Culture clash at Bofinger

Sometimes the whole concept is just wrong.

I snapped this picture at Bofinger, the classic French brasserie, on my last visit to Paris, where this brochure seemed starkly out of place.

Bofinger is more than a century old, with leather banquettes, polished brass, white linen, well-used silver, and a stunning stained-glass dome. The menu is limited and classic, the service precise, perfect and very accommodating. Part of the pleasure of Bofinger, and places like it, is the feeling that you have stepped back in time—into a romanticized, literary or cinematic Parisian fantasy.

All this is prelude to my dismay at finding this glossy, 4-color promotional brochure dominating our otherwise impeccably set table. This photo-adorned shiny brochure—so very aggressive, so very American,  so expected at your local chain eatery—gave the impression of a very loud, uninvited guest.

I suppose the corporation that owns Bofinger (along with numerous other well-known Paris brasseries) would like you to know they have some special “value meals” as well as, apparently, a marketing arrangement with Guinness—but isn’t there a way to do it in a manner more in keeping with the Bofinger atmosphere, or I could even say, brand?

Of course there is: the decidedly old fashioned menus, when presented, contain a decidedly old fashioned card providing the same information as on the glossy brochure. Neither made me want to order a Guinness, but the card did not offend.

Lest you think I’m being over sensitive, the very correct waiters at Bofinger made no attempt to hide their contempt for these intruders on their “theater” of the table. They set each vacant table with the offending brochure and then—immediately upon seating the guests and handing out the menus—whisked them away, never to be seen again.

If only the waiters ran the company.

In the main room at Bofinger, Paris: it’s not Au Courant, it’s not trendy, it’s certainly not undiscovered, but I love it. As do many Parisians and visitors alike.

Eating Beef in Buenos Aires: Best Parrillas

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Though Buenos Aires is a large, cosmopolitan city whose exhaustive variety of cuisines range from authentic French Brasseries to Sushi Bars, the national cuisine of Argentina is most definitely beef and the most traditional restaurant the “Parrilla.”

The Parrilla specializes in grilled beef, both steaks of various cuts and mixed grills, plates of offal often including sweetbreads, kidneys, and blood sausage (though never liver, for reasons unknown to me.) The grass fed Argentine beef is delicious, although the default cooking temperature is medium—more done than I like my beef, so if you prefer your steak more on the rare side, you will have to ask.

There are a number of venerable and famous Parrillas which have been in operation for decades, such as the rather formal El Mirasol in the upscale Recoleta district, near the embassies and luxury hotels. While El Mirasol is good, and the service impeccable, we found the newer Parrillas in the gentrifying Palermo neighborhood to be more less expensive and more fun, with excellent food.

One of the liveliest is La Dorita, in the Palermo Hollywood neighborhood. Seated at a simple sidewalk table, we were able to enjoy the warm Autumn evening in a casual atmosphere—aided by a friendly young waitress, and copious amounts of Malbec served from barrels (there are several varieties of wine to choose from, very inexpensive and considerably better than you would expect) and brought to the table in ceramic penguin-shaped pitchers.

We began the meal with a selection of empanadas—an Argentine staple, before moving on to fresh mixed salads. Then the main event: Thick steaks which we sliced and shared, and platters of grilled sausages, kidneys, and sweetbreads, shared among the more adventurous.

This restaurant is great for a group, and the seven of us ate and drank like gluttons over a period of about three hours, yet the final bill came to less than $25 dollars a person (cash only).

La Dorita is very popular, so reservations are essential; they have a larger but pretty much identical restaurant (La Dorita Enfance) on the corner directly opposite, where we had a nearly identical meal a few days later. Perhaps it was only the enthusiasm of our first waitress, but we all like the original, smaller, La Dorita best.

Perhaps the best Parrilla we found, however, is La Cabrera in Palermo Soho. The food here is truly excellent, and the atmosphere, both inside or at the sidewalk tables, is delightful. In addition to the excellently prepared beef, all the meat dishes are served with a dozen tasty side dishes: various salads, vegetables, beans, etc., making La Cabrera a very fine choice. One main course is plenty for two persons. There is one seating, at 8:30pm. Reservations are essential.

La Dorita (Palermo Hollywood)
Humbolt 1911 at Costa Rica
Tel 4773-0070
Very festive, traditional Argentine Parrilla, lots of meat, casual and fun. Cash only.

La Cabrera (Palermo Soho)
Cabrera 5099 at Thames St.
Tel 4831-7002
Very good meat, very good service; lots of complimentary side dishes, all excellent. One seating at 8:30.

