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Restaurant Arpège: my favorite in Paris!

I’ve written about Restaurant Arpège before (Check out: Some of my favorites from Paris: l’Arpège). However, this being my favorite restaurant, I think it deserved another post 🙂 In the last three months, I’ve had a chance to eat there twice and I just wanted to share some of the highlights with you.

During my October visit, scallops were just back in season so when I saw the scallop carpaccio on the menu I had to get it. I ordered à la carte and you have the option to order half portions (this allows you to taste more dishes), which I did since I had my eye on another appetizer. The scallops were served with radishes and geranium oil. A gorgeous dish that’s also delicious!

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The sommelier paired this dish with a glass of Chenin from Anjou in the Loire Valley: 2015 Les Roches Sèches Les Varennes. It was really a fantastic pairing and I’ll definitely put it in my repertoire for future dinner parties.

My favorite dish at l’Arpège (and in the world) is the beetroot tartare – this was my second starter. It is simply heavenly. This is one of the signature dishes here though certain elements of the dish change daily. That day, it was served with parmesan.

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The wine of choice was a Riesling: 2013 Zusslin by Clos Liebenberg. Lovely match!

For the main course, I ordered the sweetbreads, which was prepared with chestnuts and salted butter from St. Malo. I absolutely love sweetbreads and if it’s on the menu I always order it. Since I love it so much, I opted for the full portion. And what a portion! I was stuffed by the time I was done.

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I had a glass of white from Pays de l’Herault: Les Clapas Blanc from Domaine du Pas de l’Escalette from Languedoc in Southern France, which worked really well to balance the richness of the dish.

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It was a lovely meal that lasted quite a few hours. At the end of the meal, I was invited to join Alain Passard in his office for some Champagne. La vie est belle!

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I went back to Restaurant Arpège about a week ago and instead of my usual à la carte meal, I went with the tasting menu. Course after course of delicious food. Pure decadence 🙂

We started out with the beetroot sushi. So beautiful!

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This was followed by beetroot hummus. Now, I’ve spent more than six years in the Middle East and I’ve eaten my fair share of hummus (it’s pretty much a staple food there). But this one was amazing! So creamy and definitely the best hummus I’ve ever had.

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The sommelier poured us a glass of Savennières from the Loire Valley. Clos des Perrières by Domaine Soucherie. It never occurred to me to pair Savennières with hummus but it really worked.

Then we had the potatoes mousseline with black olive emulsion and Jerusalem artichoke chips. Of my goodness, this was simply divine! Who know the simple potato could taste so good! I know I’m weird in that I’m not really a fan of potatoes but this dish really knocked me off my feet.

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Then we had the radish risotto with a general shaving of truffles (and instead of rice, the risotto was made with radishes).

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This was followed by a buckwheat waffle served with tarama made with seabass roe and eel. This was also ridiculously delicious and became one of my favorites at l’Arpège!

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We drank a glass of Meursault: Clos Richemont Premier Cru by Henri Darnat. Meursault works so well with creamy dishes (I’ve written a blog post about it. Check out: Cream and simple flavors make Meursault shine) and as suspected, this was a fantastic match!

The main course was guinea fowl with celeriac puree, liver, Jerusalem artichoke and cream infused with Portuguese lemons.

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This was paired with a glass of from Bordeaux: Cotes de Castillon by Domaine de l’A. I initially thought that this Bordeaux would be a bit too heavy for the guinea fowl but it worked really well!

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For dessert, we had the usual plate of gourmandises.

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As well as a walnut cream puff.

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We had so many courses and I’ve only listed the highlights here. It was another meal that lasted hours! And of course a trip to Restaurant Arpège wouldn’t be complete without a picture with Alain Passard. One of the servers called this a rite of passage 🙂

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If you haven’t been to l’Arpège yet, you’re definitely missing out! Next time you’re in Paris, make sure to give it a try. You won’t be disappointed.

Oystermania in Paris!

I spent the winter holidays in Paris. It was such a wonderful time to be there. The city gets festive, lights up for Christmas, and the food is out of this world!

Around the holidays, some of the foods that the French love to eat include foie gras, smoked salmon, scallops, bûche de Noël (or yule log), duck, roast chicken, mont d’or cheese, etc. Oysters are a particular favorite. And for good reason – it is prime oyster season in the winter and you can find them everywhere in Paris! Being an oyster lover, I ate as many as I could during my trip. Here is my list of the best spots to eat oysters in Paris (in no particular order):

1. L’Huîtrade: A tiny little spot in the 17e arrondissement just off of l’Arc de Triomphe. Owned by Guy Savoy.

I started out with the tartine des alers, which is quite possibly the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life! Toasted rye bread topped with an oyster tartare (the tartare is dressed with some lemon and spring onion). I’m still dreaming about this dish. Yum!

l'huitrade oyster tartare

Then I had les trois huîtres en préparation froide – three oysters, each prepared differently: the left one has the same tartare as the tartine and but is also topped with some seaweed granita; the middle one is prepared with an escabèche sauce and topped with tapioca pearls; and the oyster on the right is one of Guy Savoy’s signature dishes – an oyster gelée.

l'huitrade 3 oysters

Finally, le “grande huître”, which literally translates to “the big oyster” but is really a play-on-words meaning the big eight, or one oyster from each of the eight kinds that they offer on the menu. From left to right: Seven by Tarbouriech, Royale no. 2 by Hervé, Spéciale no. 2 by Tarbouriech, Perle de l’Impératrice no. 3 by Dupuch, Spéciale no. 2 by Gillardeau, Fine de Bretagne no. 2 by Cadoret, and Belon no. 0 by Cadoret.

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Lovely little spot and the server spends a lot of time explaining the dishes and each oyster. And I really liked eating 8 kinds of oysters at once, which allows you to compare the different flavors.

2. L’Huîtrier: A small neighborhood spot in a very charming part (Poncelet) of the 17e arrondissement. Filled with locals and has very friendly service.

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We ordered a dozen oysters (two different types: Tarbouriech and Normandes) as well as some cockles, which are so firm and sweet – I absolutely love them!

l'huitrier oyster platter

Tarbouriech oysters come from the South of France and are farmed using  solar tide technology (using solar panels to create tidal movements, which are rare in the Mediterranean). They are known for their pink shells caused by the sun’s rays and their firm flesh. Sweet and iodine.

