Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Hong Kong: My Favorite (Food) Things

You think your are passionate about food, obsessed about it, that your life is centered around it? Maybe you should think twice. A visit to Hong Kong (or Singapore but this is another story) may shake these deep-rooted beliefs of yours. People over there eat all the time and seem to consistently derive huge pleasure and fun from it.

In that context, as you can expect, we had fabulous food. We were also lucky enough to have our friends Grace and Jason, both born and raised in Hong Kong but living in New York, to take us to places we would have never been to otherwise. In any event, if you go there, venture out of the beaten paths (I mean, avoid your hotel room service as well as the western restaurant around the corner) and:

-Indulge in dim sum (every day and lots of them) in a tea house or places such as City Hall Maxim's Palace and Ming's Court in Mong Kok (where the pig trotters, among other things, were amazing, so much so that I did not take any picture). Conversely, I was slightly disappointed by the dim sum at Victoria City despite the buzz around that place.

-Drink tea (and not beer) with your dim sum (because "yum cha" or "drink tea" in Cantonese is the name of this meal). And be careful to always mix it with hot water (hence the two pots on your table) unless you don't want to be able to sleep at night (and recover from the exhausting jet lag...).

-Try roasted goose and barbecue pork (had a good one the first night...and once again had forgotten my camera). But avoid the tourist-laden Yung Kee where the goose came tepid at first (too bad because it tasted great and the skin was perfectly crispy) and overcooked after being reheated (in a microwave?). You may be better off following in Anthony Bourdain's footsteps and go to Tai Po (New Territories) where he had some kind of epiphany eating the coveted bird.

-Eat fish (and crab, abalone, prawn as well as any other kind of sea food you may like) in Sai Kung (New Territories). It doesn't get any better and fresher than this. Simply cooked but delicious. While there are many restaurants serving seafood on the waterfront, I suggest you try Tung Kee where we had a wonderful and rather cheap lunch.

-Walk the streets and their markets (Ladies Market in Mong Kong, Night Market at Temple Street in Yau Ma Tei, Fish Markets in Tai O and Sai Kung, ...). You will definitely come across other tourists (who said it was perfect?) but also get a better sense of local life (and smells).

-Go to eateries where they serve breakfasts of champions such as the Chinese version of French Toast (with a looooot of butter) and various soups. And although you may feel the urge to enter, never set foot into a Starbucks. Have local iced coffee instead.

-Eat in dai pai dong (outdoor food stalls) or, if your are less adventurous, step into a small restaurant where comfort food, such as the sublime stewed beef brisket noodle soup we had in North Point, will delight you.

-Snack on jerky sold at Bee Cheng Hiang.

-Trust your instincts (if it looks good, it is certainly even better than you might imagine and you should taste it).

Finally, do some (even a lot of) shopping (apparently a close second to food as far as people's interests are concerned), enjoy the sights of the skyline from Kowloon, drown into the sounds and bustling activity of the city, take the subway and also the ferry (just to make sure, my New Yorker friend, you never again tell me that your city's infrastructures are the best in the world) and just enjoy that wonderful city which is also one of my favorites.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Menu for Hope 4

In addition of being the opportunity to share quality time, gifts and good food with our loved ones, this time of year should also be the occasion to think about those to whom, in the words of Pim, "food is not a mere indulgence but a matter of survival".

Menu for hope is an annual fundraising event inititated by the above-mentioned Pim, from the Chez Pim food blog, five years ago, in the wake of the devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia, in order to help support the UN World food programme. This year, the funds raised will be earmarked for the school lunch programme in Lesotho.

To participate and donate, click on the above picture and buy as many USD 10 raffle tickets as you can. There are great prizes to win such as a tour of Ferran Adria's laboratory in Barcelona, a lunch with Harold McGee or early proofs of Grant Achatz' upcoming book. So, don't wait any longer and join us in winning the fight against hunger.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Eating Hong Kong and Singapore

Eating Hong Kong

I'm currently in Asia on a well-deserved vacation. More on this trip and, of course, the food when I'm back home.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Tarte au citron

Tarte au Citron

You may not know it, since it has become so ubiquitous in bistrots around the world, but lemon tart is a typical Nicois dish. In Nicois dialect, it is called tourta de limoun and is usually made with lemons from Menton (you remember the place where I had a fantastic lunch at Mirazur? It's there and Mauro Colagreco, by the way, is lucky enough to have in his restaurant backyard a beautiful garden with lemon trees).

Lemons have been cultivated in the region since Ancient times and thrive thanks to the forgiving climate. The fruit is believed to have been imported by the Greeks after they founded the city of Nice around 350 BC.

But let's get back to the recipe. There are many ways to prepare this dessert but Thomas Keller's recipe is in my opinion the best as it produces a particularly light result. In addition, the pine nut crust tastes sweeter and its crumbly texture is less filling than a traditional pate sucree. Instead of Menton lemons that are not available in the US, I adopted a more American approach by using Meyer lemons. Feel free to use local citrus if you can.

