Archive for January, 2009

HOLIDAYS IN PARIS

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

 

Let it first be said, Paris is still a wonderful experience, a great city to visit, even if it’s cold there in the Winter, and there is always something special about the “City of Lights”.  I definitely heard the comments, “why Paris in December”? Years ago we were intimately involved with the development and conceptual planning of eight venues at “Festival Disney”, now called Disney Village at Paris Disneyland, which opened in 1992.   And throughout the years since, we have been asked back to tour and review our work there, each time it has been very rewarding, along with seeing Annette’s Diner and the Rolling Skating Servers (just like we proposed it), Buffalo Bill’s Wild Show, with a accurate depiction of Wild Bill and Sitting Bull and the other concepts we developed, all doing great business.

 

But before I get too far ahead of the visit to the world of Disney, traveling to Paris at the holiday period is always full of adventure, as you get to experience new things and also to reconnect with old friends and favorite restaurants in Paris.  The Westin Paris should be on your list of great places to stay in Paris, if you want to be in the center of activity, along with being close by to museums, the 1st, 2nd & 3rd Arrondissement’s and a short walk across the Concorde Bridge to the Left Bank.  The hotel “gets it” and the staff understand their clientele, from great service, attitude and assistance.  The first night in Paris was magical; from the view from the hotel room of the Eiffel Tower all bathed in blue, to the walk over the bridge to the Left Bank and passing the lights and the Concorde Ferris wheel, what a great scene.

 

Let me mention if you’re planning to go to Paris either during the holidays or in August, it is always wise to check to see what restaurants are open during those periods, lest you might be disappointed to find a favorite or recommended place closed during those periods. The first night in Paris on this trip was to set the standard for each evening’s dining experience. 

 

L’EPI DUPIN 11 rue Dupin, 6th Arr: (00 33 1 42 22 64 56) is in the shadow of the legendary Bon Marche Department Store a Parisian experience within itself, with the plethora of designer boutiques, ambiance and merchandise which they offer. 

The bistro was one of the first to offer Prix Fixe offerings of three courses for contemporary food, starting in the late nineties for now the startling price of 39 Euros!  Wines are equally well priced at 25e to 60e.  Starting the evening we dined on Appetizers of Ragu of Baby Snails and vegetables in an aromatic nage and Timbale of Duck Confit in a Phyllo cone.  For main courses, Braised Guinea Hen on a bed of Golden Raisins, Dried Fruit, Nuts and Braised Celery, other offerings such as their Signature dish, Flashed Roasted Scallops on Citrus Risotto, were euphoric.  A bottle of Croze Hermitage, Alan Tardy, 2006, which was organically produced (this seems to be the current trend for the wines offered in Parisian Bistros) was balanced and complemented the flavors of the food.  For Dessert a simple Poached Pear, with Bleu Cheese Crumbles and Caramel and White Chocolate Dipping Sauces, and a Warm Chocolate Cake and Melisse of Ice Cream, capped a wonderful dinner. Service was very helpful, and interesting enough, our servers’ recommendations and reciting of the menu in both French and English—were spot on!

 

 

Le Baratin. 3 rue Jouye-Rouve, 20th Arr.; 011-33-1-43-49-39-70.  Much has been written and said about this out of the way restaurant in East Paris, but until you actually go, it difficult to imagine the simplicity of the experience.  Philippe Pinoteau is the owner and “wine geek” and he pours what he thinks you should drink (he has a deep cellar that highlights organic wines). Pinoteau’s wife and partner, Raquel Carena is the heart and soul of the restaurant and the food. Her vibe and style comes from her Argentinean background and shows in her worldly style of cooking.  Dinner is a daily showcase of rustic foods and the best available ingredients.  For Starters, Baby Quail Escabeche, with Roasted Almonds and Golden Raisins, and “Blanc Sepia” White Squid, lightly seared with Parsnip, Citrus and Herbs. Accompanied by Arlibtis, a dry white wine from Santorini.  Entrées of Veal Cheeks, Roasted Winter Vegetables and Citron, along with Roasted Pyrenees Lamb Shank, Natural Jus, Vegetable Croquette. Philippe insisted we have a Mercury Derain 2006, which complemented the food wonderfully.  Dessert, a Local Selection of Cheese accompanied with a limited production Dessert Wine from the Greek Isles.

