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BryanZ

Travelblog: Foodies Gone Wild Spring Break '07

93 posts in this topic

Hello, everyone. From March 9-19, 2007 I spent a week in Europe, eating to gross excess while keeping excursions to culturally significant sites to a bare minimum. This was my first trip to Europe, a fact that may be surprising to those familiar with my Europhilic cultural leanings. Nevertheless, I would like to use this space to recount my week spent in London, Paris, and Barcelona. This travelblog has no affiliation with the ongoing eG foodblog series, and I hope that all you eG readers will have the viewing capacity to humor me for the next few days while I upload pictures and share my meals.

In keeping with the "Food Culture" nature of this forum, I will also be making cultural observations interspersed throughout the larger collection of food commentary. For those who have never traveled to Europe or have not been in far too long, I hope these musings will imbue the travelblog with a bit of life so that it is more than just a string of pictures of food. What, after all, is great food without the cultural and personal context surrounding it?

But on the practical level I will be giving detailed information on the restaurants I visited beyond what is easily found here or via Google or by largely incompetent American Express conceirges (more on that later). Traveling on something of a budget, one of my greatest frustrations was not knowing for certain how much I would spend at a restaurant. I hope that by including prices for all my significant meals, individuals who follow in dining footsteps can make more educated restaurant choices. I'm pretty sure that everywhere I ate on this trip was initially based on an eG user recommenation in some form, so I would like use this space to further add to the wealth of practical information available on this forum.

Finally, I would like to extend a more explicit thanks to all the wonderful recommendations and guidance I received from a host of eG members. Without your help my trip would not have been nearly as successful.

Now for the good stuff.

Here are some of the meals I will posting on:

London

Lunch at Borough Market

Fish 'n' Chips at The Fryer's Delight

Dim Sum at Royal China

Dinner at Tayyab

Afternoon Tea at The Dorchester

Dinner at St. John (Fergus Henderson)

Dinner at Anchor & Hope

Paris

Lunch at Pierre Gagnaire

Dinner (tasting menu) at Les Magnolias

Lunch (tasting menu) at l'Astrance (Pascal Barbot)

Dinner at Chez l'Ami Jean

Barcelona

Jamon Iberico and cava at Jamonisimo

Tapas at Tapaç 24

Dinner (tasting menu) at Abac

Breakfast at the Boqueria

Lunch (tasting menu) at El Celler de Can Roca

Dinner (tasting menu) at Cinc Sentits

Brunch at Cerveceria Catalana

All that plus other little snacks made for a week of intense eating. If you've read this far, the rest is easy. An epic onslought of pictures is forthcoming.

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Michelin and fine-dining junkies, to which camps I proudly subscribe, will have to wait until Paris and Spain for dining of that nature. With that said, I was immensely pleased with the food I sampled in London. Although I believe there is truth in that statement that for the same money you can probably eat better on the average in France or Spain, a little research and planning yielded some wonderful meals.

3/9-10/07

After wrapping up class on Friday afternoon I embarked from North Carolina to Newark Liberty International Airport (my real home) then finally to London's Gatwick Airport. Upon dropping off my luggage at a University of London dormitory on Oxford. St., my European base of ops, it was off to the famous Borough Market. For those familiar with Union Square's Greenmarket, Borough Market is absolutely nothing like that, at all. Nevertheless I was impressed with the quality of the product, not so happy with the hordes of people.

The g/f, whom some of you met in my transcontinental, whirlwind eG foodblog last summer, and I managed a solid lunch, however, by procuring a meaty salt beef sandwich from Roast and a venison burger made from local deer. This was accompanied by samples of cheese from a Neal's Yard location just outside the market and a nice bottle of hard cider.

Borough Market

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The off-angle shot is evocative of my feelings toward taking pictures at functioning food markets; in other words, I was trying to get out of the way of the main entrance. If I was actually shopping I wouldn't want people blocking my way taking pictures. You'll have to forgive me for not having product pictures here and at the Boqueria in Barcelona.

Salt beef sandwich

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Like corned beef brisket, but beefier and less "cured" tasting.

Venison burger

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Neal's Yard

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A raw milk blue was particularly tasty.

Dinner that evening was at The Fryer's Delight, a no frills fish and chip shop that made me feel very quintessential. Quintessentially what, I'm not so sure, but it seemed authentic.

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Fish and Chips

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Fat fries and a big hunk of cod. Salt and malt vinegar were liberally applied. We also had another fried white fish that was similar to flounder or sole. And, a fried weiner, barely visible in the back right of the above photo. Like a corn dog, only worse for you. This place is BYOB and dinner for two was about 12 Lbs (I don't know how to make the currency symbol).

