Sunday, April 22, 2012

Gignac Market (Gignac, France)

We are in the south of France...Languedoc.  It was Saturday and that means its market time in Gignac the town next to ours (which is only 10 minute drive away).  We always drive to the Gignac market because we have several favourite producers we like to buy products from. 

The first beautiful flowers of Spring.  

The organic vegetable producer. 

A cheese trailer. 

Beautiful veggies and fruits.

The meat trailer; every meat eater's dream.

Our favourite egg and chicken woman.  We always buy her fresh eggs; her eggs are always so fresh and big...and they are so cheap.  We also always buy her chicken for our roasted chicken dinner.  They are always fresh and delicious. 

Our favourite cheese woman.  We cannot believe this old woman makes the best cheeses around (also a cheese cake to die for).  She also has fresh milk, yoghurt and butter.  We buy it all.  

The bread stand.  

The roasted chicken trailer.  

The olives and tapenade trailer.  

There are hundreds of stalls and trailers selling the best agricultural products of the area.  We are really lucky to have one with such good quality near our home.  The day was sunny with blue skies, a bit chilly and so much yummy looking fresh products...a day with so many pleasures for the senses.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Kei (Paris, France)

There is buzz around Paris about a young Japanese chef who is making waves in the French gastronomic world.  All we have read about him and his cooking is that the young chef is absolutely making outstanding French food.

The name of the young Japanese chef is Kei Kobayashi and the name of the restaurant is...Kei. Chef Kei has perfected the discipline of the finest traditions of French gastronomy.  He has been in France for twelve years; first cooking with the famous chef Gilles Goujon's three star Michelin Auberge du Vieux Puits in the Languedoc.  And recently he was cooking with the world famous Alain Ducasse a the Plaza Athenee.

The ambiance of the restaurant is very chic & hi-end...yet; the Japanese staff were very nice and welcoming the moment we walked in the door.  The decor of the restaurant is chic minimalism with a touch of Dior...pearl white walls with no paintings, white table clothes with the finest cutlery & wine glasses and grey carpet to cut the monotonous of the white.  

There are only two menus offered for dinner; Menu 1 for 90 euros and Menu 2 for 110 euros...we of course took the 110 euros menu...we decided to splurge a little bit.

(Since; there were so many dishes and they were so intricate in design and ingredients...I will give my overall thoughts at the end...please enjoy).

The amuse bouche was Mille-fuille fois-gras.  

The first dish was Onion ice-cream with green asparagus powder.  

The second dish was Seasonal salad.  

The third dish was Morels in bouillon.  

The third dish was accompanied with Pata-negra ham on toasted bread

The fourth dish was Seabass.  

The fifth dish was Lobster.  

The sixth dish was Pigeon.  

The seventh dish was a selection of Cheese from a cheese trolley

The eight dish was Seasonal fruit sorbet with seasonal fruits.  

The ninth dish was Chocolate mousse with madeleines.  

The tenth dish was Chocolate mousse with chocolate ganache & chocolate roll.

Overall; WOW!  Stunning!  Amazing!  This was the one of the best meals we have had in a long time in Paris...we are even discussing between ourselves, "was this the best"?  Each dish was a work of art; for example...the garden Zen art salad.  The salad most beautiful dish we have seen in a very long time (my photo does not do this dish justice) was so absolutely stunning with vibrant colours and textures from the different seasonal leaves & vegetables.  Oh, and it tasted wonderful.

The ambiance is hi-so, a bit hush hush (people were talking very quietly) and one could even say up-tight.  But; I thought it was very relaxed just because of the very friendly Japanese service staff.  So attentive and helpful.

At 110 euros per menu; that was splurging, but it was so so worth it.  Warning!  The wine list is one of the best wine list in town; however, it only has the BEST labels of France.  That means there was only (if I remember correctly) two wines under 100 euros...OUCH!

Chef Kei's Japanese sensibility in minimalism and design with the combination of his true understanding & perfection of French cuisine.  Chef Kei has delivered an experience we will not forget for a long time.  