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Spéciales Normande – I forgot to ask which part of Normandy these were from :/ though most likely from Isigny. They are fleshy yet super firm.

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3. L’Écume St. Honoré: This place started out as strictly a seafood shop but they eventually opened a tiny area in the back for eating fresh oysters on the spot. Frequented by locals and tourists alike. You can still buy fresh seafood to take home from the front.

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I had the Eméraude oysters, which come from Marennes d’Oléron in the Atlantic coast of France. “Eméraude” means emerald, named so because of their beautiful green flesh. They get this green color from a microscopic algae. Iodine in taste and very fleshy.

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I also had some cockles.

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And some scallops, which they serve as “dessert” 😉 They come with the coral attached – such a rare sight in the US or in the UAE.

l'ecume st. honore scallop carpaccio

These scallops from Brittany are harvested by hand – a much more humane method than using a dredge (which can be very stressful for the bivalves).

After my lunch, I decided to buy some scallops to prepare for that night’s dinner. I bought them still in the shell but I had the shucker open and clean them for me – he even showed me how to do it so I can attempt it myself next time.

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4. Bar à Iode: A popular little spot on Boulevard Saint Germain in the 5e arrondissement. Lots of local here.

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They have different things on the menu, including a seafood terrine – delicious! This is not a great photo but here it is:

bar a iode seafood terrine

Then the oysters: St. Vaast and Cancales. St. Vaast are from Normandy. Fleshy and iodine, they are most characteristically nutty (hazelnut). Again, this is not the best photo:

st. vaast oysters

Cancales are some of my favorite oysters. They are from Brittany (they take their name from the town where they originate) and they are at their prime year-round. They are deliciously firm and salty and you can smell the sea. History has it that even Louis XIV had his oysters brought to Versailles from Cancale. And they are always gorgeous and photogenic:

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5. L’Écailler du Bistrot: “Écailler” means oyster shucker and the restaurant name translates to the “Shucker of the Bistrot” and the bistro in question is Paul Bert, which is right next door. L’Écailler is a lot less frequented by tourists than Paul Bert (where English can be all you hear at times). While L’Écailler has a full seafood menu, I generally stick to the raw bar (I hear that the dishes can be a hit or a miss) as the oysters are always spot-on.

L’Écailler is famous for its Utah Beach oysters, which are from Normandy. They are fleshy and sweet. Delicious oysters!

utah beach oysters l'ecailler du bistrot

Spéciales de Belon are from Brittany and I never had these before. I was expecting them to be flat (as Belon is a name given to a variety of flat oysters in Europe) but they are actually “creuse” or cupped-shelled. Firm flesh, iodine in flavor and smells deliciously like the sea.

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I couldn’t resist trying the scallop carpaccio, served with a lemon purée and shiso leaves. Delicious!

scallop carpaccio l'ecailler du bistrot

6. Huîtrerie Régis: A popular spot in the 6e arrondissement. A mix of locals and tourists. They don’t take reservations so get ready to stand in line for a table in the tiny restaurant (or like me, get there 15 minutes before it opens).

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Belon no. 00 – Not cheap (64‎€ a dozen) but these are big, fleshy and oh so good!

belon no 00 oysters

And they have the most stunning shells.

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I’ve actually written an entire blog entry about Huîtrerie Régis a while back. Check it out here: Four whites and oysters galore!

7. Breizh Café: A must-go for galettes and crêpes. But this is also a great spot for those delicious Cancales from Brittany.

Breizh cafe cancale oysters

Always busy and lots of tourists but Cancales are worth the trip to Breizh Café.

This concludes the list of my favorite oyster spots in Paris. And if you don’t feel like sitting in a restaurant, you can get them to go –  almost all of the restaurants on this list do take out. You don’t even have to go to a restaurant to get your oyster fix in the winter in Paris. I was staying right off of Rue Daguerre in the 14e arrondissement  (this street is fantastic for food shopping). The seafood shop there – Daguerre Marée – set up an oyster stand where you can get your oysters (and other raw bar items) to go.

rue daguerre oysters shuckers

You can find stands like this attached to shops and even cafes all over the city. From my super friendly neighborhood oyster shuckers, I got some Gillardeau no. 3 and some sea urchins to take home. Gillardeau from the Atlantic Coast are famous for being less briny, super fleshy, and nutty.

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Just plate them up and enjoy 🙂

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In the winter time, you can even find oysters in bars like Le Baron Rouge or Le Mary Celeste. For instance, check out this photo from Le Mary Celeste Instagram account, which looks out of this world.

Now time for the wines! What to drink with oysters? There are a variety of choices. Even though white wine is the most common, you can even go with a rosé or a red (as long as it’s fresh and light). Generally, as long as the wine is high in acidity and low in tannins, it’s a good choice for oysters. I personally always opt for whites and among them, my favorites are:

Sancerre: I really like Domaine Vacheron and François Crochet.

Muscadet Sèvre et Maine: Especially if it’s made with the “sur lie” method (which gives it a more complex character), such as Amphibolite by Landron. And if you can get a hold of some Muscadet from Clisson (which gives the wine lots of minerality), such as Domaine de la Pepière, you’ve hit the jackpot!

Other whites that are good choices are Champagne (dry and non-vintage) and Chablis (as long as it is light and young).

Don’t miss my next post on eating during the holidays in Paris (a non-oyster post) – coming soon!

For lots more pictures of food and wine, check out my Instagram account:@thatperfectbottle

A delicious trip to Greece

I just came back from a fantastic trip to Greece! I went to Athens to visit a very dear friend of mine. Since I’ve already been to Athens twice before, I didn’t do much sightseeing on this trip but I did lots of restaurant-seeing instead 😉

We went to some fantastic restaurants such as the Holy Goat Punk Bistrot. This restaurant features modern Greek cuisine with some eclectic influences. We had the octopus chorizo served with a squid ink sauce and red pepper sorbet.

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Also, the cuttlefish and squid served in a creamy ouzo sauce

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Both of these dishes (and especially the octopus) paired wonderfully with a bottle of Assyrtiko that we ordered: 2012 Nikteri by Koutsoyannopoulos. It is barrel aged, giving the wine deep and rich flavors. This was a divine bottle of wine – definitely much more complex than any Assyrtiko I’ve had before!

