Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Paris 2011: L'Ourcine

92, rue Broca
Paris 75013
Ph: 01 47 07 13 65
(Closest Metro station: Les Gobelins)

The week before we went to Paris, I texted my friend Clarice and asked her to pick a nice restaurant we could visit on our trip.  I know of Paris' reputation as a gourmet's heaven, but I have to admit I was completely lost when it came to choosing a restaurant!  Unlike some other cities, say, Sydney and London, there were no particular 'destination' restaurants that I was dying to visit.  And I was unsure how to navigate the different options: expensive Michelin-starred places, the new wave of cheaper, more democratic bistros headed by ex-fine dining chefs: where to begin?

In the weeks leading up to our holiday, work was so busy that I barely had any time to research, so I thought it would be wise (not to mention easier, hehe), just to ask my friend for advice.  It seemed that many restaurants were closed for August, but Clarice finally found one that was open: L'Ourcine.  She'd visited there for her birthday a few years back, and said they served fabulous regional cuisine from south west France.  Fantastic!

L'Ourcine is located on a quiet residential street (although the quietness was likely exacerbated by the August holidays!), in the 13th arrondissement, and on the night we visited, was mainly full of locals.  They had a three-course menu for 34€, to which you can add some sides or a fancier main for an additional cost.  I thought this represented good value!  Service was also friendly (especially by Parisian standards, hehe), and not just because we were fortunate enough to have a fluent French speaker on our table - the head waiter was very patient with a nearby table of middle-aged American tourists who spoke no French and needed the entire menu translated into English.

They also had a short and sharp list of local wines.  Not knowing anything about French wines, I just asked for a glass of light red wine.

To start, we were brought a little amuse-bouche of fennel mousse with chives and little crunchy croutons: delicious.   
For someone who doesn't really like aniseed-flavours, I absolutely loved this!  It was both light and rich, with just a subtle hit of aniseed.

With four of the five entrées being seafood-based, Sandra's only option was the egg dish.
Oeufs poêlés minute, poivrons confits, émulsion crémeuse au thym 
This dish, a nod to their Basque influence, included softly cooked eggs, confit peppers and a thyme foam.  (I quickly came to realise that émulsion crémeuse means foam!)  Whilst this was well executed, Sandra felt that it was almost too simple to justify the price.

Clarice and I, unable to choose, decided to order two entrées and share.  First up, crab ravoili with lemon foam.

Raviole d'araignée de mer, émulsion crémeuse à la citronelle 
This was gorgeous - an incredibly fresh and light combination of flavours and textures.

Bisque de crustacés, crème légère aux oeufs de harengs fumés
And following the same seafood theme, but with a vastly different effect, was a decadently creamy shellfish bisque.  It was served with a quenelle of smoked herring roe cream, garlic crisps, some crunchy little croutons and (again) chives.

Let's have a look at the mains.  Sandra ordered a roast pork fillet, with confit garlic and piquillo peppers, which came with a side of gratin chard.
Mignon de cochon rôti à l'ail confit, gratin de blettes au jus, couli de pimientos del pequillos 
Beautiful, isn't it?  I snuck a little taste and it was excellent!  None of us were too enthused about the gratin chard, however.

Clarice and I both ordered the same thing for our mains: a breast of Fermier-breed chicken, stuffed with foie gras and served with freshly podded peas cooked in the French style (i.e. with bacon and stock).  I'm glad we each ordered our own and didn't share: it was so delicious I would have struggled to swap halfway through!
Suprême de poulet fermier, piqué au foie gras de canard, petits pois frais à la française

The chicken was extremely tender, nearly tending towards underdone, with well-seasoned accompaniments and a generous serving of duck foie gras - absolutely gorgeous!  I think it says quite a lot for the mains that we barely spoke to each other the whole way through, our faces pointed down, fully concentrating on enjoying our food!

