Hexagone, Paris–The New Shape of French Gastronomy, A-/B+

January 19, 2015
Dining room at Hexagone @Jérôme Galland

Dining room at Hexagone @Jérôme Galland

 

There are many things to like about chef Mathieu Pacaud‘s new restaurant Hexagone in Paris. Not only does it serve some exquisitely refined contemporary French cooking that tips its hat at the great traditions of Escoffier, it also has one of the best wine lists of any recent restaurant in Paris. This lavish list, which also includes a spectacular selection of grand cru wines by the glass, is run by Benjamin Roffet, one of the city’s most talented and charming sommeliers, too. There’s also a serious bar at this address with a major mixologist in the person of  Thomas Girard.

What I find interesting about Pacaud’s new place, though, is that it represents what a talented and ambitious young chef with a serious culinary pedigree–his father Bernard Pacaud cooked at L’Ambroisie for many years before turning the kitchen over to his son–thinks French gastronomy should be about in the 21st century. Oh, and there’s also the wild card of its address in the 16th Arrondissement, a silk-stocking part of Paris which never previously attracted young chefs setting up shop. Now, though, it’s starting to simmer with the arrival of Pacaud and other terrific new tables like Restaurant Pages.

“Many of the old style three star restaurants in Paris are struggling right now,” Pacaud said during a chat I had with him when I went to Hexagone for dinner with Bruno the other night. “They’re too expensive and too formal. The meals they serve take too long, and the whole drill isn’t appealing to a younger generation of Parisians or foreigners visiting the city. So my idea here was to create a place that my friends would want to come–a place that’s relaxed and where you have a good time,” said the chef, adding, “And I chose the 16th Arrondissement, because it delivers a good clientele of business diners at noon and an interesting and international mixture of people at night. Eventually, I’ll open a real restaurant gastronomique on the same premises (Hexagone occupies a duplex space space in the former Hotel K),” says Pacaud, who also plans a new seafood restaurant sometime this year. “I think it’s a really exciting time in Paris, because the old guard is changing and the future is emerging,” says the chef, a who insists that despite coming off as a very amiable and easygoing guy, he’s actually intensely demanding. “I dine in my own restaurant regularly and we’re still fine tooth combing everything,” he said.

Pacaud may still be putting the finishing touches on this place, but it already has a lot of charm and is quite unlike any other restaurant in Paris. Arriving, it gives off a decidedly fashionable vibe that had me dreading an imminent bout of attitude from the staff and servers, but no, the welcome was warm, and the staff was charmingly playful from time to time, as if winking at the whole idea of the ‘very serious restaurant,’ and yet they were also flawlessly professional. We were immediately at ease in the good looking dining room designed by interior architects Patrick Gilles and Dorothée Boissier, too, because tables are large and widely spaced, the lighting is impeccable, and the tongue-in-cheek look of the place–the designers were inspired by “Alice in Wonderland”–was witty without going over the top.

Hexagone Celery starter w:egg

Waiting for our first course, it was interesting to observe the evolving clientele here. There was a business dinner going on over my shoulder, and the crew of six hailed from several different countries and went back and forth between speaking French and English. A few pearls gathered from their chatter included the observation that “The United States isn’t a serious country if anyone could really take people like Mick Huckabee and Rick Perry seriously as possible presidential candidates,” (D’accord); “The food in Holland is terrible” (Wrong, the food in Amsterdam has become very good); and “Portuguese cooking is so peasant and basic” (And this with a very good-looking Portuguese woman at the table! I’m not sure if I’d describe it as ‘peasant and basic,’ but rather as often hearty and appealingly rustic, but then I like ‘peasant and basic.’) There were also several tables of well-groomed beautifully dressed middle-aged professional women, always a good sign, since this local tribe is both keen and discerning at the table, and surprisingly, a couple of tables of young stubbled types with their plastic motor cycle helmets sitting on the banquette next to them and their apparently bored girl friends, who spent a lot of time fiddling around with their phones. Soft lounge music played in the background, and for once it wasn’t irritating.

At Hexagone, you can order the tasting menu, a gastronomic phenomenon I no longer really enjoy, or go a la carte with a starter, fish, meat and dessert, since the portion sizes are perfectly calibrated to produce satisfaction without leaving you feeling overfed at the end of a meal. With the gizzards a little squeamish after so much lavish good eating during the holidays, I loved our first course, a feather-weight ‘Marquise’ of blanc manger meringues on a bed of truffled celery root puree that contained a slow-cooked egg hidden under a tumble of black truffles cut into fine match sticks. What intrigued about this dish is that it manages to be pretty and light but deliver a full punch of comfort-food pleasure, since the thickly runny egg yolk perfectly sauced the puree.

