Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Paris -- Augé Wine Shop

There is a wine and spirits shop in the eighth arrondissment that is worth a visit if you are interested in either: Augé, which has been in business since 1850. In addition to wines from all over France (primarily), Augé has a comprehensive selection of spirits, including their proprietary versions of famous single malt scotches. They work with leading distillers and, among other things, require them to use no dyes so the scotches look paler even though they retain the characteristics one would expect from the normal offerings by the same distillers. A wide selection of armagnacs, cognacs, calvadoses, etc. are also offered.

What distinguishes Augé from many other stores is the depth of expertise to be found there. I have had almost uniformly excellent recommendations for wines and wine pairings in various price ranges from at least three of the people there. Most interesting recommendation so far: to pair with beet soup, NO WINE. Indeed, the people at Augé believe that wine simply does not go with soup (or artichokes -- this being a more commonly held view), and they say that any sommelier worth his salt will not try to sell you a wine to go with a soup appetizer. I have mentioned this to other French people, who generally seem to agree in principle (but not in practice).

And it was at Augé that I discovered Drappier Brut
Zéro Champagne, a lovely champagne that is made with no added sugar (and only costs about $30 per bottle). This champagne is not available in the US, but other no-sugar-added champagnes are; I will have to try one or more of them and report. If you are familiar with any of these, please let me know by commenting below or emailing separately if you are too shy.

Bobby Jay

Monday, December 22, 2008

Paris -- Granterroirs

In recent years, Paris has seen a proliferation of epicerie/restaurants, where customers lunch at large tables on foods that are also available for purchase. One of the best of these is Granterroirs, 30, rue Miromesnil, about a block and a half from the elegant rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré (and the Elysée Palace). The food is excellent, and every day features one or more plats du jour and an excellent dessert du jour (see the chalk board in the photo). Also salads and open sandwiches on toasted pain poilane featuring their fine foie gras, onion confit, smoked salmon, ham and other scrupulously selected ingredients. Excellent cassoulets and other preserved foods, jams, chocolates and liqueurs are also to be found, together with a selection of regional wines. I have recommended Granterroirs to many friends and the response has been 100% raves.

Bobby Jay

Paris -- Images of Holiday Food

Christmas and New Year's in Paris are all about food, particularly luxury foods, such as foie gras, caviar, chocolates, fabulous pastries, vacherin de mont d'or (see my post "The Best Cheese in the World"), champagne, fine wine, etc. This year's offerings include numerous modern takes on the traditional bûche de noël, or Christmas log, which used to be a rustic representation of a gnarly log.

There is a real risk of sensory overload if you ha
ng around the famous gourmet places, as you can see from the pictures below.

Modern bûches de noël at Dalloyau and Lenôtre


Monster truffle at Maison de la Truffe

Caviar Kaspia

Birds at market
(Note the clothing for the chapons de Bresse)

Bobby Jay

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Paris -- An Impromptu Dinner

Where but in Paris can you have an impromptu dinner like this?

Having been out for dinner four nights in a row, I decided at the last minute to stay home and keep my dog company tonight. Today being Saturday, I had gone to the wonderful open-air market on the avenue de Président Wilson (16th arrondissement) in the morning and followed up with a trip to the rue de Lévis (17th) in the afternoon; as a result I had plenty of wonderful food from which to fashion a meal.

I started with an aperitif of Béquinoix, which I found last summer in Perigord during a visit to our good friends' magnificent country home near Sarlat-le-Caneda. Béquinoix is a wine-based aperitif made in Perigord with walnuts (France's best, bien sûr). It has a nice fresh taste and does what an aperitif is supposed to: makes you want to eat dinner.

Dinner consisted of
jambon aux herbes and porc rôti aux poivres verts that I got at the Alsatian traiteur on rue de Lévis, accompanied by a mixed salad of arugula, mesclun and mache with walnuts and hazelnut vinaigrette, picholine olives with laurel and coriander seeds and black olives with red peppercorns that I bought from my favorite North African olives-and-dried-fruit merchant, a perfectly runny slice of vacherin de mont d'or from Androuet (see my post "The Best Cheese in the World") and slices of a flûte pavot (poppy seed encrusted thin baguette) from Paul.

For dessert, small slices of
mini-Paris-Brest and individual tarte citron from Le Petite Rose, my favorite patissier (see "Paris -- Best Lemon Tart"), and assorted macarons from the renowned Lenôtre. There's more of everything in the fridge and I even saved the whole rotisserie-roasted stuffed quail for my wife, who arrives tomorrow.

Despite the presence in the French markets of produce from all over the world, I tried to use only French products for this meal. As you can see, this was no hardship.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Paris - Musée Jacquemart-André

The Musée Jacquemart-André in Paris (158, boulevard Haussman, 8ème) is a wonderful museum set in a second empire grande demeure. It has an excellent permanent collection and also frequently houses well thought-out visiting exhibitions of various kinds of art.

More to the point for this blog, you can have a very nice lunch or tea under a real Tiepolo ceiling (at left) in the museum's cafe. You don't have to pay an entry fee for the museum to enjoy this experience.

The museum is open 365 days a year, and is therefore a great place to have lunch on Christmas day (or any national holiday, for that matter). For more information, visit the museum's web site,

Bobby Jay

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


As with oils, there are a huge number of vinegars, each with a different use. I have a crazy amount of them even though I have stayed away from herb-infused ones. Fortunately, unlike oil, vinegar keeps pretty much forever.

Red Wine
. I keep a good Italian one (there are no exceptional ones), like Colavita. For French I use Orléans, which is available at good gourmet stores, and Banyuls, which is hard to find.

White Wine. I use French only, and try to get good quality, not infused with tarragon

Sherry. I rarely use it although many salad dressing recipes call for it. Even good quality isn't too expensive, so I buy pretty good stuff.

Balsamic. I confess that I don't really like it because I find it too sweet and assertive. That being said, there are innumerable recipes that call for it so I keep decent quality stuff and cut it by at least 1/2 with red wine vinegar. Sometimes great amounts of cheap stuff are called for, and I'll just buy a bottle.

