Joanne and I are out of town. We’ll be back soon with more great content!
Joanne and I are out of town. We’ll be back soon with more great content!
In 2017 the Catalonian Parliament declared its independence from Spain, granting the region considerable autonomy in political, economic, educational, environmental, and cultural affairs. They are now, with eight million people, perhaps the strongest economy among all the seventeen “autonomous communities” that make up the country of Spain.
Now here in the United States, the proliferation of nominally Spanish restaurants has diluted the idea of what constitutes a true Catalan dining experience. What we tend to have here are Spanish-American, Latin-Caribbean, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Cuban, and Dominican restaurants…all Spanish-influenced, but not actually Spanish or for that matter Catalonian.
Since Joanne and I are heading off on a Parasole culinary exploration to Barcelona next week, you can imagine our delight a few weeks ago, to discover a real “pure-play” Catalonian-leaning restaurant right here in the U.S.: DEL MAR, in Washington, DC.
Part of the pleasure of following French cuisine is that French chefs debate almost everything …whether ingredients, methods, technique, tricks, texture, flavor or mouth-feel.
BÉCHAMEL. This rich, creamy and smooth white sauce is made from butter, flour and milk. It’s often used in lasagna, gratin dauphinois and right here in Minneapolis in the Creamed Spinach at MANNY’S.
Espagnole on steroids creates a lusty, full-flavored, potent and heady daughter called DEMI-GLACE. She’s made by combining equal parts brown stock to Espagnole sauce and patiently simmering for hours, ‘til it becomes like jelly. Check out the image of the braised short ribs and mushrooms over mashed potatoes. It almost makes you wish for November.
Early this summer, Joanne and I will embark on a culinary hunt in the south of France and Barcelona as well.
But as much as we explore relevant culinary regions around the globe in pursuit of new ideas, plating innovations, recipes and products for our PARASOLE family of restaurants, we often find ourselves returning to Paris and London. Both cities are target-rich with restaurants, markets, chefs, innovation and culinary vitality.
In France…“If you go to the market on Saturday morning, it is because that is where the cheapest and freshest produce is to be found, not as some kind of validating leisure activity…If you go to the bakery every day, which you most certainly do, it’s because you wouldn’t want anything but the freshest bread with your evening meal.”
What do the two cities have in common? Fine and fancy chef-driven restaurants are hellishly expensive (Joanne and I don’t go there because they are not relevant to anything we do here at PARASOLE), but good restaurants in both cities are expensive as well – owing to rent factors, unfavorable exchange rates etc.
BRASSERIE ZEDEL in London.
Lunch can cost less than a sandwich at other places.
I think what the owners have done here is pure genius…
They’ve taken a third-tier location – actually, a fourth-tier basement space (CHEAP rent) – right in the heart of the city, dressed up to the nines, staffed it up with proven talent, and consequently are able to put out great food and great service at roughly half the price of similar restaurants in their segment.
Appetizers: Raw oysters…pristinely fresh, fat and briny at 2.75 each…Shrimp Cocktail with Remoulade Sauce (7.50)…Smoked Salmon with Brioche Toast and Chicken Liver Mousse and Pork Paté en Croute (both 7.25).
I’m generally suspicious of restaurants that boast a great view… be it on the top floor of a high-rise, revolving on a space needle or on the waterfront. With a spectacular view under their command, how hard will the operators try to produce really good food? And how much will their clientele even care about it?
But occasionally… (frequently?)…I’m wrong. Such was the case recently, with friends, family and colleagues on a Parasole culinary hunt in Washington D.C., where we dined at SALT LINE, a seafood restaurant poised along the banks of the Anacostia River near the Washington Nationals baseball park.
SALT LINE’s large outdoor dining area and bar serve up unobstructed vistas of the river. But, alas, it was pouring rain when we dined there, so we were relegated to a booth inside. That was just fine because we still had a view of the river…and we were dry. Plus, there is something about a lazy, rainy and cozy late Sunday afternoon…downing fresh oysters and other good stuff with a bottle or two of white Burgundy.
…with four warm, comforting, pillowy Parker House rolls (like we serve at PITTSBURGH BLUE) with ramekins of herb butter and black olive tapenade. Only they charge for ‘em… 4 bucks an order.
Those of us fortunate enough to have achieved some measure of success as restaurateurs are here to tell you: This is a great business. You get to eat out all the time, and you can travel the world for inspiration. And I love doing that, but one of my keenest pleasures comes from reading critical, and not-so-critical, reviews of restaurants from world culinary capitals.
Although I never followed Craig Claiborne, I think I started following Bryan Miller of the New York Times in the early nineties and have continued on with William Grimes, Frank Bruni, and Sam Sifton, right through to Pete Wells.
THE WOLSELEY, London: ”…a cross between the traditional robustness of the Parisian brasserie and the gloriously grand, but cozy, Viennese café.”
ELYSTAN STREET, Chelsea, London: ”Pure food joy.”
So here goes….
Gordon Ramsey’s AUBERGINE in Chelsea (where he and Joan Collins were thrown out): ”The Gruyere and goat cheese toasted sandwich boasted more grease than a lube job.”…“The frogs legs tasted like something sour and slimy that had been fished out of a heron’s throat.”
Unrepentant, he was reported for violations on two occasions to England’s Commission on Racial Equality.
Describing the Welsh, he wrote, “Loquacious, dissemblers, immoral liars, stunted, bigoted, dark, ugly pugnacious little trolls…WAIT A SEC!…I’M PART WELSH!”
