St. John’s, Marylebone London, England

The third restaurant (plus numerous bakeries) in the lineage of landmark London restaurant St. John, which has set the standard  for locally sourced, wonderfully simple and traditional English food since the 1990’s.  The original location in Farringdon still has one Michelin star, a feat for a restaurant where the decor is minimal and the simplicity of plate presentations can seem almost monasterial.  The latest branch in Marylebone, which opened in fall 2022, keeps to the same playbook of serving it’s neighborhood all day long, starting with baked goods and coffee in the AM,   and easing into a short but satisfying daily chalkboard menu that evolves through the week and even through the day.  Despite St. John’s reputation for nose-to-tale cooking (cold sliced pork with drippings bread), the chalkboard also featured a selection of satisfying vegetable dishes and salads (salted cabbage and dill:  beets with pickled walnut).  Hard boiled eggs with anchovies were also outstanding. If these dishes sound simple, that is really the point:  good ingredients, simply prepared with respect for technique and tradition. What more could you ask?

The wine list is long, filled with interesting organic and natural choices (we had a white Rhone from Eric Texier) with good options in all price ranges starting at about 40 pounds.  For dessert, we had the Eccles cake, a sort of turnover stuffed with mincemeat and served warm with a fat slice of farmhouse cheddar from Neil’s Yard…yummy!

The service is casual but efficient, and the servers seemed genuinely happy to serve and to show their knowledge and enthusiasm for the menu.  We dined in the late afternoon, in the slow period between lunch and dinner, but there was no drop-off in the quality of the welcome. Our server was able to give chapter and verse on every plate, including a robust pitch for the Eccles cake, which we had failed to order…great recommendation! Later, when we had finished, our server had nipped out for a break on the terrace of the cafe next door, before dinner service. But he still took the time to thank us for our visit as we passed.

St. John Marylebone
Address: 98 Marylebone Ln, London W1U 2JE, United Kingdom
Tel:  +44 20 7251 0848  
Reservations: accepted up to one month in advance and recommended.  The upstairs bar is available for walk ins

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Perbacco, San Francisco California, USA

There is a genre of restaurant that offers a sort of communion with city life composed of the roar of a room full of happy guests, a menu of comforting dishes consistently well prepared and service that is at once breezy, unfussy, efficient and professional.  Balthazar in NYC comes to mind. Or Prunier in Paris.  These restaurants thrive on comfort, and dining with them can seem almost like going to a spa:  you settle into the white noise bubble around your table,  let out a long, long sigh and leave yourself in the hands of a well tuned team.

Perbacco, located in San Francisco’s financial district, seems to me to fall into this category.  The menu of classic Italian dishes doesnt re-invent the wheel but it is always seasonal, always fresh and always good. The hand made pastas deserve special attention. The service, starting with the host when you walk in, is friendly without being familiar, professional without being stuffy, always aware without being intrusive. Even post-COVID, Perbacco doesn’t skimp on service points, from white tablecloths to knowing which plate goes to which diner, to replacing used silverware to sending over the sommelier for a wine recommendation (who, incidentally, recommended a wine that was very modestly priced).

Address: 230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111 415 955-0663
Tel:  415 955-0663
Reservations: recommended, Perbacco is perennially bustling and a line out front is not unusual

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Auberge de la Fontaine, Laas France

It always warms my heart to come across a restaurant like the Auberge de la Fontaine. Knowing that is is still possible to dine so well for so little money reminds me of how and why I fell in love with traditional French cooking in the first place.

It only adds to the experience that this charming country restaurant is located in the tiny town of Laas (pop: 131), a town which seems to consist mostly of a church, several speed bumps and this auberge (and of course the famous 14c fountain, really more of a communal well, from which the Auberge takes its name). On a rainy December weekday, the dining room was filled with a mix of workmen, families, groups of friends and older couples, packed into the small dining room and steaming up the windows.

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Haraneko Borda, Itxassou, France

In the Pays Basque, adding Borda to the name of an eating establishment signifies a rustic country inn. In Euskera, borda means barn and the original Bordas were kitchens set up in underused barns, often with the cooking done over wood-fired braziers and guests served at long rows of tables, outdoors when weather permitted. Although no one is likely to confuse the the bright, modern dining room at Haraneko Borda with a barn, its kitchen does feature a wood fired grill and oven, the room is framed by ancient wood beams and on sunny days, tables are set up on the expansive deck looking over the green, rural valley of Itxassou.

