Thursday, July 17, 2014

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Le Chateaubriand, Paris

"I know what I'm getting for dinner tomorrow night," professed my friend Kenny, then a 2-year resident of Paris. Then I had to explain to him that Le Chateaubriand is not, as the name might imply, some stuffy, starched-linen tablecloth, overpriced, old-school Parisian joint that specializes in its namesake hunk of beef. Not at all. When I told him that it's an experimental, prix-fixe modern bistro, headed by a young culinary wiz and autodidact, he rolled his eyes and said, "Oh no, a 'Drizzled Walnut'!" -- his term for any frilly restaurant that serves walnut-sized pieces of protein drizzled with a sauce that requires the waiter to invoke 4 verbs and 17 adjectives in describing it. "No, it's not like that," I reply. "You can wear jeans!" And so dinner, as they say, was on.

After enjoying aperitifs in a nearby cafe-bar, my 3 American, Paris-dwelling friends and I proceeded to Le Chateaubriand just after the designated 9:30 arrival time -- they take reservations up to their 8:30 seating, and it's a free-for-all from 9:30 onward. It was in line outside the restaurant that we met an American couple honeymooning in Paris, after hitting some traditional honeymoon hot spots in Italy. They, like many Americans, had seen the restaurant featured on the final season of Anthony Bourdain's food-travel show, "No Reservations." He and top toque Eric Ripert, of NYC's best seafood spot Le Bernardin, found Le Chaueaubriand's food to be exciting, fresh, and genial: high praise coming from as renowned a chef as Ripert, and as seasoned an eater as Bourdain. I suspect that episode fueled many a traveler like our Long Island honeymooners to show up in line here. And so we waited, but only for about 20 minutes: it turns out our group of 4 got seated more quickly than the several two-tops in line ahead of us. A happy circumstance. We were famished.

Le Chateaubriand offers a single prix-fixe meal each evening, and you can order wine and cocktails and beer by the glass, or go for the accompanying drinks menu -- which of course we selected -- for an additional 60 euros. I recommend this, not so much for value purposes (often times you get more bang for your buck by wisely selecting bottles from the wine list), but because here you get truly interesting pairings.
And it goes beyond wine to offer sparkling wine, cider, and beyond. Now, there are certainly repeat dishes that the chef puts on offer (to wit: his famous egg dessert. More on that later). But the menu is seasonal and changes with such frequency that you'd most likely be unable to order much of anything I'll describe here. This is more to give you a feel for power chef Inaki Aizpitarte's French cuisine that has been labeled "daring and challenging." I find it innovative, beautiful, often exhilarating, sometimes baffling...and the experience is a lot of fun, a memorable Parisian evening.

MENU

Amuse bouche:
-Liqueur de tomatoes L. Cazottes: This was a ceviche in fresh tomato and onion water with coriander flowers. Delicious and fresh.
Chambolle Musigny, 2010 (pinot noir) Bourgogne Fred Cossard


-Bonite de Saint Jean de Luz, fenouil, sauge: Bonito is a fish in the mackerel and tuna family, sort of a cross between the two. This one hailed from southwestern France, the Basque coast. Beautifully cooked to pink and covered in fennel, artichokes, baby carrot, and fried sage.
Anfora, 2007 (Vitobska) Venezia Giulia Vodopivec



We had a few off-menu courses that were tossed into the mix, gratis -- more like snacks, really. But these were some of the most delicious elements of the meal. They brought us a gorgeous little plate of teeny whole shrimp, shell intact and everything, which were dusted with a tamarind powder. These were lip-smackingly good -- an innovative take on peel-and-eat shrimp that left me wanting to devour several plates all by myself.
We also enjoyed an interim "salad" of sorts, which was a small, charcoal gray earthen bowl filled with a study in vibrant green. The flavors were vegetal but varying: tender early summer baby greens, sweet fresh peas (I am not a pea fan by any stretch, but these were raw and and sweet without the mealy starch I dislike), and sea asparagus or samphire, probably my favorite vegetable around.


