1966. Spring. Following Paris, HG/BSK (and enchanting two-year-old Lesley) were off to London. First order of business was a trip to Carnaby Street, then the mod fashion center for swinging London. Lesley was outfitted with striped bell bottoms, a safari jacket and other cutting edge duds. The little fashionista dazzled. Had some of the wonderful experiences London has to offer. (In 1966, London was very English, affordable and not the theme park for oligarchs which it now resembles). Shopped for silverware on Portobello Road. (“It’ll shine up something lovely, Ducks.”). Art at the Tate and National Gallery. Walks in Hyde Park. Window shopping on Bond Street. Strolling the beautiful squares and admiring the stately architecture of Belgravia and Mayfair. Roast beef at Simpson’s on the Strand. Oysters, smoked salmon and Dover sole at Wheeler’s. Afternoon tea at Brown’s (the excellent sweet things much enjoyed by Lesley). A too brief visit. Many more visits during the next 49 years. Stayed at the Wilbraham Hotel off Sloane Square (For years it was HG/BSK’s shabby, comfy, genteel retreat. Refurbished, it is now now super posh.) Rented many pleasant apartments and had great luncheons at the best French restaurant in the world (which happened to be in London): The Connaught Restaurant in The Connaught Hotel. London theater was always a treat. Joyous memories of after theater dining at Rule’s (for port and welsh rarebit); J. Sheekey, (oysters and Dover Sole); the glamorous, art deco Savoy Grill (smoked salmon and mixed grill). We’ll be back to London again even though it will put a dent in the HG/BSK credit cards.
1966. Spring. HG/BSK were accompanied by precocious, articulate, two-year-old daughter, Lesley. The exchange rate was very favorable. The family stayed at the charming Left Bank hotel, Pont Royal, on the Rue du Bac. HG/BSK were beguiled by the tiny elevator with its brass ornamentation (could baely fit a suitcase onto it). Had a pleasant, cozy suite with a separate little bed for Lesley (who would have sneered at a childish crib). The hotel atmosphere was shabby bohemian (HG/BSK’s dream of Paris). HG/BSK didn’t know that the downstairs bar was a literary hangout where Sartre, Simone De Beauvoir, Truman Capote, Arthur Koestler and others held forth over carafes of cheap wine. HG/BSK and Lesley walked along the Seine, visited museums, shopped in boutiques. BSK scored a short leather jacket and print dress and soon fit in very nicely with the very pretty Parisiennes. Lesley was much admired at the cafes for her enchanting, curly topped cuteness. Devoured Croque Monsieurs with a hearty appetite. HG/BSK left Lesley with an American student babysitter when they had their first great Paris meal. It was at a long gone bistro on the Boulevard St. Germain. HG/BSK shared an appetizer of smoked salmon and a half bottle of chilled Chablis. Delectable. And, then came a dish of a lifetime, never to be duplicated. The waiter brought fat, white spring asparagus wrapped in a linen cloth. There was a bowl of Sauce Mousseline (Hollandaise mixed with whipped cream). Lush food. Main was a bistro classic: Gigot (leg of springtime lamb) cooked rare and accompanied by flageolets. Drank Moulin a Vent (delicious Beaujolais slightly chilled). Perfection. Dessert was wild strawberries served with a pitcher of sweet cream. A spring dream. The meal was a harbinger of the great feasting HG/BSK enjoyed at cozy Paris bistros and lively brasseries for the next 49 years. HG’s appetite for Paris has never diminished.
