Taste of the week: My preferred wine importers

I always encourage my students to “buy by the back label,” that is, to look at the back label on any wine bottle to see who the importer is. For novice wine tasters in particular, I advise students to take a list of well-informed importers into a wine store and ask the merchant “Do you have any wines from any of these importers?” Once you begin connecting importers’ names to wines you love, it's like shopping with a personal sommelier. Many of them have excellent and informative web sites, worth a tour on their own. Here’s a list of my preferred companies importing wines from France to the United States.

Eric Solomon – Specializing in wines from Spain and France, including Clos Chanteduc Côtes-du-Rhône; and Domaine de la Janasse and Domaine de Marcoux in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
(704) 358 1565  |   www.europeancellars.com   |   info@europeancellars.com

Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant  – Specializing in wines from Italy and France, including Auguste Clape in Cornas; Domaine Coche-Dury and Antoine Jobard in Burgundy; and Mas Champart in the Languedoc.
(510) 524 1524   |   www.kermitlynch.com    |   info@kermitlynch.com

North Berkeley Wine – Specializing in wines from Chile, Italy, and France, including Le Cos du Caillou and Clos du Mont Olivet in Châteauneuf-du-Pape; Martinelle in Beaumes de Venise; and Domaine la Bouïssière in Gigondas.
(510) 848-8910 or (800) 266-6585   |   www.northberkeleyimports.com   |   retail@northberkeleywine.com

Christopher Cannan – Specializing in wines from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Hungary, and France, including Château des Tour in Vacqueyras; Vieille Julienne and Château Rayas in Châteauneuf-du-Pape; and Domaine Anne Gros in Vosne Romanée.
(818) 908-9509   |   www.europvin.com   |   europvin@europvin.com

Louis/Dressner Selections – Specializing in wines from throughout Europe, including Oratoire Saint Martin and Domaine Marcel Richaud in Cairanne; Château d’Oupia in Minervois; and Jean Thévenet/Domaine de la Bongran in Burgundy.
(212) 334-8191   |   www.louisdressner.com    |   info@louisdressner.com

Robert Kacher – Specializing in wines from Portugal, Argentina, and France, including Domaine Santa Duc in Gigondas; Domaine Michel and Stéphane Ogier and Domaine Jamet in Côte-Rôtie.
(212) 239 1275   |   www.robertkacherselections.com   |   rks@robertkacherselections.com

Kysela Père et Fils – Specializing in wines from Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Argentina, and Europe, including Domaine Grand Veneur and Domaine de la Mordorée in the southern Rhône.
(540) 722 9258   |   www.kysela.com   |   fran.k@kysela.com

Martine’s Wines – Specializing in wines from France, including Château Rayas in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Château de Fonsalette in the Côtes-du-Rhône;  Château des Tours in Vacqueyras; and Domaine Georges Vernay in the Northern Rhône.
(415) 883 0400 or (800) 344-1801   |   www.martineswines.com   |   info@mwines.com  

Michael Skurnik – Specializing in wines from France, particularly those selected by Daniel Johnnes, who is also wine director for Daniel Boulud in New York City, with wines including Saint Préfert in Châteauneuf-du-Pape; Grange des Pères in the Languedoc; and Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon in Burgundy.
(516) 677 9300   |  www.skurnikwines.com   |   info@skurnikwines.com

Vineyard Brands – Specializing in wines from Chile, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Italy, and France, including a collection of wines from Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the southern Rhône; Dauvissat in Chablis; and Salon in Champagne.
(205) 980 8802   |   www.vineyardbrands.com    |   vb@vineyardbrands.com

Peter Weygandt – Specializing in wines from Austria, Australia, Germany, Italy, and France, including Domaine Gérard Charvin and Raymond Usseglio in Châteauneuf-du-Pape; and Daniel and Denis Alary in Cairanne.
(610) 486-0700   |   www.weygandtmetzler.com   |    peter@weygandmetzler.com

 

 

 

Ambassade d'Auvergne: Hearty warming fare

If you find yourself in Paris this winter, looking for a traditional, honest French restaurant, that serves warming, hearty fare, then Ambassade d'Auvergne would be one of my top recommendations. This restaurant is a long-time favorite of mine, which I have been visiting for over 30 years, and it never fails to satisfy. Here's my review from The Food Lover's Guide to Paris 5th edition to whet your appetite!

Returning to the folkloric, dependable L’Ambassade d’Auvergne is like going to visit a favorite aunt and uncle. You are welcomed with open arms and settle in to enjoy a few sips of meaty Cairanne Côtes-du-Rhône from Domaine Brusset while examining the menu that’s familiar and rich in the fiercely staunch traditions of the storied Auvergne, the mountainous center of France. Meat is king here, as in the delicious pot au feu d’agneau, a warming winter classic of chunks of lamb simmered with an avalanche of cold-weather vegetables. There are, of course, thick, seared slices of rich and fragrant foie gras; fat and rare-cooked magret de canard or duck breast; a surprisingly modern take on boudin noir, or an individual upside-down tart with chunks of hearty blood sausage. In abundance is the region’s pièce de résistance, the thick and creamy aligot (being served in the photo above), a potato puree laced with the fresh local cow’s milk cheese, a dish no one can possibly turn away. For the first course – to prepare for the hearty fare that’s to come – try the tartare of sea bass, filled with giant chunks of bar, tons of mustard and fat crunchy slices of celery, a refreshing starter if ever there was one. Save room for the smooth and addictive chocolate mousse, served out of giant bowls, and you are forcefully urged to go for seconds, even thirds.

AMBASSADE D'AUVERGNE   |   22 rue du Grenier Saint-Lazare   |   Paris 3   |   Métro: Rambuteau or Etienne-Marcel   | Tel: +33 1 42 72 31 22   |   Open daily 12-3.30pm and 7.30pm-midnight   | À la carte 35-50€, 33€ regional menu   |   www.ambassade-auvergne.com. NOTE: They are open during the Christmas holiday period but are closed December 25, dinner service on December 31, and all day January 1, 2015.

For more Paris restaurant reviews, get The Food Lover's Guide to Paris book or buy the app!

 

Taste of the week: Intense chocolate custards with nibs

These wonderful chocolatey desserts are perfect for Christmas cocktail parties: they couldn't be easier to make, and are best served in small shot glasses so you can really savor the intense hit of chocolate. Even for a seated dinner party this is the perfect serving size, paired alongside a chocolate sorbet.

 

Intense Chocolate custards with nibs

Makes 8 servings

Equipment: A double boiler; a baster; eight 1/4-cup (65 ml) vodka or shot glasses.

5 ounces (150 g)  bittersweet chocolate, such as Valrhona Guanaja 70%
3/4 cup (185 ml) light cream  
2 tablespoons (1 ounce; 30 g) unsalted butter
Fleur de sel  
About 1 tablespoon chocolate nibs

 

1.    Break the chocolate into small pieces.

2.    In the top of the double boiler set over, but not touching, boiling water, heat the cream and 1/4 cup (60 ml) of water just until warm. Add the chocolate pieces, stirring until the chocolate is melted. Add the butter and stir to melt and combine. Spoon the mixture into the glasses. (I have found that if you use a baster to “pipe” the chocolate into the glasses, it is less messy.) Refrigerate until firm, about 20 minutes.  

