Category Archives: France

The Thanksgiving Post

Because I can't not use this photo

Somehow, the sacrifice of many turkeys puts people in the sort of mood to count their blessings. I am one of them (albeit a day later than everyone else). Of course, there is being thankful for my family, and friends, and people who are willing to put up with me for a few hours during the day in general. I can understand your pain, kind people. Thank you for that.

I am also thankful for the many great experiences I have had over the past year — especially the food-based kind. How lucky I’ve been! So here is, pretty much, a slide show of some snippets of my year, which has passed by far too quickly for my liking. Just imagine sitting in a rec room somewhere, wanting desperately to escape while I drone on and on about boring stuff. Ah, Thanksgiving!

1. While in France in the autumn, we escaped from our tour long enough to score a dinner at Alain Chapel for my birthday. It was a great birthday! My choice was simple: a roasted veal kidney, sliced at the table and served with a thick ‘n glossy red wine sauce.

 

 

2. Delicious China. Need I say more? Like many many other people, my favorite dish is the ultimate in Sichuan comfort food: mapo tofu, cubes of jiggly blank goodness coated in chilies and beans and good ol’ oil, one of the more bewitching combinations known to man.

 

3. Berlin is one of my favorite cities in the world. I look forward to going almost every year, when my husband attends a travel fair and I end up having the entire city to myself. I love that Berlin’s possibilities are endless. There is always something new to discover, and always something I end up missing out on. On my next visit, a trip to the pirate-themed restaurant will be an absolute must!

Here, the beef goulash with spaetzle at the Reinhard’s on Kurfurstendamm, otherwise known as Thai Tourist Central.

 

4. When my family go on holiday together, my dad always ends up being the cook. This might suck for my dad, but it’s a real treat for us, a throwback to when we were kids and dad had to cook dinner after he came home from work.

Quite sensibly, dad tries to shy away from cooking duties now, but sometimes, in a foreign country and surrounded by hungry family members demanding perfectly fried rice or a well-seasoned larb, he cannot say no. Here is his yum nuea, a spicy beef salad made with the local Limousin beef of the Perigord region.

 

5.  Obvious alert: street food. I can’t say I love it in all its permutations and varieties — you may not have guessed, but I’m not the biggest jok (Chinese-style rice porridge) fan in the world, and I actually dislike Thai-style som tum (pounded spicy salad) — but I am truly thankful for the vast range of street food out there right now.

And the variety keeps growing! We are getting Japanese-style okonomiyaki (savory crepes) and pasta sauced with different curries and even, I hear, stabs at Western food. Thai food is at an incredible moment in time when it is figuring out, again, what it really is, expanding and changing its parameters, to the delight or dismay of many. What’s next? I don’t know, but it’s definitely something to be thankful for.

Dry thin noodles (sen lek) with pork, "yum"-style, at Baan Jik in Udon Thani

 

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Filed under Asia, Bangkok, Chinese, food, food stalls, France, French food, noodles, restaurant, Thailand

Glutton Abroad: My kind of people

How far would I go to eat a good meal? Far. How far? Three words: River boat cruise.

No, I don’t really like cruises. People with an unlimited range of experiences and perspectives come together into a very limited space, a surefire recipe for driving themselves crazy. This one, on a river in France, for a week, was no exception. People shushed us when our wild ‘n crazy Thai-speaking got too rowdy. Boat boys imitated our “ching chong” language, leading to unwelcome memories of the 8th grade. And the food … oh, the food. It was what you would get if your elementary school lunch lady took on fine dining pretensions. In short: not my kind of people.

France, on the other hand, seems to be full of my kind of people. Marketing campaigns try to tell you that France is about romance, or culture, or blahbladiblahblah zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Seriously, whatever. Whatever forever. We all know it’s actually about food. No French person is without an opinion on food, especially French food. The land is blanketed with a gazillion vineyards. There is a cheese for every day of the year. Come on. France is a food place.

And France in the fall is an especially lovely food place. There’s little wonder why chefs here like to say autumn is their favorite time of year: game is in season, mushrooms start sprouting, fruit and veggies are still in abundance. What could be better than exploring it then, right before a week of BLT sandwiches and “medium-rare” pork slices in a floating cafeteria?

Chestnuts in season at an outdoor market in Paris

So it was a happy, upbeat Glutton buzzing into Burgundy, wedged between a stack of guidebooks and my hand luggage and an empty plastic bag in my purse JUST IN CASE. Like millions of people before us, we were to take part in the great French tradition of grand “hotel-restaurants” — fantastic chefs, many with long cooking pedigrees, in family-run restaurants who just happen to also have well-appointed rooms. These are the guys (and ladies) who, for years, have ruled the local culinary roost from places like Vienne and Saulieu, innovating French food and picking up Michelin stars in the process.

