Archives for September 2011

Les Crayeres Tasting Menu

Our journey in the Champagne region ended with a night in an incredibly beautiful hotel called Les Crayeres, which just happened to have a Michelin Starred restaurant on its premises.

Le Parc is the gastronomic restaurant at Les Crayeres (there is also the more casual Le Jardin), and after a short nap to relieve us of our tipsiness, Family Fritos and Foie Gras was ready to indulge in a world-class tasting menu. 

Champagne cart before we even entered the restaurant…OKAY! 
There was nothing trendy or cool about this restaurant. It was straight out of The Man in the Iron Mask, with heavy wooden accents, intricate tapestries and …
quite a few crystal chandeliers. You should probably wear a tie here, fellas. 
Our server recommended a champagne made locally, in a small vineyard. I told him that I preferred a pinot noir champagne (more fruity and sweet), and my dad liked blanc de blancs the most (more acidic, tart champagnes). As such, our server chose a champagne made with a mix of grapes, and the resulting taste was yeasty and deep but also smelled faintly of berries. It wasn’t at all floral or sour, just very faintly tart, like blueberries can be. 
It was not served in traditional champagne flutes, but these large ballooned glasses, to allow the champagne to breathe. Part of that was due to the champagnes unique flavor, which really developed as we drank it. One of my favorites…
…which I will always be able to remember, thanks to the excellently educated and totally delightful staff thoughtfully “floating” the label of the bottle and laminating it for me. 
Amuse Bouche
These small bites set the tone for the rest of the meal, and were delicious. There was a crisp, tempura fried shrimp that snapped with the scent of the ocean in my mouth. There were Parmesan crisps sandwiching a tomato and basil puree so deep and fruity it was astounding. There was a pepper and egg mousse that was biting atop a crisp pastry crust and there was a goat cheese wafer, grassy and funky in my mouth. It was an auspicious start to the meal. 
My sister and I went through 3 pats of butter during this meal. That is 1.5 pats of butter per person. It is absolutely the best butter I have ever had. I could say that it was creamy, that it was rich, that it was sweet, which it was. but the truth is…mostly, it was buttery. So brightly and vibrantly buttery. I didn’t eat it plain, but I wanted to. 
Bread Selection
Sundried Tomato, Baguette and Seeded breads were all home baked. The tomato bread was soft and studded with salty, moist pieces of sundried tomato. The seeded bread was hearty and texturally pleasing. 
And the baguette was the best baguette that I have ever had, in or out of France. The crust was the perfect combination of crunchy and gently chewy, and the insides balanced sour and sweet with fluffy but not cottony innards. Spread with the soft, sweet butter, I could have made a meal out of bread and butter alone. 
That, though, would have been a huge crime. 
Anglerfish Tagliatelle with Pea Soup 
This was…not my favorite dish. The tagliatelle had an offputtingly fishy aroma and when i put it in my mouth…yep, there it was. A very fishy taste invaded my mouth, and the tagliatelle were bouncy, like rubber. The pea soup surrounding it was wonderfully verdant and pure, like a burst of spring, but I could not get past that tagliatelle. I ate a lot of bread during this course.
Chicken Oysters with Creamed Chanterelles
The most supremely delicious chicken I can imagine. The oyster comes from the underside of the thigh of the chicken, and it is the most tender, robust morsel of the entire chicken. Each chicken only has two oysters, so there were 4 chickens used per dish. 4 whole chickens used for just 4 pieces of meat per dish! The chanterelles used in the dish were tiny but positively bursting with woodsy, earthy, flavor. The cream used to cooked the mushrooms became concentrated and added sweetness to the hearty dish. Shavings of Parma ham over the top added saltiness. Each bite was more meaty and complex than the last, and this was a dish to remember.  
Brittany Lobster with Artichokes and Celery
Artichokes are notoriously difficult to pair with other foods. They are earthy, citrusy, meaty and also difficult to prepare. I have never had artichokes with lobster, but the paring is nothing short of inspired. This lobster was one of the most buttery I have ever had = so rich, I could not even finish my own portion. It was tender but not soft – there was still a bit of a snap, a bite that was pleasant next to the tiny cubes of herbal celery and the meaty, slightly tart artichokes.
Haddock with Smoked Haddock Mouse, Potatoes and Creamy Potato Broth
Haddock is a very mild white fish that worked well in this preparation. The mousse was lightly smoked, which gave the haddock a heartier, earthier taste than it tends to have. The fillets of haddock were flaky and tender, contrasting with the creamy potatoes that still retained a bit of bite. The broth, buttery and mild, toned down the smokiness and potential fishiness of the haddock and mousse, much the way that clam chowder makes calms delicious to people who are funny about shellfish. A delicate and well balanced dish. 
Chicken and Foie Gras Napoleon with Chicken Liver and Homemade Macaroni
This chef is incredibly adept at chicken – it is surely his specialty. First, that amazing chanterelle and chicken ouster dish and then this. White meat chicken, incredibly moist and tender but not mushy, alternating with rich, deeply flavored foie gras. The chef was wise to use white meat chicken here, letting all the fat and minerality come from the foie gras. 
The small toast capped with the chicken liver had the best of both worlds – the intense iron of the liver and the familiar taste of chicken. It was cooked perfectly, with a sticky-sweet caramelized outside, dotted with salt, surrounding the rich orb of liver. The macaroni was toothsome next to the soft chicken napoleon, and the whole dish left me licking my fingers and – almost! – my plate.
Have you ever eaten a cheese that is over 2 years old? Me either. Let me just tell you…if that cheese is Gruyere, the older it gets the more complex it gets. Slightly sweet, nutty and smooth tasting, but also tangy and with an undeniably piquant taste. It was not salty or grainy at all – it had an incredibly smooth texture paired with subtle, developing flavors. Paired with sweet apricots and plump dates, this cheese was absolutely sensational. Really a cheese for people who appreciate the more subtle, under the radar flavors of cheese.
Apricot Tart, Mint Macaron, Fruit Tartlette
By this point, my palate was getting a little fatigued (and, let’s face it…I had drunk my weight in champagne), but I do know that the apricot pastry was deliciously bright and sweet, with a crumbly buttery pastry, and the macaron was repulsive. Like eating mouthwash. 
Strawberry and Chantilly Dessert
Once again…palate fatigue. The dessert tasted creamy and tart, but I couldn’t handle more than a few bites. Jammy, with a panna cotta interior and a tuile on top.
I did, however, eat three of the sweetest, juiciest, freshest wild strawberries on the face of the planet. These actually tasted like Little Red Riding Hood had picked them – that magical, that perfect, that impossible. 
Don’t worry, I rallied enough to take a homemade chocolate, filled with creamy, slightly bitter ganache. It was the perfect end to an excellent meal.
After the worrisome first dish of the fishy tagliatelle, this meal was everything I had hoped it would be. No molecular gastronomy or startling presentations, this was all about classic food cooked perfectly. I have NEVER had chicken cooked so superbly. For the price, this is an incredible value and  a magical way to end a day in the Champagne region.

