Sunday, June 30, 2013

Paris - Crom'exquis - Classy New Bistro

A new bistro has opened in our rather commercial Paris neigborhood, near St-Augustin, that received three red cocottes from the Lebey Guide to Paris Bistros and a plate from Pudlo, together with the designation "Bistrot classique de l'année."

This all seemed promising, so off I went to this attractive bistro, whose owner-chef is Pierre Meneau, son of Marc Meneau of l'Espérance fame (he also trained with Michel Guérard at Eugénie-les-Bains). The food is interesting and well-executed. Given the chef's pedigree, you would not expect classic food, despite Pudlo's "classique" denomination, and it wasn't. Nor was the décor, which is clean, modern and comfortable: really not a bistro at all. The hostess, the chef's girl friend, could not be nicer, and I had a lovely table, not guarding the bathroom as is often the case when I dine alone.

I started with a glass of champagne, accompanied by two foie gras crom'esquis -- little fried pastry balls with melted foie gras within -- which I found surprisingly unexciting. There followed a lovely amuse-bouche, a foamy soup whose ingredients I can't remember.

Crom'exquis amuse-bouche
Next,  pigeonneau, the night's special, which was divided into leg quarters that you eat with your hands (fingerbowl provided) and boneless breasts, all perfectly cooked.

Crom'exquis pigeonneau with orange sections and snow peas
Finally, a big profiterole with homemade vanilla ice cream and the best-ever salted butter caramel sauce.

Crom'exquis profiterole with salted butter caramel sauce
I know a lot about salted caramel, so I felt emboldened to chat with the chef about the sauce; after a few minutes of modest protestations, he let slip that he adds a little cognac after stopping the caramel from cooking by the addition of water, and before adding the salted Normandy butter. Sounds simple enough but it is not easy to make a caramel with such exquisite taste (deep, but without a trace of bitterness) and the perfect viscosity to pour over the profiterole.

I returned a week later with J, and it was just as good. She had the pigeonneau, while I had quasi de veau (closest translation is rumpsteak, I think). I couldn't resist getting the proferole a second time, but this time the two of us shared it. Still fantastic. The evening's very nice amuse-bouche, still pretty foamy, was based on smoked salmon. And I had a poached lobster appetizer that was really excellent, despite my general view that French lobster is not as good as the American variety.

The price is not low, about $100 per person with the champagne and a nice glass of Santenay. There are lunch menus at 28 and 39 euros. All in all, this is a very good, but not great, restaurant, that is a welcome addition to our Paris neighborhood; indeed I wish it was in our neighborhood in New York.

Crom'exquis, 22, rue d'Astorg, Métro St-Augustin.

Bobby Jay

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Paris - New Discovery: Neva Cuisine

J and I tried a new restaurant, Cuisine Neva, which has two cocottes from Le Lebey des Bistrots 2013 and a plate from Pudlo Paris 2013. That, plus the fact that it is about seven minutes away by bus, was motivation enough to give it a try.

Neva Cuisine's chef is a Mexican woman who has trained with some of France's best, and it shows. Her (French) husband works in the front. The food is sophisticated, imaginative, tasty and well-presented. The 3-course menu at 39 euros (32 euros for two courses) is a real deal for this level of food.

I had a truly extraordinary pea soup, thick and rich due to the peas, not the small amount of cream included, with perfectly cooked whole fresh peas. J had the déclinaison de tomates with Spanish ham. It was memorable even though they had just run out of the mozzarella foam that normally completes the dish (and looked great at our neighbors' table). We then shared a veal chop, which was perfectly cooked and carved into interesting pieces and served with baby potatoes. For dessert I could not resist the sphere of chocolate that is filled with confited pineapple and chocolate and then destroyed in front of you by adding hot chocolate sauce (see picture below). Pretty spectacular. J had the pastry tube filled with red fruits and yogurt ice cream (also pictured below): not as sinful or impressive but just fine.

La sphère destructurée au chocolat Samana pur origine
La cerise - tube crousillant, glace yaourt, fruits rouges
Neva Cuisine is in a not very chic part of the 8th, although it is not difficult to get to. Definitely worth a visit.

