A Ham of a Night


Luc: We went to Againn (pronounced A-GWEN) in Washington, D.C. The ham is amazing. It has a great flavor. A bit salty with a nice smokiness, but very light. All their ham is smoked and cured in the restaurant itself. It was so good, I ate mine and my friend’s. I recommend the ham we had: Allan Benton’s 14-month country ham with sheep’s milk ricotta, frantoia olive oil. Also comes with great chewy-and-crispy toast. I just ate it plain (with my fingers).

Christine: We salivated as the waiter pain-stakingly described the daily roast — pork loin with the belly, rolled and seasoned with rosemary and cooked for hours to achieve a moist meat on the inside and crispy cracklin on the outside. It was easy among a table of six to order the minimum two portions. Along with dumplings, a delicate gnocci with luscious cheese and bacon (I’m sensing an obsession here on both sides of the kitchen). Of all the generally delicious items (highlights were the mushy peas that came with the fish and chips; butterball potatoes that came with the pork roast and with the hearty grandmother’s chicken), the most delectable, plate-licking is the heirloom apple sauce. We didn’t hesitate for a second when we raved and they offered to bring us some more. Everyone put it on everything. We also devoured the Banoffee Pie with the same gusto. Bananas, caramelized milk, graham biscuit, cream, ganache. Beyond delicious.

Againn, pronounced ‘aguinn’ {ah-gwen}, loosely translates in gaelic as: “at us, “with us” or “are you going?” A “contemporary British Isles pub,” the restaurant “proudly serves sustainable seafood, organic meats, and produce from select local farms.”

Againn
http://www.againndc.com
1099 New York Ave NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 639-9830

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Chef of the Century — Part Two

The Chef of the Century – Part Two

L’atelier means workshop and each morsel at M. Robuchon’s is a masterful creation. We couldn’t resist immortalizing each in pictures, Luc and I taking turns from different angles. Luc started with Iberico ham, thinly sliced from the leg we could see from across the counter. For me, one of the day’s specials: carpaccio of cabillaud (cod) with lime, chili flakes and chopped ciboulette (tender and sweet young chives without the bitterness of the American garden variety). Mathilde had two of her favorites: a mozzarella, tomato and eggplant Napoleon and brandade de cabillaud, cod mashed with potatoes accompanied with tomato toast.

Collectively, we thought the best of all were the extraordinary clams. Both in presentation and flavor, they were amazing. We ordered two. Clams on a bed of sea salt and pink peppercornsCollateral damage
Executive Chef Philippe Braun makes the rounds, or the squares, greeting customers over the straight-lined counters. Seeing Luc there savoring these dishes, taking pictures, he pauses and inquires as to how we are enjoying the food. We fawn, of course. Mention of the blog truly delights Chef Braun and prompts him to extend an invitation for Luc to visit the kitchen at the end of the meal.

In the meantime, we inquire about the kitchen minion who has been whisking non-stop for much of our meal. He’s making puree. “Of what,” I asked naively, as any native would know that ‘puree’ on its own can only mean potatoes. Almost instantaneously, three red enameled Le Creusets vessels materialize. One adorable petit pot of puree for each of us (I bought a set later) eliciting moans of the When Harry Met Sally variety. Luc devouring puree

Chef Braun also treated us to treats – a tasting plate of desserts – and, for Luc, a crisp cellophane bag of house-made caramels. As we were about to leave, Chef Braun made good on his offer to give Luc a tour of the kitchen. With my SLR around his neck to record his peek behind the culinary curtain, our little foodie climbs Mount Olympus.Luc and Chef Braun

Jamon

Luc’s Look at L’Atelier

Luc on L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon: As soon as I got into the kitchen, I felt the heat, but with all the distractions it could have just as well have been winter. The smell was as if you were in kitchen heaven. There was a gigantic square grill with about seven chefs preparing one dish each. The ham was cut so precise it was as if they used a machine, but it was done by hand.

The chefs were very nice and were great at showing me what they were doing to prepare a dish. It was cabillaud, one of my favorite fish. Fresh from the grill, they showed me what seasoning they add, how cut it and how to arrange it on the plate.

Everything in the restaurant was truly a masterpiece. It is an amazing experience for a foodie.

5 Rue de Montalembert (corner of Rue du Bac)
Paris 7th arrondissement
Telephone: + (33) 1.42.22.56.56
http://www.joel-robuchon.com

Chef of the Century — Part One

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon

Wandering the Paris quartier of St. Germain, we find ourselves on a street we’ve frequented many times, Rue de Montelambert, and walking past one of our favorite restaurants in Paris: L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. Deigned the Chef of the Century, M. Robuchon is without exaggeration a gastronomic divinity, Zeus of the culinary Mount Olympus.

L’Atelier is a lacquered jewel box. Its trays are counters as there are no tables, giving everyone a view of the glossy-tiled open kitchen. It doesn’t take reservations other than for one hour at the beginning of each service. Then, you’re on your own to wait for what could be hours. And, people do. I don’t blame them.

Interior

Interior

We pause to pay homage, relish the memories of past repasts and the fabulous food we’ve had there. (Funnily enough, L’Atelier is next the Hotel Port Royal, as I was to read the next day, natch, where Paul and Julia Child stayed when they first arrived in France.). We remind Luc that he’s been there before, but wouldn’t really expect him to remember as he was asleep in his push chair (British for stroller as we were living in London at the time). Luc looks at us and his eyes tell us he wants in – so we book a reservation for early lunch the next day.

