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€

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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!