“think like Coppola or Demille when planning your table”
Mise-en-scène, as taught in my college film studies course, is a cinematic term which refers to everything that appears before the camera and its arrangement – the composition of sets, props, actors, costumes, and lighting. When I’m planning a party, an event, or even a simple dinner party, I always keep this concept front of mind. I think that entertaining is very much a production (either large or small scale).
Framed in this light, Thanksgiving at the Richmond is for sure an epic. Filled with tradition, a little excess, and a few novel touches each year. It has become a must attend ritual for the 18 or so folks who gather around our table. And for me it is my very favorite day of the year (thanks in part to lots of help from guests, bloody marys and lorazepam).
For sure the holiday is all about the food (I go the traditional route); but to me it is even more about the table. Nothing makes guests feel more festive, or welcome, than walking in to a dining room and seeing a thoughtfully planned and attractively executed table-scape with a place set just for them.
Here is a round-up of the “props” I used to create last year’s Enchanted Forest motif:
1 – The centerpieces were made with Burnt Orange Calla Lilies, Purple Artichokes and Light Pink Peonies to add fall color and a natural feel.
2 – Festive Quail Friends from Wisteria added some still life to the table.
3 – The place settings were on Customized Cranes Cards (a thoughtful host gift from a friend).
4 – Faux Bois dishes: a discontinued pattern from Marta Stewart & Burliegh.
5 – Rather than spend a fortune on a table cloth, I used 12 yards of Mineral Linen from a close out bin.
6 – I love My Drap tear off cotton napkins – here I used Brown Gingham in the luncheon size.
7 – Indian Corn painted with Metallic Paint and then sprinkled with extra fine Gold Glitter added some sparkle to the arrangement.
8 – Hermes “Les Maisons Enchantées” salad/dessert plates – a slow building personal collection of mine.
9 – And finally, lots and lots of of Reidel for Target wine glasses to catch light and inspire toasting.
“Two well lauded Americans are delivering exceptional fusion cooking in cozy spot in the heart of The City of Light.”
Tucked away on a quiet side street adjacent to the Palais-Royal is a tiny wine bar located directly below one of the city’s most buzzed about restaurants. Both are run by an American couple – chef Braden Perkins and his girlfriend Laura Adrian. The pair came to prominence with the Renegade Dinner Parties they hosted in their Paris Apartment. Now they have their very own spot. Upstairs at Verjus you find a six course tasting menu featuring Perkins’ creative and distinctly American cuisine. Downstairs at Verjus Bar-a-vin, Adrian mans the wine bar and serves the seasonal small plates which stream down the spiral staircase from the second floor kitchen. Seats at the bar-a-vin are first come first serve and getting there early to obtain a spot proved well worth our while. We were there on our bi-annual buying trip and were seeking something which would measure up to Frenchie Bar-a-vin (see previous post Two Dining Gems in Paris). And all I can say to that is Eureka!
When we arrived at 6:30 the place was already packed. The bar was filled with jovial Americans – but when we left three hours later the crowd had become decidedly French. Settling in at a spot along the wall we and ordered 2 glasses of the blackboard Chablis. Two retirees from Virginia were seated next to us. They had been Verjus and the Bar-a-vin on previuous trips and loved every experience. In particular they went on and on about the fried chicken. Fried Chicken in Paris – I was in.
All of the eight or so small shared plates we sampled were delicious. But the highlights were the dishes pictured above. The Buttermilk Fried Chicken pieces with Cabbage and Red Chiles delivered great flavor just as promised. But the Southern Style Hushpuppies with Honey Butter were the standout – crisp on the outside, cakey on the inside, super moist and just a tad bit sweet. Delicious. Another highlight – Celery Root Goyzas with “Dan Dan” Sauce and Toasted Peanuts. The Asian flavors were spot on. We also loved the Crispy Pork Belly with Grilled and Pickled Chilies. The chilies were white hot and well tempered with some spicy mayo. The dish reminded me of flavors I love in New Mexico. Another worthwhile stop in their round the world tour. For dessert, a wonderful dish composed of Soft Cheese, Grilled Figs and Homemade Granola – mixed textures held in perfect balance.
Well priced and well recommended glasses of wine flowed throughout the night and service was super friendly with just the right touch. Another “must go” on my paris list. (see previous post 14 Top Paris Picks for Bastile Day). And we can’t wait to try the dinner service upstairs and the creative sandwiches they serve at the bar-a-vin Tuesday thru Friday from 12:30 to 2:00.
