Monday, September 27, 2010

Ze Kitchen Galerie

We've been talking about going to the restaurant where SC is doing her stage, or internship and I'm glad someone finally took initiative and said "thats it, we're going to Ze Kitchen Galerie on Saturday, if you're in let me know, if you're not too bad" (I don't think he said that last part). It ended up being one of the favorite meals of the year, definitely my favorite meal in Paris. Apparently they had jut changed the menu that week so SC only had a few recommendations - all of which I pretty much disregarded (she recommended the duck or the whiting for the entree).

The space itself is not much to look at I don't think - its set up somewhat like an art gallery with white walls and contemporary artwork. Not my cup of tea but, it has an open kitchen (love when restaurants that let you see their kitchens and what the chefs and cooks are doing) in line with its theme of being an artist's studio/living space/gallery. And the food which is French with an Asian (mostly Thai) twist...well, read on...

All four of us started off with a bouillon. The Thai broth with octopus, shimp and ginger confit looked ridiculously good - I only tried a tiny bit of the broth (epi-pen was standing by in case, oh, I don't know, some sturgeon sneaked in there?)

But you know what was ridiculously good that I almost licked my bowl clean? My cepe (porcini) and lemongrass broth with artichokes, cepes and spicy condiment (no clue what was in the spicy condiment, nor did I find it spicy, or even notice it for that matter but whatevs!). The lemongrass flavor cut through the meatiness of the mushrooms in a pleasantly unexpected and refreshing way.

And then came the plats with what would become one of the best entrees I have eaten in my life - certainly the best veal preparation (sorry baby cows, you're cute but you're too tasty for me to stop eating you - which I already tried once, in high school). Behold - veal cheek confit with tamarind, black olive condiment (the blobs) and Thai jus.

It's really not much to look at. A few chunks of meat strewn here and there, with some red sauce, some zucchini and (a lone?) sliver of eggplant to liven up the colors. I actually think that the entire sauce part was a tamarind sauce and the red canapes were some kind of tomato puree (trust me, I know tamarind when I taste it, and I think I also know what tomatoes are, even if I don't know what Thai jus entails) . But the veal cheeks were so fall-apart tender (according the SC, they get braised and then sous-vided) and the sauce was swoon-worthy and played up the sweet-and-sour taste of tamarind and the tomato canapes were so sweet and...sorry, had to wipe some drool off my keyboard and compose myself again. Lets move on to other, no-less mouthwatering dishes.

Voila! My dining companion across from my ordered the tempura of soft shell crab with grilled squid, white beans from paimpol and finished with a thai basil emulsion. He said it was really good. All I know is that those white beans were amazing. Must have sucked to sit across from me as I kept reaching over to pick at some more...

I'm also glad I got to try the duck - I love duck but I don't love foie gras and this duck from challans with a plum-mostarda condiment also came with foie gras. Oui s'il vous plait to the duck but non merci to the foie. It was a perfectly medium duck with a spot-on texture that they sous-vide and then sear (but my favorite still goes to that one dinner at A Voce in NYC when Carmellini was still the chef...le drool again). And it came with what look like beets to me. I heart beets.

And lastly the grilled Merlan (whiting) with Kalamenji (quoi?!) vinaigrette and Thai curry jus. Isn't is gorgeous to look at? That's bok choy and (maybe) arugula on top. I wasn't in the mood for fish and I'm actually not a huge fan of whiting (I find it somewhat tasteless) but if you like whiting, this might just be the holy grail of preparation for it. The sauce was definitely tasty.

AB couldn't bring himself to finish the foie gas and SC claimed she was full (granted, she eats these things all day, but in a deconstructed version) but SM and I became members of the clean-plate club (him moreso than me).

Ce quoi ca? Gifts!

We like gifts, especially when they are gifts from the kitchen (kudos to SC). We had each ordered a different dessert on the menu (there are a total of five) and the one we didn't order - corn soup with soy, rice pudding and miso marmalade - was brought out for each of us.
I'm not sure what those crunchy things were - it had the texture of toasted coconut, so maybe it was that - but the taste was pure corn sweetness which uncannily reminded me of the semolina porridge I use to eat when I was a wee-little korovka living in a communist country. Ah, childhood.

