Yam'Tcha: Precision, Elegance and Creativity

Langoustine, onions, pomegranate, goji berry and tarragon

Langoustine, onions, pomegranate, goji berry and tarragon

There is plenty to love about Adeline Grattard’s Yam‘Tcha. Her French-Asian themed food is unique, well-thought-out, beautiful, and welcomingly assertive. The restaurant, relocated from rue Sauval in mid 2015, draws you in immediately with the appealing cooking aromas that waft from the semi-open kitchen, the coziness of the well-crafted wooden birch tables and elegant yet comfortable arm chairs, the frivolity of the tiny garden brightened by a white stone floor, the openness of the well-lit, well-stocked wine cellar.

Grattard’s pedigree includes time spent with three-Michelin star chefs Yannick Alléno (Pavillon Ledoyen) and Pascal Barbot (Astrance), and their influence on her food is evident: precision, elegance and a confidence to be creatively adventurous. She makes a rare team with her Chinese tea-sommelier husband, Chi Wah Chan, offering a careful selection of refined, soothing teas to accompany Grattard’s carefully constructed dishes (Yam’tcha, afterall, is the Mandarin word for ‘drink tea’.) Wine pairings are also available.

She employs and embraces a multitude of seasonal ingredients, and as you sample her fare, you feel as though everything from that vibrant red pomegranate seed to the brilliant green wild garlic emulsion are there for a reason and not simply as window dressing.

Any chef can win me over in a millisecond when they offer some of my truly favorite ingredients: asparagus, langoustines, and a shower of fresh black truffles. And she did. Her love for citrus as well as sweet and sour combinations come through loud and clear, as in her duo of white and green asparagus dressed with a frothy sauce of mandarin orange tinged with touches of kumquat, a dish with a lovely citrus bounce.

I am not sure where she secured the gigantic, soothingly rich langoustines, but they were cooked to a delicate perfection, paired with a bright sweet and sour sauce laced with crunchy pomegranate seeds and tangy goji berries. Each dish is complex without being overbearing, and by the end of the meal we were satisfied but not digestively assaulted, a rare feat after a seven course meal.

As a collector of modern as well as antique china and pottery, I wanted to walk away with a few of her colorful dinner plates, some from popular French designer Sarah Lavoine. Each is thoughtfully paired with a specific dish, from the golden ocher plates for the asparagus to the bright red pottery for the slow-cooked and tender Iberian pork that was showered with slices of exquisite fresh black truffles.

To add additional excellence to a wonderful dining experience, sommelière Marine Delaporte offers a brilliant and well-considered glass of wine with each course, accompanied by thoughtful and enthusiastic commentary with each pour. Of the six selections sampled, I truly loved the 2015 Riesling Cuvée Albert from Albert Mann, a distinctive Alsatian white that is well-balanced, ripe, juicy, and aromatic. Equally satisfying was the Loire Valley white Jasnières Rosiers 2015 Eric Nicolas, dry with the tiniest touch of sweetness.  The choice of mostly white wines with the meal was refreshing.

I was less enthused about the understated first course of rice-based congee with cubes of foie gras and the equally disappointing soup laced with scallops and mushrooms which lacked the personality and forward flavors of her other dishes.

 But at the end, Grattard totally surprised me with a dessert that included a bright green sorrel soup with a bitter almond (orgeat) sorbet, paired with a well-constructed mini-tart of a single prune wrapped in a coat of lemon jelly, topped with a Champagne granité.

Although I am generally not a fan of set menus where the diner has no choices, and each dish is a complete surprise, it works here, since the chef has so many layers and volumes, it is a treat to experience it all. And the wine and tea pairings only help amplify the experience.

Reserving at Yam’tcha can be tricky and staff don’t always answer the phone. Persistence is the key. By phone you’ll most likely be successful on a Tuesday when the restaurant is closed but staff are there. Otherwise I recommend stopping in at the restaurant to make a reservation in person, if time permits.

YAM ‘TCHA   |   121 rue Saint Honoré   |   Paris 1   |   Tel: +33 1 40 26 08 07   |   Métro: Louvre-Rivoli   |   Open Wednesday – Saturday. Closed Sunday & Monday   | Lunch and dinner: 60€ and 135€ menus, with options for 40€ tea tasting and 70€ wine tasting   |   Reservations essential.


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Do et Riz: The Holy Grail of Vietnamese Spring Rolls

If you are on a quest to find the crunchiest, freshest Vietnamese fried spring rolls in Paris, you can end your search at the doors of Do et Riz. Make a reservation, or be prepared to queue out into the street, as you will not be the only one clammering for a table or a stool at this charming canteen in the 12th arrondissement, run and owned by Vietnamese chef Do Thi Thanh Huyen. (The word Do, dually meaning ‘bean’ in Vietnamese and the chef’s maiden name, and riz meaning rice in French, are both ingredients important to Vietnamese cooking.)

Having been anointed with the passion for cuisine while helping run her grandmother’s road-side restaurant in Hai Phong in northern Vietnam as a child, chef Do now finds herself the third generation in a line of female chefs. After a brief flirtation with French cooking at Alain Ducasse’s Jules Verne restaurant in the Eiffel Tower and Restaurant Beauvilliers in the 18th, Do has returned to her native cuisine, with her husband at her side in the kitchen. The small eatery makes clever use of the space, reminiscent of an outdoor street market in Vietnam: The steamy, fragrant, open kitchen bustles with activity, and shelves are stacked with beautiful Vietnamese-sourced ceramics and bunches of fresh mint and coriander. The countertop bar in the restaurant’s window overlooking the kitchen is particularly appealing for dining solo or as a couple, beneath the light of the suspended sea urchin lampshades.

