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In a state of hibernation. My backlog has long become unsustainable. Will probably tweet more and write less full-length stuff.

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Entries in French (36)

Tuesday
Jan312006

BCB Bakery

Don't have time for a long post, but here's a quick tidbit. I thought I'd mention a small place near our accomodations called BCB Bakery. Somehow I thought I had a ton of pictures from this place, so I never bothered to take new ones when I went back. It turns out I actually never even took a pic of the storefront, so my apologies. My Google-fu can't find any evidence of its existence, but rest assured it's there, near the corner of Broadway and Mountain. It's a cute little French bakery which appears to be run by some Japanese people. It turns out they have some great bread (then again, the bread in Japan is great too), and make some pretty nifty sandwiches.

sandwich with ham off the bone, cheddar cheese, grainy mustard mayo - A$6.8 They make a variety of sandwiches using their delicious mini baguettes, and this simple ham and cheese was my favorite. Some nice meat, cheese, and tasty mustard is all this great bread needs. They also have a great goat cheese/coppa/walnut sandwich, and according to Jainy, a nice vegetarian one as well. The side salad with a simple vinaigrette was fine for A$2. They also make a variety of crepes - I think that's a nutella crepe in the background. But they cost more than a sandwich, are tiny, and didn't look all that great, so I'd stick to the baked goods. They also have some nice pastries, namely some nice croissants and brioches. There were many kinds of little tartlets there too, but I never tried any since I'm not big on sweets. It was a pleasant surprise to find bread this good nearby, though.
Wednesday
Oct192005

The French Laundry

Working full days with a 1.5 hour commute sure has wreaked havoc on my free time. Posts like this one seem a daunting task when I get home at 7PM and want to go to bed at like 10 or 11. But do not fret, I will do my best to catch up on my huge backlog of photos. I didn't realize it but the site has just entered its third year as of about a week or two ago. I never thought I'd still be going now when I first decided to start the site during my trip to Hokkaido in 2003, but here I am. The France posts are probably celebration enough, but at Arthur Hungry the fun never stops, so here comes another treat!


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Yep, the French Laundry. My mom says that goodness comes in bunches, and so while I spend most of the year eating cheapo college food in Boston, I got to go on an absolute eating frenzy for about a month, with 20 Michelin stars in 10 days capped off by a trip to America's top restaurant just a few days after I returned from France. I guess the French Laundry in Yountville doesn't really need much of an introduction. It's become such an icon in the US, and has spawned an empire for Thomas Keller. Keller is a celebrity all his own, and with the success of Per Se in New York his profile seems to keep on growing.

With my magnificent French meals still fresh in my memory, I was in good position to compare the best of what America has to offer with the best in Paris. It'd been years since I'd gone to French Laundry. I'd been twice, both times when I was quite a bit younger. My first trip there about 10 years ago, which was probably not more than a year or two after the place opened, was one of my first exposures to real fine dining. I went again a few years later, but sadly didn't return for a long time. In the time since, it became the most famous restaurant in the country, a legendary destination that people all over the US plan trips to California around.

Because Auntie Winifred and Uncle Mack were visiting, my mom thought we should go, and managed to book us in for a lunch (fortunately the food doesn't change for lunch). Lucky for me, I was in town and invited along. The drive was actually a lot shorter than I remember it. Then again, I was too young to operate a motor vehicle last time. The setting was instantly familiar. A simple, modest building (just a little house, really) stands on a quaint, unassuming Yountville block. You'd have no idea world-class food was being eaten inside. You enter through a litle front courtyard area that is quiet and serene. Inside, the decor is toned down and homey, but with a very serious vibe. Everyone inside knows how hard it was to get their table, and you can tell everyone is expecting the experience of a lifetime. The restaurant is divided into two floors with several adjoining rooms. We sat in the very center of a room with maybe 7 tables. I was worried that my pictures would bother some of our neighbors, but it didn't turn out to be a problem...

The restaurant offers 3 different menus: a seasonal 7 course menu, a 9 course Chef's Tasting, and a 9 course Vegetable Tasting. All start at $175 a head, with optional supplements. Me, being the glutton and spoiled brat that I am, got the most expensive thing possible, the Chef's Tasting with all possible pricey options. It capped out at a whopping $280, but even my mom didn't discourage me. I mean, when am I gonna make it out to the French Laundry again?

gruyère cheese gougères Shortly after sitting down we were brought these cheese gouègres - essentially fancy cheese puffs. They were very buttery and just delicious! I kinda wish I could have had more than one.

cornet of salmon tartare This amuse has become pretty much world-famous, and for good reason. The finely chopped tartare demonstrates all the wonderful flavors and complexities of raw fish, but in a decidedly Western style. The crunch of the cornet adds a perfect contrast in texture.

cauliflower "panna cotta" with Beau Soleil oyster glaze and Russian Sevruga caviar Another of Keller's many signature dishes, this savory panna cotta is an appetizer in its most Platonic form. The creamy cauliflower mixed with the salty caviar is perfect, and really makes you want to eat more. I was also immediately reminded of the caviar dish I had at Guy Savoy - the combination of creaminess with caviar was strikingly similar.

