Posts Tagged ‘Reviews’

Keen’s Steakhouse – New York, NY

Posted: July 6, 2019 in aged beef, best aged beef, best aged steak, best dry aged beef, best dry aged steak, best porterhouse steak, best restaurants in new york, Best steakhouses, best steaks, excellent service, High hospitality standards, new york, steak, steakhouse, The World's Best Steaks, Top steaks in the world
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Keens is an institution of NYC, a piece of restaurant  history that started in the  19th century (established in 1885). Its dark wood walls are covered with a tasteful  display of  memorabilia (time-honored paintings, photos, cartoons).   This restaurant could be an incredible shooting location for a movie.

 

The avid fan of history that I am  had to find himself in this charming old world  decor, espying what could have possibly been the pipe of Roosevelt over here (thousands  of clay pipes of  patrons who dined at Keens are on display on the steakhouse’s ceiling), climbing the same stairs as Einstein over there.   Nowadays, Keens is one of NYC’s most popular steakhouses, attracting tourists, locals as well as many connoisseurs of North American steaks (as you will see below, their steaks did not « rest on their laurels »). But, with legendary places like this one, I am on my guard, always ensuring that  the lore shall never be part of the lure.

On a previous visit here, over 2 years ago, I did try their fabled slow roasted lamb loin‘s saddle  chop (aka the ”mutton chop“). It is not mutton, anymore. It  is  lamb  that they do serve nowadays. The lamb is raised in  Colorado,  some of the  most sought after lamb  in the nation. Colorado does offer to its  free-ranging sheep,  vast swathes of vegetation to feed on, thanks to the numerous mountains and hills of the state. The sourcing of this piece of  pasture raised lamb was  of high level , its subtly earthy lamb flavor  (milder than, say the flavour of lamb from New Zeland)  dazzled. Boasting an enticing color, definely tender, this  was as great as your roasted lamb loin‘s saddle  chop  will be if served to you at a top tier  steakhouse. 9/10

Then last year I dropped by with a long time genuine connoisseur of North American steakhouses and we had the porterhouse.  For anyone truely familiar with beef aging, it was easy to enjoy the great effect of the dry aging (they dry-age and butcher the meat on the premises) process that went into that piece of meat (great concentration of beef flavor). The thing about aging meats is to think about the right effect for the right meat. Oftently, you see people dry aging then wet aging their meat (perfect recipe to cancel the benefit of dry aging that meat …), dry aging meat that has fat that is so delicate that it cannot  ‘age’  well (highly marbled wagyu as in this case at Dons de la Nature, one of Tokyo’s leading steakhouses. It is the sort of fat that is way too delicate to   benefit from dry aging — I will write, later on, a detailed article on what type of fat benefits from the aging process and why), dry aging fishes that have the taste of nothing if you age them (few fishes do benefit from the dry aging process, most do not…most fishes that are aged do simply fit in the ridiculous trend of aging the flesh for the pleasure of following a trend, as stupid as that – ). Not all steakhouses do master the dry aging of meats as  obsessively well as, at, let us say, Le Divil in Perpignan, but the concentration of flavor of that porterhouse steak  at Keens revealed some serious mastery of the dry aging of their meats.   8/10

 

This is my 3rd visit here, and this time I ordered the prime rib of beef  (king’s cut – meaning that it’s bone-in),  the  medium rare doneness that I wanted was precisely achieved,  and it came charred at my request, served with au jus.  The loin end   rarely fails to be flavorful once cooked,  and yet, you realize how, in the USA, they have perfected its cooking  with no shortage of dazzling renditions of the  prime rib such as the ones you can enjoy at  establishments such as the House of Prime RibLawry‘s or   Dickie Brennan‘s  to name a few. But this prime rib at Keens was not out of place in that fierce competition, as here again, you had all the qualities of a stellar piece of North American steak (the quality of the meat really high as you would expect from a North American steakhouse of this reputation, the standing rib roast timely cooked, its delicious fat properly rendered, the seasoning competent, the steak craveable ).   8/10

 

I love Keen but I was NOT  in love with my platter of a dozen of oysters: all had their superb maritime flavour in evidence, true, but some of the oysters were served a bit too cold than expected at a restaurant serving seafood. The shucking could have been better, too.

Our sides of creamed spinach , sautéed mushrooms and cooked broccoli did not tantalize both my girlfriend and myself :  for both of us,  this preparation of their creamed spinach  did not  enhance  the taste of the spinach. And they did add a bit less cream than I would have preferred.  Still, their way of doing it is one legit classic way of cooking the creamed spinach and I am fine with that.  The broccoli,  I need them to retain a vivid fresh appearance  (I am not here to talk about cooking techniques but there’s a technique for that, there is a technique that allows your broccoli  to be nicely cooked while retaining its perfect crunch and vivid looks, a technique that is widely documented. There is no doubt that the kitchen brigade at Keens knows how to do that, but, again, their choice is to remain classic, therefore they did use a more classical approach  and that is to be respected. As for the mushrooms, they  looked and felt as if they were sautéed a bit too long  and served a bit too late,  the taste of the mushrooms not in evidence.

The crab cake of my girlfriend  featured   fresh crab flavour, the seasoning well judged. The crab came from Maryland and it is in season right now, consequently its depth of flavour was remarkable. Of her crab cake, she said that it was about “”the full taste of the crab and not a lot of filler””, which was a good thing.  7/10

Bottom line: This article of the NY Mag had its author arguing that   « The meat isn’t first class anymore, especially by the standards of today » at Keens…another one of the absurd and senseless suggestions of our so-called food journalists. A steak is first class if the quality of the meat is great, the cooking accurate, the flavours on point, the extra steps to elevate the taste of that meat making a difference (for example, my pieces of steak, here, at Keens, did benefit from the nuances that an educated palate would detect as nuances that can only come from a competently dry aged piece of quality meat). And you do all of that better than at most other steakhouses, which is the case of Keens.  You stop being first  class the day your steak costs an arm and a leg only to have the taste and feel of a generic-tasting piece of meat that you  would buy at the supermarket (the case of one so-called legendary steakhouse right here in The old Montreal …). Keens has nothing to do with an outdated steakhouse.  For his  steaks, Keens is still one of NYC’s very best. I was not in love with the sides, but again, this was (more of) a matter of preference (at the exception of the mushrooms) rather than the sides being faulty. They need to control the temperature of those oysters, though. My number 1 North American steakhouse is still Peter Luger (the one in Brooklyn) , but that takes nothing away from the superb steaks of Keens. The service and ambience at Keens are  also  great. One of my preferred chophouses in NYC. Steaks (9/10), Appetizers (7/10), Sides (6/10 ), Service (8/10 ) –  Keens steakhouse Addr: 72 West 36th St. New York, NY 10018 Phone: 212-947-3636 URL: http://www.keens.com

 

Advertisements

I went to the luxurious mall at Hudson Yards and tried couple of the food items (the shopping mall has eateries recently opened by some of the most popular Chefs out there)  that some of NYC’s food journalists have called their current hits. One that caught my attention was Fuku’s Vada Pav (pictured above), a deep fried potato patty with hints of fried garlic, pickle, scallion sauce, inspired by one of my all time favourite deep fried food items, Maharashtra’s Wada Pav. WP is easy to make and easy to love. If you have been cooking a bit, that’s the sort of combination of ingredients that rarely fails to be a hit (logical combination of ingredients where one ingredient serves as a flavour enhancer to the next). At Fuku, such  potential was left at bay, as the patty was WAY  too dry. So dry that I was not able to discern any flavour. I was not expecting Fuku to deliver a dazzling WP. I was simply expecting a deep fried potato patty to be what it’s supposed to be: a food item that rarely fails to be enjoyable. They have just one way out, with this one and it is to freshly fry and serve their WP as the customer orders it. Or find a way to emulate that effect.  0/10

In that mall, we found kawi creative enough (for food served inside a mall in North America) but absudly pricey as well as a tad unnecessarily fancy. At Kawi, we enjoyed their sweet and sour ribs. It is nit the best we had, but probably one of their better menu items.

