HG was reflecting on his Paris trip while spending a day in Rhode Island before returning to New Mexico. Here are some observations: HG does not understand the Paris reputation for arrogance and rudeness. HG/BSK were treated with unvarying friendliness and courtesy in every encounter. HG walks with a cane and could not enter a metro car without someone — male, female, old, young, French, African, Arab — offering the old guy a seat. With many, a “Merci beaucoup”, still vigorous HG declined the courteous offers….HG enjoys the grittier neighborhoods of Paris (Barbes-Rochechouart, Belleville, Strasbourg St. Denis, etc.) for the colorful street life and the abundance of very inexpensive, very tasty food. Didn’t get to 13e (site of the Paris Chinatown). Though no Flushing, this nabe offers a lot of restaurants that compare favorably to Manhattan’s Chinatown…HG pal Peter Hellman, author and wine expert (a frequent contributor to “Wine Spectator”), suggested HG dine in the food department of the Galeries Lafayette food department on Boulevard Hausmann. Good tip. HG knocked off a super lunch there at the fish eatery (oysters, a few oursins, prawns) while BSK and Beautiful Granddaughter Sofia did well with some caprese salad and other nibbles at an Italian themed niche. Am saving the Spanish ham counter for the next Paris visit…French yogurt is great way to start the morning…Escargots in the United States are insipid. For the real, great, robust stuff, get over to Bourgogne Sud in 9e. The biggest, bestest snails in the universe.
Last day in Paris (alas, alas). Went to the elegant Bon Marche department store (annual sales are going on) where Left Bank fashionistas do their shopping. Beautiful clothes for women, men and kiddies, but they certainly are’t giving them away. Prices are astronomical — even with the on sale reductions — during this time of weak American greenbacks. Disheartened, HG left the clothing and wandered through the Bon Marche Epicerie, the great food hall. This is pure food pornography. Enough to make a dedicated foodie weak at the knees. The ultimate in smoked salmon (sorry, Russ and Daughters). Fantastic cheese, breads and sausage (sorry, Zabar’s). Orgasmic pates (sorry, Vancouver Oyama). The wine “cave,” like the Maltese Falcon, is “the stuff dreams are made of.” Particularly liked the four figure magnums of rare Bordeaux.
For dinner, HG/BSK put French food fantasies aside for a delightful dinner at Shin Jung, a Korean restaurant just footsteps from HG/BSK’s Rue Clapeyron apartment. Nice rose wine. Juicy pork and vegetable dumplings. Crispy kimchi pancakes. Quick fried, egg-battered slices of zucchini. Very generous platter of salmon and yellowtail sashimi on a bed of shredded daikon radish. Spicy barbecued pork served in a hot cast iron pan and accompanied by bowls of rice and the traditional Korean array of kimchi and other pickled good things. For dessert there was ginger ice cream doused with ginger flavored vodka. Nice conclusion. No, this isn’t the kind of powerfully flavored food you get in Manhattan’s Koreatown or the Sunnyside section of Queens. But, the service is sweet; your fellow diners are nice to look at and the noise level –and cost–is modest. A refreshing detour from French cooking.
BSK and Beautiful Granddaughter Sofia were off taking advantage of the Paris sales day so HG ventured into gritty Arab/African Paris, the neighborhood around the Barbes-Rochechouart metro station. This is where the metro emerges from the underground and becomes elevated (very reminiscent of New York’s IRT on Jerome Avenue in The Bronx). Beneath the elevated metro tracks is a raucous, messy, colorful, lively, ludicrously inexpensive market. Enter and leave Paris behind. You are in Algiers or Tunis or Morocco or Lagos — a mad jumble of all of them. This is where Paris’s large working class immigrant population finds bargains in food, clothing and probably anything else legal or illegal that one could want. Much noisy haggling. HG left the market and poked into some the food shops on Rue Chapelle. Good looking chickens gently roasting on rotisseries; sheep heads treated the same way appeared appetizing (except for the very human white teeth smiling through the flames). Lots of lush dates, figs and olives. Freshly made Arab flat bread. Spices, rice and couscous galore. Made HG ravenous. Small restaurant, Jour et Nuit, looked promising. Peered inside. Lots of fat and jolly Arabs having a good time. Good vibes. No English spoken but HG greeted with warm smiles and seated at comfortable table. Ordered a sizzling, bubbling tagine of chicken with preserved lemons (plus tangy green olives and potatoes) and a side dish of couscous with copious rich broth and vegetables. Big crock of fiery harissa on the table. Wondrous food. Better than anything HG/BSK ever ate in visits to Morocco (including meals at posh hotel La Mamounia in Marrakech). Restaurant owner identified himself as Algerian and the food as Algerian home cooking (that’s what HG gathered with much sign language and clumsy French). Before leaving, HG had a glass of best ever mint tea . The bill? Cheap, cheap. Don’t be frightened by the bustle of the neighborhood and the ominous looks of some of the residents. Get to Jour et Nuit when in Paris and enjoy.
