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Embarrass the vegetables …

You may have noticed a scarcity of posts ’round these parts of late. Then again, you may not … is there no one to yell at me when I haven’t posted in a while?! Someone step up to the plate!

Truth be told, we’ve been doing a fair bit of travelling recently, compounded with my innate laziness and my status as God Emperor of Procrastination. To make matters worse, we’re taking off again today, and won’t be back ’til the end of next week. Until now I hope that nice New Orleans playlist has kept you busy, and I hope to keep you busy for a while with today’s post as well.

By sheer happenstance I stumbled across what could possibly be The Greatest Cooking Show Ever. It’s a BBC production called “Posh Nosh,” starring the Hon. Simon and Minty Marchmont, who have dedicated their lives to bringing extraordinary food to ordinary people. Here’s Episode 1, “Architect’s Fish and Chips”:



As you might have noticed … it’s a parody. And it’s hysterical. The first episode I saw was number 3, and it had me shrieking. From Minty’s ridiculous terminology (she doesn’t peel vegetables, she “embarrasses” them), the outrageously expensive ingredients they call for, the person to whom Simon’s true affection is directed (it ain’t Minty) and many quotable quotes:

“I know which side my Brad is battered!”

“There’s a famous saying: ‘Like schoolboys, Rieslings are best enjoyed young.’” “Er … school DAYS.” “What? Yes.”

“We make our own stock, but by all means buy stock cubes, if you have no self-esteem.”

They only made eight of them, and the shows are only about 9 minutes each, so you should be able to knock them all out fairly quickly. Our friend Fiona informed us that it was produced as an interstitial between shows, and quickly developed a following of its own — people would tune in for this rather than the shows at either end. Arabella Weir and Richard E. Grant (aka Withnail from “Withnail and I”) are brilliant, and keep an eye on who plays José Luis. According to one of the YouTube commenters (one of the few useful comments I’ve ever seen on that service) there’s an additional level of humor for native Britons. Minty’s accent is distinctively lower-middle class — “all her snobbiness is aspiration from someone who married into it, which Brits find hysterically funny.” It’s funny enough even without that.

Here are links to the other episodes:

Episode 2. Birthday Parties
Episode 3. Paella
Episode 4. Beautiful Food
Episode 5. Bread and Butter Pudding
Episode 6. Leftovers
Episode 7. Sauces
Episode 8. Comfort Food

Join us next week on “Posh Nosh,” when I’ll be disabling a partridge in its own jus.

And now for something completely different …

Idle conversation at work the other day brought up this question: Did Luke Skywalker feel any guilt over the couple million working stiffs he snuffed when he blew up the Death Star? Were the cooks evil too? (RumDood informs us that the movie “Clerks” cleared up this point, but I didn’t see it, so I consider it un-cleared up.)

Big booster of the service industry that I am, what about the cooks on the Death Star? Somebody had to feed Darth Vader, Grand Moff Tarkin and all those hungry cloned stormtroopers. Turns out Eddie Izzard wondered the same thing, and his musings are accompanied by some illustrative animation.



The penne all’arrabiatta would be lovely …

I’ll trickle out at least one more post this week, but I’ll see y’all in a week, quite likely with some drinking stories.
 

An evening with Chef Ludo

The intense and immensely talented French chef Ludovic Lefebvre just finished up the fourth incarnation of his “pop-up” restaurant LudoBites, a few weeks ago. This time it was held from early April ’til May 28 at what’s normally a small, respectable lunch-only spot in downtown Los Angeles, Gram and Papa’s (whose motto, “Slow food, fast” is almost just like that of our beloved Oinkster, which is “Slow fast food”), but during those dates, at night, it became one of the best restaurants in the city.

When LudoBites 4 was announced, apparently reservations for the entire run sold out in 18 hours. Thanks to our friend Noelle grabbing a table for eight on Saturday, May 8 we were able to enjoy Ludo’s food, and for starters I’ll say it’s one of the most extraordinary meals I’ve ever had in this city.

Some people don’t like Chef Ludo. These tend exclusively to be people who’ve never met him, never eaten his food and have only seen him on the TV show “Top Chef Masters,” where his demeanor has been described as “cantankerous.” (What, a chef, cantankerous? No! I don’t believe it!) Remember, folks, that that show is TV, and TV ain’t real, no matter how often the misnomer “reality TV’ is bandied about. These shows are edited to make good TV, so let’s get any perceptions based on a TV show out of the way.

