Today's Metro rag announced that Eric Frechon, who recently got battered by reviewers after the opening of a new cafe at the Bristol called 114 Faubourg, was voted chef of the year by 6000 other chefs in France for his three star Bristol. Christelle Brua of the Pre Catalan was awarded pastry chef of the year. Runners-up were not announced.
With the death of Bill Safire I lost one of my guiding lights, a man whose love of language and words was inspirational, prompting me to write several articles on language, slang and jargon.
Since I first encountered him in his 1968 book "The New Language of Politics" I've reveled in all he has written, considering him a national treasure akin to Niagara Falls and the White House even though our politics were 180° apart (except on Clinton and abortion).
From 1973-1979 I enjoyed reading his Op Ed pieces except those where his irrational devotion to Nixon and Agnew induced nausea, but from 1979 to this month I loved reading his views "on language."
The one time I was able to sit down with him and chat (I usually communicated with him via his wonderful research assistants) I found him to be witty, humble and most assuredly human.
What a loss to literature, writers and readers; I hope the New York Times has the good sense not to try to replace him; it would be impossible.
Bye Bill, you've guided me more than once through sticky thickets (a malapropism I think he might like).
Le Mékong, histoires d'hommes, turns out to be the 21st exhibition of photos on the grille of the East side of the Luxembourg Gardens presented by the French Senate. Colette is good at reminding me to drop by periodically because otherwise their lack of publicity would mean missing some.
We started at the northern-most photo with the source of the Mekong high up in the Tibetian mountains (which is labeled China; so much for the Dalai Lama's power) and wended our way with it through Laos, Cambodia and Viet Nam to the delta and entrance into the South China Sea. Colorful, human and interesting.
Go? Yes indeed, except for the sullen adolescent pictured above, everyone else seemed to be enjoying it greatly.
KGB aka Kitchen Galerie bis in the 6th has just gotten better from even my first visit three weeks ago. Then, when my food-writer dining partner told M. Ledeuil how impressed he was that a place open only a few days functioned so smoothly. He replied "well not totally smoothly."
Well today there wasn't a flaw and while I reserved judgment then on the mains, today I was overwhelmed by my stuffed rabbit on some weird pasta which was spicy to a "tee." And Colette raved about her daurade and veggies which also had M. LeD's typically indescribable Asian herbs and spices.
The three great zors d'oeuvre were totally new (from last visit's six) so things are clearly ripping right along. All again were spiced intriguingly (but I shuddered when a French guy at the next table doused his soup with ground pepper before tasting the spicy mix of mushrooms.)
We shared a dessert of poached figs and cherry ice cream.
Additions are the flags outside; continuing are the reasonably priced wines and their own bottled water.
The Maison du Jardinage is on the Rue Paul Belmondo side of the Bercy Park 1/2 of the way between the Cour St Emilion and Bercy Metro stops. It is a delightful building full of gardening items suitable for urban gardening as well as a great gardening library and an exhibition for kids. And they give gardening lessons.
You know what I’m talking about.The New York Times has already run an article on the phenomenon.It’s the book by the door, in the window, by the cash-register by ah - wouldn’t you know, the very chef whose food you’re eating.It started with the really big boys – Bocuse and Ducasse and Robuchon but now I expect any day Flunch and Courtpaille will have them.
Now I have no quibble with masters like Bocuse and Ducasse and Robuchon flogging their recipes; why should I have to write Gourmet for such.But, we all know the dirty little secrets about these books.1. They weren’t written by the chefs, who no matter how wonderful, all avoided taking their “bacs” and have few if any writing skills.2. They are 95% photography and 5% content.And 3. They’re not information dissemination devices but PR/marketing/market-share ones.
After a glorious meal, you do want to buy it, albeit at 55 Euros.So you do and you schlep it home and look through it and it joins the other wonderful myriad of cookbooks on the coffee table, then after a year or so migrates to the cookbook shelves and finally years later to the kids some Christmas.But it’s not used.Or used once or twice.Take a look at your tattered covers or better yet your rebound books – The Joy of Cooking, Julia, Escoffier and that wild man of all wild men cooking French food out of his hat the recently deceased - Floyd.
But the book by new genius Chef Generation “C” is unsullied.Why?
