Sa Qua Na: An ethereal touch in Normandy

 Miso-laquered lieu jaune (pollack) 

Alexandre Bourdas is a fine painter. And an extraordinary chef. Within his modern and demure, nine-table restaurant just steps from the harbor in Normandy’s historic Honfleur, he paints joyous, colorful works on white porcelain plates, brushing tender lieu jaune with a pungent dose of Japanese miso,  and conducts in the background a nearly all-white culinary symphony, tossing in grated cauliflower and semolina, potatoes and white coco beans, going a bit overboard with the whipped cream come dessert time. 

I have wanted to sit at his table since he opened to fanfare in 2006, quickly garnering two Michelin stars. And it was a deep desire to sample his signature poached monkfish paired with lime and lovage, coconut, and expressive kaffir lime oil, that transported me there at last. 

A disciple of the Auvergnat star-chef Michel Bras, a lover of all things Japanese, and a Normandy native, BB weaves all these influences into his very personal, expressive cuisine. In his hands, a simple rectangle of fish -- barely more than a bite full --  becomes a culinary jewel. Monkfish can so easily turn rubbery and banal if not precisely cooked, yet his barely poached, alabaster lotte brought to mind clouds and angels, offering serious gastronomic pleasure. Even potentially explosive flavors -- a generous shower of lime zest, a frothy broth prepared with freshly grated coconut, the oil extracted from the Asian citrus combava (kaffir lime) -- maintain a subtlety that make you believe you’ve been sampling that brilliant combination of flavors all of your life. 

I love him for explaining on his menu each simple technique that is used to cook an ingredient: poached, seared, steamed, boiled, grilled, caramelized. The miso-lacquered pollack (lieu jaune) a fish I usually find deeply uninteresting, here was seared over very high heat, but remained light, delicate, full of personality and freshness. Paired with baby leeks and (a favorite flavor here) tiny black and white rolls of paper-thin daikon (white radish) and nori (dried seaweed paper.) His steamed sea bream (dorade) is smothered in an all-white mix of grated raw cauliflower, grains of semolina, and a crunch of powdered caramelized almonds, all tossed in a gentle vinaigrette. Codfish (cabillaud) is treated with equal respect, parting into flat and tender flakes, set in a broth of white beans and cubed potatoes, minced parsley, and a faint shower of minced fresh black truffles. 

After all this fanfare, the rectangle of grilled beef fell flat, out of place, seeming to squash all the previous pleasure. Desserts, like everything that comes from his kitchen, shone with forethought, precision, and expertise, but like the beef, they stood in the way of the memories I was already gathering from the spectacular parade of fish. There’s brioche topped with a pineapple flan (with flavors reminiscent of the pineapple upside-down cake of my childhood),  a seriously beautiful mandarin sorbet enveloped in a cloud of crème Chantilly, and an underwhelming wimpy chocolate cake.  

                                                 La Mandarin

The wine list is extensive, with treasures from throughout the vineyards of France. We opted for a favorite white, the 2013 100% Clairette Châteauneuf-du-Pape Saint Prefert from the hands of winemaker Isabel Ferrando, who has created a white that was young, fresh, direct, and vibrant, and a perfect match for Bourdas’s fish presentations. 

Service here is not on par with what’s on the plate: There’s a military stiffness, a lack of enthusiasm, rote deliveries of each dish, that don’t mesh with the professionalism of the kitchen. It took us three hours to make it through the 115€ eight-course menu but that’s just a comment, not a criticism. And my advice is to delete the pascade, an Auvergnat specialty from his mother’s native region, a sort of flat popover that on it’s own might be ok. As served to us, doused with a strange mixture of sugar, chives, and truffle oil, it was, to my mind, a huge mistake. 

The restaurant’s name, by the way, has two meanings. In Japanese, sakena it is the word for fish. His personal translation is SAveurs, QUalité, NAture. 

Sa Qua Na   |   22 Place Hamelin   |   14600 Honfleur   |   Tel + 33 2 31 89 40 80   |   Open Thursday through Sunday. Closed Monday through Wednesday   |   www.alexandre-bourdas.com   |   saquana@alexandre-bourdas.com   |   Lunch and dinner: 25€ children’s menu; 75€ 5-course menu; 115€ 8-course menu. 

Hexagone: breathtakingly beautiful food

       Langoustines, saffron broth and root vegetable linguine

Mathieu Pacaud is a very fortunate and brave young man. Not many of us are born into a star-chef family, and those who are may have neither the desire, courage, or personal strength to follow in famed footsteps. Mathieu is the son of Michelin three-star chef Bernard Pacaud and his wife, Danielle, owners of the restaurant L’Ambroisie on the Place de Vosges. At 33, after many years working in his father’s kitchen, Mathieu has just opened his own establishment, Hexagone, a large, glossy, 16th arrondissement restaurant just off the Place du Trocadéro.

When the senoir Pacauds created their tiny nine-table restaurant L’Ambroisie on the Quai de la Tournelle in the early 1980s  (moving to the Place des Vosges in 1986) they were part of the then-junior crowd that now capture top seats in the Paris culinary hierarchy, along with Joël Robuchon and Guy Savoy. Even back then, the distinctiveness of the Pacaud palate was already evident. In 1982 I wrote: “Chef Pacaud magically manages to take the most basic, simple ingredients, and transform them into something elegant and grand yet totally uncomplicated.”

The same words could be said of Mathieu Pacaud’s cuisine today. He clearly learned his lessons well during the years spent at his father’s side on the Place de Vosges. The menu at Hexagone is classic yet does not struggle with binding rules.  And his food is so breathtakingly beautiful, it took a little while for me to place a fork, a knife, a spoon into his creations. Still, nothing here is fussy or overly fancy.  A saffron-rich broth surrounds delicately cooked, briny langoustines, wearing a “hat” of paper-fine whisps of root vegetable linguine. Simple, sublime, subtle, like so much of the Pacaud family fare.

His ecrivisses du lac (fresh water crayfish) was another artistic creation almost too beautiful to eat, a forest of cauliflower branches, pillows of cauliflower mousseline and tender crayfish bites, floating atop a delicate layer of jelly ever so subtly perfumed with aniseed and dotted with a green mango sauce, all in perfect harmony. Adorned with a few microgreens and edible flower petals, this was one of the prettiest dishes to come out of the kitchen.

                                               Ecrivisses du lac, cauliflower mousselline, aniseed jelly.

I loved his seared lamb, and loved even more the tangle of bright, fresh herbs – mint, coriander, dill – that topped the meat, allowing you, with each bite, a mouthful of flavors as welcome as the spring’s fresh air. I would have liked my lamb a tad less cooked and a bit more tender. But once I tasted the soothing smoked potato puree that accompanied the meat, I was ready to forgive. Creamy, rich, and just so subtly smoked that the potato puree could have stood on its own as a very tiny mid-course. The lamb and herb rectangle was set in a pool of a rich, classic meat sauce, and punctuated with a vibrant green dollop of intensely flavored fresh herb puree. Better than icing on a cake.

