Food Report: Paris 9 – March 2009

On a recent trip to Paris, we based ourselves in the 9th arrondissement, which is a lively area just north of the Grands Boulevards. There was no shortage of restaurants in the area, so we decided to do our eating there. Officially we were being vegetarian for Lent but seeing as it was St. Patrick’s weekend and we were in Paris, we decided to let ourselves fall off the wagon, so to speak.

Le 7eme Sens, 7 rue Cadet, 75009 Paris

This small restaurant was around the corner from our hotel and seemed to be run by a family team. The food was good, although service was a little slow to start. For starters we had deep fried goats cheese in filo pastry and a pork terrine. I liked the terrine but Anna wasn’t crazy on the cheese. My main was a rabbit casserole and Anna had a sea bass filet. We had cheese and creme brulee, washed down by two espressos, to finish. The price including two glasses of champagne and a bottle of Cahors red wine came to €93.

Les Diables au Thym, 35 rue Bergere, 75009 Paris

This was a more upmarket restaurant than on the previous night but was fairly empty for a Saturday night. One of the nice things about France is the lack of any issue in eating veal, which featured heavily on the menu here. After perusing the menu over a couple of flutes of champagne, we decided to start with a crab terrine and the classic Tete de Veau with sauce gribiche. Neither were particularly memorable, but at least after years of wondering what Tete de Veau, or calf’s head, tastes like, I now know not to bother ordering it again.

The main courses were veal liver and Quasi de Veau, which seems to be a lean cut from the hind quarter. Both were good although, I would have preferred the liver a little moister. It seemed to have been poached and then seared. While it was very tender and tasty, it was also a little on the dry side, which ironically is often a side effect of poaching meat. The desserts were frozen lemon with ice cream and rum baba. The latter was exceptional. We finished off with two espressos.

The wine was a somewhat extravagant €44 for a nice bottle of Savigny. The total bill came to €146, which is a little more like the prices we’re used to in Dublin. While the meal was still better value than at home, it was far and away the most expensive, but not most memorable, meal of the weekend.

L’Orient D’Or, 22 rue de Trevise, 75009 Paris

At home we tend to eat out on Sunday evenings, rather than on Saturday: there’s more freedom to choose at short notice. We often choose ethnic restaurants for these meals. So although in Paris, why break an old habit? Not having any definite restaurant in mind, we ended up in the L’Orient D’Or on the corner opposite the famous Folies Bergere. This was a Chinese restaurant specialising in the Hunan Xiang style. The place was packed and most promisingly we were practically the only non-Chinese there.

I have spent quite a lot of time in China but am not too familiar with Hunan cooking, except knowing that it is la or spicy. We were offered some advice from our neighbour and ended up choosing jaozi dumplings, stir-fried Chinese cabbage with lots of chillies, aubergine and eel, both of which were prepared in the Xiang style. The food was excellent and along with a couple of big bottles of Tsingtao beer, the bill came to €53.

Chartier, 7 rue du Faubourg Montmartre, Paris 75009

Instead of having our usual extravagant going home lunch at Atelier Joel Robouchon we decided it was time to revisit the incomparable but incredibly cheap Chartier. Now, you shouldn’t go to Chartier expecting haute cuisine: it offers bistro classics, in a great space, and with a great atmosphere. You can’t be too precious here, as you’ll be seated wherever there’s room and will often share a table with complete strangers. This restaurant does not take bookings and is so popular that there’s nearly always a queue to get in.

We started with a celeriac salad and some prawns served with mayonnaise. Anna found the salad a little heavy but the prawns were simple and good. Mains were quenelles of pike and andouillete sausage. The quenelles didn’t contain too much pike but the andouillete was excellent. Dessert were the bistro classics iles flottant and coupe Mont Blanc. We finished with two espressos.

Along with a half litre of house wine the bill came to the grand total of €43. And we were also treated to a stand-up row between two of the waiting staff. Unbeatable!

Food Report: Bentley’s Dublin – Autumn 2008, Spring 2009

In summer 2008, I went to Browne’s on St Stephen’s Green to book dinner for a special occasion, only to discover that it was closed and due to reopen shortly as Bentley’s under the stewardship of Richard Corrigan. While slightly inconvenienced at having to look a little further for a dinner venue, I was nonetheless very excited about the prospects of a Richard Corrigan restaurant in Dublin. Needless to say the place was jammed for a few months, so we put off trying to get a table until later in the year.

