi-lingual staff including a Michelin-star chef.

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The nearby Hermitage and adjoining Winter Palace is a complex much like Russia itself, so enormous and spread out that it would take a lifetime to see it all. I most enjoyed the room full of Rembrandt’s including Return of the Prodigal Son, one of his last and most emotional paintings. A large collection of Impressionists includes Gaughin’s earliest paintings from Tahiti.  My only disappointment was that the large Matisse collection was temporarily unavailable.

Shuvalov Palace, built on the Fontanka River embankment at the end of the 18th century, is now the exquisite Fabrege Museum. The Link of Times Cultural Historical Foundation, established in 2004 with the mission of repatriating Petersburg’s lost cultural valuables, bought back all the unique Fabrege Easter eggs that had been amassed by American businessman Malcolm Forbes, and brought them home to the city where the artist Peter Carl Faberge (1846-1920), lived and designed the eggs for the last two Czars.  Looking at the beauty of these oval treasures made with diamonds, pearls, agate, and gold, it’s easy to understand Forbes’ interest. Fabrege jewelry collections are also exhibited and the palace itself is a big attraction with its red-carpeted grand white marble staircase.

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Yusupov Palace on the Moika River embankment was the center of intrigue before the fall of the last Czar. Wax figures stage the plot to murder of Grigori Rasputin, the mystic whose influence over Czar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandria, angered the nobility, who thought that influence was ruining the country. You can feel the plot thickening as Felix Yusupov who was married to the Czar’s only niece, and his fellow accomplices set the stage in the wine cellar with a table set with petit fours laced with cyanide as well as poisoned wine. Rasputin accepted the invitation to the party but did he eat the cake or drink the wine? You can tour with an English-speaking guide to find out what happened and who dunnit!

Catherine’s Palace, an enormous sky blue complex in the suburb of Tsarskoe Selo, was built by Peter’s daughter Elizabeth to honor her mother (the first Catherine and Peter’s true love) in 1752. Catherine the Great later expanded the collections of art and furnishings. The room once used for celebrations is about the size of the main concourse of Grand Central Terminal. A team of servants would march in at dusk and light 700 candles simultaneously. (Trying to imagine this feat boggles the mind.)

Elizabeth created the famous Amber room to display the panels given to her father by Wilhelm I of Prussia. During World War II the Nazi’s took all the amber tiles down and they were never found until 2002, when a few pieces were discovered in Potsdam. A recreation of the room began 1979 with Germany donating some of the funds. Students come here to learn the technique of working with amber, and the gift shops have an amazing array of amber jewelry.

With its intersecting rivers and canals, Petersburg is often called the Venice of the North but rather than gondolas, modern hydrofoils speed you to Peterhof and other palaces on the outskirts. You can sit comfortably and watch TV and have a drink, but do go on deck and watch the colors of sea, sky, and clouds create a constantly moving tableau over this low-lying landscape. I yearned for some paint and canvas to capture what a camera just could not do. A major portion of the city’s tourists arrive by sea and the city has just completed one of the largest and most modern cruise ship terminals in the world.

Peterhof was Peter’s summer place, his version of Versailles, which he began building in 1714.  This inventive Czar created a system that did not require the pumps needed at Versailles. Instead, water comes in directly from the Gulf of Finland through scores of fountains and water jets.  It is the only place in the world where the sea is part of the park. And it is a stunning park. Peter also had a sense of humor so visitors on Fountain Road, might without warning be sprayed by hidden water jets. Today visiting kids have fun trying to outguess the spray from those jets. There is also a lovely restaurant here, The Standard, where you can enjoy lunch.

PALATIAL WINING AND DINING

Russians know a thing or two about vodka and the Russian Vodka Museum, while not in a palace exactly, is part of Tavrichesky Palace complex, an 1801 building that once housed the Czar’s horse guards and their steeds. This is a fascinating exhibit of objects, photos and life-sized models, but the labels are all in Russian so you need to arrange for an English-speaking guide.  (Go for the vodka tasting, too.) I learned the quality of the water is the most important element in making good vodka, with water from Siberia being the best. Always drink vodka neat (so much for my martinis) from a shot glass with a short stem, which makes it easier to toss back.  Follow the shot with a bit of food, such as duck fat on black bread, a piece of pickled herring, or a sour pickle (to lessen the effect of the alcohol).

In the same building is the Stroganoff Steakhouse, which calls itself a Russian American steakhouse because the owners consider the United States the motherland of steak.  Chef Maxim Shalavin toured American steakhouses to perfect his craft. Until the recent sanctions, the restaurant bought their beef from us, but now rely on Argentina and Australia.

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This is a warm and welcoming place to enjoy a first course of a the traditional zakuski, a selection of cold appetizers served family style, including pickled herring, caviar, and Russian Salad of  diced vegetables, pickles, chicken, egg, and mayonnaise. Special from the grill is the 16 oz New York steak and there’s even New York cheesecake for dessert.

Podvorye, a restaurant in the suburbs near Catherine’s Palace, is like a country dacha with a brown bear (not real) greeting you inside. While it is obviously meant to attract tourists, the traditional Russian food is authentic and quite unforgettable, especially the pelmeni, those delicious little meat dumplings served in a bowl of warm beef broth with sour cream on the side. Sour cream is a staple here and it wasn’t until I visited the open air Kuznechniy market in the center of Petersburg that I became aware of the many kinds of sour cream. Vendors from the countryside sell their fresh products here. My favorite was a woman I call the pickle lady who offered samples of pickled wild garlic, carrots, cabbage, and many things I never thought of as pickled.

