Friday, April 11, 2014

To Steven Shaw, An On-Line Food Pioneer

Much has been written about the passing, at the all-too-young age of 44, of Steven Shaw.

On eGullet, there's a multi-page thread devoted to the subject, and here's his obituary in the Times.  Practically everyone who has a blog has written their thoughts as well.

Here are mine:

I met Steven Shaw, at first online, and then in person a year or two later, when our families dined together at a fine Korean restaurant in NYC's Greenwich Village. We were never close friends, more so online acquaintances, but it never ceased to amaze me how much Steven enjoyed a good argument about food.

Co-founder, along with tech guru Jason Perlow, of the web forum eGullet.org, Steven's curiosity, work ethic and tireless devotion to all things delicious, were key factors in the development of the then nascent on-line world of food journalism. He practically saw this future, and was not afraid to dive head-first into a then seminal world.  

I've been a member of eGullet since 2002, including a 5+year stint as a volunteer host, and during that time I've made many friends, shared countless meals, hoisted numerous cocktails, cooked with people from near and far, and even started this, my own, self-indulgent blog.  Without Steven, would this have been possible?  Perhaps, but he sure made it easier for us all, by following his heart (and stomach) wherever it led him.

Here's to you Steven - may you be soigné-ed for all time.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Strozzapreti with Asparagus & Crispy Prosciutto - Know What I Mean?

Strozzapreti has interesting meanings; according to the wik, it means either priest stranglers or priest chokers, depending on who you ask (this is Italian, after all).  But it only has one meaning for me - and that's delicious.

So when I came home with a bunch of asparagus and some prosciutto, I decided to make a pasta for Significant Eater and me. I always try to match the pasta with the condimento (yeah, the sauce) I'm making and since asparagus was the main ingredient, I went looking for some penne in my cupboard, but staring back at me was a bag of strozzapreti, so that became the choice - and a great one, since this was an organic pasta from Emilia-Romagna.

I cut the asparagus into the same lengths as the strozzapreti, leaving behind the woody ends.  Then I blanched the asparagus in the pasta cooking water, while starting the sauce...it's easy to overcook asparagus, and the asparagus is going to get some more heat in the saucepan, so 2 to 3 minutes is plenty; don't forget to shock that asparagus after blanching - that way it keeps most of its nice, green color.

At the same time, I crisped up some of the prosciutto I had cut up in a tablespoon or two of good olive oil; after crisping, remove the ham, leaving the oil, and set it aside. Start the pasta, then slowly saute the garlic and hot pepper in the oil left in the pan, add the diced tomato, and when that all starts bubbling add the wine or vermouth and reduce till there's very little liquid left in the saucepan.  At this point, you can throw the asparagus back into the pan to bring it up to temp...
When the pasta is almost done, remove it directly to your saucepan with a strainer or slotted spoon - I use a Chinese strainer, aka spider, which scoops up large amounts of stuff and drains perfectly.  If you are going to pour the contents into a colander, make sure to save a cup or so of the pasta water - you need it!

Now toss the pasta with the sauce, turn the heat off, and start adding the Parmigiano and a little pasta water and keep tossing and tasting. Hot enough? Peppery enough? Salty enough? Cheesy enough? You know the drill...keep adding cheese, pasta water, and seasoning until it's to your liking...that's why you remove the pasta before it's fully cooked - it will keep cooking as you finish saucing it. Finally, right before plating, add the crispy prosciutto and give a final toss. A little more cheese and maybe some black pepper on top before serving, and you're set. Enjoy...and leave your priest alone...

