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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.

Apéro hour with fino sherry

I love Rue de Seine in the 6e arrondissement of Paris. It is a lively street with lots of shops and restaurants. One of my favorite spots on that street is Bellota-Bellota, where they sell a variety of gourmet products, ranging from caviar, to smoked salmon, to foie gras. But the specialty is jamón ibérico, the finest of which is the bellota variety. Bellota hams are made from free-range pigs that eat acorns found in the oak forests in the border areas between Portugal and Spain (bellota actually means acorn in Spanish). They have a few types of bellota ham that you can choose from:

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And you can either eat it there (they have a nice outdoor seating area) or take it to go. I got the Jabugo and the Guijeilo to take home with me for apéro (short for apéritif) hour.

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These hams are absolutely delicious and worth the hefty price tag. They’re naturally sweet, nutty, rich and they just melt in your mouth. Just add some roasted almonds to highlight the nuttiness of the ham and you’re all set.

As with other types of charcuterie, you can pair this with a crisp white wine, a sparkling wine, or a light and fruity red. The acidity in the wines will work wonders with the ham’s saltiness as well as to cut down on the fattiness. While these wines will work, the best pairing for jamón ibérico is fino sherry.

Fino sherry is a fortified wine made from the palomino grape in the Jerez region of Spain and is characteristically bone dry. One of the biggest names in fino Sherry (and also easiest to find) is Tio Pepe and this is what I’m opening up to go with the ham.

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It is high in alcohol (15%) compared to regular wine but is actually on the lower end of the scale when it comes to sherry. It is very crisp and refreshing – perfect with the ham! The sherry is also nutty in aroma, which highlights the nuttiness of the ham. The nuttiness of the fino sherry also works perfectly with the almonds.

Fino sherry also goes well with a wide variety of seafood and for my next dish, I decided combine both charcuterie and seafood: mussels cooked in tomato sauce and topped with crispy pan-fried chorizo and fresh thyme. The tomato sauce also has some of the sherry in it.

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There is a lovely combination of flavors in this dish and it’s a great match to the fino sherry.

If pairing seafood with the fino sherry, it need not be prepared in a Mediterranean style. Fino sherry actually pairs exceptionally well with Japanese food – not only sushi and sashimi but also tempura. When I was at the farmer’s market, I came across some fior di zucca – or zucchini blossoms, which inspired my next dish: tempura.

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I stuffed the blossoms with a goat cheese, crème fraiche, and herb mixture, dipped them in the tempura batter and deep-fried them.

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It was my first time making tempura and it was so much easier than I thought. I loved how it turned out and I loved how it paired with the fino sherry. Crisp wines always work great with fried foods.

If like me, you’re not a big fan of sake, next time you’re out for Japanese food, try a glass of fino sherry.

A meal to go with a bottle of Bouches-du-Rhône

I am back in Paris and I’m loving all of the amazing food and wine that I can find here! Just going to the grocery store or the farmer’s market is an amazing experience – I can find so many products that are not available (or cost an arm and a leg) in Abu Dhabi.

When I was going through the aisles of La Grande Épicerie, I came across some bottarga (or poutargue as it’s known in French). I’ve never actually tasted this before but I’ve been seeing this all over Instagram lately, especially grated over pasta. So I decided to try it. Bottarga is salted grey mullet roe that is preserved in wax.

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It can be served by simply slicing it. Just add a squeeze of lemon and it’s perfection, especially for apéritif hour. Bottarga is salty but not overwhelmingly so – a crisp white wine high in acidity will work wonderfully here.

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A variety of crisp whites will pair well with bottarga but since I’m in France, I’m gonna go with a French wine. I could’ve chosen a Côtes du Provence, a Cassis, a sparkling wine from Alsace or Saumur, or even Champagne. You want a wine that’s high in acidity to work with the saltiness of the bottarga but you want to opt for light flavors so as to not overwhelm bottarga’s delicate flavor. I actually fell in love with a white from the Bouche-du-Rhône region of France (you can currently find it at la Dernière Goutte and Juveniles in Paris). Even though it has the word “Rhône” in the appellation, this is a wine from Provence. It specially comes from a department in Provence where Marseille is the capital. The name Bouche-du-Rhône simply translates to the mouth of the Rhône river, which is by the Mediterrenean Sea.