I got to meet him and his fabulous wife Krissy (who runs the front of the house) only very briefly, but Ludo was charming and friendly yet very serious and passionate about food, all of which was reflected in every single plate that came to our table. Krissy was the consummate host, made us all feel very welcome and remembered Wesly from the last LudoBites (which I had to miss, as I was out of town, phoo).

Chef Ludo

Ludo recently did an interview with the “creative culture blog” yello!, where he talked about his previous versus current clientele:

We have the food trucks now (we have a lot, a lot of food trucks in LA). I think food trucks are amazing. I really love it. A chef like me, I worked all my life in high-end expensive restaurants … and now, to be affordable to everybody is just amazing. Because before, when I was at Bastide or L’Orangerie, there were a lot of customers who couldn’t afford to try my food. And now, it’s just so amazing how I meet different clientele. To be very accessible like this is how I want to be. I want to cook for everybody, not just for rich people. And I don’t need to use caviar every time to do good food. I can really create a menu that’s not very expensive for my customer. I want my customer to be able to come every week. That’s what makes a restaurant. I don’t want to be anymore “the special occasion chef,” when people just come to celebrate their birthdays or anniversaries. No. We need to be accessible.

That, my friends, is someone who understands great food and hospitality. That, my friends, is also what I’d like to aspire to as long as I’m living in this city — eating Ludo’s food every week.

He went on to say, “[W]e have people who come to the restaurant, sit down and tell the waiter, ‘I want to eat the whole menu.’ [He stares, bewildered.] No, it’s crazy. I mean, people come to LudoBites and eat the whole menu.”

Um … ahem.

Okay, here’s the deal. This was our one shot at LudoBites this time. Even though he does tweak the menu a bit during the run, and perhaps a dish drops off and a new one joins in, or it’s made in a slightly different way, this was still more or less it. It wasn’t like we could try a few dishes now and try a few later on; there were no more reservations available (although one of our dining companions managed to get in a couple more times before the end of the run). And everything looked fantastic.

So … the eight of us ordered every single dish on the menu. Two or three servings of each. For the table.

It was kind of like taking off and nuking the entire site from orbit. It was the only way to be sure.

Let us begin.

Warm Baguette with Honey-Lavender Butter and Smoked Lard

That Ludo was able to drive me nearly insane with a warm baguette and two things to spread on it is rather telling. The honey-lavender butter was amazing, but the smoked lard … not only did I want a bucket of that stuff to smear on bread and nom nom nom all night long, forsaking all other menu items, but I practically wanted to rub it all over my body. Now that I’ve left you with that disgusting imagery … ’nuff said.

Whipped Brie Chantilly with Honeycomb, Frisée Salad and Balsamic Vinegar

Next, Whipped Brie Chantilly with Honeycomb, Frisée Salad and Balsamic Vinegar. The brie was whipped for a light texture, then had chantilly cream folded into it for an even lighter (but much richer) texture.

Scallop with Spinach, Yogurt-Curry Sauce, Spring Garlic and Violet Flowers

Scallop with Spinach, Yogurt-Curry Sauce, Spring Garlic and Violet Flowers. Perfectly cooked scallop, surprisingly mild roasted spring garlic, and the foamy-but-not-foam texture of the sauce was great with the scallop.

Marinated King Salmon, German Butterball Potatoes, Crème Fraîche with Red Wine Vinaigrette

Marinated King Salmon, German Butterball Potatoes, Crème Fraîche with Red Wine Vinaigrette. I had to fight off a bit of apprehension due to the fact that salmon had not passed my lips since I got food poisoning from a bad piece of salmon last year. I knew that wasn’t going to happen this time, and dove in. The salmon was divine; fatty and tender and buttery, marinated enough for the flavors to penetrate the fish but not enough to “cook” it into ceviche, with the crisp carrot slices and strips of red onion offering textural contrast. Then those potatoes! The tangy crème fraîche on the potatoes and the vinaigrette on the salmon balanced the richness perfectly. This was terrific; I think my temporary fear of salmon is now gone. And we’re still only getting started …

White Asparagus Velouté with Mozzarella Mousse, Candied Olives, Shaved Fennel and Salmon Roe