Late that night, after a drink at a Spanish bar by the UCL campus, we went to Ranoush Juice, a restaurant serving Middle Eastern food located right near Marble Arch. I believe the chain is Lebanese, specifically. I had a mixed shwarma and the g/f a falafel wrap, ranging from about 3-4 Lbs each (again, that's currency not weight). The falafel wrap was very good, the shwarma was mindblowing.

Roasting meat

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None of that greyish mystery meat here. This big hunks were essentially the heartiest, most delicious forcemeat ever.

Mixed shwarma with spicy sauce

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After a quick jog down Oxford St. the shwarma was unveiled in the privacy of a cramped dormitory room. The experience was mind-opening, and I honestly believe this was among the most fundamentally delicious things I had on the entire trip. There was a handful of pickled peppers on the side that added a nice bit of heat. I had another shwarma on my last night in Europe, a week later.

And thus Day 1 of Bryan's European Adventure came to a conclusion.

ETA: One thing I forgot to mention was the latte at Monmouth Coffee. I'm not a big coffee guy, but the g/f got a latte here and it was incredible. After the shwarma, the best thing I had all day. It really opened my eyes to how good a latte could be.


Edited by BryanZ (log)

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3/11/07

The reasons that people force themselves out of bed on lazy Sundays are varied. For many tourists, it means beating the crowds to the major sites. For the pious among us, it means getting to Sunday morning services. For me, it means getting to dim sum before noon to avoid lengthy lines, or should I say queues. Whether it's North Carolina, New Jersey, or London dim sum and Sundays were meant to be.

Thankfully, several eG members recommended Royal China for dim sum, so naturally a visit was warranted.

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The quality of the offerings was really quite excellent; certainly the best I've had. Althugh friends at school reflect on study abroad experiences in China where all you can eat dim sum of a high quality costs about $5, I was perfectly fine paying 26 Lbs. for the two of us for a decent-sized meal. While certainly not cheap, the various dumplings and buns were obviously prepared with great care and exhibited a compelling subtlety of flavors. Scallop dumplings actually tasted of sweetness and the sea rather than MSG and filler.

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There were several other items, but you get the idea. We also tried these amazing fried sesame balls that were unlike any I'd had before. A black sesame milk was encased by a mochi like skin. The dish honestly would've been at home at Alinea or Moto or wd~50 it was so unlike any other Chinese dessert I've had before.

Dinner that night was at Tayyab, a relatively famous Indian restaurant in eastern London. The restaurant is especially known for its tandoor items.

Grilled lamb chops on the left, tandoori chicken on the right

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Again, quite delicious. My experience with tandoori items is rather limited, so I don't have much to compare it to. I enjoyed the spiced yet clean flavors somewhat more than the more commonplace karahi dishes that followed.

Chicken karahi

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We also got baby shrimp karahi, the weakest dish of the night, and "dry meat" a spiced lamb dish without any saucing that was a new experience for me. Two nan and a creamy mango drink rounded out the evening. I believe the total was about 32 Lbs. for the two of us; we had a good amount of food left over, something that rarely happens.

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I will make one more half-post tonight to give myself a short respite (and to encourage those who have questions to ask freely).

3/12/07 part 1

Monday morning gave me a few moments to explore Selfridge's food hall before afternoon tea later that day. I had been to Harrod's food hall on the day before and many similar food halls in Japanese department stores. With that in mind, Selfridge's, conveniently located just across the street from my lodging, was not nearly as diverse or quality-obsessed. Nevertheless, I wish we had similar offerings in the States.

Seeking out yet another British experience, my brunch was a beef and mushroom pie from Square Pie in the Selfridge's food hall.

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Extra gravy? Yes, please. The thing was pretty good and something I would certainly get again.

Afternoon tea at The Dorchester was to be a somewhat classier affair than eating a meat pie out of a box with a plastic fork.

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The Dorchester is a pretty "posh" hotel right on the edge of Hyde Park. The fleet of Rolls Royces added a certain air of British luxury. I was duly amused. The tea room would bring this amusement to another level.

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You bet that's what the room looked like. Gilded, rich reds and greens, waiters in tuxedos, a live piano player. I almost burst out laughing upon seeing it and only was able to control myself for fear of being "improper." Thankfully, a financial services gentleman obviously from New York was seated only a few tables away. Our new friend Gary represented us tri-staters well; I was abdicated from my role as obnoxious American.

