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Saturday, January 30, 2010

More For The Carnivores

As our cote de boeuf is set down in the center of the table, Pierre makes a general announcement, putting his hands up to his mouth, megaphone-style.

“Vegetarians are now invited to clear the area!” he bellows.

My word, yes they are.

I made a sort of promise to check out the ‘bicycle built for two of the steak world’ at L’Escargot after checking out the offerings at Le Bastringue and was far from disappointed.

There’s a price difference - 32 euros at Bastringue and 40 at L’Escargot (remembering each diner is paying half of that) and you can taste the difference: L’Escargot has better and more flavorful meat (likely linked to chef Fred Valade’s triperie down the road), but each one is a great value for the price.  One nitpick: L’Escargot would also do well to get some real steak knives.

There were nice vegetable side courses with my meal tonight, complete with Valade’s signature flaming thyme garnish ... and, no fault of their own, after a few bites, I completely forgot about them. Desserts were fabulous. I’d get the homemade chantilly (served on top of the ‘choco ivoire & son biscuit caribbeanesque’ which I once launched onto my lap) over and over again as a solo dish.

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

Full disclosure: I am known (though not notorious) at L’Escargot as it’s about a block away from my flat. They didn’t know we were coming, but they knew I was there. That said, even in Paris, you can’t conjure different beef at 9 p.m. on a Wednesday night.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010



I rode right right past the opening night festivies at Tombé du Ciel. At first I chalked it up to the bliss of zooming around Paris on my brand-new-to-me vintage Peugeot 10-speed, but I backtracked to #7 on the tiny Rue d’Enghien. There it was, lost among the cheap grec sandwich restaurants and coiffeurs, the ‘PHONEBOUTIK’ sign of a previous owner still gracing the facade.

Just below, a large glass window glistened with the prerequisite warmth, barely obscuring a healthy crowd and a few dozen bottles of natural production wine. It looked as indigenous to this part of town as… as… um… hence the name.

I wish them well. If clients find the place, just two blocks north of the Boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle in the 10th, they’ll come back. This is La Cremerie’s fun and gritty cousin. The wines are great, with double digits of by-the-glass options ranging from about 2.50 to 5 euros. There are some whites and fizzy options that will leave you drooling with glee, served with perfect food for nibbling, particularly considering the kitchen is still under construction. (The kitchen will open ‘soon’ and there will be a plat du jour or two.)

The showstopper was a tarama of sea urchin, served with bread and a slice of lemon. You really need nothing else with a product this well-sourced.

The ambience may be the best part. People leave their belongings wherever and walk away, trusting they’ll be there a couple hours later when they leave, and at the end of the night, everyone crowds around the bar and I half expect them to break into a well-deserved song.

With wine, count on around ten euros if you’re feeling peckish. More if you’re hungry.

Tombé du Ciel MAP
7 Rue d’Enghien
M: Strasbourg St. Denis

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Ferran Adria’s just announced that they’re ‘stopping’ El Bulli - starting in 2012-2013, turning their Barcelona lab and Roses restaurant into ‘research centers’.

Sounds like it’ll be business as ‘usual’ in Roses through 2011 (two more seasons), though exactly what happens after that and what happens for the 2012-2013 season remain a bit vague. 2014 remains very mysterious. Return from a sort of sabbatical, perhaps in a different ‘format’???

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Monday, January 25, 2010


PARIS - My tolerance for number of days cooped up in the kitchen in an effort to avoid bad weather ended today. I should have come out sooner.

Acting on a tip from a friend…who recently acted on a tip from Francois...I cross town on my bike, popping up to meet friends in the lower reaches of the 14th arrondissement at Le Jeu de Quilles.

I’m a bit early and watch a table of six guys who were clearly on an afternoon out at one of their favorite spots, downing good wine and asking the chef about where to get a whole lamb to roast.

Ann has barely sat down when she says,  “The sun’s out!” with a smile like she was recognizing a long-lost friend who’d grown a beard since the last time they met.

The prix fixe lunch plan is simple: choose from three appetizers, two mains and a handful of desserts for 25 euros. There’s an à la carte menu that makes me want to come back for dinner. In form and function, it quite resembles the original version of Spring and Le 122.