Next, White Asparagus Velouté with Mozzarella Mousse, Candied Olives, Shaved Fennel and Salmon Roe. If you’re unfamiliar with a velouté, it’s one of the “mother sauces” of French cuisine. In its most basic form it’s a light stock (chicken, veal or fish) thickened with a blond roux (made of butter and flour). The term is derived from the French word “velour,” or “velvety,” and that’s a perfect description of what a sauce velouté or a soup derived from it feels like in your mouth. Here it’s puréed white asparagus, with a creamy cheese mousse, crisp fennel and the delightful little *pop* you get from the salmon roe all providing a wealth of textures as well as flavors. We were starting to get dizzy. Steady, boy …

So as not to kill your browser or mobile reader we’ll continue with the rest of this staggering meal after the break:

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Jazzfest 2010: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Let’s put one thing on the table straight away — Jazzfest is great and always will be, and I had a great time. So much fantastic music and food, how can you not?

There were a few things I wanted to single out as being particularly good, though, plus the disappointments, plus something that makes me growl. I’ll throw in another few tidbits about the visit itself, not necessarily Jazzfest-related, because I’m a great big cheatin’ bastard.

The Good

Almost every single musical act we saw the entire time at the Fair Grounds (with a few quibbly exceptions). The Bester Singers, Chocolate Milk, the New Orleans Nightcrawlers, Theresa Andersson, Susan Cowsill (who’s always been good, but with her maturation as an artist in the last 2-3 years she’s become great), Sunpie & the Louisiana Sunspots, Paul Sanchez, Elvis Costello and his marvelous acoustic arrangements of his older material, nifty covers and his new stuff with the Sugarcanes, the Fleur de Ladies Brass Band (who kicked MAJOR ass), the astonishing New Orleans Spiritualettes, John Boutté, The Mardi Gras Indian Orchestra, The New Leviathan Oriental Foxtrot Orchestra, Henry Butler, Band of Horses, Sonny Landreth, Anders Osborne, Charmaine Neville, Clarence “Frogman” Henry (still got it!), Feufollet, my old schoolmate Tim Laughlin, Trombone Shorty (with special guest Mystikal), the Neville Brothers (still at it), and Big Chief Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolias to take us out.

One thing that surely belongs in “The Good” was something I only heard about second-hand, unfortunately — Earth, Wind & Fire’s last-minute substitution for the missing Aretha Franklin. From all accounts they really tore it up, and although I wouldn’t have thought to go see them had they been scheduled, Wes and I both wish now that we’d made it over there to hear them.

Finally, in the music department, we were frequently very moved and touched by all the musicians who dedicated songs and shows to our friend Mary, who passed away on Mardi Gras Day this year. Paul Sanchez, Susan Cowsill, Tim Laughlin, Dave Alvin and more … although we miss her very much we felt good to see and hear how far and wide was her impact on people’s lives. We had a very, very special cochon de lait po-boy for her and our friend Dave, who left us last July. Jazzfest wasn’t the same without them but there were still there with us the whole time nonetheless. As Paul Sanchez said, “We celebrate life by releasing what’s in us. We celebrate life by remembering those who can’t celebrate life with us right now.”

The Fat Pack

Two great new additions to the Jazzfest food lineup made us very happy this year. The standout dish: Shrimp & Grits, by Fireman Mike. A truly amazing dish — plump shrimp in a creamy, slightly spicy gravy over cheesy stone-ground grits. Simple yet full of flavor and nicely filling, this was the only savory dish we went back for twice.

The other standout — La Divina Gelateria, open in New Orleans since mid-2005, made their debut appearance at the Fair Grounds this year, and if you ask me it was long overdue. Sure, we all love Angelo Brocato’s and their ices, spumoni and biscotti, but La Divina kept it exciting with a special feature, the Flavor of the Day — each day, something different. The first Friday’s flavor was Abinsthe Sorbetto, made with Lucid Absinthe and absolutely stellar. It was wonderfully creamy, with the alcohol content of the absinthe making smaller ice crystals leading to the creamier texture but with no cream content, a nice anise flavor and the broad herbal undertone holding it all up. Magnificent. The other flavors of the day were strawberry balsamico sorbetto, Bananas Foster, sweet potato, Creole cream cheese, pineapple-mint sorbetto and finally the amazing Coco Thai sorbetto, made from a coconut milk base with coconut, lime and Thai pandan leaf, very unusual and very delicious. Of the regular flavors, they offered café au lait, crème brulée, stracciatella and my favorite, Chocolate Azteca … rich and creamy dark chocolate gelato spiked with cinnamon, almond and hot chile. (Um, I had that three times. I ate a LOT of gelato and sorbetto at the Fest.) And on top of all that, we made friends with Carmelo and Katrina, the couple who co-own the gelateria, and they are super-nice folks.

