In Lyon, “Le Fast Food” By — Paul Bocuse??

January 6, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Posted in culinary/food & drink, Europe, France | Leave a comment
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by David Paul Appell

On a swing through France’s gourmet capital not long ago, I’m sure I packed on a few extra pounds after some mega-memorable and mythical meals at the bouchons and the Michelin-starred likes of Le Bec, Terrasses de Lyon, and of course Bocuse’s hallowed Auberge du Pont de Collonges (below left). But just as memorable, in a way, was my sandwich and custard tart at a fast-food joint out in Lyon’s gentrifying Vaise neighborhood, right next door to a multiplex. That’s because Ouest Express (below right), opened in 2008, is Monsieur Paul’s latest culinary venture, around the corner from his buzzy, seven-year-old contemporary bistro, L’ Ouest .

Can it be? The world’s most revered chef turning to burgers and fries? Well, pas exactement, so don’t get your toques in a twist. Located in the up-and-coming Vaise neighborhood, this futuristic bit of business does a great job with pastas, salads, baguette sandwiches, and pastries — I can attest that the stuff is fresh-tasting and primo quality. Fancy it ain’t, but tasty — and affordable, and reasonably healthy — it certainly is; combo platters start at 5.90€ (US$8.50/CA$8.75/£5.30) and a combo including a hot main dish du jour like “Basque-style chicken” will set you back 12.90€ (US$18.60/CA$19.20/£11.60).

I must say, I’m glad to see it’s catching on, too; this past fall, a branch opened in downtown’s fancy-sleek La Part Dieu mall, and before too long we may be seeing others spreading elsewhere in Europe and beyond.  Because in a world awash in horrifically junky fast food, would that all fast food were like this.

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Where Cider Houses Rule

October 12, 2009 at 10:14 am | Posted in Canada, culinary/food & drink, Europe, France, Germany, Massachusetts, New York State, Oregon, Quebec, Spain, United Kingdom, United States, Washington State | Leave a comment

by José Balido

A demo of traditional pouring technique at a gala at the Cider Museum in Asturias, Spain.

A demo of traditional pouring technique at a gala at the Cider Museum in Asturias, Spain.

It’s autumn in the northern hemisphere, and in a few key regions of a few key countries that means apples and cider, both “hard” (mildly alcoholic) and not. While pomaceous potions are brewed — in versions sweet, dry, and downright tart — in countries as varied as Argentina, Russia, and South Africa, in certain fetching parts of Europe and North America, cidre, sidra, and Apfelwein are an integral part of the life and culture. Any one of them would make a juicy getaway indeed. So how do ya like them apples?

Canada: Quebec Though found in Ontario, British Columbia, and elsewhere, in Canada fermented jus de pomme has been a particularly important part of Quebec’s heritage ever since it was brought from France centuries ago (and they keep innovating, as with the relatively recent “ice cider”). A Route du Cidre covers some 30 producers, many family-owned but several run out of Roman Catholic monasteries (Cistercian cider – who knew?). Most are in Montérégie, just south and west of Montreal, and you’ll find the rest in the Laurentian mountains and the Quebec City area (including three on an idyllic isle, Île d’Orléans). CidreDuQuebec.com.

Britain: England & Wales Scores of small and medium producers crank out hundreds of labels worth of cider and perry (its pear counterpart). England’s West Country, Herefordshire, and East Anglia are hotspots, including historic thatch-roofed inns such as Bretforton’s half-timbered, Elizabethan Fleece Inn, Hereford’s Cider Museum, and a Cider Route covering big producer Bulmers and ten others. CiderMuseum.co.uk, CiderRoute.co.uk, UKCider.co.uk, WelshCider.co.uk.

France: Normandy & Brittany Normandy’s best known for Calvados, but also strong in sweet, brut, and semi-brut cidres; the epicenter’s the Pays d’Auge/Calvados region, anchored by the picturesque village of Cambremer and the larger capital, Lisieux. The Route du Cidre here takes in two dozen visitable cidreries. Brittany’s lower on the radar but does some fine work in a slightly different style, served up in colorful ceramic bowls and cups instead of glasses. Its own Route du Cidre in the Cournouaille region covers nearly 40 villages and towns and a dozen cidreries. Besides a wonderful Gothic old quarter, the Breton capital Quimper offers an interesting, apple-oriented Still Museum. Cidre.fr, Deauville-Normandie-Tourisme.com, RouteDuCidre.free.fr, TastyBrittany.com.

