Friday, June 27, 2008


It’s been my custom as a food editor to go to Paris once or twice a year carrying the latest list of hot new restaurants or simply armed with one major tip from a friend of a friend. Given that, how do you explain that 12 years have gone by without my ever going to Petrelle? I have to admit that this is kind of shocking. I did hear about Petrelle a few years back but every time I called it was booked and I can’t usually plan my meals weeks or months in advance.

Petrelle is so good that it is the first place I’ve been to since I closed my restaurant, Lora, that has made me want to open another. And that is saying quite a lot.

The occasion of my visit was the 30th birthday of my friend Monique’s daughter. We arrived at Petrelle and I was thrilled to see a basket of meringues that set my heart beating to a dangerous rhythm. I love meringues and these were nestled among gorgeous cherries and other berries. Quite close by there was a display of seasonal vegetables that I was sure were going to be part of my meal. Wild asparagus, girolles, carrots, and so forth. The chef was in the kitchen with one assistant, so I introduced myself and he seemed quite happy to meet me even though we really didn’t have much chance to talk.

As a first course I had cocotte en oeufs, basically a poached egg in a cream infused with garlic and topped with chives-- so decadent, so delicious. When I asked my French friends about this recipe they described it as Grandmother’s food, in other words, an old comfort food standard. Next we had a crazy salad of artichokes topped with fried basil. But better than that was the blanched wild asparagus topped with sautéed girolles,(a small mushroom a little like a chanterelle and exceptionally flavorful). This was the best spring dish I’ve tasted all season.

We drank a Saint Joseph from Domaine Cheze “Do rée”, a mouthful of apricots, honey and almonds with a perfect acidic finish that went wonderfully with the food. The chef told me he tastes every wine on the list and looks for the best small producers he can find. (I should mention that the ravioli with lobster and asparagus was not great; the dough was too soft, and the sauce overwhelmed the asparagus and lobster. )

Next we drank a 2001 Nuits St George “ Au Bas De Combe” Jean Tardy, followed by an ‘88 Cheval Blanc. Both were amazing but as usual the Cheval Blanc took some time to open up. When it did that intense layer of cherry emerged and I was so happy I forgot about jet lag. I did not take notes on everyone’s next course but I do remember mine: I ordered roasted pigeon which was cooked to perfection.

For dessert I first wanted something that the waiter discouraged me from trying, directing me instead to the frais des bois ( wild strawberries) served with an amazing custard, topped with a sweet crispy cracker. Then came the baskets of meringues, perfectly dry on the outside and chewy on the inside. Yeah, he was right as was everything about Petrelle..

34, rue petrelle
Telephone 01 42 82 11 02

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Hungry Cat

When I tell you I was late for lunch at The Hungry Cat, I’m sure you’ll realize that the place is hard to find. Why else would I be late for a meal, ever? The Hungry Cat is in a setting that resembles a strip mall but don’t let that deter you. I sat outside for awhile and imagined myself in Milan in the 80s—not much to look at really, but a good place nonetheless.

I loved watching a Fruits de Mer platter of the most gorgeous seafood being assembled at the raw bar, and I loved the casual energy of the bar activity with delicious looking citrus drinks being made and sent to the tables.

Chris and I started with a cocktail, which I can’t remember having done before in the middle of the afternoon but the cocktail list was so seductive that I couldn’t resist. I wanted to try the Bitter Rose, which was made with rose petal infused boomsma gin, averna, strawberries and lemon or the Echo Park. I went for the Echo Park which was made with altius vodka, lime juice, muddled mango, cucumber and chili salt. It was wonderfully thirst quenching and refreshing with all the flavors infused in a sublime way with a subtle bite of chili at the finish. Next time I’m going to try the mint julep. Chris had the ice tea which came with a side of simple syrup, a detail I always love.

