Sunday, August 30, 2015

Paris -- Bastille Market as Reality Show

Especially when cooking for one, a visit to one of Paris' great open-air markets is like a reality show: you have to choose ingredients that look great and leave to later the task of figuring out what to do with them. For me, this is one of the most enjoyable things to do in Paris.

Today I went to the Bastille (Richard Lenoir) market near our apartment, and bought the following:

Half cooked crab
Turkey breast roast and chicken sausage
Mankoush - Lebanese flatbread with za'atar
Mirabelles and reine-claudes
Together with items that I already had at home, I made lunch and dinner from these ingredients, in addition to munching some slices of scamorzza and wolfing down a bunch of tiny mirabelles (my favorite fruit) and reine-claudes (my second favorite).

Lunch consisted of oeufs sur le plat with white vinegar sauce, accompanied by the cèpe, which I dry-sauteed and then added a smidgen of butter, salt, pepper and thyme. (Followed with a piece of soft nougat from a Vietnamese traiteur.)

Oeufs sur le plat with sautéed cèpe

Soft Vietnamese nougat
For dinner, I reheated the chicken sausage and roast turkey breast and the chicken sauce, and boiled and then sautéed ratte potatoes, followed by a piece of camembert that I had left out all day and a square of Lindt chocolate (yes, I love Lindt chocolate even if it is not the most artisanal or exotic).

I am left with the mankoush, which I'll toast for breakfast, and the crab, which will serve nicely as tomorrow's lunch.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Paris -- Cinq-Mars: Bistro Near the Orsay

Last night I had a very good meal at Cinq-Mars, a simple but stylish bistro in the seventh arrondissement, near the Musée d'Orsay. I never would have found this place, which gets one cocotte from Le Lebey des Bistrots and a mention in Pudlo, if I had not read Chris Kimball's most recent "Letter from Vermont" on line just before leaving for Paris. Kimball is the owner of America's Test Kitchen and publisher of Cook's Illustrated and many other cooking publications, and this is his and his wife's favorite place in Paris.

While Kimball is not a food critic, I took a chance and was pleasantly surprised. Cinq-Mars is an attractive restaurant with about 36 seats, most of which were filled, that are serviced by a pair of capable young servers, one male and one female, who do everything in the front.

The food is classic, but very well prepared with excellent ingredients the provenance of which is often noted on the menu. I had a classic but delicious oeuf mayonnaise, a specialty, and a truly superb veal chop. The veal was amazingly tender and sported a gorgeous and tasty deep crust. It was served with classic peas and carrots, with a few (too few) spring onions and a couple of (undercooked) slices of potato. The menu was loaded with fish and meat dishes that I would have liked to try: unfortunately, dining alone provides no sharing opportunities.

Oeufs mayonnaise at Cinq-Mars
Côte de veau at Cinq-Mars
Desserts are very classic: île flottante, mousse au chocolat, mont-blanc, etc. I was feeling a bit full for any of these, so I went with the sorbets, an excellent mara des bois strawberry and a really dense chocolate which, while very good, should not cause the folks at Berthillon to lose any sleep.

All in all, a lovely meal at a reasonable price (about 60 euros, including wine; there is a 21.5 euro two-course lunch menu). I look forward to returning with J.

Cinq-Mars, 51 rue de Verneuil, 75007 Paris (Métro Solférino or Rue du Bac).

Bobby Jay

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Eleven Madison Park -- Food for the Brain

I was lucky enough to be taken by my wife J to Eleven Madison Park, Daniel Humm's famed gastronomic palace, for my birthday on Friday. I don't review New York restaurants on the theory that there is ample, if not excessive, information available to those who care, and this is not a review. However, the experience was noteworthy and worth discussing, I think.

We had heard that the experience could be over the top and self-referential, but we found this not to be true at all. The staff was knowledgeable, gracious and efficient, and greatly enhanced the evening, which elapsed over more than four hours.

Indeed, far from being self-referential, the restaurant is totally devoted to its customers, showing great flexibility in responding to food allergies or aversions. We were a party of four and aversions included fish, shellfish, anything raw, eggs, beef and lobster. They seamlessly and elegantly worked around these issues so that everyone's 14-course meal reflected the philosophy and trajectory of the experience. For example, extruded cheese noodles were substituted for squid for one of our party, keeping the dish aesthetically consistent with the "normal" one while bringing a different, but legitimate, taste and texture, and truffles were substituted for caviar in one of great early courses.

