PIZZA À LA FRANÇAISE

A few years back, Joanne and I were fortunate enough to spend a little time on the French Riviera, primarily in Nice, and one of our most pleasant culinary discoveries there was the PIZZA. On the one hand, this was no surprise – the French have embraced pizza as wholeheartedly as we have, perhaps even more so given the country’s proximity to, and shared history with, Italy – but pizza seemed to be EVERYWHERE in Nice, and in glorious variety.


Having spent a good deal of time in Italy, I’ve observed that the Italians have a somewhat limited visual and culinary pizza vocabulary. Don’t get me wrong here – Italian pizzas are great – but for the most part they are all kind of alike. In the south of France, I was stunned by the range of offerings, including white pizza and red pizza…paper-thin crispy crust versions and oozing deep-dish renditions…wood-fired pies and grilled ones (delicious)…some topped with a fried or poached egg, others crowned with French fries….some with puff pastry crust, and others with chewier varieties.

The Italians would probably insist on a sanity hearing.

But that got me thinking about why pizza in France was so distinct in character. It’s probably because one simply can’t imagine the French accepting anything culinary from Italians. Their ego can’t take it. They can’t help but “improve” on it. They would have to tinker (“No Italian cheese….Le fromage italien est inférieur.”) And I do have to admit that some of the pizzas deliciously incorporated the buttery flavors of semi-hard French cheeses like Cantal and Emmenthal.


It should not come as a surprise that the French are in the pizza business. Check out the maps and you’ll discover that France and what is now Italy have been joined at the hip for centuries. The separation occurred rather recently when Italy finally unified in 1861.

Another difference that we observed was the inclusion of a long-spouted cruet of hot, hot chile oil for drizzling on your pizza. (These really should be on the table of every pizzeria everywhere.)

Our favorite spot along Rue Massena was PIZZERIA CRESCI, where we fell in love with the classic French white cheese-less pizza called PISSALADIERE. It’s thick with deeply, slowly caramelized onions, tiny Nicoise black olives, rosemary, coarsely cracked black pepper and, of course, anchovies – and lots of ‘em!

So here’s the deal. At both SALUTs we started serving a French version of pizza a few weeks ago and it became immensely popular both as a shared appetizer and as a main course. In addition to a couple of delicious traditional pies, the most popular to date has been the French/Alsatian icon called TARTE FLAMBÉE, topped with sautéed onions, bacon (lardons), and Gruyere cheese.

Next on my list is the PISSALADIERE. Yeah, the anchovy one. That’s risky here in Minnesota, where we all know there’s only one anchovy in the entire state and it gets passed from restaurant to restaurant, Caesar salad to Caesar salad. But we’ll give it a shot. Stay tuned!

Finally in the French pizza department, a CROQUE MADAME BREAKFAST PIZZA that packs a ton of gooey, cheesy/hammy flavor was just trotted out for Sunday brunch at Salut. Check out the photo.

WTF

Phil

SAY IT AIN’T SO!

In early January I read that the 100-year-old Lord & Taylor flagship store on 5th Avenue closed. In the same piece it was announced that Henri Bendel, the store that first featured Coco Channel in America, had folded its tent as well.


Did they, like so many other brick and mortar businesses, fall victim to the seismic upheaval caused by e-commerce?

One thing I know: Some very august culinary institutions have recently shut their doors – among them, some of Joanne’s and my favorites.

A while back I posted about the CARNEGIE DELI quitting business. Now, here was the gold standard of New York delis, the one that had it all: good food, big scale, star power and great management.


Rock star chefs were not immune. Bobby Flay’s BAR AMERICAIN (not one of our favorites) folded, as did Daniel Boulud’s DBGB pork and sausage-centric emporium in the Bowery.

No chef is hotter these days than David Chang. And yet, I’ll no longer be able to ravage the signature Habanero Fried Chicken at his upscale Ma Pêche, which closed after eight years in Manhattan.

The list goes on…and on….

The demise of KARL RATZCH’S, Milwaukee’s Teutonic temple of German food and oompah music represented another passing of a great American institution…113 years! That was our “go-to” spot for weiner schnitzel and roasted goose shank when we were opening BUCA in Milwaukee.


(What does one do without a reliable outpost for goose shank???)

And how about, after 83 years, the demise of the famous celebrity hangout in Chicago, THE CAPE COD ROOM in the Drake Hotel? No more giant platters of Clams Casino for the table.


Across the pond, three of our favorites have gone away, including SIMPSON’S ON THE STRAND located near Piccadilly Circus, where commanding Christofle silver-plated trollies ferried haunches of roasted Scotch Beef, deftly carved tableside? It closed after nearly 130 years in business.

Also sad: the shuddering of FERA, the Art Deco masterpiece at Claridges Hotel in Mayfair. Joanne and I ate there only once (at table #14) and enjoyed possibly the most beautiful and stunning plates ever. Check out our amuse bouche of floral tartines. I guess that there just wasn’t a big enough audience for that sort of thing.

(RUMOR !!!!! ELEVEN MADISON PARK might be taking over the space. Stay tuned.)

A neighborhood favorite in London, Mayfair’s WILD HONEY, went south. That was double sad because the owners shuttered its sister restaurant, ARBUTUS (one of our favorites), just a year earlier.


