An episode from 2004 when I was Chef at Pili Pili in Chicago. Nice to see my wife featured in there amongst old friends.
This recipe comes at the request of my wife Lisa who enjoys hummus in all it’s forms and variations. The history of Hummus is unclear with a few different nations claiming it as their own. Chickpeas have been around the Mediterranean since forever though they likely came from Western Asia. The Phoenicians introduced them to Spain. Excavations around Languedoc show that wild chickpeas grew there. Roman vendors used to sell roasted chickpeas at events throughout their Empire. You can still find chickpea fritters being sold at events in the South of France. I like serving Hummus underneath Kibbeh and a refreshing Cucumber Salad.
- 15 oz Chickpeas, cooked
- ½ c. Tahini
- ½ Lemon Juice
- to taste Sea Salt/Pepper
- Puree everything till smooth as silk. Add enough water to achieve this. Add as much olive oil that suits your taste!
“I have lived all my life in the name of good taste. Now I am to die by the hands of people with bad taste.”
– Madame du Barry
On 14 July, as they do every year, millions of French men and women will celebrate the fall of the Bastille in 1789. The passing years have shown, however, that the guillotine might have better served as a better symbol of the momentous events now recalled as the French Revolution. The truth is that life in the Bastille was simply not all that difficult. In fact, for many of those residing there, the Bastille may have been one of the best pre-revolutionary restaurants of Paris. During his own stay there, the Marquis de Sade passed his time washing down truffled sausages with fine Bordeaux wines. On the day the Bastille was actually liberated, there were only six “prisoners” in attendance. One, imprisoned for failure to pay his debts, insisted on staying in his three room suite long enough to finish his roast pheasant dinner. Another demanded that the crowd help him carry away the more than 50 bottles of wine that he had set aside for his use.
In fact, when the crowd tore down the Bastille, they were unknowingly carrying out a plan for which Louis XVI had already set aside funds. In what may be another interesting footnote to history, of the six liberated prisoners, three were eventually executed by the same people who freed them, two emigrated to America and one, Andre Dubois, harmless but quite insane, went on to become a member of the French senate.
French gastronomes of all classes were concerned with the influence of the revolution on their dining habits. Grimod de la Reyniere, a well known banker and gastronome of the ancien regime considered the Revolution little more than “an unpleasant interlude when austerity had to be simulated and chefs given their notice. If it had lasted”, he wrote, “France might have actually lost the recipe for fricasseed chicken.” One of his chefs, Antoine Broissard took it a bit more seriously. When Broissard discovered that he could not locate any Nantes ducklings to serve for dinner one evening, he hung himself in his kitchen. One of the problems that Reyniere did not dwell upon was that many of France’s most devoted gourmets ended both their revolutionary zeal and their gastronomic endeavors by a meeting with the falling blade of the guillotine.
It may be of some historic interest to know just what many of these people ate just before keeping their appointment with the Widow, as the guillotine was known. Danton, surely the most charming of the revolutionaries and a great gourmet dined on stuffed squab, fresh asparagus and raspberry sorbet before his execution. Robespierre, Danton’s rival but not a man who specially appreciated good food, supped on a thick lentil soup just before his own moment of truth. The Duke of Burgundy dined elegantly on salmon mousse and apple pie and Armond, the Prince of Conde had a light snack of salmon in mousseline sauce. As to the women, the only form of equality between the sexes that the legislators of the revolution believed in was the guillotine which decapitated members of either sex with equal dispatch. Marie Antoinette, Madame Roland and Charlotte Corday, the three most eminent women of the revolution were among its victims.
Marie Antoinette, executed as much for her rudeness to her jailers as for her royal position, sipped Champagne and ate truffled pate de foie gras before she was taken off for her final humiliation. The twenty five year old Charlotte Corday, who had slain the revolutionary leader Marat, declined a final dinner but nibbled on a chocolate éclair while standing on the platform of the guillotine, annoying the executioner somewhat because of what he considered an unnecessary delay in carrying out his duty. Madame Roland, the feminist of the group, dined simply on poached eggs, a small wedge of Brie cheese and an apple. Madame du Barry, the last great courtesan of the royal days, and a woman of elevated taste in food as well as in lovers, is said to have dined on raspberries with fresh cream before being carted off to the guillotine. Du Barry’s final words were: “I have lived all my life in the name of good taste. Now I am to die by the hands of people with bad taste.”
I am celebrating Bastille Day by making my interpretations of a famous last meal from the Bastille, the Marquis de Sade’s Truffled sausages. I am serving them with potato puree and sauteed apples.
- 26 ounces lean Veal
- 9 ounces pork fatback
- 18 grams fine salt
- 2 grams ground white pepper
- 1 gram ground nutmeg
- as much Truffles as you can afford, about four ounces diced fine
- about 5 feet medium hog casing
- Cut the meat and fat into pieces small enough to pass through grinder. Partially freeze.
