Thursday, December 6, 2012

GREAT BOOKS IV



"Alphonse Daudet in his studio with his wife, Julia Allard" Louis Montegut, Carnavelet Museum, Paris



Travel Oyster is back. As I hope you've noticed, the blog has been on vacation for the last few months. I decided to take a little respite from my self-imposed deadlines, incessant photo-taking, painstaking recipe testing and time-consuming research on historical facts. I've spent much of the past long, hot summer in our little, rustic cabin in the North Woods of Michigan. It's cooler there; people are scarce; and nature is plentiful. It's a good place to relax, think and, of course, read. Which, in turn, leads me to this year's edition of Travel Oyster's Great Books. 

For Great Books IV, I've chosen a classic Italian cookbook on regional dishes; a well-known and well-loved book of 19th-century tales of France's sunny Provence region; an engrossing, fascinating, page-turning history of the 14th Century, and a book of beautiful 360º photographs of Tuscany;



The Talisman Italian Cook Book
by Ada Boni
Translated by Matilde La Rosa

When this cookbook first appeared in Italy in 1928, Italian women, like their counterparts in the rest of the world were enjoying new freedoms.  In her preface to the first volume, Boni congratulated them for their achievements,  saying: "Many, among you know how to play the piano very well or can sing with exquisite grace; many others have grand ambitions for higher learning; you know modern languages, are pleasingly literate or fine painters or you can take the wheel of a luxury car with a steady hand."  But, she goes on to say, "how many of you, if you make just a little examination of your conscience, can say that you know how to boil two eggs to perfection." 

The Talismano della Felicità (Talisman of Happiness), as it is known in Italy, is universally recognized as the country's standard national cookbook. My version, the first Italian cookbook I ever owned, was originally published in 1950. It's a no-nonsence, easy to follow, unillustrated book, adapted for American cooks. Oddly enough, it doesn't tell me how to boil an egg, but its stained and annotated pages attest to its constant use. Its almost 1,000 recipes include regional dishes from all over Italy, but my copy seems to open of its own accord to those of southern Italy, such as Whole Eggplant Sicilian Style or Fresh Sardines Palermo Style. (I make this in the spring with fresh Michigan smelts replacing Palermo's wonderful sardines.)  

Even though it is adapted for American cooks, this is an Italian cookbook, not an Italian-American one. Some cookbooks lose their appeal for me after time, but this one never has.  It remains, along with Marcella Hazen's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, one of my two favorite books of Italian recipes.



Letters From My Mill
by Alphonse Daudet
First published 1869

Written when Alphonse Daudet was still in his  20s, this book is, nonetheless, a nostalgic look back at the region of Daudet's birth. The mill in question is a windmill that Daudet bought on the heights of the town of Fontvieille, near Arles, in 1864 when he was just 22 years old. Combining folk tales with descriptions of everyday life and ordinary people, Daudet weaves a web of interlacing stories that create a Provence at once dreamlike and very real. The book is among the most accessible and well-loved masterpieces in French literature, and reveals the humor and finesse of one of France's great storytellers.  


The French is not difficult, but there are also several good translations in English. To read an English translation of the book free online, click here.



A Distant Mirror, The Calamitous 14th Century
by Barbara W. Tuchman

I bought this book years ago, but didn't get around to picking it up until last month. Since then, I haven't been able to put it down.  A Distant Mirror chronicles life in Europe in the 14th Century. First published in 1978, the book was on the New York Times Bestseller List for more than nine months, and I can see why. It's wonderfully written and meticulously researched. Its cast of real people includes kings, cardinals, beggars, thieves, saints and serfs as well as perhaps the Western World's first feminist writer. And, of course, there are the knights in all the glory of chivalry and all the brutality of war, terrorism and torture.  