We also ordered a small serving of chanterelle mushrooms, (chanterelles, how could I resist!) but given the size of our meals, didn't really need them.
Fricassée de giroles au jus de viande - (+8€)

For dessert, I went for the chocolate option: smooth and quenelles of Guanaja chocolate cream, drizzled with an intensely coloured but mildly flavoured saffron custard.  The accompanying puffed-rice stick provided a nice textural contrast.  The quenelles were very rich though, and I only managed to eat one.  I didn't struggle to find volunteers to eat the rest, though!
Quenelles de chocolat guanaja, crème anglaise safranée, crunch de riz soufflé
Both Sandra and Clarice went for the blanc mangé, a dessert I'd never eaten, but only read about in Enid Blyton books.
Blanc mangé à la vanille, confit d'abricots au miel d'acacia et pistaches
The little mound of gelatin-set vanilla cream were surrounded by intensely perfumed apricots and pistachios,  and a drizzle of pistachio sauce.  Accompanying was a crunchy poppyseed tuille biscuit, and an absolutely perfect raspberry.  I always wonder where restaurants and pâtisseries find such perfect raspberries.  You may remember, when I made Nigella's slut-red raspberries in chardonnay jelly, they tasted great, but looked quite odd as the little raspberry hairs were suspended in the jelly.  Do farmers reserve the best raspberries for standing orders from restaurants and patisseries?  Or is there someone in the kitchen whose job it is to pluck all the little raspberry-hairs out?

Anyhoo... back to the topic at hand.  I loved the meal at L'Ourcine, and we walked out into the warm night, full and happy.  I'd definitely want to visit again the next time I go to Paris!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Paris 2011: Cooking at Home

One of the great things about staying at a friend's house, as opposed to a hotel, was that we got to cook a lot!  So, for this post, I would like to share with you all the things we cooked, plus a couple of little picnic-type assembled meals.  We tended towards light salads, to balance out all the pastries we'd be eating!  The recipes mainly came from the breathtaking Ottolenghi cookbook (which I have now ordered, because it's amazing), with a bit from Bill Granger and Gwyneth Paltrow (yes, really - and it was actually quite good!)  Ok, allons-y!

Day 1, Breakfast: Bill Granger's Peachy French Toast

I didn't contribute to this breakfast at all, apart from in the eating.  We arrived in Paris at 9:30 in the morning, and whilst we unpacked and settled in, Clarice whipped up this gorgeous breakfast!  Thick slices of brioche were stuffed with roasted peaches, dipped in beaten egg and fried in butter. Yum, yum.  I loved how the peaches lightened the taste of the french toast.

Day 1, Lunch: Cucumber and Poppyseed Salad; Grilled Aubergines with Saffron Yoghurt; Bread and Cheese

Both salads were from the Ottolenghi cookbook, whilst the bread and cheese were just assembled.

Half a loaf of Bauernbrot, a tub of Kochkäse (both brought from Germany), and a little wedge of Brillat-Savarin that we bought at a local fromagerie.

How beautiful are the colours?  The salad comprises grilled eggplant slices, topped with a garlicky, saffron-infused yoghurt, toasted pine nuts, pomegranate seeds and basil leaves.  It was so delicious!

I would have never thought to pair cucumber and poppy seeds, but it worked really well, adding some extra texture to a refreshing and spicy salad.

Day 2, Lunch: Grilled peach, prosciutto and watercress salad; Sweet potato and goats cheese galette

This meal (again, from Ottolenghi) was a team effort: I was in charge of grilling the peaches, Sandra chopped the herbs and Clarice made the gallettes!

The gallette is made of puff pastry, crème fraîche, roasted sweet potato (or pumpkin) and chèvre.  A sprinkling of pepitas, garlic, chilli, and parsley added some spark to what would otherwise have been a rather sweet tart.  I love the flavour combos from Ottolenghi - lots of them were quite unusual, but they were all universally tasty!  I have to make this tart again at home, I know my mum would love it!

Lunch, Day 3: Baguette, Pâté, Cheese

This was, clearly, not something we cooked, but rather a little picnic lunch we had in the Jardin de Luxembourg: duck pâté, blue cheese and baguette. Miam miam.

Day 3, Dinner: Fig, goats cheese and watercress salad with honey dressing; Broad bean and radish salad with green tahini

More Ottolenghi goodness!

I don't think you can go wrong with fresh figs, fresh watercress and good quality honey and goats cheese.

The radish and broad bean salad was easily my favourite of the lot.  I love broad beans but never cook with them as they're a bit of a pain to pod and shell, so I always think of them as a special treat.  Luckily, Picard sold high quality broad beans, already podded and shelled - yay!  The salad is served with a green tahini: a mixture of tahini, water, lemon juice, garlic and parsley.  I love tahini, so obviously loved the sauce, and it adds a bit of extra protein and vitamins to the dish - lovely!

Day 4, Lunch: Leftovers

This lunch included a baguette, a little cheese platter (leftover blue cheese, pâté, figs and goats cheese), the remaining sweet potato gallette, and more of that fabulous broad bean salad! 

