Monday, June 28, 2010

Paris - Ecailler du Bistrot

I finally got to L'Ecailler du Bistrot, a well-known fish and shellfish restaurant in the 11th arrondissment that I have been trying to get to for awhile. The verdict: great shellfish and classic French seafood, extremely well-prepared.

I had excellent briny
belon oysters (my favorite Utah Beach are out of season), followed by a perfect sole meunière with sauteed ratte potatoes that were among the best potatoes I have ever eaten. My dining companion had sweet tender bulots and dos de barbue on a bed of vegetables; both were excellent.

Prices are not low, but fair for ingredients of such high quality.

L'Ecailler du Bistrot, 20-22 rue Paul Bert, Paris 11ème, 01 43 72 76 77.

Bobby Jay

Return to Chèvre Heaven

A year ago, I wrote about a fantastic goat farm and
chèvrerie in Marsauceux, near our friends' home in Normandy. We returned this weekend to the Bois du Louviers, where you see the happy goats growing, eating and being milked, and you can buy the cheeses that result. The whole process is filled with love, as evidenced by this picture of the proprietor and as reflected in the perfection of the finished product.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, June 26, 2010

London -- Ottolenghi

This being our first time in London since discovering Ottolenghi - The Cookbook, my wife and I set out to Islington to try the lively, casual restaurant where it all began. We were with three other people so had a chance to sample many of the items on the menu.

The food was as interesting as the cookbook promises, especially the vegetable dishes (particularly the artichokes, asparagus and peas that are just in season), although fish, meat and desserts are also excellent. The tastes are very pure, carefully enhanced - not smothered - by spices that hint at the Middle Eastern (West and East Jerusalem) origins of the two owners.

Unusual food in a relaxed, fun atmosphere.

Bobby Jay

London - Green's

Crab Salad at Green's

My wife and I went to London last week for a good friend's seventieth birthday party. One of the first things we did was to go to Green's for its unforgettable crab salad -- a big portion of crabmeat with a crab tomalley on the side (the lettuce salad is nothing special). Green's has a full menu but this is the dish that keeps us coming back.

Bobby Jay

Paris - Lunch at le Bristol

A screaming bargain at 85 euros (about $105) for lunch? OUI!

Together with two close friends, my wife and I recently had lunch at Le Bristol, the gastronomic restaurant at the Paris hotel of the same name. This is the real deal: a three-star restaurant with spectacular food and great service served in an uncrowded gracious room.

The 85-euro lunch menu is a fantastic treat. It includes a choice of appetizer, main, cheese and dessert, together with a pre-amuse-bouche, an amuse-bouche, a palate cleanser, a pre-dessert and several post-desserts. The food is creative and strikingly beautiful, most notably a zucchini blossom that appeared to be devouring a small red mullet (rouget) that in turn was stuffed with cumin-spiced eggplant caviar. A "Tomate Ancienne" that included a tartare of green tomatoes, tomato soup and tomato sorbet was a fantastic starter, although I opted for perfectly deep-fried frogs' legs -- yes, they do taste a bit like chicken, but like minuscule perfectly fried drumettes. For the main, in addition to the gorgeous rouget, there was a perfectly pink saddle of lamb with an unctuous shiny jus. Desserts, too, were dazzling: a mousse atop coffee gelée or rhubarb poached in hibiscus with strawberry sorbet and fromage blanc.

Three-star dinners in Paris have become insane -- 250-300 euros per person -- but many three-star restaurants have lunch menus in the 85-90 euro range. This is a great way to experience the best at sort-of affordable prices. And le Bristol is certainly one of the best of the best.

Bobby Jay

Friday, June 18, 2010

Paris - Wedding Cake

Here's a pretty spectacular wedding cake (pièce montée) at Lenotre.

Bobby Jay

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Home Made Chocolates II

Molded Chocolates

My friend Paul and I recently spent an afternoon making chocolates. Once the technique for "tempering" is mastered, it not really all that difficult to do, and it is a very satisfying way to pass a few hours. Also, you have some wonderful products to enjoy and share with others.

We made two varieties: piped mendiants sprinkled with various combinations of nuts, dried fruits and salt, and molded chocolates filled with hazelnuts or a melange of nuts and dried fruits. We made some of the mendiants with a blend of peanut butter chips, ancho chili powder and cayenne pepper, and topped them with chopped peanuts and salt; the texture was a bit soft, but the succession of flavor sensations was interesting. There is no limit to the items you can put on and in the chocolate: notes of spices and salt really enhance the underlying sweet/bitter chocolate flavor.

Mendiants Setting on a Silicone Mat

Assorted Chocolates

A couple of lessons. The darker the chocolate, the more difficult it is to work with. Chocolate with cacao content in excess of 70% is drier and harder to melt and temper, and ends up being a bit hard for my taste. I like to stay around 60%, i.e., bittersweet. We used Jacques Torres 60% and 70% and Caillebaut bittersweet and intense dark.

Second, keep records. We started out keeping records of the blends we were using but fairly quickly gave up, as we mixed and matched on the fly. We could not duplicate any of the chocolates we made, although we could get reasonable facsimiles. But one day we will get the perfect chocolate and it would be nice to be able to repeat it.

