With the busy fall season fast approaching, my upcoming heavy travel schedule and my wish to just spend some personal time … I’m going to temporarily publish WTF with Phil Roberts every other week instead of every week.
The good news is that I’ll be gathering a treasure trove of new and exiting material.
It was July. And it was hotter than hell. We were in France last
month when the temperature reached 114 degrees, a record high for the country.
Blistering hot in France
Luckily, we happened to be in Nice at the time, where a prevailing
soft breeze from the Mediterranean made the temperature endurable. Still, the
air was hot, heavy and humid. And in weather like that, just about the only
lunch dishes that appealed were salads.
Especially in Nice
114 Farenheit ... National Record
Along the Promenade des Anglais
Nice walk ... But hot, hot, hot!
We managed to find refuge ...
Among the many beachside restaurants
This being Nice, that meant Salade Niçoise (“the finest summer
salad of all,” according to celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay).
Now I've had hundreds of Niçoise salads
Now, I thought I knew a lot about the dish. After all, we feature
a great Salade Niçoise right here at SALUT. And over the years, I’ve encountered
endless versions and perversions of it. Salade Niçoise Pizza, anyone? What
about a Niçoise Burger?
I've tried salad Niçoise Pizza
As well as Niçoise burgers
And shaken in a jar ...(not so good)
As for the salads, sometimes they’re tossed, other times carefully
and artfully composed. Occasionally they’re deconstructed. One was crammed into
a jar and subjected to vigorous shakes before the server emptied the contents
on my plate.
I've had em tossed
And artfully composed
And de constructed ... (don't)
On this most recent trip, what caused me to snap to attention was
my first Salade Niçoise in Nice. It arrived without green beans or new potatoes
– just anchovy, tomato, egg, canned Ventresca belly meat tuna, and little black
Niçoise olives.” A grande deception!!!”
The ORIGINAL in Nice ... Tomatoes, Anchovies & Olive Oil
But it didn’t stop there. None of the Salades Niçoise that I
ordered in Nice (probably six to eight) came with green beans or potatoes.
I had to find out why.
After a little investigation, I learned that I was the idiot…. (well, maybe not an idiot….but unaware of a
longstanding controversy on just this topic.).
For decades, French culinarians have divided themselves into two
camps (we’ll call them the Traditionalists and the Innovators) regarding what
ingredients should or should not be included in a Salade Niçoise. It’s reported
that in the early nineteenth century, the salad simply consisted of fresh
tomatoes, anchovies, hard cooked egg and olive oil. Hewing to this recipe,
Traditionalists like the French politician and cookbook author Jacques Medecin
said, “NEVER, NEVER, I beg you, include boiled potatoes in your Salade Niçoise.”
Can new potatoes be added? Or is it heresy?
What about green beans? A massacre of tradition?
With potatoes and green beans
This version also ...
No beans or potatoes here ... but ... an egg has been added
Egg? Yes ... Beans & Potatoes? No
It would appear that the traditionalists have prevailed in Nice,
but everywhere else the Innovators have gained the upper hand, trampling
tradition by adding red peppers, artichoke hearts, shallots, red onion, garlic,
and basil – even shrimp – not to mention the evil green beans and new potatoes.
Then again, green beans and potatoes were good enough for Auguste
Escoffier, the father of classic French cuisine. Likewise, the esteemed French
chef and restaurateur Helene Darroze endorsed a more modern version when she
posted a potato and bean-laden recipe online. Reaction to her post was swift
and severe, however. Purists called it a “MASSACRE OF THE RECIPE…A VIOLATION OF
ANCESTRAL TRADITIONS!” In response,
Darroze acknowledged that “It’s dangerous to innovate.”
So the battle lines are drawn ...
Potatoes & Beans ...
So the first big battle line was drawn: potatoes and beans, “Oui”
But there’s a second battle, too. This one concerns the tuna:
Should it be fresh or canned?”
Super fresh tuna at the docks
Swimming an hour ago ...
And ready for lunch ...
Grilled is good too
But many prefer packed in olive oil
At Salut, we use grilled fresh tuna. Cookbook author Jacques Pepin
also falls into the Innovator camp, though he prefers sautéed fresh tuna.
& fresh Tuna
And we have a great one at Salut
On the other side is legendary New York Times food critic
Mimi Sheraton, who wrote that “Salade Niçoise with fresh tuna is a travesty and
if you like it, YOU ARE WRONG!”
This is not Bumble Bee
To round out the tuna wars, Guilliano Hazan, the son of Marcella
and Victor Hazan, writes, “Fresh tuna cannot compare with the irresistible
flavor of good Mediterranean tuna packed in olive oil. People who think that
they can improve a Salade Niçoise by using fresh tuna instead of EVOO-packed
canned tuna are making a big mistake.”