  Hexagone ecrevisses

For anyone who hadn’t guessed, Hexagone in French, means hexagon in English, and the reference here is more than just geometric, since the French often affectionately refer to France as the Hexagone, because of its six different borders with several seas and different countries. In this instance, the word has other resonances, too, since Pacaud aspires to serving profoundly French food, and in this he succeeds, because the modernity of his plated aesthetics and his dextrous culinary lightness notwithstanding, the flavor constellations in his dishes are indeed exquisitely French. If a single langoustine thatched with finely shredded root vegetables in a pool of saffron cream was pleasant, crayfish from Lake Geneva (above) on a bed of star-anise-flavored aspic with green mango puree and cauliflower mousseline was magnificent, with flowers decorating the plump sweet tails of shellfish and the percussion of the garnishes elongating their natural taste in a way that would make Escoffier proud even if the great French chef probably never worked with such ‘exotic’ seasonings. Making things taste of what they are is Pacaud’s compass point, and the subtlety with which he pulls this off is thrilling. But his real shrewdness comes from understanding that Escoffier would have been horrified to find himself cast in the role of ‘curator’ chef, which is how too many French cooks see him today. Instead, I suspect that he’d rejoice at Pacaud’s intelligent gustatory innovations in the kitchen.

Hexagone Sole

Hexagone John Dory w:shellfish

If my sole in vin jaune sauce was pleasant and very pretty with its carrot roses, both of us preferred Bruno’s John Dory with with a reduction of Noilly Prat vermouth that shirked its retro mantle with the clever addition of mace and garnishes of finely shredded leeks, cockles and razor-shell clams. Our meat courses were excellent, too–a riff on a carbonnade (beef in beer sauce from the north of France) for Bruno and braised veal sweetbreads with a garnish of black-and-green olives and a vivid green herb reduction for me.

Hexagone apple dessert

Hexagone Chocolate dessert

By the time we got to dessert, the quiet question that had been bobbling around in the back of my thoughts all night had been answered. To wit, is Mathieu Pacaud as talented a chef as his father? He is, I decided while tucking into a charming post-modern riff on a Poire Belle Helene. Meanwhile, across the table, Bruno was absent in the chocolate bliss induced by his Bayano Brésil ganache with honey ice cream, chilled buckwheat cream and a crunchy hazelnut wafer.

If Mathieu Pacaud is cooking this well just a few weeks after opening, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s on the starting blocks as one of the next great chefs in Paris.

Hexagone, 85 Avenue de Kléber 16th Arrondissement, Tel. (33) 01-42-25-98-85. Metro: Trocadéro. Bar open Tues.-Sat. 11am-2am; Restaurant open Tues.-Sat. for lunch (12pm-2pm) and dinner (7pm-11pm). Lunch menu 49 Euros; average four-course a la carte 175 Euros; tasting menu 180 Euros. www.hexagone-paris.fr  

Clover, Paris–JF Piège’s Great New Bistro in St-Germain-des-Prés, A-/B+

December 29, 2014
Clover Maigre in nasturtium juice

Maigre (croaker fish) in nasturtium sauce with shaved radishes

 

Clover, Jean-François Piège‘s new table in  Saint-Germain-des-Prés, is the bistro this storied Left Bank neighborhood has been wanting for a longtime. Think of this intimate forty-square meter place as sort of a post-modern Brasserie Lipp, or a place that offers a deep experience of the moods and mores of this chic and still intellectually vibrant part of Paris. Happily, however, they part ways entirely when it comes to their menus, since Piège’s witty, delicious and intriguingly wholesome contemporary French cooking couldn’t possibly be more different from the generally tired and over-priced brasserie standards served at Lipp, a handsome but faded local institution that’s stood still as such fashion-alert places like the Emporio Armani Caffé and Ralph’s have succeeded in luring away its clientele of editors and style mavens. What they have in common, though, is the way they present a cameo version of the neighborhood–sepia-toned and contemporary, respectively, and distill its allure into a restaurant experience.