Pine nut crust (makes dough for 3 tarts):

2 cups pine nuts
1/3 cup sugar
3 cups flour
8 ounces butter at room temperature
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

Place the pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until pureed. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix by hand or with a food processor. Divide the dough into 3 equal parts. Keep one and freeze the other two after wrapping them in plastic paper.

Lemon tart (serves 6):

1/3 pine nut crust
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
3 ounces cold butter cut into 6 pieces

Preheat the oven at 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9-inch flutted tart pan with a removable bottom (I use a 12-inch but you may prefer a thicker dough). Bake the crust for 20-30 minutes until golden brown.

Prepare the sabayon while the crust is cooling. Mix the eggs, yolks and sugar in a bowl until this mixture is smooth. Set the bowl above a pot of boiling water. Whisk the mixture until thickened. Add 1/3 of the lemon juice. Whisk until thick. Add another 1/3 of lemon juice. Whisk until thick. Add the remaining lemon juice and whisk until thick again.

Turn off the heat and whisk the butter in the sabayon one piece at a time. Pour the sabayon into the crust. Place the pan under the broiler until brown.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Omelette jambon-fromage

Omelette Jambon Fromage

Believe it or not but I was not a great fan of omelettes (or mushrooms by the way) until my mid-twenties (oh yeah, I'm that old!). Hence my frustration as a kid when we would come down from mushroom hunting sessions on Sunday nights which were also the occasion for my parents and their friends to indulge on mushroom omelette. I still feel the same when people around me moan in appreciation while eating oysters, which I've tried repeatedly over the years but cannot come to genuinely enjoy.

However, the rise of Sunday brunch in France over the last decade (and the diversified egg dishes that came with it) as well as the fantastic eggs benedict served in the US, that I discovered 10 years ago during my first stay in Chicago, changed my taste forever. I've become an egg maniac and I like to prepare them multiple ways as you may have noticed over the last 3 posts. The following recipe is directly inspired from the snack section of the fantastic Alain Ducasse's Grand Livre de Cuisine Bistrots, Brasserie et Restaurants de tradition that I've been using intensively over the last couple of years.

It goes without saying that, beyond a little technique (you are supposed to flip the pan to half-roll the omelette on itself), the success of this simple recipe mostly relies on the quality of the ingredients. So don't be cheap, buy the best eggs, cheese and ham you can find. It's worth it.

Omelette Jambon Fromage_2

Ingredients (serves 2)

5 large eggs
80 g (3 oz) grated Comte cheese (gruyere also works fine)
1 large and thick enough slice of boiled ham
1 tbsp olive oil

1. Break the eggs into a mixing bowl and beat them with a fork. Don't overbeat. Add 2 pinches of salt and a little pepper.
2. Cut the slice of ham into 1/2-inch dices and add to the eggs mixture.
3. Heat the oil over medium heat in a non-stick pan. Add the egg mixture. When the center has started coagulating, spread the cheese over the omelette. Make sure to lift the sides of the omelette regularly so it does not stick to the pan.
4. Roll the omelette on itself. Try not to overcook so it remains creamy or even "baveux" if that's the way you like it.
5. Serve as shown on the pictures.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Crique ardechoise et frisee

Crique Ardechoise

Not sure I have already mentioned this but my mother is from Ardeche, a French departement located on the left bank of the Rhone. It is surrounded by Isere, Gard, Drome (where I was born), Loire, Haute-Loire, Lozere and Vaucluse departements and thus constitutes a sort of frontier that separates North and South of France. It is also a very interesting and varied region especially as far as food is concerned. I used to spend quite a few week ends every year at my grandparents there when I was a kid. Playing among the chestnut trees and discovering the pleasure to eat raspberries and blackberries from the bush were among the activities that kept my cousins and myself busy for whole days.

Criques would be a specialty originating from Ardeche. I say "would" because some attribute the recipe to Provence or Auvergne cooks. No matter where it comes from, this peasant recipe is another illustration of how to turn simple ingredients into a wonderful and satisfying dish.

It is the dish my grandmother used to cook for me every time I would visit her (herbs beignets were also another favorite). It is also that dish, served with frisee, that would greet me more often than not on Saturdays when I came back from school. Needless to say that it holds a particular place in my culinary memories. But before you throw yourself into testing that recipe, a last piece of advice: be generous with garlic and anchovies since they will give a special twist and distinctive Southern French character to the recipe.

Crique Ardechoise_2

Ingredients (serves 2):
3 large potatoes
5 garlic cloves
2 tbsp parsley
1 large egg
1 tbsp olive oil
Sea Salt (2 pinches)
Black Pepper

1 small frisee
5 anchovies
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp jerez vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

1. Peel the potatoes and grate them (I use the thin grid of a hand-grater but you can obviously use a food processor).
2. Mix the grated potatoes with the egg, finely chopped garlic, parsley, salt and pepper. Using a fine sieve, get rid of the excess liquid contained in the mixture. You want to obtain an almost dry blend.
3. Heat the oil in a non-stick pan. Spread the potato mixture in the pan like a pancake and cook on medium heat until slightly brown and crispy on the bottom. Don't forget to lift the crique's sides all along the process so it doesn't stick. Flip and cook on the other side until done.
4. Prepare a vinaigrette mixing olive oil, vinegar, anchovies, salt and pepper. My mother even adds garlic to the mix but as there is already quite a bit of it in the crique, you may not want to have too much of a good thing, right?
5. Blend the frisee and the vinaigrette (use your hands to do so and the result will be even better) just before serving the salad and half of the crique on each plate.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Tortilla de patatas my way

Tortilla de Patatas

Whether you call it tortilla, omelette or frittata, this egg-dish is ubiquitous across Mediterranean countries and is the staple food for snacks, get-togethers with friends either at home or in a bar. Some like it warm, other prefer to have it cold. I like it both ways. It is also delicious between two slices of baguette in a sandwich.

