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Alexander Lobrano’s Letter from Paris: La Boîte à Sardine

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La Boîte à Sardine, Marseilles

La Boîte à Sardine, Marseille

It may sound odd, but as far as I’m concerned, the best time of the year to visit Marseille is during the winter. This is when the city is quiet without its growing tourist throngs, and the Mediterranean sun is more welcome than ever. The strong wind-scoured light at this time of the year makes the city rather beautiful, too. Marseille is a wonderful weekend away from Paris as well, since it’s only three hours away by TGV train and rooms in most of the city’s hotels go for low-season rates. If Marseille is never a particularly self-conscious city even in high season–it’s bluff disinterest in travelers is one of the reasons I like it so much, actually–it’s even more devoid of any social artifice during the winter.

Spending a few days here recently, I loved the fact that no one asked me about my accent when I spoke French, probably because in Marseille, France’s second largest and perhaps most cosmopolitan city, almost everyone has an accent. The only exception was when I went for lunch to my favorite seafood restaurant, La Boîte à Sardine, which recently moved to a new location near the church of  Saint-Vincent-de-Paul at the top of la Canebière, the city’s storied main artery, which runs down hill to Le Vieux Port, or the old harbor where the city was founded as a colony by the Greeks some 2600 years ago. There’s simply no better place in this port town to get a really good reasonably priced feed of just-out-of-the-water seafood, so I popped in early and took a stool at the counter, since I knew they wouldn’t waste a table at this very popular place on a single diner.

 

Table with life vests at La Boîte à Sardine, Marseille

Table with life vests at La Boîte à Sardine, Marseille

I was very much hoping my favorite dish would be on the catch-of-the-day menu—sea anemone beignets, but when I asked the owner, Fabien Rugi, who directs the restaurant from behind the bar in front of the kitchen, he told me that he hadn’t been able to get any the day before and suggested I go have a look at the fish stand (they also sell fish) to see what else might tempt me. Before I could slip off my stool, though, he slid a glass of white wine across the bar and said, “Votre accent–vous n’etes pas d’ici.” No, I told him, I’m not from Marseille. “Vous venez d’ou? Vous etes Belge?” (Where are you from? Are you Belgian?”) No, I told him, I come from across the sea.

There were a few beautiful loup de mer (sea bass) on the stand, but I knew I’d have to order quickly to get my hands on one, since the restaurant was filling up quickly, and the reason it has so many regulars is that Rugi sources his menu from local small-boat fishermen. So I darted back to the bar and ordered some shrimp as a starter and then a loup de mer. Rugi warned that it might be a lot for one person, but I knew I wouldn’t have any trouble finishing a large specimen of one of my very favorite fish. The grilled baby squid, spaghetti with langouste (rock lobster), and rougets (red mullet) also tempted, but I held firm.

La Boîte à Sardine, Marseille

La Boîte à Sardine, Marseille

 

If I had any doubt as to where I was, the shrimp–plump perfectly cooked crimson curls of juicy sea meat–came with a big spoonful of garlicky aioli as well as a lemon wedge, and I’d just finished my first one when I heard Rugi telling a businessman down the bar from me that he couldn’t have his fish if he didn’t close his iPad and devote his attention to his meal. “I just wanted to read the paper,” the man implored, but Rugi insisted. “Concentrate on your meal instead–how can you really enjoy your food when you’re reading? My fish deserves your full attention.” One way or another, the triangular shaped room hung with fish nets and decorated with nautical bric brac offered ample distractions of one stripe or another. I loved watching chef Celine Bonnieu at work in the kitchen behind the bar, and the high spirits of a table of molls with dolls  getting happy on a bottle of Champagne were contagious, too.

Some people might perceive of Rugi, a lean man in a knit cap who’s as light on his feet as a boxer, as being a little high-handed with his customers, but I rather admire it, because he’s incredibly proud of the quality of the fish he serves, and rightly so. And if I often have a magazine with me when I go for a solo meal, I rarely read it, for the simple reasons that I enjoy observing what’s going on around me and I prefer to focus on my food.

 

La Boîte à Sardine, Marseille

La Boîte à Sardine, Marseille

When my sautéed sea bass arrived, with sides of deliciously smoky tasting caponata filled with capers, a timbale of Camargue rice and some broccoli florets in lemon butter, the first thing I ate were the gorgeous fish’s succulent meaty cheeks. “Bravo!” I heard and looked up. Rugi was nodding at me with a smile and some curiosity. “They’re the best bit,” he said, referring to the cheeks and topping up my glass even though I hadn’t ordered more wine. “Les Anglo-Saxons never know to eat the cheeks. In fact they don’t really know how to eat fish at all,” he said and shook his head. The curious French habit of referring to English speakers by the name of a long gone early medieval tribe notwithstanding, I felt more flattered than patronized by his remark for the simple reason that it’s often true as concerns people who come from countries that prefer filets to anything whole.

With just a little dribble of green olive oil from a mill in Les Alpilles, the fish was superb–firm and delicately tasting of the sea. I was completely lost in its voluptuousness when a handsome blonde woman edged up to the bar next to me and exchanged ‘Bonjours’ with Rigi. Then she asked him if he served bouillabaisse, and I knew what was coming.  ”You don’t eat bouillabaisse in a restaurant!” he told the abashed Scandinavian. “It’s really only good when you make it at home!” After the chastened woman withdrew, he picked up a plump red mullet by the tail. “This is what she should eat in Marseille!” he said, to me and the previously scolded businessman a stool down, and we nodded. He was right, of course, but I also couldn’t help but thinking how the cameo I’d just witnessed summed up so much of the impasse between Marseille and the rest of the world. In this city, you see, they’re blunt, they’re proud and they’re honest, and the power of this trinity often startles people who don’t realize it’s well intended. For my part, I like knowing I never have to bring a magazine with me to lunch at La Boîte à Sardine, and if it were just out my door, I’d be tempted to have lunch there every other day at least.

La Boîte à Sardine, 2 boulevard de la Libération, Marseille, Tel. 04-91-50-95-95, Closed Sunday and Monday. Lunch only from 11am-3pm. Average 35 Euros.www.laboiteasardine.com

 

 

alec  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 second book, Hungry for France, will be published by Rizzoli in April 2014.  Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Alexander Lobrano’s Letter from Paris: Bistrot Belhara

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Bistrot Belhara, Paris

Bistrot Belhara, Paris

It’s hard for me to say exactly when my deep love of good food first surfaced, but suffice it to say that the thing that interested me most when our local newspaper arrived on Wednesdays were the school-lunch menus, which were published weekly so mothers could decide what days they’d pack a lunch for their kids or let eat the hot meal at school. My first school, the GreensFarmsElementary School, had a crew of smiling Italian ladies in hairnets who cooked everything from scratch, so the food was usually delicious. They made lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, baked zitti, grilled Italian sausages with peppers, and lots of other hearty, healthy dishes, including corned beef and cabbage for Saint Patrick’s Day, and once when my mother ate with us in the cafeteria before an afternoon field trip to a nearby dairy farm, she got up at the end of the meal and went into the kitchen to thank the cooks. I’d returned to the rails for a spoon for my butterscotch pudding, and so witnessed the scene. Abashed by my mother’s thanks, one of the cooks replied, “You’re very welcome, Ma’am, but it’s a privilege to feed the children,” she said.