Long apres lunch stroll through the Barbes neighborhood, Pigalle and the lower slopes of Montmartre. Reminded HG of Brooklyn where edgy neighborhoods are becoming the haunts of hipsters and the upwardly mobile young. Dinner with BSK at warm and welcoming Bourgogne Sud on Rue de Clichy. Complimentary glass of white wine and sausage from the Macon region on the table. HG/BSK enjoyed the lush and meaty escargots followed by grilled scallops with crisp roasted potatoes and green salad. Drank very good Moulin a Vent red. Wine poached pears with vanilla ice cream for dessert. This wasn’t haute cuisine, just a meal of down home goodness. After dishes were cleared, hostess brought a big bottle of marc de bourgogne and brandy glasses. Left the bottle on the table. A volonte: Drink as much as you want. HG did not drink as much of the lovely beverage as HG wanted. BSK was a moderating influence. But, more than enough. Did manage to walk back to apartment without staggering.
John Talbott is an eminent food blogger whose subject is Paris restaurants (also reports, with good judgment, on art exhibits). When Talbott says a restaurant is good, one can be confident that it is. So, when Talbott gave Les Saisons (located on Lamartine in 9e) his approval, it went on the HG/BSK must go list. And, that’s how HG/BSK and Beautiful Granddaughter Sofia wound up there last night. The chef is Jonathan Lutz and the pleasure begins when you walk into the simple, tasteful bistro and are greeted by Lutz’s charming Japanese wife. Her influence is evident in the “Tataki” starter, superb slices of seared-on-the-outside but raw salmon with horseradish and a delicious mound of cream sauce plus a perfectly dressed little salad. Purely French was Lutz’s pheasant pate which was served Alsatian style with a big crock of gherkins. HG/BSK agreed: as good as the fabled pate at Oyama, the charcuterie stall in Vancouver’s Public market. BSK/BGS had mains of pork (lomo) loin done Spanish style with roast potatoes and lightly dressed greens. HG’s main ( grilled durade on a chiffonade of long simmered leaks and a side of lush potato puree) clearly demonstrated the precision and imagination of Jonathan Lutz. BSK/BGS ended the meal with top flight creme brulees and HG chose baba a rhum with whipped cream and generous pours of rum. A perfect Paris evening.
Joy. Back to Le Stella, HG/BSK’s favorite brasserie in Paris. Loacted in the posh 16th arondissement, Le Stella serves a virtual encyclopedia of the great dishes of classic bourgeois cuisine — the type of food Moms, Aunts and Grannies of a certain class put together for family dining. On the other hand, Stella also serves, perhaps, the best oysters, shrimps, clams and other sea critters in a manner you would never eat at home. You can see them all stacked on Ice at the entrance to the brasserie on Rue Victor Hugo. As long time habitues, HG/BSK and Beautiful Granddaughter Sofia were greeted with welcoming kisses, hugs and handshakes from Christian, one of Le Stella’s elegant and capable managers.(Sofia received her first ever hand kiss). Chilled white Sancerre was poured and the party was off to the races. A plateau de fruits de mer containing the freshest, briniest oysters, clams, shrimp, mussels, langoustines, bulots, tiny snails, etc. To follow: Poached raie smothered in capers, fish broth and melted butter (plus some boiled potatoes) for HG. BSK/BGS tucked into a rack of lamb (cooked to the proper shade of pink) that rested on a very generous mound of buttery haricot verts. Crisp pommes frites. Much red Fleurie was poured. Dessert was light and luscious ile flottane. A magical meal in the great down home Paris tradition.
A chic dinner at Neva, cutting edge food on a corner of Rue St. Petersbourg in the 8th arondissement. Beautiful, slightly austere design in shades of grey. Outstanding deco-like chandeliers. The chef is a young Mexican woman and her husband is in charge of the desserts. A potent team. The Mexican influence appeared in the ceviche-like starters of scallops (some raw, some very slightly grilled) with an assortment of very delicate, thinly sliced vegetables. BSK and Beautiful Granddaughter Sofia had mains of pork shoulder with barbecue sauce and potatoes done in three ways–pureed, grilled. smashed. All adorned with deicate chips of potato. Absolutely surreal spuds. HG had sweetbreads, crisp fried but mellow interiors. Accompanied by three varieties of beets, thin sliced and cubed. Moistened with meat juice. Very inventive, light and delicate cuisine but with assertive flavors. Dessert was just downright voluptuous. “Deconstructed” chocolate. Globes of rich chocolate in special glass serving bowls. Hot chocolate syrup was poured over the globes whose tops melted, revealing interiors of vanilla ice cream. Hot fudge sundaes Paris 2014. The bistro is named “Neva” after the river that runs through the beautiful city of St. Petersbourg (as mentioned the bistro is on Rue St.Petersbourg). Clever.