The really great stuff is another thing altogether, being complex and syrupy rather than sweet. Great just drizzled over vanilla ice cream!

There is a pretty nice and inexpensive (because not aged long at all) condiment called white balsamic vinegar. Worth experimenting with.

Tomato. I love tomato vinegar, which is vinegar made from tomatoes and not a flavored wine vinegar. This inexpensive product, which is made by a company called Mutti, can be found, with difficulty, in NY (they have it at Kalustyan's). I use it blended with red wine vinegar in salad dressing (1 part tomato to 2 or 3 parts wine).
It adds body without the sweetness of balsamic.

Many recipes call for this. It is easy to find and not expensive, so recommended if space permits.

Another one that is frequently called for in recipes. Keep some if you have room. Get a French one, not Heinz or equivalent, unless you need tons of it.

Rice or Rice Wine. Necessary for Asian and Asian-inspired cuisine, such as miso salad dressings.

Interesting vinegars make nice house gifts when you are invited to dinner. If you are really rich, bring the very old balsamic vinegar; otherwise any one that sounds interesting.

Bobby Jay

Monday, December 8, 2008

Apple Peeler/Corer/Slicer

This is not a device for torturing small animals, but rather a gadget that really is great at what it does: a pèle-pomme trancheur (apple peeler/slicer). You insert the apple and crank; in approximately 2 seconds, you have uniform, peeled 1/4-inch apple slices, ready to be sautéed or put on a crust and made into an apple tart. I bought mine (a Matfer) in France but have seen them in the US. I saw one at Bed Bath & Beyond (made in Asia and priced below $20) that allows you to core and slice without peeling, or to peel without slicing, but I stupidly didn't buy it and haven't seen it again. The only downside of this item is that it is what Alton Brown calls a uni-tasker and takes up precious kitchen space; so resist the urge if you don't peel and slice a lot of apples.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Giant (14-inch) Fry Pan

I recently bought a Vollrath Tribute 14" frying pan, and I love it. It is stainless steel-clad aluminum, and heats quite evenly. This is great if you are browning beef, lamb or veal, or sauteing a whole chicken, and don't want to overcrowd the pan, or are preparing a lot of kale or other greens that otherwise spill all over your stove until they melt down. This line of pans comes with a soft insulating handle rated at 450 degrees, so it can go into the oven. And it's not that heavy despite its size, although a bit big for flipping.

Bobby Jay

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Knives: Choosing and Sharpening

Inspired by One-Knife Woman's comment to my post "The World's Greatest Chef's Knives?", I am writing this post a bit ahead of schedule. I apologize for the length of this post, but there is a fair amount of ground to cover.

I am not a knife expert, but did take a course in knife work, and learned a lot, from the famed Norman Weinstein. See my post "Knife Skills." Norman has a lot of thoughts about knives, some of which I outline below. (He has written a whole book, Mastering Knife Skills: The Essential Guide to the Most Important Tools in Your Kitchen, which I have not (yet) bought, so there is obviously a lot to learn about this topic.)

First, one must understand the difference between sharpening and honing. Sharpening, which involves removing part of the steel of the knife's blade, is done rarely, while honing, which realigns the microscopic teeth on a non-serrated blade, should be done pretty much each time you use the knife, with a sharpening steel. Norman suggests getting your good knives sharpened once a year by a professional. He recommends Henry Westphal Co., Inc., located at 11 West 25th Street, which does the sharpening off-site in a couple of days, and Broadway Panhandler. I used Henry Westpfal and found them to be very good. The guys who come around on the street (or are in front of Zabar's) may or may not be good. Norman is not a fan of electric sharpeners, including the Chef's Choice (which I used until I met him).

As far as what kind of knife to use, in our class we used forged Wusthof Classic knives: (i) a 10-inch chef's knife, (ii) a 8-inch chef's knife, (iii) a 6-inch "sandwich" knife, (iv) a 10-inch serrated knife (for carving, bread, tomatoes, etc.) and (v) a 3 1/2-inch paring knife. We did not use boning knives; that is for a different course. The point of using both the 8-inch and the 10-inch chef's knives was to let us conclude, as we all did, that the 10-inch is better in all respects; the extra heft actually makes cutting easier. The 6-inch sandwich is a great utility knife. There are other, more expensive Wusthof lines but the difference is with the handle, not the blade, so you choose. Wusthof (like Henckels) uses a high carbon stainless, which stays clean but is soft enough to hone with a sharpening steel. Speaking of steels, make sure you get one that is 2 inches longer than your longest knife, i.e., a 12-inch steel if you have a 10-inch chef's knife. You want to hone with a 20 degree angle (eyeball just 1/2 of 90 degrees and then a little less than 1/2 of that); Norman recommends holding the steel vertically, point on a towel on the counter, so you can make sure the angle is good, and I endorse this approach.

Norman does not like the hugely popular Santoku style of knife, primarily because it does not have a bolster and finger guard and also because he does not favor Japanese style knives. The latter is because they have thinner blades made of harder steel, which are sharper to start with but harder to keep sharp and honed. (Do not use ceramic knives; they are (and stay) wonderfully sharp but are expensive and very very easy to chip.)

That being said, I recently took a cooking lesson in Paris at Atelier Guy Martin and the chef was raving about the Shun knives, which he described as the Rolls-Royce of knives (and which they happen to sell at the Atelier). They use excellent Wusthof or Henckels knives in class.

To summarize, get a Wusthof 10-inch chef's knife and, if you have the money, a 6-inch "sandwich," together with a 12-inch sharpening steel. Use the steel frequently, and get professional sharpening once a year. A good bread and paring knife are great, too. If you have a santoku or Japanese knife and are happy with it, enjoy.

You can get Wusthof knives at discount prices at Broadway Panhandler and Henry Westpfal and through various on-line sources. If you prefer to pay list price, there's always Williams-Sonoma.