Similarly, I loved going to restaurants, which was an infrequent pleasure for me as a child, and not only because they offered an opportunity to eat things like egg rolls or fried clams (Howard Johnson’s) that Mom didn’t make at home, but because they were so interesting. I loved watching the people, catching snatches of other people’s conversations, observing all of the little dramas unfold all around the room–here a birthday party, there a quarrel or a romance. I couldn’t have expressed it this way then, but aside from the food, what I fascinated me was that every restaurant is like a little theater where you can glean a lot of information about where your are.

All of this came to mind the other night when I went to the Bistrot Belhara, a very good new bistro deep in the 7th arrondissement of Paris. I lived in the 7th arrondissement for many years, first on the rue Monsieur and then on the rue du Bac, and so I was sort of bemused to find the same cast of characters who populated my life for many years.

Diners at Bistrot Belhara, Paris

Diners at Bistrot Belhara, Paris

While waiting for Bruno, I listened to the cashmere sweater drapped couple next to me planning a golf holiday in Mauritus, while the quartet to my right was fulminating about Francois Hollande. There were at least a half-dozen velvet covered Alice bands in the room and tight chignons galore. On a weekend night, the coat tree just inside the door was hung thick with loden, Barbours and vintage Burberry, as if many of those dining in this snug but handsome old-fashioned dining room with stenciled tile floors and bare wood tables were planning to head off to hunting parties in the Sologne after dinner. All told, the clientele presented such an intricate and irony-free tapestry of the habits, manners and preoccupations of the French bourgeoisie that it would have made great material for a sociological dissertation.

As I sipped a glass of white wine and studied the menu, I wondered what sort of gastronomic baseline chef  Thierry Dufroux would chose to cater to such a crowd. On the one hand, he’s had a really distinguished career cooking in the kitchens of the Grand Hotel du Palais in Biarritz, Michel Guerard, Bernard Loiseau and Alain Ducasse in Monaco, and on the other, every chef surely has to do some sort of culinary calculus in terms of what’s likely to please customers from the neighborhood in which he or she has chosen to locate. To be sure, there are some addresses that will pull people from all over Paris if the food’s good enough, and which will ring bells in the foreign press, but before that happens, he or she is very much dependent pleasing the locals. And as I know not only from the dozens of Sunday lunchs to which I was invited to by the Englishman and his French wife who were one set of landlords while I lived in the 7th–I’ll still never forget my astonishment when I realized one warm May afternoon when their windows were tightly closed and the radiator in the dining room was still hissing that they were mutedly making an attempt at match-making between me and their shy sturdy scholarly daughter–and many years of living in the 7th, what makes these people happy is a penny-wise vieille France cuisine bourgeoise.

The menu read well, though, and the restaurant was packed, so I guessed we’d eat well. In the meantime, the cordial waiter answered a question I had even before I’d asked it when he told me that the restaurant’s Moroccan sounding name actually refers to a type of very tall wave in the Bay of Biscay off of Saint-Jean-de-Luz in the Basque Country, a reference that might seem obtuse until you’re reminded that the chef worked in the Basque country for years and that it might be very roughly transliterated into “High Tide.” Once Bruno finally arrived from the distant suburb of Paris where he’d currently working, we ordered, and a homey well-made amuse bouche of butternut squash soup with brousse de brebis (fresh ewe’s milk cheese) and croutons announced the beginning of a very good meal.

As part of the 38 Euro prix-fixe menu, Bruno’s terrine of pheasant and patridge with foie gras was beautifully made and had a politely feral and charmingly bosky flavor, with twin tridents of Romaine referencing the fact that Dufroux had done time with Ducasse. And in a similarly autumnal register, my scallop stuffed ravioli in a light veloute of cepes might have made a pious old maid blush with pleasure and was just the sort of dish that the locals would love, because they’d never get up to anything this elaborate in the kitchen themselves. This dish tipped the kitchen’s hand, too, since it tacked safely away from cooking that might jar conventional ideas of French gastronomy while heading squarely towards a welcome haven of technical perfection and generosity informed by a well-disciplined creativity and the use of excellent produce.

 

escaloppe of veal sweetbreads, unctuously cooked to the texture of a nervy custard and garnished with baby potatoes and some Bayonne ham.

“Escaloppe of veal sweetbreads, unctuously cooked to the texture of a nervy custard and garnished with baby potatoes and some Bayonne ham.”

Our main courses were excellent, too. Bruno’s flaky golden petit pâté chaud was the type of exquisite dish that many of the other habituees of this restaurant that night might have enjoyed back in the sigh-inducingly long gone days when they could still afford full-time cooks, and it was filled with hashed duck and foie gras, one of the best pairings ever imagined in France. While Bruno was in a gamey mood that night, I couldn’t stay away from the escaloppe of veal sweetbreads, unctuously cooked to the texture of a nervy custard and garnished with baby potatoes and some Bayonne ham. In an inspired sleight of simplicity, the silky salty ham flattered the sweetbreads, and the appropriately unassuming sauce of deglazed pan drippings did what a sauce should do, which is meld the dish together. This preparation was perfect summary of Dufroux in the kitchen, too–casually elegant, technically perfect, and respectfully traditional with a tweak of irreverence to make it his own.

Small wonder then that this restaurant has so impressively established itself as a neighborhood favorite within months of opening, and this while walking the tight-rope of an affluent but reflexively parsimonious clientele who are wary of anything that wanders too wide of the mark of traditional French food.

I don’t own a loden coat, and I’m not planning on buying one anytime soon either, but I really enjoyed this meal too, and not just for Dufroux’s cooking, but for the alert, gracious service and the fact that even though it’s not a bargain address, it’s remarkably good value for the money given the caliber of the cooking.

"A Mont Blanc–pureed sweetened chestnuts topped with whipped cream and little fluttering shreds of gold leaf"

“A Mont Blanc–pureed sweetened chestnuts topped with whipped cream and little fluttering shreds of gold leaf”

With no trace of being tongue-in-cheek, the grand finales of our meal were vieille France enough to make me chuckle. Bruno had a Mont Blanc–pureed sweetened chestnuts topped with whipped cream and little fluttering shreds of gold leaf, and I had a fluffy rice pudding with caramel sauce, raisins, hazelnuts, pine nuts and pistachios. So everything about this restaurant is sincere and wholesome, and it’s not only a good choice for a supremely French bistro meal with sly haute-cuisine credentials, but a fascinating place for some sociological sleuthing if you agree with me that there’s nothing better than a neighborhood restaurant in any city for an intriguing keyhole wide view or two of local life.

 

Bistrot Belhara, 23 rue Duvivier, 7th, Tel. 01-45-51-41-77.www.bistrotbelhara.com Metro: Ecole Militaire. Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. Closed Sunday and Monday. Prix-fixe 38 Euros. Average 40 Euros

 

alec   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 second book, Hungry for France, will be published by Rizzoli in April 2014.  Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Travels with Larry Olmsted: 12 Great Las Vegas Restaurants

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vegas

 

In recent years Las Vegas has emerged as one of the world’s greatest eating cities, home to more acclaimed celebrity chefs and Michelin-Star winners than anyplace else, but also full of less glamorous yet still delicious down home eats.