Do et Riz offers a roster of Vietnamese classics on the small but ultra-fresh menu (ingredients are sourced daily from the nearby marché d’Aligre), including the aforementioned golden crunchy chicken and prawn spring rolls (nems); Bahn Cuon steamed rice crepe rolls filled with chicken and mushrooms: fresh spring rolls with duck breast and green papaya:, and there’s always some version of a green papaya or lotus salad, refreshing and pleasingly spicy. The Pho soup and Bo Bun noodle salad are a staple of the menu (an explosion in the popularity of the Bo Bun in Paris in the last five or so years means that it’s almost impossible to find a Vietnamese restaurant that doesn’t serve it), but the main course menu changes more frequently. On our last visit we sampled chicken meatballs perfumed with kaffir lime, and served with a spicy tamarind sauce; and a prawn coconut and noodle salad, fresh and invigorating, filled with Asian greens, mange-tout green beans, carefully butterflied tender pink prawns, all showered generously with fresh coriander.

 

Their seductive version of a classic tapioca coconut pudding is alone worth returning for: creamy, not too sweet, and punctuated with the refreshing tang of perfectly ripe mango.

And now here’s another reason to return to sample Do and her husband’s cooking, with the announcement of plans to soon open a second restaurant across the street. It will be named Em (meaning younger sibling in Vietnamese), focusing on grilled dishes.

Do et Riz   |  31 rue de Cotte   |   Paris 12   |   +33 1 43 45 57 13   |   Métro: Ledru-Rollin   |   Open Monday dinner – Sunday lunch. Closed Sunday dinner and Monday lunch   |   Lunch and dinner 30-35€ (for 3 course)   | Rservations essential.


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Elegant Understated Cuisine at Quinsou

Knowing of Chef Antonin Bonnet’s past experience in the kitchen’s of top-rated restaurants (L’Oustau de Baumanière), Michelin star chefs (Michel Bras) and exclusive London member clubs (Morton’s Club), you might think that his own personal venture might be a swanky affair. So it’s a refreshing surprise that his newly opened own restaurant, Quinsou (meaning Chaffinch – a small songbird – in Occitan) should be so down-to-earth and humble. The simple exposed stone, glass and wood interior of his modern bistro in the 6th arrondissement of Paris, is quietly reflective of his purist, produce-driven cuisine.
    
Last seen at Paris’s stylish Michelin starred Sergent Recruteur, and briefly as a consulting chef on the ambitious but now defunct La Jeune Rue project, Bonnet returns on form to stun us with his precision, bright clean flavors, and elegant pairings. Here, produce is king, and he sources his ingredients with diligence. The vegetables from the Bec Hellouin organic farm in Normandy are of exceptional quality, as was demonstrated in a superb entrée of green cabbage, tossed in an umami rich hazelnut vinaigrette and served with oeuf mollet, a soft boiled egg, here, delicately cooked to perfection.

This was followed by milk-fed lamb shoulder and liver served with a silken Jerusalem artichoke purée, yellow-stalked chard, a dusting of licorice powder to brighten the palate, and a comforting meaty jus poured over the dish at the moment of serving. We couldn’t resist the daily specials, large N°2 pleine de mer (open sea) oysters in the shell with a dashi (a Japanese fish and kelp-based stock) vinaigrette and a squeeze of sudachi, a Japanese citrus fruit. And a black truffle pasta dish that cleverly used dentelle (lace) pasta sheets with undulating edges – from Maîtres de Mon Moulin in Cucugnan – giving a texture that played beautifully with the mild crunch of the black truffle. For the 35€ price tag I would have hoped for a few shavings more, but I was won over by the addition of a ‘jus de volaille’ elegantly poured over the pasta as a supplementary sauce.

The only real disappointment in the meal was the dessert, a layered chocolate-tamarind assembly of almond biscuit and chocolate cream topped with a thin wafer, that to my palate, lacked the flavor – the tamarind was not at all present, the chocolate subdued and without interest – and refinement of the preceding dishes. The accompanying elderflower ice cream, although fragrant, lacked real personality and felt oddly out of season on a cold winter’s day.

The wine list is exceptional and our choice of the Domaine Vacheron white Sancerre, with its quiet and restrained mineral tones was a perfect match for Bonnet’s understated yet elegant cuisine.

QUINSOU   |   Modern French bistro   |   22 rue de l’Abbé Grégoire   |   Paris 6   |   +33 1 42 22 66 09   |   Métro: Rennes ou Saint-Placide   |   Open Tuesday to Saturday   | contact.quinsou@gmail.com   |   Lunch menus 35–48€ / Dinner menus 48–65€   |   Reservations recommended.


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A Conversation with Harper Collins

While on a recent trip to New York, I sat down with the publisher of Harper Audio Ana Maria Allessi to talk about writing, food, Paris, cooking tips and of course my upcoming cookbook My Master Recipes. You can listen to it here or follow the link http://www.harperaudiopresents.com/episodes/conversation-with-food-writer-patricia-wells/.
 

 
 

The book will be on sale from March 7 from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million and Indiebound

A Table Worth The Wait

When French food critic and blogger Bruno Verjus opened his restaurant Table in April of 2013, even he knew that being a restaurant critic and being a restaurateur required distinctly different talents. Early visits to this 12th arrondissement establishment near the Bastille were, to my disappointment, underwhelming, and even the exuberant Verjus admits that it took him well over a year to figure out how to cook for more than a handful of friends and how to run a restaurant. What he did know – better than just about any Frenchman I am acquainted with – is how to source ingredients. Today, with Table thriving and the menu overflowing with impeccably researched products - he says that he has more than 300 suppliers - the dining experience is a veritable tour du monde. And a worthy one.

Do try the irresistible, densely flavored slices of Belgian entrecote, cut paper-thin and raised and aged like ham by the Flemish butcher Hendrick Dierendonck. Or go for the plump and rare 12-year old (!) oysters from Maldon in England, the gigantic bivalves delicately infused with rice vinegar and the rare, crunchy pearls of citron caviar, or finger limes. The chef’s delightfully small and delicate Brittany scallops are opened just seconds before serving, meaning they are still alive when they are set before you, very lightly bathed in Spanish Teruel olive oil and the additional burst of citron caviar pearls. Pigeon lovers (count me in!) will rejoice here, with a perfectly roasted, herb-infused bird, served with a touch of carefully grilled foie gras, brilliant red beets and radicchio, as well as varied citrus. The dish arrives with a Technicolor bowl of assorted vegetables, from Brussels sprouts to golden carrots, something that is missing on so many French restaurant menus these day. And don’t miss the exceptional chocolate mousse, a mix of whipped cream and a blend of Cuban and Venezuelan Chuao chocolate, a dream dessert if there ever was one. The wine list follows suit, and is extensive and varied, with something for every taste. Verjus plans to open a second venue on Place des Vosges this coming May.

