restaurants


Motto: One does not live for eating (A Friend)

Really? Even in Paris? or in France in general?

Maybe so. However, culinary experiences makes part of the Paris or France experience. The story of my trip to Paris would not be complete without writing something about some of the meals we had. We actually had quite a busy schedule with almost daily museum visits, meeting with friends and evening theater shows – so we visited less restaurants than usual. Yet I will write about four of them. The surprise may be for the reader of this blog entry that only one of them was French. International cuisine and ethnic food is stronger in Paris than it ever was.

 

 

The first restaurant I will talk about is a … Middle Eastern restaurant. Going to Paris and eating in an Israeli-style restaurant? Yes, you do it if you have a Parisian friend who is nostalgic about Israeli food. So here we went on Sunday afternoon on rue des Rosiers, in the middle of one of the areas in Paris with a high percentage of Jewish population, a street where the number of restaurants, street food stops, butcher and delicacies stores with kosher signs and Hebrew inscriptions is as large as in Netanya in Israel.

 

 

We skipped other options and we sat on the terrace of Chez Marianne, a place which our friends had previously visited. From what I heard and read from other sources this place knew better days. For people trying to understand what Israeli or Middle Eastern food is about this is the wrong place to go. Having already eaten in Arabic and Jewish restaurants in different other places than Israel my impression is that the Arabic restaurants are on average much better than the Jewish ones. Portions at Chez Marianne were small, pita bread which comes first and hot at any restaurant in Israel was late and cold and had to be ordered separately, houmous and tehinah were not fresh and tasted fade, only the felafel were somehow OK. Just one sort of Israeli beer (Maccabi of course) was available. We ended by regretting not having taken the street food option, but at least we spent a nice time on the terrace chatting with our friends on a late sunny afternoon.

 

 

The next experience was a dinner with the same friends at what I was remembering as the best Romanian cooking experience I ever had out of Romania – the Doina restaurant. Splendidly located by the Champs de Mars, close to the Eiffel Tower and on the same street as the Romanian embassy and the Romanian Cultural Institute the restaurant may be the only place of its kind in the city. In 1991, during our first visit in Paris we ate there and the culinary experience was memorable, although the waiters seemed to have problems with translating the menu items to the French-speaking customers.

 

 

Some things have changed Рthe waiters seem nowadays to speak better French. The Web site shows photos of quite a bunch of Romanian celebrities having visited the place. We started with pike roe salad (icre de stiuca) which was excellent, but the traditional meatball soup (ciorba de perisoare) disappointed, not being sour enough. Most of us had as main course the traditional  mititei which are the equivalent of the Israeli kebabs - kind of spicy minced meat sausages. They were good but not as fantastic as we remembered them, but probably it was the fact that we had as term of reference the real stuff we ate in Romania many times in the last years that interfered. We ended with papanasi a traditional cheese dumplings desert, which were quite tasty but not as big as their cousins in Bucharest. The wine choice was really disappointing, as the wine industry in Romania developed immensely in the last few years and you would expect to find at least a few of the good Romanian wines and not only the ubiquitous Murfatlar brand. We had the Merlot, it was OK, but then the choice was really disappointing.

 

 

The third place we visited was Leon de Bruxelles which is a chain cloning the original mussels place Chez Leon located at 18, rue des Bouchers in Bruxelles, maybe the best mussels restaurant in the world. In Paris they got several places and we chose to have lunch in the one that was closest to our hotel, on Boulevard Sain Germain des Pres.

 

 

I personally learned to have nothing else when eating at any Leon restaurant but a large bowled of steamed mussels, des frittes, and Belgian beer. There are many other options and combinations, Liliana picked a different one with a special white wine and garlic sauce. It was great, it’s a standard that is always at best level, and for whoever is in love with mussels it’s the place to go.

 

 

Here we got the really French, better said Parisian experience. Au Pied de Cochon is located near Les Halles and is a restaurant-brasserie specialized in any French specific recipes. I had however a friends recommendation in mind already so I had no hesitation in ordering the onion soup and the flag meal that gives the name of the restaurant.