Tea sandwiches

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From left to right: Roasted chicken, cucubumer, egg salad, poached pear, smoked salmon. The poached pear was served on nut bread with a triple-creme cheese-like spread. I really liked the idea, so naturally I had about three of those sandwiches and I think two of the rest.

Pre-dessert

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Chocolate mousse and like almond liquer and like shortbread chunks in the bottom.

Scones, preserves, clotted cream, and pastries

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The scones were delicious with the clotted cream and preserves. The pastries were somewhat heavy, but there were a coupld items worth finishing.

In terms of tea, we did a Dorchester classic blend and another scented with coconut and lemongrass and a generally Southeast Asian bouquet.

Tea was not cheap at about 35 Lbs per person (70 Lbs for a couple) at the end of the day. A glass of champagne was another 9 Lbs. on top of that if desired. Thankfully I wasn't paying for this afternoon excursion (the g/f's treat), but it was a nice experience to have and recommended to travelers with a couple hours to burn. My only complaint was that champagne was pushed quite hard at the beginning but once we got past that hurdle everything was smooth and relaxing. Well except for Gary and the odd intrusion of a fire alarm from somewhere in the hotel.

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I'm really enjoying this report, but I'm struggling with having to read Lbs instead of £. Even the # symbol might be easier to read if you can't make the £ symbol. Sorry about the nit-picking. Carry on!! Can't wait to see how you get on in Paris and Barcelona.

Si

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I'll be reading along with interest as we will be in Paris and then Barcelona at the end of May!


Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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Each new day brings new discovery. Today's discovery is making the £ sign show up.

3/12/07 part 2

Dinner this evening would be a St. John, Fergus Henderson's restaurant. For those who don't know Fergus Henderson is known for his book "The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating" and is generally thought of as an offal specialist.

We started off with a signature item, marrow bones with parsley salad.

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The menu here changes twice a day and this is about the only staple. The bones were deliciously salty and beefy. I would've liked just a bit more parsley salad, however, to cut through the richness. All in all, a great dish.

Homemade terrine of pork, piegeon, and various types of offal.

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Just downright delicious, especially with a bit of Dijon mustard and toast.

Chitterlings, a new type of offal that neither the g/f or I had tried before. It's pig intestines, soaked and cured in a heavy brine, cooked until tender, then grilled. A bit more information here.

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These were quite good, just very salty. Think like very tender, very salty ham. The sweet potato puree was purposefully undersalted to accompany the chitterlings. I enjoyed the dish and was glad I tried it but won't be explicitly seeking chitterlings out in the future.

In case we didn't like the chitterlings, we ordered a "safe" dish of wood pigeon, spinach, and roasted sunchokes.

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A wonderfully simple and soulful dish. Crisp skin, bloody gamey meat, earthy chokes. I was very pleased. This would be the first of many exposures to pigeon on the trip and this dish was certainly the most pure.

Welsh rarebit

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Best cheese on toast ever. This was ordered as a side because you have to have welsh rarebit in England.

Bread pudding with butterscotch

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Again, totally delicious.

I was immensely pleased with the quality of this meal. The total was about £80 with a cheap bottle of wine so it wasn't necessarily cheap but not terribly expensive either. In NY there's been a recent explosion of "haute barnyard" restaurants. This place, I think, puts them to shame in it's undeniable focus on one idea and running with it.

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3/13/07

Unfortunately I did not document this day's lunch. Nevertheless, I sampled several sandwiches, drinks, and "crisps" from a UCL eatery. It was refreshing to see such offerings as a duck wrap with hoisin sauce, chicken salad with a spicy roasted corn salsa, and others. As the head of student dining at Duke I am incredibly proud of my program but wish that students in this country would be as open to such diverse offerings. I also tried roasted chicken crisps and grilled steak crisps. They were an experience.

After leaving UCL for the day I was able to do probably the most fun thing ever to come to London, ever. I rode the slides at the Tate Modern. For those who aren't familiar, they're huge metal tube slides located in one of England's best modern art museums (worth a visit in itself). Here's a picture and some more information. Unfortunately I was only able to ride the three-story slide, not the five-story one. I can only imagine how sweet the biggest one is.

The Tate Modern is conveniently located right near the Anchor and Hope, a very well-respected gastropub that some even say is the best in London. We arrived shortly before the dinner opening for a couple nice beers. The bartender was really friendly and let me try a few before finding one to suit my tastes.