With close to 40 million annual visitors, Las Vegas is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, and its clientele is amazingly diverse, from every part of the country and every corner of the globe, and the cuisine it offers represents this, with everything from kaiseki to tapas, Hawaiian specialties to Brazilian barbecue, rare Florida stone crabs to fish and chips. Carnivorous Vegas is awash in steakhouses, with the best selection in the world – and at every price point – while it also has an amazing array of fine French dining, with the most famous Parisian masters represented here. Then there is Las Vegas’ own homegrown specialty, the all-you-can-eat buffet, offered here in more iterations and staggering variety than anywhere else.

In that vein, the following are twelve eateries that are all exceptional within their genre, span a huge variety of tastes and price points, are located on and off the Strip, and in every case will deliver what the Vegas visitor desires most – a delicious and satisfying meal.

Continue reading 12 Great Vegas Restaurants

 

larry   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.

Alexander Lobrano’s Letter from Paris: Bistro Bellet

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Blanquette de Veau at Bistro Bellet, Paris

Blanquette de Veau at Bistro Bellet, Paris

So after hurriedly shedding my winter work uniform of black watch plaid flannel pajamas at 7.30pm and taking a shower, I was late for a change. But this time I had an excuse, sort of. I was engrossed in a fascinating article about chilis by Lauren Collins in The New Yorker, so by the time I looked up fifteen minutes after boarding a bus to go meet Bruno, Richard and Roberto for dinner, I was in front of the Gare de l’Est, well past my destination, the Bistro Bellet, in the rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis. Rushing through the streets of the 10th arrondissement on a rainy night, I was amazed by the speed with which this once endearingly shabby and rough-and-tumble neighborhood continues to morph into one of the trendiest quartiers in Paris–it seems as though a new restaurant, bar and cafe or five opens in this quartier every week. At the rate it’s changing, it’s just a matter of time, I fear, before the Kurdish bakeries and African hair-dressing salons are driven out of business by shops selling gluten-free pasta and hand-dipped candles.

Bistro Bellet

Bistro Bellet

For the time being though, enough of the scrappy real-life texture of the old Faubourg du Strasbourg-Saint-Denis survives that it was a surprise to get to the door of the Bistro Bellet and find such a sleek, good-looking bistro in a neighborhood dominated by kebab shops. This airy gallery like space is the latest restaurant of Nicolas Lacave, who runs the very good Niçois restaurant Réparate in the 11th arrondissement, and he recruited a really excellent cook, François Chenel (ex-Chez Michel, ex-Cafe des Musees) to execute a menu of bistro dishes so classic as to make a bistro-lover like me almost misty eyed.

The boys were nibbling squares of pissaladiere–Niçoise focaccia topped with sauteed onions, anchovies and black olives, over glasses of white wine when I blew in, and since everyone was hungry, we made fast work of the short but very appealing menu, which was provided by a lanky waiter in a black trilby hat that pointedly announced his hipster credentials. After he took our order, he returned to see what we wanted to drink. I told him we’d have a bottle of the 2011 Domaine des Schistes Cotes du Roussillon Villages, a supple medium-bodied red that’s a terrific food wine. He nodded, and then he said, “Uh, where are you from?” with a sort of exasperated tone of voice. I knew why he was asking, too–the other three had all showed up in their office gear, i.e., nicely cut jackets and dress shirts, and were well-groomed and prosperous looking. And though everyone (but most of all Bruno) spoke fluent French at the table, there were those accents. “Venezuela, Connecticut, Ohio, and Valenciennes,” I told him, and he shook his head as though this were just too much to take in, but we weren’t going to let a little low-grade attitude distract us from our excellent bottle of wine and our first courses, which arrived promptly from the open kitchen at the back of the room.

Mussels at Bistro Bellet

Mussels at Bistro Bellet

Since I love their faint taste of fresh hazelnuts against a bracing backdrop of iodine richness, I couldn’t resist tasting several of Bruno’s mussels, which were perfectly cooked, parsley flecked and generously served. On this damp night, though, I was craving good old-fashioned Gallic grub, a yearning that Chenel’s beautifully made terrine de campagne more than sated, since it had a perfect balance of ground pork and richly flavored fat and was served with cornichons and excellent bread from chef Thierry Breton’s Sangaré Bakary (and no, that’s not a typo–it really is spelled bakary). “This is a really good restaurant, Alec,” said Roberto as our starters were being cleared. “And it’s great to be eating some food that isn’t intended to show off someone’s creativity for a change,” he added, and I agreed.

There’s no doubt that Paris has a flock of astonishingly talented and impressively creative young chefs, but sometimes all I want is the type of real old-fashioned French food which caused me fall in love with the French kitchen when I first came to Paris as a teenaged boy.  Blanquette de veau is baby food for people with sharp teeth, and it’s as comforting as being under a heavy goose-down-filled quilt on a snowy night. The word that most often comes to mind when I eat it is kindness, since this dish is as reliably kind and comforting as my much loved grandmother Jean or Miss Lucy Gorham, the gentle woman who taught me to read when I was in first-grade. With me sitting nuzzled next to her, Miss Gorham smelled softly of lavender and vanilla pudding. Since she traveled during the summer when school was out, she had fascinating jewelry–Navajo turquoise bracelets, a pair of red coral earrings from Sorrento that look like little bunch of grapes with tiny gold leaves, a moonstone necklace from a London antique store, and after our lesson, she’d take off her treasures and let me examine them while she told me about where they were from. Her stories deeply nourished the incubus of my restless imagination, and I don’t think she’d be at all surprised today to learn that I live in Paris and that blanquette de veau is a dish that profoundly sustains both my ever weedy imagination and my love of French food. This blanquette was one of the best I’ve ever had, too, and I know that Richard, who’d ordered it as well, felt the same way, since there was a polite tension between us as we served ourselves from the shared cast iron casserole it was served in–neither of us wanted this pleasure to end, and both of us wanted every shred of meat, every last drop of satiny sauce.

Erquy scallops at Bistro Bellet

Erquy scallops at Bistro Bellet

 

Bruno was very happy with his Erquy scallops in the shell with caramelized endive, and though initially wary that it would be fatty, Roberto loved his juicy Bigorre pork, which was fork tender from having been braised and then grilled and rich with the flavors of unjustly maligned fat. There’s good fat and bad fat, of course, but when French food is as well sourced as it is at the Bistro Bellet, the fat is a gift for being so rich with flavor.

Just over the midway hump of a very successful meal, we were happy, and the conversation roamed from the serious to the silly in the way that it will inevitably do when old friends who don’t see each other very often–everyone’s just so damned busy–catch up, blow on the embers, have a laugh, remember why the friendship was born to begin with and relax. What we talked about: Venezuelan politics, a new luxury hotel in the Maldives, our upcoming trip to Vietnam, the insanity of how work is leeching leisure out of all of our lives, my new book, the threats to French raw-milk cheese culture, the madness of over-designed appliances, celebrity marketing, a brilliant Alice Munro story in a recent issue of The New Yorker, and where everyone will be for Christmas, leavened with gossip and hearsay about common friends.   Under ‘normal’ circumstances, the four of us might have been likely to skip dessert– weight-watching and alarm clocks, oblige, but we were having too much fun to pack the tent early, and so Bruno ordered creme caramel, Roberto poached pears, and Richard and I had cheese, a superb Beaufort with a pretty little nosegay of mesclun.

