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Gourmet Buzz: Balthazar
How many times have you walked into a canteen in Paris and wished you hadn’t? No welcome/you get the social Siberia table near the cold bay windows/no menu/no apéritif? Not chez Balthazar; the warmth of Alexander’s greeting could melt the vodka on ice. And he knows his vodkas, this boy: "My grandparents were Polish."
Together with chef Fabrice Cornée, a caviar tasting is guaranteed to make you love Mondays. Appropriate wines and spirits by the glass, or from the fine and reasonable wine list (Chateau Maderot 1998 Graves 29€).
Dishes include Cassoulet d’oeufs brouillés au Caviar de France (15€) with a flute of champagne Deutz Brut Classic (10€). Follow with Balthazar’s signature Tartare de Boeuf de Salers au Caviar (15€), and a glass of biere blonde 1664 de Kronenbourg; or, with a partisan grin, Alexander pours a generous glass of pure grain vodka, Wyborova (7€). Ever tasted risotto au Caviar (18€)? Made with the finest Italian rice, this is one mama would love. Wash it down with a nice cup of tea! Lightly smoked from Maison Kousmischoff (3€). "We’ve created Monday nights to be an exciting inventive adventure, devised unique combinations to complement the caviar, with its’ subtle nutty flavour, which comes fresh from the Aquitaine," explains Alexander.
So what’s the rub on French caviar? As you know, in all regions of the world where sturgeon are fished, the wild populations are menaced by greedy over-fishing, pollution and the deterioration of their habitat. Caviar has been produced in Aquitaine since the 1920’s, from wild sturgeon caught by fishermen in the Gironde Estuary, near Bordeaux. Now, down on the Bordeaux fermes d’elevage, they cultivate the Acipenser baeri sturgeon, originally hailing from Siberia. It’s all very civilised: the sturgeon’s cycles are controlled with no danger to the species, and without further danger to the wild populations.
Alexander’s Monday nights are certainly an excellent introduction to "caviar that comes from the virgin sturgeon, virgin sturgeon needs no urgin’, that’s why caviar is my dish."
What can I eat chez Balthazar for the rest of the week? No problem. Lovely menus lunch and dinner 7/7, say, carpaccio d’Artichauts au pistou de Roquette et Coriandre fraiche (9€). Fresh fish includes Brochette de Gambas au citron vert, noodles sautées a la sauce soja (24€). Cheese, desserts, cigars, seasonal ice creams from Bertillon and to finish, a nice espresso and a granité de pommes vertes au Calvados Groult. And that’s not all: Sunday is brunch-day (28€) with a kid’s menu (15€). Book early, it’s buzzing.
73 avenue Niel, 17th (Metro Pereire)
T: 01 44 40 28 15
And also at:
101 rue Lauriston, 16th (Metro: Trocadero)
T: 01 47 27 72 21
75 avenue Niel, 17th (Metro: Pereire)
T: 01 42 27 91 46
"Let’s stay home tonight, Brad," now that I have Frederick e. Grasser-Hermé’s just-published Super Cocotte: 119 recipes for the Cocotte-Minute a toute vapeur. Pzzzzzzzz…. (Editions Hachette Pratique 23€)
FEGH, as she is known to her nearest and dearest (her old man is Pierre Hermé, the Picasso of patisserie), is the avant-garde, undisputed Queen of Pressure Cookers. Not a day goes by that she is not inspired to invent some new plat to get the old digestive juices flowing at Château Hermé.
But this is no airhead. FEGH’s recipes are carefully researched and she looks like being the catalyst that starts the revolution towards a new type of cooking. There are 17 themes, from soups, fish, beef, and lamb, to desserts. Chapter 6 is headed "J’vous present mes meilleurs veaux." Several scrummy ways to pressure-cook your veal.
FEGH even makes bread in her SEB. Not only that, she convinced the rock’n’roll baker Jean-Luc Poujarin to bake the bread for her recent book launch bash at Georges (on top of the Pompidou Centre).
"Cocotte minutes are ideal for the busy woman of today, fun to use, it gives you motivation to cook and create," explains FEGH, who also enlisted for her book bash super-chefette Helene Darroze, Marie-Ann Cantin (the cheese diva), Christine Ferber, who makes everything sweet, and, of course, Pierre Hermé, who made the macaroons, but not in the SEB.
His macaroon of the day was eagerly tested, not easy to identify. "It’s a secret," he insisted.
"Oh, go on."
"Oh, all right," he laughed. "Avocado, banana, chocolate."
"The cocotte is, above all, the best way to cook healthy and good, preserve the vitamins," observes FEGH. Even if you don’t have a lot of French you will understand what FEGH’s trying to say. And the photos by Mickaël Roulier are superb.
And when you see FEGH, go "Pzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, we’re staying home tonight!"
Available at FOOD, Claude Deloffre’s chic book shop:
58 rue Charlot, 3rd (Metro: Filles du Calvaire)
T: 01 42 72 68 97
Born in Britain and now based in Paris, Margaret Kemp graduated from The Cordon Bleu and spent a year working and watching in the kitchens of top chefs from Sydney, Australia via Bangkok, Hong Kong, California, New York and France. Realising she would never win the coveted 3-Michelin stars, she decided to write about the people who do, the "disciples of Escoffier."