- Grind the veal using a disk with ⅜" (10 mm) diameter holes. Grind the fat using a disk with 3/16" (5 mm) diameter holes.
- Combine the meat and fat with the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Chill thoroughly. Add as much chopped truffles as your budget will allow.
- Soak the casings in cold water until soft. Thoroughly rinse the casing inside and out.
- Set up a sausage stuffer. Fill the bowl of the stuffer with the forcemeat. Be careful not to leave any air pockets in the mixture.
- Slide the casing on the fill tube. Tie a knot at the end of the casing after it is fully on the fill tube.
- Fill the casing with the forcemeat. Do not overfill the casings. Guide the casing along the work surface as it fills.
- Tie a knot at the other end of the filled casing that comes off the stuffing tube. “Massage” the sausage to ensure that it is filled evenly. Twist the filled casing to make 5" long sausages.
- Place the sausages on a rack and dry for a couple of hours in a refrigerator. Using a fine skewer or needle, puncture the skin over any visible air bubbles and puncture evenly along the length of the sausages.
- Use within a couple of days or wrap tightly and freeze.
- To cook the sausage, poach in 180 °F (82 °C) water until the interior temperature reaches 160 °F (71 °C). Drain and fry briefly in a hot pan to crisp the skin.
Paul Virant‘s book explores in depth different pickling techniques and recipes that are so easy to add to your repertoire. I had done small amounts of pickling prior to picking this book up, now I am pickling everything. I have made Sake Pickled Summer Tomatoes, Pickled Okra, Charred Spring Onion Pickles, Moroccan Pickled Baby Carrots and more… Preserving goes hand and hand with the concept of our charcuterie bar.
Yield: Three Quarts
- 4 cups Water
- 2.25 cups White Wine Vinegar
- ½ cup Sugar
- 28 grams Sea Salt
- 3 teaspoon Coriander Seeds
- 3 teaspoon Fennel Seeds
- 3 teaspoon Black Peppercorns
- 3 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
- 6 teaspoons Harissa Powder
- 51 ounces Baby Carrots, peel, blanched
- Boil all ingredients, except carrots.
- Stuff carrots in jars
- Seal jars, boil 20 minutes
- Let sit for a few weeks.
- ¼ c. Olive Oil
- 4 oz Seared Ahi, sliced into four pieces
- 1 t Fennel Pollen
- 1 t dried Orange Zest
- 1 ball Greek Flatbread, or pizza dough
- 2 Plum Tomatoes, sliced and dried in oven
- 3 oz Feta Cheese, diced
- 10 Olives, pitted, halved
- 1 oz Frisée Lettuce
- Marinate Ahi in olive oil, fennel pollen and dried orange zest for at least four hours.
- Arrange tomatoes, feta and olives over flatbread.
- Bake till done.
- Arrange tuna on top and garnish with frisée.
Lisa and I celebrated our tenth anniversary by dining at Figue. All summer long Figue has been visiting various countries as part of a staycation program. July is all about France. Our bar is featuring various hors d’oeuvres typically found in Parisian wine bars that our bartenders have created French inspired cocktails to pair with; Celeste our Sommelier has picked a wide range of great French wines, we have a special Bastille Day celebration planned and all month long we are featuring a Brasserie styled menu loaded with all the classics of French cooking. That’s what brought me in. Good old fashioned French food. Comfort food.
We started with two flutes of Champagne and a plate of Beausoleil Oysters from Eastern Canada.
We ordered a bottle of La Fleur Gazin and moved onto to Duck Galantine with Housemade Pickles followed by grilled Onglet (hangar steak) frites with Bearnaise and Short Rib Bourguignonne.
The steak frites were unbelievable. I never have understood why people like filets so much. They have a terrible consistency and almost no flavor in comparison to a rib eye or hangar. The short rib Bourguinonne melted in my mouth and sang with the wine.
Next we had the Chocolate Pots de Creme. Rich, deep chocolate yumminess!
Next was a trio of mignardises to nibble on with my cappuccino. All together it was a great meal. I hate saying that about my own food because I am really not egotistical. I love French comfort food as it is what I grew up eating. Please come and visit us this month at www.EatFigue.com
Thank God fig season is back! French author George Blond once quipped the fig was “the manna of the Mediterranean countries.” Especially if we take the dictionary definition literally, ‘Spiritual nourishment of divine origin.’ Figs have been cultivated since the dawn of time. Assyria used figs as a natural sweetener; figs were grown in the hanging gardens of Babylon; they were important to the Phoenician economy; baskets of figs were buried with Egyptian rulers in the great tombs; they were the favorite fruit of the Greeks. Figs first appeared in America in the 1600’s brought over by the Spaniards. They were planted in California and known as Mission Figs. 90 % of USA production is in California. Figs appear with great frequency on our menu at Figue Mediterranean (www.EatFigue.com). One of our more popular fig dishes is our tagliatelli of figs and pancetta.