We started mussels and cockles

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A simple dish that featured very fresh, creamy mussels. The broth was exceedingly soppable, too.

Potato soup with foie gras

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My kind of gastro pub. The big chunk of foie slowly melted into the soup and created a creamy, fatty bowl of deliciousness.

Skate, broccoli rabe with anchovy dressing

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A light dish that set the mild skate against the more assertive vegetable.

Poached duck egg, potato pancake, morels

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Again, my kind of gastropub. A simple dish with some nice ingredients. This was heavy but very tasty.

Pistachio cake, rhubarb

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The darkhorse of the evening that was much better than I initially expected upon ordering. The pistachio cake was exceedingly moist and soft while the rhubarb added a nice bit of acid to counter the fattiness of the nuts.

The next morning I would leave London and head to Paris. London had exceeded expectations but Paris would bring the level of dining to a whole new level.


Edited by BryanZ (log)

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Tea was not cheap at about 35 Lbs per person (70 Lbs for a couple) at the end of the day.

Ah, London prices!

Would you say what you got was worth the £35? I've been invited to tea at the Ritz in May, but I hadn't thought to inquire until now what the cost will be. I realise it's a different restaurant, but I don't think I'd trek into London to pay that much for what you got.


Cutting the lemon/the knife/leaves a little cathedral:/alcoves unguessed by the eye/that open acidulous glass/to the light; topazes/riding the droplets,/altars,/aromatic facades. - Ode to a Lemon, Pablo Neruda

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Tea was not cheap at about 35 Lbs per person (70 Lbs for a couple) at the end of the day.

Ah, London prices!

Would you say what you got was worth the £35? I've been invited to tea at the Ritz in May, but I hadn't thought to inquire until now what the cost will be. I realise it's a different restaurant, but I don't think I'd trek into London to pay that much for what you got.

It's clearly all about the experience more than than the culinary offerings. You could probably purchase all the items from separate vendors for half the cost or less. Nevertheless, it's worth doing once or more than once if you have the extra time and money. We also considered the Ritz but research found it to be even more over-the-top to the point of being uncomfortable. It is also marginally more expensive, I think.

It's worth noting that the g/f paid for this little excursion in full because of a meal my family took her to at Gordon Ramsay's new restaurant in New York. This little tea cost almost as much per person as a three-course Ramsay lunch. That, I think, is most evocative of the brutality of the £ to dollar exchange rate.

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Looks really scrumptious Bryan! Can't wait for more.

I'd say 70 quid is pretty bloody high for tea, but they don't call it high tea for nothing. Plus it's the Dorchester. Did g/f know price going in?

edit to add: I see your next post answers that nicely. carry on...


Edited by johnnyd (log)

"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

foodblogs: Dining Downeast I - Dining Downeast II

Portland Food Map.com

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That marrow! Oh, the humanity (or, the bovinity, as it were). Looks so amazing...and I've only ever had a teeny taste of marrow before.

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I think Bryan and I were at the Borough Market at the exact same time...too funny!

ETA: Though our dinners at St. John were a couple of days apart... :wink:

ETA Again: And ditto that on tea at The Dorchester.


Edited by Megan Blocker (log)

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

Queenie Takes Manhattan

eG Foodblogs: 2006 - 2007

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Sounds like so much fun, Bryan! I love your pictures.

My spring break's not until the end of April :blink:

Do you have a favorite city? I've never been to Barcelona, is it anything like Paris?

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3/14/04 part 1

Today would be the day of my first Michelin three-star experience at Pierre Gagnaire. But before making it to 6 rue Balzac, we would need to make from London to Paris. Today's medium of transportation would be the Eurostar train via the Chunnel (£50/person). It was not nearly as exciting as one might imagine, probably influenced by the fact that I slept for all but twenty minutes of the four-hour journey. This Eurostar train left London at 6 AM, necessitating a 4:30 AM wakeup, after getting to bed at around 2 AM. Oh the lengths I go through to make it to Paris for lunch.

Upon dropping of our bags at our hotel, located right on the market street rue Cler, we literally crossed the street to procure my first taste of Paris, a crepe.

Ham and cheese on a buckwheat crepe

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Folded up for easy transport on our quick tour of the streets immediately surrounding rue Cler. Another crepe was procured before our journey from Paris to Barcelona. That one was banana and Nutella. It was even better.

Pierre Gagnaire was truly wonderful. Perhaps there's something of a primacy effect going on, but it was perhaps my best overall meal in Europe when one takes into account service and overall experience. It was also interesting to see for the first time the true French fine dining model.