All started out wonderfully with visits to a pair of small museums that border Parc Monceau (HG believes this is the most beautiful park in Paris). First visit was to Musee Nissim de Camondo. This is an exquisite town mansion furnished with a treasure trove of eighteen century furniture, rugs, sculpture, paintings, carpets, etc. The attention to detail is startling and personal. It reflects the superb eye, the passion for collecting and the personal vision of the late banker, Moise de Camondo. He wanted an “artistic home of the 18th century.” And, he achieved it. The home was to be inherited by his son. Unfortunately, his son, Nissim, was an aviator in the French army during World War One and was killed in an air battle. In 1936, a year after Moise de Camondo’s death, the mansion/musem opened to the public. De Camondo had bequeathed the building and all of its contents to the French nation in memory of his son. The tragic history of the family continued. His daughter, Beatrice; her husband, Leon Reinach and their two children, Fanny and Bertrand, were murdered by the Nazis in Auschwitz. This was the end of the Camondo family. The other museum, also housed in a mansion, is the Musee Cernuschi. Henri Cernuschi (1821-1896) was an extraordinary man. An Italian patriot and a strong believer in the Republican idea, Cernuschi accumulated a large fortune as an economist and investor. He was an informed collector of Asian art and his vast collection is housed in the museum. There are many treasures but HG/BSK were most struck by the ancient Chinese pottery and terra cotta figures. HG/BSK and BGS had an early dinner at Atelier Rimal, a much heralded Lebanese restaurant on Boulevard Malesherbes. A disappointment. Mushy kefta. Below par mezze and pastries. Okay. Win some lose some. A restaurant to avoid.
Off to market day on nearby Boulevard des Batignolles. Picked up cheese, charcuterie, fresh pasta, salad greens, olives, two types of tapenade (black olive and green olive). BSK tucked a long baguette from the corner bakery under her arm. Casual dinner at home (Beautiful Granddaughter Sofia slightly ill). Ate the market’s delicious offerings, drank red Corbieres and then were off to nearby Pathe Wepler to see Le Loup (Wolf) de Wall Street. Basically, Goodfellas translated to the hysterical penny stock market of the 1980’s. Bad boys acting badly. Lots of nudity featuring young ladies with surgical enhancements. Martin Scorcese’s manic and creative directorial energy infuses the film and makes it worthwhile. For HG however, the mad, macho life of drugs and hookers did not seem very appetizing.
Happy discovery. A small restaurant with distinctive decor, a warm and welcoming staff and food that is an elegant riff on old time French classics. That’s Table des Anges on Rue des Martyrs jut south of Pigalle. Yan Duranceau, the chef, has worked with some of the greats. Yan’s technique is flawless and his ideas are original. BSK and Beautiful Granddaughter Sofia loved their entrees of smoky room temperature cauliflower puree adorned with thin slices of speck (for another note of smoke). For mains, HG/BSK dipped into lighter than air quenelles. These were served in appetizing cast iron casseroles that included, besides the quenelles, spinach, carrots, potatoes and leeks. Rich sauce nantuä (thoughtful chef eliminated the crawfish from allergic BSK’s serving). Carnivore BGS had a steaming braise of unctuous ox cheeks stewed in red wine with mushrooms and other good things. Dessert was pistachio creme brulee. Drank a dry and tingling Macon-Villages white and Fleurie, one of HG’s favored reds. Lovely dining. Don’t miss Tables des Anges when you’re in Paris.
Day Two in Paris was New Years Day. Most restaurants closed. Brasseries open. HG made a dinner reservation at long beloved Le Vaudeville, an old, art deco establishment opposite the Paris stock exchange, Le Bourse. While most Paris brasseries have gone downhill, HG has always loved Vaudeville’s great oysters, bustling waiters, the signature dish of grilled cod with truffled potato puree, the exuberant Ile Flottante dessert. And the atmosphere was always very chic and Parisian. Well, the 2014 Vaudeville was a disaster. Avoid it when you are in Paris. Dinner started badly with the maitre d’ unable to find the HG reservation even though it had been made by the head of the Flo Group (owner of Vaudeville and many other once-good brasseries) PR department. Finally gave us a table in a dark hole, worst table in the house. HG would not accept it. Got another table which proved to be the target of cold winds. Finally got a comfortable table. Service was ludicrous. Didn’t pour wine. Didn’t provide carafe d’eau after being asked three times. Food was just okay and prices were astronomical. Special (bad) holiday menu and none of the old time favorites were available. Ambience? The restaurant was 100% tourists from Germany, Italy and Japan — plus many louts in dirty sweatshirts. Looked up at the ceiling and the paint was flaking (just ready to fall on an unsuspecting diner). That about sums up Le Vaudeville.