Thursday, March 27, 2008

Clos des Gourmets

As the boy and I begin to countdown our remaining weeks left in the city of light (four for those of you who are curious), we're also making a point to go to those restaurants we want to try.

One which I had previously heard raves about was Le Clos des Gourmets. So, in light of our German friends staying near the area, we decided to go for dinner on Good Friday.

I made the reservation on Tuesday. I point this out because on the phone, I emphasized that we would have a little 2yr old guest with us. However, when we got there, just a few minutes shy of our 8pm reservation, they seated us in a corner table, smack up against a hot radiator, having filled up the banquet seats earlier. This irritated me because I have worked in restaurants before (my Dad owned one.... yes, I am one of those people who grew up in a Chinese restaurant... how very cliche) and we always put children in banquet seats for convenience for the parents and the children. I would understand if we didn't reserve in advance or failed to mention it but there is a reason for reservations. It allows the staff to arrange optimal seating. Instead our friends were obliged to carry the little one on their laps the whole time. Don't get me wrong, they didn't complain about it at all, in fact they expected as much. I, on the other hand was annoyed that they gave us an inconvenient table when we had given them prior warning.

There is much I would forgive for fabulous food. Sadly, nothing they made really perked me up.

I started with their entree of the day of chicken and escargot. This consisted of 5 nuggets of chicken with escargot, covered in a cream foam sauce dotted with pesto. I found the chicken nuggets a little heavy as an entree and the escargots horribly over salted. Surprisingly, the sauce was the star of the dish, tasting light and fresh for a cream sauce.

I continued on with chicken for my main. Again, it was the special of the day, a roasted Gers chicken with black truffles. It required a supplement of 7.5euros. When it arrived, it smelled wonderful. Rich, earthy and chicken-y. It came in little Staub pot with two pieces of chicken (dark meat, thigh and drumstick), a handful of potatoes and thin slices of truffle. Of course, I didn't expect for the price to have mounds of the fragrant fungi so it was fine. It was beautifully scented but the flavor didn't translate to the chicken. But the chicken itself was very nicely cooked. I was a little surprised to see no other vegetables served with it at all.

Here I go on another tiny rant so feel free to skip this paragraph. The waiter kindly asked if he should put together a plate of vegetables for our little guest and when we said yes, he announced that they don't do very many vegetables but that he would see what he could do. While we sat there a little puzzled since he suggested it, he walked off to the kitchen. He brought out a small plate for the toddler while we were having our entrees and it consisted of small pieces of boiled carrot and potato. It looked like barely half a potato and perhaps a third of a carrot. And for this luxury? We paid 8 euro. Yes, I am outraged. For that tiny amount, they really should have comped it or at least charged considerably less. Perhaps that is just me. Any thoughts?

I finished with the crystallized fennel with soft spices and lemon sorbet topped with fresh basil. Umami raved about this dish last time. Perhaps they have changed chefs or lost their touch as I felt that the fennel tasted of nothing but sugar although the lemon sorbet was nice. That may have been only me though as one of our guests said it was the best of all of his three dishes. Although that may speak more about the other dishes. Our other guest had a vegetable risotto, which, when it came, looked like fresh pea soup but accordingly to her, tasted very nice, although the portion was disappointingly small.

I'm not sure what has happened to this seemingly good restaurant. When we met up with Umami and her husband earlier this week, they both agreed that the standards had slipped and they have not returned to the restaurant in a while.

Menu of three courses ran at 35 euros.

Le Clos des Gourmets
16 avenue Rapp
75007 PARIS
Metro: Alma-Marceau or Ecole Militaire
tel : 01 45 51 75 61
fax :01 47 05 74 20

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter!

A lovely holiday and another excuse to eat chocolate!

How very nice.

Here's my little bunny from our wonderful friends.

As you can see, the boy has almost demolished his already.

I, on the other hand, have shown considerable restraint.

Although it may have more to do with amount of apple pear clatoufis I consumed rather than will power...

Hoping you have a nice, chocolate laden Easter.

Pig Candy

I said I would and of course I did.

Make and eat Pig Candy, that is.

I know its not to everyone's taste but I like my bacon very, very crispy, to the point of almost burnt, with a nice crunch and not all flaccid and fat.

I love it best on toast spread thinly with raspberry jam. It's the supremely savory-ness of the bacon contrasted with the sweet textured jam on some nice toast that makes it the best treat ever.

Given my love for sweet savories, wouldn't Pig Candy be the ideal next step?

