Fun Fast Food – Lorraine Style

Fun Fast Food – Lorraine Style

My recent short visit to Metz, the capital of the Lorraine region in the northeastern-most corner of France, was ostensibly not about food. It was supposed to be all about the top-notch museums that show and tell of two millennia of rich local history from the Gallo-Roman era to modern and contemporary art. But trouping around medieval cobblestone streets and futuristic museums is hungry work. Luckily I was able to time my wanderings just right to happen by the Marché Couvert around lunchtime. And it turns out, in addition to its rich displays of glorious foodstuff it has a most interesting architecture and history, for a covered market, that is.

From Palace to Market

France - Metz Covered Market

The Metz covered market started out as a palace.

One of the oldest and grandest in France, it was originally commissioned in 1762 from the Royal Architect by the Bishop of Metz as his new palace. Work began in 1785. But before the owner had a chance to move in, the 1789 French Revolution happened. Anyone of nobility, bishop included was well advised to lie low. Rather than let a good palace go to waste, the people of Metz decided to repurpose it into their central food hall. And here you have it, a 5,000 square meter (54,000 square foot) U-shaped neo-Classical covered market built of the local golden Jaumont limestone, adjacent to the forecourt of the Metz Cathedral.

A Soup Bar

France - Metz, Soup Master Partick Grumberg

Soup Master Patrick Grumberg

Go up the stately staircase and walk in. Over 40 cheese mongers, butchers, greengrocers and every possible local specialty awaits along with a central food court. And that’s where I come upon Soupes a Soup’s, a soup bar with at least half a dozen kinds of thick, flavorful soupes-du-jour. The man behind the soup pots is Patrick Grumberg. With his red knitted hat and spectacular white facial hair, he looks like an understudy for Santa Claus.

 

France - Metz, Soupes a Soup's

I go for a bowl of hearthy split pea soup

Order your soup to take out or sit on a bench around the family-style table and eat in. I opt for the latter. My order arrives instantly, in an old French china plate slightly chipped for added character and filled with thick, piping hot split pea soup and a hunk of crusty country bread. It’s so filling I can’t even be tempted by the home-baked cake on offer for dessert.

You Say Potato, I Say Pomme de Terre

B-28 FR_Metz-12

Gratin Dauphinois, En Robe des Champs Style

Another welcoming place to drop into any time of day when a serious hunger pang strikes is En Robe des Champs (French for in their jacket). This is not a fashion statement but the name of a classic French brasserie, at least in appearance. Open the menu, which is served all day, and it’s all about potatoes, baked, au gratin, mashed, prepared with a wide assortment of toppings and served with interesting salads.
 

France - Metz - En Robe des Champs Potato Restaurant

Baked Potato with Smoked Salmon

I have the gratin dauphinois. With its soft, cheesy interior and perfect brown top crust, it is one of the best I’ve ever had. Meanwhile my friend enjoys a baked potato with smoked salmon. Everything is locally grown, well prepared, served promptly by the friendly staff, and hugely satisfying with a glass of crisp local Moselle wine.

The One That Got Away

France - Metz, bar at La Brasserie

The bar at La Brasserie.

It is on the last morning of my stay in Metz that I hear of Les Amis de Saint Louis (Friends of St. Louis), on the grounds of the Catholic Seminary of Metz. Originally intended to feed the seminarians, the restaurant morphed over time into a fine dining establishment, currently under the direction of up-and-coming young chef Christophe Koessler. It is open mainly for lunch. Ever the optimist, I drop by on impulse and can only glimpse covetously at the sumptuous dining room with its ornate eighteenth-century wood paneling and antique crystal chandeliers. Every single one of the white linen-clad tables is occupied by lucky diners enjoying the refined seasonal menu.

France - Metz. Brasserie, Les Amis de St. Louis

A delicious salmon burger at La Brasserie

The apologetic hostess suggests that I try La Brasserie across the hall, where there may still be room. There is. The menu is casual fare but the high standards of the chef come through regardless. While not what I had hoped for, I do enjoy a delicious salmon burger on toasted brioche served with a basket of perfect French fries and a lovely chocolate tart dessert. Note to self: next time reserve as soon as I’ve purchased my train ticket to Metz.