Germany: Frankfurt/Hesse & Moselle/Saarland German Apfelwein (aka Ebbelwoi) is on the dry side, and in Frankfurt with its more than 60 Ebbelwohnkneipen (cider pubs), many of them in the Sachsenhausen district, it’s arguably as big as beer; you can also visit Kelterei (cider houses) throughout its hinterland in Hesse, as well as down south in the Moselle and Saarland region bodering Luxembourg. The epicenter here is the town of Merzig, and a Viezstrasse (Cider Route) takes in some two dozen small producers. Frankfurt.de, Merzig.de, Viezstrasse-Online.de.

Spain: Asturias In the green north, the Basques and Galicians put out dry, refreshing sidras, but nobody puts it at the center of their cultural universe and identity quite like their neighbors in the lush, rolling principality of Asturias. Every town has at least a couple of sidrerías, where sidra natural is poured from bottles held high over the head, to “awaken” the fizz (a top sidrería hotspot is capital Oviedo’s hopping Gascona Street). Some of the 110 llagares (cider houses) give tours, and there’s also an interactive sidra museum in the town of Nava (among other things, you can sample a wide range and try your hand at the distinctive pouring method). Visit llagares on your own or book tours through Comarca de la Sidra, which include ancient, atmospheric family operations that don’t sell their output. LaComarcaDeLaSidra.com, Sidreria.com.

USA: New England & Upstate New York There are dozens of atmospheric mom-and-pop cider makers dotting the landscape in all five New England states – some still using old-fashioned steam-powered mills (B.F. Clyde in Mystic, Connecticut) or really old-fashioned rack-and-cloth models like the one at Cold Hollow in Waterbury Center, Vermont. Meanwhile, over in the Empire State, the Hudson Valley just north of New York City is prime apple country, and the Finger Lakes out west is also worth checking out for outfits like Lafayette’s quaint, century-old Beak & Skiff.  NewEnglandApples.org, NYCider.com.

USA: Pacific Northwest Cider’s pedigree here may not be quite as venerable as in New England, but it’s certainly well established, as there are dozens of lovely spots in Oregon and Washington within convenient driving distance of cities such as Seattle (for example, Orondo Cider Works, three hours east) and Portland (Ryser’s Farm and others in the countryside just south of the city). TriCountyFarm.org, WashingtonAppleCountry.com.

Ethnic Dining in Paris: A Treat for Both Palate and Wallet

July 9, 2009 at 2:42 pm | Posted in culinary/food & drink, Europe, France | 1 Comment
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by David Paul Appell

Owner Madame Vuoc Hong Mensoum in front of Le Sinago

Owner Madame Vuoc Hong Mensoum in front of Le Sinago

The many immigrants who’ve made Paris home over the years have left an exotic mark tasty enough to justify a visit by itself — especially if you’re curious about unusual cuisines that may be hard to find even in, say, New York, London, or Los Angeles. And oftentimes they’re some of the less pricey — even least pricey — dining options around. Here’s my top ten, discovered on my last visit:

Algeria: Le Taghit This romantic, candlelit spot in southern Paris run by Bashir and Malika Benamrane claims to be France’s only restaurant serving all three major types of semoules (couscous) — my favorite’s the snow-white Reg, with its delicate orange-blossom perfume, accompanied by the house tagine (chicken, lamb, merguez sausage, and mutton, with almonds and dried apricots). Order the pine-nut tea and fig liqueur, too. English-language menu, dinner only. 63 Rue de l’Ouest,14th arr.; Metro: Pernety; 01.43.20.25.57.