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Before we left the Lion Palace, Chef Andrea Accordi prepared a special Russian dinner for us that included borsch served in a bowl carved from a round loaf of borodinsky, a dark rye sourdough bread, pan fried pike perch from nearby Lake Ladoga, Europe’s largest lake, served with dill flower, apple, and chanterelle mushrooms, and much more.

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I enjoyed one last breakfast of blini with red caviar and sour cream.  I rather liked living in a palace and enjoying the friendliness of Petersburgers so I plan to return. There is so much more to see, the many historic cathedrals, and haunts of Dostoevsky and Pushkin.  Alexander Pushkin, in his famous 1833 poem, The Bronze Horseman, included some lines about my temporary palace:

New-built, high up in Peter’s Square

A corner mansion then ascended;

And where its lofty perron ended

Two sentry lions stood at guard like living things,

And kept their ward with paw uplifted

 

P.S. The Bronze Horseman itself, in the park opposite Lion Palace, attracts many tourists and you will often find one of the city’s many Peter the Great re-enactors here. There are as many Peters here as there are Ben Franklins in Philadelphia.

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If You Go

Cruises passengers are guaranteed a 72-hour visa-free entry. Arriving any other way, however, you need a visa, which you can apply for once you have booked a hotel. The hotel receipt serves as your “invitation” to travel to Petersburg. You can complete an application online at www.russianembassy.org/page/general-visa-information, bring it along with your hotel receipt to the Russian Embassy (or affiliated agency) in your city.

St. Petersburg City Tourist Information Bureau, www.visit-petersburg.ru

Ivanova Nadya of Versa, www.versa.ru can help plan your trip; email is incoming@versa-travel.com.

The Lion Palace Four Seasons Hotel, www.fourseasons.com/stpetersburg

 

Marian Betancourt has written about travel and food for Associated Press, American Heritage, Travel & Leisure, Irish America, and many others. She is the author of several books, and has co-authored two regional cookbooks based on her travels. She is a contributing editor for Promenade magazine and lives inNew York City. Visit www.marianbetancourt.com

Marian Betancourt has written about travel and food for Associated Press, American Heritage, Travel & Leisure, Irish America, and many others. She is the author of several books, and has co-authored two regional cookbooks based on her travels. She is a contributing editor for Promenade magazine and lives inNew York City. Visit www.marianbetancourt.com

Hexagone, Paris: The New Shape of French Gastronomy

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Hexagone, Paris. Credit Jerome Galland.

Hexagone, Paris. Credit Jerome Galland.

By Alexander Lobrano

There are many things to like about chef Mathieu Pacaud‘s new restaurant Hexagone in Paris. Not only does it serve some exquisitely refined contemporary French cooking that tips its hat at the great traditions of Escoffier, it also has one of the best wine lists of any recent restaurant in Paris. This lavish list, which also includes a spectacular selection of grand cru wines by the glass, is run byBenjamin Roffet, one of the city’s most talented and charming sommeliers, too. There’s also a serious bar at this address with a major mixologist in the person of Thomas Girard.

What I find interesting about Pacaud’s new place, though, is that it represents what a talented and ambitious young chef with a serious culinary pedigree–his father Bernard Pacaud cooked at L’Ambroisie for many years before turning the kitchen over to his son–thinks French gastronomy should be about in the 21st century.

Hexagone, Paris. Credit Jerome Galland.

Hexagone, Paris. Credit Jerome Galland.

Oh, and there’s also the wild card of its address in the 16th Arrondissement, a silk-stocking part of Paris which never previously attracted young chefs setting up shop. Now, though, it’s starting to simmer with the arrival of Pacaud and other terrific new tables like Restaurant Pages.

“Many of the old style three star restaurants in Paris are struggling right now,” Pacaud said during a chat I had with him when I went to Hexagone for dinner with Bruno the other night. “They’re too expensive and too formal. The meals they serve take too long, and the whole drill isn’t appealing to a younger generation of Parisians or foreigners visiting the city. So my idea here was to create a place that my friends would want to come–a place that’s relaxed and where you have a good time,” said the chef, adding, “And I chose the 16th Arrondissement, because it delivers a good clientele of business diners at noon and an interesting and international mixture of people at night. Eventually, I’ll open a real restaurant gastronomique on the same premises (Hexagone occupies a duplex space space in the former Hotel K),” says Pacaud, who also plans a new seafood restaurant sometime this year. “I think it’s a really exciting time in Paris, because the old guard is changing and the future is emerging,” says the chef, a who insists that despite coming off as a very amiable and easygoing guy, he’s actually intensely demanding. “I dine in my own restaurant regularly and we’re still fine tooth combing everything,” he said.

