Searching for Paris’s Soul?

Paris’s soul likes to hide during the day. It follows the Seine at night, twinkles on the tranquil river and shines on the facade of the stately Haussmanian buildings as the Bateaux Mouches dart their inquisitive beam along the quays.

These days, Paris’s soul can often be found in the tiny kitchens where young chefs bow over their craft like watchmakers, slicing a steaming whole foie gras or bending a coral filet to their will.

What’s new? These young Parisian chefs are doing it their way: No prayer to a ruby red star system; no tablecloth; no glamorous pastry chef; no fancy multi-million dollar décor. Just the tenderest meat, the most intense purple carrot, an old-fashioned game terrine served in a portly jam jar, and a gianduja tart that tastes like a whole forest of hazelnut trees.

My Favorites:

L’Ami Jean

Ode to a cocotte

The soft gurgling sound tells me two very important facts: It’s Sunday and life will be all right. I stare at the bubbles, small and compact. As soon as one pops, another one forms in a sort of miraculous relay race. I close the heavy lid and return to the adjoining room. I’ve only written a few sentences when my nose starts to tweak almost on its own. The sweetness of carrots, the melting struggle of the meat, the potatoes adding their own starchy pillow—I inhale the mixture, closing my eyes until I realize someone must have walked into the kitchen. I jump up and push the door open. Sebastien, my 6-year-old son has climbed onto a stool and with his two pudgy arms has lifted the lid again. His curls are reflected onto the massive and shiny cast iron pot. He turns to me and flashing his widest smile, says:
“I couldn’t resist Maman, it smelled soooo good.”
I am furious because he literally could have fallen inside the scorching pot but also because I know that the best stews are left undisturbed. I scold him, send him away and turn to look at the stove. The oval enameled bassinet is so heavy that I sometimes need help just to put it in the oven. Bright orange on the outside, it’s now seasonably beige on the inside, proof of its use and experience. It’s not that old though, I only bought it a few years ago, but it looks just like the one my grandmother called la cocotte and kept in the creaky cupboard back home. I lift the lid one more time and move the pieces of the puzzle delicately, caressing the smooth interior with a wooden spoon.
An hour later, my boy is back in the kitchen:
“Can I taste Maman? Please?”
What serious cook and mother could resist this magical phrase?
“Hmmmmmmm,” is all that’s needed.
As the family files in noisily, to sit at the table, I look at my pot. On top of the stove, it reigns over my kitchen and defines the kind of cook I am. No foam or molecular mole mousse for me. I am a stew kind of gal.

What wonderful company at NYU

How lucky to be part of “Feeding Your Passion: Celebrating NYU Women in the Culinary Arts” at NYU last night.

Florence Fabricant who explained she became a food writer because she got really angry at people buying plastic-wrapped pinkish tomatoes at the supermarket in July when the most appealing farm stands were just down the road!

Rozanne Gold who became Ed Koch’s private chef at 23; Amy Zavatto who spoke eloquently about the queasy feeling she gets when she sees her writing appear on her blog instantly, and people start responding to her! And watch out for Serena Palumbo, an adorable attorney and Italian chef who hosts “Cooking with Serena” on YouTube and will be one of the finalists on June 6 on The Next Food Network Star.

Antipasti dreaming

Even the deafening sidewalk construction in front of Cafe Fiorello couldn’t keep me away when antipasti dreaming switched to full antipasti craving. Twisting grilled calamari, breaded cauliflower, caramelized fennel, luscious caponata. Perfect solo lunch at the counter with the New Yorker.

Heads or tails?

Just a few blocks from each other in the heart of Greenwich Village, two very different restaurants co-exist, each in its own orbit. In the few months of its renewed existence, Minetta Tavern, the newest Keith McNally planet has established itself as the new hot babe in town. Frank Bruni may have been in a generous mood when he bestowed three stars and named it the best steakhouse in NY.

Dinner at the bar there last night yielded a different experience. Under constant assault from the rear (reminded me of Invictus) the venerable and gorgeous bar does its best to resist, but between the shrieks and pushes of NYU students celebrating the dawn of their drinking era, and the weight of the bubbly puddles of fat on the much-lauded côte de boeuf, you just know it will have to be replaced soon. Choosing size over quality, the chefs present the marrow bones as long tibia, oozing yellow sunscreen and the aftertaste left me craving for serious mouth rinse, not exactly what I look for as a meal coda.

