Le Petit Lutetia gets a culinary facelift

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

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

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

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

Taste of the week: Discovering French cheese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

A return to Porte 12

Mackerel 'snacké' with cucmber sorbet

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

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

Whole white truffles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Black truffle spaghetti

 © Jeff Kauck

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

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

3 tablespoons coarse sea salt

1 pound (500 g) Italian spaghetti

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

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

Truffle Salt (recipe follows)

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


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

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

4 servings

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


Truffle butter

Equipment: A small jar with a lid.

1 tablespoon (6 g) minced fresh black truffle peelings

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

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

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

Makes 4 tablespoons (2 ounces; 60 g)


Truffle salt

Equipment: A small jar with a lid.

1 tablespoon (6 g) minced fresh black truffle peelings

1 tablespoon fleur de sel or fine sea salt

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

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

Makes 2 tablespoons

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


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

Le Severo

 © Gianluca Tamorri 2013

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

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

Photo by Jeffrey Bergman

Photo by Jeffrey Bergman

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

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

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

© Gianluca Tamorri 2013

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

Taste of the week: Lemon zest salt

 © Jeff Kauck

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

Lemon Zest Salt

Makes 2 tablespoons

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

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

1 tablespoon fine sea salt


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

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


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

 

 

 

Noma: Surrender your expectations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smoked and pickled quail eggs

Smoked and pickled quail eggs

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

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

Flatbread and rose petals

Squid and broccoli

Bone marrow and nasturium flowers

Pumpkin kelp and beech nuts

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

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

Beef tartare, celery oil and black ants

Beef tartare, celery oil and black ants

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

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

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


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

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

Taste of the week: Chickpea and sesame dip

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

Equipment: A food processor or a blender.

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

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

Makes 2 cups

This recipe was first published in The French Kitchen Cookbook.

Welcome to my new web site!

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

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

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

Patricia.jpg
 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

 
4 servings

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

 

Walter's Salt and Pepper Steak

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 servings

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

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

Table d'Akihiro: Subtle, streamlined cuisine

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

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

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

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

Porte 12: Sophisticated, signature fare

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rendezvous at Café Varenne

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

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

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

Coretta, a new bistro that's worth the detour

Coretta clementine dessert
Coretta clementine dessert

 

Coretta, the three-week old modern bistro that’s a collaboration of three favorite Parisian restaurateurs, is a win! Chef Jean-François Pataleon of L'Affable in the 7th, and Beatriz Gonzalez and her husband, Matthieu Marcant, of Neva Cuisine in the 8th , have teamed up to create a super contemporary, approachable, just-good-food bistro that’s totally right for the times. The airy, two-story, expertly designed restaurant on the Rue Cardinet in the 17th overlooks the recently created Martin Luther King Park, and is aptly named after King’s wife, Coretta. I love the wood and marble design, the simplicity, the modern menu with food that’s just familiar enough and surprising enough to make us all happy. Do try the anguille fumé or smoked eel, teamed up with thin slices of raw veal, and a satisfying, creamy horseradish bouillon.  Silken mackerel is paired with miso, apples and ginger in a light, refreshing first course. I admired the elegant, aesthetic presentation of the lightly salted cod (cooked to perfection, breaking into giant alabaster flakes) flanked by a kaleidoscope of lightly pickled vegetables: turnips, beets, and radishes. The ris de veau --- veal sweetbreads – is already a bistro favorite here, served with panais (parsnips) cooked three ways: chips, mashed, braised. It was lunchtime, and I was not really in the mood for dessert , but soon I was glad that I changed my mind. Here, a simplified version of Beatriz’s chocolate sphere from Neva Cuisine is turned into a single chocolate disc, perched on a spicy pineapple concoction, melting into a puddle as warm chocolate sauce is poured over all. The prettiest dish of the day (photo) was the clementine sorbet joined by slices of fresh clementine, bites of crispy meringue, and a lemony yuzu (a pungent Japanese citrus), mascarpone-like cream. A few sips of Yves Cuilleron’s well-priced (7€ a glass) pure Roussanne vin de France rounded out the meal with perfection. Baker Jean-Luc Poujauran’s crusty bread is served from a warming wooden box, accompanied by a fat pat of soft butter. Downstairs , there’s a brief but appealing tapas menu.

151 bis, rue Cardinet, Paris 17. Tel: +33 1 42 26 55 55. Métro Brochant. 24€ lunch menu, 33€ and 39€ evening menus, à la carte 45 to 70€. Open Monday- Saturday. Closed  Saturday lunch and all day Sunday.

Writing about French Food: A panel discussion at the American Library

American Library panel
American Library panel

This Wednesday I am going to be joining Ann Mah in a panel discussion at The American Library of Paris on writing about French Food. We will be talking about our respective books The French Kitchen Cookbook: Recipes and Lessons from Paris and Provence and Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons on Food and Love from a Year in Paris. There'll be wine, snacks and the opportunity to buy the books thanks to WH Smith.