So, Pig Candy, what is it made of?

Bacon, paprika and brown sugar.

Happily I found some maple sugar from my trip in Canada in my cupboard, so I couldn't resist using it... especially since the bacon I bought was smoked.

So, basically, the "recipe" consisted of placing the bacon on a baking sheet, sprinkling on the maple sugar and paprika and broil until crisp.

Turned it over twice to get it nice and crispy and before too long, I took it out and rested it on paper towel to soak up some of the excess oil.

Look at this beauty...

all crispy, caramelized and flat out delicious. This batch was super crispy as per my liking, but I tried the next batch a bit softer and malleable. Oddly the softer version tasted a lot like Chinese bak kwa, which I just learned, is often called Chinese Pig Candy

In any case, I liked it a lot but I still preferred my crisp bacon on raspberry jam toast better

I asked the boy what he thought, as he's not usually a fan of bacon. His response?

"It feels wrong, I really shouldn't be eating it."

Of course this was said with his mouth full and he had no problem finishing off the second batch either.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Birthday Baking Disasters (BBD)

The boy's birthday was the epitome of the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The good intentions being dinner and dessert.

The hell being dinner and dessert.

Ok. Let's review, shall we?

1. Check with boy what he wants for birthday dinner

Done - Korean kimchi pork stew

2. Think up something to make the boy as birthday cake

I know! FLAN! The boy has a fondness for custard and since arrival in Paris, best format for eating out of hand has been flan.

3. Find recipe for French flan

Great! Found one here! Ignore fact that blog's name is garlic breath and I am about to embark on making something I've NEVER EVER made before.

4. Assemble ingredients

Go to Chinatown, cannot find kimchi in the 3 big supermarkets I look in. Go get fresh tofu from Rue Rampal. Get soaked during sudden thunderstorm, retreat to metro where I proceed to slip and fall on the pee-smelling floor of disgusting metro station. Pick up now crushed tofu and what little dignity I have to stumble onto packed metro where people push their bodies into ever smaller spaces to get away from me. Hooligans throw piece of trash through the open window of train as it pulls out of the station. It hits me on the side of the head. I pretend it didn't happen.

5. Start prep and bake flan

After a long, scaldingly hot shower, cut up huge side of pork into three portions, two of which go in the freezer, while painstakingly cut off all fat to please the boy, marinate meat for stew in Dou Ban Jiang (chilli bean paste) and turn my attention to the flan. Read directions and Susan's addtional tips over and over again and proceed with caution. Custard looked great after 20 minutes of constant motion. Hand feels like its about to fall off. Coats back of spoon nicely, holds even after finger is swiped across (Susan's tip!). Pour carefully into the pastry. Looks great. Just a tiny bit of splash as it goes into the hot oven. Proceed to clean up disaster area (kitchen).


The flan is bubbling... THE FLAN IS FREAKING BUBBLING!!! Which means all that careful mixing so it doesn't turn into scrambled eggs is all for naught. Check recipe obsessively to see if there's anything about putting it at a lower temp. Nope. Check other recipes to see if they require cooling down custard before pouring into pie. Nope. Tear out hair. Have a short cry. Frantically search other recipes for something which can be made, preferably with 5 egg whites.

7. Shop for ingredients... again

Settle for David Lebovitz' Coconut Chocolate Macaroons, run out to buy shredded coconut. Run in to see if local tiny Chinese supermarket has kimchi. Score!!! Run home with stuff to find message from the boy saying he'll be home in an hour.


Rush to make stew, rice, part 1 of the macaroons, clean up house, set up table with his birthday cards, presents, durian wafers (ick), dried mango, cold beer.

9. Enjoy Result of Long Hard Day

Rice was undercooked, stew was about 4 times as much as we could possibly eat, flan was as thin as a bad crepe and tasted like sweet scrambled eggs and the smell of the durian wafers lingered heavily in our apartment, which, mixed with the smell of kimchi and flan made us the most popular people in our building.
However, the important thing is, the boy enjoyed it. Or so he said!!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Hélène Darroze

As a wedding gift from the boy's company, we received a "Forfait Lys" from the Relais & Chateaux, which is, essentially, a gift certificate.

We received the Lys de Cristal, which entitled us to one dinner or lunch, without beverages, at a selected list of restaurants.

Looking through the restaurants, most of the Michelin starred ones were for lunch rather than dinner and we settled (ok, the boy gave in to me actually) on Hélène Darroze, a two Michelin starred restaurant.