Our first visit was late in 2008. I’m ashamed to say that I can’t remember everything we had that evening, as encycloFEEDIA.com wasn’t even a glint in my eye at that stage and correspondingly I forgot to keep the receipt. However, I do know when we arrived a few minutes early, we we brought upstairs to the club-like Aviator’s Lounge for a cocktail until our table became free. My Martini with oyster liquor was very tasty. Starters were a mixed plate of oysters and stuffed baby squid, both of which were excellent. Mains were fish pie and Dover sole. The fish pie came with a small bottle of green Tabasco, without which it tasted of nothing at all. However, with a few splashes of said sauce, it tasted good, but surely that should be taken care in the kitchen. The Dover sole was tasty but overdone: quite unforgivable at nearly €50. I can’t remember what wine we had, but overall we were satisfied enough to give the restaurant a second try.

Our second visit came at the end of March this year. This time there were thee of us. It was a Sunday evening, but the place was buzzing. Looking at the menu, I got the impression that prices had gone up by a euro or so for many dishes, but I couldn’t be 100% sure, as I no longer have the receipt from the previous visit. However, one thing is certain: several prices have gone up again in intervening period. This seems very strange at a time when other restaurants are dropping prices. I found it particularly hard to find any reasonably priced wine and ended up paying €18.00 for 250ml Albariño and €18.50 for 250ml Cahor, with €13.75 for another glass. These wines were nothing special, which makes the prices all the more scandalous.

Starters were 9 Carlingford Oysters at €15.50, Stuffed Baby Squid at €11.95 and Chicken Liver Parfait at €12.00. The squid was easily the best of these; the oysters were good; and the parfait was deemed ‘alright’. Mains were Bourride of Fish at €25.50, and Salmon Fishcakes twice at €16.75, as well as sides of chips and mixed greens at €4.90 each. The Bourride was very disappointing and not at all like a bourride. It was also very small for the price. The fishcakes had the opposite problem: there was too much. It would have been much better to serve just one each and add some chips or other side. On top of that they were dry, bland and had a suspiciously crunchy breadcrumb coating. For dessert we had the Tart of the Day and some cheese. The cheese was quite good. Finishing off with some tea at €3.50 a cup and espresso at €3.20, the bill came to €220.95, which already included a 12.5% service charge.

We felt ripped off and that the restaurant was living off the repuation of Richard Corrigan. The food was nothing special and for some dishes quite overpriced. Wine prices were extortionate. We had a follow-up issue that was not handled well and I may describe this in a future post.

We will not be back, which is a shame given the restaurant’s location and potential.

Tortilla

Tortilla

Tortilla, or Spanish omelette, is a staple in any decent tapas bar. The egg and potato mix flavoured with the sweet onions is one of my favourite foods. As so often, the simple things are best. There is a little bit of work involved but effort is worth it and the omelette can be kept for several days in the fridge, if you can resist the temptation to scoff it all in one sitting. Practically every Spaniard will have an opinion on how to make the perfect tortilla. Opinon is split on the role of the onions. Some use only the onion-flavoured oil: others incorporate the onions in the omelette. I fall into the latter camp. The Spanish say floury potatoes are best but I can only assume they have something very different in mind when they say floury than we Irish do. I find any potato that would boil on the dry side suitable and most often use a variety such as Exquisa, which are also small. The amount of potato might seem excessive, but as long as they fit in the pan that’s OK: the egg really serves to bind everthing together.

Summary

Makes: 6 tapas portions
Preparation: 10mins
Cooking: 20mins + 10mins + 10mins

Ingredients

50ml
2
500g
4
Good olive oil
Onions
Potatoes
Eggs
Salt
Pepper
Sunflower oil for deep frying

Method

Half the peeled onions lengthways and then slice quite thinly and evenly. Put the olive oil to heat over a medium ring. When the oil is hot, add the onions and cook until golden, stirring every now and then. Don’t let them burn. When ready separate the onions from the oil using a sieve and reserve the oil. Next on to the potatoes. Depending on your potatoes you may need to peel them. Then cut into small pieces about the size of the end of your thumb and about 5mm thick. Deep fry the potato pieces at a medium temperature (about 140ºC), lifting them out just as they start to turn golden along the edges. Don’t turn them into French fries! Remove the excess oil with some kitchen paper.