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We also went to a neighborhood seafood restaurant called Antonia. We ate so much food! We ordered lot of dips, such as skordalia (garlic & potato), tirokafteri (spicy feta), and tzatziki. And the hand cut fries looked so good that we just had to get some:

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Fried zucchini that we dipped in the tzatziki:

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The grilled jumbo shrimp:

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Each shrimp was more than 100 grams. Wowza!

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We paired all of the food with the house wine, a light and crisp white wine which worked wonderfully to lighten up the rich and fried foods that we were eating. When eating fried foods, you always want to opt for refreshing wines that are high in acidity to cut through the grease from frying.

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We also tried a Cretan restaurant named Dimaratis. In this restaurant, the thing to drink is raki, a clear brandy made from distilled grape pomace (which we drank so much of that night!) and Cretan wine, which was not bottled and is darker, tea-like color.

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Cretan food is super interesting. I had snails baked with rosemary in a vinegar based sauce. You got a whole plate of them that you had to eat Cretan style: crack the shells with your teeth and pull out the snails. No silwerware needed.

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We also had french fries served with staka, which is a super creamy sauce made with sun-kissed goat milk’s butter. The way staka is made is so interesting: once you collect the fat from the milk, you leave it out in the sun for 4-5 days!

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And crumbed mizithra cheese with thyme and green olive oil from Crete.

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That olive oil was amazing! So amazing that I just had to bring some back home with me. My friend talked to owner to ask him whether he would sell us some. He said yes, but the only size he had available were 5 liter tins. I said, sure! He sold the 5 liters for 25 euros. What an great deal! I was so excited about this purchase that I had to do a photo session with it when I got back to Abu Dhabi.

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Besides Athens, we spent a couple of days in Arachova, where my friend’s mother owns the most picturesque stone house.

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While I was there, it was also October 21, 2015 so we had to do a Back to the Future marathon to commemorate Marty McFly time-travel to that day. It was a bit chilly that day so we lit up the fireplace, prepared lots of meze, and drank some amazing wine while watching the movies. A perfect evening!

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We made amazing breakfasts each morning. I especially loved the fig preserves that my friend’s mom made and I ate that with toast every morning:

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Nearby is Galaxidi, which is a town by the water. We did a daytrip to Galaxidi and ate at a great seafood restaurant called Skeletovrachos. As usual, we ate so much food!

The taramasalata was mixed with avocado. So yummy!

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Of course, we had to have the grilled octopus:

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And the grilled sea bass, which was so scrumptious!

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So much so that the local dog couldn’t keep his eyes off of it:

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The sparrows were also keen on trying some of our food.

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And of course a carafe of the house wine:

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On the drive back to Arachova, we stopped by a shop that sells his own shellfish. We bought mussels and cockles for next day’s lunch.

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We made two dishes, first of which was the cockles cooked in a garlicky white wine sauce and served with whole-wheat pasta – known in Italy as spaghetti alla vongole.

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Second, mussels cooked in an ouzo sauce with dill.

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I paired my mussels with a glass of ouzo rather than wine. Perfect!

All of these pictures are but a small fraction of all of the food that we ate in Greece (for more pictures, check out my Instagram account). Greek food is simply fantastic and the wines are great! And I had to bring back as much of it back with me as possible.

Of course, I stuffed my suitcases with as much wine as I could fit. I brought back a few bottles of Assyrtiko from Santorini, which is really versatile white wine that you can pair with a variety of foods. The obvious choices are seafood (especially shellfish) and also squid and grilled octopus.

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And some bottles of Xinomavro, which is an inky and dark red wine that is tannic yet refreshingly acidic from Northern Greece that I really love! Xinomavro pairs really well with spiced meatballs, meatloaf, especially if made with lamb. I also really love pairing kalamata olives with xinomavro, as long as the wine is not too tannic.

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A couple of bottles of Malagousia, which is a highly aromatic wine that pairs beautifully with fried zucchini (a dish that I fell in love with at Antonia restaurant, which I will definitely try to make at home).

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And some sweet wine from Samos. Samos is famous for its sweet wines, and rightly so – they’re really delicious!

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I also bought some homemade wine that they fill inside plastic bottles when you order – I really love these homemade wines; they are simple yet delightful! I got a bottle of the crisp Moschofilero and the off-dry Moscato (which pairs really well with feta).

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Then the cheese! Two kinds of feta and some local cheese from Arachova. Yum!

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Some white tarama, or salted fish roe, which I will use to make homemade taramasalata. Can’t to try making this!

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Lots of preserves! From left to right: young walnut (with the shell), squash, fig, and cherry.

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And of course, some dried herbs. From left to right, verbena, oregano, savory (or thesprotia), and olive leaves (not sure hot to cook with olive leaves yet but I will experiment).

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This was such a wonderful trip to Greece and I can’t wait to go back!

For lots more pictures of food and wine, check out my Instagram account:@thatperfectbottle

Some of my favorites from Paris: l’Arpège

Last week, we went to one of my favorite restaurants in the world to celebrate my mom’s birthday – l’Arpège! I really love this restaurant – not only is the food amazingly delicious but the fruits and vegetables come from the chef’s own organic farms just outside of Paris. You can imagine how fresh everything tastes. And the cooking is out of this world! Chef Alain Passard is recognized by his peers to be a visionary and a “poet of vegetables.”

The décor of the restaurant is simple – art deco style with Lalique crystal panels on the walls. And there’s a beautiful basket of fruits and vegetables (from Passard’s farms, of course) in the center of the dining room.

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And each table’s decoration consists of a vegetable from chef Passard’s garden. Our table had a tiny round zucchini with its flower still attached. Here’s the first amuse-bouche with our zucchini table decoration.

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The tartelettes featured such ingredients as raspberry, squash, parsley, and coriander.

We then had chef Passard’s signature amuse-bouche – slow cooked egg (soft) with cream and a slight hint of sweetness from maple syrup. Delicious!

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We then moved on to our first appetizer, the raviolis filled with a variety of garden vegetables and served in a vegetable consommé (you could definitely taste the fennel in the broth). Yum!

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Our second appetizer was the white asparagus served with lemony greens. White asparagus is definitely one of my favorite veggies!

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Our first main course was the turbot. Before being plated up though, one of the servers came to our table to show us the whole turbot fish as soon as it came off the grill.