The wine is produced by Château de Roquefort and the wine is called Petit Salé, made mostly from the clairette grape (with a bit of vermentino). The taste is light and crisp. It’s mineral and floral on the nose with some citrus. Just lovely! And it paired beautifully with the bottarga. I always love pairing wines with citrus aromas with seafood.

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The next day, I wanted to finish the bottle while trying some different food pairings. After a bit of experimenting, I found that cockles and white asparagus are fantastic with this wine.

For the appetizer, I peeled and steamed some white asparagus and served with with some crème fraiche and fresh thyme (and thyme is a flavor that’s predominant in Provence, mirroring the provenance of the wine). Super simple appetizer!

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I love that the bunch of thyme that I find in Paris (which I get from the organic farmer’s market in Bd Raspail) has flowers, which not only add beauty to a dish but are also delicious!

It was surprising how well the asparagus worked with the wine (normally, asparagus is one of those foods that are considered to be wine’s natural enemy). So I decided to also add it to my main course: cockles or coques as they’re called in France. I cooked the cockles just like I would cook clams for a spaghetti alla vongole dish – just add garlic, lemon, parsley as well as bit of Le Petit Sale to the pan before throwing in the cockles and finish it off with some butter. Instead of the typical pasta however, I served the cockles on a bed of steamed white asparagus ribbons as well as the tips.

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This dish was just outstanding with Petit Salé! I will definitely be making it again and I already saved a few bottles of this wine to take back to Abu Dhabi with me 🙂

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

An unforgettable trip to the Seychelles

I was recently in the Seychelles and what a trip it was! Absolutely beautiful country, gorgeous beaches, and charming people. We stayed in some lovely villas:

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And of course the food was amazing – being made up of islands, Seychellois cuisine features a lot of seafood. Octopus is a specialty that I particularly loved! You can get it as a salad:

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I’ve always been a bit intimidated by cooking octopus because it is so easy to end up with a tough and rubbery texture. But this was so soft and tender! We brought an assyrtiko (that I had gotten on my last trip to Greece). It was a bottle of 2014 Wild Ferment by Gaia. It was a super crisp and citrussy. A perfectly refreshing glass of wine to drink with the tropical weather of the Seychelles. And precisely because this is such a light and refreshing wine, I would not choose pair it with richer and more complicated preparations of octopus but it worked perfectly with this light octopus salad.

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You can also get octopus as a curry. It was cooked and served with some cinnamon leaves. I don’t think I’ve ever had cinnamon leaves in food before so this was super interesting.

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With this dish, a fragrant wine like a riesling, gewurztraminer or a sauvignon blanc would work great. But sometimes, you just crave a beer and I had the local beer instead – Seybrew. I think lager and mild curries work really well together!

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While in Praslin, one of the beaches we visited was Anse Georgette. This beach is simply amazing! It is definitely my favorite in the Seychelles.

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At Anse Georgette, we also arranged for a picnic through Constance Lemuria. We ordered bento boxes that had the local specialties, including grilled seafood, prawn pancakes and octopus.

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They had a great wine list and we chose a 2013 Skurfberg by the Sadie Family in South Africa.

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This wine had lots of fruit aromas – white fruits as well some citrus (which I think complemented the seafood superbly. I always prefer wines with citrus to pair with seafood rather than putting lemon directly on the food, which I find often overpowers its delicate flavors.). There is a bit of oak in this wine but not too much – it is still quite fresh. Overall, this is a superb bottle of chenin blanc!

They sell coconuts by the beach and I had to get one.

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And you are constantly surrounded by nature so if you don’t guard your coconuts, the animals will come and get them 😉

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There are some fabulous beaches in the Seychelles. Besides Anse Georgette, we also visited Anse Lazio in Praslin:

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Grande Anse in La Digue:

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Petit Anse in La Digue:

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And Anse Cocos in La Digue:

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When you’re at the beaches, it feels like paradise and I will definitely be back! In the mean time, I’ll be thinking about the Seychelles as I drink the local rum that I brought back.

