Paris 4

November 16, 2019

This is why I fell in love with Semilla: a beet salad with an icy little center of beet granita. Beets have never been happier. That little green driblet is green mayonnaise, but you can’t see the fresh cheese hiding underneath.

Semilla is an easygoing and very relaxed place; nobody dresses up, the waiters soon feel like friends, and the is food fresh, simple and always a bit surprising.

Those shiny little slices are raw sardines, tucked among satsuma tangerines, crisp fennel and radishes.
Have you ever seen lovelier turnips? Those little pearls are trout roe, and there’s white tarama hiding beneath all those vegetables.
A very delicate risotto with white wine and cepes.
The lightest preparation of bonito, steamed with bokchoi.
We just don’t have ducks like the ones in France. I found myself eating it at almost every meal. This one was simple and completely delicious.
Another fall classic: sweetbreads with various mushrooms.
And a satisfying way to end a meal: figs with shiso sorbet.

I went to the restaurant because Alice Waters recommended it. And I instantly understood: if you like Alice’s food, you’ll like Semilla. And, of course, the fact that they have the wines of Domaine Tempier makes everything taste even more delicious.

I rarely leave Paris without making at least one visit to Huitrerie Regis near St. Sulpice. It’s the most perfect oyster bar…. and the place to try the coppery, unforgettable Belons that taste like no other oyster. A fine place to bid farewell to a city where the food has never been better.
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Paris 3

November 15, 2019

But the most fascinating pairing of the trip was the day we ate lunch at Le Grand Restaurant and dinner at David Toutain.  Here you have two supremely talented chefs, both working in the modern idiom, offering completely contrasting notions of what a restaurant might be. 

David Toutain is a chef with a mission.  You know from the moment you walk into the rather strange room with its black walls and bright lights that this is not going to be completely comfortable.  What Toutain wants to do is challenge you.  If you do not leave a meal here with questions – what is food?, what is a restaurant? what is good service?- he will not be content.

The service could not be nicer, but the entire meals unfurls in frantic fashion.  The little towel for your hands arrives and – it’s cold!  Then the first dish comes to the table, a little sculpture with sticks of roasted salsify.  “Pick it up with your fingers.” 

After that the food just comes, and comes, and comes, at a really rapid pace.  There is nothing calm or relaxing about this restaurant.  Half the time you barely know what you are eating and the flavors are strong, intense, and filled with contrasts.

Jerusalem artichoke stuffed with smoked beef tartare.
Beets with white chocolate – served with another, and completely different iteration of the dish.
Celery root, shaved into pasta-like sheets, with hazelnuts and white truffles.
Scallop with celery (the chef’s current obsessions are various forms of celery and hazelnuts).
Focaccia, served with the most intense pine syrup you can possibly imagine.
Monkfish, cepes, hazelnuts
Lobster, served in three different iterations: grilled with juniper….
the claw with grapefruit followed by a bowl of strongly flavored bisque
My apologies for this terrible picture, but it’s proof of how shocked and delighted I was by the sheer force of the flavors: eel cooked in a thick black sesame sauce. It’s like music in your mouth: it keeps resonating long after the last bite is gone.
Next came rate duck, cheese, and the first of the many desserts.
blue cheese fluff with pear sorbet
seaweed and cider
chestnut, citron, lovage
The chef’s favorite childhood desert: beignets with cider.

I should mention that this is the short version of the meal. Those who opt for the major presentation get even more dishes: caviar with bananas, foie gras with butternut squash and clementines, hare with chocolate…. Either way, the staff is sympathetic, talkative, very present and the experience is exhilarating and challenging.

As for the restaurant itself – even the restrooms are unusual. It’s as if the chef wants to emphasize the fact that there is nothing ordinary about this experience. But if you’re willing to open yourself to it, you’ll leave with an entirely unique vision of food.

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Paris Notes 2

November 14, 2019

The most fascinating pairing of the trip was the day we ate lunch at Le Grand Restaurant and dinner at David Toutain.  Here you have two supremely talented chefs, both working in the modern idiom, offering completely contrasting notions of what a restaurant might be. 

Le Grand Restaurant is a little jewel box of a restaurant that makes you comfortable from the very moment you walk in.  Every object – from the beautiful glass ceiling to the plates on the table and the gorgeous Venetian glass decanters – is a gift to the eye.  You stroll past an open kitchen where the chefs call out a cheerful “bonjour” and into the soothing quiet of the restaurant.  The service is impeccable: walk in wearing jeans, a sweater and a dripping umbrella and the entire staff treats you as if you were a Dutchess clad in jewels.  It is clear they want you to be happy.