You can also prepare it with zucchini or mushrooms among many other ingredients. The version presented here is made with potatoes. You may also want to add chorizo or bacon as it will bring a smoky note that goes so well with eggs and potatoes. Since I had neither of them, I replaced chorizo by Pimenton de la Vera, the Spanish take on smoky paprika that gives its characteristic taste and flavor to chorizo.

You may have heard about the French's love for "baveuses" (slimy may be the closest translation) omelettes. However, the following recipe features a more "solid" texture that calls for a little bit more cooking time and eggs beaten slightly longer. I think "baveuse" texture is better suited to plain or cheese/ham omelettes. But ultimately, it's up to you and your taste buds.

This simple dish is the ideal companion of Sundays' brunches. Accompanied by a slice of ham (Prosciutto di San Daniele, Jamon Iberico de Bellota or local) and a glass of good red wine, life doesn't get any better than this.

Tortilla de Patatas_2

Ingredients (serves 2-3):

7 large eggs
2 medium potatoes
1 shallot
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp Pimenton
1/2 tsp Piment d'Espelette
4 pinches sea salt

1. Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1/2 inch dices.
2. Heat the oil in a non-stick pan. Cook the potatoes on medium heat until almost tender (cover them 5 minutes after starting the process. They should not become brown). Season with 2 pinches of salt. Add the shallots and cook until they are soft and the potatoes fully tender.
3. Crack the eggs open into a mixing bowl. Beat them. Add 2 pinches of salt and the piment d'Espelette.
4. Add the egg mixture to the potatoes and shallots. Cook on medium heat until there is almost no liquid remaining on top and the bottom boasts the nice color shown on the above pictures. During that process, make sure to lift the sides of the omelette with a plastic spatula so it does not stick to the pan. Flip it and cook for 5 more minutes or until done on the other side.
5. Serve with sea salt on top.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Chez Fonfon: Pour faire une bonne bouillabaisse...

...Il faut se lever tot le matin (in order to make a good bouillabaisse you have to wake up early). Here goes the song that Fernandel, a French actor and a native of Marseille like the famous fish dish, used to interpret in the 1950's. And we indeed woke up early, not to make a bouillabaisse but to drive from Valence, where my parents live, to Marseille. Once again, I had to honor a promise I made to my wife. I had told her the real bouillabaisse, served in Marseille and its surroundings, was playing in a totally different league than the tasteless dish she had ordered in a Parisian restaurant (which was not a good idea to start with and one I should have discouraged in the first place).

There was only one way to deliver on the high expectations I had triggered: having lunch at Chez Fonfon. Founded 55 years ago, this restaurant is located in one of the most beautiful settings I know of: Vallon des Auffes. It is a small creek under the Corniche Kennedy where lies a little fisherman's port and village. The owners, Alexandre and Peguy Pinna, are the third generation at the helm and haven't changed the formula that has made the success of Fonfon: good food, bouillabaisse in particular, and warm greeting.

As you can suspect, after having pleasant amuses, we ordered the Bouillabaisse du Pecheur (Fisherman's Bouillabaisse). Chez Fonfon's recipe consists of a bouillon (rockfish broth flavored and colored with tomatoes and saffron) and an assortment of 5 types of fish served separately: Saint Pierre (known as John Dory in English), congre (conger-eel), rascasse (scorpion fish), galinette (gurnard) and vive (weever). The result was beautiful and delicious. The bouillon was warm and rich and the addition of croutons topped with aioli (garlic mayonnaise) or rouille (saffron aioli) enhanced the whole thing. The fish, perfectly cooked by the bouillon, tasted so much better than that caught in the Atlantic Ocean. Difficult to believe that this now expansive and luxurious dish used to be the average fisherman's treat. However, at 46 EUR it remains a steal compared to many bad meals I had in other countries / cities for higher price tags.

The view on Vallon des Auffes is certainly a great asset for the restaurant but service is also very nice and efficient. Finally, I had the chance to taste Domaine Tempier's white wine for the first time. And it is to die for. It reminded me of everything I had read on Lulu Peyraud, her cuisine and the domaine itself as well as the guided tour of Marseille she gave Kermit Lynch and that he beautifully recounts in Adventures on the Wine Route.

