Taste of the week: Tomato Tatins

Tomato Tatins © Jeff Kauck

Now that summer is in full bloom, it's a race against time to use all the tomatoes I have growing in my garden. This recipe, which I developed in my farmhouse kitchen with good friend Jeffrey Bergman, is a favorite way to get tomatoes on my table. It's a deceptive recipe, quite simple to execute but with the marvellous outcome of 'did I really create this beauty?!'. The key here is the balance of sweet and acid. The shallots and vinegar, as well as the touch of caramel, are essential to creating a dish full of contrasting flavors.

 

Tomato Tatins

Serves 8   |     Equipment: Three baking sheets; eight 1/2 cup (125 ml) ramekins; a 3 1/2-inch (8.75 cm) pastry cutter.

Tomatoes

3 pounds (1.5 kg) small, firm, garden-fresh red heirloom tomatoes (about 15)
Fine sea salt
Extra-virgin olive oil spray

Pastry

A 14-ounce (400 g) homemade or purchased all-butter puff pastry, (thawed if frozen) (see Note)

Shallots

4 large shallots peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into thin half-moons
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground Espelette pepper or other mild ground chile pepper
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Caramel

1/2 cup (100 g) white, refined sugar (do not use dark, unrefined cane sugar)
4 teaspoons water
1/8 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice


16 fresh basil leaves, plus more leaves for garnish
1/4 cup (25 g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

 

 

1.    Roast the tomatoes: Center a rack in the oven. Preheat the oven to 275°F (135°C).  

2.    Core the tomatoes and halve them crosswise (at the equator.) Arrange the tomatoes, cut side up, side by side, on the baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Spray lightly with oil. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake until the tomatoes have shrunk by about one-third, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. This is an important step to condense tomato flavor and reduce moisture. (The tomatoes can be baked up to 1 day in advance, stored in an airtight container, and refrigerated.)

3.    Prepare the pastry: With the pastry cutter, cut out 8 rounds of pastry. Arrange the rounds side by side on a baking sheet. With a fork, prick the pastry. (The pastry rounds can be prepared up to 8 hours in advance. Cover and refrigerate.)

4.    Prepare the shallot mixture: In a small saucepan, combine the shallots, oil, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Stir to coat the shallots with the oil. Sweat – cook, covered, over low heat, stirring frequently, until the shallots are soft and translucent – about 5 minutes. Add the Espelette pepper and the vinegar. Increase the heat to medium high and cook until the vinegar has evaporated, but the mixture remains moist. Taste for seasoning. (The shallots can be prepared up to 1 day in advance, stored in an airtight container and refrigerated.)

5.    Prepare the caramel: In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, water, and lemon juice and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook undisturbed until sugar begins to caramelize, about 1 minute.  Pay close attention as the caramel will deepen in color quickly at this stage.  Swirl the pan gently and cook until the caramel is a deep amber, about 1 minute more.  Spoon a generous tablespoon of the caramel into the ramekins and tilt the ramekins so that the caramel evenly coats the bottom. (This can be done up to 8 hours in advance. Store at room temperature.)


6.    Bake the tatins: About 30 minutes before baking the tatins, center a rack in the oven. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).

7.    Arrange the caramel-coated ramekins side by side on a baking sheet. Place 2 or 3 tomato halves, cut side up, into each ramekin. Press down on the tomatoes so that they fit snugly into the ramekins. Spoon the shallot mixture on top of the tomatoes. Place 2 basil leaves on top of the shallots.  Sprinkle with the cheese.

8.    Place a round of chilled pastry on top of each ramekin and tuck the dough around the tomatoes. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake until the pastry is puffed and golden and the tomatoes are bubbling around the edges, 25 to 35 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and transfer the ramekins to a rack to cool for at least 2 minutes.

9.    Carefully invert each tatin onto an individual salad plate. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature, garnished with basil leaves. (The tatins can be prepared up to 8 hours in advance, stored at room temperature.)

 

Note: In our tests, we have preferred Dufour brand frozen puff pastry, available at most specialty supermarkets. See www.dufourpastrykitchens.com (I have no affiliation with this brand, this is purely a personal preference).

Be sure to leave ample time for thawing frozen dough, at least 6 hours in he refrigerator.

 

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

All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce without permission.

Taste of the week: Cobb Salad

My Cobb Salad  © Jeff Kauck

In mid summer, it is a fresh, crunchy salad that will get me through the day. This American classic is a favorite with the crunch of the iceberg and scallions, the soft richness of the avocado, the saltiness of the bacon, the sweetness of the tomato, the bite of the blue cheese – this salad has it all!  And it is beautiful to boot.