Bistrot le 7 – Lunch in Champagne

For the first time in the several times we have been to Paris, the Fritos and Foie Gras family ventured outside of Paris to the Champagne region. The overnight trip was incredibly easy to make, the scenery was beautiful and the selection of champagne was incredible and varied.

But more on that later.

Now it’s time to see where we ate for lunch:
Located inside the Hotel Les Berceaux, Bistrot Le 7 is the more casual offshoot of the restaurant’s Michelin-starred gourmet restaurant.
  Same chef, more casual food and atmosphere. 
And a humongous selection of champagnes by the glass, mostly made by local producers so small that the bottles don’t get exported to Paris, much less to NYC. 
 Rillettes and Radishes
These pork rillettes were the perfect way to start the meal. Shreds of pork blended with herbs, spices and a healthy amount of fat to create a soft (but not mushy) spread that was incredibly hearty and satisfying. The radishes provided a sharp counterpoint to the lush taste and mouth feel of the pork. 
 Spread on a hunk of seeded bread, soft on the inside and with a tender, biteable crust, it created a heck of a sandwich. 
 Beef Carpaccio with Pecorino Romano
No, I had not yet had enough raw beef. Different than tartare, the carpaccio had a much more delicate flavor. Because of the see through slices into which it was shaved, the beef basically melted on my tongue, leaving behind only the gentle taste of beef. There was nothing robust or coarse about this – it was all elegance and subtlety – almost the memory of a great steak instead of the heavy feeling of eating the steak itself. This was served with a lightly garlicky, extremely basil heavy pesto, bringing freshness to the dish. The peppered slices of Pecorino were another worthy component to the carpaccio. It was far more mild and less salty than pecorino tends to be – more soft, less tangy. It was an outstanding carpaccio.
 Mixed Seafood Salad
This was incredibly simple, and an example of how fresh ingredients make for the best meals. There was salmon, seared to a crispy crunch with a soft and velvety interior. There was local whitefish, mild and flaky, absorbing the sweet and spicy Asian style marinade around the edge of the plate. The scallops were huge and perfectly cooked, rich pieces of shellfish that had the richness of lobster but the texture of butter. The salad greens were fresh and snappy, the dressing was light and piquant and the slightly Asian marinade totally complimented the seafood. 
Quail Stewed in Cream and Foie Gras
I didn’t try the quail, but I did try the foie gras. Seared foie is so much different than cold foie. A crispy crust surrounded a positively liquid center, full of luscious, meaty, irony tastes. It was exceptional. I would get this dish for the foie gras alone. 
Bistrot le 7 is a wonderful lunch stop. If you are, as we were, far too buzzed for 1 pm, you will need this simple food to sop up the alcohol. And if you aren’t buzzed…what are you doing in Champagne? Though, truth be told, this would be delicious even sober.