Tagliatelle al Pancetta e Fichi│ Hand Rolled Tagliatelle, Pancetta, Conserved Figs, EVOO
Chef François de Mélogue
Ingredients for four orders:
400 g Semi Dried Figs, sliced
160 ml Olive Oil
80 ml Balsamic Vinegar
to taste Sea Salt and Black Pepper
5 sprigs Marjoram
3 cloves Garlic, crushed
3 thick slices Pancetta, diced
2 small Leeks, diced
30 ml White Wine
2 T grated Reggiano Parmesan
Mise en Place:
- Marinate figs in balsamic, olive oil, s/p, marjoram and garlic for at least 30 minutes.
- Heat olive oil and sauté pancetta and leeks for eight minutes, or until leeks are soft and pancetta is crunchy.
- Add figs and marinade and white wine.
- Cook tagliatelli.
- Heat sauce.
- Toss together, top with grated parmesan and olive oil.
“Cooking by Hand” by Paul Bertolli is a book for Chefs and those who love food alike. I wish more cook books were written like this. It is extremely thorough and informative. I am going to make Mortadella this week because of it… Thanks Paul for an amazing book!
Ah, I am going to piss off family members and bouillabaisse purists with this one. Bourride is bouillabaisse’s troubled cousin. Try referencing food dictionaries and you’ll see as many different versions as there are books. Some claim the only true Bourride is made solely with monkfish in a white creamy sauce, possibly flavored with crushed fish liver and others add saffron and orange. I once had a prominent French Chef taste my bourride and tell me it was good, but not a true bourride. I started making Bourride at the behest of a lawyer/book dealer friend of mine at ‘le Margaux’ way back in 1993. He told me it was one of his favorite dishes and asked if I ever made it. I don’t know why I lied, but I did. I said with utmost confidence that it was a specialty of mine and of course, I would be delighted to make it for him whenever he could get in, hoping that day would be far off enough for me to make it a few times. He made a reservation for the next night and was bringing twelve of his closest friends to indulge. Panic snuck in as I combed through various cook books trying to find at least two books corroborating the recipe. When I failed in that I figured the oldest book I had probably was the closest to a true Bourride. I settled on the version written in 1938 in the first edition of the Larousse Gastronomique. I followed the three paragraph recipe with my mother’s indifference to measurement and impressed the twelve top. Over the years I have continued to make Bourride and think of my friend every time. If you want to try my saffron and orange version come on out to Figue Mediterranean in La Quinta, California and I’ll be happy to make it for you!
- 12 Cockles
- 12 Mussels
- 4 Scallops
- 1 # St. Pierre
- ½ head Fennel
- 1 large Onion
- 1 large Carrot
- 1 large Tomatoes
- 2 T. Pernod
- loads of Garlic
- 2 c. White Wine
- 1 quart Shellfish Stock
- 1 c. Orange Juice
- 2 t. Saffron threads
- 1 c. Olive Oil
- 1 fresh Bay Leaf
- 2 T. fresh Thyme
- ¼ c. fresh Basil
- 2 Egg Yolks
- to taste Sea Salt
- to taste White Pepper
- 4 large Potatoes
- 8 Garlic Croutons
- 1 c. Rouille
- Carefully wash the cockles and mussels to remove any sand or grit. De - beard mussels. Place all your seafood into a non-reactive pan.
- Chop fennel tops and spread over seafood.
- Add ¾ c. olive oil, 1 T. Pernod, pinch of saffron, and lots of chopped garlic and marinate for six hours.
- Julienne fennel bulb, onion, carrots, and tomato, then sauté in olive oil.
- Add remaining Pernod and white wine.
- When it starts to simmer, add shellfish stock, more garlic, orange oil, saffron, bay leaf, basil, thyme, salt, and pepper.
- Bring to a boil.
- Add seafood; cook till they are just done.
- Put seafood into a serving terrine.
- Whisk yolks and one cup of Rouille into cooking liquid, and then pour over fish.
- Serve with boiled potatoes, garlic crouton, and Rouille.