Table   |   3 rue de Prague   |   Paris 12   |   + 33 1 43 43 12 26   |   Métro: Ledru-Rollin   |   Open lunch & dinner Monday-Friday. Dinner only Saturday. Closed Sunday   |  Lunchtime menu at 29€, à la carte at lunch and dinner, 75 to 125€   |   http://www.tablerestaurant.fr/


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A review of My Master Recipes

The wonderful team over at Harper Collins has just sent me this Publishers Weekly review of My Master Recipes, my soon-to-be-released cookbook. After so much hard work it is thrilling to receive such a positive (and starred!) review, that I just had to share it with you.

"In this superb tutorial, Wells (The Provence Cookbook) shares master recipes from her classes to inspire confidence in home cooks. She includes simple techniques such as blanching, steaming, simmering, and poaching that serve as the foundation of her recipes. She advocates for cooking seasonally, substituting honey for sugar whenever possible, replacing butter with olive oil when appropriate, and using organic ingredients (for which she makes a strong case). She also includes a helpful list of essential equipment. Each technique is followed by several recipes utilizing that approach with an occasional side bar on related topics such as parchment paper lids, what to do with leftovers, and trussing poultry. Recipes sometimes include wine pairings, cooking tips, or suggestions for variations. Those who already possess confidence in the kitchen can dive right into the wealth of appealing recipes, likely learning a thing or two along the way. Wells’s chapter on infusing is spectacular, including not only oils and butters but salts, cheeses, and sorbets. Asian chicken and cilantro meatballs, falafel, and mushroom brioche rolls are just a few of the immensely satisfying recipes she includes in this welcome addition to her cookbook repertoire."

The book will be on sale from March 7 from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million and Indiebound

Dans les Landes: An Authentic Bite of Southwestern France

 
 

Anyone looking for an honest food experience from Southwestern France should head for Dans les Landes, a vibrant, always bustling café/bistro that resounds with authenticity. Everything at this spot is true and flavorful, from the tastefully breaded and fried rings of baby squid (chipirons) to the smoky pork sausages served with the tiny pickled peppers known as guindilla. Although not traditionally from the region, their Asian spring rolls with a Southwestern touch are worth a try too: here wrapped in traditional rice paper but filled with an avalanche of vegetables and bits of flavorful duck (the prized bird of the region), with leaves of lettuce and sprigs of mint for wrapping the rolls in, accompanied by a perfectly spicy sauce. Dishes are advertised as tapas portions, but each tapas serving can easily be shared by two hungry diners. Make sure to order the local Iroulegy wine, white or red, both of which are organic. Service is swift and friendly, décor right out of a sports bar, with lots of sports team banners and it wouldn’t be the Southwest without a few hanging cured sausages and dried Espelette peppers.

Dans les Landes   |    Southwestern French Bistro / Tapas   |  119 bis rue Monge   |  Paris 5   |   +33 1 45 87 06 00   |   Métro: Censier-Daubenton   |   Open daily for lunch and dinner, continuous service on the weekends and public holidays   |   Reservations essential   |   Tapas: 9-19€   |   Atmosphere casual   |   http://dansleslandes.fr  


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

My New Cookbook + A holiday recipe

I am thrilled to announce the publication of my 15th book, My Master Recipes: 165 Recipes to Inspire Confidence in the Kitchen.

For the past two years – when I have not been teaching classes and updating The Food Lover's Guide to Paris app – I have been totally immersed in creating this cookbook, in close collaboration with my excellent and able assistant, Emily Buchanan. Over the years, as an intensive week’s cooking class wound up, I would often hear students exclaim that the experience had given them much more confidence in the kitchen. I was inspired to record my most treasured recipes, ones that teach fundamental techniques and encourage useful practices in the kitchen, the little things that can make us all better cooks. In many ways, this project has influenced my cooking more than any of my other works, helping me to think systematically about the secrets to confidence and success in the kitchen, how I cook and why, which techniques I use, and why they really achieve the best results.

The book covers 17 essential techniques, from blanching, searing, braising and roasting, to infusing, baking and folding. For each blueprint recipe, many variations are offered, and dozens are possible. Once the fundamentals are learned, the cook can become the master of the recipe, not the other way around, freeing us to experiment and become truly creative, offering endless pleasures in the kitchen and at the table.

We worked with the wonderfully creative French team, photographer David Japy and stylist Elodie Rambaud, to create gorgeous color photographs for the book. The result is stunning and I can’t wait for all of you to see it and cook from it! My publisher, William Morrow, will be releasing My Master Recipes on March 7, 2017 but you can pre-order it now from Amazon, Indiebound and Barnes and Noble.

Here's a quick sneak preview and a recipe from the book:

CHESTNUT HONEY MADELEINES

Makes 24 madeleines

I guarantee these madeleines  – which would make fabulous holiday gifts – are like none you have ever tasted before: dense, rich, and sumptuous, made with ground almonds, beurre noisette (brown butter), and an intensely flavored honey. For this recipe, stay away from light-colored, overly sweet honeys such as acacia and go for one that is dark in color with deep, nuanced flavors that will stand up to the nutty aroma of the brown butter.

EQUIPMENT: A fine-mesh sieve; a pastry brush; two 12-cavity 2 x 3-inch (5 x 7.5 cm) madeleine mold tins; a baking sheet.

3/4 cup (6 ounces/180 g) unsalted butter

3 tablespoons intensely flavored honey, such as chestnut, buckwheat, or mountain

1-1/2 cups (165 g) almond meal (also called almond flour or almond powder)

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (140g) confectioners’ sugar

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (90 g) unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

6 large egg whites, free-range and organic

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

2. In a small, heavy-duty saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, stirring as it melts. Turn the heat to low and simmer the butter until the milk solids begin to brown and you have a warm, nutty aroma. Be careful, as the milk solids can burn quickly at this stage. The butter should have no specks of dark brown or black. Remove from the heat and strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl to stop the cooking process. Whisk the honey into the brown butter. Set aside to cool.