"peach melba" - poached moulard duck "foie gras au torchon", Masamoto Family Farm peach jelly, pickled white peaches, marinated red onion, "melba toast" and crisped Carolina rice - $25 This foie gras course was the first option, and added $25 to the price. If you haven't heard or noticed, Keller is pretty notorious for his use of " marks all over his menus, and this description shows that in full effect. I don't have much of an opinion about it, though they do sometimes seem pretty randomly placed. Anyway, this dish is supposedly the brainchild of Chef de Cuisine Corey Lee, who does much of the day-to-day leading in the kitchen when Keller is busy doing all that stuff superstar chefs have to do. And as the Aussies here say, good on Chef Lee for it. This is definitely one of the best and most creative foie gras interpretations out there, and an interesting play on a common treat. The foie gras goes wonderfully with the peach jelly (with this dish and the foie gras I had at Isa, I hereby declare that peaches are my favorite foie gras condiment), while the rice crispies and the unpictured toast add just the right element of crunch. This dish fires on all fronts.

sautéed fillet of wild Virginia striped bass, forest mushrooms "à la Grecque", wilted mizuna and 50 year old sherry vinegar "gastrique" As I copy this stuff from the menu, I keep flashing back to old English classes that told me to keep those commas inside the quotations, but oh well. I'm just the messenger. This was a smooth, silky piece of fish, and the accompanying veggies (mizuna is apparently a Japanese mustard green) were like a nice little warm salad. Good stuff.

Maine lobster tail "cuite sous vide", caramelized fennel bulb, marinated toybox tomatoes and "nage de fenouille" So after hearing and reading all the hype about sous vide, and Rubee's explanation of the Le Meurice perfect beef mystery, I'm always on the lookout for anything sous vide now. This tail wasn't anything new, but I must say it was one excellent piece of lobster - perfectly-cooked and full of texture. The fennel flavor was light and subtle but did just enough to balance the butter, and the veggies were delicious.

slow braised Devil's Gulch Ranch "épaule de lapin", glazed Tokyo turnips, Weiser Farm mulberries and griddled "Monte Cristo sandwich" I was most intrigued by this course when I read the description. I remember thinking to myself... do rabbits even have shoulders? They must be small! It turns out they do have shoulders, and they're big enough for more than one bite. The meat was very soft and tender, contrasted by the glazed and slightly crisp skin. The best part of the plate though was the sandwich, which was like a grilled ham and cheese, but egg-battered like French toast. Yummy.

herb roasted sirloin of Snake River Farm platinum grade "Wagyu", yukon gold potato "mille-feuille", sweet carrots "Vichy", crispy bone marrow, "boule d'épinards" and "sauce Bordelaise" - $80 There was a beautiful-looking, supplement-free lamb dish that was the other option on the menu, but I really am a glutton and just could not say no to this wagyu. It's frickin' platinum grade, whatever that means! And talk about quotation mark overload! (Seriously, is it really necessary to quote mark ball of spinach?)

Anyway, I wanted to see what Keller could do with wagyu beef. I was not disappointed. You can see the marbling and the perfect doneness in the picture, with just a dash of nice salt and pepper. This was a sirloin but still wonderfully fat and delicious, not to mention quite different than the Kobe beef I've had in Japan. This Western-style steak used the ingredient perfectly, exposing all of its marbled goodness. Worth noting are the delicious potatoes, and the deep-fried piece of bone marrow. Yeah, you didn't read that wrong. The little brown thing sitting on top of the rectangular potatoes is a straight up fried piece of marrow, and one of the most rich and oily things I've ever eaten. Even I, lover of all things greasy, had trouble taking it down. It was interesting, but not that great beyond the novelty. Still, this dish was just sublime.