Oh, well, Toby (a possible Havanese/Poodle mix) isn’t really a “wonder dog” in the Lassie and Rin-Tin-Tin tradition, but the furry little fellow is much loved by HG/BSK. Vertically challenged (like HG), Toby has a long body and very short legs. Soft black and white coat like a little lamb. Soft and cuddly (Doesn’t shed, thankfully). Impeccable toilet habits. During the one year Toby has resided with HG/BSK, he has had one minor league indoor accident. Loves to bound outdoors (Has a five acre play area in New Mexico and a lavish amount of green space plus beach in Prince Edward Island. Plus, he can paddle in the sea). He’s an excellent watch dog with a powerful bark and growl. Toby has a Marilyn Monroe-like wiggle in his walk. (A vet called him “bubble butt.”) HG should mention (without bias) that Toby is extremely cute and is so recognized by everyone. BSK and Beautiful Granddaughter Sofia found Toby at the Santa Fe Animal Shelter. The little dog had been abandoned on a Los Angeles street after some rough treatment. He wound up in a “kill” shelter before being brought to Santa Fe. Therefore, Toby’s saga is Dickensian in nature. Toby is very loving and gentle with children. He has a stubborn, independent streak. When commanded to “Come!!”, he treats it like an option rather than a imperative. However, he is a perfect companion on a walk, an indoor romp or a long car ride. Gifted Daughter Lesley R. is responsible for the presence of Toby in the HG/BSK household. HG had stubbornly refused to have a dog (travel complications, pain at having to “put down” previous loved dogs and horses, old age infirmities, etc.). Lesley R. made her case with logic and passion. .Enter Toby. Lucky HG and BSK. Since HG’s musings concentrate on food, HG should mention that Toby shares HG/BSK’s gourmand tastes. Leftovers (clams, fish, beef, pork) are always added to Toby’s Kibble. Consumed with gusto. Accompanied by water, not white or red wine. There are limits.
HG/BSK’s oceanfront Prince Edward Island home provides an ongoing avian show. Double-crested Cormorants flock together on a rock formation in the sea, looking very much like a convention of black cloaked elders. They jump as they dive for a fish. There are many Gulls soaring through the air, gracefully riding the air currents. Herring gulls, Ring-billed Gulls and Great Black-Billed Gulls are among the species. There are numerous Herons with their distinctive long necks and elongated flight patterns. Along the shore are Plovers and Sandpipers scurrying about on their skinny legs. And, on the lawn leading to the sea are Robins, a wide assortment of Wrens and an occasional Hummingbird. HG/BSK’s favorite bird is the Osprey. They fly through the sky and then, like a helicopter, hover in space. In spectacular fashion they dive feet first and often come up with a fish and carry it off in their talons. HG/BSK reserve their hatred for Crows. These smart, loud mouthed birds perch outside HG/BSK’s bedroom and make piercing wakeup “Caw-caw” sounds. A few days ago, angry BSK hurled a tennis ball at them before returning to a warm bed. They have another unpleasant habit. They are “purple poopers.” They gobble up blueberries from an adjacent field and then stain the deck with their purple droppings. Bad birds. Being a gourmand rather than an ornithologist, HG prefers birds cooked. Favorite bird is the chicken (Especially when marinated/spatchcocked/roasted by BSK). Next favorite is the duck in many forms. The breast seared rare (served as “duck steak” at the Chez Georges bistro in Paris). As duck confit In Paris or barbecued in numerous Chinese restaurants. Best duck dish is Peking Duck with its separate services of crisp skin and juicy meat. HG often enjoys pigeon (served blood rare) in Paris bistros and squab (baby pigeon) that has been barbecued and glazed. Best version is at Vancouver’s Sun Sui Wah restaurant. HG has no desire to eat the tiny Ortolans favored by French gourmets. The French, a people much admired by HG, have some odd food choices. Ortolans and foul smelling chitterling sausages are among them