3. With the pastry brush, use some of the butter to thoroughly butter the madeleine molds. Place the madeleine pan on the baking sheet.

4. In a large bowl, combine the almond meal, sugar, flour, and salt. Mix to blend. Add the egg whites and mix until thoroughly blended. Add the slightly cooled brown butter mixture and mix until well incorporated. The mixture should be like a thin, pourable cake batter.

5. Spoon the batter into the molds, filling them almost to the rim. Bake until the madeleines are golden brown and spring back when pressed with a finger, 15 to 20 minutes.

6. Let the madeleines cool in the molds for 10 minutes. Unmold. (Note:
If using metal molds, wash immediately with a stiff brush in hot water without detergent, so they retain their seasoning.) The madeleines may be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for several days.

Happy holiday season to everyone, and wishing you many enjoyable hours in the kitchen and around the table with loved ones.

 

Cooking Classes 2018: Dates Announced

Cooking in Provence class, June 2016

With pleasure and anticipation I am announcing the At Home with Patricia Wells cooking class dates for 2018 (all of our 2017 classes are now full).

The 2018 season begins with our spectacular Black Truffle Extravaganza in January, including a special truffle hunt, black truffles with every meal and an extraordinary selection of rare, white Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines. In April we hold three Cooking in Paris classes, followed by my ever-popular Cooking in Provence sessions in my farmhouse in Provence in June and September. All classes involve plenty of hands-on, seasonal cooking, sourcing the best produce France has to offer from local markets and growers and, in Provence, my own organic vegetable garden. Classes are augmented with market visits, cheese, oil and wine tastings, and restaurant visits (in Paris an unforgettable three-star meal; in Provence, the very best of the local cuisine).

Classes are now open to the public via my website. Sign up here to reserve a place in your class of choice. Note that classes do fill up fast and all requests are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.

 

PROVENCE COOKING CLASS: BLACK TRUFFLE EXTRAVAGANZA

 January 22 to 26, 2018
 
The session includes the Monday welcome dinner, a Tuesday market visit followed by class and lunch, Tuesday evening class and dinner, Wednesday truffle hunt and restaurant lunch, Thursday visit to our truffle supplier, a wine tasting and a restaurant lunch, Friday class and lunch.

PARIS COOKING CLASSES

April 2 to 5, 2018
April 16 to 20, 2018
April 30 to May 4, 2018
 
Each session includes class and lunch, Monday through Friday, as well as a private wine tasting, a market tour, a bakery visit, an olive oil and nut oil tasting, and a memorable Michelin three-star lunch.

PROVENCE COOKING CLASSES

June 10 to 15, 2018
June 24 to 29,  2018
Sept 2 to 7, 2018
Sept 16 to 21, 2018
 
Sessions begin with the Sunday welcome dinner and end after lunch on Friday. Each course includes Sunday dinner, Monday class and lunch, Tuesday market tour, class and lunch, Tuesday restaurant dinner, Wednesday private wine tasting and restaurant lunch, Thursday class and lunch, Friday olive oil and nut oil tastings, class and lunch.

 

Big news - my Paris cooking studio is up for sale!

After 20 years of conducting cooking classes in our Left Bank atelier on rue Jacob in the 6th arrondissment – as well as writing many books there -- we now have an extraordinary opportunity to move our cooking class location to an apartment with a small private garden close to our home on rue du Bac in the 7th arrondissement. So consequently, we have decided to put the rue Jacob studio on the market, with its kitchen intact, including my beloved La Cornue stove, and most of the apartment's furnishings.

For more details and to contact the real estate agency see the A+B Kasha website  or email Paris@abkasha.com.
 
For students enrolled in the spring 2017 Cooking in Paris classes, sessions will go ahead as scheduled at the rue Jacob location. Details on other future Paris classes will be updated as the renovation moves forward.

Noodle Haven: Abri Soba

One of the more welcoming soba noodle restaurants to grace the Paris restaurant landscape is Abri Soba, a casual, friendly spot in the 9th arrondissement, just down from the Cadet métro stop. Run by Katsuaki Okiyama of the excellent restaurant Abri, in the 10th arrondissement, Abri Soba adds a new definition to the wholesome buckwheat (sarrasin) noodle. With its warm wooden décor and open kitchen, the compact restaurant has a Japanese country aire and breathes authenticity. I already want to return, having eyed the tempting cold soba noodles paired with crispy shrimp tempura. Everything has a careful -- yet hardly precious -- aesthetic sense here. The warm soba noodles arrive nestled in a mahogany-toned hand-crafted bowl, garnished with crisp sheets of jet-black nori, or strips of dried seaweed. I’d return again and again for the cold soba noodles topped with strips of tender chicken, crispy fried onions, and a touch of greenery, all presented in an elegant, light blue and white ceramic bowl.

Just add a glass of Kozaemon Junmai Daiginjo sake, and you’re on the road to heaven. Note that the noodles are 80 percent buckwheat, and 20 percent wheat flour, so are not suitable for for those with gluten intolerances. Note also that the restaurant does not take reservations. 

ABRI SOBA   |  Japanese   |    10 rue Saulnier   |   Paris 9   |   Open Sunday dinner and Tuesday through Saturday. Closed Sunday lunch and all day Monday   |   No reservations.


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

A bite of history: Clown Bar

Finding a restaurant whose atmosphere gives you an authentic historic experience, while offering you fresh contemporary fare on the plate, can be somewhat of an enigma in Paris. Sure, historical settings with charming turn-of-the-century décor abound, but so do the disappointments when the food arrives. But since Sven Chartier and Ewen Lemoigne of restaurant Saturne fame have taken over Clown Bar -- the historic monument that was once the watering hole for the adjacent Cirque d’Hiver (Winter Circus) – this is decidedly not one of those places. 

