Sunday, August 30, 2015

Paris -- Bastille Market as Reality Show

Especially when cooking for one, a visit to one of Paris' great open-air markets is like a reality show: you have to choose ingredients that look great and leave to later the task of figuring out what to do with them. For me, this is one of the most enjoyable things to do in Paris.

Today I went to the Bastille (Richard Lenoir) market near our apartment, and bought the following:

Half cooked crab
Turkey breast roast and chicken sausage
Mankoush - Lebanese flatbread with za'atar
Mirabelles and reine-claudes
Together with items that I already had at home, I made lunch and dinner from these ingredients, in addition to munching some slices of scamorzza and wolfing down a bunch of tiny mirabelles (my favorite fruit) and reine-claudes (my second favorite).

Lunch consisted of oeufs sur le plat with white vinegar sauce, accompanied by the cèpe, which I dry-sauteed and then added a smidgen of butter, salt, pepper and thyme. (Followed with a piece of soft nougat from a Vietnamese traiteur.)

Oeufs sur le plat with sautéed cèpe

Soft Vietnamese nougat
For dinner, I reheated the chicken sausage and roast turkey breast and the chicken sauce, and boiled and then sautéed ratte potatoes, followed by a piece of camembert that I had left out all day and a square of Lindt chocolate (yes, I love Lindt chocolate even if it is not the most artisanal or exotic).

I am left with the mankoush, which I'll toast for breakfast, and the crab, which will serve nicely as tomorrow's lunch.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Paris -- Cinq-Mars: Bistro Near the Orsay

Last night I had a very good meal at Cinq-Mars, a simple but stylish bistro in the seventh arrondissement, near the Musée d'Orsay. I never would have found this place, which gets one cocotte from Le Lebey des Bistrots and a mention in Pudlo, if I had not read Chris Kimball's most recent "Letter from Vermont" on line just before leaving for Paris. Kimball is the owner of America's Test Kitchen and publisher of Cook's Illustrated and many other cooking publications, and this is his and his wife's favorite place in Paris.

While Kimball is not a food critic, I took a chance and was pleasantly surprised. Cinq-Mars is an attractive restaurant with about 36 seats, most of which were filled, that are serviced by a pair of capable young servers, one male and one female, who do everything in the front.

The food is classic, but very well prepared with excellent ingredients the provenance of which is often noted on the menu. I had a classic but delicious oeuf mayonnaise, a specialty, and a truly superb veal chop. The veal was amazingly tender and sported a gorgeous and tasty deep crust. It was served with classic peas and carrots, with a few (too few) spring onions and a couple of (undercooked) slices of potato. The menu was loaded with fish and meat dishes that I would have liked to try: unfortunately, dining alone provides no sharing opportunities.

Oeufs mayonnaise at Cinq-Mars
Côte de veau at Cinq-Mars
Desserts are very classic: île flottante, mousse au chocolat, mont-blanc, etc. I was feeling a bit full for any of these, so I went with the sorbets, an excellent mara des bois strawberry and a really dense chocolate which, while very good, should not cause the folks at Berthillon to lose any sleep.

All in all, a lovely meal at a reasonable price (about 60 euros, including wine; there is a 21.5 euro two-course lunch menu). I look forward to returning with J.

Cinq-Mars, 51 rue de Verneuil, 75007 Paris (Métro Solférino or Rue du Bac).

Bobby Jay

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Eleven Madison Park -- Food for the Brain

I was lucky enough to be taken by my wife J to Eleven Madison Park, Daniel Humm's famed gastronomic palace, for my birthday on Friday. I don't review New York restaurants on the theory that there is ample, if not excessive, information available to those who care, and this is not a review. However, the experience was noteworthy and worth discussing, I think.

We had heard that the experience could be over the top and self-referential, but we found this not to be true at all. The staff was knowledgeable, gracious and efficient, and greatly enhanced the evening, which elapsed over more than four hours.

Indeed, far from being self-referential, the restaurant is totally devoted to its customers, showing great flexibility in responding to food allergies or aversions. We were a party of four and aversions included fish, shellfish, anything raw, eggs, beef and lobster. They seamlessly and elegantly worked around these issues so that everyone's 14-course meal reflected the philosophy and trajectory of the experience. For example, extruded cheese noodles were substituted for squid for one of our party, keeping the dish aesthetically consistent with the "normal" one while bringing a different, but legitimate, taste and texture, and truffles were substituted for caviar in one of great early courses.