The sometimes cloudy, sometimes sunny September day on Prince Edward Island was marked (So, what else is new ?) with some very good eating.. A favorite breakfast: Corn (from the Blum’s truck in Montague) pancakes gilded with extraordinary maple syrup from Nova Scotia. Then, off to the southeast shore of the Island to inspect a variety of properties developed by Jeff Klein, a former New York investment banker who fell in love with Prince Edward Island and its breathtaking shoreline. (HG/BSK are trying to have restaurateur daughter Victoria and chef/partner./husband Marc M. consider PEI for a vacation home). Jeff recommended 21 Breakwater Restaurant in the town of Souris for lunch. Turned out to be a winner. It’s in a lovely old house and faces Souris Harbor and the ferry that leaves daily for the Madeleine Islands. Splendid view and splendid food. BSK had the house salad (local mixed greens, tiny tomatoes, goat cheese, red onions, green onions in a red wine vinaigrette) with an addition of spicy Portuguese Piri Piri chicken. HG had a big bowl of creamy and buttery sea chowder filled with hake, lobster, potatoes and smoky bacon. Drank good Pinot Grigio. Restaurant is owned by chef Pedro Pereira (he’s from Portugal) and his wife, Betty Macdonald, a native Islander. Many of the house specialties have a Portuguese flavor. HG/BSK intend to be back there for dinner next week and try some more Piri Piri chicken, Portuguese fish and chips and special nachos made with PEI potato chips and aged cheddar. Stopped off at MacPhees Market in Souris and the young female butcher cut HG a 2-inch thick New York strip steak (local beef). Brisk walk on a beach near HG/BSK’s north shore home. For dinner, BSK pan broiled the steak to the proper degree of rareness. Served it with buttery orzo mixed with shallots and chantarelle mushrooms (the mushroom were a gift from neighbors Molly and Peter E.) An onion and tomato salad plus a simple green salad. Drank a good red wine from Newman Estate, a local winery. A tasty day.
Yes, as HG has enthusiastically attested, Prince Edward Island is filled with very good things to eat. Sweet corn (Blum’s is the best); Colville Bay and Malpeque oysters; mussels, strawberries, blueberries; mustard pickles and condiments, jams and jellies (all natural and unsurpassed); Fenugreek flavored Gouda cheese. Breadworks provides baguettes and rustic loaves that rival anything in Paris. What has been overlooked is the excellence of local spirits, wines and beers. Gahan’s beers and ales have an extraordinary depth of flavor and rival any of the better known craft brewers in either Canada or the US. Newman Estate Winery and Matos Winery produce award winning reds and whites. HG (often to BSK’s dismay) enjoys strong spirits before and after dinner. And, here’s where PEI really shines. Myriad View Distillery provides three cocktail hour (or hours, in HG’s case) delights: Strait Gin (unique taste of botanicals); Pastis (a true taste of Provence); Vodka (smooth and pure). These three liquors are some of the best of their kind that HG has ever imbibed; HG believes that Myriad View would be much better known if they invested in proper graphic design so that their label’s beauty would match their product’s quality. Now, HG has discovered a great after dinner tipple (with a fine label to match!). It’s Bagaco, distilled by the Matos Winery. Colorless and potent, it’s distilled from pomace, the solid remains of grapes after pressing for juice. Pomace contains skin, pulp, seeds and stems of the grapes. Italians use pomace to distill Grappa, the French distill Marc and Portuguese distill Bagaco. HG’s favorite is Bagaco, smooth and strong. Provides a pleasant ending to a meal. Jaime and Heather Matos run the eponymous winery and distillery. Both were born on the island of Pico in the Azores (Acores in Portuguese). Their heritage is reflected in their delicious Bagaco.