3.    At serving time sprinkle, with fleur de sel and chocolate nibs.

 

MAKE-AHEAD NOTE: The custards can be prepared up to 3 days in advance, covered and refrigerated.

NOTE: What are nibs? Cacao nibs are pieces of cacao beans that have been roasted and hulled. Nibs taste faintly similar to roasted coffee beans. They have a great crunch, a slightly nutty flavor, and a pleasant touch of bitterness.

WINE SUGGESTION: I love to serve this treat with the chocolate-friendly, sweet Banyuls reserve wine from Domaine La Tour Vieille in the Languedoc. With its touch of spice, hint of chocolate and overtones of raspberry, what could be a finer partner for a chocolate dessert?

Bold flavors from Chef Cindy Wolf: Charleston Restaurant

Rockfish cerviche with lime, cilantro, shallots, and jalapeno peppers

Rockfish cerviche with lime, cilantro, shallots, and jalapeno peppers

BALTIMORE – For the past 17 years chef Cindy Wolf has been wooing local Baltimoreans with her southern-infused cuisine, offering diners a fresh take on the familiar fare they expect: fried oysters, shrimp and grits, fresh rockfish, and oyster stew. Doing it her way means doing it with flair,  and even those of us who don’t have those Southern classics imprinted into our DNA can see that Cindy does what she does with professional expertise and a palate that is right on.

Her fried oysters allow the saline, sea-rich aroma and flavor of the local bivalve to come through vibrantly, carefully encased in a crispy, cornmeal-rich batter made to dip into a forward-flavored lemon-cayenne mayonnaise.

In her hands, shrimp and grits rise to new heights (I would love to eat these once a week for the rest of my life). The creaminess of stone-ground grits pairs with the bite of giant shrimp, set off by the smoky saltiness of Tasso ham, a delicate dish that does not stand on the sidelines but speaks with its own voice.

Dish after dish, flavors come through boldly, so that there is no question on  the diner’s mind: mushrooms taste like mushrooms, artichokes scream “I am an artichoke,” grilled zucchini holds its own grassy flavor, and more.

Ceviche – that  ever so lightly marinated fish creation that can range from bland to spectacular – is one of my favorite dishes when done well, and one I often use to judge a chef’s prowess. Joël Robuchon sets the standard with his dorade (sea bream) offering at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Paris, where the fish is marinated in a lime juice-rich concoction and showered with Espelette pepper and freshly grated lime zest. Cindy’s version, prepared with local rockfish, is a dream come true, arriving as thin petals of fish topped with a crunchy, brilliant, bright-flavored blend of fresh lime, cilantro, shallots, and jalapeño peppers. The dish sings, almost leaps off the plate, and is so very much at home with sips of flinty white Sancerre.

Wolf’s partner, Tony Foreman, selects the restaurant’s wine list, which is extensive, international and well-chosen. Their dining menu also reflects a good deal of thought, and rather than the traditional appetizer/first course/main course routine, they list the 20-or-so daily offerings on a single page, , giving Fresh Artichoke Soup and Grilled Beef Tenderloin equal weight. Diners choose anywhere from 3 ($79) to 6 ($114) courses, and have the option to enjoy wine pairings with each dish. It’s a brilliant concept and one I would like to see more restaurants would embrace.

The dining room at Charleston, in the Harbor East neighborhood, is comfortable, grown-up, understated, and amazingly quiet for a rather large, expansive room open to the bustling, pristine kitchen. My single regret is that Cindy is not in my back yard.

CHARLESTON   |   1000 Lancaster Street at Exeter   |   Baltimore, Maryland   |   Tel: + 1 410 332 7373  | Open Monday - Saturday 5:30-10pm   |   info@charlestonrestaurant.com   |   www.charlestonrestaurant.com   |   $79-114 for 3-6 course ($120-182 with wine pairings).

 

 

Taste of the week: Alsatian bacon and onion tart

It’s no secret that I love making pizza, and Flammekuechen, the Alsatian version of a thin-crust pizza made with cream, onions and bacon, is a favorite, to bake in my wood-fired oven now that winter is really here.

In this version I have lightened the recipe by replacing the traditional cream with non-fat yogurt or fromage blanc and steaming the onions instead of sweating them in fat. However, on a chilly night you might just feel like adding back the cream and sweated onions! Serve with a green salad and a class of chilled Riesling and transport yourself to Alsace!


Equipment: A baking stone; a steamer; a wooden pizza peel; a metal pizza peel or large metal spatula (If you don’t have a baking stone and a wooden peel, simply sprinkle the polenta on a baking sheet, place the round of dough on top, assemble the tart, and bake on the baking sheet).

8 ounces (250 g) large white onions, peeled and cut crosswise into very thin rounds
4 ounces (125 g) thinly sliced pancetta or bacon, cut into cubes
1/2 cup (150 g) nonfat Greek-style yogurt or fromage blanc
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Flour and polenta for dusting
1 recipe Quick Whole Wheat Bread Tart Dough (below), shaped into a ball
Coarse, freshly ground black pepper

  1.  Place the baking stone on the bottom rack of the oven. Preheat the oven to 500°F (260°C).
  2.  Separate the onions into rings. You should have about 4 cups (1 liter) loosely packed onions.
  3. Bring 1 quart (1 liter) of water to a simmer in the bottom of a steamer. Place the onions on the steaming rack.  Place the rack over simmering water, cover, and steam until the onions are al dente 5 to 6 minutes. Remove the basket from the steamer to drain the onions.  (This can be done 2 to 3 hours before serving.
  4. In a large dry skillet, brown the pancetta over moderate heat until crisp and golden, 3 to 4 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to several layers of paper towels to absorb the fat. Blot the top of the pancetta with several layers of paper towel to absorb any additional fat.
  5. In a medium bowl combine the yogurt, nutmeg, onions, and half of the pancetta. Stir to blend.
  6. On a generously floured work surface, roll the dough into a 12- inch (30 cm) round.
  7. Sprinkle the wooden pizza peel with polenta and place the round of dough on the peel.  Working quickly to keep the dough from sticking, assemble the tart: Spread the yogurt mixture evenly over the dough. Sprinkle with the remaining pancetta.  
  8. Slide the dough off the peel and onto the baking stone. Bake until the dough is crisp and golden, and the top is bubbly, about 10 minutes.
  9.  With the metal pizza peel or large spatula, remove the tart from the baking stone. Sprinkle generously with pepper.  Transfer to a cutting board and cut into 8 wedges. Serve immediately.

Makes one 12-inch tart

Wine suggestion: A young, fresh dry Alsatian Riesling is in order here: Try one from the reputable firms of Ostertag or Zind-Humbrecht – crisp, dry, smoky wines with a saline touch of chalky minerality, an even match for the creamy onion and pancetta mixture offset with a hit of black pepper.    

Quick Whole Wheat Bread Tart Dough

Equipment: A food processor.

