Recommendations

Bar de la Relève, Marseille France

Bar de la Relève is located just 5 or 6 blocks from the Vieux Port but the steep hill climb that connects the two keeps the neighborhood a bit sheltered from the crush of tourists (by the way, stop at the medieval Abbaye de St.-Victor for a quick look as you pass…the crypt is a jaw-dropper!).  A sort of bar/cafe/tapas bar a la Marseillais, Bar de la Relève was started by a group of copains who had already made there mark on the local food landscape ( Edouard of the Bistrot d’Édouard, Arnaud from the Cafe des Epice, Hugo from Le Cave de Baille and Gregoire, locally famous for organizing food-centric “happenings and soirees”) but who longed for a friendly place  to meet friends, raise a good glass of wine and have a bite.

They found the perfect location in an ancient and long abandoned café du quartier, that had, in its day, been a favored haunt for taxi drivers.  After an extensive and charming renovation, Bar de la Relève was born.  On any given night the front room is thick with neighborhood habitues crowding around the bar and spilling out onto the sidewalk, engaging in animated discussions between glasses of wine. Don’t worry, speak to the kind gentleman watching over the door, get on the list for a table and then wade right into the crowd.  The people of Marseille have a well deserved reputation for friendliness.

Once at table (or on any tiny scrap of bar you may happen to conquer), the menu is full of small plates that work as a snack or can be strung together for a meal.  On one night:  panisse, a sort of Provencal fritter made from chickpea flour, fried and simply served with sea salt and a lemon wedge;  squid hoods stuffed with green chard and braised in pastis, tomato and white wine;  filets of lieu jaune breaded a l’anglais served with sauce tartar; a robust country pâté;   and a lovely salad of roasted winter vegetables.

Côté vin, a well selected list featuring natural and organic wines, most by the glass.  What else could you need?

Bar de la Relève
Address:  41, Rue d’Endoume, 13007 Marseille, France
Tel: 04 95 09 87 81
Reservations:  Not accepted, come early or just push up to the bar until a table in the small dining room opens up.  Pleasant terrace for warm days or nights.

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Les Temps des Vendages, Toulouse France

Temps des Vendanges May 2017 2

If you leave the old center of Toulouse, crossing the Garonne via the pont Saint-Pierre, you will arrive in the left bank quarter of Saint-Cyprian.  Less picturesque and with fewer sites to attract visitors, this side of the river offers instead the charm the of a French town quietly going about its daily routines.

Located on the pocket sized Place de l’Estrapade at the center of the Saint-Cyprian, Les Temps des Vendages is at heart a cave or wine shop.  The walls of the tiny front room are lined with bottles that reflect owner Eric Cuestas’ passion for organic, biodynamic and natural wines, what he calls Vins d’Artisans.  By virtue of a tiny kitchen at the back  and 10 small tables tucked in between the cases of wine, the cave becomes cave a manger at lunch time.  Each day, the kitchen offers a short menu of seasonal dishes that look simple but surprise with their depth of flavor and technical accomplishment.

On a day in late May, one starter was a golden-yolked farm egg baked en cocotte with cream, raclette cheese , parsley and peas.   A main course featured  half a roasted chicken served with a salad of red feuille de chêne lettuce and potato puree.  Very simple dishes both but perfectly executed.  As each plate was delivered, the server chatted amiably about  the various farms from which came the eggs, chicken and raw milk raclette,

A cheese course we ordered was composed of a drippingly ripe Brie de Meaux, a cow’s milk tome from the Ariege hamlet of Bethmale and a herb crusted sheep’s milk cheese from Corsica.  The owner selected these from a small but very packed display case full of cheese and charcuterie at the back of the room.  Are these today’s cheeses, I asked?  No, he selected these to match the bottle of red wine from the Clos de Tue Bouef in the Touraine that we had been drinking.

By the time that a dessert of goat’s milk panna cotta with gariguette  strawberries (a specialty of the region)  arrived,  it had become clear that this simple little cafe and wine shop is anything but.  Instead, it offers something that is rare these days.  Impeccably sourced food and wine, prepared and served with skill and an amazingly humble sense of the virtues of a job well done.

Afternoons finds the pleasant terrace out front filled with tables of friends sharing a bottle of wine and a plate of charcuterie or cheese. Neighbors pass by to purchase a bottle and some cheese or rillettes to take home. Just another day in paradise.

Lest Temps des Vendages
Address:  9 Place de l’Estrapade, 31300 Toulouse, France
Tel: o5 61 42 94 66
Reservations:  Lots of space on the terrace, but if the weather is bad, reserve on of the 10 tables inside.