                                                Milk-fed saddle of lamb

The homard bleu (blue lobster), was a perfection of simplicity, served with a rich shellfish foam and miniature cylindrical pebbles of topinambour (Jerusalum artichoke) soft and melting on one side, with a panfried outer edge like a hashbrown on the other, for that necessary touch of crunch in the dish. The concept was simple, the execution perfect, here the produce is center stage, but Matthieu elevates it to something poetic.

As a chocolate fan, I couldn’t pass up his Bayano Brésil ganache --- that firm, thick thick pad of chocolate piped between delicate chocolate wafers – and served with a truly memorable honey ice cream.

                                                              Bayano Brésil ganache

We also sampled the poached pear, delicate slices stood to attention guarding a cylindrical tower made with rich brown sugar, filled with a licorice parfait and topped with a coffee foam. All the elements of a perfect dessert were there: crunch, sweetness and softness. A glorious ending to the meal.  

From the à la carte menu, we were advised to chose four courses as each was considered a demi portion, however with moderate appetites, an amuse-bouche of pickled vegetables, and a small boule of freshly baked crusty, yeasty bread and butter to share, we found three courses to be quite satisfying.

The wine list here is extensive and would make fine reading all on its own. Prices range from bargain-friendly to off the charts, so beware, and choose carefully. I was more than satisfied with a few glasses of Yves Cuilleron’s famed 100% Marsanne Saint Joseph Lombard, a singularly fine white that is well matched to Mathieu’s food, with its minerality, notes of citrus, even brioche, a wine that has personality and power, without ever seeming heavy.

The restaurant itself – with striking black and white marble floors, comfortable beige leather banquettes, is lovely, yet lacks the distinctiveness and personality that is so evident in Mattheiu’s eloquent cuisine. One gets the feeling that one could be anywhere: Paris, Hong Kong, London, New York. That’s the sad reality of world restaurant décor today I guess.

As we enjoyed our midweek lunch, it was fun and curious to observe diners at nearby tables. Next to us sat a confident French businessman wearing a bright red Legion d’Honneur rosette in his lapel. I guessed that he and his companion would drink red Bordeaux. They did. At another table, more surprisingly, two French work colleagues drank Coca-Cola on ice and a quarter of lemon, with their langoustines. At one other, a man enjoyed a large glass of frothy beer with his meal. As the world turns……

Mathieu Pacaud has more than a good chance of succeeding here. Anyone interested in checking out his talents should surely reserve for the 49€ weekday lunch, an excellent way to test, and to judge.

Hexagone   |   85 avenue Kléber   |   Paris 16   |   Tel: +33 1 42 25 98 85   |   Métro: Kléber or Trocadéro   |   Open Tuesday - Saturday   |  Lunch: 49€ (3-course) week day menu   |   Lunch and dinner: 180€ degustation (7-course) menu, à la carte 75-130€   |    hexagone-paris.fr   |   contact@hexagone-paris.fr  

For more Paris restaurant reviews, get The Food Lover's Guide to Paris 5th edition or download the app.

Taste of the week: Grilled polenta with tomato and onion sauce

I love this soothing, comforting dish for a quick weeknight meal, especially in winter. And of course the sauce can be dressed up any way you fancy, with whatever you have on hand. Add marinated artichokes, fennel seeds, capers  and olives, scatter fresh buffalo mozzarella over the piping hot sauce just before serving, or add sausage meat and rosemary for a meatlovers version. The possibilities are as endless as your imagination.

 

Grilled Polenta with Tomato and Onion Sauce

4 Servings   |   Equipment: A 1-quart (1 l) gratin dish, 4 warmed dinner plates.

3 cups (750 ml) 1 % milk
1/2 cup (125 ml) light cream or half-and-half
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 cup (135 g) instant polenta
1/2 cup (90 g) freshly grated Swiss Gruyère cheese, plus extra for garnish
1 large onion, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into thin half-rounds
1/4 cup (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
2 fresh or dried bay leaves
One  28-ounce (794g) can peeled Italian plum tomatoes in juice
Fresh, flat-leafed parsley leaves, for garnish

 

1.    In a large saucepan, bring the milk, cream, 1 teaspoon of the sea salt, and the nutmeg to a boil over medium heat. (Watch carefully, for milk will boil over quickly.) Add the polenta in a steady stream and, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, cook until the mixture begins to thicken, about 3 minutes.

2.    Remove from the heat. Add half of the cheese, stirring to blend thoroughly.  The polenta should be very creamy and pourable. Pour it into the gratin dish. Even out the top with a spatula. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes to firm up. (Or store, covered and refrigerated, for up to 3 days.)

3.    Prepare the tomato garnish: In a large skillet, combine the onion, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt and sweat – cook, covered over low heat until soft and translucent – about 5 minutes. With a large pair of scissors, cut the tomatoes in the can into small piece. Add the bay leaves and tomatoes and their juices and cook, covered, over low heat for about 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

4.    At serving time, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet until hot but not smoking. Cut the polenta into 8 even squares. Sear each square on both sides until golden, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer the squares to the warmed plates, stacking the second slice at an angle over the first. Spoon the sauce all over. Garnish with parsley and cheese.

WINE SUGGESTION: An inexpensive everyday dish suggests an equally fine but gently priced wine. A favorite is Michel and Stephane Ogier’s La Rosine Syrah, a deep purple vin de pays from the hillsides north of the old Roman town of Vienne.

MAKE AHEAD NOTE: Both the tomato sauce and the polenta can be prepared up to 3 days in advance, then covered and refrigerated seperately. Reheat at serving time.

THE SECRET: When using whole, canned tomatoes, use a scissors to cut the tomatoes into small pieces, making for a still chunky yet finer sauce.

 

This recipe was first published in The French Kitchen Cookbook. Buy the book here.

All rights reserved. Please do not  reproduce without permission.

Fish La Boissonnerie – an old favorite that keeps on surprising

It’s no secret that Fish – the very ambidextrous wine bar/bistro/everyman sort of restaurant in the Saint-Germain neighborhood – is one of my favorites. Every time I eat there I think back to when the space was an ordinary but extremely popular Left Bank trattoria, always bustling, always an event, even if the food did not amaze or surprise. There is surely something imbedded in the walls, in the soul of the place that just seems to make people happy and satisfied. Not to say that owners Juan Sanchez and Drew Harré (personal friends) have nothing to do with the success or the ambience, or that the current chef Ollie Clark (a Shropshire lad) does not add to their accomplishments with his immense talent. Of course they all have something to do with it, from the very laid back but very professional attitude to all things culinary, service and wine related. I am a frequent visitor here, and in the past several months have been surprised, pleased, sometimes even blown away by the quality that comes out of the upstairs kitchen, often at bargain prices.