"Meadow Creek Grayson", Jacobsen's Farm Green Gage plums, toasted Marcona almonds and port wine reduction One difference from the fine restaurants in France is the lack of a cheese cart. Instead, they bring you an actual prepared cheese course. I think as a cheese novice I like this way better - I don't have to pick stuff by my own uneducated self, and there's someone who knows what they're doing putting it all together. The cheese and plums were good, but the almonds stole the show. They were the crunchiest, tastiest almonds ever, and I almost killed myself when I dropped one of my three on the ground and couldn't find it.

mango sorbet, "yuzu scented génoise", goma "nougatine" and black sesame "coulis" This was an interesting dish to say the least, and a most unusual mix of stuff. The nougatine was the candy-like remains of crushed, hardened nougat that added a crunch into every bite of sorbet/cake. I'd say I enjoyed this course the least overall though - I felt like the sorbet was too rich and everything was too sweet, especially for the so-called palate cleanser.

"tentation au chocolat noisette et lait", milk chocolate "crémeux", hazelnut "streusel" with Madagascar vanilla ice cream and sweetened salty hazelnuts Luckily dessert bounced back with immense success. I absolutely love all things chocolatey and hazlenutty, and let me just say that despite all the fancy description, this was basically essence of chocolate and hazelnut in its greatest form, with some ice cream thrown in to balance things out. Creamy, crunchy, a bit sweet... simply great!

currant panna cotta Things were winding down now. This currant panna cotta was nice, if a bit on the yogurty side for my taste.

mignardises We were presented with this beautiful tower of cookies and treats. We were too full to really eat any of them. Actually, I think I'm the only person that had any. Luckily, they gave us a box to bring them home in, and I enjoyed a few in the following days.

almond macaroons I'm almost certain these macaroons were almond flavored, but for some reason I keep doubting myself. Either way, I was barely able to eat one because I was so full already. I remember it being quite comparable to the billions of macaroons I tried in France.

hazelnut and tea chocolates Finally, we were brought a beautiful tray lined with 5 or 6 different rows of chocolates. I chose hazelnut because I love the stuff and the tea (I believe it was earl grey?) because it sounded interesting. The hazelnut one was better (of course!) but the tea one had a very strong and distinct tea flavor.

And that's it for my triumphant return to the French Laundry. I must say that despite the fact that I had just come off a string of world-class meals, the French Laundry absolutely impressed me. The food is truly excellent, and can definitely hang with the big boys in France. The service was great - more personal than I remember it, and professional in every way. You also get some American touches... For example, our waiter asked each one of us about allergies as we picked our menu, displaying some Californian sensitivity that would be pretty unimaginable in France. And let's not forget about the fact that there's a Vegetarian menu. I'd say with a decent amount of confidence that the French Laundry probably serves the best vegetarian meal in the world. I would have gladly scraped off each of my mom's dishes had she not picked them all clean herself!

It was an excellent meal when all is said and done. I am sure that when (if?) Michelin comes to the Bay Area, FL will be the first with three stars, and deservingly so. I think more and more now that it would get three even if it were in Paris. Mr. Keller, you can use all the wacky quotation marks you want, just keep up the good work!

Saturday
Oct012005

Le Cinq

Well, sorry again guys... I've had a busy week. My shortened classes ended this week and I had 2 finals and 2 papers. The good thing is I'm done now, and I'm about to leave for Spring Break. We're going sailing in the Whitsundays islands, then spending a few days in Cairns and Cape Tribulation. It should be an amazing time. I won't be bringing my laptop though, so hopefully this update will satisfy you guys for now...

 

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Our final dinner in France was on a Monday night, and we had booked for Le Cinq, a Michelin three star in the Four Seasons George V Hotel. My dad was hoping to go to Taillevent during our stay, but it just so happens that they closed for summer vacation the very day we got to Paris. Philippe Legendre (isn't that a sweet name?), the chef of Le Cinq, was the chef at Taillevent for a long time, so we'd be getting something similar.

Le Cinq's dining room is quite amazing. It was definitely an old style decor, but not nearly as extravagant as Le Meurice's. The room had a modern, elegant feeling despite the fanciness. It's quite a nice place to eat. All seven of us went for this final meal, and because of the size of our group we had to pick a menu in advance. We picked the so-called light tasting menu, as we thought we could use something lighter to wind down after all the crazy meals. The cost was 120 euros for 5 courses, which was actually a relatively good deal considering the quality.

terrine of cepe mushroom with its vinaigrette This was an absolutely wonderful amuse. The terrine was soft, rich, and full of mushrooms, while the vinaigrette was light and refreshing. I would have been happy to eat an entire course of this.

mousse of sole with Osetra caviar Another great dish. The fluffy mousse was well balanced by the saltiness of the caviar. The care put into the dish was obvious from the thinly sliced piece of asparagus. This plate was quite beautiful to look at.