Chez Fonfon is definitely a good reason to stop in Marseille. As are the sights of the Mediterranean and Frioul archipelago from the Corniche. But there are plenty of other excellent reasons to visit this cosmopolitan and exciting city that you will find out once you are there.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Markets: the soul of Provence

I have always been convinced that, in order to truly understand a foreign culture, you have to speak its language and appreciate its food. But tasting local specialties is certainly only a first step. Enjoying the sight of the best (almost) untouched regional ingredients is a must. And the place where you can fairly easily do that for a wide range of produce, meat, fish or cheese, depending on where your interest lies, is a street market.

In France, not unlike Italy or Spain among many other countries, markets have been at the heart of our culinary tradition for quite a long time (if such an expression can apply to at least 10 centuries). The reason may be that they offer a unique forum where the home-cook, the farmer, the professional chef and of course the produce all interact (a cultural thing all in all). Not so shocking in a country where food (and talking about it) is supposed to occupy so much room.

And unlike many other things French, our markets have been fairly resilient to the rise of the supermarket or globalization. The organic wave may even have strengthened them. I am almost sure they have also been a great source of inspiration for the creation of farmers' markets in places such as New York at Union Square or San Francisco at the Ferry Building. And I must say that I feel quite at home in both these places.

It is not to say that all French markets were made equal and offer the cream of the crop. However, those I visited (or revisited rather after so many years) in Nice, on the Cours Saleya, and Antibes presented wonderful seasonal and locally-grown fruits (amazing organic Menton lemons and sublime wild strawberries among other things) and vegetables (zucchini-flowers, tomatoes, ...) as well as fragrant herbs and appetizing preserved regional products (honey, nicoise and picholine olives, ...). And I could obviously not resist to show them on that blog. The only thing I regret is not being able to convey the smells, sounds and atmosphere typical of Provencal markets. To get a taste of that, you will have to pay them a visit.

PS: I'm obviously not the first blogger to post pictures of Mediterranean markets. I wish mine could be as gorgeous as those taken by Pim in Ventimiglia and San Remo that you can catch a glimpse of here and here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Street / finger food in Nice: no excuse to be a picky eater

There are some parts of the world, Africa and Asia among them, where it would be almost criminal not to taste fragrant and flavorful street food. However, I can (or at least I can try to)understand that some people worry about the sanitary consequences of such acts. I remember a trip to Morocco where I spent most of my time between my bed and the bathroom. But I also keep a vivid memory of the fantastic meal that caused this small (in retrospect...) inconvenience : unforgettable ground beef skewers with a tomato salad. In short, I think that nothing should ever prevent us from being adventurous eaters (and I can hear Tony Bourdain concurring loudly in the background!).

No such concerns though in Nice where you can indulge on local street food as safely as possible. And this culinary journey should start at Rene Socca. You will have to wait in line before the outdoor counter, sometimes for long minutes, to be served your choice of socca (typical Nicois dish that is essentially a thin chickpea flour pancake), pissaladiere (onion tart with anchovies and olives), petits farcis (stuffed vegetables) or pizza. But your patience will be rewarded as the socca, that is taken out directly from the oven and cut from large oval baking sheets, is out of this world and the pissaladiere no less delicious. Avoid the farcis though (bland and reheated in a microwave oven). And don't pay attention to the uncaring service either (waiters were playing street soccer that day while serving us).

Then tour the beautiful winding streets of Vieux Nice and, once you think you have walked enough to deserve a sweet treat, make a stop at Fenocchio where you are sure to find some of the best ice-creams and sorbets in the world. Feel free to try the most extravagant flavors such as swiss chard pie, chewing gum or Mascarpone. I'm personally fonder of their more classic creations like pear, passion fruit or lemon. In any event, only few things can rival the pleasure of eating an ice-cream with the ones you love at an outdoor table on Place Rossetti.

If your stomach can still accommodate more food, I recommend that you buy a bag of local biscuits (navettes, mantecaos, mendiants, ...) in a good bakery or at Lou Canice, a provencal specialty food store located not far from Fenocchio. I'm sure you will enjoy as much as I do the wide variety of textures (from tough-to-bite to crumbling-in-your mouth) and flavors (lavender, anise, orange flower, chocolate, ...) they offer. And after that, I dare you to tell me that Nice is not one of the most wonderful cities in the world.

Chez Rene Socca
1 rue Pairoliere
06300 Nice

2 place Rossetti
06300 Nice

Lou Canice
7 bis rue Mascoinat
06300 Nice

Thursday, October 11, 2007

La Merenda: Nicoise food at its best

A lot has been said or written about La Merenda. That it has no telephone. That it does accept neither reservations (or at least no more than 15 minutes before the beginning of the service), nor checks or credit cards. That the place is so small and cramped that you have to sit on very uncomfortable stools almost on your neighbour's lap. That the chef owner, Dominique Le Stanc, trained under Chapel, Haeberlin and Senderens, left behind him the Michelin stars of the Chantecler at Hotel Negresco to buy this 20-seat restaurant to the Giusti family and cook nicoise specialties on its own in a tiny open kitchen. And, above all, that the food remains the same (i.e. great) some 30+ years (11 under Le Stanc) after the place first opened. And you know what? Everything is true. And Dominique Le Stanc does not seem ready to change this winning formula for all the gold in the world.

