Thursday, July 27, 2017

Paris -- Avocado Non-Toast

Avocado toast is a huge fad in the US, and recipes and ideas abound on the Internet. I have always loved avocado and recently took advantage of being in Paris to make what turned out to be an amazingly simple but delicious sandwich using the surprisingly very available avocado. I decided to make a French-style sandwich, which features much smaller quantities of meat and other fillings, the better to feature the bread, ideally a fresh crusty baguette.

I simply spread ripe avocado on a perfect baguette (from Maison Hilaire, near the Bastille), sprinkled some fleur de sel on top, added a little sliced jambon de Paris (from Maison Plisson, near the Place de la République), and a small quantity of buttery and slightly bitter mâche. The combination of flavors and textures resulted in a memorable sandwich, which I have immodestly named the "Bobby Jay Ham and Avocado Sandwich."

Avocado, ham and mâche on a baguette
There is nothing to this if you're in Paris, although you still may need to work a little to find exceptional ham and a great baguette.

If you aren't, however, you must work with what you have. Italian parmacotto is the best cooked ham I have found in New York; arugula will do instead of mâche, and I would lightly toast the baguette, because a great one is not to be found in New York (even the Baguette Monge at Eric Kayser, which is great in Paris, falls far short in New York for some reason).

You can improvise: if you want to add a little Cantal or Comté and/or a very thin slice of tomato, I won't tell anyone. If I were to make this in New York, I would likely add very thin slices of jalapeno pepper.

The Bobby Jay Ham and Avocado Sandwich is not a great culinary achievement, but it does help to answer Cole Porter's question "Why oh why do I love Paris"?

Bobby Jay

Paris -- Itinéraires: Still Great

I have written about Itinéraires before, but two recent experiences confirm that I just can't say enough about this excellent restaurant, which is less than fifteen minutes from our apartment on foot, the shorty journey encompassing a crossing of Île Saint-Louis that is itself a highlight of any stay in Paris.

We went with French friends on a weeknight, when the astounding 60 euro menu is on offer. It was their first experience at Itinéraires and they were blown away.

What makes this restaurant so great is the very precise cooking and presentation, giving each of the many elements on the plate its chance to star. The spectacular vegetables all come from a single farmer, Asafumi Yamashita, and they are integrated seamlessly into the dishes.

Highlights included "Cod with Fish Sauce Scented with Saffron, Baby Greens from M. Yamashita and Ham from Patrick Duler" and "Pigeon with 1001 Nights Spices and Carrot/Meat/Orange Jus."

Cod and pigeon at Itinéraires
Other dishes were just as pretty but I was reluctant to take too many photos.

We returned a couple of weeks later with Japanese friends and this time, since we were a party of seven, were required to take the ninety-euro menu dégustation, consisting of five courses after a complement of exciting and substantive amuses-bouche. Not only was the food just as spectacular as in our earlier meal, but the multiple course extravaganza was so well calibrated that one left the table pleasantly sated but without feeling stuffed. And we ate everything.

Two of the amuses were an unbelievably thin slices of M. Yamashita's cauliflower, with an ethereal, lightly spiced vinaigrette, and raw seafood and cooked vegetables on a cucumber bridge.

Thinly sliced cauliflower with vinaigrette
Raw seafood on cucumber
The meal proper started with a carpaccio of house-smoked duck breast with red fruits (cherries and currants) to provide an acid contrast to the fattiness of the duck. A spectacular plate!

Smoked duck capraccio with red fruits
There followed the night's preparation of slowly cooked cod, this time with peas, a peanut (even the 1-1/2 peanuts were a very noticeable element) and elderberry flowers.

Slow-cooked cod with peas
Next up was roast pigeon with a beet-raspberry-pigeon jus, which was as interesting and beautiful as it sounds.

Roast pigeon with beet-raspberry jus
The first dessert was a "capuccino" of mango, banana pannacotta and a light coconut mousse with Expelette pepper. Unfortunately it was photo shy.

Not so the "garden" of chocolate and fresh herbes, which looked too much like a garden for my taste, but which was a success for the palate if not the palette.

"Garden" of chocolate and herbs
What more can I say, except that I can't wait to get back next time we are in Paris.

Bobby Jay