Vs. canned ... Note Ventresca ... It means belly meat ... best cut of the fish
Delicate slices of canned
Well, there you have it. Experts disagree.
My opinion? I prefer the canned. But I don’t think that most
Minnesotans would necessarily agree. My belief is that our population has been
profoundly imprinted by Starkist and Bumble Bee for all too many years and even
though the canned product Hazan recommends is Ventresca tuna belly meat (the
sushi-grade tastiest part of the fish, delicate and buttery) many people would
consider it a step down…just because it’s canned.
In extra virgin olive oil
And beautifully composed
But really, there are no bad answers. If you use high-quality
ingredients, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with Maldon
salt, your Salade Niçoise will be delicious even if you feel the need to make
it in a jar.
Earlier this summer, Joanne and I had the opportunity to revisit
one of our favorite Paris restaurants: LE RÉCAMIER. Situated in the 7th
Arrondisement on the Left Bank of the Seine, it’s a short stroll from the Bon
Marché department store (site of Paris’ best food hall), and just across the
street from the Hotel Lutetia (home in 1940 to the commanding officers of the
German occupation forces).
Ahh ... Paris
A short stroll from the Bon Marche
Just across Rue de Sevres
To a quiet pedestrian side street ... Rue de Recamier
Le Récamier was named after the early nineteenth century
socialite, Juliette Récamier. Said to be a stunning flirt who operated a
conversational “salon” in her home, she entertained the crème de la crème of
Parisian society, including single ladies and not-so-single gentlemen. Politics
and literature were discussed, and it has been reported that mistresses could
be found and exchanged under her watchful eye. I am reminded (and I paraphrase)
the quote by Claude Raines (Captain Renault) in the film Casablanca: “I’m
shocked, SHOCKED to find that ****** is going on here!”
Madame Recamier on a plate
Charming and chic (but not fancy, pretentious or crazy-nuts
expensive), Le Récamier attracts more than its share of celebrities. They range
from diplomats and heads of state (Jacques Chirac, Michelle Obama and her
daughters) to film stars like Gerard Depardieu, Catherine Deneuve, Gwyneth
Paltrow and Ron Howard.
Catherine Deneuve & Yves Saint Laurent
Michelle & kids dined at Le Recamier
So did Jaques Chirac
The interior ambiance is tasteful and the seating comfortable, but
on a nice day or a balmy summer evening reserve one of the 45 outdoor tables.
We recommend #16 and #280, but actually there are no bad options. Alert: the
restaurant is closed on Sundays.
Do sit outside
No bad tables
What distinguishes Le Récamier, however, isn’t its design, but its
menu, which is all about SOUFFLÉS – wonderful soufflés, extra-gooey, melt-in-your-mouth
soufflés. They’re intensely flavorful, creamy, perfect puffs, light as air.
Le Recamier ... It's all about the souffles ... Savory
Wrote Vogue magazine: “Le Récamier…salty or sweet? This
hidden gem has the best soufflés in Paris.”
The term “soufflé” translates as “to breathe, to inflate, to puff.” Earliest iterations appeared in the 18th
century, and to this day the recipes appear not to have changed much. They’re
either savory or sweet, and all involve eggs and room-temperature beaten egg
whites. I’ve been told that they are pesky little devils to make, that there is
no room for error, and that when ready, they wait for no one. Five minutes out
of the oven and they’ll fall. Oh, and DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN ‘TIL THEY’RE
Taking notes on a nice day
Hmmm, I just wonder – because when I peeked into the kitchen, the chef
had the oven door wide OPEN with five or six soufflés baking away.
Never open the oven door??? Hmmmm?
Is this, perhaps, a SACRED COW that needs to be SLAIN? We’ll soon
find out. I’m gonna test the notion at Salut.
Now, there are a few – but only a few – non-soufflé items on Le
Récamier’s menu. One could begin, as I did on one occasion, with foie gras.
But…I could have a foie gras soufflé as well. For a main course, I observed a
guest eating Steak Frites au Poivre. But he could just as easily have ordered
the Boeuf Bourguignon Soufflé.
Yes ... I had the Foie Gras
But could have had a Foie Gras Souffle
Steak au Poivre looked good ...
But what about the Boeuf Bourguignon?
Other soufflé choices that we’ve enjoyed include mushroom, four
cheese, spring pea, broccoli, asparagus and escargot (our adventuresome
grandson had that).
Lunch ... Souffle & Small Salad
Or Four Cheeses
Broccoli & Cheese
A special Souffle utensil
The bright and springy asparagus
The day we visited, fresh seabass was the featured special, along
with a gorgeous version of a lobster roll. Both looked good, but heck, you’re
at a SOUFFLÉ restaurant. Get a seafood soufflé for God’s sake. They’re offered
in varieties including smoked salmon with dill sauce, crawfish, or lobster
($28.50 euros; the priciest item on a menu where entrees average $22-24 euros).
