It’s occurred to the Accidental Locavore that there’s an awfully good restaurant that I’ve never written about. We’ve been going to Cafè les Baux for years, and while the reception there is always warm and friendly, it’s interesting that we don’t share the same easy familiarity with them that we do with other places.
So, does that mean we only go there for the food??? Well, yes. It’s awfully good, casual but essentially classical French. Hervé, the chef, makes one of the best onion soups you can find, but my husband wouldn’t know. His go-to appetizer is the frisse lardon salad with a poached egg. It’s delicious and I always think part of the attraction is that it reminds us of a place in Greenwich Village that did a great version of the same salad. It was one of several places that Frank and I frequented before we met each other and I’ve always wondered if we were ever there on the same nights…
Anyway, I digress. There are always great specials, and Frank, on occasion, will call to see if he can convince Hervé to add his wonderful boeuf Bourgnon or foie de veau to the list. If there’s nothing tempting on the special board (and that’s hard to imagine), the rack of lamb is always a great choice. It’s a huge portion – 8 ribs with a lovely mustard sauce and the star of the side dishes, the gratin dauphinois.
The fillet of sole, done with your choice of sauces is perfectly cooked, and any fish specials are usually well worth checking out. But, if you’re in a red meat mood, the steak frites is wonderful, especially with the addition of the beurre maitre d’hotel. If cholesterol is no object, they will happily swap the perfectly done fries for the gratin.
If you’ve left room for dessert, there are lots of good choices. My favorite are the madelines – they’re shareable, good and there’s chocolate involved (to dip them in). Frank inevitably has the blueberry crêpes, a testament to the fact that everything’s better with butter.
One of the things I like best about Les Baux is that you can mix and match appetizers, smaller main courses, some of the classics and a special or two and have as much or as little to eat as fits your appetite. The staff is attentive and there’s a good wine list. So whenever we have a hankering for some good French food in the Hudson Valley, that’s where we’re headed.
Butter…does anything smell better than butter cooking? The Accidental Locavore is standing outside Maison Kayser, the new NYC outpost of a famed Parisian bakery. Getting in the mood for lunch there, I was so engrossed in my French tapes that I totally missed my bus stop by two long avenues! Now, I’m standing outside, waiting for my friend to join me for lunch, breathing that wonderful smell of butter — specifically, French butter. Hunger. I’m hoping the crowd will have subsided by the time we get seated, otherwise I may have to duck in and nab a financier or some other goodie to tide me over.
And inside they are, of course, French and charming. Eager to seat me even without my friend being here yet (take note of that other NY restaurants!!), but I’ve decided to stay outside on this lovely day and breath in more deliciousness.
So, what was for lunch? And how does the newest contender for croissant excellence in Manhattan measure up? One of the (many) great things about my friend Holly is that she’s always up for sharing food, so we decided to split the croque-monsieur and the fois gras with fig bread — pretty close to a perfect lunch, n’est pas? A croque-monsieur is one of the Locavore’s favorite sandwiches when it’s properly prepared. In concept, it’s not difficult, a grilled cheese with ham and béchamel sauce, but like a lot of simple things, every element plays a major part. This one, while delicious with a good balance of ham, cheese and béchamel, was not technically a sandwich, as you can see from the photo, lacking a second piece of bread. And since Maison Kayser is a bakery first and all the bread we ate was terrific, a second slice of bread would have been welcomed.
The fois gras with fig bread was exactly that: two healthy slabs of fois gras with two matching slices of toasted fig bread. Fig jam was there to add a sweet note if you wanted. In small doses it was a nice complement. If there is a way to mess up fois gras (other than banning it), I haven’t had it. Truth of the matter, it’s one of those wonderful foods that just makes everything it’s paired with taste better!
Of course you’re going to want to know what we had for dessert and you’re going to be disappointed. We had no room left for anything sweet. I guess we’ll just have to go back and see what that side of the menu offers!