And even though Joanne and I weren’t able to go there all that often, for some reason I was caught flat-footed upon learning that the iconic Boston Landmark, DURGIN PARK in Faneuil Hall, was about to serve its final order of Yankee Pot Roast after a nearly 200-year run. This was THE bastion not only for that dish, but a roster of other Yankee fare as well: enormous slabs of Prime Rib…Clam Chowdah…Boston Baked Scrod…Little Neck Clambakes…dinosaur-sized lobsters…and that ballast against Boston winters and Nor’easters, Boston Baked Beans, cooked for seven hours (none of that Heinz canned stuff here).

Those fortunate enough to visit Durgin Park on St. Patty’s day could feast on platters of Corned Beef and Cabbage, most always followed by Apple Pan Dowdy or Baked Indian Pudding (not the south Asian kind, but instead a nod to the Native American/early settlers version, made with cornmeal, honey, custard and molasses, and topped with a whopping scoop of vanilla ice cream. It probably tasted the exact same way on Durgin Park’s last day as it did when they opened in 1827.

The seating was communal, with long red-checkered tablecloth tables that sat 20 people. The place was built for fun.

And part of the pleasure (when you finally get the joke) were the most unpleasant waitresses that we have ever experienced. They were rude…and famous for it (God only knows where they’ll find new employment). I recall that our waitress, with her thick Southie accent and dyed red hair, seemed to genuinely resent our presence. But that was all part of the “shtick.”


DURGIN, we hardly knew ya….

WTF

Phil

YOU SAY CAJUN, I SAY CREOLE

The PARADE SEASON has just ended.

With MARDI GRAS now in my rearview mirror, I got to thinking about Joanne’s and my culinary adventures to New Orleans and the surrounding areas on up through Baton Rouge.


The Mardi Gras season officially begins on the 12th day of Christmas– the Epiphany – and ramps up with parties and parades before reaching its climax with the main carnival parade on FAT TUESDAY, the day before Ash Wednesday. That’s their last opportunity to indulge in rich food and drink before the fasting and religious obligations of Lent begin.

One of my memorable indulgences during the season is the “sweetness on steroids” intersection between the secular and religious dessert known as the KING CAKE. Iced with green, purple and gold frosting and sprinkles, the official colors of Mardi Gras (for “justice, faith and power”), it has a small plastic baby figurine mixed into the batter. The person whose slice contains it is obligated to provide the next king cake or host the following year’s Mardi Gras party.

Of course, the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Louisiana’s culinary culture is its rich heritage of CAJUN and CREOLE cooking. Yet I have to admit as often as I’ve enjoyed it, I still get fuzzy on the difference between the two. I’m not alone in this regard. Witness local food writers and reporters who regularly refer to them as “two distinct but similar cuisines.” In fact, most people – including quite a few chefs – use the terms “Cajun” and “Creole” interchangeably.

The distinction continues to blur today, but certain differences are apparent historically.

In the late 1700s, the Acadians (French people who’d settled in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia) were kicked out of Canada by the British. They ended up relocating in western Louisiana’s mosquito-infested swamps and bayous.

Called CAJUNS by the local population, the Acadians lived off the land, hunting, fishing and trapping the bounty of the swamps, marshes and the Mississippi River. Gators, squirrels, rabbits, racoons, feral pigs, deer and freshwater crawfish became everyday staples of their diet. Mixtures of ingredients were cooked in large cast iron vessels (“one-pot dinners”). This was rib-sticking food – hearty and rustic. Think turtle soup, rabbit and squirrel gumbo, gator and andouille sausage, fried catfish and crawfish boil.


Those one-pot dinners most always began with a ROUX, a combination of equal parts lard and flour continually stirred through stages from blonde to dark chocolate color. To this they ALWAYS added the “holy trinity” of green bell peppers, celery and onions. Cajuns generally prefer the dark roux as it stands up well to the gaminess of the critters.

But what about CREOLE?

At the time, what we now know as Louisiana was ruled by Spain. Visitors to population centers like New Orleans encountered a diverse cultural mix of Spanish, West African, Italian, French, Native American, Portuguese, and Caribbean influences.


Creoles were urbanites who flocked to New Orleans because of its access to Europe and the rest of the world. West African spices, Italian tomatoes and peppers, Spanish citrus fruits, and bananas and limes from the Caribbean all passed through the port city.

One of our many favorite restaurants in New Orleans is the 106-year-old PASCAL’S MANALE, a Creole-leaning spot that, in addition to Sicilian red sauce pastas and oysters, specializes in BARBECUED SHRIMP – messy beyond belief, delicious beyond your imagination.

The Italian influence on Creole continues with the MUFFULETTA SANDWICH from the Central Grocery on Decatur Street in the French Quarter. It’s redolent with provolone cheese, salami and mortadella and, of course, the iconic olive giardiniera.

Remember the chocolate roux?

Well, the Creoles tend to prefer a lighter, blonde roux as a base for their cuisine, and they use butter instead of lard to create it. This results in a roux the color of a paper bag or peanut butter. Like the Cajuns, they incorporate the “holy trinity” as a base.


Creole JAMBALAYAS (a Spanish-inspired sorta PAELLA), along with GUMBOS and ETOUFFES, are lighter than the Cajuns’ iterations of similar dishes and most always include tomatoes. The Cajun renditions tend to be thicker while the Creole versions are more sophisticated and soup-like.