Chef Clark does not shy away from ingredients you are unlikely find on menus elsewhere: such as lamb’s liver, Bambi (baby white-tailed deer), or baby goat (chevreaux). He weaves these ingredients into his repertoire with grace, roasting lamb’s liver and pairing it with apples, delicately flavored, crunchy sucrine lettuce, and hazelnuts. My cooking mind would never think of combining goat and beets, but Clark brilliantly pairs them on the plate, seasoning the warm dish with the aromatic Moroccan spice mix of ras el hanout, mint, and leeks.

 What I love here as well, is that vegetables are never an afterthought, never a simple accompaniment, they are there on their own turf, with their own power to surprise as well as please. At a recent lunch, I was thoroughly delighted to tuck into a winter salad of celery root --he “roasts” the céleri-rave  whole in coarse salt, wraps in foil and cooks atop the flat-top plancha --  then slices it thinly and pairs with thin strips of brilliant red radicchio, golden mustard seeds, colorful blue touches of borage flowers, and a few leaves of the intensely flavored oyster plant (mertensia maritima) as a gustatory surprise (photo).

I could simply live on their crusty, olive oil-rich, salty bread oven foccacia-style bread, delivered by hand from their sister-brother eatery, Cosi, right across the street. 

As ever, diners will find plenty to love on the wine list, with many of my favorites, including two current wines by the glass, the always dependable, perfectly balanced white Picpoul de Pinet (100% from the grape Picpoul de Pinet)  a  Coteaux de Langeudoc from Domaines Félines Jourdain; and Mas Champart’s always peppery, rich with dark fruit red Saint-Chinian, also from the Languedoc area.

Fish – La Boissonnerie   |  69 rue de Seine   |   Paris 6   |   +33 1 43 54 34 69   |   Metro:  Mabillon or Odéon   |   Open daily, 12.30-2:30pm and 7pm-12:30am (kitchen closes at 10:45pm)   |   Open most holidays, annual closing for one week in August   |   Reservations recommended, but walk-ins taken at 7pm without reservation.

 

Taste of the week: Kaffir Lime Powder

I love having secret weapons in my kitchen, ingredients that with a mere sprinkle can elevate a dish or a snack from ordinary to fabulous. Kaffir lime powder is one of those. The deep green, waxy leaf of the kaffir lime, with its distinctly fragrant citrus flavor common to south-Asian cooking is traditionally tossed whole into curries and soups, but one of my favorite ways to use this zesty leaf is to grind it into a powder, imparting its balmy oils in a fine shower, over ice cream, onto roasted nuts, or as a final citrusy burst on a bowl of noodles. Simply chop the leaves, grind them in a spice grinder until you have a fine powder. For sprinkling on desserts, you can add a touch of unrefined cane sugar to the grinder to make a sweeter powder. And the leaves, ground or whole, keep well in the freezer, so you can always have a stash to hand.

This recipe gets common use in my house. For an apero with friends, or just to snack on while writing at my computer, I almost always have a stock of these in my cupboard.

 

Asian mixed nuts with kaffir lime powder

Makes 3 cups (about 340 g)   |   Equipment: A baking sheet. 

1 1/2 cups (170 g) dry-roasted salted peanuts

1 1/2 cups (170 g) dry-roasted salted cashews

Extra-virgin olive oil spray

12 fresh, frozen or dried kaffir lime leaves, chopped, then ground to a fine powder (2 teaspoons, see Note)

Note: Dried kaffir lime leaves can be found in on my amazon store.

 

1.    Center a rack in the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

2.    Combine the nuts on the baking sheet. Spray them lightly with oil and toss to coat.

3.    Place the baking sheet in the oven and lightly toast the nuts,  8 to 10 minutes, tossing them occasionally.

4.    Transfer the nuts to a bowl, and while still warm, toss with the kaffir lime dust. (Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.)

This recipe was first published in The French Kitchen Cookbook. All reights reserved. Please do not reproduce without permission.

New stars for some favorite PARIS chefs

                                                      Table d'Eugène / photo credit Thai Toutain

This past Monday, the world renowned Michelin restaurant guide released  its 2015 selections (the guide goes on sale today). While the guide was once considered the virtually unchallenged benchmark for where to eat in France, they are not without their critics today. However, their star rating system remains a very much sought after accolade for many French (and of course international) chefs. So here is a quick round-up of new stars awarded in Paris for 2015 (* indicates restaurants that also appear in the iPhone app and/or The Food Lover's Guide to Paris 5th edition):

3 stars

Pavillon Ledoyen (Paris 8) (new review of chef Yannick Alleno coming soon on the blog!)

 

 

 

2 stars

 ALAIN DUCASSE AU PLAZA ATHENEE* (Paris 8) (from the previous 3 stars that he held before the renovation and re-envisioning of the restaurant)
La Table du Lancaster (Paris 8)

1 star

Les Climats (Paris 7)
Restaurant David Toutain* (Paris 7)
Garance (Paris 7)
Helen (Paris 8)
Penati al Baretto (Paris 8)
La Table d’Eugène* (Paris 18)

Félicitations to Chef David Toutain and Chef Geoffroy Maillard of La Table d'Eugène, two huge talents who are well deserving of this recognition. See here for my review of Restaurant David Toutain.

 

La Table d'Eugène – a varied menu where you want to try everything

                                                           Chef Maillard (second from the right) and his team at La Table d'Eugène 

                                                           Chef Maillard (second from the right) and his team at La Table d'Eugène 

Five years ago, when chef Geoffroy Maillard opened La Table d’Eugène, the minuscule unadorned bistro was set in what was then considered the “outer borough” of the 18th arrondissement. Though the place was spare, the food he turned out was positively lofty, with his always dependable bargain-priced modern bistro fare. Today, the neighborhood is no longer considered a long haul for many diners, and despite Maillard’s solid success, prices remain affordable, with lunch menus ranging from 28 to 55€, and lunch and dinner menus (many with wine) can be found from 65 to 160€. His recent renovation turned the rather bare yet classic bistro into a spot clearly aiming for a Michelin star, and he seems to have succeeded. With a soothing and somber play of greys and blond wood, the dining room seems to have doubled in size, with comfortable wooden bucket chairs and cozy banquettes. Maillard still has his finger on it all: a lovely varied menu that makes you want to try everything; service that is as efficient as it can be, even when the tiny dining room is packed (as it always is); a knack for beautiful food prepared with top-rate ingredients. He has a penchant for lots of citrus and Asian fruits, pairing red-skinned King Edward potatoes with razor clams, Japanese horseradish and kaffir lime. His favorite lamb shoulder is teamed up with carrots, honey and cumin. Daily fish specials enjoy the company of mangoes and pomegranates, fennel, daikon and the zest of limes. And desserts retain a happy place here, with a pâté of varied citrus joined by mint, coriander, and an avalanche of fresh herbs. For such a tiny spot (for sure room for no more than 20 diners) the wine list offers a wealth of choice: My  favorites here include Yves Cuilleron’s Viognier-rich Condrieu, Charles Hour’s well-priced Jurançon sec Cuvée Marie; along with a selection of wines by the glass.