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday February 5, 2014, 7:30pm

The American Library of Paris

10, rue du Général Camou

75007 Paris

Tel: +33 1 53 59 12 60

New! The Book! The All New Food Lover's Guide to Paris

foodloverscover
foodloverscover

The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris was the first book I ever published back in 1984, and on the year of its 30th anniversary, I am elated to announce the release of its 5th edition – completely revisited, rewritten, and newly photographed for 2014. This has truly been a labor of love – visiting, exploring, scouring Paris in search of the city’s best gastronomic offerings. While some of the favorites have stood the test of time, much has changed in Paris over 30 years. Chefs have come and gone, others who were just starting out in 1984 have matured to excellence and have become beacons for some of the best dining in the world, and mentors for a whole new generation of talent. Paris now is a much more casual place of course, so this edition includes a whole new chapter on cafés and casual eateries. I have also included my favorite markets, bakeries, pastry shops, chocolates shops, cheese merchants, specialty food shops, shops for kitchen and tableware essentials, and of course wine shops. And as always, there is the ever-useful (and updated) French to English glossary of food terms, and a ready reference section to help you navigate the myriad of dining options in the city. And so that you can enjoy a touch of Paris in your own kitchen, I have included 40 recipes.

This new edition is the perfect companion to The New Food Lover's Guide to Paris app for the iPhone and iPad.

The book (and e-book!) will be released on March 11 in the United States and on April 1 in Europe, and is available for preorder on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and from Indiebound once released.

In good hands with David Toutain

David Toutain Gnocchi
David Toutain Gnocchi

David Toutain is a cerebral chef. Nothing is accidental and when you enter his brand new 7th arrondissement restaurant you are subject to his rules and his way of thinking. Yet you never feel as though your arm is being twisted. This is not a restaurant for a casual meal, but rather one that is meticulously planned and thought out, and begs for, yes deserves,  your attention. And it’s well worth your time.

Toutain, a farm boy from Normandy, appeared on the Paris scene like lightening a few years back at the wildly experimental Agapé Substance, and then disappeared almost overnight. I am so glad he is back.

The setting of the new restaurant on Rue Surcouf, seems at first somewhat of a contradiction. The sparse, cool space -- flooded with light from the floor-to-ceiling glass wall at the front of the restaurant -- feels relaxed, with its light wood and leather furnishings and minimalist décor. Yet the suited and formal service suggests a more serious approach to the dining experience. Immediately, this feels like a restaurant like none other.

As plate after plate arrives from the 68€ carte blanche menu, we are presented with flavors that explode in our mouth but do not overwhelm, as Toutain draws out the essential flavors of each and every ingredient. On the plate, he presents other-worldly creations, but in the mouth, flavors are familiar, calming, and even unusual combinations seem natural and obvious in his care.

Toutain’s ability to see new and interesting potential in ingredients makes him extremely unique – a bouillon of potato skins that smelled like someone walked past you with a dish of freshly baked potatoes, or Jerusalem artichokes transformed with a little sugar into an apple-like dessert. And who on earth would think of combining kiwi fruit with a raw oyster? And who would believe that, on the palate, the pairing would appear perfectly matched, totally sublime.

On one hand, this multi-course excursion can make your brain spin, even give you a headache. The food that comes from the hands of the boyish, mild-mannered Toutain reminds me of many meals I’ve experienced at the table of Pierre Gagnaire: the same cerebral attention, the same wildly experimental flash of genius, the same surprise and pleasure.

There is so much going on – porcelain, glass, cutlery that dazzle and beg for your attention – that a diner might lose sight of what is best about Toutain’s food. Each ingredient is impeccably chosen, each cooked to a perfection that makes me gasp. It’s as though he puts a camera lens on each ingredient and then blows it up, eeking the most honest flavor, texture, pleasure imaginable. He makes any oyster taste like the freshest, most delicious oyster you have ever tasted. He draws a new, welcoming seamless texture from a tiny cube of foie gras, turns what he calls gnocchi into a little pillow that melts in your mouth (photo). The meal is full of “why didn’t I think of that” combinations, like a sprinkling of freshly ground coffee beans at the edge of the plate, for dipping bites of exquisitely roasted pork.

To say that the 68€ menu is a bargain is an understatement. But for my money and time, I could have had a bit less food. And though I am not a huge fan of the no-choice surprise menu, I’ll put myself in Toutain’s hands any day. Service here is friendly and personal, and the wine list offers some real treasures. I loved the sommelier’s two wine recommendations: The Vincent Gaudry aromatic Sancerre was willing to serve as a quiet understudy to Toutain’s food, while Christophe Pichon’s 100% Syrah Saint Joseph was clean, spicy, and forceful. So go, sit back and enjoy, and don’t think too much – David has already done the thinking for you.