Then there were the perennials, food-wise … the stuff that’s always there, and always good. We got our pheasant, quail and andouille gumbo from Prejean’s, the marvelous cochon de lait, soft shell crabs, Vaucresson’s sausages. But as happy as all that food makes me, the thing that’s kept me the happiest the longest, and has been a thread of food connection going back for more years than I realized, is the single most underrated and almost criminally under-noticed food item at Jazzfest: Creole’s Stuffed Bread, from Creole’s Lunch House in Lafayette.

For more years than I could remember (at least as I entered the Fair Grounds for Jazzfest for the first time this year), the first thing I’d do is head to the Creole’s Stuffed Bread booth, just to the left of the Crawfish Monica booth, where all the long lines are. Crawfish Monica is good, but I can make that at home. That simple-sounding but magical combination of ground beef and pork fresh sausage, slices of smoked sausage, spices, minced jalapeños and just enough cheese to hold it all together, inside a thin, crisp bread shell is just one of the best things I’ve ever had. They kick the everlovin’ ass of Natchitoches meat pies, which I find bland in comparison. I eat at least one Creole’s Stuffed Bread every day at Jazzfest and have been for many years.

I love them. And I adore the nice lady who makes them and sells them from that booth every year, Mrs. Merlene Herbert, who remembers me by face (if not by name) every year. The year after the storm and the Federal Flood, the very important and emotional Jazzfest of 2006, I made a beeline to her booth only to find out that it wasn’t there. I was horrified, and hoped that it wasn’t hurricane-related; Hurricane Rita, which slammed southwest Louisiana less than a month after Katrina devasted the Gulf Coast further east, largely spared the city of Lafayette. The news was bad, though — Miss Merlene’s husband had passed a few months earlier, and she couldn’t bring herself to do the months of work required to bake and freeze the large quantity the stuffed breads she needed to prepare for Jazzfest. I missed her and her food too much, so in the midweek between Jazzfest weekends as we headed to the annual crawfish boil we attend in Eunice, I made a detour to the Lunch House in Lafayette to see her and enjoy her food. She was astonished by our visit, and I wish we had had more time to spend with her, but unfortunately we had to take our breads to go in order to make it to the crawfish boil. (I was so hell-bent on Stuffed Bread that I passed right by a sign at a gas station in Opelousas that said “tasso sandwiches,” and I didn’t hear the end of that for about two years, but that’s another story.)

I was trying to remember exactly how many years it had been that I’d been happily gobbling down Creole’s Stuffed Bread at Jazzfest, and I asked Miss Merlene how long she had been vending at Jazzfest. “1989, honey … it’s been 21 years.” Wow. And although I don’t remember exactly how I stumbled across her dish, I know I was there in ’89, and have been enjoying them ever since.

I’ll tell a little secret, which I hope doesn’t get me in trouble. One day during Fest this year we went to see Miss Merlene as usual, money already in hand to pay for my Stuffed Bread. “Put that away, dawlin’,” she said. “This one’s on me.” Holy bejeebies … that was a first! It may have been a first-ever, as the younger man who was working in the booth with her did a double-take worthy of a Tex Avery cartoon, and the look on his face said, “She’s never done THAT before!” Well, folks, all I can say is … eat one every Fest day for 21 years and you might get a free one some day too.

Twenty-one years of Creole’s Stuffed Bread was very notable for me in “The Good” this year. May there be many more.

Finally … the rain. Rather, the relative lack thereof. Sure, we got a little soaked the first day, but it wasn’t too bad. Actually, the mud the next couple of days was worse, but the weather on the first Saturday and Sunday couldn’t have been more comfortable. This kept up until the second Sunday, last day of the Fest, when it did sprinkle a little bit but nothing remotely daunting. I don’t know what kind of deal Quint Davis made (not, one would hope, with the guy with the horns and the cape), but whatever he did, he did it right. No sooner had the Nevilles, the Radiators, the Wild Magnolias and all the other finishing acts played their last note when the weather started looking seriously threatening, giving us just enough time to walk back to our car and get inside before the rain, as Wesly put it, started “pounding down like a fucking monsoon.” Talk about timing.

