July 11, 2011: Isola dei Nuraghi, super restaurant, wine bar and shop for all things Sardinian in the little town of Budoni in northeast Sardinia.
Isola dei Nuraghi, via Nazionale, 08020 Budoni, 349-8737776
In the background you can see some of the rooftops of the town/village of Budino. We are sitting on the terrace, enjoying the evening breeze, the wine, the food, when suddenly, a phalanx of honking autos passes through the main thoroughfare, a decorated cart with a resin-statue of a saint bringing up the rear. Michele says, "Budino has a population of 4,000. We are surrounded by 23 villages. Each has its own saint and its own saint's day."
That's me and Fabiana in the background, looking -- and feeling -- like the cats that ate the canaries.
June 25, 2011: Out & About in Sardinia
This is the first of several posts about a recent visit to Sardinia. This was my first vacation in four years. I had been invited to spend a week with Dante and Fabiana Palombi (see March 23 - 29 entries), so it's no surprise that the focus was on great food and exciting wine -- in addition, of course, to sea and sand and wind.
The Palombis rent a one-story cottage in a small housing complex (much like many small housing complexes on the island). Located outside of Olbia, in a subsection of San Teodoro and 8 kms from Budino. The veranda overlooks a field of parched grass leading up to steep, scrub-covered hillsides, all of which serve as grazing land for a small herd of cows and a pair of oxen. Nights were punctuated by the clanging of cowbells and the groans of oxen which sounded like garbage disposals in overdrive.
The kitchen was smaller than Fabiana would have liked and she sorely missed the full complement of culinary utensils she has at home in Civitavecchia, but we ate regally. And Dante had brought a carload of wines to taste, many of them completely new to me.
The wine accompanied mussels cooked in olive oil, garlic and hot pepper. Needless to say, the mussels were a)local; and b) perfectly cooked. I taught Fabiana the way French eat mussels, using the shell of the first mussel as a pincer. (Dante took several photos of the mussels but the night and the food were too dark.)
March 23, 29, 2011: I know they say that Facebook is impersonal, that it becomes a substitute for reality. I beg to differ -- for a number of reasons, one of them being my "friendship" with Dante Palombi, an Italian hand surgeon from Rome.
Dante asked to "friend" me about a year ago, after having read one of my articles. He has since read all of my books and always buys wines I recommend. Since most of these are not available in Italy, he contacts the vintners -- and me -- and makes every effort to find the wines.
So far, typical wine geek. But Dante has a zest for life that is infectious. Whether it's food and wine, family, friends, travel, work, local sports, he seems to get the most out of every second of every minute of every day. And he posts photos of most of his enthusiasms on Facebook, including mouthwatering pictures of dishes cooked by Fabiana, his adorable wife.
And he makes me laugh. No small thing in these times.
It came to pass that Dante organized a brief trip to Paris with Fabiana, two other couples and Matteo, the ten-year-old son of one of the couples. It was wall-to-wall eating and drinking. Herewith, a report, with Dante's photos.
The Nuits was quite a bit beefier, though everything's relative and when you're talking Prieure-Roch you're basically talking about subtlety, purity and discretion. All of that certainly applied here. It was our favorite wine of the night.
I must say that this Grange was different from my taste memories of it. I'd have to wade through my notebooks to find which vintages I had previously tasted though I imagine they predated 2005. My after-image of Grange, based on these early tastings, was of a beautifully fluid, silky wine, all of a piece, painfully elegant.
This wine clearly needed more time. It was chewy and muscular, with focused, dark cherry flavors and a fair bit of heat. The label said something like 13 or 14 degrees alcohol but we thought it was at least 15. An impressive wine, nonetheless.
You will have understood that I like Le Miroir a lot. Do go: Le Miroir, 94 rue des Martyrs, Paris, 18eme; 01 46 06 50 73)
December 17, 2010: A perfect winter meal at Les Ronchons:
Look no further. This happy place, seemingly right out of the provinces, is a half block from La Tour d'Argent and looks out on the back of Notre Dame, with that webwork of flying buttresses.
Les Ronchons seats about 30 in a no-frills but very comfortable setting -- with tables spaced at nice distances.
Homey cooking smells emanate from the kitchen. There's a lovely grower Champagne from Chouilly by the glass and everything on the menu tempts.
I started with roasted bone marrow (not quite sure of that construction), a-not-often-seen, very guilty pleasure. My friend, Joan, began with fat, pistachio-speckled sausages and potatoes -- a meal in itself.
I moved on to coq au vin de Corbieres, as classic as it comes; and Joan to confit de canard served with potatoes cooked in duck fat and salad.
Believe it or not, we were too full for dessert but saw some swell looking items passing by -- most notably a rather large serving of Baba au Rhum topped with a mound of whipped cream.
We'd have stayed for an Armagnac or two but, having dawdled deliciously, we were the last to leave.
By the way, our 2009 Morgon from Domaine de Vissoux (Chermette), was exactly what the food gods would have ordained for our meal.
Les Ronchons is open 7/7. I'll be back.
Les Ronchons, 25 Quai de la Tournelle, 5eme; 01.46.34.50.99
November 22, 2010: Dinner at Saturne-NOT:
Saturne-Not: I believe it was either Abbie Hoffman or the Living Theatre’s Steve Ben Israel who said, in a rare moment of self-criticism,” we were choking on our hipness.”
In a nutshell, that’s how I feel about the folks running Paris’s current “must-know” bistrot. If I had to sum up a dining experience there in two words it would be “inflexibly ideological.”
An offspring of the late, seemingly lamented Racines – the nerve center of the hypernatural, non-interventionist wine crowd and the food that goes with --, Saturne (the name is an anagram of natures) is the new home of Sven Chartier, the chef (ex-Passard), and Ewen Lemoigne, the manager-sommelier.
Saturne hit the ground running, as they say. So much so that the wine shop annex has been transformed into a bistro-wine shop-annex with a blackboard menu at which you can get charcuterie, several other small plates and a plat du jour.
Now, I’m mostly holed up in my north-of-the-ninth monk’s cell these days, plodding away on Loire 2. But November brings all sorts of New York and Jersey friends to town and that means meals, many of them, most of them in French restaurants of the bistro or wine bar variety --- of which I keep a incessantly updated mental list. Saturne was on it.
Given the buzz around town about Saturne, it should be no surprise that I could only reserve seats in the bistro. “But the food is the same.” I was assured. Lamentably – well, not completely -- that was the case.
I arrived early to check out the wine selections. The staff was setting up and a stern young man in black came forward to tell me the obvious: they were not yet open. Was he going to ask me to wait outside? Couldn’t I look at the wines on offer on the shelves in a little nook where no one could see me? (There’s a 9 euro corkage fee for the wines in the bistro where the prices posted are retail.) Well, yes, was his response, “But don’t expect us to do anything for you.”
Not a problem. I had my work cut out for me. When we’re talking hypernatural, non-interventionist, if you’re not an orthodox member of the flock, little flaws like Brettanomyces, say, or advanced oxidation or severe volatile acidity or refermentation in the bottle may not be what you want to deal with when you go out to eat. I wanted to find the safe bets.
And, yes, a goodly percentage of the usual hypernatural suspects were there – Claude Courtois /Sang des Cailloux (true I have always liked his blood-red Racines), Domaine des Griottes. Olivier Cousin, and the always interesting, sometimes delicious, sometimes weird wines of Jean-Pierre Robineau/L’Angevin whose 2006 Jasnieres “Le Charme du Loir” I recall having tasted after it had just been bottled following three years of barrel age. The wine was oxidized, not surprising, but also rather sour and with the curious flavor of the glue used to construct model airplaines. (Robineau, a gnome of a man, as middle-aged as I am, was there – often in amorous embrace – with a nubile young acolyte.) But I digress.
I’d located a handful of wines I was sure would be a)unflawed; and b) delicious, starting with, patrician, lightly cidery Champagne Extra Brut from Lassaigne “Vignes de Montgueux and moving on to the delectable pure Syrah, the 2009 Sierra de Sud from Domaine Gramenon.
My friend, Joan, arrived and we were sitting and studying the blackboard menu. I explained what jambon noir de Bigorre was in a way that inspired Joan to call it “heirloom pig” and made her want to order it. I had settled on clams mariniere, if I recall correctly and we wanted to ask about main dishes as only one was listed.
Re-enter the stiff young man in black with two menus. Each listed only set dinners, one at 39 euros, the other at 59. I started to ask…”NO!”…was the answer before I could finish my question.
We did learn, much to our well merited, it seemed, humiliation, that the items on the blackboard menu were only for lunch. Dinner was what we saw written in front of us. Period.
One of the courses was sardines. Joan hates sardines. Stiff young man in black relented a little. Disappared and came back suggesting a substitution of abalone. Accepted. Disappeared, came back again. Abalone was a ‘no go.’ So I ventured a suggestion, that seemed the soul of reason, not to mention ease, to me: a slice of jambon noire de Bigorre. Maybe. Back to the kitchen. Back to us. Nyet. If you want that, come to lunch. (“Not bloodly likely,” I’m beginning to think.)
Then Joan was offered gnocchi. Could I have that too? I asked. No.
What came was a succession of tapas-sized portions of nice food, all based on irreproachable raw materials, all prepared with respect and a dose of creativity. And I must say that the pigeon was perfectly cooked and devilishly toothsome.
We were asked if we wanted cheese. Joan yelped “Yes.” But there’s a supplement (minimum 8 euros) I said. But I’m starving, said she.
And so they brought out a plate of what had been billed as well-aged Comte. “Are you sure that’s Comte?” I asked, looking at a plate piled with ribbon-like frills, in other words, much like a serving of another cheese Tete de Moines. They assured us it was Comte and I believe it was, though, sliced like this, it was hard to get the real flavor of the winy pungency of a well-ripened Comte. You want a chunk. What it gets for the restaurant, however, is a way of making what must have been less than an ounce of cheese fill up an entire plate.
Do you really want to hear about dessert? I’ll just tell you that one of its elements was sorrel ice cream which other clients claimed to find “brilliant.”
Would I go back? Not on my dime. If someone was dying to go and offered to pay? Sure, why not.
Saturne, 17, rue Notre Dame des Victoires, Paris, 2e; 01.42.60.31.90. Cl. Sat.& Sun.
May 17, 2010: Lunch chez Jacky Dallais:
Jacky Dallais/ La Promenade:
For at least 20 years Jacky Dallais has been my favorite restaurant in Touraine. It’s located in the middle of nowhere but somehow gourmands from Tours and Saumur manage to make the hour-long pilgrimage to Petit Pressigny.
Abel, Dominique and I wanted to do something special for Ascension, one of France’s many bank holidays in May so we reserved there and were not disappointed.
