Surprisingly, HG has never had good choucroute in Paris. For the uninitiated, choucroute is an Alsatian dish of simmered sauerkraut topped with a variety of piggy parts: Pork knuckle, smoked pork chops (kassler ripchen); frankfurters, bratwurst, thick cut bacon, sausage, etc. At Brasserie Boulingrin in Rheims, HG was occupied by butter drenched sole meuniere while a waiter walked by with a sumptuous, huge platter of choucroute. HG will certainly order it when (hopefully) HG/BSK get back to Rheims. Choucroute at two Paris stalwarts. Chez Jenny and Brasserie Balzar, lacks zest. Last night was chilly in New Mexico so dinner was hearty. BSK answered the dining challenge by constructing an estimable choucroute. BSK simmered the sauerkraut in a base of olive oil, sliced apples and white wine. Killer kraut. Cut up a Smithfield Farms Polish Kielbasa and let it heat with the kraut. Topped it with boiled all beef frankfurters. Accompanied the dish with small boiled potatoes. Three kinds of mustard on the table: Super hot Keen’s, Maille Dijon, Maille Whole Grain. Kosher dill pickles. Bass Ale. Let the winds blow. All is merriment in the HG/BSK household.
Yes, ice cream. Without question and indubitably, it is the best dessert ever created by humankind. HG reflected on this as HG dove into a dessert of Chapman’s (a Canadian company) Maple Walnut. This used to be a ubiquitous ice cream flavor but is now rarely encountered. Better than the easily available butter pecan. When on Prince Edward Island, HG usually enjoys ADL French Vanilla with a splash of local maple syrup. HG’s son-in-law, the distinguished Profesore Massimo R., gifted HG with a jar of Italian pistachio cream. A small topping of this ethereal substance transports vanilla ice cream to a higher realm. During the early days of HG’s marriage to BSK (Some 53 years ago), BSK introduced hubby HG to a midwestern ice cream dessert: The Tin Roof. Vanilla ice cream with a topping of Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup and Planter’s Cocktail Peanuts. HG/BSK always indulged in this on summer Sunday nights after returning to Manhattan from sun kissed beach weekends on Fire Island. The combination of creamy, sweet, salty and crunchy was extraordinary. (If you make a Tin Roof be sure to use Planter’s Cocktail Peanuts. Don’t substitute). When at home in New Mexico, HG favors Talenti Gelato (available in a nearby supermarket). Sea Salt Caramel is the best flavor. When in Paris, HG often passes on the pastry desserts in favor of legendary Berthillon ice cream. Very good, but inferior to the sublime ice cream made on the premises at Barney’s, a Rockaway Beach ice cream parlor that flourished in HG’s youth. Was it really that good or is the memory enhanced by HG’s nostalgia?
HG is not a big fan of desserts. Usually prefers to end a meal with a cheese platter and red wine. However, HG recalls with fondness desserts HG enjoyed in New York of yesteryear. Number one, of course, was the hot fudge sundae at Rumpelmayer’s on Central Park South. This was also loved by young SJ and Lesley R. when HG took the youngsters to New York for a “treat day.”. Another great ice cream dessert was the vanilla ice cream ball rolled in toasted coconut. This was served at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel. Other sweet splendors: Frozen banana daiquiris at Fornos; Nesselrode pie at Grand Central Oyster Bar; pots de creme at the Oak Room of the Plaza Hotel; cheesecake at Reuben’s (and Lindy’s); coconut custard pie at the Automat; strudel at Eclair. Ed Berberian’s Balkan-Armenian Restaurant on E. 26 Street served a wonderful middle eastern treat–Baklava with Ekmek. The Ekmek was a cross between ice cream and dense whipped cream. Perfect with the sweet pastry. HG is very fond of Paris bistro desserts: Tarte tatin with plentiful creme fraiche; creme caramel; ice cream (from Berthillon) and ile flottante (the best is at Le Stella). Favorite dessert in London is chestnut puree with whipped cream at Gay Hussar. When HG has a sweets craving on Prince Edward Island (which seems to be often, notes SJ), HG opts for Lebanese halvah or vanilla ice cream with Island maple syrup.