Clover salle good

Piège’s take on Saint-Germain-des-Prés is worldly, stylish, convivial and decidedly gourmand. It’s also very personal. When he told me about the project last summer, he said he wanted to create a place that was “homey, warm and a little bit like a club, a place where people who love good food might make new friends.” This was very much my experience when I went to dinner here with Bruno a few days after it opened the week before Christmas. Piège’s delightful wife Elodie greeted us with a warm smile when we entered this very intimate place with an intriguing decor of walls covered half in white tile, half with diamond-shaped wooden marquetry. The produce the kitchen was using that evening was handsomely displayed as a set of still lives inside of two glass-fronted stainless steel cabinets, and beyond the long row of tables lining the wall, a crew of cooks was busily at work in the kitchen, which is completely open and takes up most of the back of this long narrow space.

Clover quinoa wafers and eggplant 2

No sooner than we were seated, our neighbors to my left, a very friendly couple from Montpellier, struck up a conversation, explaining that they’d come to Paris specifically to eat at the restaurant, because it was Madame’s birthday and Madame has always loved Piège’s cooking. Anyone who knows Paris well knows that this is not a common occurrence in a Paris restaurant, and so I was even more surprised when the young couple on the other side of us engaged us in conversation just as the first course in a menu of seven arrived, puffed roasted quinoa wafers and black-sesame-and-eggplant puree, which were pleasant nibbling with a glass of Champagne. They’d read about the restaurant in Le Figaro, and also fans of Piège’s, they’d booked right away as well.

When we finally resumed our own conversation with the arrival of a second course, a ‘foie gras without the gras,’ or a rich liver pate served on a wooden cutting board with fine slices of homemade cured pork belly, toast, and decorative sprigs of spruce, Bruno spoke to me in English: “Quite a friendly place, isn’t it?” I knew he feared we might be over engaged by our neighbors throughout the meal, but the two couples had astute psychic antennas enough to leave us in piece when we began eating this interesting composition of tastes and textures.

A little silence also allowed me to muse even this early in the meal that Piège had devised an entirely different cooking style for this restaurant from those at his two other tables, Thoumieux, a stylish modern brasserie, and the superb Restaurant Jean-Francois Piège, both in the 7th Arrondissement on the rue Saint Dominique. Demonstrating a keen understanding of the gastronomic preoccupations that make Germano-Pratins (as residents of Saint-Germain-des-Prés are known) tick, this bold modern kitchen is clearly seeking to reinvent the Rabelaisian pleasures of traditional French bistro food for a new era that’s increasingly attuned to environmentalism and good health; this means, of course, a diet that includes much less meat, or perhaps banishes it altogether, and more organic vegetables, whole grains and seafood from sustainable fisheries.

This is not an easy thing to do, of course, since much of the consoling richness of great old-fashioned bistro cooking comes from the French genuis for rendering the juices, collagen and fat of meat into sauces. As I’ve experienced at other Paris restaurants where chefs are grappling with the same challenge, the most present danger in this new cuisine of admirably good intentions is that it can often look or taste austere. This is not the case at Clover, which may be the most successful restaurant in Paris today in terms of the doubly virtuous diet (it’s good for you and for the earth). Piège’s cooking is provocative, since it often ventures away from anything familiar, but deeply considered and as reverent of Gallic culinary tradition as it is attuned to the new realities that are changing, and which will continue to change, the way we eat now and in the future.

Clover mussels and radishes Clover scallops and beet puree

So with all of this in mind, I was surprised by how delicious the food became after a quiet and somewhat ascetic debut. Meaty little mussels anointed with horseradish cream–a brilliant idea, since it flattered their sweetness by providing it with a foil–came on a plate-sized shoreline decorated with slices of the big green globe radish that’s at the top of vegetable style charts in Paris this winter, and then a French take on shabu-shabu cooking–a big hot block of pink granite on a stainless steel platter–arrived crowned by a pair of shucked scallops on a bed of red-beet jam. Next, a small steamed filet of maigre (croaker fish) garnished with shaved radishes in a vivid yellow chive-flecked pool of gently astringent nasturtium jus.

Clover Duck Tourte w:truffles

Up to this point, our meal had been more or less fat-free, so it was a small thrill to spend some of this gastronomic virtue on an exquisitely made wild duck tourte, which came to the table with a small salad of frisee and received a sexy shower of black truffle shaved table side before we tucked in. The buttery pastry dome elongated the pleasure of the duck meat, gizzard, and foie gras filling, which was gently earthy and perfectly textured.