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The turbot was served with seasonal vegetables. I had turbot quite a few times in some highly acclaimed restaurants since I arrived in Paris (because turbot season is April-June) and chef Passard’s turbot is the best that I’ve had – his version of the turbot left all others in the dust. His skill and technique is really unparalleled!

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For our second main course, we had the roasted chicken and duck. Chef Passard actually took a whole duck and a whole chicken, cut each in half, and sewed the two halves together, creating what he called the “Haute Couture Poultry Duo.” We actually were given a recipe booklet on how he did this so we can recreate this at home.

Here’s a picture from the booklet, showing the two birds sewn together:

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Just like with the turbot, a server showed the whole poultry duo before it was plated up (but I had gone to the bathroom so I missed that). The poultry duo was served with some jus and seasonal vegetables, including a yellow squash with its flower!

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During our dinner we drank a bottle of Saint Aubin. 2013 Premier Cru Les Perrières by Agnès Paquet.

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I really like Saint Aubin, a chardonnay from the Burgundy region of France. This one has floral and citrus aromas and it is lightly oaked, which gives it a bit of richness. Yet the wine is still fresh and bright. What I like about this wine is that it is still refreshing and has good acidity despite some oaking (and with 30% new oak too, which is more intense).

The Saint Aubin worked really well with all of our dishes! It went well with the ravioli (especially the consommé), was amazing with the white asparagus, and was a fantastic match to the turbot. It also worked well with the poultry – Saint Aubin overall is a great pairing with rich poultry.

We finished our dinner with a millefeuille filled with cream and fresh berries.

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The millefeuille was really buttery and crispy!

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We had a glass of 2010 Coteaux du Layon Chaume, a sweet wine made by Château Pierre-Bise in the Loire Valley. You always want a sweet wine to go with dessert – otherwise the sweetness of the dessert will make the wine taste sour (and why would anyone want to ruin wine like that!?!).

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It was an amazing and very memorable dinner at l’Arpège. At the end, Chef Passard came to meet the diners and he even hugged and kissed my mom – the birthday girl!

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Check me out on Instagram for daily photos of everything that I’m eating in Paris: @thatperfectbottle

An evening of food and wine pairings at Le Cordon Bleu

A couple of days ago, I took a wine and food pairing class at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. These classes are headed jointly by instructors from both the Wine and the Culinary programs at Le Cordon Bleu. It’s super interesting: the chef demonstrates the preparation of a three-course meal while the sommelier discusses the wines that he has chosen to accompany each course, also giving information on the wine maker and the wine region.

The menu featured an appetizer inspired by Niçoise cuisine: stuffed baby vegetables served with rocket coulis, and fennel granita. The stuffing is made with onions, olive oil, bread crumbs, parsley, and pine nuts.

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All the wines for the evening were from Alsace – my favorite wine region in France! The appetizer was paired with a 2013 Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois blend made by Domaine Mittnacht.

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This wine is super fresh with citrus aromas and minerality. When you taste it, the attack is round before the acidity of the wine reveals itself. The flavors are of citrus fruits, especially grapefruit. The wine finishes with a bit of pleasant bitterness.

The instructor explained the reasoning behind his choice of wine. The appetizer features a lot of vegetables and you need a fruity wine with freshness and enough acidity. Definitely no oaky wines with this dish! At the same time you need a bit of opulence in the wine (as displayed by the roundness in the taste) to stand up to the rich stuffing in the veggies. Otherwise, the wine might be overpowered. While the peppery qualities of the rocket can accentuate the bitterness in wine, the sweetness of the tomatoes and the richness of the stuffing balance this out nicely.

The main course of the evening was a crisp pigeon parcel served with crispy toast topped with an pigeon offal spread, crumbed macaroni, and young spinach leaves.

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Pigeon is a red meat that has a slight gamey quality. Yet it has a very silky texture. This calls for a red that is smooth enough to go with the fine texture of the meat but still structured to stand up to the flavors of the pigeon: a pinot noir. The pinot we had is a 2014 made by Domaine Pfister.

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Though Alsace is not famed for its reds, this pinot is quite good. There is definitely enough structure and body in the wine to keep up with the pigeon. The best temperature to serve an Alsace Pinot Noir is around 15-16 degrees Celsius, (not less because the more chilled the wine, the more pronounced the bitterness and the acidity become).

This pinot noir is very earthy. The predominant aroma that I get from it is earth and soil. It also has black fruits (especially sour cherry), which is characteristic of a pinot noir.

The wine had enough structure and tannins to work well with the pigeon. At the same time, the pigeon, especially the offal component of the dish, definitely brought out the cherry aromas in the wine. The transformation of the wine before and after the food is really remarkable! Before the food, the earthy aromas dominated. After the meal, as I continued to sip my glass, the primary aromas were definitely fruit driven.

Now on to dessert! It is definitely better to choose a sweet wine to go with dessert. I know that most people are put off by sweet wines but they really work amazingly well with dessert. If you pair a dry wine with a dessert, the relative sweetness of the food will make the wine taste a lot more sour than it actually is. At the same time, the sweetness of the dessert will detract from the sweetness of the wine where the wine will appear less pronounced compared to when it’s drunk on its own. If you are a sweet wine hater, I definitely urge you to give it a try next time you have dessert. You might be surprised as to how much you like it!

There are two ways to achieve sweetness in wines: late harvest or noble rot. The wine that the sommelier chose for dessert belongs to the former category: 2009 Pinot Gris “Clos la Courtille” Vendanges tardives by Domaine Mittnacht.

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The dessert was simple – fresh exotic fruits (pineapple, mango, and lychee) served with hibiscus jelly.

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The aromas of the wine definitely mirror those of the dessert. You definitely get fruity aromas that are richer and more exotic. There’s definitely pineapple; but also pear and lemon confit. This wine is also balanced very nicely by acidity, which gives it freshness so as to not be overwhelmingly sweet. This is a great wine that could be paired with many other foods, like foie gras (preferably goose foie gras from Alsace), or even Asian dishes like pork with pineapple or chicken with ginger.

This concluded our evening of food and wine pairing at Le Cordon Bleu. I really enjoyed this course and I will definitely be signing up for the next one.