Good to Know

  • Soupes a Soup’s, soupesasoups.com is open Tuesday through Thusday from 10:00 A.M. to 6:30 P.M. and Friday and Saturday from 8:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M. Contact: Email patrick@orange.fr .Tel: 33 (0) 6 08 31 11 04.
  • En Robe des Champs is located 14 Rue Marguerite Puhl-Demange, Metz, France, and open seven days a week from 11:00 A.M. to 11:00 P.M. Tel: +33 3 87 36 32 19

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  • Les Amis de Saint Louis and adjoining Brasserie, lesamisdesaintlouis.fr, are located at 4 Avenue Jean XXIII, Metz, France and open every day 12:00 P.M. to 3:00 P.M. as well as on Friday and Saturday nights from 7:30 P.M. to 9:30 P.M. Contact: Email lesamisdesaintlouis@eveche-metz.fr , Tel: +33 (0) 3 87 75 51 71.

Location, location, location!

Metz, France

An exceptional Parisian Bistro

An exceptional Parisian Bistro

The Parisian bistro in its original incarnation as a small neighborhood eatery serving simple home-cooked meals traces back to the industrial revolution. From the mid-1800s, rail transport unleashed a flow of migrants from the rural areas attracted by employment in the new industries around the capital. Many settled in boarding houses that provided meals as well as rooms. Industrious landlords started supplementing their incomes by opening their kitchens to paying nearby residents. In time, the food service moved from these basement kitchens to unassuming storefronts. Today their ubiquitous presence throughout the city makes them difficult to differentiate at first glance. The quality of their offerings can vary wildly, from just another meal to a memorable dining experience.

Bistronomie – The Best of Two Worlds

Food-Paris, La Regalade Doucet

Chef Bruno Doucet

La Regalade never fails to deliver the latter. Located near the Porte d’Orléans in a middle-class neighborhood at the southern edge the city, it has been the domain of Bruno Doucet since 2004. Here this talented chef, steeped in the grand classic tradition, dishes out a cuisine that has become so popular over the past two decades that a name had to be invented for it: Bistronomy. It is where gastronomy and the skills Doucet honed at the side of the likes of Gabriel Biscay at Prunier’s, Pierre Gagnaire at his eponymous Pierre Gagnaire Restaurant and Jean-Pierre Vigato at Apicus, take bistro fare to new heights.

His blackboard menu of unpretentious, flawlessly prepared dishes is offered at a friendly three-course prix fixe of € 37.50 at lunch and dinner. It is seasonally adapted and includes a few selections of the moment at a small additional cost. The service is attentive and convivial. The wine list is well rounded, with interesting and fairly priced selections from all the major growing regions of France.

The décor is timeless, quintessential bistro, with a long zinc-top bar Hemingway would have enjoyed. The retro tiled floor harks back to the same era. Small square oak tables are lined along burgundy leather banquettes and open shelves filled with food jars and copper cooking accessories hang from the plastered wall.

Paris - Regalade Paté

The signature Paté de Campagne is served as amuse-bouche.

All of that becomes irrelevant the instant the welcome white china terrine of the signature house paté de campagne materializes on our table with its usual sidekicks of earthy country bread and tiny cornichons. I could make a meal of it but previous visits at La Regalade have taught me moderation. There are three scrumptious courses to come and portions are usually generous.

A Late Summer’s Day Treat

Food - Paris. Regalade Maki

Maki of tourteau crab with cucumber.

Food - Regalade Risotto

Creamy squid ink risotto is a house favorite.

On this recent visit I start with an imaginative maki of tourteau crab wrapped in shavings of marinated cucumber served with summer greens and drizzled with a warm vinaigrette. My main course is veal, thick tender slices of it roasted to pink perfection and topped with an unusual croquette of pulled veal, served in a cast iron casserole, with baby vegetables braised in a reduction of Banyuls wine vinegar.