3/4 cup (120 g) whole wheat flour
3/4 cup (120 g) bread flour, plus extra if needed for dusting
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) quick-rising yeast
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

In the bowl of a food processor combine the whole wheat flour, bread flour, yeast, salt, and sugar and pulse to mix. Combine 1/2 cup (125 ml) of hot water and the olive oil in a measuring cup. With the motor running, gradually add enough of the hot liquid for the mixture to form a sticky ball. The dough should be soft. If it is too dry, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water. If it is too sticky, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour. Process until the dough forms a ball. Transfer to a clean, floured surface and knead by hand for 1 minute. Cover with a cloth and let rest for at least 10 minutes before rolling. (The dough will keep, covered and refrigerated,  for up to 4 days. Punch down the dough as necessary).

Makes one 12-inch (30 cm) pizza or flatbread

 

These recipes were originally published in Salad as a Meal. If you love this recipe, you can buy the book here!

This recipe is the copyright of Patricia Wells. All rights reserved.

A Ducasse reincarnation

Cauliflower encased in brioche, scallops, white truffles.

Cauliflower encased in brioche, scallops, white truffles.

There is much to love about Alain Ducasse’s bold, brave, and dramatic reincarnation of Paris’s Plaza Athénée restaurant. He, along with designers Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku were courageous to remove the traditional, starched white linen “fine dining” tablecloth and replace it with the most beautiful clean wooden table, an earthy, warm, welcome as one is first seated in the otherwise all-white dining room. Service-wise, I vote the restaurant unlimited stars, for director Denise Courtiade, sommelier Laurent Roucayrol, and their staff are models of their métier, and everyone who wants to know how to greet, serve, make diners feel like royalty, should sign up for a lesson, if one was available.

Ducasse, like other top French chefs, is working seriously and earnestly to create a new language and vision for “fine dining,” and their efforts should not go unnoticed. Quite surprisingly, the new menu at the Plaza focuses solely on three groups of ingredients: vegetables, fish and shellfish, and grains. And Ducasse pledges a new definition of luxurious, attempting to turn every element into a radical, minimal, experience.  Again, an idea to be applauded, if it works.

At this point, to this diner and critic, it does not. Watching his 15-minute video on the restaurant’s web site, one could become an instant convert, making friends with the man who meticulously selects Ducasse’s fish and shellfish, the earthy and loveable family that organically farms the grains used in the restaurant, the gardener at Versailles who grows the myriad of vegetables that arrive at the table.

In the video, Ducasse promises a return to “pure taste” (as if there was none before), and to a cooking that is not overworked (again, this is not a totally new and inventive concept.)

 We began with a brilliant orange-toned juice, a bright blend of carrots and celery served in a clear glass tumbler, with a designer ice cube. Nice, but I would have preferred a glass of bubbly. Why stuff “healthy” down one’s throat in a grand restaurant if it is not spectacular? 

The first bite to arrive: Salsify chips in sorrel sauce. Hmm……not exciting.

However I adored the grilled sardine, served with deep-fried head and bones, a perfect blend of smooth and crunchy, with a delicious scent and flavor of the sea – a huge bravo.

 To follow, a memorable chickepea puree with dorade (porgy), but I found the fish superfluous, the grains themselves were enough.

Then the main courses began, and I am sorry, they (mostly) did not work: A giant white bowl of quinoa topped with all manner of vegetables (from Versailles) and wild mushrooms. In his video, Ducasse preaches about not overworking food, but this dish was neither well thought out nor treated with the care he professes. During the same week, dining in various Paris establishments, I had better, brighter, less-tortured vegetables, sampled in modest bistros, newcomer star restaurants, and competing grand tables. As I ate the wild mushrooms from the dish, setting aside the characterless vegetables, I wondered if chef Romain Meder or Ducasse himself actually sat down and finished off an entire bowl of this creation.

Quinoa, vegetables and wild mushrooms.

Quinoa, vegetables and wild mushrooms.

The best – and most dramatic dish of the day – was clearly the whole cauliflower encased in brioche dough, a thorough beauty, presented untouched to the table. Once sliced, each all-white and fragrant portion was paired with pillow-like scallops and white truffles – quite understated, yet totally memorable. 

The lagoustines and caviar that arrived next with a sip of langoustine broth on the side took me back to grand cuisine dining. What’s there not to like? But this hardly speaks culinary revolution to me. 

The most disappointing of all was the main-course turbot, to me the grand king of French fish and French cuisine, and an ingredient that must be treated with wholehearted honor, even a bow. But sadly our giant morsel of turbot just sat there on the plate, pouting, no real soul or purpose, overcooked and rather limp and tasteless. The watercress sauce, baby turnips, et al, did not improve its placement at the table.

However, back to the positive: The wine list is a dream. We relished a white Châteauneuf-du-Pape festival, sampling a 2010 Clos des Papes (well-balanced and finely acidic), a 2012 Les Cailloux (Roussanne-rich, with great minerality ), and 2011 Domaine de Marcoux (fresh, with that Roussanne forwardness). The sommelier offered us a discovery of the season, with a 2011 red Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Celestière, a blockbuster old-vine Grenache worth seeking out. Each found its proper place at the table, offering pleasures impossible to describe. 

And for a few more thoughts from the dark side. Much of the cutlery seemed as though it belonged on a summer camp table, teeny tiny knives and forks not meant to be held by adult hands. Most of the serving plates are really bowls, with food so hidden inside that only the diner directly in front can detect what is within. Others cannot enjoy the luxury of the visible pleasures of the table. And this is solely a matter of personal taste, but the “I Dream of Jeannie” all-white décor felt out of context, made me more want to put on a white Corrèges A-line sleeveless dress and white boots and begin singing rather than relax and enjoy a fine dining meal. The PR suggests that the décor is a point of humor, but it did not make me laugh, it felt more like a luxury auto showroom to me, with all that glistening silver and white.

 Now that Ducasse is a chocolate master (with his two Le Chocolat - Alain Ducasse shops in Paris) I would also have expected something more spectacular than his beautiful yet dull chocolate cake. Sigh… I want to be a fan. But I need more convincing.

 

Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée  |  25 avenue Montaigne  |  Paris 8  |  Tel: +33 1 53 67 65 00  |  Metro: Alma-Marceau  |  Open lunch Thursday and Friday only. Dinner Monday to Friday. Closed Saturday and Sunday  |  Modern French, Haute Cuisine  |  À la carte 185 - 410€ at lunch and dinner; menu jardin-marin 380€ (3 half-portion dishes, cheese and dessert)  |  www.alainducasse.com  |  adpa@dorchestercollection.com  | 

Taste of the week: Decant or not decant?

© Jeff Kauck

With the festive season pretty much upon us, it seems an especially good time to talk about the benefits of decanting red wine, as I am sure many a bottle will be shared in the coming weeks.

In class during our wine-tasting sessions, we often do a blind taste test to understand the benefits of decanting - and the results are always surprising to my students. We test the same wine, one which has been decanted several hours before, and one that has been just opened. The decanted wine wins every time for flavor and satisfaction, no matter what the price or wine (with the exception of very old wines that might be fragile). This is because the aeration and oxygenation actually ages the wine and opens it up, So don't just get out your decanter for your special occasion reds, have it on hand to get the most out of any bottle that you are drinking.