You could order Sea Bass
Or a Smoked Salmon Souffle
How about Crawfish?
Or better yet ... Lobster
Lobster Roll anyone?
It's loaded with Lobster
On to dessert….
Even though we shared a cheese plate, each of us indulged in our
own personal dessert soufflé. They’re slightly smaller than entrees and will
run you between $14-15 euros.
Time for dessert ... The Cheese Plate was shared
But the Souffles are better
Le Récamier is respectful of the seasons, and changes out its
menus quarterly. Once in October, I had a wonderful spiced pumpkin soufflé.
Berry versions abound in summer – strawberry, apricot, blueberry and raspberry,
among other options.
In the Fall ... I had Pumpkin Spice
Fresh Raspberry ... Raspberry Sherbet too
Apricot ... Sooo French
Whatever the season, you must order Le Récamier’s three signature
dessert soufflés, which are available year-round. Don’t get just one of them.
Get all three:
THE CHOCOLATE SOUFFLÉ. No
skimping here. The chocolate is 70% Valrhona premium chocolate.
The Biggie's ... Valhrona Chocolate
Gooey & Good
THE GRAND MARNIER SOUFFLÉ.
This deeply rich vanilla rendition with orange zest whipped into the egg
whites is topped tableside with a healthy dose of Grand Marnier.
The Grand Marnier Souffle
Served table side by owner/chef Gerard Idoux
THE SALTED CARAMEL AND SALTED BUTTER SOUFFLÉ. Punctuated with deep, dark Valrhona chocolate
Salted Caramel ... Salted Butter & Chocolate
Clean Plate Club
You can, and we did, craft a three-course meal of soufflés. NO
Which isn’t to say there aren’t hazards on the menu (a
Cheeseburger Soufflé is offered).
The actually have a Cheeseburger Souffle???
You may also regret the fact that Parisians appear to be treated
better than tourists at Le Récamier. But WTF, they’re French and you’re in
Paris. What do you expect?
It was back in the Figlio days when tapas first got on my radar
screen, and small plates have been a fixture at our restaurants ever since. So
it was that on our most recent trip to Europe, we included Barcelona on the
itinerary. The fact that we had grandkids in tow made the destination all the
more compelling. They’d never been to Spain, and I wanted to be the one to
introduce them to its most vibrant city.
Naturally we took in the significant sights, particularly the
Antonio Gaudi masterpieces, including the still-unfinished LA SAGRADA FAMILIA
(under construction for 137 years; latest projected completion date 2032), and
CASA BATTLO, with its façade of undulating, vine-like shapes punctuated with
pieces of colorful glass and broken ceramic tiles. Visits to the Picasso Museum and the Joan
Miro Museums filled our culture quota so that we could focus on the real reason
for the trip: Barcelona’s incredible food.
Architect Antonio Gaudi ... La Sagrada Familla
Gaudi .. The Casa Batllo House
First things first: A visit to LA BOUQUERIA, perhaps the most
impressive food market on the planet. Joanne and I have strolled many wonderful
markets and marveled at the stunning colors, presentations, mouth-watering
displays and presentations from the vendors.
And the sights here are almost in a category of their own. Still, I
always walk away with a small sense of dissatisfaction, borne of being unable
to buy any of the offerings for a scrumptious dinner. No kitchens in our hotel
La Bouqueria Market
On occasion, I’ve also felt somewhat unwelcome by the vendors, who
have to deal with throngs of tourists invading their domain, taking pictures,
crowding the aisles, and then NOT BUYING ANYTHING.
Well, I have to tell you that since I last visited the Bouqueria,
the vendors have figured out how to take advantage of visitors like me.
Fish mongers who sell whole turbot, flounder and lobsters to the
locals now offer busloads of tourists fresh oysters by the piece as well as
handheld little paper cones filled with everything from shrimp to calamari. The
meat and sausage merchants offer cups of salamis and paper-thin slices of
black-hoof Iberico ham, all at about $6 – $7. The fruit and produce folks sell
eye-popping cups of fresh fruit. It was oppressively hot and humid the day we
visited, and Joanne and I both fell for the chilled watermelon.
Fresh Seafood for the Locals
And Hand Held Cups of Calamari for the Tourists
The Salami Guy at the Bouqueria Market
Also now sells little cups of Sausages
Joanne and I sharing watermelon
Since this was just before lunch, I got thinking, Hmmm, today
these are my TAPAS.
And tapas we did….all week long, all along LA RAMBLA (a major
pedestrian thoroughfare), for lunch and dinner.
And the countless tapas bars sell little sausage too
One thing to note: La Rambla isn’t the only street of its kind.