My companion enjoys an appetizer of creamy squid ink risotto topped with sautéed calamari, followed by caramelized pork breast, so succulent with its crunchy exterior that I make a note to order it next time I see it on the menu.

Food - Paris. Regalade Soufflé.

Grand Marnier Soufflé

 

Her dessert is the exquisite Grand Marnier soufflé served at the height of its perfection. As for me, although I know I will be able to manage only a few spoonfuls I indulge in my all time La Regalade favorite, the Riz au Lait Grand Mère. The delectable creamy rice pudding speckled with vanilla bean is served in a china crock large enough to share, accompanied by a pitcher of orgasmic hot butterscotch with sea-salt. This is the ultimate comfort food of generations of French children and, with apology to my own Granny, the best I ever tasted. Our wine selection is a lovely bottle of light red Saumur from the Loire Valley, 2011 Chateau du Hurean.

Chef Bruno Doucet

Food - Paris. La RegaladeI am not surprised in the middle of our meal to see Doucet emerge briefly from the kitchen, a working chef in the heat of the midday crush. He is a hands-on chef whose talent and enthusiasm shine through every dish. Paris gourmets and gourmands love it. When he appears again at this end of the service, he graciously takes time to share his thoughts on his continued success. “I believe in steering clear of elaborate cuisine,” he states. “I focus on the best seasonal products from the French heartland, turn them into simple, rigorously prepared dishes and allow the honest food to take center stage.” A command performance that calls for encores.

Good to know

  • La Régalade, at its flagship address 49 Avenue Jean Moulin, 75014. Tel: +33 1 45 45 68 48, is opened Monday through Friday for dinner from 7:30 to 11:00 pm and Tuesday through Friday for lunch from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm. It can seat up to 55 and usually is a tight fit. Reservations are necessary, at least one week ahead for dinner, and a couple of days for lunch.
  • Two additional addresses have opened in recent years in different parts of the city. La Régalade – Saint Honoré, near the Louvre in the 1st Arrondissement, and La Régalade – Conservatoire, wedged between Les Grands Boulevards and Montmartre in the 9th Arrondissement. Opening days may vary there but reservations remain necessary.

A Few Souvenirs

Location, location, location!

La Regalade, Paris

Luxury Dining in a Train Station

Luxury Dining in a Train Station

The Gare de Lyon, one of the six main railway stations in Paris, handles about 90 million passengers a year, making it one of the busiest stations in Europe. A great majority of the human wave that rushes through its great hall every day never pauses to contemplate its grand Art Nouveau architecture with its ornate palatial stone façade and 64 meter (200 foot) tall clock tower. Nor do they notice the airy interior iron and glass structure of the great hall or the gracious curve of the double staircase leading up to Le Train Bleu.

Le Train Bleu

The historic Art Deco fine dining restaurant in the Gare de Lyon

Eye-popping Belle Epoque Decor

And they miss an outstanding dining experience in an eye-popping authentic Belle Epoque décor. Who can blame them? In the contemporary psyche, fine dining is the last thing associated with train stations. Yet that is exactly what the owners of PLM Company (Paris Lyon Marseille) that operated the southeast rail network at the end of the nineteenth century had in mind when they commissioned the prestigious building to mark the 1900 Paris World Fair. At the center of their station, they created an elegant bastion of French gastronomy intended to symbolize the comfort and luxury of train travel.

Le Train Bleu

The dining room is an authentic Belle Epoque extravaganza.

The Train Bleu has been holding its end of the bargain ever since, serving patrons in extravagant Art Nouveau splendor continuously since 1901. The walls and ceiling are covered with frescoes representing cities and landscapes as they were viewed from the PLM trains at the time, painted by noted artists of the period and enhanced by gilded molding and carving. Crystal chandeliers and sconces cast their shimmering lights on spacious tables clad in starched white linen and lined along plump blue leather banquettes.

Ceviche of bream

Ceviche of bream with capers: a summer favorite.

But what about the food?