HG has no guilty pleasures. Finds porn boring. Ditto thrillers and other best selling fiction. Franchise fast food is inedible. French fries are boring. The crap that lines the snacks and candy aisles of supermarkets are a disgrace. HG hates Coca Cola and all of its vile, chemical relatives. The exception is Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray tonic, the appropriate companion of pastrami sandwiches. HG is by no means a health addict. Though 90% of HG/BSK’s diet consists of fish, vegetables, salad greens, grains and pasta, HG/BSK do eat (with pleasure) an occasional well marbled steak, lamb and pork chops. HG ignores cardiological wisdom by indulging in a number of lo-cal but high cholesterol foods like oysters, shrimp and Mexican menudo, the addictive tripe stew that is featured at restaurants near HG/BSK’s New Mexico home. When in France, HG dines on artery cloggers like brains, kidneys and sweetbreads. (Strangely, never eat them on the rare occasions when they appear on American restaurant menus). When resident on Prince Edward Island, HG eats lots of frog legs (Imported from Vietnam and sold at Sobey’s Supermarket). HG wrote about the delicacy in a recent post. Gifted Daughter Lesley R. is concerned. Always well informed on health matters (She’s marketing and communications manager at a major Rhode Island hospital). Lesley R.has warned HG that Asian raised frog legs pose a health risk since they are often raised and processed in unsanitary conditions. While gratified by Lesley R.’s concern, HG will continue to eat these delicious morsels. Will be closing in on age 87 in a few months. Something will kill HG in the not too distant future. Might was well be frog legs.
Le Dome, the vintage restaurant in the Montparnasse neighborhood of Paris, serves the best sole dish in the world. It is a Dover Sole, gently sautéed in butter. Deftly filleted by a professional waitperson, doused with a butter/lemon sauce. Accompanied by a mashed potato pancake. The cost? Astronomical. Here on Prince Edward Island, the lovely ladies of By the Bay Fish Mart, supply HG/BSK with fresh Atlantic sole. No, the fish is not Dover Sole. But, thick and firm fillets with a nice taste of the sea. (The Pacific sole fillets HG/BSK buy at Whole Foods when residing in New Mexico, are too thin and have a tendency to disintegrate when steamed or sautéed). Last night, BSK pan steamed a pound of BTB sole, using a technique learned from chef/daughter-in-law Exquisite Maiko (Visit her at the Oni Sauce stand at Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg for superb Japanese fried chicken, beef tataki and other good things). BSK steamed the sole on a bed of bok choy, spinach, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and oyster sauce. Served it with bowls of rice. Wonderful. Next week, HG will give the sole the meuniere treatment. HG will dust the sole with flour. Quick saute the fish in canola oil and butter. Serve it with a sauce of melted butter, capers, lemon juice. Plate it with a boiled PEI potato. A faint echo of Le Dome at a modest price.
HG is referring to the interior of animals (aka offal). Brains, kidneys, livers, sweetbreads, tongue, hearts, intestines, tripe (stomach lining). These wonderful tastes seem to have disappeared from mainstream restaurant menus (as a corollary the interest in “head-to-tail” eating has been growing within the ranks of sophisticated and adventurous eaters). Is it the work of the health police on the alert for elevated cholesterol levels? Or have Americans become so spoiled that offal is seen as a remnant of poverty cuisine? The Europeans (especially the French) continue to devour these good things. When in Paris, HG eats lots of rognons (kidneys) in mustard sauce or grilled until the interiors are pink. A very good Left Bank bistro, La Ribouldinge, makes a specialty of offal. Pharamond serves classic tripes a la mode de Caen (Very good. However, HG prefers the Mexican tripe stew known as Menudo. As noted in many posts, HG is a fan of two versions of Menudo served at restaurants in HG’s New Mexican neighborhood: Green Chile Menudo at El Parasol and Red Chile Menudo at Sopaipilla Factory). HG’s daughter Victoria and husband chef Marc Meyer tried to introduce Menudo to New York diners at their sparkling Mexican restaurant, Rosie’s, in the East Village. Few takers, Removed from menu, alas. Sweetbreads (thymus glands) are on menus everywhere and are one of HG’s favorite treats. Best version ever was at the Oak Room of New York’s venerable Algonquin Hotel. Sauteed sweet breads with a slice of Virginian ham and an exuberant amount of Sauce Bearnaise. Pan broiled medium rare calf’s liver (enlivened with a dash of sherry vinegar) is served in scores of Paris bistros. Delicious. When HG lived in Colorado (first on a mountain horse ranch and then in Denver), HG often had splendid liver with onions and bacon at 240 Union Restaurant in nearby Lakewood. Very Parisian. 