La Table d'Eugène   |   18 rue Eugène Sue   |   Paris 18   |   Tel: +33 1 42 55 61 64   |   Metro: Jules Joffrin or Marcadet-Poissonniers   |   Open Tuesday - Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday   |   Lunch menus 28-55€, dinner menus 65-99€ (4-10 courses, 95-160€ with wine pairings)   |   Reservations essential.


For more Paris restaurant reviews, get The Food Lover's Guide to Paris 5th edition book or download the iPhone app.

Taste of the week: Manchego, chorizo and paprika bread

                                               © Jeff Kauck

This anytime of year bread recipe is a quick and easy way to transport yourself to Spain. You can serve this warm out of the oven or at room temperature – I love it sliced and toasted, with more cheese and chorizo on top as an afternoon snack. Or, in the warmer months, it's the perfect picnic bread.

 

Manchego Chorizo and Paprika Bread

Makes 1 loaf (about 24 thin slices)  |   Equipment: A nonstick 1-quart (1 l) rectangular bread pan.

Oil, for oiling the pan

1 1/4 cups (180 g) unbleached, all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

3 large eggs,  preferably organic and free-range, lightly beaten

1/3 cup (80 ml) extra-virgin olive oil

1/3 cup (80 ml) plain whole-milk yogurt

5 ounces (150 g) Spanish Manchego cheese, cut into 1/4-inch (1/2 cm) cubes

2 ounces (60 g) Spanish chorizo, cut into 1/4-inch (1/2 cm) cubes

1 teaspoon hot Spanish paprika

20 pimento-stuffed green olives

1.     Center a rack in the oven. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Lightly oil the bread pan.

2.     In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix to blend. In another bowl whisk together the eggs, oil, and yogurt.  In a third bowl, toss together the cheese, chorizo, paprika, and olives. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir to blend. Add the cheese mixture and stir to blend.  

3.     Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth out the top with a spatula. Place the pan in the oven and bake until the bread is firm and golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and place the pan on a rack to cool. Once it has cooled, unmold and serve it at room temperature, in thin slices.

 

Variations: Omit the cheese and chorizo and replace them with 1 tablespoon toasted ground cumin and 1 tablespoon toasted whole cumin seeds; or, for Curry Bread, omit the cheese and chorizo and replace with 1 tablespoon curry powder.

 

 

 

 This recipe was first published in The French Kitchen Cookbook. All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce without permission.

Le Pantruche: the kind of bistro everyone wants in their neighborhood

As the cold weather continues – it's been snowing in Paris today! – I'm checking my list of favorite Paris bistros, places I love to go to brighten up the winter months and hide out from the cold. Here's one from the Food Lover's Guide 5th edition to Paris archives:

Le Pantruche, with its 1930s patina – large oak bar, mirrors that make a small place grand, warming chestnut-toned banquettes and simple oak chairs -– is the sort of place everyone wants to have within walking distance of home. Chef Franck Baranger and associates Nicolas Chatelain and Edouard Bobin run their contemporary bistro with enthusiasm and personality, and the Pigalle spot is always filled with the sounds of guests having a fine time. Baranger (who spent time with the chef Christian Constant at Violon d’Ingres and Cocottes) takes the classic bistro repertoire, wraps it around in his mind and comes out with some appealing, personal modern fare. I’ll begin with a few “bones to pick” with Baranger. I begged him to toss his truffle oil (produced in the chemistry lab and nothing more than perfume and no more an ingredient for the table than Shalimar or hand purifier). And I wish he would turn up the heat in his kitchen, for too many ingredients come out lukewarm, their potential lost. That said, I’ll be back to try once again his signature oyster tartare set in a brilliant green cream of lettuce soup (huître en tartare, crème de laitue). The raw, well-seasoned scoop of minced oysters bathes in the creamy soup, topped with a palate-opening dollop of nutmeg-scented cream, a soothing opener if ever there was one. A wintry serving of jet-black braised wild hare sits atop a warming and pungent puree of celery root (céleri-rave), while a daily special of braised beef cheeks left me kicking up my heels. A few sips of Foillard’s Morgon added to the pleasure. Now, if the staff could only speed up the service, we’d all leave with a bigger grin on our faces. The best news is that the bill does not break the bank.

La Pantruche   |   3 rue Victor Massé   |   Paris 3   |   +33 1 48 78 55 60   |   Métro: Saint-Georges or Pigalle   |   Open: Monday-Friday. Closed Saturday & Sunday   |   19€ lunch menu, 35€ dinner menu, à la carte 40-50€   |   Reservations essential   |   lepantruche.com

 

For more Paris restaurant reviews, get The Food Lover's Guide to Paris 5th edition book or iPhone app.

Taste of the week: Red Boat Fish Sauce

I consider Red Boat Fish Sauce a favorite ingredient and one of my kitchen pantry essentials. Nuoc mam nhi (meaning salted fish water) is a staple of south-east Asian cooking, but I find endless ways of using this umami-rich sauce to deepen the flavors of many of my recipes, both Asian and non-Asian.

This brand in particular is my favorite because, unlike many other store-bought varieties that use additives and sugar, Red Boat fish sauce uses just two ingredients: wild caught black achovies and sea salt. The anchovies are the freshest possible, fished from the clear waters off Phu Quoc island in Vietnam. Using artisanal techniques, the fish is slowly fermented with sea salt for a year in tropical wooden barrels. They bottle only the first pressing, so what you get is a deeply rich, amber liquid, with no additives or preservatives.

Of course fish sauce is a requisite ingredient in Vietnamese dipping sauce, that perfectly balanced accompaniment to so many classic Vietnamese dishes. While the composite components are almost always the same, it is the balance of quantities and quality of ingredients that makes for the perfect dipping sauce recipe. Make sure you use fresh, moist garlic, with the green germ removed, to avoid any bitterness, and a good quality dipping sauce like Red Boat.

I've tested many different variations, and this recipe I think has the best balance of flavors:

 

Vietnamese Dipping Sauce

Equipment: A mini food processor or a standard food processor fitted with a small bowl; a small jar with a lid.

