Le Severo

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There’s lots of good food in Paris, but sometimes you have to travel to the outer neighborhoods to find the gems. And while the 14th arrondissement isn’t all that far, it’s worth the trek for the excellent meal at Le Severo with some other friends at a little petit coin of a restaurant, a schlep from wherever you are in Paris. There’s only 10 or so simple tables and a lone cook in the open kitchen who presides over the dining room. An old zinc bar acts as a catch-all for bottles of water, wine carafes, and a big container of fleur de sel…which was a good omen.

One entire wall of Le Severo is a chalk-written wine list and menu. Notice I said ‘wine list’ first. That’s because three-and-a half lengthy columns are up there, listing all sorts of wine, heavy on the reds. Somewhere in the midst of it all lurks a terse menu, and it’s almost all about beef: steaks, Côte de Boeuf, Lyonnais Sausages, and Foie de Veau. First courses range from a salade Caprese, (a dish you shouldn’t order outside of Italy) and a salad with goat cheese. But the real star here is le meat, so we started with a platter of glistening slices of cured jambon artisanal, which isn’t really beef but I’m too revved up to go back and change that, and it came with a too-huge slab of yellow, ultra-buttery butter (which is the only way I could describe it…it was really, really buttery…I don’t want to change that either) which we slathered on the bread, from the organic bakery, Moisan, then draped our slices with the ham. We then gobbled ‘em down.
Delicious.

The other starter was a Terrine de pot au feu. Pot au feu is the French equivalent of a boiled-beef supper, complete with vegetables and broth. When done right, it’s excellent, and at Le Severo, my hunch paid off. The terrine featured cubed, boiled beef parts, tender and neatly diced, loosely held in place with a light, jellied beef broth.

Since it’s rather warm and humid here in Paris right now, I chose a bottle of Fleurie, which was an overwhelming task considering the size and scope of the wine list. But the prices were gentle enough to encourage experimentation and the list is full of curious wines, so I think whatever you chose would be the right choice. The Fleurie was light, upbeat, and fruity…yet sturdy enough to stand up to a slab of beef.

Anyhow, our steaks arrived flawlessly cooked.
The French love their beef bleu, practically raw. But I like mine rare to medium-rare, or saignant. The chef-jacketed owner William Bernet, who is the singular server, assured me I’d be happy with saignant, and when he brought my faux filet, the rosy, juicy slices were indeed cooked just to the lower edge of my desired point of tenderness. To the side, my steak was accompanied by very, very good house-made French Fries.

My only fault was that the fries could have spent an extra 48 seconds in the deep-fryer to get that deep-golden crust that everyone loves but cooks seem to have trouble attaining around here, a fault I find in too many restos in France. Does anyone really like undercooked French fries? But I didn’t need to reach for that container of fleur de sel at all during dinner; everything was salted just-right. That to me, is the sign of a great cook, and a great restaurant. If you can’t salt food properly, you should find another line of work.

I was able to talk my companions, who just moved here from Rome and were delighted to chow down on good, honest French cooking, into splitting a cushiony-round disk of St. Marcellin cheese, which was roll-you-eyes-back-in-your-head amazing. I had a simple Creme Caramel, which arrived properly ice-cold and floating in a slick of dreamy burnt sugar sauce.

And because they were eating cheese, I didn’t have to share one bite of it (Ha! My strategy worked.) My friends then had a Mousse au Chocolat, which they liked, but they were not as conniving as me and shared a bit, but I felt it could’ve used a wallop of more chocolate flavor, but that’s how I am about chocolate desserts. The espresso served after dinner was quite good, and living in France, I’ve gained a new appreciation for Illy café, which is all but impossible to ruin.

First courses at Le Severo are in the 10€ range, while main courses were priced 15 to 25€. The hefty Côte de Boeuf, which they’ll prepare for 2 or 3 people, is 30€ per person and I’m going to have it on my next visit.

On the métro home after dinner, it suddenly dawned on my that my dining companions were macrobiotic. So if macrobiotic people can enjoy a beef restaurant like Le Severo, you can imagine how happy it makes us carnivores.