The restaurant at Haraneko is actually part of an expansive organic farm called Ferme Heranea where owner Christian Aguerre raises the ancient race of Basque black hogs known as “cochon noir de kintoa”, rumored to produce the best pork in France, was well as fruits and vegetables including the sour cherries for which the valley of Itxassou has become known. Starting a restaurant on the property was a logical next step in the farm’s evolution, creating a a dining experience that the chef calls “zero kilometer local”, meaning that the majority of the ingredients come directly from the restaurants own farm. Ham and pork from kintoa hogs, corn for taloa (Basque corn pancakes), chickens, eggs, piment d’Espelette, fruits and vegetables all from the farm. Even the wine served, although not all produced within 1 kilometer, all comes from the Pays Basque.

The cooking at Haraneko matches the setting, being both rustic and accomplished, sophisticated but simple, the kind of food I love to discover and to eat.

When we visited for lunch during the week in early May 2019, reservations were easy to get and the menu prices very fair. However, that could change, as Borda Haraneko has been discovered, recently being named Best Farm-Auberge in France by Le Fooding.

Cochon noir de kintoa roaming free within sight of the dining room at Haraneko Borda

Haraneko Borda
Address: 3 Gerastoko Bidea, 64250 Itxassou, France
Tel: 05 59 15 09 68
Reservations: Recommended. Not busy outside the season but hours can be irregular

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La Legende, Sauveterre de Béarn, France

Combine a wine shop, a cafe, a natural wine bar, a hangout for locals that’s open from 10am to midnight and a restaurant where everything is made from scratch using ingredients gathered within 100 miles and what do you get? La Legende in Sauveterre de Bearn.

On the face of it, Sauveterre de Béarn (population about 1500, although higher in the summer when tourists arrive; the name of the restaurant is a reference to Sauveterre’s medieval fortified bridge, known as Le Pont de la Legende ) seems like an unlikely choice for two former Parisians (alumni of pioneering cave a manger Le Verre Volé). Rumor has it that, having decided to quit Paris, they made a tour of France and fell in love with Sauveterre. Factor in their desire to provision the restaurant exclusively on local products, and the choice begins to make more sense; the Bearn is increasingly known as the home artisan organic farmers, bakers, winemakers and more.

At La Legende, they take full advantage for the local bounty. The daily menu is very limited (they actually ask if you have dietary restrictions when you call to reserve; given that the daily menu has no choices, your answers will shape the meal of all that days guests!) but at 22 euros for 3 very well prepared, totally seasonal course, it is a fantastic value. The cooking is sophisticated but simply and elegantly presented, the flavors are fresh and inventive while still respecting tradition. There is no wine list, but the cave is deep with organic and natural choices, and the sommelier is also your server, so expert advice about pairing with today’e menu is at hand.

The tiny kitchen is located smack in the middle of the dining rooms, so the chef is apt to chime in when you have questions about the day’s preparations. La Legende is the sort of friendly, unpretentious but startling good restaurant that I love.

La Legende
Address: 5 Rue de l’Abbé Duplech, 64390 Sauveterre-de-Béarn, France
Tel: 09 86 68 99 47
Reservations: Recommended. Menu is very limited, so you will be asked about dietary restrictions when you call

See more photos here:

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Les Passionnés, Toulouse France

Les Passionés bills itself as a cave a manger, which functionally, means a wine shop where you can also get something to each beyond the charcuterie and cheese you find in a bar a vin. The description written on the restaurant’s facade, “Cafe du marché Vins d’artisans” gives a better idea of the restaurants ambitions, but both fall short of capturing the genius of what they do here.

I would describe it as follows: lovingly sourced products of the region, prepared with care, respect for tradition and inspiration, presented with simplicity and sophistication, paired with wines that are organic, biodymanic or natural, all at prices that are bordering on philanthropic. It is restaurants like this that convince me that French cuisine today is both vibrant and forward-looking, sophisticated and inventive in approach but vitally concerned with how people eat today, and focused on safeguarding dining as the center of everyday French life.