Marked by three great plagues that killed nearly half the population, the 14th century was a time when loyalty often gave way to treachery and where political assassinations were commonplace. Corruption in the Court and in the Church, opulence among the rich, and unbearable taxes on the poor and middle class led to a universal longing for reform. Yet amid all this chaos, great cathedrals and castles were built, beautiful illuminated Books of Hours were produced and poetry and art flowered.  

Although a world away from us, the book is indeed a distant mirror of our own times - a reflection of the same human strengths and foibles that mark our own century. A Distant Mirror, in fact, begins with a quote from John Dryden:  "For mankind is ever the same and nothing is lost out of nature, though everything is altered." 



Tuscany 360º
Photographs by Ghigo Roli



My last pick is an easy on the brain, delight to the eye coffee table book.  Part of a series that also includes books on New York, Venice and Paris, this book has dream-inducing, 360-degree views of Tuscany. Many of the places photographed in the book, including Pisa, Populonia, Elba, Massa Marrittima, San Galgano and Siena, have been featured in past postings of Travel Oyster. So, if you're looking for a getaway on a long winter's evening, buy the book and surround yourself with beauty. Then click on the links above and take a Travel Oyster visit to Tuscany.

Until next time from Paris,










Geraldine

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Etruscans, Tuscans and Americans



                                                                                Pitigliano - for more photos, click here.


As our early-morning flight back to the United States banked over the Monte Pisano, I caught sight of Pisa's Cathedral with its Leaning Tower - a fitting goodbye from a town we have come to love. Our last week in Pisa for this year spanned two holidays - April 25, which celebrates the liberation of Italy from the Fascists at the end of World War II and May Day, the international labor day. 

The week began with an evening in Buti at the Trattoria Paccì, one of our favorite restaurants that specializes in Tuscan and Pisan dishes. Dinner was at 7:30 p.m. - very early by Italian standards - but we had tickets for a play at Buti's beautiful Teatro Francesco di Bartolo. Although it is a small town, Buti was very prosperous in 1842 when the theater was built by 12 local wealthy families. It's typical of Italian theaters of that time with an elegant entrance and a horseshoe-shaped interior surrounded by two rows of individual boxes. Regional theaters abound in Tuscany and Buti's company is particularly well-known.  

The next day, we left Pisa with three friends for a walking tour of the Vie Cave, the ancient Etruscan roads found primarily in the area surrounding the towns of Pitigliano, Sovana and Sorano in the Maremma area of southern Tuscany. 




The Etruscans, from whom Tuscany takes its name were a rich and powerful pre-Roman civilization. Based on the varying features of the Vie Cave, it is estimated that 40 generations of Etruscans worked on the roads, many of which are lined with burial niches. The roads were connectors for the three towns, but some historians think the Vie Cave also were sacred routes within a religious area.

Dug deep into the local rock, known as tufo, the Vie Cave wind for miles through the hilly Tuscan countryside. The oldest road connecting Sovana and Sorano dates to 700-500 B.C. The towns themselves, set on high tufo promontories, are breathtakingly beautiful. All three towns have been inhabited for thousands of years and each is rich in history and culture.

Inside the Vie Cave, it's cool and shady. High above your head, you can see the roots of trees and the clear blue of the sky. At one point, we walked out of a Via Cava and into fields thick with wild orchids and delicate, fuschia-colored cyclamens.

Our trip began in Pitigliano, where we left our car. After a visit to the town, which is a warren of narrow, winding streets atop several subterranean layers, we set out in the beautiful sunshine for Sovana.  By car, it's only about seven miles from Pitigliano to Sovana, but we took a circuitous 16-mile route that passed through several, narrow Vie Cave. For the next three days, we walked in the footsteps of the Etruscans and almost everywhere we looked, we saw caves, burial niches, walkways and ancient rural habitations dug into the rock. 

One day's walk took us across vast vineyards and olive groves. It was hot going and we came to our own, albeit unsubstantiated, conclusion that the Etruscans built the Vie Cave as a way to get out of the blazing, hot Tuscan sun.

