Augustine, a Piece of Paris in Financial District

augustine at the beekman hotel

It used to be the case that the reasons you found yourself in the Financial District were that a) you worked at Goldman Sachs or b) you had newly moved to an apartment in the area and didn’t know any better. Now, however, the Financial District has evolved considerably beyond being an abandoned lot occupied by 20-something analysts living in converted office buildings. There are fast-casual restaurants open past the hours of 6 pm, the splashy shopping center Brookfield Place is nearby, and the luxury Beekman Hotel recently opened to validate the Financial District’s improving status in the world.Read More

Paris Travels: Old School French Dining at Ambassade d’Auvergne

For those coming to Paris seeking a very traditional French dining experience, it doesn’t get any more old school than a meal at Ambassade d’Auvergne. All the heavy, rich seasonings that we’ve come to associate with French cooking are on full display here. You can almost picture Julia Childs nodding her head in approval at the liberal uses of cream and butter, while little Remy from Ratatouille cooks some soup in the back. It’s that kind of a place.

I personally found the food here to be overwhelmingly heavy, and I also found the atmosphere to be a bit stuffy and staid. The crowd skews a lot older–the average age of the guests was probably around 60. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but I did appreciate the cultural aspect of the experience. The food was quintessentially French and not something you could really get back at home.

We ordered the three course pre-fixe dinner, a good value at €33. The first course was an enormous bowl of lentils. Lentils are normally a healthy food, but at Ambassade they are cooked in goose fat and then tossed with some generous chunks of bacon. The mustard helped brighten up the lentils, but it was obviously a hearty and robust dish. The waiter serves you the initial helping and leaves the gigantic bowl on the side so that you can presumably help yourself to seconds, which you would obviously take advantage of since these lentils don’t fill you up at all!

green lentils salad with bacon
green lentils salad with bacon

The second course was the entree. Ruoxi had ordered roasted duck breast, while I ordered the pan fried sea bass with mint. The duck breast was everything you’d expect a French duck to be–plump, with the juices of the fat sealed in by the rich layer of skin on top. The duck fat was key in giving the meat its great flavor, but not without weighing you down with some fat-ridden guilt. The side of mashed potatoes certainly didn’t help. These potatoes, called aligot, were specially created to induce a deeper food coma. A dangerous blend of potatoes, creme fraiche and cheese, they were key in making your pants feel very very tight.

roast duck breast with aligot
roast duck breast with aligot

i wanted something a little lighter, which is why I went with the sea bass. It was pretty solid, although the filet felt a little under seasoned. I liked the side of zucchini that was served on the side. It was a refreshing change from all the fat and cream I had consumed throughout the meal. Overall it wasn’t the best sea bass I’ve ever had, and it wouldn’t make it in the top 10 either, but it was a very respectable one.

pan fried sea bass with mint
pan fried sea bass with mint

For dessert, our server came out with yet again a massive bowl, filled to the brim with the most dense and decadent chocolate mousse I have ever tried. It was so thick, I felt like I was eating fudge or chocolate frosting. We weren’t able to take more than a few bites, although, again, the bowl was left behind so that we could help ourselves to seconds and thirds. As if…

chocolate mousse
chocolate mousse

By the end of the meal I was so stuffed. I was glad that this was the only formal “French” dinner that we had planned, and tomorrow we could try something a little lighter. Apparently French bistro dining such as this one is a dying breed in Paris, and I can see why. French women don’t get fat because they’re eating duck breast and foie gras everyday. Like the rest of the world, they’re drinking green juices and organic foods. There’s always a place for these restaurants preserving a rich culinary heritage, much like how museums have an audience, but as a part of the everyday culinary scene, probably less so.

Lafayette – Andrew Carmellini’s New Noho French Brasserie

lafayette interior 2There’s been a lot of hype surrounding the opening of Andrew Carmellini’s new French restaurant Lafayette. The foodie PR machine has gone a little overboard in its love for Carmellini, dedicating monthly posts over the past year obsessively monitoring the progress of the restaurant. The long wait is finally over, as Lafayette officially opened for dinner service this week. I dropped by for a meal last night to see whether the restaurant lived up to all the massive hype, and the answer is no.

Don’t get me wrong, the food here is good, and I would definitely come back for another visit. But I wouldn’t rate my meal a 9 out of a 10, it was more like a 7+. Everything was well executed, but the flavors weren’t perfect. To give Carmellini credit, his style of cooking is certainly very distinctive, and if you had to pick out a Lafayette steak frites out of a line up, you definitely could. I just wish originality and taste could have been a little more balanced.

While the cuisine at Lafayette is mostly French, hints of Spanish, Italian and American influences also make their way on the menu. My personal favorite was the linguine noir with seafood and chorizo. I quite enjoyed the delicious, brine-y flavors of the squid-ink pasta, and I thought the bread crumbs and chorizo gave the noodles some nice, salty texture. On a future visit, I would love to try the spaghetti niçoise with tuna and spring mushroom risotto. The grilled Mediterranean octopus appetizer was less successful. I wish the octopus were crispier, and I thought the flavors weren’t very sharp. The smoky eggplant gave the dish too much of a muddied taste, and while the peppers from the pipérade provided some nice acidity, they weren’t enough to compensate for the overall disappointing effect.

grilled mediterranean octopus
grilled mediterranean octopus
linguine noir with seafood and chorizo
linguine noir with seafood and chorizo

The most classically French dish we tried was the steak frites. We ordered this medium rare, but there were certain parts that were definitely overcooked. I also wasn’t a fan of the bernaise sauce, as the herbs were overly prominent in the butter. The fries were fantastic though. The side of broccoli that we ordered was very underwhelming and irrelevant to the meal. A neighboring table ordered a duck au poivre, which looked delicious, as well as a wood-fired dorade, which they graded a C-.

steak frites
steak frites
broccoli
broccoli

For dessert, we decided to grab a few treats from Lafayette’s in-house bakery. An enticing spread of macarons, cakes and breads made it hard to choose, but ultimately we decided upon the butterscotch eclair and the birthday cake macaron. The desserts had unique, refined flavors and were visually stunning, but I wouldn’t go back for seconds, which is crazy for someone like me who has a sweet tooth.

macarons
macarons
beautiful cakes
beautiful cakes on display!

The space inside Lafayette is beautiful and massive, and you certainly feel as if you’ve been transported to a gorgeous, modern-day Parisian brasserie. The diners are as beautiful as the surroundings, enhancing the elegant aesthetic with their vibrant presence. Come here dressed to kill for a special occasion so that you can blend in with the socialites and power brokers who seem to frequent this place. Lafayette’s stock is a clear buy, although I personally think it’s a bit overvalued and will wait for the hype to die down before getting back in.