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Eat Louisiana Seafood!

You may have noticed a certain lack of activity ’round these parts for the last couple of weeks. This is because I was back home as usual for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which was great as always (and I’ll have recaps, plus a “good, bad and ugly” post later on). I did have a bit of guilt during Fest, though, because I let it distract me and keep my mind off the very bad things happening in the Gulf of Mexico.

You’re undoubtedly aware of the oil rig explosion that killed 11 people, sank an offshore rig and resulted in oil gushing from drill points on the gulf floor. This is being called an “oil spill,” which is a bit of a misnomer. What the Exxon Valdez did was spill oil; this is a runaway oil well, spewing petrolem from an 18,000 foot well that’s situated a mile below water. No matter what, it’s going to be an environmental disaster, we just don’t know how bad yet. Currently it’s spewing about 210,000 gallons of oil a day, with the remnants of the wellhead and kinked piping (like putting a kink in a garden hose) restricting the current flow to this level. A high-producing well in the Gulf can produce 30,000 barrels (or 1,260,000 gallons) a day, but that’s under control. Worst-case scenarios posit an Exxon Valdez-sized spill every nine or ten days, but we’re nowhere near that yet and we hope we never will be. The scary thing is that we just don’t know. No one knows how bad it’ll get, if the kinks will let go and increase the flow, if they’ll be able to get capping done or relief wells drilled fast enough. Lots of livelihoods are in limbo right now.

One thing people are scared about is the impact to Louisiana seafood, not only to the livelihoods of fishermen but to our seafood-eating way of life in Louisiana. The good news so far is that there’s no need to panic. Seafood is currently safe and plentiful, and while a certain number of oyster beds have been closed east of the mouth of the Mississippi as a precautionary measure, most of the oyster beds and seafood producing regions are west of the Mississippi, and they’re not being affected.

Chef Brian Landry of Galatoire’s restaurant released the following facts via a Tales of the Cocktail newsletter:

Guests at Galatoire’s and other restaurants in New Orleans can continue to enjoy local seafood for the foreseeable future.

Safeguards are in place to know where our fresh fish and shellfish are caught and harvested along the Louisiana coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. As we have for 100+ years, our chef and waiters are happy to suggest the freshest seafood that we have available and answer any questions our guests have.

Galatoire’s requires all of our seafood purveyors to provide a “trip ticket” identify the geographic areas where all of our seafood is caught, in accordance with the Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries’ guidelines. These requirements increase the accountability that our fishermen and other purveyors have with us and with the state of Louisiana.

Nearly 80 percent of Louisiana’s seafood comes from hundreds of miles of coastline west of the Mississippi River, hundreds of miles away from the affected areas of the Gulf of Mexico.

Galatoire’s is working around the clock with our seafood producers to ensure that we provide our guests with the freshest fish, shrimp, crawfish and crabs available. We will be able to serve our guests their favorite dishes as we have for decades.

Fish and shellfish migrate away from water hazards. As a result, these species will move toward cleaner waters and safety.

New Orleans is located more than 100 miles inland from the Louisiana coast. We are enjoying one of the busiest weekends of the year. Anyone with plans to visit our great city and restaurant should keep those plans and come see us.

After reports that some oyster beds were being closed, long lines formed at the raw oyster bar in the Grandstand at Jazzfest, with people thinking that it might be their last chance for a while. Then there was a little flap in which an employee at Parkway Bakery and Tavern (hands down my favorite po-boy joint in the world) put up a sign that oysters were being taken off the menu due to the oil spill. That was a temporary price move rather than a safety move — owner Jay Nix sees the price of oysters spiking, doesn’t want to charge more than the current $13 for a large oyster po-boy and doesn ‘t want to have to short his customers by putting fewer oysters on a sandwich. The sign that went up was both poorly worded and unauthorized. It still makes me sad that Jay isn’t serving oysters right now — I’d be happy to pay a little extra for a while, me. In fact, we had a fantastic fried oyster po-boy at Parkway just last week. But there’s certainly a lot of concern over what’s happening.

Here’s the deal with oysters right now, from one of the best and best-known purveyors of oyster dishes in the city — Tommy Cvitanovich, of Drago’s Restaurant. He had this to say:

Louisiana has 7,721 miles of tidal coastline. The area east of the Mississippi River which is closed is where 23% of the state’s total seafood is harvests are landed. The west side of the river remains safe and open is where 77% of the harvests are landed. With 77% of our waters untouched, we are still able to serve Louisiana Seafood that are clean and unaffected by the BP oil spill.

