Recently in Paris category

Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athenée Restaurant

Alain Ducasse Restaurant at the Plaza Athenée

A few years ago in Paris, I was invited to a special lunch by Dan Barber, of Blue Hill in New York City, who prepared a meal at the restaurant of Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athenée. I’ve been fortunate to be on the guest list for some of these meals, including ones that profiled Japanese and Chinese chefs, meant to introduce the foods of other cultures to journalists and food professionals here in Paris.

Of course, Alain Ducasse has upscale restaurants in Paris, Monte Carlo, New York, and Tokyo. But during a recent renovation of the Plaza Athenée hotel in Paris, Chef Ducasse and his chef at the restaurant, Romain Meder, decided to break from – and challenge – the traditional definition of luxury dining, and feature the producers and farmers, who produce the food, where good cooking starts. The menu has been completely rewritten, focusing on vegetables and sustainable fish.

Alain Ducasse Restaurant at the Plaza Athenée

Before this transformation, when Dan Barber was at the restaurant, he gave an impassioned talk to the French journalists and food writers (along with a few of us anglophones) that were assembled, about what he’s doing at his restaurants and his philosophy. Unfortunately the translator gave a word-for-word recapitulation, which didn’t (and couldn’t) explain the sociological shift and remarkable, and profound, transformation in American dining and eating habits over the last few decades. People used to say to me, “Don’t all Americans eat at McDonald’s?” But those who have been to the states now come back, and say “The food was incroyable.”

Farmers’ markets are in full swing in most major cities in America, and on airplanes (and in fast-food restaurants), you’re likely to find bits of radicchio in your baby lettuce salad, and even my local Safeway in San Francisco had organic milk from a local producer and bean-to-bar chocolate. French cuisine has taken a notable hit, mostly because of the increased reliance on pre-packaged foods. But that’s kind of becoming a thing of the past, and the tides are turning. And in this case, it’s coming from the top.

Alain Ducasse Restaurant at the Plaza Athenée

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Camembert de Normandie

Camembert de Normandie

Althought it’s hard to blame it, my camera ate all of my Camembert de Normandie (pictures), which I discovered when I went to download them. I was miffed (to say the least…), but in the end, decided that it was tough to blame my mischievous machine because I understand how hard it is to be around a perfectly ripe Camembert de Normandie and not want to wolf the whole thing down. As they would say in Paris when presented with an irresistible cheese — C’est un catastrophe, a demi-joke referring to the devastating effect it has on la ligne. (One’s figure.)

Like the genie in the bottle, once you let a soon-to-be goopy camembert out of its container, no matter how firm you think it’s gonna remain, there’s no turning back once it starts doing what comes naturally. And if you are able to resist eating the whole runny thing in one go, in France, you can get a little plastic box to store your camembert in, with little hinged plastic “walls” to keep your camembert from running. (Even though plastic isn’t the best thing to store your cheeses in; most fromageries wrap cheeses in waxed paper sheets.) I don’t buy a lot of Camembert de Normandie because it’s hard to stop eating it. But for the sake of you all, I went and bought another one, just because I like living dangerously. And what’s another catastrophe between friends?

Camembert de Normandie

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Le Richer

Le Richer

I’ve had a swirl of visitors lately, and every morning it seems like I open my Inbox to find more “We’re Coming to Paris!!!” in subject lines. I’m not complaining because I love seeing my friends, especially those I don’t see often enough, but the joke about needing a social secretary has become a reality for me – just so I can get my other stuff done. I could probably also use a personal trainer at this point as I’m in the midst of 3-days of non-stop eating out. (Sunday is a day off, then Monday, it’s back out there to eat some more.)

In addition to having a great time catching up with friends from afar is that I get to try restaurants in Paris that I’ve been meaning to go to, but haven’t had the time to. Of course, everyone wants me to pick a restaurant and telephoning for reservations is another task for my yet-unnamed social secretary. I had suggested to my other-half to do it, but judging from the look he gave me, I don’t think he’s the right person for the job.

Le Richer

Taking a breather from eating copious amount of food, yesterday I had lunch at Le Richer with a friend from Nice, and decided to share it with you. It’s in that “happening” little area in the 9th, clustered around other new and interesting places that have popped up in recent years, such as Vivant and L’Office, the latter owned by the same team that owns Le Richer. And yes, that was me having dinner at L’Office last night, just after having lunch at Le Richer, right across the street — see? I wasn’t kidding..

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Juveniles Wine Bar

Juveniles Wine Bar & Restaurant in Paris

My interest was piqued the other day when I was reading a popular user-generated review site, and came across a review for a restaurant in Paris. The author said they could tell they were in a good place because when they walked in, nobody was speaking English. In an international city like Paris, I don’t mean to be Déborah Downer (pronounced dow-nair), but a lot of people in Paris speak English. And I find it curious that tourists don’t want to go to a restaurant where there are other tourists. (Good thing they don’t feel that way about hotels – I doubt there’s be any place to sleep!) It’s as if the presence of foreigners equals bad food.

I, for example, am often a tourist and I love eating well when I travel. I hope the presence of me and my friends dining in a restaurant, say, in Palermo or Vancouver, don’t portend to potential diners poking their heads in, that a restaurant sucks.

Juveniles Wine Bar & Restaurant in Paris

Restaurants in Paris often offer menus in English for a couple of reasons. One is that it makes the servers lives easier as the servers (who often has their hands full), don’t have to stand there and translate a menu for each and every diner. (You’ll notice dining rooms in most small restaurants in Paris don’t have busboys, runners, hosts, etc. The servers do it all.) And other reason is that it’s easier for the diners, too.

