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Pork Belly

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  1. It is not entirely true that the best desserts are in shops rather than in restaurants. Most shops can do pastries but for composed desserts, have to be in restaurants. For great designer pastries and chocolate, go to Oriol Balaguer in Pl. Sant Gregori Taumaturg.
  2. If Alkimia is within your price range, why not just dine there? It is probably as 'creative' but still excellent as there is in Barcelona. Comerc24 is about the same price range, lively and fun. My current favorite is Sauc but a little more conservative, similiar to Abac. The chef was the chef de cuisine there before opening this restaurant a few years ago. Cinc Sentits is consistently good though the experience is very low key. Other good and a little less expensive: Coure, L'Olive, Hisop. These are all good restaurants and will give one a good idea about modern Catalan cooking, but don't expect the "El Bulli" experience.
  3. For Barcelona, Alkimia is good; also Comerc24, Moo, Arola. If I were to have one meal, I would take the train from Barcelona to Girona and dine at El Celler de Can Roca.
  4. Linda Dannenberg's "Paris Boulangerie-Patisserie" has measurements only in volume such as teaspoons and cups.
  5. Thank you for reporting back on Chocolateria San Gines. The large deli off Sol that has tons of jamon hanging from the rafter, counters and take out must be Museo del Jamon. It is a popular chain of cafeteria style places throughout Madrid.
  6. Chocolateria San Gines certainly has the reputation but I don't think their hot chocolate or churro are very special. They don't use high quality chocolate and adding cornstarch does not help with the texture. As for the churro, they fried them too far in advance and allow them to sit in the warmer. I'll be very interested in your experience.
  7. If you are interested in jamon iberico, head straight to Jamonisimo. Go to Cafe Viena only if you are hungry and on the Rambla. There is no comparison.
  8. That is a good list of places. Comment on Quimet y Quimet: it is a small bar that serves excellent simple tapas made mostly from canned/preserved seafood; also a few cheeses and cured meats but no hot items because they do not having a cooking kitchen. Dued it's small size, it gets very crowded during the evening (as well as midday); no tables, mostly standup with a couple of stools. If you've already had a large midday meal, it would be a good place for the evening, otherwise, I would go there for lunch.
  9. Old time favorites where I’ve dined at the past 30 years: Moissonier: good Lyonnais food and lots of drinkable fairly priced red wines; favorite place with our friends. Au Moulin a Vent: solid traditional bistro food, simple Burgundies. Au Trou Gascon: still serve the best food from the Landes in Paris; presided over by the charming Nicole Dutournier. Chez Denise: good solid food, open when most of Paris is closed. More recent favorites: Casa Olympe: ate at her first restaurant in the early 80’s. Sadly, she disappeared from the scene then reopened at the current address with the same creativity. Interestingly, one can eat cheaper now than at her first restaurant in the early 80s. La Cagouille: the only good seafood restaurant in Paris that I can afford to eat regularly. Another plus: just a few blocks from our apartment. Willi Wine Bar: a place where I can dine myself at the bar; great and reasonably priced wines by the glass. Always happy and bustling. Chez L’Ami Jean: too bad it is so cramped and noisy; another place that I prefer to dine alone, especially when I want to eat late. Beurre Noisette: more creative than L’Ami Jean and La Regalade and just as good. And a little more elbow room makes a big difference. In a class by itself: Pierre Gagnaire: the only high-end restaurant in Paris where I am already planning my return visit before I am finished with his symphony of desserts
  10. Pierre Gagnaire takes reservation one month in advance. If you are going in May, it is still too early.
  11. You definitely need to make a reservation. Make it as soon as possible. Given the current economy, it is easier than before to obtain a table but there is no guarantee on short notice. The restaurant seats about 45 with only one seating. Given the location, they do a certain amount of business lunches.
  12. If you are interested in Pierre Gagnaire and do not want to spend the 500E for two (probably more like 800E if you add the wine, etc), I would recommend the 90E prix-fixed lunch. The lunch usually consists of couple of small amuse, then a set about of 5 small tastings on individual plates/cups/bowls presented together; two main plate, usually first one is cold or room temperature, a second of fish of some sort; then a set of 5 or 6 tastings of his desserts. This comes to amuse, plus four courses. There will be plenty of food and different food to taste. I've eaten at PG numerous times: taking the prix-fixe lunch, the tasting menu as well a la carte. My experiences are that the two main plates at the lunch prix-fixed, though still very good, are not the best that he can do. Of course , one will not find luxury ingredients such as lobster, turbot, caviar, etc. but the ingredients will still be top notch. The other two set tastings are generally excellent. At at 90E(sometimes 95E), I think it represents great value and a chance to taste his food at Gaya's prices. Pierre Gagnaire's cooking is unique and somewhat different from Can Roca or El Bulli. Can Roca Roca and El Bulli are more into de-construction and transformation of food where PG are more into playing with different taste combinations and textures.