Other tips and pointers? What about comments on Shun knives or santokus?

Bobby Jay

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


I find that I use a number of different oils, for different purposes.

Vegetable. I use canola because it is lowest in saturated fats, but peanut, grape seed and corn are fine. All have relatively high smoking points and lack any distinctive taste.

. Volumes could be written on this subject. I use four kinds: (1) excellent quality Italian extra virgin, for finishing and special Italian salad dressings; (2) excellent quality French extra virgin, for finishing and French salad dressings; (3) good Italian extra virgin (I like Fairway's Pugliese) for everyday use, but not frying; and (4) cheap or non- extra virgin Italian for sauteing (apparently all the aromatic subtleties of an extra-virgin oil disappear when it is brought to high enough heat to saute). There are great olive oils made in Spain, Greece, Morocco, Australia and California which may substitute for the ones listed above.

Hazelnut. I use this all the time in salad dressing. See my post "Elegant Arugula Salad." Probably good drizzled over the right cheese, but I haven't worked on this yet.

Walnut. I don't use often, but there are recipes for walnut and apple/pear salads that feature this. This is also probably fine sprinkled over cheese and walnuts.

. This is a great product made of olive oil and pressed lemons rinds; it is not just lemon flavored. I love it over mozzarella and over simply steamed or boiled artichokes.

Sesame. For that Asian flavor, generally by itself or with rice vinegar. I love it sprinkled on top of a raw avocado.

I buy my highest quality French and Italian olive oils and lemon/olive oil from O & Co. (at Grand Central Market and elsewhere), where you can taste before buying. I'm sure there are many, many other great oils but O & Co.'s are reliable.

There are of course many infused oils, but space limitations make it difficult to keep many of them. Notables are truffle oil (great over a toast covered with parmesan shavings), hot pepper oil (great over pizza or pasta), garlic oil (ditto) and various herb oils, such as basil, rosemary and mixed herbs (great to drizzle over mozzarella and tomatoes. The great chef Bobby Flay just uses a blender and makes herb oils as required for his recipes.
In addition, there are a number of very specialized, delicious oils that I don't keep but that are worth buying if a really good recipe demands, for example pistachio oil and argan oil (a very expensive but wonderfully nutty oil made from the nut of the argan tree, which grows only in Southern Morocco).

Scented and specialty oils make excellent house gifts for people who like to cook, as do any really excellent oils (or vinegars . . . but that's another post).

Bobby Jay

Monday, December 1, 2008

The World's Best Chef's Knives?

The November 24 New Yorker has an interesting article by Todd Oppenheimer on Bob Kramer's hand-made kitchen knives, which are apparently the best in the country, if not the world. The article may be found at www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/11/24/081124fa_fact_oppenheimer. A quick look at his web site confirms that Kramer is so back-logged that he's not taking orders. Let me know if you have used, or even seen, one of Kramer's knives.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Paris -- Pastry or Art?

Our Paris apartment is just minutes from Dalloyau, one of the grand pâtisseries of Paris. Here's what was in their window in mid-November. Isn't that a Richard Serra in the middle of the above photo? (He had a couple of major exhibitions in Paris earlier this year.)

Located at 101, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Dalloyau is not to be missed. Its pastries are as good as they look, and it is a marvelous place to go for tea.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Bobby Jay's Salad Dressing

I am often complimented on my salad dressing, so I will share my method here.

Italian Style

Generally, for an Italian style dressing, I take a little Italian red wine vinegar, whisk together with a tiny bit of tomato vinegar* and lots of finely chopped herbs, my favorites being tarragon and chives, and coarsely ground black pepper. I add a couple of inches of anchovy paste because it gives great depth to the dressing, without tasting of anchovy: this is my secret ingredient. But you can use salt. Then I whisk it all and add very good Italian extra-virgin olive oil until the texture is right. After I dress the salad, I add a sprinkling of grated fresh parmesan cheese, more black pepper, chopped scallions and bigger pieces of the herbs I used in the dressing base. An option is to cut a clove of garlic and rub the cut edge on the bowl before making the dressing.

* Tomato vinegar is a great product. It really is made of tomato, not just flavored with it, and adds great depth without the sweetness of balsamic. It is inexpensive but a bit hard to find. Available at the famous Kalustyan's, 123 Lexington Avenue. If necessary, you can substitute balsamic but very judiciously, please.

French Style

For French style, I use the same technique, but with French vinegar (Orléans or better still, if you can find it, Banyuls), French extra-virgin olive oil, salt instead of anchovy paste, and grated or shredded gruyère cheese at the end instead of parmesan.

I often make and save some of the French version, but can turn it into Italian by adding a little tomato vinegar and/or Italian red wine vinegar and finish with parmesan cheese instead of gruyère.

Classic Vinaigrette

For a great basic vinaigrette, I use Gordon Hamersley's "Classic Bistro Vinaigrette," published in his wonderful Bistro Cooking at Home, and enhance it by using generous quantities of fresh herbs as above - generally tarragon and chives but others are fine, too. It is so simple that I hope he won't mind my publishing it here.

1 TBS Dijon mustard
1 shallot, finely chopped (about 1 TBS)
1/4 C red wine vinegar
generous pinch kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Whisk all but the oil together, then slowly whisk in oil until an emulsion forms.

I find this keeps pretty well in the fridge if you don't add the herbs until you want to use it.

Until now, I have eschewed creamy dressings and sweet ones, but I hope to branch out.

Bobby Jay

My First Family Thanksgiving

Our family's Thanksgiving has been my mother's holiday since 1966, and was her mother's before that. These many Thanksgivings provided many happy memories. This year, though, due to family travails, my mother relented and allowed me to host the event.

Before this year, I have only made two turkeys, in Paris in 1979 and in Tokyo nearly twenty years later, in 1998. I confess I don't recall anything about the French dinde, except that it was delicious and quite different from the American bird. The Tokyo turkey was a frozen American like most people here eat, made in the most classic way, that I served at a house party for my office staff, mostly Japanese people who had never experienced a whole roasted Turkey, let alone a traditional American Thanksgiving.