Louisiana produces 33% of the nations seafood (excluding Alaska and Hawaii)

Louisiana is the nation’s number one producer of oysters, shrimp, crawfish and blue crab.

Oyster beds are located at least 25 – 50 miles inland from the Louisiana coast. For east bank oyster beds to be affected, the oil has to travel thru miles of bayous, canals and bays

Currently only 22% of Louisiana’s oyster beds are closed as a precaution. This is a good proactive move.

No oyster beds are currently being tainted by the oil.

These beds will not be reopened till it is determined that environmental conditions are within requirements specified by the National Shellfish Sanitation Program.

Only 30% of Louisiana’s oyster beds are east of the Mississippi River. Which means 70% of our oyster beds, which are to the west of the Mississippi River are safe and open.

NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration) has said at this point that they do not expect the oil to affect Louisiana coastline west of the Mississippi river. This is GREAT NEWS!!!

90% of Louisiana shrimp come from parts west of the Mississippi River

Shrimp, crabs, and most fin fish swim away from danger – a scent of oil in the water is considered a danger. At this point these fisheries should be fine.

We’ve been eating seafood like crazy for the last two weeks — plump shrimp and fat juicy oysters and Gargantuan crawfish and astonishing soft shell crabs — and it’s all been fantastic.

Get out there and eat some great Louisiana seafood. And keep your fingers crossed that they cap that well as soon as possible.

 

Bouchon

Yay, food porn! It’s been a while, and fortunately a birthday always provides a wealth of obscenely gorgeous food photos as a side effect of what’s usually a fantastic meal.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the pics are necessarily obscenely gorgeous this time, as for some reason the camera was set at the lowest possible resolution, and that plus extremely low light equals highly mediocre pictures. You’ll get the basic idea, though.

The usual semi-annual routine for Wesly’s and my birthdays is that the birthday boy gets taken out for dinner, and never knows where until the moment the car pulls up in front of the restaurant. We’re big believers in the element of surprise, combined with sometimes absurd levels of misdirection. Usually each of us would conspire with Mary as to where to take the other (although sadly, this was the last time for that), and our conspiracy ended up with my plan to take Wes to Bouchon, Chef Thomas Keller’s French bistro in Beverly Hills, for his mumblety-mumbleth birthday on March 8.

Unfortunately, for a change Wesly was quite forceful in expressing his birthday wishes this year. “I wanna go to Bouchon. And I wanna go see ‘Dreamgirls.’” Well, so much for the element of surprise.

We don’t frequent Beverly Hills, unsurprisingly, but we were familiar with the location as it’s right up the block from Spago (which is one of our favorite occasion restaurants and not nearly as expensive or out-of-reach as you might think). This is the third Bouchon location, after the Michelin-starred original in Yountville in Napa Valley and the glitzier one in Vegas. The building in which Bouchon resides is called Beverly Hills Gardens, and shares a beautiful courtyard with the Montage Hotel. There’s a narrow veranda along the side of the restaurant overlooking the courtyard, which will be a really lovely place to dine once spring has sprung.

Upon passing the intriguing-looking Bar Bouchon on the ground level, which we must explore later, we entered and ascended a rather grand staircase into the restaurant and were seated at a cozy table after passing the rather grand curved zinc bar not unlike ones we’d seen in Paris.

Bouchon's bar

The main dining room is vibrant without being overwhelmingly loud, and we still felt well-connected to the whole space while still being afforded a good bit of privacy at our table. (Ours was the two-top in the lower left corner, below.)

Bouchon's dining room

Around each napkin at the place settings was folded a crisp brown piece of paper that turned out to be our menus, leading immediately to the problem of what to order when everything on the menu looked so good — I imagine the menu is more or less the same at all three branches, and this one has a terrific chef, Rory Herrmann, formerly of Keller’s New York three Michelin-starred restaurant Per Se. Some of the dishes were eye-raisingly pricey (unsurprising, considering the world-famous chef-owner and its posh location) but many were quite reasonable. We saw (and smelled … holy frak) magnificent plates of steak frites go by, Gargantuan steaks accompanied by what looked like a basketball-sized clump of crisp Belgian-style twice-fried frites for $36.50 which we could easily have split. But not tonight.

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