First came a small galaxy of amuse-bouches: a lollipop made of a black-olive seasoned, parchment thin potato chip (homemade, natch); an emulsion of first-press walnut oil with spring radishes; and white asparagus sheathed in a crunchy wafer. Then came a soft boiled egg mixed with morel mushrooms and grilled asparagus.
This is white asparagus season in the Loire and no one can get enough of them – which is probably why Abel started another preparation of them, this time sauced with an ethereal mousseline and topped with what seemed like crisp of parmesan. I couldn’t resist the foie-gras stuffed morels – even after hearing that the morels were not local but came from Turkey. (Not good for my locavore cred and it gave Abel the opportunity to tease me mercilessly.) Three fat morels, each of them on a cushion of crisp potato, and filled with an oozy emulsion of foie gras. Pretty satisfying if not heart-stopping.
Abel and Dominique are vegetarians. Which left it up to me to make the reporterly sacrifice and order meat or fowl. Many temptations but, again, the reporter in me won out: I chose a local bird, the geline de Touraine. I thought it was going to be roased and that I’d get a substantial part of the fowl. All I got, however, was the breast meat – a let down for someone who believes that white meat is good only for sandwiches. That said, it was tender and juicy and accompanied by a “Royal” of its liver, a ball made of a mash of the liver and cream.
Abel got a “Royal” too: of rouget livers and cream to go with his grilled rougets on a puree of arugula. But Dominique got the best dish of all: wild turbot served with a sweet-sour jus of carrot and artisanal mustard. Perfectly cooked, the turbot was sublime and the dish as yummy as dessert.
Dallais worked for many years with Joel Robuchon. Each main course came with a side of Robuchonesque mashed potatoes.
I can never resist the cheese course chez Dallais. I think he buys the local goat cheeses fresh and then matures them himself, which means perfectly. (I’ve visited some of his suppliers and the cheeses they mature from their production can’t compare with Dallais’.)
Then a series of pretty desserts – a kind of strudel pastry topped with candied slices of mandarine and accompanied by crème brulee; strawberries from Brittany, some topped with vivid pink triangles that seemed like strawberry marshmallows; as well as a cornucopia of pre- and post-desserts, my favorites being the chocolate truffles and the alcohol-soaked cherries in little cups made of bitter chocolate.
So what about the wine? Dallais has an excellent list – both local and non, including what could be an extensive vertical of the Saumur-Champignys of the Foucault brothers.
Call me crazy, but I do like to start with a demi-sec. This time it was a ’95 from Philippe Foreau, pushing the demi-sec envelope with what seemed like 20 grams residual sugar. Gorgeous with the morels stuffed with foie gras. Then a 2006 Sancerre Les Culs de Beaujeu from Francois Cotat, a watery, rather reduced disappointment, then a real surprise/discovery which was not on the list: a 2005 Cheverny rouge, a pure pinot noir from Philippe Tessier. Sommelier Xavier went to the private cellar to find this for us as we were trying to decide between some Bourgognes AOC from big-name producers. It was perfect—supple and gentle with beautifully focused fruit.
Jacky Dallais/La Promenade
37350 Le Petit Pressigny
Tél. : 02 47 94 93 52
This page is largely devoted to restaurants, though I'll recommend shops, hotels and B&Bs in the margins, where the restaurants will be indexed by country and region.
Nb: You'll find additional restaurant recommendations -- Paris, the French provinces, cities such as Amsterdam, Bath, Budapest, Prague, Salzburg and more -- in Article Archives.
I also brought back the best arancini I have ever eaten -- it was filled with meat and peas and a mere lining of rice under a handsomely burnished crust of crumbs -- as well as some batter fried eggplant which I reheated, covered lightly with slices of scamorza.
The arancini and the eggplant came from a minuscule shop on a side street off the Ballaro market. One of the cooks gave me a caponata-topped slice of bread. Yum! I'd have brought back a container of that caponata as well as one of grilled eggplant but the shop wasn't really equipped for take-out. Next time I'll bring plastic containers with me.
April 29, 2010: The World's Best Cannoli :
Dateline: Monreale, Sicily: Everyone goes to Monreale to visit its stunning cathedral and it's well worth at least one serious visit. But even after you've marveled at its 12th and 13th century mosaics two or three times, you'll still want to go back to Monreale -- if only for the cannolis. Pasticceria Modica, a small, mom-and-pop bakery on a sidestreet across from the cathedral is the place. The pastry wrapper is crisp, crunchy and perfect. The filling, based on ricotta from a small local producer is devastating. The size of the normal cannoli is large. I'm guessing at least 9 inches long. Then there's the super-sized cannoli that must be a foot long and can only be thought of as a communal cannoli, to be passed around like a joint. The shop also makes excellent cookies and pastries. You should, however, shop before eating the cannoli. After, you're too stuffed to think about food. Pasticceria Modia, Via Veneto 18 Monreale, 091 6405449.
November 29, 2009: Thanksgiving a la Francaise
(Sorry, but these are my least out-of-focus pictures!)
She would take over the place for Thanksgiving and she and Dany (and Dany's chef) would prepare a traditional Thanksgiving meal. The tradition simply got transferred to the 3rd arrt when Dany moved.
With cheese crackers and sausage puffs prepared by Beth and Landron's Muscadet, we gathered together (as the traditional Thanksgiving song goes.)
Then there was a tasty pate, followed by the main course: turkey, cranberry sauce, wild rice, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing and I'm forgetting three or four "sides".
Beth had baked three types of pie: pecan, pumpkin and minced meat. I only ate the pecan. It was perfect.
The wines: Dany is a great wine professional and I knew the choice(s) would be impeccable. They were: Nouveau Beaujolais Vielles Vignes from Chermette and Nouveau Cotes du Rhone from Marcel Richaud. Forget "Nouveau." These were real wines -- juicy, succulent, lipsmacking.
This being Thanksgiving in France, transferred from Montmartre, Dany had hired a traditional Montmartois accordionist. We started with that French standard, "Besame Mucho" -- it's hard to avoid -- and continued with "Le P'tit Vin Blanc," "La Vie en Rose," "Les Copains d'Abord," and many more.
Dany is a fabulous interpreter of the classic French songbook. She used to sing all night. A few years ago she had a throat operation and couldn't sing anymore. Now she can get through one or two songs -- particularly when someone begs as abjectly as I had done.
She sang her favorite, La Complainte de la Butte, and then L'Amant de Saint Jean. I've included a link to the latter - from YouTube. If you want traditional American Thanksgiving songs, I've put YouTube links to them in Jackiezine.
Any wine lover will love Les Enfants Rouges. Here are the basics: Les Enfants Rouge 90 rue des Archives (behind a grill, down a cobbled alley) or, easier, 9 rue de Beauce, 01.48.87.80.61).
November 24, 2009: A Tour de France in 31 Stands :
The Salon des Vignerons Independants starts Thursday, the 26th of November, an ends on Monday, November 30th. Thousands of vignerons will be offering samples of their wines. And many more thousands will be tasting, shopping for the holidays (or for the entire year). The scene will be like Time Square or Trafalgar Square on New Year’s Eve. How to avoid a nervous breakdown?
Here’s a list of 31 stands, a mini-tour de France. Yes, there are good winemakers who aren’t on this list. But it’s meant to be a Cliff’s Notes guide, a short(ish) list of reliably fine producers, vignerons whose wines I think you will love. (The Letter and Number after each name refers to the aisle and the stand. There's practical info at the bottom of the list.)
1. DOMAINE BARMES BUECHER A-31
2. DOMAINE MANN Albert C-21
3. DOMAINE STENTZ -BUECHER P-1
4. CHATEAU CLAUZET C-59
5. CHATEAU LA TOUR DE BY D-1
6. DOMAINE REGIS BOUVIER C-3
7. DOMAINE FOUGERAY DE BEAUCLAIR J-50
8. DOMAINE MAGNIEN et Fils D-39
9. MACHARD DE GRAMONT Bertrand K-12
10. DOMAINE GOISOT ANNE ET ARNAUD A-24
11. Champagne AGRAPART ET FILS P-9
12. Champagne Pierre MONCUIT J-54
13. Champagne GIMONNET GONET G-70
14. VIGNOBLE DES VERDOTS D-24
15. DOMAINE DE L'ANCIENNE CURE R-46
16. CLOS DE GAMOT A-53
17. CHATEAU D'AYDIE L-19
18. DOMAINE CAUHAPE J-24
VAL DE LOIRE - VENDEE
19. DOMAINE DES OUCHES S-14
20. DOMAINE SAUVETE F-25
21. DOMAINE LA HAUTE FEVRIE T-41
22. DOMAINE DE LA LOUVETRIE et CHATEAU DE LA CARIZIERE L-57
23. DOMAINE CADY B-34
24. DOMAINE LAVIGNE M-65
25. DOMAINE OGEREAU L-27
26. DOMAINE SAINT NICOLAS Q-5
VALLEE DU RHONE
27. CHATEAU DE LA GARDINE/ CHATEAU SAINT ROCH N-22 28. DOMAINE RABASSE CHARAVIN Q-47
29. DOMAINE BRUSSET A-35
30. DOMAINE SALADIN R-43
31. DOMAINE CHARAVIN Didier L-33
Paris : Porte de Versailles du 26/11/2009 au 30/11/2009
26-27-28-29 novembre: 10h-20h
30 novembre: 10h-18h
Prix d’entrée : 6 Euro
Réduction : 3 Euros
groupe de 20 personnes au minimum
étudiants munis d’une carte en cours de validité
• Journaliste sur présentation d’une carte en cours de validité
• Enfant de moins de 15 ans, accompagné d’un adulte (sans remise de verre)
November 9, 2009: Rouge-Passion: A Wine Bar? A Restaurant?
Passion is one emotion you’re unlikely to feel at this pleasant neighborhood spot. Except for the fun you bring, the experience is more accurately summarized by the word ‘tepid.’
You may notice that I used the vague term “spot” when describing Rouge Passion. That’s because I don’t quite know what to call it.
Rouge Passion bills itself as a wine bar and restaurant but I don’t think it’s really either of those things. True, it does have a nice wine list with prices that are not totally unreasonable and a half dozen wines by the glass. (We had an appealing Syrah (vin de Pays) from Domaine Jamet at the lower end of the price range, 28 euros.) And it does serve food. The best of the food offerings may well be that Auvergnat standby, good sausage on a bed of aligot – which tasted like a warmed-up version of take-out from La Maison d’Aubrac. (It seems that there’s some relation between that 24/7 restaurant on the rue Marbeuf and Rouge Passion so the source of the ingredients, at the very least, may be the same.)