El Mirasol (Recoleta)
Posada 1032 at Av 9 de Julio
Tel 4326 7322
Formal, well-known Parrilla with good meat and excellent service.

La Dorita photograph by James Laur

Eating in Paris, September 2009

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Olives at Charbon, our new favortie bar, in the 11th arrondissement.

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Pintade cooked in a pot at Astier (11th arrondissement) was very good. The food is tres traditional but somewhat inconsistent. Fabulous cheese tray though.

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Rouget at Le Villeraret (11th arrondissement), where the food is always beautifully prepared.

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The wild duck at Le Villerat. A great meal.

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Eric’s favorite Chinese Chicken Salad (“Better than Wolfgang Puck’s”) at Le Petit Marche, a small and very tasty neighborhood hangout with Franco-Asian influences and a friendly, young multi-cultural staff.

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Escargot at Brasserie Balzar, an old, old favorite.

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Petit Dejeuner in the 11th arrondissement.

Photographed with my iPhone. Addresses and details to follow.

At the Restaurant Jules Verne

“It would be easier,” I remark, “To have lunch with Jacques Chirac.” We are standing outside the Pilier Sud, at the entrance to private elevator to Restaurant Jules Verne. Our way is blocked by a pleasant but stern young man, clad in all black, with a radio headset. It is a near impossibility to make a reservation at Jules Verne, the luxury restaurant on the second tier of the Tour Eiffel.

Tour Eiffel

“Three months in advance” is their standard reply…and even then…I finally had a friend who works for the French Tourist Office in LA make the reservation…to her slight annoyance, as even for her it required multiple phone calls and faxes. It’s somewhat ridiculous…Le Grand Véfour, Le Cinq—great, three star restaurants—booked with a simple fax on our last trip to Paris. Anyway, even after going to such great lengths to extract a reservation, and a fax from the restaurant confirming such reservation, the Jules Verne insists that you reconfirm the reservation the day before. OK, slightly annoying, but not unheard of. Except that they never answer their telephone. Call, call, and call again, and all you get is a multi-lingual message telling you that all lines are busy and please try again in a few minutes. At the prices they charge, you’d think they could hire someone to answer the phones…or outsource it to a call center in India or something. Finally we sent them a fax. But, of course something has gone astray…our table has been canceled (and given to who I wonder, considering the difficulty of making a reservation and the impossibility of reaching them by phone. Have they a list of stand-ins at the ready?) Calls are made from the elevator desk to the restaurant upstairs; someone comes to confer with us…I wave my confirmation fax (bearing the imprint of the French Tourist Office) and Logan explains the multiple unanswered phone calls. Still the young man in black bars our entry to the private elevator lobby, snicker though he did at my comment about lunch with Jacques Chirac. Clearly this is a commonplace occurrence. Someone in authority explains that they had tried to call our hotel, unsuccessfully, that morning, and then—finally behaving in the manner one expects from such a restaurant—says, but of course we will take care of everything, please come up…

Restaurant Jules Verne 1

From that point on, all is pleasant. A sweet boy lifts us to the second étage in one of the tower’s uniquely slanted elevators; we can see the young and the vigorous clambering up and down the stairs as views of Paris flash in and out of sight between the steel girders. We are offered an aperitif in the bar, but already they have a table ready for us. It’s a small table…too small really for the theater of food the restaurant requires, but it is right at the window, on the best side of restaurant. All of Paris is below our table: Sacre-Coeur on its hill, the Place de la Concorde, the Arc de Triomphe, the roofs of the Madeleine and the Opera, the expanse of the Louvre, and, in the distance, the distinctive towers of Notre Dame and the brightly colored tubes of the Pompidou Center. Directly under us, on the platform below the restaurant, tourists admire the view. It is spectacular, as promised. Inside, the restaurant is all black and grey and leather—very eighties. It seems a bit, well, too eighties, though in mint condition. Logan admires the china, white with black geometric accents, eighties too, but handsome. I find the black stemmed wineglasses less successful. We have glasses of Veuve Cliquot vintage rose (€29 a glass!) Logan promptly knocks his over—25 euros spilling into my plate and lap—fortunately protected by my napkin. Fortunately our only mishap. Service is efficient, professional, but no better than most Paris restaurants. Food is fairly excellent. The à la carte menu is shockingly expensive—50 starters, €90 entrees, and up. But there is a very nice “businessman’s” lunch menu for 55 (the only thing not translated into English—Logan finds this very cunning). He and I have a starter of haddock prepared three ways: a soup that is almost entirely fish flavored air—really good; haddock tartare, and a little spinach and haddock tartlet. Abbie has a terrine of foie gras and oxtail—terrific. They have lamb for the main course—they proclaim it excellent. I have quail—deboned for the most part, and stuffed with foie gras. It is excellent. We drink two bottles of wine, a white and a Bordeaux, neither particularly expensive. Dessert is a sablé with strawberries, with custard and ice cream; and a lemon thing that Abbie had. Various little candies and cookies and truffles are brought to the table, of course. The wine waiter is cute. After lunch, we wander downstairs and out amid the milling crowds for the view of Paris from the open platform. Logan buys another cheap souvenir Tour Eiffel to add to his odd little collection. We make a waiter open the back door to the Jules Verne for us, so we can take the private elevator down. We are about the last lunch guests to leave the restaurant. The crowd was largely American; a few French people. What can I say? The view: extraordinary. The decor: fair. The service: good but not outstanding. The food: very good. The price: the prix fix lunch is a good value. Otherwise for the money, I’d go to Le Cinq, hands down.