The food was not over the top either, just consistently at the top. It is extremely market driven, and shows a nearly miraculous attention to detail and ability to extract the essence of flavor from the ingredients. As an example, a tomato that was not a tomato but a reconstruction of a tomato that was pureed and artfully reassembled and served over the water extracted from the tomato (the seeds are recovered and used atop the dish to further the illusion). More intense tomato flavor than even a perfect summer tomato. Similarly, a poached apricot was the most apricot-y piece of food that I have ever eaten. This accompanied a slice of spice crusted duck breast, along with two morsels of super-concentrated fennel made by vacuum compressing vegetable overnight before cooking it the next day.

Tomato salad with basil and red onion
Duck breast roasted with lavender, honey, apricots and fennel
The restaurant tries not to take itself too seriously and introduces notes of whimsy. J arranged for us to eat a course in the kitchen, which was a palate-cleansing shaved ice made on an antique ice shaver that was found at an antiques store in the Bronx.

Peach, ginger and lemon thyme snow cone
And one of the courses -- fish boil with corn and peppers -- was thrown onto a piece of thick paper with the diners being encouraged to eat with their hands.

Fish boil with corn and peppers
The final whimsical element was the fourth dessert, called "Name That Milk," which consisted of four different chocolate bars specially made for Eleven Madison by the Mast Brothers. We were supposed to match each bar with the type of milk used in its confection: cow, buffalo, sheep or goat (we did not do well).

So, you are asking if you have gotten this far, what about the food? I found that the dishes varied greatly, from sublime (caviar Benedict with egg, corn and ham, among others) to nearly unpleasant (a sunflower heart prepared like that of an artichoke). A lot of dishes (a few too many for my taste) featured pickled items, and there was a predominance of sourness or tartness. The first dessert was a delicious but very tart homemade farmer's cheese served with honey and interesting toppings, including an amazing sorrel sauce. It was followed by a dish composed of buttermilk sorbet made from the extremely sour whey of the aforementioned cheese, very tart yogurt and a trace of sweet milk solids. Next was a deconstructed cheesecake, also on the tart side. I would have preferred more sweetness for the dessert.

Sorbet with caramelized whey and yogurt
Cheesecake with white currant sorbet and raspberry vinegar
But the point is not that I found a little too much sour and tart among the many things we ate. Rather it is that all of these items provoked discussion and disagreement among our party of four. One of us  was ecstatic about the sequence of tart desserts, but then she is not a chocolate lover (there are those!). While the everyday world does not disappear from your conscientiousness, for a few hours the world of food, and thoughts about how it is prepared and where it comes from (and when) dominate, and that is a fine thing, for which I am indebted to Mr. Humm (and to J, who arranged the whole thing).

Bobby Jay

Monday, August 3, 2015

Artisanal Horseradish -- A Greenmarket Find

One of the pleasures of greenmarkets is the discovery of new products and ingredients. A couple of weeks ago, I discovered Holy Schmitt's homemade horseradish at New York's Union Square greenmarket (Schmitt's is there on Mondays and Fridays).

I tasted the regular and found it excellent. Not as hot as my mother-in-law's freshly grated, but nearly. The beet horseradish had the same defect as I find in the store-bought: the beet juice diluted the horseradish to the point of insipidness. But there are those who prefer it. Finally, I tried the cranberry horseradish and this was a surprise: the tang of the cranberries complemented, but did not dilute, the bite of the horseradish. A must for next year's Seder.

Holy Schmitt's Homemade Horseradish
I went to the Schmitt's website and bought a few jars, for personal consumption and as gifts for my neighbor, who loves horseradish and is obsessed by this this type of product. (It is shipped in a cold pack since it needs to be refrigerated.) Among these was one that I had not seen at the greenmarket, hot pepper horseradish, which is made a good bit hotter than the regular through the addition of visible chunks of pickled green (serrano?) hot peppers. This one may match my mother-in-law's for its ability to go right up your nose in a pleasant rush.

Go to the Union Square market for free tastes, or trust me and get it through the web. But, if you like horseradish, get it one way or the other.

Bobby Jay

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Food52 Genius Recipes -- Interesting, Foolproof, Simple

Recently I gave a rave review to Kristen Miglore's Food52 Genius Recipes: 100 Recipes that Will Change the Way You Cook. (See my post of May 10, 2015.)

I have been cooking from this wonderful book and, as expected, the recipes have proved virtually infallible and simple. Since my post, I have made the following eight dishes -- three of them twice -- with the results described.