And it is almost impossible to be anything else here.  Children are cosseted, catered to, taken off to visit the kitchen.  The sommelier is solicitous. And the chef is among the most talented of the new modern chefs: his food is delicate, inventive, gorgeously conceived and always surprising.

First there is a long parade of amuses bouches that just keep arriving, one more inventive and delicious than the next.

And then the meal begins. Caviar is cooked with seaweed inside a huge yellow beet. When the lid of the casserole is removed the aroma swirls around the room in the most enticing fashion. The result is caviar raised to a new and even more seductive level.

White truffles are shaved, and shaved – the aroma rising, swirling, growing ever more intense – over an omlette souffle so light it has become a cloud of dreams.

Langoustines are barely cooked, so that they tremble on the fork.

An intermission: the most beautiful bowl arrives wih an intense vegetable stock dotted with bits of meat, with cepes, with…. So that each bite is different.

Yellowtail, cooked in that sherry-like vin jaune of the Jura, topped with cepes and arranged so beautifully it might be a piece of jewelry.

Simply the best, simplest sweetbread I’ve ever eaten has been cooked over smoking walnut shells, then topped with crisped salsify. So soft, so delicate, so tender.

Blue lobster cooked with marigolds, in an intense sauce matelote, the claws tucked into little crisps and served raw.

Dinner ends with an avalanche of desserts, but this inside-out floating island, filled with crème anglaise, was my favorite, along with those beautiful chocolate-dusted herbs.

As we left the chef came running out, horrified that we had managed to sneak away before before he had a chance to bid farewell. For him, it’s personal.

It’s a perfect restaurant experience: all about you.  You float out the door feeling like the most privileged person on the planet.  For a few precious hours you have been held in a delicious bubble where a group of talented people have set out to make sure that you are very, very happy.

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Paris Notes, 1

November 13, 2019

Paris may now be one of the most underrated restaurant cities in the world.  Everyone talks about Spain, about Copenhagen, about Los Angeles, and while it’s true that there was a moment – 10 or 15 years ago – when Paris restaurants started seeming really old-fashioned (especially compared to the new young energy everywhere else,) at this moment, it’s on fire.

During a long weekend in Paris I ate some of the most exciting food I’ve encountered anywhere.

Case in point: Maison.  Sota Atsumi, who was the chef at Clown Bar, has opened this serene space with an open kitchen where you can watch the chefs cooking in the wood-burning oven and grilling over a hibachi.  There are just a few widely spaced tables, and the sound level is just about perfect.

The 55 euro lunch may be one of the better restaurant bargains in the world right now.

Our meal began with an array of tiny tartlettes:

beet and haddock;  comte cheese with pumpkin,; onion, hazelnut and smoked ricotta.

 

 

A curl of delicate raw yellowtail  with tomato water, capers and tarragon

 

 

 

Gently charred rouget with a little compote of mussels, leeks, sweet peppers and herbs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A pithiviers of duck with foie gras and a quince compote and a side dish of beets, turnips and daikon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even the cheeses were special – a local goat, fresh from the farm, fourme d’ambert and the most amazing “black brie” from a local farmer. This is brie that has grown up, gained savvy, gotten tough.

 

 

 

Hazelnut Paris-Brest – with the most seductive caramelized apples with a little nub of vanilla ice cream flavored with Calvados.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe it’s because all of this food was so exactly to my taste – but it is hard for me to imagine a more perfect meal. And equally hard to imagine how you could possibly get this in New York for $55, tax and tip included.

 

I loved the food at Semilla too – a more relaxed, less ambitious restaurant where every dish is carefully conceived and beautifully plated.

A small blue-fish,  marinated,  with tangerine, crisp fennel and radishes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The loveliest beet salad – beets of many colors surrounded a  beet granita, with green mayonnaise and fresh cheese.

 

Salad of different radishes with tarama, trout roe and satsuma tangerines.

 

 

Risotto with cepes and white wine.

 

 

 

 

 

Fabulous duck

 

 

 

 

Sweetbread

 

 

 

Bonito, simply steamed in a bed of bok choi – really light.

 

 

 

 

 

Fresh figs with shiso sorbet

And to go with everything, the amazingly delicious Bandol Blanc from Domaine Tempier. We floated out the door.

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