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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Is Paris The World Champion of Gastronomy?

That’s the question French food critic Francois Simon posed to a little panel: Nick Lander, Carlo Petrini, Ken Hom, Anissa Helou, Yumiko Inukai and…yours truly. For a recent article in Le Figaro’s magazine, Figaroscope.

Here’s my response in Version Originale…

World capital? That’s loaded question.

Twenty years – even 10 – ago, the question was bandied about for fun but we already knew the answer, but now, just using the places I know well, it’s a legitimate debate. Barcelona combines an unquenchable curiosity and solid base to keep themselves on cuisine’s front edge. Sicily combines incredible raw ingredients with solid value and New York could win on sheer numbers yet it is Paris’ equal in quality and exponentially more diverse. India is a time machine whose cuisine never ages.

Plus, in Paris, coffee is awful and the beer second rate. It’s also pricey. That said, you forget all problems instantly when the former butcher who can hold four bottles of wine in one hand and owns Le Severo puts a côte de boeuf aged 40 days under your nose. You forget it when Pierre Gagnaire boils down a great vat of red wine to make a tiny component of a sauce. You forget it when Laetitia at Le Bistro Paul Bert greets you with a smile, seats you at your favorite table and gifts you with a glass of wine and when it comes to choosing a bottle of wine doesn’t foist something you can’t afford on you. You forget it when three bottles, two glasses of Calvados and one conversation into a meal, you realize with a start that it’s 5 a.m. and you’ve been at the table for nine hours.

Undeniable world champ? Not anymore. However, the French exception still reigns. Let’s call Paris first among equals.

Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner and on Facebook.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Sicilian Street Theater

PALERMO – Mom and Dad are gone and I have Palermo to myself for the morning. I walk behind the Teatro Massimo in the city center, find a bakery where fresh, hot, ricotta-laden pastries come out of the back room just as I enter.


Outside, a helicopter whoops mysteriously. I down my coffee and head outside with breakfast to see what the fuss is about.

The theater has moved outdoors.

“You can’t stand there,” says someone who I’ll later realize is a plainclothes policeman.

Twenty-odd mobsters have been rounded up and, one by one, under cover of the helicopter and an impressive line of carabinieri cars, they are escorted out of a special police station, down a set of stairs and into a waiting car.

Wives and grandmothers dissolve into tears and collapse to the sidewalk. News crews and families are pushed around. Tragedy! Comedy! Italians have a particular capacity for making the serious look ridiculous.

Some of the cons come out of the door and pause at the top of the stairs with a look of dread. Newbies. Others grin and give a handcuffed wave with a look that says, ‘Don’t worry honey, I’ll be outta the clink in a couple of days.’

One guy has a plastic bag that looks like it’s stuffed with a three-day supply of pasta and cannoli.

I pop the last bite of pastry, take a nervous picture of the chaos and wander toward my gelato.

Da Carlo is as fantastic as ever. I have scoops of yogurt and cantaloupe gelato in a brioche capped by a beautifully not-too-sweet whipped cream.

Later, I wash it down with a standup coffee at Caffé del Moro where the barista blurs the line between man and machine.

Without looking, he flips a clean espresso cup from the top of machine to his other hand, waiting for it next to the portafilter. Steam rises from the used grounds in the knockbox.

I ask if I can make a photo and while his machine gurgles, he sizes me up with a look that says, ‘Why bother?’ combined with ‘I don’t care.’

“Fa,” comes the response. Do it.

I’ll miss this city.

Caffé del Moro - MAP
Via Giovanni Da Procida, 3

Gelateria Da Carlo - MAP
Corso dei Mille, 72

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Saturday, May 30, 2009


Portland, OR

“What’s that cool hotel you were telling me about in Portland?” I asked a buddy.

He couldn’t remember. Or I was asking the wrong buddy.

I typed ‘portland oregon hip hotel’ into Google and there it was – the Ace Hotel.

My reasons for loving it? Along with the high, ceilings and a clean modern-meets-old-school-cool design, there’s a Stumptown Coffee connected to the lobby. There’s also a snack tray in every room with the beautifully-labeled Lurisia fizzy water and next to it, Dutch stroopwaffels – my favorite cookie to have with coffee. I love the idea that, instead of throwing some Lay’s and Kit Kat bars in there, somebody put the effort into sourcing some really good stuff.

Downside? The secret’s out. Canadian families in North Face Jackets are mixing with the dressed-in-black (and talking loudly about their lives as composers and art directors) crowd. Sitting at the big lobby table the morning I’m there is a bossy chump who looks like an extra from “The Matrix” and his doomed, sweet-as-gold girlfriend.

There’s also a grumpy kid who kicked a chair at me when I asked if anyone was sitting there.

“It’s a free country,” he added.

Until the coffee kicked in, I had fantasies of whapping them all with a rolled-up newspaper.

Ace Hotel Portland MAP
1022 SW Stark St
Portland, OR 97205
P: 503-228-2277
F: 503-228-2297

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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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