Udon in Paris? Oui!

Udon, kunitorya, paris ” Kunitorya Paris – a delicious departure from fromage and foie gras in the city of light.”

Table view, kunitorya, paris, udon, villedoWhile I adore French food and wine, on our recent Paris buying trip I found that our typical binge on the super rich left me in a conundrum. After five days filled with dairy and complex sauces, all washed down with a lot of red wine, I found my palate at a stopping point. What to do? Despite my stomach’s limitations I couldn’t possibly waste a meal in Paris! So I decided to think like a Parisian. Certainly the food savvy civilians are not living on French cuisine alone. This thought sparked a memory of walking by a restaurant on our way home the evening before.The bright corner spot, near the Palais Royal, had no sign and a huge line out the door. All I could make out inside was communal tables filled with diners enjoying heaping bowls of Udon. The internet search was on . . . .

Online I soon discovered that the area I was walking through on the border of the 1st and 2nd Arrondissements is the “Little Tokyo” of Paris. And I also learned that there is great debate about which spot serves the city’s best Udon. The restaurant we saw was Kunitoraya, which has recently relocated to this larger spot at 1 rue Villedo. The place has a huge online fan base touting their noodles as tops. The other major contender is Sanukiya: which I will have to reserve for a future trip (and post). And don’t confuse Kunitoraya 1 with it’s fancier sister – called Kunitoraya 2 – down the street at number 5. 

The restaurant is open seven days week (well worth noting because finding quality places which are open on Sunday can be vexing). We arrived shortly before 7 and the line was already significant – but it moved quickly and we were seated about 45 minutes later. Standing outside gave us the opportunity to observe the tiny kitchen to glean clues about the food and menu. Once  inside the wooden tables are mostly communal – so you are packed in tight. But this proved to be part of the fun – the bright exposed brick room was filled almost exclusively with French and Japanese people. The servers are all Japanese and they speak limited English. However, upon request, they do have an English menu – which was a huge help (without it I would have ordered my Udon bu Boeuf Froide – or cold).

udon , tempura, japanese omlette, kunitorya, paris, villedoThe menu is divided into three sections: Udon in Soup (hot), Upon in Soup (cold) and Over Rice. Basically you choose the topping and pair it with one of these serving styles. The two most popular seem to be the Niku Udon (Boeuf) which pairs tender slices of lean beef with a flavorful beef broth packed with Kunitoraya’s handmade noodles and the Komachi Udon (Crevette et Algues) which places delicately fried shrimp and vegetable tempura atop a bowl filled with seafood stock. We both went the beef route – but had a serious fear of missing out on the tempura. While waiting in line we watched the chefs masterfully filleting and deveining each shrimp prior to hand battering and flash frying them piece by piece. Luckily you can order the Shrimp and Vegetable Tempura as an appetizer- which we did – along with the traditional Japanese Omelette.

The meal began with glasses of ice cold Kirin – a welcome departure from red wine. Hot and cold Sake is also available. The omlette was good (enlivened by shredded radish) but the tempura was stellar. Maybe the best I have ever had. The pieces were light and perfectly crisp – the shrimp unmistakably fresh. Our Udon was also exceptional. The broth tasted richly of beef – and the meat was super tender. The noodles were toothsome and cooked just right. Our portions were huge and yet we felt compelled to finish every drop. Service was brisk and friendly. The waiters speak almost no English but were happy to help navigate us through the evening with lots of mutual smiling and pointing. We left the restaurant satisfyingly full and content that we had enjoyed an authentic Parisian experience. And all of this was to be had for less than $100 for 2 people – a relative bargain in this part of the city.

All in all Kunitoraya was just the change we were looking for. A wonderful palate cleanse which left me with zero angst about wasting a meal or food moment in the city of light. And if you are in Paris for just a few days this would be a great lunch option as it is located just a short blocks from the Louvre and shops along Saint Honore.

Kunitoraya 1
1 rue Villedo, 1st.
75001 Paris, France

no reservations; english menu upon request

Leopards, Cheetahs & Birds

Zara Home Leopard Cheetah Rug“I first discovered Zara Home in Italy last summer – but now their US website is my latest obsession for well priced “wow” home decor pieces.”

imageLast summer when we were on vacation in Rome Jimmy and I spotted a huge Zara Home store in the Prati shopping district. The mega international retailer does not have homes stores stateside, so I was intrigued and wanted to see what the store was all about. I was expecting a lot of monochromatic uber-modern basics – much like what I see in their fashion collections.  But instead I found tons of color and pattern – much of it reminiscent of the glory days of Ralph Lauren Home. In fact I think I instagrammed their leopard pillowcases within a few minutes of setting foot in the store (they reminded me of an old RL pattern from the 1990s which I adore).  And while they may look like Ralph they certainly are not priced like him; yet the quality is there. Nothing looked or felt like it was from Ikea.  The design and construction was strong across many categories – from dishes to flatware, from small accent furniture to rugs.  I was overwhelmed and impressed – but at that point our suitcases were jammed – so I left with only a Palm Print Tablecloth (pictured below).

imageI had honestly somewhat forgotten about Zara Home until I was prowling the net last November for an animal print rug to finish out a spot in our living room. And then Eureka – I saw the insane leopard stenciled cow hide rug pictured in the opening photo above. It was fantastic. I loved that the colors were muted and the print sophisticated (there is such a fine line between cha cha and chic when it come to a leopard print). And the best part was that the rug was almost 30% less expensive than a similar designer version I had been eyeing. Even after my experience in Rome I was skeptical about quality – but upon arrival the product exceeded all expectations. It looks like a million bucks in my living room and got LOTS of attention at our annual holiday gathering.