Follow me on Instagram for daily photos of everything that I’m eating in Paris: @thatperfectbottle

Dining and wining highlights from Bangkok – Part 2

Part 1 of Bangkok’s highlights was a bit of a departure from the usual focus of this blog in that it featured cocktails. In Part 2, it’s back to wines (save one fantastic cocktail I had as an aperitif that I thought was worthy of mentioning here).

Eat me

The next dinner we had in Bangkok was at Eat Me. Eat Me is not a Thai restaurant and its menu is a medley of international cuisines. They have a great bar, which serves impressive craft cocktails. Here’s my martini, served with olives and an oyster.

cocktail

For my appetizer, I had one of my favorite foods in the world: bone marrow, served with a parsley sauce, toasted bread, and shaved truffles:

bone marrow

For me, nothing goes better with bone marrow than a glass of champagne. Nothing fancy – NV Veuve Clicquot Brut. Bone marrow is delicious because it is such a rich and buttery food. It is generally served with some version of a parsley salad to freshen up the dish. The reason why Champagne goes so perfectly with bone marrow is similar to why parsley is often found on the plate – to lighten up the dish. You need the high acidity and the bubbles of the champagne to cut through the fat and refresh the palate in between each bite. The parsley salad can also high in acid (too much acid in the food and the wine together can make the wine seem astringent). However, the champagne works here because the parsley salad is not a dominant feature of the dish and both the wine and the parsley work together with the wine to lighten the dish, rather than overwhelming it with acidity.

For my main course I had the grilled octopus, served with razor clams:

octopus

The classic pairing for octopus is an Albariño from Spain. I had a glass of a 2013 Rias Baixas produced by Santiago Ruiz. Albariño is a crisp and light white wine. Especially with simply prepared seafood dishes (such as grilled and without sauces) need simple wines so that the wine doesn’t compete with the food but rather complements it. And I always find that wines with citrus notes, such as the Albariño, pair really well with seafood. You can substitute lemon wedges (which I find often overwhelm and mask the flavors of delicate seafood) with a citrussy wine and have the flavors of the food shine.

At an earlier trip to Eat Me for lunch, I also had the Wagyu steak tartar served with a fried quail egg.

tartar 1

When it comes to steak tartar, my go-to wine is a Cotes du Rhône. Syrah features prominently in Rhône Valley wines and I opted for a glass of 2008 McLaren Vale Shiraz (The Footbolt) made by d’Arenberg from Australia – I really love Shiraz from Australia! The dish was a bit spicier than I expected (this is Thailand, after all) but the pairing still worked, though I might experiment with a different wine next time.

Nahm

Next restaurant we tried is Nahm, which focuses on traditional/ancient Thai food. The restaurant has both à la carte and tasting menus. We opted for the chef’s choice tasting menu (you can also select your own dishes to go in to the tasting menu).

We started out with a bite-sized amuse-bouche of pineapple and pork.

amuse bouche

We had a selection of four appetizers, each of which had varying levels of heat. We were told the order in which we should eat them (so they got progressively hotter).

The first one we tried was the prawn and coconut wafers with pickled ginger. This was my favorite!

App 1

Then we tried the blue swimmer crab with peanuts and pickled garlic on rice cakes:

App 2

Next up was pork and lobster with shredded ginger and Thai citron:

App 3

Lastly, we had the chiang mai larp of guinea fowl. This was definitely hot. Wowza!

App 4

It can be a challenge to pair Asian foods with wine. The first reason is the heat in the food – and our appetizers were definitely hot. Then there is also the multitude of spices and flavors that can added to a single dish, which give Asian foods so much flavor and aromatics.

When you pick a wine, these challenges need to be kept in mind. First, you need a sweet wine to offset the heat in the food and you also need a complex and highly aromatic wine so it doesn’t fall flat in the presence of the many flavors in the food. My favorites, especially when eating spicy, are either an off-dry Riesling or Gewurztraminer. I absolutely love both wines and we opted for the latter. Gewurtzaminer is one of the most aromatic wines I know, with such aromas as flowers, lychee and Turkish delight, and spice like ginger.

Gewurz

This wine has a hint of sweetness but it is nicely balanced with acidity. The sweetness works great to balance the heat in the food. And it is complex enough to stand up nicely to the flavors food.

Now, the main courses. We started out with a green mango salad with grilled pork and sour leaves:

green mango salad

Grilled pork cheek with smoky tomato sauce:

pork cheek

Coconut and chicken soup with deep fried garlic, green mango and chili:

coconut and chicken soup

Coconut and turmeric curry of blue swimmer crab with calamansi lime:

turmeric curry

Preserved shrimp and crab simmered in coconut cream with deep fried prawns and vegetables:

preserved shrimp and crab

Because our main courses are so much heavier and richer than the appetizers, you need a lighter wine. Otherwise, all the coconut cream, and the fried food can be overwhelming to the palate. Yet, you still want a wine with complexity and the aromatics to complement the food. Pinot gris fits the bill.

pinot gris

We had the Brightwater Nelson Pinot Gris made by Light Band from New Zealand. This is less sweet than the Gewurz because our main course had markedly less heat than the appetizers. This is also a more crisp wine than the Gewurz (though definitely less so than its Italian cousin, pinot grigio). You need the crispness in the wine because of the creamy coconut and the heavy fried elements in our main dishes.

Issaya Siamese Club

The next dinner was at Issaya. This is a very interesting place. The decor of the building is very retro and colonial. They also have a beautiful garden where they grow their own vegetables and herbs. We actually moved to the garden after dinner for some after dinner drinks. Pure bliss!

While we’ve had a variety of great dishes at Issaya, I only managed to take a decent picture of the first dish, which used many vegetables they grow in their own garden. Banana blossom and heart of palm salad with roasted peanuts, fried shallots, and chili jam sauce.

banana blossom

Even though there is chili jam in this dish, it was not spicy so no need for a sweet wine. Contrary to what the name suggests – salad – it was not a very light dish. The fried shallots and the sauce added layers of richness to the dish – so I will pick a crisp wine to balance the dish. Typical of Thai cuisine, there were also many flavor and spice layers to this dish as well, which would be best complemented with a moderately fragrant wine. For these reasons, I went with a sauvignon blanc from New Zealand (a dry Riesling would’ve also worked well). Especially with the fried shallots in each bite, this wine was a great match.

