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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Paris Restaurant Musings at the End of a Decade

I promised to continue my tour of the rue Oberkampf restaurant scene and, as far as I’m concerned, a promise is a promise. A couple years ago, Le Café Charbon, a Paris institution and one of the oldest cafes in the capital, was beginning to do some interesting things with the food, although this has always been more of a drinking establishment than restaurant, hovering somewhere in-between neighborhood and trendy. I remember some decent lunches and a fairly understated but eclectic dinner menu, as I fuelled up before concerts in the groovy back room (the chandeliered Le Nouveau Casino). My last visit, sometime last Fall, suggests that they’ve given up on the food. Casual reigned, with burgers, salads, and the like ruling the day. Too bad, but I still consider it my first option in the area if I want to while away some hours chatting with a friend over drinks. Not the greatest selection of single malts, but what can I say, sometimes you have to slum it. And despite the comments online about Le Charbon being snobbish or apathetic or cold, well, if you can’t handle what often passes as Parisian warmth, there’s always Cleveland.

At any rate, a couple weeks ago, there I was in Le Charbon musing over the state of the world, humanity, and other sundry topics, with my Jamaican friend, Rastaman. I was in a Jack Daniels kind of mood and R-man was in a hot chocolate sort of mood – you can’t account for tastes – and so on we mused, both of us gradually warming up in our own idiosyncratic ways. Before the clock hit 8:30 p.m., we both realized that we had warmed up enough to start thinking about other needs, such as food, and with the words ‘casual’ and ‘cheap’ and ‘no reservation on a Friday night’ entering into our musings, we headed out the door and straight ahead, across the street to another Oberkampf institution, L’Occitanie. Only when I took a gander at the façade and awning did I have the odd impression of the something was happening here, but you don't know what it is, do you, Mister Jones variety. There was the old reliable next-door neighbor, Chez Justine (oddly, all closed up for the evening!), and viola!, the name L’Occitanie up there in the upper right corner of the front wall. Not exactly the bright neon variety, I nonetheless felt assured that I hadn’t taken a wrong turn in Denmark, or something like that. As I later learned, this was L’Occitanie no more, having been replaced by a third Au Pied de Fouet location in the city during the Spring of 2008. Am I out of the loop, or am I out of the loop? Originally installed in in the 7th (45, rue de Babylone) some 150 years ago, a second Au Pied was inaugurated in the Latin Quarter (3, rue Saint Benoit) in 2007. And then there was a third, all specializing in southwest cuisine.

We squeezed through the body-challenged entrance to find a boisterous, packed room of Parisians doing what packed rooms of Parisians often do, happily eating, drinking, and conversing. Sans reservation, Rasta and I stood in the front for a short five minutes at which time a tiny square of a table suddenly materialized amidst the others and we squeezed in. I’m sure I’ve already commented about the close seating in many Parisian restaurants. Well, Au Pied gives new meaning to the word ‘close.’ Think intimate, think people at the next table sitting on your lap. But no one seemed to mind, so why should we? This is the sort of place that positively reeks of old Paris. Think simplicity, authenticity, cheap. My shrimp appetizer, for example, consisted of a half dozen whole, peeled shrimp lying naked side by side on my plate next to a glop of mayo. Not exactly creative, but with the Chinon and bread, guess what? This did the job. I followed this with a confit de canard ‘Maison,’ (10.50€), which arrived with the duck sitting on a bed of mashed potatoes, pieces of duck perfectly cook, falling without effort off the bone. Simple but hearty. Rastaman went with the supreme de volaille and had good things to say about the sauce (as in ‘this sauce is really good’). For dessert, we continued with the tried and true, a tarte Tintin and a daily special rhubarb tarte. All for the ridiculous price of 48€ (wine, one appetizer, two plates, two desserts, one café). No wonder they are packing them in like sardines.

It wasn’t much more than a week or two before the aforementioned foray along Oberkampf that I was back with the Moose for an impromptu dinner at L’Estaminet, about a block further along rue Oberkampf. This is another establishment that can best be described as friendly, young, and packed. So packed that, after a ten minute wait at the bar, we were reluctantly guided downstairs to a room that the waitstaff had hoped to close off for the rest of the evening. This was the first time since the smoking ban that I had been in the cavelike rooms in the restaurant and the first time I could actually breathe as I ate my meal. At L’Estaminet, there is more of an effort than you find at Au Pied to add a little creativity to the preparation of dishes and my verdict on this occasion was that the results are hit and miss. The hit was my risotto aux cepes et magret fumé entrée (7€), a big surprise, given that this dish has often been a big disappointment elsewhere (Oslo being the most recent I can recall). This was tasty and warming, with copious slices of magret and I would go back for that dish alone. My main dish, however, the nage St. Jacques et rougets, coulis de langoustine vapeurs et legumes (17€), was the reverse – a big disappointment for a highly anticipated dish. The sauce and diced vegetables overwhelmed the scallops and rouget, and by the time I was halfway through, I was bored.

Now just a hop, skip, and jump away from the new decade (the 10s?), out of curiosity I pulled out my old agenda for January 2000 to find out how I started the decade eating-wise. There it was, clear as day, one of my favorite bistrots in the 11th, not far from Oberkampf, but closer to Parmentier, Le Villaret. This is a restaurant that I sorely neglected this year, with only one visit since the new ownership arrived. This is definitely on my list to review for 2010.

Before ringing in the new, my hat (if I had one) is off to the meal of the year, personally speaking, at Ze Kitchen Galerie, during a recent dinner with Co. and our pardners from Texas, J. L. and Tina ‘Brigitte’ Marie. Unfortunately, without notes and without an updated menu at Ze’s website, I can’t provide a description of my entrée that would do it justice, but it was a slightly cooked piece of dorade with thinly-sliced pieces of ginger and mango. Intriguing, creative, delicious. For the plate, I opted for the canard de ‘challans’ and foie gras grilles, jus betterave, and ginger. Wow. One last time, year of the beet. And, of course, the white chocolate, wasabi, pistachio sauce, and green tea epic dessert. I almost forgot what a killer dessert that is. Almost.

A dinner with Co. at the Mark Singer restaurant La Cave Gourmande, came a close second. With my notes long since having disappeared (new year’s resolution no. 1: keep notes!), it is literally a meal beyond description. The restaurant with two names, two large rooms, and one petite waitress (Mrs. Mark Singer?), the meal was creative and pretty close to perfection. Details to come, after next visit, I promise. But that dinner at Ze Kitchen was at that level beyond perfection. I can’t wait to go back. Bring on the 10s, I’m ready.