 

My Cobb Salad: Iceberg, Tomato, Avocado, Bacon, Blue Cheese. and Scallions 

4 servings

2 1/2 ounces smoked bacon, rind removed, cut into matchsticks (3/4 cup)
1 head iceberg lettuce, chopped
2 ripe heirloom tomatoes, cored, , peeled, seeded and chopped
1 large, ripe avocado, halved, pitted, peeled, and cubed
4 ounces chilled blue cheese (preferably Roquefort), crumbled (1 cup)

4 small spring onions or scallions, white part only, trimmed, peeled and cut into thin rounds
Lemon-Yogurt Dressing (below)
Coarse, freshly ground black pepper

 

1.    In a large, dry skillet, brown the bacon over moderate heat until crisp and golden, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to several layers of paper towel to absorb the fat. Blot the top of the bacon with several layers of paper towel to absorb any additional fat. Set aside.


2.    In a large shallow bowl, combine the bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, blue cheese, and spring onions. Toss with just enough Lemon-Yogurt Dressing to lightly and evenly coat the ingredients. Season with plenty of coarse, freshly ground black pepper and serve.

Yogurt-Lemon Dressing

Makes about 3/4 cup   |   Equipment: A small jar, with a lid.   

1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon Lemon Zest Salt or fine sea salt

In the jar, combine the yogurt, lemon juice and salt. Cover with the lid and shake to blend. Taste for seasoning.  The dressing can be used immediately. (Store the dressing in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Shake to blend again before using.)  

This recipe was first published in Salad as a meal. Buy the book here.

All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce without permission.

Taste of the week: Where to eat in Paris

 

I never like to say there is the perfect restaurant when it comes to dining out in Paris. So much comes into play when chosing where to eat – season, weather, who you're dining with, the kind of mood you're in, your budget. But I do have a list of favorite places which I find myself going back to again and again, because I always come away feeling inspired and like it has been time and money worth spent. Here are a few must-try addresses that currently top my list, for all budgets and moods. I'll be updating this list from time to time, here on my website.

 

Restaurants
 

Bistrot Paul Bert: Classic French Bistro

This here is the quintessential Parisian bistrot that remains completely authentic and honest despite its wild popularity.

18 rue Paul Bert   |   Paris 11   |   +33 1 43 72 24 01   |   Metro: Faidherbe-Chaligny or Rue des Boulets   |   Open Tuesday - Saturday. Closed Sunday, Monday and August.

 
Le Servan
: Casual Modern Bistro

Casual Parisian bistro dining at its best – Le Servan has a great neighborhood vibe, the food is simple but interesting, the ingredients impeccably fresh, and the price very reasonable.

32 rue Saint-Maur   |   Paris 11   |   +33 1 55 28 51 82   |   Metro: Saint-Ambroise, Rue Saint-Maur or Père Lachaise   |   Open Monday dinner-Friday. Closed Saturday, Sunday and Monday lunch.

 
Le Severo: Classic bistro

A carnivore's dream – owner William Bernet, a former butcher, really knows his meat and even has his own aging cellar beneath the restaurant. Don't go near this place if you are a vegetarian.

8 rue des Plantes   |   Paris 14   |   +33 1 45 40 40 91   |   Metro: Alésia or Mouton-Duvernet   |   Open Monday-Friday. Closed Saturday and Sunday.

 
Porte 12
: Modern French

This has all the elements of great dining in the capital: bright contemporary decor, sincere attentive service, and sophisticated, signature fare.

12 rue Messageries   |   Paris 10   |   +33 1 42 46 22 64   |   Metro: Possionnière   |   Open for lunch Tuesday - Friday, dinner Tuesday - Saturday. Closed Saturday lunch, Sunday, Monday and public holidays.

 
La Table d'Akihiro
: Modern French

Akihior Horikoshi, worked in the kitchen of 3 Michelin starred L'Amboisie, before opening his own fish and seafood restaurant. The influence of this pedigree is clear and his seductive cuisine is always elegant and worthy of the effort it takes to secure a table at this post stamp-sized restaurant.

49 rue Vaneau   |   Paris 7   |   +33 1 45 44 43 48   |   Metro: Vaneau or François-Xavier   |   Open Tuesday-Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday

 
Ze Kitchen Galerie: Modern French | International

I never get tired of dining on chef William Ledeuil's creative, inspiring cuisine, based on traditional French training, injected with a modern international flare and a love for Asian ingredients.

4 rue des Grands Augustins   |   Paris 6   |   +33 1 44 32 00 32   |   Metro: Saint-Michel or Pont Neuf   |   Open Monday-Saturday. Closed Saturday lunch and Sunday.

 
Astrance: Modern French |  Haute Cuisine

A magician in the kitchen, Pascal Barbot never fails to inspire me with his ethereal nuanced dishes. His 70€ week day lunch menu is one of the best buys in the city.

4 rue Beethoven   |   Paris 16   |   +33 1 40 50 84 40   |   Metro: Passy   |   Open Tuesday - Friday. Closed Saturday,  Sunday and Monday

 
L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Saint-Germain
: Modern French | Haute Cuisine

Always at the forefront of innovation, Joël Robuchon in my opinion is the best chef cooking today. I am always happy to sample whatever Chef Axel in his Saint-Germain atelier suggests.