What I find most attractive about Rouge Passion is its airy, contemporary setting – with its wrap-around windows and vibrant black and white upholstered banquettes. It’s so attractively urbane, it might be a tea salon. And, as the place is close to my house, I could see returning for a glass of Darroze Armagnac (always a stellar choice) or a nice Chartreuse, the MOF (Meilleur Ouvriers de France) Sommelier bottling. Figure on 50 euros a person for a meal with a bottle of wine.
Rouge Passion, 14, rue Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, 75009, 01.42.85.07.62.
August 31, 2009 : A reader asked for budget hotel recommendations in the chenin-producing areas of the Loire.
A couple of ideas, from west to east:
1) Layon: Not well served by hotels. there is a bad hotel with a great location in Rochefort s/Loire. Forget it.
2) I think the following chambre d'hote is recommended by Claude and Joelle Papin (and you'll find lots of other possibilities at that website): La Bouquetterie
118, Levée du Roi René - F 49250 St Mathurin sur Loire
Tel : +33 (o)241 570 200; firstname.lastname@example.org
3) When I go to the Salon des Vins de Loire, I stay at the moderately priced Le Progres, across the street from the train station. 26 av d. Papin, 02.41.88.10.14. email@example.com;
4) Between Saumur and Chinon: wonderful b&b with great table d'hote, also an artisanal soap factory:Le Domaine de Mestré, 49590 FONTEVRAUD L'ABBAYE,(0)220.127.116.11.32, firstname.lastname@example.org
5) Chinon: lots of choices here. I usually tell my budget-conscious friends to stay at one of these two, both in Chinon:
a. Hotel Diderot, 4 rue Buffon, 02.47.93.18.87; email@example.com;
b. Agnes Sorel, 4 quai Pasteur, 02.47.93.04.37; firstname.lastname@example.org;
6) Vouvray/Montlouis area: I stayed in the following hotel in Montlouis when I discovered I had a flat tire at 1am following a full day of tasting and a well-lubricated dinner: Le Montloire, Place François Mitterrand 37270 MONTLOUIS
Tél : 02 47 50 84 84
Fax : 02 47 45 08 43
Site : http://www.montloire.fr
It was just fine. The owner of Ch la Tour de By was staying there too and graciously changed my tire for me.
7) From the Guide Routard ( a good source for budget hotels) I found this in Vouvray:Les Fontaines, 6, quai de la Loire,
37210 Rochecorbon - France
June 30, 2009: The Perfect Hotel-Restaurant in the Sancerrois:
If memory serves, it used to be impossible to find a really nice, inviting hotel in the middle of Sancerre’s vineyards. Simple B&Bs, sure; mini-palaces an hour away, no problem. But a well-equipped bona fide hotel in one of the most charming wine villages in one of France’s most charming wine regions? Nada.
Take heart all you Sancerre lovers who like your mattresses large and firm, your bathrooms modern and filled with little shampoos and moisturizers, your showers capacious – not to mention working air conditioning and WiFi. La Côte des Monts Damnés has all that and more.
Owned and run by Jean-Marc Bourgeois (son of Jean-Marie Bourgeois of the excellent wine house Herni Bourgeois), this small hotel has 12 charmingly decorated, comfortably outfitted rooms. What’s more, Jean-Marc is an experienced chef who has done stints at Taillevent, Apicius and at La Côte St. Jacques. On the ground floor he has installed a handsome bar – where, after a hard day of tasting wines, you can drink a characterful local microbrew called La Sancerroise – as well as a bistro and a more formal restaurant (what we used to call a ‘white table cloth’ restaurant).
On a recent trip I started with a delectable appetizer of asparagus and roasted langoustines (two of my favorite things and the dish went beautifully with one of my favorite Sancerres, Bourgeois’ cuvée Jadis), followed by excellent ris de veau. If I hadn’t eaten a dessert soufflé at lunch, I surely would have ordered a house specialty, Soufflé à la mandarine. Instead, a selection of homemade ice cream provided a tasty sweet finish to a fine meal.
I’d have to agree with the local vintner who commented that La Côte Monts Damnés and La Tour in Sancerre (which I’ll review in the near future) are the two best restaurants in the region. But the bistro is equally attractive, particularly its faithful renditions of classic French soul food such as pig’s trotters and petit sale as well as more delicate fare like chicken breast in a light tarragon sauce. I think you’ll find this is an address you’ll use often. La Côte des Monts Damnés, Chavignol 18300 Sancerre,Tel. : 02 48 54 01 72; email@example.com
March 18, 2009:For wine lovers exploring the Languedoc: A pit (or pig) stop from heaven: Le Bar a Vin de Pézenas:
The evening was entitled “Tout est bon dans le Cochon” (Every part of the pig is good) and t-shirts with this slogan had been made for all participants – local winemakers and journalists, mostly foreign, and mostly from northern climes, Sweden, Finland, Norway.
We, the journalists, had been invited to spend five days in the Languedoc, tasting the 2008 vintage. (More on that next week, in Tasting Notes.) And our pig-out, on the first night of our trip, was to be held in Pézenas, birthplace of Molière, promising sub-appellation of Coteaux du Languedoc, and the home of this very wonderful bar à vin.
It is a long, narrow room dominated by a vast wood bar. There are wine bottles and wine paraphernalia everywhere. And, when we arrived, the place was already crowded, the counters and table tops covered with a dizzying array of reds, whites and rosés – from a passel of domaines, among them La Liquière, Lacroix-Vanel, Abbaye de Valmagne, Plan de l’Om, Font Caude, la Tour Penedesses -- as well as platters of charcuterie and glass jars brimming with marinated zucchini and grilled red and green peppers steeped in olive oil.
The two owners, Daniel Le Conte des Floris and Xavier Demas, were completely unfazed, calmly uncorking bottles, slicing ham and bread,tending the makeshift bbq on the sidewalk where they were grilling pork ribs (from a rare breed of pig, le noir de Bigorre) and explaining specialties, like the toothsome local version of the traditional Corsican liver-based sausage figatelli.
Demas, a sommelier, is billed as a ‘polyglot’. (He worked in London so his English is surely more than adequate to the task.) Le Conte des Floris, who once edited La Revue des Vins de France, owns a small vineyard where he makes highly regarded organic wine. He generously opened the whole range of his production but selfish imbibers at the other end of the long room – I was seated by the front door -- bogeyed all the bottles and I never got as much as a single sip. (A word on de Floris’s name: any association with aristocracy is purely accidental, albeit homonym-nal.)
And it was to M. Le Conte de Floris that I spoke when, once sober and back in Paris, I wanted to find out the whys and wherefores, particularly what a hungry and thirsty traveler might find on a normal day.
Most of the charcuterie – the silky jambon cru, for example – is made from a breed of pig called the Lacaune.(Happy coincidence or not, the local breed of sheep, the ewes responsible for Roquefort, is also the Lacaune.) The rillettes and paté, however, are made from the aforementioned Noir de Bigorre. And all of it is produced by a woman who lives in the region and sells her wares at the Pézenas market. And there's also some winy pata negra furnished by a vendor in St. Chinian who services the entire Languedoc region. These delectables are available all the time.
Pork ribs barbecued on the sidewalk, however, were special. But there is always one hot plat du jour, something from what I like to call the repas de dimanche repertoire – cassoulet with confit de canard, for example, or blanquette de veau.
If I understand correctly, there are three tiers of wine. There’s a very special list with 500 references. (You find out about this list if the baristas sense you’re a fellow wine geek.) There’s an everyday 100 reference wine list. And there are always ten wines by the glass. It’s impossible to say which wine with any certitude as the selection changes constantly: if you happen to be lounging at the bar when one of the ten bottles empties you can pretty much ask for them to uncork anything that interests you and it will be served until it, too, is empty. (I don’t imagine DRC or even La Grange des Pères would fit into that category, however.)
As far as I’m concerned, this is a policy that is as enlightened as it is supple. I have always fantasized about opening a wine bar. And I must say that in mood, in food, as well as in the approach to wine, this place comes about as close to my fantasy wine bar as any I’ve come across. Go!
Dinner during the Salon des Vins de Loire (in Angers): Part II:
For years I have enjoyed the happy tradition of dining with the Marionnets after a hard day of tasting and schmoozing at the Salon. And, since the advent of the “Salon-Off” at Angers’ Grenier St. Jean – for biodynamic producers and would-be biodynamic producers – on the weekend preceding the Salon, the Marionnets and I, as well as assorted FOMs, chow down together on Sunday night.
We always eat at Le Relais, one of the better restaurants of Angers. Not an impassioned recommendation, it’s true, but the food’s eminently edible, and, during the Salon, it’s impossible to get a table: the place, down the street from the Brasserie de la Gare, is similarly packed with bold-face Loire vintners and their imporers –Eric Nicolas and his wife, for example, Philippe and Catherine Delesvaux at a table with Michel Gendrier. It’s a small Loire world.
The food here tends to be stylish, meaning, this year, large plates bearing a variety of small cups and shot glasses filled with a multiplicity of creatively apposite culinary affectations.
You can also have a simple plate of very good oysters. (As did Henry). Marie-Jose (Marionnet) had the crab and avocado confection. I – and FOM Jean-Paul Martin (former beverage manager at the former 2-Michelin-star Auberge des Templiers) had the seared scallops. These came in a bamboo steamer (why??) and were served over a radicchio-based salad with shavings of parmesan and (too few) minuscule fried onion rings, the combination of which would have tasted every bit as good if served on a plate.
It is also Marionnet tradition to have coq au vin. This is not on the menu. It is prepared for the Marionnets and we all order it. It comes with Robuchon-level mashed potatoes. That was Sunday night. There being no coq au vin on Tuesday night, we made do with the daily special of blanquette de veau – on the understanding that mashed potatoes would replace the time-honored accompaniment of plain rice.
On Sunday night dessert is also an off-the-menu Marionnet special: an irresistible tarte au citron, the absence of which on Tuesday night, pushed me to order a revived Angevin classic, Cremet d’Anjou – fresh cheese beaten into a freestanding mound with egg whites and cream and served with some sort of berry coulis.
Naturally we drink Henry’s wines. The basic cuvees – Touraine Sauvignon and Gamay -- come from the restaurant’s cellar. This year Henry finally managed to have the wines served a) cold, and b) on time. Henry always brings a bottle of one of his more interesting cuvees. (No one -- not me, not Marie-Jose -- has succeeded in convincing him to bring more than a single bottle.) So this year it was Premiere Vendange on Sunday and Cepages Oublies (made from Gamay de Bouze) on Tuesday.