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Charcuterie Louis Ospital, Hasparren France

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Few people would guess, on passing this nondescript butcher shop in the small Basque town of Hasparren,  that they are passing perhaps the most famous charcuterie in France.  This tiny store front was first opened in the 1970’s by Louis Ospital, who was part of a tiny group of hog farmer and ham makers (3 of each to be exact) who, in an effort to foster a return to traditional methods of making Jambon de Bayonne, created the Jambon Label Ibaiama.  The label Ibaiama (which means “mother source” in Basque) includes only hams made from traditional Basque hog breeds using traditional handcrafting and aging methods, and has come to be recognized as the finest ham made in France.

Louis’ son Éric has since taken over the family business and become something of a celebrity in the process (yes , a celebrity ham maker…only in France) whose hams, sausages and boudin are served by who’s who of French restaurants (when visiting his ham production and aging facility, one of the first things you notice is that each ham is marked with the name of the restaurant for which it is destined, having purchased it before its 21 months of aging even started.)

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Jambon Ibaiana from maison Ospital and its ideal accompaniments: good bread and butter.

Despite his celebrity status, the current day charcuterie of Éric Ospital is almost unchanged since his father’s day, with an amiable mamie behind the counter taking her time to serve a queue of longtime local clients. The ham is sliced by hand or on a slicer (older clients seem to prefer their ham sliced thicker, and therefore by hand) and the chipolatas and basque boudins wrapped to order in waxed butcher paper.  The shop still offers fresh pork and Basque specialties “en conserve” in addition to its famous hams and cured meats.  Some things don’t change after all.

 Boucherie, Charcutier, Trateur L. Ospital
47, rue Jean Lissard, 64240 Hasparren France

05 59 29 63 06

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Au Pont Corbeau, Strasbourg France

pont-de-corbeau-sign-sept-2016

The best winstub in Strasbourg hides in plain sight.  Restaurant Au Pont Corbeau is located right on the quai Saint-Nicolas, a somber, almost windowless brown facade frowning out at the Musée Historique de la ville de Strasbourg located just across the river in the heart of the old town.  If you didn’t know it’s reputation, you probably wouldn’t give it a second look.

Fortunately, an acquaintance who lives in the area recommended it to me, saying that it is the winestub where “the locals go”.  Walking in to the dark wood lined dining room, you can believe that this is true.  The clientele seems to be mostly older and well healed people from the neighborhood.  Well dressed older couples. Groups of bankers in business suits with their jackets handing on the backs of their chairs.  A society matron lunching with what appears to be a daughter, a grand daughter and a great grand daughter.  A table of retired men, enjoying a couple bottles of wine with lunch and finishing with schnapps.

In other words, people who like to eat well, who know good food when they eat it and who seek the comfort of always finding their favorite dish on the menu.

That’s is the essence of Au Pont Corbeau.  Traditional cuisine of Alsace, prepared with attention to detail, like it has been for 90 years, served with care, warmth and humor in a crowded, convivially noisy room.  Eating well, on dishes you know and love, with people you enjoy.

Start with a fat slice of house made goose foie gras terrine “mi-cuit”.  Then maybe plump filets of herring marinated in white wine and olive oil.  Or presskopf, pig’s head terrine sliced as thick as my thumb, served with potatoes sauteed with garlic and parsley.

The above mentioned matron very carefully and tactfully devoured a thick wedge of crispy puff pastry tourte filled with ground pork and venison, served with carrot, beet and celery root crudités.  The  bankers shared platters of choucroute nouveau, first of the season sauerkraut garnished with smoked pork shoulder, knackwurst and pork shank.  The old buddies were split between the choucroute and a pot of rabbits pieces simmered with Riesling and mushrooms.

And just when you think you can’t eat one more bite, a bowl of green salad appears, to, as the waiter explains, help with digestion.  If it does its job, a generous slice of fresh fruit tart, maybe huckleberry or tiny yellow mirabelle plums, might just be the way to finish the meal.

In the pursuit of new and different dining experiences, we sometimes forget one of the rare pleasures of civilized living:  a well made, comforting meal composed of dishes we know and love.  They have not forgotten it at Au Pont Corbeau.

Au Pont Corbeau
Address:  21 Quai Saint-Nicolas, 67000 Strasbourg
Tel: 03 88 35 60 68
Reservations:  A good idea, very busy lunch and dinner.

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The Clown Bar, 11eme Paris, France

In the past, if you had heard of the Clown Bar at all, it was likely in the context of its wonderful Belle Epoque clown decor, which is so iconic that is often shows up in architecture books on cafes of Paris.   The design pays homage to the Clown Bars history as a hangout for performers and audience members from the nearby Cirque d’Hiver, long home to Paris’ circus.  Paris legend has it that Toulouse-Lautrec, among others, used to spend time bellied up to its zinc bar.