You can escape the crowds by heading a few blocks north to the RAMBLA DE
CATALUNYA. It’s cleaner and less crowded than La Rambla, but still offers
endless blocks of restaurants, each with a tapas menu. Plus, the shopping is
La Rambla ... The most famous street in Barcelona ... Crowded!!!
Just a couple of blocks north
The sophisticated ... Rambla de Catalunya
We dined at many of the restaurants and tapas bars that are known
specifically for their creativity, frisky sauces and varieties of tapas, and
discovered that there is a sort of hierarchy among tapas.
And everywhere ... Tapas Bars
Small but famous ...
Well known and well worth it ...
The big guys ... also good
Also crowded ...
And tons of fun
At the base you’ll find the workhorse offerings, which populate
nearly every menu, from dives to fine dining establishments. Among them:
And right before your eyes at the bar
Your placemat can be your menu
PAN CON TOMATE: toasted
bread, garlic, olive oil, salt and crusted tomatoes.
Tapas workhorse ... Tomato Bread (Pan con tomate) with garlic & olive oil
PATATAS BRAVAS: roasted potatoes, always with mayo and spicy,
smoky tomato sauce.
Patatas Bravas with homemade mayo and spicy tomato sauce
Sometimes made with sweet potatoes
Albondigas ... Smoked paprika, garlic, chili peppers & cumin sauce
SAUSAGES: Including Butifarra, a mild white pork sausage, often
served with garlicky white beans in olive oil; Morcilla, a blood sausage
invigorated with sautéed onions; and of course Chorizo, fermented, cured and
smoked, often bathed in honey and red wine.
Butifarra ... mild pork sausage with white beans & garlic
Morcilla ... Blood sausage on sautéed onions
Chorizo ... cured, fermented & smoked ... In honey & red wine
ENSALADA RUSA: Russian potato salad with peas, carrots, capers and
beets, sometimes with tuna.
Russian Potato Salad ... Ensalada Rusa
Ensalada Rusa ... with peas, carrots, beets and capers ... sometimes tuna or shrimp
CROQUETTAS: Small mashed potato balls loaded with ham, smoked cod,
cheese or lobster, deep fried.
Croquettas ... deep fried and crispy
Filled with mashed potatoes & ham, smoked cod cheese or even lobster
MONTADITOS: Little sandwiches (often open-face). Anything goes
Little Sandwiches (Montadito's) from roasted pig (Ferran Adria serves 3 week old piglets)
Montadita's ... Little Sandwiches
Montadita's with Foie Gras
GARLIC SHRIMP: Garlic, olive oil, hot peppers, garlic and more
Garlic Shrimp at Canete
GILDAS: Anchovies, olives and peppers impaled on a toothpick.
Gildas ... anchovies, peppers & onions
GRILLED OCTOPUS: Available in many wonderful versions.
Grilled Octopus ...
CHIPIRONES: Deep-fried squid and baby cuttlefish, frequently
accompanied with squid ink.
Deep fried squid with squid ink
ALBONDIGAS: Little meatballs; could be beef, pork or veal, or a
combo of all three.
Albondigas ... Little meatballs ... Beef, pork & veal
TORTILLA DE PATATAS: Omelet with potatoes, most always served in
Tortilla de Patatas ... Omelette
With potatoes & onions
PAELLA: A tapas for sharing. Our favorite was the seafood version
with clams, mussels and head-on shrimp. Be sure to ask your server for the
SOCARRAT: the scorched rice crust that forms on the bottom of the paella pan.
National Dish ... Scrape up the Socarrat from the bottom of the pan
There are undoubtedly many more dishes that fit in the workhorse category. And beyond those offerings is an entire universe of more creative tapas – thinking person’s tapas, big-flavored sometimes lyrical, often witty, never bland.
So I’ll stop here for now and ask you simply to stroll through the
images. Read the captions and salivate as appropriate.
Grilled Shishito Peppers
Shishito peppers with deep fried little fish
Tuna Tartare with avocado & Burrata cheese
Mixed mushrooms ... About $19 bucks
Tapas beyond the workhorses ... Head-On Shrimp & Calamari
By themselves ...
Or smothered in Romesco Sauce ... Garlic, almonds, chili peppers & red bell peppers
Roasted Clams in Romesco sauce at Botafumeiro
Snails in garlic butter
And Sea Snails with mignonette sauce
Lots of Scallops on small plates
And at Salut as we salute scallops from the Mediterranean coast
Squid burger with squid ink bun
Squid burger with squid ink patty
Squid ink burger patties sold in markets
Sliders are a big hit
As are the small plate Lamb Sliders at Salut
Fried Eggs & Iberico Ham straws on potato chips
Poached egg on pureed turnips with diced celery & grilled asparagus
Savory Canoli ... Filled with Bacala (salted cod)
Chicken wing lolli pops
Even southern fried chicken & ranch dip
Steak tartare in a marrow bone?