I think. 

Empellon – The Best Fish Tacos in NYC

I headed to Empellon with mixed expectations. A refined Mexican restaurant run by renowned pastry chef Alex Stupak,  it has received everything from raves to pans. Clearly, the only thing to do was take a trip to the West Village myself and see what the scuttlebutt was about. 
 A quick drink at the bar proved that the cocktail list, at least, was up to par. My Empelloma, made with Reposado tequila and homemade grapefruit soda, was properly tart and fizzy, with the slight bitter edge of the tequila bringing out the soda’s sweeter notes. 
 The small dining room, with exposed brick walls and low lighting, is hip but not trendy or pretentious. It can be classy enough for a date or fun enough for a gals night out. 
 Guacamole and Tortilla Chips with Smoked Cashew and Arbol Chile Salsas
Of course salsa and chips should come gratis at a Mexican restaurant, but this is NYC. So, I sucked it up and paid the (obscene amount of) money for them. In their defense…they were delicious. Fresh, still warm tortilla chips, generously salted, served with creamy, cilantro laden, intensely avocado-y guacamole – not too acidic or spicy. Those flavors came from the salsas, both the nutty, smoky cashew salsa and the positively fiery chile de Arbol salsa, deep and spicy.
 Sopes with Shortribs and Salsa Roja
Sopes are little discs of fried masa, or cornflour. They are sort of like a softer cornbread or a more firm tamale – dense and moist, perfect for sopping up the juices of the tender, beefy short rib and the sweet-spicy salsa. These were delicious and hearty.
 Sopes with Smoked Plantains and Crema
Soft, slightly sweet plantains worked very well by being smoked, making them more savory and substantial. Whereas the sopes before seemed soft under the beef, they seemed dense and more toothsome here. The sopes took on the opposite characteristics of whatever topping they accompanied. 
 Queso Fundido with Red and Green Chorizo
Spicy, salty, fragrant, meaty chorizo, seasoned with…who knows what? Cilantro, cumin and smokey chiles for sure, but there were so many complex flavors that I just can’t place. The sweetness of pork melded perfectly with the many hot and aromatic seasonings, and the cheese…
 Melty, stretchy, mild and a little tangy was delicious slathered onto homemade tortillas, doused in the hot salsa and scooped into my mouth with a spoon.
Fish Tempura with Cabbage and Lime Mayonnaise
The best fish taco I have had in my life. Even better than my homemade ones. Crispy, light tempura batter that stood out almost half around the fish encased flaky, incredibly mild whitefish that was perfectly cooked with just enough of that salinity that reminded you that it was of the sea. The creamy mayonnaise added tang and acidity to the cool cabbage and the tiny slivers of peppery radish. This was crispy, creamy, salty, meaty, cooling and incredibly flavorful. It was improved by the addition of guacamole and the hot salsa, but then…what isn’t?
Empellon was a major hit. The food and drinks were expensive, but you get what you pay for, and here you get outstanding, inventive Mexican food served quickly and efficiently by servers who let you linger as long as you wish after you have finished eating. 
The only con to this meal is that for HOURS after I was done eating, I felt dehydrated. The only thing that tasted remotely salty was the basket of tortilla chips, so I can’t imagine what it was, but there was a hidden salt lick in there. 
Regardless of that fact, I would come back to Empellon, perhaps asking for less salt in the tortilla chips. I loved all the food and drinks there, and am here to settle the debate:
Empellon is a must go.
Empellón on Urbanspoon

Egg White Mini Frittatas

The skies are getting darker earlier, my favorite TV shows are coming back with season premieres, and I had to put away my Birkenstocks in favor of shoes that I can wear with socks.
Yes, summer is over and fall is here. Everything gets busier in the fall, and people need recipes that can be prepared quickly or over the weekend and frozen. We have work to do! Donuts to eat! This recipe didn’t seem like it would turn out well, considering how low fat it is, but it is actually a total winner. Using egg whites results in an incredibly light, fluffy dish, with olive oil and Parmesan cheese providing the necessary fat content. Perfect for a quick hot breakfast, a room temperature lunch or even as part of a dinner. These Egg White Fritattas are the perfect way to use up the last of summer’s produce in a recipe hearty enough for fall.

