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Maurice Naughton

Member Since 21 Apr 2004
Offline Last Active Mar 28 2007 08:42 PM

#759808 Notes from a Parisite

Posted by Maurice Naughton on 24 December 2006 - 02:11 PM



Well, yeah, but I'm old and alone and admit to experimentation.

#703179 Cast Your Movie

Posted by Maurice Naughton on 04 June 2006 - 07:05 AM

Harry Dean Stanton

#686306 Tools You Use

Posted by Maurice Naughton on 05 April 2006 - 08:16 PM

I have a carbon steel Chinese knife (the kind people sometimes mistakenly call a cleaver) with a blade about 2.5 inches wide and 7 inches long. It's indespensible. I even take it to Paris with me, along with my Opinel number 9 folding knife, also with carbon steel blade, and a small Arkansas stone for sharpeningn them.

#660861 Bruce Frigard - Winesonoma

Posted by Maurice Naughton on 17 January 2006 - 02:06 AM

So little can bring me to tears nowupon. But I cannot stop crying now. As the world gets a little emptier

Edit: Bruce and I exchanged some e-mails. He offered me a place to stay if I got to northern CA. He was an old friend I never met. Jesus.

#533438 Notes from a Parisite

Posted by Maurice Naughton on 10 November 2004 - 04:30 PM

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, 8 - 10 November 2004 - Rainy and cold Monday, a little sun Tuesday, and it looks like more rain today. Typical autumn days in Paris.

Hi, There--

I've had a number of misses in my restaurant choices in the past couple of weeks, after I resolved to stop going back to old favorites and to try new places once again.

The first mistake was going for Friday lunch to a neighborhood bar-cafe-brasserie called La Fontaine, after the big fountain in the middle of the place du Colonel-Bourgoin. I had been seduced by their 8 € menu of mussels and French fries (moules-frites, in the vernacular), served every Friday, in garlic cream on one Friday and marinière the next. I figured that there's not much you can do to wreck such a simple dish, and the little place was full, about forty folks at 12:45. Most of the diners appeared to be known to the "equipe" (an odd French word that, in restaurants, means "the team," or the staff) and were eating the mussels from good-sized soup plates. These are all generally good signs. But I'm still a hopeless naïf.

You can ruin mussels by buying ungraded ones, which vary in size from miniscule (think raisins, or if you're a Brit, Sultanas) to not very big (think ordinary table grapes) and cooking them till they take on a peculiar mealy texture, apparently having lost their form in a communal pot that must spend the entire two-hour lunchtime staying warm on the back burner. I'm guessing here, and may, if the Euro keeps getting more expensive, go back for them again, arriving at say eleven-fifty, before the first order has been dished up. But certainly the really little ones will be properly cooked in a fraction of the time the bigger ones require, and will suffer losses till the others are done. The flavor was actually correct; the texture was the offense. A little pot of Alsatian sylvaner helped a bit. The frites were fine, though, and the unsmiling but attentive waitress (one poor woman for the entire room, in a constant rush, simply no time to smile) was assiduous in replenishing my supply.

(Aside: I think I've mentioned before that the frites in Paris are a shadow of their former selves (as remembered from twenty years ago). They're served nowadays after a single dip in the fryer's fat when they'd just become pale yellow, a color that inAmerican restaurants advertising "Family Dining" (a flashing red light if there ever was one) is called "Golden Brown." Harumph. Proper fries require two cookings at different temperatures, the first to cook them through, after which they can sit around for a while developing their starches, and the second, hotter, to crisp and brown them. It helps in Paris to order your frites "bien cuit," well-done. And if you're devoted to "fries," head to Belgium, where they were invented and you can still get good ones. If you want them the classic way, use really good Mayonnaise as your dip, as the Flemings do. Ketchup people don't deserve to have fries.)

The second mistake was lunching at a pretty little bistrot called Les Epicuriens du Marais (a very odd name, since it's just south of the place de la Republique on the rue Commines at the corner of the boulevard des Filles du Calvaire, at least a mile north of the Marais).

I was going to avoid telling you how I chose this joint, but I guess I'll fess up. I was walking around the neighborhood and it caught my eye--nice green façade, interesting menu with frog's legs (which have become pretty rare in Paris, along with that other delight, a fry-up of tiny fish like whitebait or smelt, friture de eperlans), and a charming, old-fashioned interior. The two course lunch menu was an economical 13€50. And it was, more importantly, across the street from a laundromat and near from a convenient bus stop. My distaste for laundromats is well-known. I figured I could take the bus from my apartment, with my laundry in a carry-all and have lunch while doing the wash. It's as good a reason for choosing an entirely unknown restaurant as any other. Maybe.

So I was working my plan. The clothes were in the washer and I went in the restaurant. Bar on the left, tables on the right, friendly welcome. Tile floor, ancient beamed ceiling, wood wainscotting under light yellow walls. About 21 covers, 14 parishoners in attendance at 1:20 pm, buisness men, two couples, three women together. Tables under maroon cloth, chairs in ecru slipcovers, quite charming waiter, very young, dressed as I was, all in black. He brought me a menu, explained the du jours, gave me a few minutes to contemplate. I ordered cuisses de grenouilles aux herbes to start followed by a grilled dorade grise (sea bream) de Provence, pressé de légumes provençal (think ratatouille) et compote de carottes. Half bottle of bourgogne aligoté for another 10 €. Good crystal glassware.