As an act of self-preservation, I keep all my glassware so that I have in front of me a little wall of Spiegelaus filled with whichever special cuvee is being served. It’s not that the regular bottlings aren’t good. They’re delicious. It’s just that the weirder bottlings are scrumptious. And though Marie-Jose protested when, at Jean-Paul’s behest, a bottle of Bollinger was brought to the table, my “Oui, oui!”s drowned out her “Non, Non!”s, after which she admitted that Bollinger was Henry’s favorite. In my defense, and in the interests of having a relatively clear, reporterly head in the morning, I declined Jean-Paul’s invitation to go out for a nightcap.
Le Relais, 9 rue Gare, 02.41.88.42.51.
Dinner during the Salon des Vins de Loire (in Angers)
Every Monday night of the Salon des Vins de Loire I have dinner with Francois Pinon (Vouvray) and Abel Osorio (Domaine Nau Freres, Bourgueil). Lately we have been joined by Francois’ new associate, Michel, who seems to have replaced Francois’ daughter, Suzanne, in Team Pinon Salon servers.
We always eat at the Brasserie de la Gare which, as its name implies, is hard by the train station of Angers. It looks like just about every other brasserie hard by every other train station in every other provincial town in France. And the food it serves is “good enough,” (as in “good enough” parenting) which is probably true of all those other brasseries in all those other provincial towns as well.
We eat the same meal every year. But before sitting down, we follow the same routine. Although we’ve driven from the Salon (Parc des Expositions) together, at least one of us has other business to take care of before dinner. So the rest of us wait at the bar.
The Brasserie is kind of a dining HQ for Salon exhibitors so there are usually a number of them bellied up to said bar, drinking draft beer or Crémant. This year one of them was the “Hail fellow, well met” Joseph Balland of Sancerre who ordered a round for everyone.
Once we sat down (next to the Huet table) we looked at the wine list – for no real purpose, as we order the same wines every year as well. To start, Muscadet de Sevre & Maine sur lie “Cuvée des Ceps Centenaires” from Bernard Chereau. The vintage was 2005 and the wine was stellar. I just can’t figure out why people don’t love Muscadet. It was so tight and fresh and full of vigor, so mineral and zesty (lemon zests in this case), it was almost impossible to stop drinking.
Most tables order gargantuan seafood platters. This is one of my favorite things in the world but, fearing tummy upset, I don’t order anything risky during the Salon. Abel and Francois ordered oysters; Michel, a fish soup, another thing I love but I suspect that my reaction to the rouille served with it caused me to leave the Salon early one year. So I had frogs legs – mostly for the garlic butter they came drenched in. the latter triggered the boarding-house-reach reflex of the two vignerons present who wasted no time – and no bread – wiping my sauce off my plate.
Wine #2 is usually whichever vintage of Domaine Baumard’s Savennières Clos St.Yves is on the list. This year our waiter asked if we had seen the Salon “specials.” You mean you’ve got Clos du Papillon, I quipped, feeling very clever and mighty smug in my assurance that there was no such thing. Well, there was. The 2003. Now 2003 is not my favorite vintage but how to pass up a Clos du Papillon? It was, not surprisingly, heavier than usual, vintage oblige. And I clearly recall interviewing Jean Baumard in 1989 when he said that Papillon shouldn’t have any fat on its wings. Oh, well. A bit of chilling sufficed to lift it to a pretty damned high perch.
Now our meal gets complicated. What we have every year is not on the menu. Abel orders it ahead. Its line-fished sea bass, flambéed with Pernod and boned at tableside.
Once upon a time a wizard named Dédé performed this function with the ease of Baryshnikov leaping to the support of a ballerina.
Dédé retired about four years ago and, although Abel requests him every time he calls ahead for the bass, he’s never there. So we’ve essentially trained his replacement – who has evolved from being a ham-handed butcher to a balletic boner. (Keep it clean.)
The bass is always a treat, really fresh, delicate, with that soft yet firm flesh, so oxymoronic in its meatiness. This year, to my delight, the fish came with fresh, buttered baby spinach.
Now, desserts at the brasserie, particularly the garish lemon meringue pies and such on display in the refrigerated case, look like Pop Art sculptures. Claes Oldenberg and Andy Warhol come to mind. So, if it’s not profiteroles, I say skip it. Francois, however, was tempted by the pear “entremets” with a caramel au beurre salé sauce. Abel and I wanted the caramel sauce but no pear concoction. We did manage to get a ‘side’ of the sauce though the negations resembled a cross between Jack Nicholson in “Five Easy Pieces” and Abbott and Costello doing “Who’s on first.” We then, as tradition has it, ordered two Bas Armagnacs and four straws. There was none. Ok, Armagnac. Well, it wasn’t very good and Madame was only too happy to tell us this after we’d drunk them, adding that, had she been present she’d have told us that her house Cognac was much better and why didn’t we all have a glass of that. We did. Mistakenly thinking the Cognac was on the house. Demerit for Madame for leading every single one of us to believe the nightcap was on the house.
Brasserie de la Gare, 5 pl.Gare, 02.41.88.40.69
Cul de Poule: a nice new restaurant in the nabe: Hen's ass. What a name for a restaurant. Or for anything, for that matter. But it's also the name of a cooking utensil, shaped like a salad bowl, usually in stainless stell, in which to whip egg whites etc, is what the young waitress told me.
It's a tiny, narrow space on the rue des Martyrs Cul de Poule opened in August. It's got a tiny menu (to me, that's promising) and the names of its suppliers of vegetables, butter, pork and sausages etc are written on the vitrine (also a promising sign) and everything seemed more or less organic.
Last Saturday -- a sunny, blue autumn day -- I had a lunch date with my law school friend, Nancy, and suggested we meet there. The several outdoor tables were (almost) all claimed by families with little children. I got one of the families to remove their baby's paraphernalia from a tiny deuce wedged up against the restaurant's facade and settled in to bask in the sunlight, greet neighbors (eg Tim Johnstone, on his way to Tuscany), order a glass of white (an Alsace Pinot Blanc from Scheuller) and read the wine list.
Cul de Poule has a very short but very good list -- also organic in spirit -- prepared by the caviste who organizes the yearly winetasting in Groslay, on the outskirts of Paris. There was plenty of temptation, including Faugeres "Jadis" from Leon Barral at 40 euros bottle -- which I thought was too serious for this particular context, and, besides, I knew I as going to be very happy with a lightly chilled pinot noir from Goisot (at 27 euros).
The lunch menu, written on the vitrine, offered the standard option of two courses for 14 euros or three for 17. By the time Nancy arrived I had pretty much figured out what I wanted and she, very obligingly, ordered the remaining possibilities.
Appetizers: crudites: the standard mix of carrot salad, cucumber salad and so forth but everything was so fresh it seemed to have come straight from the garden and was dressed with a nicely seasoned; cold carrot soup with merguez and croutons, flavorful and satisfying.
For my main course I had a perfectly cooked filet of sea bream on a puree of fresh spinach; Nancy had what was called a galette savoise. This turned out to be a lacy crepe stuffed with chunks of delectable sausage and accompanied by cauliflower puree and a shot glass of lait ribot to use as a sauce.
Here is a definition (in French) of lait ribot from the website of L'Amoricaine Laitiere:
Le Lait Ribot, lait fermenté maigre, fait partie de la culture culinaire bretonne, au même titre que les crêpes ou les galettes.
A l'origine, la consommation du lait Ribot se faisait le vendredi avec des galettes : en effet, pour ce jour de "maigre, cette boisson à faible taux de matière grasse (0,3%) était particulièrement recommandée.
Depuis 1996, la gamme "Lait Ribot" a vu le jour avec le lancement du Lait Ribot TRADITION BRETONNE. Ce produit, afin de répondre à une évolution du goût des consommateurs, présente un taux de matière grasse plus important (3,5 %) ce qui lui donne un goût plus suave et une texture plus onctueuse.
L'Armoricaine Laitière, avec ses Laits Ribot, contribue à conforter et à diffuser la tradition gastronomique de la Bretagne tout en s'adaptant à l'évolution de la demande des consommateurs.
We did not have dessert. We had spent so much time talking and finishing our wine that we were -- by far -- the last customers and the staff was clearly setting up for dinner but I shall return!
Now this is not a restaurant that's going to be in the running for Michelin stars. (Thank god!) And it's not a restaurant you're going to shlep to if you're staying near, say, Denfert-Rochereau. But to have it in the neighborhood is a blessing.
Cul de Poule, 53 rue des Martyrs, 9eme, 01.53. 16.13.07
Momofuku Ko: New York City, or HOW I SUCCEEDED IN GETTING INTO MOMOFUKU KO WITHOUT REALLY TRYING
In June I returned to NYC for the first time in nine years. I like to plan ahead so, well before leaving France I contacted some restaurant-savvy people and asked for their recommendations.
Ed (The Art of Eating) Behr had a truly compelling list of possibilities, the most delicious-sounding being Momofuko Ssam Bar. He thought it would be too difficult to get a reservation at Momofuko Ko, which had just gotten a rave review in the NYT, and advised me not to bother trying. Both are owned by David Chang, who appears to be the hottest new chef in America. And Momofuku Ko is the hottest ticket in town. One blogger suggested Chang auction off seats.
Frank Bruni, the NYT’s restaurant critic, spent the opening third of his review riffing on the difficulty of getting a seat at the counter – there are no tables – of Momofuku Ko. Reservations are taken precisely one month in advance of your meal – if memory serves – and the 12 or 14 stools fill up immediately. Bruni suggested trading your first-born for a seat.
Momofuku Ssam Bar sounded terrific enough for me. I was having dinner with my friend Gerry (the actor) Bamman. We met at a wine bar in the West Village and wended our way east to 2nd Avenue and 13th Street where Momofuku Ssam Bar occupies the Southwest corner.
It was barely 6pm and the place was packed. Every table taken. Music blaring. The menu was exciting. (Check it out on menupages.com.) No reservations taken here unless you're a large group and plan to eat an entire pork butt.
We applied for a table and were told the wait wouldn’t be long, why didn’t we go to the standing bar and have a drink? Good idea. (We were also told we could order nibbles, like the famous house pork buns.) We both ordered beers. (Mine, from a microbrewery in Brooklyn) and we set to happily chat and wait.
A personable young man approaches. Would we like to go to Momofuku Ko? They’d just had a cancellation and had room for two eaters. As Gerry and I were old enough to be the parents of most of the customers, we looked like the most likely candidates. We accepted in a New York second.
I am going to print the menu and describe the meal but before I do I think I ought to summarize my advice on this method of getting into Momofuku Ko:
Don’t try reserving.
Momofuku Ko has two seatings, one around 6:45 and one around 9:30. (You should confirm this.)
Go to Momofuku Ssam bar at about 6:15 or 9 pm, have a beer at the ‘standing’ bar while waiting for a table – do NOT sit down immediately – and hope that someone cancels at Momofuku Ko. And if there are no cancellations, no problem, you’ll have a wonderful meal at Momofuku Ssam bar – if you don’t mind the loud music.
