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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Aux Goodness

PARIS – There are places I go to again and again because there are friends in town or they are a great value or because they are good.

Aux Lyonnais fits all of these bills. Mom is in town and we get the 30€ prix fixe, each trying one of the two offerings. Our mains are pike quenelles and blood sausage, neither one being the first thing Mom (still an adventurous eater, along with being a prize-winning gardener) would choose.

I’m a little nervous until she bites the quenelle – a fish dumpling that’s decorated on either side with a pair pink-orange of crayfish tails. It’s is light enough to be a soufflé cousin happily wading in a sauce of creamy brown butter and fish stock. Mom’s face slackens as the dish does its good work.

My boudin is unadorned; the magic is inside. Our waitress explains that their recipe – they make their own – uses shredded meat from pigs’ feet and cheeks. It’s less common than the apples, onions or tasty bits of fat commonly found in boudin noir from the butcher, but this historic recipe creates a tenderness and depth of flavor reminiscent of beef bourguignon. Yow, yow, yow!

When we arrived for lunch, I told Mom about the value of their prix fixe menu – a particularly good deal for dinner – but aided by good food and wine that bring up stories of family and friends I haven’t heard before, I leave with a new appreciation and another reason to come back.

Aux Lyonnais - MAP
32, rue St-Marc
75002 Paris
+33 1 42 96 65 04

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Call Me ‘Sir’???

Blame it on sloth or modesty, but I haven’t done much in the self-promo department lately.

Credit a bump in motivation or a lack of scruples for rectifying that problem posthaste.

First and most exciting, I’m a knight! Technically, I’m a young knight of the Confraria del Cava – the brotherhood of Cava, Catalonia’s sparkling wine – thanks to a series of articles that I wrote about the bubbly a few years back.

On October 11, in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, Spain, I donned a heavy green cape, made an oath in Catalan(!) pledging my allegiance to Cava, chugged a glass, was tapped with a sword on each shoulder and officially became a knight. I was one of six knights of merit (the Spanish Olympic men’s field hockey team was sworn in as knights of honor), and as far as I could tell, the only foreigner in the room and one of the first non-Catalans in the Confraria’s history to be inducted. Quite flattering.

Earlier this month, I was ask to host a round table discussion at the American Library in Paris around the theme ‘Is French Cuisine Worthy of UNESCO Heritage Status.’ We had fantastic panelists - Clotilde Dusoulier, author of ‘Chocolate & Zucchini’ and ‘Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris,’ (and former interviewee of mine!), Charlotte Puckette and Olivia Kiang-Snaije, co-authors of ‘The Ethnic Paris Cookbook,’ and, to spice things up a little, Catalan journalist and sommelier and author of the blog Wines and The City, Meritxell Falgueras. Great subject, perfect panelists and a full house!

Finally, I’ve made a huge update to my Web site, adding published stories and photos from South America, Sicily, Scotland and Paris – feel free to check them out at Please send me an email here if you’d like to be placed on the mailing list that goes out when a group of new stories go online.

More to come, including stories and blogs from France, Barcelona, Lisbon and Algeria… stay tuned.

Photo: courtesy Confraria del Cava

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Saving Grace

I may be a knight, but nobody bothered to tell me that the king’s garden closes in November.

I will remember this the next time I want to bring my mother, an award-winning gardener, to Versailles.

The Potager du Roi – a garden designed for Louis XIV so the Sun King would have fresh vegetables – closes for the winter on November 1. Oops.

Hungry – which, in this case rhymes particularly well with angry – and needing to win back a few points, I couldn’t take bringing Mom to one of those restaurants that ring the chateau’s entrance advertising ten kinds of pizza on a Plexiglas sign.

I ask the gardener who’s very gently told us we won’t be getting in (and even if we did, our feet would get muddy), who sends us across town to l’aparthé, a restaurant and tea room tucked away next to the Notre Dame church.

Pulling aside the big velour curtain that kept the cold, wet day outside we were greeted with the buzz of French locals.

We split a tasty ‘five vegetable’ soup, a beet and mozzarella salad and a big salad with lardons, potatoes, Roquefort, apples and sun-dried tomatoes put to surprisingly good use.