Strozzapreti With Asparagus, Prosciutto, Tomato and Parmigiano-Reggiano

1/2 pound Strozzapreti (or penne, or whatever - just don't use a stupid shape)
1 bunch asparagus - about a pound
4 ounces prosciutto, cut up like the picture
1 Roma tomato, peeled, seeded and diced
2 ounces Parmigiano-Regiano, grated (yes, good Pecorino may sub)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. hot pepper flakes
1/2 cup white wine or dry vermouth
2 T good olive oil
Salt & Pepper

Method above.  Serves 4 as a primo, 2 as a secondo.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Le BAT and Bones - Two Winners, One Day

Who’d ever expect to find a damn good restaurant on a stretch of Parisian boulevard that looks like it could be located in the heart of tourist central Manhattan?  Stuck in between a Chipotle, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and yes, Subway, sits Le BAT, a relative newcomer to the restaurant scene in the City of Lights, though the major domos running the place bring along good pedigrees.  Entering, we’re struck by the size of the room, all tall ceilings and hard surfaces, with a large U-shaped bar where you can watch the cooks ply their craft. Meeting friends for lunch, however, we were seated at a nice, roomy table instead.

Le BAT’s lunch menu is simple; 2 courses are €22, 3 courses are €25, and the plats du jour run €16 each.  As in most Parisian restaurants, the 2-course dejeuner is your choice of entrée + plat or plat + dessert (or cheese). Significant Eater’s 2-course deal started with a beautiful entrée of marinated sardines. Gorgeous specimens these…
While I opted for the crab ravioli in a crabby, fennel-ly, saffron-ny bisque…
Quite delicious, these.  Moving on, Sig Eater’s plat was a quinoa (yeah, I know) salad topped with perfectly cooked shrimp, served with a side of some of the best tempura veggies (that includes you, Japanese restaurants in NYC) we’ve had recently...
My plat, since I’ve never met a hunk of pork I didn’t like, was great.  Check out the cooking on this piece of piggy, and the veggies that accompanied were sweet and luscious too…
A winner of a lunch, and of course getting to spend a bit of time with expat friends made it even better.

As if lunch wasn’t enough, dinner may have been even better. Bones is a year-old or so restaurant in Paris that’s getting a lot of love. With an Australian chef, it’s all the rage, as are any number of restaurants where the cooking is being done by non-French chefs, some of whom are cooking food that’s plenty French, but with some modern trucs. So it wasn’t that surprising when the second amuse here (the first was merely a thin slice of carrot enclosing a bit of uni mousse) was a single, Juniper smoked oyster that practically jumped off the plate with it’s pungency; but what a way to start a meal…
The real first course was another ocean-y treat: a scallop roe and konbu broth in which were floating little cubes of foie. Quite tasty…
Next course was asperge blanche aux casseron et encre, or white asparagus with cuttlefish and its ink. I think the only place I've had cuttlefish before was in Chinese restaurants - this dish, with the juicy white asparagus, surpassed any of those dishes by a kilometer...
Our main course was roasted loin of pig. Oh yeah, with some delicious accompaniments, including house-made choucroute, and a sauce of apple and scallop, but by this time we might've been in our cups, so to speak, and I have no picture and wasn't taking notes. Dessert, a gateau de carrote, with a fromage blanc sorbet, was a not too sweet ending to a fine meal. And while walking away, I took a shot so we'd be able to remember a quite fine day of dining. I mean, how often do you get two winners in a row?
You can see how slammed it is - there's actually a bar (and a bar menu) and tiny seating area for people who wander in, though many were being turned away.  

Le BAT
16 Boulevard Monmartre, 75009
+33 01 42 46 14 25

Bones
43 Rue Godefroy Cavaignac, 75011
+33 9 80 75 32 08

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Restaurant David Toutain - Fancy Fun Food

Before I forget, Significant Eater and I had lunch at David Toutain's brand-newish restaurant (opened December, 2013) in the 7th this past Monday.  We generally don't dine in this neck of the woods - its pretty hoity-toity, if you know what I mean. But that doesn't mean we don't like heading over to this neck of the woods...after all, you have to in order to see a few of the sights Paris is famous for...
So, after reading much of the breathless praise lavished on Toutain's new venture, I added it to our dining schedule; dining being the only thing I actually schedule. David Toutain is one of (I'm guessing here) Paris' most lauded chefs - his resume includes stints at Mugaritz, L'Arpège and Corton; we're not talking a 3-week stage at Noma, if you know what I mean.