Pacaud may still be putting the finishing touches on this place, but it already has a lot of charm and is quite unlike any other restaurant in Paris. Arriving, it gives off a decidedly fashionable vibe that had me dreading an imminent bout of attitude from the staff and servers, but no, the welcome was warm, and the staff was charmingly playful from time to time, as if winking at the whole idea of the ‘very serious restaurant,’ and yet they were also flawlessly professional. We were immediately at ease in the good looking dining room designed by interior architects Patrick Gilles and Dorothée Boissier, too, because tables are large and widely spaced, the lighting is impeccable, and the tongue-in-cheek look of the place–the designers were inspired by “Alice in Wonderland”–was witty without going over the top.

Waiting for our first course, it was interesting to observe the evolving clientele here. There was a business dinner going on over my shoulder, and the crew of six hailed from several different countries and went back and forth between speaking French and English. A few pearls gathered from their chatter included the observation that “The United States isn’t a serious country if anyone could really take people like Mick Huckabee and Rick Perry seriously as possible presidential candidates,” (D’accord); “The food in Holland is terrible” (Wrong, the food in Amsterdam has become very good); and “Portuguese cooking is so peasant and basic” (And this with a very good-looking Portuguese woman at the table! I’m not sure if I’d describe it as ‘peasant and basic,’ but rather as often hearty and appealingly rustic, but then I like ‘peasant and basic.’) There were also several tables of well-groomed beautifully dressed middle-aged professional women, always a good sign, since this local tribe is both keen and discerning at the table, and surprisingly, a couple of tables of young stubbled types with their plastic motor cycle helmets sitting on the banquette next to them and their apparently bored girl friends, who spent a lot of time fiddling around with their phones. Soft lounge music played in the background, and for once it wasn’t irritating.

At Hexagone, you can order the tasting menu, a gastronomic phenomenon I no longer really enjoy, or go a la carte with a starter, fish, meat and dessert, since the portion sizes are perfectly calibrated to produce satisfaction without leaving you feeling overfed at the end of a meal. With the gizzards a little squeamish after so much lavish good eating during the holidays, I loved our first course, a feather-weight ‘Marquise’ of blanc manger meringues on a bed of truffled celery root puree that contained a slow-cooked egg hidden under a tumble of black truffles cut into fine match sticks. What intrigued about this dish is that it manages to be pretty and light but deliver a full punch of comfort-food pleasure, since the thickly runny egg yolk perfectly sauced the puree.

Crayfish from Lake Geneva  on a bed of star-anise-flavored aspic with green mango puree and cauliflower mousseline was magnificent.

Crayfish from Lake Geneva on a bed of star-anise-flavored aspic with green mango puree and cauliflower mousseline was magnificent.

For anyone who hadn’t guessed, Hexagone in French, means hexagon in English, and the reference here is more than just geometric, since the French often affectionately refer to France as the Hexagone, because of its six different borders with several seas and different countries. In this instance, the word has other resonances, too, since Pacaud aspires to serving profoundly French food, and in this he succeeds, because the modernity of his plated aesthetics and his dextrous culinary lightness notwithstanding, the flavor constellations in his dishes are indeed exquisitely French. If a single langoustine thatched with finely shredded root vegetables in a pool of saffron cream was pleasant, crayfish from Lake Geneva  on a bed of star-anise-flavored aspic with green mango puree and cauliflower mousseline was magnificent, with flowers decorating the plump sweet tails of shellfish and the percussion of the garnishes elongating their natural taste in a way that would make Escoffier proud even if the great French chef probably never worked with such ‘exotic’ seasonings.

Making things taste of what they are is Pacaud’s compass point, and the subtlety with which he pulls this off is thrilling. But his real shrewdness comes from understanding that Escoffier would have been horrified to find himself cast in the role of ‘curator’ chef, which is how too many French cooks see him today. Instead, I suspect that he’d rejoice at Pacaud’s intelligent gustatory innovations in the kitchen.

John Dory with shellfish.

John Dory with shellfish.

If my sole in vin jaune sauce was pleasant and very pretty with its carrot roses, both of us preferred Bruno’s John Dory with with a reduction of Noilly Prat vermouth that shirked its retro mantle with the clever addition of mace and garnishes of finely shredded leeks, cockles and razor-shell clams. Our meat courses were excellent, too–a riff on a carbonnade (beef in beer sauce from the north of France) for Bruno and braised veal sweetbreads with a garnish of black-and-green olives and a vivid green herb reduction for me.

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Bayano Brésil ganache.

 

By the time we got to dessert, the quiet question that had been bobbling around in the back of my thoughts all night had been answered. To wit, is Mathieu Pacaud as talented a chef as his father? He is, I decided while tucking into a charming post-modern riff on a Poire Belle Helene. Meanwhile, across the table, Bruno was absent in the chocolate bliss induced by his Bayano Brésil ganache with honey ice cream, chilled buckwheat cream and a crunchy hazelnut wafer.

If Mathieu Pacaud is cooking this well just a few weeks after opening, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s on the starting blocks as one of the next great chefs in Paris.

Hexagone, 85 Avenue de Kléber 16th Arrondissement, Tel. (33) 01-42-25-98-85. Metro: Trocadéro. Bar open Tues.-Sat. 11am-2am; Restaurant open Tues.-Sat. for lunch (12pm-2pm) and dinner (7pm-11pm). Lunch menu 49 Euros; average four-course a la carte 175 Euros; tasting menu 180 Euros. www.hexagone-paris.fr  

Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine and has written about food and travel for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Saveur, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 102 Best Restaurants (Random House), and a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014.  Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine and has written about food and travel for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Saveur, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 102 Best Restaurants (Random House), and a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014. Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Snow Flurries: Palette Pleasing High Mountain Restaurants

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Zach's Cabin, Beaver Creek.

