Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Day's tribute: Momofuku Noodle Bar and Ssam Bar

To be fair, there are lots of great places serving superb food in Hong Kong (especially as far as noodles), so I don't mean to act blase or sort of complain about my present condition. However, I really miss Momofuku's ramen a lot (dashi, berkshire pork, ramen and poached egg make for such a wonderful combination). But, first and foremost, I miss the pork buns: so delicious that even the best cha siu bao cannot compete with them (native HKers are going to hate me for such a statement but it's just the plain truth after all).

I've already had the opportunity to expand on the above dishes and Noodle Bar in a previous post last year but I take the opportunity of this July 4th to pay a tribute to my 2 favorite restaurants in New York. I also wanted to share the vivid memory I keep of the first dinner I had at Ssam Bar when it was not yet on the foodie's radar screen as it is now. I was blown away by the veal head terrine (one of the best, if not the best, I've ever had), Ssam Bar's take on the Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwich containing 3 terrines/pates), the simple yet fabulous sweetbreads (just grilled and served with a little sea salt on the top and a wedge of lemon for quick squeeze) and a dish of uni/tapioca/whipped tofu that I still consider one of my greatest food experience ever.

In a sense, I think I also miss Momofuku Noodle Bar and Ssam Bar because, in my opinion, they represent the best New York's restaurant scene can (from time to time) churn out: great and unpretentious restaurants with (deceptively) simple food beautifully executed, gently priced with a no-reservation (thus democratic) policy. I also love the so-American success story aspect to it where a man makes it although the odds are stacked against him, at least initially.

Of course, since David Chang, the chef-owner at the helm of the Momofuku franchise, has been hugely successful (although still insecure as depicted in the sublime New Yorker's profile) and received prestigious awards, one might argue those places have lost their "underground" touch. But frankly, who cares as long as standards remain uncompromising and food stays consistently delicious. I wish I could have also tried Ko or the Milk Bar before leaving NY a few months ago. Next time maybe. In the meantime, I'll continue to miss you Lucky Peach.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

La Cachette getting its first star in the upcoming Michelin Guide France 2009? (Yes, they did it!)

The above-picture was taken at La Cachette in Valence, my home town, a few weeks ago, during a delicious and inexpensive lunch there with my parents (more on this later). The rumor has it that the restaurant and his chef-owner Masashi Ijichi could get a first Michelin star when the 2009 guide for France is released this coming Monday. It would be well-deserved. Flaveurs, also located in Valence, is also expected to be awarded a star. I haven't tried this one but it is on my radar screen for my next trip in December. Overall, it would bring Valence to a total of 5 stars (Pic having already 3). Not bad for a 65,000-people city...

Update (June 2009): La Cachette was actually awarded a Michelin star by the Red Guide in 2009. I'm also uploading below the pictures of the lunch I had there earlier this year. At 26 EUR, the lunch menu is a steal (the others are fairly affordable as well). Not to be missed if you stop by Valence some day.

La Cachette
16 rue des Cevennes
26000 Valence, France
Tel: (33) 4 75 55 24 13

Sunday, February 8, 2009

L'As du Falafel, Paris

If you stop by le Marais, forget about all the addresses you might have read / heard about or all the overpriced and overrated brunches that abound in the neighbourhood. Just stop by l'As du Falafel, order a falafel sandwich to go and enjoy it with your friends standing in the middle of the street (remember the way you did it back in the days when you were in college) and watching the restaurant's hawkers joking and taking the orders of the soon-to-be-dazzled customers.

Falafel is a fava or chickpea fritter. It is served at l'As in a pita bread stuffed with a crunchy cabbage salad, fried eggplants and hummus. I like it with "sauce blanche" or white sauce (made from tahini or sesame paste). Although my pictures, taken with my BlackBerry camera, do not do it justice entirely, the falafel is superb, i.e. crunchy on the outside and smooth inside, and the toppings make it even better.

As is the case with all things delicious, it takes some patience before getting the coveted sandwich as you might have to stand in line for long minutes. But this is worth every bit of your time as it is one of the best fast food / quick bite experience you might have in Paris (and beyond) and certainly a great bang for the buck at 5 EUR. As their sign rightly says: "Often imitated but never equalled".

L'As du Falafel
34 rue des rosiers
75004 Paris

Friday, January 16, 2009

US triple tariffs on Roquefort cheese

(Picture from Wikimedia Commons)

I've just read that on Reuters. Come on. You can't be serious. What's the point of doing that? Punishing the French for not importing US beef. It's not even going to work (we can be so stubborn you can't even imagine). And Roquefort is such a delicious cheese. The result will be that only rich people will afford it. So unfair. The guys making these decisions must have been raised eating tasteless hormone-fed meat...Poor ignorant people.

For those of you who have never had the opportunity to taste it, Roquefort is a blue cheese, also known as the king of cheeses, made since the eleventh century with ewe's milk in Southwestern France. To the amazement of my parents, I used to eat loads of it when I was a young kid (I've become much more reasonable since then for obvious breath-related reasons). I've tasted great blue cheese in the US too but nothing really coming close to Roquefort's (strong) flavors.

