Thursday, September 21, 2006

Serious Paris Restaurant 4

L’Avant Gout

Without question, L’Avant-Gout (in the13th arr.) had the most innovative food I have eaten in a very long time—in fact, one could say that the meal was (almost) challenging. At least some portion of our first and main courses came with a shot glass that contained a puree that seemed to be a little gift from the chef. Mostly, the soups were cold, and I've got to say, in general, I'm not a fan of cold soups.

The physical space was small and cozy, adorned by the owner/chef’s own paintings and sculptures. As is common in many bistros, the menu was written on a chalkboard—which I love—in ubiquitous French/European script—which is not so lovable. Also, our server didn’t speak English so my mother-in-law and I did our very best to decipher the menu, leaving a just minor details to chance.

Initially, I found the food odd, and some of the evenings events conspired to set a mood (Winston fell asleep as soon as we arrived; Simon, who was disappointed not to find pommes frites on the menus, politely refused to order anything; I tripped walking out of the restaurant, seriously skinning a knee and instantly bruising the top of a foot). But I find that the further we get from the meal, the harder it is to forget the flavors, which were confident and unique.

The sardines in my starter were cured like herring, but with saffron and preserved lemon rather than dill and peppercorns. They were served with a savory cumin-spiked gaufrette (a thin, waffle-patterned wafer). The duck breast, which I have since learned was suffocated rather than bled to death, reposed in a puddle of the most intensely delicious sauce. And, my dessert was out-of-control unusual and incredibly delicious—what I wouldn’t give for a bowl of the very best, velvety soft vanilla ice cream with a thin, bright caramel sauce and black olives. Yes, you heard correctly, black olives. Little nicoise olives seemed to have been soaked in a liquid that removed a lot of the brininess. At first, they tasted bright and fruity, which was very intriguing; eventually, they tasted more like olives.

To start:
filets de sardines marines et courgette au citron confit et vinaigrette safranee (sardines and zucchini with a preserved lemon and saffron vinaigrette)

canard “sauvageon” roti, puree de pomme de terre et des legumes
(roasted duck breast and potato puree)

Crozes hermitage, Charles and Francois Tardy ‘04

glace de vanille, caramel d’olives noires

Rue Bobillot 26 (

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Welcome Fall

Last Saturday, Spice proclaimed a culinary salute to the end of summer. She and Hambone, with Alpha and Beta in tow, headed for the St. Paul Farmers' Market to scoop up corn, tomatoes, green beans, zucchini, and any other vegetable that symbolizes the summer bounty. Then, they went to the grocery store to buy nectarines, plums, and any other stone fruits still kicking around. She even had Hambone make a return trip to the grocery store to purchase ice cream.

Spice declared she was not ready to face the winter squashes, pears, and apples that have begun to insinuate themselves into the produce section. She even purchased more charcoal briquettes (yes, we use briquettes, and no one has grown horns yet) so the family could enjoy just a few more new grilling recipes that had been lovingly flagged in the pages of countless food magazines.

Spice has been cowering under the weight of leaden skies. She is conceding defeat as fall makes its debut this coming Saturday (the 23rd). Oh, the signs have been there all along. Over the past two weeks, Minnesota temperatures have been plummeting, and this week has been no exception.

Thoughts are turning very quickly to roasts, braised haunches of meat, chili, squash ravioli, butternut squash risotto, apple crisp, pumpkin-pecan muffins with a sweet drizzle of icing, hot chocolate, wake-up tea, oatmeal studded with raisins.

Oh do go on.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Serious Paris Restaurant 3

Rotisserie d’en Face

As I understand it, in the early 90s, many of the hottest restaurateurs in Paris opened satellite bistros. Often within close proximity of their mothership, these restaurants offer a more affordable but no less delicious opportunity to sample a chef’s wares. One such restaurant is Rotisserie d’en Face, located—as you might have guessed if you know French—across the ribbon-narrow street from Jacques Cagna’s eponymous restaurant.

The dining room is painted a warm, golden yellow and is decorated in a charming French country style. The servers were remarkably friendly and patient as we placed our orders, happy to answer any question we might have. The menu was solid with many interesting choices to make. Roasted and grilled meat is the house specialty. Occasional glimpses into the kitchen revealed gleaming cabinet-size rotisseries full of plump birds, slowly bronzing to roasted perfection. Other items veer toward the traditional, such as escargot and frogs’ legs, or toward new flavors, such as a cold asparagus soup with mizo. In addition to the printed menu, a board listed daily specials. Everything about the meal was pleasant, even as we noticed that the restaurant was full and that each party was large (eight or more people) and American. The less said the better. To the food:


kir royale

To Start
Green lentil salad, cold black sausage, horseradish seasoning

Simmered rabbit leg, small onions and new season’s turnip
Wine: Crozes Hermitage, cuvee alberic bouvet, 2004

Rice pudding, caramel sauce, apricot compote

La Rotisserie d'en Face
2 Rue Christine,

*After dinner, Hambone and Spice took Alpha and Beta, who were a little squirrelly following their glace chocolat, for a ride on the bateau mouche. The evening was cool (it was close to 11 p.m.) but clear, and the boys were able to see why Paris is called the City of Lights.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Serious Paris Restaurant 2