With our real desserts, SC ordered the fig cake with ginger-jasmine ice cream which also came with what seemed to be a raspberry reduction and SM went with the white-chocolate wasabi ice cream with pistachio condiment.

I enjoyed my Reine Claude and Mirabelle plum confit with lemon-green apple jelly and caramel apple sorbet but secretly wished I had ordered the gelee'd coconut with praline and gianduja that AB ended up ordering (it was a compromise I made so we all could order different desserts). It was like a coconut milk panna cotta with hazelnut chocolate. So good.

A sweet ending to a most seriously delicious meal.

Donnez-moi du chocolat

I figured I'd give in to my chocolate cravings as of late. Sometimes when I'm sitting around in my apartment, I just want something sweet. I figured it might as well be chocolate since I like it so much. I would usually go pick up some at a chocolate store. Other than Maison du Chocolate, I've also hit up Patrick Roger who has ridiculous orangettes, Jacques Genin (but I only had caramels), and Pierre Marcolini where I was under-whelmed by the chocolate-covered marshmallows (I much prefer the petit herisson they sell in the supermarket). Still on my list are Jean-Paul Hevin, maybe Michel Cluizel (but I've had his before), Debauve & Gallet and Le Fouquet (I really have no excuse, there are two stores within a two block radius of my work).

But I didn't want to go anywhere so I went down the street to L'Atelier du Chocolate which, while it isn't the best best, its not bad at all. They sell huge slabs of chocolate and can break off pieces for you, or you can get one of their "bouquets", or an assortment of the chocolate slabs, among other things. I get a piece of noir framboise, noir orange and some espresso flavored coffee-bean shaped dark chocolate. The noir orange was gone quite fast.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

New York hot dogs and Russian pastries in Paris

Deciding what to do for lunch at work is usually one of two things for me - cafeteria or Kayser. On occasion I'll venture out somewhere else but there's not that many places nearby where you can get something amazing for take-out. The baguettes here are as ubiquitous as the bodega sandwiches and the delis with make-your-own-salads in NYC - so no sense in wandering too far. Today, however, my Russian coworker AP and I wandered over to Printemps, where Cafe Pouschkin, an off-shoot of a restaurant in Moscow, has opened up on the ground floor. 

It has macarons (of course), pastries (mais oui!) and pirozhki. That's what I was there for. They were tiny but I heard they were good so I went ahead and ordered one meat and one mushroom.

Sensing it may not be enough for lunch, we also grabbed hot dogs New Yorkaise from a Manhattan Hot Dog cart, which is located between the two Printemps stores. As with burgers, I'm a purist - just a regular hot dog, in a bun, with ketchup.

I must say, not bad. Not bad at all. Actually, I quite liked the hot dog - the bun was very soft in that soft American hot dog bun kind of way but the main thing was the actual hot dog - it tasted real and was a normal size!

And now, the two pirozhki. While the pastry itself was perfectly adequate with a hint of sweetness, the meat turned out to be somewhat dry and the mushrooms flavorless. At €2.20 for something the size of my palm, I'd be hoping you can do better.

However, I plan to be back to sample some of the Russian-inspired desserts, like tarte sgouschenka, a riff off tarte au caramel that uses condensed milk and makes it into something similar to dulce de leche, and torte meodnik, or layered honey cake.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Eclair weekend!

Sadly, SC couldn't join but she was the one who alerted me to this - Fauchon eclair weekend! September 9, 10 and 11, Fauchon, the epicerie fine on Place de la Madeleine, showcased 50 varieties of sweet and savory (but mainly sweet) eclairs.

Taking a break while working yet another weekend, I went to check it out on the last day in the evening hoping to avoid the crowds (conveniently, Fauchon is a 7 minute walk from my office). Behold:

Colors! Edible gold and silver foils! Half naked Brigitte Bardot! (Note: she is apparently a crazy old lady now who I bet you never ate eclairs). It was hard to choose but I went with pink grapefruit, champagne and raspberry, and bébéclairs in salted butter caramel, lemon, almond and chocolate raspberry flavors. 