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Cooking at home in Paris

As much as I enjoy exploring different restaurants in Paris, a trip to this beautiful city would not be complete without a visit to its markets and food shops. I love cooking in general but cooking in Paris is really special as there are so many interesting products to try and you can find so many fresh and seasonal ingredients. I especially like to use products that are easily available in Paris but are difficult to find (or are super expensive) back home. I took full advantage of all that Paris has to offer and cooked lots of meals at home during my trip  and I wanted to share some of them in this post.

I came across some of the most beautiful chanterelles I’ve ever seen at my neighborhood fruit and veggie stand. Sautée in some butter and they are great in pasta dishes and make a fantastic topping for eggs.

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And I absolutely love wild smoked salmon (wild salmon is virtually impossible to find in the UAE). Add some crème fraiche, chives, and freshly cracked black pepper, it’s the perfect snack or breakfast. If having wine with it, go for a Gewurz or a Riesling from Alsace or even a fino sherry.

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I am actually a huge fan of all seafood and I feel like a kid in a candy store when I visit the fish market. In the winter time, you can find lots of shellfish such as sea urchins, clams, cockles, and oysters (check out my last post on Eating oysters in Paris) everywhere.

sea urchin uni

langoustine

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When I saw the scallops still in the shell, I couldn’t resist – I got some to prepare for that evening’s dinner.

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The fact that these scallops had their corals attached was a real treat. The adductor muscle, which is the white part of the scallop is delicious on its own but the flavors of the coral are out of this world!

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I roasted them in the oven still in the shell with a garlicky parsley-butter mixture. Super simple yet super delicious!

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I got a great wine to pair with this dish: a bottle of Premier Cru Meursault-Blagny. It’s called Pièce sous le Bois and is produced by Domaine Sylvain Langoureau. This is a full-bodied Chardonnay from the Blagny hamlet of the Burgundy region in France. When it comes to buttery dishes, I always prefer to match textures and opt for a full-bodied Chardonnay, which can also take on buttery characteristics to mirror the food. I didn’t have any at the time but this recipe would be even better with some slivered almonds sprinkled on top. The almonds would make the pairing even better as Meursault often has nutty notes. I’ll definitely add the almonds next time…

Meursault-Blagny Langoureau

Because there’s a lot of fat in this dish, I wanted to keep the wine a bit on the fresh side – hence the 2014 vintage. However, you can equally opt for an older vintage as time will make the wine richer and more unctuous and this would also go superbly with the buttery scallops. Whether you go with young or old is just a matter a preference… However it’s important to note that not all Meursaults are drinkable young. Some need a few years in the bottle before drinking and opening them too soon would be a waste. This bottle of Meursault-Blagny had enough acidity to make it really enjoyable despite being very young. And if you like a mature Meursault, you’ll need around 7-10  years of bottle aging, sometimes even longer. That may seem long but a mature Meursault is truly a beautiful wine and I think the proverb “good things come to those who wait” especially applies here. So if you come across a bottle in a shop or have the patience to age some yourself, it’s definitely worth the money and/or time.

An important thing I want to bring up about this pairing is the garlic. Garlic is one of only 4 ingredients in my scallop dish and it can be really difficult to pair with wine as its potent flavor and aroma can easily overwhelm most wines. But I recently stumbled upon the pink garlic from Brittany, which is much more delicate than regular garlic. And rather than including actual pieces of garlic in the dish, I crushed the cloves and flavored the melted butter with it and removed it before putting the scallops in the oven. Garlic is definitely present in the dish but it is subtle and this subtlety allows the dish to work well with the Meursault-Blagny. I really love this Breton garlic and brought a nice supply of it with me to the UAE.

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On the other hand, if your dish features strong garlicky flavors, it’s better to go with an aromatic wine that’s also high in acidity – like a sauvignon blanc – and avoid oaked wines.  Obviously the longer you cook the garlic, the less pronounced the flavors and aromas and the easier the dish becomes to pair with wine.