Restaurant Jules Verne 2

Excerpted from Clay Doyle’s Journal, Anecdotes from a French Spring, 2005

Online booking, now available via their website may make getting a table easier…. Clay, 2009

Venice Restaurant picks

Eating in Venice

My friend Dave, in Berkeley, recently asked:

Hi Clay,

I have friends going to Venice in 2 weeks. Could you give me a short list of 2 or 3 restaurants that you have liked there. I know you have found some special ones.

Thanks, Dave

Our best meal in Venice recently was at Antiche Carampane, a hard to find family-run restaurant in San Polo frequented exclusively by locals. The menu changes daily and is based entirely on what they find that morning at the market, so it has a somewhat limited menu composed almost entirely of local fish, shellfish and vegetables, all brilliantly prepared. The atmosphere is very friendly, and the owners will basically tell you what to eat. If you are not picky, you will have a great meal. The atmosphere is lively and fun and even the desserts are great. It’s quite moderately priced given the quality of the food—and that it’s in Venice. It’s small, and reservations are essential. It’s also quite hard to find, so you’ll need a good map. As Venice addresses are useless you’ll be wandering some fairly deserted residential alleys and squares until you find the Calle de la Carapane. When you’re sure you’ve missed it, just go a little further, and there it is.

Other favorites in Venice are San Marco, a stylish restaurant with excellent food and a good wine list, centrally located on a small street called Frezzeria behind the famous piazza; and Vino Vino a  casual and inexpensive winebar/restaurant (on Calle della Vesta, no credit cards) near La Fenice opera house.

The three restaurants mentioned by every food writer in the world are all excellent, but also extremely expensive. The very formal Da Fiore is great, but you may not want to drop the 200 Euros per person it will cost you to eat there. Likewise the equally delicious and famous Al Covo. Fiaschetteria Toscana is my current favorite among the three, being slightly less pricey. All offer expansive menus, multi-lingual staff and excellent food—for a price.

If you have time to take a day trip out to Torcello (a very pleasant boat ride in good weather), one of my favorite restaurants for a long, leisurely lunch is Osteria al Ponte di Diavolo. Great, typically Venetian food in a lovely outdoor setting between the boat dock and the oldest church in Venice. A little expensive, but worth it, and again reservations advised.

It’s worth visiting Do Mori, one of the oldest bars in Venice, for a drink and a few excellent cicheti. This stand up establishment, tucked away on the Calle die Do Mori on the San Polo side of the Rialto Bridge is a stand up affair, and open only during the day. Nearby there are several similar bars offering cicheti and wines by the glass.

Notable too are a number of new, very stylish and modern bars and restaurants that seem to be popping up around Venice, indicating that the city is more than simply a museum. You’ll encounter them in out of the way places, but Aciugheta (on the Campo Santi Filippo e Giacomo, between San Marco and San Zaccaria) is a nice central place for a drink and cicheti. They also operate a stylish new restaurant with only five tables (on the same square) which serves very good modern takes on Venetian food.

I will also recommend the guidebook Venice Osterie (in English) though you’ll probably have to pick it up in Venice itself at the Mondadori Bookshop (Salizada San Moise, in the haute shopping district off Piazza San Marco.) By the way, there is a very stylish cocktail bar behind the bookstore, one of the few that is open late in Venice, but drinks are rather expensive. If you still want to drink after dinner, I’d suggest a walk to the Campo Santa Margherita and the cheap and lively bar Margaret Duchamp.