A handy tip for getting rid of stubborn wine stains on your carafe: after washing the carafe fill it with water for a few days or even until the next time you use it. And residual stains should just disappear.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Le Petit Lutetia gets a culinary facelift

What a treat it was the other evening to return to one of Paris’s old 1920s bistro/brasseries to find a new menu, new staff, and a renewed sense of energy in a place that clearly needed a bit of a culinary facelift.  To my surprise, Le Petit Lutetia (down from the Bon Marché department store and right across from the new Hopital Linneac apartment complex) has been part of the Costes brothers group for the last several months. For the moment (and hopefully forever) Le Petit Lutetia does not fall into the Costes cookie-cutter mold, where one goes more for style and glamor than the food. Even though our group of six had been relegated to purgatory (way in the back, at the restroom entrance, not far from the kitchen door) we had a celebratory Sunday night dinner, including a raft of old-fashioned fare that showed  a fine sense of authenticity, history, and well, just good flavor. What I most loved is how the current, new menu bridges classic bistro dishes – such as delicious seared calf’s liver and moist duck confit – with less predictable fare, like a giant platter of perfectly fresh, perfectly cooked girolles (chanterelles) mushrooms, topped with nothing more than a cracked egg, there to serve as a colorful, flavorful sauce for the mushrooms. It’s brave to present something as simple as this, do it well, and make it work. But more than that, I loved the golden, fried calamari (baby squid) rings, a dish that is so rarely done well, all too often arriving soggy, flavorless, fatty. These were crisp, with the fragrance and flavor of the sea, served with a delicately spicy mayonnaise. A vegetarian could make a meal out of the vegetable salad accompanying the liver, a vibrant green, crisp mix of green beans and fava beans, a dish to admire. Add to this Jean-Luc Poujaraun’s crusty bread and a few sips of Marcel and Mathieu Lapierre’s exuberant, fruit-forward Morgon, and you’re ready to applaud the evening. Let’s hope they clear out the back room, and keep up the good cooking!

Le Petit Lutetia  |  107 rue de Sèvres  |  Paris 6  |  Tel: +33 1 45 48 33 53  |  Metro: Vaneau  |  Open daily | À la carte 35-60€.

Note: There is continuous service in the afternoons but you are advised to reserve if you are planning to dine outside regular service hours i.e 4-7pm so that the kitchen is sure to be prepared for you.

For more Paris restaurant reviews, get my Food Lover's Guide to Paris app.

Taste of the week: Discovering French cheese

Discovering the cheeses of France is to discover it's diversity and it's beauty, from the green flats of Normandy, the steep mountains of the Alps, to the plains of champagne east of Paris. Each of the 150-200 serious varieties of cheese produced in France tells a tale of the regional landscape from which it comes, the types of soil, vegetation, climate, and the cows, goats and sheep that graze there. 150-200 cheeses is an overwhelming number (after all it was Charles de Gaulle who famously said 'How can anyone govern a nation that has 246 varieties of cheese?' – albeit an exaggerated estimation), so working your way through the list of 45 A.O.C* cheeses might be a more manageable task if you wish to learn about French cheese.

One of my greatest delights of living in France has been to discover and understand French cheeses in all their complex, varied and often stinky glory. Here are my tips for how best to enjoy cheese:

  • Look for unpasteurized cheeses made with lait cru (raw milk) as the heating process in pasteurization kills the bacteria that gives the cheese its unique flavor (although you won't find unpasteurized cheeses that have been aged less than 60 days imported from France in the US)
  • Ask your cheese monger for a seasonal cheese, so that you can try a cheese at it's best.
  • If you are choosing cheese for a dégustation platter or a dinner party, choose three of four different varieties that might include a semi-soft cow's cheese such as a Camembert de Nomandie, a goat's milk cheese such as a Crottin de Chavignol or Rocamadour, a blue cheese like Roquefort, and a hard aged cheese like Comté. Start with the milder cheeses, and move on to the stronger flavors.
  • Most cheeses should be bought when at their best so try and buy your cheese the day you plan to consume it, or let your cheese monger know when you are planning on serving it so they can chose the perfect ripeness for you. Most non-industrial cheeses are best consumed within 48 hours of buying them.

Here are a few basic rules and best conditions for conserving your cheese:

  • Do not keep cheese in a sealed box or plastic wrapping. It is best conserved individually wrapped in the original paper they came in from your cheese shop. This will help preserve their flavor.
  • Keep the cheeses in the lowest part of the refrigerator, usually this is the crisper drawer, which is the coldest and most humid part of the refrigerator, and avoid temperatures that are too cold or too hot.
  • Soft rind cheeses (brie and camembert) and washed rind cheeses (munster, livarot), when at their best, will live happily out of the refrigerator on your kitchen bench, but need to be kept in their original paper and wrapped in a humid cloth.
  • For cheeses conserved in the refrigerator, they should be removed at least one hour before serving to give them time to come up to room temperature. Cold cheeses lose a large part of their flavor.

* When the A.O.C  (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) was officially created by the French Government in 1935, it was to specify a badge of authenticity and quality of an agricultural product. The A.O.C certifies excellence for wines, cheeses, butters, honey, poultry, and other products. The relatively newer label of A.O.P (Appellation d’origine protégée) is a European Union designation, equivalent to the French A.O.C. but includes agricultural products from all over Europe. They must however still abide by a given sets of rules of production (including geographical limits) and preparation, using established industry know-how. French producers whose products meet these guidelines can chose whether to promote their product under the A.O.C. or A.O.P. label.

In modern times, as the number of A.O.C products grows, it is clear that its importance is also a marketing tool to promote the brand. However, never awarded lightly, all A.O.C and French A.O.P-certified products retain a specific quality: Each bears a special label; each plays a role in French agricultural history based on its authenticity, regional lineage, and method of production. All are required to adhere to strict standards established by the French government, and production is rigorously controlled. The A.O.C/A.O.P label remains a serious badge for consumers.

 

 

 

 

 

A return to Porte 12

Mackerel 'snacké' with cucmber sorbet

I said I’d go back for dinner at Porte 12, and am so glad that I did! Chef Vincent Crepel and his talented staff continue their magic in the evenings with a five to seven-course no-choice dinner, and if it must be “no choice” I will happily cave in to their small plate selections. 

As we were seated at the table, and ordered a glass of Jacques Lassaigne Brut Reserve Champagne, the waiter set in front of us a plain, pale orchre-colored plate adorned with two perfect white truffles – several ounces worth – small and intensely, profoundly, fragrant. When the 28€ supplement to the 65€ seven-course menu was announced, who in their right mind could say no? (The white truffles will be on hand until the end of November, when the choice changes to fresh black Perigord truffles, no price noted yet.) 

Whole white truffles

And then the feast began, a parade of food that was purposeful and powerful, not a drop, a sip, a bite out of place, each ingredient holding up on its own. Crepel’s is a lean cuisine with a punch, not a touch of butter or cream, just the essence of what each ingredient really is.

