Mishap That Turned Out Well: Paree Day Five

February 16th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Pompidou Centre today. Picasso, Giacometti, Arp, Brancusi, Leger, Braque, Matisse, Balthus, Bonnard, Gris, Chagall, Dufy, Dubuffet and all the other French greats and semi-greats (okay, many were born in Spain, Russia, etc.). Also, a new Rothko acquisition. Some thoughts: French art ran out of steam after Picasso and the Americans took over. Pompidou is wonderful. Beautifully lit and displayed and organized. But, compared to MOMA it is provincial. Balthus’s “Alice” remains shockingly pornographic. Laurens and Duchamp-Villon (not displayed very much in USA) give HG great pleasure.

Annoying dinner mishap. Arrived at Cave Beauvau, much touted wine bar, and found out they were not serving dinner. A mixup. Off to Le Vaudeville for briny oysters, Muscadet, a huge slice of cod with truffled potatoes. The best herring in Paris with warm potato salad. Favorite dessert (you’ll never guess): Ile Flottante. So, HG and BSK demolished hunger pangs in style.

Perfect Paree: Day Four

February 15th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Paris excels in everything but plumbing. However, HG and BSK have lucked out with their Montmartre loft rental. A shower with great water pressure and an abundance of hot water. Other sanitary appliances are also first rate. This is not a Paris common place occurrence. So, after blazing showers, perusing recent e-mail, peeking into the Herald Tribune, HG and BSK went off on a long meandering walk of window shopping and architecture admiring culminating at their arrival at Chez Grenouille., a cozy bistro on Rue Blanche in the 9th Arondissement.

Reports on Chez Grenouille. a.k.a. The Frog, from the Paris critics were good but left HG and BSK unprepared for a knock your socks off, prize winner of a lunch. HG experienced cooking that had the lustiness of bistro cuisine and the creativity of Michelin-starred restaurants. BSK started with a bowl of scrambled eggs (BSK called them softly shirred eggs) infused with black truffle juice and topped with shavings of black truffle. BSK followed that with a roulade of suckling pig interwoven with slices of foie gras. BSK ended with espreso and a biscuit. HG started with a slice of tete de veau (head cheese) that transcended the genre. This can often be a rubbery, vinegary concoction. Not at Chez Grenouille.. This was a voluptuous concoction of delicious chunks of ham and pork bound together with a tasty forcemeat. This delight was followed by a plate of sweetbreads and morels in a flavorful (not heavy) cream sauce. On the table was excellent bread and a big bowl of roast potatoes (there seemed to be a modest hint of duck fat) with crisp skins and tender interiors. HG finished with baba a rhum (a generous snifter of extra rum was provided to give it an extra bang) served with a mini-mountain of whipped cream). HG and BSK’s wine choice was a remarkable Cotes du Rhone.

The meal was then walked off. BSK did some shopping for grandkids. HG read the London Review of Books while sipping a chilled framboise eau de vie at Lux Bar. Then off to Pathe Wepler to see Black Swan. Ms. Portman looks like a sure Oscar winner. Back to the loft for some Tavel and a light snack before bed time.

Hey! This is life. Someone’s got to live it. Might as well be HG and BSK.

Paree Dinner Chez HG & BSK: Day Three.

February 14th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

There are three great department store food halls in Europe: KaDaWe in Berlin (never been); Harrod’s in London (HG’s been many times and will visit again in a few weeks) and Bon Marche (HG’s favorite) on the Left Bank in Paris. After some energetic shopping at Agnes. B. (last two days of “soldes”…the annual sales season in Paris when fashion is marked down as much as 70%), HG and BSK entered Bon Marche to provision tonight’s dinner. Everything anyone has ever dreamed of eating is at Bon Marche. Everything is the best of its kind. The prices are astronomically high. Customers are courteous but demanding. They want the very best and are willing to pay for it.

The staff is informed gracious and skilled. Smoked salmon is sliced with surgical precision. Ham is cut beautifully..never too thin or too thick. Chocolates have an other worldly beauty. Charcuterie dazzles. Meat, fish, fruit and vegetable departments contain still life arrangements that deserve a place in the Louvre. So, enough already. What did HG and BSk buy for dinner? Norwegian smoked salmon, Gravlax (and mustard sauce); Parma ham; roasted Spanish piquillo peppers; jambon persille (a ham, parsley and aspic loaf); a duck loaf enclosed in a pastry crust; cornichons; Maille mustard, chutney and some other good things. Wine from Cave des Abbesses and breads from Grenier a Pain are waiting.

Jolly times ahead.

Paree: Day Two Continued

February 14th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Dinner at Le Stella. A warm welcome from Christian, Stella’s elegant and gracious maitre d’. HG’s advice to Sarko: Appoint Christian Ambassador to the United States and watch relations improve immediately. Dinner began with complimentary flutes of champagne and then perfectly shucked and chilled oysters with brown bread and sweet butter.

