Kitchen Ter(re), Paris | Superb Pasta on the Left Bank, A-

July 17, 2017

Kitchen Ter(re) - Terrace dining room @Alexander Lobrano

Kitchen Ter(re) - Pasta @Alexander Lobrano

With a menu of artisanally made pastas napped with vibrant Asian inspired sauces and a sidewalk terrace on the quieter end of Boulevard Saint Germain in the 5th Arrondissement, chef William Ledeuil’s restaurant Kitchen Ter(re) is the best new restaurant in Paris this summer. Ledeuil, one of the most consistently amiable and innovative chefs in Paris, already has two excellent Left Bank tables–Ze Kitchen Galerie, his first one, and KGB (Kitchen Galerie Bis), Ze Kitchen’s Galerie’s more casual and less expensive little brother, both of which are on the rue des Grands Augustins in Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

Kitchen Terre - Pasta with green curry and basil @Alexander Lobrano

Coquillette pasta with green curry and basil

 

Ledeuil’s new place was born from a chance meeting arranged through one of his suppliers, Michel Bachès. Bachès, whose farm is located in Eus near Perpignan, supplies Ledeuil with the citrus fruits that are a key ingredient in his cooking, and he was the one who introduced him to Roland Feuillas, a miller and baker in Cucugnan in twenty miles northwest of Perpignan. “I was immediately fascinated by Roland’s work,” says Ledeuil. “He makes his own flour from heirloom grains that he grows himself and then he grinds them with an old stone millstone. The quality of the flour is exceptional, but it was when I tried his pasta (Dentelles de Cucugnan) that I had the idea of creating a new Paris table that would serve Feuillas’s original pasta and some new ones that we invented together.” What drew Ledeuil to Feuillas’s pasta is that it’s made without eggs, just stone-ground flour from ancient grain varieties and water, and so has an exceptional capacity to absorb the flavors of the bouillons and sauces that have made his reputation. “It has an exceptional texture when cooked and a suave nutty taste,” the chef added.

Ledeuil has long been intrigued by Asian herbs and cooking techniques, especially those of Thailand, and they’ve come to define his inventive, bright, flavorful cooking ever since he left his post at Les Bouqinistes and opened his own restaurant next door in 2001. Among his favorite ingredients are galangal, basil, ginger, Japanese seaweed, lemongrass, coconut milk, and coriander, and he also uses a variety of typically southeast Asian cooking techniques, including steaming, bouillons, marinades and juxtapositions of raw and cooked ingredients in the same dish to create a contrast of textures. Long before the now rather worn out term ‘fusion’ began to be batted around, Ledeuil was deeply involved in inventing his own hybrid kitchen, and the surprise is that his cooking is still as intriguingly vivid and refreshing as it was when I first tasted it nearly twenty years ago.

Kitchen Ter(re) - menu -starters @Alexander Lobrano

Kitchen Ter(re) - menu - mains and desserts @Alexander Lobrano

The menu at Kitchen Ter(re) is short, seasonal and exceptionally vegetarian friendly. Executed by chef Bruno Laporte, it’s also piquantly cosmopolitan, because Ledeuil’s culinary imagination and very personal gastronomic logic roves the world in search of inspiration. Spain, Morocco and Korea have all inspired dishes at Kitchen Ter(re).

Some dishes involve new spices, herbs and products, largely from Asia; some feature different and unexpected juxtapositions of products, textures and preparations –raw and cooked, for example, and and some involve different cooking techniques, including steaming, poaching in aromatic bouillons, and marinades. But all of them reflect Ledeuil’s savvy gastronomic logic in creating intriguing new dishes for the 21st century.    Continue reading…

Le Camondo, Paris | Summer in the City, B-

June 29, 2017

Le Camondo - indoors and outdoors

Le Camondo - Courtyard terrace

Le Camondo is a very clever restaurant. This makes great sense, too, because so was the family for which this table was named, and the space the restaurant occupies was formerly the garage and stables of the sumptuous mansion constructed near the Parc Monceau in the 8th Arrondissement of Paris by architect René Sergent for banker Moise de Camondo from 1911-1914.