A few years ago, however, the team behind popular 2nd arrondissement restaurant a vin Saturne bought the Clown bar, washed away more than a century of tobacco stains from its hand-painted glass clown murals and re-purposed it as a bistro specializing in clean, thoughtful, modern French cooking.  For those of you who might jump to the conclusion that “modern” is a pejorative term for me in the context of French cooking, let me assure you that, in this case, it is not.  The food is simple and well prepared, the ideas and flavors direct and delicious, all while still subtly evoking traditional french bistro fare.  In other words, modern in the best sense.  The foie gras terrine smothered with shaved raw champignon de Paris and the beignets of sea snails with aioli were both perfect examples of the kitchen’s style:  surprising updates on traditional dishes that seem both new and intuitive at the same time.

The wine list skews decidedly natural, at least that is what I have heard.  When we were there, the young man running the dining room made lovely wine recommendations after discussing our menu choices with us, so I never had to look at a wine list.  All his choices seemed well considered and showed a real affection for the rapport between simple food and simple country wines (which is code for nice wines that went will with the food and didn’t break the bank).

Lots has already been written about the young Japanese chef and French sommelier who are in charge, so I wont add to the œuvre.  Suffice it so say that is is always a pleasure to find a new spot in Paris doing good food at a fair price.

The Clown Bar
Address:  114 Rue Amelot, 75011 Paris
Tel: 01 43 55 87 35
Reservations:  Always a good idea in Paris, especially in a small space such as this.

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Restaurant Arrantzaleak, Ciboure, France

Arrantzaleak May 2015

Located on a quiet street fronting the estuary of the Nivelle river, behind the fishing docks in the Basque coastal town of Ciboure, Restaurant Arrantzaleak doesn’t give the impression that it might be one of the best known restaurants in the region.  The decor is modest, with even a bit of seaside schmaltz…the walls are decorated with fishing nets, colorful cork floats, mounted trophy fish, tables are wood topped  and sky blue painted benches standing in for chairs.

However, when we arrived, the table of 15 Chinese tourists near the door left no doubt that this was the place we had read about.

Fortunately, Arrantzaleak, or “Chez Remunctxo” as it is known locally, lives up to the billing.  The formula is simple:  very fresh fish , grilled over hardwood coals (the grill is situated in a alcove that you pass through on your way to the bar), accompanied by fresh seasonal vegetables.  Done.

Although everything we tried was very good, selections from the daily fresh sheet were particularly good:  grilled razor clams served with leeks, fava beans and asparagus; wild caught sea bass with more favas, pickled shallot and garlic butter;  excellent whole prawns with persillade; and little flat fish called “langue d’avocat”, which resembled sand dabs and were served with herbed beurre blanc.

Restaurant Arrantzaleak
Address: 18 Avenue Jean Poulou, Ciboure, 64500
Tel: 05 59 47 10 75
Reservations:  Definitely, during the high season

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Marché d’Aligre / Marché Couvert Beauvau, Paris

Photo: Trip Advisor 2014

On the borderline between the 11th and 12 arrondissements and to the east of the Bastille is a neighborhood that is referred to alternately by reference to its main thoroughfare (the Faubourg Saint-Antoine) or its metro stop (Ledru Rollin), or, as often as not, by its market, the Marché d’Aligre.  Which makes sense, because the market is  the heart of this neighborhood, and like its neighborhood, it is an amalgam of the very traditional and the current, old and young, bursting with the flavors of France, which in modern Paris means also North Africa, the Levant and Asia.

The market consists of one of the oldest covered market in Paris, the Marché Couvert Beauvau, and the street market that spills out of the Beauvau into place  and rue d’Aligre , from which the market takes its name.  Quite simply put, this market is one of my favorite spots anywhere, and one that I almost never miss when I am in Paris.

Packed with too much stuff for any description to do it justice, it’s a market that demands that you just wade in and experience it.  Here are some of my favorites:

Poissonerie “La Marée Beauvau”, inside the covered market, a beautiful selection of fish and shellfish, and they have a single table for 2 where you can enjoy a plate of oysters and a glass of muscadet.

Boulangerie Moisan, an organic bakery facing the market  The fennel and raisin rolls are fantastic.

Fromagerie Philippe Langlet inside the covered market offers the most amazing selection of goat cheeses I have ever seen.

Boucherie “Les Provinces” along rue d’Aligre behind the market vegetable stalls;  you can select your preferred cut of “bio”  beef, lamb or veal butcher case, then pay the 9 euro “droit de cuisson” to have them cook it and serve it to you with salad and roasted potatoes in the small dining room next door.