I was excited to eat there for two reasons. For one thing, it was meant to be a birthday lunch for the boy, as it was a few day before his birthday and also, it was a female chef so I had a cliched moment of "Girl Power" (how very Spice Girls of me).

Anyhow, we had applied to the website for lunch on Saturday but since we hadn't heard back, I gave them a call on the Friday and although they didn't receive the request, was able to accommodate us. The lady on the phone was surprisingly nice. I had been expecting some hoity toity-ness for the last minute request and for the fact that the Michelin Guide was put out just a few days ago which had them maintaining their 2 star status, but it goes to show that I really shouldn't expect the worst.

I should mention here that all of the staff were incredibly pleasant and in particular our waiter with the devastatingly beautiful eyes. When asked if I was permitted to take photos, the maitre d' wheeled over the gorgeous machine with the ham to the best possible angle, patiently waiting for me to adjust my camera and encouraged me to take as many photos of the restaurant, personnel and food as I wished. After Umami's experience, I was well chuffed!!

He then sliced off some of the ham and presented it with a thick bread stick rolled in toasted popcorn kernels, which gave a nice crisp fragrant texture, both sweet and salted butter and a gorgeously fragrant green olive oil.

But the ham... OOOOH the ham.... it was simply magic. Thin slivers that melted on your tongue and coating it with the most delicious essence of porky goodness.

The boy kept eyeing the plate of two Taiwanese ladies next to us who were pescetarian and thus did not touch their ham. He desperately wanted to snatch it from them and was near tears when their plate was taken away whole.

We were then presented with a trolley of breads. Yup, a whole trolley of breads of which we were served some of the pain aux cereals and pain tradition to start with. He graciously offered to let us try all of the breads but it turned out we couldn't even finish what little we had. When asked if the bread was homemade, he told me that no, they didn't make their own bread but sourced them from Poujauran. From the bread I tried, I clearly need to move my arse over there to try some more.

Of course all thought of bread flew out of our heads when we were presented with our amuse guele of foie gras creme brulee topped with green apple sorbet and crushed pistachio nuts. Unusually but very very nice. Perfectly crispy, sweet, crackly top of the brulee, the tang and chill of the sorbet and the richness of the foie gras with the crunchy pistachios somehow worked really well together and got us excited for the food ahead.

Which was the "Comparaison de deux foies gras confit: foie gras de canard des Landes confit aux epices douces, foie gras d'oie des Landes confit au naturel, chutney de fruits de mendiant". So basically 2 foie gras. Two sizable portions of the foie gras, I might add. The boy preferred the richness of the goose foie gras but I liked the slightly spiced taste of the duck foie gras. I didn't like the chutney, which tasted a little too similar to Christmas pudding and really overwhelmed the flavor of the foie gras when paired together. By the end of my starter, I was starting to feel just slightly full... that was when our main arrived...

Our main of "Lard de porc basque de la valee des Aldudes confit longuement puis roiti a la broche, puree de carottes aux agrumes, jus en infusion de coriandre". What a mouthful. DAMN, what a mouthful of fatty, caramelized meat. However, that being said, I must admit that I could taste the star anise rather a lot, which is not something I enjoy as a dominant flavor. And while I appreciate that the fat adds to the flavor of the meat, the amount of it was quite shocking. I am quite happy to eat some gelatinous fat from my meat but when the fat portion was equal if not more than the meat, I start getting a bit squeamish. The meat itself was delicious and soft, infused with flavor but it was the skin, chewy, caramelized and unctuous that won me over. I found the carrots (which the waiter, in an attempt to explain the dish in English, appetizingly called it, 'mushed carrots') way too sweet. It was sweetened with orange juice but it seemed to turn it into a too sweet baby food. I couldn't do more than taste it.

The cheeses.....OOOOH, the cheeses..... the cheese trolley was a delight, which cheeses under huge glass bells to keep the smells separate. The selection included a great crumbly, 48 month Comte, a brebis cheese of 7, 12 and 24 months, a cow's cheese washed with a nut liquor and our absolute favorite, a particularly pungent and strong Spanish blue cheese, Cabrales. This latter was sooo good... tangy, astringent and rich. The boy finished before me and started giggling, leaning across and telling me that the aftertaste was just a little bit like after being violently sick. It is a little bit true... and if someone had not served it to me in a restaurant, I might have taken one whiff and agreed with them that it was time to throw it away... as it was, we were both enamoured and must buy more!