Check out the side-by-side images of the étouffés below – one Creole, and the darker one Cajun.

Another more recent creation with a Creole pedigree is blackened fish, boldly seasoned with spices and cayenne pepper. The late, great Paul Prudhomme first introduced blackened redfish to the world when he was the chef at COMMANDER’S PALACE. Later, at his own place, K-PAULS KITCHEN, he expanded his repertoire to include blackened catfish and drum.

So…are Cajun and Creole the same thing?

Well, in today’s Louisiana, they kind of are….and aren’t. When Joanne and I visited New Iberia, Louisiana deep in the bayous, to tour the Tabasco factory, a purer version of Cajun cuisine seemed to emerge.


But perhaps it’s a distinction without a meaningful difference. After all, both Cajun and Creole cuisines are equally delicious. The blended recipes are as well. And all utilize local ingredients. I’m reminded of Burgundy and Bordeaux red wines. Like wool and silk, one is not better than the other; they’re simply different.

Take Gumbo, a fixture of both Creole and Cajun cooking. Cajun versions are often based on a dark roux; Creole versions are lighter. Can one be considered objectively superior to the other?

My New Orleans guru, Michael Ewing, says yes. There is indeed a version that towers above all others: his mother’s.

Now, Michael is a New Orleans transplant (a Creole) who moved up to Minnesota after Hurricane Katrina demolished his 9th Ward neighborhood. He helped open SALUT with us – is still here at SALUT. He grew up eating Gumbo, which his mom would prepare on holidays and for other special gatherings, always in a quantity sufficient for his many aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbors to eat their fill AND take leftovers home with them.


According to Michael, his mom’s recipe is the GUMBO GOLD STANDARD in all of Louisiana – be it Cajun or Creole country.

So what’s her secret? I’m sure there are many, but this much he has disclosed to me: She starts with a blonde roux, adds the “holy trinity”, and includes tomatoes (a main Creole ingredient). Instead of one kind of sausage, she uses three: andouille, spicy Italian and ALWAYS D&D Smoked Pork Sausage from Bogalusa, Louisiana. Chopped-up crabs add another level of flavor. She adds okra, too, along with filé powder, made from dried, ground sassafras leaves.


Hopefully, I can persuade Michael or his Mom to share their recipe with me (in exchange, I’ll tell them all my mother’s Jello secrets).

WTF,

Phil

HIGH ON POT PIE

BABY IT’S COLD OUTSIDE…

And that reminds me…

As a 10-year-old growing up in the winter, in Kewanee, Illinois, I can recall when television was coming on the scene and SWANSON TV DINNERS were being introduced at the A&P grocery store a couple blocks away. Despite my mom, Aunt Rose and my grandmother all being great cooks (and all of us living under the same roof), TV dinners seemed to me like a step-up – an All-American Dinner…the iconic Swanson Chicken Pot Pie (BTW, all white meat, even then).


Fast forward to today. Pot pies are still a popular American choice, and in fact pot pies (or sorta pot pies) exist – more than that, they thrive – in one form or another all over the world. Timbales in Italy…certain red curry constructions in Thailand…the occasional Indian Biryani topped with a naan bread crust…tamale pie in Mexico….lamb fatayer in the Middle East….German brats, beer and cheddar crowned with a pretzel crust…and some preparations of Moussaka in Greece.

While the stuff under the lid is usually beef, lamb, poultry or seafood with vegetables, there are also game pot pies, packed with grouse, venison, pheasant and even wild boar. These are especially popular in the fall, and particularly in Europe.

However, it’s a sad state of culinary affairs that England has adopted those too often dreary pot pies made out of scraps and leftovers as a national dish…in the same league as the ubiquitous BANGERS & MASH or FISH & CHIPS.

And so it was that a couple weeks ago, in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal, that I came upon an article titled, “London’s Least Humble Pie,” featuring stunning and creative pot pie departures, far from the gloomy, sometimes factory-made iterations that have become “pub grub.”

Now, Joanne and I have eaten our share of pot pies on visits to London. Our favorite steakhouse, the GUINEA GRILL in Mayfair, served me (not Joanne…OMG, not Joanne, EVER) a delicious gut bomb Steak & Kidney Pie on a recent visit. Yeah, I eat kidneys…with hot English mustard.

BTW, remember…don’t forget to request Table #22 there.

GEALE’S in Notting Hill is well worth a visit. Of course, you’ll get the Fish & Chips (best in London), but also treat yourselves to their mashed potato-topped Fish Pie. It’s loaded.


On more than one occasion, at the doorstep of Covent Garden on a cold and rainy night, Joanne and I have settled into table #14 at J. SHEEKEY for their Dublin Prawn Pot Pie. That and a bottle of white Burgundy or two does take the chill off.

The article in the Wall Street Journal led off with one of my favorite chefs, Fergus Henderson of snout-to-tail dining fame. He utilizes the whole hog – and I mean the WHOLE hog – in his preparations. I’ve never had his Pork Pie, but if you look at the image below, you’ll understand, once and for all, the origin of the Pork Pie Hat.

Here are the restaurants in London that are taking the humble, savory pastry to new heights with ambitious recipes, the very best ingredients, and more than a little imagination and chutzpah. You can check out their websites.