The charming Belle Epoque bistro setting with Sarreguemines ceramic tiles depicting parading clowns, a zinc bar and circus-style, exposed bulb lighting is a surprising but refreshing setting for chef Sota Atsumi’s modern French, produce-driven cuisine. Chef Atsumi, who has passed through the likes of 3 Michelin star Maison Troisgros in Roanne and Vivant Table and Toyo in Paris, assures a daily changing menu of carefully composed offerings, that are simple yet imaginative and satisfying. You might find entrees such as a sashimi coins of coquilles Saint Jacques (scallop) served with smoky shaved ricotta and delicately perfumed bergamot; or a raw beef tartare, brightened up with marinated anchovy fillets and a thick substantial burrata. For mains, we sampled a filet of cod, soft and pillowy (yet a touch overcooked) served with grilled Italian radicchio, spiked with miso and showered in a dramatic green seaweed powder (photo); and a perfectly cooked pigeon, served with fresh blueberries and a generous bowl of grilled whole gernika peppers from the Basque country.

We loved the light yet puckery tarte au citron (lemon tart), but being late in the season, the blueberry tart was a little lackluster, despite its pairing with a heavenly salted caramel ice-cream and we might have been better with the chocolate mousse with grilled tea ice-cream. Always good to have a reason to go back. Other bonuses include their six table terrace and they are open Sunday nights. All the elements are there for a great Parisian dining experience. 

CLOWN BAR   |   Modern French / Bistro   |   114 rue Amelot   |   Paris 11   |   +33 1 43 55 87 35   |  Métro: Filles du Calvaire or Oberkampf   |   Wednesday – Sunday for lunch and dinner, 7:30am-2am continued service for drinks only   |   50-60€ à la carte   |   Reservations recommended   |


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Juveniles: vibrant bright flavors and a wine list to love

Juveniles wine bar and wine shop is the sort of place you want in your neighborhood. When you don’t want to cook, you just slip in for a taste of solidly modern bistro fare, including sparkling fresh fish from Brittany, meaty duck breast from the southwest, and of course, enough wine choices to make your pleasure thermometer soar. And should you be cooking up a storm that day, test your wine-pairing skills and choose from owner Tim Johnston’s keen-eyed selection of wines from all over the world, take a bottle home and uncork it. 

Since Tim opened in March 1987, this tiny spot (you will surely slip past mountains of wine cartons on the way to your table) has been home to wine lovers from all over. In January 2014, he was joined by daughter Margaux and her partner Romain Roudeau, who reigns in the kitchen. The food here is vibrant, offering an avalanche of bright flavors and herbs galore. Who could not love a combination of soothing Italian buffalo-milk burratina set on a bed of crunchy fresh seasonal peas and fava beans, then showered in a pungent garden of mint, coriander and dill? Tender fillets of merlu (hake) are paired with beautifully seared chunks of zucchini, a mound of salad greens and crunchy toasted almonds. Like many menus today, the list of offerings reads like a welcome admonition to “eat your vegetables” and Romain does them proud with his ability to sear, char and turn sometimes mundane ingredients into real treasures. This is also a cheese-lover’s paradise, with everything from well-aged French Brie to the UK’s Neal’s Yard Dairy unpasteurized cheddar.

But of course wine is why we go, to ponder the compact yet extensive well-priced wine list, offering everything from Aubert de Villaine’s bright, citrusy white Bourgogne Côte Châlonnaise to Domaine de Marcoux’s always pleasurable white Châteauneuf-du-Pape. In the red category, there is Tim’s own Vin de Table de France “Purple Fourteen” a wine crafted along with winemaker Marcel Richaud in the southern Rhone. They offer wines by the glass, the half-liter, the bottle, the magnum- from the US, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Austria, Spain and Italy, so explore! 

Juveniles   |   47 rue de Richelieu   |   Paris 1   |   +33 1 42 97 46 49   |   Métro: Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre, Bourse or Pyramides   |   Open Tuesday – Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday   |   www.juvenileswinebar.com    |   À la carte, 36-50€   |   Reservations suggested


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Papillon: An exciting new modern bistro from Christophe Saintonge

What a pleasure to find a restaurant where everything satisfies from the minute you walk in the door to signing the check at the end of the meal. No question about it, Papillon to my mind is one of the most exciting new modern bistros to hit the Paris food scene in many years. Chef-owner Christophe Saintonge, who was last seen as head chef at Alain Ducasse’s three Michelin star Paris restaurant Le Meurice, is now out on his own and continues to show us his talent, intelligence and maturity as a chef, but in a more low-key, accessible setting.

Located in the beautifully appointed Parc Monceau neighborhood in the 17th arrondissement, the restaurant looks onto the picturesque Hausmannien building opposite through its all-glass facade. The pristine 45-seat dining room is modern and understated, but not without character with it’s gold-rimmed grey oak veneer tables, orb-like suspended lamps, comfortable blonde wooden chairs and camel-colored leather banquettes. The alert attentive staff (the number of which seemed enormous for the size of the restaurant) are charmingly outfitted in crisp white shirts, black suit pants, black bow ties and black suspenders. While there is a ‘closed kitchen’ you can catch glimpses of the action into the slick, clean, stainless steel kitchen workshop.

But best and most important of all, the menu and wine list is something to embrace wholeheartedly. It’s a happy conundrum to be faced with a menu where your first reaction is “I want to try everything!” And I loved almost everything I tasted there, including the marinated daurade (porgy)  carpaccio (photo), bathed in lemon juice, olive oil, and tender leaves of mizuna, or Japanese mustard green. Paper-thin slices of radish added a winning touch of color and crunch. I will definitely be ordering that again.

The roasted asparagus was a marvel: Perfectly cooked so that its earthy flavor had a chance to star, topped with a tiny layer of melted Comté cheese and served with a tarragon cream alongside, to extend the pleasure. At least 35 years ago in the south of France I sampled a whole roasted leg of lamb that had been cooked in a bread oven and smothered in hay and I have never forgotten that smoky marriage of smoldering hay and tender meat. Saintonge’s version of lamb chops smoked in hay did not disappoint, paired with a side dish of my favored fregola, those crunchy, toasted pellets of pasta from Sardinia.