Le Severo
8, rue des Plantes
M: Mouton Duvernet
Tél: 01 45 40 40 91

How Uncool Am I

I’m looking at my Pandora playlist this morning, thinking…

…”Anyone who sees this is going to think I’m a complete and total dork.”

Feel free to add stations.

Help me. Obviously I’m in need of an intervention.


Links Du Jour

People are going nuts over Ici ice cream, in Berkeley. Mary Canales rocks. Go eat her ice cream.
Tell her I said hi.

Not to upstage the timely importance of baby Suri, a reader sends me a link to this (a bit too) juicy history of Chez Panisse from Vanity Fair.
Um, thanks for sharing, JT.

Spend a week in Gascony, without leavin’ your laptop.

A chocolatier, looking at the comments to a recent interview, announces to me he’s single…and looking.
David fears making the announcement on his blog will cause his traffic to spike, and cause his server to crash.
(Chocolatier offers to send chocolate bars studded with bacon bits. David accepts.)

Zagat Guide to Paris restaurants for 2006-2007 is released. Big party at George V with lots of free Champagne and mingling with top Paris chefs. Taillevent is still #1.
David wonders why French web sites always have that God-awful music, and waits for invitation to lunch.

Homemade ginger ale wows Paris.

Skype announces that all calls to fixed phone lines in France for SkypeOut users will be free through the end of 2006.

KitchenAid offers blenders for just $39. Also announces ice cream making-attachment for European-model KitchenAid mixers.

Louisa shows how to turn espresso upside-down. Then eat it.

Amazon tell me,“Go build yer own store!

Adam & Family get shafted by the Powers That Be at Le Cirque.
Owner’s son writes a tearful response….which fails to elicit sympathy.

Salted Butter Caramels from Henri Le Roux

le roux caramels

I’d like to introduce you to Henri Le Roux. And if you don’t know who Henri Le Roux is, it’s time that you did.

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Le Caramelier; Salted-Butter Caramel Spread

There’s a lot of very talented chocolatiers and pastry chefs in France. Some are quite famous, and some just go to work everyday and do their jobs well. A few have rather large egos, others are more humble, preferring the lights of the kitchen to the ones in the television studio. (I was at a recent event with another food blogger who correctly noted that all the famous chefs mostly talk about is one thing: Themselves!) But if you mention the name ‘Henri Le Roux’ to any chocolatier or confiseur in France, they stand silent for a moment. Then nod agreeably. He is perhaps the most respected and admired pastry chef and candy maker I know.

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The famous C.B.S. caramels in assorted flavors, including lime, black tea, orange-ginger and, of course, chocolate

I first met Monsieur Le Roux when I went to the Salon du Chocolat in Paris with my Thierry Lallet, who has an excellent (and highly-recommended) chocolate shop in Bordeaux, Saunion, one of the best in France.

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Freshly-made C.B.S. caramels studded with hazelnuts, almonds, and walnuts

Before that day, I thought that caramels were caramels, and until that point, I’d tasted so many things in my life that there was little left that would deeply impress me. M. Le Roux is a very kind man, who basically changed the way pastry chefs, glaciers, and bakers everywhere think about caramel: he created caramel-buerre-salé (caramel-salt-butter), which he simply calls C.B.S.
And they are truly divine.

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The 55-year old candywrapping machine barely keeps up with the demand for M. Le Roux’s caramels

Henri Le Roux, whose Breton father was a pastry chef (and lived in New York for 5 years, cooking at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel) started making caramels in the seaside town of Quiberon in 1976, located at the tip of a dramatic peninsula in the south of Brittany, where the best butter in the world is found (the first chapter in his book, is called “Le Rideau de Beurre”, or “The Curtain of Butter”. He decided to open there, selling cakes, candies, and ice creams. But like warm, buttery caramel, word of his candies spread and he stopped making cakes and tartes to concentrate all his energy on candymaking. Just 3 years later, in 1908, M. Le Roux won the award for the best candy in France, Le Meilleur Bonbon de France at the Salon International de la Confiserie in Paris.