Cousins Maine Lobster, 77 Lexington Ave, NYC- If you are heading to CML, expecting the same price tag than at a seafood shack in the Maine, then you are seriously delusional. It is a fast food-truck franchise selling very good lobster meat in a big western city that is known for the hefty prices of its dining scene. Once I got  past that, everything I found here, as far as food goes,  was  hard to improve upon:

I did request my lobster roll connecticut-style (the top split bun served warm, the lobster flesh seasoned with a spritz  of lemon juice). It came with a slaw of quality cabbage which seasoning was light in order to let the cabbage express itself. With cabbage of such quality, that was the right thing to do (too bad the salad was  a just a meager spoonful of that superb cabbage). The wild caught lobster meat of my lobster sandwich  had its fresh maritime fragrance in evidence, the meat speaking for itself .

The tater tots were also flawless:  freshly fried with the right amount of heat and a superb taste. I know, it is not rocket science to make that tot, but they did an excellent rendition of it.

I also tried the lobster tails, which small size could hardly   charm someone like me who grew up in a fishermen’s village with plenty of massive lobster tails to be found everywhere , but in the context of a fast (sea)food joint, if they had to sell the sort of lobster tails that I am talking about, they may as well open a seafood restaurant. The tiny lobster tail was still of good quality, its cooking beautifully timed. Is there better lobster roll in NYC? I know there are many great lobster rolls in NYC, but this one is among the very best lobster rolls of NYC. But it was not just about the sandwich as every single food item   was executed with finesse and featured great flavours, timed temperatures and enticing textures. The price tag, oh..the price tag…I know, but the cousins deserve their nation wide success story. 8/10

Also tried: Sorbillo NYC (great effort by the local pizza scene in NYC to minimize the greatness of SNYC, but the real connoisseurs of the Neapolitan pizza are not going to be fooled: it is, right now, in NYC, one of their very best Neapolitan pizza. Of course, you are not in Naples, therefore the price tag of such pizza in NYC may enrage those who know the cost of such pizza back in Italy. Of course, you do not have easy access in NYC to the dazzling produce of Italy. But at the end of the day, it is one great Neapolitan piZza in NYC.

 

New Yorkers, those lucky bastards! Lol. They attract the best of the best! Sushi Saito (Tokyo) is the current best sushiya in the world. Guess what… they had one of their Chefs who was ready to go working abroad, but it had to be ..guess where…in NYC, of course (Chef Shion Uino now working  at Sushi Amane at Mifune ). You remember the legendary Jiro, of Jiro Dreams? Well, that is not ‘new’ news anymore, but his apprentice  Nakazawa (one of the main characters of the movie Jiro Dreams) is ..guess where?

Examples of great Chefs attracted by New York are endless (Ferran Adria, Joel Robuchon, Alain Ducasse, Rene Redzepi, Massimo Bottura, Enrique Olvera, ), with the latest being Legendary Neapolitan Pizzaiolo Gino Sorbillo.  Gino is known as one of the best Pizzaioli  of Napoli (just to give you an idea of how popular the eatery is – locals do wait, on average, one hour in front of his pizzeria to get their fix of the best pizza of  Napoli ) and he is also famous for his  feud with  the local mafia over his refusal to pay  the pizzo. The pizzeria is so popular that it quickly expanded to Milano in Northern  Italy, then now, in New York City.

I have long been fascinated by Pizze, particularly the Neapolitan Pizza. Actually, one big dream that I do have would be  to spend 3 months in Naples and review every single of their Pizza shops (a bit like what this guy did, many years ago, but I will stick to Naples, world’s ‘temple’ of the Neapolitan Pizza).  It took me a while to be prepared for this project: first, I wanted to spend years tasting all sort of Neapolitan pizze, understanding  the techniques, the ingredients, etc.

I did that for the past 20 years and do, consequently, nowadays, feel ready for the last step before visiting all the Pizza shops of Napoli:  doing an apprenticeship at 3 of the best Pizza shops of Napoli. This will not be easy, perhaps even impossible, but where there is a will, there is a way!  If that happens, the 3 shops will not be reviewed  (I am a bit ‘old school’ about this, and do have nothing against those who think otherwise — I mean we are in an era where most critics do not care about such details — but I insist on never reviewing establishments that I am familiar with), but revealed, of course  (I would like the relevant blog to feature videos of what I am learning at those shops, as well as detailed written  accounts of my journey as an apprentice pizzaiolo in Napoli) .

Regarding Sorbillo NYC, as we all came to  expect,  the food journalists  did  review it inaccurately.  In order to protect their friends of the local pizza scene, they applied themselves to diminish the importance of Sorbillo in their reviews:  they had, of course, to review pastas at a …. pizza shop. They had to. They just could not refrain from using  that cheap shot. Mind you, there is not much they could do:  they never went to Napoli and went on reviewing  this shop with their North American taste. And more importantly, everyone knows that some of the major web sites reviewing those restaurants do have the restaurateurs ‘paying to play’ on their platforms. And those web sites cannot hide it anymore (just look at their disclaimers regarding their affiliation to the restaurateurs).  Gino Sorbillo is a restaurateur who has challenged the pizzo  of the mafia back home in Italy. Needless to guess that he was not going to accept the pressure of the ‘paying to play’ online  system that is so common nowadays.

You cannot  fail to identify those who have no clue of what to expect from a Neapolitan pizza: they will complain about the crust being a bit limpy (Americans prefer a crispier crust). Well, it is the way it is done in Napoli, folks! If you want a pizza which pie is crispy, then opt for a Roman style pizza or any of  your usual  Italian-American pizze. Some will complain about the sparse burnt edges of the pizza, Lol. Others will rage against  the fact that they could not ..fold their pizza… total DELIRIUM!! Ignorance is a bliss, indeed.

But the true connoiseurs of Neapolitan pizza were not going to be fooled by all of that –

Margherita con bufala – Mozzarella Bufala, San Marzano Tomatoes, Basil, Terre Francescane Organic EVOO. What I was looking for at Sorbillo is exactly what a true connoisseur of Neapolitan pizza would look for in his Neapolitan pizza: Is the dough made with Italian type 0 or 00 wheat flour (this takes educating your senses, palate, etc, for some time, but once that is done, you will know if your pizza was made with a dough of such quality) ? kneaded by hand or with a low-speed mixer and formed by hand? Is the dough topped with raw, pureed San Marzano tomatoes from Italy? is it made in a true wood burning brick oven? Were the ingredients fresh and of quality? fior di latte made from cow’s milk or is mozzarella di Bufala? fresh basil and extra-virgin olive oil? Are the ingredients all-natural and fresh? The answer to all the above raised questions was positive.

I also ordered:

Polpette Napoletano – Meatballs and tomato ragù. The meatballs simmered in the sauce as it should, the consistency ideally  moist, the hearty flavor of the sauce in evidence. The sauce was hard to improve upon, its texture and taste as perfected as you will get from a Chef that knows his Italian food to the T, and most importantly…that knows how to technically execute it flawlessly. Only someone who has no real clue about what a legit version of the polpette does smell , taste and feel like would argue against that polpette. La Nonna or any Italian who truely knows his Italian food  would certainly be very proud with what this brigade  is doing as the essence of the  traditional recipe is faithfully applied here. 8/10

Crema di Tiramisù – The mascarpone/eggs/ sweet marsala wine competently rendered mix did blend appetizingly well with a perfectly fine espresso coffee  flavor.  Well judged quantity of mascarpone so that the tiramisu retains a proper creamy texture rather than verging too much on a mousse. This was also timely chilled to let the flavors develop. One version  of the tiramisu that would certainly make any Italian who knows his Tiramisu happy, which was actually the case of an Italian family sitting  at the neighboring table and who seemed to have  enjoyed both the very same polpette I did order  and this tiramisu as items that are executed properly . 7/10

Babà Napoletano – The rum-soaked oven-baked dolce was properly executed: leavened  to its traditional soft spongy consistency (whoever baked the mini cake did not take any shortcut as it was evident that they took the time that was necessary to go through the time consuming / slow leavening process that is required to make this cake), it was not too boozy and it did express a well judged intensity of sweetness. The cake was not too light, therefore its inside was not too dry (though a tidbit dryer than I would have liked, in some parts, but I am  nitpicking here). It  had very little alcohol, and soft texture and sweetness.  The nice golden brown exterior was also achieved as it should. It was served at room temperature, which was the right thing to do. A perfectly legit version of the Babà Napoletano. 7/10

Extra points for making all the desserts, the bread (really nice for a place that is not dedicated to bread), as well as their gnocchi   on the premises! It is way more that what we came to expect from a pizza place.