We stayed in Sovana and in Sorano, where our hotel was in the old castle of the town. At night, we sampled local specialities, including wild boar, rabbit and grilled meats. And we feasted, morning and night, on the region's most famous speciality - ricotta cheese - fresh ricotta cheese for breakfast, ricotta cheese cakes, ricotta cheese yoghurt and on the last day, a wonderful ricotta cheese and fig gelato. When you walk 15 or more miles a day up and down steep hills, you can indulge yourself.



We got back to Pisa just in time to attend what we have begun to unofficially call the Annual Pisan Italian/American Barbecue. It's held in a friend's garden, hidden behind a tall stone wall right in the center of Pisa.  Guests make a dish to pass. JR and Gaetano grill hamburgers, lamb and pork over a wood fire. Everyone contributes advice.

We expected to spend our last full day in Pisa - a cloudy, rainy May Day - doing errands and packing. Instead we got an invitation to have lunch with some new friends at their beautiful Cosimo Maria Masini winery near San Miniato. (Click here to visit their great web page.) Naturally farming vineyards and olive groves on an estate that dates back to the 1600s, Cosimo Maria Masini produces great Tuscan wines and high-quality olive oil. We lingered a long time over lunch, eating, talking and, of course, enjoying a selection of the vineyard's fine wines. At the end of the afternoon, the sun came out and we walked out into the beautiful Tuscan countryside.



It was a perfect end to this year's Italian adventure.

For more photos, click here.





A presto, 
Geraldine


Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Tuscan Weekend



                Click here or at the end of the text for more photos.


"Andiamo nelle belle colline toscane," said Fabrizio as he, Roberta, JR and I left Pisa for a weekend trip.  While I was waiting for our friends to arrive, I had glanced at the day's newspaper headlines about reductions in Italian pensions, the general economic crisis and gas prices that are hovering at about 1.89 euros a liter (that translates to about $9.00 a gallon! Yes, $9.00 a gallon).

For the moment, however, we were leaving all that behind as we headed for "the beautiful Tuscan hills." The plan was to spend Saturday in Siena, stopping first in Monteriggioni, where I had reserved rooms in the Bed and Breakfast in Piazza. It's about an hour and a half drive from Pisa to Siena on the autoroute. We opted, however, for the slower back roads that wind up and down the Tuscan hills. The entire route was a post card come to life as we passed by or through the picturesque towns of Peccioli, Volterra, San Gimignano and Colle di Val d'Elsa. 

We stopped at a cafe in the small, hillside town of Montaione. There, to my surprise, we found a luxury resort, complete with a 27-hole golf course. With the opening of the European Union, foreign development is evident all over Tuscany. Half of Montaione seemed to be covered in scaffolding, turning decaying dwellings into pristine rental units. Some towns, like nearby Tonda - which was abandoned after the Second World War - have been bought up by foreign development companies, closed off to the public and turned into stage-set resorts. 

Monteriggioni, on the other hand, is a place where many movies and commercials have been filmed, but it's as authentic as they come. It was built by the Republic of Siena as a defensive outpost in 1214 and Dante, himself, in the Divine Comedy, talks about the menacing power of Monteriggioni's towers. 

After checking into our Bed and Breakfast - which was located, like everything else in town, in an beautiful, old building - we set out for Siena. We had hoped to bike there on the Via Francigena - an important Medieval pilgrimage route - but bike rental wasn't available this early in the season. So, we hopped in the car and 20 minutes later, we were in Siena.

Siena, was bursting with tourists, including, it seemed, every high school student in Italy. They filled the Piazza del Campo, laughing, eating and, of course, talking. We joined them with our picnic lunch (JR's now-famous panini) and stretched out, enjoying the noonday sun.

It's not surprising that tourists flock to Siena. It has a beautifully-harmonious center filled with churches, museums and palaces. In 1995, Siena was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We visited the museum in the Palazzo Pubblico with its famous 14th-century frescoes and magnificent early 15th-century altar stalls. The rest of the afternoon we spent walking the hilly, winding streets of the town, taking in its medieval atmosphere and seeing its magnificent cathedral complex.