Zach’s Cabin, Beaver Creek.

By Kim McHugh

Serving Zagat Survey-worthy cuisine and postcard views, these snow country restaurants invite you to pull up a chair and eat yourself silly. From entrées such as Pecan Crusted Elk Tenderloin and Sea Bass with Manila Clams, Apple Cider and Chili Braised Beef Short Ribs, Crab Stuffed Rocky Mountain Trout, Vegetable Napoleon and Lobster Risotto, be prepared to be satiated at a higher altitude.

Allred's, Telluride.

Allred’s, Telluride.

Allred’s
www.tellurideskiresort.com
(970) 728-7474

At the top of the gondola Telluride’s flagship restaurant offers a memorable dining experience. Welcomed by General Manager Mario Petillo, patrons look forward to an extraordinary evening. A menu inspired by Chef Mike Regrut features delectable elk, lamb, steak, and seafood entrees, as well as fresh local vegetables, salads and a wonderful wine selection. Dinner served nightly.

Alpenglow Stube, Keystone

Alpenglow Stube, Keystone

Alpenglow Stube, Keystone
www.keystoneresort.com
800-354-4386

At an altitude of 11,444 feet, the Alpenglow Stube (pronounced STEW-bay) is North America’s highest AAA Four-Diamond fine dining experience. Draped with a lap blanket, guests arrive via a pair of über fast gondola rides. The menu features a choice of four- or seven-course dinners focused on Colorado and contemporary cuisine with Bavarian accents. Dining is offered Thursday – Sunday.

Alpino Vino, Telluride

Alpino Vino, Telluride

Alpino Vino
www.tellurideskiresort.com
(970) 728-7474
The highest elevation fine-dining restaurant in North America at 11,966 feet, Alpino Vino is reminiscent of intimate restaurants found throughout the Dolomites of Northern Italy. Traveling by heated snow coach guests are awed by views of the Wilson Range and then enjoy a five-course Italian-themed menu along with the warmth of a wood-burning fireplace. Dinner served Wednesday – Saturday.

 

Beano's Cabin, Beaver Creek.

Beano’s Cabin, Beaver Creek.

Beano’s Cabin, Vail

www.beanoscabinbeavercreek.com

970-754-3463

Hidden amongst aspens and evergreens at the base of Larkspur Bowl, Beano’s Cabin satisfies with AAA Four Diamond Award, DiRoNA award and the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence dishes. Accessible via skis, snowboard or snowcat-drawn sleigh, the restaurant features three- and five-course prix fixe dinners in a “Jeremiah-Johnson-meets-Ralph-Lauren” log cabin. Dinner is served Thursday – Sunday.

 

Cloud Nine, Aspen Highlands

Cloud Nine, Aspen Highlands

Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro, Aspen Highlands
www.aspensnowmass.com
970-923-8715

A most aptly named restaurant, Cloud Nine Bistro is an intimate, Euro-style bistro with ski-in/ski-out table service for lunch or dinners on most Wednesday and Thursday evenings. The hearty European-style fare might include Raclette or Fondue, Duck Confit, Black Truffle Gnocchi, or Bouillabaisse. After 1:30pm, champagne bottles begin popping, the music volume increases, and a lively dance party takes over the cabin.  Also open for private dinner parties.

Couloir

www.jacksonhole.com
307-739-2675

Couloir, Jackson Hole’s most unique dining experience, is located at the summit of the Bridger Gondola at 9,095 feet. Named on the Condé Nast Hot Tables List, its seasonal menu features American cuisine with Rocky Mountain roots. The Wine Spectator award- acknowledged Executive Chef Wes Hamilton, who also offers Chef’s Table dining for parties up to six, helms the eatery. Dinner served Thursday, Friday and select holidays.

Der Fondue Band, Keystone

Der Fondue Band, Keystone

Der Fondue Chessel
www.keystoneresort.com
800-354-4386

A decidedly Bavarian vibe characterizes Der Fondue Chessel, which sits atop North Peak. After a pair of gondola rides, guests gather round the tables to perhaps start the evening with a traditional Swiss Cheese fondue—a blend of Gruyère and Emmentaler cheeses mixed with a little white wine and kirschwasser. Meats, veggies, bread cubes, crisp apples add to the dipping fun. Dinner offered Wednesday – Saturday.

Four Points
www.steamboat.com
970-871-5150
Located at 9,716 feet atop the Four Points chairlift, the Four Points Lodge offers a five-course culinary experience rooted in the traditions and flavors of Northern Italy. Guests travel by heated snowcat to sample Chef John Shaw’s innovative cuisine that focuses on healthy, made-to-order items featuring local ingredients, fresh made salads, pastas, homemade soups and hot-stone

Game Creek, Vail
www.vail.com
970-754-4275

Nestled in Game Creek Bowl, this dining destination is reached via skiing or snowboarding down Ouzo or by snowcat from the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola. Once inside, guests cozy up to the fireplace before venturing into the Mount Jackson Room. A fusion of American-French cuisine with regional and seasonal ingredients awaits patrons. Open for dinner Tuesday – Saturday.

