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I am happy to see that cheese lovers don't settle for a "favorite" cheese (why do your questions always have to be so restrictive?) but rather write long lists of wonderful cheeses from many parts of the world.
I, for one, can't wait until Mr. Cosentino will publish his offal cookbook. It seems as if San Francisco diners are ready for the delectable tastes afforded to diners by offal recipes. I organized an "all offal" dinner in Philadelphia with David Ansill (of Pif and Restaurant Ansill) and it sold out fast. Chef was not entirely happy, though, claiming that all the publicity about the offal dinner (there were five or six articles in the local press) made many diners weary of going to Pif because they were afraid that the dishes served for that night would be on the menu. So it goes!
Spaghettata - a simple pasta (I mostly make aglio e olio con peperoncino). It is great when friends stay late (I usually make it around midnight) and a good reason to drink at least one more bottle of wine.
I hope this goes under your "interesting" food (not "scary") but I swear by menudo (Mexican tripe soup) - it worked wonders after many tequila and mezcal-fuelled nights in Guadalajara. Because menudo is not always available, substitute any deep-scented, rich broth-based soup: Vietnamese Pho, Korean Samgyetang (chicken, ginseng) or Yuke-Jaong (beef), ThaiTom Yum Goong etc. I think, basically any spicyj, fragrant soup will do. Yeah, hydrating while drinking is an excellent idea (but who remembers?) – In the absence of menudo, reach for the bottle of advil.
With so many great restaurants to choose from in Paris, I always look for places with excellent price/quality relation. Here a few of my favorites
Le Violon d'Ingres
135 rue Saint-Dominique (7th) 01 45 55 15 05
Le Pré Verre
8 rue Thénard (5th) 01 43 54 59 47
I also love food from Languedoc and always enjoy
22 rue du Grenier-Saint-Lazare (3rd) 01 42 72 31 22
I wrote this before - for the best chocolate cherry bread, try Metropolitan Bakery's (of Philadelphia) version!
As for excellent chocolatiers: Ellen Byrne and Chris Carlson from Portsmouth, NH craft exquisite chocolate treasures from the best available materials.
Homemade Three Cheese and Bean dip, artichoke dip, three pepper humus, olives, lots of cured meats from La Quercia (with lots of American micro beers).
Pining for the 9ers to return, like the last writer.
Prime Time Tables is one more way for the would be important (and wealthy) to cheat the reservation system of restaurants and deny ordinary diners ("serious eaters") seats that they might have otherwise obtained. If restaurateurs don't catch on (or tacitly go along with this), more power to the niche capitalist who can make this into an earning opportunity.
A quick reply to Sandro's question: I liked Bruni's review of Gordon Ramsey's NY restaurant. Ramsey has played the role of the hard-ass avatar of cutting-edge cuisine for such a long time that the seemingly lame and play-it-safe incarnation of his NY restaurant automatically disappoints, even if most of the dishes are well-made and good. Bruni made an especially good point about the relentless piling-on of luxury ingredients (caviar, truffles, foie gras) so prevalent in restaurants now - an easy way to make money and evade the necessity to be creative.
One more thing about Bruni: he is really hitting his stride as a reviewer who has the interest of the regular eater in mind. His review from last Wednesday, "Dear Graydon . . . " was a wonderfully deflating stab at the so-called "opinion leaders" and assorted gasbags and bubbleheads whose obnoxious behavior is exemplified in the vapid haughtiness of Mr. Graydon.
This is one of those silly faux choices like hard cheeses or soft cheeses. There are wonderful dumplings best savored steamed, others, often accompanied by intense sauces, are delicious pan fried. Mix and match, try out a great variety, whatever type you feel like eating is the best way to savor dumplings (I like the term "yummplings"!).
I certainly recognize myself in the descriptions you gave of the various instances when people are hell-bent on ruining an excellent dish or ingredient with some extraneous addition that they just have to add to a perfect product (be it my father-in-law calling for hot sauce to douse the most exquisite dishes or a friend who need to have all meats "well-done" (I am talking shoe leather done!).