You’ve undoubtedly heard of a pub crawl, but what about a food crawl? It’s a great way to try a bunch of different restaurants and explore a neighborhood, especially one with a variety of cuisines. The Accidental Locavore was part of a junk food crawl through New York’s East Village on a warm spring night recently. We were a group of eight; a couple of chefs, a few foodies and a brave soul or two. The rules were simple and like the evening, flexible; food had to be able to be eaten outside, standing up. There was an initial group discussion to pick the general direction and possible theme for the evening (hot dogs).
We started off down St. Mark’s Place. A few steps in, my husband spotted Mamoun’s, a falafel joint he’s talked about for years. Before we knew what happened, he was inside with one of the guys, grabbing a couple of lamb shawarmas. Delicious! Lamb, freshly grilled, piled high in a pita with hot sauce, which quickly made you think of another good rule for a food crawl: wear dark clothing, so the first bite of something doesn’t show up on light-colored pants!
Moving down the block, and back on the hot dog theme, the next stop was Japadog. Believe it or not, it’s a Japanese-inspired hotdog stand by way of Vancouver (undoubtedly, the first two places that come to mind when you think of hot dogs). Trying to keep things under control, we only ordered four dogs, Croquette, Love Meat, Terimayo and Negi Miso. Now, I don’t know what passes for a hotdog in Vancouver, but I would call these sausages. They were interesting, but unlike the ones we’ve been getting from the country, not going to make me a convert.
After two main courses, time to revert to an appetizer course. Around the corner, Pommes Frites, a tiny shop with one thing on the menu: fries. You have your choice of about thirty different dipping sauces, ranging from classics: malt vinegar or ketchup to odd-ball things like Irish curry and peanut satay sauce. Two big cones of thick-cut frites with four different dipping sauces were quickly consumed. The fries were really good, if a little too thick-cut for my tastes.
To walk off the fries, we headed down the block to Currywurst, another culture’s variation on hotdogs. Unfortunately, the place was packed, so we headed on. On our way back to St. Mark’s Place, we passed an interesting storefront with a pile of mozzarella and three big wheels of Parmesan in the window. Turned out to be a tiny pizza joint that a couple of the guys had passed but never tried. Eddie and I decided that in the spirit of the food crawl, we owed it to everyone to pop in and grab a slice or two. This was really good pizza! Lots of fresh basil on a good tomato sauce and a good crust. The guy behind the counter was kind enough to slice it up in little pieces so we could share it with the gang.
After that it really was time for dessert. We decided on a new-to-all-of-us place that my friend Peter recommended; Spot Dessert Bar. It’s another interesting clash of cultures; Japanese-inspired tapas desserts. Attempting moderation we ordered five tapas ranging from smoked coconut cheesecake to a crepe stuffed with ricotta and mangos. As with all Asian desserts, I found them all to be incredibly sweet.
My favorite? Has to be the shawarma from Mamoun’s, with the pizza from South Brooklyn Pizza coming in second. Are you inspired to try a food crawl in your town? Grab a bunch of friends, the more, the merrier, wear some washable clothes and give it a shot!
The Accidental Locavore thinks that sometimes the old saying “no good deed goes unpunished” doesn’t hold true in France. Many of our most memorable meals come when my husband and I have been exploring places one of us has little or no interest in (all the F1 racetracks in France) and afterwards, as a reward we always seem to find an amazing meal.
Such was the case when we went off in search of the one big tourist attraction in Nice we had never seen, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral. This was an adventure that the Locavore had wanted to do for a while, but Frank is not a big church guy and it was pretty far off our regular routes. Along the way, down Avenue Victor Hugo, possibly the most beautiful street in Nice, we came upon a little corner bistro, with a simple but interesting menu, a possibility for lunch later.
