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.

Ditto “truffle” oil, which is a sad cheat of a product. Most people assume that the truffle taste comes from soaking truffles in oil. It doesn’t. The taste is an artificial flavor, and so it has no business being in the kitchen of any good restaurant. The only decent flavored oil I’ve come across in a longtime is Stonehouse’s Persian Lime flavored oil, which is delicious dribbled on grilled fish, and, depending on the ingredients, is also good in salads.

And speaking of salads, there’s a wonderful place to get a meal style salad right in the heart of Paris. It’s called Le Scoop and it’s run by a delightful American woman who worked as a lawyer before falling in love with Paris and throwing it all over for une vie gastronomique. They also do chicken quesadillas, salmon with wasabi, and the very best cheeseburger in Paris. This is a terrific spot for a lunch after the Louvre or a light dinner, since prices are very reasonable, the service is friendly and the eclectic cooking is excellent. Note, too, that they do a very good Sunday brunch and are open seven days a week. 154 rue Saint Honore, 1st, 01-42-60-31-64. Unfortunately, they’re closed in August, but I’ll be champing at the bit for one of their burgers when they re-open in September.

  • Brenda Dupont

    I totally agree with your comments regarding balsamic vinegar, most of which is bought very cheaply, used indiscriminately, and probably is nothing but a carmel-colored liquid with a bit of acidity. However, there is nothing quite so sublime as freshly picked mesclun lightly dressed with an aged (at least 15 yrs) balsamic reduction vinaigrette.
    Ditto on truffle oil. It is a chemical additive. I was shocked to see it at a store in Uzes dedicated to la truffe. I was given a small jar of truffle salt (from Italy) and it does have an authentic smell and bite, but must be used very judiciously.