From the rich fresh mackerel snacké (meaning lightly seared or here, hit with a blowtorch for a quick-grilled touch of intensity) served with a pungent, fragrant touch of cucumber sorbet. On to the dreamy 63° egg doused with potato foam and an unforgettably rich and delicious caramelized onion juice (like a waltz on the palate), contrasted with just a tiny touch of vinegar. We swooned as the evening evolved. Shavings of white truffles here, white truffles there, nothing superfluous, nothing surplus.

63° egg, potato foam, caramelized onion juice, white truffles

 Moving on, the scallops – barely cooked and enrobed in golden-brown “chips” of topinambors, or Jerusalem artichokes – were complete perfection, paired with a brilliant green lovage cream, an exquisite dish, where every ingredient matched, shook hands, went together on the plate and the palate. A few shavings of fresh white truffles did not harm the dish a bit!

Next, codfish paired with soft, almost billowy baby carrots, a butternut squash puree, so very pretty, just a few bites, all showered with truffles.

Then meaty, moist, tender strips of pigeon breast arrived, showered with crunchy rounds of buckwheat, paired with a parsnip puree and slices of beets cooked encased in a crust.

Between bites, we sipped some exquisite, simple wines, including Francois Cotat’s fragrant, atypical Sancerre Jeunes Vignes 2007 (floral, aromatic, with hints of bitter almonds), and Alain Voge’s Cornas Chailles 2011, a rich and concentrated, netural-oak-aged Syrah.

The cheese course, a thin slice of cow’s milk Comté, and an equally elegant strip of sheep’s milk cheese, was escorted by a puddle of mild acacia honey topped with slices of white truffles, another example of a simple yet flawless combination of ingredients joined together on the plate, like your favorite black dress matched with the perfect accessories.

Like many modern new restaurants, Porte 12 has managed to create an elegant, new world white-tablecloth restaurant without the white tablecloths. (What are all the blanchisseries going to do?) This subtle return to a more sophisticated atmosphere is a welcome respite from the in-your-face bare bones décor choices of recent years.

I guess that my only complaint about this compact, well-run restaurant is the black plates. The dark pottery never flatters food, and as far as I am concerned, never makes the dining experience more pleasurable.

As for the finale, the airy mousse au chocolate topped with a chocolate crumble and an unanticipated (but perfectly paired) beet sorbet sent us out into the street dancing. The restaurant’s playlist remains close to my heart. One can always dine with pleasure listening to Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Simon and Garfunkel, even Bill Withers. Go, while truffles are still in season!  And dance!

porte 12  |  12 rue des Messageries  |  Paris 10  |  Tel: +33 1 42 46 22 64  |  Métro: Poissonnière  |  Open Tuesday - Saturday. Closed Saturday lunch, Sunday, Monday and public holidays  |  reservation@porte12.com   |   www.porte12.com (reservations taken online)

For more Paris restaurant reviews, get my Food Lover's Guide to Paris app.

 

Black truffle spaghetti

 © Jeff Kauck

If you have the chance to cook with a prized French black truffle, this recipe is one of the simplest and best-value ways to enjoy its sublime earthy flavor. The truffle butter and truffle salt (that keeps wonderfully in the freezer to be used throughout the year) really boosts the truffle flavor. 

Equipment: A 10-quart (10 l) pasta pot fitted with a colander; 4 warmed shallow soup bowls.  

3 tablespoons coarse sea salt

1 pound (500 g) Italian spaghetti

2 tablespoons (1 ounce, 30 g) Truffle Butter (recipe follows)

1  cup (100 g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus additional for serving

Truffle Salt (recipe follows)

1 tablespoon (6 g) minced fresh black truffle or minced truffle peelings (optional)


1.   Fill the pasta pot with 8 quarts (8 l) of water and bring it to a rolling boil over high heat.  Add the coarse salt and the pasta. Cook until tender but firm to the bite. Drain thoroughly.

2.   Transfer the pasta to a large bowl, add the butter and cheese and toss to coat the pasta evenly and thoroughly. Season lightly with the truffle salt.  Transfer to the warmed bowls, shower with minced truffle, if using, serve. Garnish with the additional cheese.  

4 servings

Wine suggestions: This calls for an everyday red and of course our favorite is our own Clos Chanteduc, a simple Côtes-du-Rhône, but one that forces you to make you sit up and take notice, focusing on its note of black coarsely ground black pepper,  the fine balance of fruit and acidity, as well as its easy-quaffing qualities. The blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre comes from vines planted mostly in the 1950’s so the flavors are rich and dense.


Truffle butter

Equipment: A small jar with a lid.

1 tablespoon (6 g) minced fresh black truffle peelings

4 tablespoons (2 ounces; 60 g) salted butter, softened

1.  Place the butter on a large plate. Sprinkle with the truffle peelings and mash with a fork to blend. Transfer to the jar. Tighten the lid.

2.  Refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze up to 6 months. Serve at room temperature, or melted, as necessary. 

Makes 4 tablespoons (2 ounces; 60 g)


Truffle salt

Equipment: A small jar with a lid.

1 tablespoon (6 g) minced fresh black truffle peelings

1 tablespoon fleur de sel or fine sea salt

1. In the small jar, combine the minced truffles and salt.  Tighten the lid and shake to blend. Refrigerate for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 1 year.

2. For each use, remove the truffle salt from the freezer or refrigerator, remove the desired amount, and return the jar to the freezer or refrigerator. 

Makes 2 tablespoons

Note: My favorite truffle supplier in Provence, Plantin in the village of Puymeras, supplies the top chefs in the world with fresh truffles from November to March, and with preserved truffle products year-round. Products can be purchased from their web site, Plantin.Com 


These recipes were originally published in Simply Truffles. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

Le Severo

 © Gianluca Tamorri 2013

When I want a fabulous, juicy steak and crispy fries that seem to have been touched by an angel, I pick up the phone and hope for a booth at William Bernet’s Le Severo, a modest 10-table bistro in the 14th arrondissement. I doubt that any Parisian restaurateur understands meat, particularly beef, better than Bernet, a longtime butcher who meticulously selects, then painstakingly ages his own meat. If your budget can afford it (it’s worth saving up euros for this one!) order the dry-aged beef, here hung for more than 100 days, four times the normal aging period. Priced at 210€, it is meant to serve 3 to 4 diners, easily. What do we get out of all this? In Bernet’s hands, a superior cut of beef that is seared to create a crisp and fiery black crust, revealing an ultra-tender, juicy interior. For me, this re-defines steak, a perfection of dense and fragrant crispness contrasted with a moist and tender center. (When beef is dry-aged at near freezing temperatures, moisture is evaporated from the muscle, creating a greater concentration of beef flavor and taste.) The mild-mannered Bernet is ferocious in his selection of his animals, searching far and wide throughout Europe for the finest, often sourcing them in Germany and Spain.

Back to the table however... Not only does Le Severo serve the best aged beef in Paris, but some of the most delicious French fries, golden, firm, as though they had been coated with angel dust, making for crispy, crunchy delights.

