Friday, June 20, 2014

They're Stealing My New York Lunch Places

Two of my favorite New York lunch restaurants have recently disappeared without notice: Onya (very good freshly made Japanese udon) and Baoguette (bánh mì).

While there are other bánh mì places, none is very convenient for me and so far none has matched Baoguette. I'll have to keep trying. Or I can try to make them using one of the many recipes I have amassed, but it is most unlikely that my version of this great sandwich will turn out to be world class.

The udon situation seems worse. I am not aware of any substitutes. While ramen, which I love, is sweeping New York, the more subtle, healthier (no fat) udon has so far escaped notice.

Fortunately, Porchetta is still around. Although it is no substitute for the others, their roast pork sandwich is truly heavenly.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Great Kitchen Tool: All-Clad Dutch Oven

I sometimes find that my beloved and well-used 7-1/4-quart Le Creuset enamel cast iron round Dutch (the company calls it French) oven is a tiny bit too small, and have been considering going for a 9-quart model for those occasions where a little extra room would be helpful. But it is a monster, weighing in at 16.9 pounds, and obviously takes up more real estate than my 7-1/4 quart one.

Then I got a notice of a huge sale at Willams-Sonoma on an All-Clad stainless steel 8-quart Dutch oven, which had been extremely well reviewed by Cook's Illustrated and was said to be very nearly as good as enamel cast iron. The minus: it's not as capacious as the 9-quart Le Creuset. The plus: it weighs in at just under 7 pounds with the cover, and with its excellent handles is much easier to maneuver than my Le Creuset 7-1/4 quart. So I went for it. I can report that it is as good at gentle simmering as Le Creuset and considerably more versatile, and has become my go-to pot for soups, braises, pasta and even stock if I am not making an enormous batch.  A truly fantastic kitchen tool!

My All-Clad 8-quart Dutch oven
Bobby Jay

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Paris - A Little Italian Restaurant's Detailed Rules

I was walking down a little street in the 4th arrondissement, near the Place de la Bastille, and came upon what looks like a cute Italian restaurant. Outside was this amazing sign, with the rules of the house.

The rules of Cucina Napoletana
Dear customers and friends, welcome to Cucina Napoletana. Our main courses are prepared to order. We therefore advise that you start with mixed appetizers (actually one for two persons). If you are a big party, we suggest that you don't multiply the number of entrees. This way you will avoid a long wait . . . (we only have 3 burners) as well as the wrath of the chef!!! Our menu varies according to what's in the market .  . and the moods of the chef. The familial spirit of our trattoria leads us to group together parties with odd numbers (for example 3/5/7=3+3=6!) [I think they're saying that two parties of 3 will share a table for 6.] Nothing like it for getting to know your neighbors!

The specials of the day are listed inside and the whole team is at your disposition to help you choose, according to your taste and what's available. Thank you for respecting the time of your reservation, and if you are late . . . . . We are sorry not to be able to accept credit cards . . . .
I was puzzled by this "welcome," but met an American couple outside who said it's very good. Worth a try, I guess, although I have generally been disappointed by Italian food in Paris. I look forward to meeting the scary chef and will do my utmost to avoid getting him angry.

Bobby Jay

Paris - Various Restaurants

Strawberry dessert at Jean
Chocolate dessert at Jean
J and I were busy moving apartments in Paris this trip, so we did not try many new restaurants but instead went to old favorites, many in our now former neighborhood in the 8th arrondissement.

Our new discovery was Brasserie Lazare, which I wrote up last week.

Our best meal was at Jean, our perennial favorite, even though the asparagus starter was less than perfect due to a strange fallen asparagus soufflé with asparagus jus. The asparagus themselves were pretty spectacular, though. We followed with what might be the best lamb dish I have ever eaten, épaule d'agneau confite et fumé (shoulder meat cooked sous-vide, then grilled, then smoked for a perfect texture and subtle taste). Our friends had a pretty great cochon de lait fermier, also notable for its tenderness within and excellent crust without. We finished (almost) with the chocolate and strawberry desserts pictured above and (really) finished with cognac provided by the proprietor, Jean himself.

