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).

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!”

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.

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.

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.

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 DONE!!! 

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.

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.

Other soufflé choices that we’ve enjoyed include mushroom, four cheese, spring pea, broccoli, asparagus and escargot (our adventuresome grandson had that).

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).

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.

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.

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 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 SALTED CARAMEL AND SALTED BUTTER SOUFFLÉ.  Punctuated with deep, dark Valrhona chocolate sauce.

You can, and we did, craft a three-course meal of soufflés. NO REGRETS.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t hazards on the menu (a Cheeseburger Soufflé is  offered).

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?




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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.”

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.

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!

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!

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?

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.

For dessert, we shared a couple Tarte Tatins and Crème Brulées, along with platters of Roquefort, Chevre, Cantal and Reblochon cheese.

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.

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.




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.

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.

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.

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.

Let’s start with the five:

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.

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.

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.)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

I’m too confused to continue. Just remember the MOTHER and DAUGHTER sauces.

And remember also what the French say: “With the right sauce, you can eat your father.”




Let’s get this out of the way right now.

There are MACAROONS and there are MACARONS….What is the difference?

The spelling is similar. And they’re similarly delicious. But they’re ENTIRELY DIFFERENT from each other.

Macaroons are a softish slightly lumpy cookie made with coconut, egg whites, sugar and almonds. They’re neither crunchy nor crispy.

Macarons are little sandwiches with meringue tops and bottoms and creamy ganache, pastry crème or jam fillings. The basic meringue shells are made with almond powder, confectioner sugar and eggs. All-natural flavors are incorporated and, as far as I know, no artificial colorings are used.

This post is about the latter: MACARONS.

Recently both the Houston Chronicle and Megan Garber of Atlantic magazine predicted that the macaron is about to replace the cupcake as America’s favorite treat. Others say that it already has.

Joanne’s and my macaron journey began some years ago in Paris. Needing a sweet treat in the late afternoon, we eyed a stunning display of pastel-colored mini-sandwiches, lined up by color in soldier-like rows in the window of a shop called LADURÉE, at 75 Avenue des Champs Elysées. It was a jewel box – grandly elegant, yet “lady-like” in scale.

Little did we know that we had just stumbled upon the most famous maker and seller of macarons in the whole world. We’d never heard of the place. In fact, we’d never even heard of macarons, let alone tasted one.

We, of course, tried some (well, several). They were surprisingly expensive little things, but boy, they were worth it. As I pulled out my camera (this was back in the days of cameras), the ladies behind the counter snapped at me.

“No photo!! Bad monsieur!!”

“But they’re so beautiful, your macaroons!”

“Not macaroons! MACARONS!”

I was confused. Humiliated. And…curious.

Here’s what I discovered: They French may view macarons as a national treasure, but culinary historians credit the Italians with inventing them. It’s thought that they were introduced to the French by Catherine di Medici’s Florentine pastry chefs, who accompanied her to France when she married King Henry II in 1533.

(BTW: We should note here that the Italians always claim ownership of French culinary delights. The French, of course, reject the idea – probably arguing that the Italians lack the necessary “refinement” to create something so delicately exquisite.)

For the next major development in the history of macarons, we have to jump ahead to 1862, when French luxury baker Louis Ernest Ladurée opened his shop and began selling the cookies to the public.

Flash forward another 130 years, to 1993, when a man named Francis Holder purchased the Ladurée recipes and brand. From that first little shop, Ladurée has grown to over 60 stores worldwide (10 alone in the United States), with outposts as far-flung as Casablanca, Qatar, and St. Tropez, as well as London, Miami and Bangkok.

Chloe Sorvino writes in Forbes Magazine that Holder’s macaron plant in the Paris suburb of Lille produces 30,000 meringue shells per hour from a machine with a conveyor belt the length of two football fields.

Ladurée is, by far, the leading seller of macarons in France and across the world, but it’s hardly the only purveyor.

When we brought our grandkids to France, they took a tour of Parisian chocolate shops, one of which, Maison du Chocolat in the Marais, produces macarons every bit as lux as those of Ladurée and charges a similar price – about 3 euros each.

Of course, the world-famous Fauchon brand is in on the act, selling macarons so beautiful they fuse fashion and food. (Visit their flagshop store on the Madeleine in the heart of Paris.)