 

 

LA CAGOUILLE 23, rue de l’Ouest, 14th Arr.  01-43-22 09-01.  One of our perennial favorites for over 20 years, it only gets better with time.  This restaurant only serves fish and they go to the market every day and showcase a Blackboard Menu each evening.  On a Sunday night the restaurant was buzzing, many different languages, a wide selection of fish and great service—a perfect evening.  We started with a half bottle of Chateau Dubois Challone 2002, a simple light Bordeaux that complemented the Baby Clams in Sweet Butter that they gave to us.  A Signature Dish of Baby Petite Mussels perfectly steamed open on a cast iron black pan, followed next was Fresh Shrimp steamed with herbs, with plenty of French Baguettes for dipping in the broth.  Continuing on a Whole Steamed Rouget with Dauphine Potatoes, which they boned tableside and also gave us the head and bones, which we devoured!  We completed the meal with a bottle of 1999 Domaine De Montille Burgundy, which was fruity and smooth, along with the right balance of sweetness, mouth feel and acid to complement the Rouget. 

 

 

 

A Day at Disneyland!  Since we are all kids at heart, returning to a familiar place in so many ways, was an extraordinary experience.  The time we spent at the Park and revisiting Disney Village and the concepts we created was very special.  Our luncheon at “Walt’s Restaurant” typified how important the American experience of dining is important to the French people.  The restaurant features many American Specialties, which the customers all seemed to enjoy immensely.

 

 

Café Moderne 40 Rue Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, 2nd Arr.  011-33-1-53-40-84-10.  29-year-old chef Sébastien Altazian—who trained with Michelin-starred chefs Michel Rostang and Guy Savoy, is in the kitchen. The restaurant is part of the new revolution of simple Café and Bistros that dot the Parisian restaurant scene.  The décor is modern, the wine list approachable and the food outstanding.  The evening’s fare was a five-course meal for 39 Euros!  Each course was plated on different china and serving vessels, all with panache and great flavors.  Amuse-Bouche was Pigeon and Sun-dried Tomatoes, next a chilled Sliver of Ground Pork Pate, a ribbon of Wild Berry Sauce, A velvety Cream of Chestnut Soup with Mushroom and Almond Puff, followed by a Roasted Sea Bream on Root Vegetables, then Sea Bass and Tomato Fennel Nest, Tournedos of Beef on Parsnip Puree, Roasted Baby Vegetables. To compliment the flavors of the food we enjoyed a bottle of 2006 Saint Joseph, Domaine Louis Cheze Cuvée Ro Ree.

 

 

One could only say, “we will return again”, as the “City of Lights” has that continual allure for food, wine, style and ambiance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes from the Road – Visit to Oregon & Seattle, December 2008

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

Prior to the Chanukah and Christmas holidays, I had a chance to visit Oregon (Portland & the Willamette Valley) and Seattle; seeing some great friends, eating some damn good meals and having a great time.  Unfortunately, I decided to visit during one of the coldest winters’ in years, but overall it was a blast.  If you haven’t had a chance to ever visit the Pacific Northwest of the United States, I hope you will make a point to get up there.  It is a beautiful part of our country with fantastic people, outstanding locales and many surprises.

 

Below are some of the great experiences that I was able to enjoy; which I hope you will find entertaining.

 

Willamette Valley

            After arriving into snowy Portland, I made my way (slowly) over to the Willamette Valley for some fun times with my buddy Alex Sokol-Blosser of Sokol Blosser Winery (www.SokolBlosser.com).  Unfortunately with the weather, many wineries weren’t even opening that day, so Alex took me over to Mcminnville to visit a few of his friends whom we knew would be open.  The first stop was the wine bar run by R. Stewart & Co. Wines (www.RStewartandCo.com), a cool little storefront space right on 3rd street.  Their wines, both the R. Stewart & Big Fire labels (great flavors by the way) are served in this café-like setting.

 

            We then continued on (in a driving snow, no less) over to Panther Creek Cellars (www.PantherCreekCellars.com), which is located in the old Mcminnville Power Plant – one of the coolest ‘urban’ wine-settings there is.  I have always loved the deep flavors, extraction levels and full nose behind their wines, having never been disappointed.  I was fortunate to run into an old friend, Bill Hanson who is their Assistant Winemaker/ Sales & Marketing Manager.  Bill was an extremely kind host, tasting us through the entire line-up of PC wines, with the best being the Shea Vineyard (WOW) and the 20th Anniversary release.