Another food that I can’t resist when in Paris is fresh foie gras! I was lucky enough to be staying right off of Rue Daguerre in the 14e arrondissement, which is one of my favorite streets in Paris. This street still has small, specialized shops that were so common in Paris before the proliferation of supermarkets.

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One of them is a shop that focuses on foie gras and other specialties from the Périgord region of France.

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So I got a whole duck liver, which weighs 1 lb … because why not?

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I simply sliced the liver, scored it, and then pan seared it. I also made a red currant and rosemary compote, which added sweet, tart, and earthy dimensions to the dish.

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What we couldn’t finish of the liver, I decided to make into foie gras au torchon. I’ve always been intimidated by this but it turns out it is quite simple, though it takes about 4 days to make. I really liked how this turned out and I will definitely be making it again.

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The classic pairing with foie gras is sweet wine, such as a Sauternes. But if not in the mood for a sweet wine, it will also pair nicely with a rich chardonnay. But with foie gras, it’s better to opt for an older Meursault. So we tried a 2010 by Albert Bichot (I actually would’ve preferred an even older vintage had I had one on hand – at least a 2008 – but c’est la vie.  Though not as mature as I would have liked, the 2010 still worked well with the foie gras).

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If you don’t have an old Meursault, a Condrieu would also work very nicely. Even a St. Joseph or a Madiran (check out my post on Madiran with fresh foie gras for more information on this pairing) are great choices if you want to avoid whites all together.

Of course, I can’t go to Paris without frequenting the amazing cheese shops! I went to Fromagerie Quatrehomme quite a few times. This is such an amazing shop that even if you only need 1 cheese, you’ll end up coming home with a lot more. Case in point is the photo below: I only went in to buy the wedge on the right… 50 euros later…

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A real special cheese that’s in season in the winter months is Mont d’Or – a raw cow milk’s cheese. What makes the Mont d’Or special is that it’s baked in the oven and becomes delightfully ooey gooey! Because it is quite rich, it is only popular in the cold winter months.

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Get some crusty bread to serve with the Mont d’Or and you’re all set. Luckily, there’s a Moisan bakery right off of Rue Daguerre. I love Boulangerie Moisan – not only is everything delicious but also organic and really fresh. They bake throughout day and I’ve gotten piping hot breads just out of the oven plenty of times.

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You can pair a few different wines with this cheese but my favorite is champagne. Mont d’Or is mostly served for special occasions and pairing it with champagne makes it even more special while the acidity of the champagne helps to cut down on the richness of the cheese so you can keep on eating 😉 I got a bottle of non-vintage Bruno Paillard Première Cuvée. I love their rosé champagne and the white did not disappoint. Delicate bubbles, nutty, with a hint of toastiness.

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If not in the mood for champagne, you can also opt for a white from the Jura region of France.

And of course, we can’t forget about dessert! We had a fabulous bûche from Cyril Lignac, made with coconut, almonds, banana-passion fruit compote, and chocolate.

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And it is also candied chestnut season and I love these chocolate covered ones from Pierre Hermé.

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While at Pierre Hermé, I also had to try the Flocon Ispahan. It is a macaron based dessert made with rose, lychee, and raspberries. Almost too pretty to eat. Almost…

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It was a lovely trip to Paris and from now on, I definitely plan on spending more time here in the winter. Such amazing food… And you can’t beat the gorgeous Parisian sunrises, which happen after 8am in the winter so no need to set the alarm 🙂

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

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!

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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.

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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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l'ecume st. honore seafood

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.

l'ecume st. honore oysters cockles

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.

l'ecume st. honore seafood

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:

cancale oysters

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.

belon oysters l'ecailler du bistrot

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).

huitrerie regis

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.

belon oyster shell

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.

gillardeau oysters

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

A trip to the wineries of the Loire Valley

Yesterday, I was looking over my pictures from my trip to the Loire valley. We went there for a few days in July to visit some wineries and do wine tastings. The Loire Valley is a great destination because not only is the scenery absolutely gorgeous but it has some amazing and refreshing wines, that often times do not get exported out of France. At the time, I didn’t have time to write up a blog entry on the trip but now I think that it would be a shame to not share it. So even though this entry is a couple of months late, here it is!