When I came in 15 minutes before noon last Tuesday, Le Stanc and his team of 3 were having their staff meal. I asked him if we could get a table for 12.30 and he answered me that the first service was at 12.15 sharp (implying, politely though, that I had to take it or leave it). And of course, I took it and left my name. I had not traveled that far and dreamed about this lunch for so long to ruin it at the restaurant's door.

And once inside, everything was exactly as I had expected. First, Mme Le Stanc is doing a wonderful job at the front of the house as does the other waiter by the way. For instance, when I ordered the stockfish, she really started worrying (as the smell and taste of this dish are, let's say, unique) and brought me some sample just to make sure I would like it (and I did). That's what I call caring for customers.

And obviously the food is magnificent like the sardines stuffed with bread crumbs, emmental and swiss chard leaves. Or the incredibly tasty stockfish (a nicoise specialty of sun dried cod in ragout). Or the crispy and wide open seasonal fried zucchini blossoms. Poor arrongant me who thought I prepared the best ratatouille in the world...I was so wrong. Even my mother, who can be hard to impress at times as far as culinary matters, could not stop talking about the rucola-ricotta salad with figs and balsamic vinaigrette. I should also mention a perfectly aged Banon that was the ideal conclusion to a wonderful lunch.

Le Stanc just demonstrates that the simplest regional dishes, such as an incredible tarte a la tomate, can become masterpieces when they are executed with passion, technique and using the best local ingredients. Unforgettable, reasonably priced and not to be missed when you are in the area.

La Merenda
Open Mon-Fri for lunch and dinner
4 rue Raoul Bosio (street parallel to the Cours Saleya)
06000 Nice

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Mirazur in Menton: the latest culinary jewel of the French Riviera

This question has been lingering in my mind since we came back from France: where to start my account of all the delicacies we gorged on? Should I follow some kind of chronological order or adopt a different approach? But, after all, the answer is simple: I should tell you first about the most revelatory food moment of this trip. Before dealing with anything else, I should talk about our lunch at Mirazur.

But first, a few words about the chef and the place. After honing his skills with Bernard Loiseau at La Cote d'Or, Alain Ducasse at Plaza Athenee, Alain Passard at L'Arpege and Guy Martin at Grand Vefour, Argentinean-born chef Mauro Colagreco was initially looking for a restaurant in Spain. He stumbled, by chance (for him...and us), upon Mirazur, a 1950's yet very modern building that was previously home of a "tabac" and later a bistrot operated by Jacques Chibois. We struggled a little bit at first to find the place since, for whatever reason, I had come to imagine it was located close to the beach while it is in fact perched on a hill. But thanks to Guillaume Mantis' clear directions on the phone, we finally found the place fairly quickly.

We were greeted by Daniela Colagreco, Mauro's charming wife, who shook our hands, which is unfortunately highly unusual in restaurants but makes a big difference as it tells the customers: "we are happy to have you with us.". We were then led to the first floor where we had lunch on the terrace. Dominating the bay of Menton, it offers stunning views of the Mediterranean. In my opinion, only Le Relais de la Chevre d'Or in Eze rivals Mirazur as far as this is concerned. Although it was a rainy day, the skies cleared once we were seated and we were lucky enough to have some sun during our meal and enjoy the sight of the deep blue sea.

And then a real show started. A show because Guillaume Mantis' performance as head of front of the house is outstanding. Professional, energetic, enthusiastic, sharp in its understanding and description of Mauro Colagreco's dishes, he also knows how to make you feel comfortable using the appropriate touch of humor when he has to. Once you know that the guy worked for Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White in London as well as for the Raffles group in Asia and Beverly Hills, no need to look for further explanations to his talent and skills. Last time I was that impressed by service was at Guy Savoy almost three years ago.

And obviously, in addition to the attentive service, there's the food. The real star of the show. After a flight of simple yet fresh and delicious amuses, we went for a la carte as I definitely wanted to have a taste of the Langoustine in Dashi Broth further to reading so much about it. And I must say we (as my mum made the same choice) were not disappointed. This dish was beautiful with its pristine broth and colorful flowers on top of a translucent langoustine. But, above all, it tasted great and the contrast of textures and flavors between the sweet raw langoustine and the salty hot broth was amazing. The peppery, sweet and sour notes of the 5 varieties of seasonal and local flowers (among them bourrache and pimprenelle) also added a surprising and welcome vegetal touch. This dish says a lot about Mauro Colagreco's pure, almost zen-like, cuisine that manages to capture the truth of each ingredient.

The next dish, "Wild Fish" (that day it was Galinette) served with an emulsion of cockles, a zucchini ragout, bok choy leaf and cauliflower mousseline was equally impressive. The fish was perfectly cooked and seasoned while all the elements went together extremely well. Again, the combination between the sea and the land, the Asian and Mediterranean influences worked wonders. This dish, and everything we tasted, showed a genuine respect for the fabulous ingredients that are sourced locally (which is an understatement as many of the herbs are grown in the restaurant's garden).

My wife and I then shared a lemon chibouste (how can't you eat lemon in Menton, right?) that was a treasure of lightness. Once again, the dish struck a perfect balance between sweetness (of the caramelized crust and lemon mousse), bitterness (of the lemon marmelade) and freshness (brought by the verbena sorbet).