Located along the banks of Toulouse’s Canal de Briennes, Les Passionés manages to pack about 40 seats between its bottle-lined walls. The tables are so tightly spaced that guests coming and going risk jostling other diners but the room hums with well-fed contentment. the sidewalk out front adds another 20 seats or so on sunny days, and the view of the tree-lined canal makes up for the traffic noise from the busy Allée de Briennes.

Les Passionés
Address: 31 Allée de Briennes, 31000 Toulouse France
Tel: 05 61 13 99 06
Reservations: Recommended

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Asador Extebarri

Etxeberri Oct 2018 3

Entrance to Asador Etxebarri in Axpe, Vizcaya Spain.

We recently had the chance to have lunch at Asador Etxebarri, a restaurant that has gotten a lot of attention from the culinary press for its grill-centric take on traditional Basque food.  I had read how great the food is but had not realized that the restaurant is so isolated or that it was in such a beautiful place.  It is located in the tiny village of Axpe (in the commune of Axtondo) in the the Basque region of the Bizkaia, which is right on the edge of the Parke Naturala Urkiolako. And when I say right on the edge, I am not kidding; the craggy peaks of the park tower over the village and create a striking view from the terrace at Etxebarri, where guests are offered a glass of champagne before the meal. Continue reading

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Old and new favorite addresses in Toulouse


Passing through Toulouse has become a habit, as it is the closest major airport to our house in Orthez. For this reason, magnificent main dining room at Bibent on the Place des  Capitouls has become our go-to first meal in France. After 16 hours in transit (more or less), its reliably plush banquettes, attentive service and simple but well done menu gr, filled with grand classics of the cuisine bourgeois, seem like a the perfect way to decompress.

Bibent has a storied history that began in the early 1900s.  Ideally located in Toulouse’s central square, Bibent was designed to be the most luxurious address in town. Its Art Nouveau moldings and hand painted frescoes endured for years but were finally painted over in gold to avoid expensive upkeep as the mode for Grand  Brasseries faded after the wars. It was the Grand Crise of 2008 that finally closed its to doors after more than 100 years in operation. Fortunately for Toulouse, Christian Constant, one of its native sons who had made it big with three restaurants in Paris, decided to reopen the space after a meticulous restoration.  Constant, who is often cited as the father of the Nouveau Bistrot movement in the 1990s in Paris because he trained a number of its adherents while he was the chef at the storied Ambassadeurs restaurant at the Hotel Crillon, installed a menu is an ode to top quality ingredients, simply prepared (as much as that sounds like a cliche now, it is still very rewarding when well done). Oeufs a la Meurette, blanquette de veau, hand chopped tartare de bœuf, baba au rhum.  You get the idea.


Not far from Bibent is new arrival (or at least a new discovery for me)  Barallel.  A wine bar featuring mostly organic, biodynamic or natural wines and specializing selections from the area around Toulouse (pretty much requirements for any up and coming wine bar in France these days), it also features 6 handles of beers brewed in its own mini-brasserie, visible through a glass wall at the back of the room.  A unique feature for a bar that only has room for 50-ish guest. Friendly people behind the bar, friendly pricing on the list and a selection of cheese and meat plates from local artisans. Not surprising that finding a seat is always a challenge.

Address:  5 Place du Capitole, 31000 Toulouse, France
Tel: 05 34 30 18 37
Reservations:  Recommended at dinner for sure. If you arrive without one, you may be relegated to the downstairs dining room, which is a cosy vaulted cave, but still disappointing when you are expecting to dine in an Art Nouveau palace

Address:  9 Rue Cujas, 31000 Toulouse, France
Tel: 09 82 50 43 58
Reservations:  Not accepted.


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Paris recommendations Summer 2018

Recently, a guest of Le Pichet asked me for advice for an upcoming trip to Paris. She is to stay on the Île de la Cité, and was hoping for recommendations on a simple Left Bank restaurant in the style of Le Pichet, a grand restaurant for a splurge, museums and  some advice on tipping.

I am reprinting my reply here in the hope that they may be useful to others lucky enough to be heading to Paris soon.  Note that these recommendations are not intended to be comprehensive, as Paris offers an endless palette of choices;  these are just the things that answered her request.  Enjoy!

Restaurants:  Honestly I have not spent a ton of time on the left Bank as we generally stay either near the Marché at Place Aligré (between the Place de Bastille and Place de Nation) or near the Place Batignolles in the 17th.  That being said, I do know a few good places not far from the Cité.  Continue reading

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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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