Clover Pumpkin dessert

And the trope of gastronomy that’s good for you made a triumphant but delicious closing statement with dessert, which was a baked jumbo sweet banana squash from Joël Thiébault that had been drizzled with rum and vanilla before being oven-roasted and which came to the table with freshly made custard ice cream and caramelized crumbs and toasted pumpkin seeds.

Piège says that he’ll be constantly revising the menu at Clover, a name he chose because he’s a collector of four-leaf clover objects, and that he finds it “challenging but exciting” to be inventing a new healthy and distinctly French style of bistro cooking. “I think it will be possible to retain and enhance all of the things Parisians have always loved about bistros and bistro cooking, but adapt them to a new century,” says the chef, and we’re the ones who’ll be lucky enough to find out how he’ll continue to do this as this excellent little restaurant grows.

Restaurant Clover, 5 rue Perronet, 7th Arrondissement, Tel. 01-75-50-00-05. Metro: Saint-Germain des Prés, Mabillon or Rue du Bac. Closed Sunday and Monday. Lunch menus 28€ and 42€; Dinner menus 58€ and 73€ www.jeanfrancoispiege.com 

Gare au Gorille, Paris–A Great New Beast of a Bistro in Les Batignolles, B+

December 14, 2014

Gorille Beef Sea Urchin

Though Gare au Gorille is both a bad pun** and the title of a 1952 song by French musician Georges Brassens, what you really need to know is that it’s also the name of a charming and very good new bistro in the Batignolles district of the 17th Arrondissement in Paris. And that this engaging address comes with an impressive pedigree  which really delivers, since chef Marc Cordonnier was formerly Bertrand Grébaut’s sous-chef at Septime, where his business partner and good-natured maitre d’hotel Louis Langevin was sommelier and picked up the relaxed but gracious serving style created at that restaurant by Théo Pourriat. Finally, if you have any interest in dining here any time soon, it might be a good idea to take a pause and pick up the phone, since it’s very quickly become almost as popular was Septime itself. Be forewarned that they don’t answer during serving hours, which can make it even more of a vexing challenge to snag a table here, too..

Having persisted, I bagged a table and found myself walking up the rue de Rome on a rainy night to meet Bruno for dinner. Despite its grand name, this street parallels the broad, deep, stone-lined train cut that leads into the Gare Saint Lazare, and several times I stopped to watch the wonderful urban spectacle created by an arriving or departing train. Since every lit window in every train car framed a miniature portrait on someone on a journey, there was something winsomely fascinating about these metropolitan film strips, which also brought Eadweard Muybridge to mind. Many people seem to find this scenery a bit drab, but not me. Instead, I found myself envying the people who occupied a high apartment with a large artist’s studio window overlooking the tracks, since the promise of travel, the fact of travel has been such a life long passion of mine. With no train ticket in my pocket that night, I was, however, looking forward to a good meal, but found myself vaguely wondering if this popular new spot would be one of those places where I’d encounter a display of bored and sort of slatternly hauteur from the young staff for being fifteen minutes late.

Continue reading…

Les Poulettes Batignolles, Paris–A Great French Bistro with a Catalan Accent, B+

December 3, 2014

Poulettes facade

After working for twelve years in Barcelona, Parisian-born chef Ludovic Dubois, son of the distinguished fromagere Martine Dubois, has returned to Paris and opened Les Poulettes Batignolles. It’s a good-looking modern bistro in a quiet side street with a very appealing Catalan inflected contemporary menu. “I really like the way the Catalans marry seafood and meat,” says Dubois, who runs the kitchen while his Catalan wife Judith Cercos, former sommelier at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Barcelona, supervises the dining room and excellent wine list. “I also developed an appreciation of arroz (rice), in all its many possible incarnations while living in Catalonia, an experience that tutored me in the Mediterranean palate,” adds the amiable Dubois, who apprenticed with Jacques Cagna and Michel Rostang before going off to Spain, where he cooked at the El Palace Hotel, among other kitchens.

