Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Unique Take.


I have eaten my share of French food in my day. As my friends will tell it I’ve eaten a lot of peoples share of French food most days. This I take great exception to…I don’t eat French food every day. But that is neither here nor there…What did happen the other day was I was on the receiving end of a truly exceptional and unique French meal at a small restaurant in Nice. Prepared by a chef who clearly has a unique passion and flair for his craft and an appreciation for the culture and history from which it came. True this is not something that is unheard of in France but chef Keisuke Matsushima, if you have just figured it out is not from France. He is Japanese.

Matsushima did not arrive in France and set up shop. He has had some excellent training. He spent time with the Pourcel Brothers at Le Jardin des Sens in Montpellier. He also worked with Regis Marcon in St-Bonnet-le-Froid. So the guy knows what he's doing. Not sure what if any his training was in Japan consisted of but what ever it was it he seemed to take to it and it worked.

He has taken French
cuisine and mixed it with Japanese philosophy. Dishes are small and delicately favored not with Asian flavor but built with and the touch. Every step is done deftly and well as to not overpower the diner.

Matsushima has a Michelin star. It is actually his second. He also earned one with his first restaurant: which he closed to open this larger venue, as well. I suspect they we shall be hearing seeing and hopefully tasting a great deal more from Monsieur Matsushima.

For a little more information on the place have a look at the Staff Blog.

Keisuke Matsushima

22 ter rue de France
06000 Nice,France
(Please note the the place is easy to miss. There is no sign. But there is a menu.)


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Old Reliable


I have been coming to this little place for years. It is either my first stop on arrival or the location of my farewell meal before departure. So that much mean that I like it. I've also taken numerous friends there. In fact I was fist taken there by my father. It was one of his places from before I was born. Choy's has with out a doubt stood the test of time.

It was the first place I had deep fried sea weed. The first place I tried prawn (shrimp) toast. It is still a regular order. Haven't found anywhere else that does the quite this delicately. Another personal favorite is the Crispy Chillie Beef. While it has a nice little kick to it it is by no means too strong. I think I'll stop recommending here. In all these years I must have had more ore less the whole menu it has all been good.

Over the last few years London has undergone some real changes. Some big such as the booming expansion of Docklands or the development for the 2012 Olympics. These aren't necessarily bad. it is exciting to see an old historic city getting a new vital lease on life. But it is some of the smaller changes that are the ones that sting. Small store giving way to the same chains you see everywhere else. The loss of the Routmaster also comes to mind these were the open back double decker buses that for decade were one of the images of London. These were the buses the landed you half a block from Choy's If you were willing to leap for it you would find yourself right in front of the place.

But with so much going on it's nice to have a place in a forine city that you can enjoy. A place where friends and family have enjoyed dining. A safe reliable haven in a fast paced place and time.

Choy's 172 Kings Road, London, SW3 4UP

Telephone: 0871 3328720

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Pie and Mash!


If one were to build a time machine and travel back fifty years or so and walk into F. Cooke you’d find that you had wasted you time. Not in visiting Cooke’s but in building the machine. While I can’t be one hundred percent certain I’m sure the one thing that has changed at this venerable off the beaten path establishment are the people working behind the counter. But like I said I can’t be entirely certain.

Upon entering the place one is drawn in with the simplicity of the place. A single room with a counter to the right. With sixteen or so tables filling the room on one's left. Then what strikes one is the seeming luxury on the place the tables and walls are all made of elegant gray marble. Not too shabby for a place where you order at the counter and bus your own table. But this is the way Cooke's has always been. The same can be said for the menu.

There are two choices here. Three if one counts the eel's (I am not one of these people). The choices are take it or leave it. It you 'take it' you get pie and mash. This is all they do. A tasty meat pie in a suet pastry with steaming mashed potatoes. This is all covered with a tasty green (yes green) parsley sauce. The recipe of which is reputed to be a well kept family secret. This traditional pie and mash was a hearty meal great for those damp chilly English winter's. A little heavy though for a hot July afternoon. But as I had already started what better way to end things...than with a another pie. This one a summer berry version with two generous scoops of vanilla ice cream.

F. Cooke is a throw back and a welcome one at that. London is a exciting and growing city and much of the 'happenings' have overtaken the East End an area rich in history and a culture unique unto itself. The land of the Cockney. No too far back places like this where simply part of the landscape. F.Cooke literately gives one a taste for this disappearing side of London. Upon leaving one can't help but wonder what once was and be thankful for what still is.

F. Cooke:
150 Hoxton St. N1 6SH (7729 7718)- Old Street or Liverpool Street tube.

(Additional location 9 Broadway Market E8 4PH (7254 6458))

Monday, June 18, 2007

The long good-bye.

Montreal-Ben's (rip)

It came as no surprise but I was still saddened to hear that Ben's had closed. This was one of the places to go for Montreal smoked meat. Even despite the fact that perhaps you favored Shwartzes or Dunn's there was no denying that Ben's was a Montreal landmark. this was the real deal. Melmac plates Formica counters and a ' wall of fame' that had pictures of people that even your parents could not recognize. The waiters like everything in the place remained constant and a throw back to an earlier time.

There was no one great moment when things started to slide. Just a slow erosion of a once great place.