109, rue Oberkampf
Tel: 01 43 57 55 13
no website

96, rue Oberkampf
Tel: 01 48 06 46 98
Website: http://www.aupieddefouet.com/France/Presentation/11eme

116 rue Oberkampf
Tel: 01 43 57 34 29
no website

10, rue du Général Brunet
Tel: 01 40 40 03 30
no website

4, rue des Grands Augustins
Tel: 01 44 32 00 32
website: http://www.zekitchengalerie.fr

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Le Marsangy – Gotta Lovett

A lot of catching up to do. With Parisians finally bundling up against the first cold wave of the season, and none too soon I might add, those corner bistrots, brasseries, and cafés in the capital look even more tempting than usual, warm and inviting. And I’ve been taking advantage. The blogger’s plight: so many restaurants in Paris, so little time.

Sandwiched around a terrific meal at Mark Singer’s La Cave Gourmande and leading up to what no doubt will stand as my dinner of the year on Monday night at one of Paris Restaurant and Beyond’s faves, Ze Kitchen Galerie, there were more than a few meals I never got around to reviewing. The blogger’s plight, redux. A couple of casual, traditional haunts in the 11th were worthy of note and memory (the others long forgotten). One of which was Le Marsangy on avenue Parmentier, a no-frills, solid bistrot with fresh ingredients, a carefully chosen wine list, and a proprietor (or patron-chef d'orchestre, as one customer reviewer put it) who increasingly reminded me of Lyle Lovett the deeper I got into the Pinot Noir (that's the real Lyle to the left, by the way). Le Marsangy is a rather small establishment, but nonetheless, I had less a feeling of other diners breathing down my conversation than in much larger venues. I remember wood, glass, and a lived-in feel, just like you’d expect from a neighborhood bistrot in Paris off the tourist trail. My pate salé de caille with lentilles was original without
flamboyance. Along the way, Co. appreciated her wild boar (sanglier au airelles), but was disappointed with the giant shell pasta in lieu of a preferably more compatable mashed potato accompaniment. Hey, it was a try. Co. had much kinder words for her panacotta aux cerises dessert, and the plat de fromage was formidable, from which I constructed one of my more memorable selections of cheese this year.

The aforementioned Pinot Noir went down well with our plates, but a bit too light for my taste. Next time, I’ll ask Lyle for advice, because I have a feeling he certainly could be helpful. This is someone who obviously takes his wine seriously, the entire list reproduced exquisitely on the far wall, a job that must have been quite an undertaking. The blogger’s plight: so many bottles, so little time.

Overall, for a three-course meal for two, with a bottle of wine, the tab came to a reasonable 87€. Le Marsagny isn’t the sort of place you go hunting for the gourmandise experience, but it’s the sort of place you’d be happy to spend a comfortable evening with friends. I just wish I had a bistrot like this in my neighborhood.

73, avenue Parmentier
75011 Paris
tel. 01 47 00 94 25
Web site: none

Coming Next: More From the 11th.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Hotel du Nord - Not in Kansas Anymore

As the French rentrée reared its predictable head back in early September, I sat sipping my second, or was it third, copiously poured glass of brother Jack D. at the Cork & Cavan pub along the Canal St. Martin, listening to the Moose enthusiastically impart his stories about his habitual haunts along the adjoining Quai de Jemmapes. When he mentioned the hordes of youthful, trendy Parisians congregating outside the Hotel du Nord just up the quai, I made a mental note to check out the hotel’s restaurant menu. The rest is history: For our latest dinner excursion, Co. and I ventured over to the Hotel du Nord to see what all the fuss was about.

Our evening began with some sick stories from the bartender and a couple of his colleagues with whom we were bantering as we waited for the final preparations of the dining room. Hotel du Nord, which dates back to 1885, is a venue along the canal immortalized by the Marcel Carne film of the same name, the one where Arletty yelps, ‘Atmosphere! Atmosphere! Atmosphere!' and then storms away from Louis Jouvet. That’s right, definitely not in Kansas anymore. As the bartender recounted the history of the drink Le Petit Gregoire – trust me, you don’t want to know –it became eminently clear that the youthful staff actually enjoyed themselves on the job,quite a change from the more typical waitstaff at some of the other noted venues in town, where pained expressions and tightly buttoned waistcoats rule the day. At the bar, we sipped glasses of St. Nicolas while we took in the – for want of a better term – atmosphere.

Once seated, we perused a menu pretty close to the one at HDN’s website. I went with the salade chinoise craquante (9€) and the millefeuille de thon cru à la japonaise, artichauts marineés et petals de tomate séchée (15€). In this case, my entrée was far from inspiring, but the millefeuille main dish was really terrific – multi-layered with a finely baked pastry and lightly cooked tuna, perfectly complemented by the artichokes and dried tomatoes. Co. also was rather disappointed by her entrée of raviolis de chevre frais au basilic et copeaux de parmesan (9€), both from a quality and quantity perspective, but appreciated the main dish, noix de saint Jacques, buerre d’orange, quinoa rouge et legumes croquantes (23€). So a real switch – for once a restaurant that excels at the main courses rather than the appetizers, whereas we often find this to be the other way round. Whether this has anything to do with the relatively youthful crowd and, we noticed, their tendency to stick to budget by only ordering a main dish, is mere conjecture or the part of your’s truly. Our meal was washed down with a Pinot Noir Bourgogne Maison Louis Latour 2007 (28 euros), and it must have been pretty good because it was emptied well before our twin cheesecake cassoulet deconstructé (I know this doesn’t sound right, but it’s what I have in my notes, albeit roughly scribbled after finishing that Pinot) arrived. Our 3-course dinner, with wine and espresso came to a respectable 112.40€.

When you dine at HDN, you get the whole experience. True, pretty decent food at
fairly reasonable prices if you choose carefully. But it’s not just about the food – it’s about the trendy bobo clientele, the gothic waitresses, the bawdy bartenders, and the interesting ambiance. In short, it’s all about the atmosphere.

102 Quai de Jemmapes
75010 Paris
tel. 01 40 40 78 78
website: www.hoteldunord.org

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Le Barracão – Driftin’

Drifting along the always effervescent rue Oberkampf in Paris 11 the other night, a distinct Autumn chill firmly in air, I needed a venue to slake a hunger I worked up after another tough day of the racket that I call work. On my way to Le Vin Qui Danse at 128, I instead stumbled into Le Barracão at 108 after a quick glance at the slate menu hanging out front. Trust me, the stumbling nature of aforesaid evening goes directly against my principle of never venturing into a restaurant in Paris by chance alone. But for some reason, maybe the Charlie Byrd Brazilian albums I’d been listening to recently and the espadon on the menu, I decided, why not?

