Monthly Archives: July 2010

le petit bedon in avignon

avignon is one of these odd places where it’s surprisingly difficult to find a good place to eat on the weekends without winding up in either a tourist trap or a fancy joint requiring jacket and tie.  a lot of restaurants are closed on not only sunday night but also saturday night, and the few that are open book up quickly. i suppose that when one has access to such beautiful produce at local markets, the cooking at home is rather alluring.

le petit bedon was not my first choice (my first choice was closed on a saturday night!), but it turned out to be a charming sort of place.  the restaurant seats under 20 people, light, airy and romantic on the inside.  it’s a place where guests walked in wearing both cocktail dresses and t-shirt/shorts combo. 3 menus were offered at dinner: a 3 course for €25, a fancier 3 course for €38 and a la carte. we went for the €25 option. the maître d‘ on duty the night we went was part british and spoke exquisite english.

the food is fresh, somewhat conventional and heavily spiced with provencal flavors: cumin, thyme, fennel, olive oil, tomatoes abundant. the dessert felt like a bit of an afterthought.  a slice of cake or panna cotta (not pictured) that was placed on a plate and then arranged with some sauces to dress it up.  it’s not quite a meal that i’d rave about or warn against; it’s somewhere in between.  a solid effort and a place to go again, if i found myself in search of a non-touristy restaurant open on a weekend night.

Le Petit Bedon
70 rue Joseph Vernet
Avignon – 84000

chez l’ami jean: food glorious food

i’ve been attempting on my last 3 trips to paris to land a reservation at chez l’ami jean, and finally managed to snag a spot. yipee!  the meal did have a rather shaky start.  my husband and i arrived about 10 minutes late for our 7.30p reservation (i had a slight malfunction with a certain pair of ballet flats  — don’t get me started on that topic). when we arrived, we were asked to wait outside until our table was ready  (either we were late and they gave away our table, or they messed up the booking).  we ended up waiting an entire hour for our table to be ready and it was about 90 degrees outside.  however, they tried their best to keep us comfortable, bringing out cool glasses of wine, bottles of iced water and 3 boards of the most delicious basque charcuterie (the spicy chorizo pictured below) — all on the house.  i think we were pretty full by the time we got seated.

the interior of the restaurant is dimly lit, boisterous and tightly packed.  i felt like i was inside a scruffy tavern, rather than a prototypical parisienne bistro (or whatever that means in my head).  there are quite a few personal drawing and photos that the chef and proprietor (stephane jego) hung on the wall — one of which is a photo of him with new york’s daniel boulud.

there are 3 general menu options:  ordering a la carte, 3 course for €35, and carte blanche at €60.  the staff speaks easy to understand english and helped us decipher the menu.  we went for the 3 course and it turned out to be very generously portioned.  i think the waiters were a bit concerned that we didn’t enjoy our meal because we could only get through about half or less of each dish.  (or maybe we shouldn’t have eaten so much ham while waiting!)

hubby’s appetizer.  it’s #3 on the blackboard menu above in the starter section. i remember it being herbs mixed in with salmon with some ricotta, all artfully piled on his plate.  check out the bacon strips.  i don’t know how they do it but it’s wafer thin, not a bit greasy and exquisitely crisp.

here’s my appetizer, #2 on the blackboard menu.  an impossibly rich egg mousse (really really good but so rich that i only managed a few spoonfuls ) accompanied by sauteed girolle mushrooms and baked bread sticks (got a bit cut-off but they’re on the far right side).  this dish was amazing.  in fact, the table that sat down next to us, took a look at my dish and asked to order it.

wanting to keep it light, we both ordered the fish (#1 in the entree section) as our main course. little did we know of course that chef jego would be serving us the entire fish!  it was succulent — roasted whole with sauteed fennel and greens on the side.

pictures can be deceiving.  this is a huuuge bowl of what they call grandmother’s rice pudding served as a portion for one.  it could easily serve 6 to 8 people.  the pudding is divine — creamy, not too sweet, imminently comforting.  you can eat it by itself but it comes served with the perfect homemade caramel sauce — almost like a dulce de leche and freshly toasted granola on the side.  i must get my hands on this recipe! (anyone have it?)

here’s what hubby got for dessert.  i think its the last item in the dessert section.  i was so enamored of the rice pudding and heck, hubby as well, that neither of us have a good recollection of what this dessert ended up being.

i plan on going back to chez l’ami jean the next time i’m in paris.  although in the future i’ll know to starve myself the entire day, run a marathon beforehand, and arm myself with a more extensive vocabulary of superlatives!