Equally fabulous was the roasted veal – full-flavored and tender – served with a brilliant creation of sliced, roasted artichoke hearts. A giant fillet of roasted barbue (brill) just barely cooked, was served with a spring-fresh salad of mixed herbs.

As we sat savoring our main course, we watched the waiters parade around the room, scooping warm chocolate cake direct from the pan into dessert bowls already adorned with fresh mint and chocolate nibs. No need to consult the dessert menu, we were sold. Pure chocolate heaven, one heady spoonful at a time.

My only serious disappointment was the madeleines offered with coffee, cleverly served directly out of their metal baking tins. But alas, they were undercooked with a distinct acidic tinge of baking soda.

The wine list was equal to the impressive menu however. Don’t miss one of my favorite whites, Domaine Ostertag’s pinot blanc from Alsace and the always dependable red Côtes–du-Rhône from Michel Richard. Prices are totally reasonable considering the all-around quality with 28€ and 36€ lunch menus (2 or 3 courses respectively), or 50-60€ à la carte.

PAPILLON   |   8 rue Meissonier   |   Paris 17   |   +33 1 56 79 81 88   |   Métro: Wagram   |   Open Monday to Friday. Closed Saturday and Sunday   |   www.papillonparis.fr    |   amis@papillonparis.fr   |   Lunch: 28€ and 36€ menus   |   50-60€ à la carte   |   Reservations recommended.


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Wide-eyed Wonder at Restaurant David Toutain

Pigeon and Asparagus at Restaurant David Toutain

One of my wine-loving friends says of a new wine discovery, “I’d like to have a bottle of this once a month for the rest of my life.” I could apply the same sentiment to dining at David Toutain’s outstanding Paris restaurant in the 7th arrondissement. Toutain stunned us several years ago as head chef at Agapé Substance before opening his own modern dining room in 2014.

Not many chefs today can offer total satisfaction in a single bite, but Toutain achieves it right off the bat with a brilliant red bundle of beef carpaccio, silken, glistening, set on a bed of pristine ground hazelnuts and topped with sharply flavored oxalis leaves.

The wide-eyed wonder continues throughout the meal as Toutain distinguishes himself as a chef who follows no one but himself, always experimenting, searching for the surprise and joy that a single bite can deliver.

Toutain has worked with the best – Pierre Gagnaire, Alain Passard, Bernard Pacaud – and has certainly been an exemplary student. But what I love most about his approach and his daring is the way he translates nature’s treasures to the plate. We marvel at some of his combinations – kiwi and oysters or salsify and white chocolate – and applaud when something as down to earth as a tender, juicy pigeon breast is paired with perfectly cooked first-of-season asparagus (photo). And who could resist a pair of brilliant green parsley tortellini floating in a sublime pork consommé?

His multicourse menu is restrained and you don’t leave this understated restaurant feeling as though you never want to eat again. Portions are small but not skimpy. The food is picture-perfect and always eye-opening, but not precious. Some dishes are more exciting than others: I could have lived without the abrasive smoked eel with black sesame. And I find that some of the chunky contemporary pottery – especially jet black plates and bowls – do little to flatter the visual appeal of the food.

Toutain’s attentive staff are not at all aggressive and I am always happy to put myself in the hands of sommelier Guillaume Lescoliere. We have similar tastes and I applaud many of his selections, including the vibrantly refreshing 2014 Vouvray Sec from Domaine du Clos Naudin, the lively Saint Romain pinot noir by Alain Gras, and the syrah-infused Saint Joseph from Domaine Gripa.

For a restaurant of this caliber prices are a veritable bargain with a 55€ lunch menu and 80€ and 110€ lunch and dinner menus (130€ and 180€) with wine. 

RESTAURANT DAVID TOUTAIN   |   29 rue Surcouf   |   Paris 7   |   Tel: +33 1 45 50 11 10   |   Métro: Invalides or La Tour Maubourg   |   Open Monday-Friday 12-2.30pm & 8-10pm   |   davidtoutain.com   |     reservations@davidtoutain.com    |   Lunch: 55€ menu (not available during school and public holidays), 80 and 110€ (130 and 180€ with wine) menus at lunch and dinner   |   Reservation: essential

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L'Ambassade d'Auvergne: Still as good as ever

L'Ambassade d'Auvergne is a restaurant that I have been visiting for over 30 years. It was included in the original Food Lover's Guide to Paris  in 1984, and a recent meal there confirmed that it is still as good as ever. I was happy to find a whole host of new dishes on the menu since my last visit – all as homey, comforting and rewarding as I have come to expect from this welcoming family restaurant. Of course the traditional aligot (cheesy, garlicky potato purée typical of the region) is a long-standing staple of their menu, as is their near-on addictive chocolate mousse, both of which, in my opinion, should be considered some of France's greatest gifts to gastronomy. Not a bad way to brighten up a gray Parisian winter's day!

 

L'Ambassade d'Auvergne

Returning to the folkoric, always dependable L’Ambassade d’Auvergne is like going to visit a favorite aunt and uncle. You are welcomed with open arms, enjoying a few sips of meaty Domaine Mont-Olivet Châteauneuf-du-Pape as you examine the totally regional menu based on the fierce tradition of the center of France, the Auvergne. Meat is king here, in the name of a delicious duo d’agneau, a warming winter pair of slow and long-cooked braised lamb shoulder and leg, rich, tender, rewarding. There are of course thick, seared slices of rich and fragrant foie gras,  served with a welcome sprinkling of sea salt and a smear of intense red fruit jam. We sampled just about everything on the menu, including a favored giant pork sausage, served with a giant crock of cornichons; an excellent assortment of cured pork products (cochonailles), including a “best ever” serving of perfectly seasoned headcheese (fromage de tête), a moist and tender roast partridge (perdreaux) paired with an avalanche of seasoned, chopped and simmered cabbage; In abudance, forever, is the region’s piece de resistance, the thick and creamy aligot, a potato puree laced with the fresh curds used in making Cantal cheese, and garlic (and minced truffles, in season!), a dish no one can possibly turn away. 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. 