1 small container egg whites (16 oz.) or the whites of 8 eggs
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup tomatoes cut into bite size pieces (grape tomatoes work well here because of their small size, but any tomatoes you have lying around will work well)
1/3 cup basil, cleaned and chiffonaded
1 medium onion, diced
1.5 Tbsp. olive oil

 1)Preheat the oven to 320 F. Heat up the olive oil in the pan until it is rippling, then turn the heat down to medium -low.

 2)Saute the diced onion slowly until the onions are soft, golden and smell intoxicating. This should take between 15 and 25 minutes.

 3)Take the rest of your ingredients including the red pepper flakes,

 4)And throw them into the bowl with your egg whites.

 5)Scramble the mixture with a fork.

 6)Bake in nonstick muffin tins for 15 minutes, or until the frittatas rise and a knife stuck in the middle comes out cleanly

The beauty of these fritatas is that they are so light but so hearty at the same time. Because of the oil in which the onions were cooked, there is a little bit of fat that keep the whites creamy and not at all rubbery. The tomatoes burst in the oven, turning sweet and juicy as they mingle with the heat of the red pepper and the herbaceous quality of the fresh basil. The Parmesan adds a salty edge that is crispy on the top and melty within, melding with the sweet onions. Piping hot, these are outstanding with a dash of Tabasco and a side of potatoes. Room temperature, they are a perfect lunch with a side salad.

And they are so incredibly low calorie (We are talking well under 100 calories per frittata), that you can eat them all autumn long while dreaming of next summer.

Diane Keaton’s Favorite Bistro – Le Grand Colbert

One night in Paris, when we were hungry early (by Parisian standards, 7:30 PM is INSANELY early to dine) and wanted somewhere with a huge menu full of French comfort food, we stumbled across Le Grand Colbert.
 That’s kind of like saying that we stumbled across the Plaza Hotel or Disneyland. We were just wandering around, but really, Le Grand Colbert is an incredibly well known Parisian brasserie. Some say it has the best roast chicken in Paris. 
 And by “some people”, I mean Diane Keaton’s character in Something’s Got to Give. Clearly, my sister was impressed. 
 The room, which you will recognize if you have seen the movie, is done in the grand old brasserie style, with mosaic-tiled floors, wooden chairs and white tablecloths.
 Rose Champagne
This is worth mentioning because it comes in a carafe. Like house wine. A CARAFE of champagne. This has revolutionized the way that I think about champagne. 
As in…I think I want even more of it. 
 French Onion Soup
This was the best French Onion Soup of the trip, hands down. It was so robust and complex – we could taste the round, vivid beef in the broth, so vibrant that it was almost funky. It was sort of electric tasting, in the way that really great blue cheese has a life of its own. The onions provided a counterpart that was so sweet and soft that it became jammy next to the pepper of the soup and the gentle tang of the sherry. 
The cheese was nutty, crusty and bubbling away atop of slices of sourdough bread that became soft when soaked in the soup. 
 Foie Gras de Canard
Of course, I love goose foie more, but this was an excellent duck foie. Creamy texture, mild taste that was not too gamy, just rich and fatty. The cool squares of gelee on the side paired with the plump, wine saturated raisins completed this dish. 
 Fines de Claire
Large, briny oysters, tasting more of the sea than of cream. Positively fresh, smelling faintly of seaweed and the ocean, they burst in my mouth with salt and brine. 
A side of tart mignonette sauce brought the oysters another piquant dimension. 
Steak Tartare Epice
This steak tartare was good but not great. The meat was ground too finely and was a bit mushy. The flavor of the meat was also obscured by the spices in the meat. It was all salt, sour and heat, with too many strong capers and onions hiding the natural flavor of the beef. It wasn’t bad, not by a long stretch of the imagination, it just wasn’t as incredible as the beef tartare at Chez Andre
 Roast Chicken.
This dish was almost as great as I had hoped it would be. It was never going to ACTUALLY be the greatest roasted chicken on earth because, obviously, I make that. But this was dam close. Tender and juicy within, under a browned and crispy skin. The most notable thing about the chicken was the gravy. It was thick but not heavy or greasy, and was filled with the comforting taste of chicken, the bite of black pepper and the woodsy taste of thyme. The thyme was the kicker here. It was used in such abundance, and without any other competing herbs. It gave the dish such a straightforward and earthy vibe that it was reminiscent of eating outside – that sensual and startling. Definitely going to start using more thyme in my own roast chicken. 
The fries weren’t great, but they did the job. Especially soaked in some of that outstanding gravy.

Le Grand Colbert was a solid restaurant. Absolutely worthwhile for a lunch, though I can’t say for sure that I would come here for dinner again. The service was a little spotty and pretentious and the entrees were not as good as they should be. But for a quick lunch of  French onion soup and oysters, I can’t think of a more delightful spot. 

