Monthly Archives: October 2022
EUROPE 2022 – PART 5 – BACK TO PARIS
We dropped the car off in Lyon and caught the train to Paris, arriving in mid-afternoon at Ana’s house. Dinner was at Le Radis Beurre, which we have loved for a number of years (see previous Paris posts).
Stanley had the poached egg with mushrooms, and I had pig’s feet to start. It’s always on the menu and I order it every time. For mains, I had the Colvert du Chasse (wild mallard duck) and he had the andouillette. Both were superb. For dessert we had the baba and the rice pudding. With a bottle of Vacqueyras, the bill was 125.
We had originally planned a day trip with Ana and Bertrand to Morey-sur-Loing, but they had an emergency obligation, so we made other plans. We decided to go to Chateau Malmaison (the home of the Empress Josephine), which was easy to reach by train and taxi. It turned out to be quite wonderful and I took many photos.
After the tour of the chateau, we had lunch nearby at La Brasserie du Chateau, which was a fine choice.
To start, I had the oysters and Stanley had the daily special appetizer, a croustillant of camembert. I chose the special main course of tete de veau, and he had the roasted chicken. With a bottle of wine from the Languedoc (25 euros) and coffee, the total was 123.
Dinner was at La Condesa (see my post from 2018).
The restaurant has moved up the street, and was a bit difficult to find as there is no sign. The chef, Indra Carillo, who is Mexican, now has a Michelin star, and the price, of course, has gone up.
The six-course prix-fixe dinner is 120 euros. As before, there is no printed menu. The servers describe the dishes as they are served. I jotted down the descriptions as best I could. This is a rough idea of what we ate:
An assortment of amuses-bouche
Lieu jaune (yellow pollock) served raw with pickled vegetables
Corn ravioli with grilled miniature corn in a corn broth
Lotte (monkfish) with hibiscus
Pigeon and its liver, with red cabbage
Pumpkin and banana
Coffee cream (similar to tiramisu)
The food was delicious and creative. With water and a bottle of Saint-Joseph for 51, the total was just over 300 euros.
As always when we visit Ana and Bertrand, we spent Sunday at home, and Stanley and I cooked. Ana and I went to the farmers’ market in La Varenne and bought all the food. For the big afternoon meal, we got rabbit legs, which I braised and served with a mustard cream sauce, carrots and tagliatelle. Also, escargot for an appetizer. We stopped into a bakery and picked up four individual cakes, like a tiramisu covered in chocolate. One of the wonderful things about shopping for food in France is that you can get parts of almost any animal, such as rabbit legs, as opposed to at home where we can only buy a whole rabbit.
For the smaller evening meal we bought skate, which I prepared in my usual way, with a sauce of basil, parsley and lime, served with basmati rice and sauteed cherry tomatoes. Bertrand made an appetizer of sardine filets.
The four of us headed into Paris for lunch at Granite, a Michelin-starred restaurant.
As is so often the case, there is a fixed menu, 3 courses, no choice, for 75 euros. The descriptions don’t really do justice to the food. It was really excellent. Here is what we had, in addition to several amuses-bouche and mignardises:
Beets with pomegranate and nasturtium
Saddle of rabbit with octopus confit and eggplant
With a bottle of wine, water and coffee, the bill for the four of us was just over 400.
After lunch, as it was already late afternoon, rather than going back to La Varenne and then returning to Paris for dinner, Stanley and I decided to kill some time in Paris until dinnertime. First we explored the grand art-deco department store Samaritaine. Here are some photos:
We rested here for a bit, then walked to St. Eustache, where there was a rehearsal going on for an evening concert. We sat and listened for a while as the music, by a small chamber choir and organ, was very French.
We continued on to the Marais, where we stopped off at a cafe for a drink, then headed to dinner at Le Mazenay.
Unfortunately, the food fell somewhat short. For starters, we had yet another poached egg, and escargots in a pastry with cream. Main courses were colvert de chasse (good but not as good as I had at Le Radis Beurre), and braised beef chuck (again!). All main courses were served with the same accompaniment, butternut squash (which I’m not a fan of).
One thing we’ve noticed about menus on this trip is that the same dishes show up on too many of them. Braised beef, poached egg, pork belly, etc., on menus with very limited choice, make for some boring meals.
For dessert we shared a vanilla millefeuille, which was decent but nothing to write home about. With wine, the bill was 144.
