The Butterfly Wine Place

November 15, 2015

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That’s Dave McMillan, leaning across the bar at his Vin Papillon, doing what he does so well – talking about food.  Dave’s extremely opinionated, extremely knowledgable, and he’s cooked with just about everyone.  One of the great pleasures of a night at this warm, hip, cozy little wine bar is the sheer pleasure of his company.

Dave and his partners own the much-loved, much-talked about Joe Beef down the street.  But here they concentrate on vegetables.  The menu changes constantly; the other night it included this terrific celery root in a bagna cauda like sauce, the crisp vegetable shaved into thin pasta-like sheets, its edgy flavor tamed by the assertive sauce.  If you’re used to celery root that’s been slathered with butter or pureed with cream, this presentation is enlightening.

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Sliced into a muffaletta sandwich, the celery root displayed an entirely different character.  Crisp between the layers of soft bread, the flavor circled by a gentle mustard, it tasted like an entirely different vegetable.

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I loved these adorable little potato croquettes:

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and this cauliflower bordelaise.

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The place is dark and I was having way too good a time to bother lighting pictures. My apologies. And I was loving the wines. The sommelier,Vanya Filipovic concentrates on natural wines from all over the world. But for me there was at least one really nice discovery: the chardonnay of Norman Hardie in Ontario.

And now, of course, I’m dying to go eat at Joe Beef…..

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Fighting Back

November 14, 2015

Devastated by the news from Paris.  The world feels changed.  We’ve been at war for some time, but we weren’t ready to accept that.  Now we’ve been forced to face facts, and the false sense of security we once had has vanished. At least for me.

Sitting here, watching the horrific images from that city that I love flash across the screen, watching the pain and carnage, I debated posting, as promised, my meals from Montreal.

Then I came to my senses;  this is, in many ways, a war on fun, on pleasure, on curiosity and inventiveness.  It’s a war on many of the values we hold dear.  It is no accident the attackers hit a football game, a concert and a few restaurants. And if we refuse to carry on as we did before, they’ve already won.

And so I proudly post this little paean to pleasure.  Montreal was wonderful – and I’m very grateful I was there in what now feels like a more innocent time.

I was only had 20 hours in Montreal.  But I managed to squeeze in two meals.  The first was at Park, a wonderful restaurant from the talented Korean-Argentinian chef Antonio Park (among other things, he imports his own fish into Canada).

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First up: Miso soup with a poached egg. A pure expression of umami.

 

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Scallops brushed with miso.  Grapefruit. Zucchini.  Celery root puree.  Clean. Bright flavors engaged in an intricate tango of textures.

 

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Uni. Caviar. Carrot puree. Shiso leaf. Ginger flower.  A gloriously gilded lily.

 

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Sayori sushi, topped with sancho peppercorns marinated in crab soy. Fantastic.

 

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Black cod. Confit cherry tomato. Leeks.

 

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My favorite moment of the meal: red snapper- tai – imported from Japan, with a leaf of kinome. The fish was killed by a method known as Kaimin katsugyo;t he words translate as “live fish sleeping soundly.”  They’re given acupuncture before being killed, which puts the fish to sleep.  Thus it remains unstressed, and no adrenaline went into the flesh. It was, I must say, the purest, cleanest fish I’ve ever tasted.

(If you’d like to see the process, you can access a video here.)

And here’s Park’s best customer.  PK Subban, the Michael Jordan of Canada, eats at Park twice a day.

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Tomorrow: a night at Vin Papillon, the vegetable-centric restaurant from the legendary Joe Beef team.

 

 

 

 

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Green Peppercorns Anyone?

November 13, 2015

dscn8439I got a quiet thrill reading this 1974 Gourmet article on the current obsession with fresh green peppercorns. At the time the sizzling little spice was apparently flooding haute-cuisine restaurants. Why do I have no memory of this?

According to the article’s, author, Cleo Gruber: 

“It was there all the time: That small, green, aromatic, fresh berry that eventually becomes our common black or white peppercorn was there all the time, but it took the Malagasy Republic to devise a method of canning and freezing it to make it available for consumption.” 

She quotes Elizabeth David: 

“The ideal way of using poivre vert, that right and proper combination of flavors, scents, and textures which one day will seem as inevitable as tarragon with chicken, vanilla in shuffles and ices, juniper berries with game, saffron and tomato in fish soups, has yet to be discovered.” 

What’s missing from this article is any mention of green peppercorns in Southeast Asian cuisine. But then, it was 1974, a time when the food in that part of the world was not on any American’s radar.

