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.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

'Back to' London

New York

I did it again. Forgot to write things down. This is what happens when I enjoy myself too much. Not bad considering, I was not in a place that I expected to be. A last minute opening gave me the chance. I took it and found myself his sitting in Gordon Ramsay’s New York outpost Gordon Ramsay at the London.

This place is well worth a visit. Yes it is expensive but well worth the price. Certainly a good choice for a special occasion. And when you think about the fact that you save on airfare; you can 'justify' it even more.

The fact is Ramsay, who actually is very soft spoken, essentially up rooted his London flagship operation and brought the staff over with him. I am certain that I recognized a couple of faces from my visit. Some how despite an ever expanding empire (Never mind all the time taken up by his numerous TV ventures.) Ramsay has somehow been able to maintain the quality across the board. His food is excellent and the service exceptional.

I was impressed the first time that I indulged at his restaurant. I have never heard a bad word spoken about any of his other establishments. One can say what they like about the man's TV persona. true or false, love it or hate it. The man can quietly back things up

Monday, April 9, 2007


Somewhere in the UK on a train.

A question was recently posted about food snobbery. It seemed fairly straight forward at the time. Haveing more time than I'd like sitting on a train gave me time to think further on the question.

I have friends who make a show about their eating. From them its about the scene. If a place is trendy then that suddenly turn out to have been regulars. I've experienced them not wanting to go somewhere to 'knowing everyone' based on the television exposure of the chef. They are sure to inform us all about 'their ' places.

For me it comes down to taste, as in ones own personal. If you like the one likes the expensive imported cut of beef, or that expensive bottle of wine, because it's what you happen to like. Then great enjoy it. If instead you prefer the egg salad sandwich from the nearby diner enjoy that as well.

Grass fed beef is considered to have more flavor that grain feed. If someone coses not to eat grass fed does that make them a snob. Personally I don't think so. If you go for the grass feed because only based on it's perceived reputation. Then yes perhaps one might have snobbish tendencies. It all comes down to personal preferences especially if you are paying the bill.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Good intentions.


I was out to dinner with a friend the other night. This being an old friend whom I had not seen in a while we decided to push the boat out a little. Actually we wound up pushing the boat out quite far. The meal and everything about it was great. This being London it was expensive. It came to about two hundred and fifty dollars each service included. No complaints about the price. However what did bother me was the added ‘donation’ tacked on to the bill. It was one pound roughly the equivalent of two bucks. Granted not much after an extravagant meal. Yet it bothers me that they simply would add their good intentions to my bill. If the charity is so important why not take it out of the profit they made of ours, and everyone else’s meal?

Perhaps I’m simply being petty. But it does bother me.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

What's old is new again.

London (near Smithfield market)

This is one of the reasons that British food has taken such a beating over the year. Personally I never liked the stuff. Other counties have similar items as part of their national repertoire, Yet it is the British to which the stigma of such food has stuck. Perhaps it is because thees other places have had a stronger culinary background. Perhaps too a better way of marketing things foie-gras in France is liver paste in the UK.

But with the emergence of British cooking these items are all coming back into vogue.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Pub Grub

Chalfont St Giles (just outside of London)

When the English put their minds to something they tend to do it well. Think of cars, motorbikes, and tradition these sorts of things. The one constant exception was food. If anything it was an ongoing joke. English culinary prowess was right up their with French military might. There's a history in both Case but not a glorious on.

Today the fact is that the English culinary scene is booming and happnin'. To me this is in no small part due to pub food.

Starting late seventies early eighties London pubs decided that having a decent meal for businessman at lunch time was perhaps a good idea. So they did and it was.

So it was on a cold rainy after noon that I found myself sitting next to the fire place at The Ivy House and award winning pub in the midst of the English country side. The was the kind of setting that postcards are made of. The menu showed why it was award winning there was a vast and interesting selection from ostrich to Thai noodles to sea bass.

I opted form something else. something a little more sustainable and comforting for the rainy afternoon country ham and eggs. Granted not the most exciting, but with out a doubt a very satisfying meal.

And I never had the chance to mention the view.

The view.

Friday, March 23, 2007

It's expnsive but worth it.


Despite what we think of this guy this place and his cooking lives up to the hype. One of the best meals I have had bar none.

Need I say more? Except that perhaps I was enjoying myself so much I forgot to write down what it was I had...guess I'll have to take out a second mortgage and go back (it's worth the price).

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Well worth it.


I’ve talked about crowds. Specifically what is an appropriate time and effort needed to wait for a meal? Truth is I don’t really know. The only way to figure it out is when one leaves feeling satisfied or stressed from the meal.

One of my all time favorite places for a burger is J.G. Mellon (1229 Third ave.) This place never disappoints at least as far as the burgers go. Never had a bad one.

But some times there is a wait and the bar where I eat can be cramped and a little low and the chairs a little high. This makes the seating a little awkward. And it can be noisy.

But I have never left feeling anything less that satisfied.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Pride or Brunch?


I can accept the inevitable wait for a spot at brunch. But at what point does it go beyond reasonable. Does it at some point become a matter of Pride and principle that one continues to wait it out?

These are the questions that I was pondering yesterday morning at Sarabeth’s (1295 Madison). I’ve been there before braving the crowd and the wait-times for a crack at the Almond Crusted French Toast. People have raved to me about it. The truth is I’ve had it once did mind it but haven’t ordered it again.

I thought of this as I waited in the cramped narrow area. People piling in from the street but no one was leaving the dinning area. The fact that it happens al the time is a testament to the place they must be doing something right. Even Oprah knows about it. It was getting to the point where I was feeling less and less like eating. Heading for the door and clearing up some space seemed like a better and better idea. But I had come ‘this ‘ far I wasn’t turning back.

As luck would have it we had passed the brunch time. Breakfast items were still being serve but at a quarter to one I no longer felt like French toast or something along those lines. So I opted for a club Sandwich. Every thing was great instead of the customary bacon ham was used. The turkey was moist. The lettuce and tomato were both fresh. The bread used was a hearty whole grain. All of these elements in turn cumulated it a thick satisfying lunchtime meal.

At least it should have been but after the waiting experience I felt drained.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

St. Patrick’s Day Dinner


So yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day; always a treat in NYC. This is even more so at night when one has to pass the seemingly endless amount of Irish Pubs that are packed to over flowing. The smoking ban has only added to the congestion with smokers huddling in green pack on the icy sidewalks. So I decided to go out to dinner.

Not a big fan of cabbage, or boiled meat (I know there’s more to Irish food that that.) I opted for French. I had wanted to try a little place on 82nd St. (166 E) Le Refuge. An apt name considering what was going on out side. It was crowed with what seem to be local regulars.

It is a cute place nestled about halfway up the block on a quiet residential street. It has three French themed rooms each leading into the other. With everything being presided over by a very diligent and friendly staff.

I started with the shrimp bisque, one of the specials of the night, which while shrimpy and creamy was, not overly exciting. This was followed by a salmon merlot. The chef recommended it medium and it arrived well. Despite being slightly greasy was edible.

The only real disappoint came with the arrival of the hazelnut cake. This was described in terms of having a mouse. It didn’t it was a butter cream and the cake slightly stale. Yet this did not take away from the fact the Le Refuge provide a nice time on an otherwise crazy evening.