5 rue Montalembert   |   Paris 7   |   +33 1 42 22 56 56   |   Metro: Rue du Bac   |   Open daily 11:30am-3:30pm and 6:30pm-midnight

 
 Shops

 
Jacques Genin
: Chocolate maker

Truly one of the finest chocolate makers in France. Not to be missed for chocolate lovers.

133 rue de Turenne   |   Paris 3   |  +33 1 45 77 29 01   |   Metro: République or Filles-du-Calvaire   |   Open Tuesday - Sunday 11am-7pm, Saturday 11am-8pm. Closed Monday and August.

27 rue de Varenne   |   Paris 7   |   +33 1 53 71 72 21   |   Metro: Rue du Bac, Sèvres Babylone or  Varenne   |   Open Tuesday - Saturday 10.30am-7pm. Closed Sunday and Monday.

 
La Derniere Goutte
: Wine shop

Owner Juan Sanchez has a rare palate, and carefully sources his selection of largely organic and biodynamic wines from small independent wine makers. For those curious to learn more Juan holds regular tastings at the shop.

6 rue Bourbon le Château   |   Paris 6   |   +33 1 43 29  11 62   |   Metro: Saint-Germain des Près, Mabillon or Odéon   |   Open Daily:  Sunday 11am-7pm, Monday 3-8pm, Tuesday-Friday 1:30am-1:30pm and 3-8pm, Saturday 10:30am-8pm

 
Quatrehomme
:  Cheese Monger

Marie Quatrehomme was one of the first women to be awarded the Meilleur Ouvrier de France title, and her dedication to quality shines through in her well-tended shop, one of the finest in France. Whether you know a lot or a little about cheese, her shop is always educational.

62 rue de Sèvres   |   Paris 7   |   +33 1 47 34 33 45   |   Metro: Vaneau or Duroc   |   Open Tuesday - Thursday 8.45am-1pm and 4-7.45pm, Friday and Saturday 8.45am-7.45pm. Closed Sunday and Monday.

 
Poîlane
: Bakery

Known for their country sourdough loaves, to my mind and palate, they make the best bread there is. My Paris cooking class includes a visit to the wonderful, flour-dusted underground cellar to watch the famous loaves being kneaded, shaped and then baked in the ancient wood burning oven.

8 rue du Cherche-Midi   |   Paris 6   |   Metro: Sèvres-Babylone or Saint-Sulpice   }   Open Monday - Saturday 7.15am-8.15pm. Closed Sunday.

 
Market

 
Marché President Wilson: Roving market

This is the market I bring my students to. It is the market that Parisians will cross town for.

avenue Président Wilson, between rue Debrousse and place d'Iéna   |   Paris 16   |   Metro Alma-Marceau or Iéna   |   Open Wednesday and Saturday 8:30am-1pm

 

For the complete reviews of these addresses and for other recommendations, get The Food Lover's Guide to Paris 5th edition book or the App for the iPhone (also works on the iPad).

Taste of the week: Yveline's chilled cucumber and avocado soup with avocado sorbet

                                              Chilled Cucumber and Avocado Soup  ©Jeff Kauck

On hot weather days, is there anything better than a cold, no-cook soup? This zesty and refreshing recipe is a favourite that my friend and neighbor Yveline came up with. It's now a perenial favorite at our summertime lunch table.

 

Yveline’s Chilled Cucumber and Avocado Soup

Serves 8   |    Equipment: A blender or a food processor.  

1 large European cucumber (about 1 pound; 500 g), chopped (do not peel)
2 large ripe avocados, halved, pitted, peeled, and cubed
2 cups (500 ml) chicken or vegetable stock (best quality you can find, or homemade if you can)
1 cup (45 g) chopped cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon fine sea salt   
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime, preferably organic
Avocado Sorbet (recipe below; optional)

1.    In the blender or food processor combine the cucumber, half of the cubed avocado, the stock, 3/4 cup (34 g) of the cilantro and the salt, and process to blend. Taste for seasoning. Chill for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.

2.    At serving time, garnish with the remaining 1/4 cup cilantro, the rest of the avocado, the lime juice and zest.  If using, ass a spoonful of the sorbet to each bowl.

Note: Using a blender rather than a food processor will give you a much smoother, more velvety consistency.

 

Avocado Sorbet

8 servings   |   Equipment: A blender or a food processor; an ice cream maker.

2 large, ripe avocados, halved, pitted, and peeled
2 cups (500 ml) Greek-style plain whole-milk yogurt
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground Espelette pepper or other mild chile pepper
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons invert sugar syrup or light corn syrup

1.    Combine all the ingredients in the blender or food processor. Blend until completely smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Chill completely.