Anticipating that I might someday be called upon to take over the family duties, I have been assiduously saving interesting recipes for turkey, stuffing and Thanksgiving sides for years, so many that it was hard to decide which to choose. Not only are there a million different flavors, there are also a million methods. To brine or not to brine; to rub or not to rub, to slow-cook or to fast-cook, to stuff or not to stuff: these are some of the questions that a first-timer must address.
My first decision was to keep it fairly traditional - no southwestern or Asian spice rub, however appealing they might sound. Second decision: not to stuff the bird, for multiple reasons (primarily, I'd rather use the juice (defatted) for gravy than to eat all the fat in the stuffing) but to make dressing separately. Third decision: not to brine; a friend who is the best cooker of birds that I know said she had tried it and found it of marginal, if any, benefit if the turkey is of good quality. Fourth decision: to use Michael Chiarello's fennel spice rub and his fast-cooking method (available through www.foodnetwork.com). So, I made his delicious rub - lots of fennel seeds, white peppercorns and coriander seeds, toasted, then ground, with salt - oiled the 15-pound turkey with olive oil on and under the skin, and put in the fridge overnight. Took it out an hour and a half before cooking at 425 degrees for just 3 hours (165 degrees in the deepest part of the thigh), left to stand for 20 minutes and voila!: a delicious turkey, with pretty moist white meat and lots of tasty, crispy skin.

In case anyone cares, the side dishes were a pretty classic herb and onion stuffing made with large cubes of ciabatta bread, Mark Bittman's sweet potato gratin with hazelnuts, ginger and orange zest, green beans with Meyer lemon vinaigrette and parmesan breadcrumbs (from New York Times), a green salad with my Italian dressing (see my posting on Salad Dressing), my mother's delicious cranberry chutney, and boiled white rice (ours is the only non-Asian family that eats white rice for Thanksgiving - not my idea). The sweet potato gratin, from a recent New York Times, is a keeper; try to get it on line. I will certainly improve on the stuffing and replace the green beans with a different side next time.

Of course, Thanksgiving wouldn't be Thanksgiving without hors d'oeuvres and desserts. In keeping with the holiday's traditions, my sister-in-law brought a truckload of delicious appetizers and desserts, and my mother-in-law furnished her delicious home-made cranberry and pear tortes. Needless to say, everyone was sated and happy.

My strategy to prepare for next year (if the feast does not revert to Mom) is to have an experimental Thanksgiving dinner in the spring, say April, for a group of adventurous and honest friends, and to try one or more of those exotic Asian or Southwestern recipes. It'll probably be a good meal and in any event won't "count" as a real Thanksgiving; still, I hope to get some ideas that can be applied to the real thing.

Please share your suggestions and experiences.

Bobby Jay

Rue Paul-Bert: An Interesting Food Street

A short Paris street that will be of interest to food lovers is rue Paul-Bert, in the 11th arrondissment, Metro Faidherbe-Chaligny. There are three well-known bistros, an Argentine steak restaurant and a bookstore specializing in food-related books.

Le Bistrot Paul-Bert, at Number 18, is a well-known, very traditional Paris bistro with high-quality products, well prepared.

Le Temps au Temps, at Number 13. The night we ate at Le Bistrot Paul-Bert, one of our friends literally pulled me across the street to this bistro. I recently visited it, and was lucky to get a seat at the tiny bar, since the tiny place books weeks in advance. I had a nice meal, especially the Lyonnais sausage starter. The place had recently changed ownership, but I found it very good and inviting; stay tuned.

L'Ecaillier du Bistrot, at Number 22, is a bistro attached to a poissonerie. I have not been there but it is highly regarded. Walking by it recently on my way to Le Temps au Temps, I resolved to go there next time I am in Paris.

L'Unico, at Number 15, is a Argentine, primarily steak, restaurant set in an old butcher shop with modern furnishings. It looked pretty unattractive when I walked by it, but it was full and subsequent research indicates that it is well-respected and definitely chic. Your move.

La Cocotte, Librairie de Gout, at Number 5 , is a gastronomic bookshop. When I told a friend how much seemed to be happening on this small street (see above), she said her friend has an interesting bookshop oriented to food on the same street. I couldn't get to it since it is closed Mondays and I was leaving Tuesday, but it's definitely on my list of places to check out. They sell small food items and also have cooking lessons. For more information, go to http://www.lacocotte.net.

A lot of gastronomy for a little street.

Bobby Jay

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Excellent Book - The Omnivore's Dilemma

I just finished reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. This is a really insightful book about where our food comes from, and I recommend it highly to anyone interested in food.

The first part of the book explains that if we are what we eat, we consist mostly of corn, with a fair amount of petroleum thrown in. Pollan explains in a lucid, readable way how corn became has become the dominant crop in the US and, indeed, the world, since World War II, and the implications of this on our diets, health and world economy: the dominance of industrial agriculture, less healthful food (high levels of antibiotics required due to the lack of natural antibodies in monocultural corn diet and the lack of biological richness in chemical fertilizers), inhumane treatment of animals, etc. Pretty scary stuff, but not hysterically presented.

The second part of the book is about alternatives, organic farming and smaller sustainable farming. Pollan makes the case that organic has become closer to industrial than "real" farming but concludes that it is better, due to the absence of antibiotics, than conventional. The meat of the book (no pun intended) is the lengthy discussion of "grass farming," meaning sustainable, local farming based on intense management of the soil by careful grazing, involving chickens, pigs and beef in a virtuous cycle of soil nourishment and producing meats that taste like the real thing. I found this part of the book to be extremely moving, and came to be convinced that such agriculture could be commercially viable if we were able to agree as a society to factor in the total cost associated with apparently cheap food, i.e., health issues, environmental issues and, not as intuitively, energy consumption. If only . . . . In the meantime, there is something we can do, namely encouraging the burgeoning community supported agriculture movement, shopping at farmers' markets and paying the extra price for meats and vegetables that are designed (through milennia of evolution, not the laboratory) to meet the nutritional needs of our species (and which, not coincidentally, taste much better). I was already doing this for more simplistic reasons (see my post "Community Supported Agriculture"), but plan to redouble my efforts.

