Food & Travel / Words & Photos
I stretched my birthday a bit. Last Monday’s delightful diner à deux at Roberta’s is followed, a few days later, by dinner with friends.
For this, Prime Meats does not disappoint. Here, you get all the thick glasses, beards, vests and cocktails you need to know that you’re smack dab in the middle of Brooklyn. It’s a fantastic spot and with our big table for 11 at one end of wooden-paneled, high-ceiling-ed dining room, it felt like a tiny church in New England.
Tipplers in the pews, we finish our cocktails (old fashioned this time, applejack Sazerac next time), and I ask the wonderful Amy Zavatto to be in chargee of picking out a few bottles for the table. Among others, she steers us toward a fantastic 2009 Red Tail Ridge from New York State. New York reds – who knew?
Plates arrive – an order or two of bluefish rillettes, (a clever natural for that preparation) create quite a stir, but I’m almost too happy nibbling away at smoked sweetbreads to notice. I want to share and hoard.
The real sharing comes with the mains – I share bites of my steak frites – with just about everyone and reap the benefits. Friends return the favor with crispy and moist schnitzel, juicy, taut bratwurst, and tangy homemade sauerkraut. Elisabeth has an iceberg lettuce salad with Maytag blue and bacon.
“They do that as well as anyone these days,” she says.
I look over at Amy, who, after biting into her cod, takes on the look of a parishioner at prayer and Jonathan does the same when I offer him a second bite of my New York strip. It’s crispy on the outside, with a ribbon of tasty fat on one edge, and pink happiness within.
“You know,” he says, snapping out of his trance, “you can throw all the ingredients you want in a dish, dress it up however you’d like, but that? That’s hard to beat.”
A quibble - It took a little while to get to our seats; Two people in our group were running rather late and, in short, the staff didn’t want to sit us until every member of the party of eleven arrived. We offered to order right away, offered to wait to order until they arrived. The staff, some polite, some a little less so, declined, but it wasn’t quite full enough in there to put up that kind of a stink. I get it if half of a party of four is missing, but how rare is it that one couple in a much larger group gets held up? It puts a good dent in the pleasure of an evening.
465 Court Street
+1 (718) 254 0327
PARIS – The waitress at Willi’s Wine Bar poured a bit in my glass to taste and waited next to me for a verdict.
Nothing good happened in my mouth. Nothing bad either. “Nothing to signal” to borrow a local phrase.
“Should it be like this?” I venture, trying to play it semi-diplomatically.
As the words leave my mouth, the wine - a Gigondas - begins to unwind. It’s good, but a bit too late now.
The waitress takes it in stride as I begin to backpedal. Later, the wine steward drops by to offer to exchange the bottle anyway. Perhaps he smiled when he noticed it was almost gone.
“Willi’s?” a friend would later ask. “That place still full of Americans?”
“Smart ones,” I reply.
Count on 30-40 euros for a good, seasonal lunch, tasty wine and classy service.
Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner.
The 11th keeps getting better.
I went to dinner with my favorite cheesemongers from Fromagerie Charonne (a.k.a. Autour du Fromage) the other night - they had a new place to show me in my old neighborhood. Who am I to say no?
po.za.da is visible from Boulevard Voltaire but tucked away on the tiny rue Guénot - you either know it’s there or it’s a lucky find. It’s not a cross-town-trek kind of place, but it’s a great addition to the offerings in the 11th and they’re making the right gestures to please the local crowd. The young chef in the tiny kitchen has the leeway to cook what he wants (the menu only exists on the chalkboard) and there’s an extensive list of good-value wines, available at a marked-down price to take home.
Sylvie, who’s ordered her steak “bleu but warm” gets exactly that and goes quiet for several minutes when it arrives. Daniel gets a burger and though I could care less about the Paris Burger Wars, I want to reach across the table for a bite - it’s wrapped in cured ham, topped with wide shavings of Parmesan and cooked like Sylvie’s steak. Pork chops ‘à la moutarde à l’ancienne’ means the mustard is whipped to a frenzy - a creamy puff as good on the chops as it is on my spuds and the salad. Chef also had the wisdom to let a sautéed girolle mushroom appetizer be just that.
Count on around 30€ with wine for dinner - lunch appears to be a good deal with 12€ appetizer/main or main/dessert options.
po.za.da - MAP
2 rue Guénot
Autour du Fromage - MAP
120 rue de Charonne
Dinner is with a pair of war correspondents. Talk ranges from world hot zones to falsifying papers.
Nothing quite like that to make a food and travel writer feel like a wimp.
I try to flex my muscles by coming up with somewhere new to eat in the neighborhood (without returning to the wonderful L’Escargot) and come up with La Lanterne, a spot I’ve spied on a side road along my jogging route near the Buttes Chaumont park.
Downstairs at La Lanterne is candlelit bric-a-brac, remnants of some bygone era that’s hard to put a finger on, but must look better on a cold winter’s night than the misty early summer’s eve we’re here on. We make a beeline for the covered roof deck, currently occupied by ten friends in their 50s celebrating a birthday.