For instance, upon sitting down the g/f and I were presented with menus. After a couple minutes of skimming using my rather limited menu French I commented on how expensive the a la carte offerings were (starters and mains ranged from €95-125 per dish) and how mindblowingly expensive the truffle tasting menu was (at "€1,35"). I made no mention of explicit prices and was simply reflecting on the generally high nature of the prices I was reading

The g/f looked confused. "I don't get it. How does this work?" she asked.

Somewhat perturbed, I explained that this was the a la carte menu. After all the prices, while written quite lightly in pencil, were plainly marked. I continued skimming.

"Really, Bryan, I don't get this," she remarked, "I don't see any prices or anything." And then it became quite clear, she wouldn't really know what she was looking at or how much anything was because menus for the ladies in the restaurant did not have prices. The lunch menu, on a separate card, did, but only one was brought to the table and it was presented to me. Call it chivalry or chauvinism, it was certainly a cultural wake up. We'd never come across this in all sorts of fine dining in in the US. This trend would continue at other starred Paris establishments.

Anywho, we opted for the lunch menu at €95 per person. Somewhat steep but not all that high compared to other comprably lauded establishments. It would prove to be a most excellent meal so spending $130 for one for lunch seemed entirely reasonable. It is also worth noting that this entire meal was cheaper than the majority of individual menus on the a la carte menu. One wonders if lunch is that great of a value or if the a la carte offerings are really that much better. Gagnaire also gave me a new goal in life, to order the €1,350 truffle tasting menu. One day...one day.

Lunch menu

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Obviously reading French would be helpful here.

Canapés

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One of my favorite images of the whole trip. There were all sorts of goodies here.

Bread offerings

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Of course I had to try all four offerings. The pistachio thin cracker thing was particularly cool.

Amuses

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I wish I could recall them all, but I gave up on taking notes in restaurants a couple years ago, or was it more? Nevertheless, those who made it to Gilt under Liebrandt and Gagnaire will see clear similarities between the two. i should also note that the service pieces here were cool as hell. The saucer/cup combination in the middle was angled up and the cup was held in place by a magnet. Definitely the coolest service piece ever in blending the modern with the classic. Crucial Detail's closest competitor might be the anti-plate, but I found this J.L Coquet design more compelling.

Chicken terrine

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One of the most memorable dishes of the trip for being unlike anything I've ever had. The ingredients were humble, chicken forcemeat, herbs, chicken broth, leafy greens but the product was so rich and satisfying yet remaining novel and light, familiar but not. The dish was presented in a ring mold in the bowl with terrine and greens. The broth was poured over, the ring lifted, and everything mixed. In the Z Kitchen thread I spoke about making a dish greater than its individual parts; this dish was exactly that.

Cod

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Plated tableside atop a grain risotto. The dish was not fundamentally different than the typical sweet salty combination that one often sees with cod. This was experty cooked, balanced in flavor composition, and delicious.

Pre-dessert with mignardises

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In the center was a light, citrusy sorbet. Of the mignardises the cherry was unlike any other cherry I've had before. The white and red wafer at the front was topped with a bit of citric acid to give it a powerful zing. Those unfamiliar with the product would probably be even more shocked.

Dessert 1

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My favorite part was a homemade yogurt thing in the cup. My only criticism of this course was the second use of a heavy agar gel sheet that also made a similar appearance in the amuses.

Dessert 2

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I remember the layered item at the front being filling but to the point of being uncomfortable. The chocolate parfait, however, put us over the top. Neither of us are big chocolate fans for finishing a meal.

A chocolate

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How cute. I purposefully took a bite out of it before the photo. I thoght it added a bit of character.

The service at this meal was probably the best we encountered. Friendly without being at all overbearing. Very smooth. And they chose great and affordable wines for each of us. I honestly was expecting to see something like a €20 charge per glass of wine and would've been okay with that given the setting. I think one glass was €9, the other €10; totally reasonable. I can't say enough about this restaurant. If I were to go back to Paris I would certainly make it a point to return here, I'm not sure I can say that about anywhere else we ate for want of trying new restaurants on future visits. Pierre Gagnaire made my first European three-star experience memorable and also helped to allay fears I had held about being intimidated or not knowing enough (read: any) of the language. It was clearly French and France but I still felt welcomed and comfortable.

Since we were already there we walked to the Champs Elysees, up to the Arc de Triomphe, then all the way back to rue Cler.


