Results tagged scallops from David Lebovitz

A Visit to Moët & Chandon

Moët & Chandon

One of the things that France is known for, and does very well, is luxury. Or, as it’s shortened to, in French — le luxe. It’s a world that I don’t often dip into. In fact, I’m usually on the other end of the stick. When I worked in the restaurant business, I was always the one in the back of the kitchen, stirring and baking away while everyone else was having a fancy dinner. My idea of luxury in those days was getting home at 2am, taking a shower, putting on a bathrobe, and eating a bag of tortilla chips and salsa with my feet propped up on a cushion while watching reruns of The Love Boat – and not having anyone talk to me.

Higher up than tortilla chips, in terms of price (and to some, in status) is Champagne, which is perhaps the most obvious product associated with French luxury, and fortunately, it’s an affordable one. I don’t sit around drinking it as much as I should, or would like to. (Imagine how much crazier this blog would be if I was drinking Champagne while writing it, rather than my usual trilogy of desktop snacks; bread, cheese, and chocolate?) But I do drink it from time-to-time, and it’s one of those things that in spite of globalization, the French still do best.

Moët & Chandon

One can buy a bottle of it, starting at around €20 or so in France, although prices go up from there, somewhat steeply. Still, it’s something that’s within reach of most people and interestingly, in the period starting in mid-November, through Christmas and New Years, almost every wine shop and supermarket in France has amazing deals on Champagne. I often stock up for the year! Come to think of it, I still have some from last year that I should probably use up before restocking the larder. (Who can resist a sale? Especially when it’s on Champagne…)

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Le Mary Celeste

spiced cucumbers

The cocktail resurgence has hit Paris big-time (and it’s hit me too), and the team who created Candelaria and Glass, two of my favorite places in Paris, have another hit on their hands with Le Mary Celeste. This corner bar in the Marais is named after a ship in the nineteenth century that left New York and was later found adrift and abandoned. No one ever found out what happened to the crew, who left all their personal belongings and valuables behind, but the boat was also found fully stocked with barrels of alcohol.

Le Mary Celeste cocktail - Rain Dog

I don’t think many – or any – of those barrels landed in Paris, although there is no shortage of things to drink around here. Wine has historically been the drink of choice, although beer seems to have overtaken les vins in popularity judging from all the young people drinking pints in cafés. But gaining traction are cocktails of quality.

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Ciel de Paris

paris view from ciel de paris restaurant

Most people already know that a good view doesn’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with a remarkable culinary experience. But I’d gone to Ciel de Paris many years ago and found the food pas mal. And to top it off, it was reasonably priced, which is so often not the case in places that tend to attract out-of-towners. But what’s truly the draw here, aside from the 70s decor, are the views from the top of the Tour Montparnasse, which are unparalleled in Paris. The views are even better than the views from the Eiffel Tower, since you get to peer down on the famous tour, which was once just as reviled as the blocky Tour Montparnasse currently is.

Unlike those philistines that didn’t like the Eiffel Tower when it was built, I think I am the only one in Paris that doesn’t mind the Tour Montparnasse. The black rectangle lurking in the background of Paris isn’t nearly as objectionable as a number of some of the recent modern buildings, such as Les Halles (which is currently getting a makeover) and the Opéra Bastille.

ciel de paris table window

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Lebanon

meat pastries

The Middle East is a pretty fascinating place, and on this visit – as well as others – I am constantly surprised by what I experience there. Although we often see snippets of it, our images of the region are usually negative; people are fighting or yelling or demonstrating. Glimpses of people going about everyday life aren’t especially easy to come by outside of these countries. Because situations change seemingly daily, it’s not always possible to go to certain places when you want to travel to them. But fortunately, the time was just right for me to go to Lebanon.

Lebanese woman with fruitlamb
green almondsLebanon beach

The first thing you notice in Lebanon is that the people are quite friendly and as I started writing this post about my trip, two young boys are playing around me at the airport while my flight home is delayed (for nine hours!), gingerly saddling up beside me, touching my computer screen with curiosity. In western countries, we are afraid of people and we’re told not to talk to strangers. And if someone came over to you in the airport and touched your computer screen, you might have a coronary. Or deck them.

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Matsuri Sustainable Sushi

matsuri tuna sushi

When I was a teenager, we made a trip to Los Angeles and a family friend took us to a Japanese restaurant. I remember it well, because I was going through that phase where you’re willing to do things on a dare, not because you’re keenly interested in new experiences, but because you want to show off that you’re not afraid of taking on a few dares. And I remember some of my family flipping out a little when we were presented with a big, shiny wooden board covered with raw strips of fish, lined up in neat rows, ready to be eaten just as is.

Because part of my youthful folly of trying the be daring and ‘different’ was using chopsticks to eat everything (as if just being myself wasn’t enough…), I was also happy to be able to show off my mastery with les baguettes, as they’re called in French. And I was going to fearlessly eat raw fish with them.

scallops

I don’t remember what I ate exactly, but I do remember that trepidation of my first bite, and seeing a few people at the table squirm as I chewed and swallowed the first of those cold, slippery slices of fish. Of course, sushi is now considered normal fare in many countries and you can buy it in supermarkets, airports, and even in the frozen food section. And I’ve been in pretty remote towns in both the United States and in France, and have passed restaurants serving sushi, or les sushis.