2.    At serving time, transfer the chilled mixture to the ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. For best results, serve the sorbet as soon as it is frozen.

 

These recipes were first published in The French Kitchen Cookbook. Buy the book here.

All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce without permission.

All the words you'll ever need: My French-English Glossary

A new addition to my website – my French-English food glossary

For many foreigners dining in France, the French language can often be a frustrating and intimidating barrier to truly enjoying a meal out. A simple mistake in translating a menu can mean disappointment when an unexpected dish arrives. The subtle nuances of the French language don't make this any easier either. It's easy to confuse tourteau (crab) with tortue (turtle), ail (garlic) with aile (poultry wing) or chevreau (young goat) with chevreuil (venison) .

When I wrote the first edition of The Food Lover's Guide to Paris and France back in the 1980s, I knew a thorough glossary of culinary terms would be an essential component of the guides. It was painstakingly compiled from hours of research (this was pre-internet days of course!) and translations of menus that were sent to me from the restaurants I was reviewing. The result includes translated names of ingredients, regional cooking styles and dishes, meat cuts, cheeses, fish names, and cooking techniques, and is still as relevant today as the time I first wrote it.

I have continued to update it with modern culinary terms that are often found on menus in France, for the glossary section of The Food Lover's Guide to Paris app for the iPhone – a handy pocket reference when dining out, no internet connection necessary.

And for those of you without iOS devices, I have now made it available here, on my website. Enjoy!

Patisserie Perfection: Boris Lumé

Summers for me are almost exclusively a Provençal affair. With temperatures soaring into the 80s and 90s, I bunker down in the cool stone kitchen of my hilltop farmhouse in Vaison-la-Romaine, to test recipes, cook from my bountiful summer vegetable garden and prepare for my late summer cooking classes.

So for those of you travelling to Paris this summer looking for gastronomic inspiration, I leave you in the capable hands of my good friend and co-conspirator on the fifth edition of The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris, Emily Buchanan.


Patisserie Perfection: Boris Lumé

[Guest post by Emily Buchanan]

If the original Belle Époque exterior of this immaculate Montmartre patisserie (a classified historical monument, built in 1900) is not enough to draw you in, then the rows of Boris Lumé’s signature finger-shaped tarts, glistening in the glass vitrine, surely will. The pastries here have as much charm as the décor, with its off-white and duck-shell blue wall tiles, butterfly-themed tile frieze, and original heavenly ceiling fitted out with a crystal chandelier – this is what dreams of Parisian pastry shops are made of.

Pastry chef, baker and owner Boris Lumé opened his first shop with his Japanese wife Mihona (also a baker) on the leafy rue Caulaincourt in the 18th arrondissement in 2013, after time spent under the tutelage of the likes of Joël Robuchon in Tokyo, and Cyril Lignac and Meilleur Ouvrier de France Frederic Lalos (of Le Quartier du Pain) in Paris.

His selection of tarts and viennoiseries (breakfast pastries) is small, but finely tuned – each creation a small work of art, but without pretension. His tarte citron doesn't have many  rivals with its irresistibly crisp base, thick pillowy lemon cream that has just the right balance of acidity, sweetness and creaminess, hiding a thin layer of soft cake-like hazelnut biscuit.

Among the lineup is an excellent version of the classic Paris-Brest, a light choux casing filled with praline cream and punctuated with a crispy praline crunch. Other offerings include tarts with seasonal fruit toppings such as strawberry or fig, and a less traditional matcha and black sesame tart with red fruits, a nod to Mihona’s Japanese origins.

I love their homely tartelettes, soft pastry casings filled with dark acidic cherries (griottes) and an earthy pistachio cream.

The viennoiseries  are without fault: buttery, light and perfectly flaky. The baguette tradition has a flavorful crumb, although I prefer my baguette a little more bien cuite – well baked – with a crunchier crust. I’d rather go for their near-perfect, nutty pain d’épeautre (spelt loaf), and I can hardly pass by this shop without grabbing a loaf.

If you’ve been searching for the perfect Parisian pastry shop, you may well have just found it.

Patisserie Boris Lumé   |   48 rue Caulaincourt   |   Paris 18   |   +33 1 46 06 96 71   |   Métro: Lamarck-Caulaincourt   | Open Tuesday-Sunday 7:45am-8:30pm, Sunday 7:45am-7pm. Closed Monday   |  

 

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

Taste of the week: Chicken fricassée with fennel, capers, artichokes, and tomatoes

This recipe is a one-pot wonder, ideal for week night family dinners, or casual get togethers with friends. It's a rustic and hearty dish, yet the artichokes and fennel give it a lift of sophistication. It requires minimal effort to throw together, and can easily be made in advance and reheated at serving time. Serve with rice, pasta or polenta

 

Chicken Fricassée with fennel, capers, artichokes and olives

6 servings   |    Equipment: A large, deep skillet or Dutch oven, with a lid.

