Tag Archive | "dining"

Letter from Paris: Alec Lobrano’s Ten Favorite Meals of 2015

Tags: , , , ,


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS
Rouget with green apple peashoot spelt at Le Crouzil in Brittany. Photo by Alexander Lobrano.

Rouget with green apple peashoot spelt at Le Crouzil in Brittany. Photo by Alexander Lobrano.

 

Celeste in London

Celeste in London. Photo by Alexander Lobrano.

By Alexander Lobrano

On the eve of a new year, please receive this post as an expression of my gratitude for the huge privilege of good health, lots of travel to slack my insatiable curiosity and discover so many wonderful new chefs, kitchens, and foods, and also the pleasure of writing for so many superb publications. Among ever so many good ones–and believe me, I count my blessings, these were my ten favorite meals in 2015.

Continue reading …

 

 

 

 

 

 

alecAlexander 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, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is a Contributing Editor at Saveur  and writes a weekly column on restaurants in French for the weekend magazine of Les Echos, France’s largest business newspaper. Lobrano 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 Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014. Visit his website,www.alexanderlobrano.com (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Letter from Paris: At Mensae, Belleville Goes Gastro

Tags: , , ,


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS
Mensae. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

Mensae. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

By Alexander Lobrano

When I asked chef Kevin d’Andréa why he and business partner and fellow chef Thibault Sombardier had chosen the Belleville district of Paris as the location for their excellent new bistro Mensae, he said, “The neighborhood is really happening right now.” And for better or worse, it is. In fact this old working-class neighborhood in northeastern Paris where Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier were born is changing so quickly it’s inducing emotional and sociological vertigo in many longtime residents, like the delightful and sublimely talented chef Raquel Carena of Le Baratin, for example (for more on Mme. Carena’s feelings on the subject, see here).

City planners regularly ignore or underestimate the impact that restaurants can have on the health and evolution of an urban neighborhood. The first example that always comes to my mind is Danny Meyer‘s Union Square Cafe in New York City, since it both anticipated and accelerated the gentrification of a rundown, crime-ridden part of Manhattan when it opened in 1985. Ironically enough, Le Chapeau Melon and Le Baratin may have both had the same seminal impact on Belleville, too. To judge from the comments some people leave about the neighborhood on TripAdvisor, Belleville still elicits a sort of ‘Lions-and-tiger-and-bears, oh no!’ reaction from the world’s well-heeled suburbanites, and the first but rarely only time these people ever set foot in the area is to eat at these restaurants. The same thing is going on in New York City’s Harlem today, too.

A couple at the bar at Mensae. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

A couple at the bar at Mensae. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

Even with the soft French economy, the irrevocable mill of the real-estate speculation that leads to disruptive renovation continues to churn through what remains of those districts of Paris that once housed the city’s working classes, who are now gradually being expelled to the modern suburbs on the other side of the peripherique, the beltway that constitutes the rather constricting collar of the French capital. It’s the same everywhere, too: living in the city has become a privilege. And who can blame the young bobo couples who prefer good architecture, a strong sense of place and history, urban liveliness and diversity and great food to the murky blandness of most suburbs (I speak from experience, too, since I grew up in suburban Connecticut and told my mother as a nine-year-old that I hated living in a ‘melted city,’ which is how I perceived of our suburb, and would move to New York City, where my much envied cousins lived, as soon as I could; and I did).

Et donc à table, since the Latin word for table is mensa and the one that D’Andréa and Sombardier have created is very good indeed. Arriving, it presents an unexpectedly polished, almost television-studio perfect face to the world, with a service bar of recycled wood, ecru walls, suspension lamps, plank floors, a set of copper cookware on one wall and shelves filled with appetizing jars of preserved mushrooms, fruit and vegetables. So somehow it’s not surprising that the very experienced and media savvy D’Andréa and Sombardier were both finalists on the predictably noisy and not very convincingly gastronomic French television cooking show “Top Chef.”

Leeks at Mensae. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

Leeks at Mensae. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

Happily, however, the meal we had the other night was just about as many light years from a TV dinner as you could possibly get. This kitchen is very serious about its sourcing, always a good sign, with vegetables coming from the Bretonne produce princess Annie Bertin and Joël Thiébault, Armara for fish, Hugenin and Les Boucheries Nivernaises for meat, and Lyon’s La Mère Richard for cheeses (insofar as this last supplier is concerned, I detect that quality has been slipping since the business was bought by a company in Normandy). The menu is intelligently constructed with an appealing assortment of plates to share–frogs’ legs sautéed in garlic and parsley, charcuterie from Sibilia in Lyon, and Basque style squid, then five starters, five main courses, and three desserts.