Entrées arrive - a tartare de legumes, escargot with roquefort sauce and a salad with pork cheeks. Everything sounds more interesting that it is. Bof! say the French. Though the business card says “old Paris atmosphere” it’s really like eating at a so-so countryside restaurant.
But the table next to us has a good mood floating in the air above them and at our table, the guys are smiling, talking about dodging bullets. Mains arrive and one of the correspondents cuts his andouillette open longwise like he’s gutting it. Truthfully, they’re a bit disappointing - better, but not worth a trip, until I look around the deck - wonderful views in a quiet city spot. The woman at the table next door pulls out an iPhone to play a tinny slow song, holding it up like a candle at a concert.
The birthday girl and her sweetie - clearly still a sweetie after a long time together - get up and dance together. It’s the kind of charming you don’t always see in Paris. Which makes the whole dinner worth it.
Count on about 25-30 € for dinner. Rooftop dancing optional.
La Lanterne MAP
9 Rue du Tunnel
+33 1 42 39 15 98
I did something with this place I don’t usually do: I recommended a restaurant to a friend without having been there to eat in a long time. A friend from London was coming into town for what the Brits call a ‘hen do’ (a.k.a. a bachelorette party) right around the time another friend who runs Slow Food Barcelona was talking about a favorite restaurant: Mam i Teca. There seemed to be a bit of serendipity involved, so I went with the flow. Now that I’ve gone, I can’t decide if it was a good idea.
At first, I thought the tiny restaurant lacked a bit of soul, but I figured out that it feels like that you’re eating in the semi-industrial living room of the guys who run it, right down to the Johnny Hallyday on the radio and the waiting for the waiter/barman to finish up his conversation with the client/friends at the end of the bar before you can ask for another napkin.
If you like that sort of stuff - it can have its charms - you’re in for a treat. I love that feeling that the two guys who run the joint are clearly doing exactly what they want to be doing, but I wonder how many other people come out of there feeling a little weirded out by the experience. The cuisine is Catalan and you can understand the Slow Food connection; product is excellent. Xató - a salad of escarole with salt cod and olives with romesco sauce wasn’t much to write home about, but it was counterbalanced by a sweet and salty rabbit stew with apricots and prunes. Mmm! Our favorite dish, a mix of just-cooked mushrooms, asparagus and garlic drizzled in olive oil was so good, we ordered it twice.
I can’t remember the last time I did that.
Maybe it was a good idea to send the hens here.
Mam i Teca - MAP
Carrer de la Lluna 4
+93 441 33 35
After lunch at Jeu de Quilles, I really wanted not to like dinner at Au Bon Coin when it was set in front of me. (So much so, I seem to have accidentally erased all photo evidence of the meal.)
Came out too fast. Skimpy portion of string beans, I thought as my main course arrived. Then I dabbed a spud in the sauce next to my steak and reconsidered.
Au Bon Coin is packed with locals on the wonderful north side of Montmartre for a reason. The quality/price ratio is where it should be. ‘Comfort’ should be on the menu.
“I was here a week ago and the didn’t have the stuffed cabbage. They only have it in the darkest part of winter,” said my friend and dining companion who lives three blocks away. On this night, it’s on the menu and it arrives, dark, pungent and delicious a moment or two after my pièce de Charolais.
Is it me, or are the days getting longer?
Count on about 20€ with a drink or two.
Au Bon Coin MAP
49 Rue des Cloÿs
+33 1 46 06 91 36
P.S. - If you’re going to make a night out of it, start with an apéro at the nearby La Renaissance - 112 Rue Championnet - where Tarantino shot a scene from “Inglorious Basterds.” With any luck, there will be an impeccably-dressed woman delivering your drink. “Wearing jeans in public,” she once told me, “is despicable.”
“You’re not going to write about this place, right?” asked Pierre.
I smiled, but truth be told, I didn’t answer.
I’m a bit of a pho fanatic. Years ago, I worked in chef Didi Emmons’ restaurant Pho Republique in Cambridge, MA. As a birthday present to my sister, I made up a gift certificate for the place before it opened. Once we went, I liked Didi’s version of Vietnam’s signature soup so much, I got a part-time job in the kitchen. I had to know.
Knowing in Paris may require a compass. Or a Pierre with Vietnamese heritage. This place - a pagoda-lined pedestrian street lined with residential high-rises - looks more like Mars than Paris. Just before you open the door, however, you can smell that you’re in the right place.
It’s all in the broth. Good pho broth bubbles away all night, pulling flavor from a giant pot of goodness that usually includes beef, bones, ginger, charred onion, star anise and lemongrass. There are scores of variations including vegetarian, chicken and seafood versions. I could have imagined a version of this one - clear, clean and complex as any wine - as part of a recent meal at El Bulli. (!)
In Paris, I’m a regular at Belleville’s Dong Huong, where they make a very respectable bowl, but until today, I’d forgotten the magic that made me fall in love with pho in the first place.