It too remains in the classic culinary tradition of the great Parisian brasseries of the gilded age. Under the masterful direction of Chef Jean-Pierre Hocquet, Le Train Bleu woos diners with a lavish menu adjusted periodically to take advantage of the fresh seasonal products that are delivered daily. Thankfully, some signature dishes remain constant, such as my all time favorite steak tartar (finely chopped raw been tenderloin) mixed at my table precisely to my taste (spicy please) and served with perfectly crispy French fries. Also high on my list is the gigot d’agneau (roasted leg of lamb) carved on the trolley in front of me with its rich gratin Dauphinois sidekick. Occasionally, I forego these great classics for seasonal cuisine, such as the ceviche of bream with capers and fennel followed by a supreme of roast chicken with lemon and coriander glaze and baby summer vegetables of my latest visit.

Baba au Rum

The Baba au Rum is an irresistible signature dessert.

One thing that never varies for me is dessert, it has to the peerless baba au rhum with crème Chantilly, served with a full-bodied Martinique vintage rum. My server slashes the sponge cake in half with a decisive stroke and proceeds to douse it with the contents of the bottle. At that point I am always glad smoking was banned from restaurants long ago, lest my dessert might self-ignite.

The service at is unfailingly attentive, courteous and prompt. The staff understand that here most guests do have a train to catch.

Good to know

  • Le Train Bleu is located on the second floor in the center of the main building of the Gare de Lyon. Access is by the ornate staircase located inside the main hall.
  • For those who haven’t yet mastered the skill of packing light, there is an elevator accessible from the front courtyard at Door 11, just left of the main entrance, right across from the taxi stand
  • There is a luggage storage room located in the center of the dining room
  • The restaurant is open every daily year round
    • Lunch is from 11:30 A.M. to 2:45 P.M.
    • Dinner is from 7:00 P.M. to 10:45 P.M.
  • In addition to its dining room Le Train Bleu also has large, comfortable bar area where breakfast is served in the morning and light meals and snacks are available in the afternoon. Opening hours are:
    • From 7:30 A.M. to 10:00 P.M. Monday through Saturday
    • From 9:00 A.M. to 10:00 P.M. Sunday and public holidays
  • The restaurant is popular, and while I have never been turned away whenever I showed up without a reservation, I believe it is prudent to make one whenever it is possible to anticipate.
  • For those who are short on time, the Train Bleu now offers an elegantly boxed cold meal to be ordered by phone with a minimum 30 minutes notice

Le Train Bleu, Gare de Lyon, Place Louis Armand, 75012 Paris. contact.trainbleu@ssp.fr or +33 1 43 43 09 06

A Few Souvenirs

Location, location, location!

Gare de Lyon

The capital of the Alsacian Wine Road

The capital of the Alsacian Wine Road

On my first visit to Alsace several decades ago, I commented to my local host about the warm welcome I had experienced everywhere I went. “We have had plenty of practice with visitors over the past couple of millennia,” he quipped. Quite. First came the Romans in the first century B.C., who are credited with covering the undulating hills of this wedge of alluvial plain on the west side of the Rhine with the vineyards that are to this day the pride of the region. After the Roman Empire fell apart came the Allemans, who gave the region its language, then the Franks. That marked the start of a one thousand year tug-of-war that saw Alsace change hands multiple times between France and Germany; and develop a unique culture that, while remaining definitely French, has maintained strong German influences in its architecture, cuisine, arts and traditions.

Vineyards, geraniums and foie gras

Alsace - Colmar window boxes.

Window boxes overflowing with geranium are an Alsacian tradition.

La Route des Vins, the 170 kilometer (106 mile) itinerary that meanders north to south from Marlenheim to Thann through the legendary Alsatian Vineyard abound with villages and towns filled with picture-perfect half-timbered facades and window-boxes of cascading red geraniums. Along the way, a proliferation of noted eateries dish out the succulent specialties for which Alsace is renowned, such as choucroute garnie (sauerkraut simmered in white wine with smoked pork and sausages), paté de foie gras (goose liver paté, which originated here in the eighteenth century), a wide variety of local charcuteries and smoked fish, and the pungent Munster cheese.

