Friday, June 20, 2014

They're Stealing My New York Lunch Places

Two of my favorite New York lunch restaurants have recently disappeared without notice: Onya (very good freshly made Japanese udon) and Baoguette (bánh mì).

While there are other bánh mì places, none is very convenient for me and so far none has matched Baoguette. I'll have to keep trying. Or I can try to make them using one of the many recipes I have amassed, but it is most unlikely that my version of this great sandwich will turn out to be world class.

The udon situation seems worse. I am not aware of any substitutes. While ramen, which I love, is sweeping New York, the more subtle, healthier (no fat) udon has so far escaped notice.

Fortunately, Porchetta is still around. Although it is no substitute for the others, their roast pork sandwich is truly heavenly.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Great Kitchen Tool: All-Clad Dutch Oven

I sometimes find that my beloved and well-used 7-1/4-quart Le Creuset enamel cast iron round Dutch (the company calls it French) oven is a tiny bit too small, and have been considering going for a 9-quart model for those occasions where a little extra room would be helpful. But it is a monster, weighing in at 16.9 pounds, and obviously takes up more real estate than my 7-1/4 quart one.

Then I got a notice of a huge sale at Willams-Sonoma on an All-Clad stainless steel 8-quart Dutch oven, which had been extremely well reviewed by Cook's Illustrated and was said to be very nearly as good as enamel cast iron. The minus: it's not as capacious as the 9-quart Le Creuset. The plus: it weighs in at just under 7 pounds with the cover, and with its excellent handles is much easier to maneuver than my Le Creuset 7-1/4 quart. So I went for it. I can report that it is as good at gentle simmering as Le Creuset and considerably more versatile, and has become my go-to pot for soups, braises, pasta and even stock if I am not making an enormous batch.  A truly fantastic kitchen tool!


My All-Clad 8-quart Dutch oven
Bobby Jay

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Paris - A Little Italian Restaurant's Detailed Rules

I was walking down a little street in the 4th arrondissement, near the Place de la Bastille, and came upon what looks like a cute Italian restaurant. Outside was this amazing sign, with the rules of the house.

The rules of Cucina Napoletana
Translation:
Dear customers and friends, welcome to Cucina Napoletana. Our main courses are prepared to order. We therefore advise that you start with mixed appetizers (actually one for two persons). If you are a big party, we suggest that you don't multiply the number of entrees. This way you will avoid a long wait . . . (we only have 3 burners) as well as the wrath of the chef!!! Our menu varies according to what's in the market .  . and the moods of the chef. The familial spirit of our trattoria leads us to group together parties with odd numbers (for example 3/5/7=3+3=6!) [I think they're saying that two parties of 3 will share a table for 6.] Nothing like it for getting to know your neighbors!

The specials of the day are listed inside and the whole team is at your disposition to help you choose, according to your taste and what's available. Thank you for respecting the time of your reservation, and if you are late . . . . . We are sorry not to be able to accept credit cards . . . .
I was puzzled by this "welcome," but met an American couple outside who said it's very good. Worth a try, I guess, although I have generally been disappointed by Italian food in Paris. I look forward to meeting the scary chef and will do my utmost to avoid getting him angry.

Bobby Jay

Paris - Various Restaurants


Strawberry dessert at Jean
Chocolate dessert at Jean
J and I were busy moving apartments in Paris this trip, so we did not try many new restaurants but instead went to old favorites, many in our now former neighborhood in the 8th arrondissement.

Our new discovery was Brasserie Lazare, which I wrote up last week.

Our best meal was at Jean, our perennial favorite, even though the asparagus starter was less than perfect due to a strange fallen asparagus soufflé with asparagus jus. The asparagus themselves were pretty spectacular, though. We followed with what might be the best lamb dish I have ever eaten, épaule d'agneau confite et fumé (shoulder meat cooked sous-vide, then grilled, then smoked for a perfect texture and subtle taste). Our friends had a pretty great cochon de lait fermier, also notable for its tenderness within and excellent crust without. We finished (almost) with the chocolate and strawberry desserts pictured above and (really) finished with cognac provided by the proprietor, Jean himself.