Bottom line: Those truly in the know would have found the  Sorbillo’s Neapolitan pizza I was having as authentic as a Neapolitan pizza will feel, smell and taste like outside of Italy:  A properly rendered thin and soft crust, the crust bubbling up as it should be, the charred spots present, again, as it’s supposed to be. The fresh tomato sauce packed with the minerality and bright acidity that is expected in a Neapolitan pizza (I saw way too many reviewers inaccurately complaining about the bright acidity of the tomato sauce in such pizza…not trying to be rude folks, but c’mon…take some lesson, learn how such pizza is authentically made before assessing it as you really sound ridiculous with such suggestions as ”I did not like it because the tomato sauce has ….bright acidity’ ), both the technique and the ingredients are on point. Sorbillo NYC 334 Bowery, New York, NY 10012, USA  Phone: (646) 678-3392 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SorbilloNYC/ Overall food rating: 8/10 (Category – Best Neapolitan Pizza shop outside of Italy – you need to be seriously clueless about Italian cooking to give this place the low ratings that the food journalists have rated it. Any serious Italian who knows his food will agree that this is a very good Italian Pizza shop), Service : 9/10 (Attentive, friendly and yet professional)

Quality Meats NYC (Addr: 57 W 58th St, New York, NY 10019, USA Phone: +1 212-371-7777)   is a restaurant  backed by Smith & Wollensky, a steakhouse institution in NYC (that now has several branches across the US as well as abroad). It is part of a  group of restaurants that include some of the most successful eateries of NYC such as Don Angie, Smith & Wollensky, Park Avenue, etc. They do offer a contemporary take on North American familiar dishes  such as their take on the North American steaks . It  is hip and does have a social vibe. The decor features  several   elements  pertaining to the  neo rustic chic interior design, elements such as marble, wood, and stainless steel. Chandeliers and white ceramic tiles completing the decor.

I went there because not all steakhouses in NYC do offer great  bone-in rib eye steaks, my preferred cut for a steak. They do stellar Porterhouse steaks, at virtually all the great chop houses  in NYC. But rib eye steaks are either absent from their menus, or do come in meager size, and are rarely dry aged (it is pointless, for me, to splurge on wet aged meat, my palate oftently associating it with just a generic piece of steak).  On this particular occasion,  I was also looking for a steakhouse exempt from the usual  potential “”dry aged” or mixed  type of service (However great is the food, if the service has the potential to make me vomit, the food is worthless) . I heard that QM has fine  hospitality standards and that they  do  an excellent rib eye steak. I went  to find out.

My expectation was the usual expectation of any steak lover: I needed my steak to be a fully flavoured juicy slab of prime beef, exquisitely  seasoned, unleashing   a great deal of umami sensation in mouth. Did the steak meet that expectation? First, a description of the steak I did order:   a 24 oz. long-boned Black Angus Prime, dry-aged rib steak.  Aged for 40 days. My rib eye had a delicious seasoning, but it was cooked  past the requested medium rare doneness. A bit dry  here and there, as well. However, I will give them a second chance as this is a first rate restaurant that deserves a second chance. I surely will do that soon, with, next time, the choice of the porterhouse. I trust that this was an isolated slip as the local steakhouse experts have long praised the rib eye at QM. 5/10

Other items that I did sample here :

With my steak, I took the creamed spinach, which was tasty and   packed with enticing fresh spinach flavor. 8/10

The other side dish I did order was their popular crispy potatoes, which are blanched in duck fat, seasoned with garlic , thyme, and bay leaves and dressed at the last minute  with a hot sauce of butter seasoned with garlic , thyme, parsley, chives  and rosemary.  Great.  8/10

Bottom line: A classy restaurant. I hope I will be luckier with the steak the next time I will go back there. The sides are great.  The service, at the exception of a young lady with long straight black hair at the entrance (she seems to suffer from some serious attitude problem) was of world class mention. Definitely a place where I will return.

 

Tasting some of world’s better oysters in Southern France + In Fontjoncouse I tried what Michelin dubs a “special journey” + Paris lost one of its best classic French restaurants (Moissonier) + The best and the worst food of 2016 / 2017 + The reviews that you have perused the most in 2017 + Cannot wait to try world famed Sorbillo Pizza in New York

Posted: January 3, 2018 in aged beef, Best and worst food of 2017, Best and Worst restaurant dishes of 2017, Best meals, Best oyster, best pizza, brooklyn, Mediterranea, new york, oyster, seafood, steak, steakhouse
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Welcoming this new  year with an overwiew of the highs and lows of my 2016/2017 foodie adventures:

The best  meals of 2016/2017:
Le Coucou (NYC), Sushi Azabu (NYC), Dons Bogam (NYC) , Hvor (Montreal) — but Chef S’Arto Chartier-Otis does not work there anymore, Pamika brasserie Thai (Montreal), Ichimura (NYC) but Chef Ichimura does not work there anymore, Nozy (Montreal), Cocoro (Montreal), Argo (Fira), TO Ouzeri (Fira), Old Tavern of Psaras (Athens), Mere Michel (Montreal), Kelsey & Kim’s southern cafe (Atlantic City), Junior’s (Brooklyn), Jordan’s lobster dock (Brooklyn), The River Café (Brooklyn), La Caye (Brooklyn),  The steak at Wolfgang steakhouse Park Avenue (NYC)

The most memorable food items of 2016/2017:
1.Le Gâteau Mollet du Marquis de Béchamel et la Glace Fondue à la Rhubarbe (Pres d’Eugenie)
Wall of fame material.
2.Rutabaga fettucine, black truffles, hazelnut butter, mimolette cheese (Hvor, Montreal) – Lifetime achievement award!!!
3.Roasted pineapple (Le Coucou) –
They all say they can make it. In reality, few, very few can pull out some roasted pineapple of this quality.

My GO-TO places:

La Frite à Brigitte (Vaudreuil-Dorion). When I discovered Quebecois classic food, I was filled with awe. Simple French-based food but full of dazzling flavors. Quebecois people have an awesome palate. They have glorious food items like the Poutine. French fries, gravy, cheese curds. Sounds straightforward, right? Perhaps, but Poutine is one of the best inventions of all times. It is so tasty, so well thought, so great. La Frite à Brigitte is currently my GO-TO place for their superb poutine . I keep going there for more. La Frite à Brigitte Addr: 347 Boulevard Harwood, Vaudreuil-Dorion, QC Phone: (450) 510-5151. My other GO-TO place in Montreal is Reuben’s Deli & Steakhouse. I never tried any steak there, but their delis are some of the most refined and better executed of this globe. They seem to pull off great things after great things at Reuben’s: some of the best strawberry cheesecakes in town, the best sliders I ever had in Montreal, etc. I am not implying that it is the restaurant of the century, but at whatever it does, it consistently  outshines its competitors.  Reuben’s Addr: 1116 Sainte-Catherine W. Montreal, Qc Phone: 514-866-1029. My other go-to places in  Montreal: Gyu-Kaku, the current best local table top bbq grill restaurant.    Ichi Go Ichie (the best Isakaya, right now, in Montreal) , Escondite (the best local tacos and tequila bar),  Panama, my preferred Greek eatery in town, as well Loukouman Addr: 522 Jarry Ouest Montréal, Québec, H3N-1E9 Phone: 514-272-5272  (indeed, some of the best loukoumades in town eventhough they do not use the pricey honey that I am usually fond of, but regardless, they are as fine as you will get them in town, better than the ones of Mr Puffs, most Greeks will tell you, and that is what I think,  too). Another go to spot is Nouilles de Lan Zhou.  I also tried   Souvlaki Bar (the one in Laval) as well as the Marathon that is at 3313 Boulevard des Sources, Dollard-des-Ormeaux (the Marathon in Laval is disappointing) and both were good by Montreal Souvlaki Chain eateries (food cooked to order, the pork souvlaki as tender and meaty as it should at Souvlaki bar, the gyros you should prioritize at Marathon, the ingredients are fine at both places). Talking about Greek eateries  in Montreal, I had some of the best pork souvlaki in Montreal around 25  years ago at a place called Marvens in Parc Extension. Marvens used to also serve one of the very best homemade sauce, their special sauce boasting a light orange hue. Remembering how great it used to be, I went back this past summer and I am saddened  to submit that Marvens’s star  has faded: the special sauce is so sour, nowadays, that it made the food almost inedible. Inedible is also how I would describe the once stellar pork souvlaki which consistency is nowadays dry and tough. People who knew Marvens 25 years ago will be in a serious shock.  Away from Montreal, I am  a big fan of Jordan’s lobster dock (Brooklyn) that I never fail to visit every time I find myself in New York. Their seafood is so popular that it is even exported to Canada. This is the best seafood shack of  New York city. Jordan’s lobster dock 3165 Harkness Ave, Sheepshead Bay – Brooklyn, NY 11235 United States; Phone number (718) 934-6300; URL: http://www.jordanslobster.com .