On a rainy night when I arrived at the restaurant a bit shaken after having passed an impromptu shrine of wilting flowers and votive candles in a nearby doorway–one of the victims of the recent terrorist attack on Paris lived the building–the dining room was warm and soothing when I stepped inside, and the waiter was suavely charming when he brought us menus and aperitifs of white wine. More on him later, but we were both hungry and our starters were excellent. Bruno’s pastry-enclosed terrine de gibier(game) was unctuously rich and autumnal, with a bright garnish of sweet-and-sour pickled vegetables, and my leeks with a mimosa garnish (sieved hard-cooked egg) were gently marinated and delightfully accompanied with crispy croquettes of de-boned calf’s feet.

Paleron with puree at Mensae. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

Paleron with puree at Mensae. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

Our main courses were excellent, too. My chicken was pleasantly crisped but still  succulent and came with an earthy mix of winter vegetables–parsnips, carrots, and chestnuts–in a creamy vin jaune seasoned sauce that would have been better if the wine had been just a little more assertive. Bruno ordered the grilled paleron, a cut of beef that comes from between the neck and shoulder blade and which is often braised to break down the muscle in the meat. Served rare, it was full of flavor and unexpectedly tender, although this perception was doubtless abetted by a pool of fluffy feather-weight white polenta.

At a time when Paris is still a little raw and on edge, it was reassuring and mood-lifting to be in a busy, happy dining room that’s clearly a new neighbourhood favorite. It’s easy to see why, too, since everything about this place is so flawlessly thought through and professional, including the cooking, but on the other hand, it’s relaxed enough so that a young couple could come through the door around 10pm, ask if they were still serving, and be cheerfully seated at the service bar, where one of the dramatic taps dispenses Gallia, a legendary local brew that was made in Paris from 1890 to 1969, and then revived again in 2009.

Mensae's Compression de Pomme. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

Mensae’s Compression de Pomme. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

Since portions here are generous, we split a compression de pomme, a sort of deconstructed apple tart, for dessert,  and finished up our pleasant bottle of Fleurie, before coffee. When the waiter brought the coffee, we chatted a little bit about the restaurant, and he mentioned he’d previously worked at chef André Chiang’s brilliant Restaurant André in Singapore for two years. That’s when I recognized him, since he’d served me when I ate there last January. And I guess this little coincidence says a lot about what Belleville’s becoming these days, too. One way or another, there have never been so many good restaurants in this neighborhood, and this mensa is definitely one of them.

Mensae, 23 rue Mélingue, 19th Arrondissement, Tel. (33) 01-53-19-80-98. Metro: Pyrénées. Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. Closed Sunday and Monday. Lunch menu: 20 Euros, Dinner menu 36 Euros, average a la carte 35 Euros.www.mensae-restaurant.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, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is a Contributing Editor at Saveur  and writes a weekly column on restaurants in French for the weekend magazine of Les Echos, France’s largest business newspaper. Lobrano 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 Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014. Visit his website,www.alexanderlobrano.com (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

 

Kansas City Here I Come

Tags: , , , ,


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

 

Liberty Monument and WWI Museum

Liberty Monument and WWI Museum

By Marian Betancourt

Barbecue and jazz immediately come to mind when Kansas City, Missouri is mentioned, but there is much more to enjoy here in the heart of America, such as its sophisticated museums, a thriving arts culture and award-winning chefs and the city’s walkable neighborhoods are soon to be linked by a light rail system.

One of the most impressive museums anywhere and ranked one of 25 best in the U.S. is the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial. The citizens of Kansas City erected the memorial immediately after the war to commemorate the millions of lives lost, and all five allied commanders attended its dedication.  The museum underneath the monument was expanded and revamped in 2006 to showcase the second largest collection of WWI artifacts in the world and to interpret that war’s effect on civilization.  During these centennial years of the Great War, this is a must-see along with a related art exhibition at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art.

As you walk across the lobby’s glass floor, look down into a field of 9,000 red poppies, each representing 1,000 combatant deaths. An introductory film sets the stage for your visit with an overview of the many things that went into starting the war.  This was the first time machine guns, planes, and tanks were used in war, but most of the fighting was done by men confined for days or even weeks at a time in 35,000 miles of trenches.