gambas fricassee with artichoke puree, oysters, and lemon sauce Now this was a very interesting dish. The shrimp were perfectly cooked as you'd expect from a 3 star. The oysters, which you can see chopped in the back, added a very unusual twist. The flavor was pretty light and didn't overwhelm the shrimp, and went surprisingly well with the lemon foam.

roasted line-caught cod with green olive harissa This dish was the weakest of the bunch, I thought. Don't get me wrong - it was delicious, but it lacked the extra punch that the other dishes had for me. I think that maybe it just wasn't as good or as cool as the turbot from Guy Savoy, and was thus a bit underwhelming.

squab from the Racan region stuffed with herbs and seasonal vegetables I'll keep this simple: best squab I've ever had in my life. No contest. The meat was tender and delicate. It was actually a pretty simple preparation - basically a squab with jus, but done to absolute perfection. The vegetables were also masterfully cooked, and I cleaned off every last bite.

strawberry puree, peach cream, basil and lime sorbet This pre dessert was a very interesting mix of flavors. Together, they tasted quite good and did their palate-cleaning job rather commendably.

macaroons with fresh cream cheese and lime frosting, hibiscus flavored raspberries This was definitely one of the most beautifully-presented desserts of the trip. It was hard for me to wreck it and start eating. It wasn't all looks either - it was light, not too sweet, and very refreshing. A great dessert all around.

I really have to go catch our cab to the airport now. I hope this shortened entry doesn't make it sound like this wasn't an amazing meal - it certainly was. The service was absolutely top-notch, reaching a wonderful balance of friendly and professional (just like Guy Savoy). The food was wonderful. I do hope to go back, as there are a bunch of things on the menu that sounded really interesting. I'm off for Spring Break. I'll see you guys in a week!

Monday
Sep262005

La Maison de la Truffe

I just got back from Melbourne this morning. It was definitely an amazing weekend. The Great Ocean Road is one of the most beautiful drives I've ever been on... I urge anyone to go if they get the chance.

 

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Back to business now. Last day in France - that meant we had two meals left. Dinner had been booked far in advance for Le Cinq, which is coming up next. For lunch, we decided to go to La Maison de la Truffe, a restaurant/food store in nearby Place de la Madeleine. They specialize in, you guessed it, truffles, but they also dabble in other gourmet products like various pâtés, meats and foie gras. The space is divided into two, with a storefront/deli area in the front, and a full-service restaurant in the back. They serve very basic preparations, emphasizing the basic use of truffles.

salade gourmande - mâche, truffles and foie gras - 38 euros My grandma, quite the foie gras lover, got this hefty little salad here. I thought it looked pretty cool and was very worthy of a photo. 38 euros is definitely steep for a lunch salad; I think we can blame this one pretty squarely on ingredient cost. I had a bite and this was very good. The vinaigrette was very simple and light, and the foie gras serving was extremely generous.

scrambled eggs with truffles I opted for the even more expensive truffle édgustation, as they called it. It's a 3 course set for 65 euros. For the first course, you get to pick between a truffle salad, these scrambled eggs or an omelette. My dad is always raving about how his favorite preparation of truffles is simply with some good scrambled eggs. These eggs were delicate, and quite runny compared to what we usually get in the States. I'll say I wish there were more truffles in it, but I'll also admit that it had a pretty strong and delicious truffle aroma...

tagliatelle with truffles For the main you get to pick between tagliatelle, chicken, and a chicken sausage if I'm remembering right. My favorite preparation of truffles is served simply with pasta, so I got the tagliatelle. The pasta was well-cooked, and the light cream sauce was just right. It didn't have a strong flavor which allowed the truffles to shine. Again, I wish there were more.

dessert Truffier For dessert, I got this mouthwatering Truffier. It was a little bit between a cake and a mousse, and turned out delicate, fluffy, and just all out awesome. It sat in a puddle of light cèrme anglaise which was a nice foil for the chocolateyness. I could probably eat three of these right now.

This lunch was expensive, though quite simple. I was glad to have a truffle stop during our trip though. Now I just have to go to Alba during white truffle season, and my life might just be complete. Gonna hit the sack now - Le Cinq will be coming up shortly!