Today named for Moise’s son Nissim, who was killed during an air battle in World War I, the mansion houses Moise’s superb collection of mostly French art and is one of the most fascinating small museums in Paris. If the art is wonderful–Moise Camondo had a particular passion for 18th century French furniture, artworks, rugs, tapestries, porcelain, and jewelry, what has always intrigued me most about this museum is that it’s such an intimate time-capsule of the life of the Parisian haute bourgeoisie on the eve of the two great cataclysms that sundered European civilization twice in the space of less than fifty years and left it changed forever. And as grand and elegant as its salons may be, the room that I find truly spectacular here is the kitchen, with its huge stove and stunning batterie de cuisine, a whole wall full of copper pots and pans.

Chef Alexis Le Tadic

 

Le Camondo is a perfect address for summer dining, too, since it has a spacious garden courtyard terrace. The modish contemporary French cooking by young chef Alexis Le Tadic at Le Camondo is pleasant; the service young, friendly and eager; and the people watching first-rate, but you’ll probably enjoy a meal here even more if you know something about the Camondos themselves, since the history of this defunct dynasty–the last Camondos perished in Auschwitz in 1944, is worthy of long brilliant novel or a sententious documentary film.

The Camondos were part of the Sephardic Jewish community in Spain before they resettled in Venice after the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. They later moved on to Istanbul, where they founded Camondo & Cie, one of the greatest banks of the Ottoman Empire, in 1802. Eventually, In 1869, Abraham Solomon Camondo, the eighty-six-year-old patriarch of the family, followed his grandsons Behor Abraham Camondo (1829–1889) and Nissim Camondo (1830–1889) to Paris where they had settled and were successful bankers.

On my way to dinner here on a recent wiltingly hot night, I found myself wondering what the Camondos might have made of this restaurant. Would they have been appalled by the idea of strangers intruding on the sanctuary of their home, or amused that the most workaday parts of their mansion had now become one of the most fashionable restaurants in Paris. A bit of both, I expect.

Arriving, the welcome was cordial and seating was efficient, which provided further evidence of another welcome recent trend in Paris. To wit, the haughty dismissive service style that was pioneered by the Costes brothers at their various waningly fashionable addresses, including the Hotel Costes, Georges at the Centre Pompidou, and La Société in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, has happily been eclipsed by an accelerating return to the golden rules of good hospitality–manners, charm, attentiveness, humor, and efficiency, in Paris fashion restaurants.

Le Camondo - Two melon soup @Alec Lobrano

Heat wearied, we started with cocktails, both of which were watery and weak, and a plate of very good twenty-month old Bellota ham that was a little the worse for wear from having been sliced ahead of time, and studied the menu. It was a toothsome run of dishes perfectly aimed at a hot summer night. Bruno began with a two-melon soup that was basically pureed cantaloupe garnished with balls of watermelon, and knowing that Le Tadic had worked with brilliant charcutier Arnaud Nicolas (he also cooked at Yves Camdeborde’s Le Comptoir and Jouvence, an excellent modern bistro in the 10th Arrondissement), I chose the pate en croute, which had a wonderfully crumbly crust wrapping an excellent pork terrine that was brightened by a garnish of pickled vegetables. Bruno liked his soup, but I found it rather plain, needing maybe some mint or piment d’Espelette to make it livelier and temper its sweetness. Still, this was summer-in-the-city food that made sense and had appeal.

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Arnaud Nicolas, Paris | Exquisite Charcuterie and More, A-/B+

June 8, 2017
Arnaud Nicolas @Anne-Emmanuelle Thion

Arnaud Nicolas @ Anne-Emmanuelle Thion

 

Arnaud Nicolas displays his charcuterie @Alexander Lobrano

In Paris, Arnaud Nicolas, 34, has launched a spectacularly succulent revolution at the new restaurant and boutique that bears his name on the leafy Avenue de la Bourdonnais in the ever so discreetly chic 7th Arrondissement.