My wife Lisa and I decided to celebrate our 10 year anniversary by dining out in Los Angeles sans Beaumont, our 2.5 year old son. Sure, he loves great food too and I love being with him, but sometimes you just need adult time. I told Cathleen Newmann, Figue’s Vivreau water rep, about our plans and she suggested Bestia, also one of her accounts. The wait list to get a reservation for Bestia is so long that Beaumont would probably have a better chance getting a reservation in his lifetime than me in mine. Cathleen said she might have incriminating photos of the Chef/Owner Ori Menashe, formerly Chef of Angelini Osteria and a certain inflatable goat from a recent trip to Las Vegas and perhaps they might be helpful in getting a ressie. I eagerly asked her to pursue the coveted reservations by all means necessary. The day we wanted to go was only five days away so we started forming backup plans just in case. I hadn’t heard anything from Cathleen till Tuesday when she sent a coded message telling me my reservation at Bestia was secured. In retrospect, the message could of said forget about it, Ori is proud of those pictures, go ahead post away. Hey what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas or something like that.
We arrived ten minutes early for our reservation and were told that no such reservations existed. Devastation. I had already figured out what 18 dishes I had to try on Ori’s kick ass menu. I almost started crying, throwing a Beau like tantrum spewing different names and phone numbers that the reservation might be under. It was a little like a scene from the movie Date Night when Steve Carell and Tina Fey are trying to eat at a trendy city restaurant. Apparently some combination worked and we were seated outside in an atrium-esque industrial setting. It gave the dining experience a wonderful ambiance.
Our waiter quickly arrived at our table and dropped off the cocktail menu and dinner menu and gave a brief history of the restaurant from it’s opening the day after Thanksgiving in 2012. We were so amused by the Bespoke option on the drink list that we asked to learn more. Our waiter told us of their mixologist Julian Cox who apparently is a genius and loves challenges. Tell him an alcohol and at least one characteristic and the guy will blend the most amazing cocktail you ever tried. I went mainstream and said Rum and Sweet. Lisa tried to stump him with Campari and delectable.
I could hear Julian chuckle at our novice attempt to confound him as he sent over two of the best cocktails we ever had in our lives. Mine was called something like a beesting and Lisa’s was appropriately called ‘refreshing’. Her cocktail had this super cool metal stirrer/straw. The evening was starting so perfectly, setting the pace for the culinary onslaught waiting to be unleashed from the Bestia within.
WE sipped wonderful cocktails and looked at the fig tree and cactus’s next to us. I ordered four small plates and asked the waiter t space them out in the proper sequence. We wanted to enjoy each one separately and deliberately. Chef Ori is known for several things. The thing that attracted me to him was the home made pickles and charcuterie, with the pizzas and pasta not far behind. The first dish out was a amazing Kanpachi crudo with Squid Ink bottarga, breadcrumbs, chili oil, lemon and scallions.
The honey flavors in my rum cocktail actually worked well with the dish. My only complaint or comment was it could have used a touch of salt. The crudo did what it was suppose too, it whet the appetite for the next round. We ordered a bottle of 2007 Kabaj Cuvee Morel, a Slovenian Cabernet/Merlot, Cab Franc blend while waiting for the next dish. The waiter could exactly take our desire for an earthy old world wine and translate it into liquid love. I wish I had gotten the name of the waiter as he was extremely knowledgeable, enjoyable to talk with and exactly what a waiter should be.
Chef Ori’s selection of house made charcuterie came next. The Coppa di Testa with house made mustard was delightful. I loved the fact that no one mentioned what part of the pig this came from. You just ate it. Us Americans are needlessly so squeamish about eating certain body parts. The earthy wine sang songs with the various salumi on the wooden board.
Next up was the pan seared Octopus and Calamari with fennal, mixed mushrooms, arugula and aged balsamic. The mushrooms worked so well with the octopus and calamari. Yummy!
Next up was Grilled Lamb Tongue Crostino with Garbanzo Bean Puree, Salsa Verde, heirloom Carrot and Lemon Cucumber pickles. An explosion of yummy flavors and textures. Lisa loved the lamb but kept thinking of Mick Jagger’s tongue. I made a few ill timed imitations of our son’s lamb doll asking where his tongue went. By this time we were getting full. WE debated purging ourselves and continuing… the food is that good! We were up between Pistachio pasta with a goat ragu, a sea urchin pasta or the Agnolotti alla Vaccinara, Cacao parcels with braised Ox Tails, Burro Fuso, Grana Padano, Pine nuts and Currants. We decided on the last one and were completely blown away by the depth and range of flavors.
Sufficiently replenished and satiated we passed up more pasta, pizza and possibly an orata for two desserts. I normally rarely eat dessert. In America desserts are just to one dimensional and sugary for me. However, Ori’s wife Pastry Chef Genevieve Gergis makes unbelievable desserts that could forever change my mind. I won’t repeat what I said to the waiter about the desserts… but it was all good.
The desserts we choose were the valrhona fair trade bittersweet chocolate tart with salted caramel and the ricotta fritters with fresh strawberry jam, brown sugar gelato and whipped cream. The crust on the chocolate tart was everything a perfect crust should be, crisp, flaky, sugary, yummy. The ricotta fritters were my kind of dessert. I may have to try to make them at Figue when I go to work this weekend.