Bulots and mayonnaise. A carafe of Touraine Sauvignon Blanc. Steak with sauce bearnaise and the best frites in Paris. A carafe of Brouilly. Finale: An Ile Flottante (Floating Island) which was the approximate size of Australia. HG and BSK met the challenge. Many restaurant critics have mourned the decline of Parisian brasseries, once a source of delight. Most have been taken over by chains more interested in assembly line production and profit than in providing a true Parisian experience. Stella has gone counter to this trend. It just keeps getting better. Christian and his smiling crew provide service that is not only deft but is warmly human. The food consists of tried and true classics. Put it all together and you have a food experience that is unique to Paris. The brasserie style is alive and well at Le Stella.

Paree: Day Two

February 14th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Off to the Pinocatheque de Paris for a day of art—selections from St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum, art collected by the Romanovs, and art collected by Hungary’s noble family, the Esterhazys. A joy. Paintings by Rembrandt, Titian, Steen, Hals, Rubens and many others never seen before in the west. The Pinocatheque also has a permanent collection which is eccentric but wonderful. First of all, paintings from all periods are hung together. And, they are hung closely, some only a foot or less apart. Rothko, Pollock (a stunning early work); Munch (a sun-washed nude… quite unlike his usual work); Van Gogh (a small, riveting work); Monet, Courbet, Delacroix,Vuillard, Bonnard, Soutine, Magritte, Leger, Derain, Roualt and other giants keep company with 15th, 16th and 17th century work.
HG and BSK found the interplay of styles and periods stimulating. Back to Montmartre for wine shopping at Cave des Abbesses. Wonderfully curated. Logically organized. Bargain prices. If HG lived in Paris permanently wine induced alcoholism would be a happy prospect. HG bought a baguette, croissants and a country grain and walnut loaf from Le Grenier a Pain, voted best baguette bakery in Paris. Of course, the bread is sublime. But, the croissants are a revelation. Buttery, crisp with a slightly moist interior. Tonight, it will be a pre-Valentine dinner at Le Stella, unquestionably the best brasserie in Paris. Full report to follow tomorrow. Bon appetit, buddies.

Take A Bow, SJ

February 13th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Nobody has ever credited HG with visual wit. Their analysis is correct. So then, where do the witty, sly illustrations that enliven the Hungry Gerald blog come from? They are the product of Son Jeremy’s research and provide (in HG’s opinion) the perfect counterpoint to HG’s sometimes over exuberant prose. A gifted son, indeed. SJ also writes, with judgment and humor, about food and restaurants. SJ has promised to contribute his observations to the HG blog. Continue to log in and be enlightened and amused.

Paris. The Same. Maybe Even Better.

February 12th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

Grey, slightly misty Paris day. Unpacking (always an annoying chore only matched by equally annoying packing). While BSK went off to buy a hair dryer, HG perched at an outdoor table at his favorite cafe/wine shop Cave des Abbesses, on lively Rue Abbesses. Ah, Montmartre. Before strolling to Cave, HG listened to a trio (two guitars and a bass) jazzing at Place des Abbesses. Django time! At the Cave, HG had six splendid oysters (a bargain 7 Euros) a pichet of excellent Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, dry with only a hint of fruit. The passing parade of lovers, intellectuals, artists, loafers and working folk was free. Further entertainment was provided by a funky jazz trio of trumpet, clarinet and castanets.

Joined by BSK, a shopping expedition provided a roast chicken, roast potatoes, a head of frisee, six perfectly ripe wedges of cheese (St. Marcellin, Reblochon,etc.); an array of wine (inexpensive in Paris). Dinner at home. Early to bed. Lots of art to see tomorrow. Maybe the Mondrian/ de Stijl show at the Beaubourg. You will be informed.

Harlem Reverie

February 12th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

During HG’s college days HG spent a lot of time in Harlem. And, loved it.  HG attended C.C.N.Y. The college was located at 137th Street and Convent Avenue, the heights of Harlem.  This was a rather classy neighborhood that housed the Harlem elite of judges, lawyers, doctors and city officials. Nearby Hamilton Terrace had elegant brownstones (you can buy one now if you’ve got $3,000,000).  Some blocks to the north was prestigious Edgecombe Avenue, once home to Duke Ellington, Joe Louis and other African-American luminaries.  (This was also known as Sugar Hill).