THE WINDMILL – three-time winner at THE BRITISH PIE AWARDS.


MARKSMAN – protegés of Fergus Henderson

THE WIGMOR – in the posh Langham hotel, overseen by Michel Roux of the two Michelin-starred LE GAVROCHE in Mayfair. in the Spring? LAMB. In the Fall? VENISON.

ROCHELLE CANTEEN – Chef Margot, wife of Fergus Henderson. In the fall, for sharing, a pie with a wintry filling of venison and pickled walnuts is a signature dish. It’s in Shoreditch.

THE HOLBORN DINING ROOM – Chef Calum Franklin (a favorite of ours) serves New Zealand Curried Lamb (pictured). It’s housed in the Rosewood Hotel.

And now, looking for something strange to eat? Wondering about the horrors you might be eating? Dig into the MOTHER OF ALL SAVORY POT PIES…….

Direct from SWEENEY TODD, “the Demon Barber of Fleet Street” who slits the throats of customers, strips the meat off their bones, and makes it into pies sold by his accomplice and baker, Mrs. Lovett, in her bakery.

And as her motto reads,

“SERVING PEOPLE SINCE 1846”


W.T.F.

PHIL

SUSHI AT TANUKI

You don’t generally think of something creative and sophisticated, let alone tasty, originating in Russia.


And yet…

The former Soviet Union is home to a highly-regarded Japanese restaurant chain called TANUKI that now has 60 or more outlets. And as you check out the images below….you can detect a not surprising heavy hand in the design.


Well, just what is a Tanuki anyway? REAL?….MYTH?

It turns out, much to my surprise, that a Tanuki is an actual animal that resides only in Japan (outside of a couple zoos around the world). The Japanese refer to it as a “Racoon-dog,” and it’s significant in their folklore, representing ancient supernatural powers. The creature is said to be mischievous, a master of disguise and trickery.


Well, I’m pleased to announce that the furry little scamp has established a beachhead, its first and only United States outpost, in Miami Beach. And I couldn’t be happier. Joanne and I dine at Tanuki when we are in Miami as often as we dine at Joe’s Stone Crab. And that’s a lot.

Now Tanuki is not a pure Japanese play. It’s pan-Asian, with dishes faithfully crafted and replicated not only from Japan, but China, Thailand and a few other outliers.

That’s fine with me because it’s a target-rich environment for new ideas and dishes at CHINO LATINO.

As you might expect, the menu is heavily weighted with the Japanese icons…. maki (sushi rolls)…NIGIRI (raw fish on rice)…and SASHIMI (just slices of raw fish) – all, and I mean ALL – pristinely fresh, beautifully plated and wonderful to eat. Joanne even gagged down the unagi (eel), all the while threatening divorce court or worse (hatchet murder) if I ever tried to coax her into that again.


But she suddenly became polite, contrite and adorable as we both wolfed down steamer basket after steamer basket of stuffed hot steamed dumplings – our two favorites being the chicken and truffle shumai and the Peking Duck (see, I told you this wasn’t a pure Japanese play).

As you probably know from previous postings, I am a sucker for Bao Buns…soft and pillowy, hot and steamy. Tanuki reached back into its democratic bag of tricks and out came three different and incredible iterations of this dish. One is Southern Fried Chicken. Next came Korean Barbecue Pork Belly. And finally, Chinese Peking Duck – all around $15 for a pair.

Once again, shamelessly off the Japanese culinary grid, Tanuki offers tacos – Mexican tacos (well, sorta) – packed with Wagyu Beef and Pork Belly, for $14.

It’s now time to tell you: I LIKE THIS STUFF. I JUST DON’T GIVE A DAMN THAT IT’S NOT ALL JAPANESE. I’M AMUSED BY THE VARIETY.

So with that in mind, we happily followed the menu to…Italy and a smoked salmon pizza with avocado, sesame oil, jalapenos and truffle oil ($18).


We didn’t order them but the main courses served at the tables around us looked good – large portions, artfully plated, especially the Braised Wagyu Short Rib and the Miso Glazed Salmon. I can only imagine that the Peking Duck ($48) was good as well. However, it was not carved tableside. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that the theatrics of the chef carving up the duck right in front of you are integral to the dish. On the other hand, they’d probably double its price were they to serve it in the traditional manner.

Dessert could have been straight out of Japanese central casting, save for Tanuki’s ode to Miami Beach: Key Lime Pie, served in a little fat glass. Check it out.

A flight of ice-cold, creamy and colorful Mochi arrived, only to be “Trumped” (sorry)…by a wink and a nod to the healthy, antioxidant Japanese Macha Lava Cake with Green Tea Ice Cream (yum!!)

If you are in Miami Beach, do go.

BTW, request tables #11, 12, 13, or 14 – all four-top window tables.

W.T.F.

PHIL

GOOD DAY FOR A GREAT BREAKFAST

A couple weeks ago, on January 10th, I wrote a post (Good Morning, London) on the Brits’ mastery of breakfast. And as I wrote it, I got to thinking about other memorable breakfasts I’ve had – over the years, and very recently.

First, of course, is New York, where three spots stand out…..


SARABETH’S, which has six or seven locations, offers wholesome comfort food and luscious, just-baked goods right out of the oven. It’s rated 4.0 by Zagat’s.