Amazingly, there's a 3-course lunch menu on offer for €42; there are 2 or 3 more expensive menus on offer as well, but at this point in our lives, 3-course lunches, especially if dinner plans have been made, are what we like to do. My food geekery was in full swing as soon as we were seated next to a bookshelf loaded with, well, books like this...
Yep, that's the French version of Modernist Cuisine.  And then the games began, with our first amuse...
You're looking at a pretty cool presentation of a salsify and parsnip cream in the edible tubes, meant to be dipped into the dollop of white chocolate emulsion; strange and strangely delicious. What followed was a more traditional amuse, a bite of beef tartare, with wild strawberries and hazelnut crunch...
Now we started our 3 actual courses, with this asparagus velouté, topped with a perfect 62°C egg...
As her soup course drew to a close, Sig Eater actually asked me if it was ok to lick the bowl.  Me, being the proper sort of person I am, said no - but the quite great bread was used to the same effect. The following mid-course appears to have been on the menu for a while, but we'd never tasted a such a combo - smoked eel served atop a black sesame emulsion. Hidden in the emulsion was a brunoise of green apple, adding a nice, tart, crunchy counterpoint to the richness of the eel and sesame...
Our main course followed, and it was a simple monkfish dish. Well, simple if you mean perfect monkfish served with roasted black carrot, orange carrot purée and orange reduction, amongst the swirls and swishes...
The palate cleanser was something in between a sorbet and ice cream, and since I don't remember what is was called, I'll just point out that it was a cauliflower/coconut thing, and it preceded this mille-feuille.  Our fantastic waiter/manager person (who had recently spent a year in San Francisco working at some of the top restaurants there) explained that the mille-feuille was actually baked in a waffle iron, giving it a different look than a traditional one. The cream is marjoram, the sorbet quenelle is cocoa. The whole was freaking delicious...
Of course, no 3-course meal is complete without mignardises to send you off...
And off we went, quite blown away by our 3-course lunch.  We had a lot of walking to do in order to prepare for dinner...



Restaurant David Toutain
29, rue Surcouf, 75007
+33 01 45 50 11 10

Monday, March 31, 2014

Restaurant Ober-Sale - Nice, Tasty, Local - in Paris, That Is

Isn't it nice to have a restaurant, with sweet service, a reasonable tariff and good food, all within walking distance of your apartment (or house, I guess)?  Also, isn't it nice, when you're a tourist, to go to a restaurant that isn't filled with other tourists all speaking your native tongue?  Now, I'm not gonna go all psycho here and bitch about tourists; after all, that's what we are.  And believe me, I don't believe there's a restaurateur that minds his or her restaurant being filled with tourists spending their moolah there - it's what helps keep them in biz.  Where was I?

Oh yeah, the local joint that you can return to time and again. Well, Significant Eater and I won't necessarily be returning to Restaurant Ober-Sale in our immediate future (unless we move to Paris), but if we were living here it would probably be in our regular rotation.

It's tiny, maybe 24 seats, and from what I could tell there was one guy doing everything out front and one guy cooking - and doing everything else.  In Paris, this is probably a bit easier to do than, say, in NYC, as restaurants like this tend to have one seating a night, with no turn of tables - you make a reservation and the table is yours for the duration - by the way, that's why if you make a reservation anywhere, and you don't show up or cancel it ahead of time, you're a douche and you should just stay home and eat your miserable frozen pizza on your couch because you're probably an asshole of a customer as well. Where was I?

Oh yeah, Ober-Sale.  We were started with a little amuse-bouche of carrot velouté, that was pure carrot essence while not being overly sweet, a nice trick.  Sig Eater's entrée (yeah, in France that's a first course) was a crab bisque; rich, decadent and she barely shared any with me! I had scallops, served atop a bed of fennel ratatouille with chorizo, and the combo worked very nicely...
For our plats, Sig Eater enjoyed her braised beef, fork tender and helped along with just a sprinkle from the tiny bowl of fleur de sel perched on our table. I, because I have to order birds when I'm eating somewhere where the birds actually have some texture and flavor, had the guinea fowl, perfectly cooked, slightly gamey, and as you can see, served with a nice, creamy (this is France, after all) sauce over mushrooms and potatoes...
No meal is complete, in Sig Eater's food mind when she's on vacation, without a bit of cheese...
And these four nice, ripe specimens hit the spot.  Sometimes we'll even have dessert after the cheese course, which is kinda proper. This night, owing to the fact that we needed to crash, and soon, we didn't.  But looking around the room, others sure seemed to be enjoying theirs.  Now, where was I?