And some with ingredients that we probably should not talk about. That universe is so grand that your overfed blog writer cannot cope.
Among the many joys of dining in France is that every decent
bistro or brasserie can be counted on to offer simple, but profound pleasures:
local red wines by the carafe; perhaps a small slab of foie gras and onion jam;
a garlicky order of escargot with proper French bread to sop up the garlic
butter; and of course the popular, ubiquitous Steak Frites. Each restaurant
will put its own spin on this classic dish, but generally they’re distinctions
without a difference.
Steak Frites Restaurant ... Paris
Typical Steak Frites
Most all the meat cuts are what the French call “Butcher’s Steaks”
– steaks that do not come from the pricey upper middle part of the steer (the
short loin, home of filets, porterhouses, and sirloins), but instead are cut
from the more affordable front and hind quarters that give us the muscle meats.
The steaks typically weigh in at 250kg, or around 8 ounces. They
go by various names – bavette, coulotte, flank, teres major and, the most
prevalent, the “onglet.” We know it as the hanger steak in America, and that’s
what we use at SALUT. Moreover, we do the fries the same way the French do –
double frying, first at a lower temperature, and then at a higher temperature.
French "Butcher's Steak" Cuts
Now, not to be unkind, but the grass-fed French cuts tend not to
be overly tender. They’re a little less marbled. Don’t get me wrong: They’re
still delicious, and are a lot cheaper than the cuts from the short loin.
Steak Frites at Salut
So last week, while researching the culinary charms of Paris,
Joanne and I discovered ROBERT ET LOUISE, a tiny place in the Marais that is
dedicated to the proposition that “Steak Is King” – and not in the steak frites
way. Here, thick, juicy slabs cut from the short loin are on offer. They likely
come from the French “Charlois” steer, a mountain of a beast bred solely for
its superior quality meat. R&L grills its steaks in a fireplace over a wood
fire, right in the dining room – and, in our case, right next to our table.
You’ll find it at 64 Rue Vielle du Temple.
In the Marais
Robert et Louise
Robert & Louise
Steaks cut from the Short Loin
The theater and the aromas were PRIMAL. They were compelling and
convincing. They said something you don’t need to speak French to understand:
“This is THE place for steak in Paris.”
The fireplace by our table
Steaks on the Plancha ... In the dining room
Joanne and I have indulged in this sort of experience only once
before and that was when our daughter, Jennifer, was working near Geneva,
Switzerland and took us to dinner at AUBERGE DE DULLY in the hamlet of
Rolle. It’s still there and if you ever find yourself on the north shore
of Lake Geneva….well, as the Michelin Guide would say: ”It’s worth a detour.”
Auberge de Dully ... Rolle, Switzerland
With fireplace cooking
R&L is small, cozy and comforting; the kind of place about
which Holly Golightly of BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S might say, “It’s as if nothing
very bad could ever happen here.”
And nothing bad did happen. Quite the opposite. We had a wonderful
time watching the grill man flipping manhole-sized pieces of cow (as well as
lamb chops) onto the white-hot cast iron plancha placed directly over the fire.
Our table on the left
Lamb Chops too
Make no mistake: This is not a MANNY’S or PETER LUGER steak. For
one thing, it’s not aged beef (I’m at a loss to understand why the French don’t
age their steaks; they age their wine, their game, their cheese…). But it was
good – really good.
We started our journey by sharing a charcuterie platter of salamis
and cured ham, accompanied by a sinus-clearing Dijon mustard and big jar of
homemade sweet little gherkins. Our grandson, an adventurous eater, went for
the escargot: 6 plump beauties in a bath of eye-watering, double-rich, high-fat
garlic butter. It cost 8.5 euros. Not bad!
Charcuterie ... All things pork
Yellow mustard & Gherkins
Dripping with garlic butter
I, being an inveterate dining slut, went straight for the
artery-clogging slab of faintly boozy foie gras, served up with toast points
and red onion jam. To complete the round of starters, the rest of our group
opted for the heart-healthy mixed green salad….BORING!
Foie Gras ... slightly boozy
On to the mains…..
Our daughter, who avoids red meat, was delighted to find a safe
harbor on the menu: Head-on Grilled Shrimp. Her son glommed onto the Duck
Confit. Oddly, R&L also offers an omelette. No takers at our table, thank
God. Who’d come to this restaurant for an omelette?
Head-on Grilled Shrimp
Duck Leg Confit
Omelette ... Why?
We ate all the iterations of the cuts of steak that they offer,
including a 2-inch-thick Cote de Boeuf for two, nicely charred and caramelized
on the outside, medium rare on the inside, for 48 euros. We also sampled a
wonderfully fatty and boldly flavored Ribeye and a T-bone. This is not the
place for the timid diner, as mondo hunks of charred beef are the clean-up
hitters on this menu, which is further punctuated by take-no-prisoner sides
like R&L’s generously salted potato wedges, deep-fried in duck fat.