And you cannot visit New York without starting your day at NORMA’S in the Le Parker Meridien Hotel on west 56th Street. Known for lavish breakfasts and brunches, beautifully plated and big enough to share, it sports a whopping 4.4 Zagat rating.

Finally, if you can get in, there’s the buzzy French BRASSERIE BALTHAZAR on Spring Street. Also boasting a 4.4 Zagat rating, it’s exactly what you’d expect from Keith McNally, the legendary creator of New York’s top French bistros and brasseries. The food is great across the board, and the breads in particular approach perfection.

These New York breakfast spots are on the same high level as THE WOLSELEY in London (get their gut-busting Full Monty) and HUGO’S on Santa Monica Blvd. in Los Angeles. Like our own GOOD EARTH, Hugo’s all-natural menu offers many healthful options and a few decadent ones (get the Pumpkin Pancakes with real maple syrup. They don’t even have the fake stuff).

But sometimes I need to remember that not everything I write about has to be in far-flung cities – because there are several remarkable restaurants right here in our own backyard. Forgive me for sounding hopelessly self-serving….BUT…Is there a better steakhouse anywhere on the planet than MANNY’S? (Sorry, but if it’s the truth, it ain’t braggin.’

That brings me to a wonderful breakfast that Joanne and I had with our daughter and two of her kids a few weeks ago. The fare was strictly American and yet just as enjoyable as any of the London or New York restaurants that I speak of.

Where?…….Golden Valley.


Who and what?……THE GOOD DAY CAFÉ.

Expect a wait on weekends – maybe 30 – 40 minutes. But that’s only testimony as to how good and how popular it is – especially when you consider the fact that this place ain’t new. It’s been around for years now, but the operation is so smooth, the property so well-tended, and the menu so on-trend that a first-time visitor might well assume it’s newly opened.

And the owner/operator, Nancy, is all over the place…bussing tables, running food, doing resets, all while seating guests…and always with a smile. Staff clearly follow her lead, because once you’re seated, the speed and efficiency of the service trump all. This is a VERY WELL-RUN restaurant that has two powerful advantages over the cookie-cutter chains: HEART and SOUL.


Our group ate large. Joanne savored every bite of her deep and creamy quiche. I dug into the Southwest Souffle Omelette, while our daughter vacuumed up the Payslie’s favorite …. eggs bennie with guacamole and topped with perfectly poached eggs. And the kids? The one with a more refined palate (or perhaps just a penchant for ordering the most expensive thing on the menu) made short work of the Crab Cakes Benedict, and the other one – a confirmed sugarholic – devoured the Glazed Donut Pancakes. I suspect she stopped bouncing off the walls sometime before dinner that evening.

Check out the images below. Good Day Café may not be exotic. It’s not gimmicky or weird. But damn, it’s good!

GOOD DAY!

W.T.F.

PHIL

THE RUCKUS AT RUNGIS

The area in Paris known as LES HALLES traces its beginnings as a marketplace as far back as the 12th century, when King Louis 8th took control of the neighborhood. Initially dry goods were sold here, but food stalls were added over the years, and by the end of the 16th century LES HALLES was the pulsating heart of the city. That also coincided with the opening nearby of the grand Eglise Saint-Eustache, one of the most visited churches in Paris.


The market grew and thrived until 1971, when President Georges Pompidou ordered its demolition and relocation to the southern Paris suburb of RUNGIS.

Parisians were devastated to see it go, but it was probably a good decision as the area was hopelessly overcrowded. Delivery trucks could no longer maneuver, the area sewer system was woefully inadequate, and to top it off the streets were infested with rats – often competing with human scavengers for fruit scraps and squashed fish heads on the ground.

And while it made sense to relocate the market, what to me made no sense at all was the architectural massacre of the heart of Paris.

Several things happened at the same time. First the Paris metro system and the suburban commuter-serving RER train network rerouted lines from all directions to converge underground at LES HALLES. Once, completed, this left a gaping hole which then President George Pompidou decided to fill with a legacy-defining project: the Renzo Piano-designed POMPIDOU CENTER, a mammoth post-modern structure whose mechanical “guts” were all on the exterior. The aesthetic abuse continued with construction of a cliché-ridden, universally reviled underground shopping center called LE FORUM DES HALLES.


At the end of last year, a giant modern curving umbrella covering a new shopping center the size of THE PLACE DES VOSGES was completed. Perhaps its purpose was to heal the architectural carnage of the past 50 years. Did it work? Check out the image. You decide.

Call me crazy, but I think that modern architecture and design should be built as far from the historic center of Paris as possible.

And I may not be alone. As a French architectural critic recently stated, “It isn’t ugly. The curves are agreeable. It isn’t too aggressive.” That sure sounds like faint praise to me, like saying, “Hey, you don’t sweat much for a fat guy.”

My advice: Take a walk by the Centre Pompidou, but give at least half a day to the RUNGIS MARKET. This isn’t high on the list of Paris tourist attractions, but if you’re willing to get up before dawn, can brave the refrigerated food pavilions, and don’t mind being in proximity to blood and animal parts, Joanne and I will guarantee you an eye-opening learning experience.

You can go by Metro line #7 or by train. Be advised however, that the Rungis station is a couple blocks from the market and you may not feel entirely safe walking that distance in the dark. Maybe take an UBER.


