Victor’s Gourmet, Schloss Berg

“What does the sign say?”

“Well, basically, that they don’t want you to take pictures.”

Oh, I sighed. I felt disappointment, but somehow, relief. I feel like I can’t effectively explain a phenomenal meal to other people without photos. If I wasn’t allowed to take photos, then there was nothing to be done. My friends would have to rely on my word, alone.

But then the dishes started to come. First, the teasers: little bits of fish tartare, mousses, house-made crackers with chorizo cream cheese, brochettes, divine delectable little nibbles whose contents I didn’t all note down but whose precision and deliciousness made my head begin to spin. How am I going to be able to remember all of this? I thought. My dining partners didn’t seem to be bothered: this was the latest in a long list of Michelin-starred eating they had experienced. For me, it was one of the first.

When the plate of salmon gravlax with herbed emulsion was set before me, I decided I could no longer obey. “Excuse me, is it all right if I take a photo?”

“Sure, just no flash please.”

In retrospect, I can tell you that photos don’t do it proper justice. Only memory does, and even then, it’s not the specific memory of every single thing that was on this marvelous plate:

Wild Salmon from Faroe Islands

Wild Salmon from Faroe Islands (Japanese pickels, sea water, miso)

For me, the memory that serves this meal justice must be similar to that of the most excruciatingly beautiful opera to the classical music fan, the most impressively skilled ballet performance to the dance fanatic. The meal was not a meal. Fine cuisine is a performance art, not only laid out before us, but produced all around us when we are in it’s laboratory. In the words of Guy Savoy, “Cooking is the art of transforming products loaded with history into instantaneous joy.” (“La cuisine est l’art de transformer instantanément en joie des produits chargés d’histoire.”)

I am willing to argue that it is the highest form of performance art. Not only is the spectator nourished, but in the best adaptation of this art form, each of the senses are delighted.

The plates with their ribbed matte-finish rims that were a pleasure to touch. The sounds of the champagne popping, the lightly set music playing, the stark footsteps of the expert waiters serving. The colors in the dining room: dark brown, tainted wood, black, burgundy, cream. The flowers. The scents. The drinking glasses: smooth for the diners who request still water, ribbed for the diners who request sparkling.

I’m getting to the point where I feel at a loss for words, so, I hope that I can let the pictures speak for themselves:

Green Asparagus 'Mon. Robert Blanc' (sumac, yuzu, Japanese hollondaise)

Green Asparagus ‘Mon. Robert Blanc’ (sumac, yuzu, Japanese hollondaise)

Blue Lobster (asparagus, pea, glazed pork belly)

Blue Lobster (asparagus, pea, glazed pork belly)

Lamb from "Hofgut Polting" (salted lemon, coriander, small artichokes)

Lamb from “Hofgut Polting” (salted lemon, coriander, small artichokes)

'Bau.Stein' (pistachio, red flavors, yogurt)

‘Bau.Stein’ (pistachio, red flavors, yogurt)

Thank you to Christian Bau and his staff for this incredible show. Thank you to my dining partners for showing me the ropes!

Visited in May 2015; menu “Paris-Tokyo”

Victor’s Gourmet Restaurant at Schloss Berg
Schloßstraße 27 -29, 66706 Perl, Germany
http://www.victors-gourmet.de/

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A Tale of Two Courgettes

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Courgettes, waiting to be stuffed

Two courgettes walk into a bar.

One of them is standing upright, bowtie properly affixed; white oxford shirt tucked into his pleated khaki pants. The other looks like he had a rough night. Slooping slightly to the side, his hair is slick and syrupy. He’s got some kind of lanyard tied around his waist like a belt. His shoes are grimy, the leather well-worn, the soles falling off. His smell is a bit more pungent than the first courgette. Maybe a hint of musk?

“Man, what’d you get up to?” says the first courgette to the second.

In a refined Received Pronounciation accent, he raises his jaw line, straightens his posture, and says to the first courgette: “I spent the evening in a marvelous warm bath with a lovely cocktail of organic vegetable broth, sweet pomegranate molasses, plenty of dried mint, and heaps of freshly ground allspice.”

The first courgette begins to feel a bit intimated. Despite his sleek exterior, he knows deep down in his soul that he can’t hold a candle to this eloquent mess.

“Oh yeah, dried mint, I’ve got some of that too!”

“What a sweet elixir with crushed garlic cloves, and fresh cilantro finely chopped blended with the rice that fills my insides…”

The second courgette undoes his soiled white bowtie and sits on a stool. Raising his voice, he calls down the bar “Waitress, could I please have some Greek yogurt drizzled with blend of mint leaves and olive oil?”

“Uhh, and a sprinkling of parsley for me please!”

**********

I realized last week that there were recipes for stuffed courgettes in both Plenty and Plenty More, by Yotam Ottolenghi (for whom I have already proclaimed my fangirldom.) I’m unsure of why it took me so long to try either of them, but I decided to make them both back to back, a few days apart.

Stuffed Courgettes from Ottolenghi's Plenty (The First Courgette)

Stuffed Courgettes from Ottolenghi’s Plenty (The First Courgette)

Despite my narration above, I should insist that both recipes have merit. The first one is an excellent weeknight main dish, prepared in under an hour (simmer time: 40 minutes.) It is flavorful and healthy and not that complicated.

