Living the Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz; a brilliant Japanese table and a Left Bank letdown

May 9, 2009

sweetlifeinpariscoverAs an American in Paris for almost 23 years, I took a particular pleasure in reading David Lebovitz’s delightful new book LIVING THE SWEET LIFE IN PARIS. Lebovitz, one of America’s most renowned pastry chefs, a hugely successful cookbook author and blogger extraordinaire (www.davidlebovitz.com) recounts his decision to move to Paris and the sweet-and-sour baby steps of learning a new language and culture with wit, grace and trenchant honesty, which makes this book a far cry from the usual extremes of this genre.

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Yam’Tcha–A Sweet New Bistro, A-, plus the best lunch-time buy in Paris: Le Meurice

May 1, 2009

Almost nothing could be more telling of the impact of this year’s steep recession on the Paris restaurant scene than the instant notoriety of Yam’Tcha, a sweet little restaurant that recently opened in an ancient side street in Les Halles. To wit, this 20 seat place run by earnest, amiable young chef Adeline Grattard, former second to Pascal Barbot at L’Astrance, has passed through global gastro cyber space with the intensity and speed of a comet. Because Grattard actually is a serious, talented and original cook, I’d like to think her table, which she runs with her Hong Kong born husband Chiwah Chan, will withstand the blow-back of a culinary media world that’s so desperate for news that it exalts anything that’s even slightly different and half plausible.

So am I being hypocritical in writing about this fragile new flower on this website? No, not really–though I’m flattered that your eyes may be rolling over these words, I wouldn’t pretend to be such an oracle that famished throngs will be pressing their faces to Tam’Tcha’s window on Monday morning. I assume that those of you who find their way to this quiet little patch of the culinary cyber world are people who are very seriously interested not only in eating well, but in thinking about gastronomy in all of its facets, which brings me back to Yam’Tcha. Quite simply, I worry that the relative paucity of restaurant news out of Paris this year means that the city’s substantial core of food writers is going to pick this tasty morsel to the bone before its had a chance to find its groove.

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Pramil: An Excellent Modern Bistro, B+

April 21, 2009

On my way to meet a friend, Martine from Cahors, for dinner tonight, I passed the ghastly sandwich counter of the Royal Trinite Cafe at the counter of the rue Havre de Caumartin and found myself wishing that France would create a new level of national security agents–food police, who would have the authority to instantly confiscate and destroy anything as nasty as these pallid baguette sandwiches filled with fake mozzarella, industrial chorizo, and wane pink ham garnished with brown-edged lettuce and slices of unripe tomatoes.

These hideous sandwiches offer a terrible confirmation of the international blog chatter that would insist that France’s best gastronomic days are behind it. And yet ten minutes later, I was seated in a quietly stylish bistro with perfect low lighting, pots of white orchids in the windows, and perfectly bleached ancient white beams overhead and staring at a truly superb menu. I’d been wanting to get to Pramil, in the ever trendier 3rd arrondissement, for a longtime, but it’s rare that I have a night when I don’t have to go somewhere that’s new, new, new.

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Visiting Mom in Lyon: La Mere Brazier, A-

April 17, 2009

If reviving any classic restaurant runs the risk of cliché and pastiche, the challenge was magnified when it came to Lyon’s La Mere Brazier, one of the most famous restaurants in France. “I knew it was going to be a challenge,” says Lyonnais Matthieu Viannay, 42, the restaurant’s new chef-owner. “Lots of people wanted the restaurant to remain exactly the way that it had always been, and so they weren’t going to like even small changes, while younger people who’d never known the original could find the menu too old-fashioned. What I had to do was find a personal balance between the classical French cooking that La Mere Brazier originally served and my own style.”

   When Viannay, one of the most accomplished of Lyon’s new generation of chefs, decided to revive La Mere Brazier, closed since 2004, he first immersed himself in the history of the restaurant, which was founded by one of Lyon’s famous “Meres” (female chefs) in 1921, and then sought the consul of a cook who’d been an apprentice to Eugenie Brazier in 1945—Paul Bocuse. 

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A Sweet Moment in Paris: La Chocolaterie

April 9, 2009

The sweetest secret in Paris recently came to end with the opening of La Chocolaterie, a striking new boutique in the trendy northern Marais. Before the only way to sample the deliciously confidential wares of chocolatier and patissier Jacques Genin was at Alain Ducasse, Joel Robuchon, Pierre Gagnaire, Yves Camdeborde’s Le Comptoir du Relais or one of the other select restaurants and hotels in Paris that carry his handmade chocolates and pastries or by prizing the his address out of someone and knocking on the door of his tiny atelier deep in the 15th arrondissement and asking if he’d sell you some directly (a nice guy, he usually did).

  Now, as word spreads about Genin creations, among them his caramel éclair, cassis (black currant) and mimosa pate de fruits and Szechuan pepper ganache, an ever growing throng of intensely curious chocolate and pastry-loving Parisians are flocking to Genin’s bright, airy 200 square meter boutique in a 17th building at 133 rue de Turenne. What they all want to know is who is Jacques Genin, and how did he manage to stay under the radar of the French capital’s thousands of avid chocolate lovers for so long.

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Brilliant Italian and a Good Buy: Caffe dei Cioppi et Le Petit Benoit

April 2, 2009

Despairing of ever finding really good Italian food, this tiny little restaurant in a passage off the busy rue du Faubourg Saint Antoine hit me like a thunderbolt. The Caffe dei Cioppi is a tiny space with maybe five table, plus two seats at the counter that allow you to watch the chef at work. In its layout, its sort of like an American diner, but amber lighting gives the space a cosy feel compared to the fluorescent common to that Yankee genre. We went as five and after sharing an excellent bottle of white Sardinian Vermentino as an aperitif, we got busy with the short and very gently priced menu. Everything appealed, though I loved the idea of a frittata (Italian omelette) seasoned with fresh mint and peas, I can never resist freshly made mozzarella, which here came with an almost invisible drizzle of sublime Sardinian olive oil and perfect grilled vegetables–aubergine, baby onions, zucchini and a sun-dried tomato. A superb plate of food, and the only one of us who didn’t have the mozarella crowed over his plate of freshly sliced Italian prosciutto and salami. Next, I chose thepolpette (flattened meat balls) with over roasted potatoes seasoned with rosemary and sea salt. Made with bread soaked in milk, grated Parmesan and onion, they were still soft inside, which set up a wonderful contrast with the crunchy potatoes. All of the other dishes I tasted–homemade ravioli filled with ricotta, linguine with a sauce of sea bass and tomatoes, and penne in broccoli sauce, were superb, too. Though desserts are never the high point of an Italian meal, the melted chocolate cake and apple tart here were terrific. My only regret as we went off into the night after a truly fine feed was that this place isn’t in my neighborhood. If it was, I would very happily eat there once a day.

“Alec, it couldn’t possibly be any good. It’s just down the street from the Cafe de Flore in heart of tourist Paris,” said my friend from London when we arrived at Le Petit Saint Benoit. She and her husband were in town doing a story for an Australian magazine and had asked me to chose a inexpensive restaurant within walking distance of their hotel. Also a place where they serve on an outdoor terrace if possible, since Pete would walk a mile for a Camel.

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