Sunday, June 26, 2011

Paris - Le Bouchon et l'Assiette

The Pudlo Paris guide gives awards each year to different categories of restaurants and other food purveyors (bakers, pastry makers, etc.). This year's Bistrot de l'Année, Le Bouchon et l'Assiette, is a tiny restaurant in the 17th arrondissement, not too far from our apartment. We went there with friends last night, and were very happy with the excellent food and moderate prices.

The 33-euro three-course menu includes four choices each of appetizer, main course and dessert. Two of us started with a tartare of haddock over a cold tomato soup made with uncooked tomatoes, one hada plain green salad , and one of us jumped off the menu to have a huge plate of tender and rich jamon iberico (a steal at just 15 euros). All were excellent. For main courses, two of us had the tendron de veau, a slow cooked spare rib of veal that had a amazingly deep flavor and perfect unctuous texture. The others had filets of duckling, not sliced, served with fava beans mixed with another vegetable that I can't remember. Excellent, almost as good as the truly sublime tendron.

Desserts reflected the seasons, with two red fruit desserts and apricots served over perfectly prepared riz au lait.

The wine list is short but well selected and inexpensive. We had one of the pricier choices, a very good St-Joseph for 32 euros.

I need to point out that this place is really, really, really simple. No tablecloths and, more to the point, no air conditioning. I don't recommend going on a hot, or even warm, night.

Le Bouchon et l'Assiette, 121 rue Cardinet, 75017 Paris, Métro Malesherbes or Villiers.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Paris - Les Fougères Revisited

My wife and I returned to Les Fougères last night and had a disappointing experience. The 38-euro menu, which has always offered only two appetizer and two main course choices, was not attractive last night, and the à la carte choices were uninspired and expensive.

I do not pretend to be a food critic, and in this blog I generally only describe places that I think are both good and a good value. However, since I have touted Les Fougères in the past, I feel compelled to retract my recommendation.

We are not planning to return.

Bobby Jay

Paris - New Spice Store

Olivier Roellinger, a bright star in the French food constellation with his Maison de Bricourt in Cancale (Brittany), has decided to make available to retail customers the fruits of his expertise in flavors, and has formed Épices-Roellinger as the vehicle. An attractive new shop in the rue Sainte-Anne (famous for its many Japanese restaurants) shows his goods to great advantage, and affords customers the opportunity to taste and smell the high quality spices, salts (seven), peppers (sixteen), spiced oils (eight) and more than two dozen proprietary blends - many of which are designed to enhance fish and seafood - that are available for purchase.

Prices are high, of course, but still affordable, and the products make nice gifts for food-oriented friends or just for yourself.

Épices-Roellinger, 51bis, rue Sainte-Anne, 75002 Paris, Métro Opéra.

Bobby Jay

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Paris - Restaurant Kei

At the suggestion of a friend, my wife and I recently tried Restaurant Kei, a newly established restaurant in the premises that used to house the illustrious Gérard Besson. The 33-year old chef, Keisuke Kobayashi, trained for a decade in France, including spending seven years working for Alain Ducasse, and this excellent experience shows.

The food is French, the sensibility and presentation Japanese, a mixture that works most, but not all, of the time. The menu - six or eight courses, for 75 or 95 euros, as the case may be - is selected by the chef, with few choices for the diner. Only the meat course (pigeon or lamb chops the night we were there) and dessert (chocolate or meringue lattice with red fruits) are left to be decided. However, when you book a table, you are asked about any food allergies or other problems, and that is recorded and scrupulously honored.

We opted for the six-course menu. The first course, an avocado soup with caviar that was way under-seasoned, made us a bit nervous about what was to come.

Avocado Soup
The second course, however, made up for our disappointment with the soup. Smoked salmon with more than 10 vegetables, each perfectly cooked, bitter greens and an interesting sauce. Pretty, too.

Smoked Salmon with Vegetable Medley
Next was lobster for me, sea bass for my wife who is allergic to lobster. The lobster, served with tasteless summer truffles over a light purée of ratatouille, was fine, but the sea bass was amazing. Absolutely the crispiest skin ever (how does he do that?) atop perfectly succulent fish: among the best we've ever had.

Sea Bass and Lobster
For the meat course, we chose the pigeon, another triumph. My wife adores pigeon and orders it often. She ranked this among the best she's had. Perfectly cooked with a light, but tasty, jus.

The cheese was not routine. Cheeses are supplied by the well-respect Marie Quatrehomme and included a four-year-old cantal that has forever redefined this cheese for me, a perfect little rocamadour and a classic camembert that was just à point. The only choice we didn't like was the bleu des basques, which we found to be like an even more salty and less creamy version of roquefort.

Desserts were pretty but not great. The chocolate dessert consisted of a fairly boring mousse surrounded by a chocolate tuile, with various accompaniments. The red fruit vacherin was perfectly all right, but not sensational. I think the chef needs a pastry person or a serious rethinking of the final course, including the post dessert assortment and the home-made truffles that were no better than you can easily make at home.

Chocolate and Red Fruit Desserts

An Assortment of After-Desserts
All in all, an excellent meal, and a great value for 75 euros. This is a great start for the young chef, and we expect that he will get even better. In this regard, we were impressed to see the chef talking at length to a neighboring diner, who seemed to be a food critic, about what he is doing well and what could be improved.

Restaurant Kei, 5 rue Coq-Héron, 75008 Paris, Métro Les Halles, Sentier or Louve Rivoli.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, June 11, 2011

New York: Barbecue Capital for the Weekend

How have we missed the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party for the first eight years of its existence? Running both days this weekend, it is a great event for barbecue lovers, and I am nothing if not that.

Run as always by the Union Square Hospitality Group (Union Square Cafe, Eleven Madison, Gramercy Tavern, Shake Shack, etc.), the 2011 edition boasts barbecue from 16 of the nation's finest pitmasters, hailing from 12 states, arrayed around the outside of Madison Square Park. Related activities, including live music, take place inside the park.

My wife and I sampled the pulled pork from Big Bob Gibson Barbecue, Decatur, Alabama (said, by an authority, to be the best in the world, and we believe it); ribs from Memphis Championship Barbecue, Las Vegas, Nevada; beef brisket and sausage from The Salt Lick BBQ, Driftwood, Texas and (yes, another) pulled pork from Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint, Nashville, Tennessee, and their various accompanying sides - beans and cole slaw, mainly. A big lunch, I admit, but worth every calorie.

Some pictures below:

Pit Master from Ed Mitchell's straight out of central casting

Brisket and sausage at Salt Lick BBQ and lady with big hair at Big Bob's

And of course I just had to get a shirt from my namesake, Big Bob(by).

Big Bobby Jay