After a mostly nice, long walk we came to the Cathedral. Built by Tzar Nicholas and finished in 1912, it’s big and beautiful, with azure and green tiled onion domes surrounded by an intricate cast iron fence…locked! Now why a church would be closed on Good Friday is beyond me, but it’s probably because the Russian Orthodox religion has Easter on a different calendar than we do. Back home we schlepped, with me hoping that lunch at le Victor Hugo would be good enough to erase his short-term memory of a long walk for a closed cathedral.
You had to know it was going to be fine when the musician (my husband) was seated under a painting of a conductor. You had to know it was going to be fine when there was no menu, just a recitation of the day’s three main courses. You had to really hope it was going to be fine, when Frank ordered a lunchtime pastis. And you had to relax and know it was going to be fine when you got really hungry, seeing what the guy at the next table was eating.
While Frank sipped his drink, the hostess/waitress brought an amuse bouche of salami and a smooth pâté on tiny slices of ficelle (a baguette’s skinny cousin) I had a starter of white asparagus with green tips in a simple vinaigrette. Then we both had the côte de boeuf, perfectly grilled, sprinkled with sea salt and served with béarnaise sauce on the side. It tasted as good as it looked! But what would any steak in France be without a side of frites? These were small cubes, golden brown, hot, salty and amazingly good! As Frank noticed, somehow each and every piece of potato was perfectly fried on each surface. Definitely in the top ten of potatoes I have eaten, and believe me, we ate all of them!
As we left, Frank looked at an adjoining table and said wistfully (and on a full stomach) “They got an entree portion of the potatoes….”
The Accidental Locavore found that one advantage of having had a hand in a splint (and trust me, in NYC there are only a few and why don’t they make splints in safety orange?) is that from time to time people would comment on it and once a seat on the subway was offered to me. The splint turned out to be how I met the extremely handsome, charming and French chef de cuisine of La Promenade des Anglais – Alain. Oh, and did I mention he can cook?
While the menu, at first glance, looked a little disappointing, it was only because I was somehow thinking it would be a replica of le Safari, our favorite place in Nice. The restaurant itself is lovely, with big marble bars and a warm staff that made me feel welcome just walking in off the street. I was there, meeting some people for a drink before the holidays and we had a great time, sitting in the back bar, drinking.
Suddenly, this extremely handsome man in chef whites, came over and was asking about my hand. We all got to talking and it turned out that he was the chef de cuisine there. Alain has also worked in some of the finest restaurants in France, so has an impressive CV. We asked him for some appetizer suggestions and decided on the burrata and some roasted baby artichokes. Both were delicious, the burrata being properly buttery and accompanied by grilled hunks of bread. The artichokes were small, cut in half and roasted, served with a smear of a lemony anchovy sauce, to run them through. Oh, and did I mention he was handsome?
Now that my husband is back from exile, we grabbed a couple of friends and made a reservation for dinner so we could really enjoy the whole menu. One of the advantages of going with a group of food lovers is that everyone is willing to share and there are a lot (maybe too many?) “dishes for the table,” which essentially means that we ordered too much food.
In general, the appetizers were the high point of the meal. The Locavore had the veal tartare which was slick (in a good way) with olive oil and lots of grainy Dijon. A surprising hit were the croquettes, but then how could you go wrong with fried food? The fish soup was a quick trip back to the South of France, in a bowl.
The main courses weren’t as successful. For once, we really didn’t order any meat, sticking to pasta and fish. I had the swordfish with harissa. The fish was perfectly cooked to a just past quivering point, however the harissa lacked heat. The winning dish was the paccheri (a large tube pasta) with rabbit and hazelnuts—a great combination. Other fish and pasta dishes were tasty, but everything just seemed a little safe.
And Alain? Still looking good and a perfect host, stopping by our table to meet everyone and comparing notes with the other “Nicoise” chef in our midst. Added bonus, he’s going to fill us in on where to eat in Nice for our upcoming trip!
Is the Accidental Locavore the only one who finds that “organic” restaurants all have some unfortunate traits in common? Granted, there are places (Candle 79 comes to mind) where you might never know you were eating organic, vegan, vegetarian or (so trendy) gluten-free. However, most of them seem intent on making you painfully aware that you’re eating healthy.