Going to meet Marie, the lovely friend who tipped me off to this new address, for dinner on a frosty early winter night, I found myself thinking about how much I like Les Batignolles, a dense village-like neighborhood in the 17th arrondissement that only became part of Paris by decree of Napoleon III in 1860 and which is bisected by the train cut going into the Gare Saint Lazare. The old train yards at the north end of the neighborhood were intended to become the site of the Olympic village, had Paris’s bid for the 2012 games succeeded. Instead, they’re being redeveloped into a new urban neighborhood centered on a large garden named in honor of Martin Luther King. What will doubtless change this part of the city a lot is the arrival of all the courts now found on the Ile de la Cité in a new set of buildings, La Cité Judiciaire, which will open in 2017. For the time being, though, it’s a companionable and unpretentious old Paris neighborhood with a real vie de quarter, or neighborhood life, and with its chic pair of teal blue dining rooms, retro lighting fixtures, warm friendly service, and interesting menu, Les Poulettes Batignolles has immediately become a local hit with an enthusiastic following of regulars.

Poulettes Sea bass tartare

Poulettes egg-ham-artichoke

Since Marie once lived in Barcelona, and I’ve spent a lot of time there through the years and it’s one of my favorite cities, it was fun to discover the original but subtle cooking of Dubois and decipher the Catalan influences in various dishes. The Catalan love of seafood–Barcelona is still going mad for sushi and ceviche–was beautifully expressed by an impeccably fresh sea bass tartare seasoned with seaweed and garnished with several types of fish eggs, while the artichoke hearts and salad leaves that came with a coddled egg in bread crumbs with tartare sauce–a perfect tapas sort of dish–reminded me of the tidy lovingly tended vegetable farms seen from the airport train that still fill the flat fertile plains between the city and its airport. This proximate patchwork of farms also explains why the produce in Barcelona is so good. In Paris, however, it comes from the rue de Levis market street where Dubois does his shopping every morning. “My cooking is completely market-driven, so I really need to see and smell and touch the produce myself. It just wouldn’t work for me to be supplied by Rungis (the big wholesale market outside of Paris, bien sur),” said the chef. One way or another, I’m a hopeless sucker for tartare sauce, especially when it’s homemade–this might be explained by the fact that I liked this condiment as much if not more than the fried-clam strips once sold by Howard Johnson’s, a once-upon-a-time sincere Boston-based restaurant chain specializing in respectable quality American comfort food.What Howard Johnson’s never had, however, was the rich, melted-in-your-mouth jamon, or ham, which melded this dish together with a plucky porcine punch. With the possible addition of some good Cabrales, or Spanish blue cheese, I’d happily eat this perfectly pitched umami-rich soft ball for lunch everyday for the rest of my life.

Continue reading…

Pavillon Ledoyen, Paris – Chef Yannick Alléno’s Comeback is a Quiet Triumph, and That’s a Good Thing, A-

November 19, 2014
Ledoyen Yannick Alléno (2)

Yannick Alléno @ Geoffroy de Boismenu

 

When chef Yannick Alléno  turned on the gas at the Pavillon Ledoyen on July 1, 2014, it was poignantly apparent to all early visitors to his new restaurant that he was exultantly relieved to be cooking again. After all, he’d been without a Paris kitchen of his own for over a year and a half since January 2013 when he left Le Meurice, the opulent dining room at the Hotel Le Meurice where he’d won three Michelin stars. And for anyone who’s known him as long as long as I have–we first met after the excellent dinner at the Hotel Scribe in 1999 that pricked my curiosity about who’d cooked it–he’d seemed a bit at loose ends during the well-earned sabbatical he’d claimed for himself after a decade as chef at Le Meurice. The reason is that despite some reasonably successful efforts to coin Alléno as a celebrity chef, he’s still much more of a feet-on-the-ground cook’s cook than he is anything else. Or at least for the time being anyway, although I very much doubt the world will ever bear witness for the full Kardashianization of Yannick Alléno. It’s just not his style.

If Alléno backed away from his job at Le Meurice, however, it was both because he needed a physical and creative respite from the ardors of running the huge culinary plant of a major Paris luxury hotel, but also, I think, because of an inchoate ambivalence about the way in which his job duties were evolving beyond anything to do with making a perfect beurre blanc, to say nothing of inventing a new recipe. In this eccentrically mannerist age where the trope of celebrity dictates that it’s more important to be talked about than to actually even have anything interesting or important to say, much less a real talent, the metier of Parisian chef has been awkwardly caught up in the nets of celebrity and the social media that fuels it, too. Suddenly, just being a great chef is no longer enough to land a spot running one of the most glamorous dining rooms in Paris. No, now you also have to be a persuasively charming, seductive, photogenic media personality to boot. You should also show up as often as possible in the people pages of the glossy magazines and beam from the screens of high-traffic websites. You should pen opulent cookbooks, get a TV gig, make your own wine, endorse all sorts of probable and half-probable products, and think of dozens of reasons every month that you and your restaurant warrant a sound-bite or a Tweet. A Kim Kardashian shaped cupcake? Hey! That’s a great idea!