The best food items of 2016/2017:
1.Mustard ice cream, grilled leavened bread, green tomatoes (Hvor, Montreal) – WOW!
2.Carpaccio of Quebec’s lamb, grated prosciutto (Hvor, Montreal) – You die  and are resurrected just for that!
3.Braised oxtail / potatoes (Le Coucou, NYC) – Even a 3 star Classic French Michelin restaurant in France would be J*E*A*L*O*U*S!!
4. Sea eel (anago) nigiri (Ichimura,NYC) – I thought this nigiri was  flown in straight from one of the best sushiyas of Tokyo!!
5.Langue de boeuf/ pommes/arachides/vinaigrette gingembre (Marconi, Montreal) – Ok, my life did not feel shattered, but damn ..that was GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
6. The ramen at Cocoro (Montreal) – SLURP! …because, in the ramenya world,  that is the way to show how enchanted you were, about your ramen!
7. Grilled goat at Petite Ya quartier (Mtl) – With flavors like these….Oh you, Mother Africa, you make it impossible …. to stop loving you!

-The LOWS:

-The overall experience at Torishin (NYC)
-The oysters at Docks Oyster House (Atlantic city)
-All the food at Vizantino taverna (Athens)
-My meal at Miss Favela (Brooklyn)

 

The reviews that you have perused the most in 2017: The review on Montreal steakhouses is the one that you keep favoring the most year after year.  It is an old review, dating back to  2013. Definitely not the review that I was expecting  to captivate any attention  on this blog, but somehow you like it.  At some point I did consider removing all posts of more than a year on this blog, as they become irrelevant,  but it would be a  nonsense to do so (I never saw a food blogger proceeding that way). The second most popular review was the one on Sushi Sawada (Tokyo). I am glad to see that you were interested by that review as it proves one thing: people are, sometimes, more interested by the content of a review, the technical aspect of the food that  lies before them (is it well conceived, does it respect the fundamentals of good cooking, you know…the right texture, the right temperature, etc) , rather than food porn (sexy instagram-esque pictures —  I was ready to shoot the pictures, actually, but we have got to respect the rules of a house, which, in the case of Sawada, forbids photo taking to normal diners). The 3rd most popular posts are  the ones on Dons de la Nature(Tokyo) and this post I wrote on Gault Millau Montreal/Yakitori Otto/Bombay Mahal Tali/Chez Jano.

4th most popular post, among you – The review on Argo (Fira) as well as the one on Kam Fung (Montreal)
5th  – L’Arpege (Paris)
6th – Ishikawa (Tokyo)
7th – Nice  (Cote d’Azur)
8th – Sushi Oono (Tokyo)
9th – Kanbai (Montreal)

This  web blog’s main intent is to cater to some close foodies with whom I share information about places where to dine at.  In the process, it benefits to the rest of the web as well – obviously. It is also an opportunity to have a firm  idea of how the information on the web is manipulated by many  individuals of the restaurant world (expecting otherwise would be utterly naive … ): although I was pleasantly surprised by the considerable amount of hits on the 9 posts I have just mentioned above (numbers that could almost rival those web sites that have a PR machine behind them — certainly a surprise for a web site that is anonymous like mine), it is clear that some  restaurants around the globe are paying the search engines to filter what can be found on them. That makes sense as it is all about business, protecting business, masquerading their failures as success, etc, and it takes a non restaurant-friendly source like the current  blog to remind you of that. Apparently, based on the wordpress stats of this blog,   you do  not care  for some of the very best restaurants of this globe …  Trattoria Vecchia Roma offers some of the best Traditional Cucina Romana in the world.  Sushi Azabu, Ichimura (New York) are some of the best sushiyas outside of Japan. Le Coucou (New York), one of the best French restaurants outside of France. Dons Bogam  (New York), one of the best Korean BBQ outside of South Korea.  Le Casse Noix (Paris),  has some of the best  riz au lait and Ile flottante in the world. Readers of this blog could not care less. Yeah, yeah, yeah…I believe that    truely exists.  Lol…a nonsense as those restaurants are some of the most popular of this planet…

Paris lost one of its best classic French restaurants (Moissonier) –  Moissonier , which  had  the best French pike quenelles as well as rice cake  of Paris, did close this summer. Paris will never be the same without  this restaurant which served classic French food from Lyon and Franche-Comté as remarkable as the impressive resume of its Chef (an Ex sous Chef of culinary legends such as Alain Senderens, The Troisgros family). Certainly  the sign that people, nowadays, are more interested by hype rather than substance: the closure of this restaurant did not make the headlines…  Moissonnier Addr: 28, rue des Fossés Saint-Bernard, Paris, Phone: 01 43 29 87 65

My special journey in Fontjoncouse – According to the Michelin guide, their 3 star restaurants “worth a special journey”.  L’Auberge du Vieux Puits in Fontjoncouse is a 3 star Michelin restaurant that is considered as one of the very best French restaurants in the world by those in the know. I had lunch and dinner there. You will find more, about my meals at L’Auberge du Vieux Puits, here.

A stopover in Northern Catalonia’s Perpinyà  – At approximately 60 kms away from Fontjoncouse, you will find   Perpignan. Northern Catalonia was Spanish, then became French in 1659. It is an area that the French call Pyrénées-Orientales.  In Perpignan, I tried Le Divil which was recently credited with the title of the best restaurant for meats in France by Internationally acclaimed  steak expert Franck Ribière of the movie ‘Steak Revolution‘  (click here for that review) .

I was born to the sound of the sea waves hitting the rocks – It is magical. It really is, because all your life you remember the smell of that sea, the noise of the waves hitting those rocks and the treasure you sometimes found on those rocks. On those rocks, there were ..oftently..oysters! One of the ‘gemstones’ of the sea.  Decades later, oysters do not stop to fascinate me. While in Southern France, I had another opportunity to flirt with them, once again. This time, they were in one of France’s most important destinations of oysters, Leucate. Leucate is a commune in the department of Aude, a department with some of France’s most picturesque communes (Peyriac-de-Mer, one of its communes, has the potential to leave the most in awe). Most part of Leucate is composed of swathes of  beautiful landscapes (beaches, blue waters, the sea, the mountains).  Unexpectedly, the oysters ..those jewels of the sea…well, it is in the less pretty part of Leucate that you will find them. An area called Le Grau de Leucate where less than 30 oyster stands are offering the local Cap Leucate oyster. An hour away from Leucate, I had  the opportunity to taste some  dazzling oysters in Bouzigues which is located on the northern side of  the  Étang de Thau (famous for its oysters). In Perpignan, I pursued with the spéciale de claire and pousses en claire of Alain Laugier Goulevant from Marennes-Oléron and  I feasted on some  cupped (creuses) Prat-Ar-coum  oysters  as well as some Aber-Vrach flat (plates)  oysters  of  Yvon Madec at the  seafood restaurant 7 ème Vague Boniface .  I also found some of my preferred oysters of France, Yves Papin ‘s bivalves, in Perpignan.  All world class oysters.