Creme caramel at Bistro Bellet

Creme caramel at Bistro Bellet

So to our mutual regret, we paid the bill–the crowd in this restaurant was getting progressively more interesting during our meal, which ran from 8.30pm to roughly 10.30pm, because this place serves until midnight, rare in a city that’s become wiltingly early-to-bed. We jammed Richard and Roberto into Bruno’s Mini and drove them home. Fond farewells on the sidewalk, and then on our way home, Bruno said, “That was one of the best meals I’ve eaten in a long time.” And it was for me, too–the food was excellent, the room was great looking, and despite that feathery flutter of condescension towards four ‘mature’ men by the waiters, they did their jobs well. So put Bistro Bellet on your go list–I’ve already been back since the meal described here, and as a place to enjoy seriously good traditional French bistro cooking in a setting that doesn’t ape a farmhouse or a medieval auberge it was even better the second time around. Before I go back again, however, I might invest in a trilby hat

Bistro Bellet, 84 rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis, 10th, Tel. 01-45-23-42-06. Metro: Château d’Eau, Gare de l’Est or Jacques Bonsergent. Open Tuesday to Saturday for dinner only. Prix-fixe menu 32 Euros, average 40 Euros.

 

alec  Alexander Lobrano was Gourmet magazine’s European correspondent from 1999 until it closed. Lobrano has written for almost every major food and travel magazine since he became an American in Paris in 1986. He is the author of Hungry for Paris  (Random House), his personal selection of the city’s 102 best  restaurants, which Alice Waters has called “a wonderful guide to eating in Paris.” Lobrano’s Letter from Paris runs every month in Everett Potter’s Travel Report. Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

 

 

 

Alexander Lobrano’s Letter from Paris: Les Enfants Rouge

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Les Enfants Rouge, in the Marais

Les Enfants Rouge, in the Marais

Before I say anything else, let me state that Les Enfants Rouge, a new bistro in the Marais, is a good little restaurant and that Japanese chef Daï Shinozuka, who most recently cooked with Yves Camdeborde at Le Comptoir du Relais, is a solidly talented chef. This established, the two main things that I took away from a meal here with a friend the other night is that “la Bistronomie,” or modern French bistro cooking as pioneered by Yves Camdeborde when he opened La Regalade in 1992, is no longer cutting edge or even particularly directional in Paris, and that the noise level in Paris restaurants is rising so relentlessly as to put them in the same deafening category as most new places in New York or London.

For anyone who doesn’t know the back story, “bistronomie’ is a contraction between “bistrot” and “gastronomie” that was coined in the 1990s by the French food writer Sebastien Desmorand, and it was arguably first championed by Camdeborde when he left the kitchens of the Hotel de Crillon, where he’d trained with chef Christian Constant, often referred to as the father of this movement, because he trained so many of the chefs who practice this style of cooking in Paris today, in 1992. The core idea was to lighten and enhance traditional bistro cooking by applying the exigencies of haute cuisine cooking to the bistro idiom. The idea was to revisit the traditional ‘cuisine du terroir’ with a certain creativity and to juxapose modest ingredients like offal or inexpensive fish like mackerel with luxurious garnishes, fresh herbs, lighter sauces, and tweaks of unexpected seasoning.

Perhaps the most ardent advocate of “la bistronomie” has been the French website and guide Le Fooding, which was founded to shake up the totemic conventions of restaurant reviewing and food writing in France in the same way “la bistronomie” was rebooting the much loved culinary traditions of the Paris bistro. What I realized during dinner at Les Enfants Rouge, however, is that this movement is now almost twenty-two years old and has become the new normal in Paris, and as the idiom has become mainstream, it’s no longer surprising. Depending on the restaurant, it’s often very satisfying, even superb, but today it lacks the originality it once had for the very fact of its omnipresence. In fact, it’s now easier to find a ‘bistronomique’ meal in Paris than it is to find a traditional bistro feed. And in similar terms, Le Fooding has become a trend-arbiting institution alongside many of the other established French food guides. Don’t get me wrong–I like Le Fooding, but its unconventional, anti-establishment edge has dulled as its business model has grown. Like almost every magazine in the world, they’ve bowed to the sirens of celebrity marketing and now have a dreary column of celebrities’ favorite restaurants, and it also still surprises me that they don’t invite readers to comment on their reviews when when even the venerable Michelin guide has opened itself up to feedback from the gastronomic peanut gallery. So ultimately, I find myself wondering, What’s next?

Still, for anyone who wants to discover a textbook perfect example of bistronomique cooking, Les Enfants Rouge is a very good address, and it also goes some way to redressing the fact that the Marais still doesn’t have as many good restaurants as the popularity of this Paris neighborhood would warrant. Arriving at this small attractive room off of the trendy rue de Bretagne, the space came off as sort of a small art gallery with contemporary paintings spot-lit on the white walls and a mixture of tables dressed with white table cloths–a break from the normal convention of bistronomique addresses, and a few, i ncluding ours, that were bare and looked like old linoleum topped school desks.

 

Saute of mushrooms with an egg.

Saute of mushrooms with an egg.

Service was attentive and charming, and after my friend Lady K from Washington and I had ordered, we were served little cups of foamy soup as an amuse bouche. It was so delicately flavored that we had trouble identifying its ingredients, but there was a vague but pleasant smokiness to the soup that suggest bacon. Next, Lady K was served a saute of mushrooms topped with an egg in a little enameled casserole dish perhaps that emphasized the stylized rusticity of the cooking here, and I ended up with a tureen of delicious chicken bouillon garnished with chopped mint, cubes of celery root and carrot, and, in very direct reference to Shinozuka’s previous kitchen (Le Comptoir du Relais) tapioca, which sounds much better in French as “perles du Japon” (Japanese pearls). Both dishes were earnest and well-executed, if more polite than intriguing.

Roasted filet of cod with razor clams.

Roasted filet of cod with baby clams.

My roasted filet of cod with baby clams was impeccable, however–a perfectly cooked piece of fish with the gently briny baby clams adding both texture and gastronomic punctuation to the quiet flavors of the cod. Lady K’s veal breast was beautifully cooked, too–browned so that it was crusted and caramelized and then slow-braised so that she could eat it without a knife. Her garnish of slivered griddled baby potatoes and chopped bacon in a light foamy cream sauce was excellent, too, for its bosomy autumnal earthiness. in fact the only problem mid-way through our meal was that the room had become so noisy that we had to shout at each other across the table to be heard. I think this was partially due to the full house in a small, low-ceilinged room with no sound-absorbing fabric in the windows, but also to the fact that the ambient noise level in Paris restaurants has risen dramatically during the last few years. I don’t regret the whispery staidness that once prevailed in many Paris restaurants, but it’s obvious that a certain aural restraint is falling by the wayside in Paris as its done long ago in London and New York. In New York, I’d note that many of the most amped up diners seem to be young Wall Street yahoos with absolutely no awareness whatsoever of those around them, while in Paris, it seems that an old Gallic taboo on being loud in public spaces has been discarded by a younger crowd out to have a good time.