No I did not eat them all myself! I shared them with the other two poor souls stuck in the office on a Saturday night at 7pm. I don't like eclairs, as I've mentioned before. But these, well these were a different story. The pink grapefruit had a puree of real grapefruit, rather than just cream, on the inside (although I'm sure it was in a cream-like base), the champagne had what seemed to be crunchy violet candies (candied petals?) on top, and the bébéclairs (which I liked the best, especially the salted butter caramel) were the perfect sized piece of pure flavor. Perhaps I am an eclair-convert now...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Revisiting Stohrer

Tarte au bois de frais from Stohrer.

Lusciously smooth creme patisserie, fragrant wild strawberries, and a thin pastry crust. Bliss on a Saturday afternoon.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Le Timbre

It means "stamp" as in a stamp you put on a postcard or a letter, and this postcard-sized (or stamp-sized, for that matter) restaurant seats 24 people very snugly and has a tiny open kitchen - maybe the size of the kitchen I had when I lived in the financial district for a couple of months. And it's just 3 people - the chef, his sous chef, and a waitress. When I called to make reservations, I was wondering whether the guy on the other end was making fun of my accent in French, or wasn't a Frenchman himself. It turned out to be the latter - because the chef, who is British, does triple-duty as chef, host/receptionist and busboy. It's quite remarkable how he manages to it all in this tiny space, while churning out the food, a collection of 6 appetizers, 6 entrees and 6 dessert. And it's not expensive - €8/17/7 for each one, respectively, with some items having a small supplement fee.

With tables running along the two walls, people seated on banquettes and chairs facing them, it gets a little cramped if you can call it that, especially when you try to awkwardly slide into the banquette behind the table that was pulled out for you, trying not the knock over the adjacent's tables glass of wine with your behind. (I'm sorry?)

If anything, go just to be amazed at how the chef handles the kitchen and the dining room efficiently. The food was a semi-let down for me. It wasn't bad by any means, but it was just fine. Nothing spectacular that wow-ed me. Maybe I'm just tired of the same kind of flavors every time I go to restaurants here. It was fantastic being back in the U.S. eating cheap cuban food in Miami at Versailles and vietnamese-inspired sandwiches at Num Pang in New York. There's just something about the food in Paris that has left me thinking "there's something missing..."

My sauteed giroles with jambon de pays for appetizer were fine. But that's what they were, just sauteed mushrooms with ham that I can make in my own kitchen. Tasty but nothing spectacular. Although the tartine with smoked duck breast and caramelized onions that EM got was delicious I must admit.

The magret (duck) with roasted peaches was also fine.

By far the best duck I ever had was at A Voce when Andrew Carmellini was still the chef about two years ago or so. Again, tasty but nothing special. I wasn't a huge fan of my dining companions' dishes - beef cheeks (shouldn't these be tender?) and cochon noir (black pig belly) on a bed of roasted cauliflower (and I love cauliflower!).

And dessert faired no better - I tried some Auvergne regional specialty (cornet de murat with creme de gentane and sirpoe de cassis) which was essentially a biscuit rolled into a cone filled with whipped creme and a blackcurrant sauce (in this case, it was creme de cassis it seemed as the whipped cream had a tinge of booze).

And the vanilla honey poached pear was fine but had no depth of flavor.
Am I really becoming that jaded with food? Its awful, I know. The place itself is great, it's jam packed (and fully booked days in advance) with people who seem to be having a good time, and I am (and I will say this for the 10th time) utterly amazed at what the chef/owner/busboy/receptionist can do. I can't say I picked wrong because I tried everyone's dishes. If anything, to my tastes, I picked right. Maybe it was just an off-night for me, the first dinner I had since coming back from vacation. There's still other restaurants to explore and I'm sure I'll be wowed again at some point - it just didn't happen this time.

Happy Nouilles

It's getting colder here. Beginning of September and I'm already thinking about wearing stockings because I am freezing when I leave my apartment in the mornings. Even before August was done, I had to wear a trenchcoat in the morning. I was not happy, especially having just returned from the warm and sunny good old US of A (especially the heat desert Las Vegas). 