Calle Ocho Goes Beyond Brunch

You know those brunch places where the food is cheap, the drinks are unlimited, and the party goes until about 3 pm when everyone hits the hay for Sunday nap time?
 I used to think that was Calle Ocho, a Latin American restaurant on the Upper West side. The restaurant recently moved locations to a nearby space inside the Excelsior Hotel. I have been there for its bottomless sangria brunch, featuring many different types of serve-yourself sangrias and tasty Latin food, but had never thought to go there for dinner. 
The new space features several cavernous rooms with bright paintings and low lighting, creating a festive, upscale atmosphere. 
I have never been able to stray from the sangria before, but these mojitos are my new go-to drink at Calle Ocho, whether they are included in the price of brunch or not. Very strong, but well balanced with sugar and fresh mint, just one of these had me buzzed. 
Yeah, I am that lightweight.
Pao de Queijo
This Brazilian cheese bread was similar to a gougere in its lightness and cheesy interior. Gluten free and made with yucca flour, the rolls were positively airy inside, and almost dissolved in the mouth without chewing, leaving behind the grassy, nutty taste of Queso Fresco. 
Bean Dip
They were especially delicious when paired with the hearty, aromatic bean dip. It tasted sweet and spicy at the same time, a welcome contrast to the comforting cheesiness of the rolls.
 Marinated Aji Tuna, Ginger, Cilantro, Mustard Vinaigrette and Cured Salmon, Aji Amarillo, Sour Orange, Pineapple
These ceviches set the tone for the meal to come – herbal, fresh, pungent flavors. 
The tuna was good, if not outstanding. The fish was obviously high quality – mild flavored and with a soft but not mushy texture. The problem was that the marinade overpowered the fish’s delicate flavor. The heady cilantro, spicy ginger and tangy mustard totally obscured the tuna’s natural taste. A bit more tuna or a bit less marinade would have done this tuna well. 
The salmon, on the other hand, was one of my favorite dishes of the night. The salmon was absolutely silky in texture, and the orange and pineapple in the marinade complimented the salmon’s natural fatty mouth feel and buttery taste. The aji amarillo was the perfect amount of spice – a bit sweet along with the front-of-mouth tingling spice. It broke up the salmon’s comforting taste and texture and made the dish interesting and delicious. 
 Colombian Sweet Corn Arepa, Ropa Vieja, Crema Nata, Criolla Salad and Bacon Wrapped Almond Stuffed Dates, Hearts of Palm, Cabrales
The arepa was delicious, just what you might expect an arepa to be, but with a lush and rich filling that belies the arepa’s humble background. The arepa itself was almost custardy – sweet and moist, redolent of corn and summer. The shortribs were extremely rich and full in their beefiness. The salad beneath it, with bitter greens, cut through the richness of the meat and added freshness to the rather heavy appetizer. 
The dates were my favorite bite of the meal, no question. Sweet, soft dates surrounded crunchy almonds and the whole thing was wrapped in salty, smokey, crispy bacon. The whole thing was drizzled in a foam made of pungent, funky blue cheese, making the dates sweeter, the bacon meatier and the whole dish round and satisfying. I have no idea how the hearts of palm were, because I couldn’t tear my mind away from the dates. They blew my mind and are a must order. 
  Roasted Stripped Bass, Serrano Ham-Chick Pea, Roasted Pepper Sauce
This was a very earthy take on fish – the fish was flaky and mild, falling almost into the background of the sweet and charred taste of the roasted pepper sauce. The ham and chick pea ragout was another hit of depth and earthiness – salty and robust, with toothsome chickpeas and salty, crunchy bits of ham. Though this was a well made dish, I prefer a bit more of an oceanic taste when I eat fish – this is more for someone who craves smoky or earthy flavors.  
Cuban Style “Steal Frites”, Traditional Chimichurri
This blew me away! Not because of the yucca “frites,” which I actually found oddly chalky and dry. Not because of the chimichurri, which was pleasantly herbaceous with cilantro, parsley and citrus zest. Not even because of the perfectly fried onion strings, sweet and crunchy, juicy in the middle and caramelized to a burnt crisp at the edges. IT was because of the steak. The steak, cooked to a perfect deep pink, had an almost sugary crust that varied between sweet and spicy with the zip of black pepper. The steak had a bit of chew to it, with a slightly aged, funky taste to it. Just fatty enough, and with a strong beefy flavor. This was the entree I would get again. 
Though I had to leave before dessert, I have no reservations about saying that this meal surpassed my expectation. The prices are commensurate with the neighborhood, the service is efficient and helpful and the food is very tasty. Not quite a destination restaurant, Calle Ocho IS a great destination for a drink and some appetizers – at least some of those stuffed dates.
Calle Ocho – not just for brunch anymore. 
Calle Ocho on Urbanspoon
*Note: My meal was paid for by the restaurant.  I was not paid or required to write a review, and my opinions are my own and, I feel, impartial.*

