Results tagged white truffles 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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Pierre Hermé Macarons

macarons

One of the things about living in a city like Paris is that you spend a lot of time – well, dealing with life. Bills to pay, paperwork to do, typos to avoid, stolen bikes to replace, smokers to dodge on sidewalks waving lit cigarettes (I got nailed the other day – ouch!), or buying a pair of shoes, can easily take up much – or all – of your days. It’s too-easy to get wrapped up in all that minutiae and let all the things you love to do get overwhelmed by the other things that tend to take over, if you let them.

I’ve let them and decided to do a little turn-around by revisiting the places and eating the things that I love in Paris. It’s easy to forget the pockets of wonderfulness that people see when they come here for a week – the parks, the boulevards, the chocolate shops, and just taking a stroll and getting some air (in between all the sidewalk maneuvering) and take in the city.

macarons

Macarons aren’t new. Macarons gerbet, or filled macarons are distinctly Parisian and have been around for about 150 years. True, they are available elsewhere nowadays. But like a New York or Montreal bagel, or Chicago deep-dish pizza, certain foods get designated with an appellation because they are so closely associated with where they were first made. (Bagels and pizza are from neither of those places mentioned, originally. And macarons, which were originally from Italy, then came to France and are usually available as simple, crispy cookies made with egg whites, sugar and almonds.) But that’s getting back into minutiae, a word I had to look up the precise spelling for, twice (more minutiae!) and I’m more interested in tasting pastries. So I took a stroll over to the relatively new Pierre Hermé macaron boutique in the Marais.

Macarons kind of had their day in the soleil. Everyone wanted to either make them, or come to Paris and sample them. For a while, almost every day a question or two would land in my Inbox from people who were making macarons, wondering why their macarons didn’t have the ruffled “feet”, or why their tops cracked – and could I diagnose them? Interviewers were astonished when they’d ask me what flavors of macarons Parisians made at home, and I responded that I couldn’t think of anyone that made macarons in Paris because no one had the space for a baking sheet on their kitchen counter. And honestly, it’s easier for people to get them at their local pastry shop or bakery.

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Milan

Italian Breakfast

Even though it’s just next door, every time I go to Italy, I wonder why I don’t go more often. Before I moved to Europe, I used to wonder why Europeans didn’t travel to other countries more often. And now I’m one of them. I think it’s because just to go anywhere, whether it’s a 45 minutes flight or a 4.5 hour flight, you still need to schlep to the airport, arrive in a new city, find your bearings, and by the time you’ve finally figured out most of the good places to go, it’s time to head home.

babas

It also doesn’t help that when I returned from this trip, two airlines were striking at Charles de Gaulle airport, the RER train was closed for some unexpected (and unexplained) reason, prompting a few thousand of us to be bused to a deserted train station in the middle of nowhere, to wait in the cold pre-winter air until a train showed up nearly an hour-and-a-half later, well after midnight, making the trip from the Paris airport back to the city (which is a mere 23 km, or 14 miles), nearly four hours – or three times longer than the flight to Milan.

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