240 Union is a great, creative restaurant (A must if you ever travel to Denver or on your way to ski country). HG checked 240’s current menu. No liver. Must have met the same fate as Rosie’s Menudo. In bygone days, liver was a staple item on New York menus. Well done liver, onions and bacon (liver too well done for HG’s taste) on diner menus. Thick slabs of calf’s liver at steak houses. Chopped liver, of course, at Jewish eateries. Broiled chicken livers over saffron rice at Greek restaurants. The Schrafft’s chain, a bastion of WASP cookery, served an appetizing dish of gently sautéed chicken livers over softly scrambled eggs. Sammy’s Romanian, the flourishing homage to garlic and chicken fat Jewish cuisine, once served broiled chicken livers with unborn eggs. The livers are still on the menu but the eggs have disappeared. Only time HG ever had gizzards in New York was when SJ took HG to a little Japanese place on the West Side. Good, But, not as good as the duck gizzards in Paris. Rarely see brains in black butter in New York. Loved it at Le Veau D’or in New York (no longer on the menu but you can get a good version at Chez Napoleon in the theater district). HG ordered the dish at a nice restaurant in Paris 16e. Thoughtful owner was surprised an American ordered brains. Wanted to make sure HG knew what to expect. HG tapped HG’s skull. Owner laughed. Big, savory platter arrived. Tongue is still available at the less than a dozen (used to be a hundred) Jewish delicatessens in New York. Best tongue dish ever was served at long closed Al Cooper’s near New York’s garment center. Thick poached slice with creamed spinach and hot mustard. Sublime. Hearts have disappeared everywhere. Not for the delicate eater. In HG’s impecunious youth, HG ate big bowls of calf hearts stewed with onions, garlic and red wine. Hearty dish (to say the least). A staple at the funky far West Side French bistros that catered to the French seamen off the Ile de France and other liners. A.J. Liebling recounted in his book “Between Meals” that he would eat this dish when he was young and cash poor in Paris. Tete de Veau (calf’s head) is a feature of many French eateries.The dish is shunned by Americans. HG loves it. It consists of poached brains, tongue, mouth lining, etc.and other delectables from the calf’s head. Served with a Sauce Gribiche enlivened with chopped cornichons and capers. (Sauce Gribiche is a version of mayonnaise where mustard, cooked egg yolks and vinegar are emulsified until creamy). HG draws the line when it comes to intestines. Tried chitterlings in Harlem. Vile. The fecal stench of French Andouillette is off putting. (SJ once made the error of ordering them at Le Stella, a favorite Paris brasserie. Was unpleasantly shocked The funny food blogger Grubworm,calls the sausage:’the dish of death”). Innards do not appear on HG/BSK’s dinner table. Though a very adventurous cook and eater, BSK does not like innards. You can take the girl out of the midwest, but you can’t., etc. etc.
Parisians (and most French) don’t think of eggs as breakfast food. Breakfast in France usually consists of a bowl of cafe au lait plus buttered baguette or croissant; however, you will often encounter poached eggs as a bistro appetizer (Ouef Meurette–eggs poached in a red wine sauce) or nestled on a slice of buttery toast and topped with shavings of black truffle. The wonderful Lyonnais salad is an HG/BSK bistro luncheon favorite (Frisee and bits of crisp bacon or lardon topped with softly poached eggs and a warm vinaigrette). HG had had many good luncheon omelets in Paris cafes (very good but not as voluptuously splendid as BSK’s preparations). An unexpected snowfall in New Mexico last night (it will all melt within a few hours providing needed moisture). However, snow calls for a hearty breakfast and BSK answered the call with plates of grits adorned with BSK’s perfectly poached eggs (When a fork pierces the soft yolks, the plate resembles a joyous sunrise). Here’s how BSK poaches eggs: Bring a pan of water to a boil – add a splash of vinegar – break egg into a shallow bowl carefully and slip it into the boiling water – turn down heat to a slow bubble and watch for the white to set (watch carefully because the yolk needs to stay runny) – retrieve from pan with a shallow pierced spoon. Follow these directions carefully and you will enter into egg heaven. Try these eggs atop corned beef or roast beef hash for a super hearty breakfast or brunch.
All of HG/BSK’s French dining has been done in Paris during numerous visits beginning in 1967. Still love eating there though prices keep moving upwards, good brasseries have virtually disappeared and homey bistros are becoming a rarity. After spending a week dining in Reims and its immediate vicinity, HG has come to a number of conclusions, some surprising. The oysters at Boulingrin (two visits) and Le Bocal (one visit) are better than any oysters HG has ever slurped (BSK agrees). Proximity to Normandy and other oyster regions? Le Bocal is better (and much cheaper) than any seafood restaurant in Paris. Anna-S is as good as most of the new cutting edge bistros in Paris (most helmed by young Japanese chefs). Some Reims dishes are outshone by their Paris counterparts. Rare roast duck breast at Le Madelon is far inferior to the version served by Chez Georges in Paris. Boulingrin’s skate with capers doesn’t compare to the version served by Rech in Paris. Oddly, cheese in Reims is not great. In one restaurant HG had to send back a round of St. Marcellin. Ice cold and as hard as a hockey puck. A camembert bought at a cheese shop disappointed. The bread and rolls served in Reims restaurants are very good, better than Paris. HG has never had a great choucroute in Paris. The choucroute (a huge, lavish affair HG spied at a neighboring table at Boulingrin) looked like a class act. Will have it if good fortune brings HG back to Reims. If you did not have enough reasons already to want to visit Reims, then here is another: champagne. Reims is in the heart of champagne country and cafes and restaurants offer a staggering array of bubbly ambrosia, many from small local vineyards which one will never see in the US. Lots of splendid bottles priced at 30 Euros. HG/BSK drank some very good champagne for 7 Euros a glass (a very generous pour) in a charming cafe. A pleasant cocktail hour.