RESTAURANT DAVID TOUTAIN, 29 rue Surcouf, Paris 7. Tel: +33 1 45 50 11 10.Métro: Invalides or La Tour Maubourg. Open Monday-Friday. Closed Saturday & Sunday.davidtoutain.com reservations@davidtoutain.com Lunch & dinner: 68 and 98€ menus (118 & 158€ with wine), 158€ seasonal truffle menu (210€ with wine) Reservations: recommended.

Chestnut honey squares that satisfy in one bite

Time after time, the students in my cooking classes in Paris or Provence tell me “I don’t bake.” These same students are often delighted when I assign them a dessert, for they know that they will at least learn to make one wonderful sweet. I think that they also secretly hope that by week’s end, they may actually get over their fear of baking.

When it comes to cooking, my philosophy is to keep it simple and make sure it’s delicious. One foolproof recipe in my repertory is for chestnut honey squares, a confection that satisfies in a single bite. It can be made ahead, does not require exotic equipment, is relatively simple (you pat the crust in the pan) and it’s beautiful, with a glistening glaze. Stored in an airtight container, it stays fresh for days.

The inspiration came from the Paris bakery Moulin de la Vierge. I was sampling a wide selection of sweets, and as I bit into the honey-kissed square, I stopped, almost stunned at how special it was, something you could eat out of hand with a bit of crunch and only a hint of sweetness.

The crust is butter-rich but not too much so, an easy blending of flour, almond meal, unrefined sugar, butter, an egg yolk, vanilla extract and a touch of fine sea salt to brighten the flavors.

A quick pulse in the food processor with a bit of water, and the pastry is ready to pat in the pan and bake. We all think our ovens are sometimes temperamental; I love that this crust will turn out just fine at a range of temperatures.

I find that most home cooks tend to underbake, especially pastry, so I instruct my students to make sure the pastry is golden and crisp, not pale and limp. I don’t even mind if it is really, really dark. As my friend Eli Zabar likes to say, “Burnt is best!” I might not go that far, but it must be fully baked.

The topping comes together in minutes while the pastry bakes. Sweetened with just 2 tablespoons of intensely flavored honey, like chestnut honey, it is a simple blend of butter, sliced almonds, cubed candied orange or lemon peel, and vanilla extract, just melted in a saucepan over low heat. The darker honey is crucial; you can find it online if not in a specialty store.

Once the pastry is golden, spread on the topping, bake until deep golden, remove from the oven and let cool. I cut it into tiny squares (32 is a good number) to produce a bite-size dessert.

I am thinking of creating a variation with the flavorful organic Sicilian pistachios I find at my local co-op, toasting the nuts, grinding some to a powder and chopping the rest for the topping. I’ll make it with the organic lavender honey from our farm in Provence. It will glow, and I’ll pat myself on the back.

This article was originally published by the  New York Times, December 17, 2013 Photo by Jeff Kauck

I share this recipe from my latest book, The French Kitchen Cookbook: Recipes and Lessons from Paris and Provence.

CHESTNUT HONEY SQUARES

For the Pastry:

120 grams (3/4 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour

45 grams (1/2 cup) almond meal (see note)

35 grams (3 tablespoons) sugar, preferably unrefined vanilla sugar (see note)

1/2 teaspoon salt, preferably fine sea salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes

1 large egg yolk

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the Topping:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

80 grams (1 cup) sliced almonds

30 grams (1/3 cup) candied orange or lemon peel, cut into tiny cubes

65 grams (1/3 cup) sugar, preferably vanilla sugar

2 tablespoons chestnut honey or other intensely flavored honey

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a 9 1/2-inch-square baking pan with parchment, letting it hang over the sides for easier removal later.
  2. Prepare the pastry: In a food processor, combine flour, almond meal, sugar and salt. Pulse to blend. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add egg yolk, vanilla and 1 tablespoon of water. Pulse to incorporate. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of water through the feed tube, tablespoon by tablespoon, pulsing until just before the pastry forms a ball. You may not need all the water.
  3. Turn the dough out into the prepared baking pan. Press the dough evenly into the bottom of the pan. Place in the oven on the center rack and bake until the pastry begins to brown around the edges, 12 to 15 minutes.
  4. While the pastry is baking, prepare the topping: In a saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the almonds, candied peel, sugar, honey and vanilla extract. Heat just until the ingredients are incorporated.
  5. Remove the pan and spread the almond-honey mixture evenly over the pastry. Return the pan to the oven and bake until the topping is a deep gold, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove and transfer to a rack to cool in the pan. Once it has cooled, remove from the pan and cut into 32 squares. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Makes 32 squares

NOTE: Whole, unblanched almonds can be finely ground in a food processor to make almond meal. To make vanilla sugar, cut 1 or several vanilla beans in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds and reserve for another use. Dry vanilla bean halves at room temperature and place in a large jar of sugar. Store for several weeks to scent and flavor the sugar.