I started craving noodles the moment I got back. For me, ramen, udon and any other kind of noodles are more of a winter dish - a little heavy, comforting, with delicious broth. I wanted a chewy noodle but not udon so genius idea - I'd read about hand-pulled noodles in Paris at Les Pates Vivantes. Good thing I called because they close at 730pm (I have learned my lesson recently by setting up brunch at a popular restaurant that was closed because of change of beforehand). That was too early but back in my days of apartment hunting, I had seen an apartment near the Pompidou and down the street called Happy Nouilles (Happy Noodles!). A quick google search told me they were hand-pulled and so my friend GT and I made it our dinner pre-going-out-to-fancy-cocktails-for-someone's-bday at Mama Shelter (even though its out of the way in the 20th, I suggest going once for drinks which, although weak, were good and the atmosphere was super fun and trendy-ish).

After a plate of dumplings, I got my boeuf epice aux lamen (noodles or ramen here = lamen unless its udon). Spicy beef with hand-pulled noodles (nouilles vivantes, or living noodles literally). 

I ate a piece of beef. Tasty. Spicy. Then I sipped the broth and things went down from there. OMG that thing was spicy like whoa. I didn't think they'd have such a heavy hand with the spices considering the French can't eat (don't eat? don't cook? have no tolerance for?) spicy things. No, this was the real deal. I choked up, started coughing and downed a glass or two of water. After my tears subsided I happily dug in again (although steering clear of slurping too much of the broth). The meat was tender and flavorful, and the noodles had that slight chew that is oh-so satisfying. And it was under €20 for two people. Now I want to try Pates Vivantes even more! Curse you early french closing times.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Vacation part 3 - Las Vegas

I didn't want to post anything that I've done since my return to Paris before I wrote up my most fabulously awesome trip to Las Vegas!

And why yes, that is the real Caesar's Palace. Who knew it would be so much fun? I always though that if I ever went to Las Vegas, I'd be easily bored and 3 days would be the maximum I could stay there without going crazy. Well, we stayed 3 days and I was craving more (gambling addiction anyone???). I actually only lost a total of about $100 over the course of the 3 days ($33.33/day on entertainment? Not bad...) playing mainly (a) video blackjack and (b) roulette, where I kept betting on red and kept winning...most of the time. The video blackjack was a completely different story. I'd lose all my money and then put more in and start making $5 bets per hand. Luckily, I won most of my money back but moving on from what is my obvious addiction to gambling...

We stayed in the Vdara which is in the new CityCenter complex, which, in my opinion is kind of a modern eyesore compared to the endearing kitchy-ness of the rest of the strip. After arriving on our early flight from Miami, we dropped our stuff off and went in search of food. It had to be special enough since it was JP's and my 3rd year anniversary (I know, I can't believe we've put up with each other so long without ever getting into a real fight. Is that normal? Yo no se....) so I already had a plan in my head - Batali's and Bastianich's Enoteca San Marco at the Venetian. And so we started weaving our way through the casinos - first the Bellagio (to which the Vdara is connected) which not only has Dale Chihuly blown glass flowers covering the lobby ceiling but also a super-sized garden with snails and buckets and butterflies made out of plants and flowers!

Wandering over to Caesar's (where we may or may not have started gambling...) we explored the Forum shops a little and then braved the 100F+ degree heat to cross the street and walk over to the Venetian, which, by the way, is RIDICULOUS in that you have such a huge structure including a river, "open-air" plazas and a mall all in one area. I was really amazed at how big most of these casino's are! We didn't take a gondola ride but we did manage to get ourselves to Enoteca San Marco which is in the "Piazza San Marco", and have a delicious lunch. The "piazza" is essentially cavernous hall with the super high ceiling painted to resemble the sky and the indoor "street lamps" dimmed so you feel as if you really are sitting on a plaza somewhere in the early evening. Not sure where the air conditioning on full blast comes in but I'll forgive.