While the star is the soup, the whole meal is fantastic. Consistently good plates like a Vietnamese crepe with mushrooms and marinated pork, fresh nem, pork ribs and marinated, grilled pork strips, all play with flavor and texture - even at dessert. Nothing misses the mark.
At less than 20€ for a royal feast and a drink, this is one of the best-priced meals in Paris.
Restaurant Quan Ngon MAP
63 rue Javelot
+33 1 44 24 35 59
When I die, I’m sending friends to scatter my ashes in a couple of my favorite places around the world. Barcelona’s La Boqueria food market will be one of those spots.
I’ve said it before: I’d trade a meal at the market’s Pinotxo food ‘kiosk’ for many a three-star meal in a heartbeat. The world hums at a happier frequency whenever I’m there.
That said, I’ll make sure they keep my ashes on Pinotxo’s side of the market when the time comes.
We checked out Kiosko Universal a while back and though it felt a bit like I was dining with the enemy, a friend had sung its praises and I wanted to see for myself.
One of the wonderful things about the kiosks is how it’s all there for you to see. You sit at the bar and watch the cooks cook up the best the market has to offer. Look left - there’s someone selling fish! Look right - there’s someone cooking fish! There’s flash and bang and life everywhere and there you are in the middle of it all with a glass of Cava to celebrate. If you can’t draw inspiration from a space like this, check your pulse.
You also see when it all goes wrong.
At Kiosko Universal, we ordered Cava and immediately watched somebody’s fresh-cooked lunch get cold on the counter for five minutes before being delivered once a cook finally remembered it. Then we watched a cook work on our mushrooms by sautéing a big batch in a wok. It’s a great idea: blast something fresh with heat and serve it up quick, but there simple rules to sautéing that should be observed, most notably, as a chef once barked at me, “Hot pan. Hot oil.” Heat the pan, then heat the oil and then (and only then) add whatever you’re cooking. Flub up and need more oil? Send a trickle down the side of the pan so it heats up before it hits your food.
Cold oil on cold product leads to mush.
Here, however, we watch the cook pour an extra dose of cooking oil right on the mushrooms.
The cook looks bad, the chef looks worse and we lose our appetite…
…almost. We repent with coffee and dessert at Pinotxo.
Count on about 10-20 euros.
Kiosko Universal - MAP
La Rambla 91
There’s a lot to notice when we arrive at WD-50. The most outstanding is a booth of guys who look like they could be fraternity brothers, yet they’re silent as monks, paying close attention to what they’re eating; the antennae are up, they love the challenge.
You have to be up for the ride. Chef Wylie Dufresne bristles at the thought of preparing anything leaning toward making standard bistro fare for his customers. He’s just not interested.
What would he rather do? Stuff like floating plump scallops and pine needle udon in a bowl of grapefruit dashi. He deconstructs eggs benedict. He chars avocado. (?!?!) Even if his family is in the business you have to wonder how he thinks of this stuff, but when you put bites in your mouth, the combinations and preparations will stand hairs on end and leave you wondering how no one thought of it before.
Daniel Boulud’s kitchen at Daniel has a beautiful wall of spices sourced from around the world while Dufrene’s wall has pectins, starches and syrups. Yet the adjectives Dufresne cuisine inspires are words like ‘clean’ and ‘clear’ – you leave feeling like you’ve eaten a healthy Japanese dinner. His parsnip tart somehow makes me rethink my understanding of the vegetable. Parsnips!
Some argue the validity of this type of experimental cuisine - they should eat here to join the converted.
Finally, all hail Dufresne for having the confidence to keep and highlight the work of pastry chef Alex Stupak. Instead of a clash of egos (that would usually lead to the latter getting dumped), you just sit there and say ‘wow’ all meal long.
Full disclosure: I ate at the restaurant while working on an upcoming story about Dufresne and his collaboration with chef Daniel Boulud. That said, Dufresne didn’t realize we were in the restaurant for dinner until dessert was over and the check was paid.
Our gang watched late-summer jazz in Madison Square Park, but eyes rolled when we saw the line at the Shake Shack. It snaked hundreds of feet from the order window out through the park gates.
“What about the secret burger place?” said Maria.
We all stared and she smiled and dragged her toe in the dirt like she might not share her secret. It was rather sexy.
We got her to spill the beans and six of us bolted uptown by bike and subway to the … Parker Meridien. A burger joint in one of the city’s fanciest hotels? Hard to figure.
The lobby was everything you’d expect: high ceilings, artwork and fancy bars and restaurants … but it smelled like burgers.
Sure enough. A David Lynch-esque floor-to-ceiling curtain juts out into the lobby concealing the secret space. Approach and you’ll notice a skinny corridor with a neon-sign hamburger and a right-pointing arrow at the end.
Inside, it’s night and day; the space looks like a cross between Arnold’s Drive-In from “Happy Days” and my fraternity house basement. The burgers are great -you get to choose the cooking temperature and usually, you can elbow your way to a just-opened table right when they call your order number.
A good burger joint in one of the city’s fanciest hotels. Go figure.
Count on around $15-20.
Burger Joint – MAP
119 W 56th St
New York, NY