The Menu (This is what's sent, on request, via email after your meal. As you can see, it's pretty bare bones. I'll flesh it out.)
When I say eg 'for Gerry' it means the plate was placed in front of Gerry. Naturally, we shared.
1) "Amuse" (as in amuse-bouche): chicharon, english muffin (for both of us)
2) Fluke, buttermilk, soy, poppy seeds (for Gerry); Scallop soy, crones, chive (for me);
3) Kimchi Consommé, oyster, pork belly, cabbage (For Gerry); Pea Soup, morels, crayfish, yuba(For me);
4) Soft-Cooked Hen Egg,caviar, onions, potato (for Gerry); Chawan Mushi; caviar, asparagus, argan oil
5)Lasagna, escargot, green garlic, ricotta (for both of us);
6) Trout, benton’s bacon, almonds, radish (for Gerry);
Halibut; pepperoncini, radish, bok choi (for me);
7) Foie Gras Torchon, pine nuts, lychee, riesling; (for both of us)
8) Beef Short Rib, daikon, pickled mustard seeds & carrots (for Gerry); Poullard (sic) porcini, ramps, chard (for me);
9) Arnold Palmer, sorbet, mint, tea cake (for Gerry);
Pineapple sorbet, chewy (sic) (for me);
10) Rhubarb, peas, chocolate, yellow cake (for Gerry); Cereal Milk; cornflakes, avocado, chocolate-hazelnut
Momofuku Ko 223 East 10th Street (Btw 1st and 2nd Aves). No phone. email only.
Momofuku Ssam Bar 207 2nd Ave (at 13th). No phone. No reservations except as described above.
Country inn near Cahors: Hostellerie Le Vert
If your tastes run to reasonably priced country inns in beautifully reconverted stone farmhouses – wood beams, wide fireplaces – lost in the middle of the countryside, look no further. Le Vert, a good half hour from Cahors, in the Lot, offers all that plus extremely good food.
The last meal of our Cahors press trip (last week) was held here and I wouldn’t have minded checking in for a very long week-end. (They also do “demi-pension.)
Everything on our set menu -- the dishes of which came from the standard menu – was lipsmackingly delicious. First, there was a Jerusalem artichoke soup so soothing you wanted to lap it up. In it were chunks of molten aged parmesan as well as an egg yolk, all adding to the unctuousity. (Truffle oil was billed as an ingredient though I didn’t taste any.)
A terrine of foie gras mi-cuit , its layers separated by strands of fig, was perfect. Its garnish, homemade mango chutney, was good enough to be sold by the jar and I wish it had been on hand when the cheese was served.
Next came fork-tender shoulder of Quercy lamb seasoned with cumin and cardamom and served with the season’s first fava beans.
Then the dining equivalent of someone yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theatre; to wit: Hurry, or we’ll miss our train!
And so we rushed through a nice selection of pungent farmhouse cheeses and a toothsome chocolate dessert – layers of crunch and mousse – and headed for the bus.
Coming next: the Cahors wines to accompany such feasting, including Clos de Gamot, which is wine of the week, and a previous wine of the week, Chateau Le Cedre.
Hostellerie Le Vert, 46700 Mauroux (12 km sw of Puy l’Eveque); 05.65.36.51.36; firstname.lastname@example.org. $$
Cassoulet in Carcassonne: Is it possible to visit the Cassoulet region of France and not want to sample the signature dish? No. Next question: Am I getting an authentic, honest-to-god cassoulet? Well, here's an address to save. Inside the walled city, halfway between the Chateau Comtal and the Basilica St. Nazaire, is this charming family restaurant with a sweet, flower bedecked terrace. Owner Pierre Mesa takes his cassoulet seriously and it is mighty good -- with top-notch sausages and succulent confit de cuisse de canard. We were a large group so our cassoulets were brought into the dining room in terra cotta casseroles. Mesa then tossed them with red wine vinegar and ladled out the portions. Nb: Mesa uses good, fresh ingredients. His lighter dishes are delicious too. Soon to come: the wines to drink with cassoulet, ie St. Chinian and Minervois.
Comte Roger, 14 rue St. Louis, Carcassonne, tel: 04.48.11.93.40; email@example.com.
Le Continental, Cancale:
High tide, low tide, few things make me happier than a fishing port. I start smiling the second I see Cancale's harbor on the Bay of St. Michel in Northern Brittany. An endless string of seemingly fungible hotel-restaurants lines the waterside but Le Continental, which looks like every other Logis-de-France-level hostelry, is truly a find.
I was in Cancale on assignment and arrived at lunch time, with little more than an hour before my first rendez-vous. No time to search for "gastronomy." I sat down in the homely little restaurant of the hotel and, to my delight, found a menu filled with temptation -- at extremely reasonable prices -- and then, as if to confirm the high expectations created by the dishes described, a plate of lipsmacking mackerel rillettes and a basket of good bread was put on my table.
I ordered mussels. But not just any mussels. These were Moules de Bouchot de Mont St. Michel, an appellation controlee, if you please.The very gracious owner explained to me that the mussels from this particular zone had just been granted their appellation and, what’s more, that this had been a particularly good year for mussels. (Who knew mussels had vintages?).
They were, by far, the best mussels I’ve ever eaten – ultra-fresh, delicate, some of them as voluptuously creamy as sea urchins – and they had been prepared with intelligence and respect – just enough wine to steam them open, some light accents of flavor from diced celeriac and carrots. Now, my afternoon appointment was with one of Cancale’s leading oyster producers, Park St. Kerber. Their oysters were sublime, particularly the top-of-the-line Tsarskaya. But, no contest, the appellation controlee mussels were the best bivalves of the trip. And they came with tasty homemade frites.
I was torn between to dessert favorites so the owner gave me half portions of each: profiteroles stuffed with caramel au beurre sale ice cream on a sauce of what seemed like liquified caramel au beurre sale, and Kouign Amann (rough pronunciation: Kween Amahn), a pie that is 100% puff pastry.
If you've been to Brittany you know that these caramels made from salted butter are the world’s finest; and if you’ve sampled a Kouign Amann, you know that it’s the highest sublimation of butter.
Now, if I had had all afternoon to dream and look out at the bay and the incoming tide, I’d have ordered a bottle of Argelette, perhaps the world’s most elegant apple cider, made by Eric Bordelet. But, alas, I had to be functional. So I limited myself to what was available by glass, which turned out to be a Breton cider, Le P’tit Fausset, full of upfront, appley charm.
I was a happy camper. And, looking around the dining room, I saw that all the other diners were as content as I was.
(The hotel is recommended too. See margin.) Cancale: Le Continental, 4 quai Administrateur Chef Thomas, 35260 Cancale; t: 02.99.89.60.16; mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Osteria dei Vespri, Palermo:
On the same square as (and possibly a part of) the palazzo owned by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, author of The Leopard, the Osteria de Vespri is about as wine-loving a restaurant as you could hope to find. I would certainly reserve here anytime I find myself in Palermo. A small room, with a wood mezzanine, stone walls and a vaulted stone ceiling, its wine list is phenomenal, its cooking, based on top ingredients, is creative but not bizarre and the service is caring and competent.
As dinner was post-Opera, we all opted for one savory course and dessert. First came baskets of homemade baked goods – breadsticks and an assortment of tiny rolls, some flecked with fennel seed, others made from cornmeal, and so forth. My main course consisted of long-simmered, fork tender pork jowls and pearl onions set mashed potatoes and served on a very reduced sauce based on Nero d’Avola. Superb. (And rather “French bistro-gourmand”.)
There was a pre-dessert -- orange-scented crème brulee – and a post-dessert – a platter of mixed petite fours such as chocolate truffles and tiny fruit tarts, all delectable. For my main dessert I had “cassaletta” – a fried pastry disc covered with powdered sugar and filled with ricotta cream flavored with lemon peel and chocolate. (It was as delicious as it sounds.) The Osteria dei Vespri, on the same square as (and possibly a part of) the palazzo owned by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, author of The Leopard.
We loved this restaurant so much we went back again and I would certainly go anytime I find myself in Palermo. A small room, with a wood mezzanine, stone walls and a vaulted stone ceiling, its wine list is phenomenal, its cooking, based on top ingredients, is creative but not bizarre and the service is caring and competent.
As it was rather late, we all opted for one savory course and dessert. First came baskets of homemade baked goods – breadsticks and an assortment of tiny rolls, some flecked with fennel seed, others made from cornmeal, and so forth. My main course consisted of long-simmered, fork tender pork jowls and pearl onions set mashed potatoes and served on a very reduced sauce based on Nero d’Avola. Superb. (And rather “French bistro-gourmand”.)
There was a pre-dessert -- orange-scented crème brulee – and a post-dessert – a platter of mixed petite fours such as chocolate truffles and tiny fruit tarts, all delectable. For my main dessert I had “cassaletta” – a fried pastry disc covered with powdered sugar and filled with ricotta cream flavored with lemon peel and chocolate. (It was as delicious as it sounds.)
The wines: First of all, the wine list is to die, with superb selections from all over the world as well as an encyclopedic range of the best of Italy. But I wanted to focus on Sicily. And so:
2005 Nero d’Avola (IGT) from the pioneering winery Planeta. Actually, it was 95% nero d’avola, our very savvy waitress told us, with 5% of a “world grape.” (35 euros.) Young, rich and very tight, it exuded aromas of black cherry, blueberry and licorice. After about five minutes, the barrique aging became evident and later, more evident. The wine, which recalled a very good red from the Languedoc-Roussillon, needed aeration. I ordered a second bottle and asked that it be decanted. The wine opened up beautifully, a stately presence, a weave of rich, dark fruit flavors and a velvety texture.
While waiting for it to breathe, we drank a 2005 Nero d’Avola “Il Moro” from Valle dell Acate (22 euros). Good value here, and a very nice wine, with a smooth attack and good structure, but a bit raspy and it suffered by comparison to the Planeta.
I may well be built backwards. I like to end a meal either with Champagne or with something dry and alcoholic -- or both – and start with something off-dry or downright sweet. Keeping within the Sicilian mode, I opted for a dry Marsala, the Pelligrino 1880 Reserva del Centenairo 1980, which was all coffee, toffee and nut flavors with a steel backbone – something of a cross between a Palo Cortado and an Oloroso. (I’ll describe our second meal here later. In the meantime: Osteria dei Vespri, Piazza Croce dei Vespri, 6, 90133 Palermo; tel: 091.617.16.31; www.osteriadeivespri.it; closed Sunday.)