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Salted-Caramel Buckwheat Florentines just-slathered in bittersweet chocolate

M. Le Roux was kind enough to let me explore his workshop with him when I paid a visit during my August vacation in Brittany. As he raced from room to room, he flipped open bins of almonds from Provence or hazelnuts from Turkey to give me a sample, later showing me how he grinds his own fresh nut pastes in his broyeuse with massive granite rollers which keep cool, while metal rollers would heat the nuts too much, losing some of the flavor. And a rarity in the pastry field nowadays, M. Le Roux uses true bitter almonds in his almond paste, which he sources from the Mediterranean. Almond extract is made from bitter almonds, even in America, but they’re hardly used anymore since they’re difficult to find (and those pesky toxicity issues.) But in the land sans lawsuits, M. Le Roux makes that effort and blends a few into his freshly-pressed almond paste which tastes like none other I’ve tasted in France.

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Exceptional chocolates from Henri Le Roux, which were too good not to eat right away

I like to ask chocolatiers which chocolate they use.
Most are secretive, but M. Le Roux led me into a cool room packed floor to ceiling with boxes of various chocolates he gets from all over France and Belgium. He tore into them, breaking off chunks for me to taste and explaining how he uses some of each, blending them as he wishes to get the desired tastes he’s after. Valrhona and Barry-Callebaut are used, but he also sources chocolate from François Pralus, an artisan chocolate-maker located in Roanne, just outside of Lyon, who specializes in single-origin chocolates, as well.

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Henri and Lorraine Le Roux in their boutique, in Quiberon

I wanted to describe each and every chocolate in the box, but decided that that would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. (Actually, I ate them all and didn’t feel like writing down what tasted as I was eating as I went. As mentioned, I’m a lousy blogger.) But I remember Harem, a filling of green tea and fresh mint, Sarrasine, infused with blé noir (buckwheat), and Yannick, blended dark cane sugar, salted butter and ground crêpes dentelle, hyper-thin, crackly lace cookies ground to a crunchy paste.

Oh yes, there’s C.B.S. too, nutty salted-butter caramel enrobed in dark chocolate as well, which was my favorite.

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Le Roux
18, rue de Pont Maria
56170 Quiberon, France

and

1, rue de Bourbon le Château (6th)
Paris

(Will ship internationally.)

Henri Le Roux’s caramels and chocolates are also available in Paris at:

A l’Etoile d’Or
30, rue Fontaine
Tél: 01 48 74 59 55
M: Blanche

Le Roux Chocolate bars

Related Links and Recipes

Henri Le Roux in Paris

Salted Butter Caramels

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream

Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Ribs

A l’Etoile d’Or

10 Insanely Delicious Things You Shouldn’t Miss in Paris

Jacques Genin

Jean-Charles Rochoux

Patrick Roger

Paris Favorites

How to Make the Perfect Caramel



When Good Fruitcakes Go Bad

I keep a pretty clean house.

I bath regularly.

So I wondered why there were so many little flies buzzing around me?

Up until a few weeks ago, I never had a problem with insects, save for the nightly attacks of mosquitoes (the bane of Parisian summers). So I was wondered why I had so many little visitors flitting about my kitchen.

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Every year I make fruitcakes, and last year was no exception. I spend hours candying orange and grapefruit peel as well as making spicy, candied ginger, which I chop up into toothsome nuggets. I make a buttery batter packed full of brilliant-green Sicilian pistachios, and use my precious stash of rich, crunchy Macadamia nuts sent to me by friends in Hawaii.

Then batter gets divided into molds of various sizes and baked in anticipation of holiday gift-giving. (Note to future recipients: The size determines how much I feel indebted to you…so plan your gift-giving accordingly.)

Once-cooled, I soak the cakes with a heady pour of Cognac, then wrap them neatly in French linen, known as étamine. Then faithfully, each month, I brush the gauzy wrap with a fresh dose of Cognac, re-wrap them, then revisit them monthly to repeat the process.

Last week, I did my ritualistic unveiling of my lovely fruitcakes to give them their regular dose of Cognac.

As I pulled back the wrapping, something felt oddly unfamiliar, and an uneasy sense of dread spread over me. The cakes didn’t feel solid.