I was also quite impressed by the quality of the mignardises (in particular the Ananas-Malibu "espuma"), the bread as well as a rich and satisfying hot porcini mushroom veloute with a cold foie-gras ice-cream amuse that could have a place of its own on the menu. My father and my wife were also delighted by their perdreau and pholiote dishes, respectively. In addition, at approximately 80 EUR per person (including a delicious Le Difese, Sassicaia's third wine) for a la carte lunch, the price was also a steal.

Last but not least, further to my father engaging her in an after-lunch conversation, Daniela Colagreco insisted on presenting us Mauro who took the time to come out of his kitchen to talk to us. We talked quickly about his trajectory, the first Michelin star, Pim's article in the NY Times and the one in Restaurant Magazine as well as an upcoming trip to the US in April. What a pleasure it was to meet such a dedicated, talented, yet nice and almost shy, individual who also had the guts to take on a huge financial and culinary gamble with Mirazur.

In a nutshell, I can only recommend that you visit Mirazur NOW to enjoy a phenomenal cuisine and great service in a unique setting. In any event, do it before Mauro Colagreco gets three Michelin stars, which will happen sooner than later and cause reservations to become hard to get and prices to skyrocket. If you dine there, you will also understand why Mauro Colagreco was awarded the "revelation of the year" prize by Gault & Millau and acclaimed as "one of the most beautiful surprises of the year 2006" by Omnivore's Carnet de Route.

Frontiere du Pont Saint-Louis
30, avenue Aristide Briand
06500 Menton
Tel: (33) 4 92 41 86 86
Fax: (33) 4 92 41 86 87

Friday, October 5, 2007

Relax, take it easy...

As Paris is hit by a severe case of Rugby World Cup's fever and rides happily the Velib's craze on a Mika's soundtrack, the city has never exuded so much serenity and self-confidence. But some things don't change. Like the sheer delight, especially for a French guy exiled in New York like me, to sip an espresso at the terrace of a cafe between two bites of pate sandwich. Isn't that what life should be all about?

In any event, this trip to France was unforgettable (on many levels) and relaxing (so much that I'm experiencing the worst difficulties to adjust back to my work environment). In particular, it was full of great culinary surprises both in Paris and Nice that I will share with you in the coming days / weeks. So hang on.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Keep it simple: mini heirloom tomato salad

I'm leaving today for France and I suspect that tomatoes' season will be over when I'm back. That is the reason why I could not resist to buy these 5 beautiful "mini" heirloom tomatoes yesterday evening when I was shopping at Whole Foods. They are locally grown and bear the poetic names of Green Zebra, Cherokee Purple, Costoluto Genovese and Yellow Teardrop.

I like to serve these small wonders in the most simple way. I slice them, sprinkle some sea salt and drizzle an olive oil-Jerez vinaigrette on the top. No tossing, no dicing, no nothing: just the ingredient in its purest and primal shape. This is one my favorite salad because each type of tomato tastes different from sweet to acidic or tart and they form a perfect combination with the vinaigrette. In a nutshell, it is my way to celebrate the fruits of the summer and try to make it last a bit longer.


5 heirloom tomatoes

3 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp Jerez Vinegar

Maldon sea salt

Black pepper

1. Slice each tomato and sprinkle a little sea salt on each slice.

2. Combine the olive oil, vinegar, a little sea salt and black pepper in a bowl. Whip to emulsify.

3. Drizzle the vinaigrette on the tomato slices.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Brandade-stuffed pimientos with tomato-piquillo salsa

Piquillos Rellenos

How ironic life can be! I spent the entire previous post praising Ducasse's Grand Livre de Cuisine "Mediterrannee" and the first recipe published on this blog is an adaptation of a dish from the Grand Livre de Cuisine "Bistrots, Brasseries et Restaurants de Tradition". Regardless of the source, the flavors of this dish remain definitely Mediterranean (pimientos rellenos are served in most tapas bars across Spain) although I must say there is a pronounced Basque touch to it (pimientos are grown in Navarre and espelette pepper, used in the salsa, is produced in the French Basque Country).

This is a dish I first made last year and that I found quite satisfying at the time. The contrast between the sweet peppers and the saltier brandade really worked wonders with the salsa. It reminded me so much of the days I had spent in San Sebastian a few years ago. But that night my wife was traveling in Boston or some place close I guess. And as a meal is not really what it should be when not shared with your significant other, I had told her I would cook that again. It took me more than a year to do so. However, when I stumbled upon glass jars of pimientos del piquillo in Whole Foods yesterday, it reminded me I had a promise to honor. As cod also looked extremely fresh at the fish stand, I knew this had to be THE night for stuffed pimientos.

It is obviously preferable to use fresh pimientos and roast them on the gas burner or under the broil until they are blackened and blistered. Then, you let them rest in a plastic bag for 10 minutes so you can peel them much more easily. Unfortunately, I have never found fresh pimientos in the US so I use those in jars. As they are preserved in olive olive oil, they act as a nice replacement. Just make sure you buy pimientos from Lodosa (otherwise they would not be real piquillos and obviously would not taste as such).