Instead, we have a few interesting recipes.  Brined green peppercorns, by the way, are easily available online. 

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Forgotten Restaurants

November 11, 2015

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It’s late at night, and I’ve just uncovered a box of old menus I didn’t even know I had.  I thought I’d thrown them all away in the move from Los Angeles to New York in 1993, but I seem to have sent one big box, neatly sorted into alphabetized folders.  All I’ve got is the end of the alphabet; how I regret having jettisoned the rest! What did I send instead?  Rickety furniture?  Old clothes? How could I not have known that one day I’d treasure these old menus?

The one above had a note tucked inside, from an L.A. Times reader, who sent it as a gift.  There’s so much to parse here, including that “Russian Caviar, Ambassador Importation” for $2.25, the Denver sandwich (an omelet of ham, onions and green peppers between two slices of bread), and the once ubiquitous Biscuit Tortoni.

Trolling through the Rs I come to Rex Il Ristorante – certainly the most elegant restaurant of the eighties – and sigh over carne crudo with black truffles – $8.50.  The food was extraordinarily innovative for its time, and the decor lovingly evoked another, earlier time. In its first incarnation Rex had been a fancy Los Angeles gentleman’s boutique, with an elevator designed by Lalique. (The learning-to-eat scene in Pretty Woman was filmed at the restaurant.)

Moving on I came to these menus from Rose et LeFavour in St. Helena, which may have been my favorite restaurant of the time. It was tiny quirky and utterly charming, with a constantly changing menu. Here’s one from January 1982

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You probably can’t read my scribbled notes, but they say that the scallops were served on red chard with a raspberry vinegar sauce and a julienne of snow peas.  The rabbit, I thought was fabulous, the cheese tray offered a chevre, Morbier and unspecified blue, and the dessert cart contained a persimmon tart, candied fruit and chocolate souffles.  And we apparently drank a ’69 Meursault and a ’66 Cos d’Estournel.

Three months later I went back.  Here’s that menu.

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Alain Chapel’s pigeon jelly would come to be widely copies (not least by Heston Blumenthal), but this was the first time I’d encountered it outside of Chapel’s own kitchen.  I first met Chapel in the seventies, when he came to California to cook a dinner for the Great Chefs of France series at the Mondavi winery. I was a young journalist covering the event (Edna Lewis cooked lunch, Chapel dinner), but when I turned out to be the only one who spoke passable French I ended up in the kitchen, translating for the chef.  What I remember best is that we ended up hunting all over the Napa Valley for the cox combs he required – and Chapel swooning over “les foies blondes de la California.

Bruce Le Favour’s interpretation of Chapel’s jelly was a loose translation, involving raw yellowtail and pigeon breast, a sauce of creme fraiche and orange juice, shards of daikon, leaves of arugula and bits of chervil.  The salmon on the millefeuille, I noted,  was slightly overcooked, but that the sorrel sauce I scribbled was “like a beure blanc made with egg yolks.”  Whatever that means.  The quail breasts had a texture reminiscent of poached eggs, and were served with lemon-poached slices of apple.

The lamb (brave to include the kidneys), was served with chard with red peppers and beautiful asparagus, the cheeses were chevre, Pont L’Eveque and a brebis, and the dessert cart included a strawberry tart, an unsweetened chocolate cake, and a macademia tart. But there was more to come: stuffed dates, cookies, fruit jellies and chocolate truffles.

Quite a meal for forty bucks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Few American Food Moments

November 10, 2015

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It’s hard to believe now, but when the American Institute of Wine and Food (chaired by Julia Child and Robert Mondavi), decided to throw an All American Celebration with a menu created by an octet of young American chefs, the idea was met with deep skepticism.  “Too many chefs will ruin the soup,” was the general feeling.

There were a LOT of chefs. In addition to the ones above, whose signatures were splashed across the front of the menu, there was Mark Miller (long before Coyote Cafe) and Wolfgang Puck (whose Spago was still new).  Why were their signatures not included? Not a clue.  But the chefs played beautifully together and proved everybody wrong. The meal, at San Francisco’s Stanford Court, was a triumph.

Here’s the menu:

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Very bold of Barbara Kafka, I must say, to serve tripe gumbo!

And here, just because I just found them, are two more menus of the time.  The first is dinner at Greens, when Deborah Madison was the chef. Note the price: $18 for a three-course meal.

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And finally, a special menu from the New Boonville Hotel in the Anderson Valley, in honor of Marion Cunningham’s birthday. There were just six of us: Alice Waters, Stephen Singer, Judy Rodgers, John Hudspeth, Marion and me.

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