 

Cannot wait to try world famed Sorbillo Pizza in New York – New Yorkers, those lucky bastards! Lol. They attract the best of the best! Sushi Saito (Tokyo) is the current best sushiya in the world. Guess what… they had one of their Chefs who was ready to go working abroad, but it had to be ..guess where…in NYC, of course (Chef Shion Uino now working  at Sushi Amane at Mifune ). You remember the legendary Jiro, of Jiro Dreams? Well, that is not ‘new’ news anymore, but his apprentice  Nakazawa (one of the main characters of the movie Jiro Dreams) is ..guess where? Examples of great Chefs attracted by New York are endless (Ferran Adria, Joel Robuchon, Alain Ducasse, Rene Redzepi, Massimo Bottura, Enrique Olvera), with the latest being Legendary Neapolitan Pizzaiolo Gino Sorbillo. I have long been fascinated by Pizze, particularly the Neapolitan Pizza. Actually, my next major ‘foodie’ project is to spend 3 months in Naples and review every single of their Pizza shops (a bit like what this guy did, many years ago, but I will stick to Naples, world’s ‘temple’ of the Neapolitan Pizza).  It took me a while to be prepared for this project: first, I wanted to spend years tasting all sort of Neapolitan pizze, understanding  the techniques, the ingredients, etc. I did that for the past 20 years and do, consequently, nowadays, feel ready for the last step before visiting all the Pizza shops of Napoli:  doing an apprenticeship at 3 of the best Pizza shops of Napoli. This will not be easy, perhaps even impossible, but where there is a will, there is a way!  If that happens, the 3 shops will not be reviewed  (I am a bit ‘old school’ about this, and do have nothing against those who think otherwise — I mean we are in an era where most critics do not care about such details — but I insist on never reviewing establishments that I am familiar with), but revealed, of course  (I would like the relevant blog to feature videos of what I am learning at those shops, as well as detailed written  accounts of my journey as an apprentice pizzaiolo in Napoli) .  Regarding Sorbillo NYC, expect the food journalists of  NYC to review it inaccurately as they never went to Napoli and will review this shop with their North American taste. You will not fail to identify those who have no clue of what to expect from a Neapolitan pizza: they will complain about the crust being a bit limpy (Americans prefer a crispier crust). Well, it is the way it is done in Napoli, folks! If you want a pizza which pie is crispy, them opt for a Roman style pizza or any of  your usual  Italian-American pizze. In the meantime, Sorbillo NYC, here I come !  Zia Esterina Sorbillo  334 Bowery Street at Bond Street, NYC Phone: (646) 678-3392 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SorbilloNYC/

The GREATEST CHEFS of the globe – My generation was gifted with some of the most talented Chefs of all time. One of them was Jacques Maximin. Chef Maximin  has inspired legends such as Ferran Adria as well as highly regarded Chefs like  Franck Cerutti, Christophe Moret or Bruno Cirino. Nowadays, he is not an active Chef anymore. He stood out for his impressive creativity. Oftently, he was able to create, with limited time, what many of the  other legendary  Chefs would, sometimes,  take ages to achieve. Perhaps the culinary Genius who had the more wit, the best natural instinct when it came to Classic French cuisine:

 

Series “Follow this CHEF” – There are NOT that many TRUELY talented world class Chefs around the globe at this moment. Many are marketed as such, for sure, but few are THAT talented. One superb talent is Chef David Bizet. He is largely considered, by those in the know,  as one of this globe’s  most underrated star Chefs right now. David is relatively young, and yet he has been the right hand of several multiple  michelin starred Chefs (Christian Lesquer, Phillipe Legendre, Eric Briffard). David will, sooner or later, have  its 3 Michelin stars and he will deserve them (which is not the case of some Michelin triple starred chefs who earned their stars just by following following the ‘checklist’ of what it takes to get there). For now (January 2018), David is at the helm of L’orangerie (Four seasons)  in Paris.

New York City’s Michelin Stars for 2018  –  I do not understand the Michelin guide (yeah, I know, it is trendy to say so, in the anti-Michelin circles, but it is NOT better in the anti-Michelin world, neither! ) on one hand, you have plenty of Japanese restaurants in NYC  that are awarded stars, and deservedly so… because, yep, truth be told,  we are talking about hard working people, proud of their craft rather than a bunch of money hungry bums disguised as restaurateurs as widely seen elsewhere in some other supposedly food cities. But then, why demoting Jean-Georges? I do  oftently visit  NYC and do know Jean-Georges well  and there is no difference between  Jean-Georges  in its current form Vs the one of the other years. Same for Daniel, btw! Is it, because Michelin, came to the conclusion that they should  not have been awarded  3 stars in the first place? Well, if that is the reason, then dear Michelin, you should have thought about that…in the first place! Is it because both Jean-Georges and Daniel do not have the “grandiose’ looks and feel of   3 star Michelin restaurants  like Per Se and  Eleven Madison Park? The special ‘cachet’ of Masa? I am sure NOT,   as Michelin does not have a  limited vision  of what the restaurant world should be about: to the contrary of what the anti-Michelin lobby is trying to sell to us, you do not have 1 type of restaurant that Michelin favors. Michelin stars were awarded to plenty of restaurants that do, actually, fit the mold of its competitors and detractors  — for example, L’Arpège and L’Astrance in Paris, which are restaurants that Michelin competitors  such as Le Fooding and  San Pellegrino top 50 restaurants do regard as ‘non-Michelin enough’, ‘non-Palace enough’. Well, in reality, both L’Arpège and L’Astrance have … 3 Michelin stars! Examples like those abound: MirazurOsteria FrancescanaAsador Etxebarri are  all  San Pellegrino top 50 restaurants ‘bestsellers’. Well, they ALL have  Michelin stars, too!  Business is business…you can “bark”  as loud as you want, but at the end of the day, they are all competing for the same thing! At least, Michelin has managed, up to now, to avoid  laughable  decisions such as marketing  an ordinary restaurant  which best meal is  spaghetti and lobster …. as one of the top 100 best restaurants of the globe! A recent  “exploit” in the world  of  one of  Michelin’s  competitors (if, at least, that was the best spaghetti or the best obster out there, but no..not at all, not even close….Rfaol!).  Back to Michelin NYC 2018… I am not done with it: Torishin, the 1 star Michelin yakitori…can someone tell me how no Michelin inspector ever ran into the mixed bag of a service that did put me off when I was there (as reviewed here). What…??..the bad waiters I met at Torishin are nowhere to be found when the Michelin inspectors do visit Torishin? That mixed service would be BAU at a hole in a wall eatery managed by bums, nothing to do with a Michelin star restaurant!

 

 

 

N° 900 pizzeria is a one big succes story of  the Pizza  scene in the province of Quebec. Their growth  was such  that they have expanded to  16 restaurants across Quebec in a very short period of time. I went to the one in Laval (https://no900.com/restaurants/centropolis-laval/) and ordered a margherita pizza: the cornizone (puffy rim) in evidence as it should with its (expected ) tinges of a blackened edge, fresh herbs are used, cooked in a wood-burning oven, but the pie I was having became tough too quickly (in comparison to the better renditions of the neapolitan pizze I tried elsewhere), and the sauce (not enough sauce, btw)  lacked a bit of the bright acidity and high mineral content that  I came to expect from the better San Marzano tomato sauces I had. I am realitistic enough to avoid surreal expectations such as expecting a Neapolitan pizza to be as good in Montreal as it can be in Napoli, or even in a true world class foodie destination like NYC, but Bottega (the one of St Zotique) used to make a far better Neapolitan pizza (I wrote “used to” because on my last visit, last summer at Bottega, my pizza was a far cry  from the dazzling pizze   they have served me for many years). That said,  N° 900 pizzeria has a friendly service, a nice  ambience and the pizza is  pleasant enough for me to go back. Save your dreams of a stellar Neapolitan-style pizza for your next trip to Naples or  New York and just eat your pizza quickly (which you should do, anyways) to enjoy that pie while it is crispy and chewy.  N° 900 pizzeria, Addr: 540 Promenade Du Centropolis, Laval. Phone: (450) 973-0947 URL: https://no900.com/restaurants/centropolis-laval/