Photo by Jeffrey Bergman

Photo by Jeffrey Bergman

 Other treats on the menu include the pungent mixed green salad from the gardens of salad queen Annie Bertin; an incomparable steak tartare, seared veal steaks, boudin noir (blood sausage) from chef Christian Parra, and an expertly chosen wine list, including the treasure we enjoyed on my last visit: Domaine du Clos du Caillou’s Châteauneuf du Pape les Quartz, a rich, highly perfumed red (think raspberry, black peppercorns, and spice) a Grenache-based wine from sandy soils, making for a gem with exceptional elegance and polish.

Le Severo  |  8 rue des Plantes  |  Paris 14  |  Tel: +33 1 45 40 40 91  |  Alésia or Mouton-Duvernet  |  Open Monday - Friday. Closed Saturday and Sunday  |  A la carte 30-85€  |  Reservations essential.

For more Paris restaurant reviews, get my Food Lover's Guide to Paris app.

© Gianluca Tamorri 2013

Black and white photos by Gianluca Tamorri. Do not reproduce without permission.

Taste of the week: Lemon zest salt

 © Jeff Kauck

Before using a lemon, I always zest it. If I am not using the zest in the recipe I am making, I like to turn it into lemon zest salt, that I can use on virtually any dish to add color, texture, and well, a little zest! The recipe couldn't be easier:

Lemon Zest Salt

Makes 2 tablespoons

Equipment: A spice grinder; a small jar with a lid

1 tablespoons grated lemon zest, preferably organic (as non-organic lemon skins are heavily sprayed with pesticides)

1 tablespoon fine sea salt


Combine the zest and the salt in the spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Transfer to a small jar and close with the lid. Keep refrigerated for up to a week (after that the lemon flavor begins to fade)

If you don't have a spice grinder, you can use a well-cleaned coffee grinder, or zest the lemon finely with a very sharp fine zester such as a microplane zester, and stir to combine.


This recipe was first published in Salad as a Meal. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

 

 

 

Noma: Surrender your expectations

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK – Should you secure a table at Noma -- considered by many to be the best restaurant in the world – be sure to surrender at the door all your traditional thoughts about what a restaurant should be. Expect to eat foods you never ate before, or thought you would, such as ants. Plan to marvel at how chef/owner René Redzepi came up with certain combinations, like flatbread and technicolor rose petals; pale green deep-fried reindeer moss dusted with cèpe mushroom powder; barbecued bone marrow for the diner to wrap in cabbage leaves with multicolored nasturtium flowers.

At first glance, these dishes might get not get your vote for “best in the world.” But trust me, a meal at Noma is worth the journey and is truly a superior, unique, gastronomic experience. As a critic, a diner, a cook, I am always on the lookout for new stimulation, foods that surprise me, make me want to rush into the kitchen to repeat the pleasures of a dish. Noma offers all that stimulation, gratification, and more. It wakes up one’s palate, and questions our preconceived idea of what great food should taste like and be.

Redzepi is committed to sourcing and serving only local ingredients, so his chemistry-lab-like kitchens need to produce flavors that are not easily found in the north. There is no citrus for the acid balance that helps make food taste delicious, so to add that element they have their own fermentation lab, creating everything from fish sauce to miso.

And herein lies Redzepi’s challenge: So much of the pleasure of food is a result of our taste memory. My Italian mom’s spaghetti and meatballs, my favorite birthday cake (poppyseed), Joel Robuchon’s potato purée, my last perfect pizza. How much of that is real pleasure and what percentage just memory of past, favored tastes?

And yet at Noma, the pleasure is all there, within these incredibly unsual flavors. Redzepi's kitchen presents you with an amazing array of roots, leaves, pits, and flowers; they roast, grill, infuse, smoke and ferment the ingredients, but never is a flavor distorted. There is always that search for the true and honest soul of an element. And nothing appears pretentious or precious, narcissistic, or self-involved. A genuine aim to please is present everywhere, on the faces of the staff, in the precise presentation, in the final results.

A bit of background: Redzepi, now 36, is a Copenhagen native who attended cooking school there, worked in France with the Pourcel twins at Le Jardin des Sens, in Spain with revolutionary chef Ferran Adria at El Bulli, and in California with landmark chef Thomas Keller at The French Laundry. Back home in 2003, he founded Noma, based on reinterpreting Nordic Cuisine, exploring every single edible ingredient that this northern region of the world might offer. The restaurant’s name is a taken from the two Danish words “NOrdisk” (Nordic) and “MAad” (food) and the rest is history.

First impressions: We are six for lunch, greeted heartily at the door by the manager. The second we crossed the threshold, the entire staff gathered to greet us at the door. All of them smiling, earnestly happy to see us. And then the 19-course fireworks began. Here are some of the best bites:

My favorite taste of the day was perhaps one of the simplest: A single Smoked and Pickled Quail Egg, elegantly presented on a bed of fresh straw, encased in a ceramic speckled egg. “Eat with just a single bite, it’s still runny inside,” suggested one waiter, Juan. Visually appealing, soft, earthy, delicately smoky, faintly pickled, the egg shows how much pleasure can be delivered in a single mouthful.

Smoked and pickled quail eggs

Smoked and pickled quail eggs

One gauge of a great chef is someone who first aims for, then masters the art of combining color, textures, crunch, bitterness, sweetness, acid, all in perfect balance. Redzepi and his staff strive for this, and generally achieve it.

The fried green moss dipped in a dollop of alabaster crème fraîche achieved it. The crispy, almost paper-thin toasted whole grain flatbread showered with colorful, crunchy, smoky, charred rose petals did too. The pungent apple paste teamed up with cèpe oil, lemon verbena, and lemon thyme did it as well.  This dish, served on a bed of ice piled high and shaped like a tajine, came off as a pungent, green on green mélange nestled in a small wooden bowl on ice, to be eaten with a smooth and silken wooden spoon.

Flatbread and rose petals

Squid and broccoli

Bone marrow and nasturium flowers

Pumpkin kelp and beech nuts

I can’t forget the colorful, crunchy pencil-thin cucumber (not your basic cornichon) the size of a French green bean, delicately pickled, dipped in a pungent “fudge” made of sea scallops and decorated with pickled parsley flowers. Or the pickled rose hips paired with fresh walnuts, lavender and marigold leaves, a dish that shook hands with Cédric Bouchard’s lively, bubbly Champagne, rich, complex and almost weightless.  

We were expecting the ants, and they came (but not alive, thank you) sprinkled generously on top of Noma’s beef tartare. Danish ribeye steak, aged a full three weeks, is cut into thin strips and seasoned with a vegetal, pungent celery oil and showered with the big black ants, added for their crunch, touch of acidity, and stunningly citrus zing. But not my favorite dish.

Beef tartare, celery oil and black ants

Beef tartare, celery oil and black ants

To me, the desserts were imperfections in an otherwise dazzling meal, with a forgettable mushroom ice cream, and a pairing of potato and plum (I don’t care about seeing vegetables on my plate at the end of a four-hour meal). This was one dish that didn’t make much sense to me, either in creation or execution.