 

WWI Museum film

WWI Museum film

 

Recreations of these muddy pits lined with sandbags, are especially moving. Give yourself a couple of hours to take it all in and stop at the museum store, a treasure trove of books and DVDs of the era including the BBC favorite, Downton Abbey.

For more insight into how the war changed the world forever, the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art organized “World War I and the Rise of Modernism” in cooperation with the National World War I Museum.  It has been extended through October by popular demand. “Modernism was a philosophical, social, political, artistic and literary movement that impacted and was impacted by the war,” said curator Jan Schall, who organized the show in three sections: before, during, and after the war with 59 works of art.

Kandinsky

Kandinsky

Before the war, Wassily Kandinsky in his “Sketch for Composition II” expressed the spiritual transformation he envisioned for the modern world.  Later, the DaDa movement arose to mock the war and surrealism and cubism also came into being.  One of Monet’s famous water lilies is here, painted while the fighting was only 60 miles away. His friends urged him to leave Giverney, but he refused and afterward gave the entire suite of paintings to France in the name of peace.

Browse the rest of the museum for its exceptional collections, such as Carravagio’s breathtaking, St. John in the Wilderness.  In the new wing is an exquisite metal sculpture by Maya Linn, depicting the Missouri River, which the artist claimed as her favorite.  Outside in the Sculpture Park stroll through a new glass labyrinth by Robert Morris.

There is more art to see at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and the many galleries in the city’s Crossroads Art District.

 

The New Dining Scene

Being far from any seacoast, you might not think of seafood in Kansas City, but one of the best restaurants in town, is Jax Fish House and Oyster Bar under the direction of Executive Chef Sheila Lucero.  Fresh seafood is a three hour flight from either coast, so Emersum oysters, exclusive to Jax, arrive daily from the Chesapeake Bay. Hot messy shrimp is a favorite with Old Bay seasoning, andouille sausage, and comeback sauce (spiced up mayo). The lump blue crab cake with grilled lemon tartar sauce is so light and pure you feel as though you are at the edge of the sea.

The Well

The Well

Just because there are four giant TV screens at The Well doesn’t mean it is an ordinary sports bar. Chef Eric Quisenberry runs a serious kitchen and posts his daily specials on a sandwich board outside. Always included are house-made soups and desserts such as the light as air strawberry short cake. His tender smoked brisket burger is subtly sauced and topped with very light fried onion rings. With vinegar dressed coleslaw on the side, this is a wonderful take on a classic. In good weather, you can also dine on the roof.

Affäre is an elegant modern German restaurant operated by Chef Martin Heuser, a 2014 James Beard nominee, who comes from Bonne where his family operated a restaurant. Try the lemon risotto and seared seafood with sea asparagus, or perhaps a cup of tomato bisque sprinkled with fresh violet petals.  Sauerbraten with pumpernickel raisin sauce, potato dumplings, and apple compote, is a favorite.

Spectators Gastro-Pub is on the mezzanine of the 730-room Sheraton Crown Center with its multi-level open lobby illuminated by a ball sculpture of long chains of sparkling light.

Chef Franck Marciniak is Paris born and trained. He came to the Midwest to help another chef open a French restaurant, and decided to stay. His flavorful dishes such as grilled herb marinated breast of chicken with a simple lemon parsley pan sauce served over roasted potatoes, peppers, and zucchini lets the pure flavor of each ingredient shine through. Beer and ice cream may not immediately come to mind as an ideal pairing until you taste the St. Louis style butter cake with Boulevard pale ale ice cream, chocolate sauce and Jameson caramel.

Butter cake at Spectators

Butter cake at Spectators

Cocktails such as The Flapper and Sidecar are a nod to the past at Pierpont’s in the newly restored 1914 Union Station, but the food is very much today such as duck two ways: seared breast, duck sausage, king trumpet mushrooms, whipped celery root and sherry glacé.  Union Station is the nation’s second largest railroad terminal after New York’s Grand Central. At its peak, 271 trains a day passed through here and Ernest Hemingway, cub reporter for the Kansas City Star, hung out looking for stories, while native son Walt Disney worked in one of the shops.

Lest we forget, there are at least 100 barbecue joints to choose from, such as Arthur Bryants, Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue, and Gates Bar-B-Q. Kansas City style barbecue is slow smoked over wood, usually hickory, for up to 18 hours. Every establishment has its own secret sauce, which is added after cooking, never during. Don’t leave town without trying those very succulent Kansas City morsels known as burnt ends (the burnt tip of brisket that captures more of the fat and flavor).