Other dinners were at our favorite family style Thai place, Thabthim; Crom'exquis, the upscale bistro in our old 'hood; Metropolitain, a well reviewed bistro (three cocottes from Petit Lebey) that was extremely disappointing; Mollard, still a treat for the magnificent turn of the (20th) century mosaics where we had a really fine seafood meal; Rôtisserie du Beaujolais, part of our favorite dining experience in Paris due in large measure to the walk across Île Saint-Louis and the views of Notre Dame; Clos des Gourmets, which is also fun to get to because of the amazing views of the Eiffel tower; and Tico, on rue Jean-Mermoz, which we had enjoyed in the past and where we had a major disappointment. I also ate three times at Le Temps des Cerises, a crowded but lovely bistro a short block from our new apartment, once with J, once with Andy G, a friend and colleague from my firm, and once with an old friend who has been coming to Paris since the early '50s.

Some nice lunches, too: Chez Omar, the ancient classic Moroccan place near the Marché des Enfants Rouges: Kunitoraya, the fabulous udon specialist, which has relocated around the corner to a nicer place; Vin des Pyrénées, a little bistro near our new apartment; and la Mascotte, an excellent fruits de mer place in Montmartre, with some new French friends.

We will return to some of our old haunts; others are probably not worth the trip assuming, as I do, that we will find good ones in our new neighborhood. But the memories will be with us forever.

Bobby Jay

Friday, June 6, 2014

Paris - First Meal at Our New Apartment

We moved into our new apartment on Wednesday, amidst heavy rain. As soon as the movers left, the weather turned uncharacteristically perfect for Paris: bright sunshine, cool but not cold temperature, a slight breeze.

We are still getting to know the new neighborhood, but have already found a great cheese store (Dubois, which has three or four branches), a wonderful baker a block away, a very good vegetable seller, a good charcuterie and an excellent wine store. I have not looked for a butcher yet, but a great one is five minutes away on Île Saint-Louis. As is Berthillon, the best ice cream and sorbet producer in Paris, and another leading cheese store.

In addition, starting at the Northern end of the Place de la Bastille, on the boulevard Richard Lenoir, is one of Paris' biggest outdoor markets, held on Thursday and Sunday mornings. It is of mixed quality so the challenge will be to find the best purveyors, which I suspect won't be too difficult. I will be making a reconnoitering trip this Sunday, but not buying much because I leave on Monday. The covered Marché Aligre, one of Paris' best, is also in the neighborhood, but not that close.

Clearly, we will not starve.

Today we had our first meal in the apartment, consisting of cheeses, bread, sausage, ham, duck pâté, terrine of chicken livers, breakfast radishes with Bordier demi-sel butter and a simple white Bergerac, all obtained from the vendors described above. This simply cannot be replicated in the US, or at least not with this level of quality (especially the absolutely perfect cheeses).

Dubois cheeses: vieux compté, trèfle and a chèvre with nuts and walnut oil
Ham, sausage, chicken liver terrine and duck pâté
We are now officially chez nous at the new apartment.

Bobby Jay

Paris - Last Dinner at Our Old Apartment

We have moved in Paris from the 8th arrondissement to a bigger and much brighter apartment in the 4th, in a very non-commercial part of the Marais.

Before leaving, we had dear friends to dinner for one last meal "around my French table" (with apologies to Dorie Greenspan, author of a wonderful book with the same title; well, not apologies because she is going to get a big plug in this post).

It's spring, so we started with white asparagus, which happens to be one of our friends' favorite food and was beautiful at the market. I used Jacques Pépin's simple way of cooking them (steaming in a covered wide skillet) and his classic mustard sauce.

Asparagus with mustard sauce
Then, a pork roast with mangoes and lychees from Dorie's Around My French Table: interesting and really successful blending of the sweet and sour of fruits exotiques with savory thyme and French aromatics. Accompanied by Dorie's heavily scented cardamom pilaf, which made an excellent counterpoint.

Roast pork with mangoes and lychees, with cardamom pilaf
There came salad and cheese, bien sûr, followed by a cherry clafoutis, a mandatory dessert in June, another recipe from Dorie's book.

Cherry clafoutis
A fond farewell to an apartment that served us very well for nearly 13 years!

Bobby Jay