As you might expect of Parisians, the RUNGIS MARKET is 100% food…no dry goods here.

Wear some good walking shoes, because the size of the market is a jaw-dropping 578 ACRES (bigger than Monaco). It is organized by halls, or “pavilions” – about 20 of them – each larger than a Costco store. Rungis is a city unto itself, with its own police force, banks, post office and at least 19 full-fledged restaurants, not counting perhaps a hundred food stalls.


Each pavilion has its own specialty – one for flowers, one for cheese, one for beef. Lamb gets its own pavilion, as does pork, game and poultry. Then there’s my favorite (not Joanne’s – most definitely NOT Joanne’s): THE TRIPERIE, dedicated 100% to offal, those parts of the animal that you’ll never see at Lund’s, but are integral to French cuisine. Plus, the floors were slippery – not from water, but from…you know what.

How refreshing it was to visit the fruit and vegetable pavilion next. People first eat with their eyes, and nobody understands that better than the French. The produce merchandising and displays are stunning. Cameras are allowed.

Over 400 different cheeses are represented in the cheese pavilion, and not just from France alone. They range from bite-sized pucks to wheels that could fit on a Mack Truck.

The seafood pavilion was Joanne’s favorite (I’ll stick with the Triperie), as the fishermen deliver their catch around 4:00 AM to eagerly awaiting buyers, many of them restaurant chefs. The local fish you see was swimming just a few hours earlier.

In my July 28, 2016 post (“I’m a Bresse Man”), I touted the chicken from Bresse, France as the best in all of the world. Well, the poultry pavilion is the center of the world for distribution of the prized bird, although I’m not certain that they can be sent to anyplace besides France. Much to my continued disappointment, they are not available in the United States. But that night Joanne and I dined on…you guessed it.

We ended our visit at the brilliant flower pavilion by watching container after container of flowers of all kinds arriving. Most containers, but not all, seemed to come from Holland and some weren’t even removed from their airline containers before heading out the door, presumably to another aircraft.

Finally, if you choose to visit the RUNGIS MARKET, there are tours available. Joanne and I, and one of our Parasole partners, VP of Marketing Kip Clayton, did the tour on our own and loved each and every step. But it might also be interesting to take a guided tour.

Our morning was topped off with double espressos alongside a line of white-coated butchers – not having espresso, but something stronger after a morning of hacking away with a meat cleaver.

As we left the market, we saw the clergy wheeling out a crate of apples.

All was well.

WTF

PHIL

TO MARKET, TO MARKET

One of the many pleasures that Joanne and I share when visiting major capitals is to seek out the local marketplaces. Some are refined, some are gritty. And a few are really gritty.

Among the refined – no surprise here – are the food markets in Stockholm and Munich.

In the heart of downtown Stockholm stands the SALUHALL OLSTERMALM FOOD HALL. Built in 1888, it’s an institution: a place for the enjoyment of local and international foods in an historic setting. It closed in 2016 for an extensive makeover and has since reopened with a much larger space and improved connectivity to the surrounding streets.


On a recent visit to Munich, we visited the VIKTUALIENMARKT, a series of structures purveying fresh food, sausages, flowers…all that you’d expect. What might surprise you are its vast outdoor beer gardens, which become the epicenter of Oktoberfest, or the big, sleek and shiny new Italian food hall, EATALY, that has taken root dead center in the Munich market.

Eataly is extremely well-designed and merchandised for a population that – like everyone else – loves Italian food. But a German resident told us that Munich citizens have not totally embraced Eataly, and I sense that his observation may be correct. To me, Eataly seems to clash with the realness of the surrounding German food stalls and beer gardens. Maybe that explains the thinness of the crowds on the day we visited.

Further south is Florence’s MERCATO CENTRALE, a big and buzzy place set in a two-story building that we have visited probably a dozen times or more during my days at BUCA, when I lead our chefs and managers on culinary tours of Italy.

One of the frustrating things that I experience in these food halls and markets where everything is stunningly merchandised and presented is that it makes no sense to buy any of the mouthwatering offerings. After all, you’re staying in a hotel. But one year I wised up. We rented an apartment in town, and finally I had the pleasure of morning shopping trips to the market and lazy afternoons preparing dinner.

But this last visit to the Florence market was jarring. Although the first-floor food stalls remain vital, crowded and alive, all the second-floor food stalls have been replaced by – you guessed it – Eataly.

However, this iteration felt entirely different than its Munich counterpart. Though all hew to the same formula, Eataly in Florence feels authentic rather than forced, and it attracts locals and tourists like a magnet. Our grandkids were stunned by the variety and novelty of the offerings, many of which they’d never seen before. It all boiled down to a whopping fun place to browse, buy and eat. BTW, private tours of Eataly and the market are available for about $75, and the facility boasts a very modern cooking school offering day classes that’ll run you a hundred bucks or so.


Further south and a little further down the gritty scale, we come to Barcelona, home of Antoni Gaudi, the eccentric architect who designed the CHURCH OF SAGRADA FAMILIA. So unsettling was his work that his professor at the Barcelona School of Architecture said upon Gaudi’s graduation, “I do not know if we have awarded this degree to a mad man or a genius.” Check out the images. You decide.