L’AMBASSADE D’AUVERGNE   |   22 rue du Grenier Saint-Lazare   |   Paris 3    |   Tel: +33 1 42 72 31 22   |   Métro: Rambuteau or Etienne-Marcel   |   Open daily |   20€ lunch menu, à la carte 45€ at lunch and dinner   |   www.ambassade-auvergne.com 

 

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Fulgurances: A bold, brave concept

A fulgurance is like a lightening bolt – a moment that is intense in emotion, unique, exceptional, mystical, and cannot be reproduced. These are the words of the Parisian restaurateur Rebecca Asthalter, who, along with partners Hugo Hivernat and Sophie Coribert opened Fulgurances l’Adresse on October 14th of this year. The concept is a new one: The restaurant will change chefs every six months, working with sous-chefs from well-known restaurants who are eager to go it on their own.

Their first featured chef, Chloé Charles, worked most recently as a sous-chef at the nearby Septime, under the tutelage of Bertrand Grébaut, and earlier she passed through the kitchens of l’Astrance with Pascal Barbot and David Toutain during his days at L’Agapé Substance. The restaurant – a casual, modern, clean little 36-seat spot in the city’s 11th arrondissement – is not far from the scene of the city’s horrors of November 13th. On that Friday evening police came to the restaurant, directing the owners to lock the doors, turn off the lights, and wait. By 1 am the police returned, allowing guests and the owners to vacate. Obviously, a rather challenging beginning to an already brave adventure. Parisians have shown themselves in the wake of these events to be extremely resilient, and restaurant was close to full on the two occasions that we visited the restaurant in the last two weeks.

Locals, as well as diners who had already experienced the trio's pop-up restaurants at various venues around Paris since 2010, have become loyal supporters, and on a recent evening the small, elegantly casual restaurant was overflowing with tables full of 30-somethings sharing Chloé Charles's inventive cuisine. Her food is modern, vibrant and forward flavored, ranging from a sumptuous starter of giant artichokes bathed in a touch of red wine, bone marrow and a hit of Roquefort, to an unusual and soothing salad of smoked eel, paired with a broccoli puree seasoned with a bright touch of mint and orange. 

A main-course of plump, moist farm guinea hen was stuffed with herbs beneath the skin, seasoned with a yogurt sauce that included pepper, pear, and bit of grilled bread, a very modern bistro dish if there ever was one. 

She boldly pairs squid and sweetbreads with a mixture of winter vegetables, meat juices and a bit of lemon, and offers a super-fresh portion of rouget barbet (red mullet), served with generous portions of pleurotte and chanterelle mushrooms as well as crisp chestnut chips. 

One of the best tastes of the evening was her very bright flavored appetizer of mulet rillettes, served with the crusty sourdough bread from baker Olivier Haustraete of Boulangerie Bio near the marché d’Aligre. When baking the bread, the floor of the oven is spread with ground olive pits, which smoke as the bread bakes, giving each loaf a unique, smokey flavor. 

The brief wine list offers some appealing selections, including Domaine Valette’s satiny, mineral-rich Maçon Chaintré. 

Desserts were far less convincing, with a very dry poached pear with touches of quince mousseline, and a rather unimpressive chocolate cream dotted with bits of chocolate sablé. 

The lunchtime menu is more low key, offering two choices for starters and mains, a cheese course and one dessert. The thick textured mushroom soup was adorned with the flavors of autumn: paper thin slices of pair, crumbled tangy Roquefort, onions and chestnuts. The pork braised in white wine was impossibly tender, served with simple garlic potatoes, shitake mushrooms and topped with a handful of arugula and fresh herbs that were a welcome refreshing touch. The 19€ 2-course / 22€ 3-course lunchtime menu is a fantastic bargain, even if the dessert did not inspire.

I’m eager to go back again, to watch the bustle of the open kitchen, see the restaurant progress, and share in the creation of this unique, brave, bold idea. Chloe Charles will be resident chef until May 2016.

 

Fulgurances l'Adresse   |   10 rue Alexandre Dumas   |   Paris   |   +33 9 81 09 33 32   |   Metro: Rue des Boulets   |   Open Wednesday through Saturday   |  19 / 22€ lunch menus, 44€ dinner menu   |  

 

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Giving thanks to olives

The events of Friday November 13th in Paris left us stunned and horrified. It is the city that I have come to call home and not uncommonly for a Friday night, I was out dining with friends at a small bistro on the left bank when the news of the attacks broke. We decided that the most positive action we could take was to continue with our plans to harvest our olive grove in Provence, both to celebrate the longevity, strength, beauty, and bounty associated with the revered olive and to soothe our saddened souls.
 
I had anticipated this day all year, not only because in 2014 there had been no harvest due to an infestation of the olive fly that had affected olives groves almost worldwide, but also because I had never seen our 30 or so olive trees thrive as they did this year.

Somehow, I have always been in the U.S. during harvest time – usually taking place between November and January – but this year I was determined to pick those olives myself! So on Sunday morning together with three of my French neighbors Colette, Jeannette, and Jean-Claude, I initiated the harvest. We decided to pick each olive by hand rather than, as is common practice in the region, raking them from the branches and letting them fall onto nets set beneath the tree. We began plucking them one by one from low-hanging branches, then later trapping upper branches with an antique wooden olive rake, pulling the supple branches down to within reach of our eager grasp, all the while collecting our bounty in wicker baskets hung in the trees from metal hooks.

I used to think that all olives were perfectly calibrated like the ones in the pots in an olive bar or in jars on market shelves. I could not have been more wrong! Olives are fruit, and at least on our trees, they can range from little green specimens the size of a pea, to plump, moist, black ones the size of a walnut.

Skies were clear and pristine blue, temperatures were in the 70s – not rare for mid-November in Provence – and local birds sang to us as we labored. The trauma of Paris slipped out of our minds as we chatted about the bounty of the harvest, how fortunate we were to be here at this moment, and how much oil we might see as the result of our efforts. It turns out that it takes about 9 lbs / 4 kg (enough to fill a very, very large champagne bucket!) of olives to press a quart or litre of oil. Except for one exceptional tree that yielded a record (for us) 132 pounds/60 kg of olives, most of the trees gave about 6 1/2 pounds / 3 kgs.  We figured that between the four of us we put in some 70 hours for a total of521 lb / 237 kg, giving us 60 quarts or liters of oil.