Pork bellies!! These two words spell disgust, antipathy, revulsion for millions of Muslims and observant Jews (as well, of course, for vegetarians and cardiologists). Defiant HG loves them. (However, being reasonably prudent, HG eats them only occasionally). Last night was one of those occasions. BSK made a rustic curry of spinach and tomatoes substituting firm tofu for traditional paneer, the Indian cheese. This is one of Vikram Vij’s home cooking recipes. HG was in charge of the pork bellies. Cut the slices into two inch squares (Pork belies are economical. Available at all Prince Edward Island grocers, a package enough for two diners is $1.60 US). Fried them at medium high heat until they browned and crisped and released most of their fat. Put them aside to drain in a bowl lined with paper towels. When pan cooled, wiped out all fat with some more paper towels. Put the pork bellies back in the pan and glazed them over gentle heat in a mix of grated garlic, soy sauce, oyster sauce and honey. HG/BSK each filled a bowl with rice. Topped the rice with spinach. Placed the crisp pork on the rice. A dusting of Japanese pepper mix. Sublime. Made a great meal with the curry and plenty of crispy papadums. Exquisite Maiko, brilliant chef and HG/BSK’s adorable daughter-in-law, makes a lush Japanese dish called Buta no Kakuni with thick pork bellies, soft boiled eggs and stewed daikon. This is a two day dish. The pork bellies are first seared, then cooked at a low boil with ginger, scallions, sake and water. Finally they are left in the pot and refrigerated overnight. In the morning, all the fat is removed and the pork is simmered together with mirin, sugar, soy sauce and dashi broth — the daikon and the eggs are also added. Ah!!!
HG/BSK participated in a joyous, uninhibited, super abundant feast, a tribute to natural Prince Edward Island produce,meat and fish. The feast is FireWorks and it is served at the Inn at Bay Fortune, a beautiful inn overlooking a glistening bay. The meal is the brainchild of Michael Smith, a towering figure in Canadian cuisine.(Figuratively and literally. He’s six feet seven). Smith made his culinary reputation at the Inn some years ago before opening Maple, a Halifax, Nova Scotia restaurant, that had a two-year run (One of HG/BSK’s favorite dining places). His PEI restaurant and Maple were selected as among Canada’s ten best restaurants. Smith gave up his restaurant career to concentrate on writing cookbooks (He’s written eight with a ninth due this autumn) and launching a television career. His program on the Canadian Food Network and other channels soon made him Canada’s best known chef. Earlier this year, Michael and his wife, Chastity, returned to their PEI roots and purchased Inn at Bay Fortune. (the stunning building and grounds were once the summer home of actress Coleen Dewhurst). Michael expanded the Inn’s adjoining farm and herb gardens while building one of the most unusual kitchens in North America. The centerpiece is a 25-foot long brick wood burning grill. Everything at the Inn is cooked on or in “the fire monster.” It combines the functions of a smokehouse, open hearth, grill, oven, rotisserie and plancha (a metal plate). No dials. No switches. Just burning wood and a dedicated crew under the skilled leadership of chef Cobey Adams. Meals are served at two long tables facing Fortune Bay (each seating some 30 diners) and at tables in the Wine Library and “Fire Kitchen.” Here’s what HG/BSK ate at this rustic grand bouffe. The duo strolled among three outdoor stations: One offering cocktails made from locally distilled gins; another providing PEI Gahan’s beer and ale and one tempting folks with chunks of barbecued pork sausage enhanced by a savory beer mustard (HG, knowing that much awaited, ate only a few). Then inside to the “Fire Kitchen,” where glasses of Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc in hand, HG/BSK nibbled smoked salmon with lemon caper aioli on thin rye toasts while watching the cooks busily at work on “the fire monster.” Appetites properly honed, HG/BSK moved to an adjacent room. Delight awaited HG. All you can eat oysters. And, not any old oysters. Two expert young men busily shucked Johnny Flynn’s Colville Bay oysters. When in season (and these had just entered their glory) Colville Bays have distinctive green hued shells and are incomparable. Michael Smith thinks they are the best oysters in the world (HG/BSK agree). They combine brine with a faint sea sweetness and a firm, succulent texture. HG succumbed to mad oyster lust. HG ate some 40 oysters. (Hey, that’s not too greedy. Diamond Jim Brady would often preface his huge meals at Rector’s with four dozen oysters). The FireWorks shuckers dabbed