Rose Levy Baranbaum's Fresh Blueberry Pie (although I made a tart using my favorite crust from Clotilde Dusoulier). The secret of this recipe is cooking a quarter of the blueberries and adding the rest uncooked. This results in a wonderfully fresh tasting pie or tart with a perfect texture: holding together but barely. I made this twice, mixing some strawberries in the second time.

Fresh blueberry tart
Fresh blueberry and strawberry tart
José Pizarro's Salt-Crusted Fingerling Potatoes with Cilantro Mojo. While it is very salty on the exterior,  once you penetrate the skin, the interior is wonderfully creamy, resulting in a texture and taste bomb. Opinions were split on this between those who loved it and those who found it to be too salty. I liked it.

Roger Vergé's Fried Eggs with Wine Vinegar. I made this twice. The first time, with snazzy Banyuls vinegar, tasted too sweet, but it was great when I made it again with ordinary red wine vinegar.

Canal House's Chicken Thighs with Lemon Sauce. A simple method for incredibly crispy skin and perfectly cooked interior, with a nice sauce enhanced by salty, briny preserved lemons. This may become my go-to thigh recipe.

Richard Olney's Fresh Fig and Mint Salad. A seemingly bizarre recipe for very cold fresh fig, prosciutto, lemony sweet cream and mint. An absolutely compelling mix of tastes, easy to prepare and elegant on the plate.

Frexh fig and mint salad
Cory Schreiber's Salt-Baked Herbed Salmon with Red Onion Caper Vinaigrette. It's the tail end of wild salmon season, and I got a great piece of intensely red wild sockeye salmon, to great effect. This is not real salt-baked salmon in which the whole fish is encased in salt; here you just build a salt bed on which to cook the fish with just the right insulation from the heat of the roasting pan. Simplicity itself.

Salt-baked herbed sockeye salmon
Eric Ripert's Crispy-Skinned Fish Filets, with striped bass and with sea bass. This is quick but still a bit tricky. The first time I made it, with striped bass, it come out perfectly, with a magnificent crispy skin. The second time, with wild sea bass, was less successful; I think I sauteed the fish at a slightly too low temperature, and the skin was flabby (I used a brulé torch to crisp it up a bit). I am not deterred and will definitely use this method again.

Dan Barber's Cauliflower Steaks. A brilliant dish that highlights the various tastes that are inherent in this seemingly mild and boring vegetable. And a stunning sight on the plate.

Cauliflower steak on a bed of pureed cauliflower
In my earlier post I said that I plan to cook a majority of the recipes in the book, and I am making pretty good progress: I've already made 16 of the 100 recipes.

If you are going to buy one cookbook this year, this is the one!

Bobby Jay

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Paris - Bastille Day Dinner Chez Nous

We had dear friends for dinner on Bastille Day. It started as a simple meal before a ball on Île Saint-Louis, but we decided to skip the ball so I amped up the meal.

For hors d'oeuvres, I served a spread made of brocciu (Corsican fresh sheep cheese), finely diced sun-dried tomato, lemon zest, a little olive oil and salt and pepper; roasted almonds with smoked paprika and cayenne; and slices of Bellota Bellota lomo (Spanish cured pork tenderloin) that I found at the great butcher, Gardil.

For the appetizer, I made tartes tatin aux tomates cerises (upside-down cherry tomato tarts) with basil sauce, a dish I learned at a cooking lesson at Atelier des Chefs. I had tried making this a few days earlier in a large format with terrible results. This time, with individual tarts, the recipe worked perfectly, and I was proud of the result.

Tarte tatin aux tomates cerises
Bellota Bellota lomo
 For the main course, veal scalloppini from the same butcher, with caper and lemon sauce. Then salad with great cheeses from our wonderful local fromagerie and, finally, a blueberry, whipped cream and strawberry French flag for dessert.

Veal scalloppini with caper sauce
Berry and whipped cream French flag
No fireworks but a nice evening with old friends.

Bobby Jay

Paris - Ambroisie: Simply Perfection

We recently went to Ambroisie, the three-Michelin starred restaurant in Paris' magnificent Place des Vosges, and had one of the best meals I can remember. Perfect food and elegant but friendly service in one of the restaurant's three lovely, intimate rooms.

The meal began with the most amusing amuse-bouche of all time: a perfect soft-boiled egg in its shell with a generous spoonful of caviar on the side. Not original, but a fantastic way to start the experience.