Based on everything I’d read, I was sure that this would be the star restaurant of the trip, that we’d want to go back again and again. Well, it was a major disappointment on every level. But before going into some of the sorry details I do want to say that it’s an attractive, contemporary, popular place with good food (as in a squid ink ravioli stuffed with a mousse of broccoli). But it’s not what it’s cracked up to be.
First of all, the service. I may sound mean but I spent many years as a waitress while I thought I wanted to be an actress. So even though it was New Year’s Eve, I wasn’t going to give the restaurant that was supposed to be the best in Palermo a free ride. Everything was timed to the minute: to the kitchen’s minute. What we received had nothing to do with who had or hadn’t arrived, with who had or hadn’t finished the dish they were eating. It had everything to do with the timing they had obviously worked out down to the minute. And they paid so little attention to our needs that eight of us drank only two bottles of wine! Scandalous! I can drink that much on my own on a summer Sunday in the garden!
There was a set menu of four courses for 60 euros with a three possibilities in each course. For my first course I chose “Mediterranean raw fish”: a “king prawn” on fennel, sping onion and ginger; oysters on “scalora riccia”, and fish carpaccio with artichokes and orange. I think this is the last time I will try to like raw prawns. I adore them cooked but raw? The oyster was good but whatever the ‘scalora riccia’ was remains a mystery: I didn’t taste anything much less anything I could identify. Was it a typo, as in “the Mean (sic) course”? I’ll have to ask Maureen. The raw fish – sorry, I forget what it was--was tasty but there wasn’t much evidence of the artichokes and orange.
Next course: risotto with cumin, fish of the day, artichokes, wild fennel, broad beans and fresh caciocavallo cheese. Risotto it wasn’t. The rice was al dente. The fish was a different fish of the day than the one in the first course – one, I think was sea bream, the other sea bass – and was a bit overcooked. The pleasantest thing about the dish was finding the molten strands of fresh cheese at the bottom of the bowl. I was still desperately trying to like this restaurant.
The “Mean” course: stew of Tusa lamb, flavored with and wild fennel and served with a basket made of fried bread and filled with a compote of dried fig and date. I ordered this because I knew that for most of the trip we were going to be eating fish, fish, fish; because I love lamb; and because if they used the name “Tusa,” I assumed it was a special, regional lamb – though they were too busy to answer any questions.
In any event: just a really ho-hum lamb stew, not quite as mediocre as cafeteria level but not far.This, on a New Year's Eve menu in what was supposedly the best restaurant in Palermo? The dried fruit compote was tasty but by this time I had pretty much lost patience.
And dessert: yellow cream and fresh goat cheese with puff pastry. What’s the yellow cream? I wanted to know. “Yellow cream.” Well, it was more of a savory-ish soup than anything else and I ate about two spoonfuls of it.
The Wine: The list was far from great. Mostly big houses like Donna Fugata and when they had a small property, they were out of the wine. Still, we were very happy with our 2006 Cerusualo di Vittoria from Planeta. Made principally from Nero d’Avola blended other indigenous red grapes (eg Frappato, Nerello Mascalese) it was seductively fragrant, with the texture of velvet and rich flavors of black cherry, cherry pit, raspberry liqueur and crème de cassis. We could easily have downed another bottle or three.
La Cognette, Issoudun:
What’s that line about all happy families being alike? Well, can this particular family – the Nonnets and the Daumy-Nonnets – adopt me? Please? (I bet Tolstoy wouldn’t have minded being a foster child here either.)
Alain Nonnet, the father of the clan, is as cheerful and as generous a chef as you are ever likely to meet. His food is a fine reflection of his personality. When I was researching the Loire book (first edition) in 1990 I interviewed him about traditional Berry food. We were sitting in the overstuffed, period armchairs of the front room while dinner was starting in the jewel-box of a dining room beyond. “It’s heavy,” he said of Berrichon cooking. And he’d punctuate his description of each specific dish, with a ‘you see’ nod, saying “Heavy!”
So he’s there in his chef’s whites and his toque, as is his son-in-law Jean-Jacques Daumy (who had just begun working with him in 1990), and the women, mother Nicole and daughter Isabelle, as cheerful as Alain, I had loved this restaurant in 1990 but hadn’t been back since. I think it has dropped from two Michelin stars to one. If that’s in fact true, it’s nuts. What this recent meal showed me was that La Cognette is better than ever. In fact, if you want really traditional (ever so slightly updated) Berrichon food that will have you salivating in you memory of it, make a beeline for this place. (The hotel is as heartily recommended.)
There have been a couple of changes – a PVC terrace added to the façade, for example – but the soul of the place remains intact. This is Masterpiece Theatre meets Balzac. In fact, Balzac wrote “La Rabouilleuse” while living in Issoudun and frequented this restaurant/auberge when it was owned by M. and Mme. Cognet. The décor seems properly vintage – thus, those overstuffed chairs, armoires, bibelots etc.
And the food! Dieters, search elsewhere. You will be miserable. Big eaters, however, will want to move in.
After some perfectly lovely amuse-bouches – eg a “capuccino” of green pea – we started in on the heavy Berrichon-alia with a Cognette classic, cream of green lentils from Berry. The nod to modernism throughout was that everything was served on a slate slab so that the soup came with side dishes of sliced truffles and tiny, diced croutons. You added what you wanted when you wanted it – which meant after you’d stopped sniffing the truffles. The soup was heavenly – in the earthily soothing sense (sorry.) Then came a chausson filled with snails in a garlicky cream sauce. You know there can be nothing bad about a well made garlicky cream sauce. The stunner came with the chausson, about as delectable and as buttery a turnover as I’ve ever eaten. Also large enough for a meal.
Next came individual souffled omelets with ecrivisses.The crayfish were right out of Escoffier. The omelet – the size of a CD – was a minor miracle – light as air, a pillow of flavor. You couldn’t stop eating it.
Then, a Nonnet signature dish and a Berrichon staple, filet of carp stuffed with bread crumbs, sausage and mushrooms. To die. Needless to say, I was so stuffed I couldn’t touch the cheese. I did, however, eat the little salad made from wild purslane -- which made me rethink ripping out the purslane that grows weedlike in my garden. Instead, I should harvest it when it just begins to sprout from the earth.
There were lots of very pretty little desserts but I couldn’t eat the ones flavored with rosewater as that’s one of the few flavors I really dislike. So my tablemates vacuumed them up. Then came platters of minuscule friandises – chocolate truffles, very creamy, very teeny financiers, and microscopic goblets filled with passion fruit cream or a mystery cream which turned out to be a mixture of beet and tomato flavored with pepper.
The vigneron Claude Lafond was with us so it’s no surprise that the sommerlier selected a cuvee of Lafond’s Reuilly blanc made for la Cognette. He also chose a wine new to me, a 2005 Valencay Cuvee des Griottes, 80% gamay/20% pinot noir from Francis Jourdin that was a succulent, nicely balanced, spicy, light red.
La Cognette, rue des Minimes/Blvd Stalingrad, 36100 Issoudun; 02.54.03.59.59; www.la-cognette.com.
L’Aubergeade, in the countryside, 12 kms from Issoudun:
You read it here first: l’Aubergeade has one of France’s best and best-priced wine lists. You could spend two years here, drinking a different and differently great bottle every day, and still have money left in your bank account. Just focusing on France, the encyclopedic list includes Guy Bossard’s Muscadet “Expression de Granite,” Vernay’s various Condrieus, Mas de Daumas Gassac, a range of Gauby and so forth. I visited this restaurant with other wine journalists. So it won’t remain a secret for long: Raoul Salama intends to feature l’Aubergeade – because of its wine list – in the Revue du Vin de France.
But, to begin at the beginning: if you didn’t know about this restaurant beforehand, you’d pass it by. A no-frills building on the side of a main local road not far from Issoudun, it looks like a truck stop. And the reasonably priced meals might, indeed, appeal to hungry truckers. (We had the royal treatment: a private room, 3 fancy-ish courses, plus cheese, and all the bottled water and wine we could drink and still paid only 40 euros a person.)
Jacky Patron, the chef-owner (yes, his name is really Patron), knows how to cook. He starts with top-notch ingredients and treats them with great intelligence. You could eat his food every night. (I could, anyway.) First came silky homemade ravioli filled with foie gras. Girolle and morille mushrooms were piled on top and infused the light cream sauce with their woodsy flavor. Yum. Then there was a perfectly cooked, herb-encrusted saddle of lamb garnished with more mushrooms, buttery cabbage and polenta rounds that appeared to have been formed with a cookie cutter. The very good cheese tray included some lipsmaking Stilton; and, for dessert, we each got our own individual fig tart: a buttery, crunchy, CD-sized disk covered with flavorful fresh figs. Couldn’t have been better. Even the coffee was delicious.
So, what did we drink? Well, we’d spent the morning with Reuilly producers so, noblesse oblige, we drank Reuilly, reds and whites from two growers: a 2006 blanc from Guy Malbete had turbo-powered, ripe sauvignon blanc fruit; athe 2005 blanc “La Raie” from Claude Lafond was rich and textured but somewhat redolent of pipi de chat – as sauvignon will be when it’s not entirely phenologically ripe. Malbetes 2006 red was pleasant, balanced and went down easily but that’s about it. Lafond’s rouge, “Les Grandes Vignes,” had attractive plum and tea flavors and was just fine for a Sunday lunch in a country restaurant. Somehow I couldn’t stop drinking it.
L’ Aubergeade, 321 Route d’Issoudun, 36260 Diou, 02.54.49.22.28.
Le Moulin Bleu, Bourgueil
A pleasant restaurant next door to Yannick Amirault’s cellars, Le Moulin Bleu is owned and run by Michel and Chantal Breton – a smiling, very professional couple. It restaurant occupies a renovated 15th century mill on a hillside overlooking Bourgueil and its best vineyards. (Alas, it also overlooks the nuclear power plant in Avoine. But never mind.) The weather was agreeable enough for everyone to want to be on the terrace – an undeniably pleasant place to be. The 19 euro lunch menu is a fine bargain and the food, with its focus on hearty local specialties (eg salad with rillons, coq au vin) is just fine. (Though fewer but better garnishes would be a plus.) The very good, reasonably priced wine list is particularly strong in Touraine appellations, with plenty of excellent Vouvrays and Bourgueils. Should you want to go: Le Moulin Bleu, 7 rue du Moulin Bleu, 02.47.97.73.13. (Ask to sit outside.)
ARLES VACATION: (We went during a school vacation which meant that many of the restaurants that interested me were closed, eg the very enticing looking, one-Michelin-star Le Cilantro. No matter: we found plenty of good places to eat. In addition to the four places reviewed here, we also liked Le Cricket which is less touristy than it looks and serves a mean rack of lamb.)