In addition to the above, I cannot stress enough the value of simply wandering around the farther, tourist-ignored reaches of Castello, Cannaregio, San Polo or Dorsoduro around lunch time, where you will encounter wonderful little restaurants catering to local residents and workers, and serving up simple, delicious food at absurdly low prices. Poke around and go with your instincts. In these non-tourist areas you’ll also find great places for coffee and drinks (try the Spritz Aperol, a local favorite) at rock bottom prices—the Venetians love their coffee and drinks.

Pre-recession dining at Rivera

Pre-recession Dining at Rivera

Despite the economic downturn, there’s still plenty of glamour in downtown Los Angeles. At Rivera Restaurant in downtown L.A. the good times are still on, with a glamorous, uber-designed setting, beautiful waiters and delicious food. The tapas-style menu encourages sharing, and the food is both creatively tasty and artistically, if ironically presented.

Rivera

Above: a chile relleno stuffed with Burrata. Left to right: Black Cod, Duck Leg Confit, Dark Chocolate Torte—cute and delicious. With exotic cocktails and good Argentine wine.

riverarestaurant.com

Rainy Day Entertainment in Los Feliz

Shakespeare Bridge in the Rain

A recent rainy day forced us inside at the Alcove, where seating is quite limited. As a result, we were privileged to sit very close to a birthday celebration consisting of four women and one very gay boy in Ugg boots.

After breakfast, my friend Eric transcribed this approximation of their conversation, in the manner of an online chat.

Gayboi: “My friend saw Christina Aguilera pole dancing at a club. So. He took her picture. Then he sold it for $22,000.”
Birthdaygurll: “I could never, like, do that. I mean follow people around just to take their, like, picture.”
Gayboi: “Oh no. he was just AT the club. And then took her picture.”
Birthdaygurll: “Oh well that’s different. OHMIGOD! Did I tell you my boyfriend loves my naked feet?”
MatronLady:“Like he has a foot fetish?”
Birthdaygurll: “Well I donknow. I mean he likes to see my feet like naked and is always, like, asking me to take of my shoes. He just loves them”
MatronLady: “Oh”
Birthdaygurll: “He is always wanting me to paint my nails. He asked me to, like, paint them white”
Gayboi: “So you couldn’t tell you had toenails or something?”
Birthdaygurll: “I guess. Like I asked him if he wanted me to paint them with white out and make them that color. He said I guess. And then I was like no way, ohmygod. Then I asked him if he wanted me to paint them pearly-shiny white. He was, like, YESSSS!”
Gayboi: “oh my was he really like a puppy like that. Did his eyes really get that big”
Birthdaygurll: “They did. I haven’t done it yet cuz I can’t figure out what color to paint my fingernails to match. I mean, like, when I go to yoga people are going to see what color they are and I don’t want them to look like totally different”
Gayboi: “you should just do them French.”
Birthdaygurll: “THAT WOULD LIKE LOOK TOTALLY CUTE!”

MatronLady: “I wanted to ask Jeanne if she was being paid by the word. All her jokes were so long and bad”
Gayboi: “Oh, I know, right?…I still haven’t been paid on that. That jewelry making was so hard the other night. I spent like hours and I was using my teeth and feet and hands and mouth and then like she just took it from me and it was done. In like two seconds. I was so jealous. Like do you do that all the time”
MatronLady: “My hands hurt the next day. I don’t usually make that much jewelry. It was a total workout. Those are cute shoes”
Quietgirl: “They’re new. I didn’t want to wear them in the weather but they are just so cute”
Gayboi: “Oh by the way these are edible too”
Birthdaygurll: “My birthday flowers? Maybe I’ll get hungry later. I have to go to the bathroom. Then we should go.

Birthdaygurll: “Sorry that took so long.”
Gayboi “Would you stop saying sorry already?”

Little Dom’s $15 Monday Supper

Little Dom's Monday Night Supper Menu

I’d keep this to myself, except that word is already out—each week it becomes harder to get a reservation. It’s worth it though, because where else can you get a delicious and interesting three course dinner for fifteen dollars? Throw in a bottle of cheap wine ($10 marked down from the regular $25) and you have a real feast at a price that’s hard to beat. The menu changes every week, and there are no substitutions, so the bargain may not go to the picky eater. In that case you can order off the regular (pricier) menu, and still compensate with the cheap wine. I’m willing to eat anything they offer though, and I’ve only once been disappointed. The food is Italian—a mix of Italian Italian, New York Italian, and a bit of California. On Hillhurst in Los Feliz, Little Dom’s is open for breakfast (also delicious), lunch and dinner 7 days a week. Reservations advised; essential for Monday night. 323.661.0055