A narrow and relatively small establishment with prominent bar in the front room, I was led into a cozy, candlelit back room. Looking at the Brazilian flag draped across the ceiling and the decrepit posters to my right, interesting wall mural on the left, I recalled having been in this place before, at least a decade ago with Co., deep in the heart of our Routarde period. It thus goes without saying that this is a good sign – longevity – especially in the Oberkampf/St. Maur area where restaurants and bars come and go like the whims of a schizophrenic Gemini (old stalwarts like Le Café Charbon and Occitanie excluded, of course). Nonetheless, I wasn’t born yesterday, and I know that largely with the exception of Asiatic and N. African, when Paris goes ethnic, the result tends to be mediocre at best (Italian, Spanish), and often just plain awful (Tex-Mex).

I knew I was in trouble when I glanced at the one-paged cardboard menu. I knew this because it was so dark I could not see a single word on the menu, even with the aid of my reading glasses and paper-thin metro map magnifying glass. I nearly set the thing on fire with the little table candle, at which point the waitress kindly brought me a miniature flashlight. It’s one thing to dim the lights to convey a romantic atmosphere, quite another to invite patrons to role-play the blind. Was there something they didn’t want us to see, like, for instance, the food? Anyway, the flashlight was a nice touch – it is definitely going on my Xmas list.

As for the food, I can say it did the job with dishes that probably hadn’t been altered one iota since my original visit back in the ‘90s. I launched the evening’s festivities with a half litre bottle of Chilean rouge (13€), which reeked so intensely of cork that I nearly swooned. Thankfully, the waitress swooped it off the table with an alacrity that suggested much practice, leading me to contemplate once again the eventual demise of the cork altogether. Not one for cocktails (I prefer my liquor straight up), Le Barracão looks like a good bet if that’s your thing. Two young couples at a nearby table seemed to be perfectly satisfied with their mojitos and multi-colored concoctions, and the menu listing for cocktails seemed copious.

Once my wine was replaced I was on my way to shedding the day’s tensions and kicking back. Shortly thereafter the entrée arrived, a ceviche de poisson (8€). I couldn’t really see it, but I knew it was there. I could vaguely make out a kind of circle of tartare-like fish concoction with lime, slices of avocado, salad, and tomato. The lime was essential to temper the overt fish taste, and the overall impact was my realization that I’ve had better. Still, I was hungry, warming up from the wine, and feeling pretty good, so I gave it the benefit of the doubt. This was followed by a moqueca de espadon (14.50€), a large pot of small squares of swordfish, rice, onions, and coconut. This was hot—but not in the spicy sense—and hearty, and so filling I left a few squares of swordfish, which had become a tad boring by that juncture. Overall, 35.50€ for the meal. At that price, it’s not surprising that we’re not exactly talking about authentic and/or gourmand Brazilian fare. The dead giveaway was the menu, which threw in the Mexican standards, guacamole and quesadillas. No black beans, no hot sauces, no Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque, Djavan, or bossa nova on the soundtrack. But you can’t always get what you want. Sometimes, though, you get what you need, and in that case, Le Barracão might just do it for you.

108, rue Oberkampf
Paris 11
tel: 01 43 55 66 06

Note: Driftin', one of Tim Buckley's most haunting creations. I've been listening again to his Live at the Troubadour 1969. It doesn't get much better than that.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Paris Restaurants Hall of Shame - Part 1

Despite my best intentions to keep this site upbeat and focused on celebrating the glory of good food and the restaurant experience, I believe it is my duty to impart a downside to dining out in Paris - an aspect that you will not read about in any of the 7.5 million tour guides that have been published about my fine city. To wit, you will be ripped off. More and more, I am finding even in the best establishments in the city, there will be a surcharge on your bill that is not mentioned anywhere - the carte, the slate blackboard on the wall, the restaurant's Internet site, the French constitution, nowhere except one place - here. During my last two dinners in the city, I have been overcharged 10 (Les Bouquinistes) and 6 euros (Voyage au Siam). Now, I grant you these are not significant amounts, but they add up, which I guess is the point of the overcharging in the first place. And I wouldn't be writing about these two recent incidents if the same efforts at skimming haven't been observed on many other occasions in Parisian restaurants. Thus, I begin what I hope doesn't turn out to be a regular feature, but if it must, so be it - the Paris Restaurant Hall of Shame, noting restaurants where I have been overcharged - either intentionally or not - and when pointed out, the proprietor’s explanation has been dubious, at best:

1. Chez Michel: Equal opportunity ripoff artists. They will cheat Paris residents, tourists, ex-pats, children, dogs, the homeless, you name it, with impunity. Too bad, because the food is often quite good. To add insult to injury, we called proprieter/chef Thierry Breton to our table during a dinner a couple years ago when Co. felt that her unaccompanied main dish would have been enhanced by a small dish of mashed potatoes. M. Breton responded that he would be more than happy to bring her that small dish of mashed potatoes from the kitchen, in a way that anyone on the planet would have interpreted as a nice gesture (i.e, gratis) - until, that is, we noticed an additional charge of 4.50 euros on the bill. What a guy. Beware, Chez Michel's specialty is charging incorrectly for the wine.

2. Les Bouquinistes: Can't discern the difference between a bottle of red Jura and white Jura, but when in doubt they will charge you for the white, which is 10 euros more expensive.

3. Voyage au Siam - If you order an entree, plate, and dessert, you are automatically conforming to their 24 euro menu. Essentially, it is understood that you are taking the menu - it is their main selling point. Yet, if you don't utter the word 'menu' when the owner takes your order, he will charge you 'a la carte,' which of course is more expensive.

4. L'Hotel de Sers: Order a 35 euros Bourgogne and it miraculously becomes an 85 euros Pomerol - on the bill, that is.

5. Au Petit Marguery: As the 7.5 million tourist guides on Paris will inform you, you are not obliged to tip in Paris restaurants, because a TVA charge is included in the bill. Yet I overhead a tourist ask a waiter in Marguery if this was indeed the case, whereupon said waiter replied, 'oh no, no, no monsieur.' Then I saw the tourist leave a 20 euro note before leaving. To be fair, this incident occurred a few years ago, prior to new ownership, and probably reflects more the unscrupulous character of the waiter than the establishment itself.

6. Anahuacalli: Overcharges tourists for the wine. Again, in this case, the incident is a few years old, but for a halfway decent Mexican restaurant in Paris, another local shame. Let's hope they have seen the error of their ways.