Hazie’s
www.steamboat.com
970-871-5150

Enjoying a short gondola ride from the base, guests are treated to the best views in the Yampa Valley before reaching the summit and entering Hazie’s where the views are equally stunning. The restaurant, named after Hazel Mae Werner, Olympian Buddy Werner’s mom, features an a la carte menu with culinary delights such as a Blue Cheese Crusted Filet of Beef and Macadamia Nut Crusted Halibut. Open Wednesday – Saturday.

Grilled cheese at Alpino Vino, Telluride.

Grilled cheese at Alpino Vino, Telluride.

The Lodge At Sunspot, Winter Park
www.winterparkresort.com
970.726.1446

Board the Zephyr Express gondola and your next stop is this award-winning restaurant, whose stone hearth fireplace acts as a magnet. The culinary astute have been seeking its five-course dinners for years along with an excellent wine selection. Elk Tournedos, Steelhead Trout, Colorado lamb, fondue and vegetarian fare tempt patrons. Open for dinner Friday and Saturday evenings and select holidays.

Lynn Britt Cabin, Snowmass
www.aspensnowmass.com
800-525-6200 x4715

Traveling to the cabin by snowcat, up to 60 patrons can enjoy an exquisite, four-course dinner that kicks off with a basket of fresh baked breads and muffins. Menu choices might feature steak, trout, lamb or duck, and one of the tastiest treats is the live bluegrass and Celtic music played by local musicians. Reservations for the Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday seatings are required.

Lamb Chop at Beano's Cabin, Beaver Creek

Lamb Chop at Beano’s Cabin, Beaver Creek

The Peak Lodge
www.killington.com
800-621-6867

Built in 1967 as the Summit Terminal the original Peak Lodge was positioned to serve up panoramic views of the Green, White, and Adirondack Mountains. Able to accommodate up to 300 guests for special event/occasion dining, the restaurant is accessed via the K-1 Express Gondola. Expect cuisine crafted with robust flavors and healthy mountain living in mind.

Parallax at McCoy Station
www.mammothmountain.com
800-626-6684

Arriving by a luxury heated snowcat guests look forward to a gourmet dining adventure at 9,600 feet. A delicious four-course dining experience awaits at Parallax, the private dining room at McCoy Station. Start your ride with a glass of champagne followed by a Chef’s Table dinner perhaps comprised of Mussels in Cioppino Broth, Colorado Lamb Chop or Red Elk Loin. Seatings available Friday, Saturday and during holidays.

Ragnar's, Steamboat.

Ragnar’s, Steamboat.

Ragnar’s, Steamboat Springs
www.steamboat.com
970-871-5150

Ragnar’s, named in honor of ski jumper Ragnar Omtvedt, is fabelaktig (Norwegian for fabulous). Guests ride the gondola to the summit before traveling by a snowcat-drawn sleigh to this Scandinavian chalet in the woods. Tout de Mer, seafood wrapped in a pastry shell, Pomegranate Duck Breast and Herb Grilled Venison are a few of the temptations. Dinner is offered Thursday – Saturday.

The Roundhouse
www.sunvalley.com
208-622-2012

Since 1939 the Roundhouse has been serving delicious meals, soul-warming drinks and stunning views from Mount Baldy. After riding the Gondola to an elevation of 7,700 feet, guests savor American/European cuisine such as Cheese Fondue for Two, Braided Puff Pastry Salmon and Napoleon of Roasted Vegetables. Its central stone fireplace, and vintage photos of Sun Valley’s history enrich the ambience. Dinner Fridays and Saturdays.

 

The 10th at Vail.

The 10th at Vail.

The 10th
www.vail.com
970-754-1010

Overlooking the Gore Range, The 10th is Vail’s newest ski-in, ski-out fine dining experience. A nod to the World War II veterans of the 10th Mountain Division, including several of Vail’s founders, The 10th invites guests to arrive on Gondola One to enjoy a gourmet dinner atop Vail Mountain. With a focus on Modern Alpine classics, the cuisine is as impressive as the views. Dinner is offered Tuesday – Saturday.

Zach's Cabin, Beaver Creek.

Zach’s Cabin, Beaver Creek.

Zach’s Cabin, Beaver Creek
www.beavercreek.com
(970) 754-6575

Serving American cuisine with a distinctly Pacific twist, Zach’s Cabin is a perennial favorite of Beaver Creek visitors. Executive Chef Tim McCaw, a Colorado native, favors fresh Colorado produce in his amazing dishes. Awarded the Wine Spectator Best Of Award of Excellence for five years running, Zach’s is accessed by a sleigh ride and can accommodate up to 110 guests. Dinner is served Tuesday – Saturday.

Editor’s Note: Reservations are encouraged for these restaurants. When consuming alcohol keep in mind that the higher the elevation the more potent the effect (e.g. one glass of wine at sea level may feel like two or three glasses at 8,500 feet or higher). Ask if there is a child’s menu and associated pricing.

 

Kim McHugh, a Lowell Thomas award-winning writer, has been skiing for 40+ seasons. His articles have appeared in SKI, Hemispheres, POWDER, Colorado AvidGolfer, Luxury Golf & Travel, RockyMountainGolfMag.com, The Washington Post, The Toronto Sun, The Denver Post and Tastes of Italia.