1 farm-fresh chicken (3-4 pounds; 1.5-2 kg), preferably organic and free range,  cut into 8 serving pieces, at room temperature
Fine sea salt
Coarse, freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 onions, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed and thinly sliced   
1 cup (250 ml) white wine
1 28-ounce (794 g) can diced Italian tomatoes in juice
1 cup (115 g) green Picholine olives, pitted
1 cup (115 g) brine-cured black olives, pitted
1/4 cup (60 ml) capers in vinegar, drained
12 artichoke hearts marinated in olive oil, drained
Cooked rice, fresh pasta, or polenta for serving

 

1.    Liberally season the chicken on all sides with salt and pepper.

2.    In the large, deep skillet, heat the oil over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Add the chicken pieces (in batches if necessary) and brown until they turn an even golden color, about 5 minutes. Turn the pieces and brown them on the other side, 5 minutes more. Carefully regulate the heat to avoid scorching the skin. When the pieces are browned, use tongs (to avoid piercing the poultry) to transfer them to a platter.

3.    Reduce the heat to low, add the onions and fennel to the skillet and sweat  – cook, covered, over low heat – until soft but not browned, about 10 minutes. Return the chicken to the skillet. Add the wine, tomatoes (with juices), olives, capers and artichokes. Cover and simmer over low heat until the chicken is cooked through. About 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Serve with rice, fresh pasta or polenta.

 

 

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

All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce without permission.

Taste of the Week: Mini croque monsieur

            Ham and cheese squares   ©Jeff Kauck

I love to serve these small grilled ham and cheese squares, brightened by the tart crunch of a cornichon, as a fun palate opener when we have guests over. Assemble these baby croque monsieur sandwiches (not the classic version in the strictest sense as I have removed the bechamel sauce for a lighter summer touch) earlier in the day and then grill them at the last minute, when family and friends are gathering.

 

Ham and Cheese Squares (mini croque monsieur)

Makes 18 squares, to serve 6 to 8   |    Equipment: A toaster; a nonstick skillet; toothpicks.

4 slices Honey and Saffron Brioche or white bread (pain de mie) crusts removed
2 teaspoons French mustard
2 thin slices best-quality cooked ham, cut to fit 2 slices of the bread
About 1/4 cup (30 g) freshly grated Swiss Gruyère cheese or other hard cheese
1 tablespoon (15 g) clarified butter or unsalted butter
9 cornichons, halved lengthwise

1.    Toast the brioche or bread. Coat one side of each slice with the mustard. Place a slice of ham over the mustard on two sides of the slices. Sprinkle the cheese over the ham. Place the other slices of bread, mustard-coated side down, on top of the cheese.  

2.    In the skillet, melt the butter over low heat.  Brown the bread evenly on both sides, about 1 minute per side. Cut each sandwich into 9 even squares. Pierce each cornichon half with a toothpick and secure the toothpick to the grilled bread. Arrange on a serving platter and serve warm, offering guests cocktail napkins.

Wine suggestion: Grilled cheese and champagne? Why not? I love Pierre Moncuit’s blanc de blancs, a medium-bodied, clean, and always reliable offering that has a purity that matches just about any opening taste.

 

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

All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce without permission.

L’Oustalet: another Perrin family success

Strawberries, raspberry macaroon and mint sorbet

The Perrin family of the winery Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape – led by brothers Jean-Pierre and François and their seven offspring  – has over the past 30 years created a very specific and appealing, contemporary style that has become an environmental model in organic wine making, and a leading global brand.  Their portfolio is impressive, whether it be an august old-vine red, such as their rare Hommage à Jacques Perrin, their more simple daily-drinking red Côtes-du-Rhône, or their spectacular wine boutique in the Provençal village of Gigondas (population 585). Included in this incredible package is their welcoming restaurant L’Oustalet in the center of town, where an interior decor seamlessly blends ancient and modern. The outdoor tables spread out onto a stone terrace overlooking the renovated square, which is peppered with ancient sycamore trees – a spot that was once a parking lot and is now a sybaritic space filled with picnic tables and a spot for sitting, strolling, reflecting.

I wouldn’t even want to try to guess the number of meals I have savored in this setting over the past 35 years, the best of which were relished at the hands of the Perrin family and their slim, self-effacing, and super-talented chef Laurent Deconinck. Here, like most everything the Perrins do, nothing is overwrought, or laid on with a heavy hand. There is thought to the balance, energy, look and feel of both the interior design and the food itself.

Laurent’s summer bouillabaisse, which I wholly appreciated this week, is like a modern love poem to this Provençal fish soup classic, a dish that is often too hackneyed, boring, overcooked, even in the most famous establishments. Laurent’s soup –  a mix of fish and shellfish that includes lobster tail from Corsica, and a medley of rockfish stars of the sea: monkfish, John Dory, and rascasse or scorpion fish – is a modern masterpiece. The fish all look and taste as though they just leapt from the sea, bathed in a thick broth, enlivened by dollops of velvety, spicy aioli or garlic mayonnaise. Thick strips of crouton-like toast come along, for dipping in the bright-flavored broth or for slathering with the aioli.