Cheese board at Les Enfants Rouge

Cheese board at Les Enfants Rouge

I finished up with a generously served and well-selected cheeseboard, while Lady K had a nicely made Baba au Rhum, correctly soaked tableside from a good bottle of rum from the island of La Reunion. Because the room was so noisy, we decided to have coffee down the street at a cafe instead of lingering, and once we were in a calmer setting, Lady K said, “So what did you think?” “It was a good meal,” I replied, “But it lacked any distinctive signature.” Or in other words, it was like so many other ‘bistronomique’ meals I’ve had in Paris during the last twenty years, but I don’t fault chef Shinozuka for this. Instead, I think he’s a talented chef and a very diligent student of the idiom in which he was trained. But for the first time in years, I do find myself wondering: So what comes next in Paris?

Les Enfants Rouges, 9 rue de Beauce, 3rd, Tel. 01-48-87-80-61. Metro: Arts et Métiers, Filles du Calvaire or Saint-Sébastien-Froissart. Open Wednesday through Monday for lunch and dinner. Average 35 Euros.

 

lobrano-150x150  Alexander Lobrano was Gourmet magazine’s European correspondent from 1999 until it closed. Lobrano has written for almost every major food and travel magazine since he became an American in Paris in 1986. He is the author of Hungry for Paris  (Random House), his personal selection of the city’s 102 best  restaurants, which Alice Waters has called “a wonderful guide to eating in Paris.” Lobrano’s Letter from Paris runs every month in Everett Potter’s Travel Report. Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

 

Maine’s Mount Desert Island: A Treasure Even with Acadia Closed

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Map of Bar Harbor, Maine. Courtesy of Maine magazine

Map of Bar Harbor, Maine. Courtesy of Maine magazine

By Melissa Coleman

(Adapted from “48 Hours in Bar Harbor” in Maine magazine) 

Mount Desert Island (MDI) is no stranger to politicians and national parks. In 2010, President Obama and the first family made the trek to the island to commemorate the centennial anniversary of a similar trip made in 1910 by President Taft, who then referred to the Maine air as “champagne in a prohibition state.” In Taft’s day, wealthy Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Pulitzers, Fords, Astors, Carnegies, and Morgans had already discovered the area, built grand houses, and bought up much of the land—which many later donated to create, in 1919, what is now the 47,000-acre Acadia National Park.

While the park is the island’s crown jewel, there’s no need to cancel your trip because of the government shutdown. Park roads are closed to cars, but the natural beauty of the area remains unrivaled, and most businesses are open through Columbus Day weekend for a last hurrah before the end of the season. Herein, some options.

 

HIKE

My first stop on a trip to MDI is Cadillac Mountain Sports (207-288-4532), Bar Harbor’s source for outdoor apparel and equipment since 1980, where the friendly and knowledgeable staff can help you plan for any adventure or destination.

They tell me now by phone that people are still hiking and biking in the park, but it’s very much at your own risk, not to mention prohibited, and overworked rangers will tell you to leave if they see you. 

A safer option might be a walk on the Shore Path along Bar Harbor’s coastline to Bar Island, Bar Harbor’s namesake, where a tidal land bridge can be accessed from Bridge Street. 

Come evening, this is also a good place for some of the best star gazing in the country, thanks to the famed darkness of Mount Desert Island’s night skies, which can make the Milky Way bright enough to reflect off the ocean.

View of Somes Sound from Sergeant Drive. Courtesy of Maine magazine.

View of Somes Sound from Sargeant Drive. Courtesy of Maine magazine.


BIKE 

Something about being on an island makes me want to leave the car behind. I was glad to rent a bike at Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop (207-288-3886) on the corner of Cottage Street and head out to explore the island under my own power. 

In an effort to escape the automobiles that began taking over the island after 1913, John D. Rockefeller Jr. oversaw the creation of 45 miles of carriage trails that traverse rolling terrain and feature 17 elegantly constructed native stone bridges spanning the gorges and rushing creeks.

Since the bicycle-friendly carriage trails are all within park boundaries, you might peddle instead on a 23-mile loop out of town on Route 3 to Northeast Harbor and Route 198, then back to Bar Harbor on Route 233. A scenic option could include a detour onto Sargeant Drive for views of Somes Sound, but exercise caution as the road can be narrow and curvy.

 

BOAT

Early explorers to MDI arrived by boat, including Frenchman Samuel Champlain, who dubbed the rocky land mass Isles des Monts Deserts (Island of Barren Mountains) in 1604. Afloat is still one of the best ways to explore the island today. Look for the red-sailed Margaret Todd, a 151-foot, four-masted schooner, and the Ada C. Lore, a Chesapeake Bay oyster schooner measuring 118 feet (207-288-4585). 

Or hop on a mail boat in Northeast Harbor for the Cranberry Isles (207-244-3575 ) to see the anonymous rock art randomly stacked around the isles. When in Southwest Harbor you can visit the birthplace of the Hinckley Picnic Boat made by renowned yacht builder, The Hinckley Company.

 

GARDENS

Exploration of a botanical nature abounds in the island’s lovely estate gardens, most of which were built in early 1900s, and include Charles Savage’s Asticou Azalea Garden (207-276-3727), the English- and Japanese-style Thuya Garden (207-276-5130) next to Asticou Terraces in Northeast Harbor, and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden (207-276-3330), located on a nearby bluff in Seal Harbor and designed by landscape-design maven and former resident Beatrix Farrand.

 

TENNIS & GOLF 

Many visitors opt for tennis whites for the public courts in Northeast Harbor or, if staying at the Harborside Hotel (207-288-5033), the clay courts at the member-only Bar Harbor Club, where the Obamas once played. 

They might also tee off as President Taft did at the par-seventy Kebo Valley Golf Club (207-288-3000), the eighth-oldest in the nation, or try the waterfront greens at the nine-hole Causeway Club (207-244-7220) in Southwest Harbor.

 

ART 

The saying goes that Mount Desert Island sits on its view. This was the view that caught the eye of landscape artists Thomas Cole and Frederic Church, of the renowned Hudson River School, whose paintings of the area inspired the first vacationers, as well as many of today’s galleries. 

On the way into town, I like to stop to see the latest show at the Ethel H. Blum Gallery (207-288-5015), named for the accomplished watercolorist and MDI summer resident, at the College of the Atlantic, and the cozy and eclectic studio gallery at Rocky Mann’s Pottery Studio (207-288-5478) in Hulls Cove is a fun stop on the way out. As well, the stained-glass windows crafted over the last century by Louis Comfort Tiffany and other artists at St. Savior’s Episcopal Church are worth a look.

Everyone wants to own a wooden animal sculpture made by local artist Dan Falt at Rockend Art Barn (207-276-3928), the home of a popular summer art camp for children.

 

MUSEUMS 

The Abbe Museum (207-288-3519) is the place to learn about the native Wabankis, among the first peoples to explore the area more than 5,000 years ago, and who named the glacier-carved landscape Pemetic, or “mountains seen at a distance.” 

As well, lessons in local animal life and ecology can be found at the George B. Dorr Museum of Natural History (207-288-5395), located on the College of the Atlantic campus.

 

Bocce at Lompoc Cafe in Bar Harbor, Maine. Courtesy of Maine magazine.

Bocce at Lompoc Cafe in Bar Harbor, Maine. Courtesy of Maine magazine.

EAT & DRINK 

My parents will use any excuse for dinner at the Burning Tree (207-288-9331) in Otter Creek to enjoy Elmer Beal’s delightful fish and vegetable dishes sourced directly from the restaurant gardens and local fishing waters. (Closing Saturday, Oct 12 for the season.) 