2 plump, moist garlic cloves, peeled, halved, green germ removed
1 fresh or dried red bird’s eye chile
3 tablespoons Vietnamese fish sauce, preferably Red Boat brand
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup (125 ml) water

In the food processor mince the garlic and chile. Add the fish sauce, citrus juice, sugar, and the water. Pulse to blend. Taste for seasoning. Transfer to the jar and tighten the lid. (Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.)

Makes 3/4 cup (185 ml)

Buy Red Boat Fish Sauce here from My Amazon Store.

 

This recipe was first published in The French Kitchen Cookbook. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

À la Biche au Bois: a hearty bistro for cold Parisian weather

Temperatures are definitely dropping in Paris, and in chillly weather like this, I love to wrap up warm and venture out to a favorite bistro, one with satisfying winter fare, and character. And À la Biche au Bois is one resturant where you definitely get what you came for: hearty food, good wine, a super-generous cheese platter and classic desserts. Whether you’re in the mood for biche (young female deer) or canard sauvage (wild duck), this classic state-of-the-art bistro is sure to please. The soothing potato purée (made with the Agatha variety of potatoes, with 10 per cent butter, the waiter assured) is worth the detour all on its own. So is the sumptuous cheese tray, with treasures stacked one on top of the other, with favorites Brie, raw milk Camembert and bleu des Causses all in perfect ripeness. There’s a parade of terrines – rabbit, duck or a mix of meats – all classic and rich, all outdoing each other. I don’t remember the last time I saw coq au vin on a menu, but you’ll find it here, meaty and bathed in a vibrant red wine sauce. Oh, and yes, the chocolate mousse is the reason you come to Paris to dine. If the always-reliable Clos du Caillou Côtes-du Rhone is still on the wine list, go for it. The meaty red is a worthy stand-in for a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This is a bistro where you’ll find a mixed crowd, from the well-fed SNCF conductor to youthful locals to happy tourists, all feasting on treasures of the day.

A LA BICHE AU BOIS   |   45 avenue Ledru-Rollin   |   Paris 12   |   Tel: +33 1 43 43 34 38   |   Métro: Gare de Lyon or Quai de la Rapée   |   Open: Monday dinner to Friday dinner. Closed Saturday, Sunday and Monday lunch   |   Lunch menus 24.50€ and 29€, dinner menu 30€, à la carte 35€   |   Reservations recommended.

 

For more Paris restaurant reviews, get The Food Lover's Guide to Paris 5th edition, or downloaded The Food Lover's Guide to Paris iPhone app.

 

Taste of the Week: Warm Oysters wih Truffle Cream and Truffles

©Jeff Kauck

It's my annual Black Truffle Cooking Class this week, and we are knee-deep in fresh truffles here in Provence, the homeland of the 'black diamond'.  So I couldn't help but share this simple but wonderful truffle recipe of mine that combines two of my most favorite French ingredients: oysters, and of course black truffles. The sauce here is amazing and versatile. How could the combination of oyster liquor, cream, butter, and truffle juice be bad? The silken texture of the warmed oyster creates a fine contrast to the crunch of the truffle matchsticks. An all round winner!

 

Warm Oysters wih Truffle Cream and Truffles

4 servings   |   Equipment: A fine-mesh sieve; a flat ovenproof serving dish; a small jar with a lid; a mandoline or a very sharp knife.

12 large fresh oysters
1 cup (280 g) coarse sea salt
1 fresh black truffle (about 1 ounce; 30 g), cleaned
1/4 cup (60 ml) Truffle Cream (see recipe below)
About 1 tablespoon truffle juice
2 teaspoons (10 g) butter (truffled, if you have it on hand)
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, or to taste

How to make truffle cream:

It was chef Joël Robuchon who drilled into my head the phrase “fat fixes flavor.” When I began working with truffles, I searched for every way possible to capture their elusive flavor and aroma. A rich, heavy cream does the trick. I use it liberally during truffle season.

Makes 2 cups (500 ml)

Equipment: A jar, with a lid.

5 tablespoons (1 ounce; 30 g) minced fresh black truffle peelings
2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream

1.    In a jar, combine the truffles and cream. Cover securely and shake to blend. Refrigerate at least 2 days before using. (The mixture will stay fresh, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, for 1 week.)

 

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.

1.    Open the oysters, cut the muscle to extract it from the shell, and filter the oyster liquor through the sieve set over a small saucepan.

2.    Cover the bottom of the ovenproof serving dish (it should be large enough to hold the oysters in a single layer) with a thin layer of the coarse salt. Place the opened oysters in their shells on the bed of salt to keep them stable. Refrigerate. Within about 15 minutes, the oysters will give off a second, even more flavorful oyster liquor.

3.    Meanwhile, arrange a rack in the oven about 5 inches (12.5 cm) from the heat source. Preheat the broiler.

4.    With a vegetable peeler, peel the truffle. Mince the truffle peelings, place in the small jar, and tighten the lid. Reserve the peelings for another use (to make truffle salt or truffle butter for example). With the mandoline or very sharp knife, cut the truffle into thick slices. Cut the slices into matchsticks.

5.    In the saucepan containing the reserved oyster liquor, add the cream and truffle juice and bring to a simmer over low heat. Whisk the butter and the lemon juice into the sauce, whisking vigorously to give it volume. If the sauce appears too thick, thin it with additional truffle juice. Add half the truffle matchsticks and just warm them gently. Do not cook them.

6.    Spoon the sauce over the oysters. Place the baking dish under the broiler and cook just until the oysters are warmed through, no more than 20 to 25 seconds. The sea-fresh aroma of oysters should begin filling the air as they warm up.

7.    Cover 4 plates with the coarse sea salt to keep the oysters stable. Arrange 3 of the oysters on each plate. Garnish with the remaining truffle matchsticks. Serve.

 

Wine suggestion: With oysters, I always reach for a Picpoul de Pinet, a white that grows near the Mediterranean oyster beds. It is made with 100 percent Picpoul grape, and has a distinct acidity and a pleasing, spicy finish. Another great choice is always a Sauvignon Blanc, either a Sancerre or Quincy.