Other dinners were at our favorite family style Thai place, Thabthim; Crom'exquis, the upscale bistro in our old 'hood; Metropolitain, a well reviewed bistro (three cocottes from Petit Lebey) that was extremely disappointing; Mollard, still a treat for the magnificent turn of the (20th) century mosaics where we had a really fine seafood meal; Rôtisserie du Beaujolais, part of our favorite dining experience in Paris due in large measure to the walk across Île Saint-Louis and the views of Notre Dame; Clos des Gourmets, which is also fun to get to because of the amazing views of the Eiffel tower; and Tico, on rue Jean-Mermoz, which we had enjoyed in the past and where we had a major disappointment. I also ate three times at Le Temps des Cerises, a crowded but lovely bistro a short block from our new apartment, once with J, once with Andy G, a friend and colleague from my firm, and once with an old friend who has been coming to Paris since the early '50s.

Some nice lunches, too: Chez Omar, the ancient classic Moroccan place near the Marché des Enfants Rouges: Kunitoraya, the fabulous udon specialist, which has relocated around the corner to a nicer place; Vin des Pyrénées, a little bistro near our new apartment; and la Mascotte, an excellent fruits de mer place in Montmartre, with some new French friends.

We will return to some of our old haunts; others are probably not worth the trip assuming, as I do, that we will find good ones in our new neighborhood. But the memories will be with us forever.

Bobby Jay


Friday, June 6, 2014

Paris - First Meal at Our New Apartment

We moved into our new apartment on Wednesday, amidst heavy rain. As soon as the movers left, the weather turned uncharacteristically perfect for Paris: bright sunshine, cool but not cold temperature, a slight breeze.

We are still getting to know the new neighborhood, but have already found a great cheese store (Dubois, which has three or four branches), a wonderful baker a block away, a very good vegetable seller, a good charcuterie and an excellent wine store. I have not looked for a butcher yet, but a great one is five minutes away on Île Saint-Louis. As is Berthillon, the best ice cream and sorbet producer in Paris, and another leading cheese store.

In addition, starting at the Northern end of the Place de la Bastille, on the boulevard Richard Lenoir, is one of Paris' biggest outdoor markets, held on Thursday and Sunday mornings. It is of mixed quality so the challenge will be to find the best purveyors, which I suspect won't be too difficult. I will be making a reconnoitering trip this Sunday, but not buying much because I leave on Monday. The covered Marché Aligre, one of Paris' best, is also in the neighborhood, but not that close.

Clearly, we will not starve.

Today we had our first meal in the apartment, consisting of cheeses, bread, sausage, ham, duck pâté, terrine of chicken livers, breakfast radishes with Bordier demi-sel butter and a simple white Bergerac, all obtained from the vendors described above. This simply cannot be replicated in the US, or at least not with this level of quality (especially the absolutely perfect cheeses).

Dubois cheeses: vieux compté, trèfle and a chèvre with nuts and walnut oil
Ham, sausage, chicken liver terrine and duck pâté
We are now officially chez nous at the new apartment.

Bobby Jay

Paris - Last Dinner at Our Old Apartment

We have moved in Paris from the 8th arrondissement to a bigger and much brighter apartment in the 4th, in a very non-commercial part of the Marais.

Before leaving, we had dear friends to dinner for one last meal "around my French table" (with apologies to Dorie Greenspan, author of a wonderful book with the same title; well, not apologies because she is going to get a big plug in this post).

It's spring, so we started with white asparagus, which happens to be one of our friends' favorite food and was beautiful at the market. I used Jacques Pépin's simple way of cooking them (steaming in a covered wide skillet) and his classic mustard sauce.

Asparagus with mustard sauce
Then, a pork roast with mangoes and lychees from Dorie's Around My French Table: interesting and really successful blending of the sweet and sour of fruits exotiques with savory thyme and French aromatics. Accompanied by Dorie's heavily scented cardamom pilaf, which made an excellent counterpoint.

Roast pork with mangoes and lychees, with cardamom pilaf
There came salad and cheese, bien sûr, followed by a cherry clafoutis, a mandatory dessert in June, another recipe from Dorie's book.

