Friday, May 26, 2006

Stocking Up On Chocolate

I'm really not into desserts but if I do crave something sweet I like a piece of good chocolate. Whenever I'm in Paris I pick up a bar or two of my favorite chocolate from Bernachon, the genius chocolatier in Lyon. The only store that carries Bernachon chocolate in Paris is the eccentric shop of Denise Acabo in the 9th, L'Etoile d'Or. On my last visit Denise told me that she has been written up for having Bernachon chocolate in so many Japanese magazines that she now has to limit Japanese customers to two bars per person, otherwise her allocation from Bernachon would be gone in just a few days. Denise sells both their individual chocolates and an assortment of bars. I usually buy the sublime palets d'or, which are probably the most perfect pieces of chocolate in the world, plus an assortment of bars.

Also on this trip I discovered that Pierre Hermé, the innovative and influential Paris pastry chef, is selling a line of chocolates that come in very attractive packages. I picked up a few and they are unbelievably good. The ones filled with praline are extra light and there is a faint spice in the praline that I could not figure out. Each piece is the perfect size to satisfy whatever emotional need you need to satisfy.

L'Etoile d'Or, 30 rue Fontaine, 75009 Paris.

Pierre Hermé, 72 rue Bonaparte, 75006 Paris.
May 26, 2006

Monday, May 22, 2006

Brooklyn Treasures

For a while now I've been hearing about an artisanal sweet vermouth from Italy that makes the best manhattans (and is also swell drunk on its own) but I haven't been able to find it. Last week a friend told me that LaNell's, a great, quirky liquor store in Red Hook, Brooklyn carries it so I drove out there to find LaNell herself and the vermouth, Antica Formula ($22). Besides the Antica, LaNell has an array of the interesting and the very hard to find in wines, bitters, bourbons, tequilas and so forth all in one charming little store. Be careful crossing the street in Red Hook. It's like the Wild West out there and drivers obey laws known only to them. On my way home I stopped at a store on Atlantic Avenue called Butter. They didn't sell any but the shop was genius anyway…especially the shoes.

LaNell's, 416 Van Brunt Street, Brooklyn, NY. 718-360-0838.

Butter, 389 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, NY. 718-260-9033.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Le Vrai Cote du Boeuf

On a cold, rainy Sunday in Paris recently I was craving a great steak and pommes frites. I decided to go Au Boeuf Couronné in the 19th, the old slaughterhouse district of Paris. I wanted to go there because I heard they served pommes soufflés. My friend Rachel and I ordered cote du boeuf and pommes soufflés but they said that the pommes soufflés machine was broken. I was distressed; first that they did not have them and second that they were made by a machine. The romance was shattered. They are now very hard to find on a menu anywhere in France. The only other place I have had them was at Tour d”argent.
I am going to have to run down to E. Dehillerin, a wonderful old kitchen shop, and get to the bottom of the pommes soufflés machine. The cotes du boeuf was excellent.

A few days later my dear friend Monique du Veau and I got together for dinner and she took me to Le Sevro, a restaurant near her house in the 14th. She wanted to take me there because she said they have the best cotes du boeuf and pommes frites in Paris along with one of the best wine lists for a small bistro.
The restaurant was small, maybe 10 tables. The wine list was written on a chalkboard which takes up one whole wall of the restaurant. The owner is the waiter, receptionist, and sommelier and there is one cook in the kitchen. I could tell by the wine list that I was going to be in for a good meal because he carried all of my favorite small winemakers, the ones who are producing incredible wines, true to their terrior, like the Crozes-Hermitage from Dard and Ribo and the wines from Domaine Richaud fin Cairanne among many others. He had a long list of wines from St. Emillion from a producer I’d never heard of and I ordered an ‘88 which was only 80 euros and amazing and also biodynamic. The cotes du boeuf arrived and was unbelievable. I asked the owner where he got his meat and he gave me the name of a butcher who in his opinion was one of the best butchers left in Paris. I wish I had time to go visit, maybe next time. There was enough meat for 4 people. The frites arrived, hand cut. I have to say, they were the best I’ve ever eaten.

After dinner Monique reminded me of a dinner we once had at Chez L’ami Louis. She did not like our experience at that restaurant, ( I ate there once when there was a Louis cooking in the kitchen and it was genius). She thinks the owner is pretentious, and that the place is filled with tourists being hugely overcharged. Even more upsetting to her is that they serve the cote de boeuf without the bone!

PS. Up the street the owner has another restaurant that only serves fish, Le Bis du Sevro which I will try on my next visit. Maybe his wife runs that place.

My dog Bessie also enjoyed the week of leftovers

Stopped by Dehiliran and they said you use a mandolin for pommes soufflé.

Spoke with a great food editor in Paris about pommes soufflé and she said the trick is to slice them the right size and fry them twice in oil which must be the perfect temperature, she is going to send me a recipe she got from a very old chef and I will be passing that on as soon as I get it.

Though a true cut of cotes du bouef is hard to find in this country, Florence meat market in New York has fantastic porterhouse steaks dry aged to perfection. I get them cut 1 3/4 inches thick.