- Barbue, sureau, beurre noisette: This is brill, a flat fish much like turbot, with elderflower, Japanese eggplant, and brown butter with sesame seeds. On the plate, it looks like a study in one-note pallor. The appearance belies the tremendous amount of flavor of the entire dish, not to mention the wonderful texture between the firm, flaky fish, the soft fleshy eggplant, the crunchy nuttiness of the sesame, and the floral sweetness of the elder. Unlike anything I've ever tasted.
Sous la Lune, 2012 (Grenache,carignan) Cote du Rhone Nicolas Renaud

















- Ris de veau, pampelmousse de Corse, tournesol: These were delicious and delicate sweetbreads on a bruleed grapefruit, with sunflower and long, elegant baby onions.
Cumieres (Chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot menier) Champagne 1st Cru George Laval


















- Citron de Sicile, concombre, liveche: This was a sort of palate-cleansing entry into dessert, with Sicilian cedro (citron) granita, cucumber, and lovage (a citrus-scented green). Apparently I enjoyed it so much, and so quickly, that I didn't take a photo of it. Pardonnez-moi!
Biere Blanche Philomene

-Tocino del Cielo: We're back to this signature dessert dish of Aizpitarte's. And it's light and lovely and a cute visual/gustatory "trick" of sorts. It's a candied egg yolk atop a meringue egg shell with yolk "powder." It's barely sweet and delicious. (I could have used some chocolate, however. This is France, after all.)
Palo Cortado Fernando de Castilla
The egg dessert as it arrives at the table

The candied yolk is broken


And so our wonderful, interesting meal was over. My Parisian-dwelling friends have returned several times since then, and they're always guaranteed a dining experience unlike any other in the City of Light. That summer evening at Le Chateaubriand, we were quite happy to have enjoyed it together. Bisous mon ami!

 












LE CHATEAUBRIAND 129 Avenue Parmentier 75011
Paris, France
+33 1 43 57 4595
www.lechateaubriand.net







Thursday, July 3, 2014

The vlog: 4th of July Berry Mojito

July 4th is the perfect time to get exceedingly patriotic. And I do. I've made more all-American meals for clients than I can count, baked more red-white-and-blue cakes and pastries and tarts than I care to remember. And the 4th of July -- just an ordinary day for the Italians in Italy -- was always a favorite holiday of mine in Rome. I once gave myself an American flag pedicure for the occasion! Okay, maybe that was going a bit overboard. But it was the day we Americans could declare our American-ness, our patriotism, and our love for making fun of our beloved British friends. We got together for cookouts and pool parties, and ate hot dogs and hamburgers of our own making. And the drinks. Always, said the Italians, we knew how to make the most delicious cocktails. Of course, the mojito isn't exactly American. But anything and red (strawberries, raspberries), white (rum), and blue (blueberries) -- well, that qualifies. So here we have a "patriotic" berry mojito that's perfect for sharing with friends on July 4th, and throughout the heat of summer. The lime and fresh mint give the drink a zing and a refreshing bite that cut through the sugar and sweetness of the berries. Replace the rum with cachaรงa or vodka for a berry caipirinha or caipiroska, respectively -- a nod to the World Cup host country and a perfect drink to enjoy while viewing this exciting soccer tournament, live from Brazil.

Enjoy, and HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY!

video 


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

QUICK BITE: Empanadas and Leche de Fruta, Quintero, Chile

Why does food -- and drink, for that matter -- always taste better when you're beachside? It's true. Think spaghetti alle vongole while overlooking the Mediterranean at a beach trattoria in Ostia. Or devouring a spicy green papaya salad purchased from a seaside cart in Krabi, Thailand. Or tucking into a rich shrimp moqueca while your toes are in the sand at a restaurant on the island of Morro de Sao Paolo in Brazil. I've done all of those things, and loved every minute of it. And somehow, the excitement of seaside snacking does not abate.
   
For instance, while most of the northeastern United States was suffering through a frigid first few weeks of the new year, I spent an afternoon in the Pacific Ocean-side town of Quintero, Chile, just about an hour north of Vina del Mar. It was a bit of an odd, popular place...sort of the Jones Beach of Chile, it seemed. And the locals we encountered there -- and we encountered only locals, as we were certainly the sole gringas on the beach that day -- seemed dressed more for an autumn outing in the park rather than the beach on an 82-degree afternoon in southern hemisphere summer. But no matter. We soaked up the sun and the beautiful natural surroundings of a cove we found, and then before getting a ride back to Vina, we indulged in a snack sold to us by a lovely older Chilean woman whose Spanish I was able to understand (Chilean Spanish is...challenging, I'll put it that way), and who was able to understand my Spanish in return. As a result, we enjoyed a frothy fresh mango juice and a couple of empanadas, one filled with fresh crab and cheese, the other with ground beef, onions, olives, and pine nuts, all wrapped up in a flaky pastry shell. This was the perfect snack to give us the energy to make it to dinner -- which was sure to be seaside, and to include at least one kind of ceviche. And since it was all consumed seaside, it was, of course, extra-delicious.