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Croque Monsieur

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  1. I love the saffron from saffron.com
  2. Rated Sicily's best restaurant by many, the only Michelin two-star this year (although no, I don't trust Michelin much in Italy either), I'm going to rave about the meal my wife and I had there in late October -- it was certainly three-star quality. I think this restaurant (and its chef, Ciccio Sultano) deserves its own thread and a lot of support from Gulleteers. Although there were a total of six diners the night we were there (the whole of Ragusa seemed empty), there was no sense of holding back in either our welcome or the kitchen. We ordered the "mixed" (fish and meat) tasting menu, and our waiter asked if we had any allergies (no) and were willing to eat raw seafood (yes!). We asked for their choice of glasses of Sicilian wine to accompany the meal. I was surprised when they opened five bottles of wine during the meal in order to give us glasses, when they clearly weren't going to sell it to anyone else that night. Again, the focus was always on us, not getting through a slow night as quickly as possible. Our courses, as best as I managed to document them: 1. A frothy espresso cup of vegetable broth into which a couple of tiny raw, white were dropped just before serving. A marriage of subtle flavors. 2. A raw, white fish (the Italian word escaped me) in a little tomato liquid, with a bit of fennel on top, plus some other flavorings I couldn't identify. Another fabulous new flavor combination. 3. Raw sea urchin and freshly-made ricotta, in one bite on a spoon -- amazing. 4. Raw scampi with prickly pear. 5. Raw white shrimp. Again, these raw dishes included subtle "sauces" with combinations of sweet or fruity and tart, much less aggressively acid than any ceviche. The first suite of courses was accompanied by a chardonnay-based sparkling white wine from Tasca d'Almerita. The next set came with a white Il Cantante 2004, a Mt. Etna wine made by a British rock star turned vintner. We found this wine odd in a woody sort of way. 6. Pigeon breast, with potato and oyster. A unique dish, perhaps my favorite, the almost-livery intensity of the pigeon blending with the other ingredients. 7. Tuna "toro" (raw) with mint and parsley sauce, with a dab of orange sorbet on the top. Wonderful. 8. Cooked fillet of mullet with vegetables, topped with a thin "cracker" made of rice and mullet juice. Essence of fish in another form. We moved on to a delicious white Cubia (made from insolio grapes?). 9. Pasta with salmon eggs, fresh anchovies, and bottarga. Very ocean-y. 10. Lasagna with ricotta and sausage. Very light but still full of flavor. The next dishes were served with a delicious 2001 Barocco Avide Cerasuolo di Vittoria red. 11. The local "black pork" with melon sauce and potatoes. My note-taking is suffering by now, I remember that I loved it. 12. Citrus sorbet over prickly pears. I find prickly pears kind of boring, but they had just come into season. With the desserts, a sweet wine whose name I may have mistakenly written down as "Bukkaran" 13. Almond blanc mange with buckwheat cooked in reduced grape juice, with pear sorbet. You couldn't have paid me to order this, but it tasted wonderful. 14. Their take on cassata. 15. Bits of pasta, cooked in grape juice. Again, better than it sounds. 16. Five types of petit fours. On a day when the dollar hit a new low against the euro, about 1.5 to 1, this meal cost about $550. "Unique" is an over-used word, but this meal included several flavor combinations that were completely new to me. We left completely satisfied with the food and service. I'm so glad I went, and I judge it "vaut le voyage."
  3. Great report as to what is going on currently. I will be dining there in just over a week, so this was very helpful to me! Everything sounded delicious. Was there anything you felt was an absolute must try? I have never had foie before and was considering having here for the first time given JG's foie dishes are usually so highly regarded. ← #1 must-try is foie gras, next would be whatever fish dish appeals to you.
  4. My wife and I ate lunch at J-G Mon. 3/16. It was our first time there. Service was friendly and impeccable. The $14/course menu was in effect, as mentioned in prior posts -- by far the most economical three-star meal I have ever ordered! After an amuse with three elements -- a bit hamachi and chili oil, a guava/grapefruit juice (if I remember correctly), and a sort of celestial daikon "tater tot" over truffle cream -- we had nine dishes. I have pix of these but unfortunately don't know how to upload them to this post. First course: peekytoe crab dumplings in heavenly (lemongrass?) broth; tuna ribbons -- just as good as others have said. Glasses of excellent house Champagne. Next, a shared dish of roast brussels sprouts, avocado, arugula, and pistachios. Another example of complementary flavors, really the mark of this meal. Next course, we both had the fois gras brulee, one of my new desert island dishes. I asked the waitress to cancel the rest of my order and just bring more of this. She talked me out of it, but wow! Served with with lemon/grapefruit marmelade, which sounded terrible to me but again complemented the fois gras. A glass of off-dry Alsatian pinot gris (Blanck) paired well. To follow, Kathe had roast veal and a glass of big Barolo, a wonderful combination since the veal had real flavor. I chose the butter-poached skate with Chalon sauce and a medley of vegetables on the top. My thanks to those who recommended this dish in earlier posts. For dessert, we had the apple combination and the "winter" combination. The pastry elements of these were the highlights. The only thing I actively disliked was the post-dessert housemade marshmallows, but then I don't like marshmallows in any form. The chocolates were nice, and the coffee was notably high quality, not a given in any level of restaurant in my opinion. All in all, 2-1/2 hours of bliss, I wish I could get to NYC more often. I've eaten in 15-20 Michelin 3-stars, and in my book J-G deserves its rating.
