We’ve been coming to the mountains for a week forever, first to Aspen in winter, then Vail in winter, then Aspen in summer; but the last two summer trips to Aspen were deferred because of my lust for new bionic parts; so this summer, we were really looking forward to chilling out.
In the meantime, huge changes have taken place; lots of fine dining places closed due to the Great Recession’s lingering impact, oddly enough, they seem to have been replaced by Gucci and Louis Vuitton-type stores. The Aspen Museum finally moved into center ville and one of Aspen’s leading cultural journalists and my friend and food-finder supreme – Stewart Oksenhorn of the Aspen Times – died suddenly at 50.
What has not changed except for the worse is the number of 1%’ers, counted by the rows of private planes, numbers of SUV’s and dogs and Trumpesque trophy wives, widows and divorcees with their identical bleached blond haircuts, enhanced breasts and elocution (or lack of it) training - or as we used to call them in the biz – bulimic bimbos. On the positive side….. we saw many families with young children in tow. As always, beautiful summer flowers are everywhere - in hanging baskets, planted along curbs and in private gardens along the way from town to the Music tent where we heard some splendid concerts.
Brunelleschi’s Pizza Emporium is still cranking along and our first lunch of a paisano pizza and beet salad with a glass of wine, iced tea and double espresso was a reasonable $56.29 before tip.
Maru Sushi has replaced Takah Sushi in the latter’s space and we shared one order of spicy edamame and a Chef’s Special sashimi, which with a bottle of wine came to $101.65 before tip.
We were lucky to be able to hear the first rate 25 year old pianist Behzod Abduraimov’s exact but soulful renditions of Chopin, Schubert, Beethoven and Prokofiev one evening.
We went the next morning to the Aspen Chamber Symphony Dress Rehearsal but even with one of our favorite violinists – Gil Shaham – we both found their versions of Mozart, Sessions and Haydn unexciting.
Asie on Main Street was our next spot and we had a meal there that matched most we’ve had before with sweet and sour mushroom soup, Thai chicken with green salad and King crab tempura; with a glass of wine, iced tea and double espresso, our tab came to $60.12.
Then we dropped in on the much-criticized new Aspen Museum which we both rather liked, especially its show of the pyramidal works by Alan Shields (1966-1985), open til October 2nd.
McKenneys at the Inn at Aspen (is a bit like all the hotels in the 9th Arr that call themselves Opera-Blahblah even though they are miles from either the Garnier or Bastille - the Inn at Aspen is several miles from Aspen) is a place Colette decided we should try and being at the bottom of the chairlift at Buttermilk it offers food befitting such a location – we had two weak G & T’s, a quesadilla with shrimp and chorizo and fish ‘n chips and a bottle of Calif Pinot Noir – $95.11 before tip.
Bosq, in the old Meatball space, is Barclay Dodge’s latest venture after Renaissance (OK+), Mogador (superb), Pacifica (well?) and Rustique (didn’t make it by me). It shows the lessons learned at El Bulli as well as in France, Italy and Morocco; at lunch the gazpacho was the best Colette and I have had since last summer; the shrimp/hard tacos about the best ever and a caramel custard out of this world. With 2 glasses of wine and iced tea and a double espresso correcto, the bill before tip was $100.85.
The Aspen Kitchen has a long and complicated history – it was to have been called the David Burke Kitchen in Aspen, but he resigned although his corporation apparently had a hand in it. It’s really “being led by chef Matthew O’Neill, once the executive chef at the Ajax Tavern and a current shareholder with the David Burke Group.” Whew! In any case its pub says it’s “of-the-moment, authentic and regional” cuisine; which may be true, but it’s fussy food, with pretentious prices (especially for the wines) and returns to the style of “Aspen food” I disliked 30 years ago; too many ingredients, too many flavors competing, too much"much ado," forgetting the elegance and excitement of simple presentations. For instance, my veal was properly cooked but plopped on top of a huge bed of grits and gravy accompanied by nuggets of fried sweetbreads. My wife lucked out however with a nice piece of sea bass with an olive oil and perhaps lemon sauce. Our bill, which included a huge dish of “burned” scapes with a strange garlicky sauce, a bottle of wine and nothing else was $139.90; our worst price-quality meal in quite a while.
The Sunday morning rehearsal at the Music tent is an old tradition of ours; sitting outside reading the Sunday NYT; this year was enhanced by a wonderful performance of Rachmaninoff’s 3rd piano concerto by the above mentioned Behzod Abduraimov with Dominick Argento’s Tango and selections from Gotterdammerung for good measure.
The Casa Tua is also a lunch tradition for us, especially the pasta with Bolognese sauce which is next to the best ever that we enjoyed years ago at Luigi Buitoni’s Locanda della Rocca in Paciano, Perugia, Umbria; Colette also liked her salad of spelt, baby artichokes, with 4 tasty shrimp. With 2 glasses of wine, iced tea and a double espresso ristretto (offered) our bill was $79.79 before tip.
Finally, this afternoon Colette went to the Music Tent to hear the same program as this morning. She sat outside as the tickets were $84 each for inside! - pretty pricey we think (sitting outside is free). This evening we went back to Bosq where we thoroughly enjoyed the halibut crudo with chips, shiitake tempura, caramelized sweet and sour eggplant and butterscotch pudding. Our bill before tip was $104.95.