All in all, we had a fabulous time. The food and service were unbelievable, I do not know Ori so I apologize about my bad humor. You rock! Dining here has revitalized me in my quest for culinary perfection. It is so nice to go out and be stimulated and blown away!
I highly recommend eating there. Location: 2121 7th Place Los Angeles CA, 90021; Telephone: 213.514.5724; http://www.bestiala.com/index.php
“Find the Shortest, Simplest way between Earth, the Hands and the Mouth”
Saffron Arancine $9
Saffron Risotto Croquettes filled with Fontina Cheese, Tomato Sauce
Crab cake $12
Italian Cauliflower, Chickpea and roasted Pepper Salad, Fennel Caper Aioli
Saltata di Cozze all Fiore $9
steamed PEI Mussels with White Wine, Tomato and Basil
Polpette al Barese $9
little Veal and Pork Meatballs from Bari, Italy simmered in a Pomodori Sauce
Fritto Misto $16
crispy Italian Lantern Fish and Calamari, Spicy Saffron Aioli
Jamón Ibérico de Bellota $32
shaved 2 year Iberico Ham served with house made Tomato Olive Focaccia
Wild Porcini and Salumi Pizza $19
wood fired Pizza with roasted fresh # 1 Porcinis, shaved Salumi and Mozzarella
Shrimp, Calamari and Scallop Pizza $18
wood fired Seafood Pizza, Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella
Margherita Pizza $16
Tomato Confite, Basil and fresh Mozzarella Pizza
Bucatini all’ Amatriciana $19
classic Italian spicy Pasta with crispy house cured CookPig Pancetta and Pomodori sauce
Wild Spanish Turbot and fresh porcinis $38
sautéed Turbot with Potato Puree and Washington State Porcinis, Proseco Sauce
Blackberry milkshake with Whipped Lemon Curd $10
Unbelievable taste of Summer in a milkshake form!
Let me clarify that. I think when we die we get front row seats to a review of our entire lives… we firsthand relive the proud moments of achievements completed and we watch, eyes fixated to the screen, the disasters of our lives feeling every bit of emotions we did the first time. We cannot hide from ourselves. You never can.
In 30 years of cooking I have never eaten where I worked. It is near impossible to separate myself from being so intimately connected to simply being a guest. It was voyeuristic to watch firsthand how people react to your soul being laid out on a plate naked for the world to gawk at, criticize, compliment. It is one thing to get a good/bad review on the internet where people hide behind computer screens and critic your efforts anonymously and it is completely another thing sitting next to them, hearing their comments live, unfiltered. I wasn’t sure I had the fortitude to do so.
Last night my wife and I went on a date to Figue in La Quinta, California where I am Executive Chef. We walked in the massive front door and were promptly greeted by one of our hostesses. We settled on a few drinks and a charcuterie plate at the bar before going to our table. We ordered two different bubbly cocktails. I had the Poinsettia and Lisa tried the Fraises Embrouille. I really enjoyed mine, it had the perfect balance of flavors, sweetness and tartness. Lisa fraises embrouille lacked flavor and needed some amping up. Celeste, our sommelier, had our drinks remade and it was much better the second time.
Our Italian American charcuterie plate was amazing. On the plate was slices of charcuterie from various salumi producers in America who make Italian charcuterie, olive and mostarda. The absolute best was the lardo made from Spanish Bellota pigs by la Quercia in Iowa. Lardo is completely decadent and rich and amazing. We enjoyed the perfect bit with the richness playing off the saltiness of our house made focaccia. The varzi salumi with it’s distinct cloves and nutmeg flavors from Creminelli in Utah was the perfect foil for the sweet, mustardy mostarda. Javier, our waiter, brought the complimentary bread service which tonight was Turkish flatbread served with Labne, a house made yogurt cheese dusted with Aleppo pepper. Mistakenly he called the bread Syrian mountain bread but I wasn’t here to correct while eating. The bread was doughy and undercooked and felt like a dagger being stuck into my heart. I live and breathe my food and it hurts to see it served incorrectly. I pushed it aside and continued with the amazing focaccia.
The hostess returned and took us to our table. On the table are beautiful, hand made pottery diamond shaped plates made by the Wheel in San Diego that we use as share plates. They are incredible plates.
Normally when I eat out I scan the menu for dishes I really am excited to try. Any belly, pork belly, hamachi belly, usually gets my vote. Tonight I picked dishes I normally would never pick. I love scallops but I never order them. Part of the problem is they usually suck. It is more normal to get water added, or wet scallops, than it is to get diver picked dry scallops. We also ordered the charred tuna crudo with Moroccan Charmoula. The whole tuna served raw thing is so over played now that it is easy for me to look past that on any menu. Tonight I ordered both and was reminded of how gorgeous and delicious they can be.
