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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Time of the Season - 2012 Greatest Hits

It's that time of the year again when I say "It's that time of the year again."  Time to look back at another year on the restaurant scene, both here (Paris) and farther afield - this time as far as Chinle, AZ, where as you will read below, frightening things await.

As in the past, this is not intended as a 'best of ' list  in the sense of 'best restaurant in Paris' - I probably can't afford that one anyway - but rather in a more personal, 'this is the best restaurant I ate at in Paris this year' sort of way.

2012 Favorite: Le Chateaubriand.
I am sure this is old news, since many have long since waxed eloquently about this Paris venue, but when I think about the meals that really stood out this past year, Chateaubriand keeps coming to mind.  There was that great dinner Co. and I had with our pardners from the US of A, highlighted by an amazing turbot, fenouil, and poutargue dish (1st photo), and the follow-up this past November, with the memorable lait ribot, herbes, beurre noisette and tocino del cielo  dessert (2nd photo), 3/4s of which consisted of ingredients that rarely appear on dessert plates.  Chateaubriand has its detractors, but who cares?  It's to be expected when the chef - in this case, Inaki Aizpitarte - dares to take risks with creative manifestations that do not always work - but hey that's what experimentation is all about, sometimes you just can't reject the null hypothesis.  All I know is that I'm always surprised at Chateaubriand, and mostly in a good way, and I love when the place starts building a buzz as the evening unfolds with a diverse mix of diners and laid back bohemian servers.  I'm also impressed that those servers never fall through the trap door behind the bar, which curiously remains open for much of the evening (3rd photo).  And, yes, Monsieur Aizpitarte does uncannily resemble Joe Flacco, had the latter decided to give up quarterbacking for the Baltimore Ravens and become a famous Parisian chef.

LE CHATEAUBRIAND: 129 ave. Parmentier, 75011 Paris, tel:

Best New Paris Restaurant Movement: La Dolce Italia.
To be honest, this probably isn't a movement at all, and if it is, it was no doubt underway before I came upon it, but the influx of really good Italian restaurants in the capital is certainly a welcome trend.  Two quite enjoyable dinners in 2012 were had at the Italian spots, Caffe dei Cioppi and Vilia.  At the latter, the elegantly simple bowl of DeCecco rigatoni and parmesan cheese got me buying DeCecco pasta and parmesan cheese the rest of the year, though not with the same effect.  I wouldn't go so far as to call La Gazzetta an Italian restaurant because it is oh so much more, but I can at least mention it here because, after all, this is my blog and I can babble to my heart's content.  Seriously, Gazzetta continues to be a personal favorite that I get back to as frequently as possible, for some of the same reasons that keep me returning to Chateaubriand.
Finally, although it has nothing to do with Italy, our return visit (finally) to Septime proved well worth the wait.

CAFFE DEI CIOPPI: 159, rue du Faubourg St. Antoine, Paris, tel: 

VILIA26, rue de Cotte, 75012 Paris, tel:        

LA GAZZETTA: 29, rue de Cotte, 5012 Paris, tel:

SEPTIME:  80, rue de Charonne, 75011 Paris, tel:

Worst Restaurant of 2012, USA: Garcia's.                                                                                      My worst meal of the year was had more than 5000 miles from Paris, Garcia's in Chinle, Arizona, which is definitely a good thing.  Chinle happens to be well located for visiting such famous sites as Monument Valley and the Canyon de Chelly.  The Garcia's decision is clear-cut, there are no competitors, because this was probably the worst meal I have ever had anywhere - save that Montezuma revenge special of fried chicken that I had in a greasy spoon in old Jerusalem, but please, let's not go there.  If you search Trip Advisor for Chinle restaurants, the first comment that pops up for Garcia's is 'As good as anywhere in town,' which doesn't sound too bad until you realize the alternatives are Burger King, Thunderbird Lodge restaurant, and that place next to the Best Western that looks like it dropped out of horror film.  Garcia's is the Chinle Holiday Inn's restaurant, and it's not like Co. and I were expecting much.  One has to eat, period, and the options in the local convenience store didn't offer much as an alternative.  One thing Garcia's has going for it is an 'all you can shove into your big fat face (an apt description of the typical Garcia diner, however politically incorrect that may sound) salad bar.  I'm just glad I got to it before I saw another patron coughing and wiping his nose, and then selecting items from the bar.  Our waitress certainly was pleasant enough, but visually, she was a disaster, slaking my appetite even before I had a look at that salad bar. I don't remember what I ate or why, but Co. made a big mistake with the most expensive item on the menu, a sirloin steak.  When I asked about alcohol, I was told, sure - just get back in your car and motor 200 miles south, you'll find some, but you won't find any on an Arizona Indian reservation, which is where Chinle lies.  To my chagrin, I had to settle for a Kaliber non-alcoholic beer, my first and last, trust me.  At any rate, I am sure there are worse restaurants in the world, I just hope I never have to find that out for myself.

Worst Restaurant of 2012, Paris: Abri.             No, in my view, you do not have to actually eat at a restaurant for it to be named to a 'worst of' list, especially when one does such a crack job of alienating customers before they ever get to your door.  And getting through the door at Abri appears to be a pleasure that only a select few have ever experienced.  Paris was abuzz about Katsuaki Okiyama's Abri in 2012, a creative sandwich shop by day and supposedly wonderful tasting menu restaurant by night.  So how did they get a reservation?  Because each time I call Monsieur O, I get the very same response: 'complet.'  Being a paranoid ex-pat, I quickly began to think that Mr. O discriminates against would-be diners with heavy English accents, but once I called and he said 'complet' before I got any further than 'bonjour.'  When I asked in November when it would be possible to snag a dinner reservation for two, Monsieur O became, for him I guess, veritably prolific, spitting out the response 'complet a la fin de Decembre.'  In short, I don't care if Abri is the bee's knees or not, Monsieur O. can shove it where the sun don't shine.  With all the hassles I've had reserving at Septime, at least they gave me some advice as to when to call, which nights were better than others, etc.  Monsieur Okiyama apparently doesn't have the courtesy to do even that.  So my only conclusion is that he is restaurateur asshole of the year.  Ironically, the 2013 Le Fooding guide awards Abri a 'palmare' for 'Fooding D'Amour.'

 Biggest Disappointment of 2012, Paris: Roseval.

                                                            Speaking of that 2013 Le Fooding guide which, as always, is a great inexpensive guide to 400 French restaurants, the Palmare for 'Meilleure Table' went to Simone Tondo & Michael Greenwold's Roseval, where the ambiance 'screams modern elegance, and the food is simply ambrosial.'  Well, based on my one dinner there this past Fall, there was nothing overtly elegant about the restaurant's interior, especially the pompous and impolite servers, and the food was good, but far from ambrosial.  I guess Roseval has been anointed this season's hot new thing, but move along reader, nothing that interesting here.  Far less disappointing was L'Agrume, another personal favorite that just didn't wow me this year the way it has in the past.  A different menu every day, amazingly, but the price has gone up and they still lack those little extras that could take the place to another level.

 Best Comeback Restaurant of 2012, Paris suburbs: Les Magnolias.

        I've done my share of hyping Les Magnolias, but somewhere along the line, my return visits to said venue were increasingly spaced, a bad sign.  But  Co. and I returned during the summer and had a magnificent meal.  I would go so far as to say that the food was ambrosial and the setting in Le Perreux-sur-Marne elegant.


LES MAGNOLIAS: 48, ave. de Bry, 94 Le Perreux sur Marne, tel:


My Favorite Homemade Drinks of 2012.  Hendrick's gin on the rocks with a slice of cucumber.  And to soothe my aching stomach from consuming too much spice, there is nothing better than a White Russian composed of 2/5s Smirnoff Black vodka, 2/5s Kaluha, and topped off with milk, some ice, and well-shaken with a coffee foamer.

Best Place(s) to Buy Spices in Paris. 

 I don't deny that the multi-colored spice display at Galeries Lafayette Gourmand is a sight to behold and tempting as hell, but my recommendation is to look, but do not buy.  Why?  Simple - it's far cheaper to go to the Indian district's Cash and Carry shops, where one can find a diverse range of spices at miniscule prices.  Case in point.  I purchased 50 grams worth of paprika at Gourmand for a price around 7€.  At one of my habitual C&C's, I found a 400 gm. package of paprika for 1.99€.  You can do the math, and I detected no discernible difference in taste.  At same C&C, I picked up a 400gm package of hot madras curry powder for 2.99€ and a 1kg package of garam masala for 4.89€.  At those volumes, you won't have to make multiple trips to the store to resupply.  The two or three C&Cs I visit regularly are located down the strip from the New Pondichery restaurant (where I usually buy a few pieces of chicken tandori to go) on rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis, right near the Gare du Nord train station.

Best Films that Didn't Make it to Paris in 2012:     The Master, Django Unchained, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty.  Best Film that Did:  Turin's Horse. 

Worst Films Appearing on Most French Best Films of 2012 Lists: Holy Motors, Cosmopolis (what is so fascinating about weirdos riding around town in a limosine?), Looper, Magic Mike, Moonrise Kingdom (a kid's movie).  In my view, these overrated films were interminable to sit through.

Disclaimer: Sorry about the line spacing, it is driving me crazy and nothing I attempt can get it to change.  Time for another White Russian.

 See you in 2013.   

Comments, feedback, gripes, glowing praises? - just click '(Aucun) Commentaire.' Spammers beware.



Friday, December 14, 2012

Septime - A Return Engagement, At Last

In a slight paraphrase of Paul Bremer's immortal words heralding the capture of Saddam Hussein on Dec. 14, exactly nine years ago to the day I am writing this, I can proudly boast, 'We got 'em.'  'Em' being two chairs at a table inside the much heralded Paris Michelin-starred Septime.  ON A FRIDAY NIGHT.  Let me repeat that.  ON A FRIDAY NIGHT. Read it and weep.  Perhaps even more elusive than a deposed despot on the run, I have chronicled the difficulties I have experienced snagging a Friday night reservation since my first inaugural visit to Septime in Nov. 2011.  If you are asking yourself, 'What's such a big deal about Friday night?' I could say, 'It's personal.'  Or I could explain how I am a creature of habit when it comes to eating in fancy restaurants. Or I could explain how it fits the agenda, especially in light of the restaurant's closing on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday afternoon.  Take your pick, and 'all of the above' is a possibility.  If you are wondering how I finally met with success, I am afraid to say that I am unwilling to disclose such precious information.  Yes, there is a trick.  If you send me a personal message, I will explain, but if I reveal it to the entire blogosphere, or the 50-60 daily visitors to this site, whichever comes first, I am afraid the competition will be too fierce and I will never get lucky again.

Given this preface, one would likely conclude that Septime is absolutely fantastic, to be that difficult to snag a coveted Fri. night reservation.  Well, that might be stretching it, but I am confident - now after two visits - to proclaim that Septime is very, very good.

What can you expect on the menu?  I have absolutely no idea.  Seriously.  The menu changes regularly, and upon arrival, you will be given a small tablet upon which a sheet of paper is attached barely describing what to expect.  "Carte Blanche' 55€, hinting at what will soon be fully explained by a waiter, that you will be brought in succession two entrees, one fish dish, one meat dish, and a dessert, and you don't get to find out what those plates will consist of until they arrive at the table (or until you espy a fellow diner beating you to the punch).  As Co. and I arrived at an early serving's 7:30 p.m., we had no idea what to expect.  As is pretty much the case in most of the better establishments in Paris, such arrangements always allow for dietary or health requests (e.g., fish instead of meat, no lardon, etc.).  No, the French are not soup Nazis, even if asking to have carrots instead of whatever other vegetable the chef has selected would result in the waiter looking at you as if you were a complete idiot.

Among the highlights of our meal was an epic dish of near-raw bonita fish with pieces of strawberry  and persil (1st photo), as well as a merlu with cresson (third photo).  Unfortunately, without a menu or the time to jot down each offering, I can't provide the entire repast, but as mentioned, it'll be different by the time you get there (if you get that reservation) anyway.

The dessert was humble, a growing trend in some of the local bistrots, with the chef eschewing the pyramid/foam motif for something elegant in its simplicity.  The wine, advised upon request, was excellent, a 2010 Girolamo Russo A Rinas Rosso Etna Sicilia.  Yes, Italian again.  If 2011 was the year of the beet in Paris, 2012 surely must be the year of the Italian wine.  And yes, you do get an eclectic and tempting wine list from which to choose, although I think I remember the waiter asking if we wanted glasses delivered 'carte blanche' as well.

There you have it.  If Septime is so difficult to reserve, there is good reason.  We all saw how little effect the capture of Saddam turned out to be - caught hiding in a hole on a farmstead 10 miles south of Tikrit - except to make matters worse in the US counterinsurgency efforts.  Dinner at Septime had a more positive effect - a perfectly satisfying Friday night dinner out in the capital.  Parisians - including some celebrities - knew this already.

80 rue de Charonne
Paris 11
tel. 01 43 67 38 29 

Dinner for 2 (55€ per person) + wine (38€) : 148€

Before bidding adieu for this installment, I should mention a couple of other very positive experiences leading up to the Septime return visit.  Two PRAB favorites- Fabrique 4 and Le Chateaubriand.  Which is another reason you haven't heard from me for a while.  Around the end of the year I seem to get a craving to go back.  I've already favorably reviewed both at this site, so I'll be brief.  Whereas Fabrique 4 was very good, Chateaubriand, as I have come to expect, was fantastic.


From Fabrique 4:

Tuna (main course) - 24.50€

Argentine entrecote (main course) - 26€

The main dishes were preceded by a plate of huitres a la flamande (14€) and a pancake de foie gras (15€), with desserts of creme brulee (9€) and cafe rizzotto (8.50€)

TEL. 01 58 59 06 47

Dinner for two 3-course meals + wine (Pinot Noir '09, 30€) + 1 cafe : 127€

Here was the lineup for the 9 Nov. visit to Le Chateaubriand:

3 amuses bouche
Encornet, pomme de terre, raifort  (photo 1)
Cabillaud, pissenlits, agrumes (photo 2)
Pintade, navets, tandoori (photo 3)
Lait ribot, herbes, beurre noisette (photo 4)
Tocino del cielo (photo 4)
(with the option of replacing the last two items - dessert - with fromages du jour, a tough call).

And some of the results, albeit with blurry photos (I keep experimenting with different devices, and unfortunately, this test with a new camera app for my ASUS Transformer tablet didn't do the job, but you'll get the idea):


Works of art, and they tasted damn good as well.  That lait ribot and herbes plate - amazingly, for dessert - was epic.

129 Avenue Parmentier\
Paris 11 
Phone:01 43 57 45 95

Dinner for 2 (60€ per person for 8 courses, including 3 preludes) + wine (35€) : 155€


1.   If you are in the mood to read a sad and tragic story, you could do worse than to read Thomas Ricks's Fiasco - The American Military Adventure in Iraq, which I finished around the time of these restaurant visits.  The title says it all.  And the aforementioned Paul Bremer doesn't come off very well - in fact, everybody hated him.

2.  I know I've been re-covering some old ground lately, but my list of new Paris eating establishments to try continues to grow, so keep checking as we get into the new year.  Just a reminder, that will be 2013.  Mark it on your calendar.  Before that, my annual end of year wrapup, coming soon to this very site.

3.  Any comments?  Comments, recommendations, gripes, etc. are more than welcome.  Just click on '(Aucune) Commentaire below.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Born(e) in the USA - Some More Hits

If they say they serve the best hamburger on highway 89 running through Utah, who am I to argue?  Other than the fact that they're probably the only place that serves burgers on that highway, give 'em credit for their slick stab at marketing.  All Co. and I had a chance to sample at the Prospector was plain java, pure and simple, and it did the job, even though it was probably 90F outside and non-ACed inside.  Nice conversation with the locals inside, very enthusiastic to greet people from over there in France, and please, they implored us, would we take Obama back with us?  Well, at least I know Willard has 5 votes guaranteed heading into the election next Tuesday.  Some of the local farmers seemed pretty satisfied with the homemade pies, and one told us how upset she was with the French having taken her 'boy's medals.'  I was getting a little nervous with the direction of this conversation, wondering if the French had somehow dissed an American soldier in Iraq.  It turned out 'her boy' was Lance Armstrong, and we didn't bother trying to explain how it wasn't the French who took away the disgraced racer's titles, trying as we were to keep things at a genial tone and get back on the road without having to dodge any bullets.  No, Prospector's wasn't one of the 'hits' of our summer tour of the US southwest, which is not to say it wasn't an interesting, albeit brief, visit.

You've got to see Lake Powell once in a lifetime (not to brag, but this was our second visit), and although the Lake Powell Lodge, where we were staying, had a very satisfying breakfast buffet - tended over by a cadre of Romanian students working their way through a summer in the US - the dinner menu looked overpriced and sketchy.  So we ventured into town, this being Page, AZ, where the choices are not many.  We ended up with two more than adequate dinners at the ill-named Bonkers Restaurant at 810 North Navajo (tel. 928-645-2706) and Dam Bar & Grille, located at the Dam Plaza,644 N. Navajo (tel.  928-645-2161).  You are getting sleepy, you are getting sleepy...  Sorry, I'm not talking to you, I'm just trying to hypnotize myself into remembering what I ate where, this being more than two months ago.  I do remember a half-decent salad bar at Bonkers, and an extended barside conversation with a local at the Dam, who claimed to be the bar's reigning trivial contest king - there's some sort of contest running non-stop on a few of the TVs that circle overhead - although I kept one-upping him during the 20 minutes or so while we waited for our table on the terrace. So if you meet someone who claims to be the trivia king of Page, I wouldn't be too impressed if I were you.  Bonkers and the Dam - these weren't 'hits' either, but as mentioned, they more than did the job.  You don't go to Page for gourmet dining anyway, you go for the lake, so take them for what they are and you won't be dissatisfied.

OK, time to get on to the good stuff, fast forwarding to Santa Fe, NM.  Upwardly mobile as it is, Santa Fe is deceiving.  At first glance, it looks like the ideal southwest US city - quaint, hip shops, tequilla drenched bars, cool adobe architecture.  Then it hits you - the whole city is a bloody tourist trap.  Even the Georgia O'Keefe museum was something of a bust.  But, hey, that doesn't mean you can't eat well.  Just around the corner from our B&B (El Paradero) was one of Santa Fe's finest, Restaurant Martin (526 Galisteo Street, tel. 505-820-0919).
Just to be on the safe side, I reserved a few weeks before our trip and had no problem getting a table on the terrace on a  mighty fine early evening with some polished locals and astute tourists like ourselves.  A brief interlude:

I'm puttin' on my top hat,
Tyin' up my white tie,
Brushin' off my tails.
I'm dudin' up my shirt front,
Puttin' in the shirt studs,
Polishin' my nails,
I'm steppin' out, my dear,
To breathe an atmosphere
That simply reeks with class.
 You also have to see Top Hat with Fred Astaire once in a lifetime - hell, make that many times - especially to watch Fred sing and dance his way through Irving Berlin's signature Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails.  No, I didn't put on my top hat, but I did dust off my sports coat for Martin's.  This is a venue with a good reputation and it lived up to its billing, with our tuna tartare, scallops, beef duo, chocolate ganache, and truffles selections, accompanied by a find $42 Syrah.  At $152 before tip, this was one of the more pricey meals of our trip, but also one of the best.



No question, Restaurant Martin was definitely a 'hit,' a venue that wouldn't be out of place in Paris.

For the rest of our brief stay in Santa Fe, not much comes to mind except Tia Sophia's (210 W. San Francisco St., tel. 505-983-9880), a very good choice for a basic, satisfying Mexican lunch (see next photo below) - cheap and filling - and the Santa Fe institution, Cafe Pasqual's (121 Don Gaspar, tel. 505-983-9340) the latter of which has some cook books listed on amazon.  

If you're going, no, not to San Francisco (St.), but to Pasqual's, you have to be prepared to wait, and wait we did, with plenty of time to peruse (and memorize) the menu.  If it hadn't been so difficult trying to find a spot to down a few tequillas beforehand, it might not have been so bad.  Actually, it wasn't so bad, our being seated in under a half hour.  I still don't get the problems the family at the table to my right were having, but they seemed particularly upset that their dishes weren't hot enough (temperature, not spice) and that their main dishes included some of the same sides that were the focus of their appetizers.  Had I been the waiter, I might have asked, 'then why did you order the same items, moron,' but then I am not nearly as diplomatic as the waitstaff at Pasqual's and their interest in getting a big tip.  Well, I can't speak for the cranky patrons, but Co. and I certainly had an enjoyable meal.


I guess Pasqual's fits the bill when it comes to nouvelle Mexican - the dishes were copious, creatively prepared, and pricey (the bill came to $97 with some conservative choices, especially on the alcohol front, where I went with a couple beers and Co. nursed a glass of sangria).  Definitely a place to check out.

Just a couple more 'hits' to mention so that this entry doesn't get more unwieldy than it already is.  From Santa Fe on to the more satisfyingly artsy Taos, NM, we dinner dined at what was probably my favorite purely Mexican establishment, Orlando's (no address other than 'on the main road 1.8 miles from Taos Plaza,' tel. 575-751-1450).  You take your Mexican beer to the little seating area adjacent to the parking lot and wait for a table outside or inside - unfortunately, we were too hungry to wait for the more desirable outdoor patio under a plethora of multi-colored umbrellas.  I was in heaven munching on multi-colored nacho chips - fresh, only lightly-salted, in other words, about as far as you get from those proffered on Paris tables - and some epic fish tacos.  Another resounding 'hit.'


The final two 'hits' come by way of the tiny town of Moab, Utah.  Like Orlando's, Buck's Grill House and Vista Lounge sits along the main road, but unlike Orlando's does grace us with an actual address (1393 N. Highway 191, tel. 435-259-5201).  Although Buck's name suggests a roadside greasy steak joint, it turned out to be a pleasant surprise, with a creative chef and some unexpected items on the menu, such as baby clams in broth ($11.95), duck tamales ($16.95), and a local bottle of Outlaw Red ($28).

The second Moab 'hit,' the Desert Bistrot (36 S 100 W - yes, we're back in Utah with its obsession with having at least two cardinal points in each address, tel. 435-259-0756), was probably as close to Restaurant Martin we got in terms of realtively high-class dining on the trip.  Once again, we found ourselves out on a secluded back patio, Co. getting her urgent yen for crab cakes (or at least a close facsimile as a crab cake muffin appetizer) and game, whereas I can't remember what I had except that it was pretty good.

My one outstanding memory of the Desert had to do with Co. eschewing the more pricey game special, eland, for wapiti elk (or was it the other way around?), yet the waitress ended up bringing the special instead of the dish Co. had ordered.  Well, you would have thought our waitress was going to have a nervous breakdown.  By the time she finished apologizing - actually, she never finished; I think somewhere out there in Moab, you will still hear her plaints - Co. got - belatedly - her wapiti and life moved on, only the waitress was pretty decent in comping Co.'s main dish, which cut down significantly on the bill, which nonetheless bordered on $100.  Buck's actually broke the century mark, clocking in at $106 before tip.

To finish up, the illustrious Cafe Diablo in Torrey, Utah (599 W. Main St., tel. 435-425-3070).  Boasting an award-winning chef, I was psyched for something special, but ultimately disappointed.  The chef apparently had numerous creative ideas, the only problem is they all ended up in the same plate, with the ultimate result being surprisingly 'bland.'  Nonetheless, kudos for the superb rattlesnake cakes ($9) appetizer, made from no less than, no joke, actual free range desert rattlers, accompanied by ancho-rosemary aioli, one of my favorite dishes on the entire trip.  Pure rattlesnake and tequilla -  Yippie-ki-yea.


Voila, there you have it - the 'hits.'  It took two long entries, but it had to be done.  If I can work up the enthusiasm without puking, I hope to add a third installment pertaining to the southwest US trip to focus on some big, fat 'misses,' one of which assuredly was one of the worst meals of my life.  Something to look forward to, I'm sure, before we get back to down-home cooking in Paris.

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