Arnaud Nicolas - exterior of shop and restaurant

Arnaud Nicolas @Betil-Balkan

 

Stopping by this elegant pair of rooms with oak parquet floors, exposed stone walls and beams, and battle-ship gray paintwork for dinner the other night, Nicolas was intently concentrated on cutting a slice of a superb looking pâté en croûte for a older woman with a spun-sugar chignon and a belted calico shirt dress that matched her eyes. I was watching her watching him when she glanced at me and smiled. “This is what I’m having for dinner tonight. A slice of this nice young man’s exquisite pâté en croûte, a green salad and a glass of good wine,” she said with dogmatic satisfaction.

Turned sideways, the poultry pate studded with foie gras resembled a beautiful piece of some rare stone except that it was framed with a delicate envelope of impeccable egg-washed pastry. “You absolutely must try it, Monsieur–it’s exquisite!” said the charming woman. “You know, it’s rather nice to have a new vice, especially at my age!” she added, and exited the boutique with an eager spring in her step. As if it were necessary, she confirmed for me that vanity is a major life force, and later in the evening, I couldn’t help but wondering what she wore during her wonderful little supper. Did she remain in the shirt dress, or maybe slip into something more comfortable, perhaps a shot silk dressing gown she’d bought in Saigon many years ago? And what perfume was she wearing? I’ll never know, but these new mysteries to gnaw make me love living in a big city.

Arnaud Nicolas - Dining room @Alexander Lobrano

Bruno and I were ushered into the loft-like masculine-feeling dining room and were studying the decidedly alluring menu over a glass of white wine when Nicolas stopped by our table to comment the menu.

“My idea here is to create a showcase for the great French art of charcuterie and to seduce Parisians into wanting to eat it again,” he explained. “Because so many people have only ever tasted industrial charcuterie, this ancient, delicious and very nourishing part of the French diet has experienced a certain disaffection during the last few years, and this is normal when you see what they sell in supermarkets. The absence of real charcuterie in most towns and cities has been accelerated by a drastic decline in the number of professional French charcutiers. Last year, there were only a thousand students learning to become charcutiers in a country of almost sixty million people. So I want to bring la charcuterie back, to make it modern and appealing in the same way that a new generation of patissiers have renewed the art of pastry in Paris,” Nicolas explained.

I told him that we’d been thinking of starting with the quail-and-dried-fruit pate and the poultry-and-foie-gras one, and he suggested we come to the shop next door to inspect them and see the other possibilities (the restaurant is reached through a door from the shop). Frankly, all of the terrines and pâté en croûte were so beautiful looking we’d have been happy with any of them, but Nicolas suggested he create a sampler for us that would include the two we’d already chosen, plus a little couronne du porc, an all-pork terrine in pastry, and some of his luscious looking head cheese.

Arnaud Nicolas - Cod with quinoa and wild arugula jus @Anne-Emmanuelle Thion

Cod with quinoa and wild arugula jus @Anne Emmanuelle Thion

 

Arnaud Nicolas - Roast duckling with onions @Anne-Emmanuelle Thion

Ducking with grilled onions @ Anne-Emmanuelle Thion

 

Bruno likes head cheese so much he was practically yelping by the time we returned to the table to taste the white Pic Saint Loup I’d ordered to accompany our meal. For our mains, we agreed to try two of Nicolas’s other homemade victuals, a lobster boudin and a lamb sausage served with a puree of Agen prunes. There were lots of other appealing dishes on the menu, though, including cod with baby artichokes, yellow pollack with cockles and a shellfish jus, entrecôte, and grilled duckling with baby onions.