For me, however, the ultimate destination of any visit to Alsace is Colmar, the self-appointed capital of La Route des Vins. Mainly spared the destructions of the French revolution and two world wars, it has an exceptionally large and well-preserved historic center for a city of its size (population 65,000). Its cobblestone streets lined with architectural treasures that span eight centuries of combined French and German evolution welcome visitors with the laidback cheerfulness of a small town. At the edge of the historic center, the especially picturesque La Petite Venise (Little Venice) neighborhood is clustered around a network of canals from the river Lauch, where tanners and fishmongers were once located. Farmers also used these waterways to ferry their products to the town market in small pole-propelled wooden barges. Similar barges are in operation today with silent electric motors, to allow visitors a close look at the ancient and still inhabited riverside homes.

Alsace - Colmar fine dining.

The dining room of l’Echevin overlooks the Lauch River.

La Petite Venise is also home to the romantic Hostellerie Le Maréchal, created from four adjoining sixteenth century homes overlooking the river. Under the traditional steep tiled roofs, neat rows of windows are underscored by flowerboxes overflowing with the ubiquitous red geraniums. Inside, passageways have been opened through the common walls to link the various public areas, forming a maze of cozy nooks filled with antiques. At the rear of the property, the intimate dining room of L’Echevin (French for high ranking medieval magistrate) overhangs the river. In addition to its inviting setting the restaurant is a recognized destination for Alsatian gastronomy with two toques from Gault et Millau and three forks from Michelin to its credit.

Beyond La Petite Venise

Alsace - Colmar medieval center.

Ancient wrought iron signs still advertise local businesses.

Alsace - Colmar Insenheim Altarpiece.

Center panels of the Isenheim Altarpiece at the Unterlinden Museum in Colmar.

The opportunity to roam at leisure through entire neighborhoods of meticulously maintained medieval houses and the prospect of a couple of superb dinners at L’Echevin would be reason enough for a weekend break in Colmar, especially now that several daily TGVs (short for Train à Grande Vitesse or high speed train) make it an easy three hour trip from Paris. But on this recent visit, the lure was the town’s foremost artistic treasure: the striking Isenheim Altarpiece, considered Matthias Grünewald’s greatest masterpiece, originally painted in 1512-1516 for a monastery in nearby Isenheim. After undergoing extensive restorations in anticipation its five hundredth anniversary, it had been recently returned on display at the Underlinden Museum. Housed in a former thirteenth century convent for Dominican sisters, the museum also holds a major collection of Upper-Rhenish medieval and early renaissance sculptures and paintings, including several altarpieces by native son Martin Schongauer as well as works by Lucas Cranach the Elder and Albrecht Dürer.

Alsace - Riquewihr vineyards.

Riquewihr is surrounded by some of the most prized winegrowing land in Alsace.

Alsace - Riquewihr architectural details.

Riquewihr is classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France.

For me, no visit to Colmar is complete without a side trip to Riquewihr, the walled village classified as one of the most beautiful in France, a mere 12 kilometers (seven miles) away. Nestled in the middle of some of the most prized winegrowing land in the region, it is still home to families who trace their uninterrupted winemaking tradition back to the early seventeenth century. There I looked forward to a visit to my favorite vintner, Hugel and Sons, and a walk up the hill beyond the city walls to their venerable Schoenenbourg vineyards, reputed since the Middle Ages for producing some of the finest Riesling in the world. But it was raining on the day of my visit, hard enough to postpone the Schoenenbourg until next time. Instead, Etienne Hugel, the current head for the vinery took a few of us under the historic sixteenth century building of the Hugel headquarters for an extensive tour of the cellars. We set off through a succession of vaulted halls that reach deep under the old town. Wines are maturing there in rows upon impressive rows of giant oak casks, including the famous Sainte Catherine dating back to 1715, still in use and a Guinness World Record holder, before ending our tour in the tasting room. A warm welcome indeed!

Visits of the Hugel cellars are by prior appointment only.

A Few Souvenirs

Location, location, location!

Colmar, Alsace, France