The thin slices of charred tuna marinated in Moroccan spices served with orange segments and deep fried garlic chips sang in my mouth. Every bite was an explosion of exotic flavors. The scallops were perfectly seared by my sous chef Alejandro Hernandez and served with a pile of zucchini spaghetti and a carrot juice and saffron emulsion. Like a bad infection, the underdone flatbread reappeared at our table. I returned it, hoping never to see it again. Celeste our unbelievable sommelier picked a Pic Poul that went spot on with both dishes.
We moved onto two newer dishes, a Piquillo Pepper roasted and stuffed with Cypress Grove Sgt. Pepper’s Goat Cheese served over a Mache Salad dressed in a shallot vinaigrette that to me was jaw dropping in it’s flavors, richness and creaminess. We also had the Spring Sweet Pea and Mascarpone Ravioli in a Lemon Vegetable Brodo with Truffled Pesto. It was outstanding. I had eaten my fair share of these raviolis in the kitchen but to get them table-side was orgasmic. We decided to let Celeste go and surprise us with wine choices. She knows my palate well enough. She picked a Cinsault Rose that sang to the gods.
We moved onto probably my favorite dish on the current menu, a whole Daurade Royale served with Artichoke and Fennel Barigoule with Olive Tapenado. Celeste served two wines, a Domaine Coulerette Chablis that sang and an effervescent Getariako. Both were great in their own way. One thing I always wonder is why more guests coming to a restaurant do not leave the experience in the hands of the Chef and sommelier. It is a far more interesting way to eat and you will probably try things you are unfamiliar with. Part of the problem is we fear letting go of control. We think we are open minded and ready for spontaneous things. When in reality we want to be firmly in control fearing the unexplored and the new and different.
While eating the Daurade the table next to us returned the Porchetta, a spit roasted acorn fed pig slow cooked over a wood fire on our custom made Italian rotisserie. I ordered some to try it myself. Another dish I love in the kitchen but would never order. The customer felt it was too fatty. I felt it was perfectly cooked and would not change a thing. Sometimes dear friends the customer is NOT right. The Pigue Newton, a fig and bacon compote we serve with it went extremely well. Celeste had picked a Burgundy to match the pork. Another great choice.
While eating I noticed a gentleman I had spoken with a few days before sitting at the table next to me. The attempt of dining incognito ended. I bought two desserts for the porchetta table and introduced myself when they received it. I said hello and talked with the gentlemen I met before and started a great conversation with the folks next to me who happened to be from my hometown of Chicago. I also met the owner of a few area restaurants and discussed our concept with him. Celeste is pictured above with the doctor who owns three area restaurants.
We finished the night off with a dessert me and former pastry Chef Sarah Smith had come up with while working at Copper Beech Inn in Connecticut a few years back. It has been re purposed and modified with current pastry chef Carla Rojas. It is a Strawberry Soup with a Vacherin of Mara de Bois Strawberries and Frozen Lavender Yogurt.
All in all it was a great night and everyone made me proud. I am so happy with my sous chef Alex and my entire kitchen staff. Javier and the front of the house did really really well minus a few mistakes on menu knowledge. Micheal my charcuterie bar Chef did an amazing job with the cold food. I forgot to mention he served us a delectable parmesan shortbread with tomato confit and Bulgarian feta… I slept very easily knowing we are on the straight and narrow road. I may eat here again before thirty years pass… If you come to visit ask for me!
This classic French dessert always tugs on my heart strings. My maman used to make it all the time during the summer months when I was growing up. Café Liégeois originally was called Café Viennois but during World War I when the Germans attacked Liège, Parisian restaurants changed the name to Café Liégeois.
Café Liégeois is a very simple recipe that allows lots of variants to be created. Classically it is made from iced and sweetened espresso, coffee ice cream & sweetened whipped cream. This last weekend I made a variant called Barcelona Liégeois made with iced espresso, chocolate sorbet , salted caramel, whipped cream, chopped Marcona almonds and a Pirouette cookie from Pepperidge Farms.
No recipe is needed other than for salted Caramel sauce and even that is so easy and flexible. I start by caramelizing ½ c. organic sugar and about ¼ c. water in a heavy gauged pot over medium heat. As you start heating the pan notice the small size of the bubbles. As the sugar cooks and the moisture cooks off the bubbles will get considerably larger. Pour in ¼ c. of Heavy Cream when the caramel turns an amber color. Finish the sauce with two pinches of really good sea salt and a tablespoon of butter.