The problem here, of course, is that many of the men and women who are drawn to this physically punishing and relentlessly hard-working metier do so out a real dedication to their craft rather than as a vehicle to fame. To be sure, almost none of them would fly-swat a Michelin star or three if it came their way, but the passion that drives a love of bone-achingly hard work and constant repetitive stress day in and day out isn’t a desire for creative expression, although this certainly becomes part of the metier of any fully evolved chef. Instead, it’s a behind-closed-doors love of great produce, the precision of culinary chemistry, the camaraderie of the kitchen and a collective quest for excellence that begins all over again everyday when the lights go on in the kitchen. This is the world that beckoned to Yannick Alléno as a shy fifteen-year-old apprentice to chef Gabriel Biscay at the Hotel Royal Monceau, and it remains beloved ballast of his career in the same way that it does that of any seriously talented chef.

Ledoyen salle side view Philippe Vaurès

Dining room at Ledoyen @ Philippe-Vaurès

So it was exciting to go off to Ledoyen on a soft summer night for dinner with a very witty and food-loving colleague from London. For openers, I couldn’t wait to see what Alleno would be up to, but I was also eager because Ledoyen is one of the loveliest restaurants in Paris. Just a few minutes from the heaving traffic circle that is the Place de la Concorde–it suddenly strikes me that this beautiful but automotively encumbered square offers up an obvious opportunity to retool Paris towards being a greener and more pedestrian friendly city in the 21st century, since it’s an absurd extravagance that the whole square is given over to cars–Ledoyen is a romantic white wedding cake of a building tucked away in the gardens at the bottom of the Champs Elysees that offers a surprisingly instant respite from the aural and mental roars of city life without leaving town.

Continue reading…

Le Frank, The New Restaurant at La Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, B+

November 6, 2014

Le Frank - Entrance to MuseumLe Frank - Entry to salle

On my way to dinner at Le Frank, chef Jean-Louis Nomicos’s very good new restaurant at La Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, I found myself musing on museum dining.

I’ve always had a soft spot for museum restaurants, even if many of them have never previously been very good, because they were such a relief from the long studious hours I was required to spend gazing at saints with arrows sticking out of their sides or fleshy ladies being chased by a satyr or other paintings in the museums I was taken to in various East Coast cities as a boy by my well-meaning mother and grandmother. It’s not that I didn’t like looking at the paintings, but rather that we always stayed much too long, and that the real treat during any visit to the city–mostly New York, but sometimes Boston or Philadelphia–was going to a restaurant. On rainy or snowy days, of which there were many, the ladies in charge often opted for the museum restaurant, however.

So I have vivid memories of the mediocre fried chicken, meat loaf and other hot food served at the now long vanished cafeteria at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. If the food was as dull as the invariably wet-from-the-dishwasher fiberglass tray on which it was pushed down the rails, the restaurant itself was exquisitely glamorous. It was styled like a Roman villa around a central atrium with a big fountain ornamented with verdigris bronze figures, and it used to prick my imagination with yearning to live like an ancient Roman rather than as a boy in a colonial house in suburban Connecticut.

“I bet the Romans didn’t eat meat loaf,” I once said to my grandmother, and my assertion disguised, sort of, as a question elicited a puzzled look from her.

“Well–probably not. But if they did, I expect they’d have covered it with garum,” she said, and puffed her Parliament.

“What’s garum?”

“A fish sauce the Romans used to fancy. I expect it tasted a bit like a cross between A1 Sauce and Worcestershire sauce with a lot of anchovy paste.”

Be that as it may, even garum probably couldn’t have rendered the Met’s gray meat loaf palatable, and these feelings of general dubiousness towards museum food remained my a priori until very recently.

Then several years ago, I had a very good meal at the restaurant at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain when it was run by Basque chef Martin Berasategui (it no longer is). This was followed by an excellent lunch at Danny Meyer’s The Modern restaurant at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and then a terrific feed at M. Wells Dinette at the MoMA P.S. 1 in Long Island City, New York. Recently I read that chef Michel Bras is running the restaurant at the new Musée Pierre Soulages in Rodez, too.

The museum restaurant, once the last resort dining choice for grandmothers with their grandsons on rainy days, is clearly on a roll.

Continue reading…