Les Antiquaires

8 09 2008

Let us step back in time a few weeks, to the halcyon days of les vacances.  A quiet weekend trip to Orléans (or, as Nick and I have taken to calling it, Old Orleans).  The sky is clear, but the breeze along the banks of the Loire is brisk.  No jacket necessary, though a sweater and a scarf are certainly welcome.  We arrive into town early Saturday afternoon and spend a few hours wandering the cobbled streets, stopping for an occasional snack or drink, and looking for restaurants we’d like to try that evening.  Les Antiquaires, situated on a tiny street near the river, has one Michelin star and one Gault-Millau toque.  Doubting we’d be able to get a reservation at such short notice, we called anyway.  We underestimated, however, the extent to which everything slows down in the summer.  They were able to accommodate us without any problems whatsoever.

Upon being seated in the comfortably upscale dining room (no jacket necessary here, either), a plate of amuse-bouchewas placed before us containing a dome of tomato gelée on a parmesan tuile and a wedge of peppered melon.  I didn’t get a picture of it, but this was when I decided that this would probably be a meal worth documenting.  Given our past experience with tasting menus in Michelin-starred restaurants, there wasn’t much debate when it came time to order.  We went for the chef’s market menu and ordered a bottle of local wine to accompany our meal.  It’s funny, whenever we go to a nice restaurant, the waiter hands the wine list to Nick, who takes a glance before passing it to me to make the selection.  I choose the wine and order it, but when it arrives at our table, the first taste is invariably offered to Nick.  Being the gentleman that he is, he graciously defers to me, which is usually met with an expression of slight surprise from the waiter.  This wine chauvinism doesn’t bother me too much… yet.  I’m sure after a few more years I’ll start to get really annoyed at waiters who don’t think the woman at the table could possibly know anything about wine.  But for now, I’m mildly amused.

Second amuse

Officially four courses, the menu has plenty of extras tacked on at no extra charge.  After our order was taken, a second amuse arrived at the table.  (Which would lead me to refer to the first little bites as hors d’oeuvre, if I were being nit-picky.)  This one consisted of a chilled glass of cucumber panna cotta and a tiny pastry filled with roasted red pepper.  Historically, I am not a huge fan of either cucumber or bell peppers.  But the panna cotta was excellent.  Cool and smooth, with a just-set consistency and perfectly balanced seasoning, it was a real treat.  I can’t say as much for the pastry, which was undercooked, dull in flavor, and inexplicably served cold.

And then the real first course was served.

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More Tomatoes!

5 09 2008

On the way home from work the other day, as I walked past the corner fruit-and-vegetable seller, I noticed he was arranging tomatoes for his sidewalk display.  Upon closer inspection, I saw that they were some very cool, dark green kumato tomatoes, and I picked one up.  The man asked me if I was familiar with these tomatoes.  I responded in the affirmative and he informed me that these were very good.  So I picked up another one.  And another one.  Soon my hands were full, but the man had the foresight to go and get me a bag, which I filled to my heart’s content.  Two and a half euros later, I was the proud owner of an almost- kilo of kumato tomatoes.

It was sunny outside my kitchen window that day.

I’ll admit this wasn’t a completely random purchase.  I did have a recipe in mind when I saw them – Clotilde’sTomato Tarte Tatin recipe from her book, Chocolat & Zucchini.  (I have the French version, but I assume it’s in the English versions, too.)  I have a hard time leaving recipes alone, however, so I riffed on the idea of a roasted tomato tart baked with a crust on top, Tatin-style.

Awaiting their destiny

I love the way roasting brings out the deep sweetness and enhances the complexity of fruits and vegetables.  And I’ve done some good things with roasted tomatoes in the past.  These particular tomatoes, probably due to their being all squished together in my tart dish, took a lot longer to start getting roast-y than I anticipated.  I eventually had to very carefully pour out some of the excess liquid from the dish so that we could have dinner before 11 pm.  (Not that that’s entirely abnormal in France, but my alarm goes off at 5 am.)

While the tomatoes were roasting, I smeared a round of puff pastry with the contents of a whole head of roasted garlic which I had made a day or two before.  The pastry was store bought because I was feeling too lazy to make my own pâte brisée, but I think I’ll make the effort next time.  Even the supposedly all-butter pastry has a weird chemical taste that has no place on my dinner plate.

The roasted garlic was good...

Anyway, once the tomatoes began to dry a bit, I dolloped fresh goat cheese over them, like so:

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La Rentrée

3 09 2008

Well, it’s officially La Rentrée this week - all the kids going back to school, a full staff at work, and a new batch of apprentis!  I was very pleased to see a girl apprentice when I came to work on Tuesday.  What’s even cooler is that she used to work downstairs in the boutique and finagled her way into an apprenticeship with no prior culinary training.  Of course Le Patron is constantly asking her if the work is too hard or tiring, as though he doesn’t expect her to be able to handle it.  She’s got some spunk though, and already knows how to handle him.  Plus she’s already familiar with the pastries, which definitely gives her a leg up on the other two apprentices (both young, and I mean YOUNG as in no facial hair yet, boys).  Girl power!

So now that we’re fully staffed again, I have been put in charge of replenishing the supply of chocolates and confections for the chocolate boutique portion of the business.  (Many pâtisseries in Paris have accompanying chocolateries.  Notably, Arnaud Larher and Pierre Hermé have both recently opened shops devoted entirely to their macaron and chocolate creations.)  Anyway, what this means is that I’ve been tucked away in the cooler garde-manger room making ganaches and pralinés, spreading them evenly into square frames, chilling them, and then taking them out so I can use the frames again.  It’s one of those fairly boring tasks that I tend to approach with a zen-like state of mind, finding pleasure in the calm of the repeated actions and letting my thoughts wander.  This morning, for example, I ruminated on possible titles for a cookbook I’m trying to write.  Tomorrow I will give each square a thin coating of chocolate and cut them into perfect little rectangles.  Looks like more zen time ahead.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Tomatoes!

1 09 2008

How fun are these little guys?

It seems that everywhere I look these days there are piles of awesome tomatoes.  From minuscule pear tomatoes to giant beefsteaks, from bright red to forest green, you can find a tomato to match any décor.  Aesthetics aside for a moment, we’re also in that glorious window where the grand majority of the tomatoes taste great, too.  And having all those shapes and colors to play around with is a lot of fun.  As a result, I’ve been on a bit of a tomato binge lately.  Naturally, pasta has figured prominently, as it is an excellent way to showcase sweet tomato perfection.  Habitual readers of this blog may remember that I have a penchant for throwing raw tomatoes into just-cooked pasta, letting the residual heat warm the tomatoes just enough to really bring out their flavor.  (Like I did last spring, and earlier this summer.)

The rainbow of little tomatoes pictured at the top of this post called out for just such a treatment.  In order to add even more late-summer vegetable goodness, I sliced and sautéed some cute little light green zucchinis.  When they had some tasty sear marks, I threw in some garlic and fresh chives, cut the fire, and tossed in the tomatoes.

Tomatoes and zucchini - a match made in heaven

Cooked farfalle, or papillons, as they’re called in France (both of which mean “butterflies” – why do we insist on calling them “bow-ties?”), and a generous drizzle of olive oil joined the party and it was ready to dish up.  Liberal use of Parmigiano-Reggiano is encouraged chez moi, so the bowls each received a handsome grating of cheese before serving.

Simple, fresh and tasty summer pasta.

It made a splendid summer meal: fresh and light, but no slouch in the flavor department.  When nature hands you such wonderful produce, just do as little as possible.  That’s the beauty of cooking with the seasons.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.








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