 

 

The onion soup was great, one of the best I had ever had, with a generous cheese thick crust over the edge of the bowl and with hot and aromatic onion that somehow succeeded to remain slightly crispy.

 

 

The pork leg was however disappointing. It’s the first and probably the last time I am trying it. It’s simply too much work of cutting, separating meat from cartilage and bones, and the ratio is 10-15% edible stuff out of the whole portion you get on the plate. I was expecting something close to the Czech pork knuckle specialty that I ate in Prague which I liked very much, but this was far from it, and having it prepared very well in a schnitzel style was not enough to make it attractive for me to try it a second time.¬† At least I know that I tried.

One of my best friends at the IETF meetings is a refined amateur of good food and we made out a kind of a tradition to have at least an exquisite dinner at each meeting, wherever we meet. It always ends in having an unforgettable meal, and almost always also ends in visiting expensive places. Quality comes at a cost. However, this was not the case with Cafe Hiro in Cypress, south of Los Angeles. Quality came here at an unexpectedly reasonable price.

cafe hiro

There is something about the decoration of American restaurants that fascinates me. I do not know if books have been written on the subject, they must have been, but I did not read them. In a culture where eating out is a popular entertainment and a mass entertainment as well, interior decoration reflects the personality of the owner, of the team, and of the chef.

Naki's mural at Cafe Hiro

The art in the restaurant belongs to an artist by the name of Naki whose murals and paintings define the style and the atmosphere. They look a little bit like naive representations of Californian icons. Mickey Mouse’s kingdom is not far away actually.

more of Naki's art at Cafe Hiro

We had three type of wines at a table of six. We started with a white Zinfandel, a little bit on the sweet side, but well fit as an appetizer. Glasses were special and generally the glasses, dishes, cutlery are nicely shaped and pleasant to see and use.

white Zinfandel is served

What about the food? I must confess that I am not a huge fan of fusion styles of cooking – I prefer authentic and ‘mono-ethnic’ cuisine. So the self-definition of the restaurant as ‘a blend of Japanese and French, with a touch of Italian’ made me cautious. Yet I had the pleasant surprise to discover that the chef’s Hiro Ohiwa’s is all interesting, not pretentious, tastes and looks well. Probably California is indeed the place to taste ‘fusion’.

Tipsy Manila Clams

Among the starters that we shared I will mention the Tipsy Manila Clams, which came with wassabe andcooked with garlic, shallot and celery in a white wine sauce. A touch of Japanese condiments gave a special touch to the often banal fried calamari.

Tofu Salad

Most surprising was however the tofu salad, which was made tasty and interesting by the combination of fine olive oil and exotic spices. Did I mention that my lover of high-end cuisine friend is a vegetarian? Without the risk of ever converting my carnivore self to his religion, he often succeeds to demonstrate me that you can have a fine dinner without the risk of having indirectly caused the death of any animal in the process.

Chilean sea-bass

The main courses (entrees as they are called in the US) at the Hiro Cafe are not huge, but satisfying in the natural order of a several plates dinner. One of my favorite fishes – the sea-bass here of the Chilean brand comes in several ways, with mushrooms or asparagus for instance. On the European side of the menu one of my colleagues had the osso-bucco and the ‘melting in my mouth’ feedback was heard.

Osso Bucco

Of course we had deserts. I will mention the one I picked, which was really exquisite, although not everybody may be happy with the taste. It was called ‘Green Tea Blanc-Manger’ – a gree tea custard, strongly flavoured and not very sweet. I loved it, but then not everybody likes green tea or green tea based deserts, I know.

The bill came at an astonishing 43 USD per person including taxes, excluding tip (well deserved for an attentive service). Everybody had three courses, at least one of us four. We had four bottles of wine. Many times when I have good dinner I say that it’s expensive but worth, we live just once after all. Seldom I say that a dinner is worth more than the money I paid for it. This was one of these cases.

I recommend the place for everybody who is around in the South Los Angeles area. Information about the restaurant can be found on their Web site at http://www.cafehiro.com/.