As for the brandade, a Nimes' specialty consisting of mashed potatoes mixed with cod, garlic parsley and olive oil, you should try to use salt cod (the famous Spanish bacalao or morue in French) as it really tastes better. But, once again, the fishmonger at Whole Foods has only "regular" cod, which still works fine, though. Note that the original recipe of brandade contains milk or cream. Feel free to add some if you want to obtain creamier taste and texture.

I also suggest you add a pinch of espelette pepper, that you can source here, to the salsa. Tastier than black pepper and milder than cayenne with a smoky touch. You won't regret it. Buen provecho!

Ingredients (for 12 stuffed pimientos):

2 jars of pimientos del piquillo (or 24 fresh pimientos roasted and peeled)

2 medium Yukon Gold Potatoes

0.4 lbs of cod

3 garlic cloves (crushed and finely chopped)

2 tbsp of parsley

1/4 cup Heavy cream

1.5 cup Tomato puree

Olive oil


Espelette pepper

1. Make sure you remove all the seeds from the 12 piquillos that will be stuffed.

2. Place the potatoes in a sauce pan. Cover with water. Take to a boil until cooked through. Do the same with the cod.

3. Crumble the cod and saute it in olive oil for 3-4 minutes with the minced garlic and the parsley.

4. Peel the potatoes and mashed them. Mix with the cod, garlic and parsley. Add olive oil and mix with a wooden spoon until smooth. Season with salt to taste. This is your brandade.

5. Put the brandade in a freezer bag. Cut the tip and use it as a pastry bag to stuff the piquillos.

6. Prepare the salsa by mixing with a blender together the cream, 6-7 coarsely chopped piquillos and heated tomato puree. Season with salt and Espelette pepper to taste.

7. Preheat the oven at 425 degrees F. Put the stuffed piquillos on a baking tray and sprinkle them with olive oil. Put into the oven for 5 minutes. Serve.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Le Grand Livre de Cuisine d'Alain Ducasse Mediterrannee: a new reference for Mediterranean cooks

Grand Livre de Cuisine Mediterranee

Before becoming a successful businessman and acclaimed globe-trotter restaurateur, Alain Ducasse was first and foremost a brilliant interpret of haute Mediterranean cuisine. Although not raised under the sun of the French Riviera (he's originally from Southwestern France), he apprenticed under legendary chef Roger Verge at Le Moulin de Mougins where he fell in love with the flavors of provencale cuisine. He would soon achieve the status of master of this genre himself by getting the much coveted Michelin awards first at La Terrasse of the Juana Hotel in Juan-Les-Pins (2 stars in 1984) and then at Le Louis XV, the restaurant of the Hotel de Paris in Monaco (3 stars in 1990). He would obviously not stop there and the rest is history.

However, fifty years from now, Ducasse may well be remembered not only for the quality of his cuisine or his financial success but rather for his ability to pass his knowledge on to the next generation of chefs and appoint the brightest at the helm of his flagship 3-star restaurants. Franck Cerutti belongs to this category of former pupils that have grown into master chefs. Born and bred in Nice, trained not only with Ducasse but also with Maximin and at Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence before becoming chef de cuisine of Le Louis XV, he is a passionate, gifted and dedicated creator of haute Riviera cuisine that he has almost come to personify according to Ducasse.

Needless to say that a cookbook on Mediterranean cuisine directed by these two men is much more than a cookbook. "Mediterrannee" actually belongs to the "Grands Livres de Cuisine d'Alain Ducasse" series whose first three volumes were dealing with French haute cuisine, pastry and bistro / brasserie food, respectively. 1000 pages-plus thick, each of them looks more like an encyclopedia than your typical cookbook and contains elaborate recipes that require a good technical background, an extensive use of fond, jus, ... as well as time consuming prep work. They also give a unique insight into the work of other talented Ducasse's proteges such as Jean-Francois Piege, Didier Elena, Benoit Witz or Frederic Robert. In any event, they are an infinite source of knowledge for cooks of any level.

In keeping with its predecessors, "Mediterranee" is a tome. Ducasse's crew, helped by a team of historians, has gathered 500 recipes, some of them forgotten, spanning the whole western Mediterranean from France to Spain, Italy, Sicily, Malta, Morocco... And the book really succeeds in capturing the culinary unity of the region while also highlighting all the local specificities. Recipes are ranked by ingredient from A like Agneau to Y like Yaourt with a whole section dedicated to desserts and contributed by Olivier Berger, the pastry chef at Le Louis XV.

Each dish has been refined using classical technique and becomes a little jewel in the hand of Ducasse's band of artists as evidenced by this perfectly executed and beautifully plated ratatouille. Although demanding, recipes are well articulated and each process is carefully detailed (prep, cooking, finishing touches, plating, ...). Each recipe also comes with a header describing the history and origin of the dish as well as gorgeous pictures.

Above and beyond classics such as Salade Nicoise, Daube de boeuf, Caponata or Ajo Blanco, "Mediterranee" also includes recipes of dishes created by Cerutti and served at Le Louis XV. Cerutti revisits specialties like farcis a la nicoise or risotto a la truffe noire and turns them into masterpieces. Behind an apparent simplicity, each dish shows a flawless execution and the ever-present respect of the ingredients. This translates into "essential pleasures" as Cerutti likes to describe them.