Day 5, Dinner: Broad bean bruschetta, Salmon and beetroot salad, Chocolate and peanut butter chip cookies

For the final night of my Paris trip, we went a little special with dinner!  We started with an apéritif of broad bean bruschetta and pink champagne...

The recipe for the bruschetta comes from Nigella's Feast, and was fabulous!  Nigella says to use fresh broad beans, but we found that the frozen ones, cooked briefly in boiling water, worked just fine.

The main course was a salmon salad from the Gwyneth Paltrow cookbook - it included rare salmon, lettuce, beetroot, cherry tomatoes, griddled corn and spring onions dressed in a lime vinaigrette.  It was fantastic!  A pleasant surprise!

And in total contrast to the light, fresh flavours of the rest of the meal, dessert was a totally indulgent batch of chocolate cookies with peanut butter chips.  I'd brought the peanut butter chips from Australia as a gift, and I'm glad I did.  We actually saw the same peanut butter chips in an American shop in Paris, but I don't think they looked after their goods too well - it was really hot and stuffy inside the shop, and their chocolates were all melty and gross!  The PB chips also cost €8 - eek!

Cute bakeware!
Rather than a pure peanut-butter cookie, we wanted to make something with a little contrast and depth.  So, we went for a dark chocolate cookie dough - we used the recipe for the Magnolia Bakery's chocolate drop cookies, and replaced their chocolate chips, heath bars and nuts with the peanut butter chips.

I was surprised by how delicious the peanut butter chips tasted by themselves, and we did more than a few little taste tests!  I really have to make the Magnolia Bakery peanut butter fudge brownies again, this time with proper peanut butter chips on the top!

Scooping out the dough...

... and baked!

We ate these on the couch, whilst watching Arrested Development on DVD - perfect.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Paris 2011

Place de Vosges

And now we start the posts about our trip to Paris!  I was there for 5 days last week, staying with my good friend Clarice who now lives there.  Those of you who know me well will know that I used to really dislike Paris, after a pretty terrible trip back in 2004.  (You'll notice that my 2006 trip to Europe did not include Paris).  But now that a friend of mine has moved there, I had to take the opportunity of us being in Germany to go and visit!  How tight would it be to travel halfway around the world and not make an effort to meet up with your friends!?

I'm happy to say that Sandra and I had a brilliant time and totally loved it!  Yay!  Rather than trying to cram in all the famous sites, (strenuous and exhausting - no thanks), we mainly just hung out, caught up, and enjoyed the city.  We ate and cooked and walked and shopped and ate some more!  We had no firm plans apart from visiting some famous pâtisseries, and seeing the Notre Dame and the Catacombs.  My main desires were to avoid crowded touristy, pickpockety-hell holes, and to eat some good food!

Jardin de Plantes
We were also really fortunate to have a passionate Francophile (and Francophone!) local to guide us around and to be generally awesome - so a big thank-you to Clarice!!

Visiting in August was actually quite a good move for a couple of reluctant visitors to Paris: quite a few shops and restaurants were shut for the annual vacances, which meant it was generally less crowded than normal, and it also fueled my desire to return one day to visit the places that were closed.  I've (obviously) got quite a few blog posts planned, and for now would like to share with you some impressions from the trip!

This is the gorgeous interior of Galeries Lafayette.  I loved shopping here, especially the breathtaking food hall!
Galeries Lafayette
Here's the Pierre Herme stand in Galeries Lafayette!  Mmm... macarons.

Spices and teas in Lafayette Gourmet...

Breakfast from the famous Le Boulanger de Monge, enjoyed at home with an espresso!  We bought a baguette, a cinnamon escargot and a pain au chocolat.  Delicious.

Hehe, I love the way Chinese food is translated into French to make it more accessible to the locals! Ravioli Pékinois, anybody?  (That's a plain ol' dumpling).  How abut a brochette de poulet (chicken satay)?  This pic was taken at a random shop on the Rue Mouffetard.

Gorgeous figs and berries!  I generally found fresh fruits and veggies to be more expensive than here in Germany, but they were equally lovely.  I ate more than my fair share of figs on the trip!

These bizarre sexy anthropomorphic Orangina ads were everywhere as well!  Below we have a sexy giraffe...

... and a busty zebra, sporting a rather fetching pink mankini!  I didn't quite get the point of these ads, but hey, Orangina is super-popular, so I guess they're working!

And with that image, I shall end this post!  Looking forward to sharing more Parisian foodie adventures!