Kim McHugh, a Lowell Thomas award-winning writer, has been skiing for 40+ seasons. His articles have appeared in SKI, Hemispheres, POWDER, Colorado AvidGolfer, Luxury Golf & Travel, RockyMountainGolfMag.com, The Washington Post, The Toronto Sun, The Denver Post and Tastes of Italia.

Letter from Paris: Les Poulettes Batignolles

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Les Poulettes Batignolles, Paris.

Les Poulettes Batignolles, Paris.

By Alexander Lobrano

After working for twelve years in Barcelona, Parisian-born chef Ludovic Dubois, son of the distinguished fromagere Martine Dubois, has returned to Paris and opened Les Poulettes Batignolles. It’s a good-looking modern bistro in a quiet side street with a very appealing Catalan inflected contemporary menu. “I really like the way the Catalans marry seafood and meat,” says Dubois, who runs the kitchen while his Catalan wife Judith Cercos, former sommelier at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Barcelona, supervises the dining room and excellent wine list. “I also developed an appreciation of arroz (rice), in all its many possible incarnations while living in Catalonia, an experience that tutored me in the Mediterranean palate,” adds the amiable Dubois, who apprenticed with Jacques Cagna and Michel Rostang before going off to Spain, where he cooked at the El Palace Hotel, among other kitchens.

An impeccably fresh sea bass tartare seasoned with seaweed and garnished with several types of fish eggs,

An impeccably fresh sea bass tartare seasoned with seaweed and garnished with several types of fish eggs,

Going to meet Marie, the lovely friend who tipped me off to this new address, for dinner on a frosty early winter night, I found myself thinking about how much I like Les Batignolles, a dense village-like neighborhood in the 17th arrondissement that only became part of Paris by decree of Napoleon III in 1860 and which is bisected by the train cut going into the Gare Saint Lazare. The old train yards at the north end of the neighborhood were intended to become the site of the Olympic village, had Paris’s bid for the 2012 games succeeded. Instead, they’re being redeveloped into a new urban neighborhood centered on a large garden named in honor of Martin Luther King. What will doubtless change this part of the city a lot is the arrival of all the courts now found on the Ile de la Cité in a new set of buildings, La Cité Judiciaire, which will open in 2017. For the time being, though, it’s a companionable and unpretentious old Paris neighborhood with a real vie de quarter, or neighborhood life, and with its chic pair of teal blue dining rooms, retro lighting fixtures, warm friendly service, and interesting menu, Les Poulettes Batignolles has immediately become a local hit with an enthusiastic following of regulars.

Since Marie once lived in Barcelona, and I’ve spent a lot of time there through the years and it’s one of my favorite cities, it was fun to discover the original but subtle cooking of Dubois and decipher the Catalan influences in various dishes. The Catalan love of seafood–Barcelona is still going mad for sushi and ceviche–was beautifully expressed by an impeccably fresh sea bass tartare seasoned with seaweed and garnished with several types of fish eggs, while the artichoke hearts and salad leaves that came with a coddled egg in bread crumbs with tartare sauce–a perfect

Artichoke hearts and salad leaves that came with a coddled egg in bread crumbs with tartare sauce

Artichoke hearts and salad leaves that came with a coddled egg in bread crumbs with tartare sauce

tapas sort of dish–reminded me of the tidy lovingly tended vegetable farms seen from the airport train that still fill the flat fertile plains between the city and its airport. This proximate patchwork of farms also explains why the produce in Barcelona is so good. In Paris, however, it comes from the rue de Levis market street where Dubois does his shopping every morning. “My cooking is completely market-

driven, so I really need to see and smell and touch the produce myself. It just wouldn’t work for me to be supplied by Rungis (the big wholesale market outside of Paris, bien sur),” said the chef. One way or another, I’m a hopeless sucker for tartare sauce, especially when it’s homemade–this might be explained by the fact that I liked this condiment as much if not more than the fried-clam strips once sold by Howard Johnson’s, a once-upon-a-time sincere Boston-based restaurant chain specializing in respectable quality American comfort food.What Howard Johnson’s never had, however, was the rich, melted-in-your-mouth jamon, or ham, which melded this dish together with a plucky porcine punch. With the possible addition of some good Cabrales, or Spanish blue cheese, I’d happily eat this perfectly pitched umami-rich soft ball for lunch everyday for the rest of my life.

Beyond the pleasure of Marie’s company–she’s not only beautiful but absolutely fascinating–the recurring reason for the strong sense of well-being all during my meal at this restaurant was the warm unselfconscious reflexive hospitality of Judith Cercos, a woman who deeply loves both wine and seeing the pleasure her shrewd choices bring to other people. I was too engaged by Marie and Bruno to break away from the good time I was having at the time, but later, I did find myself musing on the odd Paris phenomenon of

 Domaine Giudicel from Corsica.

Domaine Giudicel from Corsica.

restaurants that are run by people who would appear to find their customers a dreadful nuisance just for the fact that they’ve come through the door–Jadis and Saturne came to mind. In any event, the Domaine Giudicelli wine Judith served with our main courses was one of the best viniferous discoveries of the year for me, because I’d never have first guessed that it was a Corsican Patrimonio, because it was so supple and suave, but when we all paid it the attention it deserved, it had a lot of Mediterranean character and was a brilliant food wine.