Edited by BryanZ (log)

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This would be the first of many exposures to pigeon on the trip and this dish was certainly the most pure.

I am loving this so far, Bryan! (I adore pigeon and eat it as often as I can, btw!)


Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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This is just a fabulous report. You sure know how to travel, Bryan. Bravo!

Si

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wonderful report Bryan. Thanks for taking the time to do it.

Amuses

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just a general question about this course.. I always wonder about it when I see a picture like this.. how do you know what you are supposed to eat first? I'm thinking it can make a great difference.. I think in El Bulli reports I've seen it mentioned that diners are instruced 'how' to eat a dish.. were you instructed how to eat this table full of goodies?

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Great report Bryan. I've enjoyed it immensely.

One observation. I noticed your pictues of the marrow bones at St Johns. Marrow bones are some of my favorite food items. I had them this past Saturday at Landmarc in NYC. One thing I cannot understand is why both places have their bones cut vertically instead of horizontally. I've had them cut vertically at Landmarc and Blue Ribbon in New York - horizontally at le Boeuf sur le Toit in Paris and Alexandre in Montreal. When the are cut horizontally they are so much easier to eat and all of the marrow can be accessed. When cut vertically I've rarely been able to get at all the marrow and find that some of it just drips through to the plate. When the bones are cut horizontally the bone itself acts as a receptacle for the marrow and all of it can be conveniently sopped up with bread.

Porkpa

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wonderful report Bryan. Thanks for taking the time to do it.
Amuses

gallery_28496_4375_46197.jpg

just a general question about this course.. I always wonder about it when I see a picture like this.. how do you know what you are supposed to eat first? I'm thinking it can make a great difference.. I think in El Bulli reports I've seen it mentioned that diners are instruced 'how' to eat a dish.. were you instructed how to eat this table full of goodies?

Yes, we were instructed how to eat the series of dishes. Starting with the middle, we worked clockwise. It finished with a clam and red cabbage dish on the right that was really so interesting. Kind of like a seviche, I guess, because there was vinegar with the cabbage, but the color and textural range of the dish was particularly striking.


Edited by BryanZ (log)

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This would be the first of many exposures to pigeon on the trip and this dish was certainly the most pure.

I am loving this so far, Bryan! (I adore pigeon and eat it as often as I can, btw!)

I had pigeon for the first time in France as well (in Brittany) and it was one of my best food "discoveries" there. I've always been a fan of quail and pigeon also has that lovely gamey, rich taste to it.

The quality of the photos are great, BryanZ! I'm so glad you're sharing your extravaganza with us. I hope that Megan does share her London experiences as well either here or elsewhere!


"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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3/14/07 part 2

After our walking tour of Paris a rest was necessary before venturing beyond Paris city limits to Les Magnolias. Les M is a one-starred restaurant by Jean Chauvel that specializes in modern, whimsical food. In other words, right up my alley.

Les M did have something like a suburban feel. Although not located in a house per se, it was decorated as one. A couple different rooms, a slightly awkwardly placed kitchen, some local art. Nice but not a restaurant that will win any design awards. Language here was also slightly more of a problem but really not a big deal at all.

I should also note the service here was "slowest" of all the restaurants we visited. It wasn't slow in the lazy sense as the servers were busy and hard at work, just very measured across all tables on the aggregate. All the other French visitors in the room seemed to be enjoying themselves and had we not asked them to speed things up 2/3 of the way through because of train back to Paris we HAD to catch, it would've turned into a four hour meal. I think this was more of a cultural thing overall. I should also note that once we did ask them to speed things up they were great about it and got us out of there in a timely but not rushed fashion.

Naturally, we opted for the tasting menu for €85 per person. There was no notice of what we would receive, but they did take the time to ask us if there was anything we didn't eat. We said, "No." They said the main course was pigeon, would that be alright. We laughed, "Yes, pigeon would be fine." Us 'mericans weren't as uncultured as they thought.

Amuse of frothed mushroom soup and a little biscuit with tomato pop rocks

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This dish was pretty evocative of the rest of the meal. Classic ideas, updated with modern, though slightly gimmicky touches. The food was playful and tasty but not necessarily modern fine dining in the Gagnaire, Can Roca, Alinea sense of the concept.

Foie gras, semi-soft cheese whose name was lost in translation, baby bok choy

A vegetable soup with a starchy root veg puree packed into the straw

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A nice starter of "soup and salad" augmented by a big hunk of foie gras. No complaints. The soup was fun to drink in the huge glass straw.