First, I got a little plate of green and black olives, seedless, with toothpicks. OK. The frogs arrived, five pairs of medium legs dressed lightly with garlic-herb butter. along with a little dish holding one of those envelopes of wet wipes, the universal replacement for finger bowls in the places I frequent. I took it as permission to eat with my fingers, which, as Julia insists, were impeccably clean. Absolutely amazing dish. At first I couldn't believe it, but gradually it sank in. The frogs didn't taste like anything at all. They were merely transport for the butter. Except for the texture, you might have thought you were eatins some odd tofu. They didn't even have the grace to taste just like chicken. I found this to be a fault.

Then came the daurade, in a pristine presentation, the beautifully grilled whole fish diagonal on a square white plate, on a bed of céleri-rave (celeriac) and with the pressed veggies and the carrots occupying the remaining corners. So far entirely correct. I leaned closer to get a whiff. Fish! Everyone ought to know that good, fresh fish doesn't smell fishy. At the fishmonger's the ocean fish should have clear eyes, not cloudy, and bright red gills, not darkened to maroon, and they should smell briny, a clean waft of the salt sea. And when they're cooked, they should still smell clean, fresh, with a hint of their oil and the herbs they were cooked with. Fishy is bad, the stink of red herring dragged across the fox's path to confuse the dogs is not what diners are after. And it tasted fishy, so that I didn't finish it.

I said to the lad that the fish had failed, he apologized and proposed to bring me a new one. From the same batch? I was tempted to ask, but didn't. I had had enough and just wanted to get away from what my imagination had magnified into a nauseating stink. I paid up and went to fetch my clothes, which smelled, thank God, sweet and clean.

A few days later, I went for lunch to Jean-Pierre Frélet (merci, Margaret) on the rue Montgallet near where I live. This is another pretty resto, more elegantly tricked out than an ordinary bistrot, bright and new with yellow walls above French blue banquettes, no tables except along the walls of the narrow room. The banquettes faced square tables with bright white napery and wicker basket chairs with blue cushions opposite them. It's a small place and clearly a two person operation, Madame out front and Monsieur with the sink and stove. There were only four others in the room at two in the afternoon, but I judged from their tables that one course would satisfy my puny appetite (and, to be honest, I for once didn't have my faithful back pack with its supply of Zip-Locs, so had no transport for leftovers).

The confit de canard maison, pommes et fruits seches crumble (duck stewed in tis own fat with apples and dried fruits under a crumble topping) sounded oddly interesting. And that's exactly what it was. The duck leg was topped by dessert--apple and dried fruit crumble. I had assumed that the crumble topping would be without the ordinary sweeteners, but I was wrong. The compote of apples and fruits was naturally sweet, but the dessert topping was simply too much. I don't much like sweetness in a savory dish, and although this one was beautiful and well made, it simply wasn't to my taste. A quarter liter of Gamay de Touraine didn't help much. I'll go back soon and have a proper meal with Chef Jean-Pierre and his charming wife, so the introduction, at least, was successful.

(Aside: rue Montgallet, a couple or three blocks long, is lined on both sides with cut-rate computer electronics shops. I earlier estimated the number of these places in this neighborhood at, I think, thirty. I raise the estimate to fifty. What's a rather upscale family enterprise like Frélet doing in the middle of geekorama? I think he may not succeed.)

I will append to the next few reports some accounts of pleasures I've not had time to mention before. Like this:

A couple of Saturdays ago, I had an excellent lunch (some raviolis to start, followed by a huge porkchop with pureed carrots, spinach, and potatoes) at Chez Prune on the banks of the beautiful Canal St. Martin with my friend Marc the Foodhunter. This restaurant was formerly a working-class bar but has boboed itself into an excellent eatery with precision cooking, friendly staff, and sympa clientel. ("Bobo" is the current Paris slang for the growing class of "bourgeois-bohemians," who're migrating to newly trendy neighborhoods, epitomized by the wondrous area on either side of the Canal, and bringing with them an appitite for good food, good clothes, and good fun.)

Marc was in town (he lives in the south, in a place called Auzits, a name that Anglophones find amusing) for the SIAL, the world's largest exposition and brokerage for caterers, restaurateurs, marketers and other food professionals at the mamouth Parc des Expositions de Paris, just this side of the Aéroport Charles de Gaulle. (Marc is, after all, the Foodhunter.) And the following Thursday, I spent a wonderful afternoon there (alas, without Marc's guidance) sampling savory morsels from all over the world and talking to lots of interesting people, aided by the ID clipped to my shirt, identifying me as "Journaliste Press" for the AARP. (Commence laughing now.) In an astonishing exhibition of bravado, charm, and prevarication, I had wheedled the pass from a lovely girl whose job it was to check out journalist's press credentials before issuing them ID tags. By the time we were done, I thought she was going to invite me to dinner and a movie after the expo closed. No such luck.

Out of time, but still in space, :D