Travels with a Gourmet

a food lover's travels, memorable meals, culinary trials and gastronomic experiences

PCasa GT Paris, Cafe Constant

It’s been raining almost every day for a week here in Singapore and the dark, dreary weather reminds me of Paris in the winter, without the cold of course.  This type of weather makes me feel like having hearty simple food that feeds the hunger and warms the body.  Flashback then to a simple dinner we had in Paris at Cafe Constant – the casual neighborhood bistro on rue Saint Dominique, a mostly residential area in the 7th arrondissement.  One of the restaurants owned by ex-Crillon chef Christian Constant and the most casual of the five.

Cafe Constant has a zinc-topped bar, mosaic floor, rickety wooden chairs and tables set elbow to elbow which makes for a typical Parisian dinner.  There’s a selection of wines by the glass, a blackboard prix-fixe and a separate la carte menu of bistro classics which are all reasonably-priced and served with a smile.  Convivial, cozy and delicious – the kind of place I wish we had here but seems to only work in Paris.

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Cafe Constant

139 rue Saint Dominique, 75007 Paris

Tel: +33 1 47 53 73 54

No reservations.  Open daily for breakfast 7-11 a.m., non-stop service from 12h -23h

PCasa GT Paris, Mini Palais

For all the bistros and scuffed tiles in the numerous bistros and cafes in Paris, therehas been a proliferation of non-hotel restaurants still serving bistro classics but in much more sophisticated setting yet still offering prix-fixe menus.  One of these is the beautiful high-ceiling dining room of the Mini Palais, located in the back corner of the Grand Palais right smack in the middle of the famed triangle d’or (golden triangle) of the 8th arrondissement.  Helmed by chef Eric Frechon (from the 3-star Michelin Hotel Bristol), the food is faultless, the atmosphere refined, the service unobtrusive and the crowd more bourgeois than bohemian.

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Mini Palais

Grand Palais,  Avenue Winston Churchill  75008 Paris

Tel : +33 1 42 56 42 42

PCasa GT Paris, Clover-001

On a cold rainy autumn evening in late November, we met up with friends for a drink at La Societe, St. Germain’s sleek Liaigre-designed Costes-managed bar, while we waited out our reservation at Jean Francois Piege’s year-old farm to table restaurant Clover.

Located in a back alley off boulevard St. Germain, where the Parisian brunch institution Coffee Parisien used to be, Clover is filled with several rustic wooden tables set with just a crisp white linen napkin and a knife.  The elongated space seats about 40 diners elbow-to-elbow making it feel like one large communal table.  The previous bar area has been transformed into a sleek modern open kitchen with a glass-fronted fridge filled with local produce.  At the time we went, there was a beautiful display of large succulent-like green savoy cabbages and tiny dark brussels sprouts.

Clover has a daily prix-fixe menu, for lunch ( three-course €35 or five-course €43) and a more elaborate one for dinner (five-course €60 or six-course  €73) with a supplement charge of €8 for a plate of cheese served before dessert.  The restaurant showcases produce from the all over France like special quail  from Dombes in the southeast or ratte potatoes from Touquet in the north.  Most ingredients indicate their origins and the cooking is simple but sophisticated.  The food is served family-style so dishes areplaced in the middle of the table and shared between two keeping it all very casual.

That evening, we started out with some St. Jean de Luz tuna, smoked butternut squash, crispy crackers and horseradish – an interesting mix of cold tuna tataki-style offset by the spicy horseradish and warm creamy squash.  Next up was the chef’s signature dish of Saint-Jacques cuite sur le pavé parisien – literally one large scallop in a half-shell placed on top of a sizzling hot Parisian cobblestone – a playful Parisian take on hot-stone cooking and gave the super sweet scallop just a tiny sear.  This was followed by cabbage, smoked herring foam, preserved lemon and chestnut chips which were the flavors of autumn on a plate – warm melted cabbage leaves with tangy bits of lemon rind and crispy chestnut chips for texture.  Main courses came next – the ladies had the fish which was a sautéed lieu jaune (pollock), topped with salsifis wildflower (goatsbeard), radicchio leaves and covered with an emulsion of bay leaves – the delicate white fleshed fish complemented by the bitter chicory and herb-infused foam while the gentlemen ordered the heartier roasted Dombes quail, trompettes de la mort (horn of plenty mushrooms), caramelized onions and mango vinegar.