Oh yeah - the local.  We're staying in the 11th arrondisement, a block or two from Rue Oberkampf - we like this area a lot, are a bit familiar with it and it fits our schlepping around needs perfectly, as there are probably 6 metro lines within a 10-minute walk.  Rue Oberkampf is an area with some of the city's noisiest, craziest nightlife - a walk up or down it on a Saturday night is basically like walking around on the lower east side of Manhattan at the same time - pure insanity.  But tucked away on the quiet end of the Rue, you can find Restaurant Ober-Sale.  If you're here on vacation, it might be worth giving it a try; if you lived here, it might even become your local; I'd sure be happy if it was in my neighborhood.

Restaurant Ober-Sale
17 rue Oberkamph, 75011
+33 01 43 38 46 68

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Spring's Here Finally...in Paris

Significant Eater and I have celebrated rather big-deal birthdays this year; last month we had dinner at Le Bernardin. And just it time for spring, we've taken a trip - to Paris.  Anyone that lives in the northeast knows what I mean when I say that it's about time for spring.  Our bad-ass winter was starting to get to me. Oh, the weather teased us, to be sure -  one day it was in the 60's, and the winter coat was ready to be put away; the next day - snow. So it was great to land here, drop our suitcases off at the apartment, race outside and see blossoms on the trees and feel the warmth of a 65° F (excuse me - 17 ℃) day.

For lunch, I wanted to try a place I'd read good things about - Hai Kai - located on one of Canal St. Martin's quays. But we got there a little too late, as their lunch menu had been 86ed by about 1:45. So we crossed over the canal and immediately found ourselves inside La Verre Vole, a hodgepodge of a wine-shop and restaurant.  Since it was really breakfast for us, Sig Eater decided on a nice, night green and white asparagus with poached egg and crisped ham dish.  I stayed light too, deciding on a haunch of pork, beautifully cooked with cockles and baby spring onions, served on a bed of grains...
Good start, but we still hadn't had our breakfast coffee, so after lunch we walked over to one of the many coffee shops that have sprouted here over the past year or two, complete with tattooed, bearded and beautiful baristas and cooks, HolyBelly...
The filter coffee was superb (as was the chocolate cake), and we walk out happy and jittery, carrying some beans for our morning brews, which I'm drinking a cup of as I'm writing this...
Our post-coffee walk took us past the fantastic (and fantastically restored) Place de la République...
And past these gentlemen, playing pétanque...
The guy in the red came over and asked me if I was from the Bronx...fuggetaboutit!  We headed back to the apartment to unpack and relax a bit before dinner...

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Le Bernardin - You Say It's Your Birthday (and Anniversary, Too)

Since my last post was about our anniversary and just how lucky I am, I figured this one would be about my birthday, which as luck would have it, falls on the day after our anniversary.  Confused? Yeah, me too, but I figured getting married on the day before my birthday would help me remember our anniversary - at least until I start forgetting when my birthday is.

This is a special year for both Significant Eater and me, as we celebrate milestone birthdays (though she only has a decade to catch up to me, since I will not be recognizing any more birthdays).  So in order to start marking both occasions (this is gonna be a long celebration), we did something we don't normally do - we went out to dinner. Okay, I kid - we go out to dinner way too much, but for this dinner we went somewhere pretty special...Le Bernardin.

It had been a long time since I'd eaten at Le B, and Sig Eater had never.  You know, Le B has its detractors; hard to believe perhaps, but google it up and you'll see it's not universally loved; after all,  what is?  Be that as it may, it's a NY Times 4* and a Michelin 3*, and as screwy as people think the NYT and Michelin might be, the *s still carry some weight in this town...just find me a chef that doesn't aspire to 4 or 3 and, well, maybe that person shouldn't be cooking?  Just sayin'...