The dessert was a pinacolada creme glacee a la vanille Bourbon, gelee au citron et au curry, ananas Victoria et croustillant a la noix de coco. It was a nice, light refreshing dessert tasting mostly of well chilled pinapple with light whipped coconut cream.

But the mignardise served with the coffee. Now THAT is something to talk about.

Another trolley, this time laden with sweets such as salted caramel macaron, passion fruit marshmallow, myrtille marshamallow, lychee and rosewater gelee, apricot and coconute pate de fruit, pistachio and cherry financier, chocolate praline (like a wonderful ferro rocher), dark chocolate covered almond slivers and a bitter chocolate caramel and another one of milk chocolate with ginger.

When I said I couldn't decide, the waiter told me to have one of each and really, not to hesitate. So I agreed, with much shaking of the head from the boy.

I admit. I suffered afterwards. Even after a 2.5 hour walk and much peppermint tea at home. I couldn't face eating until the next morning.

Absolutely wonderful experience. That being said, I don't think we would have gone if we'd had to pay for it ourselves.... it was very pricey... so our thanks to the boy's company!

Hélène Darroze
4 rue d'Assas
75006 Paris
Tel: + 33 (0)1 42 22 00 11
Metro: Saint Suplice

20, rue Jean Nicot, Paris,
France 75007
Tel: 01 43 17 35 20
Metro: La Tour-Maubourg

Friday, March 07, 2008

Gone vegg'n

**Please note - post has been edited to take out comments which may have caused offense. My apologies to those who were offended. I will try to do a better job of reading over my writing before posting!**

I've been back to Wales again this last week.

My excuse was to see my fabulous sister in law in a play (Blue Remembered Hills for those of you who were wondering), however, I ended up having a great time, walking 'Uncle Monty' in the morning, spending time with my other sister-in-law and my adorable and incredibly smart nephew, and generally having a grand ol' girly type time.

Oh and I went veggie.

"WHAT THE F?", you ask.

Well, I figured besides being polite (since I was staying at a veg-head household), it might prove to be a challenge.

And was it? Hell yeah!!

I'm the one biting my lip when deciding which dish to go for in restaurants since I can't decide between some delicious meaty dish or another tasty sounding meaty dish. Having these restraints on me made me feel quite sorry for veg heads, as usually their choices are limited to three categories:

- pasta
- potatoes
- complete boredom

The lack of variety in the restaurants I approached surprised me, truth be told. Because although I am by no means a vegetarian, often when I cook at home for me and the boy, the absence or presence of meat is dependent on how lazy I feel. If I didn't go to the shops that day, then we we won't have meat that evening and it is often not missed. I never make a quiche with meat and I prefer my pizzas vegetarian but when I went out to eat, it seemed like besides the pasta and potatoes, there were no other choices.

Because of the lack of variety, it made me not want to go out for food. Often I'd instead go buy a candy bar and of what to eat. And no, I didn't go for any salads....I need hot food in cold climates, remember?

I'm not saying its not doable. It is but it calls for a lot of restraint and a willingness to cook for yourself a lot. It reminds me of being on a diet and as everyone around me knows, I'm not the most happy when I'm on a diet. I guess I'm just not good at self-control. That being said, I have a new found respect for vegetarians for making the decision to cut out a whole portion of their diet for what they believe to be right.

I had soup, crackers and cheese on most days but one afternoon, I picked up a "Pot Noodle".

This is an English take on instant cup noodles. Pot Noodle. I don't know why but that name just sounds odd... so unimaginative.

The flavor of this one intrigued me though.... sweet and spicy. Hmmm, needed to find out more....

Hmm... mango chutney in an instant noodle? I must try.

So I did. I followed the directions to pour boiling water, stir, wait 2 minutes, stir, wait 2 minutes and enjoy.

Except for the last part. I don't think 'enjoy' would have been the best way to describe it.

It tasted... if not exactly dreadful then at least it was something unidentifiable. It tasted quite sweet and thick, if that makes any sense... the noodles were of very poor quality (and I've eaten some cheap ass noodles in my time) and the soya pieces? They were honestly soggy cardboard.


Seriously. Do NOT eat. Please. Let me buy you some nice 'cup noodles from Asia.... please!

In any case I came back home triumphant. I have a reservation for a three Michelin starred restaurant for lunch tomorrow and I have stumbled upon a recipe which has me salivating...

Pig candy..... bacon (American) coated with brown sugar and cayenne pepper then broiled.....

How GOOD does that sound???

You know you want to!