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Le Gibolin, Arles | A Terrific Bistrot a Vins, B+

May 29, 2017
Arles Arena @ Alexander Lobrano

The Roman Ampitheater in Arles

 

Beyond Le Gibolin, what I love most about Arles, the ancient port on the Rhone River just north of La Camargue in the south of France, is that it makes you muse. This comes from the constant visual elision between the past and present that’s effortlessly legible in its streets and which also gives it a vast but casual wealth of daily beauty. And for me, the current creative quickening of the city is very much due a certain wry but delicate sensibility that’s fed by this ability to wonder about things that are important beyond the thought-dulling busyness of our daily lives.

Arles - The Rhone @Alexander Lobrano

The Rhone Seen Through a Window at the Musee Reattu

 

Perhaps this is why the hunger that Arles induces in me is for simplicity, which I reliably and deliciously find and feed at Le Gibolin, a small bistrots a vins in the heart of town on the wonderfully named rue des Porcelets (street of the piglets).

This long narrow restaurant is run by Luc Desrousseaux and Brigitte Cazalas, who previously worked at Le Chapeau Melon in the 20th Arrondissement of Paris for many years before they packed it in and moved south almost a decade ago. Now he’s in the open kitchen at the back of this long narrow space where the walls are lined with bottles of the mostly southern French gibolin (wine, in old-fashioned French slang) they serve to accompany their brief changes-daily chalkboard menu.

Le Gibolin - Facade @Alexander Lobrano

Stopping by for dinner here on a warm night when the town was busy on the eve of the inauguration of a big Annie Leibovitz exhibit at the Fondation LUMA, the art complex in a former rail yard that is transforming the city into one of the world’s most important showcases of contemporary art, the room was filled with people talking about art and politics in a half dozen different languages. This made great entertainment for me, too, since I was on my own.

Le Gibolin - Artichauts barigoule @Alexander Lobrano

From the brief market menu, I chose one of my favorite provencal dishes, artichauts barigoule, or artichokes braised in white wine with herbs. It’s a delicate dish with a subtle keyboard of vegetal tones, which were amplified here by meaty lardons (chunks of bacon), radishes, carrots and chopped green onions. With a sprinkling of Espelette pepper, it was light, refreshing eating on a very warm night.

Le Gibolin - rack of lamb with spinach @Alexander Lobrano

In so many restaurants, drinking wine by the glass is a disappointment. But not here, since with my artichokes, Brigitte Cazalas poured me a glass of one of my favorite southern French whites, a Cairanne from the Domaine de l’Oratoire Saint Martin. Quite logically she followed this happy quaff paired with the Domaine’s red wine when she brought me a beautifully cooked rack of lamb with a big mound of garlicky baby spinach as my main course. When I asked where the lamb was from, she explained that it came from the plaine de la crau, the flat grassy steppes below Les Alpilles. In a citrus acidulated sauce of its pan drippings, the lamb was succulent and full of flavor.

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Detour, Paris | A Bistro Worth Going of Your Way For, B+

April 27, 2017
Detour - Cod with radishes

Cod with radishes

 

Detour, Paris

Not long after we were seated for dinner at Detour, a delightful vest-pocket bistro just a few minutes from my front door in the 9th Arrondissement of Paris, the thought recurred to me. For the last few months, I’ve found myself thinking that the remarkable number of excellent new restaurants which have recently opened in Paris are making the city a better destination for food-lovers than it has been at any time during the more than thirty years that I’ve live there.

Why? Well, consider Detour. It’s a perfect example of the type of small, charming, reasonably priced restaurant with excellent and very inventive cooking, friendly service, and a short but interesting and affordable wine list that gets harder and harder to find in cities like New York or London. This is because the economics of giving birth to such a small, sincere, personal place have become almost impossible in those cities, along with many others. Mind you, the restaurant business is hardly easy in Paris these days either, what with hefty labor costs and ever rising rents. But that said it’s still possible for a talented young chef like Adrien Cachot to hang out his shingle in a pretty cobbled side street with an intriguing name right in the heart of Paris and just a ten-minute walk from the Opera Garner and the big department stores on the boulevard Haussmann.