We skipped the cheese course and went straight for dessert – chunks of dark chocolate fudge cake, milk chocolate ice cream, tiny sweet raspberries, cranberries and grilled pecans.  Espressos were ordered and the coffee shots were accompanied by a large gooey chocolate chip cookie which we all broke into and finished.  Dining at Clover is fine dining without the formality, like a fun meal with friends at their kitchen table sharing good food and wine.  In other words, Clover feels like home, except there’s a Michelin-starred chef who’s in charge of the kitchen.

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CLOVER

5, rue Perronet, 75007 Paris

Telephone: +33 1 7550 0005

Email:contact@clover-paris.com

Open Tuesday to Saturday

Lunch from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m., Dinner from 7:30 to 10:00 p.m.

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Panoramic view of Playa Mansa from the terrace.

Punta del Este is known for being the South America’s summer playground and aside from sun, sand and sea, there isn’t much to keep one occupied which is why it’s worth a visit to the Museo Taller Carlos Páez Vilaró

Carlos Páez Vilaró was an Uruguayan autodidact who grew up in Buenos Aires where his works of  graphic art began. He was later influenced by his many travels to Brazil and all over the African continent.  His numerous works include paintings, sculpture, mural art, ceramics, books and even music and he has left his mark in many works from Buenos Aires to Beijing, Cairo to Washington DC.

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He returned often to Uruguay and in 1969, he built his summer home by the sea in Punta del Este.  Casapueblo is found in Punta Ballena at the end of a winding road with expansive views of the sea.  This home was conceptualized with his own architectural design audit was here that he works to fill this all-white curvy stone house on a cliff with his final works of art, from the graphic tiles inlaid into the walls to the murals he painted on the terraces.  His sculptures are also scattered around the home along with his many ceramic creations.  He continued to live abroad – in Argentina, the United States and Brazil but eventually moved back to Punta del Este.  It was in this home that he spent rest of his days, painting and working until he died in February 2014 with Casapubelo becoming his final work of art.

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Museo – Taller de Casapueblo

Punta Ballena, Uruguay
C.P. 20003

Tel/Fax: +(598) 4257 8041

Tel/Fax: +(598) 4257 9121

Open to the public daily from 10 a.m. till sunset.

Entry fee for 12 years old and above Uruguayan $240

PCasa GT Punta del Este, La Huella

It’s the last quarter of the year so I think I’d better write about my best meal in 2015.  Parador La Huella sits on windswept Brava beach of the little town of Jose Ignacio in Punta del Este, Uruguay.  Punta del Este is the Saint Tropez of South America.  It’s where the bronzed and the beautiful get together during the southern hemisphere’s December summer.  Jose Ignacio is thankfully a bit further from the action than Punta’s main party beaches.  Here it’s mostly families hanging out and people just relaxing on the sand.

La Huella (currently number 15 on the 2015 Latin Americas 50 Best Restaurants) is a shabby chic bleached wood shack with a large deck that sits right on Brava beaching Jose Ignacio with a view of the lighthouse.  During the peak summer season, from mid-December to mid-January, the place is packed from noon till late.  The food is deceptively simple but unbelievably good.  Meat and seafood cooked on the large wood-fired grill, some sushi and sashimi, a few salads and pastas, a decent wine list, cool cocktails, great music and a super friendly crew who look like they’re having fun while they work.

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In the five days we were in Punta, we spent two at La Huella and established a routine.  We would drive to Jose Ignacio right after breakfast, book our table for lunch, lug our stuff to the beach and lie on the sand until around 1:00 then go to La Huella and have a leisurely lunch on the wooden deck before heading back home.   As you can see from the photos – we had grilled seafood, salads, a seafood pasta, fried calamari, baked mussels, flaky empanadas and the infamous volcan de dulce de leche – a molten dulce de leche cake that is a hit with the caramel-loving South Americans.

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Why was it my best meal of 2015?  Because the food was simple, delicious and not overpriced. Because the place was unpretentious and the service was speedy yet friendly.  Because sitting by the sea and eating al fresco is one of life’s pleasures.  But most of all, because those lazy days were spent with my husband and children, sitting around a table, having a meal together and just enjoying life.  I’m counting the days till our December holiday in Punta.

