Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Some Paris Observations - Nombre Une

Okay, it's time. We've been back from our excellent European vacation for a few days now - the jet-lag has almost worn off, and before my memory totally deserts me, I gotta get a few things down. And here, in nombre une, I want to compare our experiences at two restaurants, both of which receive their fair share of hype.

First up, Le Chateaubriand. Now, Le C gets written up all over the place...goog it and see what I mean. On a trip to Paris a few years ago, we ate at chef Iñaki Aizpitarte's La Famille restaurant, and were duly impressed. Me with the food, and Significant Eater with the guys serving it. Chef moved on to open Le C in '06, in an old grocery store in the 11th, and the raves came even faster than before. I mean, THE RAVES. The restaurant is rated #11 in S. Pellegrino's World's 50 Best Restaurants thingie. Number 11? 50 Best? Hmmmm.

Le C has a 5 course tasting menu (at dinner) that everyone gets. That's all they serve, it's 50 euros, and that's that. Our meal started off with gougères and moved quickly into 4 amuse-bouche, this night consisting of a single frog's leg, ceviche liquid served with a cube of avocado in it, salmon eggs with tapioca pearls and beef bouillion served in the style of miso soup. Now, these were okay, but special? Not really. From there, we moved on to what was probably my favorite dish of the night, the salad of scallops with lots of thin slices of vegetables, dressed beautifully and looking like a painting one might see...perhaps a Soutine at the Musee de l'Orangerie.

The powder is tamarind powder, and its slightly sweet and sour flavor made this salad literally sing. Next up was a fish course...bar (Mediterranean sea bass), iirc, served with briny clams and broccoli raab....

Here's where things started to go a little haywire, as the dish took a long time to come out of the kitchen, and when it finally arrived, it was lukewarm and any evidence of crispy skin on that fillet was long gone.

Following that - a chicken course; this one a yellow chicken (they have all sorts of colors of chicken in France), cooked beautifully but again very slow to arrive from the kitchen...

Desserts were to follow, and after about 15 minutes I gently inquired if they were perhaps on the way...I don't think I got a really nice look, and then both desserts showed up at the same time, even though I saw them being served successively at other tables.

So...a top 50 restaurant? Sorry, but not in my book. However, the (sullen) boys are as cute as ever...even S. Pellegrino thinks so..."not to mention one of the best-looking brigades in the business." Enough of a reason to return. For you maybe, but not me.

The next night was Thanksgiving and our last night in Paris. I had reserved a week or so before at the rue Saint-Honoré outpost of the legendary La Régalade, the restaurant in the far out 14th that allegedly begat the whole bistronomic movement. Significant Eater and I ate at that one on our first (or maybe second) trip to Paris a dozen or so years ago, when it was in its heyday. Then a hard table to book, impossibly crowded and utterly delicious. So now, what?

Well, there's much hand wringing on various web sites slash forums populated by all sorts of food loving know-it-alls (including moi, btw). It has tumbled terrifically, they say. For instance, the terrine, which is a help-yourself beauty if ever there was one, is placed on every table at the start of the meal, along with a crock of cornichons and some wonderful bread - but, without plates! Sacré bleu - what's a diner to do? I dunno - but Sig Eater and I made a dent in it, plates be damned - and it went just fine with our coupes of Brut. Or they write that the service has slipped terribly - perhaps the house is looking for ways to save money, mon ami(e)? Friggin' nonsense. We were greeted warmly by the staff, asked if we would prefer to converse in English or French, and taken care of with grace and humor for the rest of the evening. And here's a catch - if you think the "brigade" is cute at Le Chateaubriand, the ladies serving at La Regalade put them to shame.

So, how was the meal? Here's how it started...

3 courses for 33 euros, with a blackboard of specials off to the side; the specials do add a supplement to the price, but at 33 euros, really - who's complaining? SE started with scallops, served in their shells, and with scallops served in practically every darn restaurant in Paris, these weren't particularly stand-out-ish, but were fine nonetheless. As an aside, I think the fresh scallops I get at the Union Square Greenmarket in NYC are better than any that I've had in Paris, but...that's just me.

My entree was soupe de potimarron, a pumpkin-like squash which also appears on many menus around town this time of year. This one was spectacular, loaded with crispy lardon and topped with a pair of roasted shrimp. I shared, but didn't really want to...

For our plats, SE chose the braised beef cheek, a rich, hulking tender mass of boeuf if ever there was one...

Since it was Thanksgiving, I wanted something that had wings. So, from the supplemental menu I ordered red partridge, partridge being a bird which I think I may have had once in my life when it was cooked (and delicious) over a fireplace by my friend Judith, of Aroma Cucina fame.

Though the picture doesn't do it justice, the bird was cooked perfectly; the breast tender and juicy and the little legs crispy and just this side of gamey. A revelation for the second time, and Chinatown markets, here I come...

Dessert for me was the Grand Marnier soufflé chaud, while Sig opted (as she often does) for the cheese instead. The cheese was merely wonderful; my soufflé was merely (as I posted on one of those know-it-all food boards) textbook...