  5. Little Italy (near the Inner Harbor for you tourists) La Tavola 248 Albemarle St. Baltimore, MD phone 410 685-1859 www.la-tavola.com This is the one place I can recommend in Little Italy. The chef, Carlo Vignotto, is from Venice, so expect that style as opposed to the industrial red sauce of the Littly Italy tourist traps. Good place for fish, reliable pastas, great risotto when it's on the menu. Moderately priced by Bmore standards (bargain by DC/NY standards). Charleston is the best restaurant in Bmore, but expect to spend $150/pp and up for the full food/wine experience.
  6. Siena report, Oct. 2006 Osteria Le Logge Via del Porrione 33 (just off the Campo) Siena T: 0577/48-013 La Taverna di San Giuseppe via Giovanni Duprè 132 I - 53100 Siena Telephone: 0577 42286 Fax: 0577 219620 E-mail: ristorante@tavernasangiuseppe.it Excellent meals at both these restaurants. Le Logge had several unusual dishes, all seasonal (we were there in funghi porcini season). At La Taverna, the roast boar braised in milk was the best dish we ate in two weeks. Friendly service, reasonable prices. We had a good meal at Mugolone (referenced above), but not as outstanding as these.
  7. Feb. '06 Oaxaca report. NB: I don't pretend to be a Mexican food expert. We went to El Naranjo twice and it was excellent, both the moles and stuffed peppers. Also the best margarita we had. We went to cooking class there too, and it was a lot of fun; prepared and ate zucchini (at least, something like a zucchini) vinaigrette, mole amarillo, two great salsas, and cake tres leches. I might not make mole often, but I'll be making a lot of salsa now that I understand the techniques better. Casa Oaxaca the restaurant was also good, I recommend the shrimp with chiles arbol. Marco Polo was very pleasant if not great, and the baked platanos with crema are a fine dessert. In simpler restaurants, we had two good meals in La Olla and one exceptionally bad one at Maria Bonita, praised elsewhere in this thread. On the Zocalo, we liked breakfast at La Primavera, especially the molletes with chorizo. Off the topic of food, my wife and I loved the Temazcal sweat-lodge plus massage experience, a bargain at p$1200 for two. You book at Las Bugambilias B&B, although the site is uptown (p$50 taxi ride). You can't get much more relaxed....
  8. I read the controversy over Benares in that thread. I checked Michelin, but I'm a little leery of their "ethnic" picks. Also, although I'm willing to pay, decor and food quality have not always gone hand in hand in this category. In the bad old days of travelling to London, Indian food usually provided the culinary highlights for me. What spots do egulleters like now?
  9. We went to Boyer a couple of weeks ago, and I can't think how the experience could have been better. Welcome, seating, surroundings, service all defined the "three star" experience. The staff really seemed happy that we were there. And the food--without covering every detail, we ordered from the "today's market" portion of the carte, and three of the dishes are going on my all-time list: the amuse, a lightly-crumbed langoustine tail perched on a shot glass of celery root cream/foam; the veal chop with cepes, illustrating how great a "simple" dish can be; and the dessert of the absolutely best raspberries, sandwiched between a little Champagne sabayon and Champagne granite. There was a market special Champagne, too a Dom Ruinart ('93 or '96, I'm not near my notes) for only 73E, a real bargain. Writing this makes me anxious to get back.
  10. With respect, Fresh_A is still wrong. I'm pretty sure we were in Georges (that's what my receipt says), and from our table (when the greeters weren't standing in the way) you could see something that looked remarkably like the Eiffel Tower, even sparkling on the hour. But I wouldn't go back despite the view.
  11. Thanks, Pan, and I normally hang out in Baltimore, or Lake Placid NY. Also, "Fresh_A" is mistaken, you definitely can see the Eiffel Tower from Georges, out the window on the entrance (toward the escalator) side. Don't go there anyway....