Paris brasseries have entered a sad period. Once delightful places like La Coupole, Vaudeville, Bofinger, Balzar, Flo have been purchased by giant restaurant chain-conglomerates and now roll out industrialized food. Glittering decor and fresh oysters can still be relied upon. But, that’s it. The old time hip, lively and happy atmosphere has disappeared. Only Le Stella in the 16th keeps the old traditions. Its carte is a virtual parade of traditional dishes: Tete de veau; steak tartare; sole meuniere; choucroute; Iceland herring; steak frites; ile flottante, etc. The affluent residents of the 16th have impeccable manners but restraint is cast off when they confront Stella’s vast plateau de fruits de mer. In Reims, the Brasserie du Boulingrin maintains the old brasserie spirit. Art deco interior. Smoked glass and mirrors. Red leatherette banquettes. Young, smiling waitpersons. Dinner conversations are animated but the noise level is kept at a civilized pitch (This seems characteristic of French restaurants in contrast to their noisy American counterparts). On a second visit, HG sipped a cold, dry Muscadet, while devouring a dozen big, briny oysters. This was followed by very generous servings of sole meuniere. Two large fish were deboned deftly by the young woman serving HG/BSk. The filets were gilded by spoonfuls of buttery lemon cooking juices. Served with bowls of buttered boiled potatoes dusted with parsley. Dessert was, in keeping with Boulingrin’s generosity, dinner plate-sized creme brûlées. HG sipped an after dinner glass of cold Mirabelle and reflected upon the good fortune of having a splendid wife, a loving family and an appetite geared to the delights of old fashioned brasserie dining. HG interrupted this happy contemplation with a bout of severe envy as he watched a choucroute garnie presented to a young man at an adjoining table. The platter of kraut, sausages and pork was kept warm under a glass dome. This single portion seemed large enough to feed a platoon of Prussian Hussars. HG vowed to sample it if HG ever makes it back to Reims and Boulingrin.
The following post was written before the Paris terrorist attacks. As HG has noted in HG’s comments about Paris and the recent horrors (“PARIS”), HG/BSK will never abandon France and Paris. To do so would hand victory to terrorists.
The great writer, AJ. Liebling (his war journalism, restaurant and Paris recollections, press criticism, accounts of boxing matches, portraits of raffish characters are incomparable examples of wit, insight and erudition), once compared the attitude of a gourmand to his (or her) next meal to that of a lover contemplating an assignation. First, there is anticipation. Then, there is consummation. And, then there is sweet memory. HG is now in the anticipation stage as HG contemplates dining in the lovely French city of Reims where HG/BSK will be spending Thanksgiving week. HG/BSK; daughter Lesley R.; son-in-law Massimo R. and granddaughter Arianna R. have booked a three bedroom apartment there (plus a spacious auto). Granddaughter Sofia R. is in her first year of international studies at the university in Reims so this will be a jolly family reunion and an occasion for festive feasting. The proliferation of restaurant websites has made meal anticipation easeful and rewarding. HG has been studying the menus of the restaurants Massimo has selected for the visit (he has been in Reims before so he is well informed). Happily, prices are lower than Paris and the array of champagnes is extraordinary (Reims is in the heart of champagne country). Restaurants offer a splendid array of oysters (HG will accompany them with flutes of bubbly). Happily, the restaurants Massimo has selected offer a plethora of the old fashioned French dishes that HG adores: Charolais steak tartare; sole meuniere; tete de veau; ham and parsley terrine; escargots; rare rib steak with pommes frites; profiteroles; baba au rhum; creme brûlée, etc. On the websites, HG has encountered dishes he never had in French bistros and brasseries. A casserole of monkfish with mushrooms, for example. So, there will be a bit of adventurous dining. And, happily, HG will be back in French restaurants with their professional service, flattering lighting and unique ambience. Be assured, gracious readers, HG will be posting full accounts.