Sunday, February 12, 2017

In Paris, Astier and Les Enfants Rouges Serve Great €45 Dinners

A couple of months ago, Jackie and I spent a few days in Paris as a side-trip from London. Apart from one disappointingly flat (though not actually bad) dinner, we ate very well. There were two fancy meals, both of them terrific: a return visit to Shang Palace, the elegant Chinese restaurant in the Shangri-La Paris hotel; and an exciting evening at Alléno Paris, housed in the landmark Pavillon Ledoyen off the Champs Elysées.
 
At either of those places, you would spend a great deal of money – and you wouldn’t regret it. But we also had fine dinners at two highly appealing restaurants where the food bill per person came to €45 ($48 as of February 2017).
 
The first was new to us; we were taken there by friends who had been there a few times since it opened under its current chef-proprietor in 2013: Les Enfants Rouges on a quiet street in the Marais. In a typical restaurant in Japan, the impossibly perky staff sings out “Irrashaimase (Welcome)!” as each customer walks in the door, never losing a scintilla of that happy sparkle as the evening wears on. It is surprising to hear the French equivalent – a melodious “Bonsoir!” – in Paris, a city where perkiness is rare, indeed frowned upon. That’s the greeting, however, that brings a smile to your face as you enter Les Enfants Rouges (the restaurant is named for the red-uniformed children housed centuries ago in a long-gone orphanage near by). The French-trained chef, Dai Shinozuka, is himself Japanese, as are most of the women and men in the dining room; hence the exuberant welcome. Few menu items read as though they were overtly influenced by Asian flavors or techniques; it’s more subtle than that. For instance, cabbage stuffed with duck and foie gras sounds like it’s going to be a weighty affair, yet the savory filling is light and the cabbage roll is poached-steamed in a vegetable-rich broth rather than a dense gravy. Even Mr. Shinozuka’s take on wild hare (lièvre à la royale the night we were there) is streamlined: A classic version is thick with wine, hare blood and more foie gras; his has all the right flavors, but in cleaner form. The small restaurant is open on Sundays: a real plus (its days off are Tuesday and Wednesday).
 
Another €45 prix-fixe is offered at an old favorite of ours: Astier, which has been around since 1956. We started going there 15 or 20 years ago with our friend Richard, who moved to Paris when he retired and until his death lived a few minutes’ walk from the restaurant. Since we first knew Astier, it has changed hands and (somewhat) décor. The cooking is more interesting and varied than it used to be, but the basic formula remains: the cost of dinner includes access to the generous cheese tray – famous in its way – which after your main course is plopped down on the table with a few knives and a big smile (you’d be silly to skip the cheese, but €10 would be knocked off your bill if you did). The night we were there, dishes that stood out included a foam-topped soft-boiled egg on a bed of Jerusalem artichoke with wild mushrooms – the runny yolk creates its own sauce in this well-balanced starter; and another version of lièvre à la royale, which I couldn’t resist ordering, since it’s not something we in New York see every day (or every decade). This one was more classic, with denser game flavor and a more substantial, aromatic and savory sauce. Truth to tell, I preferred it to the lightened variant I’d eaten the night before: it was more what the winter weather called for. After we relinquished the celebrated cheese tray, the four of us shared a big Grand Marnier soufflé, which our host had had the foresight to order in advance (the soufflé triggers a supplement to the prix-fixe menu, as do a handful of other dishes). The wine list is notable, especially for a restaurant at this friendly price level. 
 
Les Enfants Rouges. 9, rue de Beauce, Paris 75003; +33 (0)1 48 87 80 61; https://www.les-enfants-rouges.fr/. Prix-fixe dinner €45; lunch €30 and €35; open Thursday to Monday for lunch and dinner.
 
Astier. 44, rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, Paris 75011; +33 (0)1 43 57 16 35; http://www.restaurant-astier.com/en/. Prix-fixe dinner €45 (€35 without a cheese course); open every day for lunch and dinner.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Beans With 'Nduja: Flavors of Calabria, via England's New Forest

Today's Cooking Off the Cuff over at Huffington Post is about a pot of beans spiced up with chili-rich 'nduja sausage. They were inspired by a tweet from Luke Holder, the chef at the Lime Wood hotel/spa in England's New Forest.