We got back to Monteriggioni in time to put our feet up before heading out to il Pozzo, a restaurant on the town square. After an excellent dinner of local specialities, such as wild boar and pork with porcini mushrooms, we decided a walk was in order. To take a little stroll in Italian is fare quattro passi  - to take four steps. In Monteriggioni, you don't need much more than that to cover the entire town since there are only three streets inside the walls. We walked them all in just a few minutes, so we took a second turn around the town, this time in the opposite direction. The towers were bathed in moonlight and I don't think even Dante would have called them menacing.   

The next day after breakfast we went to see the ruins of the Cistercian Abbey of San Galgano, located about 20 miles south of Siena. The abbey sits in the middle of a flower-strewn plain, but when it was built in 1324, its location was an important crossroads for two ancient routes. Above it on a nearby hill is the Chapel of Montesiepi with its famous Sword in the Rock. San Galgano, then known as Galgano Guidotti, is said to have thrust his sword into the rock in 1180 when he gave up his warring ways and turned to a peaceful hermit's life. Studies on the sword's age were not conclusive, but analysis did show that its chemical content is not inconsistent with medieval metal. Whether it's authentic or not, giving up war in favor of peace is a worthwhile pursuit in all ages. 

Judging from the place names in the region, peace was not the norm in Medieval times. Every town that isn't named after a saint seems to have some form of the word fortress or castle in its name, such as Castele, Castello, Castelletto, Castiglione, Rocca, Massa or Forte. Most of these fortified towns are located on the tops of hills, not only for defensive purposes, but also because in medieval times, much of the lower ground was covered with marshland. 

In the afternoon, we visited three of these towns - Roccastrada, Roccatederighi and Massa Marrittima. None of them are on the heavily-traveled tourist route and all are beautiful. Roccastrada has extensive remains of the Montemassi Castle. In Roccatederighi, you walk up through narrow, dark streets only to burst into the light at the top. There the church of San Sebastian is built right into the rock and the view stretches all the way to the sea 30 or 40 miles away. The biggest surprise of all was Massa Marrittima, a sizable town that we had never visited. Probably of Etruscan origins, it was a rich and important mineral center well into the Middle Ages and it is full of beautiful public and private buildings. The view into the piazza from the steps of its graceful cathedral, looks much as it must have looked in the 13th and 14th centuries. 

It was too late to visit any of the town's museums or public buildings, so we bought an ice cream and walked about the city. As we stopped to look at one of the town gates, a man sitting in front of his house told me to be sure to continue up the hill to see the town walls and the view of the countryside from the walkway. I thanked him and told him he lived in a beautiful town. He smiled and said: "Signora, you're in Italy." 


For more photos, click here.





A presto,
Geraldine



Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Pasta, Buona Pasta


                           Click here or at the end of the text for more photos.


Tell people you are going to Italy and someone will invariably say: "Eat some pasta for me." I'm doing the best I can, but I'm only here for two months and there are hundreds of different pasta dishes in Italy. I'm not sure if a lifetime is long enough to taste them all. 

According to the International Pasta Organization, Italians, not surprisingly, are the world's number one consumers of pasta, eating an average of 26 kilos (57.2 lbs) of pasta per capita each year. That puts them way ahead of second-place Venezuela at 13 kilos per person. The U.S. is in 7th place at 8.8 kilos.

Pasta is not an Italian invention, but seems to have sprung up in various locations around the world. As soon as humans gave up the nomadic life, they began cultivating grain and making various forms of pasta and noodles. Even so, no country is more closely associated with pasta than Italy. 

The 2,600 year-old Etruscan tomb of the Matuna Family in Cerveteri has drawings that resemble pasta-making utensils that are still used in Italy today. The connection between these drawings and pasta has not been scientifically confirmed, however, and the first verified date in the history of pasta in Italy is 1154. In that year, the Arab geographer al Idrisi wrote about "a food made from flour in the form of string" in the area of Palermo in Sicily. He goes on to describe a large farm with many mills that produced pasta that was sent on ships to Muslim and Christian territories. 