Sirloin for two ... 48 euros ... 2 pounds
Rib Eye ... Juicy!
Duck Fat Fried ... Yum!
For dessert, we shared a couple Tarte Tatins and Crème Brulées,
along with platters of Roquefort, Chevre, Cantal and Reblochon cheese.
Roquefort & Others
The image below, after the cheese board, is not our group, but it
IS our table. Note that it’s just in front of the fire. I neglected
to glean the table number, but if you go to Robert & Louise, just ask to be
seated at the community table in front of the fireplace.
Not our group ... but ... it was our table
Steak Frites is fine and dandy in Paris. But if you’re in
the mood for Steak frites’ BIG BROTHER, then call…01-42-78-55-99.
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.
Barcelona ... The Capitol of Catalonia
The only problem is that the Spanish Central Government said “NO” to their independence. To this day, despite multiple protests, marches, civil disruption and disobedience, the issue remains unresolved.
Trouble ... Catalonia want to secede from Spain
And that remains unresolved
One thing isn’t in dispute, however: Catalonian cuisine’s stature as an ICON of Spanish gastronomy.
The Bounty of the Boqueria Market
Consider Ferran Adria and his now-closed Michelin three-star restaurant EL BULLI, in the town of Roses just north of Barcelona. For five consecutive years, it held the title of “BEST RESTAURANT IN THE WORLD.”
El Bulli ... Voted Best Restaurant in the World
It was "Chefy" ... Joes Andres, Ferran Adria & Anthony Bourdain
That should come as no surprise as Catalonia, in the northeastern corner of Spain, is blessed not only with a grand, productive and generous Mediterranean coast line, but also fields and mountains where pigs, cattle and sheep forage, frolic and fatten up beautifully, giving chefs like Adria all the ingredients they need to practice their art.
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.
Located in the wharf district, a new and magnificent $2 billion development along the Potomac, Del Mar is the real deal. The owners are Spanish, from Mallorca, and our accomplished server hailed from Barcelona.
Now ... in the Wharf District of D.C.
Behold! Del Mar
A real Spanish Restaurant
We began, of course, with a broad selection of tapas. There were seven of us, and right off the bat our table was hit with three orders of Pan Con Tomate (tomato bread) – toasted bread, vigorously rubbed with garlic cloves and topped with crushed ripe tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and a generous dose of sea salt flakes only to be toasted once again under a hot broiler…10 bucks an order.
Pan Con Tomate ... Garlic, Tomato, E.V.O.O. & Salt
Pork abounds in Spain and also at DEL MAR, where you can enjoy whole suckling pig roasted as a special order. What does not need to be special-ordered, but is indeed very special, is the Iberico Ham.
Similar to Prosciutto from Italy and Serrano ham in Spain, Iberico is one of the world’s great meats, with qualities all its own. The pigs that give us prosciutto are fed whey by the bucket (whey being a bi-product of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese production). Serrano is not aged as long as Iberico and comes from a different breed of hog. Iberico comes from heritage black-hoofed pigs that have been raised on acorns, and is aged anywhere from two to five years.
Heritage Iberico Free Range Pigs
Black hoofs distinguish them from Seranno Pigs
Del Mar has its own Iberico slicing station right by the entrance. Here the ham is thinly sliced with surgical precision and painstakingly arranged on what’s called a “mountain”: a porcelain dome-shaped vessel that houses a votive candle to gently warm the surface and allow the fats from the paper-thin slices to soften and give up its full-flavored porky goodness.
Sliced with Surgical Precision
Del Mar has an Iberico Slicing Station
There's a candle under there, to warm the ham
Croquettas, a common small plate of deep-fried mashed potato balls, are uncommonly good here. Our two selections were filled with bits of Iberico ham and salt cod brandade ($16 for three). The ham-filled croquettas were perched atop dollops of garlicky aioli and crowned with black truffles.
Iberico Croquettas Tapas on Aioli with Black Truffles
Or Salt Cod Croquettas ... Yum!
A parade of shrimp platters, grilled octopus, fresh oysters and Spanish cheeses followed, along with an offering known as Sobrasada, a smooth Mallorcan sopresatta-like sausage bread spread laced with hot smoked red peppers. Patatas Bravas, another popular offering, consists of new baby potatoes topped with tomato sauce or, in our case, spicy Romesco sauce, made from hot red peppers, garlic, almonds and olive oil.