Other favorite hangouts in town include Cafe This Way (207-288-4483), which has a great Asia-Maine fusion lobster-and-crab spring roll, or the Lompoc Cafe (207.288.9392) with Mediterranean-style pub food and bocce or live music on the outdoor patio. 

For a mojito and dinner that’s hard to beat (and enjoyed by Obama), there’s the Latin-inspired Havana (207-288-CUBA). If it’s location you’re after, the outdoor Terrace Grille (207-288-3351) at the Bar Harbor Inn overlooks Frenchman Bay. Reel Pizza Cinerama (207-288-3828) offers both wood-fired pies and a movie—be sure to arrive early to claim one of the coveted couches.

In Southwest Harbor, stock up on wine, cheese, and Manset Little Farm Chocolate Chip Cookies (207-244-7013) at Sawyer’s Market (207-244-3315) and make the trip over to Bernard, one of the prettiest working harbors in Maine, for a classic Maine lobster feast at Thurston’s Lobster Pound (207-244-7600). 

Passing back through Northeast Harbor, you never know who you might run into at Pine Tree Market (207-276-3335)—maybe even Martha Stewart, who owns Skylands, the nearby Seal Harbor house originally built for Henry Ford’s son, Edsel, in the 1920s. 

I’ll opt to end the evening by sampling a new flavor at one of the multiple MDI Ice Cream (207-801-4006) locations (Obama opted for coconut), or those with adventurous stomachs might try instead the lobster ice cream at Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium (207-288-3281). 

Breakfast brings some tough decisions. Go back to Cafe This Way for a McThisWay breakfast sandwich, get raspberry pancakes at 2 Cats Restaurant & Inn (207-288-2808), or grab coffee and pastries at Morning Glory Bakery (207-288-3041). If your breakfast generally involves a laptop, the Opera House Internet Cafe (207-288-3509) has one of the better WiFi connections in town (which can come in handy, as cellular coverage tends to be a tad unreliable).

 

View of Frenchman Bay from the Terrace Grille at Bar Harbor Inn, Maine. Courtesy of Maine magazine.

View of Frenchman Bay from the Terrace Grille at Bar Harbor Inn, Maine. Courtesy of Maine magazine.

LODGING

When you like to put up your feet in style, the big resorts include Bar Harbor’s Harborside Hotel (207-288-5033) and the Bar Harbor Inn (207-288-3351), both with spas open to anyone seeking relaxation and pampering.

Historical classics include the rambling turn-of-the-century Asticou Inn (800-258-3373) in Northeast Harbor and the iconic yellow Claremont Hotel (207-244-5036) in Southwest Harbor. The Wonder View Inn & Suites (888-439-8439) was once the estate of mystery writer Mary Roberts Rinehart, and Balance Rock Inn (800-753-0494) is a former turn-of-the-century mansion on the Shore Path.

For a non-historical option, try the Bar Harbor Regency Holiday Inn (207-288-9723), which features 278 rooms, heated pool overlooking the ocean, tennis courts, and restaurant.

The Acacia House Inn (207-288-8122) offers an intimate bed-and-breakfast experience, and was founded by the original owners of Morning Glory Bakery—so yes, great breakfasts.

Which brings us to another day to bike, walk, eat, and browse our way around MDI. Here’s hoping Acadia National Park re-opens soon. In the meantime, enjoy the options.

ColemanMelissa     Melissa Coleman is the author of This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family’s Heartbreak, a New York Times bestseller and Indie Next Pick for May 2011. It was a People’s Pick in People Magazine, excerpted in O, The Oprah Magazine, and a nonfiction finalist for the New England Book Award and Maine Literary Award. Melissa is a columnist for Maine Home + Design magazine and organizes the Super Famous Writers Series at The Telling Room, a Portland writing center for children and young adults. She lives in Maine with her husband and twin daughters and can be found at www.melissacoleman.com.

 

 

Alexander Lobrano’s Letter from Paris: La Rotisserie d’en Face

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La Rotisserie d'en Face, Paris

La Rotisserie d’en Face, Paris

The dog days of August are a challenge in terms of finding places to eat when friends come to town, but they also offer me a rare opportunity to revisit places I haven’t been for a very longtime. So when a gaggle of pals decided on dinner a few weeks ago and wanted somewhere in Saint Germain des Pres, it occurred to me that we could go to La Rotisserie d’en Face, a place I hadn’t been in years.

When chef Jacques Cagna opened this studiously ‘Country French’ style dining room specializing in roast chicken in 1992, I lived on the Left Bank and went often, because the straightforward food was good and it was reasonably priced. You often saw Cagna here, too, because his eponymous two-star main table was just down the street, and he was rightly proud of the simple but good-quality French comfort food he served here. So the La Rotisserie d’en Face got a lot of press coverage, and then became a listing i most of the world’s major English language guidebooks to Paris. It remains in these pages today, too, although I rather doubt that most of the writers have been back recently.

Cagna retired several years ago and closed his main restaurant, but this place soldiers on and fills a need in a popular tourist neighborhood for simple uncomplicated French food as much today as it did on the first day that it opened. I think concierges must love it, too, since it hits the right buttons for being within walking distance of their front doors, and also moderately priced with a menu to please almost all comers.

The fact that it was August and many Parisians are away on holiday notwithstanding, this is a restaurant that people who lived in the neighborhood pretty much stopped going to many years ago, because it became known as a tourist table. Rightly or wrongly, this is just a fact of living in a heavily touristed city. When a restaurant’s clientele becomes largely transient and mostly foreign, Parisians don’t want to eat there anymore. The other night, though, there was a large well-dressed family from Bordeaux, but as far as I could hear, almost everyone else was foreign, including the four of us, Americans who have all lived in Paris for a very longtime.

La Rotisserie d'en Face, Paris

La Rotisserie d’en Face, Paris

Eyeballing the menu, we agreed it looked more innocuous than interesting, but no one had any trouble finding something to eat. As it was a warm night, three of us had the cold tomato-zucchini soup with basil and the fourth chose the chicken liver and duck pate with watercress salad. Served in white porcelain bowls, the soup brought business-class dining to mind, since even at the height of tomato season in France, it lacked any depth of flavor or the rich scarlet color of ripe tomatoes and was timidly seasoned. The translation of the French word ‘courgette’ to ‘zucchini’ on the menu was another indication of their predominantly American clientele, too, since the British and most other northern European call them courgettes. In America, the vegetable must have either arrived with or gained popularity after the arrival of Italian immigrants. Though it was served too cold and defaced with a squirt-bottle dribble of sticky brown sauce that was probably some derivation of Balsamic vinegar, the pate was “correct,” as the French would say, the adjective in this instance meaning something that’s acceptable. Of more interest, actually, was the accompanying watercress salad, since these crisp peppery greens seen to infrequently on Paris menus were ideal for rousing heat-dulled appetites.

Our exceptionally attentive and polite waiter, who automatically spoke to us in English, because who else comes here but English-speakers and he’d overheard us speak English, asked the three of us who ordered the roast chicken with potato puree if we wanted a wing (i.e. breast) or a leg, a nice touch, and told me when I asked that he sells many more wings than legs. The fourth diner chose the ‘pastilla’ of guinea hen, eggplant and pine nuts in a honey sauce. Well, the birds were sad fowl, with dry compact meat with very little flavor and the sort of elastic skin that’s created by heat lamps. They were described as ‘spit-roasted’ and ‘free-range,’ but the hopefulness elicited by these phrases sputtered as soon as we tucked in, and almost as if to emphasize the sorry anonymity of these poor poulets was the way they were garnished–with a single sprig of flat parsley and a few cubes on unripe tomato. The accompanying potato puree was ‘correct,’ but the jus that sauced our plates was remarkable only for nearly total absence of flavor.