Cambodia: Le Sinago At her wood-paneled, 10-table hole in the wall northeast of the Opéra, Madame Vuoc Hong Mensoum has been working delicate wonders for more than 30 years (one critic dubs it “Khmer cordon bleu”). My faves include her airy spring rolls; light-as-lace rice-and-wheat-flour crêpe stuffed with pork, bean sprouts, cucumbers, lettuce, and fresh mint leaves; and the lightly fried (yet not remotely greasy) patties of shrimp and pork, served with hoisin sauce. 17 Rue du Maubeuge, 9th arr.; Metro: Notre Dame de Lorette; 01.48.78.11.14.

French Caribbean: La Créole At this plantation-style bit of Martinique, start with a punch of Martinique’s 50° Clément white rum with lime, passionfruit, pineapple, and more. A must-order is the ronde antillaise appetizers, with cod fritters, boudin (marinated blood sausage, admittedly not everybody’s cup of plasma), and a trio of minced-cod salads (my favorite’s the greenish, slightly piquant féroce, with avocado and manioc flour). Fish is big, but the chicken in lemon-herb broth and the pork medallions in curry sauce are also great. 122 Blvd. Montparnasse,14th arr.; Metro: Vavin; http://www.Restaurant-LaCreole.com.

À La Banane Ivoirienne's Kouassi N’Guessan

Ivory Coast: À La Banane Ivoirienne On a side street in the Bastille area, Kouassi N’Guessan runs a charming two-room eatery (I especially love the stone basement, with carved woodwork, colorful art/fabrics, and pics of his home village). Drinks are interesting, whether cocktails like “The Polygamist” and “The Detonator”; Mongozo banana beer (reminds me of a shandy); koutoukou, a hair-growing eau de vie distilled from palm; or fresh ginger juice (with a non-alcoholic kick of its own). Chicken, shrimp, and ilapia are menu staples; you’ll find them in peanut, tomato, and barley sauces. Dinner only. 10 Rue de la Forge Royale,11th arr.; Metro: Ledru-Rollin; 01.43.70.49.90.

Laos: Lao Lane Xiang/Huong Lan In Paris’ Chinatown, these two dining rooms aren’t much to look at (white walls, bright lights, blond-wood shoji screens), but on weekend nights there’s a line out the door. Dishes favor coconut milk, red curry, and/or lemongrass; the pha khao huammit (mixed platter) is fascinating, with pork sausages in lemongrass sauce, marinated dried beef, lemon-cured ground beef with spices, a slightly peppery green-papaya salad, and chicken in coconut milk. Lacquered duck with red curry and basil is another specialty; desserts lean toward a raft of foods in coconut milk, from banana to tarot root. A slightly more upscale annex is across the street. No reservations. 105 Ave. d’Ivry, 13th arr.; Metro: Tolbiac; 01.01.45.85.19.23.

Madagascar: Menabé-L’Île Rouge You might almost miss this hole in the wall.Very basic — a few travel and movie posters tacked up on beige walls, a handful of crafts displayed in a glass case — it makes for an exotic culinary trip to a crossroads of influences from black Africa, Arabian culture, and of course France. Bespectacled, mustachioed owner/chef/waiter Razafintsalama cooks up three daily-changing main dishes — I had a fine duck with onions and tomatoes in tamarind sauce, and the tsakitsaky plate was a treat, too, with its beef samosas, crab fritters, and steamed beef meatballs with scallions and flavorful spices. 33 Rue Damesme, 13th arr.; Metro: Tolbiac; 01.45.65.04.11.

Seychelles: Au Coco de Mer A more upscale Indian-Ocean entry hailing from the 155-island archipelago not far from Madagascar, the Left Bank’s “Sea Coconut” (named after a tree that grows a nut that looks like a female booty) is a hop and a skip from both the Jardin du Luxembourg and the Panthéon. It’s a a low-key, very atmospheric spot with hanging palm fronds, modern art, a sand floor, and a menu of goodies like spicy red fish chowder, ginger tuna tartare, mango shrimp salad, swordfish, curried octopus, and fluffy mango mousse. 34 Blvd. Saint-Marcel, 5th arr.; Metro Saint-Marcel; 01.47.07.06.64.

photos: David Paul Appell

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