The genius in Laurent’s food is in its balance and freshness so that, despite having had a multi-course, two-hour feast, you walk away with a forceful pep in your step. His recent dessert creation is a case in point: strawberries at their peak of ripeness are topped with a single half of a raspberry macaroon, teamed up with a brilliant green mint sorbet, flanked by cubes of fresh berries and paper-thin strips of mint (photo).

The all-male staff at L’Oustalet is at once forwardly familiar and professional to a fault. You feel they are having a great time at work, and why shouldn’t they, with all the great seasonal ingredients of Provence, the sun shining, and a wine cellar that would make almost anyone weep? I won’t even begin to tick off the great wines one finds here, but suffice it to say that if you have a favored wine from the northern or southern Rhône, you’ll find it here, at such great value prices you’ll squint and look twice. My latest discovery is the Châteauneuf Clos St Pierre, an ancient Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyard taken over in 2009 by Carole and Pierre Perveyrie. Their tannic cuvé Urbi, with 40% Grenache, 40% Syrah, and 20% Mourvèdre, is truly appealing and pleasing, especially for those who love a bit of leathery, animal sensation that so many southern Rhône wines can produce.

Wine lovers should not miss a visit to their wine shop just up the street from the restaurant. There are also three modern hotel rooms above the shop, if you’d rather not walk too far “home” after lunch or dinner.

L’Oustalet   |   Place du Village   |   84190 Gigondas   |   Tel: +33 4 90 65 85 30   |   Closed Sunday and Monday   |   Menus from 35 to 56€   |   Wine tasting menus from 89 to 136€   | www.loustalet-gigondas.com   |   contact@loustalet-gigondas.com

 

Taste of the week: Ruby rhubarb bars

In France, rhubarb appears fleetingly in the markets in May and June, just in time to be paired with gariguette or charlotte strawberries, before disappearing for another year. In this dish however, rhubarb is the sole star, the shining tart crown atop a warm pastry crust.

Both green and red rhubarb can of course be used for this dish, but it's the red varieties that really leaves an impression visually if cooked properly. So often it can lose its gorgeous ruby hue as it cooks but the trick is not to precook the stems and instead bake them in extra-thin slices, so they cook quickly and retain their shape and bright red color.

Ruby Rhubarb Bars

Equipment: A 9 1/2  x 9 1/2-inch (24 x 24 cm) baking pan   |   baking parchment   |   a food processor.

Pastry
4 tablespoons (60 g) salted butter, chilled
1 cup (140 g) unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (65 g) confectioners’ sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon, preferably organic
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt   
2 tablespoons plain nonfat yogurt

Topping:
3/4 cup (150 g) unrefined cane sugar, preferably organic, vanilla scented (see Note)
1/4 cup (40 g) unbleached, all-purpose flour
4 large egg whites, preferably organic and free range
3 cups (300 g) thinly sliced red rhubarb stalks, (about seven 10-inch; 26 cm)

 

 

1.    Center a rack in the oven. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
 
2.    Line the baking pan with two pieces of baking parchment, letting the parchment hang over the sides. (This will make it easier to remove the dessert once baked.)

3.    Prepare the pastry: In the food processor, combine all the pastry ingredients and process to blend. The mixture should be soft and pliable.

4.    Press the dough evenly into the bottom of the baking pan. Place the pan in the oven and bake until firm, about 12 minutes.

5.    While the pastry is baking, prepare the topping: In a bowl, combine the sugar, flour, and egg whites and whisk to blend. Add the rhubarb and stir to coat it evenly with the egg-white mixture.

6.    Remove the pan from the oven and spoon the rhubarb mixture over the warm pastry. Return the baking pan to the oven and bake until the topping is firm and golden, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Remove from the pan and cut into 16 squares. Serve at room temperature. (Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.)

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.

The new Guy Savoy

Guy Savoy staircase.jpg

The red carpet is out for Guy Savoy all over the city of Paris. With his new restaurant celebrating an official opening Tuesday, May 19th, this three-star chef and his almost giddy staff are luxuriating in their new sunlit home inside the 6th arrondissement Hotel de Monnaie de Paris along the Seine. With no less than five dining rooms boasting huge windows, the restaurant overlooks tall shimmering chestnut trees, the Seine, out onto the Louvre, Pont Neuf, the Île de la Cite. and beyond. 

For Savoy, 62, the adventure and the dream began in 2009, when he visited the oldest institution and oldest factory in France, the French mint. He bid, and won a chance to move his 17th- arrondissement restaurant on rue Troyon to the mint. Construction proceeded more slowly than anticipated, since asbestos was found in the structure and needed to be eliminated. Today, the restaurant sits on the top floor, with spacious kitchens just below, sporting welcoming windows with the same bright view as Savoy’s diners. 