Chez L’Ami Jean
27 rue Malar, 7e
Tues-Sat: 12p-2p; 7p-12a

hugo & victor in paris

hugo and victor opened up a few months back in late march and i’ve finally had a chance to pop over an check it out.  it’s a slick and luxurious place, where pastries, exquisitely decorated, are placed behind what looks like hermetically sealed glass cases.  it’s a jewel of a store, elevating pastry to high art.  that said, it’s also a place that is as quiet as a museum, lacks lines and a sense of accessibility.  if it weren’t for the quality of its product, i’d worry more about its long-term viability. i’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the pastry obsessed crowd at pierre herme wanders over to  h&v.

i did ask if i could take pictures of the pastries inside the store, however, the staff denied my request.  fortunately, my friend S managed to snap quite a few on a separate trip and is letting me post them. there are more divine shots at the store’s website. i’d add that the store has a few core flavors (chocolate, caramel and vanilla) that are always available and a few seasonal flavors that change.  when we were there, the seasonal flavors were cherry, raspberry, strawberry, blueberry and currants.

hubby and i left the store with a bag filled with macarons, fruit jellies and financiers.  after eating the financiers on the plane ride home, we kinda wish we had bought like a dozen of those things.  definitely the finest financiers that i have ever tasted.  the texture is at once dense but also moist. i’m guessing that there’s a higher egg to flour mixture than in the typical financier recipe. they came in a 4 flavors: chocolate, orange, plain and cherry.

Hugo & Victor
40 Boulevard Raspail
Paris (Saint Germain area, near Le Bon Marche)
Mon-Sat: 9a-8:15p
Sun: 9a-1:30p

oatmeal scones with dried cherries, currants and chocolate chips

my 10lb costco stash of oatmeal called out to me this weekend.  it told me it wanted to be made into scones, and dorie greenspan had just the recipe that i could adapt for the occasion.

i should have been able to tell from the super sticky dough that the scones would come out uber moist.  4 days since the scones emerged from the oven, they’re still moist.  when i need a snack, i grab one out of the bag and pop it into my mouth. they’re like dense little nuggets of joy.

plus, the oatmeal with the addition of dried cherries, makes you feel as if they’re actually nutritious and good for you!

Oatmeal Scones
(makes 12 or so 2 inch scones, or 20-30 1 inch scones)

Butter 1 stick, cubed and very chilled
Egg 1 large one
Whole milk ½ cup
Chocolate chips ½ cup
Dried cherries, currants 1 cup
Dry Ingredients:
AP Flour 1 2/3 cups
Oatmeal (old fashioned oats) 1 1/3 cups
Sugar 1/3 cup
Baking powder 1 tbsp
Baking soda ½ tsp
Salt ½ tsp
  1. Whisk together dry ingredients in the bowl of your standmixer.
  2. Drop cubed butter into mixing bowl with the dried ingredients.  Using the paddle attachment, beat on medium low speed until the butter resembles pea-sized pieces.  Should take about 3 minutes.
  3. Whisk together egg and milk.  Slowly pour it in and mix on low speed.  The dough will be very wet and sticky.
  4. Add in chocolate chips, cherries and currants.  Mix until evenly distributed.
  5. Take the dough out and drop onto a very well floured surface (the dough is really wet).  Form into a disc. Flour the top of the disc and roll until 1-1.5 inches thick.
  6. Cut into round shapes using a biscuit cutter or round cookie cutter.
  7. Place the cut-out scones on a parchment lined cookie sheet, and set in the freezer.  You can keep the scones frozen (and well wrapped for a few months, or bake after scones have rested for 1 hour).   If baking right away, it’s a good idea to pre-heat the oven to 400ºF while the scones are chilling out.
  8. When ready to bake, remove the scones from the freezer and brush with egg wash.
  9. Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until golden brown.

ph’s ispahan sorbet

it’s once again sweltering in NYC, and i got to thinking about pierre herme’s ispahan sorbet that hubby and i shared (well mostly me) in paris. the ispahan sorbet is a combination of litchee, rose and rasberry.  you can’t really taste the rose, it’s more of a perfumed essence imparted to the litchee.

mmmm kinda wish i had a tub of that in my freezer right now!

nb.  his ice creams are not available at all locations and are not always available year round.  i tried to buy one in november but they told me there was none in stock. i got mine this time around at the saint germain location.

brined and roasted duck breast

i’m taking a little break from re-living the greatest highlights of my trip, and chatting instead about this duck breast i cooked last week.  i usually buy my duck breast from fresh direct.  it comes vacuum sealed and frozen.  a package runs about $15-$20, and you get a massive duck breast (larger than anything i’ve ever carved from a whole duck). the picture above shows half of the duck breast.

way back i took a class at fci about preparing easy meals.  about the only thing i remember is that cooking lamb fat causes fireworks and that duck breast tastes really really good when brined. in fact, just about everything tastes good brined.  all the flavors of the brine seep into the muscle of the protein…flavor flavor everywhere, all for you and me!