For starters, I had the signature feuillantines de langoustines aux graines de sésame, sauce curry, with just enough curry to give the dish character without changing its essentially French nature. Others had a tuna pastilla which also employed non-French elements -- North African in this case -- in a triumph of French cuisine.

Feullantines de langoustines with curry at Amboisie
Tuna pastilla at Ambroisie
My main was a perfectly roasted pigeon sauce Montmorency (cherries), while J and R shared volaille de Bresse rôtie au beurre d’estragon, pommes Darphin, the best chicken in the world roasted to juicy perfection.

For dessert, we had the boring-looking tarte fine sablée au cacao, glace à la vanille Bourbon, Amboisie's signature dessert, which our waiter insisted that we try. And despite how it looks, it is a triumph All of us gasped "air" after the first bite, for the sensation of the dessert is bitter chocolate air: light does not begin to describe the texture.

Chocolate tart at Ambroisie: deceptively unique
Fraises des bois (tiny wild strawberries)were on the menu, and J asked whether she could substitute them for the vanilla ice cream in the dessert. Request denied because our waiter said the vanilla ice cream was an absolutely essential part of the dish. However, he said he would bring J some fraises des bois. In the end, he brought each of us a plate of delicate fraises des bois with a fraise (not des bois) sorbet. A wonderful treat, and emblematic of the attentive and gracious service we received during the whole meal.

We rarely go to three-star restaurants, but we were celebrating our friends' finding an apartment in Paris so threw caution (and a lot of money) to the wind. But the meal was truly an unforgettable experience, a demonstration of French gastronomy at its best.

Ambroisie, 9, place des Vosges, Paris 4ème (Métro St-Paul).

Bobby Jay

Monday, July 13, 2015

Périgord - Grilled Veal Rack

One of the great cooking pleasures that I am denied as an urban dweller is grilling. Our friends in Périgord have a lovely gas grill, set up overlooking a beautiful valley, which was calling me from the moment we arrived.

I had recently come across twin recipes in Bon Appétit for grilled rack of veal and grilled rack of pork, both of which called for rubbing the meat, searing it on the grill, then roasting it slowly on the grill, then removing  the loan from the bones and finally separating the bones and grilling them at high heat for a few minutes. The loin is great and the bones even better. I determined to give it a try with wonderful French veal from the nearby Limousin, rubbed with a porcini powder, sugar, salt and pepper melange.

The first order of business, and perhaps the most fun, was a trip to the local butcher to get the veal rack. My friend said I needed to get Jean-Louis to wait on me, but a younger butcher asked to serve me and I didn't want to be rude. When I described what I wanted -- a four-bone rack of veal trimmed but not Frenched, with the chine bone removed -- he said I needed to wait for Jean-Louis. When J-L heard what I needed, he brought out a side of veal and we jointly decided on the perfect cut. He was rightly extremely proud of his veal, which he emphasized is raised complete "sous la mere" (under its mother) (this is the most humane way to raise veal and, not surprisingly, results in the tastiest meat). When I described what I planned to do, he was pleased, and since our roast was too big for four I joked that he should come for dinner. What vegetable are you making? he replied. As I have described in other posts, I just love going to the butcher in France.

The second problem was the rub. After searching in vain (as expected) for porcini powder, I finally found dried porcini (cèpes in French) at a supermarket, which I ground into powder in our friends' excellent blender. The rub itself was simple and all that waited was the grilling.

Here is the beautiful roast being seared on the grill . . .

Rack of veal on the grill
and here it is in the kitchen after it was fully roasted.

Roasted rack of veal
And then there's the proud me, getting ready to cut the roast off the bones prior to grilling them.

A boy (me) and his veal rack
I was too busy having fun at this point to remember to get a picture of the grilling or grilled bones, which were truly spectacular. So I and my hosts will have to settle for the memory and you will have to use your imagination.

The next day I returned to the butcher and loudly told Jean-Louis how well the meal had come out and how much I appreciated his meat. He was beaming and one of the many ladies on line in the shop said my visit was well-timed, producing a perfect commercial for Jean-Louis and his excellent butcher shop.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Périgord - La Tour des Vents

Our hosts in Périgord took us to La Tour des Vents, a one-Michelin-star restaurant near Bergerac, with a lovely view of the Dordogne valley.

The excellent food, and eating on the terrace in the lovely evening air while enjoying the interminable French summer sunset, made for a memorable experience.

Most of us started with foie gras, a pretty sure bet in Périgord. And here the presentation was lovely.