Brasserie Flo

On the second evening of our Parisian holiday, we traveled to the 10th arrondissement, alighting from the metro at Chateau d’Eau (named after a fountain erected in 1811) to find ourselves in a sketchy neighborhood. Most of the restaurants were of the ethnic, take-away variety, and it was a challenge to imagine how the oldest brasserie in Paris fit into this scene. However, not far down the blvd St. Denis, we spotted the small but distinctive Flo sign, which directed us through a passage. It felt a bit like we’d stepped through a portal into another world. The cour des Petites-Ecuries was surprisingly cheery, dotted on either side by charming bistros. Coolers just outside the door of Flo tempted with displays of plump oysters and other fruits de mer.

According to the (UK) Guardian, brasseries (brewery in French) originated as beer taverns at the end of the nineteenth century when residents of Alsace fled to Paris after their region was subsumed by Germany. Eventually, these restaurants evolved into grand dining rooms, many of which are still adorned in Art Nouveau finery, featuring Alsatian specialties, such as choucroute (mountains of sauerkraut festooned with sausage). Brasserie Flo isn't just one example of a classic brasserie. No, it's now a small empire with restaurants in other French towns (in fact, we have reservations at the Reims location) and in such far-flung outposts as Barcelona. Flo even has a "keeper of the temple"—an owner who holds the history of his restaurant and its neighborhood.

Flo's walls and ceiling have a golden patina from 120 years of tobacco smoke, punctuated by mirrors and pastoral murals. Dark-wood banquettes are laid with white table linens, fine china, and heavy silverware. The food is good, but not exceptional. The service is measured, but the servers are surly. In fact, the waitstaff changed with every course so we never knew who was able to help us if we needed something. We suspected that women could only take drinks and dessert orders, and I wouldn't be surprised if this some sort of time-honored practice. But, we thoroughly enjoyed our meal, especially after a heavy day of sightseeing that involved using a batobus as our main form of transportation.


To Start
Foie de canard "maison" compotee de fruits secs (house duck foie gras with dried fruit compote)

Filet de perche au coulis de crustaces, des courgettes meuniere (perch filet with a shellfish sauce and zucchini sauteed in butter)

Profiteroles avec vanille glace et sauce chocolat (profiteroles filled with vanilla ice cream, swimming in warm chocolate sauce)
(I wish I had a photo of this gloptuous sweet, but I was a little flustered after our server unexpectedly yelled at me because she'd brought the wrong dessert order. Yes, I know...)

Brasserie Flo
7, cour des Petites-Ecuries,

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Serious Paris Restaurant 1

Le Reminet

On our first evening in Paris, we were able to reserve a table at Le Reminet before they closed for the August vacation. I’d read many strong online reviews about this Left Bank bistro in the shade of Notre-Dame, which is almost always described as a family-run restaurant. But there’s nothing mom-and-pop about it.

Packaging is the first thing I noticed about the restaurant. A deep-purple sign with a very modern san serif font graced the façade. Inside, no more than 10 tables were squeezed between the cozy stone walls, yielding an intimate dining room. The refined menu featured seasonal and regional ingredients, cleverly prepared by Norman chef Hugues Gournay and graciously served by his wife.

Hambone ordered an amazing roasted chicken breast stuffed with blue cheese, while the little boys tucked into their first steak of the trip, chased with their first ice-cream scoops. Alpha requested chocolate ice cream, which the kitchen did not have. But before we even had a chance to suggest vanilla with chocolate sauce, usually a fine back-up, our server said, “Chocolate? It is possible.” Not knowing what that meant, we held tight until two balls of glace chocolat appeared. Unbeknownst to us at the time, someone had run to the corner ice-cream shop to buy chocolate scoops for the polite little boy who requested them. Considering that the restaurant was very busy and that it was their last night before vacation, this was a level of service that was pleasantly surprising (and more than made up for often rude service at other restaurants during our stay).

The restaurant was quite dim so I didn’t bother taking pictures, much to my regret. Hambone and I decided that if we lived in Paris, Le Reminet would be a place where we’d happily become regulars. Even though the high temperature on this early August day had been in the mid 90s, the menu’s flavors gave a nod to fall.

Cocktail and Amuse
kir royale, pate toasts, squares of cheese puff pastry

To Start
salade de caille des dombes, raisins marines au cognac et pignons de pin grilles (quail salad, grapes marinated with cognac and grilled pine nuts)

onlet de bouef, confit d’echalotes au poivre vert, gratin Normand aux oignons, poireaux et ementhal (hangar steak with preserved shallots and green peppercorns, Norman gratin with onions, leek and Emmenthal)

nougat glace aux vieux pommeau et calva, caramel d’abricots et de pommes au cidre Normand (cold nougat with pommeau and calvados, caramelized apricots and apples in Normandy cider)

Le Reminet
3, rue des Grands-Degrés