I invite all visitors to this site to nominate their own candidates for a follow-up
'Hall of Shame' installment.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Les Bouquinistes - How to Save 700 Euros

I admit it, even a famous restaurant blogger like myself is not quite ready to shell out 1000€ for a dinner for two in Paris, or anywhere else for that matter. Just how good can food be? Well, until I’m ready to splurge, the answer to that question will have to wait, but I’m pretty sure it’s along the lines of ‘pretty damn good.’ Or, as Larry David would put it, ‘pretty, pretty, good.’ Or, according to Alexandro Lobrano, it is equivalent to 'an experience of gastronomic luxury that's as solidly engineered as a Mercedes and as consensually tasteful as a string of good pearls.' That good. This by way of introduction to a Friday night dinner at Guy Savoy’s ‘baby bistro,’ Les Bouquinistes, Guy Savoy’s affordable alternative, ideally located in the heart of the Latin Quarter. If you opt for the bottom of the barrel at Restaurant Guy Savoy, i.e., the 275€ menu, forget about the espresso at the end of the meal, and carefully select a bottle of wine under a couple hundred euros, a couple can probably get away with a final tally suitably under the century mark. An alternative is to splurge at Les Bouquinistes and still end up at around one-fourth what an outing at the more famous eating establishment would run. But all this talk about money – this blog is about food, so let’s get to it.

When I say Les Bouquinistes is ideally located, I'm not exaggerating. Parking garage a couple short blocks away, the Seine right across the street. To your right, Notre Dame; to your left, the Pont Neuf. And two doors up the street, Ze Kitchen Galerie, my clear favorite of the two competing restaurants. In fact, this is a mecca for gastronomic restaurants - there are several worthy of attention in the immediate area. We opted for a corner table on the far side in the back, which seemed to perplex our host, who suggested that I was sitting in the 'girl's seat' against the wall. How could he know that I am an avid proponent of flipping gender conventions on their head. Co. was immediately taken by the 75€ menu dégustation 'Les Bouquinistes' and who was I to argue? Here's how it unrolled, following an obligatory mis-en-bouche, which consisted of a tasty cold fish soup with a dollop of cream on top.

First course: Ballottine de foie gras au sel de Guérande. I'm probably one of the few people on the planet who isn't gaga over foie gras and this dish didn't change my mind. To wit, three round two-euro-sized pieces of foie gras, two dark purple cherries, and some greens, served with a plate of toast strips. Co. was a bit disappointed with the foie gras per se, but I had to agree with her assessment that the cherries provided a perfect counterpoint to the dish. Smashing a piece of cherry on the toast and then laying on top a slab of foie gras almost had me convinced that it is time to reassess my attitude towards the French delicacy. Almost.

Second course: Homard et tourteau en fine raviole de betterave. On paper, this promised to be the killer dish. In reality, major disappointment. If you intend to imbibe in the menu degustation, remember to bring your microscope. I could have used one to locate the miniscule piece of lobster and artichoke. The minced crab was sweet and succulent, but not much easier to locate than the aforementioned components. Even the betterave - year of the beet! - was so thinly sliced, I could barely taste it. Move on.

Third course: Dorade royale en écailles de courgettes. This was probably my favorite course. The dorade fish was cooked croustillant and enveloped by a layer of small slices of zucchini.

Fourth course: Crème de céleri, royale de foie gras et asperges. Our waiter informed us that this dish is the one that typically earns the most accolades, and I get it. This was a silky and luscious soup, served with slices of asparagus, foie gras as smooth as mashed potatoes. This was very tasty, but I still give the edge to the dorade.

Fifth course: Filet de veau rôti, légumes au thym. I don't eat veal, but the staff was flexible enough to swap that dish for me with fish, this time noisettes de cabillaud à la coriandre fraîche et légumes. The veal turned out to be a peak experience for Co., perfectly cooked in a red wine sauce with large slices of onion, peas and carrots, and lemon confit. For my part, there was nothing special about the cabillaud. Diligently eaten, quickly forgotten.

Sixth course: Dessert. Chocolate - menthe. This looked unexceptional - a sizable piece of thinly sliced chocolate with some cream and dollops of mint. Both of us concurred that this was pretty, pretty nice. Definitely a highlight.

There you have it - six courses, one meal, 150 euros accompanied by a very good 40€ bottle of red Jura - Arbois 2002 Domaine de Pinte, bringing the total, with one coffee to 194€. As with these sorts of menu degustations, the dishes can be small, or in the case of the lobster, veritably subliminal, but with six courses and some bread thrown in, you're not going to go home hungry. Instead, I went home pissed (American style, not Brit style). Let me elaborate.

Despite online comments, we found the waitstaff, a contingent of young, personable guys, rather, well, personable. One waiter took pride in guessing our perfumes. Right on the money, always important to have a skill to fall back on. But when the bill came, there it was - again - the incorrect charge for the wine. Ten euros in their favor. I've already commented on this tendency in nicely located Parisian restaurants when the waiter catches some of our English conversation. Clearly, a restaurant with Les Bouquinistes' reputation doesn't have to rip off their patrons by overcharging 10€ for the wine. That would be just out and out stupid. When I pointed out the error, there was a frantic escape to retrieve a wine list and then the resulting excuse - the white Jura is 50€, a simple mistake. I'm so sure. Whether this little miscue was intentional or not, it has no place in a Guy Savoy restaurant, baby bistro or big Daddy. So I could have titled this installment, 'How to Save 700 Euros + 10 Euros if you are vigilant enough. Outside on the doorstep, I pulled out a 10€ note and tore it up into tiny little pieces - if they want to find them all, they'll need that microscope.

53, Quai des Grands Augustins
75006 Paris
Tel: 01 43 25 45 94
Website: www.guysavoy.com

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Nuxis - Sexus, Nexus, Plexus in Montparnasse

Fresh on the heels of an excellent meal at La Dinee, Co. and I chose to start off the famous French rentrée with a Saturday night visit to Nuxis, a few blocks south from the heart of Montparnasse. Reserved easily on the Thursday night before our Saturday visit, it’s probably the case that many Parisians are either suffering the effects of the recession or else are still in the process of waking up from their days lulling on the beach. Let’s face it, our tans are fading—live with it. Me, I’ve never let anything as consequential as a global recession stand in the way of a good meal. And so off to Nuxis we went, with great anticipation based on my online research.