We started with an appetizer of bruschetta with fig jam, proscuitto and aged balsamic vinegar, and fried squash blossoms. I've wanted to try fried squash blossoms for a while but never got around to it. I'm not sure if I like them. Maybe it was the filling which had a tinge of crab or something seafoody in it; I'll have to try them again elsewhere.

But the bruschetta was fantastic (and Mr. Picky Eater loved it...I was afraid he wouldn't like it because of the fig jam). Sweet + salty is always a good combination in my book.

For our entrees I went with the Gemelli with house made sausage and broccoli rabe (one of my favorite combinations) and JP went for the Buccatini all'Amatriciana. I think you can never go wrong with that but it wasn't meaty/porky enough for him. I liked mine a lot but it the pasta was very al dente, which generally I'm not a fan of.

I should have known since I don't like OTTO in NYC (their pasta on both occasions seemed undercooked to me) and was not a huge fan of Lupa so really I don't know why I picked this place but I actually enjoyed it a lot.

And for dessert? Well we couldn't forgo dessert. Espresso and blackberry gelato which just looked so pretty and tasted delicious together. All in all, a delicious (in my opinion) anniversary lunch in a pleasant (and excellent for people-watching, of which there is a lot to be had in Vegas) surroundings.

The rest of the day was spent on: (a) trying to break even on our gambling losses while treking back from the Venetian through The Mirage and back to Caesar's and the Bellagio, (b) relaxing and (c) meeting more member's of JP's family (cousins) at a Mexican restaurant for dinner, which was actually quite tasty but so much food...oy.

The following day was spend exploring the other side of the strip - the Monte Carlo, MGM, New York New York, Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Excalibur and Tropicana (which is remodeling and has a tiny tiny casino floor at the moment). We were actually on a quest for burgers at Mandalay Bay - burgers at Hubert Keller's Burger Bar

After getting a little distracted by the slot machines and the video blackjack machines (I was quickly whisked away from the roulette tables), we sat ourselves at the counter with two diet Cokes (actually they were Pepsi's and only mine was diet) and pored over the options. So many! What kind of meat? What kind of bun? Which toppings? Do you want fries with that? Skinny of fat? Whew, overwhelming. Good thing I know my tastes and I always go for the classic - a cheeseburger. A Country Natural burger (locally sourced beef) with American cheese (the only time I will eat it) and bacon (this was an extra, I wouldn't normally go for it but it worked out great this time!), on a seasame seed bun (...why would you get yours on a ciabatta???) with skinny fries!

Some people decided to go fancy and get a Kobe beef burger with provolone (I don't know why) on a sesame seed bun with zucchini fries. My burger was mouth-wateringly delicious with the soft bun cradling the patty, gooey cheese providing extra moisture and the bacon imparting a hint of smokiness. I scarfed it down. I think the other burger would've been delicious had someone not tried to be fancy with the provolone. The Kobe beef was definitely juicer than my patty, but I don't know if it was worth the price. Or maybe the provolone just took it down a notch. Cheeseburgers must have American cheese. Period. And unfortunately the zucchini fries failed - imagine a mozzarella stick but instead of the mozzarella its a zucchini stick. Fail Mr. Keller - too much breading.

And now, time the recount the "anniversary dinner" which came one day late (but that's ok). Where? Alex at the Wynn (2 Michelin stars! I'm such a star fanatic now...ugh, snobbiness). It was so fancy I was scared of taking out my camera. They even gave me something that resembled a miniature footstool for my bag!

After two amuse-bouches, I was brought my marinated heirloom tomato salad with corn "caviar" and tomato granite with tomme crayeuse (apparently a type of cheese). This was possibly my favorite dish of the night. The cheese was delicious, I am obsessed with heirloom tomatoes and the corn caviar was one of my first tastes of molecular gastronomy - tiny beads of whatever kind of emulsified and sphered corn puree concoction that was. The granite was strikingly similar to the one I had at Le Chateaubriand in Paris. Funnily enough, JP's favorite course was also the appetizer. He even went so far as to name it one of the top things he's eaten all year - Maine lobster and roasted corn risotto with butter poached tail and chanterelles (it was very lobster-y).

