MY FAVORITE MEALS OF 2013 – Paris, Lyon, Venice, Barcelona and New York

December 20, 2013

Lobrano_HFF_Front_Cover-copy-EDITEDMy New Book, now available for pre-order in my Amazon store and holiday gift-giving    

During a recent trip to Vietnam, I found myself musing about the best meals I’ve eaten during 2013, and if I’ve had many really spectacular meals–eating in Paris, my much loved adopted hometown, is more interesting today than it’s been in many years, certain feasts really stood out. Some of them were lavish meals in grand settings, while others were simple feeds with friends in pretty, quiet places. What all of them had in common is a superb level of sincere cooking using excellent produce; warm friendly professional service; and pleasant settings. So here, then, is a round-up of the places I most enjoyed in 2013.

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CAFE DES ABATTOIRS–The Meat of the Matter in Paris, B

December 4, 2013

Café des Abattoirs / Rostang@ Serge Detalle

As the holidays approach, Paris grows busier like most cities, but even as the shopping-bag-carrying throngs thicken, the French capital retains a refreshing insouciance at odds with the atmosphere of amped-up consumer frenzy in so many other western cities. It’s not that the French don’t enjoy the holidays–they do–but rather that they’re admirably resistant to all and any calendar-generated hype. Blessedly, there’s nothing in France that approximates “Black Friday,” the first day of super-discounted Christmas shopping in the United States after Thanksgiving. You don’t find Santa Claus lurking in Parisian department stores, and the canned Christmas music in public spaces–garages, restrooms, malls, elevators–so common in English-speaking countiries would rightly drive the French to indignation shading to rage.

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BISTROT BELHARA–The Extremely Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie at a Good New Left Bank Bistro, B+

December 1, 2013

bistrot-belhara3@stéphane bahic

It’s hard for me to say exactly when my deep love of good food first surfaced, but suffice it to say that the thing that interested me most when our local newspaper arrived on Wednesdays were the school-lunch menus, which were published weekly so mothers could decide what days they’d pack a lunch for their kids or let eat the hot meal at school. My first school, the Greens Farms Elementary School, had a crew of smiling Italian ladies in hairnets who cooked everything from scratch, so the food was usually delicious. They made lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, baked zitti, grilled Italian sausages with peppers, and lots of other hearty, healthy dishes, including corned beef and cabbage for Saint Patrick’s Day, and once when my mother ate with us in the cafeteria before an afternoon field trip to a nearby dairy farm, she got up at the end of the meal and went into the kitchen to thank the cooks. I’d returned to the rails for a spoon for my butterscotch pudding, and so witnessed the scene. Abashed by my mother’s thanks, one of the cooks replied, “You’re very welcome, Ma’am, but it’s a privilege to feed the children,” she said.

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BISTRO BELLET–An Excellent New Paris Bistro with a Nicois Accent, or the Triumph of Tradition, B+

November 21, 2013

Bellet-Blanquette-de-Veau-on-plateBlanquette de veau

So after hurriedly shedding my winter work uniform of black watch plaid flannel pajamas at 7.30pm and taking a shower, I was late for a change. But this time I had an excuse, sort of. I was engrossed in a fascinating article about chilis by Lauren Collins in The New Yorker, so by the time I looked up fifteen minutes after boarding a bus to go meet Bruno, Richard and Roberto for dinner, I was in front of the Gare de l’Est, well past my destination, the Bistro Bellet, in the rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis. Rushing through the streets of the 10th arrondissement on a rainy night, I was amazed by the speed with which this once endearingly shabby and rough-and-tumble neighborhood continues to morph into one of the trendiest quartiers in Paris–it seems as though a new restaurant, bar and cafe or five opens in this quartier every week. At the rate it’s changing, it’s just a matter of time, I fear, before the Kurdish bakeries and African hair-dressing salons are driven out of business by shops selling gluten-free pasta and hand-dipped candles.

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LE PARIO–A Very Sincere New Bistro in Search of a Gastronomic Signature, B-

November 14, 2013

Pario-Waiter-worchids

In the recent Time magazine article about the world’s most influential chefs, there were many omissions, but among the most important of those in France who weren’t mentioned is surely chef Christian Constant. He trained the whole generation of chefs who created modern French bistro cooking, Yves Camdeborde (Le Comptoir du Relais), Christian Etchebest (La Cantine du Troquet and others), and Franck Baranger (Le Pantruche), and talented young chefs continue to emerge from the kitchens of his constellation of restaurants–Le Violon d’Ingres, Le Cafe Constant and Les Cocottes, on the rue de l’Universite in the 7th arrondissement.

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BUVETTE–A Pretty Yankee Pastiche of a French Wine Bar in Pigalle, C+

November 8, 2013

Buvette-facade

When I was growing up in Westport, Connecticut there was a wonderful old farmstand on the Post Road (U.S. 1) called Rippe’s that sold fresh corn, tomatoes and bunches of twine-bound zinnias grown in the fields out back. During the Fall, an ancient cider press filled big glass jugs with delicious caramel-colored cider made from apples that came from the farm’s orchard, along with gourds and pumpkins, and then Rippe’s annual season ended for the year after a few weeks of selling locally grown Christmas trees, pine boughs, holly and mistletoe. Rippe’s is long gone–a gated condominium community now occupies the former farmland–but several years after it vanished, I was amused to discover that Westport had acquired a new store called Hay Day (now also closed), which was a highly styled but completely ersatz riff on a real farmstand. What the new store told me was that someone had figured out that there was money to be made from the nostalgia people feel for real farmstands, a genus that could no longer be sustained in this wealthy suburb due to exploding land prices.

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