47 rue Montpensier
open Monday thru Friday from 6:00 until 11:00 pm
reservations are not accepted for the wine bar
“A Mexican breakfast dish which cures most ailments.”
As friends and frequent readers know, I grew up around a lot of Mexican food during my childhood in Colorado. For people from the Western states Mexican food is an obsession. And mine has been further fueled by a decade plus of trips to visit my parents who now live in Santa Fe. At my house Southwestern flavors are a central part of entertaining and everyday menus. That being said I am not sure when I first started making Chilaquiles – a mexican breakfast dish centered around chilies, corn tortillas and scrambled eggs. Unlike most Southwestern food I like to cook, the recipe or idea did not come from my family or one of the Mexican restaurants where I worked during high school. Instead it came from trips to Mexico, where the dish was a culinary godsend for nights spent drinking too many Cheladas with tequila chasers. Chilaquiles are the ultimate hangover helper and breakfast comfort food. Accordingly, through the years I have made the dish at vacations rentals in Mexico and for overnight guests at The Richmond. We even served it a 1:00 am at Jimmy’s 40th Birthday Party to sober up the troops and keep the festivities going.
The central ingredients in all Chilaquiles are pieces of corn tortillas mixed with scrambled eggs. Variations add chilies, cheese, different sauces, and chorizo or pulled chicken. The dish is generally served one of two ways. The first is as scramble where all of the ingredients are loosely combined in a skillet. The other is as a casserole where ingredients are layered and baked. My recipe goes the second route. It makes it easier for large groups and I love the almost polenta like consistency which comes from the time in the oven. After many ad hoc preparations through the years, what follows is a well tested measured version which consistently hits the mark. I like to serve it with an easy pico de gillo which I combine while the dish is in the oven. That recipe is also included below.
“Two Standout Old School Spots in Wisconsin’s North Woods”
Last week we headed up to Eagle River Wisconsin to see Jim’s mom Ruth and take a much needed weekend off. We have been going to the North Woods for over a decade and by far my favorite attraction up there is the old school dining. Wisconsin is know for it’s supper clubs – a 1950′s throw back restaurant concept which is alive and well throughout the state. If you don’t know about this phenomenon – check out “In Wisconsin Supper Clubs are open to All” - a well researched piece by David McAninch for the travel section of The New York Times. There are plenty of places to choose from in the Eagle River vacinity, but after a lot of hits and misses through the years – the following two spots are our go-tos every time. Both are located on country roads and have the old school vibe I am consistently drawn to. But don’t go expecting polished service or creative menu concepts. Instead revel in the community feel and menus geared towards carnivores.
MacGreggors Blink Bonnie – St. Germain, WI
A client friend from the store first told us about this tiny spot hidden along a county highway outside of St. Germain. It almost looks like a red one room schoolhouse – with natural wood paneling, taxidermy and plaid curtains composing the interior. The place has charm in spades and feels like somewhere Don and Betty Draper might drop in on road trip. Highlights are the Brandy Old Fashioneds (which they muddle to order) and the Prime Cut Steaks (served sizzling on Armetale platters). The Steaks are certainly good, but it is the Homemade Hashed Browns and house-made Garlic Ranch Salad Dressing which are tops. You can add a few Fried Shrimp to any steak dinner – which you should do – because they are phenomenal. And because of the quaint nature of the small dining room, be prepared to wait, perhaps as long as two hours during the busy summer season. But seats in the separate bar area turn over quickly. And there is plenty of people watching inside and nature watching outside (through the giant aquarium windows behind the bar) to keep you occupied. You are on vacation after all, so just relax and make an evening of it.
White Stag Inn – Sugar Camp, WI
We had driven by this place dozens of times before first dining there last summer. Like Blink Bonnie this place is packed in the summers. But the scale of the restaurant is larger and accordingly the wait times are more manageable. Try and score a seat in the large dining room with the two massive charcoal grilling stations – this is where all of the food is cooked. The restaurant’s founder sold these grills wholesale in Chicago before opening his own spot in the North Woods. Today his grand kids run the place. Sadly they don’t muddle their Old Fashioneds – but they do make a mean Brandy Alexander which is a nice way to end your evening at the bar. Again, Steaks are the main attraction here – but Jimmy had a solid Smoked Pork Chop which might have been the best thing at the table. Dinners come with a salad and potato. For the salads Giant Wedges of Iceberg Lettuce are brought to the table along with a trifecta of house-made dressings (which are even better combined). For $3 you can add blue cheese crumbles – so go for it. Entrees are served from a stainless steel cart which wisks dinners from the broiler to the tables. A fun retro touch. The baked potatoes are huge and served with the restaurant’s own Cottage Cheese/Sour Cream Hybrid – also very tasty. Again, little has changed here since the 1950s – the room is paneled, dimly lit and filled with tons of European and North woods ephemera. A cozy place to tuck in a spend a relaxing evening.