One enters the august, newly renovated space walking regally up the red-carpeted stairs decorated with medallions and laurel wreaths. Dining rooms are warm and cozy, in colors of brown and anthracite with touches of modern lighting, all fully respectful of a building founded in 1864 and rebuilt in the 20th century. 

Two “soft-landing” preview lunches in the new dining rooms attest that Savoy’s food remains on the same steady course he has followed since first opening in Paris in 1977, achieving his third Michelin star in 2002.  Guests will find many of his signature dishes, such as the landmark soupe d’artichaut à la truffe noir et brioche feuilletée aux champignons et truffes (a masterpiece that marries earth with earth, the earthy flavors of artichokes and the wild mushroom essence of the truffle, embellished with an unforgettable mushroom brioche brushed with fragrant truffle butter). His famed huîtres en nage glacée never fails to excite or delight, nudging the briny, iodine-rich essence of oyster to new heights as a mildly creamy oyster puree lines the oyster shell as the real deal sits atop it like a king. A spoonful of jelly created with the oyster liquid tops it all for a celebratory hit of oyster heaven. 

Savoy constantly works to capture the essence of an ingredient and bring it to your palate: His pea soup, made with peeled peas (!) and a puree of that regal vegetable,  topped with a soft-cooked quail egg, blends on the palate with intensity and clean, welcoming, spring flavors. 

And there are new dishes --- such as salmon “cooked” on dry ice at the table – with the fresh, brilliant strips of salmon embellished by an avalanche of varied citrus, including lemon, lime, and the rare Australian caviar citron, sporting little, citrus-flavored beads that look just like the caviar of our dreams.

Savoy’s masterful pastry chef, Christian Boudard, has outdone himself with spring desserts: In one, rhubarb is sliced paper-thin and dried to bring out its brilliant flavors, molded in the shape of onion skin, which serves as a perfect vessel for his vibrant rhubarb sorbet. He works the same idea with this season’s strawberries, a fine sorbet, paper-thin slices of strawberries, dried to bring us its very soul.

Do not forget Sylvain Nicolas, Savoy’s sommelier, a man I trust with my wine life! He has never steered me wrong, visit after visit. Discoveries at a recent lunch include Josmeyer’s Grand Cru Brand Riesling, 2009, a wine that is at once authoritative, regal, lively, and pure. As well, Domaine Rebourgeon-Mure’s pinot noir Pommard 1er Cru Clos des Arvelets moved everyone at the table, emerging with a purity of fruit, finesse, and expression of delightful ripe tannins. 

The Hotel de la Monnaie restaurant is not his only project for the moment. In December he opened  L’Huîtrade on rue Troyon, a compact oyster bar offering some of the world’s finest oysters and oyster dishes; the former Restaurant Guy Savoy on Rue Troyon will become a fish restaurant, d’Etoie sur Mer in June of this year; and already famous for his brioche,  Savoy will open a brioche boutique, Goût de Brioche, at 54 rue Mazarine, Paris 6, in June.         

GUY SAVOY   |   Monnaie de Paris   |   11 quai de Conti   |   Paris 6   |   Tel: +33 1 44 80 40 61   |   Métro: Pont Neuf   |   Open Tuesday to Saturday, closed Saturday lunch, Sunday, and Monday   |   www.guysavoy.com   |   reserve@guysavoy.com   |   Lunch and dinner: 360€ menu, à la carte €200, not including beverages   |   Reservations suggested.

Taste of the Week: honey and saffron brioche

                                   © Jeff Kauck

I have rarely seen students so enthused and bursting with pride as their airy brioche puffs to grandeur in the oven, arriving shiny and golden to the table just moments later. There is great triumph in baking perfection, and after a class, e-mails, photos, tweets and Facebook notations attest to the students prowess in the kitchen. In my kitchens, I use honey rather than sugar as a sweetener. The reasons are simple: honey just makes food taste better and for us it’s a homegrown product, produced from our bees that call Chanteduc and Provence home. When preparing this brioche, don’t omit the saffron: Infusing it in the warm milk dramatizes the intensity of these golden threads and adds an exotic flavor and aroma to the final product, not to mention the touch of color.

Note that you’ll need to start the brioche several hours before you plan to bake it.

 

Honey and Saffron Brioche

Makes 2 loaves, about 16 slices each   |   Equipment: A heavy-duty mixer fitted with a flat paddle; a dough scraper;  two nonstick 1-quart (1 l) rectangular bread pans.