Pastilla at Rotisserie d'en Face, Paris

Pastilla at La Rotisserie d’en Face, Paris

Meanwhile, the pastilla had flown the coop in terms of what this word should mean in Moroccan cooking, where it’s a specialty. Instead of flaky layers of pastry interleaved with fowl, my friend got a floppy confectioner’s sugar dusted crepe-like reticule stuffed with a “correct’ ragout of guinea hen and eggplant. Almost as some sort of vegetal consolation prize, her sack was accompanied by a large serving of salad and a few cubes of unripe tomato were scattered on her plate as–as what? Well, something decorative rather than edible. Not surprisingly, a pall briefly settled over the table as we tasted our food, and it was only banished by good conversation, a nice bottle of Saint Veran, and the well-intentioned ministrations of our very nice waiter. No one was tempted by dessert, and when we sat down on a cafe terrace for a coffee after dinner, one of the gang accurately judged the meal we’d just eaten as “Correct, sans plus,” or acceptable, but not more than that, helas!

La Rôtisserie d’en Face, 2 rue Christine, 6th, Tel. 01-75-85-14-60. Metro: Odeon. Open Mon-Fri for lunch and dinner. Saturday dinner only. Closed Sunday. Lunch menu 23 Euros, 28 Euros, 37 Euros.; average a la carte dinner 45 Euros.www.larotisseriedenface.com

 

lobrano-150x150    Alexander Lobrano was Gourmet magazine’s European correspondent from 1999 until it closed. Lobrano has written for almost every major food and travel magazine since he became an American in Paris in 1986. He is the author of Hungry for Paris  (Random House), his personal selection of the city’s 102 best  restaurants, which Alice Waters has called “a wonderful guide to eating in Paris.” Lobrano’s Letter from Paris runs every month in Everett Potter’s Travel Report. Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Alexander Lobrano’s Letter from Paris: Les Climats

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Les Climates, Paris

Les Climats, Paris

By Alexander Lobrano

This year in Paris, a late, damp and often overcast Spring has been pushing and pulling my appetite in all different directions. To be sure, I’ve eating as much French grown asparagus–both green and white, as I can get my hands on, but the gray skies and cool temperatures have left me yearning for sturdier comfort food than I’m accustomed to craving at this time of the year. Then I went to dinner the other night at Les Climats, a very pleasant new restaurant in one of my favorite restaurant venues in Paris, the elegant Belle Epoque dining room of a handsome old dormitory building that once housed young single ladies who worked for the P.T.T. (Poste Telegramme, Telephone), and found my seasonal groove again.

In the early nineties when this place first became an open-to-the-public restaurant, it was called Le Telegraphe, and it enjoyed a two or three year run as one of the most fashionable restaurants on the Left Bank, despite the fact that the food was never better than a little better-than-average. Tipped off by a friend who lives nearby that it had recently re-opened yet again–it’s been through several middlingly successful incarnations since it was Le Telegraphe, Bruno and I decided to treat ourselves to what we hoped would be a good dinner on yet another drizzly cool Friday evening. I knew nothing about the chef, but my friend did tell me that it had a ‘lush’ decor and that the wine list was all Burgundies, right down to a Cremant du Bourgogne instead of Champagne, and since I find Burgundies, especially white ones, absolutely perfect drinking for Spring, I thought we might be able to will the season into existence over a good glass of Burgundy or two.

Arriving, we had a choice to two different settings, the dining room up front with lots of scarlet wing chairs with leopard print trim and some very beautiful Secessionist style art-nouveau reproduction chandeliers, or a pretty terrazzo-floored terrace with white wicker chairs and a greenhouse walls overlooking the lush courtyard back garden where meals are served at noon only in deference to the neighbors. Since the dining room was one of those spaces that look too designed to be comfortable, we opted for the terrace, with its mix of British colonial and art-nouveau references.

The outdoor dining area at Les Climats, Paris

The outdoor dining area at Les Climats, Paris

Over a glass of very good Cremant de Bourgogne — I long ago learned that these sparkling wines not only offer exceptional value for the money but are often excellent — we studied the menu, which had clearly been been constructed to flatter the restaurant’s remarkable wine list. Willing summer to begin, Bruno ordered the sea bream carpaccio on a bed of razor-fine cucumber scales garnished with ambered colored gelee flavored with Xerex vinegar, a brilliant idea, and I had an impeccably well made Opera de foie gras on a bed of spice-bread sponge with Gewurtztraminer gelee. The steely artistry present in both of these dishes made me curious about the chef, and whom our very nice waiter informed me is Phan Chi Tam, a young Frenchman of Vietnamese origin who had most recently been working for Thierry Marx at Sur Mesure, his restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Paris.

The smart counter-casting of the eager young serving staff, most of whom commute to this plush corner of the Left Bank from far afield suburbs, leavened the atmosphere of the restaurant in a useful way as well. To wit, even the stuffiest B.C.B.G. poseurs were guilessly brought to heel by the sincerity of this trying-so-very-hard-to-please young crew.

 Our main courses were excellent as well. Bruno loved his steamed turbot with baby clams and a rich foamy dashi broth and was delighted to get his hands on a glass of the same sublime Puligny Montrachet I’d had with my foie gras (in addition to the spectacular wine list, they also offer a terrific variety of pours by the glass). My veal tartare, a fine foil for good wine, was coarsely chopped excellent quality meat that was garnished with a puree of fava beans and baby peas and very timidly seasoned with a little bit of citrus zest. Even though it was lovely with a glass of Hautes Cotes de Beaune, a little pinch of piment d’Espelette and a light sprinkle of coarse sea salt with sea weed would have given this fine product more personality.

logo-les-climats-2

Desserts were excellent, too, including the Pierre Herme-inspired litchi and fresh raspberry macaron I enjoyed and a lime-flavored ‘boule de neige’ (frozen dairy confection) with ginger-and-passionfruit coulis that Bruno chose. Though it’s rather expensive at dinner–you could easily spend 130 Euros a head with a glass of wine or two, I suspect this sophisticated, worldly and well-conceived place will be hugely popular this summer at noon, when they serve two reasonably priced prix-fixe lunch menus (36 Euros and 45 Euros) in their secret garden. And after all of the years during which this type of restaurant–serious tables with seriously good French cooking for a well-heeled and well-dressed clientele, have been dying out, it’s nice that even during this balkish Spring, a welcome trend to their renewal continues not only with the charming Les Climats, but Goust and places like Les Tablettes de Jean-Louis Nomicos, this latter restaurant being a real forerunner of this gastronomic redux.