To say that our dinner at Nuxis got off to an ominous start would be an understatement. Arriving around 8:15 p.m., we were the first customers of the evening and chose a corner table next to the street-side window. We were quickly served a mise en bouche consisting of cappuccino de betrave avec huile de noisette (a beet cappuccino with peanut oil (see photo). I’ve said it a million times – 2009: year of the beet. This was an excellent ‘how do you do’. But as I implied, things were touch and go from the start, as in as soon as the mise en bouche touched our lips, the owner/chef Thierry Curiale (see photo) was gone, darting by the window on his way to somewhere, but definitely not the Nuxis kitchen (later we learned it was a visit to the pharmacy).

Next, while perusing the single-page carte (also displayed on those ever-present chalkboard slates that Parisian restaurateurs are so fond of) and pondering the three-course menu—set at the recession-proof price of 28€—an elderly woman entered and was seated at the table at the end of our row, her motorcycle parked on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. From the start, it was obvious that something was askew with this woman—her sanity, her sobriety, her Frenchness—whatever, her presence quickly disconcerted everyone in the room: me, Co. and our waitress (‘nexus’?). The waitress seemed pleasant enough, albeit sporting the air of someone who was pulled off the street five minutes before opening hour and told, ‘voila, now you’re a waitress.’ And for all we knew, this was her first day on the job. At any rate, she really seemed discombobulated by the woman, who kept drawing her attention with questions and incoherent mutterings. We were up for a red wine from the south, so I chose a Languedoc-Roussillon variety. By the time our entrees arrived, our wine still had not. Our waitress explained that as the owner was still not back, she could not locate the wine. I selected another Languedoc, which again went searched and missing. Just about the time that the situation started to get rather uncomfortable, Monsieur Curiale frantically arrived at our table and informed us of the ‘rupture’ (one of my least favorite French words, right up there with ‘greve’)—the two wines had not been delivered and were currently unavailable. We opted for a south-western Mas Karolina 2007 (29 euros)and were off and running with the entrées.

I’m sorry to say I can’t remember Co’s entrée, which suggests that it wasn’t that memorable; nonetheless, let’s just leave it at our mutual agreement that my preparation of avocado, tomato, and apple (fraicheur d’avocat et de pink lady a l’huile de colza grillèe, gomasio Bio) won round one. For the main dishes, my choice was Dos de cabillaud au four, gambas thym/citronelle, risotto fondant, émulsion de beurre blanc (grilled cod with an accompanying large shrimp enveloped in thyme and citronella in a risotto and white butter foam – ‘plexus’?). This struck me as both a simple and complex dish, if that makes any sense. One of those dishes that grew tastier with each bite. Co. selected the magret de canard rôti, sauce a la orange et cointreau, compote de patates douces aux herbes de garrigue, which sounds a lot better than it turned out. Not to say that it wasn’t a well-prepared dish – several thin slices of slightly cooked duck with potatoes, a dish that was dependable, but without much originality. For desserts, I went chocolate (ganache au chocoat en robe de tuiles craquantes, marmelade d’ananas aux fruits de la passion), Co. went crème onctueuse (à la fève tonka, streusel nature, granite dórange et tuile carambar) and these were as good as they sound. We both ended up pretty satisfied – ‘sexus’? To cap off the evening, a nice gesture from Monsieur Curiale who offered us a café on the house with a little patisserie to make up for the wine snafu. As Co. put it, “It’s not a lot, but it means a lot.” By the time our check arrived—and you certainly can’t beat the price /quality formula here (85 euros for two 3-course meals and wine, are you kidding me?)—everybody seemed pretty happy: us; the waitress, whose demeanor and service clearly improved as the evening progressed; an amiable group of young friends of the owner. Even the elderly mumbler (sporting a Freeman 1999 coat and, according to our waitress, a heavily besotted breath) had eased calmly into her dinner.

So, to sum up. I was somewhat disappointed with the Nuxis experience, but not discouraged. Although the restaurant lacked some originality, the dishes were carefully prepared and personal, and there were enough hints along the way to suggest that further visits are definitely warranted. Already, I notice from the Nuxis website that the menu has changed since our visit last weekend. An interesting array of dishes despite the limited choices (three options per course). Whether or not Nuxis would have been Henry Miller’s cup of tea, I have no idea. But I’m sure he would have been impressed by Monsieur Curiale's decision to forego his career as Orange marketing director to pursue his childhood dream of owning his own (orange-colored) restaurant. We'll be back.

129, rue du château
75014 Paris
tel: 33 1 43 27 32 56

Note: All images except the betrave mise en bouche from
the HPRG website.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

La Dînée and Bistro de Breteuil - Summer Seasonings, Part 2

A funny thing happened since my last posting: I woke up and summer was gone – a veritable chill is in the Paris air, my calendar says September—4th already!—the city is rubbing its weary sun-drenched eyes and waking up, the restaurants are opening, all is good with the world. I know, I must sound insane, but when it comes to summer, I say ‘good riddance!’ Paris is like deadsville, daddy-o, during the summer. All this is just a reminder that I better hurry up and finish my summer meanderings before they become irrelevant – I promised a “summer seasonings” part 2, and you’re going to get it.

Here I’ve got two more August restaurant visits for you, one good, one bad. The good one, I’m pleased to report, was very good. I promised Co. I’d try to go easy on the bad, so let me just say that the bad one was, well, bad.

First, the good news: La Dînée is one terrific restaurant. Not that this is new news for me and Co. If you check my ‘best of 2007’ installment, you indeed will find La Dînée listed. This is a restaurant we had visited 3 or 4 times in the past, always a good experience, but I had so much subsequent difficulty reserving—poor timing (holiday closings, renovations, etc.)—that I just sort of gave up. So it was with great surprise when I took a chance and telephoned a little past the mid-point of August and found the restaurant had just re-opened from its annual summer closing. Check out the accompanying photos, pirated from La Fourchette.com, and you’ll observe that this is a finely-appointed, but rather understated venue, just recently redecorated and rearranged. Not surprisingly, given the time of year, ours was one of only three occupied tables during the evening, so there was plenty of elbow room.