The Loire Valley is a vast region that can be split into three sub-regions: 1) the Upper Loire, known for its mineral driven whites made from the sauvignon blanc grape, namely Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé; 2) the Middle Loire, a diverse wine area where the cabernet franc and chenin blanc grapes thrive; 3) the Lower Loire, known mostly for the Muscadet made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape (which pairs wonderfully with oysters).

We chose to go to the Middle Loire because I really wanted to explore the wines of Bourgueil, Saumur, and especially Savennières. The Middle Loire is only a two-hour drive away from Paris so we rented a car. We left in time to stop at le Bon Laboureur in Chenonceaux for lunch. I had the brill with seaweed tartar sauce and artichokes.

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We then continued on to Bourgueil. We visited two wineries: Yannick Amirault and P-J Druet. Amirault produces wines under both the Bourgueil and the St. Nicholas de Bourgueil appellations and I bought a nice selection of both. When I returned to Paris, I paired one of the wines – La Petite Cave – with a homemade seared free-range chicken breast that I served with jus, chives, and red currants. The red currants really brought out the fruity and berry qualities of the Bourgueil. Great pairing!

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P-J Druet spent a long time with us, talking about how he got started in the wine making business, explaining his wines, and opening a variety of different vintages (even very old ones). I bought three of his wines, pictured below. The 2009 Grand Mont was just exquisite!

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Our hotel for the first night was in Huismes and the views from my room were just spectacular!

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That evening we had dinner at La Cave Voltaire in Chinon, where we tried different wines from that area with cheese and pork platters.

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This place had very interesting wines and I bought a bottle of La Diablesse (meaning she-devil) that still needs a couple of years of aging before it is ready to be drunk.

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Next day, we moved on to Saumur. The only winery visited in Saumur was Chateau Filliatreau. On the premises, they had lots of informative displays, including on where cork comes from, which I found really interesting.

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We tasted many bottles and I really loved their 2003 old vine red. Delicious! Of course, I bought a few bottles of this (among others).

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While in Saumur, I really wanted to visit the frères Foucault, two brothers who are 8th generation wine makers at Clos Rougeard. They make reds that are considered to be the best expression of the cabernet franc grape. So much so that they have acquired a cult following of their wines. But apparently nobody gets a visit at Clos Rougeard. So I had to make do with a bottle of their wine we ordered at a lovely gastronomic restaurant in Angers – Une Île. I highly recommend this restaurant!

The wine that we ordered at dinner was a bottle of Clos Rougeard Les Poyeux from 2009 – an excellent vintage for Saumur Champigny.

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This was truly an amazing bottle of wine! I was surprised that such a complex and rich wine can come from cabernet franc grown in a cool climate. Clos Rougeard also makes a wine called Le Bourg, which is supposed to be even better. Next time I’m in France, I will definitely try to score a bottle of each of these wines.

Our next wine region was Savennières. Made from the chenin blanc grape, this, in my opinion, is the most complex white wine produced in the Loire Valley. On our way to Savennieres, we stopped by Domaine Saint Pierre in Chaudefonds-sur-Layon for lunch. The views were unbeatable!

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In Savennieres we went first to Nicolas Joly. Joly has whole ownership of the famous Coulée de Serant plot, which produces the most complex wines from savennières. Savennières is not easy to drink – it requires a lot of time to age and a lot of time to breathe once you open a bottle. And more importantly, this is a food wine and not to be enjoyed as an aperitif. We tasted a number of wines at Joly:

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Our last winery visit was at Damien Laureau. During this visit, we learned a lot about the wine-making process. Unfortunately, he was sold out of many of his more complex bottles so I got a few of his simpler ones, namely Les Genets and Le Bel Ouvrage. Savennières pairs well with boudin blanc and when I got home to Paris, I paired a bottle of les Genets with it. I also had some herb roasted potatoes and celery rémoulade, which all went superbly with the wine.

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Overall, I brought back 24 bottles of wine from our visit to the Loire Valley!  It’s time to create meals and dishes that pair well with these wines. Can’t wait 🙂

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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