Central Harlem (the area around 8th Avenue, 7th Avenue and Lenox Avenue) was another story.  It was run down. It was tough. There was plenty of violence.  And, the welcome mat was not out for white folks.  College senior HG was a “youth counselor” in Central Harlem.  This was part of an experimental program where college athletes (including HG) worked with violent Harlem gangs in an effort to lead the gangbangers (then called “boppers”— violent gangs were “bopping gangs”) down a more peaceful, constructive path.  HG was not successful in this endeavor.  HG made no positive impact. HG’s gang, the “French Dukes” (neither Gallic nor of noble lineage), was very protective of HG since having a “youth counselor” enhanced its reputation.  As soon as the neighborhood realized HG was not a cop, social worker or narc, attitudes became friendly. HG managed to eat a lot of fried fish & chicken, pork chops smothered in gravy, sweet potato pie and other staples of Harlem cuisine with the young “Dukes” and their friends. HG liked to walk along lively (to say the least) Lenox Avenue and often popped into the Red Rooster bar which was near the subway. The Rooster welcomed a few white folks and catered to a number of Harlem intellectuals. It was a stimulating  place (It closed in the 1970s). Recently, Marcus Samuelsson has revived the name with an ambitious and exciting new Red Rooster on the site of the old Red Rooster at 310 Lenox  Avenue.  HG loved the food and atmosphere at Aakavit, the Swedish restaurant once owned and run by Samuelsson.  HG hopes the new RR is equally successful and that some of the “French Dukes”  (now rather senior aristocrats) are around to enjoy the fried yardbird.

Cod. Rhymes With God.

February 11th, 2011 § 3 comments § permalink

Yes, that might be construed as an irreverent headline. Nevertheless, it is impossible to overrate the importance of cod in world history. Don’t believe HG? Read the fascinating book: “Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World” by Mark Kurlansky (who has also authored books on salt and the oyster). Cod’s history is interesting but for HG, cod’s significance is that it tastes good. Also, it’s a very versatile fish and can be prepared in an almost endless variety of ways.

HG will soon be off to Paris and Paris is a city where cod is much beloved. HG will have gently baked cod with a puree of potatoes enriched with black truffle juice at Le Vaudeville. HG will have brandade (a puree of salt cod, garlic, potatoes and sweet cream) at Chez Grisette. HG will have cod covered with an abundance of root vegetables at Chez Grenouille. HG will have cod stewed with tomatoes and peppers (Spanish style) at Ch’ti Catalan.

There’s some good cod in New York. Brasserie Balthazar does a very good brandade and HG has had great brandade at Jonathan Waxman’s Barbuto in Greenwich Village. A number of Vancouver restaurants do black cod with a maple syrup glaze, an inventive touch that offsets black cod’s oiliness. That oiliness enhances HG’s favorite smoked fish: glorious Sable, the fish that defeats Nova at the Sunday bagel and cream cheese brunch. HG has not solved the mystery of why smoked black cod is called sable.

Daughter Lesley does a tasty Provencal dish of cod layered with potatoes, onions and tomatoes. Here’s the DL recipe: In a skillet (with cover) warm olive oil and add thinly sliced onions and garlic. Cover onion and garlic mixture with thinly sliced potatoes. Add chicken broth and white wine. When potatoes are almost done add cod on top. Sprinkle with chopped tomatoes, parsley and slices of kalamata olives. Cover. Watch carefully as cod falls apart when overdone. Delectable. DL also does the second best codfish cakes in the world. HG does not believe in nepotism. First place for codfish cakes goes to the Downyflake Cafe in Nantucket where they are served with a unique egg sauce. DL serves hers with a tomato relish obtainable only on Prince Edward Island, site of HG’s summer home. When HG does mussels meuniere HG pops some chunks of cod into the sauce pan before the steaming process ends. Some hot pepper enhanced mayonnaise goes nicely with this. Once more, beware of overcooking. Happily, codfish cheeks remain a breakfast favorite in Boston.

So, let HG end with the Boston bon mot: Here’s to Boston, Home of the Bean and the Cod. Where the Cabots speak only to Lowells. And Lowells speak only to God.

What’s In A Name? Plenty.

February 10th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Fat Man on Sugar Hill was an HG hangout way back when. Location: Upscale Harlem. 155th Street off Edgecombe Avenue. Sugar Hill. Like Joe Louis and Duke Ellington, you needed plenty of sugar to live there. Fat Man was founded by a fat man—jazz bass fiddler Charles McKinley Turner. When asked what he weighed he said, “Ten more pounds than Fats Waller.” His partner was Edward Mallary, jazz trumpeter and former husband of Ethel Waters. Originally, it was a late spot. African-American and white show biz and musical celebs were among the customers. Duke Ellington, Paul Robeson, Jimmy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Jack Teagarden, Katherine Cornell and Tallulah Bankhead. Tallulah loved the ribs. By the 50’s the food was mundane but the array of bourbons was splendid. A great R & B jukebox (called “race music” then.) :The atmosphere was lively and joyous. HG loved every minute. How can you go wrong with a name like Fat Man on Sugar Hill?