Brined & Roasted Duck Breast

Duck Breast 1 whole duck breast (2 to 2.5 lbs)
Water 6 cups
Star Anise 2 whole pods
Juniper Berries 1 tbsp
Mustard Seeds 1 tbsp
Pepper 2 tbsp
Cinnamon 1 stick
Salt 6 tbsp
Onion 1-2 medium sized ones
Tomatoes a few
  1. Prepare the Brine: (at least 24 hours before)  Bring water to a boil.  Turn off heat and stir in salt, star anise, juniper berries, mustard seeds, pepper and cinnamon.  Stir until salt dissolves.  Let cool to room temperature.   When cooled, pour the brining solution into a ziploc bag set inside a bowl.  Then place the rinsed duck breast into the brining solution.  Seal the bag.  Place into the refrigerator for at least 24 hours.
  2. Prepare the Roasting Dish: Pre-heat oven to 400ºF.  In a small pan or roasting dish, place a few onions and tomatoes that are chopped into half or left whole.  Drizzle with olive oil and salt. Make sure to leave sufficient room for the duck.  Place into oven for 20 minutes.
  3. Cooking the duck breast:  Remove the brined duck breast from the solution.  With a fork, puncture the skin of the duck a few times.  Heat a large skillet (i use a deep stock pot because the sides prevent the duck grease from splattering my kitchen) and drop the breast skin side down first.  Sear for 5-6 minutes on both sides.   A lot of duck fat will be rendered.
  4. Roasting the Duck: Carefully arrange the duck on the hot roasting dish (from step 2).  Roast for 12 to 15 minutes until the duck is medium rare. Yet more duck fat will be rendered.
  5. Finishing: Let the duck rest for 10 minutes before carving into thin slices.

visit to l’isle sur la sorgue – part II

hubby and i had our misgivings when we walked into le jardin du quai.  it was rather large and absolutely empty.  we could only hear the staff somewhere in the back of the house clanging pots, dishes and silverware.  we walked around the garden a bit, and i suppose that the sound of our feet crunching against the gravel had alerted the staff of our presence.  we were soon seated in the garden and the waitress explained to us that they only had one 3 course menu for lunch — meaning that we would have to eat whatever we were served with no alternatives or substitutions.  that day’s menu included grilled salmon over a couscous salad as a starter, followed by roasted lamb and a strawberry shortcake of sorts.  we said yes and the food started to arrive.

the main entree consisted of roasted lamb chops, tomatoes on the vine and zucchini all kept whole.  the simplicity of the dish impressed me.  hubby, who rather hates lamb, actually thought that the lamb was the best lamb he’s had — it didn’t have that “lamby” taste that he detests.  he also gobbled up the tomatoes — provencal tomatoes are delicious. sweet and savoury, they proved to be tastier than the tomatoes we later ate in florence.

i think the strawberry shortcake parfait they served us ranks among my favorite desserts i ate on the trip.  it consists of a layer of sponge cake on the bottom of the glass container, layered with the most delicious french yogurt and slightly sweetened strawberries.  i could probably eat 10 pots of the stuff!

by the time we left the restaurant, it had filled up nicely and was really rather packed!  i guess we’re early birds when it comes to lunching in provence.

with some time on our hands, we took a short drive to chateauneuf-du-pape after lunch . . . but more on that later.

le jardin du quai

91 avenue Julien Guigue
84800 L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
Vaucluse – France

3 course lunch – set menu – whatever the chef picks – no choices
40 Euros

visit to l’isle sur la sorgue – part I

hubby and i were lucky enough to find ourselves in provence on a sunday with nothing better to do than taking a mini-roadtrip to l’isle sur la sorgue.  and on sundays, this tiny island community becomes transformed into a lively town market, selling everything from brocante to provençal linens to roast chicken to the most bountiful summer harvest. we meandered through the market for a good 2 hours or so.

i took photos nearly every 50 feet or so.  here are some of my favorites:

i was rather tempted to purchase a whole basket full of market delights for lunch, but i had made reservations at daniel hebet’s le jardin du quai for lunch . . . it was definitely worth the wait but more on that tomorrow!

ps. everything the guidebooks say about getting to l’isle sur la sorgue early is true.  while parking in town is free, it gets incredibly crowded past 12 noon.  we arrived at 10 am and it was packed but not unbearable.  by noon, it had become physically tedious to move through the crowds.

florence is a tripe town

i’ve been gallivanting through europe for the past 2 weeks, and now i’m back with so much to share!

hubby and i found ourselves in florence somewhere in the middle of our trip, where we discovered that the ancient medici seat is very much a tripe town.  we came across tripe everywhere . . .

piled high in heaping quantities at san lorenzo mercato . . .

. . . served as a juicy dripping sandwich from a shop at the market

. . . appearing as the featured snack at a street cart right outside of cibreo

. . . and in a casserole dish at the venerable trattoria sostanza (where a young burberry clad tot seemed to be rather disgusted by hubby’s entree selection)

tripe, as prepared in florence, is fork tender and oozing with the flavors of roasted tomatoes,  freshly ground pesto and just grated parmigiano.  it won me over with one bite.

San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale
Via dell’Ariento, 87-r
Florence, Italy
55 214070‎
Mon-Sat: 7am-2pm

Trattoria Sostanza
Via Porcellana 25r
Florence, Italy
Mon-Fri: Noon – 2:15pm; 7:30pm- 9:45pm