Restaurant Petit Seoul opened in December 2017 to wide acclaim from the local food critics and it quickly turned into a very popular restaurant. I did visit it on a Tuesday evening, an evening that was quiet even for its very popular neighbor Magpie Pizzeria, and yet Petit Seoul was full of patrons. There’s no doubt that the kitchen brigade can cook genuine South Korean food as evidenced by a successful haemulgeon (seafood pancake with spring onion, carrot, onion and sweet potato) , but they seem to want to please the local crowd a bit too much: the dolsot bibimbap was adapted to local palates, meaning that is was not as genuinely flavored as I came to expect from the finer  dolsot bibimbap I had elsewhere, even here in Montreal.  I was missing a bap (rice) that stands out (it was fine, especially for Montreal, but the bap needed to impress more — obviously — for a dish that relies heavily on rice. I was missing morsels of meat that can delight. The beefy flavor that I came to expect from my bibimbap‘s meat happened to be a wish, here, not a feature.  Korean chili paste flavor is one of the most fascinating flavors out there, the art of seasoning, marinating and pickling  are Korean’s specialities, and a superior bibimbap is THE opportunity to showcase the vast array of cooking techniques of the Koreans (there is a reason why the bibimbap is considered by many to be one of world’s  most popular dishes…), but all of that was toned down and you can thank our local diners for this: they want Korean food but the way they want it, not the way Koreans are supposed to do it. Petit Seoul is a business, therefore you can’t blame them to adapt to their clientele! Petit Seoul  Addr: 5245 Boulevard Saint-Laurent Montreal, Quebec H2T 1S4 Phone: (514) 379-4929 URL: https://www.facebook.com/restaurantpetitseoul/

Pamika Brasserie Thai – Pursued with another major local opening, Pamika, a  Thai-inspired restaurant that is already one of the most popular  restaurants  in Montreal. There, on a 1st visit, I ordered their beef salad made of grilled flank steak, their seafood Tom Kha soup (the broth made of coconut milk, lemongrass and galangal), as well as  their  red curry seafood  which is made of kaffir leaves, basil, coconut milk, red peppers, calamaris and shrimps). Every single dish was eventful, featuring vibrant colors, enticing textures, judicious seasoning and superbly well balanced  genuine Thai  flavors. At handling, and cooking  seafood, they seem to have an edge on plenty of ambitious local restaurants. The Gaeng Daeng (red curry) obviously made of  a high quality curry paste. On a second visit, I was less taken by the green curry/chicken/winter melon/Thai eggplant/coconut milk/basil , the Yellow curry/chicken thighs/potatoes/coconut milk as well as the Thai satay chicken skewers   but that was because of personal taste (sometimes, for Thai food,  I just prefer the old fashion rustic bold mom-and-pop Thai flavors + there are some Thai regional ways of making sauces that I prefer more than others and I tend to be partial to  charcoal grilled satay) and not for a lack of skills as they all  were competently executed and were tasty. A special of the day, on my second visit, consisted of a starter of marinated pork in lemon grass (picture above), the pork finished on a grill. That starter looked simple, but that is the sign of a great kitchen brigade: it makes everything it does look so simple. Not many kitchen brigades are capable to deliver such a perfected starter as most would either under or over season it, others would grill it too long or not enoughly long killing the  delicious  flavor of the meat  in the process, some would cook it well but serve it at the wrong moment which would reduce their work to a non happening. Behind that superlative starter  there was a great deal of technical mastery (timing of its cooking, timing of its serving,  superb work of its marinade —lemongrass is a tricky ingredient for marinades as you really need to know what you are doing with it or else it will make your food pass as punishment —  which is not given to all cooks, btw,  a precise balance of the flavors, again …not an  ability that all cooks happen to be gifted with). The signs of the skills of this kitchen continued to be on display in their flawless  condiments and sauces. Traditional Thai desserts may be perceived as basic to most western eyes and palates, but they remain enjoyable:  I tried the Khao neow ma muang (sticky rice with mango) as well as  the Thai tapioca pudding.  The mango of the Khao neow ma muang may not come from Thailand, but the kitchen picked a ripe mango of fine quality,  the sticky texture of the rice properly rendered, the warm coconut cream a benchmark of its kind.  Both desserts were  well executed, their respective   Thai flavor profiles in evidence. Here is an example of a talented kitchen brigade that is not hiding behind the fear of having to cook what its patrons  want it to cook. Instead, it is cooking what it is supposed to cook, pulling off  Thai flavors that are as genuine as they get in Montreal (which they manage to keep at the forefront even when they add their own  twists here and there).  It will always be delusional to expect Thai food to taste exactly the same as in Thailand , this far away from Thailand (obviously, to do so, you would need every single ingredient to come from Thailand and shipped to you in a blink of an eye after being  harvested, and not long after, it will inevitably cost an arm to eat there  and the restaurant will go bankrupt), and this is not your old fashion (heavy sauces, bold) type of Thai food (the genuine Thai flavors are there, though, which is what matters), but Pamika is an elite  ethnic restaurant  in Montreal  right now.  Seems like Montreal has an an all rounder, here  (service and overall dining experience are good, quality ingredients and cooking are on display). Pamika Brasserie Thai, Addr: 901 Sherbrooke East, Montreal, Phone: (514) 508-9444 URL: http://pamika.ca

 

Régine Café is one of the most-talked-about brunch spots of Montreal.  It did not take long for me to realize how popular this restaurant is, as lengthy queues began to form before opening time on the saturday I went there. I ordered their  “Champi” (poached eggs atop some bread and a piece of Mamirolle cheese, a side of sautéed mushrooms with sage).  The food is carefully plated, a feature that is enough for the nearby crowd of Le Plateau to fall in love with a breakfast / brunch restaurant …  but at least, Régine Café does a bit more than just the plating: the soft-boiled egg was precisely executed, the mushrooms timely sautéed, the seasoning well judged (nothing was over or underseasoned).  I also ordered their scotch egg, but  it  did not have the  tender sausage meat layer of the  best renditions I  tasted elsewhere. Furthermore, the crumb was short of the savoury depth I came to expect from the better scotch eggs. The food did not blow me away and, for my money, I prefer the brunch at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel (downtown Montreal),  but Régine Café does what it takes to deserve its local popularity (a thoughtfully conceived menu, friendly service and overall great ambience). Régine Café Addr: 1840 Rue Beaubien Est, Montréal, QC Phone: (514) 903-0676 URL: http://www.reginecafe.ca

 

My next ‘immediate’ foodie project  – It is about time, for me, to take   my passion for food to another level. Cooking since my tender childhood and submitting my palate to all sorts of taste sensations  from all around the globe as well as trying to see what the girls and boys of the restaurant industry were  up to  (the sole reason I enjoyed visiting  restaurants) was useful, for sure. But now, I have seen what I had to and I am more than ready for the next steps: as mentioned earlier on, learning how to perfect the art of the Neapolitan Pizza, in Naples, is one of the next projects that is of interest. That can’t be done right away, though. Therefore, my next immediate foodie project is to focus on pushing taste sensations to dimensions that we are not used to, this side of our sphere. Lately, I have been experimenting a lot with the moringa (pictured above). It is ‘trendy’ , in the western world,  to introduce exotic ingredients in  our vocabulary, therefore the moringa is on everyone’s mind, but what matters to me is how complex, in terms of taste sensations, the moringa is. It is rare, in one single ingredient, to get to experience with a collection of clashing taste sensations like the ones delivered by the moringa. The moringa, on a culinary perspective, …it is a real ‘pain in the butt’, but as with everything that is not ‘easy to deal with’, it leads to interesting opportunities..

May 2018 be joyous, fruitful  for the epicurious in us and above all….DELICIOUS!

 

Auberge du Vieux Puits, Fontjoncouse
Type of Cuisine:  French (Haute cuisine)
Michelin Stars: 3
Addr: 5 Avenue Saint-Victor, 11360 Fontjoncouse, France
Phone: +33 4 68 44 07 37
Email: reception@aubergeduvieuxpuits.fr
URL:  http://www.aubergeduvieuxpuits.fr/en/
Service: 10/10 World class service that is at the same time fun , approachable but also Pro. The Goujon talk to their customers (Madame Goujon and Chef Goujon came to say hello to everyone), Chef Goujon (a salt of the earth kind of man, from what  I gathered)  is present in his kitchen at a time when your neighborhood bistrot cook thinks that he is too good to be found in a kitchen.
Overall food rating: 8/10 Very good performance.

A lovely restaurant, for sure, deserving of its accolades and superb reputation. Nothing that I could fault, indeed, but the  amuse-bouches could have been a bit more exciting.