Liquid ham sandwich

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The brown topping is, perhaps fittingly, toast, grated tableside. Not quite truffles but it worked with the dish quite well. The soup tasted just like a ham, cheese, and egg sandwich. It was a somewhat similar delivery system to the soup component of the first couse, but the novel yet familiar flavor made it enjoyable. This dish was memorable but somewhat gimmicky. Will I seek out a liquid ham sandwich in the future (or a liquid Krispy Kreme donut)? Perhaps not. Am I glad I tried this oft-discussed dish? Certainly.

Fish (I honestly can't remember what type it was or if we were even told or if this, too, was lost in translation)

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The kumquat was the coolest accompaniment. It was filled with a sorbet and added a nice acidity and temperature contrast to the dish. I also believe the little pellets at the front were alginate faux-caviar but they were more gelatinized rather than bursting. I didn't think they added too much to the dish.

Tuna tartare and caviar

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Tuna tartare, caviar, and citrus foam on a mini pedestal. The foam did taste of soy lecithin, though I'm not sure those unfamiliar with the product would be able to place it. Obviously, that's not me, it's the g/f, also known as the eating machine.

Cod

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A delicately steamed piece of cod, topped with white asparagus and a thin sliver of what seemed like radish or turnip. The poppy seeds were a nice textural addition.

A spoonful of apple-lemon juice

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A positively childish palate cleanser. Get it? Ha ha.

Pigeon, potato puree,iced tea, savory macaroon

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A nice pigeon dish, but the potatoes were a little heavy at this point of the meal. All was remedied by drinking the light and refreshing tea and eating the savory macaroon. The macaroon was really special, light, barely salty, and with a touch of what seemed like horseradish.

Cheese

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A triple creme cheese was melted with a light and creamy egg custard in the eggshell.

Strawberry sorbet

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The mini pedestal, this time with a sleeve, allowing the strawberry sorbet to be pushed up like an extremely fresh tasting Push-Pop.

Liquid cake in a mini-bottle

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We were instructed to shake up the bottle then drink away. Little cake crumbs sat atop the milky and runny batter-like contents.

Desserts

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From front to back: Chocolate with berries, sugar pillow; banana tart; honey jellies, honey-flavored cotton candy.

Overall I was pleased with the meal. It was fun and relaxed and didn't require too much effort. The dishes tasted as they should, save for the few occasions when using a modern technique went too far or interefered. I liked a lot of the idea but a few things got somewhat repetitive. Nevertheless, I wish we had someone cooking like this in New York; Chauvel does not demand to be taken as intellectully as someone like Dufresne. Wines here were quite moderate and at the end of the day was about €200 for the two of us.


Edited by BryanZ (log)

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3/15/07 part 1

After sleeping in, we managed to grab a pain aux chocolat on rue Cler on the way to the newly three-starred l'Astrance. The pastry was lighter and flakier than those usually found in the States but was a little light on the chocolate from my perspective.

L'Astrance is something of a controversial restaurant this year since it is so far far from the traditional model of a three-star Paris restaurant. For one, it only seats 25 guests, its design is minimalist as opposed to oppulent, and, yeah, it doesn't really have a menu. I didn't know that last fact at the time. Bloggers and eG posters always refer to their "surprise" menus at l'Astrance. I thought a surprise menu would have to be specially requested or was only for those "in the know." I knew they served modern food and were not ridiculously expensive for lunch, so a visit seemed natural

Upon looking (looking, not reading) at the menu, nothing convinced me otherwise. On the left was something about "Menu Hiver" (winter menu) and a series of ingredients that appeared to be organized into rather strange but feasible dishes on about a half-dozen lines, the appropriate length for a tasting menu. That list, I thought, corresponded with the €120 Menu Hiver on the right side of the page. A lunch menu was offered at €70 with no dishes listed, but perhaps they had a separate lunch menu card like at Pierre Gagnaire. Then there was a much more expensive Menu Astrance that also had no dishes listed, perhaps this was the surprise menu I lusted after. Unfortunately, it would be too expensve for my budget.

Then the waiter came and set me straight.

"Can you explain the menu?" I asked, pointing to the lunch and menu hiver options.

"The lunch menu is three courses, the menu hiver is five."

"What about the menu surprise?"

"Yes?"

Awkward silence.

"The menu surprise, do you have that?"

"Ohhh (or the nasally French-sounding equivalent), every menu here is a surprise." Pointing to the list of ingredients on the left side of the menu he explained, "The chef uses these ingredients here to put together a menu that changes everyday."