Restaurants serve their fair share of the little cookie as well, sometimes as part of a dessert, other times as petit fours. Joanne and I have indulged at HELENE DARROZE across the street from the St. Sulpice cathedral of Da Vinci Code fame; and at CLUB GASCON in London’s Smithfield Market (where we were surprised with Bailey’s Irish Cream meringue shells and savory ones with foie gras filling).

LES OMBRES in Paris not only offers a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower – it treats guests to salted caramel macarons filled with green garlic cream (a nice counterpoint to the usual sweetness of traditional cookies).

Finally, at the meat-centric bistro, PAUL BERT, you can order an enormous macaron dessert featuring a raspberry shell generously filled with fresh raspberry ganache. We split one.

In a nod to Italy, LE CHIBERTA, Guy Savoy’s Italian place near the Arc de Triomphe, serves up tiny Amaretto versions as petit fours.

Each evening in Paris, our grandkids made runs to the close-by food halls of Bon Marché and returned with macarons – six each – as their second dessert of the night.

Now, a warning – actually, two warnings:

First: Don’t buy and put macarons in a bag. They are fragile and will crush. You need to splurge on little boxes for safe transport.

Second, top-notch versions of macarons are expensive. In Paris, they’ll run about $3.75 each, here in the U.S. about $2.50. But don’t cheap out. Inferior versions are made with almond extract, not real almonds, and they’re just not very satisfying.

The good news is that high-quality macarons are readily available here in America. Williams Sonoma has ‘em, for example. PATISSERIE 46 in Minneapolis does a nice job as well. And the ones at Lunds/Byerly’s are damn good, too.

Of course, you can also find macarons at Starbucks and Whole Foods, and at Costco and Trader Joe’s. Even Target stocks them.

But now…back to Paris.

A Ladurée and Fauchon baking alumnus, PIERRE HERMÉ, has recently made a bid for macaron supremacy. His 20 or so Paris shops are a smart, modern and sleek contrast to the slightly “fussy” (dare I say “girlie”) design of Ladurée.

But the main difference to me is the boldness and creative combos of Hermé’s creations. Eschewing the pastel palette of Ladurée, his macarons resemble psychedelic Oreos.

Flavors go well beyond chocolate, vanilla and salted caramel. And while Hermé offers all the usual suspects, you might also find rose petals and raspberry…blueberry, ginger and lime…orange blossom, praline and chantilly crème…olive oil, mandarin orange and cucumber…or fig and goat cheese.

I really do not know if macarons have replaced cupcakes as America’s favorite and most popular treat. But I do know this. When we were in Paris last year, we found ourselves buying macarons at McDonald’s.





The area in Paris known as LES HALLES traces its beginnings as a marketplace as far back as the 12th century, when King Louis 8th took control of the neighborhood. Initially dry goods were sold here, but food stalls were added over the years, and by the end of the 16th century LES HALLES was the pulsating heart of the city. That also coincided with the opening nearby of the grand Eglise Saint-Eustache, one of the most visited churches in Paris.

The market grew and thrived until 1971, when President Georges Pompidou ordered its demolition and relocation to the southern Paris suburb of RUNGIS.

Parisians were devastated to see it go, but it was probably a good decision as the area was hopelessly overcrowded. Delivery trucks could no longer maneuver, the area sewer system was woefully inadequate, and to top it off the streets were infested with rats – often competing with human scavengers for fruit scraps and squashed fish heads on the ground.

And while it made sense to relocate the market, what to me made no sense at all was the architectural massacre of the heart of Paris.

Several things happened at the same time. First the Paris metro system and the suburban commuter-serving RER train network rerouted lines from all directions to converge underground at LES HALLES. Once, completed, this left a gaping hole which then President George Pompidou decided to fill with a legacy-defining project: the Renzo Piano-designed POMPIDOU CENTER, a mammoth post-modern structure whose mechanical “guts” were all on the exterior. The aesthetic abuse continued with construction of a cliché-ridden, universally reviled underground shopping center called LE FORUM DES HALLES.

At the end of last year, a giant modern curving umbrella covering a new shopping center the size of THE PLACE DES VOSGES was completed. Perhaps its purpose was to heal the architectural carnage of the past 50 years. Did it work? Check out the image. You decide.