“Puits” is French for a water well. There is an old (Vieux)  water well on the premises. The restaurant  is located in the village of Fontjoncouse (commune of Corbières, deparment of Aude) in the south of France.

To get to L’Auberge du vieux puits, you can either take a train to Narbonne (30 kms away) or fly to Perpignan  (66 kms from Fontjoncouse). Narbonne is a town that I have always liked for personal reasons that I do not need to explain on this blog,  but Perpignan is a big city. This time, I stayed in Perpignan because  I had another meal to attend at France’s 2017 best restaurant for steaks (according to Internationally acclaimed  steak expert Franck Ribière of the movie ‘Steak Revolution‘ ), Le Divil (reviewed here). During this short stay in Southern France, the long time ostreaphile that I am  wandered outside Perpignan and dropped by Leucate, one of the  destinations   of the French Mediterranean oyster. There, you have a  tiny area called Le centre ostréicole du  Grau de Leucate featuring a line-up of oyster stands selling the celebrated local oyster  Cap Leucate. An hour away from Leucate, I had  the opportunity to taste some  dazzling oysters in Bouzigues which is located on the northern side of  the  Étang de Thau (famous for its oysters). In Perpignan, I pursued with the spéciale de claire and pousses en claire of Alain Laugier Goulevant from Marennes-Oléron and  I feasted on some  cupped (creuses) Prat-Ar-coum  oysters  as well as some Aber-Vrach flat (plates)  oysters  of  Yvon Madec at the  seafood restaurant 7 ème Vague Boniface .  I also found some of my preferred oysters of France, Yves Papin ‘s bivalves, in Perpignan.  All world class oysters.

In 2016, L’Auberge du vieux puits was in the top 10 of the best restaurants of this globe, according to La Liste ( La Liste is the sole restaurant ranking system that takes into account  all major  press reviews,  dining  guides,  and crowd-sourced sites  around the world ).

Chef Gilles Goujon is some sort of   “Messiah” for the tiny village of Fontjoncouse (as youtube’d here) , a village of  less than  200 inhabitants,  as his restaurant is their main attraction, their local “economy” relies heavily on him (most jobs, in the village, are related to Gilles’s restaurant).  A  Meilleur Ouvrier de France (a prestigious award in the culinary world),   he  was the assistant of a true culinary luminary —NOT  the kind of self proclaimed ones and/or marketed as such,  that we keep hearing about, these days —,  Chef Roger Vergé (at Moulin de Mougins when that restaurant had 3 Michelin stars).  He also worked at Gérard Clor’s L’ Escale (Carry le rouet) when the restaurant had  2 Michelin stars as well as at  Michelin starred Le Petit Nice (in Marseille). In 2010, Gilles was France’s Chef of the year.  The professional magazine Le Chef  ranked Gilles Goujon  in the top 50 best Chefs in the world. Gilles has 5 Toques at Gault & Millau.

 

The village of Fontjoncouse itself is quiet, but if you stay there (the restaurant is attached to a mini hotel), then consider visiting the pretty village of Lagrasse , the ruined fortress of Peyrepertuse, and the abbey of Fontfroide. All well worth going out of your way for.

L’Auberge du Vieux Puits has  3 tasting menus (the names of the tasting menus refer  to the surrounding Pays Cathare, therefore you have names such as  “Bienvenue au pays“, “Quelques pas dans la Garrigue”  or  “Air de fêtes en Corbières” ) as well as the A la Carte items (3 starters, 3 seafood items, 3 items for the meats, 3 desserts.  I ate there twice:  lunch as well as dinner.

The lunch  did start with some amuse-bouches with fillings such as cream of truffle, gazpacho, calamari, bottarga, sauce gribiche ), some  bread called fougasse (their take on it — different, in looks, from  most traditional variations  of the  fougasse — would make us, in North America, think of a “cousin” of the english muffin) that you dip in olive oil (fleur d’huile d’Olive of  Moulin a huile du Partegal ). Then a Mediterranean oyster, oyster Tarbouriech,  lightly poached, with a reasonable briny taste and plenty of body, served with seawater jelly and some oyster tartare. All pleasant.

Cressonette are Cuckoo flower leaves (a terrestrial  “cousin” of the watercress) and they are a dream for any fan of the watercress (I am one of them), their vibrant fresh wildcress flavor (without the agressive bitterness that watercress can sometimes be accused of)  expressed excitingly well in the cold “coulis” that it was transformed into, the piece of frog leg (with, inside of it, a “coulant” of the spectacular cuckoo flower leaves, a match made in heaven) as well as some first-rate baby vegetables  (with a particularly outstanding piece of celery root) that it was paired with, were all examples of what you are blessed with, when superb sourcing flirts with fabulous cooking. The kick of saltiness of the “coulis” was not a mistake, in this specific case, but a necessary flavor enhancer.  A world class dish. 10/10

Tourte d’anguille (a pie of eel), saoule de vin en matelotte fumée girolles et champignons en fine croûte de pain cramat. The eel is marinated in wine for several hours, seasoned, coated in flour , pan-seared then “encased” in squid ink flavored cylindrical-shaped sliced bread. That sliced bread is actually the  “croûte (crust) de  pain (bread) cramat (comes from the French word ‘ cramé’ which means ‘burnt’ because that is the effect the kitchen was  looking for when crafting the  squid ink flavored sliced bread).   The marinade is then used to make the sauce that will be thickened with butter and enhanced by the taste of cognac/thyme/bay leaf/espelette pepper/mushrooms/carrots/onions/smoked bacon. Very good 8/10

The lunch did end with one of their most popular  desserts:

Vrai faux citron de Menton délicatement cassant, sorbet citrus bergamote et kumquat du Japon (citrus bergamot / kumquat sorbet ), crème thym citron (thyme and lemon cream), meringue croustillante (crispy meringue).  A blown sugar “lemon” filled with a sorbet of citrus bergamot and   kumquat,  meringue, thyme and lemon cream.  The kumquat‘s natural bitterness was  toned down (the kumquat that was used is of the Meiwa varietal, a kumquat that is sweeter than most kumquats – L’Auberge du Vieux puits gets theirs from Mas Bachès) , which allowed for a fine balance of taste sensation. Only the leaf was real, all the rest was a reproduction of the shape of a lemon.  I am not a fan of the trompe-l’œil technique (the illusion of  a lemon , in this case) , but truth be told, it was really well done ( it looked like a real lemon), especially the “rind” of the “fruit”, which…I swear…I thought was the real thing. Above all, it tasted great. 8/10

At dinner, I had:

Razor clam / Mussel – A gentleman fisherman named Charly (from Vandre, near the Mediterranean sea which is not far) brings them his jewels of the sea. All utterly fresh. The beautiful thing about seafood..obviously…it that its freshness cannot be mimicked. It is utterly fresh or it will be a disaster. Nothing in between. You would tell me that Charly snatches his razor clams  from the floor of the sea and ships them right away to the restaurant, I would believe you –  It was that fresh!  Those who love the trompe-l’œil technique will be pleased by an edible  shell (for both the razor clam and the mussel) mimicking perfectly the real thing. Amusing to the eye, and pleasant on the palate.

The next food item was  one of their signature dishes:

-Oeuf poule Carrus « pourri » de truffe melanosporum (truffled egg) , sur une purée de champignons (on a mushroom purée), et briochine tiède (with a small lukewarm brioche) et cappuccino  à boire (and “cappuccino” to drink) – Getting the Oeuf poule Carrus « pourri » de truffe  is what people keep advocating. The egg is  from a farm called la ferme de Carrus (Mayronnes), its yolk is replaced by a coulis of black truffle (Chef Goujon got that idea after sampling a century egg), the egg served lukewarm, as it should be,  or else it will change to a solid state (obviously), it is covered by a black truffle sabayon,  served with a mushroom mash (butter was whisked into the mash at the end of the cooking process), and grated black truffle. The season for black winter tuber melanosporum truffles  goes from November to March, and this is the right time to enjoy them (eventhough, they are even better towards the end of December). You break the egg with a georgette. The main challenge comes from the truffles as they depend on the seasons, obviously, therefore the kitchen has to work harder in finding the right place for the right truffle.  On paper, eggs and truffle, that is a safe match, but, in reality, there was nothing “safe” about this food item as it takes  lots of thoughts  to create this dish. Be humourous  and crack a joke like “J’apprécie l’effort déployé par le Chef, mais je désire vous confier que d’ordinaire, je ne mange pas d’oeuf pourri” ;p   I am usually not a fan of altering the nature of an exceptionally good fresh egg, but what Chef Goujon  did was a demonstration of creativity that I do expect at this level of dining.  Excellent  9/10

With the oeuf poule carrus came a pleasant ‘cappuccino’ of truffle (indeed, you truely had the feeling of drinking a real cappuccino, only, here,  truffle was used instead of coffee) as well as an equally satisfying truffled brioche (7/10 for both).