The only weaknesses of "Mediterrannee"? Its price (120 EUR) and the absence of English translation for the time being. However, if you're lucky enough to afford it / receive it as a gift and speak a little French, I can promise it will become a favorite among your books. Like a bible, mine stays atop my bedside table and I keep coming back to it over and over again to find inspiration or simply peace of mind before sleeping.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Sunday dinner's good surprise: Vieux Telegraphe, La Crau, 2003

Vieux Telegraphe

Every time my friend Bertrand joins us for dinner, he brings over a good bottle of wine. But Bertrand and I share the same weakness (and I'm not talking about wine here): we are both kind of last-minute guys. I usually make a decision about what to cook a couple of hours before dinner. He usually buys the above-mentioned and, more often than not expansive, bottle only a few minutes before taking the cab heading to my place. Since he has no idea of what we are going to eat and he must cope with the urgency of making a selection in a wine shop he does not know, this often results in very surprising food / wine pairings.

Yesterday was not an exception to this rule. I had planned to cook seabass with braised fennel (without telling Bertrand obviously). When he showed up and handed me the black plastic bag that contained the bottle, I knew I was in for a surprise. And a surprise it was: Vieux Telegraphe rouge 2003. The pairing with the upcoming dinner was far from obvious. But, as a native from Valence (France not Spain), I'm fond of Rhone wines and decided that we would drink it that night no matter what.

Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe
was founded in the 20's and is still owned by the same family : the Bruniers. The vineyards are located on the Plateau de la Crau (which looks like a stone field) next to Chateauneuf-du-Pape. As a typical Southern red Rhone, the blend is mainly made of Grenache Noir (65%) but also contains Mourvedre (15%), Syrah (15%) and Cinsault / other varieties for the remainder. The wine is imported in the US by Kermit Lynch who provides a unique insight on this domaine in his wonderful Adventures on the Wine Route.

But let's get back to our bottle. Like all his fellows red Chateauneufs, Vieux Telegraphe 2003 is a full-bodied, powerful wine high in alcohol. It boasts a beautiful ruby-colored robe, ripe plum / cherry aromas and a long fruity finish. Although it was still a little too young, as evidenced by its rugged tannins, we all really liked this wine. And after all, seabass and red Rhone did not form such an odd couple. By the way, I should have known that since the paupiette of black sea bass with a Syrah sauce served at Daniel had been such a revelation the first time I had it.

Just so you know, we have just finished the bottle tonight with a chickpea salad, canned sardines and Saint Nectaire cheese. I already hear some people say: too simple a food for such a wine. To me, it just tasted like home.

N.B.: recipes mentioned in this post will be published subsequently.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Next on Aioli & Co

I have been slower than initially planned to update this blog with new posts. The main reason is that I have ordered a new digital camera that I still have not received. This should be solved, hopefully, by the end of this week and I should be able to upload mouth-watering (let's be modest) pictures in addition to plain text. But before that, if that can help, I just wanted to provide a sneak preview of what's to come:

-There will definitely be a post about my favorite book on Mediterranean cuisine with a sophisticated twist. A bible that I suggest everyone passionate about the subject should buy.

-Ratatouille should be the first recipe since the dish is still in season and remains so emblematic of the region this blog deals with.

-I will then provide a detailed account (as well as pictures) of my upcoming trip to Southern France and Riviera. It should also include stories / pictures of farmers' markets, food served in some of the best restaurants of the region and whatever surprise this trip will offer.

-As the first stop of this trip will be Paris, I may also take advantage of staying there to write about a couple of culinary experiences.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Why another food blog?

If you are reading this, we certainly belong to the same "tribe": the food lovers who cannot spend a single day without having their dose of food reading (in addition of good food itself), be it on the internet or elsewhere. And the world wide web indeed caters to every foodie category and particular interest: wine, recipes, restaurant reviews, regional foods, ... We all have our favorites sources to get our daily fix: as customary, some of mine are shown on the right sidebar of this page. I encourage you to visit those sites and enjoy the writing of incredibly talented individuals.

That being said, for a native of Southern France like me, options are much more limited when it comes to fully satisfy my passion for Provencale and Nicoise cuisines. There are obviously plenty of web sites containing plain recipes (often without the attractive pictures and proper background you could expect though) but nothing really more than that. And as far as blogs written in English are concerned, not much at all. Hence the "aioli" project.

I obviously do not claim to be THE expert on this topic (Elizabeth David, Richard Olney and Patricia Wells, among others, have done quite a good job, right?). I do not either pretend to fully address such a vast subject, which would be far too ambitious. My goal is simply to provide, above and beyond recipes, a personal insight on food, wine, cookbooks, restaurants and chefs of this region.

From time to time (and more often than not I must say), I might also venture into discussions on other Mediterranean cuisines since they all share, to a large extent, the same common heritage. I may also write about my culinary adventures in New York or wherever travel may take me. In a nutshell, I would like to share my passion for good food in general with a focus on Mediterranean in particular.