Address:  5 rue Coq Héron                
                75001 Paris


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Pinxo (Paris, France)

We had a big day planned of walking and shopping around the St. Germain area.  So we decided to have lunch around the area as well.  We heard that Allain Dutournier opened a second Pinxo bistro in the St. Germain are.  The first Pinxo is already popular and there was no reason why Pinxo St. Germain would not be as delicious.  Pinxo is the informal bistro associated with Allain Dutournier's much more famous and expensive Carré des Feuillants restaurant.  With this kind of pedigree; we wanted to try it out.

Pinxo means 'to pinch' in the chef's southwestern dialect.  We noticed that most of the dishes that was coming out of the kitchen were in a set of 'threes'.  For example; three bowls, three meats, three desserts. etc.  Then; we understood, the concept is about sharing (or pinching food from other's plate) your meal with other at your table...which is a very Asian thing to do...I like, I like!

The decor of Pinxo is minimal, wooden floors, white walls and some very strange paintings on the walls...but the focal point directs all customers to the very small open kitchen where the chefs make their specialties.  

I took the lunch menu for 29 euros.  My starter was Poached egg salad.  The mix of leaves were very fresh with different colours and textures.  The poached was cooked nicely and was a good combination with the salad.  Nothing extra ordinary with this dish but satisfying. 

My friend did not have a starter...his main dish was Steak tartare (24 euros).  The tartare was fresh, tender, chunky and loads of flavour. The fois gras on top added more flavour and the smooth & velvety texture added a nice contrast to the chunky meat and the crispness of the toast.  I really liked the idea of splitting the dish into three pieces so that I can 'pinch' off some food from my friend's dish.

My main dish was Lamb stew with seasonal vegetables.  The black iron kettle of stew was of a good portion, the vibrant colours of the vegetables shinned through.  The lamb was so tender & soft.  The rich & intense flavour of the sauce was lovely.  A tasty & hearty dish that can win anyone's taste palette.  

My dessert was Cafe Gourmand.  The end of meal came a lovely set of a coffee, chocolate cake and a small but tall glass of fresh seasonal strawberries with whipped cream.  I just love strawberries!

My friend's dessert was Fresh strawberries (8 euros).  My friend could not resist the strawberries so he ordered one for himself...thank goodness the dessert came in 'threes' again so that I can 'pinch' one of the glasses from him.  Yuuummyyyy!

Overall; the food was simple but hearty and delicious.  No fuss, no hassles...just fresh & good ingredients and turned them into delicious dishes.  The price was just right for the quantity & quality.  The male wait person was really friendly and attentive.  He was in just a good mood.  The ambiance was easy going and relaxed.  After a meal like this; it gave us the energy to keep going with our day in Paris.    

Address:  82 rue Mazarine 
                95006 Paris


Friday, April 13, 2012

Akrame (Paris, France)

We read about a one star Micheline star restaurant; how good the food was and that the chef is one of the up and coming chefs in Paris.  The restaurant is called Akrame...the name of the chef.  Chef Akrame Benallal - having trained with Pierre Gagnaire and Ferran Adria understands how to surprise yet not go too far with his cooking.  Chef Akrame also knows how to give you something familiar yet for some reason you have not had it cooked that way before...this is the reason why he one of the chefs to watch right now.   

The restaurant is simple chic...lots of grey; from charcoal grey to light grey and all in between.  The lighting has just the right glow that gives the room warmth yet allows you to read the menu (a very good thing).   The restaurant is not very big with about ten tables (I can't remember) and an open kitchen to showcase all the chefs at work.

There are only two choices for dinner; either a Menu coup de cour: 4 plats for 60 euros or 4 plats and wines to accompany each dish for 90 euros.  The second choice is Menu gourmand: 6 plats for 80 euros or 6 plats and wines to accompany each dish for 120 euros.  We chose the Menu gourmand with the wines to accompany our meal.  

The amuse bouche was Beetroot on cracker and smoked fish on seaweed.  Intense flavours & rich colours to wet our appetites.

The first dish was Sous vide egg in mayonnaise.  Ok; the word mayonnaise makes me sick and want to throw up (I really really hate the stuff)...but thank goodness; it was actually not mayonnaise but a smooth & velvety sauce that added so much flavour to the perfectly sous vide cooked soft egg.  