Pork Belly Tapas ... with Poached Egg ... $24
Tapas ... Piquillo Pepper in Sea Urchin Sauce
Gambas ... Shrimp for the table
Manchego, Montealva & Mahon Spanish Cheeses
Local Fresh Oysters
Grilled Octopus Tapas to share
Turned into Smooth, Spread
Tapas ... Spanish Potato Omelette
Wilted Spinach, Pine Nuts, Raisins & Aioli ... $12
Patatas Bravas ... Tapas ... Potatoes with Romesco Sauce
The whole pan-fried fresh flounder was impressive, as was the grilled black sea bass that Joanne chose.
Shrimp, Garlic, Arbol Chile for sharing
Pan Fried Flounder
Joanne's choice ... Grilled Black Sea Bass
Grilled Lamb Chops with a Manchego cheese sauce was my selection…$38.
I had Lamb Chops with Manchego Cheese Sauce
I have to tell you that all – and I mean ALL – our selections were hits. But first among them were the Paellas. The two we ordered were finished and served tableside in the traditional shallow pans, each a breathtaking presentation.
Both presented tableside
As Del Mar’s menu reads, “Paellas are the pillar of Spanish gastronomy…part of the Spanish soul and its people.” Del Mar offers paellas in a number of sizes, all meant to be shared. The two we ordered for the table were both show stoppers.
CHOICE #1: PAELLA DE PESCADO, redolent of the sea and loaded with tiger shrimp, lobster, mussels and calamari; made with Spanish grown Bomba rice and pungent garlic aioli ($98).
But now ... The Pillar of Spanish Gastronomy ...
CHOICE #2: ARROZ NEGRO DE CALAMARES, harmoniously and abundantly prepared with grilled wild calamari rings and charred cuttlefish, all with black, squid ink-infused Bomba rice and aioli ($65).
or Arroz Negro ... Squid Ink Paella with Calamari ... $65 - Serves 3-4
We were all stuffed – satisfied pigs we were – but in the spirit of wretched excess, we dove right into the dessert selections, which included Churros filled with chocolate and hazelnuts, Flan (of course), and a delicious Galacian Almond Cake (all $13).
Churros with Hazelnuts & Chocolate ... $13
Flan ... Of course
Galacian Almond Cake
But the most curious thing on the menu was a dish we encountered earlier. I’m not even certain it was Spanish, and it didn’t exactly have appetite appeal, but I must admit it was intriguing: A squid burger garnished with salted anchovies and green olives, served on a black squid ink bun. I’d have expected something like this at a Burger King or McDonald’s in Tokyo, but at a “classy joint” like Del Mar, it came as a surprise.
The Calamari "Burger" at Canete in Barcelona
Squid Ink Buns @ Burger King in Tokyo
And at Del Mar ... A Squid Ink Bun
But what do I know? Maybe Squid Burgers abound in Barcelona and I’ll have an opportunity to try them there. If so, I’ll report back to you with my verdict. Work, work, work!!!
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.
Oh ze French
It’s a shame that Marie-Antoine Carême, probably France’s first celebrity chef, and Auguste Escoffier, the “king of haute cuisine,” didn’t live at the same time, because they’d have gone to the mat with each other over sauces.
They fight over food
Among his other achievements, Carême pioneered the concept of the MOTHER SAUCES – the sauces from which all other sauces are made (all the ones that counted, in his view). Carême reached his peak of influence in the early 1800s, shortly before Escoffier was born.
First Celebrated Chef
The principal point of contention between the two of them: Carême believed there were six mother sauces. Escoffier said five. Escoffier prevailed (maybe because Carême wasn’t around to argue with him), but as you’ll see, five could be six. But it could also be 10, 20 or however many.
But the "Culinary King" arrived ... Escoffier
Let’s start with the five:
Soon after came the 5 (not 6)
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.
Mother Love ...
Bechamel ... Flour, Butter & Milk
For Gratin Dauphinoise Potatoes
And in Manny's Creamed Spinach
But you can’t be a mother without children, and Béchamel has spawned a number of “daughter sauces.” Add cheese, cream and butter, and you have MORNAY SAUCE. Think Mac & Cheese or Croque Monsieur, or my favorite: The Hot Brown, created at the famous Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky.
Now ... Daughter Sauces
Add cream, cheese & butter to Bechamel ... and you get Mornay Sauce
VELOUTÉ. By thickening chicken, veal or fish stock with roux, you arrive at this smooth, ivory-colored sauce. Crank it up with fish stock, white wine, shallots and butter, and voila: you have just birthed Velouté’s daughter, BERCY SAUCE – delicious spooned on a pan-fried fish filet. Its sibling, ALLEMANDE SAUCE, contains veal stock, egg yolk, cream and squeeze of lemon (If there’s a heaven, this is it). Drizzle it on veal medallions. Don’t eat veal? Then amp up your velouté by introducing heavy cream, chicken stock and mushrooms, then nap your new daughter sauce generously over a roasted chicken breast. Her name? SUPREME (I still remember the Chicken Supreme we served at Muffuletta back in the ‘70s.)