Let’s start with one of the Locavore’s pet peeves, room temperature water. What is wrong with adding ice to water? After all, ice is a form of water, occurring naturally more often than hot water (generally more accepted — think soup, tea, coffee).
Unfortunate trait number two: an extraordinarily casual wait staff. Where is it written that to work in a natural food restaurant you have to look and act like the last refugees from (pick one) Woodstock or Sedona? Is it because “Organic fruits and vegetables are not always the best looking,” so your staff needs to match the carrots? And if your bartender can’t even put together a drinkable Bloody Mary, hire someone who can! When the concept behind these restaurants is to champion local, organic food, why insult the farmers who took the time and energy to raise the food by having it tossed on the table by someone who looks like they might have showered and shaved at least once this year?
Third issue: not to sound like a broken record, if the food is good enough to be certified organic could you please not torture it into something it was never meant to be? Hemp empanadas? Quinoa linguini? Please…
So how did this all come about? A friend of the Locavore’s wanted us to try Gustorganics, the first certified organic restaurant in New York. After you wade through all the foolishness, (and spare me: what on earth is an “organic reservation”?), the food was fine. Grilled pizza had a nice, thin, crispy crust and tasty sauce. The pallid tomato added nothing but a reminder that it is still January. A Tuesday special of lemon chicken was delicious, mostly because it had been doused in (organic) butter. Desserts were forgettable, especially a carrot cake made with quinoa (see above) and frosted with a coconut & soy cream.
Would I go back?
Do you think that the ratio of good restaurants to bad is consistent throughout the world? The Accidental Locavore was pondering this idea the other day. For every great restaurant in Paris is there a number of equally crummy ones? Or do certain chefs start to create order out of chaos? Case in point: Rockland, Maine (for that matter the entire coast of Maine). Once kind of a dumpy town, certainly overshadowed by its glitzier sister-town, Camden (full of former CIA operatives), it’s now become a cool place to be and certainly a much easier place to stumble upon interesting restaurants. Granted, there are certainly a fair amount of fast food and seafood joints serving fish both boiled and fried, however there are more and more really good alternatives for meals at any time of day.
Besides our “old standbys” to quote my mother, we’ve added some new standbys to the roster. This of course, is going to mean that we’ll have to spend more time in Maine, or eat a lot more, or cut back on some of the favorites, none of which is a viable alternative. And the Locavore just spent four days there without enjoying a morsel of lobster or crabmeat! How did that happen?
Well, we did hit Café Miranda even though Kerry was busy catering the Camden Film Festival (who knew?) and he’ll be happy to know his associates fed us well. A dinner at Lily Bistro for my father’s birthday had us dining on locally foraged mushrooms with gnocchi and French onion soup (for comparison, of course). But where did we end up almost every morning? Home Kitchen Café.
You probably don’t know that the Accidental Locavore is not a big fan of breakfast. It has to do with a general non-interest in eggs, especially runny ones, which as everyone knows is a major component of breakfast. Take away eggs and what’s left? However, Home Kitchen Cafe has a large menu, with a lot of well-disguised (and well-prepared) eggs, a willingness to cook a poached egg until it bounces (sorry, but that’s just the way it has to be), homemade bread and a hollandaise sauce that will make you a breakfast/brunch believer again!
So that’s how a group of chefs has changed the ratio in a town like Rockland, with the added bonus that they’re all working with local famers and purveyors to keep it all local and fresh. Has it changed in your town?
The Accidental Locavore wants to know — what happens when you mix a really good restaurant with a truly professional chef? You get a great place like Serevan. Besides making delicious food, Serge, the chef, makes everyone feel welcome. If it’s your first time, celebrating a special occasion, or you’re a regular, he goes out of his way, literally and figuratively to make you feel at home (only with better food). Even a large group on a rainy Saturday night, when the place is packed, is given a warm reception and a call is made to another restaurant to save a table. His generosity extends to sharing recipes and giving cooking tips. Without him, I’d still be dealing with yogurt sauces curdling; he taught me to beat in a few egg yolks and cook it gradually and I’ve been grateful ever since.
