December 14 2017

On the Road: Steve’s dispatches from Paris and Toronto

We all know that, as they say, the apple doesn’t far fall from the tree. I’ve been traveling and dining well with my son Noah since he was a tyke. When he was 12, he ate sweetbreads in London. It’s maybe not a surprise, then, that Noah is currently making a career in food, as executive sous chef at The Modern, a two-Michelin star restaurant in Manhattan adjacent to the Museum of Modern Art. Now that he’s an adult we continue our tradition of traveling and eating together for research and for fun. In 2016, we had a long trip through the Pacific Northwest. This year brought a shorter trip, but still big on great dining. 

Paris is one of the world’s great dining cities. Six days provided but a sliver of time to eat. Noah solicited recommendations from colleagues with the objective of seeking out modern fare in the city. These restaurants require advance reservation—some way in advance—and can get frighteningly expensive. Still, I figure, these experiences are rare and I covet our time together, so caution was thrown to the wind—along with calories and sobriety!

I used to say about my flagship restaurant, Frog, that our job was to create unrealistically high expectations and then exceed them. No easy task. We came to Paris with high expectations, and we were quick both to judge and to appreciate.

Below is our annotated list to dining in in the City of Light, with my scores on a scale from one to 10 in parentheses. Note: Most of these restaurants featured only tasting menus. If I had to narrow the list, I would guide you to Frenchie and Septime, the least formal and least expensive on the list. Both are restaurants that I could see revisiting regularly, whereas the others were more rarefied special occasion eateries. For a serious splurge, consider L’Astrance. 

 

Frenchie  * (8.5)

Noah worked with a young women at The Modern who is now the pastry chef at Frenchie. It’s tiny, informal, friendly and terrific. Make sure you make time to stop by Frenchie-To-Go and its wine bar and wine shop—all along a narrow Rue du Nil in the 2nd arrondissement. There is a London outpost in Covent Garden.

Pork BellyCaption: Duck breast at Frenchie

David Toutain * (7.5)

The first of our “serious” dinners. Its setting is sleekly comfortable and its service slightly severe but some things were beautiful, including bread service. Near the Invalides and the Eiffel Tower in the 7th.

Septime * (8.5)

Bigger and more bustling than Frenchie, but definitely on the casual end of the dining scale.  Septime has an even more casual sister restaurant specializing in seafood. In the 11th.

Restaurant A.T (7)

Japanese influences inform this French restaurant with aggressively stylized presentations. In the 5th near Boulevard Saint-Germain, a few blocks from Notre Dame.

Le Grand Restaurant/Jean Françoise Peige ** (7)

A colleague of Noah’s described Peige as the best young chef in France. Certainly some of the food was breathtakingly beautiful. Two of the best things we had on our entire trip included the sweetbreads and an amazing cheese course.  But at no time did I feel the standoffish staff was happy we were there. My grade reflects that attitude.  Near the Place de la Concorde in the 8th.

L’Astrance *** (9.5)

If cost was no object, this is where I would dine. Not only was the food spectacular without being pretentious, but the service was warm and inviting. In stark contrast to Le Grand Restaurant, it was clear that the entire staff was as thrilled to have us there as we were to be there. In the end, that counts a great deal. A 15-minute walk from the Eifel Tower, across the Seine.

Footnote

Noah and Bo, our longtime traveling companion, traveled to Champagne on Sunday while I wandered Paris. They dined in Reims at L’Assiette Champenoise, and considered it the best of all the restaurants on our trip. We also enjoyed a classic bistro lunch at Le Paul Bert.

Caption: Noah, Bo and me eating Paris’s best falafel from L’as du Fallafel on Rue de Rosiers, a block from our Airbnb apartment in the Marais..

Toronto

Frequent Thanksgiving hosts, this year Christina and I escaped to Toronto where the closest we could come to a Thanksgiving turkey and yams was the roast chicken and mashed potatoes at 

Café Boulud.

Identifying a city’s interesting restaurants from afar is a challenge. Lately I find myself starting with the website Eater, which typically has a list of the 38 Essential Restaurants in many popular cities. The challenge, of course, is to narrow your list. Christina and I liked what we read about the thirty-seat (including counter) Brothers Food and Wine. But there were no reservations available online any time during our Toronto stay. We chanced by it on our way to our Thanksgiving night dinner and stopped in to see there was anything available over the next four days. We landed Sunday at 8:30 p.m. It was terrific and I wholeheartedly recommend it.  We actually returned Monday for lunch.

Le Grand Restaurant/Jean-Francoise PeigeCaption: Fluke crudo with artichoke chips at Brothers Food and Wine in Toronto

One of the “Brothers” directed us to his favorite Toronto boîte, Bar Raval—unlike any bar I’ve been to. Open from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week, it’s smallish, dark, and ensconced in a  modern-day Art Nouveau woodwork. At 6 p.m. on a Monday, it was bursting with millennial Torontonians thirsty for perfectly made cocktails and hungry for delicious tapas. If you can’t make it to Bar Raval, check out its playlists available on Spotify. Really.

Finally, an hour and a half from Toronto through Canada’s Niagara wine region roars Niagara Falls. Not far from the Falls is the lovely town of Niagara-on-the-Lake and another Brother’s recommendation: Treadwell. Our modern Canadian brunch was Christina’s favorite meal of our five-day Toronto visit and environs.

Our meal included:

  • roasted heirloom beet salad with toasted almond Monforte goat’s cheese, dill vinaigrette
  • sticky sesame hoisin pork belly with pickled autumn mushrooms and chili fried Brussels sprouts
  • “croque monsieur” with shaved roasted pork loin and Niagara Gold mustard béchamel, red onion and chili jam
  • smoked bacon pancake with Colbey’s maple syrup

Final note: There are lots of satisfying Canadian wines, especially from the Niagara region, that do make it down to the lower forty-eight. Drink them where and when you can. We did.

Upcoming: I will get 2018 off to a delicious start with a January trip with Noah to Napa Valley.


Read other December 2017 Newsletter articles

Fresh From The Oven
Seasonal Musings
Party In Focus
The Dish
The Takeaway
Sweet Talk
By The Glass
TFI News