Cherry clafoutis
A fond farewell to an apartment that served us very well for nearly 13 years!

Bobby Jay

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Paris - Brasserie Lazare

No, not pasta. Sauteed calamari at Brasserie Lazare
Eric Frechon, who among other things runs the spectacular three-Michelin star Restaurant Bristol, opened a classic brasserie in the Gare Saint-Lazare in 2013, which quickly became the Guide Pudlo's Brasserie de l'Année. J and I have tried to go several times, but unlike real station brasseries, this one is always booked. We finally went last night and it was a treat.

The food is almost aggressively classic. For example, Friday night's special is brandade de morue gratinée (cod and potato mash au gratin), popular throughout France (and Spain) but not something I like enough for a main course or that J likes at all. Other nightly specials are quenelles de brochet sauce nantua; saucisse de Toulouse, purée de pomme de terre; fricasée de volaille au vin jaune . . . well, you get the idea. Sounds old school, but I bet these warhorses, which are not easy to find, are very well prepared indeed.

I had an extraordinary plate of calamari, cut into noodles and sauteed with garlic, slices of a pepperoni-like sausage and Espelette pepper, followed by an excellent steak tartare (classic but with modifications, such as fairly large slices of parmesan scattered throughout). J had a good, but not memorable, salad of French green beans, artichoke hearts and hazelnuts with hazelnut vinaigrette, followed by a fine French adaptation of vitello tonnato (still, not as good as the sublime version at Saint Ambroeus in New York). We shared a boule of ice cream, salted caramel and two boules of sorbet, one bitter chocolate and the other "exotique," an extraordinary confection with a pineapple base, lots of ginger and a blend of other spices, including cardamom, one of my favorites.

Service is station-brasserie-like, i.e., fast by French standards. It is not easy to spend more than and hour and a half, and that's how they book, so this is not a place to linger over a long, leisurely dinner.

In sum, if you are nostalgic for the cuisine that got Julia cooking, or just want a good French meal, head for the Brasserie Lazare.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Happy Mother's Day from Paris

Today was Mother's Day in Paris, known as the Fête des Mères. While the holiday seems less important than the US version, it is, of course, an excuse to eat well. Here are some images of Lenôtre's windows this morning.


Bobby Jay

Monday, May 5, 2014

Spring! Ramps and Asparagus

I went to our local farmers market (on Columbus Avenue behind the Museum of Natural History) on Sunday, and was greeted by lovely local spring produce, the first of the season.

Everyone has discovered ramps by now, but I was an early adopter and have been making ramp risotto for about five years. I use the white parts in lieu of onions or shallots and finish with the leaves. The slightly garlicky notes are subtle but unmistakable.

Ramps from the farmers market
Ramp risotto
I also got some gorgeous early asparagus, grown on Long Island according to the rubber band holding them together. A perfect appetizer before the ramp risotto, a vegetarian meal to feel good about. I have nothing against Peru, but am very happy to get asparagus grown 50, rather than 3000, miles away. Better for so many reasons! I trimmed and grilled the stalks, grilled for seven minutes on a hot grill pan, and served with a mustard and green peppercorn vinaigrette that I borrowed from Bobby Flay: very concentrated asparagus taste enlivened by the acidic dressing.

First local asparagus of the season
Ah, the delights of spring!

Bobby Jay

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Recent French Cookbooks

We have been blessed recently with new cookbooks from David Lebovitz and Patricia Wells, which I have read. While neither is comprehensive like Dorie Greenspan's spectacular Around My French Table or Jacques Pépin's Essential Pépin, they are welcome additions to my cookbook shelf.

David Lebovitz, My Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories


Lebovitz started out at Chez Panisse in the late 80s and most of the 90s, and the training he got there shows. He subsequently wrote Ready for Dessert and The Perfect Scoop, the latter of which is my ice cream bible. He has a spectacular blog, where he writes about Paris, where he has lived for ten years, and his travels in France and elsewhere. He also writes about all aspects of food, from sourcing it at Paris' great markets and specialty stores, to cooking, and his recipes are nearly always excellent.