We went with the 35€ three-course menu. I enjoyed my appetizer of dorade salade with a Russian dressing and vinegrette sauce, but the clear highlight was Co.’s soupe de melon au gingembre with vegetables and gambas tempura. This was an inventive and impeccable dish – perfectly balanced, with the mutually reinforcing tastes of the melon, ginger, and shrimp tempura resulting in Co.’s curt but informative one-word review: ‘excellent.’ We both opted for fish as our main dishes – Co. had the salmon with potatoes, snails, and tapenade, the fish grilled to a crusty topping; I went with the espadon (swordfish) with vegetables, served cold ala marinèe. On paper (or should I say, computer screen), these dishes must sound pretty ho-hum, but trust me, they both were excellent. Desserts consisted of peche caramelise with a waffle and tea ice cream – that was one. The other was nougat glace with strawberries. I’m a sucker for nougat glace, but I had to agree with Co. that her caramel peach waffle tea ice cream concoction had the edge for inventiveness. An odd choice for red wine – a S. African bottle, Pepper Pot 2007 (27€). I was a little horrified when the waiter unscrewed the top, but it led to an interesting discussion about the trend, especially for imported wines, to forego the cork. To our surprise, our server (probably one of the owners) was strongly in favor of this trend, suggesting that it held the taste better. A topic for another installment, perhaps, but by the time our bottle was about 7/8s empty, we began to overhear a conversation that had started up between the patrons at the two tables across the room. Short story, they were sharing their favorable impressions of their dishes, so what the hell, I chimed in and talked up the melon soup. It was at that point when one of the two guys at the far table started to wax eloquently about the capaccino de morelles he had enjoyed during a previous visit, imploring our server to put it back on the next menu. I mean, this guy was in near ecstasy as he closed his eyes and pondered that dish. Maybe it was the time of year, the sparse clientele, whatever, but I ask you, when was the last time you visited a restaurant and a spontaneous conversation broke out among the customers about how great the food was? Case closed.

Now for the downer, the Bistro de Breteuil in the 7th. Located in a rather animated square (the place de Breteuil, which is actually round, making this a round square) strikes me as something of a Paris institution—packed terrace deep in the heart of summer and boasting one of the best deals in town: 38€ for everything. Everything, including three courses, a half bottle of wine per person, water, bread, coffee. I cannot deny that this is a good deal, but given the quality of the food, I’m reminded of that Woody Allen joke about a restaurant that one patron proclaims as having bad food and her companion pipes in, ‘and such small portions.’ My appetizer of tartar de bar would have been fine if it wasn’t accompanied by raw bean sprouts. Don’t get me wrong, I love tartare de bar and I love bean sprouts, but a suggestion to the chef: not together! True, I already was in a foul mood having been curtly rejected by the waiter when I asked for a table on the terrace (‘plein!’) and then, resting my menu against a lineup of a small vase with flower, salt and pepper shakers, and whatnot, aforesaid list of items proceeded to tumble off the table onto the floor like dominos. The small splash from the vase seemed to have reached the ankle of the woman at the table to my right. Did you ever go to a restaurant where your first impulse was to leave? Now you know how I felt.

For my main dish, I had a plateful of steamed gambas with a sort of hosein sauce for dipping. Overall, the gambas weren’t bad, but the accompanying vegetables –thin, long strips of carrot and zucchini –tasted as foul as my mood. Two bites was all I could fathom. Co. wasn’t nearly as critical as I was about the food, but for the life of me, I can’t remember what she ordered. I do know that she liked her dessert, and if Co. enjoys her dessert that tends to bias her experience of what preceded it. In science they call this a ‘recency effect.’ Co. also was lucky enough to be seated so that she faced the terrace, with its relatively young and finely appointed clientele happily pontificating as relatively young and finely appointed Parisians are oft apt to do. Me, I was facing the dimly-lit, 18th century dining room, where the clientele coincidentally also had that 18th century look. The patrons looked like regulars, as in regularly eating at Breteuil for the past 70 years. For some reason, I kept thinking of a geriatric all-you-can-eat Las Vegas hotel restaurant. Don’t ask me why. Anyway, Breteuil, I am sure, will continue to pack them in, young and old, long after the memory of that splashing vase has been purged from my memory. As it says on their card, ‘Les Bistros qui ont Tout Compris.’ And with a deal like that, who cares how big the portions are?

85, rue Leblanc
75015 Paris
tel: 01 45 54 20 49
web: www.restaurant-ladinee.com
Total (2 menus + wine): 101 euros

3, place de Breteuil
75007 Paris
tel: 01 45 67 07 27
web: www.bistrocie.fr
Total (2 everythings): 76 euros

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Jadis and L'Acajou - Summer Seasonings, Part 1

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may remember that the armpit of last summer was disappointing for me and Co. as we traversed the capital during the wasteland of July and August looking for charming terraces and tasty flavors. What we found instead were forgettable restaurants that I’ve long since forgotten. In our search for the perfect summery idyll, and no small feat, a restaurant that wasn’t closed for vacation, we batted something like 0 for 4. This time around, we threw the terrace idea out the window with the bath water and went searching for decent spots, regardless of whether the experience would be in or out. I’m happy to report that our average is up, so far with two hits out of three.

Just prior to my foray into the Nordic hinterlands, we tried Jadis in the 15th, widely heralded as “the best bistrot of the fall” by local critics far and wide. Well, it’s not fall anymore, but we hoped that the magic had lasted into this period of Paris without Parisians. The first thing that comes to mind regarding Jadis is ‘O brother, where the hell art thou?’ Read an online review of this relatively new establishment and inevitably you will come across a comment about its being situated in the middle of nowhere. I’m not sure Paris qualifies as nowhere, but you probably get the idea – well off the beaten path. This can be a blessing for some restaurants, but it also requires a very strong motivation to get up and go. We got up and went to this unpretentious corner spot, comprised of a relatively decent-sized, brightly-lit space, gray walls and dark red trim, and under-dressed patrons. Think bohemian grunge, you get the picture. Our meal was quite good, although if this is one of the best bistrots in town, then Houston, we have a problem. Still, traditional French cooking that benefits from the creative nuances of chef Guillaume Delage, who, according to the Gayot guide, “explores his lessons from master chefs Michel Bras, Frederic Anton and Pierre Gagnaire. However, his biggest influence is notably Edouard Nignon, one of the great chefs of the 20th century, who has inspired the presentation, gastronomy and wines at this establishment.” If any of this means something to you, then you are indeed a gentleman and a scholar. On second thought, with those credentials, this had better be one of the best new bistrots in Paris.

To the chase: We both opted for the three-course menu at 32€ each. I started with one of my favorites, chèvre frais, served with pousses de salade and coulis of tomato, spinach, and green pepper. Interesting preparation, with the three pyramids of vegetable purée. Co. went to bat with the gelée de boeuf, served with squid ink, cauliflour and clams. She seemed pleased. For me, the main dish was rouget grondin grille, with black rice and bouillabaisse sauce. How many times do you see black rice on a French menu? This was a great and pleasant surprise. Co. was more or less satisfied with the poulet with leek and ginger. I liked the taste of the chicken, but agreed with Co. that it lacked the promised ginger. Less Asian than the preparation led us to expect. Two satisfying deserts – croustillant de framboise with cream (thumbs way up from Co.) and my cherry clafoutis (cake, eh, not too fantastic). A solid Pinot Noir for 26€, bringing the total to 94.50€. Jadis is an up-and-comer, but does it warrant the trek? I’m not so sure.