And we had so many other great dishes at Issaya, which are not pictured, such as seafood sausage, veal cheek, barbequed pork spare ribs, lamb shank, among others.

Street food

Of course, a trip to Bangkok wouldn’t be complete without street food! While I love going to nice restaurants, my favorite part of traveling is trying the street food (and I am lucky to have a stomach made of concrete!). Bangkok has an impressive street food culture and you can see carts and booths throughout the city serving cheap but delicious snacks and meals. These pictures are but a small selection of what Bangkok street food scene has to offer.

Breakfast on the street: fried quail eggs.

quail eggs

Lunch on the street: squid on a stick. You pick out your skewers and they grill them, chop them up, mix them with a spicy and garlicky salsa and serve it to you in a plastic bag.

squid 1

squid 2

squid 3

And to end things on a sweet note, my mid-afternoon dessert was coconut ice cream served in a coconut (with the fresh coconut inside), topped with candied lychee, peanuts, and sticky rice. Yum!

ice cream

On a different note, I arrived in Paris a couple of days ago. I will spend the summer here and I’m super excited to post all about the wine, the restaurants, and the pairings I try in this beautiful city 🙂

Dining and wining highlights from Bangkok – Part 1

I just came back from a trip to Bangkok. While I’ve traveled to Phuket before, it was my first time in the capital. I know that Bangkok is home to some amazing restaurants and I was super excited to try them out. And I was not disappointed! I would definitely go back to Bangkok just for the food. We had so much food that I have to break this blog post into two entries. Today, I will write only about Gaggan; and the next entry will feature the rest of the restaurants we tried in Bangkok.

Gaggan

My first night in Bangkok, I went to Gaggan, a restaurant specializing in progressive Indian cuisine. They have two set menus to choose from. I chose the more elaborate menu, which had 12 amuse-bouches and 11 courses.

While wine is definitely my drink of choice with dinner, this post will instead focus on cocktails. Gasp! I know! The reason behind this big departure is due to the large number of courses on the menu and the sheer variety of spices and levels of heat in the food. Being far (very far) from an aficionado on cocktails, I left the choice up to the manager and the bar tender. I was suggested a selection of cocktails throughout the meal, which I thought worked really well with the food. The sweetness of the cocktails was perfect to offset the heat in the food. And the flavors of the drinks were not too strong as to interfere with the flavors of the food.

Below are the highlights from the set of amuse-bouches. The cocktail I had with the amuse-bouches was Witch’s Portion, made with gin and basil:

witches portion

The bird’s nest, made (I think) with potatoes:

birdsnest

Papadam and Tomato Chutney:

papadum

Keema (lamb Samosa):

samosa

Dhokla, a savory sponge cake made with fermented rice and split chickpeas:

dhokla

Brain Damage, which was a savory macaron-like goodness:

brain damage

Fukuoka Surprise made with cream, melon jelly, salmon roe, and seaweed:

fukuoka

And that was just the amuse-bouches! Now onto the main meal. I had a couple of cocktails with the courses, the first of which was a coconut lassi, made with white rum, coconut essential oil, fresh coconut milk, and tonka beans. So delicious!

coconut lassi

First course was truffle, forest mushrooms in the shape of a log, edible soil and micro greens.

mushroom

Charcoal. This dish came out looking exactly like a piece of charcoal and you had to guess the ingredient. Seabass! I don’t know how the chef did it but you could not tell it was seafood from the smell or the taste.

charcoal

Scallop in spicy roasted pepper masala:

scallop

Daab Chingri, or coconut prawn:

prawn coconut

I then switched to my next cocktail – Aladdin, which was whiskey based:

Aladdin

The next course was the Iberian pork loin prepared over 72 hours, and served with sweet and sour Punjabi pickled mix:

pork

Free-range lamb chops sous-vide, grilled and finished with almond saffron oil:

lamb

We also had fish curry (my favorite!) served with homemade naan as part of the main courses but I was too busy wolfing down my food to take a good enough picture to post here :/

And now, time for dessert!

First up was black carrot ice cream, crispy carrot flower, cardamom oil.

carrot

Then, mahachanok mangoes in a coconut semi-sphere. You get a pristine and perfectly shaped ice cream-based dessert served to your table:

mango 1

When you break open the coconut exterior, you get the mango goodness inside.

mango 2

I finished off the evening with some homemade candy and an old-fashioned, which was infused with smoked red peppers.

old fashioned

This was such an inventive and delicious dinner. This was definitely my favorite meal in Bangkok. Amazing restaurant and highly recommended!

Next post: Dinners at Nahm, Eat Me, and Issaya Siamese Club

Dining and wining highlights from Washington, DC

I had quite a few excellent meals while I was in Washington, DC. The food scene in DC has come a long way in recent years.

Béarnaise

We started off the weekend with a nice brunch at Béarnaise Restaurant, near Eastern Market. I ordered one of my French café favorites – croque madame.

croque madame

Eggs are notoriously hard to pair with wines but one of the best contenders is champagne. The unctuous texture of the eggs (as well as the richness from the creamy béchamel sauce) have a tendency to persist in the palate and can easily become overwhelming. The bubbles and the high acidity in the champagne are perfect to cleanse the palate in between bites and lightening up the meal. If I’m at brunch, I always love a glass of champagne!

My champagne was served in a coupe.

champagne

While a coupe is fine for sweeter champagnes, when you’re drinking a brut, a taller glass is better. You don’t necessary need a flute, a white wine glass does the job. Because the coupe has a very large rim, it exposes more of the champagne to air, allowing it to lose its carbonation. Alternatively, tall glasses have smaller rims so they keep the champagne fresh and effervescent. Flat brut champagne is definitely no bueno. Yet, you still want wideness at the bottom of the bowl. This design gives the wine space to enhance its flavors while the small rim keeps the champagne bubbly, giving you the perfect sip! This particular coupe is still tapered at the top so it wasn’t too bad. But in my opinion, the best way to use coupes these days is for serving cocktails. Next time I’m in Paris, I will definitely invest in some vintage coupes and start making some cocktails.