Stuffed Courgettes from Ottolenghi's Plenty More (The Second Courgette), just before cooking

Stuffed Courgettes from Ottolenghi’s Plenty More (The Second Courgette), just before cooking

The second one, however, takes the whole idea of a “bastardized version of a Turkish original” (as Ottolenghi so proclaims in Plenty) to a whole new level. More ground allspice, more dried mint, plus a tomato, cumin, some garlic, tons of chopped cilantro, and perhaps my most favorite ingredient in any sauce – pomegranate molasses. With a simmer time of at least 1 hour and a half, this is more suited to a weekend afternoon cooking project in advance of a dinner party. (He suggests you serve them the next day, cold or at room temp.)

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Stuffed Courgette from Plenty More – the Second Courgette, ready to be served

For the recipes: I’ll leave you to find the first here, on The Guardian.

For the second one, well, you’re just going to have to pick up a copy of the book.

One particularity to these recipes is that you’re not instructed to use the scooped-out courgette flesh in the stuffing. In order to do something with the flesh of the nine courgettes I stuffed last weekend, I made a simple cold vegetable soup.

First: sauté a chopped onion in some neutral-tasting vegetable oil. Once soft, add the courgette insides (and one more fully chopped courgette, if you have one – because the addition of some courgette skin will give the soup a nice color.) After about 3-5 minutes, cover the veg with broth (vegetable or chicken) and allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes. Take the pot off the heat and add one large skinned, seeded, chopped cucumber, and one or two avocados, cubed. Mix with a hand blender, allow to cool, and adjust seasonings (salt, pepper, lemon or lime juice, as you wish.) Makes for a delicious cold summer soup, even picnic-worthy if you have a clean empty juice jar lying around. (Made about six servings.)

Apricot-Rosemary Upside-Down Cupcakes

An ode to the apricot, part deux : sweet version.

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Another day, another apricot inspiration. Similarly to the day when I was in the metro daydreaming about pomegranate molasses and chipotle pepper, one day a few weeks ago I was in my office, in between emails and phone calls, and that little background brain of mine was thinking about the big bag of apricots in the crisper drawer.

In the summer time, I love upside-down cakes. Gooey, sticky, fruity upside-down cakes with buttermilk or yogurt batter flavored with lemon zest and vanilla. Raspberry upside-down cakes, peach upside-down cakes, why not an apricot upside-down cake?

Better yet, what about cupcakes? And what better way to decorate an upside-down apricot cake than with rosemary. But the rosemary would need something to rest upon – frosting, of course.

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And there you have it: a handful of summertime bliss.

The batter for this recipe is adapted from a cake I have been making over and over this summer: Candied Fennel-Topped Lemon Cake from Epicurious (try that one, too!) The base for the mascarpone frosting comes from none other than Martha Stewart.

Apricot-Rosemary Upside-Down Cupcakes

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The Urban Gardner: two libraries in Paris

My interest in gardening derives directly from my interest in food. As a sunburnt child in my grandparents’ garden in Connecticut, I would run barefoot across the dry summer grass to the garden, picking green beans off the stem and popping them directly in my mouth. Asparagus were the hardest to grow, according to Grandma, and cucumbers and zucchini were abundant and would burst to be the size of my young forearm towards the end of the season.

Here in the city, I have a small space off my kitchen window that overlooks the courtyard at the ground floor level. I have a nice herb garden and a few fruit bushes – strawberries in a window box, raspberries in two pots (thanks to friends who gave me raspberry babies two summers ago – merci Sam et Chris !)

This Urban Garden, Paris 11

This Urban Garden, Paris 11

I recently discovered that there are two libraries in Paris dedicated to plants and gardening. While the resources at these libraries are 100% en français, I thought this could be interesting for other Parisiens looking to spend an afternoon browsing and reading about the subject, or for those who have small children and are looking for new kid-friendly sites to discover.

Maison de la Nature

Located in the Parc Floral, a special garden within the park of the Château de Vincennes. The Parc proposes numerous activities throughout the year – from open-air concerts in the summer, to gourmet food fairs and other exhibits in the fall and spring.

The library collection spans from books about the environment, to different plant types, climates, types of soil, forestry, etc. etc. There are numerous children’s games and books, as well.

Books can be consulted on-site or borrowed to take home. A separate subscription is necessary from that of the regular Paris Libraries.

Note that the Parc Floral is only free to visitors in summertime during the week; on weekends there is an entrance fee. The library occasionally organizes special free events on weekends, and if you’ve signed up in advance you can enter for free.

More information in English can be found here: http://en.parisinfo.com/paris-museum-monument/71343/Parc-Floral-de-Paris-Jardin-botanique-de-la-Ville-de-Paris

Website in French: http://equipement.paris.fr/maison-paris-nature-17576

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Maison.Paris.nature

My sweet garden: growing mint

My sweet garden: growing mint

Bibliothèque de la Maison et du Jardinage

This library is inside the Parc de Bercy in the heart of Paris’ 12th arrondissement, free to visitors year-round. There is a tiny courtyard outside the building with various potted plants, and a small greenhouse only accessible by reservation.

Inside, the ground floor is dedicated to children’s activities, with interactive games and exhibits.

Upstairs, the small library contains an arsenal of books about all different kinds of plants, gardening techniques, and periodicals. Books may not be borrowed – but consultation on-site does not require any subscription.

Website: http://equipement.paris.fr/bibliotheque-de-la-maison-du-jardinage-6619

In the meanwhile, back at my apartment, I’ve tried my hand at staking the raspberries. Anyone tips or suggestions on raspberry growing are welcomed!

Supporting raspberries

Supporting raspberries