Tuesday’s lunch was at Parcelles, which was excellent.
We started with a presse of pork and carpaccio of tete de veau, then I had bass with spinach puree and parsnips, and Stanley had sweetbreads. For dessert we shared a chocolate tart. The food was exceptionally good. With wine and coffee, the total was 166.
After lunch, we went to the Musee Carnavalet, which has been renovated recently. We had been there in 2016, before it was closed, and didn’t have time to complete the exhibits of the French Revolution, so this time we focused on that.
From there, we went to La Coupole for cocktails with two friends who happened to be in Paris at the same time, and then to dinner at Bistrotters.
It was good, but I was hoping for something more interesting. I began with sardines and then had pork belly. Stanley had foie gras and stuffed saddle of rabbit. The menu offers a better choice of dishes than many other restaurants, but the food lacked excitement. With wine, we spent about 100 euros.
I had originally reserved for lunch at Pantagruel, but after re-checking the menu I realized it was yet another of those boring, limited choices. Luckily I was able to cancel, though finding another great restaurant that wasn’t fully booked was difficult. Searching through Michelin, I finally hit on Le Sergent Recruteur, also a one-star. The lunch menu looked good and I was able to reserve.
We weren’t immediately given a lunch menu, but the a la carte looked so tempting we just decided to splurge on it, and we did not regret it. Stanley started with foie gras, and then had the chicken. I went with the crab and the saddle of lamb. We didn’t order dessert, but they gave us a couple of small desserts anyway, and the coffees which came with chocolate tartlets, were not charged.
With wine and water, the total was 195.
After lunch we went to one of our favorite museums, the Jacquemart-Andre, which is in a grand mansion that still retains its original rooms, fully furnished, along with the art exhibits.
There was a special exhibition of works by Heinrich Fussli, a Swiss painter of the late 18th to early 19th Century, who spent most of his life in Britain, where he was known as Henry Fuseli. His works were fantasies on Shakespearean themes, dreams, and mythology.
After viewing the exhibit, we stopped into the beautiful tea room, which was originally the dining room of the house, for a snack.
With lots of time to kill before dinner, we took an Uber to Montmartre to see the basilica of Sacre Coeur. I had been there many years ago, but Stanley never had, so it was very much worth our time.
The restaurant was not at all busy, with fewer than half the tables occupied. The food is traditional but with modern touches. My poached calf brain appetizer was cleverly done with a jalapeno sauce, sliced peppers and cilantro. Stanley began with crab in a grapefruit mayonnaise. I had a venison chop and he had blanquette de veau. Everything was delicious. With a bottle of wine from the Languedoc at 45 euros, the total was 143.
This was our final day in Paris. Here is my ranking of restaurants, from best to worst:
Mo’suke (most original and creative, unusual and interesting flavors, great bang for the buck)
Le Radis Beurre (long-time favorite, great game and organ meats)
La Condesa (interesting flavors with Mexican influences)
Le Sergent Recruteur (Beautiful and interesting dishes)
Chez Michel (delicious game birds)
Chantoiseau (great updated traditional)
Parcelles (updated traditional, great organ meats)
Granite (no choices but very tasty food)
Note that with the exception of Bistrotters and Le Mazenay, it was difficult to rank as they were all so good and I would recommend every one. Overall, we found good value and spent less than I had expected.
EUROPE 2022 – PART 4 – VALENCE
Tuesday, October 4
After an early breakfast, we set out from Alba to Valence, France, a six-hour trip that we broke up with a lunch in Briancon, in the French Alps. The restaurant I chose was Le Peche Gourmande, which turned out to be fabulous.
It’s interesting to note that the chef is an Australian woman and her French husband does the serving. He was incredibly efficient handling several tables single-handedly and the timing of the dishes was perfect.
This is what we ate:
Amuse – smoked salmon. cauliflower, cauliflower cream
Foie gras terrine
Oyster tartare with sushi rice
With an excellent bottle of Crozes Hermitage, water and coffee, the bill was 135.
We arrived at the Atrium Hotel in Valence in the early evening. The location was excellent, just a few blocks from the old center, and parking was free. The rate of 90 euros a day was a steal.
The room was quite large and very quiet, with a kitchenette, and a bathroom with a big walk-in shower.
Dinner in Valence was at Flaveurs, which has a Michelin star. I’m not sure it was deserved.