There you have it; though my comparison of these two restaurants will be merely a blip in cyberspace, the arguments and battles and postings and hand-wringing will wager on. For me, La Régalade Saint-Honoré was the better of the two. It's not on the world's 50 best, but it makes my top 10 meals of the year.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Breakfast Before Barcelona

Tomorrow, breakfast in Barcelona at the Mercat de la Boqueria. Today, Significant Eater and I head off to our much anticipated Spanish/French vacation, where we'll be spending time in both Barcelona and Paris, eating and drinking too much, and taking in some culture as well.

Emotionally, this has been a trying week and the time away will do us good. A loss of an old friend, who had struggled mightily, made for much sadness and when I feel a little distance from it, I hope to write more.

Today, in preparation for our trip, I made us a final breakfast. Before we go away, I try to use up everything perishable in the fridge and the apartment because it sucks to come home to moldy things in the kitchen. There isn't much left, but I did go to the farmer's market earlier in the week and picked up some eggs (they'll last) along with some tiny potatoes - which I made tinier by cutting up. There was also some leftover roast piggie, from a favorite joint on Christie Street. That got diced up too and the whole lot was seasoned with pimenton and sautéed in some olive oil till the potatoes and pork were nice and crispy.

Then, I did a couple of beautiful farm fresh eggs, in a pat of butter and sunny side up.

A couple of slices of 7 grain toast, the egg gets plated atop the crispy potato/pig "hash," and Sig Eater is a happy gal....especially with her two cups of joe.

We'll be missing our view for a bit, and always look forward to coming back to it...but it looks like a nice day for flying.

Hopefully, some blog posts will be forthcoming from overseas. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Coma bé i adéu....Catalan for eat well and goodbye.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Worst Thing I've Eaten All Day

I try, really I do. To eat properly, that is. For instance, my breakfast today was "real" oatmeal, a banana, blueberries, raisins, maple syrup (farmer's market stuff and about $14 a pint) and plain low fat yogurt - the good stuff, FAGE. Along with 2 cups of freshly brewed coffee - this week, it's Stumptown.

Then, for lunch, Italian jarred tuna (ventresca) on a bed of greens with a few carrots, some celery sticks, green beans, etc. Lemon juice squeezed atop. A little leftover leek & wild mushroom soup to accompany and a few slices of fresh (well, taken out of the freezer) baguette from Eataly.

Why, then, do I find the need to run back to the freezer and have a Low-Fat Fudgsicle? I know, I know, why is it even in my freezer? That's a good question. What was I thinking when I was at the grocery store? And trust me on this one, I'm gonna hear it from Significant Eater...because she didn't get to have one. Or, as she likes to say, "I want one too..."

Anyway, containing ingredients such as tricalcium phosphate, mono & diglycerides, polysorbate 80 and polysorbate 65 (because it's not enough to contain just the polysorbate 80, it's gotta have the 65 too!), it is easily the worst thing I've eaten, and plan to eat, all day.

Well, at least they're low calorie - so I had two.

And you?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I Vote...for The Gibson and the Old Pal

We finally got to try out The Gibson last night, and we weren't disappointed. I'd been wanting to go since we first started our excellent DC adventure, but you know, sometimes things just don't work out the way you plan. However, it was worth the wait.

Friendly and knowledgeable bartenders are always a plus, and the new fall menu had just been released. Wanting something a bit bitter (who, me?), I opened with a Rabbit Hole, comprised of Ramazotti, Campari, Creme de Cassis (Clear Creek, iirc), lemon juice and a flamed orange peel for garnish. Eminently likable, especially if you like your drinks a bit less "boozy."

Significant Eater began her evening with a Kentucky Racer (ahhh, those Albuquerque gals), a nice Manhattanish spin made with Old Overholt, Punt e Mes, Kubler Absinthe, Allspice Dram and Peychaud's to finish. Here's a picture, and remember, it's in a bar and it's a brand new camera...

After round one, we moved into heavier booziness, as I drank a well-made Old Pal, and Sig Eater went with a perfect Manhattan. The Old Pal, another Manhattan-style cocktail but much more bitter, is one of my favorite drinks. If I could recall the 5th drink, which we "shared," I'd tell you it was as good as the first 4.

They also have started serving some light food from a kitchen upstairs - in just the past week or so. We didn't eat, though the menu looked good, and after we ended up with lousy burgers at the Black Squirrel in Adams Morgan, I wish we had partaken. Oh well, we liked The Gibson enough that we're sure to return. Especially when the bartenders are as great as this one...

As for the Old Pal, there appear to be a few different ideas on how to make this cocktail. In The Savoy Cocktail Book, a classic if ever there was one, Harry Craddock called for equal parts of Canadian whisky, French vermouth and Campari. Harry, of course, is the man credited with saying, when asked what the best way to drink a cocktail was, "Quickly, while it's laughing at you." So he's got that going for him. Some other weird website had the vermouth as sweet; that's wrong and that's more likely a Boulevardier cocktail. Or call it a 1794 - a drink I first had at Rye in San Francisco. Confusing, isn't it? Well, no one said cocktails were an exact science, and as long as it tastes good to you, who's complaining?

The Gibson
2009 14th St. NW
Washington, DC
(202) 232-2156

Old Pal
1.5 oz. rye
3/4 oz. Campari
3/4 oz. dry vermouth

Stir with ice. Stir more. Stir again. Garnish with a lemon peel.