Anyway, I kind of like this conclusion by Jose Bove, the anti-globalization activist who also happens to be a Roquefort cheese producer : "Europeans will have to eat more Roquefort cheese to make up for the loss". Better start right away man...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Cafe des Federations, Lyon

As promised in a previous post, more on my last trip from a few months ago to Lyon. Just so you know, I'm not exactly from Lyon. I'm from Valence, a much smaller city 100 kms south of Lyon, which also happens to be the hometown of 2 contemporary great chefs. So for me, Lyon is synonymous of day trips. When I was a kid, we used to drive from Valence (and later from Vienne, home of Fernand Point's La Pyramide) for the day and every time, in addition to visiting the city, we would try a new bouchon (the lyonnaise version of a bistro), which was for me the highlight of the trip. Visiting FNAC, a department store specialized in consumer electronics which at the time had only a presence there and in Paris, was a close second though. Later, I was also lucky enough to spend two fabulous years there in business school and have great meals (while also making lifelong friends) often following the recommendations of Le Petit Paume, a restaurant guide published by students of my school.

However, one restaurant I had heard a lot about from my father but never had a chance to try was Le Cafe des Federations. My father had even offered me an apron bearing the name of the restaurant as well as a pig head as a hint we should go there sometime.

Cafe des Federations was founded in the beginning of the twentieth century and is now owned by Yves Rivoiron. It's the typical Lyonnais Bouchon with its old-style decor, the famous checkered red and white table cloths, a zinc (or counter where you stand to have a drink) and sausages hanging from the ceiling.

Food is pure Lyonnaise with no long, fancy and complicated menu but a 19.5 EUR prix-fixe with an appetizer, an entree (chosen among 9 traditional dishes) and a dessert. And food is quite superb given the very low price (that did not include the pot of refreshing Morgon we had also ordered though).

The appetizers were excellent pig sausages (rosette or saucisson) as well as very good caviar de la croix rousse (lentil salad), named after the Lyon neighborhood where it originated and excellent cabbage/herring salad. Then each of our table's guests had a different entree: the poulet au vinaigre (Chicken with vinegar), the joues de porc bourguignonnes (pork jowl with a red wine sauce), the tete de veau sauce ravigote (calf's head with an herb/capers/shallot/egg veloute sauce) and, for me, a quenelle de brochet sauce nantua (pike quenelle with a creamy crayfish sauce). Every entree was perfectly executed and delicious. As were the desserts (especially the tarte aux pralines roses) and the cervelle de canut (fromage blanc with shallots and fine herbs).

As far as the service, it is quite efficient but the waitresses tend to push the enveloppe in terms of humor, hazing and making fun of the clients. There is nothing mean behind their long-rehearsed retorts, the intent being to create a family atmosphere. But, for some people, I suppose it can be just too much. However, given the bargain offered by the lunch menu I guess it's worth a little pain, isn't it?

Cafe des Federations
8-10 rue Major Martin
69001 Lyon
(33) 04 78 28 26 00

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Charcuterie Bonnard, Lyon

It's not that I'm obsessed with charcuterie today although I might actually be...But I've just found these pictures I had taken at charcuterie Bonnard during a trip to Lyon last year. The shop is owned by Jean-Michel and Francoise Barbier. And the funny thing that I've just learnt is that Francoise Barbier is Gilles Verot's sister (see my post on Bar Boulud). Charcuterie's world is a small one.

This is an amazing shop that sells some of the best charcuterie in Lyon. The cervelas pistache truffe and Saint-Marcellin that we bought there were delicious. Cervelas is a Lyonnais sausage (in that case with truffles and pistachios) that you boil and then can eat with potatoes (boiled or mashed). Saint-Marcellin is a cow-milk cheese (fantastic when it is well done). More on this trip to Lyon in an upcoming post.

Charcuterie Bonnard
36 rue grenette
69002 Lyon

Bar Boulud, New York

When Bar Boulud opened last year, I was disappointed. Not so much by the food (more on this below) but by the slow service and the behavior of the hostesses that kept you waiting for long minutes event though you had a reservation. But this got fixed and I must say I now derive a great pleasure from each of my visits.

The name might not ring a bell to you but one of Boulud's partners in this venture is Gilles Verot, whose charcuterie shops are among the finest in Paris and France. Gilles Verot has sent one his most trusted man, Sylvain Gasdon, to Bar Boulud to act as chef charcutier. And the results are outstanding. The award-winning fromage de tete (head cheese terrine) is simply divine. So are the pates that stand among the best I've ever had. The smooth and melting boudin blanc is also sublime while the truffle mashed potatoes coming with it are just perfect. I also strongly recommend the gateau basque in the dessert sections.

The rest of the menu is less impressive but, at the exception of the salmon dishes maybe, rather good (especially the croque monsieur/madame and the pappardelle with lamb ragu). And, not least, the quality is consistent from one visit to the other, which was already Boulud's trademark at Daniel, Cafe Boulud and DB Bistro Moderne.

In an nutshell, Bar Boulud is THE place in New York for great charcuterie. I know it is also supposed to be a wine bar but I haven't had a chance to drink too much there recently. In any event, the wine selection is large and interesting although wine by the glass does not offer a good bang for the buck in my opinion. Overall, although they are not unreasonable for New York, and in particular for a Boulud restaurant, prices are not cheap either. So I would suggest you pay Bar Boulud a visit for brunch on Sunday around 2pm. The waiters will be available and nice and you will pay only USD 29 for an appetizer and an entree (USD 38 if you add a dessert). And that, my friend foodie, is a great deal for phenomenal charcuterie.

Bar Boulud
1900 Broadway (64th Street)