After dinner, visit some of the jazz clubs, such as Green Lady Lounge, in the historic district around 18th and Vine. During its heyday from the 1920s to 40s there were so many jazz clubs here that the city became known as the Paris of the Plains. The American Jazz Museum is here, too, featuring exhibitions and performances.

One trip to Kansas City won’t be enough because there is still the Pony Express Museum, the Arabia Steamboat Museum with its collection of sunken treasure from the Missouri River, and the National Archives, which has changing exhibitions of historic interest. And then a short detour down Truman Road will take you into nearby Independence to explore the Harry Truman National Library and Museum as well as his home. Stop in for a butterscotch sundae at Clinton’s soda fountain where he worked as a teenager. But that’s a whole nother trip.

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

 

Table8: How Business Travelers Can Get Into Better Restaurants

Tags: , , ,


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS
Ozumo in San Francisco

Ozumo in San Francisco

By Larry Olmsted

Unlike people on vacation, business travelers often book trips last minute or on short notice. But the nation’s best restaurants can sell out weeks, if not months, in advance, especially on peak nights like Fridays. It’s an inherent conflict even top luxury hotel concierges often cannot solve, and the result is usually compromise or disappointment.

Continue reading …

Award-winning travel journalist Larry Olmsted is a Contributing Editor to US Airways Magazine and Cigar Aficionado Magazine and “The Great Life” columnist for Forbes.com.

Award-winning travel journalist Larry Olmsted is a Contributing Editor to US Airways Magazine and Cigar Aficionado Magazine and “The Great Life” columnist for Forbes.com.

Le Colonial San Francisco: Elegant Dining in Bygone Vietnam

Tags: , , ,


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS
The lush patio at Le Colonial PHOTO Monique Burns

The lush patio at Le Colonial PHOTO Monique Burns

By Monique Burns

There’s a little corner of Old Vietnam in the center of San Francisco, just steps from Union Square.  It’s called Le Colonial, and it will transport you to the idealized romance of the 1920s when Vietnam was a French colony, and the ravages of war lay far in the future.  You’ll get a sense that you’re not in Kansas anymore from the moment you turn off Taylor Street into Cosmo Place, a hushed alley amid the downtown hubbub.  The entrance to the restaurant’s white two-story standalone building is flanked by antique wrought-iron lamps, and topped by a romantic glass-and-iron door canopy bearing the name “Le Colonial” in graceful pale-blue neon script.

Enter the building, whose slightly faded foyer seems peopled with ghosts, ascend the broad staircase, and you find yourself facing a lush patio. The long narrow expanse has white walls draped with purple bougainvillea and other tropical foliage, rattan chairs and tables, mosaic floors, and pale-green fluted columns that rise to a glass-and-ironwork ceiling.  A pair of carved wooden doors opens into the main dining room, with rattan tables topped with white tablecloths, brown tin ceilings, shuttered windows and ceiling fans.  Adorning the old-fashioned cream-colored woodwork are antique wall sconces, mirrors, and vintage black-and-white photographs of Vietnamese laborers and Frenchmen in light summer suits.

The main dining room at Le Colonial

The main dining room at Le Colonial

San Francisco’s Le Colonial is part of a small, lovingly tended family of Vietnamese restaurants that includes Le Colonial New York and Le Colonial Chicago.  All three were developed by Jean Denoyer, the longtime restaurateur who has been called “King of the Bistro,” and whose well-known restaurants include New York City’s Orsay, Brasserie Ruhlmann and La Goulue. Though the San Francisco restaurant opened in 1998, a little over 15 years ago, it is, in many ways, eternally young.  Part of that youthful air comes from the feeling you get of being caught in a time capsule, an illusion produced by the late designer Greg Jordan who, in 2005, was named one of Architectural Digest’s 30 “Deans of Design.”  The other is Chef Terence Khuu, who uses fresh local ingredients to produce classic, but updated, Vietnamese dishes. If you’re not sure what Vietnamese food is, the best way to experience it is to book a table at Le Colonial.