The final section describes Pollan's foray into the worlds of hunting and gathering, in order to get closer to the food and, "take responsibility" for killing animals for food. I found it pretty entertaining, but without practical application; even Pollan admits that we are not ever going back to that way of life.

Bobby Jay

The Best Cheese in the World

The cool weather brings a lot of good things, and one of the best of these is the arrival of the vacherin du Mont d'Or in the fromageries of Paris. A raw cow's milk cheese that is wrapped in a band of spruce in Franche-Comté, just on the border of Switzerland. The texture is fantastic and the spruce imparts a woody taste and smell that must be experienced. Unfortunately, the vacherin that gets to the US is, in my experience, very expensive and not even close to what you get in France.

Pictured above is a window full of vacherin at Barthélemy, one of the best fromageries in Paris, 51, rue de Grenelle (7ème).

Bobby Jay

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Ultimate Paris Bistro Finder

Americans in Paris (myself included) seem to always be on the hunt for great bistros, featuring honest (often traditional) food at modest prices served in unpretentious surroundings.

A friend introduced me to Le Petit Lebey des Bistrots Parisiens, which describes and rates hundreds of Paris bistros. Instead of stars, Lebey awards cocottes (casseroles): one for "good bistro cuisine," two for "very good bistro cuisine" and three for "one of the best bistros in Paris." Lebey's descriptions are extremely useful; they actually specify what the meal rated consisted of (including wine), the date and the exact price paid. I find the ratings to be quite reliable, and a 3-cocotte bistrot is almost always worth going to. The guide includes "modern" bistros as well as "traditional" ones.

Despite the reliability of le Petit Lebey, I always cross-check with another guide to get another view. I generally consult Pudlo, which I find quite comprehensive and reliable, with useful up-to-date descriptions. I also use Pudlo for non-bistro restaurant selection.

Here are some bistros that I've been to in the last 18 months or so that may be found in le Petit Lebey. Unless otherwise stated, all received a 3-cocotte rating. Time prohibits detailed descriptions, but the asterisks signify the ones I particularly liked.

Astier, 11ème
Bistrot Paul Bert, 11ème
Le Temps au Temps, 11ème
*L'Accolade, 17ème
*Les Fougères, 17ème (only 2 cocottes)
*Le Troquet, 15ème
Benoit, 4ème
Mon Vieil Ami, 4ème (Ile St-Louis) (modern)
La Table Lauriston, 16ème
*Chapeau Melon, 19ème (only 2 cocottes) (modern)

If you get to any of these, or discover other bistros that you really like, please post a comment or email me at bobbyjay@bobbyjayonfood.com.

Bobby Jay

Chaussons aux Pommes Revisited

As promised, I tried a bunch of chaussons aux pommes during my trip to Paris. I started at the wonderful Dalloyau, 99-101, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré (8ème). I found the puff pastry to be excellent, but so high and flaky that it bore little relation to the apple filling. Next, I tried a chausson at Eric Kayser, 85, boulevard Malesherbes (8ème) as Molly Wizenburg had recommended. Better. Here the pastry was kept in check, and the apples kept a little texture, so each bite yielded a well-balanced mouthful of apple, butter, sugar and flour tastes. Third was Monoprix, which generally has decent, if not excellent, pastries. Bad: cardboard plus apple sauce. Fourth was Gérard Mulot, 76, rue de Seine (6ème), a great pâtisserie and home of the stupendous individual orange tart that is almost a crème brulée. Another disappointment: the pastry and the apple filling had nothing to do with each other. Finally, I tried Julien, 73, avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt (8ème), as recommended by Mimi. Second place: a relatively compact chausson with nice apple taste, and a bargain at 1.40 euros.

The bottom line for me, though, after all this sampling, is that I prefer my hand-held puff pastry plain (croissant) or stuffed with chocolate (pain au chocolat). And I prefer my apples atop a classic tarte.

But millions of French people can't be wrong (at least not about a pastry), and there are as many versions as there are pâtisseries, so please try them for yourselves and let me know what you discover.

Bobby Jay

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Paris -- Best Lemon Tart

A little known, but really excellent, patissier in Paris is La Petite Rose, located at 11, boulevard de Courcelles. It is run by a Japanese woman and all the people who work there are Japanese women who are perfectly bilingual (I don't know about English). The tarts are fantastic, particularly the individual lemon tart (pictured at left), which is the best I have ever tasted (and I have tasted them at the best-known patisseries in Paris).

The home-made chocolates are also superb, especially the mendiant noir (pictured at right, second from left in top row).

Since La Petite Rose is not so well-known and not located in a very fashionable neigborhood, their prices are about 30% lower than at the most famous patisseries: a screaming bargain.

Bobby Jay

Paris -- Oyster Lovers' "Club"

Last night, my first back in Paris in four months, I went to the little oyster bar at Garnier, near the Gare Saint-Lazare. I don’t love Garnier, but there is this intimate room just past the oyster shuckers outside, before you actually enter the restaurant, that is a jewel.

There are 12 seats arrayed in circular fashion (about 300 degrees of the circle) around the barman, who takes your order out to the oyster shuckers and makes up plates of fairly undistinguished brown bread with two kinds of butter: ordinary and with algae (the latter having a wonderful redolence of the sea). Upon entering, every customer nods at the ones already there, thus forming an ad hoc club of oyster devotees. Last night I encountered a late-middle-aged French couple, a young man with two older women, one of whom was probably his aunt (really!), a young couple with a woman who certainly was the mother of one of them, a heavy-set Italian tourist with an enormous appetite.