 

Sponge:

1/3 cup (80 ml) whole milk, lukewarm
A generous pinch of best-quality saffron threads (about 1 heaping teaspoon, 30-40 filaments, or 0.3 gram)
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons; 9 g) active dry yeast
1 tablespoon honey
1 large egg, free-range and organic, lightly beaten
2 cups (280 g) unbleached, all-purpose flour

Dough:

1/3 cup (80 ml) lavender honey, or other mild, fragrant honey
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
4 large, ultra-fresh eggs, free-range and organic, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups (210 g) unbleached, all purpose-flour
12 tablespoons (6 ounces; 180 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Egg wash:

1 large, ultra-fresh egg,  organic and free-range, lightly beaten

 

1.    Prepare the sponge: In the bowl of the heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle, combine the milk, saffron, yeast, and honey and stir to blend. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the egg and 1 cup (140 g) of the flour and and stir to blend. The sponge will be soft and sticky. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup (140 g) flour, covering the sponge. Set aside to rest, uncovered, for 30 minutes. The sponge should erupt slightly, cracking the layer of flour.

2.    Prepare the dough: Add the honey, salt, eggs and the 1 1/2 cups (210 g) of the flour to the sponge. With the paddle attached, mix on low speed just until the ingredients come together, about 1 minute. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for 5 minutes.

3.    To incorporate the butter into the dough, it should be the same consistency as the dough. To prepare the butter, place it on a flat work surface, and with the dough scraper, smear it bit by bit across the surface. When it is ready, the butter should be smooth, soft, and still cool – not warm, oily, or greasy.

4.    With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time. When all of the butter has been added, increase the mixer speed to medium-high for 1 minute. Then reduce the speed to medium and beat the dough for 5 minutes. The dough will be soft and sticky.

5. First rise: Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.

6. Chilling and second rise: Punch down the dough. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough overnight, or for at least 4 hours, during which time it will continue to rise and may double in size again.. After the second rise, the dough is ready to use.

7. To bake the brioche: Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces, each weighing about 2 1/2 ounces (75 g).  Roll each piece of dough tightly into a ball and place 6 pieces side by side in each bread pan. Cover the pans with a clean cloth and let the dough rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

8.  Center a rack in the oven. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).

9.  Lightly brush the dough with the beaten egg. Working quickly, use the tip of a pair of sharp scissors to snip several crosses along the top of each pan of dough. (This will help the brioche rise evenly as it bakes). Place the pans in the oven and bake until the brioche loaves are puffed and deeply golden, 30 to 35 minutes.  Remove the pans from the oven and place on a rack to cool. Turn the loaves out once they have cooled.

The secret: Top-quality honey makes all the difference here. Honey not only enriches the flavor of this brioche, but also helps keep it moist.   

Note: The brioche is best eaten the day it is baked. It can be stored for a day or two, tightly wrapped. To freeze, wrap it tightly and store for up to 1 month. Thaw, still wrapped, at room temperature.  

Note: A reliable saffron source is The Spice House www.thespicehouse.com

 

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

All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce without permission.

Taste of the week: Jerusalem artichoke soup

How can just three ingredients -- one of them salt -- taste so creamy, rich and delicious? 

Years ago when I was writing about vegetable recipes created by three-star chefs, Pierre Gagnaire demonstrated  this simple,  sublime, wintry Jerusalmen artichoke (also known as sunchoke) soup. Over time, I have turned the thick soup into a sauce for pasta; reduced it a bit for a fine vegetable puree; or thinned out the nutty liquid with stock, using it as a base for poaching oysters or scallops. If truffles are not available when making this soup, try a last-minute drizzle of fragrant hazelnut oil as garnish.   It’s your choice as to peel the artichokes or not. Peeling the gnarled, knobby vegetable is a tedious task, and I rather like the dots of peel that give character to the puree. Just be sure to scrub the vegetable well.   

Jerusalem artichoke soup

8 servings   |   Equipment: A blender or a food processor; 8 warmed, shallow soup bowls. 

2 quarts (2 l) whole milk
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 pounds (1 kg) Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), scrubbed and trimmed
2 tablespoons minced black fresh black truffles or minced truffle pelings, or 1 tablespoon best-quality hazelnut oil (such as Leblanc brand)  

 

 

 

 

1.    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 sea salt.

2.    Peel the Jerusalem artichokes, chop coarsely 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 in the pan, place over moderate heat and simmer gently until soft, about 35 to 40  minutes. Watch carefully so the milk does not overflow the pan.

3.    Transfer the mixture in small batches to the blender or the 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 (note that using a blender rather than a food processor will result in a much smoother texture). 

4.    Return the soup to the saucepan and reheat it gently. Taste for seasoning. Pour it into the warmed soup bowls and shower with the minced truffle, or drizzle with the hazelnut oil. 

A SOUP, A SAUCE, A VEGETABLE SIDE DISH: 
This soup can easily be transformed into a sauce for pasta or to serve as a vegetable side dish. Simple reduce the soup over low heat to desired thickness ,  5 to 10 minutes.

 

This recipe was first published in Simply Truffles. Buy the book here.

All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce without permission.

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.