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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Carlo Cracco - Playing With Eggs

Carlo Cracco is onstage at Girona’s Forum Gastronomic holding a deep orangish-red egg yolk in his plastic-gloved hand. He squeezes it, pokes it, talks about it and instead of turning into a gooey mess that drizzles unflatteringly down his arm, it holds firm.

The yolk is part of his ‘marinated egg yolk with light Parmesan cream’ – a deconstructed egg yolk that is one of the Italian’s signature dishes at his eponymous restaurant in Milan. It’s a play on textures and preconceptions, a chef having thought-out fun.


Yes. For four or five hours, each yolk in a tin cupcake cup with a mixture of salt, sugar and bean flour that sucks much of the moisture from the yolk, leaving it like putty in his hands.

“Up to now, everyone pushed limits,” he tells me later, referring to the long burst of creativity and science that’s been coming out of high-end kitchens. “Now, we need to slow down and look at what’s worth it and what’s not.”

I can’t help but wonder what the controversial chef does with all of the extra egg yolks at the end of the day and curiously, he devotes much of the rest of the demonstration to just that.

With most of the liquid pulled from the yolk, he mashes a few of them together creating a thick, bright paste that looks like it’s been pimped from his pastry chef. This he spreads between two sheets of oiled wax paper and rolls flat into a translucent pasta that practically glows orange. He runs half the sheet through a pasta machine that turns it into thin noodles which he suggests heating for a minute and serving with a tomato sauce. The other half becomes meat ravioli that look as delicate as a Pierre Herme macaron. This, he serves raw – a mini steak tartare encased in its yolk.

This is worth it.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Snail’s Grace

An old standby is a new favorite.

I’d been to L’Escargot, tucked away in the far reaches of Belleville, years ago when Canadian singer Sarah Slean and her entourage were in town and they turned to me for a place to go.

It’s been a bit too long to remember what we ate, but my favorite moment was when the diva’s dad turned to me and said, “That was the best meal we’ve had in France.”

Recently, I ate at L’Escargot a couple times in a two-week span – enough to notice that chef Frederic Valade had the guts to propose gizzards as a bar snack. Earning more points, I also learned he runs a triperie (hard-core butcher shop) down the street.

… but I’m putting the cart in front of the horse.

Like Mehdi As-Siyad at L’Incroyable, what Valade is doing is some of my favorite stuff in Paris right now – young chefs, making some seriously good food and having fun.

One night, Valade walked out into the open kitchen in a pink wig, then giant sunglasses, then a cabaret-style sequined hat, all of which would have made him look really dumb if the food wasn’t good.

Instead, his duck confît is among the best in town – crunchy on the outside, melting on the inside and packed with flavor. Add to the plate a little tower of mashed potatoes with truffle oil and a salad with a vinaigrette that keeps your taste buds awake and - Petit Fer A Cheval take note - you’ve got something comforting, luxurious and well-priced.

Almost every dish at L’Escargot is this good – a venison steak with winter vegetables, braised lamb shank that bursts with flavor, incredibly tender kangaroo (!) filet and ‘beef bo bun’ – a bowl of bite-sized seared flank steak in a lemongrass sauce.

Dessert? The only problem with the crispy crepe (think: thin cousin of a sugar cone, broken up, and shaped into a little puck of goodness nestled under a dense cloud of whipped cream) was that I got a little aggressive with my spoon and launched half of the dish onto the table and my lap.

I ate it anyway.

50, rue de La Villette MAP
75019 Paris
+33 1 42 06 03 96

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