Meb Byrne

Archive for the ‘France’ Category

Le Fooding d’Amour

In event, France, french, nyc, recommended on September 29, 2009 at 5:58 pm

On September 25 and 26, Le Fooding d’Amour made its American debut at the P.S. 1 Contemporary Arts Center in Queens. From what I can discern, Le Fooding is a collaboration between Parisian and New York chefs, with the goal of bringing haute cuisine to the masses. Practically speaking, this means throwing big parties. If this is Le Fooding’s only goal, it is certainly succeeding.

Starting at six p.m., a murmuring crowd of friends and new acquaintances entered the inner courtyard of P.S. 1, a green expanse covered by a giant Dr.-Seussian chocolate-colored mohair tent and dotted with small circles of lawn chairs. The crowd was a melange of fashions, ages, races, and nationalities: everything from Upper East Side foodies to well-dressed French tourists. The DJ spun an adorable mix of old school French and American favorites, favoring artists like Arletty and Sinatra.

Each evening of Le Fooding featured six chefs from famous, high-end restaurants, each presenting a small dish in white tents around the perimeter of the P.S. 1 courtyard. The dishes were prepared by teams of cooks working as assembly lines, often creating dozens of uniform plates at a time. The chefs remained artistic and almost impetuous at their work, and were utter gentlemen with their customers. Veuve Clicquot flowed freely throughout the evening, and mixologists prepared cocktails like the Wild Cherry Mojito, a rich, icy drink with Belvedere vodka, intense marascino flavor and lashings of mint.

Before guests reached the main culinary attractions, they were greeted by the bread and cheese tent, provided by Cheeses of France and Balthazar Bakery. Of all the tasty choices, Saturday’s Bleu really shone: wonderfully bright and creamy, tangy but not too acidic. Munching on Brie and Livarot, guests could explore the intimate nooks and hiding places inside the giant mohair tent, or the smaller concrete alcoves along the museum walls, with yellow lighting and low plastic stools.

As renowned as the chefs were, a few of the dishes failed to excite. Friday’s mini Henry IV casserole by Yves Camdeborde was a basic broth of meat and clear, gooey balls of gelatin; Wylie Dufresne‘s grilled chicken neck had little meat and less flavor. On Saturday, Daniel Boulud & Olivier Muller‘s couscous included many components and three types of meat, but failed to take flight. Alberto Herraiz‘s chicken skewer in a bowl of thick chilled cilantro sauce benefited from the oily crunch of its chopped peanut garnish, but grew old after a few bites.

But never mind these disappointments; the rest of the cuisine more than compensated. On Friday, David Chang‘s innovative take on Bo Ssam, a traditional Korean dish, featured shredded pork topped with a savory red sauce to add kick. The buttery lettuce leaf sheath meant the dish could be eaten daintily with a fork or rolled up and devoured. In another tent, William Ledeuil doused a pork rib in sweet sauce and served it with a pool of baba ghanouj-style puree that was stuck through with lemon. Elsewhere, Sean Rembold‘s fried corn was faintly crisp on the outside and doused in a wonderful creamy pepper sauce, sprinkled with crunchy leaves and slivers of green pepper. Friday’s star was Christophe Pele‘s barbecued sirloin steak, two cubes of medium rare beef in a zingy jus. Topped with spring greens and flecks of onion, the steak was tiny, delectable and left you wanting more.

Saturday’s dishes were larger and required more prep time, resulting in longer lines at the tents. Interestingly, five of the six featured some type of steak. Julie Farias‘s beef head taco might sound intimidating, but the light, pleasingly grainy corn tortilla was full of tangy vegetables, leaving the savory meat almost as an afterthought. Like the bo ssam, the tortilla was the size of a compact disk, great for munching while walking. Also great for walking was the adorable, delectable burger by Lee Hanson, Pat La Frieda, and Riad Nasr, no larger than a baseball when topped with its tiny dark-golden bun. Served with two crunchy shamrock-shaped pickles and a handful of crisp pommes frites, the plump burger was juicy and topped exquisitely with caramelized onions.

As delightful as all the preceding dishes were, they did not hold a candle to the last two. Inaki Aizpitarte‘s steak with charred aubergine was almost indescribable. More art than food, the dish featured swabs of black beans and sour cream on the edge of the plate, with purple-stained vegetables in the center, concealing the delicately-sliced steak beneath. I barely remember the taste; I just know I’ve never tasted anything like it before. In the same category was Stephane Jego‘s simmered beef and chilled camembert meringue. The dish tasted like a deconstructed pizza: the beef was intense, dark and juicy, and garnished by a triangle of oily crust. The camembert meringue, a dollop of sea green foam, played comic to the beef’s straight man with its citrus bite. Tastier and more inventive than anything else at Le Fooding, these two dishes were the ones to stay for.