Amanda had told me to order the sea urchin, but they didn’t have it because it was Sunday and no one was diving for them. (I loved that bit of information.) We opted for Alaskan king crab claws. When that plate arrived I knew we were in for a great meal. I was reminded of eating at 72 Market Street in Venice, Ca. 20 some odd years ago. That restaurant had the most perfect plating ever—just very simple so that the ingredients just stood out. Anyway, the crab came with two sauces, a mayonnaise based sauce with whole mustard and a cocktail sauce. The mayo/mustard sauce was my favorite with the crab; crab needs a little fat. The cocktail sauce was too strong for the delicate flavor of the meat. I switched to a glass of Spanish Albarino white which came in a tumbler. I loved that as well.

Amanda had also told me that The Hungry Cat had the best hamburger in LA so I ordered the pug burger though I also wanted to try the lobster roll, the grilled fish tacos, the soft shell crab sandwich, and the cornmeal-crusted fried oysters. Ah, well. Chris ordered from the brunch menu and had the house-made chorizo and eggs with queso fresco and romesco sauce. I loved the burger which came with blue cheese, bacon and avocado and the best fries I’ve had in LA. Hand cut, crispy, and not too greasy. My only complaint about the burger was about the bun which was a little too chewy and dry for my taste. Chris’s dish was perfection: the chorizo was sublime, the eggs on top with rich yellow yolks were cooked perfectly and the romesco was a nice touch. They even served warm tortillas to sop it all up.

What I love about the food here is that nothing is overdone, and the ingredients can stand-alone. It takes a lot of discipline to cook that way, layering food to achieve perfection. So many restaurants I go to work hard to make everything sound brilliant on the menu, but when you get your dish it doesn’t measure up to the advance publicity. I can’t wait to go back to the Cat and order from the rest of the menu. I’m also going to try more of the cocktails like the Hendrick’s gin, cucumber juice and fresh lime.

The Hungry Cat
1535 North Vine
(Sunset & Vine)
Hollywood, CA 90028
323 462 2155

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Mercato in Red Hook, New York

Spending time in Rhinebeck, NY at my gardens has had its drawbacks and one of them has been the dearth of good local restaurants. I was going to Gigi’s with the regularity of a homing pigeon until some friends introduced me to Mercato in the town of Red Hook (birthplace, I hear, of Eleanor Roosevelt). I loved it the first time and went back last week and was equally charmed. Is it perfect? No, but charm doesn’t always have to be.

Mercato occupies a beautiful old building with big windows that wrap around the front. There is a great bar on one side of the restaurant which accommodates diners nicely, but I sat in the restaurant proper on my first visit and enjoyed it's excellent vibe and found the service just fine. Then too, as a neat freak, I appreciated the super clean kitchen which is open to the dining room and has sparkling pots and pans.

On my second visit we sat on the porch which is romantic if you don’t mind shockingly bad service. At one point I almost went to the kitchen to my fire up my own meal. It was comic. We asked to have our wine opened and the waiter came with glasses but no corkscrew. Everyone was served at different times and so forth. So, sit indoors if you are in a hurry because this place is short staffed.

The kitchen is manned by Francesco Buitoni who is the chef/co-owner. He’s busy running around in his shorts cooking, greeting customers, and sending out good vibes from his kitchen. On this last visit I had the soft shell crab appetizer on a bed of flageolet and braised cabbage. It was cooked to perfection and the braised cabbage and beans really complemented the soft shell crab. Francesco tries to use as many local and organic ingredients as he can which I appreciate. I can’t remember the name of the farm they got their broccoli rabe from but it was incredibly tender and full of flavor. When you start growing your own vegetables, you realize how bad most of the stuff from grocery stores is.

For an entrée I ordered roast chicken, but the waiter came back to tell me the oven just broke and there would be no roast chicken. Love That. Yeah, don’t want to have mine crudo, thanks. I just had to laugh. I ordered the tagliatelle with ragu instead. The pasta was cooked perfectly,
the sauce was kind of a basic 101 ragu, not a long simmered one, but it was tasty. No complaints. My friends had the pumpkin ravioli which was really good.

The wine list is very well edited but you can bring your own too. The last time I was there we had a bottle of the Soave from Pieropan which is one of my favorites. There were also many great whites and reds to choose from.

I’m going to be a regular at Mercato. I love the crowd, love the room, and the menu changes all the time. Most of all I love to be able to go somewhere local and get a good home cooked meal that’s cooked with love.

61 E. Market St.
Red Hook, NY