Le Bastringue

2 04 2008

Now that I have finally re-entered the 21st century and gotten a French cell phone, complete with camera, I have no more excuses for not taking pictures when I’m dining out.  To test the abilities of this spiffy new device, Nick and I went to lunch at our favorite neighborhood bistro, Le Bastringue.  This place may very well be the best deal in Paris, especially at lunch.  They recently raised their prices from 10 euros to 10,50 (yes, that’s a comma – that’s how they do things here) for either appetizer + main course or main course + dessert.  We learned early on that the generous portions allow two people to share the appetizer and dessert courses and therefore we end up with a 3-course meal each for 21 euro!  Not too shabby.  Plus the food is fantastic.

Pâté de Campagne

Lunch the other day, for example, started with a large slice of pâté de campagne (or was it canard?  French handwriting is nearly impossible to read) and a small salad.  I like those proportions.  The pâté was firm, with lots of meaty bits, and great with the above-average (average being pretty high-quality) bread they serve.

For the main course, I chose the veal pasta and Nick opted for the pork in mustard sauce.

Veal Pasta

My dish was excellent.  The veal was unbelievably tender, shredding with ease into the rich sauce that dressed the perfectly al dente pasta. 

Pork in Mustard Sauce

Nick cleaned his plate, so I guess the pork was pretty good, too.  (He was coming down with a cold, so we didn’t share.)  I did manage to swipe a potato from his plate, and it was delicious, as the potatoes at the Bastringue always are.  One thing I really like about this place, upon reflection, is that the food is always correctly seasoned.  Sure, they provide salt and pepper at the table, but I can’t recall a single incidence in which I’ve used them.  I know it’s a small detail, but attention to detail is what separates the good from the great.  It may surprise some of you, but I have been several places (yes, in Paris) where salting the potatoes (or chicken, or whatever) was necessary.  Le Bastringue is not one of them.

But I digress.  For dessert we had the apple crumble.

Apple Crumble

It was made with fresh apples and served with two sauces: passion fruit and strawberry.  Each sauce was good on its own, but neither did much in the way of enhancing the apple crumble.  Still, I’d eat another plate of this right now, without hesitation.  I loved how the flavor and texture of the apples was preserved, rather than being drowned in sugar and cinnamon and baked into oblivion.  The tender crumb topping complemented the slightly crisp apples beautifully, maintaining just the right balance between sweet and tart.

See what I mean?  Best deal in Paris.


Taking Advantage of France

28 03 2008

We’ve had kind of a busy week this week, in preparation for our upcoming move.  I’ve been taking measurements of the new place, shopping around for household items, trying to find the right balance between quality and price, and researching phone/internet/tv deals.  Nick has been, well, working.  On days when we don’t have time to cook, or don’t feel like it, we take advantage of the bounty that France’s boulangeries, charcuteries, and fromageries have to offer. 

Nothing makes a better (or easier) dinner than a wedge of cheese, a slice of pâté, a bowl of soup, some great bread, and a bottle of wine.  Sometimes the soup comes from a box, (My favorite is Knorr’s Douceur de 8 Légumes – eight vegetable soup.  You can’t believe how happy I was to discover that it hasn’t changed in the seven years since I was last living in France.) but last week the stars converged in a fortuitous manner.  Just as an inordinately large bag of frozen peas found its way into my kitchen, so did a recipe for cream of pea soup – calling for frozen peas!  Seeing as I almost always have cream on hand, I didn’t have to do any shopping at all.

And the soup was so easy, it practically made itself.  All I had to do was dice an onion and sauté it in butter, add some broth, bring it to a boil, add peas and cook until tender.  Then I puréed the whole thing using a hand blender (if you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up).  I finished the soup with a few ounces of cream and adjusted the seasoning.  What could be easier?  We ate it with the ostrich pâté we got at the salon, a bit of sausage, Roquefort, Gouda, and Morbier cheeses, a tradi, and a bottle of Bordeaux.

Pâté and cheese and bread, oh, my!

While this particular meal was more in a clean-out-the-fridge vein, sometimes we plan these things out a little better.  In the week following the salon, we put together a nice appetizer for ourselves, consisting of bread, that awesome perfectly ripe cheese, and a bottle of Crémant de Bourgogne.  Since both the cheese and the wine were from Burgundy, I figured that they would work well together.  And you know what?  They did.

What grows together goes together…

Have a good weekend, everybody!

Food Fair, concluded

20 03 2008

It was around this point that Nick noted the proliferation of stands dispensing aperitifs.  We concluded that the reason behind it was to keep everyone in a constant state of hunger.  And on that note, we went to taste some Armagnac.  Before we were given a sip, we got a full-on Armagnac-tasting lesson.  The (very) Frenchman doling it out told us that you must warm it in your hands and take deep smells of it – like a woman.  We got to taste the 1979 and the 1967.  The ’67 was pretty remarkable, I thought, although never having tried Armagnac before, I don’t have much of a frame of reference.  When the vendor found out this fact, he said this was the third time in one day that he had initiated someone into the world of Armagnac.  The first was a Swiss man, and the second was a Japanese couple.  We were holding out to try the 1944, but it didn’t seem to be in the cards.  He tried to put the hard sell on us, and we walked away empty handed.

Over to another foie gras booth, where we got samples of foie gras mi-cuit and foie gras au sel from Alban Laban.  Both were unctuously delicious, but the foie gras au selwas the real standout.  Uncooked, simply cured in salt, it was perfectly seasoned with an incredibly smooth mouthfeel.  I could have eaten tubs of the stuff and they would have had to roll me home.  So I guess it’s a good thing that they weren’t giving out free tubs of foie gras au sel.

Instead, we wandered over to the G. Prieur Grands Vins de Bourgogne stand.  I came for the Vosne-Romanée, and I stayed for the nice large Burgundy glasses (as opposed to the cheap tasting glasses most of the other stands were using) and the amiable proprietors.  At first we were proposed a flight of 3 wines, starting with my requested 2005 Vosne-Romanée, which had a deep rose color, almost floral aroma, and juicy flavor.  Next came the 2003 Nuits-St.-Georges, darker and more complex, followed by the 2003 Morey-Saint-Denis, ruby-colored with a slight oakiness.  As we chatted with the proprietors, (my French is getting better by the glass!) I mentioned that our 2nd wedding anniversary was in a few days, and they insisted we try a few more wines.  Out came the 2005 Beaune 1er cru Clos du Roy.  It was absolutely amazing.  We asked if 2005 was a better year than 2003, and they told us that 2005 was one for the ages.  Then they gave us a taste of the 2005 Volnay, which was lighter and sweeter, and described as “très feminin, très fin.”  Perhaps it was a little too subtle for my palate – it was nice, but nothing particularly noteworthy, especially after the Vosne-Romanée and the Beaune 1er cru.  To top it off, we were given one more sample: the 2003 Aloxe-Corton.  It was rond.  We began to notice a few fellow salon-goers with hand-trucks for carrying their purchases and wished we had planned as well.  Luckily, G. Prieur was selling cases of 6 bottles for home delivery.  We couldn’t pass up that Clos du Roy, especially if we didn’t even have to carry it!

Our next stop showed that even France is not immune to inane food fads.

Chocolate Fountain

Yes, that’s a chocolate fountain.  Which is too bad, because they had some very good chocolates, once you got past the stupid gimmick.  Our favorite was the dark chocolate with cacao nibs.  We wanted to buy a bag of just those, but all they were selling were mixed-bag gift baskets – again with the stupid gimmicks!

Speaking of gimmicks, the next thing we tried was a fresh cheese mixed with red pepper and shallot, rolled in neat little hors d’oeuvre-sized balls.  They were quite tasty despite their cutesy look, and made with lait cru, to boot.  Then we stopped by a caviar booth and, inexplicably, were given candied hazelnuts.  They were actually quite good, with a nice, dark caramel crunch to them.  But that’s not why I’m at the caviar booth, now is it?

Moving on, we were flagged down by a man peddling calvados and a lighter, sweeter liqueur made from apple cider.  This is not the sort of thing we would normally try, but it turned out to be enjoyable, especially the liqueur, marketed as either an apéritif or a digestif.  It had distinct apple flavor, but with earthy undertones that balanced out the sweetness.

Of course, no French food fair would be complete without an array of fancy sea salts.

One of many salt booths

This particular booth was handing out salted butter caramels.  The caramel could have been cooked a little darker, in my opinion, but I am a sucker for a salty caramel.  To the right of the salt was the Camille de Lys mushroom stand.  Obviously, we had to try it.  We got three different marinated mushrooms: Champignons Bruns, in an acidic, appetite-stimulating marinade; Pleurote Gris, meaty and rich; and Lentins du Chêne, with a subtle curry flavor.

With our palates fully blasted, we, predictably, went straight to… Read the rest of this entry »

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