In Vietnam’s elegant French-Colonial days, on-the-rocks concoctions, along with “umbrella drinks,” were probably quite popular, if only to provide a respite from the tropical heat.  At Le Colonial, cocktails are taken seriously, too.  An upstairs bar and lounge, with cushioned green-and-brown rattan couches and chairs, small polished wood tables and faded Oriental rugs, is open every evening at five for cocktails, beer and wine, tea and appetizers.  Downstairs, in the restaurant, diners can choose from more than a dozen specialty cocktails, including the Bees Knees, with tea-infused No. 209 gin, saffron gin from Dijon, France, honey, lemon and egg white, and the Captain’s Mai Tai with Trader Vic’s silver and gold rums, almond liqueur, blood orange and mango puree.  Threesomes should consider ordering Trader Vic’s classic Scorpion Bowl.

Dense, delectable Chilean sea bass and sweet-potato noodles in stuffed banana leaves with black-bean coconut sauce PHOTO Monique Burns

Dense, delectable Chilean sea bass and sweet-potato noodles in stuffed banana leaves with black-bean coconut sauce PHOTO Monique Burns

The menu at Le Colonial is quite large and includes daily specials.  But your cheerful server will politely search out the secrets of your culinary soul and make appropriate recommendations.  Starters include several traditional chicken, beef and tofu-based broths with basil, chili and lime, as well as various spring rolls, with Asian ingredients like rice noodles, shiitake mushrooms, wood-ear mushrooms and taro, and West Coast ingredients like Dungeness crab and jicama.  There are refreshing salads, too, like the fusion-style Goi Ga with shaved Brussels sprouts, rau ram (Vietnamese coriander), cucumber noodles, carrots, crispy shallots, and shredded free-range Mary’s Chicken from nearby Sonoma County.  Otherwise, try Banh Hap So Diep, (potstickers, or dumplings, with minced sea bass, scallops and shrimp), Cha Cua (crispy coconut-crusted mini Dungeness crab cakes) or Suon Nuong (baby-back pork ribs braised in five-spice powder with hoisin barbecue sauce).

Entrees feature a wide variety of seafood, including prawns, salmon, sturgeon, Chilean sea bass and lobster.  Meats include chicken, duck, pork, beef and lamb. There also are vegetable and tofu dishes.  When I ate at Le Colonial there were three specialties on the menu, including Tom Hum Sot Bo Toi, a wok-fried whole lobster with garlic noodles, and Bo Luc Lac, wok-seared filet mignon on a bed of salad with crispy shoestring fries.  I ordered the heavenly Ca Hap La Chuoi, a dark, dense combination of sea bass, with tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, sweet-potato noodles and black-bean coconut sauce, stuffed into a banana leaf.

Traditional Vietnamese baked cassava cake at Le Colonial PHOTO Monique Burns

Traditional Vietnamese baked cassava cake at Le Colonial PHOTO Monique Burns

I might have ordered a light dessert like classic French crème brûlée, or a dish of gelato, perhaps macapuno, made from the jelly-like flesh of certain coconuts.  But my server wisely steered me to the traditional Vietnamese baked cassava cake with coconut sauce.  Sweet and dense, it was perfect after my spicy dark sea bass entrée.  Forgoing brandy or dessert wine, I settled on a nice hot cup of tea from the restaurant’s long list, including Celebration with China tea leaves infused with chocolate liquor; White Lotus with zesty notes of ginger and lemon, and sweet, spicy Bleu Peacock with notes of citrus.  There also are several types of coffees.

I nursed my cup of tea just as long as I could, relaxing in the peaceful elegance of Colonial Vietnam, my eyes flitting across the soothing decor and my mind wandering back to the remarkable tastes and aromas of dinner. Frankly, I hated to leave that friendly little corner of Vietnam which, in just a couple of hours, I’d come to love.  So, this Northeasterner vowed to return the next time I came to the West Coast, and to visit Le Colonial’s sister restaurants in New York and Chicago as soon as I got the chance.

What higher recommendation could there be?    

 

IF YOU GO

Le Colonial. 20 Cosmo Pl., San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-931-3600. www.lecolonialsf.com

The restaurant and lounge are open daily for dinner.  Reduced-rate parking for 2-3 hours is available at Cable Car Parking Services on Cosmo Place with validation from the restaurant.

 

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.

 

La Mar Cebicheria Peruana: Peru Beside the Bay

Tags: , ,


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS
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

Tags: , , ,


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS
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

Tags: , , , , , ,


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS
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

Tags: , , , ,


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS
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.

ld5

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

Tags: , ,


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

 

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)

 

Sponsors

Sponsors

Sponsors