French Restaurants

February 9th, 2016 § 2 comments § permalink

HG is very fond of French restaurants but hates over rich, over composed, exuberantly expensive haute cuisine. HG despises tasting menus that turn meals into marathons and leave HG feeling stuffed and queasy. In France, HG likes simple bourgeois cooking (Found, alas, in a diminishing number of bistros) and brasserie staples like oysters and grillades. (HG/BSK loved the seafood at Le Bocal and Boulingrin during a recent visit to Rheims. In Paris, Le Stella remains a favorite for plateau de fruits de mer and racks of lamb). HG recalls with nostalgia New York of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s when there were numerous very cheap and very satisfying French bistros. HG was inaugurated into French dining during the World War Two years when HG’s late, beloved sister Beulah Naomi would lunch with adolescent HG at Larre’s in the West 50’s. Very cheap. Three or four dollars bought a four course meal (Plus salad). Tables were filled with French teachers and Francophone refugees. HG later learned that a distinguished trio of artists–Marcel Duchamp, Robert Motherwell and Andre Breton–dined there daily. HG and his sister would also eat at the modestly priced Charles a la Pommes Souffle. As the name indicates, the restaurant specialized in delicious crisp and airy potato puffs. They are no longer on New York menus and in very few Paris restaurants. They demand total attention while cooking and are labor intensive. The West 40’s in the Theater District had numerous French bistros. Only one, Chez Napoleon, remains. Happily, it offers true grand mere cuisine including one of HG’s favorite dishes, Cervelles Meuniere–calf brains sautéed in brown butter with capers. During HG’s college days (CCNY–1946-1950) and journalist days (1950-1955) HG confined French dining to the very cheap, very robust bistros on 10th and 11th Avenues in the West 50’s. The ocean liners were still docking on the West Side Piers and these restaurants catered to French, English and Dutch crews. A big meal cost about three dollars and featured lots of innards like liver, kidneys, hearts, gizzards and tete de veau. It was in these rough and ready joints that HG cultivated a taste for dishes not favored by mainstream America. As HG’s finances improved in the mid-’50s and the ’60s, HG favored the delightful (Long closed) Fleur de Lis on West 69th Street (It was here on a hot summer night in 1963 that HG and BSK dined on their wedding night. The temperature was soaring and HG finished dinner smelling like a large garlic clove. Made BSK question her marital choice). During their residency on the Upper West Side, HG/BSK ate frequently (when not consuming Chinese food) at Fleur de LIs. HG’s favorite meal–a dozen escargots, frog legs meuniefre, camembert, creme caramel, red wine–cost about ten dollars. Once a month, HG lunched at what HG considered (and still does) the best French restaurant in the world, Le Pavillon. Curiously, for many years the two best French restaurants were not in France–Le Pavillon in New York and the Connaught Restaurant in London. Henri Soule ran Le Pavillon with Napoleonic imperiousness and rigorous attention to detail. HG’s dining companion was often the late Theodore Kheel, the distinguished lawyer and labor arbitrator. Soule opened the restaurant in 1941. He died in 1966. The restaurant closed in 1971 but it was only a shadow of itself after his death. One of HG’s regrets is that due to pregnancy and other circumstances, BSK never dined at Le Pavillon with HG. Dining at Soule’s with the love of HG’s life would have been a sublime experience.

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New York Nostalgia (The French)

January 21st, 2014 § 2 comments § permalink

HG learned to love French food more than six decades ago. At that time, New York had many modest French bistros in the theater district; but, the really rough-and-ready, down-home French cuisine was found in the bistros west of Ninth Avenue. These were the joints that catered to French sailors from the Ile de France and other cruise ships that docked on the Hudson River. A meal cost about $1.50 (with wine). Lots of offal. It was in these bistros that HG learned to love tete de veau, kidneys, liver, gizzards, brains, etc. There were also some delicious, long simmered winy stews. Beef cheeks (never on an American menu) were a fave of HG’s female companions — fastidious damsels who didn’t fancy the organs ordered by HG. The French dining was often preceded by a good foreign film at The Stanley on gritty W. 42nd Street. A ticket was 35 cents. Apres dinner was garlic scented lovemaking in the best case scenario (or chaste companionship in the worst) in a $30 a month one room apartment on the West Side or Greenwich Village. Ah, ardent youth in a long ago, long gone, cheap New York.

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BSK Rescues Cod From The French

December 6th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

HG is a confirmed Anglophile in terms of prose, poetry and the dramatic arts (has special love for dressy, upper crust TV stuff like“Downton Abbey”). HG is Francophile in culinary tastes (enchanted by tripe, kidneys, liver, snails, frog legs, tete de veau). A few days ago, BSK brought home a nice piece of cod fished off Iceland’s chilly waters. HG spied a French recipe that called for the cod to be placed on quartered potatoes and sliced onions in a roasting pan. Salted, peppered and moistened with some melted butter and olive oil. Cooked for 25 minutes in a 375 degree oven (pan sealed with Reynolds Wrap). Explanation: Moisture from potatoes and onions would steam the cod. Seemed logical to HG. BSK sneered. Recipe would result in underdone potatoes, tasteless onions and mushy cod. “We’ll do it my way.” In a big pan on top of the stove BSK cooked onions and plenty of garlic until lightly caramelized, deglazed the pan with white wine and added thinly sliced potatoes. Gave it a modest hit of smoked Spanish paprika. When potatoes had softened slightly, BSK topped the pan with the cod (perfectly seasoned with salt and pepper), chopped parsley and poured clam broth over everything. Turned up the heat. Covered the pan. In a few minutes the cod was done and gilded with a little melted butter. The result: Fish with pearly white, juicy flesh and a silky mouth feel. Garlicky onions and potatoes with a taste of the sea from the cod and the clam broth. Great eating. HG expressed gratitude. (However, will try that French recipe some day when dining alone. Belief in French kitchen infallibility dies hard.)

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French. Haute, And, Not So Haute.

December 23rd, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Nice article in the current Bon Appetit on La Grenouille, last of the Old Guard of Manhattan East Side French restaurants (Le Pavillon, La Cote Basque, Lutece, La Caravelle: All gone along with their white tablecloths, deft waiters and distinguished maitres d’s). La Grenouille isn’t giving the food away: The three course prix fixe is $98. After wine, tax, service (and some supplements) dinner for two can easily escalate to $500. HG gathers that some tax loophole guys and their much younger lady escorts eat there four or five times a week. To the barricades, citizens!!

In years past, HG ate at Pavillon once a month (all HG could afford). Food was superb (not over elaborate). There some affordable bottles of wine. Henri Soule ran the room with imperious snap. It was like dining with Napoleon.

For the most part, HG’s French venues during his younger years were the rough and ready bistros on Tenth and Eleventh Avenues. They catered to the crews of the SS Ile De France and other French ocean liners. They were also popular with the dining staffs of the English and Dutch liners. For about three bucks you got an appetizer (celeriac remoulade, mushrooms a la Grecque, leeks vinaigrette, pickled herring); main dish (various vinous and garlicky meat stews, matelote of stewed eel, garlic sausage with white beans, hache parmentier); dessert (rice pudding or creme caramel). Plus a pitcher of house red wine and plenty of not so bad bread. If feeling flush, HG added a cheese course of Camembert and Roquefort. At the end of the meal, HG and his current lady friend puffed Gitanes and felt like compatriots of Malraux, Camus and the Free French General LeClerc.

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