 The wine list bothers me a good deal. As a dedicated Rhône fan and friend of many quality winemakers there, I was shocked to see just a single worthy wine on the list from both the north and the south, Domaine Gramenon’s pure and smoky Grenache-based Côtes-du-Rhône Poigneé de Raisins. But the sommelier said it was out of stock. So we settled, quite happily for a Beaujolais I love, Jean Foillard’s Morgon Côte de Py, supple, well-balanced, and ready to pair beautifully with Noma’s genuine, intense, straight-from-the-earth flavors.

With a staff of 40 for 40 diners, this destination restaurant is lodged in a converted stone warehouse in the Christianshaven neighborhood along a winding canal, and within walking distance of the center of Copenhagen. The décor reflects the earthy, rustic food that reveals a wealth of sophistication, enveloping the diner in a spacious room that is warm and comforting, all earth tones and wood. I can’t wait to go back.


Noma   |   Strandgade 93, DK-1401 Copenhagen   |   Tel +45 3296 3297   |   Open lunch and dinner, Tuesday through Saturday, closed Sunday   |   Menus at 1600 DK ($272), with wine pairings for an additional 1,000 DK ($170), or juice pairings for 600DK ($102)   |    Reservations difficult to come by, can be made through their web site.

Note that the Copenhagen restaurant will be closed in January and February 2015, when the staff travels to Japan for a two-month stint at the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo, where the staff will focus on local Japanese ingredients, serving meals from January 9 to February 14.

Taste of the week: Chickpea and sesame dip

A  neighbor in Provence grows wonderfully rich-tasting chickpeas, which I turn into tangy, lemon-flecked dips, accompaniments to poultry dishes, or to falafel. For the most delicious hummus, cook your own dried chickpeas; the canned ones often taste tinny and are not nearly as densely flavored.

Equipment: A food processor or a blender.

2 1/2 cups home-cooked chickpeas, drained (reserve liquid)
2 plump, moist garlic cloves, peeled, halved, and green germ removed
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (or to taste)
3 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 tablespoons best-quality sesame oil
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
1/8 teaspoon paprika  

Set aside 1/2 cup of the chickpeas for garnish. In the bowl of a food processor or a blender, mince the garlic. Add the remaining 2 cups of chickpeas, the lemon juice, tahini, salt, and 1 tablespoon of the oil. Blend until smooth, adding the reserved cooking liquid if necessary to make a smooth puree. Taste for seasoning.  Spoon the dip into a large, shallow bowl, and garnish with the reserved 1/2 cup of chickpeas, a drizzle of oil, cilantro, and paprika. Serve. (The dip can be stored, without the garnish, covered and refrigerated, for up to 3 days.)  

Makes 2 cups

This recipe was first published in The French Kitchen Cookbook.

Welcome to my new web site!

It's been a while in the making, tweaking here, rewriting there, but I am very excited to finally reveal the new home of www.patriciawells.com.  The site has a totally new, vibrant look, with tons of gorgeous photos taken in Paris and Provence by my very talented photographer friends Jeff Kauck and Steven Rothfeld, myself, and by many students from my cooking school, At Home With Patricia Wells. 
 
In my new home I will of course continue this blog, chronicling my gastronomic adventures in Paris, Provence and abroad: current restaurant visits (keep an eye out for my Noma review, coming soon!), new food shops, and other food-related news.

I am especially excited about the new feature that I will be adding to the blog: Taste of the Week – weekly posts dedicated to kitchen tips, recipes, and notes on favorite ingredients.

I love to hear from my readers, so please don't be shy to drop me a line and let me know what you think of the new site!

Patricia.jpg
 


Taste of the Week: Monday night beef salad with green beans, avocado and arugula

Walter often cooks his famed Salt and Pepper Steak on Sunday nights, and we always hope for enough leftovers to prepare this salad as a meal the following day.

Equipment: A small jar with a lid; a 5-quart (5 l) pasta post fitted with a colander.

Dressing
2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon leaves
2 teaspoons tarragon-flavored mustard*
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup (125 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons capers in vinegar, drained
6 cornichons, cut crosswise into thin rings

Salad
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
8 ounces (250 g) green beans

10 ounces (300 g) cooked beef rib steak, cubed (see Walter's Salt and Pepper Steak recipe below)

4 scallions, white and green parts, peeled and cut into thin rings

A large handful (about 2 ounces; 60 g) arugula, rinsed and dried
10 firm cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise  
1 large ripe avocado, halved, pitted, peeled, and cubed  


1.    In the jar, combine all the dressing ingredients. Cover and shake to blend. Taste for seasoning.

2.    Fill the pasta pot with 3 quarts (3 l) of water and bring to a rolling boil over a high heat. Prepare a bowl of ice water for an ice bath.

3.    Add the coarse sea salt and the beans to the boiling water and blanch until crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes. (The cooking time will vary according to the size and tenderness of the beans.) Immediately remove the colander from the water, allow the water to drain from the beans, and plunge the beans into the ice water so they cool down as quickly as possible. (The beans will cool in 1 to 2 minutes. If you leave them longer, they will become soggy and begin to lose flavor. ) Drain the beans and wrap them in a thick towel to dry. (The beans can be cooked up to four hours in advance. Keep them wrapped in the towel and refrigerate, if desired.)

4.    Place the beef in a large bowl. Add just enough dressing to lightly coat the meat. Toss to blend. Add the beans and scallions and add just enough dressing to lightly coat the ingredients. Tear the arugula into bite-size pieces. Add the arugula, tomatoes, and avocado to the bowl and add just enough dressing to lightly coat the ingredients. Taste for seasoning. Serve.

 
4 servings

* I favor Edmond Fallot’s Tarragon Dijon Mustard, which can be found in Patricia’s Pantry on my Amazon Store.

 

Walter's Salt and Pepper Steak

Equipment: A griddle, seasoned cast iron skillet, or heavy-duty skillet.

1 bone-in beef rib steak, about 2 pounds (1 kg), about 1-inch (2.5 cm) thick
2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
Coarse, freshly ground black pepper
Fleur de sel
Lemon wedges, for serving  

1.    Remove the meat from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before cooking.

2.    When you are ready to cook the beef, preheat the griddle or skillet over high heat for 2 minutes. Scatter the coarse sea salt on the griddle and heat until the salt “dances,” or begins to pop, about 2 minutes. Then add the meat, unseasoned, and cook for 4 minutes on one side. Turn the meat, season the seared side with pepper and cook for 4 minutes more for rare meat, or cook to desired doneness.

3.    Transfer the meat to a cutting board. Season the second side with pepper and season both sides with fleur de sel. Tent the meat loosely with foil to prevent the surface from cooling off too quickly. Let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

4.    To serve, carve into thick slices. Serve with lemon wedges. 

4 servings

The secret: Three rules here: sear, season, rest. Searing caramelizes the sugar and browns the proteins on the surface of the meat, resulting in more intense flavors and an attractive crust. The salt does help begin to season the meat, but because the pan is extremely hot, the meat begins to sear immediately, forming a crust that prevents the salt from drawing moisture from the steak. The final seasoning makes for meat that tastes seasoned not salted. Resting allows the juices to retreat back into the meat, resulting in beef that is moist and tender, not dry.