My Paris Kitchen is a wonderful book. First, it has great recipes, which Lebovitz has culled from French classics with his own insights and changes. The introductions to the recipes, giving histories of where he found them as well as possible variations, are very useful, as well as entertaining. I have made only a couple of the recipes -- Artichoke Tapenade with Rosemary Oil and French Lentil Salad with Goat Cheese and Walnuts -- with excellent results, and I have checked off about 60% of the rest as "must tries." This is a very high percentage for me. The recipes are clearly expressed and a special bonus is that they are given with metric weights. I wish all cookbooks would do this, as it takes the guesswork out of many aspects of cooking, especially baking.

Second, the photography, by Ed Anderson, is magnificent. Not just beautiful, but also helpful to the home cook, showing beautiful ways to present the dishes.

Finally, the book offers Lebovitz's insights about France, Paris and cooking in general. He has a style that I find a bit precious but nevertheless is clear and informative. It was Lebovitz who, in a different book, taught me to say Bonjour! upon entering any store -- even a stall at a flea market or at a food market -- and that has stood me in good stead over the years. His new book says that the French consider it bad manners to be less than 20 minutes late when invited to dinner; I plan to investigate this but I suspect it's true.

A must have!

Patricia Wells, The French Kitchen Cookbook


Wells has been writing cookbooks for decades and some of my copies are pretty dog-eared, especially Bistro Cooking and Trattoria. I have also used The Paris Cookbook, Patricia Wells at Home in Provence and Simply French. She also teaches, and has learned to simplify, and her new cookbook is noteworthy for the non-intimidating presentation of a lot of updated French standards as well as recipes from elsewhere in Europe (a classic Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe, for example) and from Asia (Asian Coleslaw with Sesame Soy Dressing, Shrimp in Spicy Coconut Broth, among many others).

The recipes are clearly expressed and, like Lebovitz's, give metric measurements.  I haven't actually cooked from this book yet, but plan to do so, probably often.

Patricia Wells, The Food Lover's Guide to Paris


Wells has lived in Paris forever, and knows the city amazingly well. She has finally gotten around to revising her classic book on where to eat and shop for food, kitchen equipment and related items, and this is welcome news. The fourth edition was my go-to book when we bought an apartment in Paris in 2001, and enriched our Paris culinary experience immeasurably. The new edition has been thoroughly revised, and I am eager to get back to Paris to start using it. The restaurants and bistros listed are often ones that I have never heard of, but I trust her and with her help will seek out new adventures.

An essential for food lovers en route to Paris!

Bobby Jay

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Passover 2014 - Sephardic Seder

Our family's Seder was last night, a few days late to accommodate family from the DC and Boston areas. Last year I became interested in Sephardic cooking and decided to make a Sephardic Seder for Passover 2014. This tradition is quite different from the Eastern European Ashenizi for many reasons, but the most salient is that rice and lentils and other legumes are permitted during Passover.

Based on the comments of the family, it was a success. I was particularly proud of the Persian rice, one of the world's best dishes, which I nailed: a thick dark crust on the bottom with fluffy basmati rice on top.

Some of the prettiest dishes are pictured below.

Burnt eggplant with tahini and pomegranate seeds
Persian rice - one of my favorite foods - with edamame and dill
I started planning soon after last year's Seder and eventually arrived at the following menu, based on searches through books on Jewish, Turkish, Persian, Syrian and Moroccan food, as well as relevant web sites:

2014 Passover Menu

Appetizers

Charred eggplant (Ottolenghi Plenty)
Artichoke tapenade (David Lebovitz, My Paris Kitchen)
Dried fava bean hummus (adapted from Roden, The Book of Jewish food)
Lemon scented meatballs (Batali, foodnetwork.com)
Gefilte fish bites from Citarella with Ina’s homemade horseradish