The food was not over the top either, just consistently at the top. It is extremely market driven, and shows a nearly miraculous attention to detail and ability to extract the essence of flavor from the ingredients. As an example, a tomato that was not a tomato but a reconstruction of a tomato that was pureed and artfully reassembled and served over the water extracted from the tomato (the seeds are recovered and used atop the dish to further the illusion). More intense tomato flavor than even a perfect summer tomato. Similarly, a poached apricot was the most apricot-y piece of food that I have ever eaten. This accompanied a slice of spice crusted duck breast, along with two morsels of super-concentrated fennel made by vacuum compressing vegetable overnight before cooking it the next day.

Tomato salad with basil and red onion
Duck breast roasted with lavender, honey, apricots and fennel
The restaurant tries not to take itself too seriously and introduces notes of whimsy. J arranged for us to eat a course in the kitchen, which was a palate-cleansing shaved ice made on an antique ice shaver that was found at an antiques store in the Bronx.

Peach, ginger and lemon thyme snow cone
And one of the courses -- fish boil with corn and peppers -- was thrown onto a piece of thick paper with the diners being encouraged to eat with their hands.

Fish boil with corn and peppers
The final whimsical element was the fourth dessert, called "Name That Milk," which consisted of four different chocolate bars specially made for Eleven Madison by the Mast Brothers. We were supposed to match each bar with the type of milk used in its confection: cow, buffalo, sheep or goat (we did not do well).

So, you are asking if you have gotten this far, what about the food? I found that the dishes varied greatly, from sublime (caviar Benedict with egg, corn and ham, among others) to nearly unpleasant (a sunflower heart prepared like that of an artichoke). A lot of dishes (a few too many for my taste) featured pickled items, and there was a predominance of sourness or tartness. The first dessert was a delicious but very tart homemade farmer's cheese served with honey and interesting toppings, including an amazing sorrel sauce. It was followed by a dish composed of buttermilk sorbet made from the extremely sour whey of the aforementioned cheese, very tart yogurt and a trace of sweet milk solids. Next was a deconstructed cheesecake, also on the tart side. I would have preferred more sweetness for the dessert.

Sorbet with caramelized whey and yogurt
Cheesecake with white currant sorbet and raspberry vinegar
But the point is not that I found a little too much sour and tart among the many things we ate. Rather it is that all of these items provoked discussion and disagreement among our party of four. One of us  was ecstatic about the sequence of tart desserts, but then she is not a chocolate lover (there are those!). While the everyday world does not disappear from your conscientiousness, for a few hours the world of food, and thoughts about how it is prepared and where it comes from (and when) dominate, and that is a fine thing, for which I am indebted to Mr. Humm (and to J, who arranged the whole thing).

Bobby Jay

Monday, August 3, 2015

Artisanal Horseradish -- A Greenmarket Find

One of the pleasures of greenmarkets is the discovery of new products and ingredients. A couple of weeks ago, I discovered Holy Schmitt's homemade horseradish at New York's Union Square greenmarket (Schmitt's is there on Mondays and Fridays).

I tasted the regular and found it excellent. Not as hot as my mother-in-law's freshly grated, but nearly. The beet horseradish had the same defect as I find in the store-bought: the beet juice diluted the horseradish to the point of insipidness. But there are those who prefer it. Finally, I tried the cranberry horseradish and this was a surprise: the tang of the cranberries complemented, but did not dilute, the bite of the horseradish. A must for next year's Seder.

Holy Schmitt's Homemade Horseradish
I went to the Schmitt's website and bought a few jars, for personal consumption and as gifts for my neighbor, who loves horseradish and is obsessed by this this type of product. (It is shipped in a cold pack since it needs to be refrigerated.) Among these was one that I had not seen at the greenmarket, hot pepper horseradish, which is made a good bit hotter than the regular through the addition of visible chunks of pickled green (serrano?) hot peppers. This one may match my mother-in-law's for its ability to go right up your nose in a pleasant rush.

Go to the Union Square market for free tastes, or trust me and get it through the web. But, if you like horseradish, get it one way or the other.

Bobby Jay