Offering his view of The Isle of Man: “Citizens fall into two types – hopeless inbred mouth-breathers and retired small-arms dealers and accountants who deal in rainforest futures.”
Celebrity chef Jean-George Vongorichten opened a “Chinese-ish” spot a few years back on Church in New York, called simply 66. Joanne and I ate there and didn’t hate it, but didn’t like it enough to return.
Upon his arrival, “We were treated at the door like social scurvy with contagious halitosis…The greet and seat procedure is modeled on the aliens line at Immigration, just after the Friday-night flight from Khartoum has landed.”
And finally, “We spit in your soy sauce. And the dim sum is incubated in our chef’s jock strap.”
Gill did not confine his acrimony to restaurateurs and the Welsh…..and did not spare the singer, musician and songwriter….Morrisey. “Morrisey is plainly the most ornery, cantankerous, entitled, whining, self-martyred human being whoever took a breath. And those are just his good qualities.”
“The crowded tables are set with labially pink cloths, which give it a colonic appeal and the awkward sense that you might be the suppository”…and “In the middle there is a stubby little stove that looks vaguely proctotorial…”
Foie Gras: “…comes as a pair of intimidatingly gross flabs of chilly paté, with a slight coating of pustular yellow fat that tastes faintly of gut-scented butter or pressed liposuction.”
A.A. GILL, was, in my opinion…the BEST RESTAURANT CRITIC IN THE WORLD.
In his Sunday column, shortly before he died, he summed up his career as follows: “Somebody said, ‘Why don’t you watch television, eat good food and travel and then write about it?’ Gill responded, “As lives go, that’s pretty good.”
Several years ago, while opening the OCEANAIRE in Washington D.C., Joanne and I occasionally splurged and went to our favorite D.C. steakhouse, right downtown on K Street: THE PRIME RIB. It had a different feel than the other D.C. steakhouses like The Palm, Morton’s, Ruth’s Chris, The Capital Grille, and the now-defunct Sam & Harry’s.
On a steakhouse fact finding trip last week, we revisited The Prime Rib. I started to worry that it wouldn’t be quite the same. What if they’d changed the décor? Or replaced the musicians with a DJ? Or, God forbid, added Avocado Toast to the menu?
Well, we couldn’t have been more pleased. Other than the prices, nothing – and I mean, NOTHING – had changed. It still felt as we remembered it. In its heart and soul, The Prime Rib is still a steakhouse, and as swanky as ever. STEAKS are STEAKS here, and MARTINIS are MARTINIS.
Tom Seitsema, restaurant critic of the Washington Post, wrote, “No matter your age, you are likely to be the youngest diner in the place.” That’s not quite true, but guests certainly skew older. The advantage of that: You can actually carry on a conversation here. Not only that, we dined in a room adjacent to the one with the pianist, and we could still hear the music.
Okay, great retro vibe, fantastic service…but what about the food? ZAGAT rates it a whopping 4.6!!!!!
Our server told us that the menu is virtually unchanged since they opened, with the exception of a rotating list of nightly specials and market offerings. Which means they’ve had 50 years to get the prime rib right, to perfect the Oysters Rockefeller, and cook your steak precisely to order.
No surprises; nothing tricked up among the appetizers. My oyster-loving 13-year-old grandson started with a platter of eight big, briny, fat raw oysters – and when I say, big, I mean the largest Blue Points I’ve ever seen, so enormous he had to cut them in half to eat them. Not be outdone, our 11-year-old granddaughter wolfed down her own platter of 4 hot gigantic. cheesy and gooey Oysters Rockefeller. (My grandkids don’t look a lot like me, but boy can they eat like me.)
Like Esquire Magazine says, “At The Prime Rib, it’s always 1965.”
Although Barcelona is a travel hot-spot these days, it has always been one of Joanne’s and my very favorite destinations, and we’re planning to return once again this coming June. Of course, the climate is a huge draw, and the architecture, but it’s also the CATALAN CUISINE – especially the abundance and pristine quality of their seafood – that keeps us coming back.
Our favorite seafood restaurant by far is BOTAFUMERIO on Gran de Garcia, in the heart of the city. In fact, Botafumerio had a profound influence on me when I created the Oceanaire Seafood Room. And on this upcoming trip we are privileged to bring along our adventurous dining grandkids to indulge in Botafumerio’s razor clams and sea urchins.
So I got to thinking about the word “Botafumerio,” figuring it probably has something to do with smoke. But where does it come from? What does it mean?
My inquiry took me to Galacia in the northwest of Spain and to the SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA CATHEDRAL. It all begins with a spiritual journey called the “walk of Saint James” that the apostle is said to have taken. There are several paths from Europe to the cathedral and to the Shrine of Saint James. I think the most traveled route is from the region around Pamplona in eastern Spain (think the running of the bulls) and roughly 800 kilometers from Santiago.
We started with our first bottle of Rioja blanco along with Steamed Clams, then moved on to Razor Clams, and then to garlicky, buttery cockles. From there, we graduated to a platter of sea urchin and finished our appetizer indulgence with a gratin of spider crab (Who says that cheese and seafood don’t go together? That’s a bunch of hooey).
We are so fortunate here at PARASOLE……
Our culinary and wine teams travel the world to learn, evolve, and bring all manner of culinary delights back to our family of restaurants. Recent trips have carried them to Argentina, New Zealand, Italy and Chile – and now this May to Bordeaux and Marseille.