Small wonder then that it was packed on a rainy Tuesday night with a large table of young executive women having a night out, a well-advised solo business diner or two and the insatiably curious and gastronomic Parisians couples who assiduously read restaurant reviews and try the city’s latest new addresses with a mixture of exigence, delight and curiosity.

Detour - dining room

Detour - chef Adrien Cachot

Chef Adrien Cachot

 

Even before we looked at the short menu printed on Kraft paper, however, I had a hunch we’d eat well here, because Cachot cooked at La Cantine du Troquet, Petit Pan and Saint James in Bouliac in southwestern France before going out on his own, and these are all excellent tables serving contemporary French cooking that’s inventive but appealingly rustic at the same time. The menu followed the slightly cryptic haiku style preferred by many young French chefs today, though–Bulots, bettetraves, béarnaise (sea snails, beets, béarnaise sauce), which made it rather mysterious, however, and this, I suppose, was the point.

So from the exceptionally good-value 32 Euros menu, we ordered everything, and sat back to enjoy our Domaine Philippe Gilbert Montlouis, one of my favorite Loire Valley whites, while waiting for the meal to begin.

Detour - menu @Alexander Lobrano

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Restaurant Alan Geaam, Paris | The Importance of Being Earnest, A-

April 10, 2017

Restaurant Alan Geeam - Aparagus, morels, Hollandaise sauce

Restaurant Alan Geaam is one of the best new restaurants in Paris in 2017, and one of the reasons it’s so good is that you’ve probably never heard of Geaam before. That’s because this amiable, hard-working chef spends all of his time in the kitchen instead of grooming a big ego with public relations like too many other Paris chefs these days. Instead, Geaam, a gentle, shrewd, self-taught chef who was born forty-two years ago to Lebanese parents living in Liberia, is one of the quiet men (and women) of Paris gastronomy. I’ve loved his cooking ever since an initial discovery at L’Auberge Nicolas Flamel, the first Paris restaurant Geaam owned, and have watched his cooking become more and more inventive and appealing as he’s opened two other popular Paris bistros, AG Saint-Germain and AG Les Halles.

Alan Geaam - portrait @Albon Couturier

“The reason I cook is to make people happy,” says Geaam, who has thus far eschewed becoming a brand-name chef in an age of food-television celebrities and ego-driven gastronomic personnages. To wit, Geaam is not one of those chefs who speak in over-coached talking points but is instead warm and off-the-cuff.

Restaurant Alan Geaam - dining room

His new place occupies the former premises of chef Akrame Benallal’s old restaurant in the quiet rue Lauriston just beyond the Arc de Triomphe in a part of the city where upmarket restaurants are assured of a good trade at noon by business lunches and a reliable clientele in the evening from nearby hotels and locals in an affluent part of Paris. This part of town  has thus far been overlooked by the rising new generation of chefs who have been so dramatically renewing the city’s gastronomic laurels, probably because the rents are so lofty but also because the natives are generally older and have a decided preference for classical French cooking. Now that looks set to change.

But was this location a gamble for Geaam? “I don’t think so,” the chef told me when we chatted before dinner. “I think Parisians in general are adventurous diners, and that the clientele in this quartier will respond my take on relaxed modern French haute cuisine, because these people are worldly and know good food.”

Eye-balling Geaam’s short menu–he offers three tasting menus composed from the two starters, two main courses, a cheese course from the renown cheese-monger Bernard Antony in Alsace, and two desserts, which can be ordered as three, five or seven courses, plus hors d’oeuvres and petit fours,  Everything that night looked good, but I have long since developed a great wariness about tasting menus, which inevitably take too long and either over or under feed you. So Bruno and I decided on the five course menu.

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