We’re now ready to make the tortilla. The amounts in this recipe are intended for a 20cm frying pan, which should be heavy-based and well seasoned or non-stick. If you use a 25cm pan you’ll need to add 50% to all the ingredients. You have to get the pan quite hot to start and then reduce the heat. This can be tricky if you have an electric hob, so it’s probably easiest to use two rings, one hot, one low to medium. The tortilla also needs to be turned during cooking and you will need a flat plate comfortably bigger than pan for this. It pays to be organised for this dish.

Crack the eggs into a clean bowl. Add the potatoes and onions, if using, along with salt and pepper. Mix well using a fork. Place the pan on the hotter ring and add enough of the reserved olive oil to coat the pan. When the pan is hot, mix the eggs again with the fork and tip into the pan. Move the pan to the low ring. After 3 or 4 minutes the underside should be cooked nicely. Take a peek and it should be golden. The top will still be a little runny. The tortilla is now ready to be turned. This is the only tricky part of the dish. Keep your strong hand for the pan. Place the plate upside down on the pan, with the rim of the plate near where the handle joins the pan. Hold the pan with your strong hand and press gently but firmly on the plate. Lift the pan up from the stove. Now, in one quick movement turn the assembly upside down and lift away the pan. The tortilla should now be sitting on the plate along with a little uncooked egg mixture.

Wipe out the pan and return to the hotter ring, adding enough oil to coat. When hot, slide the tortilla from the plate back into the pan, letting the uncooked egg in first. Move the pan to the low ring and let the tortilla finish cooking. Wipe the dinner plate clean and turn out the finished tortilla as before. Tortilla tastes best when eaten at room temperature.

Chou Farci (sort of!)

Chou Farci

This dish, made with the humblest of ingredients, is quite simply fantastic. Synergy is sometimes considered to be the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. If so, this dish has it in spades. It contains nothing more than green cabbage, plain sausage meat, a little butter and the smallest amounts of salt and pepper, but is one of the tastiest things you’ll ever encounter. The Swedes have something similar with Kålpudding, but it is an altogether coarser affair. I found this recipe in Tamasin Day Lewis’ Good Tempered Food, where she reports to have found it in a Jane Grigson book. We cook it on a regular basis and each time immediately look forward to the next time.

The name I have given here may be a little misleading as it implies stuffed cabbage. Although you could make it this way, this recipe is more like a lasagna. It is best to use lightly seasoned sausage meat (with at least 70% meat content) as the flavour is concentrated during the cooking and more heavily spiced mixes will completely dominate the dish.

Summary

Makes: 4 portions
Preparation: 20mins
Cooking: 2 hours

Ingredients

1 Head
400g
25g
Green cabbage (eg savoy)
Good sausage meat
Butter
Salt
Pepper

Method

Peel the leaves from the cabbage as far as you can. You may need to discard the outer leaves as they can be tough. Cut out the central stalk. Towards the core, it can be a bit fiddly, so just do the best you can. Wash the leaves thoroughly. Pour about 5cm of water into a large pot, salt lightly and bring to the boil. Add the cabbage, put the lid on and cook for 3 minutes. Drain, refresh and squeeze out any excess water.

If starting with sausages, slit the skins and press out the meat. Butter a casserole dish. We are now ready to assemble the dish. There will be 3 sausage meat layers and 4 cabbage layers. Try to keep the bigger, darker leaves for the top layer. Place some of the smaller leaves on the bottom to form a cushion to lift the meat off the bottom of the dish. Take one third of the sausage meat and spread it evenly over the cabbage. If you want, you can now very sparingly sprinkle a little salt and pepper. However, my advice would be to cook the dish once without doing this so you can get an idea of the flavour from your sausage meat. If necessary, next time you can season judiciously. Put a new layer of cabbage and then sausage meat until the sausage meat is used up. Finish with a layer of cabbage using the big, dark leaves. Dot some butter evenly around the top, place some greaseproof paper right on top to seal in the steam and put on a good fiiting lid. Place in an oven preheated to 150ºC and wait for 2 hours. The time isn’t too critical: I’ve eaten it plenty of times after 1½ hours.

Serve with cranberry sauce and plain boiled potatoes.