Les Saisons in the 9th seemed to us to be the perfect last meal before heading out from Paris (with several million others) for the summer vacation. It's charming, inventive and so welcoming, well Keiko never forgets a friendly face. You hate to leave it but it'll urge you to return urgently to Paris with the rentree.
Colette declined a first (although enjoying mine) and the other three of us had an asparagus soup, marinated girolle salad (incredibly flavored) and sautéed lobe of foie gras with raspberries, as only Jonathan Lutz can do.
For mains, our gentleman guest from up the hill had the boudin noir on a puree (quite nice), the two ladies had the merlu with vegetables (quite good); and I was drawn to the tartare of beef which came with extra catsup, Worchester and tabasco in case the chef hadn't done it to one's satisfaction (PS he had.)
At this point the Chef himself ambled over, no, he pointedly came over - "Order the strawberries and raspberries with cream," he said. I gasped "but I have a psychological aversion to raspberries," "Then order the strawberries, they're terrific." And so it was.....
That I got the dreamy strawberries that may have been my hit of the summer, but...
Colette also got her dessert of choice, the rice pudding; M. got his clafoutis, and surprise, the chef sent out a 4th concoction for R.; not wanting any of us to go without.
Our bill, with two bottles of wine, terrific bread, no bottled water but 3 coffees, was 183.90 E for 4 or 91.95 E a couple.
Le Bistrot du Dome in the 14th was one of the first places we ate at after buying a flat in Paris; we'd read a rave review by Patricia Wells in the International Herald Tribune and agreed with her. I'm so obsessed with going to new places, I never have time to revisit the old ones, but tonight I had to speak nearby so it seemed logical. It looked much the same as 25 years ago; was jam-packed; and had elevated its prices bit by bit (example, the wines which have the same price, are now 26 E not 19).
Neither of us wanted big dinners so Colette ordered a gazpacho (the best she's had in a month) with small grilled shrimp and a green salad and I had two lovely solettes cooked in butter and turned out cooked but not over-cooked and thus tough. We finished our meal off by sharing an almond tart with apricots.
Our bill, with a bottle of Pouilly Fume and no coffee or bottled water, was 80.40 E.
Ze Kitchen Galerie in the 6th has been a trusted source of food comfort since we first chanced on it in 2001. Actually my first meal there was puzzling; I didn't "get it." But when Colette and our best friends went back, suddenly the combination of a Savoy-trained chef using all sorts of Asian herbs and spices on top of traditional French cuts of meat and types of fish made a lot of sense. Even though labelled as "fusion food" it has never been on the foreign visitors' food routes, its clientele consisting largely of French and some Anglo folks.
Friends always ask us if Paris has suffered touristically since Charlie Hebdo and November 13th and I say "Not that I can tell." But ex-pat pals, especially those in the food and hospitality biz, say things are slower, emptier, quieter. To change he subject which we'll get back to later, upon entering, we were warmly greeted and informed that William Ledeuil, the innovative chef, was on vacation this week and sent his best which included two coupes.
The amuses were spicy beet soups; followed by firsts of octopus, watermelon, pineapple and tomato gazpacho and red tuna with Nepalese pepper, strawberries and I swear some zippy fresh ginger - all bearing Ledeuil and his multi-cultural kitchen crew's signature.
Our mains were mackerel with sweet onion and saffron and lots else and lieu jaune with green curry and anchovy sauce and lots else.
Our desserts were suitable endings to the meal: chocolate with caramel ice cream and nuts and rhubarb and strawberries and ice cream - heavenly.
Our bill, with no bottled water but one bottle of Reuilly and two coffees was 139 E.
If you're worried about the lack of hipster visitors from abroad, worry no more - they're back with hats on, shirts out, shorts up and cellphones in use!
Monday, in A Nous Paris, there was a review of the previously mentioned Tondo in the 12th.
Then Tuesday in Le Fooding, there was an article featuring the best Farm-Auberge - Haraneko Borda in the Quartier Basaburu, in Itxassou.
Wednesday, in Paris Update, Heidi Ellison was disappointed in Bonvivant in the 6th.
In the jdd, Aurelie Chaigneau reviewed Mersea, 6, rue du Faubourg Montmartre in the 9th, 09.73.22.46.13, open 7/7, menus at 11-14 E serving items such as fish soup, fish and chips and lemon tarts (7/10); and the veggie place Wild and Moon in the 3rd (5/10) as well as returning to Le Vin au vert in the 9th (7/10).
Colette wanted to go to Le Havre and Rouen for two special exhibitions: 325 works by Boudin, who has not had a major exhibition since 1910 - in Le Havre at the stunning MuMa (out of whose windows one sees the break in the seawalls towards the Atlantic) and in Rouen for the Third Year of Impressionist Art; this dedicated to portraits, dozens of them. She liked each and everyone but I must admit I was stunned by only one - the Turneresque Boudin 1884 of Low Tide.
In true blogger fashion though I must relate a personal impression of Le Havre; it was a Sunday in July and getting taxis or public transportation around was nigh impossible. It was only because of Colette's assertiveness and the kindness of strangers, including one taxi-driver grabbing lunch in the Gare, a waitress going off duty at the L'Orchidee and a local couple exiting the Boudin show, that we were able to get around.
About the food; it was pretty much truck-stop stuff circa 1950; what follows are photos from L'Orchidee in Le Havre and Minute et Mijote (I didn't have the heart to expose the Brasserie called the Taverne de la Pailette: