Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Posh Paris: Cocktails at George V

As we're entering the height of the holiday season, lavish cocktails in outrageous settings are in order. In Paris, there are many options for this. The Four Seasons' Hotel George V is one such place.

The bar at George V is opulent but comfortable with a warm cozy fireplace and plush intimate seating. There are a number of specialty cocktails on the menu -- and the table-side martini-shaking is a fierce ritual of pouring precision.

Luckily, they offer equally chic cocktails sans alcool, for the pregnant or non-partaking crowd. Pictured above, the Lucky Star -- cranberry juice, soda water, fresh mint, strawberries and raspberries and a Pinot Noir from Burgundy.


Royal Couscous

Tonight we were Moroccan princes -- or at least feasted like ones.

On the recommendation of the kind folk at George V, we venture a short distance from the Arc de Triomphe (Charles de Gaulle Etoile) into the 17th arrondissement to the restaurant Timgad. We enter into an ornate interior with stark white lattice-work walls, a fountain surrounded by a profusion of plants and flowers, and regal red carpets. The tuxedoed staff are charged with a sense of occasion and urgency.

We begin with an arrangement of spicy and pickled Moroccan mezze -- carrots scented with cumin, lemon, coriander; piquante green olives; oil-cured black olives; pickled cauliflower, carrots, peppers; and toasted hazelnuts. This was served with a round load of whole wheat bread.

The menu consists of a variety of couscous, tagines and grilled meats. We opt for Couscous Merguez and Tagine de poulet fermier aux olives et citrons confits.

Timgad's presentation of couscous is something of a spectacle. First the couscous is served from a large decorative platter into individual serving bowls. The server takes the backside of the oversized serving spoon to form a deep depression in the couscous mound. Then they arrive with a large terracotta pot of stewed zucchini, carrots, turnips and scoop them into the well, making sure to provide ample sauce. Next come the garnishes: chickpeas in a sauce, plump golden raisins and Harissa sauce. The couscous itself is incredibly light, fluffy and perfectly salted; the vegetables cut in large portions are plumped with flavor from the broth.

The merguez is served on the side. We realize up until this point, we have only eaten charred, overcooked merguez. Timgad's is a completely different -- cooked with dry heat in a wood-burning oven, it remains tender and juicy, bringing life the lamb sausage's delicate spices and mint. The food is simple, but a revelation.

Our tagine took on an intense yellow color from the spices -- matching the vivid level of flavor. A dreamy succulent chicken topped with onions, black olives and half of a preserved lemon.

We should note, this is an enormous amount of food for two people, so dessert was out of the question. Though we couldn't refuse a service of famous Moroccan mint tea.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Eat a Crepe (or Two)

In Paris, crepes are a staple. We found our first crepe destination, Des Crepes et des Cailles, on a charming small street in the La Butte Aux Cailles area (13eme). Translated as "hill of the quails," La Butte Aux Cailles is like a little village unto itself and offers an authentic experience of an older Parisian neighborhood.

The restaurant is small and sweet with little flourish except a maritime theme. Best to keep it simple. We chose:

Complet: Ham, cheese, egg

La Raclette: Raclette cheese, potatoes

Nutella: The delicious hazelnut spread (and nothing else)

Watch the pros compose a crepe:

Monday, November 26, 2007

Vive La Froth


For our first dining experience in Paris, we decide to seek out a local restaurant in the 13th. L'Ourcine comes recommended by Conde Nast Traveler, Time Out and Zagat alike for its “Basque and Bernais classics.”

The sober interior with an open view of the kitchen tells us the focus is on the food. The menu (à 30 Euros) offers a choice of three courses, ranging from veloutés, ravioli, composed salads to classic entrées and updated desserts.

To start, we are offered a canapé of Mousse aux poireaux (Leek Mousse) -- a highly aerated, savory verdant cloud topped with well-oiled croutons. This leaves our lips smacking with salty goodness, ready for more.

Next arrives the appetizer course. I choose something completely foreign to me -- bulots in a curry rémoulade with granny smith apples, chestnuts, topped with microgreens (Rémoulade de bulots au curry, pommes granny smith, marrons). I continue to ask myself, what the hell is a boulot, guessing it is something between a mussel and an escargot. The gentle creamy curry and tart apples envelop the meaty little boulots with subtle piquante flavor.

Later, I spot boulots at an open-air market and learn they are whelk (which doesn't do much to clear things up) -- an ambiguous mollusk.

With Brett’s ravioli appetizer, we begin to detect a theme: foamy froth. The Raviolés d’araignée de mer, émulsion crémeuse à citronelle come bathed in a fine foam emulsion. Brothy and buttery, the fresh seafood ravioli may have suffered from the foam, as it left a watery feel in the mouth.

For the mains, I go straight to la tradition: Blanquette de Veau. The chef offers a version from his native village of Painblanc in Burgundy (Traditionelle Blanquette de Veau, trompettes de la mort “comme à la Painblanc”). The dish’s highlights are a tie between the powerful triumverate of succulent stewed veal, aromatic vegetables (carrots, leeks, crosnes, parsnips) and insanely flavorful mushrooms (champignons de Paris and trompettes de la mort). Again, the stew sits in a light broth enhanced with foam, which works quite well this time, distinguishing it from the heavier cream-based blanquettes I’ve had in the past. Trompettes de la mort qualify as some of the most exotic mushrooms I’ve ever tasted - when cooked they are dark like hijiki with a deep earthy, salty flavor.

Brett follows with another traditional dish: Noix de Saint Jacques rotiés en coquille au beurre persille, endives meunières (roasted scallops in a parsley butter with endives meunières. This dish is straight-up good. The chef achieves an exceptional texture with the sweet scallops that is reminiscent of lobster. A kiss of foam and oily croutons top this dish.

Finally, dessert: Bouchon de chocolat guanaja, coeur coulant, sorbet à l’amande. Our hearts melt away in this oversized timbale of bittersweet chocolate cake. A beautiful quenelle of homemade almond sorbet cools our jets.

This is a fine start to our séjour à Paris.