Everything was very good, but there is no printed menu and everyone gets the same dishes. This place seems a bit too serious for its own good. The 58 euro menu includes two starters, a main dish and two desserts. Everything they served us was fish or seafood, i.e. shrimp, squid and trout. With a 32 euro bottle of Ardeche wine, and water, the bill was 173.
In the morning, we took a walk around Valence and attempted to see the cathedral, but it was closed.
Then off to lunch in Montelimar. I had two restaurants in mind, and after checking out the menus we chose Cafe de l’Ardeche, which was quite elegant and had a nice lunch deal for 30 euros.
Stanley started with a poached egg with coco beans, then had the pork belly, and a lemon tart topped with granny smith apple slices. I had veal tartare to start, then tuna in a phyllo crust with a carrot and orange terrine, and chocolate millefeuille.
With wine, water and coffee, the bill was 114.
After lunch we took a brief stroll in the old quarter.
Back to the car, we headed out on scenic country roads to Grignan and Nyons, cited as among the most charming villages in the Drome.
After Nyons we took a faster route back to Valence, where we had dinner at La Cachette. This is another Michelin starred restaurant, and though it was expensive, it was a pretty much flawless experience.
The unassuming entry and sparsely decorated room give little indication of the superb food to come. As at Flaveurs, there is no choice of dishes. The chef is Japanese and the dishes show that influence. The menu lists the courses and the prix-fixe is 98 euros. Here is a photo of the menu:
We chose an unusual but very good wine from the Languedoc for 55 euros, one of the lowest priced on the list. With aperitifs and water, the total was 276. This was our most expensive meal so far on this trip, but though it may seem high, if it were in New York it would have been multiples of that. Dinner took nearly three hours and was a most enjoyable evening.
Getting an early start, we again drove on some challenging roads to Saint Romain de Lerps, which turned out to be rather disappointing. It has a commanding view but the town itself was dull. Continuing on, we reached Aubenas, a charming small city with some good restaurants.
We had lunch at Notes de Saveurs, which has a lovely terrace with beautiful views.
With coffees, the total was 99.
After lunch, we went to Alba-la-Romaine, which was cute, but the Roman ruins were not very interesting.
Back in Valence, we had dinner at Andre Bistrot, which is adjacent to and associated with Maison Pic, a Michelin 3-star where dinner costs 380 euros (!).
Stanley ordered the prix-fixe at 43 and had the guinea hen terrine, braised beef and poached pear (which we shared). I ordered a la carte, the grilled octopus and seafood sausage. We had a very nice bottle of Crozes Hermitage for 50. While it may seem inexpensive compared with its sister restaurant, this was good bistro cooking, but nothing particularly creative or exciting. I’m sure there are other local bistros that would be as good and a lot cheaper. With aperitifs and water, the total was 171.
EUROPE 2022 – PART 3 – ALBA
In the morning, we took a taxi to the TGV station in Marne-La-Vallee, where we caught the train to Lyon. This was not without drama, as I went into the ticket office to see if I could get our tickets printed out because I was never able to successfully create an account with SNCF and couldn’t print them myself. Oddly, the agent was able to print the return tickets but not the ones for this trip. Supposedly I was supposed to get the tickets a week after I purchased them online in June. I asked how I could possibly have done that. In any case, I had to buy new tickets. I will deal with it through my credit card.
Arriving in Lyon, we quickly picked up the rental car and drove to Alba in Italy, our favorite place to stay in the Langhe. This time we were able to reserve at the Hotel Langhe, as I had done it many months in advance. It was the third time we had stayed in this hotel, and apparently it has recently been completely renovated and looking very spiffy.
The rate of 150 euros includes a very nice breakfast.
For dinner we went to Osteria La Torre in Cherasco, which was not my first choice, because I could not get a reservation at Osteria Veglio.
We had been to La Torre some years back and it was good, and it still was, just not exceptional. We shared vitello tonnato, and rabbit ravioli topped with rabbit liver. For mains, Stanley had guinea fowl and I had finanziera, the traditional stew of organ meats and vegetables. We had a 2020 Barbera d’Alba for 28 euros. The bill was 96 euros.
We took a long and leisurely drive through the countryside to lunch at Trattoria Marsupino in Briaglia. We at there four years ago (refer back to my 2018 post), and it was great then except for the goat, which I found a bit dry and tough. This time, everything was perfect including the goat.
