Results tagged Alexander Lobrano from David Lebovitz

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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Six Books I’ve Been Enjoying

Stacks and stack of books are piled up here and there, in every possible space around my apartment. I can’t help it — I love books! I’ve got books on my nightstand, there are three stacks on my coffee table (and two precariously high stacks next to the sofa), and, of course, several on my kitchen counter with recipes that I’ve bookmarked. It’s not possible to write about all of them – that post would be as long as a whole book – but here are a few that I found especially interesting.

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50 Foods: The Essentials of Good Taste by Ed Behr

I haven’t read 50 Foods: The Essentials of Good Taste cover-to-cover, which is actually fine, since the book is a collection of chapters that you can easily flip through and invariably land on something fascinating and enlightening. Ed Behr is the editor of The Art of Eating, a well-written newsletter, and when I moved to Paris. I’d brought along one particular issue, with an in-depth article about a croissant-maker in the 14th. The writing and descriptions were so good, they made me anxious to try his croissants. (Of course, as always seems the case with me, the day I went there was a fermeture exceptionelle. And I never crossed town to go back.)

50 Foods is one of those books that you can learn something with every sentence that you read. So you can open to a chapter and learn why some honeys crystallize and why others remain liquids (and what big manufacturers do to prevent it from happening). Why the best goat milk cheeses are not available in the winter months. How the preparation of rice various from culture to culture – especially how Asians treat it differently than Italians. And how the normally technique-obsessed French don’t give rice any special treatment at all.

Chocolate gets its due, with a discussion of how it’s made, what’s the most satisfying way to eat it, and what wines go well with it. I agree with Ed’s proclamation that “Chocolate destroys most wines.” And while red wine is a popular, go-to choice for many, I share his feeling that chocolate needs a wine made from sweeter grapes, and Banyuls, a fortified wine from the south of France, and sometimes Madiera, which support and accompany the flavors in chocolate better than tannic reds.

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My Favorite Cookbooks of 2009

I have a stack (actually, about four stacks) of cookbooks that arrived this year, many of them riddled with bookmarks for recipes. Some of them I managed to get to, presenting recipes on the blog or baking for friends and neighbors, and a few I didn’t get around to yet. In this year’s round up, I did sneak in a few recipes from favorite classics cookbooks in my collection, but there’s a nice representation from books that came out in 2009. Included are a few guidebooks that I found indispensable, plus I tossed in a couple of cookbooks that I’ve had my eye on, which are en route, that I’m looking forward to getting dusty with flour, and smudged with butter.

Here’s my annual round-up My Favorite Cookbooks from 2009:

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Rustic Fruit Desserts by Corey Schreiber and Julia Richardson

I met Corey Schreiber a decade or so ago when he launched a restaurant in San Francisco. Shortly afterward he moved up to Portland to re-connect with the outstanding ingredients of the Pacific Northwest. This best-selling book features everything from a lemon-swathed Blueberry Buckle to Caramel Apple Steamed Pudding with Ginger. But it’s the Upside-Down Pear Chocolate Cake that is sitting in my batter’s box (or batter box?) to try.

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New Flavors of Appetizers: Classic Recipes Redefined by Amy Sherman

I’m the first to admit that when I invite people for dinner, because I live in France, it’s easy to stop at the charcuterie for a few slices of country ham or hit the Arab market for a bag of salty olives. But Amy Sherman’s book is full of do-able recipes. I’m a bit fixated on her Baked Asparagus, Leek, and Goat Cheese Bites, and as soon as spring rolls back around, I’m going to tackle that one. In the meantime, there’s plenty to get me through the winter, like Olives and Feta Marinated in Lemon and Ouzo and Smoky Eggplant Dip with Cumin-Crusted Pita Chips.

I Love Macarons by Hisako Ogita

I get so many inquiries about macarons that I had to compile a post of the best advice out there. (Making French Macarons.) But this little book, in English, promises a fool-proof method of making the little devils. Because of their popularity, I did a special write-up of I Love Macarons!, which offers more details about the book.

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Where to Find the Best Steak Frites in Paris

Alec Lobrano has been writing about the food in Paris for over two decades, and was the Paris correspondent for Gourmet magazine. When his book, Hungry for Paris came out, I immediately opened to page one and read it cover-to-cover. He’s one of the best food writers of our generation and each chapter tells the story of one of his favorite restaurants in Paris. And now, as a result, whenever someone suggests a restaurant for dinner, I’ll pull my copy of his book from my shelf and see what Alec has to say before I confirm.

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We recently dined together on steak frites and I was thrilled when he agreed to write up a guest post with his favorite places for steak and French fries in Paris to share with you. He not only did that graciously, but included notes about what cuts of meat to expect in a French restaurant, which many visitors will certainly appreciate. And for vegetarians out there, he listed a healthy alternative, too!

You can read more of Alec’s Paris restaurant reviews and recommendations at his site and blog, AlexanderLobrano.com, which I read religiously. Not only is Alec a wonderful writer, he’s a terrific guy, and I hope you enjoy his company as much as I do…-David

In Paris, Where’s Le Bœuf?

According to one of the cordial waiters at Au Bœuf Couronée, one of the last old-fashioned steakhouses in the Paris’s old slaughterhouse neighborhood La Vilette in the 19th arrondissement, they haven’t been so busy in years.

Pour quoi? It seems that these trying times have a lot of people craving meat and potatoes, or as the French would have it, steak frites, that infinitely Gallic and profoundly consoling combo of steak with fries or some other form of spuds.

If you’re one of them, I’m happy to share my favorite steak frites addresses in Paris (vegetarians please skip to the last paragraph), but first a couple of pointers.

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Two Delicious Dining Guides to Paris


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Clotilde Dusoulier is the ultimate Parisian insider, one who shares her tasty tales of life in Paris on her blog, Chocolate and Zucchini. In this very handy guide, a native Parisian happily leads us around Paris, taking us from little-known specialty food shops and classic bistros to authentic Japanese noodle bars and venues for wine tastings.

One of my favorite parts of Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris are tips on how restaurants and food shops work here. For example, knowing that you’re not a “customer” but a “guest” explains a lot of things to foreigners, who are used to the Customer is King attitude.

Other cultural tips, like keeping your hands on the table while you’re eating and not resting your bread on the edge of your plate, are explained so you can avoid making a faux pas, as I did shortly after I arrived in Paris and was scolded for my bread infraction by the host at a dinner party. And I always thought it was rude to scold guests! Who knew?

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