 

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

Chez Georges: the dream bistro

George, Chez .JPG

It’s always a pleasure to return to a restaurant you loved decades ago and find it virtually unchanged. And maybe even better than you remember. That’s Chez Georges, the dream bistro just off the Place des Victoires. I am not sure, but it may be the first true bistro I dined in back in the 1970s. What I do know is that the menu remains unchanged, the quality is there, and especially the hustle bustle of the dining room. Well-coiffed waitresses seem to skate through the aisles of this long, narrow dining room with its mirrored walls and Gothic columns, effortlessly delivering giant bowls of herring; searingly hot, garlic-scented snails; bowls overflowing with curly frisé greens, rich chunks of bacon, and each adorned with a perfect poached egg. Everywhere there’s a feeling of abundance and generosity and the sound of good times. The crowd is young, French, chic, and the ochre-toned dining room easily takes you back in time. I loved the moist, parsley-rich jambon persillé; the generous portion of tiny wild girolle mushrooms; the perfectly grilled sole; and the moist and meaty steack de canard, paired with a mix of wild mushrooms. Desserts of profiteroles, tarte Tatin and millefeuille were just right. My only regret is that they were out of their tarte au citron by the time I placed my order. For a bistro, the wine list is extensive. There are plenty of bargain wines at 29€ a bottle (the fruity red Côte Roannaise is an ideal bistro wine), and this is one restaurant that still offers wine “by the meter” charging. You only pay for what you have consumed from the bottle. Some good-value wines here include Alain Graillot’s Crozes Hermitage; Olivier Leflaive’s white Montagny; and Dagueneau Pouilly-Fumé.

CHEZ GEORGE   |   1 rue de Mail   |  Paris 2   |   Tel: +33 1 42 60 07 11   |   Métro: Bourse/Sentier    |   Open Monday – Friday,  closed Saturday and Sunday   |  À la carte 40-70€ beverages   |   Reservations recommended

 

For more restaurant reviews, get The Food Lover's Guide to Paris 5th edition, or down load the app.

Taste of the week: Richeranches truffle market and a truffle pasta recipe

During the mid 1980s Walter and I often took a Saturday morning train from Paris to Provence, with Montélimar as our last stop. The route from the station to our home in Vaison-la-Romaine took us through the miniscule village of Richerenches, where during the winter months we’d pass a handful of people milling around cars with trunks wide open. We had no idea what was going on. Then one day when it was warm enough to roll down the car windows the unmistakable aroma of fresh black truffles wafted through the air. Indeed, it was the Saturday truffle market, with truffle wholesalers selling the local treasure directly from the trunks of their cars.

Today, Richerenches is the world’s black truffle capital, and on Saturday mornings from mid-November to mid-March, the village takes on a festival atmosphere, as truffle wholesalers, truffle farmers, everyday shoppers, and tourists gather to celebrate the mysterious mushroom.

January is the height of truffle season, and this past weekend, the market was in full swing with merchants selling truffles and truffled eggs, baby oak trees inoculated with truffle spores, truffle slicers, and even a truffle liqueur at their neatly set up stalls on the main street of the market . It was the most glorious spring-like day, and cafe terraces overflowed with locals enjoying truffle omelets and glasses of local red wine in the sunshine. Around the corner however, you will still find that bustling tree-lined street packed with parked cars, trunks open, and an air of mystery as to the goings on there. The ever distinctive truffle aroma is still a giveaway however, and if you lean in through the crowds, you'll find car trunks open, full of boxes of fresh black truffles, a pair of scales, and truffle commerce in full swing.


Trenne pasta with Jerusalem artichokes, parmesan, and truffles

Fresh black truffles find friends in the simplest of vegetables: artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, potatoes. Here, an uncomplicated Jerusalem artichoke sauce, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and truffles team up to create a perfect, wintry pasta sauce. (Note that I scrub the vegetable well, but do not peel it.) No truffles? A fragrant, intense nut oil, such as hazelnut, is a worthy substitute. Any leftover Jerusalem artichoke sauce and be thinned with chicken or vegetable stock and served as a soup.

 

Serves 6    |    Equipment:A blender or a food processor; a 10-quart (10 l) pasta pot fitted with a colander; 4 warmed, shallow soup bowls.   

The Jerusalem artichoke sauce:
2 pounds (1 kg) Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), scrubbed and trimmed
2 quarts (2 l) whole milk
2 teaspoons fine sea salt  

The pasta:
3 tablespoons coarse sea salt  
1 pound (500 g) Italian trenne* or penne pasta
3 cups (750 ml) Jerusalem artichoke sauce
1 cup (100 g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus additional for serving
1/4 cup (25 g) minced fresh truffles or minced truffle peelings (or 1 tablespoon hazelnut oil)

*Trenne is similar to penne, though while penne pasta is round, trenne is triangular, and flattened, and cut into short lengths. I love both shapes, but have a fondness for trenne, and find it is perfect for soaking up the essence of the Jerusalem artichoke puree.

 

 

 

1.    Prepare the Jerusalem artichoke sauce: Rinse a large saucepan with water, leaving a bit of water in the pan. This will prevent the milk from scorching and sticking to the pan.  Pour the milk into the pan and add the salt.

2.    Coarsely chop the Jerusalem artichokes and drop immediately into the milk. (This will stop the vegetable from turning brown as it is exposed to the air.) When all the Jerusalem artichokes are prepared, place the pan over moderate heat and cook gently until soft, about 35 to 40 minutes. Watch carefully so the milk does not boil over.

3.    Transfer the mixture in small batches to the blender or food processor. (Do not place the plunger in the feed tube of the food processor or the blender or the heat will create a vacuum and the liquid will splatter.) Purée until the mixture is perfectly smooth and silky, 1 to 2 minutes. Set aside 3 cups (750 mls) of the sauce for the pasta. Store the remaining sauce in the refrigerator for another use (thinned with chicken or vegetable stock, it makes an excellent soup).

4.    Prepare the pasta: 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.

5.    While the pasta cooks, warm sauce.

6.    Transfer the pasta to a large bowl, add the sauce, the cheese, half of the minced truffles (if using), or nut oil, and toss to coat the pasta evenly and thoroughly. Transfer to the warmed bowls, shower with the remaining minced truffle (if using) and pass with additional cheese.   

Wine suggestion: I am fond of the Italian wines from the Bonacossi family’s Villa di Capezzana, where wine has been made for 12 centuries. Their well-priced Tentua di Capezzana Barco Reale – a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet, and Canaiolo grapes – is a fruity, earthy, mineral-rich red that loves pasta. 

The original version of this recipe was first published in Simply Truffles.

All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

Update to stay up to date

If you're anything like us, and have a smart phone full of fun and useful apps, it's sometimes a challenge to keep up with all the updates. But here's a quick new year's reminder if you have the food lover's guide to paris app and are spring cleaning your device, or planning a trip to Paris - MAKE SURE YOU UPDATE YOUR APP THROUGH THE APP STORE APP! We have made some important updates through the iTunes store recently, particularly one that has fixed a bug related to updating content. So if you want the latest reviews – we update the app regularly with new reviews, and changes to opening times and prices – then make sure you do this!

Here's how to do it:

Go to the App Store app on your device, and select updates from the menu bar at the bottom of your screen. Scroll down to find The Food Lover's Guide to Paris, and click on the update button.