Dried pasta made its first documented appearance in a 9th-century Arab cookbook while the oldest existing written recipe in Italy for dried pasta dates to 1474. It appears in a cookbook written by Platina, an historian at the Vatican Library. Dried correctly in the sun, Platina tells us, the pasta will last for two or even three years.  

By the 1500s, Italian pasta makers had formed associations and unlicensed vendors could be fined and imprisoned. In 1641, in an attempt to regulate the pasta trade, Pope Urban VIII issued a papal decree dictating a distance of at least 24 meters between pasta shops. 

In 1554, pasta found the perfect partner, the tomato, which was imported into Italy from the Americas. Pasta with tomato sauce, however, did not become widespread in Italy until the 17th-century when tomatoes began to be cultivated in Italy. Today, Italy is the number one producer of tomatoes in Europe and grows approximately 7 million metric tons annually. 

As in the crushing of grapes for wine, feet were used in commercial pasta making to knead the dough. A machine for this purpose was invented in 1870 by Cesare Spadaccini, but it was not until 1933 that a process capable of performing the entire pasta manufacturing process was copyrighted in Italy. Italy now produces approximately 2,900,000 metric tons of dried pasta per year.

Pisa is historically a maritime republic so many of its pasta dishes are served with fish and shellfish. At this time of year, however, there are lots of pastas made with vegetables and wild greens, which are at their best and freshest in the early spring. Right now, the fields and hillsides around Pisa are filled with people (including me) picking asparagus, wild chard, fennel, dandelion, and various other bitter greens. While out on a bicycle ride a couple of days ago, I came upon some spinach plants growing in an abandoned farm field. Though not exactly wild, they were young and fresh. I collected a bagful and last night, I added the cooked spinach to a traditional ricotta cheese pasta sauce. I also put in some pesto and chopped ripe tomatoes. Here is the recipe:



Pasta with Ricotta Cheese, Pesto, Cherry Tomatoes and Spinach
Ingredients

1 lb pasta (I used penne)
7-8 tablespoons ricotta cheese (I used sheep milk ricotta)
5-6 tablespoons boiling water in which pasta cooked
2-3 tablespoons pesto
12 or so cherry tomatoes chopped (more if you like)
a plateful of cooked spinach, chopped coarsely
salt and pepper
parmesan cheese

Cook pasta in several quarts of boiling, salted water until it is "al dente." Do not overcook.

1.  Put cherry tomatoes, cooked spinach and salt and pepper in a large frying pan. Turn heat to low and warm until tomatoes start to give up their juice. Add a bit of olive oil if needed to keep ingredients from sticking.

2.  Add ricotta, pesto and as much hot pasta water as needed to achieve desired consistency.  Stir to blend ingredients.

3.  Drain pasta and put into frying pan, turning pasta to coat and continuing to warm over low heat.

Serve with grated parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste.

An alternative recipe  is ricotta cheese, the zest of one lemon, fresh basil leaves, salt and pepper.  Serve with olive oil and parmesan cheese.

For more photos, click here.




Bon appetito,

Geraldine





Photos (unless otherwise indicated) by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Au Revoir Paris - Ciao Pisa



                   Click here or at the end of the text for more photos.


                   Do you know the land where the lemon trees grow,
                   In darkened leaves the gold-oranges glow,
                   A soft wind blows from the pure blue sky,
                  The myrtle sands mute, and the bay tree high?


When the German poet Goethe wrote these famous lines about Italy, he was in the midst of a two-year, sun-filled escape from his cloudy northern homeland.   


We've come to Italy for only two months, but we quite understand Goethe's sentiments. On the morning we left Paris' Orly airport bound for Italy, we could barely see the runway through the cold, thick fog. Just two short hours later, we walked out of the plane and into the warm Italian sunshine.