And for his or her host as well. Such as in my case, since I often translate menus when dining with out-of-town guests and friends who don’t read French. While I’m happy to run through the menu the first time for everyone, no one seems to pay attention. Then I have to go back and explain things item-by-item again. (And people always want to know things like, “If it says poulet fermier, what piece of chicken will I get?” or, “Is there going to be a sauce on that?”) And by the time I’ve read it all through for someone, I need a glass of wine — which at this point, is a priority.

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Pottoka

Pottoka in Paris

Sometimes I feel like a nitwit, especially when people start talking about all the new restaurants in Paris. I am a creature of habit (and I don’t like disappointment), so I generally go to the same places. I also tend to stay on the Right Bank, where I live, as the restaurants tend to be more exciting and less-fussy, with a more casual ambiance.

But I’d heard good things about Pottoka, over in the 7th arrondissement, helmed by chef Sébastien Gravé, who likes to improvise on his native Basque cuisine, known for lots of colors and contrasts, as well as a hint of spice. The restaurant is named for a breed of smallish horses from that region, which is located in the southwest part of France, and spans into Spain as well. So the foods often feature red peppers, lively seasonings, and seafood. It’s also famous for the Ibaïonan (Basque) charcuterie, which is some of the best in the world.

Pottoka in Paris

Since I was on my own, I didn’t start with any of the nice charcuterie on offer. But the list had some notable things on there, including cécina (dried beef, which if you haven’t tried, is great stuff) and cochonailles (cured hams and sausages) from the notable Eric Ospital. Scanning the dining room at midday, from the looks of things, this was a working lunch crowd that probably had to go back to their desks afterward, so not many people were drinking wine. I had a ton of work piled up back at home, too, but couldn’t resist a glass of cool Jurançon from Domaine Cauhapé that was pleasantly dry (some are sweet). It was a very generous pour and I cursed the unpleasantness that was waiting for me at my own desk.

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At the Market: Bitter Turnips and Smoked Garlic

figs

I regularly visit the outdoors markets in Paris to do my shopping. It’s a lot nicer than the supermarket and I’ve gotten to know many of the vendors personally. Last Friday I took a lovely journalist from Poland through the market, who was writing a story about me and my new book. And I thought I’d be fun to take her shopping with me.

bitter turnip

She asked me a lot of questions as I blazed through the market, where I dialed in on the fresh figs immediately. Worried that the fragile beauties would get smushed in my bag, I made a mental note to go back and get some. The best market tip I can give is to see what everyone has, then go back, and get what you want. But another is not to go with any expectations, because what might be available in abundance one day, will (invariably) be gone a few days later when you go back to get it. So I stock up when I see things things, like the ripe ‘n ready black figs, shown up above.

baguette and smoked garlic

The ones that were syrupy and sticky-soft got eaten fresh, right away. A few others were roasted in the oven with some white wine, honey, and a few branches of fresh thyme.

I also bought a magnificent head of lettuce, since I eat a lot of salads. And even though I had plenty of cheese at home – as usual – while introducing her the women who sell the stellar cheeses that I’m fortunate to have so close by, I was powerless to resist the artisanal goat cheeses, each wrapped in a chestnut leaf. And into my basket one of those went.

cherry tomatoes

She asked me about root vegetables, which are having a renaissance in France, so I took her to the stand that specializes in les légumes racines. I’d gotten bear’s garlic from that vendor last year (and, of course, when I went to get more a few days later, it was nowhere to be seen), and while perusing her colorful radishes and beets, I noticed a basket holding tresses of ail fumé, or smoked garlic.

smoked garlic

Parisians aren’t know for the abundant use of smoky flavors. So it’s a little surprising to see smoked garlic at the markets. This specimen that came home with me hailed from the north of France and a little research led to me learn that they’re Ail fumé d’Arleux, which have been in production for over four hundred years. Smoking was originally a way to preserve the garlic. Before refrigeration, people would store foods in their chimneys (including cheese), which would help preserve it, as well as lend a smoky taste. So why not garlic?

tart dough

tart dough

tart dough

The most notable dish using smoked garlic is soupe à l’ail d’Arleux; a simple soup of smoked garlic, potatoes, carrots, and thyme, sometimes topped with grated cheese or crème fraîche – you can find some recipes here and here, in English.

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La Trésorerie and Café Smorgås

La Trésorerie and Café Smorgås

The word trésorerie in French means “treasury.” But in spite of its vaguely unpleasant connotation with the place that receives your taxes, it can also mean “treasure trove,” such as in this case, to describe La Trésorerie.

La Trésorerie and Café Smorgås

One of the nice things about living in an international city like Paris, is that you can visit “another country” by just taking a métro, bike, or a short walk, and find yourself in the middle of another culture. Behind the Gare du Nord are streets lined with Indian and Sri Lankan restaurants and épiceries (food shops), and the Goutte d’Or has a few lively markets, such as the one at Barbès, that caters to the African community.

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Caractère de Cochon: Ham & Charcuterie Shop in Paris

Caractère de Cochon

Many times, I’ve walked by Caractère de Cochon, a slip of a place on a side street, just next to the earnest Marché des Enfants Rouges, in the ever-growing hipper upper haut (upper) Marais, and wondered about the cave à jambons jam-packed with hams of all sorts hanging in the window and from the rafters. But I’ve never stepped inside.

Caractère de Cochon

But recently I was talking to my friend Jennifer, and she’d mentioned the place in glowing terms, letting me know it was, indeed, an amazing emporium dedicated to all-things-ham. So we made a date to go. However as (my) luck would have it, of course, on the day of our date, it was closed for a fermeture exceptionelle.

Caractère de Cochon

Which, in my case, seems to happen a lot.

fermeture exceptionelle

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