Then, once you are running the latest version, you can check for content updates directly on the Food Lover's app, via the automatic update prompt on the homescreen, or by clicking the update button on the top right of the homescreen.

Easy as that!

 

Le Servan: A favorite new bistro of 2014

I am not alone in rating Le Servan one of my favorite new bistros of 2014. Ever since opening in the spring of last year, sister team Tatiana and Katia Lehva (in the kitchen and front of house respectively), have met with rave reviews for their welcoming modern bistro, that serves simple yet impeccable food, striking a happy balance between a local eatery and destination restaurant. The floor-to-ceiling glass walls and celestial remnants of the boulangerie that formerly occupied the space make this a bright and airy setting, with a menu to match, in this ultra-trendy corner of the 11th arrondissement. The food, like the atmosphere and service, has character, showcasing Tatiana’s flare for unusual ingredient pairings – crab,hazelnuts and sweet corn; sashimi mackerel, pomelo and sesame – that hint at her Philippine heritage. Tatiana’s mastery of technique and love of fresh and interesting produce reflects her impressive resumé of working in the kitchens of Alain Passard (Arpège) and Pascal Barbot (Astrance). Everything is immaculately arranged on the plate, even the most simple dishes are presented with care, but without pretention.

A recent meal began with a small zakouskis (hors d’oeuvre) plate of boudin noir (blood sausage) fried wontons, that had a deep, rich and creamy flavor, cut through by a sweet chili dipping sauce, a dish which I found to be a clever and satisfying meal starter. The soupe de courge (pumpkin soup), often a banal and ordinary dish, was brightened up by a creamy sabayon foam and the scattering of katsuo bushi (dried and smoked Japanese bonito or skipjack tuna flakes), that was a surprising element yet felt strangely familiar and comforting. Had the fish dish been the merlu (whiting) as indicated on the menu and not the lieu noir (black pollack – a lackluster, strangely textured fish that I always find a cop-out choice for chefs to put on their menus) that was actually served, this could have been a near-perfect fish course – served with potatoes, broccoli and a lively beurre blanc sauce, with the crunchy addition of just a tiny touch of super-salty salicorne (Breton sea greens grown near salt marshes) and thinly-sliced preserved lemons, for an extra zesty kick.

Tatiana excels at carefully cooked cuts of meat and fish, that marry cleverly with invigorating sauces and garnishes that add personality and drama to the dish. Her desserts, while simple, pretty, and tasty, are often a little underwhelming. Never bad, just perhaps less remarkable than the other dishes she offers.

The 23€-three course lunch menu is unbeatable. Evening menu is à la carte 40-50€.

Le Servan   |   32 rue Saint-Maur   |   Paris 11   |   Tel: +33 1 55 28 51 82   |   Métro: Saint-Ambroise, Rue Satin-Maur, or Père Lachaise   |   Open Monday through Friday & Saturday dinner. Closed Saturday lunch & all day Sunday & Monday   |   Reservations recommended   |    http://leservan.com

For more Paris restaurant reviews, get The Food Lover's Guide to Paris 5th edition, or downloaded The Food Lover's Guide to Paris iPhone app.

Taste of the week: Kumquat conserve

©Jeff Kauck

My faithful little kumquat tree in Provence produces a year-round supply of these beautiful golden nuggets, giving me ample opportunity to make this tangy jam-like conserve that pairs wonderfully with fresh goat's milk cheese. It's always nice to have a supply in the pantry to take as a host gift when going to a dinner party, or to give to friends who come to stay.

 

Kumquat Conserve

Makes 1 quart (1 l)   |     Equipment: Eight 1/2-cup (125 ml) canning jars with lids.

1 1/2 pounds (750 g) unblemished fresh kumquats
2 cups (500 ml) fresh blood orange, mandarin orange, or regular orange juice
1 cup (200 g) unrefined cane sugar, preferably organic, vanilla scented (see Note)

  1. Stem the kumquats, halve them lengthwise, and remove and discard the seeds.
  2. In a large saucepan, combine the kumquats, orange juice, and sugar. Bring to a simmer and simmer, skimming the surface as needed, until the juice is thick and the kumquats are soft and translucent, about 1 hour. Skim off and discard any recalcitrant seeds that float to the surface. Let cool.
  3. Transfer to the canning jars and secure the lids. (Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.)

 

Note: To make vanilla-scented sugar: Flatten 1 or several moist vanilla beans. Cut them in half lengthwise. With a small spoon, scrape out the seeds and place them in a small jar; reserve the seeds for another use. Fully dry the vanilla bean halves at room temperature. Place the dry halves in a large jar with a lid, and cover them with sugar. Tighten the lid and store for several weeks to scent and flavor the sugar. Use in place of regular sugar when preparing desserts.

This recipe was first published in The French Kitchen Cookbook.

All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

Taste of the week: A recipe for learning to cook

Who can resist a new year's resolution? If yours is learning to cook, or be a better cook, then it is a worthy resolution indeed!

One of the questions I have been asked most over the years by novice cooks is a simple, but very important one: "How do I learn to cook?". Busy schedules and tight budgets mean that cooking classes aren't always on the cards. So here is my advice to those who want to really take a leap forward with their cooking at home in their own kitchen. And remember, this can be applied to more advanced cooks, just pick recipes or techniques that are relevant to your level of expertise. You know, we never stop learning!

1.  Sit down and make a list of the 10 things you most like to eat (for a well-rounded cook I would suggest not all desserts, unless your aim is to become a master pastry chef!) Take inspiration from your favorite cookbooks or blogs but don't be too ambitious, just choose the things that you really want to perfect.

2. Then, like a pianist learning to play a new piece of music, you simply practise. Just cook, cook, cook! Practise the first recipe on your list until you feel you have mastered it, making notes along the way about what worked and what didn't - a kitchen diary can be one of the most useful tools in a cook's kitchen.

3. Move on to the next recipe on your list. By the time you have completed the list, you will have a repetoire of 10 things you can be proud of. Then of course, you'll make another list of 10 new recipes. The wonderful thing about cooking is that no matter how much you know, there is always more to learn.

I think if I was to learn to cook this way today, top of my list would be roast chicken, a simple pizza, a wholesome salad with a zesty lemon dressing and a chocolate tart. What would be on your list?

 

Chez Jenny: for an Alsatian Christmas in Paris

It's not easy to find a good place to eat in Paris over the holidays when many restaurants are closed. Here's a favorite one from the Food Lover's Guide to Paris archives - what could be better than transporting yourself to Alsace for Christmas?