We started with calamari prepared two ways, fried and grilled, and sweetbreads with mushrooms. Next we shared tajarin with a mushroom ragu, then for mains I had quail and Stanley had the aforementioned goat. For dessert, he had a toasted bread crumb ice cream and I had a torrone semifreddo with caramel sauce. There were very nice amuses-bouche and afterward, mignardises. With coffees, water and a bottle of wine from Roero, the bill was 165 euros.
We stopped back at the hotel briefly, then headed into town, where the truffle festival and other celebrations were in full swing.
Next, off to dinner at Ristorante Bovio in La Morra, an elegant restaurant perched on a cliff with panoramic views.
It was very busy, yet the servers were incredibly efficient and attentive. The food was excellent, on pretty much the same level as the lunch at Marsupino.
We started with foie gras terrine with figs and veal tartare with parmesan cheese and black truffles. Then we shared meat-stuffed canneloni topped with black truffles. The main courses were tagliata di vitello (thin sliced veal sirloin) topped with yet more black truffle, and suckling pig that was probably the best I’ve ever had, very tender and moist. For dessert we shared a hazelnut savarin. A bottle of 2019 Barbaresco was surprisingly inexpensive at 40 euros. The bill including water was 155.
Lunch was at Ristorante Violetta in Calamandrana. We had some difficulty finding it as the GPS led us to the wrong place but we eventually figured it out.
Everything about it was lovely, from the warm welcome to the excellent service to the superb food. After a tasty amuse-bouche of potato salad, we began with vitello tonnato. Next was gnocchi with sausage and tomato. For main courses, roasted rabbit and stuffed breast of guinea fowl. For dessert we shared a chocolate bunet. The wine I chose, a Barbera d’Asti 2019, was the best wine we had up to this point and only 20 euros. The total was 86.
We again did the early evening passagiata in Alba, where it was much quieter than on Sunday. Many stores and restaurants are closed on Mondays.
Dinner was at La Coccinella in Serravalle Langhe, where we had been in 2018 (see my post).
The menu is unusual in this region in that it includes a large selection of seafood. Here is what we ate:
Salad of mixed mushrooms
Zucchini souffle with blue cheese sauce
Duck leg with cherries
Veal medallions battered and deep-fried, served rare, with fried zucchini
Raspberries with ice cream
All in all a very nice dinner. With a bottle of Barbera d’Alba the bill was about 125.
This was our last night in Alba, leaving the next morning for Valence. Ranking the restaurants:
2) Violetta and Bovio tied for second place.
3) La Coccinella
4) La Torre
EUROPE 2022 – PART 2 – PARIS
We arrived Thursday night from Berlin, staying with Ana and Bertrand in La Varenne.
We only stayed one day as we were heading to Alba in Italy on Saturday. We would be returning to Paris on 10/7 after spending 3 days in Alba and 3 in Valence (France).
Friday was the day we celebrated Stanley’s birthday a second time, this time at Mo’suke in Paris. This is the Michelin-starred restaurant of chef Mory Sacko, a Frenchman of African descent, who mixes French, African and Japanese ingredients and cooking styles. It’s a difficult reservation to get, but I checked the website continuously over the past few months and was lucky to snag one for this lunch.
It’s one of the most unusual restaurants in Paris, and the food is superb. We were served a huge selection of canapes and amuses-bouche that I couldn’t begin to describe. The appetizer we all had was a pepper soup with squid, mussels and okra. For the main course, Bertrand and I had maigre (croaker in English) and Stanley and Ana had chicken prepared two ways, roasted with teriyaki sauce and fried Japanese style. For dessert, Ana and I had chocolate ganache, which actually turned out to be three different parts, while Stanley and Bertrand had a plum dessert with a granite. It’s very difficult to describe the dishes as they are so complex, but suffice to say they were delicious and very nicely spiced, unlike typical French cooking.
We had a very nice wine from the Cotes Catalanes. The bill including coffees was just over 300 euros which was amazing for the quality and quantity as well as the atmosphere and service.
For dinner we went to Chez Michel, which we had loved on our last trip four years ago. The menu was almost the same, as it was the same time of year, which meant a lot of game birds.
Stanley started with pate de campagne, and I had crab with avocado. Once again, I had grouse stuffed with foie gras and girolle mushrooms, and Stanley had partridge with foie gras. These are what we came here for and they did not disappoint. For dessert we had a Paris-Brest and riz au lait. With wine, the bill was 135, just 10 euros more than four years ago, and less in dollars at today’s exchange rate.