BRIN DE THYM: 22 ru du Docteur Fanton, 13200 Arles, t/f: 04.90.49.95.96.
This engaging mom-and-pop restaurant is, to me, the bedrock of French gastronomy. It’s homey and friendly, has delicious, forthright food, a nice wine list and a downright charitable 17 euro menu. (Perhaps, the best price/quality ratio in Arles.)
We both started with tellines, wee mollusks that I’ve also eaten (with enormous pleasure) in Seville. These seem to have been cooked in a garlicky broth with, perhaps, some white wine. We each got a big bowl of them and enjoyed every second it took to suck them out of their fragile little shells. Yummo!
Then I had Rouille a la Setoise. With a lifelong weakness for garlic and mayo-like emulsions, I’ve long been addicted to the saffron-colored rouille that lends its delectable pungency to Provencal fish soups and stews. This dish was more solid than liquid – the rouille binding a huge portion of potatoes and cuttlefish – and, not only was it loud enough to ward off vampires for the next decade, it was also so copious I could hardly make a dent in it. (It’s evidently a local staple. At the town’s Saturday market I saw preprepared versions of it at several different fish stands.) Joyce had a tasty, very light variation on brandade that seemed to have no potatoes in the blend, just salt cod and egg whites. (Or so it seemed.) It came with toothsome Camargue rice and ratatouille.The desserts that came with the menu were good versions of classics: chocolate mousse and crème caramel. We drank a 2003 Vacqueyras, a deliciously fleshy Rhone red from Montirius, a domaine I love (which should come as no surprise to those who’ve read my latest book).
LA CHARCUTERIE: BOUCHON LYONNAIS: 51 rue des Arenes, 13200 Arles, 04.90.56.96.
Why, you might ask, go to a Lyon-style restaurant when visiting Arles? Let me count the whys: it’s authentic; it’s delicious; it’s fun; it’s cheap; and it’s a real window into daily life in Arles. Now for specifics. La Charcuterie is your basic no-frills hole-in-the-wall located on a side street around the corner from the Place du Forum. Half of its narrow room is taken up by a workspace–cum-bar. Tables are squeezed together with not a centimetre wasted. Except for Joyce and me, zero tourists. Everyone seemed, not only to be Arlesian, but to be a ‘regular.’ There was much faire-ing of la bise (when socialites pretend to do this we call it ‘air kissing’). People come with their dogs – nothing new in France – but when the dogs start to bark at each other, the owner of the restaurant joins in. It’s a pretty happy, lively place. And the food is honest-to-god Lyonnais bouchon, right down to the Bobosse sausages and the St. Marcellin from La Mere Richard. Joyce and I shared what may have been the best Lyonnais salad I’ve ever had – complete with perfectly poached egg and bacon-kissed croutons that were to die for. To be in the spirit of our host city, we had saucisse d’Arles – wonderfully moist and meaty and served with a gratin of potatoes and cepes. Then a pungent, runny St. Marcellin and, to wash it all down, a full-throated house red, a Vin de Pays d’Oc.
BISTROT A VIN CHEZ ARIANE: 2 rue du docteur Fanton, 13200 Arles; 04.90.52.00.65
A home away from home for winelovers, this warm, casual restaurant is just want you want when overeating and type-A tourism mandate a friendly, laid-back setting, friendly, laid-back food and good wine, most of the hypernatural persuasion. Though she’s aided by a really nice waitress, Ariane (I’m assuming that’s her name) does it all: cooks, selects and tastes the wines, and does whatever else needs to be done. We had sauteed lamb served with rice from the Camargue and a fresh green bean salad. It was as if Ariane had read our minds (or stomachs): perfect. And the 2004 Costieres de Nimes Domaine Perillieres (Vignerons d’Estezargues) was structured, flavorful, wonderful with the food and very reasonably priced at 16 euros. It was a slow night – a holiday weekend – and so Ariane came out to chat with us when we’d finished eating. She opened a bottle of Eric Pfifferling’s pure Carignan, a vin de table, and we shared opinions about wines, winemakers, Parisian bistrotiers – by which point I was ready to go into partnership with her.
The last restaurant in the Arles diary will be Atelier Rabanel. It will take me some time to write that one up but I hope to post it in the near future.
April 16, 2007
GIRLZ IN THE ‘HOOD: A GREAT LITTLE PARIS BISTRO CALLED GEORGETTE:
A dream of a neighborhood bistro, Georgette has everything going for it, starting with the downright niceness of its hostesses. It’s a small, tidy place with vaguely late50s- early 60s décor – a vintage, tiled bar, formica tables in Matisse colors – and the kind of fresh, imaginative, often organic food you could eat every day such as a ‘gateau ‘ – read: cross between a flan and a souffle -- of herbs, arugula and three cheeses.
My last visit was for Friday lunch in late March. The joint, as they say, was jumpin'. We started with a scrumptious, lightly fiery soup of curried Jerusalem artichokes. My good buddy Joyce, who was with me, was intrigued by the daily special of pigs’ ears braised in white wine but was turned off by the gelatinous texture. (When the waitress offered – repeatedly – to bring her something else, however, Joyce refused. Well, she did have a train to catch.) I thoroughly enjoyed my succulent, beautifully cooked slices of veal with sauteed potatoes. Ice cream addicts will love the top-notch versions that come from an ice cream artist in the outskirts of Paris. Fig sorbet which tasted like concentrated fresh fig accompanied a moist financier that had been cooked like a loaf cake and then thickly sliced. And sensational caramel au beurre sale came with a tasty cookie, both posed on a sensational dark chocolate sauce. Know, too, that the prices are reasonable; and though the wine list is short, every bottle is worth trying. We drank a very polished, fine-grained 2004 Saumur-Champigny from the rather cultish Chateau Yvonne.
Georgette: 29 rue St. George, 9th arrdt, 01.42.80.39.13.
April 5, 2007 LUNCH AT CHEZ MICHEL WITH KO (Or, bistro gourmand defined):
When describing wines I often find myself saying that they would be ideal options in a bistro gourmand. What, you may have wondered, does she mean by bistro gourmand? Well, Chez Michel, in the 10th arrondissement of Paris, exemplifies the bistro gourmand. Chef-owner Thierry Breton , who had all the right talent, training and apprenticeships to aim for one or more Michelin stars, chose instead to open a laid-back bistro in which he just happens to serve some of the best food in Paris. No fireworks here – either in terms of smarmy amenities or culinary frippery. (In fact, the waitresses have taken to wearing distressed jeans.) But the fact that Michelin consistently ignores Chez Michel – save for a ‘damning with faint praise’ single knife and fork – underscores how out of touch the Red Guide is with the food scene. (Ok, I still study it like the Talmud, but…) Suffice it to say that, any chance I get, I go to Chez Michel.
This day -- at the end of March -- was a very special one. I was having lunch with my dear friend Karen (Odessa) Piper, the former chef-owner of L’Etoile in Madison, Wisconsin and truly one of the Angels in America. KO (as I call her) was taking the train in from Reims where she’d been accompanying her husband, legend-in-his-own-time importer Terry Theise, as he visited the producers of the wonderful grower Champagnes he brings in to the USA, eg Gimmonet, Pierre Peters, Vilmart, Margaine.
For years I had been aching to convince TT (as I call him) that we should all eat at Chez Michel or a restaurant like it. TT, however, always wants to go to Pierre Gagnaire and Astrance and Carre des Feuillants. Been there, done that. I don't mean to sound jaded. And essentially I'm not jaded. But I’m so tired of gratuitous pomp and circumstance! (Not that I’ll reject an invitation to, say Astrance, mind you, I just have my preferences.)
This time KO was coming alone. She’d be arriving at the Gare de l’Est. Chez Michel was, therefore, perfect – in terms of location (proximity to station) , excellence of cooking and relaxed atmosphere. If time permitted – which it didn’t – there were even some excellent food shops and markets along the way to visit.
Thierry Breton comes by his family name naturally: a son of Brittany (and of Breton restaurateurs), he features the best of that region’s produce. He offers a 30 euro 3-course menu – from which you can eat one of the best and best-priced meals in Paris – and has a full complement of blackboard specials every day. These carry supplements, sometimes quite hefty supplements, but they are always worth it.
On the table when you sit down is a bowl of periwinkles and a mustardy emulsion in which to dip them. I asked for a slab of butter because I wanted KO to taste it. Made in Saint Malo by Jean-Yves Bordier, it has become so celebrated that it’s known as “le beurre Bordier”. (Where but in France could you become a star because you made great butter?) This was lightly salted and, with Chez Michel’s sour dough bread, was really all I needed (aside from a good red) to make me happy.
To start, I chose a special of scallops. Normally this is a main course but more and more people order it as an appetizer and a magnificent starter it is. Gorgeous scallops (in the shell), perfectly cooked, served with a foamy (NB: I didn’t say “foam”) and buttery puree of celeriac. The combination was so complementary in both appearance and sweet flavor that one ingredient seemed a continuation of the other, yet one was the essence of the sea and the other was the salt of the earth. KO started with Brittany oysters served cold and delicately seasoned with lemon zests and what seemed like white wine vinegar. The oysters were superb; the oyster juices were even better.
Next, I had roasted farmhouse duck served in a profound, blood-thickened gravy, and accompanied by little ratte potatoes (think Fingerling). After a week of deluxe dining in Champagne, KO had groaned “no foie gras.” She ordered the culinary opposite: beef cheeks long simmered with winter vegetables. The kind of dish you want to come home to.
And for dessert, ethereal crepes which had been given the Suzette treatment in the kitchen instead of tableside, and kouignn amann, a traditional Breton puff pastry galette that is nothing less than the apotheosis of sugar and butter.
If you are like me, you are asking, “So what did you drink already?” We started with a 2004 Condrieu from Barge that was mineral, floral and beautifully textured. Then we broke the bank with a ’96 Clos de Beze from Prieure-Roch at a mere 210 euros. Now there are many things to be said on this subject, starting with the price. I was ready to order Gramenon’s “Meme” – which I adore. But TT was paying for our lunch and his marching orders to KO had been “You treat that girl!” So KO instructed me to order whatever wine inspired me the most. I love Prieure-Roch. I love Clos de Beze. I knew that this was the red that TT would have ordered. And ’96 is a mighty good year. So how was it? It should have been carafed at least two hours before. But who knew?
There was a very grand Burgundy there but as it presented itself, the wine was dominated by grilled aromas which I’ve come to associate with reduction.
There were flashes of majesty, of a beautifully regal Gevrey-Chambertin – which increased as the wine had a chance to breath – but we’d have had to extend our meal into the dinner service for the wine to have come into its own. I have often encountered these grilled aromas in white Burgundies – the very best white Burgundies – and at first, ascribed the syndrome to charred barrels. When asked, however, the vignerons in question inevitably replied that their barrels had been subjected only to the most delicate level of toasting. What, then, could it be? I always asked. Those who had any opinion at all said “reduction.”
