My Best of 2009: Paris and Further Afield

December 17, 2009

On the heels of the first disappointing meal I’ve ever had at the Union Square Cafe in New York City last night–the service was frantic and the food quite ordinary, I was musing on all of the wonderful food I’ve eaten in 2009, so here’s a motley list of the year’s most delicious moments.

PARIS

Cafe des Musees. This deservedly popular place in the Marais consistently delivers spectacularly good food at very reasonable prices. I wish the wine list was easier to work with, but I’d happily eat here once a day if I lived nearby. My last meal here was truly superb–house smoked salmon and then a Noire de Bigorre echine de porc was tender and bursting with flavor. The cheeses are terrific, too. 49 Rue de Turenne, 3rd, Tel. 01-42-72-96-17. Metro: Chemin Vert. Avg 35 Euros.

Jadis. I’ve eaten at chef Guillaume Delage’s modern French bistro in the 15th a dozen times this year, and his cooking is consistently lean, clean and muscular, with an almost frighteningly flawless technical perfection. My favorite dishes? His perfect pate en croute, roasted shoulder of lamb with sun-dried tomatoes and black olives, and the brilliant gateaux des rois I enjoyed with friends on the fete des rois. 208 rue de la Croix-Nivert, 15th, Tel. 01.45.57.73.20. Metro: Porte de Versailles. Avg 45 Euros.

Yam’Tcha. Afer many meals at chef Adeline Grattard’s place just off Les Halles, her cooking–smart, subtle, original and Franco-Asian, just gets better and better. Every meal here is a discovery, since the menu changes almost daily, but I often think of Grattard’s sublime grilled scallops on a bed of steamed bean sprouts in wild garlic sauce. 4 rue Sauval, 1st, Tel. 33-1-40-26-08-07. Metro: Louvre-Rivoli. Menus 45 Euros and 65 Euros.

Thoumieux. But wait…I wasn’t very enthusiastic about this place when I reviewed it here a few weeks ago, so what gives? Chef Jean-Francois Piege’s squid a la carbonara was one of the most original and delicious things I’ve eaten all year. Thoumieux, 79 rue Saint Dominique, 7th, Tel. 01-47-05-49-75. Metro: La Tour Maubourg. Open daily. Avg 50 Euros

Les Fougeres. I loved everything about this restaurant near the Place des Ternes in the 17th arrondissement. Charming service, a pretty dining room, and terrific food–I just can’t get the ravioli stuffed with Auvergnat pork in star anise broth out of my head. 10 rue Villebois Mareuil, 17th, Tel. 01-40-68-78-66. Metro: Ternes. Avg 50 Euros.

FRANCE

La Mere Brazier, Lyon: Months after I’d tasted chef Matthieu Viannay’s La Vollaile de Bresse en Demi-deuil (poached Bresse chicken with black truffles under its skin), I’m still dreaming of this incredible dish, a brilliant update on a great classic of the French kitchen. Viannay serves the chicken with baby vegetables, a garnish of pickled sour cherries, and a voluptuous velouté de volaille monté à la crème, one of the ultimate French sauces. Where Viannay goes his own way, is that the bird is served as two courses—first, the breasts, succulent and white as alabaster, and then the legs and thighs, which are grilled and garnished with a small salad of herbs. 12 rue Royale, 69001 Lyon. Tél. 04-78-23-17-20. Avg 70 Euros

ITALY

Meloncello, Bologna. This simple cheerful trattoria is on the edge of the city, but it’s worth the effort of getting here for but the superb home-cooking and a warm welcome from the two delightful sisters who own the place. There’s no printed menu—instead the daily offer is recited, but all you need to know are tagliatelle al ragu and polpette (meatballs with potatoes and peas in tomato sauce), the house classics. The veal ragu on the buttercup yellow tagliatelle was as mellow and suave as any I’ve ever tasted, and though the canned peas with the meatballs were disappointing, the dish was superb, since the meatballs are made of a mixture of veal, pork, mortadella, ham and Parmesan. Via Saragozza 240, Bologna, Tel. 39-05-16-14-39-47, Avg 35 Euros.

SLOVENIA

Kendov Dvorec, Spodnja Idrija. Though I’ve been to Slovenia several times and know how well one eats there, nothing prepared me for the meal I had on a Spring night in the dining room of the country’s only Relais & Chateaux hotel. The service at dinner that night was charming and the food delicious. The waiter explained that the hotel specializes in local cooking, always interesting, since the cuisine in Slovenia changes ever twenty miles or so, and I loved my meal of savory cabbage soup, smoked lamb with horseradish, polenta with grilled porcini mushrooms, veal with fried gnocci, and strucjkli, or Slovenian streudel filled with cottage cheese and raisins and served with pear jam. Superb Slovenian wines by the glass, too. Tel. 386-5-37-25-100. 

USA

Aldea, New York City. Chef George Menendez’s tiny little restaurant in the Flat Iron district in New York City is well worth going out of the way for. He trained with a suite of heavy weight toques in Europe before setting up shop on his own, and his cooking is an intriguing take on the Portuguese food of his ancestry informed by haute cuisine technique. Don’t miss the Shrimp Alhino with garlic, coriander and pimenton (smoked paprika), my new favorite ingredient. 31 West 17th Street, New York, NY 10011. Tel. 1-212-675-7223. Avg $50.

  • Nancy

    We went to Union Sq Cafe and I am sorry to report that the best part of the meal was seeing Morgan Fairchild as we left the restaurant. After we went to Gramercy Tavern to inquire about a future dinner and when asked what my opinion was of Union Sq I said ‘cold’– especially the service. A pasta with duck ragu was very sad looking, soup with no taste. My tuna burger was good and thank god for the polenta, we should have stopped with that.

  • Alexander Lobrano

    Hi Nancy,

    Yes, it’s a shame, but Union Square Cafe has slipped badly, and I won’t be going back anytime soon.

    Best, Alec