Blue Jacket Brewery

Next stop was Blue Jacket Brewery near the Navy Yard, which brews variety of beers. You can order regular glasses/pints or tasters. I ordered 5 tasters: Bama Breeze, Sling Shot, Lux, 52 Pickup, James E. Bourbon Barrel-Aged High Society. Plus I tasted my friend’s Mexican Radio (on the far right).

beers

We also ordered a few dishes to share: fried chickpeas, local oysters served with apples, and the cheese platter served with a variety of mustards.

cheese

oysters

I ordered the oysters because I just wanted to eat some, not because I thought anything about doing a pairing. But I gotta say that the oysters were a really good match with the Bama Breeze – a light and fruity beer brewed with pineapple, coconut, and brett.

Oyster-beer

Ripple

We had a very nice dinner at Ripple, which features local, sustainable, and organic ingredients – my kind of restaurant!

I started the meal with burrata served with acorn squash, cranberry and ginger.

burrata

Next up was the stuffed bone marrow served with bacon chimichurri, and apple butter. I absolutely love bone marrow! It is so flavorful and it just melts in your mouth. I really need to learn to make this at home.

marrow

I had a sparkling wine from the Loire valley to go with the bone marrow: François Chidaine brut that is made with the chenin blanc grape. A sparkling wine is a great pairing to balance and lighten up the rich, buttery flavors of bone marrow.

sparkling

This wine also paired really nicely with the burrata dish.

For the main course, I had the roasted Amish chicken, served with sunchoke à la greque, spinach, and winter radish.

chicken

I wanted to take advantage of the fact that I’m in the US. So I chose and American wine to go with this dish. I opted for a pinot noir from the Willamette Valley in Oregon: a 2013 Grochau Commuter Cuvée. This pinot was light and refined enough to match the flavors of the chicken. It was a great pairing!

Homemade Highlight

We also cooked dinner at home one night. My friends opened up a 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley for the occasion. It was made by Rutherford Grove Winery.

bottle

label

As with any aged wine, the color is on the rusty orange side.

glass

Very few wines can age for decades without beginning to decline and eventually die. At 16 years old, this Cabernet was a bit past its prime but still good. A quick and dirty test to gauge the aging potential of a wine is to sip it and see how long the finish is. The longer the finish, the longer the aging potential will be.

Once you’ve decided to age a wine, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Keep the bottle in a cool place (13°C/55°F is ideal).
  2. Keep it sideways so the cork doesn’t dry out.
  3. Keep the wine away from sources of vibrations (such as the subway).
  4. Keep it away from the sun.

Aged reds go superbly with hearty meals like stews and braised meats. In older wines, the tannins become dry, which are best quenched with rich sauces. Younger wines are characterized by fresh tannins, which call for grilled meats (preferably rare) to tame them.

Even though a Cabernet is a robust wine, its time in the bottle toned it down quite a bit. It was much lighter and smoother than a young Cabernet. For that reason, I wanted to choose a meat that is tender yet not too strong in taste. Beef short ribs! The short ribs braised to the point of falling off the bone will go perfectly with the aged Cabernet. So we cooked and we cooked. It took hours! After all of this, when the food was ready, I was a bit too tipsy to take a decent picture (we passed the time by having quite a few pre-dinner drinks). But take my word that it was beautiful and delicious 😉 And it went perfectly with the wine.

Dining and wining highlights from New York

I’m spending some time in the US this January (mainly New York and DC) and I’ve had opportunities to eat at some really amazing restaurants and drink some wonderful wine. Here are some of the highlights from New York (DC highlights to come):

Batard

This restaurant opened up in recent months in Tribeca. It is mostly a European inspired menu. For my appetizer, I had the octopus pastrami served with braised ham hock, pommery mustard and new potatoes. This dish is not only delicious but also beautiful! It almost looks like a piece of art. I didn’t take a picture of it but my friend had the braised artichokes served barley, poached hen’s egg, and eiswein sabayon.

octopus 1

For the main course, we both had the Wiener schnitzel. This is actually a secret dish that is always available but is never listed in the menu (paying homage to the chef’s country of origin – Austria).

schnitzel

With both our appetizers and the schnitzels, we had a bottle of Saint-Aubin: 2013 La Pucelle made by Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey.

st aubin

I think this bottle worked very well with all of our dishes. It was really great with the chicken schnitzel; it also worked with the octopus, especially since it was prepared with pork; and it also was a fantastic wine to drink with my friend’s dish (neither eggs nor artichoke are foods that pair easily with wine but braising the artichoke made it really soft and buttery and that combined with creaminess of the egg and sabayon created a dish that matched the wine surprisingly well!).

Bare Burger

I really wish Abu Dhabi had a Bare Burger! I really love the burgers here. They have such interesting ones as bison, elk, and ostrich. And they will cook them to the temperature you like – I love my burgers cooked medium-rare. I ordered a bison burger with sharp cheddar, lettuce, pickle, and tomato on a brioche bun. I also ordered a side of onion rings.

burger

I think Zinfandel and burgers are a match made in heaven! I ordered a glass of Predator Old Vine Zinfandel, which is in the Lodi appellation in the Califonia’s Central Valley. It was such a wonderful pairing!

Cherche Midi

This French bistro opened recently in Nolita. The décor is very nice and they have an open kitchen – I always love peeking into the kitchen to see the how the food is prepared. The highlight of the meal was the dry-aged prime rib. In the picture the steak looks on the red side because I prefer my steak cooked rare to blue. The steak is served with cider braised onions and pommes soufflés.

steak 1

We had an excellent bottle of Côte-Rôtie from the Rhone region with our steak. It is the Petite Feuille by Clusel Roch from 2011. It was a fantastic pairing with the steak!

cote rotie

Momofuku Ssam Bar

This is one of my favorite places to eat in New York! Momofuku Ssam is famous for its steamed pork buns. While I also love the cheaper street versions, the steamed buns here are just out of this world!

pork buns 1

Of course, what better wine to serve with these pork buns than a Beaujolais made with the pork-loving gamay grape! I had a glass of Morgon – the most robust of the Beaujolais crus. This 2013 Morgon is made by Jean Paul Thevenet. It worked fabulously with the pork buns!

Even though the pork buns were the main reason for my trip to Momofuku Ssam, I couldn’t resist trying their oysters. As an appetizer, we shared a dozen oysters from Washburn Island in Massachusetts.

oysters

And I paired that with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from California: 2013 Lieu Dit from Santa Ynez Valley. They did not serve any lemons with the oysters but the citrus aromas in the wine complemented the oysters really well.