And, indeed, with sufficient aeration, that charred aspect evaporates. So until wiser wine lovers than I come up with the definitive explanation, I’ll stick with what I now call Cote d’Or reduction. And I sure would like to have the opportunity to drink that wine again – with proper aeration.
Chez Michel, 10 rue Belzunce, 10 arr. 01.44.53.06.20. Lunch or dinner? If you can, opt for lunch. The clients are all French regulars. Dinner, because of scribes like me who insist on raving about Chez Michel, is often dominated by tourists. Also, ask to sit upstairs. And if it’s completely booked, know that Thierry Breton has a “bistro” spin-off of his bistro gourmand called Chez Casimir which is just two or three doors down the street.
Le Gavroche: A fine, rough-and-ready bistrot:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Americans eat early. Whether or not a restaurant has a policy of two seatings a night, chances are that if you are willing to dine late, you can get in almost anywhere. What’s more, most of the crowd will be Parisian. La Gavroche, on the rue St. Marc (2nd), is known for keeping its kitchen open late. And a welcome thing that is – after a movie or a play, or, in this case, after the presentation of my book at WH Smith. And so it was that we (me, Alain Hasard – excellent Burgundian winemaker and my ‘introducer’ – and Mike Spingler – wine bar pal, French professor and Alain’s translator for the introduction) arrived at Le Gavroche at around 10:30 on a Thursday night.
Le Gavroche calls itself a wine bar. But it’s really a rough-and-tumble bistro with plenty of damned good cru Beaujolais by pitcher and bottle. Plus excellent homemade fries. It was more raucous than I’ve ever seen it -- packed with serious eaters and even more serious smokers. (What will they do next year when the smoking ban in restaurants comes into effect?) We squeezed into a banquette, ordered a cote de boeuf (for two) and boeuf aux carottes, some goose rillettes to start us off, and a bottle of cool, tasty Cote de Brouilly. The food was better than it needed to be. The cote de boeuf, glistening with gros sel, was bloody rare, as ordered, and served in thick slices. Enough for three. No matter how many fries they give you here, however, there are never enough but, though taking a doggie bag of the last slab of steak, I stopped myself from asking for more frites. An appropriately rum-soaked Baba ended the meal nicely. (They also make a fine and sultry millefeuille or Napoleon.) Le Gavroche, 19 rue St. Marc, 01.42.96.89.70. ps:today, May 16, 2007, Francois Simon wrote a devastating review of le Gavroche in Le Figaroscope. It's true that some of the food is less than stellar but the cotes du boeuf w/frites followed by Baba au Rhum or a Napoleon should put a smile on most faces.
March 7, 2007:
Pizza in Paris: Cantina Clandestina:
Maybe, if you're just visiting Paris, you don't even dream of wanting to eat pizza. Believe me, once you live here, you crave a good pie, one with real mozzarella and not swiss cheese. I have been searching for a long time. And, lo, one month ago, an adorable -- 20 seat -- little hole in the wall called Cantina Clandestina opened, offering hand thrown, gorgeous pizzas. You can smell the garlic from 3 blocks away.The pie crust is to die. The toppings are copious and each is showered with a fistful of arugula before serving. Sample toppings: "la Clandestina" -- tomato sauce, mozzarella, anchovy, chorizo, bell peppers and cherry tomatoes; "la Cantina" -- tomato sauce, mozzarella, grilled eggplant, gorgonzola, olives and parmesan; and my choice "Sole" -- mozzarella, buffalo milk mozzarella, braesola, artichoke hearts and cherry tomatoes. I went with two friends -- one American, from Boston, and one Parisian -- neither of whom were wild about pizza. We were all very happy campers. Note that the place is tiny and you must, must, must reserve. Here are the specifics: Cantina Clandestina, 17 rue Milton, 9 arr., tel: 01.53.21.05.16.
SPRING: A GEM OF A RESTAURANT
This minuscule, 16-seat storefront with minimalist décor and an open kitchen is drawing Parisian foodies – celebrity chefs, front-line journalists with weekly columns, wine importers and sommeliers – to a sidestreet in the north of the ninth arrondissement. Daniel Rose, barely 30, American, self-taught (though he’s worked in some famous kitchens) offers a single menu daily: 4 courses – two appetizers, main course, dessert – for 36 euros. Which is pretty much of a bargain if you take the time to do the math for a three-course meal at an average bistro with good-enough food. But Broadway Danny Rose (I can’t help but call him that -- and he doesn’t mind) gives much more than good enough. His food, based on the best and freshest ingredients, is thoughtful, masterly and very, very delicious.
What you won’t find: post-Ferran-Adria chemistry experiments such as pulverized,extruded seaweed in the form of garden snails, or squid on a bed of black, licorice flavored foam; nor will you find architectural adventures that must be deconstructed in order to be eaten. What you will find are keen,incisive flavors – as in a zingy appetizter of marinated sardines (as fresh as anything you’d get from the herring vendors of Amsterdam) on chopped cucumber and apple; sophisticated comfort food like suave, flavorful pumpkin soup so soothing you want to put it in a baby bottle and drink it in bed; and bespoke home cooking like roast duckling on a pillow of turnip and almond puree. And the sardines come garnished with chips made of turnip and sweet potato; the soup is boosted with a chunk of lightly curried guinhea hen, and the duckling is napped with a nuanced sauce subtly flavored with coffee. And when you’ve polished off your toothsome chocolate tarte you realize that you’re nicely full. You’ve eaten just enough to be completely satisfied but not so much as to make you feel bloated and guilty. And you want to come back. ASAP.
SPRING, 28 rue de la Tour d’Auvergne, 75009, 01.45.96.05.72, www.springparis.blogspot.com
In Paris: Cantina Clandestina (pizza) (April 2007); Chez Michel (April 2007); le Gavroche (March 2007); Georgette (April 2007 and March 2011); Spring (Feb. 2007). Cul de Poule (Oct. 2008); (From June 2009 in Mail & Events) Bistrot Paul Bert: the bistro of your dreams. French soul food and an amazing wine list.18, rue Paul Bert, Paris 11.Tel: 01 43 72 24 01.Cl Sunday and Monday; L'Ecailler du Bistrot: related to the Bistrot Paul Bert but dedicated to fish and shellfish. Hard to find better. If Utah Beach oysters are available, do NOT miss them! 22. rue Paul Bert, Paris 11,Tel: 01 43 72 76 77.Cl Sunday and Monday; Rouge-Passion; Les Enfants Rouges (November 2009); Saturne, 17 rue Notre Dame des Victoires, Paris 2, 01.42.60.31.90. (Nov. 2010). Les Ronchons, 25 Quai de la Tournelle, Paris 5, 01.46.34.50.99. (Dec. 2010); Le Miroir (March 2011), 94 rue des Martyrs, 18eme; La Mascotte, 52 rue des Abbesses, 18th (cf entry in Selected Works/Earthly Delights, Oct. 2011.)
In the Provinces:
* Brittany: Cancale, Le Continental
* Languedoc-Roussillon: Carcassonne: Comte Roger (April 2008); Pezenas: Le Bar a Vin de Pezenas (March 2009);
* Loire Valley: Angers: Bistro de la Gare (Feb. 2009); Le Relais (Feb. 2009);Bourgueil, le Moulin Bleu (Aug. 2007); Issoudun and environs: La Cognette and L'Aubergeade (Sept. 2007); Sancerre:. La Côte des Monts Damnés, Chavignol 18300 Sancerre (July 2009); Jacky Dallais/La Promenade, Petit Pressigny (May 2010);
See August 31,2009 post for a handful of budget places to stay in Touraine and Anjou.
* Provence: Arles: Brin de Thym, Bistro a Vin Chez Ariane, La Charcuterie-Bouchon Lyonnais (April 2007).
* Southwest: Mauroux (near Puy L'Eveque and Cahors), Hostellerie le Vert;
Shops & Products
Where to Stay
* Arles: Le Calendal: 5, rue Porte de Laure, 04.90.96.11.89; wwwlecalendal.com. A fine, moderately priced hotel, ideally located between the two major Roman monuments – the arena and the theatre. The rooms are spacious and have large, modern bathrooms. There’s WiFi connection and if you haven’t brought your laptop, you can use the computer in the lobby. The hotel is also child-friendly, with plenty of books and toys in the public rooms. There’s also a tea parlor.
L’Amphitheatre 5 rue Diderot, 04.90.96.10.30; www.hotelamphitheatre.fr. This budget hotel set in a charming 17th century townhouse, on a charming sidestreet near the Roman Theatre was our second choice. We never went inside but, personally, I wouldn’t hesitate to reserve here. It’s worthwhile noting that they offer deals on the internet.
Nord-Pinus: place Forum, 04.90.93.44.44; email@example.com. At the high-end of Arles hostelry, the Nord-Pinus is located on the Place Forum. The décor in its public rooms is an engaging mix of baroque, Art Deco and ephemera related to bullfighting. Cocteau and Picasso are among the luminaries who have stayed her. The hotel’s popular brasserie was closed when we were in Arles but I look forward to visiting it in the future. Or at least to stopping by for a digestif.
* Cancale: Le Continental, 4 quai Administrateur Chef Thomas, 35260 Cancale; t: 02.99.89.60.16; mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. A simple, basic hotel, great harbor-side location, accommodating owners and an excellent breakfast buffet. The restaurant is reviewed in the main section.
* Loire Valley: See August 31,2009 post for a handful of budget places to stay in Touraine and Anjou. Also, in Article Archives, see recommendations for two high-end B&Bs in Saumur area in food and travel article for WSJ 2010.
* Puy l'Eveque (near Cahors): Hostellerie le Vert. (See restaurants/April.)
Languedoc-Roussillon: Pepieux (39 kms northeast of Carcassonne in the Minervois appellation.). La Poussines. Super B&B, with swimming pool, good breakfasts, comfy sitting room for sipping whisky of an evening, and, best of all, accommodating, charming hosts -- Annie and Jonathan Salt -- who will not only pick you up at the airport or train station but share tips and anecdotes over brandy or orange juice. La Poussines, 2 Avenue du Causse, 11700 Pepieux, 04.68. 91.42.04, port: 06.84.50.69.39.
Palermo and environs:
* Osteria dei Vespri (Jan. 2008:
* Sant'Andrea (Jan. 2008);
* (In Monreale) Pasticceria Modica (April 2010);
* Isola dei Nuraghi (July 11,2011)
New York City
* Momofuku Ko (July 2008)
* Momofuku Ssam Bar (July 2008)