Call me crazy, but I think that modern architecture and design should be built as far from the historic center of Paris as possible.

And I may not be alone. As a French architectural critic recently stated, “It isn’t ugly. The curves are agreeable. It isn’t too aggressive.” That sure sounds like faint praise to me, like saying, “Hey, you don’t sweat much for a fat guy.”

My advice: Take a walk by the Centre Pompidou, but give at least half a day to the RUNGIS MARKET. This isn’t high on the list of Paris tourist attractions, but if you’re willing to get up before dawn, can brave the refrigerated food pavilions, and don’t mind being in proximity to blood and animal parts, Joanne and I will guarantee you an eye-opening learning experience.

You can go by Metro line #7 or by train. Be advised however, that the Rungis station is a couple blocks from the market and you may not feel entirely safe walking that distance in the dark. Maybe take an UBER.

As you might expect of Parisians, the RUNGIS MARKET is 100% food…no dry goods here.

Wear some good walking shoes, because the size of the market is a jaw-dropping 578 ACRES (bigger than Monaco). It is organized by halls, or “pavilions” – about 20 of them – each larger than a Costco store. Rungis is a city unto itself, with its own police force, banks, post office and at least 19 full-fledged restaurants, not counting perhaps a hundred food stalls.

Each pavilion has its own specialty – one for flowers, one for cheese, one for beef. Lamb gets its own pavilion, as does pork, game and poultry. Then there’s my favorite (not Joanne’s – most definitely NOT Joanne’s): THE TRIPERIE, dedicated 100% to offal, those parts of the animal that you’ll never see at Lund’s, but are integral to French cuisine. Plus, the floors were slippery – not from water, but from…you know what.

How refreshing it was to visit the fruit and vegetable pavilion next. People first eat with their eyes, and nobody understands that better than the French. The produce merchandising and displays are stunning. Cameras are allowed.

Over 400 different cheeses are represented in the cheese pavilion, and not just from France alone. They range from bite-sized pucks to wheels that could fit on a Mack Truck.

The seafood pavilion was Joanne’s favorite (I’ll stick with the Triperie), as the fishermen deliver their catch around 4:00 AM to eagerly awaiting buyers, many of them restaurant chefs. The local fish you see was swimming just a few hours earlier.

In my July 28, 2016 post (“I’m a Bresse Man”), I touted the chicken from Bresse, France as the best in all of the world. Well, the poultry pavilion is the center of the world for distribution of the prized bird, although I’m not certain that they can be sent to anyplace besides France. Much to my continued disappointment, they are not available in the United States. But that night Joanne and I dined on…you guessed it.

We ended our visit at the brilliant flower pavilion by watching container after container of flowers of all kinds arriving. Most containers, but not all, seemed to come from Holland and some weren’t even removed from their airline containers before heading out the door, presumably to another aircraft.

Finally, if you choose to visit the RUNGIS MARKET, there are tours available. Joanne and I, and one of our Parasole partners, VP of Marketing Kip Clayton, did the tour on our own and loved each and every step. But it might also be interesting to take a guided tour.

Our morning was topped off with double espressos alongside a line of white-coated butchers – not having espresso, but something stronger after a morning of hacking away with a meat cleaver.

As we left the market, we saw the clergy wheeling out a crate of apples.

All was well.



A Hél of a Meal in London and Paris

Some years back, I was in Paris and had picked up Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code for some travel reading. Part of the book is set there, and in the course of following some of the story’s clues around the Left Bank, Joanne and were led to the SAINT-SULPICE CATHEDRAL, home of the Rose Line, a central element in the story.

It was lunchtime and since we were in the neighborhood, we decided to try HELENE DARROZE, the famed second floor restaurant on Rue d’Assas that opened in 2001 and promptly won two Michelin stars. More about that later.

Hélène Darroze is an Alain Ducasse alum from Gascony in southwest France, home of the fat LANDES CHICKENS that actually rival the world renowned BRESSE CHICKENS from Burgundy.

In 2008 she opened her second restaurant at the prestigious CONNAUGHT HOTEL in London’s Mayfair neighborhood. Her menus in Paris and in London, while not identical, are very similar in tone and attitude, with several signature dishes featured at both restaurants. But the décor is quite different at each location. Both dining rooms are warm and comfortable, but the Paris location has a decidedly more contemporary flavor, whereas the London outpost exudes a sporting and “old-money” British vibe.