Dinner

Bordeaux style haroset (Joan Nathan, My Search for Jewish Food in France)
Watercress and chickpea soup (Ottolenghi, Jerusalem)
Turkish shredded zucchini pie (Abadi, toogoodtopassover.com)
Dja'jeh Zetoon b'Limoneh (Chicken with Lemon and Olives) (Abadi, Fistful of Lentils)
Persian Rice (Abadi, cooking lesson) with edamame and dill (Shafia, The New Persian Kitchen)
Lamb tagine (Atelier des Chefs cooking lesson)

Desserts

Flourless orange cake (Clotilde, chocolatetzucchini.com)
Cardamom rice pudding (Ottolenghi, Jerusalem)
Sesame halvah (Dweck, Aromas of Aleppo)
Cousin Vicki’s assorted cookies and bars
 
Artichoke tapenade with basil oil
Lamb tagine and chicken with lemon and olives
Shredded zucchini pie and Persian rice with edamame and dill
The Sephardic Jews, who were expelled from Spain in 1492, settled around the Mediterranean Sea, largely in Turkey and Greece, and throughout the Middle East (via Morocco). Countries represented in our Seder menu included Syria (chicken and halvah), Turkey (zucchini pie), Morocco (lamb tagine, fava bean hummus), Persia (rice and edamame and dill), France (haroset, artichoke tapenade), Italy (veal meatballs), Spain and the Middle East generally (charred eggplant, watercress and chickpea soup, rice pudding).

There is some controversy about the flourless orange cake, which does use baking powder. Perhaps surprisingly, the bulk of rabbinical opinion seems to be that baking powder can be Kosher for Passover if it is made with potato starch rather than forbidden corn starch. Since we were going Sephardic, where corn is permitted, I used the ordinary stuff, but this is a matter of choice.

There is a downside to an all-Sephardic Seder, which is that certain classics are excluded, the most significant of which is matzoh ball soup. My sister-in-law's is the best (both the broth and the balls) so next year, while we will probably stay Sephardic, we will be making an exception for her soup. After all, what good are rules if they deprive you of great food?

Bobby Jay

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Vietnamese Cooking Lesson

I had a lovely Vietnamese cooking lesson today at New York's Institute of Culinary Education (ICE). We made eight dishes, the ones pictured below plus a wonderful bánh mì sandwich and shrimp and pork summer rolls.

Here are pictures of the final dishes:

Asparagus and crab soup - Sup Man Tay Cua
Cucumber and shrimp salad - Goi Dua Chuot
Catfish simmered in caramel sauce - Ca Kho
Chicken stir-fried with lemongrass and chile - Ga Xao Xa Ot
Shrimp simmered in caramel salt - Tom Kho
Banana, tapioca pearl and coconut sweet soup - Che Chuoi
All of the dishes were really good! They really captured the elegance and balance of well-prepared Vietnamese cuisine. I worked with a partner on the bánh mì and the catfish in caramel sauce.

Highly recommended.

Bobby Jay


Monday, March 17, 2014

Food in Black & White

As part of Asia Week New York, J is having a fabulous exhibition at her gallery, entitled "Japan in Black & White."

So I made some black and white food items for the opening party and to have around for customers coming to the gallery to enjoy the exhibition.

I made a black bean cumin dip, to be eaten with white corn chips, and a Tuscan white bean dip, to be eaten with blue (nearly black) corn chips.

For desserts, about 150 of my favorite very dark chocolate "World Peace" cookies, invented by Dorie Greenspan . . .


. . . and white macarons with dark chocolate ganache from Pierre Hermé's recipe.


Later in the week, we had some Japanese ceramics collectors for dinner and I followed through on the theme, with some tapenade and mustard palmiers . . .


. . . and cauliflower soup (with a few drops of hazelnut oil) served in black bowls made by the talented  Hanako Nakazato.


A nice inspiration.

Bobby Jay


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Do try this at home: from a Paris class to my New York table

I don't often run home from Paris and cook one of the items I learned to cook at Atelier des Chefs, but I so enjoyed this dish that I did exactly that.

Mousse de chou-fleur, coeur de persil, gambas au piment d'Espelette (cauliflower mousse with parsley sauce and shrimp with Espelette pepper) has a great texture (it's really a foam dispensed from a siphon), taste and appearance, even better when I used Japanese ceramic cups rather than the cheap verrines provided at the school. The slightly bitter parsley ties together the very different tastes of the cauliflower and the shrimp, making for a nice little party in your mouth.