Well I have a theory.When the first cookbooks were written, they were it, whether in France or the US.And one's mother cherished the one or two she had, looking up equivalents, measurements and occasionally variants on a recipe.Really reliable recipes that she perfected found their way onto file cards in a treasured file-box and if you were lucky you got copies when you went off to college or graduate school or (gasp) real life.
There were no TV shows either.
Fast-forward to today.Snap quiz:
-How many cookbooks do you own in your principal and secondary home and how many have you passed on to the kids?
-How many TV shows do you watch while cooking or cleaning or putzing about the house?
-How many times a week do you go to the Internet and Google an herb or funny looking fish you saw at Whole Foods, and
-How many times do you look for a recipe on Epicurious that’s different than any you’ve done before because you saw something on TV, in the market or in a restaurant?
Let’s face it, we’ve grown up.Sure, there are folks like David Lebovitz* who really bring, literally and figuratively, something new to the table, but I’m not sure one more book by Chef Generation “C” will do anything but gather dust and be good for a pass-along present at Christmas.
So resist the impulse.You don’t need to be Julie Powell and recreate all the classics but you’re just adding to chefs’ egos and ghost-writers’ meager incomes when you buy the book by the door.
These thoughts came to me as my family worked on a recipe from:
The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious – and Perplexing - City
The Cartouche Cafe, coordinates in the 12th given August 31st, will never become a favorite of most of my American readers because they'll take one look at the map and figure it's halfway to Nancy. But that would be dreadfully wrong; because on the slick, sleek #14 line, it's only minutes from St Lazare, the Madeleine and Pyramide.
I liked it at the rentree, I loved it today.
Colette and I went and the ardoise was pretty much turned over from that only 3 weeks ago except that on weekdays now, 2 courses at lunch are now 14 and three 17 €, making that the bargain of the year.
I had said menu, choosing a gizzard salad first; it had soft, tasty gesiers atop crisp lettuce leaves with croutons soaked in the juices (the alternative was hummus).
Then I had the bavette with frites (that was a substitution for the rascasse that had run out) that was cooked to my perfection (almost raw) and the frites by French standards weren't half bad while Colette had the pintade with rissole potatoes, she declared the pintade superior.
For dessert I had poached prunes (sounds boring, eh?; unuhh) and Colette an apple gratin.
With a bottle of wine (Colette thought thin and rough), 2 coffees and pretty darn good bread, the bill was 53 €.
Could this be the Perfect Bistro American websiteers keep searching for?
Colette and I spend a lovely long weekend in Chicago.
We'd forgotten how fat Midwesterners are/were and at our late lunch at the Chicago branch of the Palm, where we ate because it was in our hotel, we got bushwacked by the portion sizes. But like the old joke about Grossingers that said that the food is lousy but you get a lot of it, the food was cheap but we got double the amount we wanted. For $19.95 one had three courses, salads (for Colette mixed, for me Caesar), mains (8 oz of filet for me, lots of shrimp for her) and "Key Lime" (sure) pie for both. I forget the total because it was on the hotel bill.
Culture that day consisted of a visit to the Chicago Architecture Foundation home (ex City Public Library) which had a wonderful exhibition of the design and fate of Burnham's 1909 Plan.
That evening we went to Piccolo Sogno - sitting outside in the glorius garden - and mindful of the portion size problem ordered judiciously. Colette had only the antipasti selection which was good but hearty while I had incredibly good fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with cheese and a 1/2 portion of lasagna Bolognese which did not meet Luigi Buitoni's Gold Standard. Our bill was $83.25 with a bottle of fine wine. As we exited there must have been 40 persons younger than we hanging by the bar awaiting entry.
The next morning I perused the new Renzo Piano wing at the Art Institute which I thought worked better for hanging modern/contemporary art than all the Gehry attempts although I did not feel the Cy Twombly exhibition was up to Piano's bar; Colette did lots of walking and walking tours and suffused herself in architecture.
I was then tied up for 24 hours at the function that was the reason for our visit.
The final morning we took the Chicago River Architecture Tour was incredible with a docent who knew the name of every building, its architect and firm and year it was built. Time and money and mental energy well spent.
Finally we ate at Terzo Piano in the Piano wing which is simply splendid in location and OK in food. I didn't like the whipped whitefish but loved the fried perch and unique fried lemon slices (both of which were too large for appetizers) while Colette was pretty pleased with her mizuna salad with chicken breast. With a bottle of wine and two doppios = $97.63.