MacGregor’s Blink Bonnie
1506 County Rd
Saint Germain, WI 54558
White Stag Inn
7141 State Highway 17 N
Rhinelander, WI 54501
no reservations, or websites, for either place.
“Frenchie Bar à Vins – and 13 Other Favorite Food Haunts in Paris”
A post by Amanda Puck and Lance Lawson – appearing on both of our blogs The Foodarazzi and The Richmond (respectively).
In honor of Bastille Day, July 14th, we decided to put together a joint post to share our 14 Favorite Foodie Experiences within the city of light. Yes the French can sometimes be snotty, and their cheese stinky, but there is no culture which better elevates and celebrates the art of fine food. We’ve been to Paris nearly 20 times between us, and six times together, and no matter what we always leave wanting more – more haute dogs, more country pate, and of course more macarons. We tend to forgo the five stars for neighborhood spots with a mix of locals and tourists. And we always love a good cocktail. Some choices are established (you can’t argue with success) and others hidden gems (we like to do our research). Regardless, each is a place we return to again and again to experice that certain “je ne sais quoi” which defines this ancient city. Bon Appetit!
Our Top 14 Paris Foodie Experiences (ranked in no specific order):
- Frenchie Bar à Vins (okay we lied – this is our top pick): nestled in the 2nd, directly across the street from the much lauded Frenchie, chef Gregory Marchand’s wine bar serves much the same menu in a less formal shared plate experience. From the well priced wine list, to his standout takes on french classics, this spot is not to be missed. Unlike the restaurant, they don’t take reservations, so get there early to score a prime spot. Read more about Frenchie Bar du Vin.
- L’Avenue – make reservations for a weekday lunch, and pay way too much for a club sandwich at this “see and be seen spot” on avenue Montaigne. It’s really not about the food here, more about the social study of the Chanel clad ladies who lunch. Try and score a coveted cafe seat if weather permits. And be sure to order a side of the decadent whipped potatoes which are strangely perfect for dipping the chips which come with your sandwich.
- Bar 30 at the Sofitel Faubourg San Honore - This is our favorite place to stay in Paris and much of our love for the hotel stems from this jewel box bar which is the perfect place to start or end your evening. The bartenders take great pride in crafting creative cocktails with the very freshest ingredients – and be sure to say hello to our favorite mixologist Aurele.
- Hot Dogs en Baguette from the green kiosk in the park across from the American Embassy at the beginning of the Champs Elysees at the Place de la Concorde. No visit to Paris is complete without one It’s a simple and brilliant process where they partially hollow out a baguette, stuff it with a hot dog, pile on the greyere and put it under a broiler until it is bubbly and toasty. Need we say more? And they pair perfectly with lots of mustard (dijon of course) and a stack Paprika Pringles.
- Chez Georges – behind the Palais Royal, on the tiny side street Rue de Mail you will find a french bistro which harkens back to the 1920s. The cramped tables, the crusty old waitresses in starched uniforms, and the old zinc bar combine to create an authentic experience. But it is the food, all well executed french classics, which have kept this place bustling for generations.
- Ladurée – we know they are now in NYC, and that there are a million small bakeries scattered around Paris which may lay claim to better macarons. But much of the joy of Ladurée is the experience. Go to the location on Rue Royale and wait in line on the carry-out side – it moves fast. You’ll be transported back to childhood while picking your pastry and grin from ear to ear while watching them wrap it up in an exquisite box. And while the macarons are fantastic – don’t miss the amazing elephant ears. They are perfection.
- Au Bon Accueil – tucked away on a small street at the base of the Eiffel Tower is this small charmer. Formal, but not fussy, look for a creative take on the french standards you know and love. The servers are friendly and the crowd the right mix of locals and tourists. Plus the majestic view of the illuminated landmark on your way out the door provides the perfect end note to a decidedly Parisian evening.