The photocopies replaces drink list and menus. The portions seemed to be getting smaller and smaller. The waiters were no longer the old regulars. The souvenir postcard disappeared. And perhaps more importantly so did Irving Kravitz. He was a last surviving son of the original owners. An elderly man he used to sit by the door and greet people as they came into and out of his establishment. His had been a continuous presence. It was after his passing the the slide started to happen.

My last visit wasn't sad but simple acceptance of the inevitable. The portions had seemed to have gotten even smaller. The black and white photos on the Montreal Canadians were at least twenty years old and were part of the charm just seemed sad. It was summer and the doors were open because the air conditioning which had broken down the summer before had still not been fixed. Nor did it seem that the owners were even planing on it. Instead they had placed several large industrial sized fans around the dinning room. The staff whose uniformed had always been back pants and a white shirt were sporting orange tee-shirts as part of a labor protest. (They wanted 40 cents and hour more.)

Whatever the reason it was clear that the owners had lost interest in the place. Even despite publicly proclaiming that they had turned down a huge amount of money from a developer. Perhaps the labor dispute had given then the chance that they were looking for to shut the place down. The building where Ben's was situated is the sole inhabitant of a prominent downtown lot.

This was a place full of memories. Countless evenings had ended there with a post bar nosh. It had been a place where one was able to catch up with friends from out of town. One inevitably took them there. You had gone there with your parents. One can only imagine how many business deal had been struck over a plate of smoked meat. A place where preety much most of the city seemed to have been to.

Now building that once meat so, a must go to place, much sits alone and abandoned on it's lot. A developers sign is nearby proclaiming the impending development of the space. Ben's was ninety-eight years old. Even if it had it's moment it deserved a better ending than a long slow fade out.

Friday, May 25, 2007

A classic.

Boston-Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe

The short order cook is an art form. It is a cross between traffic cop and ballet dancer. A smooth working cook is a joy to watch. It leaves the wondering why they can’t work as well at home. Unfortunately these cook have been regulated to the back, toiling away behind the scenes. Normally, in a restaurant, one does not want to sit near the kitchen, this not the case at Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe in Boston (429 Columbus Ave. 617.536.7669). Upon seeing the cook working the line behind the counter I grabbed a stool right in front of the action.

Walking in to Charlie’s one knows immediately that they have found them selves in a unique place. The tables are shared seating. The patrons are a mix of regulars and tourists. It is easy to tell the tourists they are the ones not talking. That soon changes and soon the tourists are talking (sports for the most part). But the first thing that hits the eye is the long counter that runs the length of the place. This brings me back to the cook. He is out there in the open all the cooking is done right behind the counter. Far from being stressed by the mounting orders the cook to talks easily with the regulars at the counter as he works the stove.

One of their signature dishes is turkey hash. It is rich and satisfying with a golden crust that one can’t help but luxuriate in. Two eggs come with it and these too are cooked perfectly; over easy sometimes are left little runny but not here. All this completed by a cook working so smoothly, and effortlessly, that you feel that your breakfast is almost an after thought.

Charlie’s has been around for years, since 1927 according to their sign out front. And they have been doing so well that, a few years ago, the place was awarded a James Beard award.

Personally I think we need more places like Charlie's.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Anne-Sophie Pic

Valence, France

She has been described as charming, soft-spoken petite and diminutive. While she is all of those things she is also on hell of a chef. Finally this year the good folks at Michelin long recognized this fact and awarded her a third star. As far as I’m concerned it was long over due. But never mind Anne-Sophie Pic has now joined the ranks of the world’s top chefs. An honor that her Father and Grandfather once held.

My time at La Maison Pic was nothing short of marvelous; a truly wonderful meal. It was one of those occasions where nothing seemed to be missing the service excellent: efficient and friendly. It walked the line between formal and friendly smoothly and evenly. The staff mad sure that you were there to enjoy the meal not be intimidated by it.

As for the food…no complaints. A wide sampling was enjoyed at the table and each dish somehow seemed better than the last. The beauty of her food was the simplicity. Pic does not go out of her way to complicate things. Her goal almost minimalist. With the general rule being no more than three ingredients per dish. Nor are things buried under heavy sauces. She does on occasion break her rules but the results speak for themselves.

When Pic's restaurant was, under the rule of her grand Father once considered to be one the top restaurants in France. After the passing of her Father it lost some of it’s luster. There is do doubt that under her reign La Maison Pic will once again be at the forefront for many years to come.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

When good is no more.


I have a little Indian place that I have been going to for the last few years. It has always been good. Even made it part of a Saturday tradition. Much to my disappointment the place has seemingly found a hill and decided to head towards the base.

This is not a sudden turn of events. there was never one defining moment when things turned the proverbial corner. Just a series of little things. As we all know these little things can make a big difference.

Onion bajis had a distinct taste of Freezer burn.

The korma sauce seemed a little to close to vanilla pudding, or at the very least custard. Really not the best thing to go with shrimp.

Nan bread arrives cold. Is one of the best things about Indian restaurants the straight from the oven bread?

An eggplant dish had a base that seemed suspiciously like jarred tomato sauce.

I could go on but one gets the picture. It has gotten to the point where the very notion of eating there turns one off. It is hard to go to a place knowing that one dish (minimum) will be bad.

I certainly understand that the restaurant business is very difficult. There is a constant need to check and keep cost down. But there is cost control and then there is vanilla pudding.