Both evenings were topped off with (what else?) ice cream. Nicholas Morgenstern‘s unobtrusive cart had the power to bring out the kid in sophisticated foodies, who were lining up for frozen treats half an hour before the stand opened. The flavors were icy and inventive: vanilla bourbon, salted hazelnut gianduja, and Dirty Breakfast, a light banana ice cream with muesli and granola spooned over the top. Guests grabbed a cone (or two) and ended their well-fed night on a sweet note.



Gardens Galore

In France, garden, Paris on June 17, 2009 at 10:20 pm

This piece was originally featured in the Spring 2008 issue of Baedeker, NYU’s travel magazine.

In any metropolis, green spaces are a scarce and thus valuable commodity. Even the most urbanite New Yorkers are grateful to Frederick Law Olmsted for Central Park, that saving grace of a green expanse uptown. Still, stark differences remain between our clean, flat lawns stretching from Columbus Circle to 110th Street, and the tranquil, organically beautiful gardens celebrated in stories from Rapunzel to Romeo and Juliet. Thankfully, this idyllic view of nature, like so many other nostalgic ideas, is alive and well in Paris. In a city synonymous with romance, these gardens are more magic than logic. I describe three of the best below.

Jardin de la Vallée Suisse

Intersection of Cours de la Reine, Cours Albert 1er and Avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt, 8e arrondissement.

You wouldn’t notice the Jardin de la Vallée Suisse if you didn’t already know it was there. Located just off the Pont des Invalides, this tiny garden is completely hidden from three intersecting avenues by towering emerald hedges. To gain access, you can walk around to the back, past a mournful marble statue flanked by Corinthian columns, overlooking a reflecting pool. Your best choice, though, is to descend the flight of stone steps, nestled into the hedges near busts of Jacques Cartier and Samuel Champlain. The stairs are weatherworn and lead to a cavernous stone archway, perfect for a romantic rendezvous. This opens onto the lower, more sheltered level of the garden, overlooked by the rustic wooden cross-hatch fencing of the upper level. Peaceful seclusion, rather than botanical variety, is the draw here, with a tumbling waterfall and stream providing a picturesque backdrop for the draping greenery and tall roses, worthy of a Waterhouse painting. Ideal for intimate conversation, it’s popular with nannies from the surrounding neighborhoods and their dozing charges. Somewhat anachronistically, free wi-fi is available. Although this is a very romantic spot, don’t go too late in the evening; the waterfall can get buggy.

Jardin Alpin

57, rue Cuvier, 5e arrondissement.

The Jardin des Plantes is France’s primary botanical garden. A teacher’s paradise, the garden houses not only traditional flower and vegetable plots, but also an aquarium, a zoo, a hilltop labyrinth, and the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle. On sunny days, the complex is packed with herds of tiny French schoolchildren, all wearing sunhats. To escape their shrieking chatter, take the flight of stairs down under the vine-covered arbor and through the concrete tunnel to the other side. You’re now in the Jardin Alpin, a small enclosed enclave showcasing a myriad of some 3,000 plants, all categorized, well-kept, and meticulously labeled in both French and Latin. Winding yet clearly demarcated paths are trodden out between the various beds, which run the gamut from cacti to carnivorous plants. Take the many smaller improvised paths branching off the main routes for a more adventurous experience, but be careful not to let one of the many sprinklers surprise you. Gardeners tending the various beds are more than willing to discuss their work if asked. Don’t come here looking for a place to have a picnic or read a book; this is a true garden, not a park, and benches are scarce. The one stone bench hewn into the side of a rock wall and shaded by various draping trees, however, is worth the wait.

Parc André Citroën

Quai André-Citroën, Ile-de-France, 15e arrondissement.

Sprawling over 35 acres, the Parc André Citroën is the ultimate public park experience, truly embodying the phrase “something for everyone.” Here, you will find bamboo forests and deeply shadowed groves alongside brightly colored pops of flowerbeds straining the bounds of their wire fences. Straight, wide pathways of tan pebbles, lined with meticulously groomed shrubs on pedestals, are reminiscent of the grandeur of Versailles, while the winding, overgrown trails which branch off from these boulevards belong more in Cocteau’s La Belle et Le Bête. An expansive lawn is reminiscent of Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park, with couples sunning themselves and shirtless young men practicing their break dance moves. Families with shrieking children play in the skyward sprays of fountains which dot the concrete slab at the end of the main lawn, nestled between soaring glass houses that replicate the ecosystems of other continents. The sunken flower gardens along the canal are categorized creatively: the Green, Orange, White and Purple Gardens lie alongside one another, while the Winter Garden and Shade Gardens slumber within the rambling expanses of trees and underbrush. End your day with a trip up in the park’s hot air balloon and take in the whole city with a view not to be had anywhere else.