Pisa has to have one of the most convenient international airports in the world. The Galileo Galilei Airport  is so close to town that you can walk to the historic center -  something we have done in the past. This time, however, we were met by an Italian friend who dropped us off at our apartment in Pisa, which is located in a 12th-century Casa Torre.(Click here to read Travel Oyster's Medieval Skyscrapers of Pisa.)  

In the eyes of the world, Pisa has one main attraction and every day, thousands of tourists come to Pisa with a single thought in mind: to see the Tower in all its leaning splendor. And splendid it is, but the Piazza dei Miracoli, where the Tower has been leaning almost since it was erected in the 12th century, is also home to Pisa's magnificent cathedral founded in 1064, its Bapistery and the Campo Santo. At one time, tourists to Pisa came to see not the tower, but the Campo Santo, whose walls were covered with frescos by Benozzo Gozzoli. Tragically, most of these frescos were destroyed by American bombs during the Second World War. (The small number of frescos that survived the bombing are still on display in the Campo Santo and viewing them, it's easy to see why people came from the world over to see the entire series.)

Almost 1,000 years ago when the site for the cathedral complex was chosen, it was located in the center of the action near the busy port of the now non-existent Auser River. Today, however, the Piazza dei Miracoli finds itself on the edge of town. So, if you live just a few blocks away in the historic center as we do, you don't see the tourists, who arrive principally in buses and cars, which are parked in a huge lot outside Pisa's medieval walls. They walk across a busy street, visit the famous monuments and leave. Most visitors never see the rest of Pisa, one of the most beautiful medieval cities in all of Italy. 

The date of its founding is uncertain, but Pisa is a town that ancient Roman writers were already calling old. Archeological findings date the city to somewhere between the 3rd and 6th century b.c. If tourists ventured beyond the tower, however, they would find that Pisa is also one of Italy's youngest cities since it is home to 60,000 university students. Most of them attend the University of Pisa, one of the oldest and best universities in Italy. Even more prestigious are Pisa's two elite institutions, the Scuola Normale Superiore, founded by Napoleon in 1810 on the model of the École Normale Supérieure in Paris and the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna.  

Fittingly, our first event in Pisa took place at the University. We deposited our bags at the apartment and walked across town to the Sapienza, a Renaissance building that houses the University's Law School. In the library, filled with ancient volumes and precious manuscripts, we listened to a panel discussion on a friend's recently-released book translating 12 sonnets of the Portuguese poet Antero de Quental into Italian. (Amore lotte pessimismo morte, Dodici sonetti di Antero de Quental, F. Franceschini, Felici Editore, 2011.) 

It was a full immersion into Italian and the two-hour discussion (some of it in Portuguese) had our heads spinning well before we joined a group of friends in a nearby bar for a celebratory toast. 

As in years past, we had our inaugural dinner in Pisa at Giorgio, our favorite pizzeria in town. Giorgio, himself, always greets us like returning heros and the pizza is crispy and delicious.  

Our first week in Pisa has been a busy one filled with work, lectures, dinners, catching up with friends, and with walks under "the pure blue sky."

So to all those who have asked: Isn't Pisa boring after the big-city life of Paris? The answer is a resounding NO.

To see more photos, click here.





A presto,
Geraldine



Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ledoyen, A Paris Meal to Remember



See more photos at the end of the post.


To celebrate my birthday and the end of our stay in Paris, JR and I booked a table for lunch at Ledoyen, one of world's great restaurants. As far as I'm concerned, there's no better way to soften the passage of time and the nostalgia of leaving Paris for another year. 

Founded in 1792, Ledoyen has been in its current location in the gardens of the Champs-Élysées since 1860. The chef, Christian Le Squer, is a soft-spoken Breton with a magic touch when it comes to food. Le Squer describes his fare as cuisine du marché with pure and simple flavors.  It's what he does with the fresh market fare, however, that makes a meal at LeDoyen something you will never forget. Ledoyen is one of only 25 restaurants in France with three stars in the Michelin Guide, France's oldest and best-known French hotel and restaurant guide. 