In the quiet calendar of Parisian gastronomic pleasures I’ve learned so deeply it’s become the second much-loved almost subliminal alphabet that informs my daily life, few things are more welcome than the gusty arrival of seasonal crustaceans like oysters and scallops on the city’s menus. Perhaps with this in mind, but also likely guided by compasses of nostalgia with different true norths–hers, an old relationship; his, a lifetime of holidays spent on Catalan beaches over a span of more than forty years from the days of tents and ice cream cones purchased by Father to friskier adventures in Barcelona and Sitges–Marie and Bruno had the ‘creamy’ rice garnished with grilled artichoke hearts, mushrooms, squid, octopus, lobster and langoustines. What are I yearned for were the sweet fleshy Erquy scallops, which came cooked in their shells with breads crumbs, buttery leeks and a natty garnish of chives. “Rather nice, isn’t it, to be in a dining room where a pair of tattooed forearms fits in just as well as an Hermes pocketbook, isn’t it?” Bruno said, and it was true that there was a rare and bracing variety of Parisians around us who

Sweet fleshy Erquy scallops, which came cooked in their shells with breads crumbs, buttery leeks and a natty garnish of chives.

Sweet fleshy Erquy scallops, which came cooked in their shells with breads crumbs, buttery leeks and a natty garnish of chives.

were keenly enjoying their food as much as we were.

Since my sweet tooth, such as it exists, keens most to all forms of burnt sugar, aka caramel, then fruit, and finally really potent dark chocolate, I let Bruno and Marie rush in when it came to choosing a dessert–vanilla rice pudding with dulce de leche for her, and New York cheesecake for Bruno, who’s been obsessed by same ever since a first ecstatic artery-clogging encounter at the Carnegie Delicatessen in New York City a few months after we’d first met 17 years ago. Oh. And me? I know what a serious cheese mistress Ludovic Dubois’s Mom Martine is, so there was no way I’d pass up her Vacherin, that sublimely runny high-altitude cow’s milk dairy balm that’s in season right now, especially since it meant I could lay claim to the rest of the Patrimonio.

After dinner Ludovic Dubois came out of the kitchen to greet his customers, and watching him with Judith Decros, I finally got the X factor that makes Les Poulettes Batignolles so irresistible. This restaurant is an expression of their love affair, which they kindly decided to share with all comers. So if you want a really good and original won’t-break-the-bank holiday meal this year, I think you’d do very well at this charming table.

10 rue de Chéroy, 17th Arrondissement, Paris, Tel. 01-42-93-10-11. Metro: Rome or Villiers. Closed Sunday and Monday. Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. www.lespoulettes-batignolles.fr Average lunch 30 Euros, Average dinner 40 Euros.

 

 

Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine and has written about food and travel for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Saveur, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 102 Best Restaurants (Random House), and a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014.  Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine and has written about food and travel for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Saveur, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 102 Best Restaurants (Random House), and a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014. Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Letter from Paris: Chardenoux

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Chardenoux, 1 rue Jules Valles, 11th Arrondissement, Paris

Chardenoux, 1 rue Jules Valles, 11th Arrondissement, Paris

By Alexander Lobrano

Chardenoux has always been a very good bistro. This is saying a lot, too, since it’s also one of the very rare restaurants with which I’ve had a long and consistently happy relationship during the more than twenty-five years I’ve lived in Paris. Oh, to be sure, as is true of most relationships, we’ve had our moments. But the longevity of this connection is precious to me less for its durability than because it’s proven to be so reliably delicious.

When I first began going to Chardenoux, the neighborhood where it’s located deep in the 11th Arrondissement was still quiet and filled with artisans of various kinds–wood-workers, furniture makers, metal casters, jewelers, lamp makers and others–working in local ateliers (workshops). Previously working class, the neighborhood immediately around the Bastille was becoming trendy, however, and the eastern arrondissements of Paris were just at the beginning of the transformation that eventually made them the younger and hipper half of the city. I was living a tiny apartment next to a convent on the Left Bank. I liked it during the summer, the season of open windows, when I was often awoken by the nuns softly singing hymns. The rest of the year, though, it had the distinct disadvantage of being too far away from Chardenoux.

The chef at Chardenoux then was Bernard Passavant, and the reason I remember his name is that I owe my mad love of foie gras to him. Maybe the second or third time I ever went to Chardenoux, I ordered something called a salade folle, or ‘crazy salad.’ I had no idea what this might mean, so the big mauve slab of foie gras that topped a tidy tumble of chive-flecked match-stick-sized green beans and shaved button mushrooms came as a hugely unwelcome surprise. Why? Well, believe or not, back in those days–this was probably 1987–I not only didn’t eat foie gras, but I actively avoided it. Like many suburban Americans, I flinched at anything offal, in fact, but that night I found myself shamed into trying the duck liver by the teasing of the Greek born Paris based men’s underwear designer who was taking me out to a business dinner I’d been avoiding a long time.