Third, no combination is too weird. If you like something, try it with chocolate; the worst that can happen is that it doesn't work. But there is always the chance of a wonderful alchemy!

Bobby Jay

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Oishinbo - Wonderful Japanese Food Manga

At the suggestion of Andrew Knowlton, Bon Appétit's "Foodist," I have been reading the Japanese manga series, Oishinbo, and it is wonderful.

Being married to a Japanese art dealer and having lived in Japan for several years, I have come to know Japan, its people and its cuisine reasonably well. What I love about the Japanese people is how they care so much about what they do and always strive to do their best, just for the sake of it. Linked to this are the values placed on humility and sensitivity to the needs and desires of others. All of this is rooted in centuries-old Confucian traditions that still affect the soul of the people, although the prosperity of the late 20th and early 21st centuries are no doubt taking their toll on some of Japan's traditional values.

Oishinbo, an amazingly successful series of more than 100 manga written by Tetsu Kariya, is a really fun way to learn about Japanese culinary traditions and also the community values that distinguish the Japanese from other cultures. Starting in 2009, Viz Media has published English versions of selections anthologized from the hundred plus volumes in the series, arranged by topics: Japanese Cuisine generally, rice, vegetables, fish, ramen and gyoza, sake and pub food.

The subject is a quest by Yamaoka Shirô, a culinary journalist, to discover the "Ultimate Menu," a meal that embodies the best of Japanese cooking traditions. Yamaoka was trained as a chef by his father, Kaibara Yûzan, who is one of Japan's greatest chefs, but he left his father's exclusive restaurant because he couldn't stand the way Kaibara's obsession with food caused him to mistreat his wife and family. The two are completely estranged, but their paths cross frequently because a competing newspaper has hired Kaibara to come up with a "Supreme Menu." Although he is a jerk, Kaibara knows food, and has the occasional victory over Yamaoka.

It is worth giving some examples. To see them, click "more" below.
The rice-making contest

Yamaoka and his father Kaibara are involved in a rice making challenge. It takes place at a traditional inn with a wood-burning hearth, so conditions are optimal. Yamaoka describes his rice:
This is from the koshihikari variety, from Niigata Prefecture. A farm grew it for their own use, without any pesticides. The grains were dried in the sun and we milled them just a little while ago, right before boiling them in spring water from Otakifudô, which is considered to be one of the hundred best spring waters of Japan. Needless to say, I boiled it over a wood-burning hearth and added a fistful of straw at the end to steam it.

Everyone loves the rice, saying that it is fluffy and sweet, with each each grain cooked perfectly, "smooth on the tongue with just the right degree of firmness."

But he loses.

The great gourmet who is one of the judges tastes Kaibara's rice (actually made by an assistant):

[Yamaoka's] rice seemed perfect, but now that I've had [Kaibara's], I can see that it wasn't. Compared to this, [Yamaoka's] lacks uniformity. I thought his was fluffy, but compared to [Kaibara's], it's like a hard cotton mattress against a feather bed. And the moment you chew on the rice an enchanting sweetness and aroma fill your mouth . . . whereas [Yamaok's] rice smells of bran.

The secret: Kaibara's assistant put the rice on a black tray and then picked out the grains that wer broken, cracked, dark or too small, resulting in perfect uniformity of texture and taste.

Lots to learn about the importance of rice but, even more, the importance of respect for the ingredients and of attention to the smallest detail.

The Banquet

Yamaoka's boss asks him to arrange a banquet in honor of his friend, a third-generation Japanese-American who is a United States senator. It turns out that the competing publishing company got there first, and put on an extraordinary feast for the Senator, including sashimi cut at the banquet from a whole bluefin tuna and an entire hand-raised wagyu cow. The senator is clearly exhausted and over-sated by this showy banquet.

To his boss's dismay, Yamaoka responds the next day by leading the Senator on a hot mountainous walk to a lovely traditional inn. In a cool room overlooking the mountains the senator is served hot hôjicha, which paradoxically cools him down. After that he is served elegant gyokuro tea slowly steeped in 130 degree water. Waiting for the tea to brew, the senator describes his trip to Japan. "Day after day, I've being going to rich, extravagant banquets. But the food was only rich in cost. All of it lacked the most essential ingredient. And lacking that, it can't truly please anybody, no matter how expensive it may be."

The gyokuro is finally brewed and served. The Senator is enchanted.
What a pretty color . . . a kind of goldish-green, with an emerald tint to it . . . a sweet gentle slightly bitter flavor with a soft aftertaste . . . it's as if a breeze from a mountain stream has just blown through my body. I probably wouldn't have understood this flavor if you had just given it to me the moment I arrived here after walking under the sun. It's because I drank that hot hôjicha first . . . . Now I get it! You made me walk under the scorching sun so that I'd understand the flavor of this tea . . .

Yamaoka's boss tells the senator that this completes his meal. The senator responds that he'd be angry if he was served anything else. He continues, "I've just had a taste of the real Japan. The spirit of Japan. ... This is the essential ingredient all those expensive feasts were lacking. So what more could I ask for?"

What indeed?

Bobby Jay