  13. If you are on schedule in Bilbao and assuming you are staying in San Sebastian, I would go for it. The drive to San Sebastian is not difficult and the traffic at that time would be light. You should not get lost because there are signs pointing to SB every few miles. Finding your hotel/parking in SB might be a little more difficult. Crowd builds in eating places as the week progresses and there should still be some action in the Parte Vieja on Thursday around 11:00-11:30pm. Of course, you are eating what ever is left at the end of the night but it is still worth it and the walk around the old city and La Concha at that time of the night is wonderful.
  14. Thank you for the detail posts and wonderful photos of Venice. Beautifully sauteed duck breast; did it smoke up your kitchen? Looking forward to the write up on the rest of your trip. Every year, we spend April in our apartment in San Polo. Can't wait.
  15. For Rome: I had a terrific dinner at Rosetta last September but it was terribly expensive. Glad that we were guests and not paying. Matricianella is solid Roman cooking and is always packed in the evenings so reserve when you get to Rome. Good fried artichokes, pastas and coda. There are many good bakeries off the Campo dei Fiore: Antico Forno, Bernasconi, Roscioli, Forno del Ghetto, Il Fornaio. Alle Testiere is probably my favorite restaurant in Venice. Some complaint about the rude service and the small packed room. I've have never encountered bad service and for Venice, that could be plain luck. There is no printed menu but a recitation of what is available..all seafood and no meat. The creative antipasti and desserts are uniformly excellent. I've never eaten any primi there. For secondi, the simple grilled seafood are all excellent and comes with a side of grilled vegetables. I prefer those over the overly creative sauteed items. Alla Madonna is a large bustling old-fashioned trattoria. I found the both the waitstaff and the food to be rather tired. As for price it is very moderate by Venice standards.
  16. To make winter squash gratin: I like to cut the squash into about 1-inch cubes and saute them with a little butter, salt and pepper until they are light brown and slightly caramelized. Add a little sugar if the squash is not sweet enough. Depending on the amount of squash, might have to do them in couple of batches. Transfer them to a gratin pan, add some lemon zest and chopped sage if desire. Add just a little water to moisten the squash. Cover with foil and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes until the squash is done. This can be done ahead of time. Then remove the foil and sprinkle the top with lightly toasted fresh breadcrumb and lots of parmesan cheese. I like the saltiness of the cheese to balance the sweetness of the squash. Add a little more water if the squash seems too dry. Return the gratin to the oven, uncovered. Bake for another 20 minutes or until the the gratin is hot and the top is brown. Instead of very fine breadcrumb, I like to use a coarse fresh breadcrumb that has been toss with a little melted butter or olive oil and lightly toasted in the oven. I don't like the sandiness of fine breadcrumb and the the coarse breadcrumb adds a nice crunch to the gratin. Of course, no problem using fine dry breadcrumb. I do the final baking of the gratin after the turkey has come out of the oven and resting before serving.
  17. For food, definitely dinners in the early 80’s at Michel Guerard and Girardet; unbelievable ingredients and powerful cooking. Have never tasted food so vivid as if they injected extra flavor into their lobster, sole, squab, sweetbread, ice creams and sorbets. The flavors were so intense and pure. Too bad that the service at either restaurant matched the cooking. Guerard’s staff at that time was still un-assured and as for Girardet, the staff was professional but stiff, lacking warmth. Neither can match my favorite meal at Jacque Pic; excellent cooking, great company and the warmest, most unpretentious and professional staff. And Jacque Pic was such a wonderful and generous man. The somewhat old-fashioned dining room just added to the overall enjoyment.
  18. I'll let John provide his answers, Rashomon-style. Here are mine: 1) God forbid! (I'm not much of a tipper anyway but in this case, hell no.) 2) I was hungry, it was very cold outside, and we had to wait for the main courses to realize that the place was really hopeless. 3) In the particular situation of visiting a restaurant with the purpose of writing a review, you have to drink the cup to the dregs, however bitter they are. If by some miracle things take off at the end, that doesn't make it allright but it has to be mentioned. I was not there precisely for that purpose, but once you begin witnessing such an interesting little story, you feel compelled to stay until the end credits. Saying something might disturb the natural process. 4) We did skip dessert. ← My answers are the same except I'd add that Pti did complain, but when the entire kitchen operation has ground to a halt and no one (except Ego) is eating food - complaining isn't going to magically jumpstart the kitchen. A friend of mine calls this sort of situation a "train wreck" where one must just repair the damage and get the train back on the tracks as soon as possible. This wasn't a situation where'd they'd run out of bread or couldn't find the fish in the frig, the engine had seized up, to toss in another metaphor. ← Your friend's metaphor is too kind. From my years of experience working in a restaurant kitchen, a "train wreck" usually means the kitchen grinded to a halt because something uncontrollable happened: a cook got sick, the dish washer broke, gas to the stove stopped, a kitchen drain overflowed, too many orders came in at once, etc., but in this case, the restaurant CHOSE to stop service to everyone so that they can take care of one diner, the presumed critic. This doesn't say much for the restaurant. I did enjoy reading ptipois' review on his blog. Ghislaine Arabian's career is like a soap opera.