“Oh, how patheeeetic!” he said. “I can’t believe it! It’s delicious, a so so so sensual luxury! You must try!” So reluctantly I did, and I’ve never looked back. I also used to love Passavant’s veal with morels; cod with a warm vinaigrette of fresh herbs; “Cervelle de Canut” (silk worker’s brain, canut being Lyonnais slang for silk worker and the term a reference to how hard they once worked in deafeningly noisy mills). which is a Lyonnais cheese speciality of fromage blanc flavored with chives, garlic, shallot, parsley, salt, pepper, oil, vinegar and white wine; and black cherry clafoutis.

Terrace at Chardenoux.

Terrace at Chardenoux.

Every meal at this beautiful little dining room with a ceiling covered with swirling floral Belle Epoque moldings, a delicate screen of etched and beveled glass and wood panels diving the room in half, and a stone clad zinc topped bar just inside the door was a pleasure. Passavant eventually left, to be replaced by Michel Cornubet, and another chef or two, but the quality of the food remained uncommonly good. When young chef Cyril Lignac took over, however, I had my doubts. I was doubtless not being entirely fair, but his food-television celebrity made me dubious, and I feared an old favorite might be rejiggered into something trendy or fussy or both. Happily, I was wrong–Lignac respected the traditions and spirit of this century old bistro when he took it over in 2008 and painstakingly restored the interior. The food was good, if not better than good, too, but I hadn’t been in here in a very longtime before a recent sunny August day when I was trying to think of a good bistro when I might lunch with a friend visiting from London. The two new places she was keen to try–Le Servan and Restaurant David Toutain, were closed, but knowing how much she loves traditional French bistro cooking and also that they serve outside during the summer when the weather’s good, I booked at Chardenoux, where I hadn’t been for several years, and kept my fingers crossed.

My date was late, but I enjoyed sitting on the terrace on a sunny day mulling over the menu over a cool glass of Chateldon. It was also a pleasant diversion to observe my neighbors, all of whom were seriously enjoying their lunches with a pleasure that was absolutely contagious.

 

Coddled eggs with girolles and favas.

Coddled eggs with girolles and favas.

Then Madame arrived, hungry, and we ordered. Since she’s a talented London based cook and food writer, we usually try to order different things, so that we can taste some variety, but on this occasion no one was giving any ground on the starter of coddled egg with girolles, fava beans, and freshly made croutons. We both wanted it, we both had it, and it was superb, since the egg yolk slicked the perfectly braised mushrooms dressed with a little jus de veau and finely chopped shallot, and the favas and croutons added an earthy high note and some texture respectively. Coddled egg starters are surefire crowd-pleasers, since they appeal to something subliminally serene and infantile in all of us, but for them to work, the produce has to be of the very highest quality. Happily, here it was.

Since I’d come into town from the borrowed house in the country 75 minutes outside of Paris just for the day where I spent much of August, I was hankering for fish, since neither of the two larger towns near our hideaway has a fish market anymore, which means the only place to buy fish is at the ice-lined morgue-like counter of the local ‘grand surface,’ or giant supermarket. Having done that once, I’d never do it again, and besides, more pleasure was to be had from having a real live barbecue, which begged for the excellent sausage made by a local farmer or some of his superb free-range pork over and over again. So I chose the cod baked with white miso on a bed of fresh peas with lardons. The gently meaty taste of the miso flattered both the fish and the peas, while the lardons added texture and salt but most all appealed to that deep primal limitless yearning so many people–me very much among them–have for cured pork, aka bacon.

The cod at Chardenoux.

The cod at Chardenoux.

I rather envied Madame her sweetbreads, however, since they came with baby carrots and an elegantly acidulated sauce of chopped capers, lemon and meat juices spiked with tomato and turmeric. They were impeccably cooked, too, but when I tasted them, I immediately found myself thinking that a side of tagliatelle would have been a nice occasion to elaborate the pleasure that well-made sauce. “Some good sturdy noodles would have been nice with this,” Madame suddenly announced, and I laughed, because our friendship was born from the naughty avidity of our shared appetites. “Excellent product, and if at first I found it a little under seasoned, that’s really only because I’m too accustomed to food that’s been over-salted. This is some very suave bistro cooking indeed.”

Madame said she’d been craving a good baba au rhum ever since she’d gotten on the Eurostar in London that morning, so I left it to her, and had a fine slice of Corsican goat cheese with cherry-cinnamon marmalade and salad instead. The baba, which came from Lignac’s bakery across the street, had imbibed a perfect dose of rum-spiked sugar syrup, to which a nice little pour of caramel-and-sulfur scented Martinique rum, the world’s best, because it’s made with fresh cane juice instead of sugar, was deftly added by Madame.

“This rum is superb, so nuanced and ambered but clean tasting,” said Madame, adding, “I’d be half-tempted to tuck the bottle into my handbag and bring it home it’s so good but I rather doubt I’d get away with it.” I didn’t encourage her either, so the rum remained on the table, and after coffee we parted in search of our respective summer siestas, mine swaddled with the pleasure of knowing that one of my favorite Paris restaurants is still so good.

Le Chardenoux
1 rue Jules Valles, 11th Arrondissement, Paris, Tel. 01-43-71-49-52. www.cyrillignac.com Open daily. Prix-fixe menu 39 Euros, lunch menus 22 Euros, 27 Euros.

Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine and has written about food and travel for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Saveur, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 102 Best Restaurants (Random House), and a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014.  Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine and has written about food and travel for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Saveur, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 102 Best Restaurants (Random House), and a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014. Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

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