some of the oysters with “Bloody Mary Ice”, but HG passed, not wishing to mar the pure oyster experience.With appetite barely sated by the bivalve overindulgence, HG sat down to some serious eating. (BSK was so busy taking photos that she only managed to score about six oysters). First course was “12 Grain Red Fife Sourdough Bread–Whipped Brown Butter.” This had such a tangy, grainy taste ,that HG could have knocked off an entire loaf with butter and red wine and gone home happy. But, HG behaved with restraint. Much more to come. “Taste of the Island Board” (Lonzino, Pork Rilette, Glagow Glen Fenugreek Gouda, raw carrots, tomatoes and green beans; arugula pesto, flax crackers). HG found this uneven. The pork rilette was very good. The lonzino would have been better with some of the beer mustard served outside. Some of PEI’s great mustard pickles would have enlivened the plate. HG gave the cheese only a nibble though it’s an HG/BSK favorite. (HG likes cheese at the end of a meal, not at the beginning). Next up (was “Chowder Kettle” (Island mussel broth, bar clams, Fortune Wharf she-lobster.)” The chef eliminated lobster (BSK’s allergic) from BSK’s serving. HG’s had plenty of juicy lobster and mussels in a lushly herbaceous chowder. The bowl was marred by a rubbery bar clam. (HG would have preferred quahogs in the chowder.). Next course was the high point of the meal, a dish which will long be recalled, with pleasure, by HG/BSK. This was “Hot Fish” (A duo of Blue Fin tuna–seared loin and tartare, black garlic aioli, sea rocket pesto, cabbage slaw, duck fat poached egg). This was tuna recently caught off HG/BSK’s north shore home (HG had watched a big blue fin tuna brought into Naufrage harbor and then eviscerated with expertise). The dish combined tender, meaty tuna with unusual sauces and textures. It worked beautifully. Next up was “Garden Salad” (Home grown salad containing 35 savory greens, tender leaves, herbs and flowers, apple cider and honey vinaigrette). HG, not usually a salad lover, gobbled this up joyfully. BSK, a salad fan, thought it was just so-so. The food climax was “Smoked Belly & Seawater Brined Loin” (Purple potato mash, seared zucchini, charred tomatoes, steamed beans & peas, smoked apple sauce, beet and ricotta salad.) The pork belly was a nice portion of pulled pork, some of it crisp and some moist and juicy. Some barbecue sauce would have been helpful. The loin was tender but tasteless. It needed a spicy chutney to give it life. The purple potato mash was sensational (even better than BSK’s great smashed spuds). The beans and peas were fine.The zucchini was watery and insipid. BSK liked the beet salad. Appetite running down, HG gave it a pass. Dessert was “Caramel Apple Shortcake” (Lemon basil and blueberry sorbet, Chantilly cream, plum cherries). A very refreshing climax. HG topped it off with one of the best coffees ever. HG/BSK drank Oyster Bay with the first courses and then a very good California Hahn Cabernet. Cost of the “FireWorks Feast” was $80 per person. Wine (HG/BSK drank six glasses) was $90 at $15 a glass. There was a lusty provincial tax. A 20% gratuity. All of these numbers are in Canadian dollars so with the strong US buck it cost HG/BSK about $200 US. It was well worth it. (Considering that HG/BSK ate oysters that would have cost about $150 in New York, the meal was an astounding bargain). The atmosphere, service, happy diners, pleasant conversation with Canadian table mates all contributed to a joyous evening. The food? Good. Not great (except for the tuna and the oysters). When it comes to locavore cooking , HG’s hero is chef Marc Meyer. Marc and HG’s daughter, Victoria, own and run four well regarded New York restaurants — Cookshop, Hundred Acres, Vic’s and Rosie’s. Marc has pioneered farm to table cooking. He is a master. Because of his rigorous sourcing of the best ingredients and precision cooking, even the simplest dishes become extraordinary. HG recalls watching two elegant Italian art dealers at Cookshop (at 10th Avenue and 20th Street it is in the heart of an art gallery district). They ordered chicken salad and a bottle of red wine. No, this wasn’t a mayonnaise and celery mess. It was chunks of crisp skinned free range chicken served on lightly dressed greens and dusted with herbs. In accented English, one of the men told the waiter how he wished something this simple and delicious could be found in Milan. Alec Lobrano, the premier critic of Paris restaurants (“Hungry For Paris”), dined at Cookshop and wrote that he wished Paris had a restaurant like Cookshop. HG is clear-eyed about food (if about little else). HG ‘s opinion of Marc’s cuisine is not skewed by family ties. HG calls them as he sees them.
