All tagged Paris

Next: Paris 1906

My recent meal at Next, Chicago, was extraordinary. The concept of the restaurant changes every three months, opening with Paris, 1906, a meal based on Auguste Escoffier's legendary cookbook Le Guide Culinaire. All the dishes on the menu included the page number from Le Guide Culinaire from which the recipe came. Chef Achatz and Chef Beran's precision and attention to detail made this meal as focused and delicious as the cuisine of the great chefs of traditional modern French cuisine. After two meals at Alinea, one of my biggest complaints was the lack of progression and seemingly disconnected structure of the meal. Next's Paris 1906 menu, on the other hand, was extremely concise and structured, telling a story and sharing the experience of eating in the city of lights at the turn of the century.

L'Ambroisie Revisited

I wrote about L'Ambroisie a few years ago here. At that time I wasn't sure what to make of the restaurant. On the one hand, I experienced tremendous difficulty making a reservation. And when I actually showed up the night of my reservation: I was turned away. The staff didn't seem that friendly. On the other hand, once I actually experienced the cuisine, the black truffle feuillantine haunted me for years after. I've since lived in Paris for nearly three years. While the restaurant may have evolved a bit since my first meal three years ago, it was I who changed the most. My expectations of a Parisian restaurant are different now. In the US, a meal at a three star Michelin restaurant is often reserved for special occasions: birthdays, anniversaries, congratulatory dinners and the like. The restaurants cater to the food as much as they do to customer enjoyment: they make guests feel special. Things are different here. Aside from say Guy Savoy, the impromptu gifts and unexpected culinary surprises such as tours of the kitchen, chef handshakes, and take-home goodie bags are severely limited. Ego-stroking is almost non-existent. Here, the fine dining ecosystem is designed for regulars.

Gocce di Caffè

Paris has a lot things, but great coffee sure isn't one of them. It's a bit counterintuitive to think that since Parisian café culture is so prominent. Images of sitting outside in wicker chairs in the cold winter under a gas heat lamp sipping a steaming hot drink in the smoke-filled air remind me very strongly of the city. Except that image is all about the ritual, not about the drink. Paris has a strong café culture, but lacks a coffee culture. It's incredible that a food-oriented culture which values so heavily elaborate sauces and delicate soufflés, can completely disregard the methods by which to properly prepare an espresso. Even simple ones. I was once thrown out of Café Amazone for suggesting that the doddering owner/barista use the tamp to compress the ground. He instead insisted on using the tamp as a measuring device, compressing the coffee into a spoon, and pouring the loose beans into the portafilter. Even La Caféothèque de Paris and Verlet, which both have fancy La Marzocco equipment and all Arabica beans disappoint. The city is like a parallel universe.

A lot of blame often gets put to the use of Robusta beans versus the more aromatic Arabica. France is able to import these beans from former African colonies at much less cost than overseas Arabica varieties. But frankly, I'm tired of this as an excuse. Even mediocre beans can taste reasonable when prepared correctly. With espresso, 85% of the flavor comes from the process and technique, not the ingredients.

A Baguette Tour of Paris

Before I moved to Paris, I knew most of the stereotypes: cigarettes, fake dimples, accordions, and berets. And there are others, to say the least. Thankfully, with the exception of the cigarettes, they turned out to be inaccurate. One stereotype, however, was so spot-on it was comical: I cannot count the number of Parisians I've seen racing around the city with groceries on one arm and a bitten baguette under the other. The French love their bread. And they should! With the arguable exception of Tokyo, Paris has the finest bread in the world. Fine boulangeries are to France as Starbucks is to America. They're everywhere.

Think about it: a baguette is the perfect accompaniment for any course. It goes with confiture and butter for breakfast, with a "jambon fromage" sandwich for lunch, in a small bowl to the side of a glass of red wine with dinner, or with a cheese board as a snack.