The second dish was Asparagus with pistachio and asparagus water jelly.  The greens with the contrast of the black dish was stunning...very Japanese.  The freshness of the seasonal asparagus with the tastes of pea puree and the texture of the pistachios were a perfect combination...on top of all that the asparagus water jelly exploded intense asparagus flavour in the mouth.

The third dish was Crab stuffed cannelloni.  The cannelloni was firm yet soft and the crab was so fresh and abundant.  The crab had amazing taste.  The dish overall was very light; which was a nice way to get ready for the next dish.  

The fourth dish was Half lobster.  The lobster was of good size, it was so fresh, it was a deep crimson colour, it had a firm texture yet it was tender & juicy.  With an amazing sea product like this; there was no need for a sauce to drown the lobster in.  The lobster was definately the only star of this delicious dish.  

The fifth dish was Cod fish with garlic soil.  The fish was fresh, firm & tender.  It was cooked perfectly.  The dish had lovely contrast of white fish, the black garlic soil with purple flowers on top.  Such a beautiful dish with lovely flavours and textures.   

The sixth dish was Roasted pigeon.  The pigeon was so so tender & juicy and cooked only till its crimsom red inside...perfect.  The flavour of seasonal fresh raspberry sauce added a light sweetness to the gamey taste of the pigeon and acidity of the olive oil.  

The seventh dish was Cheese on single filo sheet.  What a very interesting way to serve the cheese a form of another well constructed dish.  The cheese was surrounded with fresh seasonal leaves on top of a single filo sheet.  Cheese was soft & rich, the leaves were fresh & had acidity due to the vinegrette dressing and the filo sheet added crispness to the dish.  A lovely way to end our savoury dinner and introduce us to the sweet journey of the meal.   

The eight dish (pre-dessert) was Seasonal fruit sorbet, vanilla foam & salty caramel hat.  A taste of the season, light in taste & sweetness and refreshing.  I nice way to break from the savoury and get our taste buds ready for the main dessert to come.  

The last dish (dessert) was Fraise du boise with meringue roof.  The strawberries were small but boy did they have a kick when it comes to so good.  I have never been a fan of meringue but it did add some sweetness to the dish; but otherwise it was a waste of space.  

To end the meal with the coffee; they presented a home-made salty & sweet dark chocolate bar.  How amazing is that?  You were even allowed to take it home if you ate too much...which we did.

Overall;  the food was wonderful.  Chef Akrame's cooking is spontaneous, light & playful.  The colours, textures & flavours were so well combined and presented.  The cooking was perfect.  The ambiance was easy-going & relaxed.  The service was good but the wine service could have been better.

The sommelier was very nice but he was monopolised by a certain VIP guest who kept ordering wines and kept the sommelier for 20 questions and answers.  So; the communication between the kitchen and the sommelier was off.  Our food would be delivered but our glasses were always empty.  We had to ask for the wines every single time.  We were not alone; the table next to us also had the same problem.

The wine issue in no way ruin our lovely evening because the food truly shinned in every way.  If Akrame keeps cooking like this; then for sure this place will be one of the most difficult tables to secure in Paris (its pretty difficult now)...I guess we will have to reserve a table now for our return trip to Paris.    

Address:  19 rue Lauriston
                75016 Paris


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Saturne (Paris, France)

We read about a new restaurant with a Swedish chef making fantastic French food. We needed to have a very nice place to have; Saturne was going to be our destination for lunch. Saturne is located in the 2nd arrondissement near the Bourse of Paris.

Chef Sven Chartier; the 24-year old chef who has cooked with the very famous chef Passard, left Racines with the sommelier Ewen Lemoigne to open Saturne.  Chef Sven Chartier's cooking has started people to gossip how good his food is in Paris. He has taken his Nordic sensibilities with the fine art of cooking French food and the outcome has been a tremedous success for him. Saturne is dedicated to elevating wild & rigorously sourced artisanal ingredients.  The food is rustic yet very modern, calculated to show off the prodcue rather than the dish as a whole. 

We took the lunch menu at 37 euros per person. We also took two glasses of white wine for 10 euros each.