Wednesday
Sep212005

La Tour d'Argent

A Sunday in the summer is not the best time to eat in Paris. Not only were most of the nice restaurants closed on Sundays, but the famous Sunday-friendly ones (Pierre Gagnaire) were off for summer vacation. The result is that on Sunday night we didn't really have a place to go. We ate lunch at a Chinese place of all things, just off the Champs Elysées, which was actually pretty good. It was a needed break for my grandma and grandaunt. For dinner, they decided to stay in and get room service. My dad's friend Johan was flying into Paris for the night and wanted to meet for dinner, so I tagged along.

 

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Our concierge was able to get us into La Tour d'Argent, a Michelin two star, and one of Paris' oldest restaurants. It supposedly opened in 1582 as an inn, and has survived. For most of the 20th century, it was a Michelin three star - one of the early favorites in the guide. It was dubbed France's best restaurant for like 70 years or something. But after the prolonged success, it apparently lost a step as other restaurants evolved and improved. It finally lost a star (in the early-mid 90s, I think?) despite its prestige. Well, nothing was open and my dad was keen to retry the restaurant and see if it has picked up any slack since the wake up call of the lost star.

The restaurant sits at the edge of the Seine. You actually take an elevator up a few floors to the main dining room, which has probably the best view of Paris I've seen. It's really amazing up there, and the view alone would cement the place as a surefire special occasion spot.

To be honest though, that's all it had going for it. The place was just straight-up gimmicky. It really tried hard to shove its history down your throat. It is famous for its duck, a dish they've been serving for like centuries or something. When you eat dinner there, they give you a little postcard printed with the number of the duck you're eating. I don't even remember what number we got, but I think they served their millionth not too long ago. Anyway, the whole atmosphere just screamed gimmick.

hors d'oeuvres Our dinner began with this tray of hors d'oeuvres: a cheese puff, a pastry I don't remember, a curry-based samosa, and a salmon with cream on toast thing. They were alright, but really didn't taste any more special than hors d'oeuvres you'd get anywhere.

quenelles de brochet André Terrail - 45 euros These pike dumplings were the highlight of the meal. André Terrail is either one of the old owners or chefs or something in the restaurant's history. Claude Terrail, the current boss, actually came around to say hi to most of the diners. He's really old now, and it was kind of interesting seeing him sit at a table in the corner and survey the place throughout the night. Anyway, the quenelles were soft and flavorful, with a rich, thick sauce. Then again, I wouldn't say they were notably better than the version at, say, Jeanty at Jack's in SF.

caneton 'Tour d'Argent', part 1: breast with blood sauce - 60 euros The famous caneton 'Tour d'Argent' is a pressed duckling served two ways. The first is this breast with a blood sauce. The little fried things are some kind of puffed potato. This duck was pretty good, but really nothing too special, especially given all the hype. There was just too much sauce, and while not bad it was a bit overwhelming. It certainly didn't score any points in the presentation department.

caneton 'Tour d'Argent', part 2: leg with bearnaise sauce More mediocrity here. Again, nothing wrong with the duck. It was actually a pretty tasty leg, just nothing special. At least the bearnaise was on the side so we could pick how much we wanted. Also, not much presentation and no sides to speak of.

financiers, chocolate/nuts, macaroons, berry tartlets We waited a bit and after a while these pre-desserts came. They didn't offer us cheese, despite the cheese cart we saw rolling around. We didn't mind that much because we didn't really feel like it anyway, but that's a pretty glaring glitch for a two star place. These treats were, again, just average.

peach flambée with raspberry brandy, vanilla ice cream, and orange flower cake - 28 euros This is my dad's dessert. I forgot to take a picture of my coffee millefeuille, which was too sweet and paled in comparison to some of the others we had. The peach was a bit of a show. They brought the peach out, poured the brandy on top, and flamébed it at the table. It was pretty dark by now so it was quite cool-looking. My dad said it was pretty good, but again nothing special.

So in the end, this was definitely one of the worse meals we had on the trip. The restaurant has a myriad of problems to deal with. First, the food isn't stellar. Second, the service is subpar. It was really the only meal where we experienced any remotely snobby attitude from the staff. The thing that annoyed me the most though was the cheesiness and the gimmicks. It's obvious this place is riding on its historic fame, and letting everything else just freeride.

I'm not saying it wasn't a good meal, but I'm comparing it to some very high standards here. Based on my admittedly limited experience, I'd say La Tour d'Argent is worthy of at most one star. Baumanière, Le Meurice, Chez Bru - they're all light years ahead of this place. But damn, does it have a nice view...

I'm leaving for Melbourne tonight. I'm taking a 12 hour (!!!) bus ride there overnight and spending the weekend there. Gonna spend Saturday doing a tour of the Great Ocean Road, and the rest of the time just exploring the city. See y'all on Monday for my last France post.