  12. I’m reporting on some restaurants we visited in Paris last week. Grand Vefour. We went for the 75E bargain lunch (after painlessly reserving by email) and it was a great experience. Crowd about 1/3 American, 1/3 Japanese, 1/3 French. One of the great rooms, a warm welcome, and perfect service, if you’re not bothered by the fact that there are no women servers. The 75E menu, four courses, didn’t feature the most complex dishes and expensive ingredients on the carte, but still offered a completely satisfying suite of dishes. Everyone else can thank the Americans that you now get butter at lunch and dinner, and at Grand Vefour two delicious chunks, sweet and salted, come in an appropriately-labeled silver box. Amuse of chopped raw white fish (I missed the species) with bits of herbs and red peppercorns, with a shotglass of sweet potato cream; fresh, earthy, and creamy flavors all at once. For starters, La Fox had the grilled eggplant, a slice paved with grilled veggie strips, surrounded by delicate globs of confit of tomatoes and a few shreds of fresh anchovy. My curried pumpkin soup contained oysters and a few delicate, mysterious ravioli. Both dishes balanced a delicate blend of subtle flavors. For main courses, cod with a crust of many spices, and seared tuna, two large chunks of “loin” and a smaller piece of “toro.” Assorted veggie bits, fennel chips, and avocado slices on the side. All the accompaniments worked together to highlight the natural fish flavors. (The menu’s meat choices were tete de veau and roast pork.) A fresh Sancerre La Chene Marchands complemented the fish beautifully. A nice note was that I asked the sommelier for his recommendation among the Sancerres and he didn’t bring one of the most expensive ones (this one was 40-something E). Guy Martin, the chef, is from Savoy, and the Savoy cheeses couldn’t be more perfect, especially an unbelievable aged Comte. The usual three-course dessert featuring a blanc mange of green tea, with figs and date confit for La Fox, while I was stunned by the “signature” dessert, the palet of noisettes and chocolate. To call it a cloud of mousse in a chocolate cylinder on a noisette biscuit oversimplifies it considerably. With the petit fours they offer many kinds of chocolates, more kinds than you could possibly try at that point. The only drawback of lunch at Grand Vefour is that you really can’t plan anything for the rest of the day. Au Trou Gascon. I think they got a Michelin star this year, and hooray for them, as they make regional dishes with imagination and to the highest standard. The huitres en gelee, with mysterious green and white chopped, almost pureed vegetables under the oyster and a light seaweed jelly glaze over it, multiplied the oyster taste into ocean essence—one of the all-time great dishes. Almost in the same league was the hare, marinated in wine and herbs, boned, stuffed with fois gras and braised, then served in a cylindrical slice covered with an almost black wine sauce that reminded you why sauce is such a good idea. La Fox loved her completely correct cassoulet and classic babas. All this with reasonably-priced southwestern wines, a restaurant that upholds tradition without being stuffy. This was the most memorable food we had in Paris. Georges at the Pompidou Center. We didn’t go to Georges for the food but for a touristic experience, to see the décor and the view of the sparkly Eiffel Tower, and it seemed like a good choice for Sunday night. Wrong. Georges is a club, and if you’re reading this, you’re not in it. Georges offers non-smoking tables when they take your reservation, but don’t tell you the tables are right in front of the kitchen. The crowd was mostly American, Japanese, and French tourists. Beautiful people were scarce, but Georges held their tables, and almost all the prime window tables were still empty at 10:30. We knew not to challenge the kitchen, and had some good green beans and a decent if overcooked foie de veau. Violon d’Ingres. I head heard quite a few good reports on this restaurant, which turned out to be the major disappointment of our trip. Things got off to a bad start when they tried to turn us away before we could tell them we had a reservation. The room is well-decorated in a subdued style, but there are no windows except in the front door. Although there is a no-smoking section the room fills with smoke quickly. The chef’s vaunted imagination seemed to be on holiday that night. In the persillé of chevreuil and fois gras, the ingredients and textures didn’t really complement each other. The selle d’agneau came in a tiny portion, slightly overcooked, and in such thin slices that they seemed dry. At something like 13 or 15E, the cheese course was three pre-cut bits, no choice. Wine prices were higher than Grand Vefour, most categories starting in the 70sand 80sE and going up fast. Our server poured La Fox’s tea immediately after the water went into the pot, then took the pot away, leaving a cup of almost colorless liquid. All in all, better forgotten. My take on the Brasseries Flo operation. We went to the Grandes Marches after the Opera at the Bastille. I could make a reservation in advance on the Internet. Scores of people came at the same time and were quickly seated and served. We had a delicious wine—Guigal Condrieu—at a fair price, and the raw bar assortments were impeccable. On the other hand, the cooked food was strictly industrial. I wouldn’t go to one of their properties for a classic bistro experience. Proceed with caution. Le Pamphlet. A family-run bargain bistro, three courses for 30E, in a relaxed, provincial setting with plenty of room and great chairs. Not great but good food, even two amuses: saucisson and cauliflower soup. We tried a delicious risotto cooked in squid ink with diced squid; scallops with salad, chorizo bits, and parmesan; entrecote with pumpkin puree; tasty pork loin topped with wild mushrooms, surrounded by mashed potatoes with andouille bits; poached pears. All with friendly service. A satisfying rest from haute cuisine, we’ll be back. I haven’t been to Paris for about 10 years, and I had heard mostly the negative food news, how much harder it was to get a good baguette or croissant, etc. No one told me about one great improvement, that you can now get Belgian beer on tap in most of the cafes. A final question: is fish cookery getting worse in Europe or better in the US? Maybe because it’s so expensive, it often seems overcooked and over-handled, even in some of the better restaurants.
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