- A Sunday lunch of Roasted Chicken at Drouant - the elegant french dining room dates back to the 1880s. Noted Chef Antoine Westerman is now at the helm and his Roasted Chicken is not to be missed (available Sunday lunch only). The expertly roasted bird is served family style on a silver platter with lots of au jus and piles of crispy frites. It pairs perfectly with a nice cold bottle of Sancerre. We can’t imagine a more civilized way to spend a leisurely Sunday afternoon.
- Le Castiglione – This bustling cafe located along Rue Saint Honore is a perfect place to take a break from shopping and grab a light bite. It is also an easy spot to start your day with coffee and tartine. And like L’Avenue this spot is as much about the people watching as the food.
- Au Moulin a Vent - This spot in the Latin Quarter is our go to for Chateaubriand. The old school charmer looks much as it did at inception in 1946 – replete with white table-clothes, red leather banquettes and aproned waiters. The menu is full of french staples like frog legs, escargot and haricot verts with crab, all made beautifully. But Au Moulin a Vent is is all about the bouffe, the corresponding sauces and the accompanying fried potatoes. Save room for dessert – both the Floating Island and Profiteroles are tops. Read more about Au Moulin a Vent.
- Cantine at Merci – On the lower level of Merci, the uber hip concept store located in the Marias, you’ll find a hidden lunch spot. After perusing the store’s well edited assortment of home goods, apparel, and accessories, head downtairs for a light lunch in the bright modern space. Decidedly french, the menu is limited to wonderfully creative cold salads, soup and a few plats de jour. Add in a glass or two of Rosé, an espresso and and a few slices of baguette, and you’re all set for a tres Parisian lunch experience.
- Aux Lyonnais - Alain Ducasse is now at the helm of the historic bistro dating back to 1890. He has returned the room to it’s early 20th century elegance with lots of Art Nouveau and Art Deco stylings. Like it’s name, the food owes it’s influence to Lyon. We especially enjoy the charcuterie, poached eggs with crayfish and the cassoulet. The baked to order soufflés are a wonderful grace-note to an elegant evening.
- Le Defender – this cosy bar tucked inside the Hotel du Louvre is a true hidden gem. Dark and sexy, it is the perfect spot to grab a drink before dinner or to enjoy a night cap. Ice cold martini’s, and a wide array of champagne by the glass, set the tone to sit back and tuck in to this serene spot.
- Café Ruc – while we are all about french classics, we also love a good burger. The one at Cafe Ruc is a stand-out – with a gooey melted cheese topper. Part of the overtly hip Costes Group, this corner cafe is packed with art and fashion types. Take a break from sight seeing at the nearby Louvre and Palais Royal for a leisurely lunch in the chic dining room or at the sidewalk cafe.
There you have it. But before we sign off, a few more pieces of advice. Make dinner reservations before you arrive (and lunch reservations at nicer spots like L’Avenue and Drouant). The french don’t understand the concept of walk-ins and popular places are booked weeks in advance. Email your hotel concierge five or six weeks before you go for help making these arragements. Hailing a taxi in Paris is an impossibility and finding a cab stand can be confusing. So ask your waiter to call a taxi as you finish dessert. Finally, although almost all of these spots have an English menu, and an English speaking wait staff, a few words in French will go a long way to build goodwill and assure you are well taken care of.
Amanda Puck – the foodarazzi
Lance Lawson – the richmond
“a simple white cake, made with fresh peaches, just in time for summer”
Overcome by the smell of fresh peaches at the market this week, I decided to take home a half dozen and work out a new dessert. Usually Chef Virginia Willis’ cobbler recipe (“Meme’s Cobbler,” Bon Appetit Y’all, 10 Speed Press) is my go to for any fresh summer fruit. But recently while traveling I had an really fantastic peach cake. It was very light, not to sweet, and through it’s simplicity it let the flavor of the fresh peaches shine. That dessert was front of mind when I began work. I started with a basic white cake recipe and integrated peaches, cut into medium sized chunks, and all of the residual juice and pulp. In the oven the cake rose terrifically, creating the light and airily effect I was looking for. Plus cake was super moist – with an almost pudding like consistency. I finished the dessert with a very simple white butter cream frosting and I served it slightly warm with vanilla ice cream. A huge hit.
The recipe follows: Continue reading