The food has a Middle Eastern bent to reflect Serge’s Armenian/Iranian heritage, but it’s not your traditional falafel and hummus (although the falafel and hummus are rather spectacular). The chicken bastilla is probably the most traditional dish he serves…it’s what chicken pot pie wished it could be! Serge sources as much of the menu items as he can locally (see below for some of his local sources), even arranging a very early morning sour cherry picking expedition. A question about basturma, an ingredient with the striped bass special, was answered with an education in the origins of food (and Serge).
If you’re a Facebook follower, you’ll get teased on an almost daily basis with pictures and descriptions of what he’s cooking up for that night’s specials. I’ve found that it’s often better just not to look, especially if you’re hungry. Or just to give in to temptation, pick up the phone and make a reservation.
When you get there, if he has stew on the menu, it’s a must-have. Whether it’s lamb or beef, sauced with yogurt or more recently, a reduction of eggplant and heirloom tomatoes with what looked like peas (boring) and turned out to be verjus (infant grapes, a tart and delicious surprise), it will amaze you. Other favorites, surprisingly, the BBQ ribs, the scallops with merguez, any fish special, and for my husband, the beet salad. Serge told the Accidental Locavore that the only reason I loathe beets is because I’ve never had them cooked properly. Duly skeptical, after making sure there was enough bread and wine to kill the taste if need be, I had a small bite. If I was ever going to be a fan of beets, this would be the dish that would do it. Bread and wine not touched (for that moment anyway).
If there is anything for the Locavore not to love, it might be the desserts. Since I’m not a fan of what my friend Leslie describes as “beige, toothless desserts”, and can’t eat nuts, most times the only option is a dense sticky chocolate apricot cake. But that’s ok, because usually there’s so much great food before that, there’s absolutely no room for a sweet.
Now I’m looking forward to the fall and the promise of cooking classes with Serge. Until that happens, I’ll continue to be teased with the specials he’s posting on Facebook and keep making something I do well… reservations.
The farms that Serge uses most often are:
Montgomery Place Orchards — for produce and fruits
Migliorelli Farms — for produce and fruits (they’re also at the Union Square Greenmarket)
Sol Flower Farms– for produce
Old Farm Nursery — for specialty herbs, flowers and produce
Quattros– for specialty meats, organic eggs (they’re also at the Union Square Greenmarket)
And a very big thank you to Serge for the beautiful photos!
So when the Accidental Locavore isn’t hanging at the bar at Cafe Miranda, what else is she eating that’s local and fresh on the coast of Maine? If you happen to be heading up to the Maine Lobster Festival this weekend, here are some food ideas to get you away from the crowds.
How about water buffalo burgers sourced from the farmers’ market in Camden stuffed with cheese from Hahn’s End, one of the artisanal cheesemakers there too? Delicious and a healthy alternative…well, except for the cheese…to a beef burger. Grab a piece of their “Petit Poulet,” an ash-rubbed semi-soft cheese to nibble on. If you go to the market on a Saturday, Uproot Pie Company is there with a portable wood-burning pizza oven turning out great looking pies. Wouldn’t that be great (and mobbed) at the Greenmarkets in New York?
Another favorite place is your typical lobster joint, Waterman’s Beach. The Locavore thinks it’s pretty safe to say that most fish places on remote beaches have amazing food, world-wide. Waterman’s was actually the recipient of a James Beard Award, but that hasn’t gone to their heads. Lorri and Sandy and their crew serve great lobsters, crabmeat rolls, clams and a lobster roll that the Daily Meal rated one of the best in Maine. Me, I like my lobster straight-up with melted butter and possibly a second “twin” lobster to keep it company. Or if it’s lunchtime, their crabmeat rolls are great. What’s cool at Waterman’s is that you can bring your own wine and when the bottle is empty, add it to the eclectic collection lining the railing. Last summer we spotted an empty bottle of La Tache, supposedly a gift to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and now in my mother’s collection (to disguise the two-buck-Chuck?).