It seems like us 'mericans were even more uncultured than they thought.

With that whole deal sorted out we opted for the €120 Menu Hiver. Ordering wine was a little bit confusing due to the language barrier and I suppose I was somewhat to blame. I had requested different wines for the each of us, but they interpreted it, sort of, as trying a couple different wines to share throughout the meal. I believe this was an honest miscommunication not an upsell, but it did add a measure of stress that persisted throughout the meal as we did not know how much we would be charged. In the end we tried three wines, each receiving the equivalent of a half to full pour of each thanks to a couple top-offs. In the end it was a reasonable €25 each and I wasn't necessarily unhappy to pay it. Again, the worst part about the meal was the persisting uncertainty of not knowing if they were pouring wines that could have easily added $100 or more to the final tab. This whole trip had me riding the razor edge of overdrawing my debit card, so that type of unplanned excess could wreak disastrous, or at least unpleasant, consequences.

Now, to the food.

Canape

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Herbed brioche with a garlic cream puree.

Amuse

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A creamy, almost yogurty soup with an herbal, nearly astringent quality to it. This was fine to open the palate, but I wasn't totally in love with it. More unique in flavor combination than delicious.

Foie gras and mushroom terrine

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A realy cool dish combining a luxury ingredient, foie gras, and a basic one, white mushrooms. What made this dish excellent was, again, the fact that the sum was greater than its parts. Fundamentally it was very simple, just foie and mushrooms but the mushrooms almost blended with foie giving the whole dish an uncommon toothsome quality not ususally associated with foie. The nut oil and lemon sorbet played opposite sides of the flavor spectrum as fitting accompaniments.

Scallops, prawn

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Wonderful pieces of seafood sourced from somewhere of note that I'm forgetting now. Perhaps Brittany? The herbs and flowers added a subtle vegetal component but the bergamot-infused puree was an interesting choice. It wasn't unpleasant, and I think I could see the idea of pairing bitter with sweet seafood, but it threw the dish out of balance in large quantities. Docsconz has noted that a meal Pierre Gagnaire seemed thrown out of balance by an excess of bitter flavors; I think the same could be said of this dish. Fundamentally great, just pushed a bit too far in the puree.

Fish

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I think this was some type of local fish, as I didn't know the name. This was perhaps the simplest dish of the day but expertly executed. A wonderful morel sauce, a bit of lightly crisped veg, and moist piece of fish. The kind of dish you could eat all day but not necessarily have much to say other than delicious.

Celery root and black truffle soups

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Perhaps the most fundamentally delicious item of the whole trip. The black truffle aspect really perfumed the whole cup. Whereas the fish course was delicious but only as good as one might imagine, this was delicious in a way that only experiencing it can dictate. The taste remains in my memory as I write this.

Duck

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An absolutely gorgeous duck breast, expertly cooked. Beneath were some crispy bits to contrast with the soft breast meat. I was totally into the coffee-olive condiment in the foreground. Again, a bitter component but I really loved it. I do something similar with a bitter candied olive condiment but this was very nice.

Desserts

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Desserts here were lighter than at other locations and for this we were thankful. We were still offered a variety of selections as is clearly seen, but they were easier to eat and therefore more enjoyable if not explicitly more delicious. There was a bit of chocolate in the parfait-like thing in the front right but it was minimal and not overpowering.

After-meal snacks

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Front to back: Madelines, cool chai-spiced milk in eggshells, fruit plate. A great way to end the meal. Nothing too heavy after all that food, and the fruit plate was nice to nibble at.

We were seated on the upper level, where there are two tables that look over the small dining room. I'm not sure if this is where the B team sits, but it was nice and airy. The staff was available throughout the meal but upon asking for the check it was somewhat harder to track down the staff who spent the majority of their time on the lower level. This wasn't a big deal but in a Michelin three-star worth noting. Although our reservation was only at 1PM we were the last people to come in and the last to leave. Strange.

An excellent (and expensive at €290 for the two of us) meal but overall I think it fell short of Pierre Gagnaire on the overall experience. Some of the dishes, however, the foie, the soup, the duck were truly excellent and eye-opening.


Edited by BryanZ (log)

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Gagnaire also gave me a new goal in life, to order the €1,350 truffle tasting menu. One day...one day.

Are you sure that this is the case? I read somewhere else that the black truffle tasting menu is "only" EUR 425? How's it compare to your other gastronomy restaurant in the US, i.e. JG, Per Se or Alinea?

Thanks for sharing your wonderful pictures from the trip.

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