Along with a generous, high-end charcuterie plate, highlights included an oeuf cocotte, swimming in a wonderful shallot-y red wine sauce and resting on a hidden strip of pork fat.  There’s also a braised pork main with a hot, pudding-like side of polenta laced with Emmental and tasting of real corn bread.

“This tastes like America!” I blurt.

Dessert was a still-bubbling pear and apple crumble, arriving with a ‘watch your fingers’ warning from the waitress. Imagine hot, crushed Pecan Sandies above hot, buttery fruit and all the dairy farmers you’re supporting with this one dish!

Sun on a plate.

Lunch prix fixe menu: 25 euros (21 if you skip dessert, but why would you want to do that?). There is no prix fixe at dinner where appetizers run between 12 and 20 euros and mains are in the mid-20s.

Le Jeu de Quilles MAP
45 rue Boulard
75014 Paris
+33 1 53 90 76 22

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Friday, January 22, 2010


A pair of friends have been telling me about their favorite new pizza place since it opened. Good pizza in Paris is a rare bird, so naturally, my ears perked up.

Al Taglio is an interesting concept, borrowing heavily from Italy. Walk in, go to the counter, point to one of the big, beautiful rectangles of thick-crust pizza beneath your nose and they are ready to take a pair of kitchen shears and cut a slice approximately one and a half times as large as the size you indicated, as you will be paying by the kilo.

No matter. Take a seat on a stool under Smurf-blue lamps and discover that the pizza is fantastic. We shared slices with the anchovy and garlic glory of the Napoli, a decent quattro stagioni, and a beautiful yet mysteriously-named “speck” with uncured (but tasty) ham, mushrooms and ricotta.

I was all smiles until a friend burst my bubble. “The only problem with this place,” she said, “is the price.”

I looked up at the menu board, tried to do some calculations and, well, couldn’t. How much does a slice of pizza weigh? I have no idea. I do know that some pizzas cost almost 40 euros a kilo and it made me think of the field day I could have at the cheese shop.

A form of answer came when the cashier cut a huge square for a take-out order – just a little more than I could eat in one hungry sitting – which came out to 30 euros.

Solution? Do as we did and go for an appetizer-sized portion – that and a glass of wine will run you a very reasonable eight euros.

Count on anywhere between 8 – 40 euros.

Al Taglio MAP
‪2 Bis Rue Neuve Popincourt‬
‪75011 Paris‬
+33‪ 1 43 38 12 00‬‎


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Tuesday, January 19, 2010



H. and I had a peculiar beginning - the ambiguous and non-ambiguous fits and starts of a relationship that quickly turns platonic.

Those questions now years out of the way, we can concentrate on dishing without feeling like it’s been six months or a year since the last time we saw each other. (What better compliment can you pay to a friend?)

We can also concentrate on what’s on our plates. Last time we met, that meant côte de boeuf - the bicycle built for two of the steak world.

“That and a bottle of wine are all you need to bother with here,” said H., laying down the law of how to order at La Bastringue. She’s done the menu sampling for us at this rowdy/friendly 19th arrondissement bistro overlooking the Bassin de la Villette and there’s no reason to question her.

Moments before the steak arrives, a ridiculous-sized plate of salad, mixed veg and cube-shaped fries is set down. You’ll nibble on those, but that’s not why you’re here.

The steak is charred, bloody (lest you want the cook to cry), and very tasty. It might be a bit chewy in spots, but with a steak this big, there’s plenty of room to roam. There is no non-carnivorous reason to leave hungry.

Need more convincing? You can get out of there for about 20€.

Le Bastringue - MAP
67 Quai de Seine
75019 Paris
+33 1 40 05 70 00

p.s. - I stopped by l’Escargot the other night for a drink and noticed that they have a côte de boeuf on the menu. It’s more expensive than down the hill at Bastringue, but that’s the next one I’ll be trying…


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Saturday, January 16, 2010



Outside of a few ‘special’ beers and a penchant for whiskey, it’s hard to tell what makes ‘Irish Pub’ Irish - the twisted stag’s head on the wall? Maybe it’s just that ‘vaguely Irish décor and drink selection with French bistro fare’ doesn’t have much of a ring to it as a restaurant name.