There are reasons why a traditional approach to food is best (why put cheese in seafood pasta?) and I cannot help myself preaching to the unconverted when they egregiously destroy what is best about a particular dish (de gustibus EST disputandum!). Another pet peeve is persons who never try something different - yes, I get preachy in that instance too and many of the most intense marital arguments that I endured where triggered by my missionary zeal to preach the gospel of trying new foods.
In Buenos Aires, where I first got a taste of Mate (in homes and restaurants) the Mate divide was between sweetened or unsweetened (I oscillate between the two). I bought great Mate in Paraguay, Uruguay and in Argentina but do not know which of the brands sold in this country is the best. I looked at Pixie Mate and while I intensely dislike the New Age-style descriptions, I might try it when I am next at a Whole Foods.
A few years ago, I complained in a New York Times forum that I was rushed at Restaurant Daniel's and did not enjoy my meal because of the hurried spacing of my meal. Some time later, I received a letter, signed by Daniel Boulud, that offered an apology and an invitation to return to the restaurant for a free meal. Pretty classy all around. I did go back to the restaurant but not as "the guest of the house." The absolutely fabulous meal was more than worth it.
As for Le Cirque, while we did not register on Mr. Maccioni's "important person" scale, we encountered a most accommodating and professional staff whose service was impeccable.
I usually try to stay away from restaurants that are well known to fawn over "personalities" and treat "regular people" like a nuisance, they are simply not worth it. In my experience, there are many great restaurants that treat all customers excellently. It is a good development that bloggers are now keeping score of both types of restaurants. Hopefully readers will eat out accordingly.
I have to agree with vidadulce - menudo is my favorite cure for a hangover. Absent of menudo, I love to go early to a Vietnamese restaurant for a steaming bowl of Pho - with tripe and tendon.
1. Restaurant Didier de Courten, Sierre, Switzerland. De Courten's inventive yet thoroughly grounded cuisine based on the best ingredients is a symphony of aromas and tastes.
2. Osteria Veglio, Annunziata (La Morra), Italy. Superb renditions of traditional Langhe dishes served in a splendid setting. The panna cotta has no equal (thanks Garrett Oliver for taking me there several times!).
3. Restaurant Seinpost, Scheveningen, The Netherlands. Gert-Jan Cieremans magisterially prepares the bounty of the North Sea - and all meats and vegetables equally well. The view over the famous beach is wonderful.
A new glory time for swine is dawning in the US! Let me add one producer whose products will take you straight into hog heaven - La Cuercia artisan cured meats from Herb and Cathy Eckhouse in Norwalk, Iowa. I like all their products but am definitely addicted to their Pancetta Americana (green label) made from organic Berkshire cross pork. Rich and melting like the best Italian lardo (take that, you sadist customs agents who took away my cinta sinese lardo), its creamy aftertaste, redolent of spices, will stay with you forever. Other standout products are Heirloom Breed Culaccia and diverse prosciutti (http://www.laquercia.us/iowa.php?id=6). I first tasted the Eckhouse products at a Slow Food event in Iowa and was delighted to see DiBruno Brothers of Philadelphia selling these quality products in my neighborhood.
Since you seem to know the Philadelphia chocolate scene well, I was surprised you did not mention Metropolitan Bakery’s Chocolate Cherry bread (baked Saturdays and Sundays). Nothing against Zingerman’s but Metropolitan’s version simply is the best. I also would like to mention chocolatiers Ellyn Byrne and Chris Carlson from Portsmouth, NH. Their amazing chocolates, hand-made from the best ingredients, are true chocolate delights (Byrne & Carlson). Another fabulous chocolate maker is Richard Donnelly in Santa Cruz – you spend a small fortune but it is well worth it.
I am a big fan of tasting menus – the diner can try many different dishes and experience the true breadth of the chef’s skills. It is also a good choice for omnivores who cannot easily make up their mind when confronted with menu choices. Most restaurants pace the menu very well and serve portions that make it easy for patrons to enjoy and savor the multitude of plates.
One thing I really don’t like is a restaurant’s insistence that the entire table (often five or six persons) order the tasting menu. I have eaten at fabulous restaurants where this restriction was not in effect and there was no problem with “pacing” dishes, even if someone at the table did not want the tasting menu.
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