If you have kids and remember Pixar’s animated studio film, Ratatouille, the character Colette was modeled after Hélène Darroze.

One thing that I like about Darroze is that while exercising serious cooking skill, she brings wit and whimsy to the table. For example, the “menu” arrives in the convoluted form of a Chinese Checkers board, with 16 bright white balls, all labeled with food possibilities – scallops…lamb…caviar…

You pick a ball or two or three that interest you and place them in the indented ring that surrounds the board. Your server records them, then proceeds to explain and romance your selections. It’s a unique give-and-take that sets the stage for a playful rapport between staff and guest.

Is it necessary? Hell, no. Is it fun? Damn right.

Cheesy gougeres appear on your table, followed by a dark, dense and chewy bread with two butters, one a flaky, salted, incredibly rich golden slab; the second a 4-inch-high cone of swirled chili butter. Both are nice counterpoints to the slight sweetness of the molasses in the bread.

Let the show begin…

Seemingly out of nowhere a trolley shows up tableside, bearing a classic Berkel slicer (not the Williams Sonoma iteration, but the “real deal” $25,000 version), invented in 1898 by Wilhelm van Berkel in Rotterdam (The London location sports a red Berkel; in Paris it’s cream colored). Without a word, your server spins the handle and pink, paper-thin slices of cured Gascon ham settle into an airy pile served alongside a miniature loaf of buttery pull-aparts.

It was a hot summer day in Paris when we first dined at Hélène Darroze and Joanne had Gaspacho as a starter. Even though it was refreshingly chilled, the flavor was absolutely intense. Adding to the theater, the soup was poured from a glass teapot right at the table.

Considering Darroze’s Gascony heritage, it came as no surprise that of the fifteen starters, five involved foie gras – some duck, some goose. I don’t know if the goose is any better than the duck, or if the price is higher because they just don’t know what to do with the rest of the goose (I’ve heard it’s often donated to prisons), but in the world of foie gras, goose liver ranks higher on the fanciness scale – so expect to pay a premium for it.

At any rate, I certainly was not able to try ‘em all, and Joanne will not even taste foie gras, so I was forced to consume an ethereally creamy slab of it all by myself. I still remember: The preparation included cocoa beans and smoked eel. In a tribute to spring (and to the snout-to-tail movement), another standout appetizer of sweetbreads comes with morel mushrooms.

Mains have included Beef Wellington (perfect in London on a damp and dreary November evening). Milk-Fed Lamb Chops from the Pyrenees were fork-tender. And surprisingly I also liked the Pigeon in Mole Sauce. (The lesson here: In the hands of a master, anything can be made delicious.)

But here’s the deal……

Darroze cites that she fondly remembers her Sunday dinners while growing up in Gascony. It was always ROAST CHICKEN and always chicken from Landes.

Consequently, we are blessed that she has added Saturday and Sunday ROAST CHICKEN FOR TWO to her menus in both Paris and London. This is no casual Sunday supper, though. Each menu consists of five courses and will set you back about $140 for two. Not cheap, but a bargain compared to a meal assembled à la carte.

Perhaps Daniel Humm of NYC’s ELEVEN MADISON PARK took inspiration from Hélène Darroze when he introduced what food writer Dan Meyers has called “the best roast chicken in America” – an Amish variety, stuffed with truffles, foie gras and brioche.

Darroze stuffs foie gras under the skin in the winter, and in the summer the chicken gets morel mushrooms and truffles.

The parade begins with a gilded eggshell filled with egg yolk confit, chicken liver mousse, bacon, crispy skin and parmesan foam – decadence on a spoon. That’s followed by a second course of “gin-clear” chicken consommé with tiny ravioli and a splash of Armagnac. A generous glossy and juicy nut-brown breast comes next with a side of perfectly prepared, butter-loaded seasonal vegetables.

But now comes a real surprise and delight: a taco of boldly seasoned chicken leg and thigh meat on a corn tortilla with a squeeze of fresh lime.

Dessert arrives in three separate steps. Staying true to the chicken theme, there is ALWAYS Ile Flottante (whipped egg whites with crème anglaise, caramel and sliced toasted almonds), and sometimes strawberry ice cream (unlike any you have ever seen or tasted).