Next up, newly trendy L’Acajou in the 16th, soon after the return from the north. L’Acajou easily edges out Jadis for its edgy, inventive, throw tradition out the window, creativity, as the accompanying photos should attest. Unlike Jadis, the typical online gripe about L’Acajou is that the waitstaff are icy cold, and the consistency in this assessment was nearly enough to steer us elsewhere. Nonetheless, I liked the sound of the menu and figured, I’ll opt for service with a sneer when there’s a possibility of dishes like langoustines, crousti basilic tandoori, americain, fenouil sauvage in the offing.

The restaurant itself veritably reeks of modernity, assuming that modernity is capable of reeking. Entering from the brightly sunlit August early evening into the dark, sleek interior of this railroad car centered by a long multi-seat table, the effect is somewhat disconcerting. I wasn’t quite sure whether I had stumbled into a chic Paris bistrot or a mob-run strip joint. Dark, darker, darkest. A long mirror running along one of the walls gives the room a more spacious feel, although with the dark, you still get the urge to ask, ‘can we open a window or something?’ I don’t care, this was such a jolt from the typical Paris restaurant look (‘hey, we’ve been open since the turn of the century – 16th century, that is’) I wasn’t complaining. And I quickly understood where the complaints about the Antarctic servers came from. If I remember correctly, one of two hosts/waiters in the room was wearing sunglasses—or maybe he just looked like the kind of guy who wore sunglasses in a dark black room. But I don’t know if it was that mid-August, we’re only half full, lighten up effect, but at least the sunglass guy became veritably amiable as the evening progressed, explaining the facelift to a more modern slant that the restaurant had undergone in the past year. (Did I really just use ‘veritably’ twice in the same paragraph?) We asked for one of the several small rectangular tables running along the street side (there’s also a small lounge-like room largely hidden in the back), mainly to get a little distance from the parents and two kids occupying the communal mid-seating area. It’s one thing to bring your kids to a restaurant like this, but to add insult to injury, the father was wearing a wool scarf. Don’t get me started, I know this is very French, but it’s a warm August evening and this guy is wearing a scarf? Indoors? N’importe quoi!

As usual, I digress, so let me get to the thoroughly modern food. The young, imaginative chef Jean Imbert also has a fine pedigree; like Delage, he has worked with decorated chefs whose names I will spare you this time. You know me, it was the langoustines entree or bust. Cool presentation, very Zen — six long wood skewers projecting out of a black board, each skewering one encrusted langoustine (17€). A nice sesame or wasabi sauce could have made this an epic starter, but alas, no sauce was had, only some salad with vinegrette. Co. went with the tourteau, classic Acajou (14€), less inventive, but turtle is a rare option on the Paris table. The mound of turtle was served with a hard-boiled egg and a pyramid of vegetables (radish, tomato, carrot, and salad). For my main dish, it was the Omega 3—red tuna, avocat, yuzu, huile de noix (19€). I can not tell you why this is called the Omega 3. These were well-prepared, if less inventive, dishes when compared with the starters. Co. cannot resist a promising soufflé, this one accompanied by salted caramel ice cream (10€), while I sprung for the millefeuille, pain d’èpice, pomme granny, mascarpone, vanille (8€). No, that’s all one thing, and I can’t’ really remember it, so it couldn’t have been that great. A 2007 Corbieres (cuvee Alice, Ollieux Romanis) (19€) brought the total to 104€.

All told, L’Acajou beats Jadis easily. Neither seemed to get me to that euphoric state of summery ecstasy, or something like that, but I get the impression we’ll be giving L’Acajou more opportunities in the future. Don’t get me wrong, Jadis is a contender, but I’m not so sure that will be enough to get me back.

Summer sounds . . . to be continued.

208, rue de la Croix-Nivert
75015 Paris
tel: 01 45 57 73 20


35 bis rue Jean de la Fontaine
75016 Paris
tel: 01 42 88 04 47

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Eating Out in Oslo: Norwegian Food (Ja!)

The suspense must be killing you. In my last installment I mainly provided details of where I didn’t eat in Oslo, so now I complete the picture by detailing where I was successful in mustering up some grub. If you read the previous installment, you are already ahead of the game. I delicately threw in a couple hints, with my salmon! salmon! salmon! served by blonds! blonds! blonds! Speaking of which, does anyone know whatever happened to my favorite blue-eyed blond actress, Lost in Space’s Marta Kristen? No, she’s not the one chomping on the giant frankfurter.

You may recall the Nordic blond, blue-eyed clone who set me off in the direction of
my first dinner in the Norwegian capital. Now I’ll tell you where: to Anne-Karin Sandtner’s Løvebakken restaurant, a modern, spacious establishment around the corner from the Parliament building. This was not quite haute cuisine, but I did partake of a more-than-serviceable introduction to the Norwegian kitchen, starting off with a chevre salad with various chopped vegetables and peppercorns. Of course, I can’t get chevre salad in France, as you know. Okay, that’s not quite true. I can get chevre salad in France, and lots of it. But warmed chevre with salad is in my mind one of life’s little pleasures, wherever it is served—along the Seine or along the Baltic, I don’t care, I’m going to order it. I wasn’t disappointed with Løvebakken’s version, which turned out to be a veritable meal in itself; in other words, three times the size of the same entrée in your typical Parisian establishment. I know what you’re thinking—he took salmon as the main dish. Well, I am a man of many surprises and, nei!, I instead opted for the trout with oranges, potato puree, zucchini slices, and green beans. It wouldn’t win any awards, but the dish was quite tasty and I would recommend it. For the beverage accompaniment, in lieu of ordering a bottle, which would have bankrupt me on my first night in Oslo, I went with glasses of S. African cabernet sauvignon. Løvebakken was big and surprisingly empty, although I think I was dining there at a very late hour for the Norwegians—8:30 p.m. I may have missed the crowd, but my waitress (the cloned one) was more than attentive and affable. Overall, a good start, clocking in at 528 NOK (59 euros) without dessert. By the way, when I asked the waitress/hostess the meaning of Løvebakken, she seemed perplexed. I was thinking maybe she would tell me it stood for ‘love bakery’ or something exotic like that, you know, like if I walk into the back, follow a specific corridor, I’d come upon something a bit more exotic than zucchini and green beans. Unfortunately, the waitress's response was a shrug, which in Norwegian must mean, 'huh'?