We've been going to Michelin starred restaurants since we first came to France more than 30 years ago. Back then, it was an extravagance for us, but food is, after all, one of France's great treasures. Also, many of the great restaurants offer set-price menus. At Ledoyen, there is a lunch menu for 94 euros (see below for a photo of our menu).  

It took years to work our way up to three stars, the highest rank the guide gives to a restaurant with such exceptional cuisine that it is worth a special journey. We've taken planes, trains, taxis and the metro. On a journey in Burgundy, we even arrived on bicycles. Another time at the end of a blazing hot day of tourism in Provence, we washed in a river, donned our fancy clothes and drove to the restaurant in our old, battered French car.  

Our journey to Ledoyen was a leisurely 30-minute walk. It took us across Paris, past the Louvre Museum, through the Tuileries Gardens and up the Champs-Élysées to Ledoyen's daffodil-yellow, neoclassic pavillion that is classified as an historic monument. The doors were opened for us, just as they were in years past for Monet, Degas, Manet, Cézanne, Zola and Flaubert, all of whom often dined at the restaurant. Our coats were taken and we were conducted up the carpeted staircase to the light-filled, elegant Second Empire dining room. The spacious room seats 45 people at tables that are placed a discreet distance from one another, ensuring that conversations - business, government or otherwise - remain private.

As soon as we were seated, the director of the restaurant, Patrick Simiand, came over to say hello. During the years we've been coming to Ledoyen, we've talked with him about food, of course, but also about politics, our children, summer vacations, music, language, and customs. He's warm and friendly and very good at his job. When he found out my birthday was upcoming, he sent over champagne. "No candles on your dessert," he said. In France, celebrating your birthday ahead of time can bring bad luck, but I was willing to take the risk since this year my birthday fell on a Sunday, a day when Ledoyen is closed.

The next three hours were a birthday girl's dream: a romantic setting with my favorite dinner companion; champagne; gleaming crystal and silver; exotic flowers; an attentive staff in the dining room; and, of course, all that incredible food prepared behind the scenes under the direction of one of the world's best chefs.  (To see a short video of the kitchen, click here.)

By the time we finished our coffee, all the other diners had left - presumably off to the important business of the world. Nonetheless, Mr. Simiand offered us a second coffee, which we accepted with pleasure. We had the whole dining room to ourselves and felt not at all rushed. Finally, we said our goodbyes, but not before one of our smiling servers took a photo of us on the grand staircase.


I took (discreetly, I hope) some photos, which you will find below, of our meal and our menu (to see more photos presented by the restaurant, click here). The menu does not list the sumptuous mise en bouche - a transparent "bubble" that bursts in your mouth, releasing the flavor of ginger and campari; a puff pastry of comté cheese and ceps (my favorite); a tart with truffle butter; and a crispy, creamy ball topped with black truffle. There were also paper-thin squid ink wafers, a fabulous selection of breads, a pre-appetizer of langoustine cru and after the official desserts, kouign-amann, a pastry that is a nod to the chef's Breton roots. Chocolates, caramels and mignardises accompanied the espresso. For the main course, JR and I both chose the pigeon, accompanied by wine, a Moulin à Vent 2008 from Domaine Dubost, selected by the sommelier Vincent Javaux,. For the wine connoisseurs among you, click here to get a tour of Ledoyen's wine cellar.

Pavillon Ledoyen
1 Avenue Dutuit
75008 Paris
Telephone: 01 53 05 10 01



Click to enlarge






Langoustine cru, sauce verte












      
Bulots façon Duglére à la mayonnaise chaude                 Velouté d'oignons des Cévennes au chorizo


Pigeon/Dattes/Citron aux senteurs Orientales




Glacé de Caramel, lait fumé


Ananas en soufflé Passion


A bientôt,
Geraldine

















Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor