Friday, November 16, 2007

Hog Island Oysters

On my last night in West Marin California I decided to have some friends over for dinner so I could get my last gasp of all the gorgeous local ingredients available there. I picked up some grass fed beef--the cowboy steak cut from Marin Sun Farms--and great greens from Star Route Farms. My friend Erik Schlagenhauf, the farm manager at Hog Island Oyster Company, said he'd bring some oysters! You can't get fresher than that!

Erik brought two of my favorite oysters that Hog Island produces, the Hog Island Kumamoto and the Hog Island Sweetwater. The "kummy's," as I call them, are a very small oyster that comes from Japan. They were sweet, plump, with a bit of a buttery finish--an oyster any novice would love and appreciate. The sweetwaters are incredible, and probably my most favorite oyster. These were so rich, plump and juicy, and had a very subtle briny flavor. One thing I notice about the Hog Island Oysters is they have almost have a milky color.

Hog Island is located on Tomales Bay, one of the most gorgeous esturaries of the Pacific Ocean. Approximately 20 miles long, it's a perfect location for raising oysters because the waters are cold, and move steadily with a good supply of the phytoplankton that the oysters snack on. Since oysters often spend 2 to 3 years to mature, water quality is incredibly important to them. The folks at Hog Island are dedicated to taking the best care of the ecosystem that they can, and you can taste it in their oysters.

Watching Erik and my friend Geoffrey shuck oysters was just incredible, pure art. Erik would tap the top of each oyster before opening one, somehow knowing by doing that whether they were good or bad, I think this comes with years of experience. He tried to explain it to me but I didn?t understand. Each oyster they opened was not torn or ripped but perfect. Also, they opened dozens in less than 20 minutes.

Anyone visiting Northern California along Highway One should make sure to stop for some oysters at Hog Island Oyster Company. They are open 7 days a week and honestly, it is one of the most romantic things you can do. Bring a nice bottle of Chablis or some local beer, and even pack yourself a picnic lunch. You can shuck the oysters right outside the farm where picnic tables are set up, and the view is spectacular. If you can?t make it to the farm, Hog Island has a fabulous little bar set up at the Ferry Plaza Market along the Embarcadero that is lovely as well.

Hog Island Oysters
The Farm Highway 1
Marshall, CA 4 15 .663.9218

Friday, November 9, 2007


I’ve been hearing about Benoit for years but somehow I’ve never visited this classic, and very expensive, Paris bistro. Recently I had the chance to go and I was enchanted.

The restaurant dates back to 1912 and is located near the Hotel De Ville. Recently it has been taken over by the Alain Ducasse group and Thierry de la Brosse. According to my knowledgeable friend Cedric Reversade, they have not changed much in the classic bistro fare though they have added some flourishes of their own. When I say French I mean really, really French: pate en croute, langue de veau Lucullus, filet de sole Nantua, and tete de veau traditionnelle with sauce ravigote. In short, the works. I’m an adventurous eater except when it comes to organ meat so I gave the tongue and the tete a wide berth.

A superb plate of warm, melting gougeres arrived after we sat down. I started with the salade langouste puce which was wonderful. The langoustine was perfectly cooked and served room temperature over bibb lettuce, girolles, (tiny chanterelles) and haricot verte. Cedric and Monique ordered the langue de veau Lucullus--thin layers of tongue and foie gras. It was served with leaves of romaine lettuce that were brushed with a creamy mustard vinaigrette which I did taste and loved.

For my entrée I ordered the pave de saumon sauvage roti with chanterelles, jus acidulé aux herbs. The grilled wild salmon was incredible--perfectly cooked, medium in the center, and served on the most earthy girolles I’ve ever tasted. The slightly acidic sauce brought out everything brilliantly and provided a nice balance to the fattiness of the fish.

So far so good. I was going to pass on dessert but Cedric insisted that I order the Savarin au Rhum (rum baba baked in a mold) and I submitted enthusiastically. They served the savarin along with crème fouetté, (slightly whipped cream with vanilla sugar) with two bottles of rum to choose from which are then poured over the savarin. Baba rhum is one of the trademarks of Alain Ducasse. After one bite I knew I was in love with the restaurant

As soon as I get home I’m pulling out my French cookbooks to make the Savarin among other dishes inspired by this evening. It’s so wonderful that the classic cuisine of France has been reinvigorated by Benoit.

20, rue Saint-Martin
75004 Paris

Friday, November 2, 2007

Food Shopping in Paris: Part One

One of the greatest pleasures in Paris for me is shopping for food. I always seem to discover something new. My second greatest pleasure is being able to have a kitchen to cook what I've gathered, as I did on my recent trip to Paris.

My friend Monique DuVeau and I were working on a shoot for the magazine and after a mediocre lunch out with our crew one day, I decided to cook lunch for the next few days. Monique knows every nook and cranny in Paris and I was armed with a list of a few places I’d heard of.

Our first stop was Joël Thiébault, who grows the most gorgeous and delicious vegetables I've ever seen in Paris. What makes him so unique is the variety of produce he offers, all of which he grows himself. Joël's great-grandparents were selling produce back in 1873. He grows hundreds and hundreds varieties of produce in Carrières-sur-Seine, not far from Paris. So many markets in Paris these days are full of gorgeous produce but most of it comes from every part of Europe except Paris. Chefs, discerning customers and loyal fans are lined up at Thiebault's by 8:00 in the morning.

I bought an array of vegetables but his lettuces in particular were just incredible, so fresh and crisp and full of flavor. I had forgotten how good lettuce could taste. I also bought potatoes, squashes, tomatoes, onions and some fresh vervine which I made an infusion with. Everything was amazing. There is no question that Joël is changing the produce landscape in Paris, and only for the better.

Joël sells Tuesday and Friday mornings market at Rue Gros in the 16th near Maison de le Radio. Wednesday and Saturday mornings he's at the President Wilson market in the 8th.