Following dinner that first night, I met up with some German acquaintances at the Posthallen bar and restaurant, a huge converted post office building, with front bar and tables, back room restaurant, large open-spaced terrace, and a massive bar in the back room, which also serves as concert/disco space (see images taken from Posthallen’s website). Things were rather quiet in Posthallen at the moment, but I imagine the place gets pretty down and dirty during those periods when Norwegians need to come out of the cold, which is probably anytime other than July and August. Anyway, I had already eaten, so I continued with glasses of wine. My German friends hadn’t already eaten and went with a Nordic specialty—open-faced sandwiches with heaps of fresh shrimps. I must admit, I was tempted. The sandwiches, predictably, seemed to hit the spot. If you are young, thirsty and/or hungry, want to come in from out of the lousy Oslo weather and maybe hear some live music and meet some friendly Scandinavians in the center of Oslo, head over to the Posthallen.

Next up was probably the highlight of my dining experience in Oslo, D/S Louise Restaurant & Bar, at the waterfront on the touristy restaurant stretch along Stranden. This maritime-themed establishment is embellished with nautical antiques and memorabilia from the transatlantic liner shipping era, festooned with ship horns, anchors, those kinds of things. I only noticed this because I had to go to the bathroom. Otherwise, I spent my visit at the outdoor terrace, thankfully devoid of transatlantic memorabilia, watching the tourists go by and envying the lunchtime drinkers on the waterfront boats converted into drinking establishments (and coincidentally, where I ended up spending late evening hours the following night). D/S Louise is one of the more famous restaurants in Oslo, noted primarily for its classical seafood items. My curiosity was piqued not by the standard fish and seafood plates, but by two special offers on the menu (‘meny’ in Norwegian) – one a three-tiered tasting plate, which seemed to be thoroughly enjoyed at the table next to mine, and described thusly on the meny:

‘An elegently presented selection of sumptuous nibbles which include:
Foie gras of duck, Skagen salad, seared scallops, mango chutney, pepper-smoked salmon, caviar, chilli-scampi, chorizo, cured meats, copa di Parma, Brie, marinated olives, pepper with cheese.’

Call me crazy for foregoing that dish, but with fond memories of an epic herring meal I once had in Denmark, tempted by the beetroot, and searching for a very Scandinavian experience, I opted instead for the special herring platter:
"Lightly salted herring fillets, served with beetroot, onion, sour-cream and cooked potatoes. A very Scandinavian experience!" Nothing very mysterious, it turned out to be exactly as described. Accompanied by an Argentinian red, I followed the meny’s recommendation that the herring dish should be followed by an akevitt, a potent schnapps-type amber drink made from potatoes and bearing the distinct taste of caraway. I asked the waitress for one of the best their bartender could recommend and diligently wrote down the name, which I have diligently misplaced. So if you have any suggestions and recognize the brand inside the glass (see photo), maybe I’ll recognize the name when I hear it. Not as potent as advertised, the meny was right—it was a perfect cap for a hearty lunch (317NOK or 36 euros).

For my final evening in Oslo, I chose a spot also near the waterfront, down the street and around the corner from Louise’s, which had been recommended by my Louise waitress. Bølgen & Moi is one of those Nordic-style bar/brasseries that tries very hard to be trendy. A rather modern, post-Zen-industrial motif, with multiple rooms—you rarely see such space in Paris establishments—and spiced up by light bulbs dangling from exposed multi-colored wires and an ultra-attractive waitstaff. As I later learned, the name is not supposed to be some witty wink to the French, but denotes the owners, renowned restaurateurs Toralf Bølgen and Trond Moi. That information and a cup of coffee will get you probably as far as the Kon Tiki museum, but not much further.

Dinner got off to a nice start with a basket of fresh bread accompanied by a dish of aoli. My table was next to a patio/terrace, and through the window I was watching two youthful couples lolling about on sofas, drinking their drinks, and sharing a steamer basketful of dim sum, 10 dumplings with dipping sauce for about 200 kroners. I thought about it, but then figured it probably looked a lot better than eating all 10 dumplings would ultimately prove, so instead I ordered the Trond mois fisk – a creamy seafood hotpot with fish and shellfish for 259NOK. I’m not sure why I didn’t take an entrée, which is very unlike me, but this probably had more to do with a late lunch than anything else. Finally, we get to the salmon – I haven’t told you about some more standard meals, especially at lunch, featuring that fish, and I won't. But the hotpot did consist largely of salmon, along with halibut in a light cream sauce that didn’t overpower, along with your standard shellfish – mussels, some shrimp, crowned by a sumptuous scallop, which you should be able to make out in the blurry photo. I couldn’t resist the “New York-style” cheesecake with strawberries dessert. I’m not so sure a New Yorker would agree with the characterization, and Oslo is a long way from the big Apple, but the dessert came close enough to the real thing to satisfy. All washed down with the standard glasses of red wine (‘07 vina la rosa Cabernet Sauvignon at 85NOK a glass). B&M apparently is a Norwegian chain, and the one on Tjuvholmen allé in Oslo looked to be a recent addition. It was nicely located near the water, but isolated enough to lose the madding crowds flocking to the harbor cafés and TGI Fridays. Total cost: 548NOK

I followed the dinner with an obligatory cafe at the Grand Hotel, as elegant a cafe as they come. Now Ibsen and I have more in common than just being famous authors.

To sum up: Dining in Oslo is interesting, expensive, quiet during August recessions, and pretty laid back. I enjoyed myself, but I only wonder how the experience would have differed had I succeeded in visiting some of those traditional places I mentioned in my previous blog installment. I went modern in Oslo, but the tried-and-true route looked tempting. Next time. Oopda!

Note: 1NOK = .11€

Stortingsgata 2 0158 Oslo
tel: +47 22 42 40 80
website: www.lovebakken.no

Prinsensgate 8
0152 Oslo, Norway
tel: +47 22 41 17 30
website: www.posthallenrestaurant.no

Stranden 3
0250 Oslo
Tel: +47 22 83 00 60
website: www.dslouise.no

Tjuvholmen alle 5
0250 Oslo
tel: +47 22 44 10 20
website: www.bolgenogmoi.no

Just a side note: When in Oslo, I recommend taking a short metro ride just outside the center city to the Munch museum, once a laid back museum where you could just walk in and walk out with Munch's famous 'The Scream' under your arm. Now it is a fortress, so don't try that. And please, don't pose in front of the aforementioned painting with your head in hands and mouth agape as if screaming. You will look like an idiot.
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