Some of my favorites from Paris: David Toutain

One of my most interesting dining experiences in Paris was at David Toutain in the 7th arrondissement. This is a fairly new restaurant that opened in December 2013 to much excitement. When I was in Paris a month after the opening, I really wanted to try it out but it was impossible to get a reservation. I finally got a chance to eat there in the summer and it was definitely worth the wait. Each dish that we tasted was more interesting and creative than the previous! David Toutain really has a way of combining very different flavors and ingredients that you would expect to clash – such as raw steak and raspberry, orange and pea, lamb and chocolate, etc. But somehow he makes these ingredients work together in each and every dish!

For dinner, there is a choice between two tasting menus – Eglantine and Mauve du Bois (both are carte blanche, meaning the menu is a surprise that’s divulged course by course). With the Mauve du Bois, you can also opt for a wine pairing and that sounded perfect to us!

We started the evening with a glass of champagne by Bruno Paillard. This is one of my favorite rosé champagnes. It’s a very pale salmon color, made with 85% pinot noir and 15% chardonnay. It is a very crisp and vibrant wine with great citrus aromas as well a bit of red fruits. Super refreshing!

champagne

We had quite a few amuse bouches with the champagne. First, we had balls of steak carpaccio filled with raspberry.

carpaccio

Peas with Orange.

pea

Heirloom tomatoes with basil powder and tomato juice. This was just so lip-smacking delicious! I think I downed my soup in a matter of seconds and would’ve licked the bowl clean had I not suddenly come to my senses remembered that I was in public.

tomato

Raw tuna served with onions, cream, and trout roe.

tuna

After the tuna dish, we moved on to our first appetizer: Slow-cooked egg (we were told it was cooked exactly at 63 degrees–not a degree higher or lower) served with verbena foam and fresh almonds. I’ve never had verbena as food before and it had a very refreshing citrus flavor. I definitely need to start stocking verbena in my kitchen and incorporate to my cooking.

egg

This dish was served with a glass of an Alsatian white by Albert Mann. It is a Pinot Blanc and Pinot Auxerrois blend from 2013.

mann wine

This wine is less acidic and richer than a Riesling from the same region (owing primarily to the Auxerrois). But this being an Alsatian wine, there is still quite a bit of acidity. It is also a bit more delicate and muted than the Riesling in terms of aroma (because of the Pinot Blanc), where white fruits dominate and there are bits of floral and spicy notes.

Egg is notoriously difficult to pair with wine as it can easily make most wines taste outright awful. It’s not really the flavors in the egg that are problematic but rather their unctuous texture, which coats the mouth much like tannic foods do. The yolks especially are difficult in that respect. People recommend anything from sparkling wines to round yet fruity whites to very light reds when it comes to pairing wine with eggs. However, Alsatian whites are known matches to most eggy dishes, whether it is a simply scrambled egg and lardon dish, a custardy tart like a quiche, or in this case, a slow cooked egg.

The second appetizer we had was seared duck foie gras served with caramelized pistachios, olive paste, and cherries. This was also served with the Pinot Blanc Auxerrois.

liver

Both the Auxerrois and the Pinot Blanc grapes add fruitiness to this wine. This provides a great and refreshing contrast to the richness of the foie gras itself (fruits complement foie gras really well), creating a more balanced dish. Although I would expect that a sweeter Alsatian wine as the first choice with foie gras, the roundness of the Pinot Blanc Auxerrois does work with the rich texture of the foie gras.

The next two courses were seafood. First, we were served a medley of zucchini ribbons, nectarine slices, smoked salmon, miso, and basil.

zucchini

This was served with a glass of “Romo” by Domaine des Huards, Cour-Cheverny. The vintage is 2010.

romo

This white is definitely a mineral driven wine. I’ve actually had this wine (though the 2012 vintage) in another restaurant – Verjus. There, the Romo was paired with a smoked pink trout dish. (see: Some of my favorites from Paris: Verjus). Smoked pink trout and smoked salmon definitely share similar taste and aroma profiles so it’s not a huge surprise that the same wine was chosen for these two dishes.

The second seafood dish was a whiting filet, served with basil cream, peas, and rhubarb. The whiting fillet was prepared in a really interesting way. I could not tell whether it was raw, smoked, cured like ceviche, or else. It definitely did not have the flaky texture of a conventionally cooked whiting. To the contrary, the texture was quite firm. However they prepared this whiting, it was ridiculously delicious!

whiting

We continued drinking the Romo during this course. Mineral driven wines are more complex than fruity wines and you need a food that matches the wine’s complexity. The preparation technique of the whiting definitely enriched the dish. Based on this, I think the Romo matched the complexity of the dish really well. In addition, the citrus aromas in the wine, along with the tart rhubarb in the food, worked really well together to complement and balance the flavors of the fish (as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I love tart and lemony flavors with fish).

Before moving on to our meat course, we had a snack of smoked eel with black sesame sauce. Another super interesting dish!

eel

The final course was lamb served with chocolate sauce, smoked eggplant, and girolle mushrooms. Unfortunately, I pretty much attacked the dish as soon as I was served and I didn’t remember to take a picture until I was licking my fingers. Needless to say, the lamb dish looked as beautiful and delicious as all the other courses!

The wine that we had with the lamb was a Roussillon from the Languedoc region of France. It is a 2007 Cotes du Roussillon Les Apres by Domaine Nivet-Galinier. Roussillon wines are very rustic and often have savage qualities in aroma and taste. This is no exception and you can really notice the leather and animal notes. The wine’s aromas really closely mirror gamey meats that have strong scents. Even though it’s not game, lamb often mimics gamey-ness in terms of its texture, flavor and smell. As such, the lamb was a great match to the wine. Les Apres also has some smoky earthy characteristics, which I think work super well with the mushrooms and the eggplant.

roussillon

We then moved on to our cheese course. Abondance, which is a wonderful semi-hard raw cow‘s milk cheese from Savoy.

abondance

I was definitely way too full for dessert but they gave me a little taster anyways: Cauliflower with white chocolate and coconut. I know that it sounds weird but it was quite delicious!

cauliflower

That concluded our dinner at David Toutain. I loved the food and really enjoyed the surprising combination of ingredients and the juxtaposition of flavors, even if it did at times make me go “hmmm” 🙂 I can’t wait to go back there and see what new flavors and dishes David Toutain has come up with.