Christ Cella was a New York steak house on E. 44th Street. It opened in the 1930s and closed in the 1980s. Its glory years were the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Later, it was just a shadow of its former glorious self. On June 29, 2011, HG wrote about CC in a post entitled: “Gone But Not Forgotten Restaurants.” Well, CC certainly remains in the memory of many people. Not a week goes by without someone (including friends and relatives of staff who worked at the restaurant) contacting HG and sharing thoughts and memories of the restaurant. Older folks, veterans of Madison Avenue and the communications industry, recall happy three martini and steak lunches. The younger set remember joyous meals with their dads before sporting events. Even members of the Cella family have reached out to HG to recall the joy of the restaurant. HG ate there alone, with friends and when entertaining journalists HG wanted to influence. Every meal was a pleasure. The Christ Cella proprietors demanded the very best product. They and their customers were willing to pay (for the time) comparatively steep prices in order to get it. And, the kitchen crew treated the fine ingredients with respect and precision. When HG ordered a New York strip steak rare, HG received a steak that was charred on the outside and robustly red in the interior. Rare, not raw as is the fashion for steak in Paris. HG’s spring favorite of shad with shad roe and bacon was perfect, Never overcooked. The lemon butter sauce enriched the the fish and roe but never overwhelmed the fresh flavors. And, the bacon was crisp with nary a spot of grease. The boiled potatoes with parsley were just right. The Christ Cella emphasis on quality might be the reason it is remembered with such fondness.
There can be fewer happier and more diverse places in North America than the Saturday Farmers Market in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. Jammed with people from all over the world, happy to be meeting friends, buying a variety of organic, locally grown produce and assorted foodstuffs and chowing down on international dishes. HG bought sauerkraut, weisswurst and Black Forest ham from the Taylor’s meat counter. The local company offers more than three dozen varieties of sausage and serves them grilled on a toasted bun from busy indoor and outdoor stands. Lots of other good things to eat: HG had three tasty oysters from New London Bay. Then, a crisp chicken and vegetable spring roll from a Chinese couple who also cook a savory bowl of noodles. Other stands sell Polish pierogi and stuffed cabbage; Indian samosas; Middle East falafel and pita wraps; Mexican burritos; Japanese salads. A very jolly African woman prepares big dishes of spicy chicken, rice and African vegetable stews. There are stands with Island grown beef, lamb and chicken for home cooking. There’s a vendor of good Nova Scotia smoked salmon (with a bow to Noo Yawk, he prepares slices on a bagel with cream cheese.) HG/BSK buy their ground espresso from the coffee man who stocks some two dozen beans from all over the world (he has special rapport with HG/BSK’s son-in-law, Profesore Massimo R., whom he recognizes as a member of the true coffee intelligentsia). For folks who like sweets, there are eight stands with cookies, pastries and chocolates (including one stand that sells interesting Indian sweets). Kids love the stand that employs a fairly wondrous machine that turns out freshly fried little doughnut balls dusted with powdered sugar and the Dutch stand that offers a rich confection of waffle-like pastry, chocolate sauce and whipped cream. While HG was busy noshing and chatting with friends, BSK was selecting sweet corn, kale, tomatoes, greens, etc. and visiting the cheese stand for Island-made gouda and the spice lady for smoked Spanish paprika. And, like any gathering on PEI, there’s always live music at the Market. This time it was a talented young woman fiddler. The vivid lass had bright blue hair. A bit startling, but that’s show biz.