No matter. I went with locals (I was in town to do a one-off story on jeweler Philippe Tournaire) to this Rhone establishment for a reason – it’s good and unadorned. We get flank steak, liver and stew and that’s exactly what’s on our plates.

The waitress did set down a baking dish full of big potato halves, baked then grilled and accompanied by a (vaguely Irish?) sour cream and chive-style sauce.

The liver had a zingy vinegar-based sauce, simple and perfect for understanding why it’s in there in the first place.

Perhaps the luck of the Irish brought me here, but it doesn’t matter. The food’s good and if you’re nearby, it’s worth the trip.

Count on 15-30 euros, depending on how many pints you toss back.

Irish Bar – MAP

11 Rue Victor de Laprade


+33 4 77 58 13 79

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Carles Gaig is a chef and a businessman. The combination can make you cringe – it’s hard to pull off and, truthfully, fewer chefs should try. Gaig, a Catalan cuisine legend, can be found anywhere from his high-end eponymous Barcelona restaurant to the sides of Barcelona’s bus systems where he’s currently hawking a set of cheap-looking knives.

Another Gaig newborn is promising. PortaGaig is in the Barcelona airport’s new Terminal 1, hidden off to the right before you head through security. It being the 26th – St. Stephen’s day – where you traditionally eat cannelloni stuffed with Christmas leftovers. Gaig being known for the little tubes of joy, we stopped in.

There are some great ideas at work here – get to the airport early enough and you can have a full-out meal with great wine in a beautiful space with a swarm of smart-dressed waiters at your disposal. Sometimes you want to swat them away, there’s so many, other times, they’re standing around, looking good and waiting for the restaurant’s reputation to grow.

There’s also a special bar menu with reasonable prices featuring items that are quicker to prepare. That said, it’s hard to get out of there for less than 15 euros – made more annoying by the 2.50€ ‘cover charge’ for disappointing bread.

Best cannelloni I’ve ever had? Who knows, but, paired with a glass of Cava, they beat the pants off the plastic-boxed sandwiches on the other side of security. It costs a bit more, but it’s a better value. Best airport food? (A question I’m posing from a chair on another flight at 38,000 feet.) Without a doubt.

Plan on anywhere from 15€ for drinks, snacks and (ugh) bread at the bar to a couple times that for a sit-down meal.

PortaGaig MAP
Barcelona. Terminal 1 - P3. Departures Public Zone
+34 932 596 210

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010


My apologies for nicking the title of a book dedicated to the late beer and whisky expert, Michael Jackson, but I think he’d approve.

I’ve got a pair of stories out published in the last few weeks in The Boston Globe’s Travel section worth the hunt and the chase. First on tap is a look at Lambic beers in Belgium. It gives a sense of how this “wild beer” is made, the people making some of the best along with where to go, eat, drink and stay.

Here’s a taste:
Belgium is boring.

That was the preconception. Then I remembered: great fries, friendly people, beautiful architecture,
and beer that makes aficionados drool.

What was I thinking?

I grab a cone of fries and head to a brewery where I begin to understand why beer, particularly
lambics — ‘‘wild beers’’ that are products of ‘‘spontaneous fermentation’’ and aged for three
years in oak barrels — runs in Belgians’ veins…

Click here to read the story on the Boston Globe’s site or here to read it on, where you can also find a PDF copy of the story in its print format.

Next, I headed to Scotland for a whisky road trip…

The roads between the Speyside region and Kennacraig are a driving enthusiast’s dream, flecked with micro-towns, straightaways, S-curves, views of the Loch Ness, and signs that read ‘‘Stone Skipping Championships This Saturday!’’ and ‘‘Apples £1/BOX.’’

The cafe on the ferry from Kennacraig to the island of Islay (pronounced EYE-la) is a sign of good things to come, with representatives of almost every distillery on the island behind the bar — a short and sweet selection that would blow most American bar choices away…

Care for a wee bit more? Click here to read the story on the Boston Globe’s site or here to read it on

As, always, I’d love to hear what you think.

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