Not included, but definitely a worthwhile extra indulgence is a sampling from the Cheese Trolley, which features huge wedges of unpasteurized varieties (which aren’t imported to the U.S.) from both England and France, displayed under enormous glass bell jars. Selections come with an assortment of fruits, nuts and chutneys.

And finally a complimentary “tree” of chocolate truffles arrives to enjoy with your coffee. But….we ain’t done yet, folks. As you leave, you are given a box of cookies, pastries, macarons and sweets to take home. NICE!

The PRIX FIXE menu at lunch is a relative bargain in Paris. The London location serves dinner only.

My advice? Book a table for two on Saturday or Sunday night. Have the ROAST CHICKEN FOR TWO…..DO IT!

W.T. F.



Fresh seafood and oysters have been part of the Paris restaurant scene since Frederic Bofinger opened his eponymous brasserie in 1864 near the Bastille. It was a time when railroads were new and were just beginning to bring fresh seafood to the hordes of awaiting Parisians. BOFINGER STILL STANDS.

In the 1920s, after World War I, Rue Montparnasse was the trendy playground of Paris and folks were packing the bars, cafes and restaurants every night. It was then that the seafood restaurant LE DOME stood ready to welcome the new kid on the block: LA COUPOLE, which on opening night in 1927, is said to have popped the corks on 1200 bottles of champagne and shucked thousands of fresh oysters. Remarkably, LE DOME and LA COUPOLE flourish to this day.

After recent visits to both, LE DOME seems to be a whole lot more serious about their food. Yes, it’s a tourist spot…but I also see loads of tables that appear to be occupied by locals.

Joanne and I have had the pleasure of sampling a host of Parisian seafood places over the years: LA MAREE…MARIUS ET JANETTE…PRUNIER…all old school, but good old school. HUITERIE REGIS in the 6th specializes in oysters as well as towers of fruits de mer, including lobster, langoustine, clams, whelks and anything else that may have been caught or harvested that morning. It’s TINY, TINY TINY and I don’t think I’ve ever had any of their cooked dishes. In fact, I don’t recall even seeing a kitchen – just a pantry, with no stove.

Totally out of the tourist zone, In an unremarkable neighborhood , several blocks behind the Tour Montparnasse is one of our favorites: LA CAGOUILLE. The dining room shouts bad design from the 1950’s, but kitchen seduces with the best seafood from that morning’s haul. The menu here isn’t meant to impress, simply to bring you joy. Thank God, it does both.

All of which brings us to a new discovery – a fantastic seafood spot on the Right Bank in the 8th, not too far from the Arc de Triomphe: RESTAURANT HELEN (its tagline is “Le Culte du Poisson” – “the cult of fish”]. Now, I searched in vain to find out just who in the heck HELEN is…or was. The most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Troy? Or the Greek meaning, “shining light?” I just do not know.

What I do know is this….the chef/owner is an incredible talent by the name of SEBASTIAN CARMONA-PORTO. He was born in France but grew up in Spain and moved to Paris to become chef at Le Duc before moving on to HELEN.

Joanne and I first had lunch there a couple of years ago and have been back twice, both times for dinner and most recently for our anniversary. For us, it’s a special occasion restaurant – an anniversary or birthday place. Helen can be expensive, but it’s also a lifetime memory. Note: a prix fixe menu is offered at lunch for a fraction of the cost of an à la carte dinner.

The dining room is tasteful – done up in understated shades of blue and grey. The tables are nicely spaced and, if there are two of you, I’d recommend table #’s 1, 2 or 3, all near the window. That’s Joanne at table three.

OK….on to dinner. The all-seafood menu is PURE and HARD…..only stuff that swims.

I’m always tickled and frequently raise an eyebrow at restaurants’ “amuse bouche” offerings. At HELEN, by the time the third amuse bouche arrived, I didn’t just raise an eyebrow….I dropped a jaw!

Among appetizers that we have enjoyed are the Razor Clams, Char-Grilled Octopus, Raw Tuna Slices with Yuzu and Jalapeno, Langoustines with a Souffle Cap and Garlic Aioli as well as a host of Carpaccios and Crudos, depending on the day’s catch.