Even my second course was a success for me - crispy Arctic Char with baby eggplant, butterball potato puree, calamansi (a type of lime) and tamarind chicken jus. It was tiny and I scarfed it down. JP got a chunk of meat. Sure it was wagyu beef and it came with a peruvian veggie salad (I don't know what that really is either), chimichurri and red wine sauce but beef is beef most of the time. As it was here.

And here is where we go into semi-disappointment land. My warm brown butter peaches with almond and sour cream ice cream were nothing special, actually I didn't detect a hint of brown butter at all. The other dessert looked like art with an arc of chocolate over some kind of long chocolate cake with cherries but presentation is not everything and it tasted good, but nothing super special. And of course petite-fours after that which we could not help but compare to Daniel, since they were also service mini-madeleines hot out of the oven (or reheated).

We had the foresight to be classy on our OpenTable reservation to note the event and got a free extra dessert! Cheesecake with moulding chocolate flowers. The only time I dared take out my camera.

So pretty! I didn't know what moulding chocolate tasted like and asked the waiter if it was gum paste. Apparently they used to use marzipan but changed to moulding chocolate which actually kinda tastes like cardboard...the dinner was delicious but not as good as at Daniel (and it was pricier! probably because of the champagne...). What did I learn? I learned that if you go to a fancy place, ask for wine pairing even if its not on the menu but skip the dessert wine - its always too sweet and by then you're probably too full to even drink it.

And then I lost $80 at the Wynn (although I loved the atmosphere in there - so fun!) so we went back to Caesar's and eventually the Bellagio. I really don't know why I'm literally recounting my days event-by-event but I'll re-read this one day and be like "oh yeaaaa...I did do that! And so we start another day, our last one...

After a lackluster breakfast buffet at the Aria (they do have good breakfast sausages and strawberries in creme fraiche), we again headed through the Monte Carlo, over to Mandalay Bay (the trams linking some hotels are so efficient) and outside into the desert to go take pictures of the Welcome to Las Vegas sign.

It was torture - a 10-12 minute walk in the desert to get there, and then a 7 minute walk back because I had the brains to cut through the Four Seasons. It was worth it but walking into the Four Seasons, with Bentleys and the like parked outside, I made a dash for the bathroom to cool (and paper towel) myself off before taking a secret, almost un-marked door back into the Mandalay Bay. Some more gambling ensued, at some point we stopped at the Luxor and Excalibur and New York New York (where we failed to take a picture with a giant slot machine) - although that may have been on the way to the sign, not back from the sign. Eventually, back at the Bellagio, we got into a taxi and made our way to the Stratosphere for low minimum-bet tables and the view. It was a pricey view with quease-inducing rides at the top (I could never go on a spinning thing strapped into a chair that would end up from 90 degrees to the ground to like...145 degrees or something. Basically, you're staring at the ground while being twirled around. No gracias, I do not feel like dying today. Nor do I feel like jumping to my death or being hurled forward in a mini-coaster off the side of the building. Maybe you do. I don't.

After we had our fun at the Stratosphere and changed back at our room at the Vdara, we headed back to the MGM (one of my favorite casinos, along with Caesar's and the Wynn) for dinner at craftsteak. Let me compare this one to the one that used to be in NYC - its delicious if you've never been to the one that used to be where Colicchio & Sons is now. If you have, its just not as good. We both ordered the same thing we had in NYC but for both of us, the meat wasn't as charred on the outside nor as juicy. Quality control Tom! The sides however, were, as expected, fabulous. Roasted asparagus, assorted roasted mushrooms and fingerling potatoes (which were definitely extra and unnecessary).

We finished with roasted figs and tres leches ice cream. Although us drinking a bottle of wine at dinner did not bode well for the showing of Cirque du Soleil's "O" during which I struggled to stay awake but gave in and fell asleep several times. Once back out on the casino floor, it was as if I was never tired / drowsy to begin with, watched JP play some blackjack (real blackjack) before heading over to the roulette table by myself and bettering against people putting on black by putting on red. I won. Multiple times. The key was knowing when to get out and I did (when someone came to find me...). This trip left me wanting more. So Vegas, until I see you again, hopefully in the not-too-distant future. For now, back to Paris.