Mousse de chou-fleur, coeur de persil, gambas au piment d'Espelette
Bobby Jay 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Paris - Cooking Lesson: Classics

I had a fun cooking lesson at Ateliers des Chefs today where we made a three-course meal consisting of some classic French dishes.

First up: a Potage Saint-Germain (split pea soup) with sautéed foie gras, croutons and chervil. Really rich but velvety and delightful. The foie gras and the pea soup made a perfect mélange.

Potage Saint-Germain with sautéed foie gras
Next, Butter-basted roasted Saint Pierre (John Dory) with truffled Puy lentils. I love lentils but I would have preferred potatoes for this dish. The lentils were so assertive that they muddied the flavor of the fish a bit.

Butter-basted roasted Saint Pierre with Puy lentils
Finally, a traditional Grand Marnier soufflé, which was not gorgeous but had a perfect smooth texture with only a hint of the famed liqueur.

Sushi dinner tonight, fortunately; no more fat.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Paris - 2014 Salon de l'Agriculture

If it's the beginning of March, it's time for the Salon International de l'Agriculture in Paris. So I went for the third time today, with a new friend who had never been before. We both loved it!

We started by admiring the dozens of breeds of horses on display . . .

Horses (no, that's not a super giant Schnauzer) at the Salon d'Ag
. . . and then moved on to the pavilion where foods from all regions of France and its possessions are available for tasting and purchase. This year I was austere, and only had a sandwich of foie gras and Espelette pepper, half a paper cone of Bayonne ham, a coupe of Champagne and a glass of Armagnac. Of course, there were many, many foods to ogle and photograph, and we did the tour of all the principal regions.

Alsacian cheeses, conserves and sausages
I bought lightly this year, too, just 2 small jars of foie gras, a bottle of Bas Armagnac, 4 linen torchons (dish towels) and Corsican sausage.

Then downstairs to admire more horses, cows, sheep, goats and pigs of all varieties. They are perfectly kept and cared for, and there is virtually no bad odor in the massive exhibition hall. Here are some of my favorites.

 
 
Happy cows, sheep, goat and pig at the Salon de l'Agriculture
My friend, not an Easterner, observed that the Salon d'Ag is like a state fair in the US but with good food. Indeed, there was not a corn dog to be found (although there was cotton candy (barbe à papa), which French kids seem to love).

French food would not be as good as it is without the country's wonderful agriculture, which is still alive and kicking, literally.

Bobby Jay


Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Best Butter

Is there really a best butter? Experts in France (and who would know better?) seem to agree that it's Beurre Bordier, made by Jean-Yves Bordier in Brittany -- not Normandy (sacré bleu!) -- although the milk he uses comes from cows located in both provinces.


I tried the two pictured here, le beurre doux and le beurre au sel fumé. And yes, it is the best butter. I don't think it's cultured, which would be rare for high-quality French butter, because the sweet butter does not have the characteristic sour tang; it's like the best non-cultured butter imaginable. And the smoked salt butter was little short of divine, on toast and in tiny slices placed in the middle of a split radish.

According to Bordier's web site, the special complex buttery notes are a result of 15-25 minutes of kneading (malaxage) in a teak vessel and the artisanal barattage process, which I don't understand at all. The final bars are shaped by hand using wooden spatulas on wooden tables, by workers who must have "great dexterity and clock-like consistency." Charming if nothing else.

Apart from baking, I don't actually use much butter, but I am tempted to sample every variety of Bordier's, and there are quite a few. Here's the current list from their website:

Les classiques
  • Le beurre doux
  • Le beurre demi-sel
  • Le beurre salé
Les spécialités
  • Le beurre au sel fumé
  • Le beurre aux algues
  • Le beurre au Yuzu
  • Le beurre au Piment d’Espelette
Beurre Bordier is now available in Paris in selected cheese and other gourmet stores. I got mine at Lafayette Gourmet.

Bobby Jay