Maitre Pierre – A Piece of Italy in Paris

After a few days of eating foie and escargot…and then some more foie…I needed a little break. 
Not from fat, just from fat alone. I needed some carbs and a few raw vegetables in the mix. 
And maybe some tomatoes. 
That’s when we hit up Ristorante Maitre Pierre. Never heard of it, just walked in off the street because the menu looked great. 
 When we arrived right before noon, we were the only people in the room. By 12:20, they were turning people away, due to reservations and a flood of walk ins. We had unknowingly stumbled upon a goldmine!
 I love these plain breadsticks in the wrapper. Crunchy, floury and not much more, but I love the texture. 
If we didn’t know where we were, I would have sworn I was in a French restaurant. This baguette, with excellent hole structure and a stiff crust, was French through and through. No complaints, as the French have the bread market cornered.
Tomatoes, Arugula and Mozzarella
A new take on a caprese salad, with peppery, tender rocket replacing herbal basil. This was a strong choice, because the tomatoes, firm and juicy, supplied the brightness needed for the dish. And the mozzarella…oh the mozzarella. 
The mozzarella provided sweetness. It provided the fresh and clean taste of milk, the richness of cream and a slight tang reminiscent of sourdough bread. It was more like burrata than mozzarella, with bits of creamy cheese fairly melting on to the plate as its skin broke with the tines of my fork. It was outstanding. 
A bit of balsamic vinegar and fruity olive oil were ll necessary to make this a world class appetizer.
You might wonder what this is. It is a full leg of Pata Negra, othewise known as Iberico Ham. The most fatty, soft, delicate tasting ham in the world. It makes prosciutto look like bologna.
Sliced uber thin, these slices of ham are so fatty that they actually start to melt on the plate before you put it in your mouth. The taste is gently salty, deep and even a little funky. These do come from wild pigs, after all – it tastes similar to wild boar, but more delicate and less hearty, and that fat…
well the fat is just sublime. 
You could order the pasta sampler for lunch, with a sweet marinara sauce over penne, a creamy Alfredo sauce over rich ricotta-filled ravioli and al dente fettuccine served with beef and veal bolognese sauce. It is tasty. 
But if you want a truly breathtaking meal, you will order…
A thick layer of mozzarella cheese, stretchy in some parts and crispy at the edges, covered noodles cooked just al dente – still with a bit of bite. There was a slow cooked bolognese sauce – robust with beef, grassy with veal, a little sweet with pork, and deep with wine, sauteed vegetables and bright tomatoes. The bechamel was a thing of beauty – subtle, delicate and complimentary to the bolognese sauce instead of overpowering with richness. This lasagna was complex and layered. There were so many different components that somehow combined into a cohesive, almost ethereal taste. You might think it was heavy, but it wasn’t. It was positively light, which had to be a tribute to the chef.
Foie is great. Foie is AWESOME. But, sometimes, you want a little break. You know, for some fatty pork. And Chez Maitre Pierre is the place to take it. A bit pricey, but the food is excellent and so is the service. For Italian food in Paris, you just can’t get any better.
And now…back to the foie!

