What I Did on My Summer Vacation

August 25, 2008

After two weeks in Bali and Singapore, it was time for a truly French feed tonight. With much of the city still in slow motion as the vacation season winds down, my choices weren’t as rich as they usually are, so summertime oblige, we decided to combine a major grocery run to the Grand Epicerie at the Bon Marche with a casual dinner at the Cafe Nemrod, one of my favorite cafes.

When I lived in the rue du Bac, Le Nemrod was my local canteen. Why? The Auvergnat family that ran it for years was hugely proud of the quality of the food and wine they served, prices are easy, and it pulls a terrific crowd. This is why I was wary when the rosy-cheeked Auvergnats were bought out by a competitor who has made a career in taking Left Bank cafes upmarket (i.e. trendier decor and higher prices, with the sop of brand-name produce on the menu).

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Summertime Rants and Raves

August 6, 2008

During the salad days of August, I run into a lot of olive oil and a lot of vinegar (at home, I make vinaigrette with fresh lemon juice, but few restaurants do–vinegar is cheaper and faster), and so I’ve been thinking a lot about both. Olive oil is one of my favorite food stuffs and something that I collect during my travels–at any given moment, I have a dozen or so different varieties of oil in the kitchen. The three best oils I’ve found this year are the extra virgin Lagune Malinovo Ulje from Istria in Croatia, Stonehouse California extra virgin house blend, which is almost as good as the French Jean Marie Corneille oil from Mausanne in Les Alpilles, and a wonderful oil from Montpellier, La Violette de Montpellier, which is made by the Domaine de l’Oulivie. For summer salads, I like a slightly fruity, green oil, and unfortunately, this is something that rarely turns up in Paris restaurants or cafes. Cafes are the most problematic, since many of them fill their cruets with pomace, which is an essentially industrial grade olive oil.

Vinegar, of course, is another subject altogether. Ordering a salad in any better Paris restaurant, I always tell them NOT to dress it with balsamic vinegar, which is a food stuff that I wish would return to its original status as a rare condiment. I hate balsamic vinegar on salads, because most of what’s used is medium grade and so strong that it masks the taste of the greens, tomatoes and other ingredients. If I could, in fact, I’d banish it from Paris kitchens altogether. Squirt bottle zebra stripes on any restaurant plate serve as an immediate stop sign to me.

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A Great Cheap Chinese in Beaubourg

August 4, 2008

To give credit where it’s due, it was my friend Richard who discovered Restaurant Ba-Shu. As he explained to me, all of the Chinese hoteliers who’ve come to town on business recently invariably end up eating with him at this very simple little place not far from the Centre Pompidou in the Beaubourg neighborhood. And it’s true that this little hole in the wall is nothing to look at, but this didn’t stop our group of four from having a truly delicious and wonderfully inexpensive feast here last Sunday.

Since it was a nice day, we sat at a table outside–the decor indoors is a bit daunting, think a Chinese luncheonette–and then we opened fire on the menu. We ordered until our heart’s content–easy to do here, since almost no dish costs more than 10 Euros, and the banquet that followed was absolutely wonderful, which made it no surprise whatsoever that all of the other customers were Chinese. Among the dishes we decided to try were chopped pork ribs with salt and pepper, grilled Shanghai style dumplings, “soupe de ravioli,” Szechuan style vegetables (pickled Kimchee style), “Aubergine a la sauce YuXiang,” “Porc a l’ancienne,” cold Szechuan noodles, and Fish with pickled cabbage.

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Brilliant Japanese Food in Montmartre

August 2, 2008

If you’ve read HUNGRY FOR PARIS, you know that I didn’t include many foreign restaurants in the book. Only places that I found really exceptional, like Liza, a terrific Lebanese in the 2nd, made the cut, because I think most people come to Paris to eat French food. Tonight, however, I went to one of the best Japanese restaurants I’ve ever been to anywhere, Guilo Guilo in Montmartre, and it will certainly be included in any subsequent editions of HUNGRY FOR PARIS.

I’ve only ever been to Japan once, but seated at the counter of this delightful restaurant tonight, I realized that this single trip four years ago had had a big impact on me. Quite simply, I fell in love with Japan–the people, the food, and a culture that attaches so much importance to the aesthetic side of life. I ate some of the best food I’ve ever had during this trip, too, notably sushi at 4am at the Tokyo fish market, fresh soba (buckwheat noodles), and an amazing Buddhist vegetarian lunch at a temple south of Tokyo.

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Next Readings in Paris

July 12, 2008

Warnings from Paris, and Some Good News, Too

July 7, 2008

Following the huge success of the Velib bicycle rental program in Paris, the streets of the city have become filled with cyclists. The predictable problem is that many of these peddlers haven’t been on a bicycle in years, and so occasionally make risky moves in busy city streets. To keep everyone safer, the city of Paris is going to require all cyclists to wear a bright yellow reflective jacket by the end of the summer. This explains why the street peddlers are selling these flourescent vests and why you’ll see so many of them in shop windows.

In a similar spirit of warning, I report on one of the most disappointing meals that I’ve had in Paris in a longtime. The culprit table is one of the longest running bistros on the Left Bank, Aux Fins Gourmets. I’d heard that this pricey bistro had new Alain Ducasse trained owners, and so I went in the hopes that they’d be able to revive the doddering menu of Basque and southwestern dishes that has remained unchanged for so many years.

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