Filet de rouget barbet (fillet of red mullet), pomme bonne bouche fourrée d’une brandade à la cébette en “bullinada” (potato  filled with a brandade of   the flesh of red mullet/spring onion as well the liver of the red mullet), écume de rouille au safran (foam of saffron rouille that the kitchen made by using  egg yolk/mustard/garlic/tomato confit/saffron/olive oil/vegetable stock ). Bullinada is a Catalan fish stew. They pour the stew  over the foam of saffron rouille, and both ‘fall’ over the fish and its accompaniments of mussels and thinly cut pieces of vegetables. The rouille’s depth of flavor and superb texture as perfected as it gets, the  level  of  the spice of the stew not  as vivid  as what you  came to expect from this sort of Southern French stew, but that is a positive thing in this particular case: the balance of the flavors was remarkably harmonious.  A creative contemporary take on a classic stew. 8/10

Lièvre à la royale is a classic of French cuisine that I have enjoyed for many years. Click here for a  recipe of the Lièvre à la Royale. There is more than one recipe of  Lièvre à la Royale, but I am not going to elaborate on them  as this is not the right post  for that. The hare (lièvre) is deboned, marinated,  stuffed with a mix of foie gras / the heart and lungs of the hare/ beacon/carrots/garlic/a bit of the blood of the hare/shallots and truffle, rolled into a ballotine, braised for hours, then served with a red-wine based sauce that is mixed with the blood of the hare and the cooking  jus (to which, a bit more of the foie gras, or some butter as well as cocoa can be combined to thicken the sauce).  This  dish  featured a  flawless full-bodied sauce with an equally technically well made ballotine.  8/10

Sorbet de clémentine en peau semi-confite, suprêmes en tartare, feuillantine de chocolat et crème pralinée pistache – A clementine sorbet made its way under a clementine peel that was candied to great effect: the peel timely simmered to an ideal tender consistency, you had a bit of the fresh  taste of the clementine in evidence, the level of sugar well judged. The segments of the clementine transformed into a “tartare”, the chocolate feuillantine made — as you would expect from a restaurant of this standing — of first rate chocolate. The praline cream expressing enticing almond and caramelized sugar flavors, and I will extend the compliment to the pistachio. The sorbet served at a temperature that does not  clash with the temperature of the candied peel, which most people  would  argue that it is a  ‘normal’ or ‘expected’ feature, but in reality, many pastry teams, even at this level of fine dining, would not get this right. The relevant classic French pastry techniques well mastered.    8/10

Pros: The world class frog leg/Cuckoo flower leaves coulis on the first meal.

Cons: The appetizers.

Bottom line  –   I started cooking seriously in my tender childhood (Pan-African cuisines), then in my 20s I developed a strong interest for Classic French cuisine. I started learning Classic French cuisine by following and perfecting the recipes of REAL culinary luminaries Roger Vergé, Jacques Maximin, Bernard Loiseau, Georges Blanc, Gerard Besson, Olivier Roellinger, Alain Senderens, Frédy Girardet , etc. I was lucky enough to have tasted the food of some of them. This had an impact on what I am looking for when I eat at a 3 star Michelin restaurant that is cooking French food. I am always curious about what the other Chefs did learn from those REAL culinary luminaries. I paid a visit to L’Auberge du Vieux Puits because their Chef, Gilles Goujon, did work with one of those TRUE culinary giants, Chef Roger Vergé. And,  I was not disappointed. I  squealed in  delight at every single spoonful of   the frog leg/Cuckoo flower leaves coulis . The Filet de rouget barbet, Vrai/Faux citron, and Oeuf poule Carrus « pourri » de truffe were very good. Nothing was intensely flavored, during the two meals. Flavors were generally harmonious.

Le Divil (Addr: 9 rue des Fabriques D en Nabot, 66000, Perpignan, France Phone: +33 4 68 34 57 73)

 

 

According to  the international experts of the steak, the best restaurant of France, for meat, in 2017 is le Divil –  Franck Ribière and  Vérane Frédiani, authors of Steak in France as well as internationally acclaimed  experts of the steak have awarded le Divil with the title of France’s best restaurant, for meats, in 2017. Franck has also a movie  about steaks called Steak Revolution in which he documents his trips  around the world in search of the finest steaks possible.

Aging beef : an art or a just a trend? –  Beef aging is nowadays a trend in the restaurant world, but as it is the case with everything that is lucrative, many are aging their meat but rare are those who are delivering an aged beef that lives up to the hype. That is because it is not …lucrative enough to go through what it takes to get the job done properly: months of trial and error, matching the right technique….to the right cut of meat… at the right storing temperature, etc. It is a complex combination of know-how (that few can have because the most are busy running without taking the time to learn walking…) and genuine passion (the attitude of a true artisan, but that is too old school/too time consuming by the standards of the most, nowadays).

Aging beef is  also another strategy of the restaurant industry to ‘milk the cow’. But when done properly, I will admit that it’s a luxury (because …. obviously … properly aged quality meat will not come cheap) that is worth the hype.  Earlier on, I argued that it is rare to find people, in the food industry, that have the right know-how of aging meat, and that could not have been more accurate: just look at how, most of them, do store their aged meats and the lack of proper know-how is an evidence for those in the know. Another proof of the total lack of proper know-how: have you noticed that most restaurateurs do recommended the same doneness no matter the cut, no matter the marbling…that’s absurd as anyone with proper understanding of the science of meats should know that the doneness needs to be adjusted to, as an example, how marbled or not the meat is. Absurd is actually an understatement: many do mix wet and dry aging to…inevitably…an ordinary effect. Why? Well, again….the basic principles of ‘ science ‘ is misunderstood by most of those people aging meat: when you put something wet on something dry… guess what…the dry effect is cancelled. Aging beef is sublime when it is an art. Sadly, it is oftently  no more than  just a trend in the hands of the most.

What  I ate at Le Divil – I ordered a bone-in ribeye of Baltic Beef (tasting a bit of  nuts, saline), dry aged for 100 days days, from Poland as well as a 70 days dry-aged Montbéliard (France) bone-in ribeye (to the smell, before they cooked it, it had the smell of  dry cured ham) . Both were examples of world class dry-aged pieces of quality red meat.  Just remember that they do not serve them to you as  whole steak the  way that a steakhouse would serve it to you in North America, but as meat that is sliced  in pieces (a bit like how they serve your red meat at a Japanese teppanyaki). With meat of this quality, always opt for the default suggested doneness of the house as they know what they are doing (indeed, the doneness ‘bleu’, which the Chef did strongly suggest, was the best doneness for both dry-aged meats as the texture of the meat as well as its flavour were at their best).

Bottom line: Oftently, in the industry, many mix dry and wet ageing, and you are punished with a meat with no real beefy character. Both the Montbelliard and Baltic beef were dry aged meats (as well as all their aged meats at Le Divil), and it was obvious that the meat was aged in perfect conditions (finding the right temperature, and not just using the defacto recommended ones is key to a beautifully dry aged piece of meat, which is what was achieved here). And I am traditionally fond of red meat grilled on open fire, which is the cooking method they use at Le Divil. But next time I will go there, I will insist to get my 20oz bone in rib eye steak…The Chef finds it (a whole piece of 20oz of bone-in ribeye) too much, for 1 pers, but in North America, we are used to it. When meat is superbly dry aged like these, a chunky 20oz bone-in rib eye is what I am looking for. I will go back. Steaks (9/10), Appetizers (N/A), Sides (7/10 ), Service (8/10 )