Restaurants

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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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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“La Belle Auberge”, Castegnede, France

Having grown up reading Elisabeth David, I have always been enchanted with her descriptions of the auberges that populated the countryside of France when she first visited in the 1940’s.  The kind of place that one happens across when driving way off the beaten path, where a lunch of well cooked local fish, meat and vegetables can be had for next to nothing, where the dining room is full of beret wearing locals, a socially mixed group ranging from the local plumber to bank tellers to the mayor and his wife.  In Elisabeth David’s world, the chef was always an older woman who wore a cotton house coat over her dress and pumps; the servers were always jovial and intuitive and happy to Continue reading

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“Chez Mattin”, Ciboure France

Chez Mattin is a Basque bistrot in the fishing port of Ciboure, which lies across harbor from the larger coastal city of Saint-Jean-de-Luz.  With its menu of traditional Basque specialties and its wood beamed dining room, Chez Mattin feels like a portal into a simpler time in dining.  This is good, honest food, emphasizing both “la mer” and “la terre” with a daily chalkboard menu that features equally the products of the green hills of the Payes Basques and the best of the days catch from Ciboure, France’s second most important fishing port.  The quality of the ingredients is irreproachable, the service is friendly (although don’t expect servers to speak English), the wine list full of well priced wines of the region.

Chez Mattin was recommended to me by the owner of the well-known “La Tupina” restaurant in Bordeaux, who lives in Ciboure and commutes to work each day.

Chez Mattin
Address: 63, rue Evariste Baignol  64500 Ciboure
Telephone : 05 59 47 19 52
Reservations:  Indispensable, especially at dinner

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