As usual, I order the plateau ostréicole (mixed oyster plate), which consists of two oysters of each of six kinds, and crevettes roses, served with simple mayonnaise. My favorite oysters were the Utah Beach (from Normandy, obviously) and the perles blanches but all were delicious – fresh and briny. What could be a more simple, or more delicious, meal?

Bobby Jay

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Chaussons aux Pommes

There is a charming article (including a recipe) in November's Bon Appetit about chaussons aux pommes by Molly Wizenburg. I have eaten them over the years and, frankly, never considered them to be in a league with croissants or pains au chocolat. However, I am on my way to Paris tonight and hope to try a chausson at one or more of the patisseries that she recommends; perhaps, like Molly, I will become a convert.

Bobby Jay

Friday, November 7, 2008

Great American Farm Cheese

As I prepare for a short trip to Paris, I have cheese on my mind. While France is still unparalleled in the quality and variety of its cheeses, a number of excellent cheesemakers have arisen in this country in the last couple of decades. I am not an authority, but have discovered one maker whose cheeses rival the best of France or anywhere: Cato Corner, from Colchester, Connecticut. I have been buying their cheeses at the Union Square Market for a couple of years and consider them to be world-class, particularly the cheddar, which is available only in the cold months and then only rarely, and has nothing to do with any cheddar I have ever tasted. Their cheeses are available at other locations and some restaurants, and also online, as noted in their website http://www.catocornerfarm.com

A wonderful selection of artisanal American cheeses may be found at Saxelby's, in New York's Essex Market. Go to Links, at right, to link to Saxelby's.

Bobby Jay

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Chopping Device

I like to chop things, using and improving on my knife skills (see my earlier post "Knife Skills"). But not nuts or chocolate, which fly all over the kitchen where our dog can get them (and chocolate, of course, is dangerous for dogs). So I was intrigued to see Michael Chiarello use this chopping device on Easy Entertaining for a variety of things: nuts, garlic, parsley, mint. After all, if a real chef can use it, why can't I? Well, I bought one for only $14.95, and can report that it is great for nuts (see toasted hazelnuts pictured above), very good for garlic, and okay for parsley, mint and scallions. Cleaning is not difficult but there are a lot of parts, so I wouldn't use it for less than four cloves of garlic or 1/4 cup of greens. I haven't used it for chocolate yet: I try to buy it in chips so I don't have to chop it. The bottom line: a useful gadget that is cheap and doesn't take up much room. There are a number of brands, and some may be even better than the KitchenAid, but I can only vouch for this one.

Bobby Jay

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Great Day for America

Bobbyjayonfood.com, as its name indicates, is devoted exclusively to food and food-related topics. But the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States is such an extraordinary event that I feel compelled to make an exception and to take note of it. In electing Obama, Americans have chosen hope over fear, idealism over cynicism and internationalism over unilateralism. In electing Obama, we have realized the promise of the civil rights movement and sent an important message to the world: The American Dream is still alive.

Since just after 9/11, I have lived in France for about two months a year, and I have been struck by how much the French and others around the world care about the United States and look to us for moral leadership. They have been deeply disappointed in us as our administration has pursued policies that have consciously undermined the world order. Although the American people did not really elect George Bush in 2000 – it took the Supreme Court to accomplish that – we actually did reelect him in 2004, after we knew what he and his administration had done to destabilize the Middle East and to rob Americans of the precious liberties guaranteed by our Constitution and Bill of Rights. I cannot fathom this myself and accordingly have been unable to explain it to my French friends and acquaintances. I have supported Obama since reading his moving book, Dreams from My Father, in which he describes his multi-ethnic and -cultural background and his search for his identity. His story embodies all that has been best about America since its inception. Obama is a gifted leader who I think is uniquely suited to convince non-Americans that what they admire most about us – our freedom, our devotion to equality and justice and our ability to look to the future – remain fundamental characteristics of our nation, and that they are justified in looking to us for leadership and partnership in confronting an uncertain and ominous future.

Our European friends are as thrilled with the election of Barack Obama as I am. I hope we can all help him to lead us to a better place.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Great Culinary Resource

I have recently discovered Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. (Although, from the blurbs on the back cover, it appears that every major player in the food world had already discovered it.) This is an amazingly comprehensive treatise on the named subjects, and if you are interested in food, you need this book.

For example, I was recently trying to find out the difference between blackstrap molasses and other kinds. McGee has an information-filled page, as opposed to a short (and not useful) paragraph in the Larousse Gastronomique, itself a worthy resource. Not only that, but I found myself in the middle of a fascinating section on the refining of sugar, with a lot of useful and interesting information on "factory" brown sugars like demerara, turbinado and muscovado and refinery brown sugars (all other kinds).

Not the kind of book to read cover-to-cover, but a truly wonderful and essential resource.

Bobby Jay

Monday, October 27, 2008


The question from Jeffrey on my post "Cookbooks - Starter Set" reminded me that I wanted to discuss chickens. As I mention in that post, I love Hamersley's Walk-Away Chicken, and use this as my mother recipe for testing chickens because I have made it so many times that I can compare the result. This recipe works with any good chicken, including a Bell and Evans or Murray's. But I have found that the best chicken available in the supermarket is d'Artagnan's organic free-range chicken. I prefer 2.75-3.0 pounds, and roast it at 375 degrees for 1 1/2 hours or, better still, 1 hour and 10-15 minutes at 375 in a convection oven.

But then I discovered the really fantastic organic chickens available at Flying Pig Farms on Fridays and Saturdays at the Union Square Market, and the equally wonderful chicken produced by Lewis Waite Farm Group in upstate New York (http://www.csapasturedmeatandpoultry.com/). I am sure there are other wonderful organic chickens produced by smaller growers than d'Artagnan that will give great results. They make a great recipe even better.