The second Mother Sauce ... Veloute
Chicken (Veal or Fish) stock thickened with Roux
And the Veloute Daughter's
To Veloute Fish Stock and Shallots, White Wine & Butter ... Bercy Sauce
Or richer yet ... Allemande Sauce. Veal Veloute with Egg Yolk & Cream
Chicken Veloute Daughter Supreme Sauce ... Mushrooms & Heavy Cream
ESPAGNOLE. This is the mother of all brown sauces – made from a brown stock to which dark brown roux, puréed tomatoes and mirepoix (sautéed chopped onions, carrots and celery) are added. It’s rarely used by itself, however. The daughters do the heavy lifting here. Add red wine, shallots, brown stock and dark brown roux to make BORDELAISE SAUCE, a deep and rich daughter that’s meant for roast beef. She has a sister called CHAUSSER SAUCE (AKA HUNTER SAUCE), made with mushrooms, tomatoes, white wine and shallots. She beguiles on braised chicken…on a nasty day.
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.
Espagnole ... The Mother of Brown Sauce
And the Espagnole Daughters ...
Add Red Wine and Shallots ... You get Bordelaise
Add Mushrooms, Tomatoes, White Wine & Shallots to Espagnole ... Chausser Sauce
Espagnole on steroids? Reduce for hours till it's like jelly ... Daughter Sauce ... Demi-Glace
Short Ribs with Demi-Glace
TOMATO SAUCE. The French call it “sauce de tomate.” In Italian, it’s “salsa di Pomodoro” (think Pasta Pomodoro, tossed with spaghetti, Parmesan and basil). I cannot think of a better use of a Sunday afternoon than making BOLOGNESE SAUCE – lovingly stirred with one hand, a glass or two or three of red wine in the other. My go-to recipe is the one I was taught by Marcella Hazan in Bologna, Italy when Pete and I attended her cooking school. Hands down, the BEST BOLOGNESE! What makes it so good? I’ll give you a hint: it might involve heavy cream.
Mother Sauce de Tomate
Use it straight out of the pot ... Pasta Pomodoro
Ah ... but the Tomato Daughter ...
Marcella Hazan's Recipe for sure
HOLLANDAISE SAUCE. Velvety smooth and silky, this pale-yellow mother sauce is simply crafted with butter, egg yolks, and a few drops of lemon juice. That’s it. But what a wonderful topping it makes for Eggs Benedict or steamed broccoli at a steakhouse! And since we’re speaking of steakhouses, who on this planet would turn down a medium rare, two-inch-thick steak capped with a generous dollop of her daughter sauce, BERNAISE – a Hollandaise to which tarragon, shallots and a tiny splash of vinegar has been added. Add heavy cream and tomato paste to it, and you have what might be a “granddaughter” sauce: CHORON. Not enough calories yet? Then MOUSSELINE might be to your liking. She’s made by combining Hollandaise and whipped cream. Try it on white asparagus.
Velvety Mother Hollandaise ... Butter & Egg Yolks
Atop Lobster Eggs Benedict at Salut
Or a side of steamed Broccoli
Now for the Hollandaise Girls ...
Bernaise ... Just add Tarragon & Shallots
Top Grilled Portabello Mushrooms with Bernaise
Yes ... add Heavy Cream & Tomato Sauce to Bernaise ... Granddaughter Choron
Rich Hollandaise Daughter ... Mousseline
Just add Whipped Heavy Cream to Hollandaise
So those are the five. But wait a minute, what about the sixth? What about BUERRE BLANC, made with shallots, butter, white wine and vinegar – so fantastic on fish or chicken? And what of the PAN SAUCES, made after sauteeing by scraping up the bits stuck to the bottom of the skillet (called “fond”)? Think Steak au Poivre, whose sauce is made with Cognac with a little heavy cream. Or Sole Meuniere, with butter, lemon and parsley, blended after the sole is removed.
Wait a sec ... No Mother's here ... Buerre Blanc
Made with Butter, White Wine & Shallots
Motherless Pan Sauce ... Au Poivre
Add Cognac & Heavy Cream to skillet
Or Pan Sauce ... Meuniere
Just Butter, Lemon & Parsley ... Sole Meuniere
This can all get carried away. What about REMOULADE SAUCE? CHIMICHURRI SAUCE? Chinese – or is it American? – SWEET & SOUR SAUCE? Oh, well, we might as well include TABASCO and BARBEQUE SAUCE.
Remoulade Sauce ... No Mommy here
Chimichurri ... It's an Orphan Sauce
Chinese Sweet & Sour?
Even Tabasco ... Where does it end?
Or how about Barbecue Sauce?
I’m too confused to continue. Just remember the MOTHER and DAUGHTER sauces.
Just remember Mother & Daughter
And remember also what the French say: “With the right sauce, you can eat your father.”