At the south end of rue d’Aligre, Halal butcher shops predominate, some with rotisseries offering roasted merguez sausages in addition to the more usual roasted chickens.

The surrounding neighborhood is particularly rich in restaurants, bars and wine bars, like the legendary Le Baron Bouge, (formerly Le Baron Rouge…it’s a legal thing, don’t ask) where shoppers  meet for a glass of wine and a plate of charcuterie after the market closes.  Also not far are Chardenoux, Au Vieux Chene, l’Ebauchoir and Le Siffleur de Ballons, all places that find their way on to my list when friends ask for Paris recommendations.

Marché d’Aligre / Marché Couvert Beauvau
Place d’Aligre and along rue d’Aligre between rue Charenton and Faubourg St.-Antoine
Paris 12eme

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Chez Canaille, Pau, France

 

Chez Canaille is a bistrot, pure and simple.  That means copious portions, a menu that is meat-centric, heavy on charcuterie and doesnt stray far from traditional and regional specialties and a wine list of well priced bottles  from lesser known appellations.  In other words, no modern monkey business.

Well, maybe a little modern monkey business.

Like the fact that the menu lists the provenience of pretty much every entrecote, pied de cochon, jambon, boudin and andouillette(and sole!) they serve as well as  good number of the vegetables, fruits and cheeses.   Or that the wine list is heavy on wines that are organic or natural or both.  Or that the person who designed the decor harbors a tongue in cheek romance for the look of old time bistros that borders on the ironic.

Favorite dishes include textbook plate of beef marrow bones finished with a drizzle of persillade (two bones, each 10″ long…the waiter actually asked “Vous avez tout fini?  C’est pas possible!”).

Or a 4-bone côte de porc roasted for two and served with garlic roasted in its skin, thick cut frites and an accompanying saladier of curly endive dressed with grain mustard vinaigrette (although I think that when there are 4 bones, it is officially no longer a chop but has become a rack…this one from a porc noir de Bigorre, the black pigs whose legs are famous as the source of some of the best hams in the world).

Or a choux a la crème the size of a soft ball, filled with crème chantilly and drizzled with caramel.

Like I said, a bistrot.

Chez Canaille
Address:  3 Rue du Hedas, 64000 Pau
Phone:  05 59 27 68 65
Reservations:  Yes for weekday lunch, when it is very busy
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“La Garde Robe”, Paris, France

Photo: Not Drinking Poison in Paris 2012

Le Garde Robe calls itself at “cave a manger”, making the point that it is first and foremost a “cave” or wine shop.  And as a wine shop its offering of organic (or “bio”) and natural wines is impressive.  However, there is a lot more Le Garde Robe than wine.  During the course of the day, it is also a cafe, a wine bar and a petit restaurant, which is where the “manger” or “to eat” comes in.  The kitchen is tiny and the menu very limited.  But everything is impeccably  sourced, from local farms or artisans, organic  and well prepared.  Charcuterie, cheeses, a few salads, a plate of crudites (or raw vegetables) served with basil pistou, and tartines  make up the bulk of the menu.  A few daily specials make up the rest.  The day we were last there, these included a butternut squash soup, house smoked and air cured beef, and a cocotte of boudin noir with apples.

Quality ingredients, prepared without pretension, at a fair price.  And at lunch, there is no corkage when you select a bottle from the wine shop.

Le Garde Robe (Two locations):

41, rue d’Arbre Sec, 75001 Paris  01 49 26 90 60
4 Rue Bridaine, 75017 Paris  01 44 90 05 04

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“Le Petit Commerce”, Bordeaux France

Photo Yelp 2013

The Petit Commerce, a bistro specializing in seafood, reminds me of two points regarding the city of Bordeaux that are not necessarily the first that come to mind when I think of this capital of wine.

First, Bordeaux is a port city and as such, has a rich culinary tradition surrounding fish and shellfish.   Although officially located on the river Garonne, it is very near the river’s mouth and therefore close the rich fishing of the bay of Biscay.  Bordeaux is also in the center of one of the most renowned oyster producing regions in France, very close to the famous oyster beds at Arcachon and around Oleron.
Second, Bordeaux is close enough to both Spain and the Basque countries that its cooking reflects some of these regions culinary traditions.  In this case, I am thinking of cooking on a “plancha” or flat topped grill.  Its a very simple, rustic way of cooking that adds a rich, caramelized, note to any ingredient.  And one finds it often in Bordeaux.

At Le Petit Commerce, the concept is simple:  very fresh fish, mostly whole, cooked on the plancha Continue reading

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