Fauchon – Foodie Fantasia

Paris isn’t just about eating. It’s also about shopping…
For food. 
 Fauchon is the foodie equivalent of Neiman  Marcus or Henri Bendel. High end, artisinal products that cost a fortune and are a once in awhile indulgence. 
 The macaron counter is a mile long. 
 Where else can you get chocolate pound cake topped with edible gold for breakfast? For BREAKFAST, I tell you!
 Let’s not ignore the gourmet eclairs with fillings like foie gras and the Mona Lisa etched on the top.
 Would you like some pate? Choose from goose, duck, pork, chicken, and any combination thereof.
You could, of course, prefer pork, rabbit, pheasant or any other number of types of rillettes.
When in doubt, why don’t you just get this whole foie gras with a gigantic black truffle. Just like what you find in your local supermarket, right?
And cheese and crackers just won’t cut it for parties here. 
If you decide to try a few treats…
 Snail Pastry
Don’t ask me what the real name of this is, just look for the brown, coiled pastry. As it breaks into croissant-like shards in your hand, notice the crunchy, sugary glaze, the warm cinnamon and the buttery layers of dough on the inside. Like a cinnamon croissant on crispy steroids. 
 Sundried Tomato, Olive and Parmesan Baguette.
Thick, crunchy crust. Slightly sweeter insides than a regular baguette, which worked well with the juicy tomatoes, salty olives and tangy Parmesan cheese. So full flavored and densely packed with the top of the line add ins. These were incredibly sweet tomatoes and plump olives. Throw some lettuce on here and it’s a full on vegetarian sandwich. 
 Pastry that Begins with a K
Get this crown-shaped dessert with a Germanic sounding name. Crunchy sugar flaked of in sheets, surrounding soft, fluffy pastry dough that was similar to challah, but with the faint alcoholic tang of rum. Nothing like a little rum for breakfast.
 Or, if you prefer, an impossibly light and flaky croissant, or a citrus-scented madeleine stuffed with sweetened condensed milk. 
 You might also prefer a chocolate croissant, with thick strips of dark, slightly bitter chocolate running through the buttery bread. 
 Green Salad with Herbs, Pine Nuts and Mustard Vinaigrette. 
Where in America can you pick up a premade salad that looks like this? Fresh greens, fragrant dill, sweet chervil, pungent chives, crunchy pine nuts and a sweet-tangy mustard vinaigrette.
 What’s more, you can even pick it up for breakfast.
 Or you could try a baguette sandwich. This one, made with cured ham, lightly salty but not at all smokey, paired with nutty Gruyere cheese and a thin schmear of sweet butter. Butter on a ham sandwich is genius. It tempers the saltiness, saves the bread from betting soggy and ads…well, it adds butteriness. 
No butter was necessary on this foie gras, arugula and raspberry jam sandwich. 
Bread, foie, vegetable, fruit. 
That’s a whole meal.
Sit at the high window-side counter and enjoy your bevvy of goodies. Fauchon is a beautiful, delicious stop on your trip – an occasional treat worth the splurge. 
Just like Paris, in general. 

Royal Madeleine Bistro – Steak Frites near the Paris Opera House

The opera area of Paris is one of the many hearts of the city. The beautiful opera house, crowned with gilded angels, is a hub of shopping and eating. Restaurants abound, but that does not mean that they are all delicious. On the contrary, many of them are tourist traps – places that serve spaghetti bolognese alongside gyros alongside martinis. A touristy lunch is okay every now and then, but let’s not make a practice of it, shall we?
Of course, if you know to turn down a tiny street called Rue du Chevalier Saint-George, you will arrive at one of the best bistros in Paris.
The Royal Madeleine is a small bistro done in the traditional French manner. Dark wood, white tablecloths, small bar and the knowledge that you will order several courses and spend a good three hours there, eating and gossiping with your friends and family.
 Rose Champagne
Rose is my favorite champagne. It always has some pinot noir or pinot meuneir grapes in there, rounding out the crisp acidity of the chardonnay grapes. It is slightly sweet, but not overly sugary at all. And it is best ordered in multiples of two – meaning, you shouldn’t have just one glass. Go for 2 or 4.
 Poppyseed Breadsticks
Crispy, buttery, flaky sticks coated in nutty, slightly bitter poppyseeds. Perfect to bring out the fruity, minerally notes of the champagne. 
Peasant bread. Tangy, pliant, wheaty, with a crisp crust.
 Amuse Bouche – Celery Root Soup
This was a perfect amuse bouche – it was a tiny shot of something creamy, rich, and hearty. The soup, tasting like a cross between celery and a baked potato, would have been far too heavy for a full sized course. As an amuse, it was decadent and whet my appetite. It left me wanting more. 
That’s what she said.
 Foie Gras d’Oie and de Canard with Raisin Chutney. 
This dish paired goose foie gras(left)with duck foie gras(right). It really showed the differences between the livers. The duck foie gras was a bit stronger in taste – more minerally and gamy. It also had less fat and more of a meaty texture. The goose foie was far fattier and smoother, with a more mild taste and the consistency of room temperature butter. 
 I preferred the goose foie gras, especially when pairing it with the sweet and tart chutney to cut through the unctuousness of the liver. 
 Charcuterie Plate with Adouillette, Salami and Rillettes.
All the items here were housemade, except for the sweet butter, the tart cornichons and the cocktail onions that burst with brine upon contact with my teeth. 
Andouillette -my first time having these intestine sausages, and likely my last time. Overpoweringly smokey with a slightly acrid taste. I could hardly taste any meat, it was more like inhaling a mouth of cigarette smoke.
Salami – peppery, porky, fragrant with what might have been juniper berries. It was far less salty or garlicky than the Italian salami I have had, and went well with the nose-searing mustard that went alongside the dish.
The rillettes – pork cooked in its own fat until it becomes tender, the consistency of pulled pork – came topped with the traditional fat cap. Some people throw away the fat cap, but it is infused with sweet porkiness that goes so well with the savory spices and meatiness of the pork meat underneath…yeah, I spread it on my bread instead of butter. 
I love pork fat. 
 Artichokes with Vinaigrette
Artichokes must be in season in France this time of year, because we found them on almost every menu we saw. I LOVE artichokes but rarely make them because they are so annoying to clean. After eating these, I realized that I will have to get over that. These were the best part of the artichokes, the crowns. Meaty, tender but not soft, with a naturally salty taste. It was filling and satisfying in the way that portobello mushrooms are – almost a meat substitute. Paired with the sharp vinaigrette, it was an example of artichokes at their finest.
 Steak Frites with Bearnaise. 
The best frites I had in Paris. Fresh, hand cut, with a thick golden crust that hid steaming, fluffy interiors. The fries were done in beef fat, that much was clear. They had a deep, round taste that only comes from cooking potatoes in animal fat. The bearnaise, one of my favorite sauces, was thick enough to coat a spoon and filled with sharp, licorice-y tarragon. And the steak…
See how blurry this picture is? That is because I was involved in a love affair at the time it was taken. A love affair with this steak. Cooked a perfect medium rare, with a thin, salty crust that surrounded a soft but not mushy center, incredibly tender and filled with pure beefy flavor. This was a perfect steak, and an exemplary example of what beef should be – wild tasting, robust and utterly satisfying.
This whole meal was utterly satisfying. As far as French prices go, it was comparable with other upscale bistros – meaning, the prices are sky high for Americans, but reasonable for Paris. The service was enthusiastic, sweet and exactly what you want out of a special meal. We were not rushed or ignored, and were treated to some of the best food we had in Paris. 