I set aside the plumpest and most beautiful olives from a single tree that grows near our dining area on the sunset terrace and immersed them in an inky black salt brine I have used for decades, to cure them for eating out of hand at aperitif time or for making our favorite tapenade. The rest were destined for the oil press. I had to return to Paris before the last olive was harvested, so my neighbor delivered our harvest to the local mill in nearby Puyméras. The mill workers immediately noticed they had been picked my hand, announcing loudly that these perfect specimens had clearly been picked “à l’ancienne!”. In fact, our olives were so beautiful that a local television crew there to film the seasonal event chose to focus on our very crop!
 
Olive harvesting, at least by hand, is slow going and hard work (our shoulder and arms muscles sure were sore the next day!) but it’s rewarding, restorative and certainly this year, for me, a sort of welcome, zen undertaking at a time when France has been shaken to it's core.

So I give thanks for the olives and all they bring. I can’t wait to open the first bottle, drizzle the oil onto some homemade sourdough toast, inhale, bite down, and appreciate the goodness in simple things.

Wishing you all a happy, safe and delicious Thanksgiving.

Freddy's: A name you're not likely to forget

Not content with their already sizeable portion of the Rue de Seine restaurant real estate – Cosi, Fish, Semilla and their wine shop La Dernière Goutte around the corner – American Juan Sanchez and New Zealander Drew Harré have now added a quick-stop wine bar, Freddy’s, to their lineup. The wine bar is named for Drew’s wine-loving grandfather, who called everyone whose name he could not remember, Freddy. Grandpa’s photo, in his last years at a bar with a glass of wine, graces the menu.

The small plates menu and excellent wine list makes this an ideal place to pop in alone, in search of a glass of wine and a quick snack, lunch, or dinner or with a quartet of friends who plan to let loose with good conversation and pleasant sips.

I’ve lunched here several times since they opened late in the summer of 2015, and there is no question that, once again, Juan and Drew know what they are doing. But never taking themselves too seriously, the staff in the wine bar wear t-shirts that read “Work in Progress” and in their typical style, these boys are always fine-tuning day by day, along with talented, modern, inventive Semilla chef Eric Trochon.  Start, with platters of Corsican ham and chorizo, sliced paper thin, with sips of whatever wine appeals. I like to go for the 100% Marsanne Cairrane, from the Domaine l‘Oratoire St Martin Reserve des Seigneur, or the always table-pleasing Burgundy Chardonnay Viré Clessé from Comte Lafon.

When it’s on the menu, try the meaty, hearty, coeur de canard, duck hearts that appear so seldom on menus. One of my favorite versions was sampled at the restaurant Bones, then run by chef James Henry. Henry and his duck hearts have since moved on, so I am happy to find a pleasing replacement here where these morsels are moist, tender, a revelation. Freddy’s falafel  – crispy chickpea balls – are light, spicy and well-seasoned, and could serve as a meal all on their own. These are small plates, with prices ranging from 6 to 9€, so you can order and re-order as hunger dictates. There are no tables, just stools, in a warm setting of exposed stone walls and wooden floors. Remember, no phone, no reservations, but open noon to midnight daily!

 

FREDDY’S   |   54 rue de Seine   |   Paris 6   |   No telephone, no reservations   |   Métro: Saint-Germain des Prés or Mabillon   |   Open daily noon to midnight   |   Small plates from 6 to 9 €

 

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La Bourse et La Vie: Daniel Rose gets it right again

American Daniel Rose, of Spring fame, has opened a nostalgic, classic French bistro in a landmark-worthy café near the Paris Bourse, with such traditional fare as pot-au-feu, calf’s head in ravigote, mackerel in white wine, and, of course, steak-frites. He is clearly moving against the current grain of bistronomy sites run by non-French chefs. And bravo!

He has a good head on his shoulders and a will to please, as well as a talent for knowing what people want to eat today. And he’s realistic. I so totally agree with a recent quote from him: “Food is 20% about cooking, 50% about buying, and the rest is cleaning up and organizing.”

I am a pushover for oysters of any kind, and his rendition of warm oysters broiled with a touch of spinach and a healthy dose of thick Normandy crème fraîche totally made my day. The serving was of three oysters, I could have easily had six!

The first-course salad of beets and smoked eel, bathed in a horseradish-rich cream made me feel very energetic, but I found the eel rather tough and out of place in this creation.

The pot-au-feu was totally satisfying, more of a modern and light version, blasted with fresh herbs and lime, offering a voluminous amount of fresh vegetables, including thick rounds of leeks and plenty of cabbage. Less convincing was his rendition of steak-frites, perfectly cooked but the beef was rather tasteless and without character. The frites however were crisp, delicious, welcome.

Desserts included a perfectly moist and successful autumn fig tart and a thyme sorbet that was, unfortunately, far too aggressively infused to be appealing.

Service is direct, friendly and quick. Giant rounds of gougère welcome you at the table, and the wine list offers many treasures, including my favorite Grenache-rich Domaine Saint Prèfert Châteauneuf-du-Pape from talented winemaker Isabelle Ferrando; Léon Barral’s always reliable red Faugères; and Lucien Crochet’s white Sancerre.

Although the décor and the space are classic bistro, with a long, narrow dining room and space so elbow-to-elbow you almost injure your neighbor, I would have preferred a lighter look than the olive-grey tones of the dining room. But I’ll be back, maybe even for breakfast, when they are open Monday through Friday from 9am.

La Bourse et La Vie   |   12 rue Vivienne   |   Paris 2   |   Tel: +33 1 42 60 08 83   |   Métro: Bourse, Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre or Quatre Septembre   |   Open Monday through Friday 9am-2pm & 7-10pm. Closed Saturday and Sunday   |   36-50€ at lunch and dinner   |   www.labourselavie.com

 

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