There’s a solid wine selection, twenty teas (Mariage Frères, bien sûr) and coffee comes with a Carambar candy.

“C’est une bonne adresse,” confirmed a local woman who later sat next to us with her family, probably wondering how we lucked into finding the place.

They’re not reinventing the wheel, but finding a place you’d like to have around the corner from your apartment when your primary concern is just getting something good is a real treat.

Lunch for two and peace of mind for 37 euros.

L’aparthé - MAP
1bis rue Ste Genevieve
Versailles 78000

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Two hands on the cans

Barcelona’s canned goods quality fanatic Quim Perez should know about this place.

I find the Lisbon landmark, the Conserveira de Lisboa (The Lisbon Cannery) - famous for their Tricana line of high-end canned seafood, completely by accident.

After I pay for a few tins, cannery owner Regina Ferreria walks out of the back room. She asks me what I’ve found, grimaces and walks to the side wall of her tiny, picturesque shop and pulls down a 125 gram tin of ovas de sardinha – sardine eggs.

She uses both of her hands to place her gift into mine.

“Open them gently. Place them on a plate. Place them on bread – not toast – so the olive oil gets soaked up,” she says. “No forks! It bothers them - use a spatula. Serve these to your sweetie with vinho verde.”

I need to stop traveling alone.

Conserveira de Lisboa - MAP
Rua dos Bacalhoeiros, 34

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Lisbon’s Locavores

After a few blissful days in Lisbon, a local friend who lives in NYC and is back visiting her hometown takes her brother and me out to the Moinho de Baixo (a.k.a. “Meco”) beach about 40 minutes outside of town. It’s a perfect break from the city: beaches and dunes, breaking turquoise waves and not a tourist in sight. It’s amazing to think that it’s this easy to get out of town.

Once the sun goes down, we head to the Bar do Peixe, have a seat and dig in. Dinner starts with Azeitao cheese, the main course is half of a grilled robalo (tasty snook) caught by the owner’s fisherman husband and we drink a white from the Setubal Peninsula – everything comes from less than 40 minutes away.

“The fish comes from there,” says the owner, eyeing the horizon. Cut in half lengthwise, grilled and drizzled with olive oil, it’s a lesson in simplicity.

“When I come home,” says my friend, “this is what I want.”

Bar do Peixe
Rua Praia do Moinho de Baixo
Near the town of Alfarim, Portugal

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pork Me One More Time!!!

After finding pork and seafood variations on recent trips to Barcelona, Paris and Belle-Ile, clams and ham struck again during my first moments in Lisbon.

“We eat our words,” says my friend Pedro who’s shared a lifelong favorite place to eat, O Cacho Dourado, while explaining why the ‘o’s are often lopped off of either end of ‘obrigado’ when some Portuguese say thank you. We also eat carne de porco à alentejana with my lesson in local Portuguese 101.

As opposed to Cal Pep’s take on things, where the flavor the pork fat lends to the dish steals the show, here, it lends subtle depth of flavor, almost like tucking an anchovy or three into a slow-cooked meat dish.

Or, as Pedro puts it, “It keeps it from being boring.”

O Cacho Dourado - MAP
Rua Eca de Queirós, 5

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sometimes, it’s the little things

PARIS - Today, after a hot chocolate and a decent espresso (a sad rarity in this town) at Caffè Moro, I was refused a glass of water larger than the thimble-sized one I received.

“You can come back three, four, five times if you like,” said the waitress, noting the café’s absence of table service.

“It’s a style,” chimed in a loud and grouchy woman who had been bossing the staff around for the previous half-hour while floating in and out of the back room, yet claimed not to be the boss.

I stared at them in disbelief, at a loss to think of a more annoying or petty ‘style’ to lose customers.

“If you want, you can buy an Evian,” added the waitress.

Please. If somebody’s going to plunk the better part of ten euros down in a half-empty café and ask for a glass of water that’s larger than their thumb, have the good sense to give them a carafe or fill up a bigger glass and not give them any lip.

Caffè Moro - Map
31, rue de Charonne
75011 Paris

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