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Parador La Huella

Brava Beach José Ignacio – Uruguay

Telephone: +598 4486 2279

Email: info@paradorlahuella.com

PCasa GT Punta del Este, Les Delices

Can it already be August?  Here’s a flashback Friday post from our Christmas holiday in Punta del Este.

Breakfasts usually involve coffee and the medialunas con dulce de leche (the local version of croissants, slightly sweet and served with a caramel spread) and Les Delices in the town center of Punta del Este (or Punta, as everyone calls it), has been the go to spot for years especially for Argentines on holiday looking for their medialuna fix.

We did the same and had breakfast there bright and early before heading to the beach.  We did the works – fresh orange juice, coffee, toast, scrambled eggs and a bunch of medialunas.  While we ever there, there was a steady stream of patrons buying their breakfast pastries and a few locals quietly enjoying their coffee.

Aside from their large selection of pastries and cakes, they also serve a full lunch and dinner menu and do a good business in takeaway boxes of assorted mini pastries and cookies for afternoon tea.

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Les Delices

29 Las Gaviotas, 20100 Punta del Este, Uruguay
Phone: +598 4244 3640

PCasa GT Tokyo, Yakniku Jumbo

On our last evening in Tokyo, we ventured out to Shirokane in the southern end of Minato for an early dinner at Yakiniku Jumbo.  This yakiniku (grilled meat) restaurant only serves A5 Black Wagyu which is the highest quality of Japanese beef.  The place is simply decorated with wooden booths and tables with a built-in grill in the center.  Reservations are recommended as the place fills up quickly as soon as they open at 5:00 p.m. and tables are allocated every two hours so we were gently ushered out at 6:30 so they could reset for the next batch of diners.

Different cuts are available on the menu from traditional cuts like short-plate kalbi and the loin to higher-priced prime cuts like shoulder and rib-eye plus sirloin which is only served in extra thin sukiyaki slices and served with a raw egg dip.  There’s also a large selection of offal: beef tongue, intestine and stomach as well as pork womb (not really sure what that is) along with the more usual pork cheek and pork loin.  Specialties include Korean-style beef tartare and raw beef heart sashimi.  A few salads, kimchi and some vegetables (pumpkin, squash, sweet potato, mushroom, onion, carrot and shishito pepper) to be cooked on the grill is all there is for vegetarians.  Aside from steamed rice in small (individual), to medium or large (family-size) portions, they have two special rice dishes cooked in hot stone bowl: the traditional bibimbap topped with vegetables and a raw egg or the unusual Wagyu garlic rice version which is topped with a mound hand-chopped raw Wagyu beef and raw garlic which is mixed into the hot rice and continues to cook in the super hot stone bowl sort of like an instant extra-delicious premium fried rice.  Desserts are limited to Hokkaido soft-serve milk flavored ice cream or sherbet.

We  ordered both beef and pork, a green salad of lettuce in a sesame soy dressing, assorted vegetables and both the bibimbap and the Wagyu garlic rice.  The meat was melt-in-the-mouth tender with the marbled fat making every mouthful a pleasure.  The kids enjoyed it as well as we did and we ended up ordering more meat as the first plates went by way quicker than we expected.  Our server was a friendly California-raised Japanese surfer dude, making it the only meal we had in Tokyo where we could communicate easily with the person assigned to our table.  After a fantastic meal, we skipped dessert and instead took a short walk along the pedestrian street of the quiet residential area of Shirokane before heading back to the hotel.  Out of all our meals in Japan, yakiniku was the one that appealed to the whole family even if they only served one type of food: meat on the grill.  My Argentine husband got his meat fix and the kids and I all enjoyed the simple dinner of quality grilled meat and rice.  Looks like they have a partner restaurant in Singapore Yakiniku Yazawa which we are now eager to try for our Sunday family dinner out.

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Yakiniku Jumbo

Dai-ichi Azabu Bldg. 1F, 3-1-1 Shirokane, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Tel. 03-5795-4129

Open daily 5:00 p.m. to midnight (Closed 31 December to 2 January)