Le Bernardin is a grown-up place.  It's not like the places we generally go to, which are geared to the way we eat now, whatever the hell that is. Men are required to wear jackets in the dining room (that was fun) and reservations are necessary. You check your coat before you even get to the host stand. There are maître d'hôtels. There are floor captains.  There are sommeliers. There are as many people keeping you happy as you can imagine - I wish my doctor's office was as functional (and since a visit to the doc is more expensive, why not?). There are big comfortable chairs and your neighbor's elbow isn't poking into you - unless, I guess, you're sitting at the bar...which I can't wait to do.

All that's well and good, but doesn't it really come down to the food? Oh yeah - the food.  I don't know if Chef Ripert was in the house (I kinda doubt it - it was a Monday night and there was some food fest somewhere else), but in a restaurant like this it shouldn't matter...and you know what? It didn't.  The food was pretty fucking great.  I think we got to the second course when Sig Eater looked at me and said: "this may be the best dish I've ever eaten."  After expressing my disbelief that it wasn't something I had cooked for her, I had to agree - she was happily devouring a sautéed langoustine with chanterelle and black Perigord truffle, and a taste was all I was allowed. My second, also from the "Barely Touched" section of the menu - was a king crab medley, served in a seaweed and shitake broth, sided with a Matsutake custard. Yes, please.

Each of our courses was accompanied by a different glass of wine that I had asked our sommelier (he's famous too...Aldo Sohm) to choose.  In a bit of a coincidence, I'd been at Cafe Katja a few nights before and mentioned to one of the owners that we were going to Le B for a birthday dinner. Turns out they're old friends, both being from Austria - and Aldo made me promise to tell Erwin that he missed Katja and would try to get there again soon. Aldo's wine choices were great - for example, I didn't know they were making Grüners in Santa Barbara, and the 2012 from Tatomer went so nicely with my crab.  The Austrian Blaufränkisch (a 2008 from Muhr-van der Niepoort) that he chose to go along with my lobster main course was a winner too. At first I was wondering about a red with the lobster, but of course it matched perfectly with the Sauce Américaine and it was hard to tell what was better - that sauce or the perfectly cooked lobster.

And that's the thing about Le Bernardin.  If you're a cook, you may think you can get seafood as pristine as this (here's a hint - the greenmarket's your best bet) but go ahead and try.  And sure, some of the preps are simple; let's face it, some of them are even plated raw - but go ahead and try.  And then there are the sauces and that's where the real problems might start, chef.  This is technically perfect cooking, with exquisite taste to match. I mean, I have some friends who are great cooks, and at this point I know my way around a kitchen pretty well - but if I said I was going to throw a dinner party "Le Bernardin style" - someone needs to tell me to go ahead and try.  I might come close on a dish or two, but...

There's a relative of mine who asks me, after I've eaten at a place, if I'd send my friends there, or if I'd go back.  As a matter of fact, I'd asked her to help me with the reservation at Le B, since I waited about 2 minutes too long before trying to make it myself, and I'd been shut out.  She's a friend of the house, and when I explained that it was our anniversary (I like to leave the birthday stuff out), we had a table booked no problem.  So - would I send you there? Yes. And would I go back? In a heartbeat - I'd eat food like this once a week, if the bank allowed me.  As it is, I can't wait to go back and sit in the lounge, and try some of the food offered there. Because this was, quite simply, one of the best meals I've had in NYC in a really long time.

And the house, knowing it was our anniversary, was kind enough to send this out as a "pre-dessert." Then they boxed it up and had us take it home so we could have it for breakfast the next day - pretty cool...
Comp Disclosure: In addition to two glasses of bubbly, which were a gift from the chef when we sat down (I think everyone gets this), we were served an extra course in between our seconds and mains.  Both the largest scallop I have ever seen, and a really playful charred octopus dish...