During the few decades between that first bite of fish that I had, and now, our collective international hunger for seafood has grown, so much so that many popular varieties of fish used for sushi are on the brink of disappearing. French president Nicolas Sarkozy attempted to ban bluefin tuna but an organization of French fishermen and other groups successfully stopped the ban. So in spite of its tenuous position, if you go to a fish market this morning, you’ll see glistening on ice, big, meaty, shiny-red triangles of that unfortunately delicious bluefin tuna along with many other species that are not considered responsible.

A few top French chefs have taken bluefish tuna off their menus, in their upscale restaurants, but the ‘fast-food’ style sushi restaurants that have invaded Paris are invariably packed at lunchtime. Sometimes visitors are surprised to see so many sushi take-out places, which seems to be vying in Paris with the banks and boulangeries for storefront dominance. But like people in cities elsewhere, the locals are looking for something quick, inexpensive, and healthy for lunch. Parisians, mostly the younger crowd, have embraced these quick sushi joints, which normally have just three kinds of sushi: bluefin tuna (thon rouge), shrimp, and salmon, which are considered some of the least sustainable types of fish and seafood you can consume.

tuna rolls Japanese ginger

Like so many others, long after that first experience with poisson cru (raw fish) back in California, I’ve developed a deep fondness for sushi and sashimi. But as the news and scientists report about disappearing species, I can’t shake that deeply ingrained “Bay Area Guilt”, as I call it, about trying to be vert and have a difficult time sitting down to a meal and eating something that’s on the verge of extinction.

(Which is why I will also get up and walk to the other side of my apartment to recycle a postage stamp-size scrap of paper rather than toss it into the trash can under my desk or I’ll carry around a used métro ticket in my pocket for weeks until I get to a place to recycle it.)

Being a good foot soldier, still to this day, I’ve dialed down drinking bottled water as much as possible, and I’ve seriously curtailed my consumption of fish. But when I walked by Matsuri, a chain of sushi bars in France a few months back, and saw the sign outside that they were serving another kind of tuna, I decided to check it out with Meg of Paris by Mouth.

sushi rolls

The sushi at Matsuri arrive to diners via a motorized conveyor belt. So for hard-core sushi fans, this isn’t a place to go to discover the skills of a well-trained, inventive sushi chef. I normally wince when I see floating boats and other gimmicks in sushi bars, but so be it. And it was nice to see a laminated card on each table, talking about the sushi éthique, the sustainability of the scallops and albacore tuna that they serve in place of bluefin tuna (thon rouge).

tuna avocado roll pickled radish sushi

The sushi wasn’t knocking our chausettes off, but it was encouraging to see and to eat sushi that you didn’t have to worry too much about enjoying. (Most of the varieties are on the WWF’s—avec moderation seafood list.)

As mentioned, I’m suspicious of places were the sushi goes around and around and around (and around) on a conveyor belt. But the staff seemed to be putting just the right amount of things out and I didn’t see many of the small plates taking multiple tours around the dining room. Although Matsuri is a small chain of restaurants, the sushi is made there and most of the standard small rolls and sashimi rolled by were familiar favorites.

However we were seated about two-thirds of the way down the conveyor belt and the three fellows just to our left, and the woman with two small kids just before them, seemed to have an uncanny knack for reaching for what we were oogling just before we got our crack at it. So if you go, try to get a seat closer to the open kitchen, where the sushi comes out, for best selection.

Still, I like when restaurants run out of food, and it’s fine when it doesn’t necessarily come out super-fast, which often is a good indication that it’s prepared fresh and with care. Running low (or out) of things means they’re not stockpiling.

Matsuri plates matsuri plates

For all the fresh fish consumed in France, including salmon tartare, which has become a staple on each and every trendy bistro menu, it’s interesting that only a few decent sushi bars have opened in Paris. But as much as folks grouse about chain restaurants, it’s gratifying to see one leading the way in France, showing that you can serve sustainable food at approachable prices. It’s a trend that I hope to see more of.


Matsuri
36, rue de Richelieu (1st)
Tél: 01 42 61 05 73

(With each dish priced between €2 and €5, with two mugs of hot green tea, our lunch was €36. Matsuri has various restaurants and take-away shops in Paris and other French cities, as well as Geneva.)


Related Links

Les Pâtes Vivantes

The 64 cent Fish

The Sustainable Seafood Dilemna (Chocolate & Zucchini)

European Sustainable Seafood Guides (WWF)

Saying No To Disposable Chopsticks

Slow Fish

Pour Une Pêche Durable (French WWF seafood guide)

Europe’s Appetite for Seafood Propels Illegal Trade (New York Times)

Stop the Stuffing!

The other night I was standing on the métro and found myself face à face with a little affiche advising me, minding my own business as I rocketed below Paris, that it’s not alright to eat Mr. Ed. Then on Tuesday, I was taking a stroll through the thirteenth, on my way to have lunch with a friend in Chinatown, and came across a sign pleading a stop to the practice of le gavage, the forced stuffing of ducks and geese to make foie gras.

stop the gavage!

A lot of Americans think that all the French are unequivocally daring eaters, or aren’t picky, which is partially true: when you have a dinner party, you don’t have to worry about someone showing up who’s allergic to peanuts or dairy. Aside from a certain American who won’t eat squid, everyone around here eats almost anything, and just about everything might show up on a menu if you get invited to dinner. Except offal, which, in spite of the fact everyone thinks the French like to chow down on stomach lining, testicles, and kidneys, there’s plenty of them that turn up their noses at the idea of digging into a steaming dish of any of the above. btw: In case you invite me over for dinner, I’m with that camp.

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