Neva Cuisine, 2 rue de Berne, Paris 8ème, Métro Liège, Rome or Europe.

Bobby Jay

Monday, June 24, 2013

Paris - The Magnificent Brasserie Mollard

J arrived in Paris yesterday, a Sunday, when most restaurants are closed. She wanted something fairly simple, so we went to one of our fallback places, Mollard, which is a ten-minute walk from our apartment. This brasserie is one of the most beautiful in Paris, with beautifully restored mosaics throughout and pictures executed in ceramic tile. It opened in 1895 and dazzled the Parisians with its early Art Nouveau style.

We have generally found the food to be no more than fair, but last night it was really quite good. I had the 33-euro menu, which has a lot of choices. I had six oysters, dos de colin (there apparently is no English name for this excellent fish) and a raspberry tart. The oysters and fish course were fine, the tart too cold so a bit glutinous. J went à la carte, choosing the asparagus of the day (cold white and green asparagus with smoked salmon) and grilled bar (sea bass) with sautéed potatoes; both were good. Service is old-style, competent and friendly; they are used to tourists here.

In sum, Mollard is worth a visit, particularly on a Sunday night. The food is classic French, quite good but not great, and it is a treat to spend some time in the gorgeous surroundings. The 33-euro menu is an excellent deal, while other prices are a bit high for the quality of the cuisine.

Mollard, 115 rue Saint-Lazare, Paris 8ème.

Bobby Jay

Friday, June 21, 2013

Fresh Pasta Lesson at Atelier des Chefs

When in Paris, I often take cooking lessons at Atelier des Chefs, which are fun and useful and, in my case, very conveniently located about a minute from our apartment.

Although the lessons I have had in the past where we made Italian food, especially risotto, were not great, I took a lesson in fresh pasta yesterday and think I may have found the elusive base recipe/method that I will be able to confidently call on again and again.

The pastas were all delicious, especially the squid ink and truffle oil spaghetti with a pepper cream and shards of pecorino. The strong tastes of squid ink and truffle oil balanced each other in a surprisingly subtle way.

Tomato tagliatelle with grilled pancetta and vegetables
Duck confit ravioli with summer savory and diced vegetables
Squid ink and truffle oil spaghetti with pepper cream and pecorino
Bobby Jay

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Paris in June

Paris in June is a treat, even if, this year, it is cold and wet. The great thing is the amazing fruit, especially cherries, apricots, strawberries and melons that taste the way they are supposed to.

Marché de l'avenue du Président Wilson
I arrived yesterday but resisted the temptation to shop, preferring to wait until this morning for a trip to the open-air market on the Avenue du Président Wilson, my favorite.

High tech chocolates at Jadis et Gourmande
Later, walking my little Sylvie, I came across a new branch of chocolatier Jadis et Gourmande, where you can buy a chocolate iPhone or iPad.

Moroccan food with my niece later.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, June 8, 2013

If It's June, It's Clafoutis aux Cerises

Clafoutis aux cerises
My wonderful French teacher Caroline is moving to Florida and I am désolé. Among other things, she has shared in my interest in food, especially but not entirely French cuisine, and requested that I make her a clafoutis aux cerises before her departure. Resistance being futile, I complied.

In France, June is the month when spectacular cherries are abundant, and virtually every restaurant serves clafoutis to take advantage of them. A clafoutis essentially consists of fruit over which a pancake-like batter is poured, which is then baked. It is sometimes made as a tart and sometimes just baked in a heatproof dish. I opted for the tart, because I love making tarts, and found a recipe from the legendary Joel Robuchon, in Simply French, the master's collaboration with Patricia Wells. One of Robuchon's twists is to powder the tart with ground-up baked morsels of the tart dough, which you can see in the photo above. I was pleased with the result, and so was Caroline and some of her colleagues who came by to partake of the tart. However, I plan to go with a simpler, more classic and less intimidating version next time.

I am off to Paris next week, where the cherries are better than the ones we get from the West coast this time of year, and where I will no doubt sample a few versions of the real thing.

Bobby Jay