Mains have included Steamed Clams with Chorizo, Sole, and a minimalist block of soft ivory Halibut. However, the star of the show is the nightly selection of WHOLE FISH FOR TWO, presented and filleted tableside. While we’ve never had the Scorpion Fish with its massive head and fierce-looking, very wide and toothy mouth, we have had the seabass and, best of all, the flounder.


Of course, desserts were wonderful. An all-out-assault on the dessert menu rewarded us with three chock-full-of-chocolate treasures: the millefeuille, a chocolate tart, and all-chocolate profiteroles.

I thought HELEN was our special little find, a place that might be off the radar screen, not populated with the glitterati.

But as I was exploring the delights of this restaurant, I came across this…..

Check it out. It’s the last image.


Voulez Vous Coucher à Paris?

Paris is expensive….hellishly expensive!

Particularly its hotels. And especially the five-star properties. Sure, if you stay at the Hotel de Crillon or the Ritz, you’ll enjoy a superior location, super-attentive staff (including, on certain floors, a private butler), as well as a well-appointed (though not necessarily large) room – but you’ll pay upwards of a thousand bucks a night!

We dabbled in this arena several years ago when our Parasole Culinary Team spent a couple of weeks in Paris and SPLURGED by staying at the HOTEL PLAZA ATHENEE (the rooms were much less at the time, and we got a group discount). It was a lovely property, with all the aforementioned attributes (but, still, a standard room for two was tiny by American standards – barely big enough for a bed, sitting chair and armoire). Of course, there was the bonus of having the world-acclaimed RESTAURANT ALAIN DUCASSE just off the lobby. Not only did we have the privilege of dining there, we also were treated to a personal and private tour of the kitchen, including lengthy conversations with the cooks and chefs.

(Alain Ducasse, of course, wasn’t there – he has an empire to run. But for those occasions when he is in residence, the hotel had constructed a glass-walled office/dining room for him adjacent to the kitchen, where he could watch his team work by looking up at a bank of wall-mounted CCTV’s.)

But here’s the deal: Joanne and I have been able to smoke out hotels in major European markets that share many of the attributes of the 5-star joints at a fraction of the price, while offering a more personal and engaging experience. Probably our favorite find is the HOTEL SAINT GREGOIRE in the heart of the 6th Arrondisement on Paris’ Left Bank.

More about the hotel in a moment…

First, the location: You’re just a few minutes’ walk from some of the most interesting and fun venues Paris has to offer.

On nice days, we love to while away a few hours strolling, sitting, reading and eating in the LUXEMBOURG GARDENS, the peaceful and spacious (61 acres of spacious) park famous for its manicured combination of French gardens and English gardens (which is sort of odd in that both were designed by Marie di Medici and supposedly inspired by the Boboli Gardens in Florence).

Kids can be engaged for hours here – riding ponies, sailing miniature sailboats on the pond, riding the carousel. And, at the end of the day, they can indulge in sweet treats by sitting outside at ANGELINA, one of the city’s premier chocolatiers. You’ll want to get the “little darlings” wired up on sugar, so in addition to a pastry treat, be SURE to order a cup of Angelina’s signature HOT CHOCOLATE. The best I’ve ever had in my life!!!

Another bonus of the location: You’re just two blocks from THE BON MARCHÉ department store – the best in the city (you heard me, Galeries Lafayette!). On every visit, I spend hours wandering its ground-floor FOOD HALLS.

Also, if you’re a fan of the writer, Dan Brown – author of The Da Vinci Code – then you’ll be compelled to visit the CHURCH OF SAINT-SULPICE, just a ten-minute walk from the St. Gregoire. There you’ll find “The Rose Line” that Silas the monk used as a reference point in his quest to find the Holy Grail. A small opening in the south transept allows the bright sunlight to illuminate the brass rose line embedded in the floor of the cathedral. Not familiar with the significance of “The Rose Line?” Well, read the book.

The Saint Gregoire is an 18th century mansion that has been re-purposed as a guest house-style boutique property by the designer David Hicks. The hotel resides on a quiet street a few blocks from the metro station, SAINT-PLACIDE. Not only are the rooms sound-proof, English is fluently spoken by the lovely and professional receptionist, Alice.