Since Manhattan, for all its good qualities, still hasn’t learned to appreciate a decent fried clam, the Locavore waits all year to hit Maine for real fried clams (the difference? Whole clams vs. strips). This year we found good ones at a friend’s restaurant, the Slipway in Thomaston and really good ones at the Happy Clam, a German restaurant in Tenant’s Harbor.
And the last of the local food? Besides a quart of Maine blueberries on the trip home, what’s become a must-stop for my husband is Morse’s. Maine is full of great places for food in the most unimaginable locations and Morse’s, ten miles off the highway, is really in the middle of nowhere. Their specialties are their own sauerkraut, beet slaw and pickles. There’s a restaurant serving Middle-European breakfast and lunch and the store has charcuterie from all over the world.
So, well-stocked and well-fed, we hit the road, vowing once again never to eat again…
At some point during the summer, the Accidental Locavore and Frank drive up to Maine to visit the parents and help deplete the lobster population. Along the way, there’s usually a stop or two for fried clams, crab-meat rolls and Frank’s favorite restaurant this side of the Cote d’Azure, Cafe Miranda. Miranda is a unique place to eat for many reasons, probably mostly because of its owner and chef, Kerry Alteiro whose stamp is on everything and without “that crazy bastard” the restaurant, while still good, loses something in translation.
What also makes Cafe Miranda unique is an extensive menu, consisting of about 50 small dishes (and I use the term small, only to distinguish what might be considered an appetizer from a main course) and the same number of entrees. If that’s not enough, there’s a separate hamburger menu, with another dozen or so burgers, hot dogs and sandwiches. And each menu item has multiple components. Even an ear of corn is dressed with cheese, cilantro and finished with a blow torch.
The centerpiece of the restaurant is a wood burning oven in which almost everything is cooked. If you’re cool enough to score a seat at the bar, you get to watch Kerry and his crew in their frenetic ballet, juggling dishes in and out of the oven, prepping plates, adding sauces, garnishing and, if he thinks you’re not paying enough attention, squirting a stream of oil over his shoulder and landing it exactly in the middle of the bowl of greens he’s dressing.
But what if you’re just there to eat and don’t have a view of the show? How can anyone possibly have a menu with so much on it and not have a bunch of so-so food? And in Maine, of all places, not have lobster featured front and center? Well he does, the food is great and you won’t hardly miss the lobster (although it has been slowly making its presence felt on the menu).
For all the meals the Accidental Locavore and family have had there (and Frank could eat there every night), there’s never been a dud. Usually it’s quite the opposite. From the aforementioned torched corn (makes it taste like popcorn) to his riff on kimchi (some of the best you’ll ever taste) to a steak perfectly cooked in the fire and topped with blue cheese, this is just good solid cooking…only better! Even something as mundane as nachos gets deconstructed: cheese, chiles and peppers popped into the oven, chips on the side (they kept catching on fire in the oven), with homemade salsa and made into something wonderful, a “fat delivery system at it’s best. A recent special was monkfish chowder with corn and potato “croutons” (yes, they do look like fries, don’t they?)…as good as it looks!
If there’s a downside, it’s that portions are big, huge in some cases, and the selection can be daunting…everything just sounds so intriguing. Sitting at the bar just makes it worse because you get to see all the dishes being made and they all look delicious. What it takes to prep for service…no never mind…what it takes to remember all the dishes and what goes into them, is one amazing feat! And for years Kerry has sourced his ingredients locally as much as he can.
Cafe Miranda is a restaurant that’s a little off the beaten track, for its cuisine as well as the location, that should be consistently on everyone’s list of best Maine restaurants. It’s certainly on ours! If you’re in Rockland for the annual Maine Lobster Festival make sure to check it out.