Sunday, March 27, 2016

Paris -- Tout Seul

I am often in Paris by myself, because Joan is either in Japan or unable to get away from her always busy gallery. I don't mind spending some time by myself as it gives me an opportunity to experiment in the kitchen with some of the wonderful ingredients you can find in Paris at any time of year.

I arrived today and headed straight to the open air market near the Place de la Bastille, one of Paris' biggest and most successful markets. There I was confronted by the products of the season: white asparagus, fresh morille mushrooms, and gariguette strawberries. So I bought a bunch of morilles, some wonderful mixed salad greens, shallots, white asparagus, cheese and bread to make a meal (I also bought half a rotisserie chicken for lunch). I passed on the gariguettes, which I find too mild and boring: I prefer to wait for the sweet "real" ones in June and July.

Dinner was a simple affair:

White asparagus peeled and steamed, served simply with olive oil, fleur de sel and coarsely ground pepper.

White asparagus, oil, fleur de sel and coarsely ground pepper
The main course was a puffy omelet with morilles and tarragon, with a side salad of mixed greens and a simple vinaigrette.

Puffy morille omelet with mixed green salad
Dessert was a little slice of langres, a pungent and creamy washed-rind cheese from Burgundy, with baguette slices.

Et voilà, a simple but satisfying meal made by taking advantage of what nature (and some very able farmers) give us.

Bobby Jay

Monday, March 7, 2016

South Africa -- Winelands

After Cape Town we spent two days in South Africa's magnificent winelands, beautiful old vineyards and towns set against the backdrop of picturesque mountains.

Delaire Graff vineyards near Stellenbosch
Vergelegen vineyards and winery
Vergelegen main house
Vergelegen 1000 year old trees
Vergelegen main house
Franchhoek church
We stopped for lunch at Babylonstoren, an organic farm with a very lovely restaurant and several villas for those who wish to stay. We did not stay but instead went on to a great hotel in nearby Franchhoek, La Residence.

 La Residence is a splendid, luxurious hotel with spectacular rooms and an amazing setting facing vines and mountains. And we were lucky enough to see some gorgeous sunsets.

 For dinner we went to the much-touted Tasting Room, where we saw how gorgeous and interesting food can go bad. The menu there is a series of "surprises": you only get the written menus -- which are different for each person  -- after the completion of the meal. With sharing, that makes for dozens of dishes, covering an immense number of sophisticate techniques and amazing presentations. The only problem was that the many items on each of many plates seemed to have little to do with each other, and taste came in a very distant third after technique and presentation (and pretension).

That being said, here are some of the visual highlights:

Bobby Jay

South Africa -- Cape Town Continued

We spent four days altogether in Cape Town, and we continued to eat very well indeed, although our subsequent experiences did not rise to the level of The Test Kitchen.

Founded and given its creative spin by Luke Dale-Roberts, of The Test Kitchen, which is in the same complex, this is a much more informal spot with a chic young crowd and excellent, interesting food.

I didn't keep a menu so cannot describe the dishes, so pictures of a few of  the things we ate will have to suffice.

Various dishes at the Pot Luck Club
Our final dinner in Cape Town was a La Colombe, situated atop a large hill (or small mountain) overlooking some spectacular scenery, which we missed by arriving late. The food is interesting and, like many restaurants in the area, makes good use of local produce, seafood and meats. It is also beautifully presented.

The pre-starter was "Tuna La Colombe," a tuna tartare whimsically served in a proprietary tuna can:

"Tuna La Colombe"
The first course was a choice of smoked ox tongue or prawn salad; we tried both.

Oxtail starter at La Colombe
Prawn salad at La Colombe
The fish course featured a choice of filet of linefish with caramelized cauliflower, chicken tortellini, etc. or a miso seared scallop with Asian style pork belly. Once again, we sampled both, and they were excellent.

Grilled fish filet, caramelized cauliflower, etc.
Miso seared scallop, pork belly, kimchi, corn velouté
For the meat course, Joan elected seared loin of springbok with caramelized onion, various vegetables and foie gras jus, while I opted for the fillet of beef with vegetables and truffle cafe au lait. Perfectly cooked.

Springbok loin at La Colombe
Beef fillet at La Colombe
Desserts were fine but did not quite live up to what went before. I had "3 Ages of Boerenkaas," local cheese served at ages six months, one year and four years, served with pickled onions and figs and candied walnuts. High marks for creativity but South African cheeses don't rival French (or in this case Dutch) ones. Joan had a perfectly nice, but not extraordinary, chocolate crémeux with cherry stracciatella, kirsch and tonka bean and almond.

Two more excellent Cape Town dining experiences!

Bobby Jay

Sunday, March 6, 2016

South Africa -- Cape Town

Joan and I are just back from a fabulous trip to South Africa and Botswana, the best trip ever!

We started in Cape Town, a beautiful city featuring lovely buildings from the nineteenth century,

Old buildings, Cape Town
exquisite scenery,

Kirstenbosch Gardens, Cape Town
and, yes, excellent food.

The night we arrived, a bit tired from the 24-hour journey, we dined with a friend at Aubergine, a very good restaurant not too far from our hotel. The cuisine was sophisticated and modern while showing off excellent local products, both animal and vegetable. I had springbok tongues (really) and Joan had ostrich. Both were excellent, and accompanied by nice South African wines and charming service.

Springbok tongues
Our second night we went to The Test Kitchen, considered South Africa's best restaurant and Number 28 on the 2015 San Pellegrino list of "The World's 50 Best Restaurants" (I don't usually pay attention to these lists, but still this is impressive). We had a seat at the counter where we could watch the meticulous preparation of the muli-course extravaganza and even talk to the brilliant owner chef, Luke Dale-Roberts.

 Before the seven-course tasting menu begins, there are wonderful "appetizers":

"Appetizers" at The Test Kitchen
There followed, at just the right pace:

A bread course, featuring excellent and attractively presented homemade breads and butter,

Breads and butter at The Test Kitchen
"Heirloom Tomato," consisting of tomato jelly, wood-roasted aubergine, West coast crayfish, toasted parmesan custard and basil oil (I won't repeat the descriptions for the remaining courses, but you get the idea),

"Heirloom tomato" at The Test Kitchen


Scallop at The Test Kitchen
"Light Curry Glazed Kingklip," beautifully prepared at the table,

"Light Curry Glazed Kingclip" at The Test Kitchen
"Duck," a beautifully clean presentation with cherries, foie gras, and BBQ meringue,

"Duck" at The Test Kitchen
followed by desserts, "Rhubarb & Summer Berries" and "Banana, Caramel, Coconut."

"Rhubarb & Summer Berries"; "Banana Caramel, Coconut" at The Test Kitchen
The detail is worth it, because in the hands of a great chef, these very ingredient-laden dishes really work. The bottom line is that Joan and I agreed that it was one of the best meals we had ever eaten.

Bobby Jay