You’ll feel as though you’ve taken a trip to eastern France as you enter this cute traditional brasserie, all dolled up with folkloric wooden carvings and paintings from one of France’s most welcoming regions. This is the place for some of the best choucroute  in Paris, with a well-seasoned sauerkraut (not the sort that tastes as though it’s been reheated multiple times), served with hearty portions of sausages and pork. The sauerkraut is simmered gently with a touch of duck fat, grains of coriander, cumin, mustard seed, and juniper berries. I’d go back for the quartet of sausages alone – a carefully seasoned smoked pork sausage, another flavored with cumin, a white veal sausage, and a hot-dog-like Strasbourg sausage. The dish also included a giant simmered pork knuckle, as well as smoked pork breast. Quality all round. A single 25€ serving was copious for two diners. The onion soup is correct, as the French say, meaning nothing special. So I’ll pass next time. And the flammekueche – regional onion, bacon, and cream tart – could have been crispier. Do sample one of their well-priced, crisp and dry white Rieslings. 

CHEZ JENNY   |   39 boulevard du Temple   |   Paris 3   |   Tel: +33 1 44 54 39 00   |   Métro: République   |   Open daily noon- midnight, including December 25   |   Reservations recommended   | Menus from 20.80€ (children 11€), à la carte 30-60€   |   www.chez-jenny.com

Taste of the week: Walnut bites – Italian panpepato

© Jeff Kauck

While everyone else is making spiced nuts for holiday party snacks and edible gifts, why not try these totally irresistible walnut bites – a darker version of the Italian panforte, with a pungent, forward flavor, and laced with freshly ground black pepper, cinnamon, cocoa powder, candied lemon peel, raisins, and walnut halves.

Serve them up with a cheese course (a nicely aged Parmiggiano-Reggiano and a sip of vin santo works for me), or team them with a slice of the cheese, stack the two on a toothpick, and eccoci - the perfect holiday appetizer.

 

Walnut bites: Italian panpepato

Makes 32 bites    |    Equipment: a 9 1/2 x 9 1/2-inch (24 x 24 cm) baking pan; baking parchment

©Jeff Kauck

©Jeff Kauck

1/2 cup (65 g) dried black currants or raisins
1/2 cup (125 ml) sweet wine, such as marsala, vin santo, or port
2 tablespoons (1 ounce; 30 g) unsalted butter
3/4 cup (150 g) vanilla sugar
1/4 cup (60 ml) intensely-flavored honey, such as chestnut
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups (250 g) walnut halves
3 dried figs,  chopped
1 cup (90 g) candied lemon peel, preferably organic, cut into fine cubes
1/4 cup (40 g) unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon coarse, freshly ground black pepper, such as Tellicherry
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, preferably Vietnamese cassia

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.    In a small bowl, soak the currants or raisins in 1/4 cup (60 ml) of the wine for 1 hour.

2.    Line the baking pan with baking parchment, letting the parchment hang over the ends. (This will make it easier to remove the panpepato once it’s baked.)

3.    Center a rack in the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

4.    In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the sugar, honey, and salt, stirring to blend.

5.    In a large bowl, combine the currants and their soaking liquid, walnuts, figs, and candied peel, and stir to coat the walnuts. In another bowl, combine the flour, pepper, cocoa powder, and cinnamon, and stir to blend. Toss to blend. Add the flour mixture to the currant mixture, along and the remaining 1/4 cup (60 ml) wine. Stir to evenly coat the walnuts. Add the butter mixture and stir again to blend. The mixture will be very dense and sticky. Spoon the mixture into the parchment-lined pan and smooth it out with a spatula. (Note that the mixture will be a walnut brown as it is placed in the oven, and turns dark, almost black as it bakes.)

6.    Place the pan in the oven and bake until bubbly, dark, and fragrant, about 35 minutes. The mixture will be sticky, but will firm up as it cools in the pan.

7.    Once it has cooled, cut the panpepato into very tiny bites. (Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 weeks.)

NOTE: Weighing and preparing your ingredients in advance (known as mis-en-place) will make putting the recipe together faster and considerably less messy. And as a bonus, you're much less likely to forget an ingredient. A good tip to use for every recipe.

WINE SUGGESTION: As an appetizer, I love these with a glass of Champagne. With the cheese course, try an Italian vin santo,  a Sicilian Marsala, a Porto,  or a French vin doux naturel, such as the Grenache-based Rasteau from the southern Rhône.

A mindblowingly good meal at Écailler du Bistrot

A picture-perfect sole meunière

I don’t know any better fish restaurant in Paris than Gwen Cadoret’s l’Ecailler du Bistrot. Fish restaurants everywhere are a mystery: They all fall into a banal trap of greatest hits, and all too often fail to deliver on flavor as well as freshness. L’Ecailler –- run by this Brittany native with family ties to some of the best oysters around – gets out of that rut, offering fish and shellfish dishes that are original, creative, imaginative, and full of flavor and energy. Try their couteaux (razor clams, which all too often are as gastronomically appealing as giant rubberbands) which arrive artfully arranged in their shells, lightly flashed with a torch,  and beautifully seasoned with an herbal mayonnaise and a stack of verdant baby fennel.

Likewise, the pétoncles (baby scallops) are roasted in their shells (a bit too long admittedly) and flavored with a salty, smokey shrimp butter. Few restaurants can compete with L’Ecailler’s picture- perfect, moist and tender sole meunière, one of the world’s greatest dishes when prepared with expertise and the freshest of sole. How can you not love France when it delivers us this prize?

Clam risotto with white truffles

Clam risotto with white truffles

A daily special – a giant bowl of warming risotto laced with moist and tender coques (baby clams), cooked in a flavorful shellfish broth, and topped with fragrant shavings of Italian white truffles – was a dream dish I would love to make again and again. I would have preferred that the rice be a bit more al dente, but then this is France, not Italy. Don’t miss their ever-changing litany of shellfish platters, including all manner of fresh, briny oysters and clams, not to mention their steamed lobster (often devoured with a giant bowl of crispy French fries.) The wine list is extensive, and includes Vincent Gaudry’s understated yet totally pleasing Sancerre, the biodynamic offering Le Tournebride.

Lime tart

Lime tart

Their citron vert tart (made with organic limes) is a fine close to a truly rewarding meal. If you have not been, go. If you have been, go again. The diner seated next to us at lunch announced his meal “époustouflant!” meaning breathtaking, mind-blowing.  I’ll ditto that! (Meat lovers here may also indulge in beautifully seared meat from the bistro next door, Bistrot Paul Bert, run by Cadoret’s outgoing bistrotier husband Bertrand Auboyneau.)

L’ÉCAILLER DU BISTROT   |   22 rue Paul Bert   |   Paris 11   |  Tel: +33 1 43 72 76 77   |   Metro: Faidherbe-Chaligny or Rue des Boulets   |   Open Tuesday-Saturday. Closed Sunday, Monday and August  |  19.90€ weekday lunch menu, à la carte 50-65€

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