Bobby Jay

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Oops, Left Out the Best Food Movie

Hard to believe, but my earlier post on food movies omitted the best food movie of all time (well, maybe second after Babette's Feast): Ratatouille. My wife saw it without me and concluded that I, Bobby Jay, am in fact Remy (see portrait above left), the charming Parisian rat/chef in the film, or vice versa; either way, I take that as a compliment. Thanks to the person who reminded me (and who wishes to remain anonymous).

Bobby Jay

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Food Movies

Food movies form a subgenre of food literature, and there have been some good ones. Of course, the best ones are not just about food, but about people in interesting situations. I list a few below, but solicit recommendations from others because I am sure I am omitting many.

The greatest food movie is certainly Babette's Feast, a French/Danish movie in which a French chef uses her dazzling cooking skills to wake up an entire Danish town of straight-laced protestants.

I also love The Big Night, which has a lot to say about the origins of interesting Italian food in America but also about family.

An excellent but less well-known food movie is a French movie, A Chef in Love, about a French chef in Georgia during the period of the Russian Revolution.

I also liked Mostly Martha (a German movie) and, to a lesser extent, the American remake, No Reservations.

And Chocolat, a nice story with the wonderful Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp.

Although not a food movie, there are some magnificent (if somewhat implausible) food scenes in Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence.

Finally, two well-respected food movies that I don't know well are Ang Lee's The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Food Shows on Television

I have to confess that I’ve become a TV cooking program junkie. I love Jacques Pépin and watch him when I can on PBS. More Fast Food My Way, which has just started, seems to continue where his fine Fast Food My Way left off. Also on PBS, I watch Lidia’s Italy, enjoying not only the cooking but also the information presented on the different regions of Italy. I have the companion books to all these series and all are full of practical, easily executed delicious recipes.

Most of my watching is on the Food Network, though. The important thing is to have a recording device (I have a DVR) so you can skip over the commercials (which cuts a 30-minute show down to 18 minutes) and the things you really have no interest in cooking. Watch them all and then choose those whose recipes seem consistent with your own cooking and life style, and whose shtick doesn’t bother you too much.

Recipes that you like are available on foodnetwork.com, which has an annoyingly complex web site.

That being said, I like

Good Eats, with Alton Brown. Pretty annoying shtick but really a treasure trove of information on specific foods and ingredients (for example, salt, pepper, bananas, eggs, chocolate, etc.) and good recipes, too.

Molto Mario, with Mario Batali. Lots of information about Italian regional specialties, and lots of fun to watch. The only problem is that I have had hit or miss results with the recipes. Editing, editing, editing.

Easy Entertaining, with Michael Chiarello. Very interesting takes on traditional dishes, and recipes that always seem to get delicious and impressive results.

Everyday Italian, with Giada de Laurentis. I always want to dislike this show, but many interesting, well-presented and clear recipes, which work in practice.

Boy Meets Grill, with Bobby Flay, one of the most brilliant and creative chefs around. I don’t have a grill and the recipes are a bit complex, but that’s because he’s creating multiple layers of flavors and textures in his brilliant recipes. Usually capable of being done on a stovetop grill pan or broiler.

Tyler’s Ultimate, with Tyler Florence. Enthusiastic chef with interesting whole menus and careful research; he really does create wonderful recipes by taking the best of the classics and simplifying for home use.

Jamie at Home, with Jamie Oliver. Great stuff, with his infectious personality and bold, bold use of herbs and spices. I’m only sorry I didn’t see his earlier series. By the way, the companion cookbook is excellent.

Healthy Appetite, with Ellie Krieger. Healthy dishes that are simple and delicious. A balanced approach to healthy eating.

Secrets of a Restaurant Chef, with Anne Burrell. A new series that looks promising. It seems to be what it purports to be: insights as to how the pros do it that you can use at home.

And I have to admit to liking Iron Chef, the Japanese prototype of which I used to watch in Japan in the late 1990's, and Throwdown with Bobby Flay. They are just fun to watch.

Bobby Jay

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cookbooks I - Starter Set

As I said in an earlier post, I love cookbooks and have many. I plan to discuss many of them in this and coming posts. For my very first cookbook discussion, I thought I would make some suggestions for how to put together a small basic collection. My intention is to come up with a list for people who think they can’t cook, either for lack of time or lack of skill. So these books have really easy recipes for delicious and attractive food that can be presented to company. This list is totally idiosyncratic, and there are many other approaches one could adopt. Also, it does not include books on any of the more exotic cuisines - Asian, Mexican, Middle Eastern - or on vegetarian or vegan cuisine, all of which are subjects in themselves.

By the way, a collection like this, possibly combined with a subscription to Gourmet, Bon Appétit or Cook's Illustrated, would make a great engagement present.


Jacques Pépin is a great chef and a fantastic teacher. I have many of his books and have watched him often on his TV series. A couple of years ago, he did a series called Fast Food My Way and the accompanying book is wonderful. I use it often when I don’t have or want to spend too much time, and the recipes are reliable and easy. I gave this book to my French teacher, who uses it often for entertaining and receives many compliments on her meals.

A less well-known book is Bistro Cooking at Home, by Boston chef and restaurant owner Gordon Hamersley. The recipes are well conceived and edited, and easy to prepare. Just to name a couple, the Coq au Vin is outstanding, and the Walk-Away Roast Chicken is the best (and easiest) roast chicken I have ever made: it is my wife’s favorite dish.

Patricia Wells’ Bistro Cooking is another trove of authentic well-chosen French recipes. Although not foolproof, I have had an awful lot of good meals based on recipes in this book.


Everyone loves Italian food, so any starter set of cookbooks needs to include several in this category. Fortunately, there are millions.
An amazingly simple one is Every Night Italian, by Giuliano Hazan, Marcella Hazan’s son. His aim is to show you how to prepare simple dishes with great ingredients, I believe he succeeds. When you read the recipes, they look a bit boring, but the proof is in the tasting and the results are delicious.

Risotto, by Judith Barrett and Norma Wasserman, gives you a foolproof technique for making risotto and an abundance of recipes. Risotto is always a crowd pleaser, and everyone thinks it’s hard to make; this book proves that wrong, but you needn’t tell your guests.