But what I’ve decided is that Barcelona’s BOQUERIA MARKET, two-thirds up the Rambla on your left, is one of the most sensual and dramatic markets in all of Europe. It was started around 1840 and arrived at its present form in 1914. Today throngs of tourists and locals stroll the market on slippery floors of melting ice and discarded fruit skins. Stall keepers are loud and shout out their goods, lending charm and authenticity to the frenzy.

The Boqueria Tourist Guide says, “High dining stools in open air restaurants abound and can be absurd, as a man walking by as you eat carrying a pig right under your nose….but that also serves to remind you of the spontaneity and freshness they offer.”

Next on my list is Palermo, Sicily and the VUCCIRIA (pronounced Voo-chir-RIA), an early-morning market located both above and below street level in the city’s historic downtown. Owing to Palermo’s proximity to the sea, fishmongers dominate and have the most interesting stalls, laden with swordfish and tuna, fresh from the Straits of Messina, weighing in at several hundred pounds. Bright, brilliant and vivid colors of just-picked produce punctuate the grayness of the sometimes-grimy streets.


The Vucciria market strikes me as completely natural – no showbiz, no staging, just REAL.
The market opens at 4:00 AM when fishermen arrive with their catch and are greeted by buyers who have been waiting since 3:00 AM. So try to get there no later than 6:00 AM to see the Vucciria in action.

Half way around the globe and a world away from the refined markets of Sweden and Munich sits Bangkok’s sprawling CHATUCHAK MARKET. Here you can find almost anything from food to housewares to fine art and auto parts. In addition to selling an array of meats and produce (some of it quite exotic and not to my nose…like durian), you’ll find a vast array of land and see creatures – some sold as pets, others as ingredients. So what’ll it be for your evening meal? Rats…reptiles…worms? Take a look.

I ain’t lying.

WTF

PHIL

GOOD MORNING, LONDON

About a year ago I posted a blog titled “Start Your Day Right”, about some of Joanne’s and my favorite breakfast spots.

But on a recent trip to London, it occurred to me that nobody – and I mean NOBODY – does breakfast better than the English.


The tradition of hearty morning meals dates back a couple hundred years to the country houses of the English gentry and their notion of what constituted a proper Anglo-Saxon breakfast. It’s said that they liked to display their wealth to their peers by outdoing one another with robust pre-noon repasts. Another notion is that during World War II, Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, even on campaigns, began his day with a huge breakfast platter that came to be known as “THE FULL MONTY.” Other terms for it include The Fry-Up, The Whole 9 Yards, The Whole Hog, and simply The English Breakfast.

Check out the image. Digging in to a piping Fry-Up is an experience that “can get you right…no matter what you did the night before.”

But there are rules……

Always SAUSAGE (bangers) and bacon – either “streaky” like you typically find in America, or “back bacon,” a favorite of the Canadians. Lower-calorie back bacon comes from the cured loin of the pig and is served to counter the fatty sausage. Sliced black pudding (oatmeal, pork fat and pig blood…YUM!), along with sautéed mushrooms and grilled tomatoes, is a must – as is Heinz Baked Beans (yes, right out of the can). Two eggs, fried or poached, will anchor the plate, and a grilled lamb chop or pork chop might also be included.

Now on to my London favorites, and some British adventure beyond bacon and eggs.

We love THE WOLSELEY on Piccadilly. The place is grand – black, gold and cream colored. It’s ALWAYS jam-packed, always surprising, and always good. Yes, they have the Full Monty, but also a perfect Eggs Benedict as well various other iterations of the dish. The fluffy Ricotta Hot Cakes, crowned with sweet cherries and crème fraiche? Well, you know. And for the adventurous, how about Spicy Indian Curried Kedgeree (Madras curry, basmati rice, onions, lentils and a poached egg)?


Or if you have a hankering for Haggis (and who can resist Scotland’s signature dish of heart, liver, onions, oatmeal, suet, spices and sheep’s lungs, all steamed in an animal’s stomach?), then this is for you – complete with two poached eggs (BTW, the USDA has banned haggis in the United States. It has something to do with sheep’s lungs. No kidding).

Next on our stop is the CONNAUGHT HOTEL in Mayfair, where celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten oversees the main dining room. I strongly suggest that you try the Connaught’s more precise version of the Full Monty. They don’t call it that. They simply call it the English Breakfast. Note how refined this version is (yet still, the beans come from a can).

Remember that you are in London…and that it’s time to step out of your “safe zone” from time to time. SMOKED HADDOCK and POACHED EGG for breakfast? Sure, why not? How about Kippers? Ever had ‘em? Oatmeal, yogurt, fresh figs and fresh fruit, with a shot of bee pollen? Trust me, it’s delicious. And beautiful.

The Connaught certainly inspired me to add TARTINES to SALUT’s lunch menu. Mushy peas and burrata on whole grain toast are a good start. Even better was the Avocado Toast Tartine with smoked salmon and poached eggs.

Although the Connaught serves it at breakfast, I think the Smoked Salmon with Blini (baby pancakes) and crème fraiche would also be a nice dinner appetizer.

The tiny jars of jam and jelly are cute – exactly the thing that my mother liked to slip into her purse. And will someone please tell me: Why is toast served cold in England?

For lighter fare, stop by PRUFROCK COFFEE in Clerkenwell for exotic and out-of-this world brewed beverages. While there, do NOT miss their House Porridge with nutmeg and fresh figs.