Restaurant Au Boeuf Couronné
188, avenue Jean-Jaures
75019 Paris

Le Sevro
8, rue Des Plantes
75014 Paris
*no English spoken

Bridge Kitchenware
711 3rd Avenue
NYC 10017

Florence Meat Market
Prime dry aged porterhouse steak

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Point of À Point

So it's impossible to get a good cup of coffee in Paris, but there is one thing the French still do perfectly—serve cheese when it's perfectly ready. À point, they call it.
Last week, for instance, I arrived in Paris, jet lagged. By 7:00 pm, I could hardly keep my eyes open so I ventured no further than my hotel's block and discovered Chez Fernand, a simple place that looked like it had some integrity. While waiting to be seated, I was encouraged to see a very handsome camembert that really spoke to me. My dinner done, I ordered it, and before she served it, my waitress proclaimed proudly that the cheese was perfectly À Point. It was almost as if she were introducing someone on stage.
The wheel arrived, the sides firm, center sunken just right, and when I sliced a wedge out of it, it did not ooze too quickly. It was a young camembert, not aged long but aged perfectly. (Usually camembert is either aged longer, with a hint more yellow and a bit more bite, or younger, which is milky in color and much fresher tasting.) This one was perfect, so I took its photo (see below).

Anyway, you'll want to know what I drank with the cheese—Chapoutier's Croze Hermitage, the perfect compliment and a good value at 16 euros. The next night at one of my favorite places, La Fontaine de Mars, they served my camembert already cut (see below for a photo), which was not chic, but I drank a brouilly, one of their house wines and it was fantastic. I usually don't order brouilly but now I will when I serve camembert at home.

Raw milk camembert is often available at Murray's Cheese, 254 Bleecker St., NYC. 212.243.3289.

Chez Fernand, 9 rue Christine (6th arrondissment), Paris.

La Fontaine de Mars, 129 rue saint-Dominique, Paris.

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Del Posto Post Script

I want to mention the great Movia glassware at Del Posto. It is handblown in Slovenia and the shapes are really original but also beautiful and just right in the hand. If you don't believe that wine tastes better in the perfect glass, try these. You can buy them through Italian Wine Merchants in Manhattan. 212-473-2323 or look on their website,

Monday, May 8, 2006

The Most of Del Posto

If you ask me most people don't get enough out of eating out. They'll go to a grand gorgeous restaurant like Bastianich and Batali's new elegant New York eatery, Del Posto, make their choices, select their wines and see their meal through to the end without improvising. I like to improvise. If you're on your toes you can tuck in a fourth course while your companions are busy chatting and eating three.
_The last time I was at Del Posto, as the guest of importer Dominic Nocerino of Vinifera, I ordered spaghetti with crab, scallions, and jalapeno (with the excellent Pra Soave Monte Grande, one of Dominic's wines), followed by stinco di vitello (with Martinetti Marasco Barolo 2000, another winner of Dominic's). Everything was superb, especially the pasta. (I told Mario this and he reminded me of the Dungeness crab he had at my house; the pasta was just a vehicle for crab, he said, and crab is now in season.)
_Anyway, all was well and more than well until I realized my friends were moving too quickly towards dessert and the end of serious drinking. You shouldn't rush an experience like Del Posto, so without drawing anyone else's attention, I ordered myself a plate of parmesan from the cheese list and a glass of Barolo. That's what I mean by making the most of things. My timing was perfect. The parmesan came with some surprising little jellies and the barolo by the glass was great. When I was ready for dessert I was ready to appreciate the wonderful zabaglione that Lydia made. But would it have been as wonderful to me if I hadn't had a little bumper course first? Didn't it deserve this drum roll?

Del Posto. 85 Tenth Avenue, NYC. 212-497-8090.

Monday, May 1, 2006

Why I Don't Make Pasta at Home

Well, for one thing, I'm always at Bellavitae, a small, perfect place in Greenwich village where they make the classic Roman pasta, Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe (spaghetti tossed with pecorino, black pepper and olive oil) which I love. When they tried to take it off the menu awhile back I threw a fit (you can do this when you eat at a place all the time). It's a simple dish but it's hard to get the balance of cheese, pepper and oil right. Bellavitae always does.
Recently, I noticed a slight difference in the spaghetti cacio e pepe. It was even better. So I asked, and yes, there was a difference; they had changed pepper grinders because they found that Peugeot pepper grinders are better because they shave the peppercorns instead of grinding them. They'd also switched to tellicherry peppercorns. A good restaurant is always making these kinds of small obsessive improvements. An obsessive diner is always on the ball enough to appreciate them. To celebrate the slightly revised and improved spaghetti I drank the Pieropan Soave which they serve by the quartino. I could easily have had this meal twice. That's the other reason I don't make pasta at home.
Bellavitae at Home: A lot of the imported ingredients at the restaurant (pasta, vinegar, olive oil) are for sale there.

Bellavitae. 24 Minetta Lane, NYC. 212-473-5121.