These recipes were first published in The French Kitchen Cookbook. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

Table d'Akihiro: Subtle, streamlined cuisine

Subtle, streamlined, and honest, are the words to describe both Akihiro Horikoshi and his postage-stamp sized fish restaurant set on a quiet side street in the 7th arrondissement. Since opening the all-white, open-kitchen dining room in 2010, he has seduced us with a singular style of cuisine, offering dishes that both satisfy and surprise, amaze with their freshness, and always make us feel special to be one of the lucky few to secure a table at the 16-seat restaurant. For more than 10 years this slight, quiet, Tokyo native worked with Bernard Pacaud at the Michelin three-star restaurant L’Ambroisie. On his own, he’s not just the captain but nearly the whole crew of his tiny ship, working with just a single waiter. He shops, devises the daily set menu, cooks, cleans up, mans the espresso machine, all the while listening to his favorite operas, the music playing discreetly in the background.

Almost all of his food is white, whether it’s a single alabaster ravioli or a moist sponge cake, a portion of clean, ultra-fresh codfish (photo) or a quenelle of rice pudding. From time to time he’ll add a burst of color, as in his minestrone de homard au jus de crustacés, a bright-flavored, slightly spicy soup laced with full-flavored lobster claws, cubes of crunchy zucchini, a touch of pasta, and fresh white cocos blanc beans bathed in a rich shellfish broth and topped with a zingy basil pesto sauce. Just as worthy of our attention and respect is the plump codfish fillet bathed in foamy, buttery sauce, set atop a bed of warm, soothing cubes of potatoes enlivened with a generous dose of minced chives. Fish lovers will likely swoon over his Saint-Pierre (John Dory) fillet sauced with a rich meat reduction and paired with a slim heart of lettuce, caramelized to a brown-sugar sweetness. It’s a treat to watch Akihiro perform his well-seasoned ballet in the kitchen, as he is clearly as disciplined and well-organized as any cook can be, working in a miniscule space that many cooks might scorn. The diminutive wine list offers some treasures, including the tart and flinty white Sancerre from Fournier Pere & Fils and the classic pinot noir Chassagne Montrachet from Francois d’Allaines.  Note that while the restaurant opened with the name La Table d’Aki, it has officially been changed to La Table d’Akihiro. Also be aware that it is not always simple to secure a table here, since the restaurant is often difficult to reach by phone. But don’t give up, it’s worth the effort.

Table d'Akihiro
49 rue Vaneau   |   Paris 7   |   Tel: +33 1 45 44 43 48   |   Métro: Vaneau or Saint-François-Xavier   |   A la carte, 66-112€   |   Open Tuesday-Saturday. Closed Sunday & Monday   |   Reservations: Essential   |   Note: Reservations taken between 11am-3pm and 7-11pm

For more Paris restaurant reviews, get my Food Lover's Guide to Paris app.

Porte 12: Sophisticated, signature fare

I knew that I was going to have a good time on my first visit to Porte 12 – a brand new modern French restaurant in the 10th arrondissement ­– when, as we sat down for lunch and I heard them playing a favorite Nat King Cole tune, followed by the modern-day American jazz singer Stacey Kent, belting out a great song. There’s much to love, even embrace about this small, 30-seat restaurant with its simple, bright, contemporary décor, a bustling open kitchen, sincere and attentive service, not to mention straightforward, yet sophisticated, signature fare that makes me want to come back for dinner...which I plan to. Whimsical corset-shaped light fixtures all but swing from the high ceiling, echoing the space’s former incarnation as a textile and lingerie atelier. The one-bite starter of a miniature potato hollowed out, filled with an eggless aioli, a sprinkling of crunchy toast bits, and a few herbs sets a surprising and satisfying tone, and I’ll be serving a version of this to my cooking school students first chance I get.

The restaurant is overseen by Singapore chef André Chiang, with Vincent Crepel in charge in the kitchen. A native of Lourdes, Crepel has also worked in the kitchens of the landmark Swiss restaurant made famous in the 1980’s by Fredy Girardet, (now under the direction of chef Philippe Rochat and Benoit Violier), as well as, of course, in Chiang’s own highly celebrated restaurant in Singapore, Restaurant André.

Dishes that both inspire a cook as well as please the palate are always winners in my book, and Chef Crepel offers a stylish serving of moist and tender duck hearts bathed in a deep, dark poultry sauce all topped with an ethereal, thin, creamy potato puree, paper-thin toast crisps and a few tender, bright green wisps of salicorne, or edible sea beans. Also on the winners list goes his so simple yet brilliantly cohesive creation of ultra-tender strips of chicken breast set atop a full-flavored mixture of herb-infused fregola (lightly toasted Sardinian pasta that’s similar to Israeli couscous), and more of those crunchy, nutty, toast bits for added texture. The dish was brought together seamlessly by a delicate corn purée. His dessert (photo) – a plate of vibrant, warm, thickly sliced fresh figs, atop crumbled chocolate brownie, surprisingly tangy and not-too-sweet crumbled meringues, and a hazelnut ice cream that was light, yet made its presence felt, rounded-off a memorable, well-priced (€35) three-course lunch. The only disappointment of the meal was the rather timid plate of barely cooked mackerel-like chinchards set atop thick slices of crunchy, barely cooked potatoes, a pairing that was far from satisfying. The wine list is streamlined and offers some good choices by the glass, including a favorite Chardonnay from the Jura, from Domaine Labet. The 3-course lunch menu allows two selections for the first and main course, with a single choice appetizer and dessert. A smaller lunch menu of two dishes – starter and main, or main and dessert – is a very reasonable 28€. The more expensive dinner menu offers more choices, from 58-65€.

Porte 12
12 rue des Messageries   |   Paris 10   |   Tel: +33 1 42 46 22 64   |   Metro: Poissonnière
Open Tuesday to Saturday. Closed Saturday lunch, and all day Sunday and Monday.
reservation@porte12.com   |   www.porte12.com (reservations taken online)

For more Paris restaurant reviews, get my Food Lover's Guide to Paris app.

 

Rendezvous at Café Varenne

The other day Walter and I were having lunch at our neighborhood Paris café, Café Varenne, and just as we were finishing a superb dish of ultra-tender and meaty tendrons de veau (breast of veal)  tossed with fresh pasta, carrots, and slivers of Parmesan cheese (perfect for a cold, rainy day in May!)  two women addressed us: “You’re Patricia Wells, and we are here because of The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris.” Indeed, the mother and daughter duo from Boston had just been to the Rodin museum, and as the guide and iPhone app suggest, this is a great address nearby. Owners Sylvain and Agnès Didier are gracious hosts and the food just gets better and better. Enjoy a sip of their white Quincy from the Loire and the fine, crusty baguettes from Boulangerie Secco right across the street.

36, rue de Varenne, Paris 7, Tel: +33 1 45 48 62 72, Métro: Rue du Bac or Sèvres-Babylone, à la carte 30€.

Open Monday through Friday 7:30AM to 10:30PM, Saturday 9AM to 8PM. Closed Sunday, holidays, and 2 weeks in August.