 

            After the tasting extravaganza, we stayed in the little wine town and walked over to one of Alex’s favorite restaurants, Bistro Maison (www.BistroMaison.com) for an early French dinner and more wine!  This is a quaint little restaurant right on 3rd Street that is extremely wine friendly and geared to supporting its local population.  I had a wonderful Wild Northwest Salmon in a (fresh) Chanterelle mushroom sauce, which was silky, rich and a perfect complement on a cold evening.  A treat at the end of the meal was being served a bowl of fresh, whole hazelnuts with an antique nutcracker – so cool!

 

            Before heading out the next morning, Alex was able to take me on a driving tour of the Willamette Valley, including a quick stop to the newest Sokol Blosser parcel, Blackberry Vineyard.  This land will start producing (usable) fruit in the next few years and will become a key flavor component in their wines.  We then headed back to his winery for a great tour and tasting through the line-up of SB wines.  All of them were truly fantastic, but the Pinot Gris is made in the true style of Alsace, with Oregon influence and the Estate Pinot Noir will make many happy for years to come!

 

Portland

            Heading back to the city, I had to stop at one of my all-time favorite restaurants, Higgins.  This is a neighborhood restaurant run by a James Beard Award winner who believes in a commitment to the earth through sustainable farming, contributing to the well being of others and genuinely being good people.  I sat at the bar for lunch and enjoyed a house made pastrami, served open faced, topped with white cheddar cheese with a young greens salad and hazelnuts.  This may seem extremely simple to all of you, but it is absolute heaven to my taste buds and me.

 

            Later that evening I was able to catch up with some old friends (from the Portland days) to visit a good buddy, Justin Akins, bar manager/proprietor of Trebol Restaurant (www.TrebolPDX.com).  Justin and his partner Kenny Hill have created a modern Mexican cantina with outstanding and seasonal food, creative cocktails and a warm atmosphere.   My dish was the true winner of the evening, Manila Clams spiked with Serrano chilies and house made chorizo – extremely flavorful without being overbearing with spice.

 

            My last Portland experience before heading out of the city was a tasting with the good folks (thanks to Craig Hedstrom & Shirley Brooks!) from Elk Cove Winery (www.ElkCove.com) and a luncheon at Giorgio’s Restaurant in the Pearl district.  We dove right in on the wines and their 2007 Pinot Gris was off the chain!  If you see this wine in a wine shop, grab some bottles now!  Outstanding stuff!  As well, their 2007 Willamette Pinot Noir was tasting great and an absolute bargain, if you can find it!  By the way, my dishes I selected paired perfectly for lunch, starting with a light Cream of Celeriac soup (extremely delicate) and Butternut Squash Agnolotti with Brussel Sprouts (wow).

 

Seattle

            Unfortunately, Seattle was getting hit by one of the worst weather spells it had seen in years when I decided to head up there, with snow drifts and ice aplenty!  At the same time, temperatures were hovering in the 10’s & 20’s, so there was a lot of hibernating and taking it easy.  Fortunately, we did get a chance to break out a little bit, hitting Easy Street Records Café (www.EasyStreetRecords.com), a counter culture dive restaurant that just so happens to be in a record store.  Very fun and funky little place, exactly what I would expect in Seattle.

 

            Post breakfast we took a run (in freezing weather I might add) over to Pike Place Market (www.PikePlaceMarket.org) to take in the sights, sounds and vibe of Seattle.  I had driven by the market in the past, but never had a chance to check it out.  Man, it was so cool with all of the different vendors, products and people – I can’t wait to head back in warmer weather and during spring/summer produce season!

 

            The next day following a hibernation evening due to the blizzard, we headed out to a cool little neighborhood joint called Endolyne Joe’s (www.ChowFoods.com).  This restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as a meal called Blunch (you can figure that out) every day.  Also, they do a Southern States’ theme each month at the restaurant that they carry over to their menus, with December being Georgia.  How cool is that?  I enjoyed a killer scramble with two kinds of ham, buttery, pepper grits and homemade bread and jam.  What a great Sunday morning treat!

 

It was wonderful to return to the Pacific Northwest and experience all that the region has to offer.  I look forward to returning there in warmer weather to catch up with friends and enjoy the spoils!  For my next entry, I am turning to my boss (and father) Robert Nyman who has dutifully offered to fill in, recapping his visit across the pond to Paris before year-end 2008.  Just wait; there should be some great stories and adventures!  Best wishes to each of you on a happy and healthy New Year and remember, Keep Eating & Drinking!