5 Rue de Montalembert (corner of Rue du Bac)
Paris 7th arrondissement
Telephone: + (33) 1.42.22.56.56
http://www.joel-robuchon.com

Plateau Reaches New Heights

Torteau
One of the specialties of coastal regions in France, such as Normandy, are shellfish platters called plateaux de fruit de mer. Oysters, stone crabs, escargot and assorted coquillages whose names don’t have any translation. Luc was eager to try. The look on his face when he did is priceless.
Escargohhhh!!!!Luc on the taste of snails: Interesting texture, very chewy. Too chewy to finish.
Tastes like sea. Surprisingly it didn’t have any sand

Our hosts in Normandy, created a plateau that surpassed any we had ever had at a restaurant. Monsieur cracked crabs and shucked oysters. Over the course of the week, Madame was a wonderful, inspirational cook.
She grilled lamb chops over an open fire, she whipped up a pork roast for lunch.

Grilling lamb chops

Grilling lamb chops


Her fruit platter could be featured on the cover of a magazine. Most amazingly of all, she made it look so effortless. Plateau de Fruits No less so than when she arranged her plateau. A sprinkling of berlingeaux here. The placement of torteau crab legs and bodies there, there and there. And then topping off with les huitres – the best oysters I have ever had.DSC_0153

When it came time to leave, Madame asked me what I would most want to take home from France. Without hesitation, and with all sincerity, I said: “You.”

L’agneau Présalé

This is not some Saks-style advance access to retail markdowns on mutton, but one of the most delicious things we ate in Normandy. Présalé literally translates as ‘pre salted.’ And if sheep are grazing on salt-infused grass along the sea shore, that’s what you get. Almost as delightful as that notion, is how you buy the lamb.

On Sundays, stalls crop on sidewalks and in parking lots to sell roasts and chops. Our hosts pre-ordered the présalé, which we picked up from a road-side stand.

So much to take in, starting with the line. Not only the number of people on it, but that they were carrying roasting pans and gravy boats to take the lamb from trattoir (sidewalk) to table (table, but pronounced differently). The gravy boats were for the drippings. Oh…the drippings! Ladled into jars for those like us who weren’t gravy-boat equipped. Among the smells and sights to take in are the massive cleaver and wooden sledge hammer, a dynamic duo to chop the chops.


When we arrived, in the backyard, behind a picture perfect, ivy-covered stone house with white picket fence, was a pretty-in-pink, hydrangea-laden table. In the kitchen a deep-bottomed iron pot with bubbling oil for frying pommes soufflés, puffy clouds of crispy potatoes. We’d only just arrived and, well, we had arrived – in a little corner of foodie heaven where everything, the table, the flower arrangements, the potatoes, the fruit platter, all look so effortlessly created. I just marveled at it all. I think Julia would have, too.

Julie, Julia and Christine

Julia didn’t just transfix Julie; she held sway over my recent vacation in France as well. We left for Paris and Normandy after having just seen Julie and Julia. Reading My Life in France in France, it felt as if a spectral guide was along on the journey. Lunch one day followed by a long walk on the Rue L’Université; only to read the very next that Julia and Paul Child lived at number 81. Wandering through Montmartre, we searched for Rue Lepic, but missed it among the curvy and hilly streets leading to Sacre Coeur; only to be asked that night by Oncle Marc: “Did you walk the Rue Lepic” (but he said it in French). Since we had missed the Lapin Agile as well, he took us for a Sunday morning drive to see them both. According to Marc, Sunday morning is the best time to drive around Paris. He was right. The streets are quiet as shops are closed. Only the florists and boulangeries are open to pick up gifts on the way to visit family and friends. Quaint (or antiquated, depending on your point of view) as it may seem, it was truly delightful to enjoy a day of true leisure, brunching at the homes of family and walking in the Parc Monceau.

Back to the ghost of Julia. Sitting on a beach in Normandie, I read of her discovery of sole Normande. I smile at the continuing string of intersections. When on vacation, we love to go somewhere ultra FAB on the last night, to liven spirits that would otherwise be dampened by the reality of our holiday coming to an end. We choose Les Ombres, under the Eiffel Tower. Luc and I went out on the roof to take photos. When the sun set, we watched the sparkling lights put on their hourly show. I thought it only fitting to have my first sole meuniere.

Guy’s Peach Tart

Dining on a rooftop with 360-degree views of Manhattan, enjoying deliciously marinated steaks, melt-in-your-mouth potatoes mixed with the crunch of wax beans prepared by our dearest friends should have been more than enough for a delightful dinner to close the weekend.  Until “Guy” brings out this tart, this marvel, this perfection in a pie tin.

Luc declares it’s one of  the best things he’s ever had and inspires a new category for us:  Food At It’s Best.  Only a day into our buddy blogging and without a beat between his mmm mmm mmm’s he asks “Guy” if we can include the recipe on our blog.  “This is crazy good.’  And that becomes the litmus test for Food At Its Best.  A ‘crazy good’ meal, dish or recipe.  This deservedly becomes the first.

1 1/2 cups cinnamon graham crackers
6 tablespoons butter or I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Cooking and Baking Sticks (product plug: ‘bake it to believe it” as our tagline goes)
1/4 cup sugar

Crumb the graham crackers then mix in the rest of the ingredients
Press into a pie tin with removable bottom (8″-9″ square or round) 
Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes
Layer on luscious, ripe summer peaches (or berries or nectarines or…)
Note: Arrange in a pattern to make it look as great as it tastes
Glaze with melted peach jam
Serves 6-8
Since it’s so easy, make two (we discovered it also tastes great for breakfast the next morning!)