Foie gras de canard at La Tour des Vents
For main courses, J had pork chops, our hosts had duck breast and I had perfectly prepared (but as usual not very photgenic) sweetbreads - crispy on the outside, meltingly tender inside.

Pork chop at La Tour des Vents
Magret de canard at La Tour des Vents
Ris de veau (sweetbreads) at La Tour des Vents
Desserts were fine, too, and this strawberry tart, which took full advantage of the season, was especially lovely,

Tarte aux fraises at La Tour des Vents
. . .  as was this duo of chocolate ice cream and a creamy pastry.

Dessert at La Tour des Vents
One-star dining in the French countryside seldom disappoints, and the pricing is often amazingly fair. Here the four-course menu was just 60 euros.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Paris - Restaurant Jean: Still a Favorite

Last week, J and I returned to one of our favorite Paris restaurants, Jean, with our friend R, who was visiting from New York. We had a really brilliant meal, well-conceived and nearly perfectly executed, definitely worthy of the restaurant's Michelin star.

We all had the four-course meal, a terrific buy at 85 euros for a meal of this quality.

R and I stuck with the menu as written, while J substituted asparagus for eggs and lamb for beef.

The first course was soft-boiled eggs with peas, morels, parsley purée, veal jus and an[cancoillotte] emulsion of cancoillotte, a runny cheese from Comté. It was sublime, with the tastes and textures of the components coming together in a smooth and complex mixture. J substituted green asparagus from the Luberon, steamed and then sauteed with crispy shrimp, shrimp-stuffed dumplings and "saveurs asiatiques," another great success.

Oeuf mollet, petits pois, fèves, morilles, purée de persil, jus de veau, émulsion cancoillotte
Asperges vertes du Luberon, gambas rouges croquantes, gyozas farcis de gambas aux saveurs asiatiques
Next was an Italian influenced presentation of red mullet stuffed with oil-cured black olives and arroche rouge (an herb we don't have), tiny potatoes sauteed in butter, a peppered artichoke "surprise," with an arugula pesto and grated grana padano.

Rouget barbet, farci olives noires confites et arroche rouge, pommes de terre poêlées au beurre, artichaut poivrade "surprise", pesto de roquette et grana padano
The meat course consisted of perfectly medium-rare (by French standards) slices of wagyu beef crusted with Espelette pepper, [tortello de paleron] of braised beef, turnips lacquered with orange and honey, fried pimentos and beef jus. J suffered along with baby lamb in three styles (chop, confit and leg), with a "taboulé" of vegetables and ratatouille jus.

Boeuf wagyu paleron à griller, en croûte de piment d'Espelette, tortello de paleron de boeuf braisé, navet laqué orange et miel, pimientos del Padron frits, jus de boeuf
Dessert was a spectacular array of chocolate creams and mousses, with a sugar cover and dots of fruit sauces. A beautiful dish, but another example of perfectly merged tastes and textures.

Chocolate mousses and cream with sugar cover and fruit sauces
I have recommended this place to a number of friends, and none have come away disappointed.

Jean, 8, rue St-Lazare, 75009 Paris.

Bobby Jay

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Paris -- Cooking Lesson: Bistronomie Chic

Despite the pretentious name, I signed up for this course at the Atelier des Chefs in Paris. And what a nice course it was!

On the menu:

An incredibly simple Tarte Tatin aux tomates cerises et rouget au basilic (upside down caramelized cherry tomato tart with red mullet and basil sauce). While this is theoretically an appetizer, it would make a nice main course.

Cherry tomato Tartes Tatin just out of the oven
Cherry tomato Tarte Tatin with red mullet filets and basil sauce
Tournedos de volaille, beurre noisette au fenouil, pommes Anna traditionnelle (rolled chicken breasts with brown butter sauce and shaved fennel with Pommes Anna). Unfortunately the chicken breast, despite a cooking method guaranteed to keep them moist (i.e. browned briefly then baked at 160 for an hour), was dry. The Pommes Anna were great; with all that butter how could they not be?

Chicken breast "tournedos," Pommes Anna, brown butter sauce, shaved fennel
Sablé breton spéculoos, chantilly vanille et framboises (homemade speculoos cookie with raspberry whipped cream and fresh raspberries). A home run! Simple if you have a siphon, not so hard if you don't.

Speculoos cookie, raspberry whipped cream and fresh raspberries
All eminently repeatable recipes and a quite delicious morning.

Bobby Jay

Wednesday, June 17, 2015