The best part of staying at the Saint Gregoire: Descending into the basement and entering the medieval “stone-arched cave” breakfast room every morning for freshly squeezed juice, buttery warm croissants, orange marmalade, yogurt, and more. Along with pots of hot coffee for you, there’s hot chocolate for the kiddies. A continental breakfast is always included in the room rate.

And now for the pièce de résistance – Get ready! – the room rates on our recent stay hovered around $250 a night, which is REMARKABLE for the hotel’s quality, style, and location. In a city of $500-$1,000/night hotel rooms. This is a “FIND”!!!!

Je vous en prie!



An Oasis in Paris

Sometimes when Joanne and I are in Paris, we just don’t want to be culinarily challenged. By the 5th or 6th day of seeking out very special restaurants that somehow could have a culinary relationship with our PARASOLE restaurants, we simply want a DAY OFF…a time to just chill.

But Paris being Paris, even the places you expect to be predictable have the capacity to surprise. Consider PAVILLON ÉLYSÉES LENÔTRE…..or simply LENÔTRE, a little gem of a restaurant southeast of the Arc de Triomphe toward Place de Concorde, right on the Champs. You’ll see it nestled perfectly in a park across the street from the Palais Royale amongst the trees.

This place is the soul of consistency. It consistently earns solid rankings for its food, and its service and décor don’t disappoint either. It’s a “safe” choice – that’s what we like about it – but damned if I don’t come away from every meal with an idea or two.

More often than not, I come away with a kitchen gadget or two as well, because the space is made up of three components – the restaurant, a cooking school, and a very well-curated culinary boutique with appliances, books, dishware and the like, as well as an assortment of small electronics and appliances for the kitchen.

By the way, if it’s a nice day, YOU MUST sit outside.

Regardless of where you sit, be prepared for some adventure, because amidst the comfort food and familiar pastries are dishes featuring smart, attractive and sometimes witty plating. You won’t be overwhelmed; you’ll simply be delighted as you kick back with a bottle of wine (or perhaps two).

Our appetizers have included smoked salmon with blini and horseradish cream and a crunchy salad, foie gras encased in cranberry “fruit leather”, and a quail breast with pumpkin in Jerusalem artichoke foam. But this is also the place for a simple, deliciously creamy quiche Lorraine. And our granddaughter was in hog heaven with her spaghetti tossed in butter and sprinkled with a little Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Steak Frites? Of course, and they’re just as you’d expect, except on occasion they add a few snails. But what about a special of Beef Cheeks with Chorizo? Expecting that? I don’t think so. I’ve enjoyed countless hanger steaks, but never a VEAL hanger steak as I’ve had here. It’s as though they try to sneak it by you. Same with the Shepherd’s Pie – also made with veal. By the way, they call this dish Veal Parmentier, but it’s really just a Shepherd’s Pie. And a delicious one at that.

Twice Joanne has had the Monkfish “Bouillabaisse” with white beans. She could easily be a slave to that dish (just like me and Bao Buns). And speaking of Asian treats, Lenôtre isn’t bashful about going there. Witness the grilled shrimp alongside spring rolls with sweet and sour dipping sauce and a bowl of Thai fried rice. Finally, my favorite: Hazelnut Crusted Cod on a bed of Chanterelle Mushrooms.

Over one of our frequent lunches here, we concluded that Lenôtre (and a bevy of other Parisian spots) were too good to waste on us. We needed to bring over the PARASOLE CULINARY TEAM. So we did.

After that decision, Joanne and I dove into the pastries – tarts, cakes, Baba Rhums and Charlottes. Check ‘em out.

The Parasole Culinary Team arrived not long afterward, and here they are at the Eiffel Tower and, of course, Lenôtre.

GO THERE. You’re gonna like this place – as much for how engaging it is as how relaxed you’ll be as you wile away an afternoon on the Champs-Élysées.



Cock ‘o the Walk for Chicken Lovers

I love chicken…LOVE IT!!!

And I’ve been fortunate enough to eat it all over the world – from street food stalls in Bangkok…to Kansas City for STROUD’S cast iron skillet chicken deep fried in lard ……or the Central American sensation, POLLO CAMPERO’s grilled chicken, so coveted by Los Angelenos that prior to its U.S. opening they smuggled it in their suitcases on planes arriving from Guatemala City.
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