One chef well-regarded by Big Red (he does have 3 stars, after all) is Jean-Michel Lorain, whose La Cote Saint Jacques in Joigny is perched right next to the Yonne, boasting gigantic views over the water and two beautiful, if somewhat subdued, dining rooms. The cooking is equally beautiful, suggesting a sort of jeweler’s temperament (and a fondness for tapioca pearls): meticulous, artistic, a little bit fiddly. Some of the dishes on the menu were inspired by Chef Lorain’s father, Michel, like a terrine featuring oysters suspended in an “ocean” amber, tasting just like the sea. A deceptively simple-sounding “rose” of lobster and hearts of palm comes festooned in tapioca pearls like a Little Mermaid; a hefty blue-collar fish like cod gets gold star treatment when it is perfectly pan-fried and dressed up with more tapioca pearls and a sea urchin sauce.

La Cote Saint Jacques's cod

If Jean-Michel Lorain is an artist, Bernard Loiseau was more of a showman. Gregarious and charming, Chef Loiseau was also very smart; like a writer who understands he lacks the agility of an Updike, Loiseau seemed to understand he wasn’t the greatest technical cook and focused instead on purity and simplicity. It worked — Michelin awarded his “Cote d’Or” in Saulieu three stars, but the stress seemed to take its toll, and Bernard Loiseau took his own life in 2003.

I never got to eat at the Cote d’Or, but entering the rechristened “Bernard Loiseau” is a bit like entering a shrine. His face is everywhere, grinning in countless photos on various sitting room walls, a tireless reminder that, if the name didn’t tip you off first, this is BERNARD LOISEAU’s place, okay?

Not to say the place isn’t stunning. There is a beautiful garden, and THREE lovely dining rooms, and a gigantic staircase with an elevator in the middle — all renovations that Chef Loiseau oversaw. The only place Bernard Loiseau doesn’t seem to be omnipresent is on the menu; aside from three or four of his famous dishes, it’s more about the present chef Patrick Bertron (who has maintained the restaurant at a 3-star level), who is like a closed-mouth smile as opposed to Loiseau’s wide grin. There was a delicate, subtly flavored little duck, perfectly rosy and skin slightly crisped, and a perfectly poached egg (no whiff of vinegar! No chewy, thick egg white!) atop a raft of tiny baby leeks, the yolk just crying to be broken. And yes, we had a Loiseau classic too: juicy squares of skin-on sandre (pike perch) with a shallot marmalade and red wine sauce.

Poached egg on baby leeks vinaigrette

The best thing about French places, particularly the ones adored by Michelin? The great service. These “temples of gastronomy” are actually not supposed to be temples. They are, like everywhere else, meant to be places to relax and enjoy yourself. That means waitstaff are unfailingly, politely affable, like your older brother’s college roommate sophomore year. That means not batting an eye while you are pulling off your moth-eaten black turtleneck sweater while ordering, or making faces at your crusty old jeans when you come in for an unexpected lunch, or expressing dismay when you ask about rose on their wine menus (OK, maybe the last one, a little bit). These guys are my kind of people.

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Filed under celebrity chefs, food, France, French food, restaurant

When it’s time to break up

roasted duck

(Photo by @SpecialKRB)

This is the duck we never had. But I should start from the beginning.

Relationships with restaurants are like relationships with people. There is the flicker of interest, the sideways glance, the feeling that maybe you should check that out sometime. There is the lust. And then there is falling in love.

Like anyone who lives a lot in the past, I remember the details: 1997. Paris. Le Grand Vefour. Plaques marking where past patrons once sat — I sat at Colette’s place, but I also remember a Napoleon. A platter of velvety, almost candied pigeon. A wine like leather and mushrooms. And a Swiss financier who sent over a bottle of dessert wine, simply because we “looked happy”. I remember a vista had spread out before me of previously unexplored things, at least for a culinary student living on hard-boiled eggs in a 5th-floor walk-up on the edge of the Greek Quarter. I do not go back to Le Grand Vefour very often, but I will always love that restaurant because of that feeling.

At least, I think I will always love that restaurant. Because, like for any relationship, the threat of a break-up always looms. They can be clean and clinical; a bad meal, bad service, and you simply never go back. They can be contentious: he said, she said sort of stuff, requiring the intervention of a manager. And they can be ugly.

When you have driven for hours from Rouffillac to Paris, enduring Opera-area traffic, drunken throngs in the Greek Quarter, and a winding queue down the sidewalk, and it’s already 9:30 and you’re bone-tired, you want some TLC. You’ve seen the guys at Mirama before; you lived just around the corner, for Chrissake, you remember being a loyal customer even though you never really counted Hong Kong-style duck and egg noodles as one of your favorite dishes.

It’s kind of jarring when they start picking and choosing from the line in front of you. But it’s okay; they said two tables of five, and that’s fine, it’s understandable. It has now been an hour, you’re next, and the group behind you that has just sidled up is big as well — eight carefully-coiffed blondes in the kind of scarves that suggest they are “slumming it” for the evening on the Left Bank.

So it feels like a punch in the gut when the group behind you gets called, and you’ve been waiting for over an hour. The celebratory whoops are salt in the wound. You are being taken for granted. The wise thing to do is to walk away. But you can’t help it. You march into the restaurant and confront the 60-year-old, balding, stressed-out Chinese man, who explains they don’t seat tables of 10. He is now telling lies. The Chinese man is now like all those other guys who tell tales when confronted: she was just a friend, he was alone that night, she meant nothing.

Walk away, walk away. So you do — for two seconds. You double back again. He needs to know it’s wrong. You need closure. You tell him. He doesn’t seem to register what you are saying. It feels like talking to a brick wall. So then, you walk away. But because you just can’t help it, you walk back again. You need to know. “Is it because she’s blonde?” you say. “No, no,” he says, and you think he’s lying, yet again.

You walk away for the last time, only to hear your name after you’ve crossed the street. “He can seat four!” someone calls out, and it’s the final straw, the last insult — he couldn’t seat 8 of you, but now 4 is okay? “He can kiss my ass!” you scream across the rushing traffic on Rue St. Jacques, convinced you will never, ever return. You turn around and seek out the next best thing, Roger Le Grenouille, and he is kind and welcoming, and the frog legs are great, and things are okay. But you will always remember Mirama’s rejection, and how that stung, a little bit.

Mirama

(Photo by @SpecialKRB)

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Filed under Asia, bamee, Chinese, duck, food, France, Hong Kong, noodles, restaurant

My lunch at Michel Rostang

Every time I go to Paris, I try to go to at least one nice place a visit. This time, we made it to Michel Rostang, a two Michelin-starred restaurant with a menu that changes seasonally.

My husband and daughter, Nicha, asked for canard au sang, a dish they were initially discouraged from ordering because it was very “special”, a word the French use to describe something that is potentially disgusting. It turned out to be thin slices of very rare duck breast, bathed in a foie gras sauce thickened with blood. The legs are then poached in duck fat, shredded and encased in a razor-thin potato “tower” — a great reminder of why people love French food.

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Filed under cooking, duck, food, France, French food, restaurant

Glutton Abroad: Doing as the French do

sunflowers

Sometimes I am perfectly happy acting like a tourist, out with my big old map and geriatric footwear, embarrassing all and sundry with my lack of knowledge about how to act in public. But once in a while, I’m tired of my day-to-day life in Thailand. Sometimes, I want to spread my wings and travel a bit. That’s when I go abroad — this year, to France. Our trip, via @SpecialKRB’s fantastic photos:

1731

La Vigerie

We stayed in the “Perigord Noir”, so named because of the abundance of prehistoric dwellings in the area and known for its delicious walnuts, lamb, ducks, geese — and, of course, this:

foie gras

Staying in a house allowed us to delude ourselves into thinking we could act just like the locals — zipping to and fro in tiny little cars, wearing berets and making fun of other people just like us (for the record, they really do wear striped shirts!). So we did just that, even after getting back to Paris, using the ample time at our disposal to do Frenchie French things like:

Buy lots of cheese at Barthelemy
Fromagerie Nicole Barthelemy

Pretend to buy expensive macarons at Pierre Herme
Macarons from Pierre Herme

Gorge on lots of lovely meat
steak au poivre at Chez George

Dine on mussels, even though I think they are Belgian
provencale mussels at Leon's

Order delicious escargots at every meal
escargot

Uh, eat lots of frogs
Roger La Grenouille frog legs provencale

Partake of the local fruit and liquor, at the same time
Melon au Port

Appreciate the local art
our shy sexy sculpture

Mess up our recycling
taking out the trash 2

Try out the lovely French squatters (for the record, far more challenging than the Thai ones. The footrests are lower in level than the surrounding basin, ensuring that you will most certainly splash your own feet — lovely.
French squatter toilet

Dislocate your shoulder and visit the hospital (sorry, no photos. FYI, the hospital trip: 23 euros. Excruciating pain: priceless.).

And, finally, sup at one of the most popular restaurants in all of France
obligatory McDonald's meal

Bon appetit!

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Filed under duck, food, France, French food, restaurant