Bofinger – The Consummate Parisian Brasserie

I have showed you one of my favorite bistros, and now it’s time to take a look at a brasserie – a big, bustling Parisian restaurant with a laid back atmosphere, all day hours and a huge menu. 
Brasserie Bofinger has been around since the late 1800s, and is now run by a French restaurant company called Flo. The people there run a number of brasseries in Paris, and while some call the brasseries in the group “Disneyfied,” Flo has managed to keep up the standards of the historic buildings and a high quality of food. 
If that is Disney, let me at it!
Bofinger is large restaurant with several rooms, an upstairs area…
and a gorgeous glass cupola that dates from 1919. It lets light into the restaurant and lends a belle epoque air to the entire space. Really sets the tone, and is very Midnight in Paris
Complimentary Nibbles
The bread was among the worst we had in Paris (not bad, just not incredible like bread in the other restaurants), and the pretzels were plain as could be, but the olives blew my mind. Briny, oily and flecked with rosemary and thyme, they were meaty and they were delicious. 
Duck Foie Gras with Wine Gelee and Pear Chutney. 
This foie gras was just what it should be. Velvety, rich, slightly irony and slightly sweet with the acidic gelee and the sweet chutney. As I spread it on the warm toasted brioche, it melted slightly, forming a thick layer of fat mixed with sweet and tart. It was exceptional and the reason that i love foie. 
Escargots with Garlic and Herb Butter.
Almost as good as the escargots at Chez Andre. They were the same soft, juicy, mild escargots as before, drenched in sweet butter and grassy herbs. The only thing I was missing was a bit more garlic. I relish the pungent hit of garlic, and if I’m not kissing anyone, I want a lot of it!
Seafood Choucroute with Haddock, Salmon, Bacon-Wrapped Scallops and Half a Lobster atop Potatoes and Sauerkraut. 
One of the specialties of the house, choucroute is usually made with sausages, pork and other meats served with the salted cabbage, but this version used seafood in place of the traditional proteins. I was scared the sauerkraut would overpower the seafood, but it did just the opposite. The sauerkraut was not at all salty or sulfer-y, just vibrant and pleasantly sour. It worked much the way lemon does, bringing out the fattiness of the salmon, and the salty-meaty-crunchy-tender contrast of the bacon wrapped scallops. This was a fantastic and unique dish – highly recommended. 
Sole Meuniere
Flaky, delicate, incredibly mild fish – this is as close to shellfish and fish gets. Perfectly filleted, with a tart and rich sauce that was full of lemon, wine and butter. Butter, in all of it’s rich earthiness, blending with the soft but not mushy texture and almost sweet taste of the fish. This is a deceptively filling dish – all that butter has a consequence. 
A delicious consequence. 
My dish came with boiled potatoes, but come on…
When there are french fries
and a boat full of bearnaise…what do you think I am eating as my starch?
Bofinger is a winner. Beautiful, delicious and fairly priced. Though there was a service issue regarding my fish (it was not cooked properly), our server was very apologetic and replaced my dish immediately. This restaurant, with its history, huge menu and well prepared classic food, is a consummate example of a classic brasserie.