The decor of Saturne is nothing we have seen in Paris. When we entered the main dining room; we were pleasantly surprised to see an atrium styled restaurant. Though it was grey & overcast outside; there was natural light streaming in from the glass ceiling. The space of the restaurant is large so that the spacing of the tables gave the dinners enough privacy for their discussions.

The decor is modern Nordic loft furniture which had strong straight lines...lots of dark & blonde wood (the floor). The ambiance was soft & glowing with the candles burning (a nice touch in the middle of the day).

A cute idea...fresh bread served in a bag of grass. You can tell that the concept of the restaurant is about fresh & seasonal foods.

My starter was White asparagus d'Argenteuil, poached egg, cereals and alliaire. The white asparagus was fresh, soft & much natural flavour. The d'argenteuil, poached egg, cereals and alliaire when mixed together was a hit of flavours and added so much flavour when eaten with the asparagus. This was not only beautifully presented; it was a taste of fresh and inspriration

My friend's starter was Tartare of milk fed veal & oyster. The tartare of veal was so fresh and rich in veal flavour. The oyster added another unique dimension in taste to the tartare. The crunchy bread crumbs added texture to the soft & tender tartare. A stunning dish!

One of the enormous wine cabinets show casing the many 'natural wines' that Saturne specialises in.

My main dish was Milk fed veal, topinambour, grand roux. The presentation was like Spring on on a dish...beautiful. The veal was so tender & moist. The topinambour and grand roux added great colour and flavour to the dish.

My friend's main dish was Young hen 21 semaines, carrots, endives. This dish was also beautifully presentation. The poularde was amazingly moist and tender. The carrots and endives were so fresh and were a great combination of sweetness from the carrots and the bitterness from the endives.

The open kitchen where all the action was happening...but you would not even know that there were people cooking; it was so silent and calm.  

My dessert was Oseille, apples, goat cheese.  The dessert was very looked like a spring herb garden on top of snow.  The flavours were so fresh, unique and blended so well.  

My friend's dessert was Argousier, carrots, honey.  Another gorgeous looking dessert.  This time...bright summer colours of orange, yellow, mustard and honey all on one dish.  The ingredients were a lovely combination and flavours burst of sweetness.  

We ended our meal with Coffee (5 euros each...ouch).

Overall; for the first time; we had the most obnoxious & arrogant service in France (maybe the world). It ruined our lunch (the food was outstanding). We have never had an experience like this in Paris. We were so shocked at first that we were stunned and could not find words to describe what was happening. Once it set in...boy were we #%*+^!-off!!!

In short; we wanted a glass of wine to go with the lunch...we asked the evil witch of the west what they had opened.  She said; "I can't tell you that".  "You tell me what you are in the mood for; dry, full-bodied, etc. and I will decide for you".  Ummmmm; what?  We never heard such non-sense.  We again asked; just tell us what you have open and we can decide what we feel like having (we do know our wines)...but she still refused.  So we said; "whatever you think goes with the food we are having".

She served the wines and it was ok; but we detected that the wine had not been open that day because it lost some of its freshness.  We wanted to see the bottle so we can see what wine we were drinking and inspect if indeed it was just opened.  The evil witch said that "yes it was just opened and no you cannot see the bottle".  Ummmm; what?  We never accused her of lying to us; but after her actions; we for sure knew there was something wrong in Saturne land.  That's it!  Its war time!

The situation was getting worse and worse.  We needed a new strategy.  We noticed a male wait person who was seemed much more friendly at the other tables and he seemed to have more knowledge about wines (we were ease-dropping).  When he walked by; we stopped him and struck a conversation about wines in general and asked what were the wine available that day (it turned out that he was the sommelier)...he was very nice to explain the wines and he even showed us the bottle we were drinking.  How difficult was that for that evil witch?

Anyways; we concluded that the wine we were drinking was not opened that day.  That our female wait person was the most evil witch we have encountered in a long time and she totally ruined the experience of eating at such a fine establishment.  That the male wait person/ sommelier really saved the day (oh; sorry, that was the short version of my story).

Saturne indeed is a lovely place in terms of ambiance, decor and especially the food (really outstanding and beautiful).  If we return to Saturne and we see that evil witch; I will immediately ask that she does not serve us. 

Address: 17 rue Dame des Victoires
75002 Paris