A little more exotic and unusual breakfast spot is the Asian-Indian restaurant DISHOOM (not to be confused with “dish room”) on St. Martin’s Lane in Shoreditch. I’d never had an Indian breakfast before then, and I’m not certain that one would find this nominally Indian offering anywhere on the sub-continent ….. but their Bacon-Naan house breakfast sandwich was a delight.

The best bacon in London? Head to the GINGER PIG in Marylebone and try their dry-cured version.

Housed 40 stories up in the Heron Tower is THE DUCK AND WAFFLE, a riff on the America southern classic Chicken & Waffles. It’s probably not for everybody, but several members of our Parasole culinary team gave it a shot when we were in London a couple of years ago. And of course their “go-to” breakfast dish is…Duck & Waffles, consisting of duck leg confit, a crispy waffle, and a big fat duck egg, smothered with mustard/maple syrup. And it all comes with a postcard-perfect panorama of London.


Clerkenwell makes another appearance here. This time it’s THE GRANGER & COMPANY. (I think they may have another location in King’s Cross.). I love their Pan-Fried Back Bacon and Fried Egg Sandwich on a toasted sesame bun. I know it’s not gourmet dining, but DAMN, IT’S GOOD! If you want something less heavy, this restaurant is also known for its light and fluffy Ricotta Pancakes with bananas, all covered with honey butter.

Also in the neighborhood: THE MODERN PANTRY, which has a charming patio in front, along with enticing breakfast offerings. I know, I know…but I love bacon, and was immediately drawn to their Bacon & Waffles. And don’t be bashful – give the poached eggs and fried haloumi cheese a go. If you’ve never been to Greece or Cyprus, fried haloumi might be unknown to you, so here’s your chance to try it.

Modern Pantry also serves an American-inspired dish that combines cornbread, fried egg, chorizo and green chili salsa to delicious effect. And don’t miss the croissants, which are baked on the premises. Two standouts are the melt-in-your-mouth Toasted Almond Croissant and the Pumpkin Croissants with Salty Toasted Pumpkin Seeds, a fall feature.

Finally, the snout-to-tail, “mother of ‘em all” breakfast served at Fergus Henderson’s St. John Bread & Wine in Spitalfields, where every part of the pig is served, even the squeal. Start with the best and biggest, homemade, thick-sliced sourdough bread stuffed with what must be a full pound of pan-fried back bacon. BTW, the toast is slathered with butter. Do not share. Keep it all for yourself.

Further up the piggy ladder you’ll find a plump fried duck egg sitting upon a thick slice of pig’s blood pudding. Getting excited now?

But hold on, folks. The hits just keep ‘a comin’.

DEVILED LAMB KIDNEYS ON SOURDOUGH TOAST, combined with English mustard dipping sauce. My adventurous 12-year-old grandson actually ate a full order of it, But you know what the French say: “With the right sauce, you can eat your father.”


And you thought Sheep’s lungs were a challenge.

And finally, I am so blessed: My whole family surprised me by showing up in London to celebrate my birthday.


WTF,

Phil

FEEDING TIME AT LE ZOO

The famous French Impressionist painter, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, must of had a “thing” for the star can-can dancer of the MOULIN ROUGE, Louise Weber, as she was by far the most prolific subject of his works. Her stage name was Goulue, which roughly translates to “glutton,” apparently because she was known for snatching and guzzling patrons’ drinks as she danced.


One of Joanne’s and my favorite brasseries in Miami was named LA GOLUE. Housed for years in the toniest of Bal Harbor’s shopping centers, it seemed to have everything going for it – the right look, an uncluttered Parisian style, a charming outdoor café. La Goulue checked all the boxes for authentic bistro/brasserie offerings, from Steak Frites to Croque Madame, and the public seemed to love it.

So it came as a complete surprise to us last year when we discovered that they had vacated the space and had been replaced by another French brasserie…. called LE ZOO.

My disappointment over losing a restaurant “friend” didn’t last long, however – because the new owner/operator turned out to be none other than Stephen Starr, a master at creating sensory dining pleasures and spaces. (Check out my March 1, 2018 post about Starr’s Le Cou Cou restaurant, my new favorite dining spot in New York City.)

I just knew Le Zoo would be good….and indeed it was when Joanne and I dined there last month.


First of all, the space is smart and stylish, like your favorite Parisian restaurant, filled with good-looking people having a great-looking time. The interior atmospherics and trappings are a little fancier and more serious than SALUT’S, but the two restaurants share a devotion to the French classics, with very similar quality and prices. Yes, they have Foie Gras at $24 and Stone Crabs at market price (both are money well spent), but that’s about the only signal I got that perhaps Le Zoo is more of a special occasion place. There’s certainly no snootiness to it.

To the contrary, I actually felt that Le Zoo is striving to be rather broad-based in its appeal, with both pizza and pasta sections on the menu. (Coincidently, both SALUT restaurants are debuting pizzas and pastas this February. More on that later.)

The Steak Frites, Bouillabaisse, Black Truffle Tagliolini and Profiteroles were straight from the French canon. What’s not so “textbook,” but nevertheless delicious and witty, was their Kosher Hot Dog Frites – old-fashioned fatso goodness. And YES, the hot dog snapped out loud when I bit into it – just as a good hot dog should.

WTF

PHIL