Across Sixth Avenue, there is no sign clamoring that you are at Soto. And Sotohiro Kosugi who works sternly behind the counter doesn’t seem to see you or care that you are in front of him. But when the orange silky drops of uni topping mini squid pillars reached my tongue and made me stop breathing for a second, he smiled. And when I pointed to the salad of geoduck clams to show my companion the orgy of sesame seeds hiding under the sea creatures, he sprung alive to make sure everything was alright. Amberjack tartare with pine nuts and wasabi tobiko was brought to perfection by a puffy cloud of intense soy foam.

Understated, tranquil, refined. You decide who gets my three stars…

Fun Foodie Gifts

For all of you foodie friends, there are wonderful gifts to be found at the shop inside the Museum of Arts and Design on Columbus Circle (MAD). I loved the placemats made with plastified newspaper food sections from around the country, mini Alessi objects, and my all-time favorite, glittery earrings sculpted from pyrex glass.


Even sleek MacBook Air not elegant enough for Madison Avenue Sant Ambroeus

8:30 A.M. With an hour to spare before an important meeting, I decide to treat myself (and shake my single parent stupor) with a cup of Italian coffee at chic Sant Ambroeus. The crowd feels very Milan meets St. Barth on this rainy Friday but there are many empty tables and I am kindly shown inside the restaurant.
My eyes linger on the rolls and brioches but even though I have a sweet tooth, I know their sugar ratio offends my French taste buds. I settle for a macedonia di frutta and pull out my very thin computer.
Suddenly, the Maitre D’ is at my side:
“Sorry Madam, we don’t allow the use of computers,” he says.
The woman at the next table seems as shocked as I am.
“I am really sorry,” he repeats expecting me to just file it away.
But I don’t. I stand up, pack my bag and, still longing for a taste of their puffy cappuccino, leave, now completely awake.

BKLYN Larder opens tomorrow

Launching tomorrow, Bklyn Larder, the new artisanal venture from duo Andrew Feinberg and Francine Stephens who own Franny’s, promises delicious simple Mediterranean food. Caught shopping at Union Square Market this morning, chef Travis Post fought with me for tender spring zucchini which he’ll prepare lightly cooked, drizzled with olive oil and at room temperature. More info in today’s New York Magazine
BKLYN Larder
228 Flatbush Avenue

Lonely pig for dinner

“I called him ‘the lonely pig,’ ” says the young woman selling meat, eggs and greens from the Queens County Farm & Museum at the Union Square Market on this (finally) warm and sunny Friday.

“Isn’t it weird to be selling the meat of a pig you knew,” I ask, caught in the age-old uneasiness that comes from accepting that the delicious meat on my plate came, no doubt, from an adorable animal.

“Well, I love meat, and I’d rather know what he ate; the apples, the corn, and that he had a good life,” she adds.

I feel the same as I squeeze part of his shoulder into my bag. And the question now is what to stew him with? 

Apples and oranges: A week of contrasts

Dinner last night at Elettaria on West 8th Street.  The large open kitchen acts as an eye magnet where chef Akhtar Nawab and his acolytes bend studiously over myriads of small plates. Unfortunately, the mix of spices and ingredients, many reminiscent of the chef’s Indian background, sound better than they taste. The “Parisiennes” gnocchi dotting the crabmeat resala mimic mini fried profiteroles; the steamed rice cakes with lentils, tomatoes, ginger and garlic feel as displaced as a soggy couscous, and some combinations just don’t work. As my kind friend says, “This is a work in progress.”

And that leads me to the most enjoyable meal I’ve had in weeks. I don’t know the chef’s name, I don’t care whether he opens a new branch in Dubai next year, and he sure didn’t invent any of the dishes on the menu, but dinner at Bistro Citron on Columbus Avenue just hits my spot. The Caesar salad comes encased in a cheesy tuile-like bowl with just the right ratio of dressing to croutons to leaves; the fragrant coq au vin encased on a fresh noodle nest reminds me of my grandmother’s and a simple tarte au citron sings of the Riviera.