Nor did they even feel like cakes.

Well, words can’t really describe what I was feeling, so I’ll simply share…

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Oh la vâche!, as we say.

This was perhaps the most horrible thing I’d seen in a long, long time.
Flies buzzed, hovered and swooped around the almost-unrecognizable bricks of cake, frothy mold seeped and fizzed from every pore, and little wriggly…well…since you may be eating while you read this, I’ll stop there, but you get the message (and hopefully share my pain.)

I’m certain le canicule, the heatwave of July, was responsible. It heated everything up, including my cakes, and turned them into a messy mayhem of mold and mouches (flies).

I made a beeline for the elevator to the garbage area on the ground floor of my building, praying the elevator wouldn’t stop to let someone else on. If it had, I don’t know how I would have explained what happened. Or the stink. Luckily I arrived tout seule, and with semi-regret, flung the whole she-bang in la poubelle, slammed down the lid, and beat a hasty retreat.

Merde!

Plum Tuckered

Today I learned something.

I learned how to check the statistics on this site.

I can learn what other sites lead people here, and how many people visit here each day.

I can also see what keywords people are using to find the site.

You would think it might be something like, say, ‘Chocolate‘ or ‘Paris‘.

Or perhaps it’d be something broader, like ‘Recipe‘ or ‘Baking‘.

But you know what?

The Number #1, Top Search Words that are used to find this site are…

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‘Tucker Carlson’

So for all you fans looking for Tucker Carlson…welcome!

…to both of you.

Fleur de Sel

There’s been a lot of discussion about what is the best salt in the world. There’s lots of opinions, tastings, and scientific studies floating around.

But I’m here to tell you, my absolute favorite salt is Fleur de sel de Guérande. I think there’s no finer salt available anywhere.

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When I was invited to visit the salt marshes and learn to rake the highly-prized, precious crystals of fleur de sel, I decided that the Guérande, in Brittany, would make the perfect place to begin my August vacation. Brittany is a rugged part of France that faces the Atlantic and is unspoiled by tourists. The coastline is gorgeous: large rock formations are piled everywhere, giving one many opportunities to ascend the boulders and enjoy the magnificent views in all directions. The ocean was a bit too cold for me to swim in, but Bretons have no trouble diving right in.

(Trust me, it’s freezing cold, which meant no swimming at the beach for me…especially the naturist beaches!)

But there’s also lots of buckwheat crêpes and sparkling apple cider to keep your spirits up as well, just in case you get stuck in one of the rainstorms, as I often did. And although the Guérande lies in the south of the region, and in spite of Breton flags everywhere, I was curiously told by the locals that the Guérande was actually part of the Loire-Atlantique, not Brittany.
Like the numbered roadway signs that lead to nowhere (locals told us not to follow the signs since they’re wrong), and in spite of the magnificent Michelin maps, driving in France provides its fair-share of frustrations.

Still, we managed to make it, and by the time we arrived I was ready to throttle someone. Yet looking out over the marshes did indeed have a calming effect—perhaps they can build a salt marsh in Paris, visible from my apartment?

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Le Marais Salant of the Guérande.

These are the salt marshes of the Guérande, les œillets.
They’re so prominent, that they’re visible on the Michelin maps of France, although when I got home and tried to look on Google maps, viewing the region was prohibited. Perhaps there’s a military installation nearby, since it’s on the coast. The exceptional salt from the Guérande is justifiably famous since it tastes like no other salt in the world. Although the words ‘fleur de sel’ have been bantered around and used as marketing tools for many salts being promoted (nowadays you find salts labeled as such from Portugal, Italy, and elsewhere) nowhere else on earth does the salt have the same fine flavor and delicate crystals of Fleur de Sel de Guérande.

Continue Reading Fleur de Sel…

Blog Day 2006: The Morning After

Yesterday was Blog Day 2006, which I’m a bit late for.
But here are my choices for 5 food blogs that were either newly created in 2006, or at least new to me this year, that I always enjoy:

Check ‘em out!

(Oh, and in the Miss Congeniality category, Acme Instant Food and, of course, Megnut, as well.)