Les Climats, 41 rue de Lille, 7th, Tel. 01-58-62-10-08. Metro: Solferino. Open daily. Lunch menus 36 Euros, 45 Euros. Average a la carte dinner 120 Euros.www.lesclimats.fr 

lobrano-150x150 Alexander Lobrano was Gourmet magazine’s European correspondent from 1999 until it closed. Lobrano has written for almost every major food and travel magazine since he became an American in Paris in 1986. He is the author of Hungry for Paris  (Random House), his personal selection of the city’s 102 best  restaurants, which Alice Waters has called “a wonderful guide to eating in Paris.” Lobrano’s Letter from Paris runs every month in Everett Potter’s Travel Report. Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Travels with Larry Olmsted: 10 Great American Barbecue Joints

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Hot Rod's Real Pit BBQ, Wharton, NJ

Hot Rod’s Real Pit BBQ, Wharton, NJ

By Larry Olmsted

America’s love affair with barbecue has never burned hotter than right now – and the opening of new specialty barbecue restaurants where you’d least expect them is fanning the fire.

Not too many years ago if you wanted truly great barbecue, it usually meant traveling to one of the hotspots of the cuisine, Kansas City, Texas, the South, or California’s Santa Maria Valley, home to its own regional spin on ‘cue. If you lived in places like New Jersey or Boston or the affluent ski town paradise of Telluride, Colorado, you were simply out of luck.

All that has changed, and today you can get world class barbecue in most parts of the country, from coast to coast, as the fervor of this delicious cuisine has spread like gospel, prompting everyone from celebrity chefs to self-taught smokers to master the arcane art and bring honest to goodness barbecue closer to home.

Here’s my list of the 10 best barbecue joints across the US …

 

DSC_0067-150x150    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

Alexander Lobrano’s Letter from Paris: Goust

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Enrico Bernardo of Goust

Enrico Bernardo of Goust

I’ve known and admired Italian born sommelier and restaurateur Enrico Bernardo for a long time, or ever since I first met him when he was working at the Four Seasons George V Hotel, the setting from which he won the prestigious title of Meilleur Sommelier du Monde (world’s best sommelier) in 2004 at the remarkably young age of twenty-seven, with this honor following on the heels of Best Sommelier in Europe, 2002; Best Sommelier in Italy, 1996-97; and Master of Port, Italy 1995.

Not only does the elegant and charming Mr. Bernardo have a truly extraordinary nose and palate when it comes to wines, he also has a deep hands-on knowledge of cooking that he acquired while working as an apprentice at Troisgros in Roanne and Stockholm’s Grand Hotel, and it’s the profoundly sophisticated and sensual complicity that he spins between these infinitely complementary realms that makes Goust, Bernardo’s handsome new restaurant near the Place Vendome, the best new table to have opened in Paris for a long time.
Goust, Paris

Goust, Paris

For starters, there’s an ambience of worldly hospitality in the good-looking and stylishly decorated dining room on the first floor of a Napoleon III townhouse on a quiet street in the heart of Paris. The staff are polite and precise but also warm and relaxed, a service style that’s an important prerequisite for enjoying the highly curated meals Bernardo serves here. To wit, Goust is all about wine and food pairings, so the best way of dining here is to opt for a tasting menu with a different pour being served with every course.

This is what I did with my friend Ammo, who kindly invited me to join him at dinner here the other night and who also was just about the perfect person with whom to have shared such an experience. Why? This tasting concept works best when you’re with someone who’s curious, alert and observant, and yet the pleasure of savoring and discussing each pairing would have been utterly ruined by someone who took it too seriously. Bernardo’s joy is in constructing liasons that are so perfect and so passionate they seem metaphysically inevitable, which means that a meal here is an intense and intriguing experience. Fortunately, the dry senses of humor we share forestalled any drift to the lyrical. Instead we ate and drank extremely well, and appreciated every sip and every bite.
Settling in over a glass of Champagne, we put ourselves in the hands of Mr. Bernardo, who orchestrated a meal I knew would be superb from the moment I tasted the beautifully seasoned tuna tartare with an ‘egg’ filled with mango coulis. And if I didn’t know that chef Jose Manuel Miguel was Spanish (he’s from Valencia, worked at Martin Bersategui in the Spanish Basque Country and was most recently with Eric Frechon at Le Bristol), I’d have guessed it when he sent out a ruddy and deepy satisfying dish of riso alla Bomba, the short-grain rice from the fields around Valencia, with chopped razorshell clams, a good gust of pimenton and a citrus foam.
In the kitchen at Goust

In the kitchen at Goust

These days, I’m often exasperated by foam, which seems to be one of the preferred affectations of ambitious young chefs, but in this instance, the tart evanescent citric veil on the rice beautifully accentuated the gently iodine-rich flavor of the clams, which were a great foil to the al dente rice. The Manchego foam on the grilled rougets and potato with a sublime coulis of piquillo peppers was a bit timid and repetitive, however–this dish would have been just as effective in both visual and gustatory terms if it had been served nude.
The meal shifted to a more decidedly Gallic register with a gorgeous dish of poached egg with a generous garnish of black truffle on a bed of long-stewed beef and then a beautifully cooked duckling breast–juicy and rare, with a light jus and an intriguing garnish of lightly mentholated shiso leaves. The 2011 J.M. Doillot Volnay that was served to accompany these dishes was delightful and made a fascinating segue from the spectacular 2010 Weinbach Pinot Gris that has proceeded it (the wine flight began with a nice 2011 Louis Michel Chablis, followed by a 2011 Ferriato Grillo from Sicily, and a Lurton Rueda, the later being the least interesting pour). And dessert…to tell you the truth, I was so smitten with the final pour, a Graham’s Loans Tawny Port, a real invitation to musing and meditation, or as was the case with Ammo, another round of lively tale telling, that I finished this charming chocolate composition with my mind in a pleasant muddle and my camera lying idly on the table (Unless you do a blog yourself, you can’t imagine how tiresome it can sometimes be to be obliged to snap away all through your dinner instead of just enjoying it).
 As is true of any really great restaurant, Goust would be as good for a romantic night out as it is for a business meal. The lighting is good. The good bourgeois bones of the room with its handsome fireplace and parquet floor have been tweaked by the sort of 70s lighting fixture you’d expect to see in the old East German parliament building., which makes it witty looking. There’s a nice buzz in the room, too, and it’s a winningly adult, fairly priced and terrifically sincere restaurant that succeeds for being something completely unique in Paris. I can’t wait to go back, although it’s likely that my next meal will be in the new tapas bar that will soon open on the ground floor at this same address. N.B. Berardo has another card up his sleeve, too, which is a complete reboot of his first restaurant, Il Vino, in the 7th arrondissement. Suffice it to say that Italy will dominate the menu, and that the new place will be a lot of more relaxed than Il Vino, which I always liked but always found a bit too serious. Or a place I definitely wouldn’t have enjoyed going with Ammo, one of my favorite partners in gastro crime.
Restaurant Goust, 10 rue Volney, 2nd, Tel. 01-40-15-20-30, Metro: Opera or Tuileries, Closed Sunday and Monday. Lunch menuy 35 Euros, Prix-fixe menus 75 Euros, 130 Euros (with wine), average a la carte 85 Euros (wine included), www.enricobernardo.com
lobrano-150x150   Alexander Lobrano was Gourmet  magazine’s European correspondent from 1999 until its recent closing. Lobrano has written for almost every major food and travel magazine since he became an American in Paris in 1986. He is the author of “Hungry for Paris”  (Random House), his personal selection of the city’s 102 best  restaurants, which Alice Waters has called “a wonderful guide to eating in Paris.” Lobrano’s Letter from Paris runs every month in Everett Potter’s Travel Report. Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

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