Construct your Café Liégeois with chilled sweetened espresso, a few scoops of chocolate sorbet, a tablespoon or more of salted caramel sauce, a few tablespoons of sweetened whipped cream, a few large pinches of chopped Marcona almonds and a Pirouette cookie.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! What an incredible start to the day! Despite staying up later than I wanted sorting through over 300 pictures taken yesterday I feel great. Beau still hasn’t fully adjusted to the time change but is doing better. He is a little crabby and needy when he wakes up but after a double espresso he seems to be able to cope. Just like his Daddy….
Day two began altogether too early. Little Beau woke up at 3:56 completely awake and full of life. Apparently he did not get the memo about the time change and proceeded to flick on and off light switches till we all surrendered to being awake. Lisa went as far as showering and applying makeup while I dug in the trenches and tried to fight infant Satan with all my snoring powers. Even Lisa joined Beau on the dark side insisting I shower at 4:23 and start the day. Luckily by 5:34 Beau, Lisa and myself and fallen back into heavy slumber till 10 am. Day two re-began now at a more sensible hour with café crème, croissant and pain au chocolat. We strolled along the Seine snapping shots and generally wandering kind of in search of a converter to restore electric power to our dying laptop. Low and behold we ended up running into Jean Paul Hevin, a famous chocolate shop, for late morning Chocolate cigars and mille Feuille then into Pierre Herme’s simpler pastry shop for macaroons and drinking cocoa. Yes Bacchus, gluttony has begun. Somewhere past the Louvre we hopped in a motorized rickshaw for a thrilling ride thru gay Paris to our lunch reservation at La Fermette Marbeuf, an unbelievable beautiful restaurant dating back to the late 1800’s that almost was destroyed in the 1970’s being saved by workmen who discovered the famous art nouveau stained glass below coats of paint and plaster. Lunch was amazing, edible trip back to my favorite period of cuisine (1870’s to 1930’s). We started with a puree of mushrooms with crispy parmesan while deciding on our order. I opted for a torchon of foie gras with fig compote while Lisa chose the season’s first white asparagus of the season from Nantes served with a poached egg and an amazing Hollandaise. My foie gras slathered on pain grilles melted in my mouth. Beaumont had a mini meltdown which allowed me to steal two plump spears of asparagus while Lisa took Beau outside the restaurant. I admit I felt tinges of guilt during the episode. Beau and Lisa returned and we continued with our lunch. We drank a delicious Bordeaux, Le Clementine du Chateau Pape Clement 2004, that married well with my foie gras and both our main courses. Lisa continued with Magret de Canard, the steak like breast from a duck who gave it’s life in the service of foie gras production, served atop a pile of roasted fingerlings, carrots and haricots verts while I opted for the most tender and amazing milk fed veal dish I have ever eaten: escalopes de veau panée Viennoise. Who knew how tender a baby veal could be snatched from it’s mother? I had a cheese plate and Lisa had Crepes Suzette for dessert. After espresso’s we continued our pilgrimage for chocolate shops and all things designed to stretch our stomachs. Walking thru Paris with a wine buzz is great. We ended up at chocolat shop number three and Pierre Herme shop number two. I am surprised they didn’t remember Lisa from our last trip through Paris as she bought 188 Euros worth of desserts in three minutes. This time we escaped with only a 66 Euro bill. I played with Beau by a famous fountain while she shopped for pastries. Fatigued and tired of walking miles and, excusez moi, kilometers and kilometers thru Paris’s ancient streets we hopped a cab and ended up back at the Hotel Agora. Still saturated from lunch’s excesses we headed out for a Fruits de Mer platter in the Les Halles section of town… one more bottle of wine and a big platter later we were in seafood comatose…
The saga continues…
Day 16 and 17 (even though it hasn’t happened yet) A Beaune Idea
The original plan was to check out of our Provencal vacation rental, drive at light speed to Paris over six hours away, race to the hotel, babysitter than La Tour d’Argent for singularly the best foie gras dish I have ever eaten in my 48 years. With the liver taxed and severe bloating setting in the idea of fast or running like OJ through Paris just seemed impossible. I started thinking that Beaune was half way in between and maybe we needed to revisit either Ma Cuisine or La Ciboulette again….
Get your heads out of the gutter! I just had the most incredible dinner ever. My first day off in a few weeks. Body feels like Mike Tyson just kicked my ass. Figue is doing great! All I wanted to do was spend time with my lovely wife and son and perhaps an incredible bottle of wine. We enjoyed a hangar steak, some great mustard from Dijon, France, a bottle of Guigal 1995 Cote Rotie and a fantastic head of cauliflower.
Cauliflower has to be the most underrated of all vegetables. Try taking a beautiful Farmer’s Market head and slow cooking in as large saute pan with olive oil. I usually cut the raw head in quarter inch slices and lay flat in a large pan. Cook on low heat till lightly brown. Add red pepper flakes, chopped anchovies, loads of garlic and basil. Cook till the garlic makes you salivate so bad you can’t handle it!