  19. Throw in L'Ami Jean into the La Regalade mix. I don't know how many times while I am eating the terrific food at L'Ami Jean and thinking how wonderful the whole experience would be if the tables were a little bigger (I am not a big guy, all 120 pound), the wait staff has a little more room to manuever and the noise level toned down a bit. I've eaten solo seated in a two top and still have to constantly shift glasses, silverware and bread basket to accomendate the plate and casserole. This experience does not do justice to the food. Raise the price by 10E and offer a more pleasant experience, at least to a marginally comfortable level. La Regalade is only a touch better. And to mention my third favorite for food, L'Avant Gout. I almost always eat solo at these three places. For these reasons, I rarely recommend them to friends even though they serve the best bistro food in Paris.
  20. Regarding to El Celler de Can Roca, the tasting menu I had in 2005 was definitely 3 star caliber. But judging from my last two meals, including one this November before their move, I am not sure a third star is warranted.
  21. I share your opinion on L'Ambroisie. I think Pacaud serves the best food in Paris yet, despite numerous visits, I have never come away with the feeling of complete satisfaction. There is the feeling that they have certain rules that I have to follow to be accepted and dine well. After the last couple of less then cordial responses to telephone reservation requests, I've put the restaurant somewhere in my past. And count the Euros that I've saved.
  22. For the past 25 years, with good friends at Moissonnier. Pierre Gagnaire is always a must.
  23. That's interesting. Do they have older vintages? That's one thing that has been something of a letdown in my forays into the current well-received unstarred restaurants (Comptoir, Ribouldingue, Le Pré Verre, Paul Bert, etc.) - they have a very well-chosen selection of producers and wines, but mostly very young wines. And markups are stiff. I'm most interested in older wines, if not necessarily the top of the top, at least good domains or châteaux, and not ridiculously expensive. I hate the feeling I'm drinking something I could easily purchase now in a local wine store. There's no point to that... (Which is also why Lavinia's restaurant is not as much fun as it could be; unless you're blowing multiple hundreds of euros on an aged Bordeaux or Burgundy, the current selection is basically all 2004's and 2005's.) ← I share the same opinion that Taillevent has the best wine list of all the grand restaurants in Paris. And the price is more than fair. That said, a good old vintage at Taillevent would be very expensive, probably as expensive as the meal. One point to keep in mind is the type of food that is a good match with older vintages. I believe that is one of the reason why the food at Taillevent is much more conservative than that of Pierre Gagnaire whose food does not match as well with older wines. Also Pierre Gagnaire is a much newer restaurant than Taillevent, making its wine list much smaller. Great wine list takes time and in these days, a prohibitive budget and many older vintages are not even available for purchase. Also, you mentioned wine lists at Comptoire, Ribouldingue, Le Pré Verre, Paul Bert. These are inexpensive bistros and their wine lists reflect that.
  24. Memories of the Golden Age of Nouvelle Cuisine. Definitely, Claude Peyrot’s Le Vivarois, sublime cooking in an ultra modern dining room with shocking paintings and Knoll chairs. Peyrot had then the audacity to serve a plate of beautifully cooked vegetables as a separate course. And Alain Senderen, still at L”Archestrate (now Arpgege), cooking in a cramped kitchen for a tiny dining room of 35 guests. Remembering having his sautéed rouget with fried celery leaves then being served almost the same dish at Robuchon’s Jamin few years later. At the same time, the opulent Lucas Carton still serving grand classical cuisine in the beautiful belle epoch décor with foot stools for ladies. The last time that I had whole roasted kidney with mustard sauce. Can’t forget Jacques Maniere at Au Pactacle and Dodin Bouffant. Jean and Pierre Troisgros cooking together in their brand new kitchen. Chatting with Pierre’s wife, Olympe, about their newly redecorated hotel rooms with see-through bathrooms. The generosity of Jacques Pic with his "Menu Rabelais"…including whole truffle baked in puffed pastry, two plated dessert courses before the pastry cart and then the fruit and ice cream service. The most amazing breakfast served for just six guests staying in the three modest rooms above the restaurant. And the warm and friendly staff. Alain Chapel, so intense, intellectual and brilliant; probably the most poetic of all the great chefs. His plates were just about perfect, down to the beautiful menu descriptions. The trio of Roger Verge, Louis Outhier and Jo Rostang in the Riviera...remember having dinner on the terrace of Rostang’s La Bonne Auberge while hearing cars speeding by just outside. Also Jacques Maximin cooking at Le Chancelier in the Hotel Negresco. Of course Girardet in Crissier…amazing cooking and the most intensely flavored ice creams and sorbets.
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