Diana Seed’s The Top One Hundred Pasta Sauces is exactly what it purports to be, and is an invaluable book.

If you want to get a little fancier, there is Marcella’s Hazan’s great Elements of Classic Italian Cooking, which contains many wonderful recipes from all over Italy; they are well-selected and reliable.


For a bunch of great recipes that always seem to come out well, I recommend The Union Square Cafe Cookbook, by Danny Meyer and Michael Romano. Very sophisticated food that is within anyone’s reach due to this beautifully edited book.

Finally, I guess anyone should have a basic reference, and probably The Joy of Cooking is as good as any. I don’t use it often, but it is encyclopedic and has a lot of useful information about ingredients and methods.

Bobby Jay

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Paris Spice Merchant

Goumanyat & Son Royaume is a super spice store in Paris, located at 3 rue Charles-François Dupuis, in the 3eme. This is the relatively new retail outlet of Jm Thiercelin, a 6th- or 7th-generation spice manufacturer (founded 1809) located in Melun, not far from Paris. This company actually makes the spices, with raw materials obtained throughout the world.

I had an interesting conversation with the very thoughtful M. Thiercelin about how he procures the best quality spices (with expertise, of course, but also with 200 years of relationships), the future of agriculture throughout the globe and other interesting food related topics.

The spices are great, especially saffron, which is a specialty, and the many, many proprietary mixtures. Also to be found here are infused oils of every kind, herbal, shellfish, etc.(click on image at left), and syrups infused with different peppers (click on image below).

Definitely worth a trip, especially if you're on your way to the nearby Marché des Enfants Rouges on the rue de Bretagne for lunch or grocery shopping.

Bobby Jay

General Thoughts on Cookbooks

I love to read cookbooks and have quite a collection. In future entries I will discuss many of them, but here I want to stress the importance of good editing. Many cookbooks with a famous provenance, particularly those purportedly written by famous chefs, have appetizing recipes that don't work (or at least not for me). Others, by unexpected authors, are fantastic, and the recipes almost always produce great results. I always try to make a point of looking carefully at some of the more basic recipes (like coq au vin, apple tart and basic vinaigrette in the case of French cooking) before buying a cookbook and seeing whether the techniques, ingredients and tools required are reasonably available and simplified (but not too much) for home use. I find that technical illustrations and good pictures of the final product are very helpful. Careful pre-screening is by no means foolproof, but should avoid the worst mistakes. When I have failed to do it, as when I discovered an alluring title on line, I have often been disappointed.

Bobby Jay

Amazing Boudin Blanc

I do not expect to offer New York restaurant reviews on my blog unless there is something really special to report, and I found something that falls into that category last night. It was the boudin blanc at Bar Boulud, on Broadway opposite Lincoln Center, which was the best I have ever eaten. The charcutier is a master from Lyon and and all his charcuterie is delicious, but this was truly exceptional! I can't wait to return for the boudin noir.

Bobby Jay

Knife Skills

I took Norman Weinstein’s basic Knife Skills 1 Workshop at ICE (The Institute of Culinary Education) about a year ago, and I recommend it heartily. I went expecting to learn a pointer or two, but quickly found that I was using my knives in a totally incorrect manner! Now I do much better, in terms of speed, efficiency and safety, and I enjoy chopping and slicing whenever I can. I am eager to try Knife Skills 2, which focuses on boning and carving. Norman has a book out on knife skills, but I have not yet looked at it and cannot comment on it.

Bobby Jay

Monday, October 13, 2008

Another Food Book

I knew I had left out some interesting food books in my earlier post.

One of these is Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor, by Hervé This. It is interesting and readable despite a fair dose of science that a lay person will not understand. It gives you insight into some of the cutting edge cooking being done in Spain and elsewhere using liquid nitrogen, sous-vide convection baths, various gels, etc.

Bobby Jay

Community Supported Agriculture

A friend is a member of an organic farm in Kinderhook, New York called Roxbury Farm. By paying an annual membership fee, she is entitled to 26 produce drops a year, which are delivered to a church on the Upper West Side. She has shared some of the produce with me, and she gave me her allocation for 3 weeks during which she was travelling. The produce was of excellent quality, and it feels good to support local organic growers. Also, you get what they give you, and it's a great challenge to use it all. We all know what to do with wonderful corn and tomatoes, but braising greens, kale, and the like are less familiar, at least to me. A great discovery was Delicata squash, which is really subtle and delicious.

There are other farms in addition to Roxbury, but it is hard to find one that has openings and makes dropoffs in a convenient place. To learn more, search "community supported agriculture new york" or some such phrase on Google or a comparable search engine.

An easier way to support local organic farming is to go to your nearest farmers market. I go to Union Square, which is not my nearest but is much much bigger. The produce is fantastic and varied and it is a thrill to see such magnificent fruits and vegetables. There's also organic chicken, lamb and beef and some amazing cheeses. While prices are generally high, it is really worth it: I have become addicted to the incredibly expensive ($6.00 per 1/4 pound) mesclun I found at one place, which is as good as the best I have found in Paris.

Organizing Recipes

Apart from cookbooks (much more on that later), I keep recipes in a folder on my computer (a Mac), with subfolders for different categories, such as beef, chicken, pork, vegetables, fish and seafood, frozen desserts, etc. I now have about 1400 recipes culled over the years from Gourmet, Bon Appetit, The New York Times, France-Amerique and other publications, as well as recipes from friends and family (for example, Shawan's Mom's St. Louis Style Chili or Teresa's Duck). It is fun and at times moving to stumble across the last category: each recipe evokes memories of a specific occasion and a wonderful dish.

I scan the recipes onto the computer using an inexpensive Canon CardScan LIDE 90. I copy my recipe folder periodically onto a 4 Gig thumb-size drive, which I can take and use anywhere. Last summer we visited friends in Perigord and I cooked a couple of meals from recipes that I had stored on this minuscule device.

Bobby Jay