Zara Home Bird Leg Side Table Interiors Gold Mirrior FootNow I was hooked. In December I began eyeing the whimsical bird’s leg side table.  This time I found the price somewhat frightening. Not for the typical reasons -it seemed too low. For under $200 I was worried it would look completely plasticky and cheap. But again upon arrival the product completely delivered. The mirrored top, the brass trim, and metallic resin work on the table were all extremely well done. I loved it. At the time of posting the piece is currently sold out. But do not fret – I see it is featured prominently in a promo shot for their spring collection so I bet it will be back online soon.  This illustrates a key point about the site – buy it when you see it. I have missed the boat on several items because I waited too long to pull the trigger.  And with the current free shipping and free return shipping offer – what is there to lose?

So while we are waiting for the table and rug to come back into stock – here are six items I am obsessing about from their spring collections.

Zara Home Plaid Throw Blue Dishes Leopard Napkin Ring Floral Table Cloth Gold Basket Picture Frames(clockwise from top – Tiles Dinnerware,  Plant Print Napkins, Round Gold Basket, Metal Bamboo Picture Frame,  Leopard Napkin Ring, & Plaid Throw )

So happy hunting. I purposely left the prices off so you too can be pleasantly surprised. Certainly not everything on Zara Home is my cup of tea, but there are lots of great items at prices that make sampling super angst free. Please keep me posted on your finds.

Asparagus Ricotta-Gruyëre Tarts

Asparagus Ricotta Gruyëre Tarts Lance Lawson“Although these bite-size crustless tarts are easy to make – they are certain to create a big impression with your guests.”

tarts in panThe bite-size tarts are delicious addition to any large or small gathering.  And because they are crustless they come together quickly. I make them by the dozens and keep a ready supply on hand in the freezer for parties or unexpected guests. I developed this recipe because I was looking an hors d’oeuvre which I could easily make in bulk (scooping batter into mini-muffin tins is way preferable to hand assembling dozens of individual pieces). And I was looking for a cocktail snack which would also freeze and reheat well (they stay moist and stand up beautifully). Mini-quiches have become somewhat passe thanks to the frozen foods section at Trader Joe’s – so these tiny tarts offer a gourmet alternative. To further boost the flavor I use fresh ricotta (which I strain overnight in the fridge) and a hearty fresh grated gruyere vs the pre-shredded swiss variety. And you can also use this recipe for larger tarts – which would be a chic addition to a light lunch menu. To make a dozen follow the recipe below, substituting standard size muffin pans and increasing the baking time to 35 minutes. For the recipe: Continue reading

Christmas at The Richmond

Christmas Table 2012“My Christmas Table Set with Treasured Family Heirlooms”

To me Christmas is all about tradition. Traditions I grew up with. New traditions created with family and friends. And it all begins with the decor. For as long as I can remember, this has been my favorite part of the holiday. As a child, the excitement of bringing the boxes of decorations out of their basement hibernation was almost magical. As an adult I honor this memory. Decorating our house is something we plan in advance and enjoy, not something I anxiously check off a to do list.  I look forward to the annual rituals of Christmas all year long; many honor family members who are not with us and all celebrate the spirit of the season. Here are some of my favorites

Holiday 2012 MontageChristmas Rituals at the Richmond (clockwise from top):

(1) The Buffet at our Annual Holiday Open House held the Saturday before Christmas each year. Highlights included Crab Dip Au Gratin (see recipe in previous post), Shrimp Cocktail with Mississippi Comeback Dressing and my mom’s legendary Pimento Cheese. (2) Outdoor lights have always been a huge part of my holiday. As a boy I decorated the exterior of our house using old-fashioned bulbs and lots of greenery. This tradition continues with a 48″ Pine Wreath wrapped in old school Giant Bulb and Globe Lights from Target. (3) MP’s homemade Eggnog, served from Jimmy’s grandmother’s Optic Glass Punch Set, while opening presents. (4) Our Christmas dinner table set with Vintage Italian Christmas Dishes (circa 1970s) from my cousin Nancy – a favorite memory from my childhood. A Ceramic Christmas Tree made by Jim’s Grandmother Matilda serves at the centerpiece. The Pine Cone Salt and Pepper set is from West Elm. (5) Christmas Present Stacks – a fun tradition started by Jimmy. His modern metallic Chevron Wrap for me is on the left, my 1950s vintage inspired styling for him is on the right. (6) Detail of the Christmas Tablecloth hand-stitched by my Grandmother Wanda. A gift to my mother in the 1980s.

Big props to Amanda Puck, my surrogate sister, and beloved Christmas guest, for contributing many of her amazing photographs to this post.

Thanksgiving Mise-en-Scène

Thanksgiving 2012 Montage“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.
2Festive 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).
4Faux 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.

7Indian Corn painted with Metallic Paint and then sprinkled with extra fine Gold Glitter added some sparkle to the arrangement
8Hermes “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.


Chicken & Dumplings in Paris

Verjus Montage“Two well lauded Americans are delivering exceptional fusion cooking in cozy spot in the heart of The City of Light.”

Verjus insetTucked 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 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!

Montage 1 Verjus

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.

Verjus Montage 3

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 strong stop on the culinary world tour. For dessert we enjoyed a wonderful dish composed of Soft Cheese, Grilled Figs and Homemade Granola – the distinct 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 on our next trip 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.

Verjus Bar-a-Vin
47 rue Montpensier

open Monday thru Friday from 6:00 until 11:00 pm
reservations are not accepted for the wine bar