Living the good life, always!
Today we headed out to Moustiers Sainte Marie for sightseeing and dining at Alain Ducasse’s low key Provencal concept Bastides de Moustiers. Moustiers is a small village clinging to the cliffs in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. It lies at the western entrance of the Gorges du Verdon, France’s version of the Grand Canyon. The village has been a center for beautiful hand painted faïence pottery for centuries.
Above the town, a gold star hangs on a 670 foot long chain suspended between two cliffs. According to the legend, during the Crusades the knight Bozon de Blacas was held prisoner by the Saracens and vowed to hang a star over the village on his return. The legend was popularized by Provençal poet Frédéric Mistral.
The town is another one of those amazingly beautiful Provencal towns you wish you could just take home with you. The steep narrow streets are home to several artisans and restaurants. We were lucky to come on a market day which added even more character to an already colorful town. Beaumont, as usual, ran to every single fountain in town and to all the amazing views of 50 foot waterfalls that run thru the town center.
The town is surrounded by super fertile farmland where every single amazing lavender shot you see of Provence is taken. Since it was early for lavender I took the obligatory beautiful sheep picture instead. Beau was in heaven as his favorite toy is a stuffed sheep named bah bah. Poor Beau sounded like he had Tourette syndrome with the repeated bah bahs.
The absolute highlight of the day and by far the best dining experience of the trip was at Michelin superstar Alain Ducasse’s Bastide du Moustiers. I have eaten at two other Ducasse restaurants, Louis XV in Monte Carlo and Alain Ducasse in Paris and been wowed. I expected no less here.
Dining in a proper French restaurant is a quasi-religious experience. It really starts before you eat, even long before you sit down at your table. The experience starts as you pull into the property. I think the single thing we miss the most in most of our restaurants that appreciation of the food/wine experience has as much to do with the mood you are in as it does the actual food/wine. If you are in a terrible mood no food on Earth will taste good to you. If you are incredibly happy even a mediocre meal can bring ecstatic joy. Part of upscale dining is creating that mood early and reinforcing it throughout. The drive onto your property, the landscaping, the genuine reception you receive as you encounter employees along the way, the décor of the restaurant, the restaurant setting, a pleasing menu, a few simple bites of food to nosh over while drinking a glass of champagne to the actual food. I might even argue the experience begins at home when we read about the restaurants and drool over pictures and menus.
The meal started with glasses of Alain Ducasse’s signature Champagne, a selection of crunchy flat breads and just picked French radishes with herbed Fromages Blanc. It may not sound so exquisite but it set the tone for what the concept is. While nibbling and drinking Champagne we chose the menu and ordered a bottle of 1999 Chateau Rayas Blanc, a straw colored wine that was poetry in a glass. It absolutely sang with our first and second courses.
The first course was a super flavorful puree of Asparagus with Goat Cheese Raviolis and shaved Asparagus. They set the perfectly heated bowl down with three raviolis and three thin slices of asparagus and poured the puree over.
The second course was Salted Codfish with Fennel and Olives. There was pureed fennel, roasted fennel and raw fennel slices. The Chateau Rayas sang with both courses amazingly well, for different reasons. For the main course and cheese we switched to the best wine of the trip which was a Domaine de Trévallon from 2001. The nose was ungodly good and the flavor was sublime.
The roasted Veal Chop was presented whole on a silver platter then carved into thick slices and served on Swiss Chard stems with veal stock. Swiss Chard leaves were blanched and tossed with a fruity olive oil. Simple, uncomplicated flavors showcasing quality ingredients. Simple appearing food is much harder to pull off than plates with 20 ingredients on. The real art is not how much you can put on BUT how much you can take off. The veal was so tender and flavorful.
Astute followers of my diatribes probably guessed that cheese was coming next. The cheeses were all local and served with two condiments, a sweet pepper jam and a caramelized onion and black pepper jam. The onion jam was crazy.
Dessert was just picked sweet as candy strawberries with a fromage blanc sorbet served with a 50 cl bottle of Domaine Allemand ~ Goutte de Soleil from 2010 that absolutely married the dessert. Not on the menu was the first of a series of surprises starting with a rhubarb tart, also just picked from the garden.
Next was an unexpected plate of handmade white chocolate flavored lightly with lemon; hazelnut biscotti and strawberry gelee. The meal finished with homemade limoncello poured from a gigantic bottle. We were reminded by the Monty Python routine where the waiter tries to get a guest to eat just one more thin wafers. Just one more thin wafer. It was spectacular. We ended with a tour of the kitchen, pastry kitchen and purchases on a Ducasse book.
Wow and Goodnight!