Friday, December 11, 2009

La Tour d'Argent


Isn't this photo lovely?  Doesn't it make you want to cruise along the Seine?  If you've ever taken the bateau ride you've passed by the famous restaurant La Tour d'Argent whether you knew it or not.  It's the tallestl building pictured here, all lit up.  The view from the restaurant is of the back of Notre Dame cathedral on the Ile de la Cité (check out their website -  It's been in the news of late because a wine auction was held this week, selling off 18,000 bottles from their 450,000 bottle cellar.  A 1788 bottle of cognac sold for 25,000 euros, about $37,000, these days and times.  The proceeds of that bottle went to a children's charity, Association Petits Princes.  A London-based French entrepreneur bought it.  Collectors and investors from France, Japan, the U.S. and Russia bought up the bottles, spending approximately 1.54 million euros (about 2.3 million dollars).  Evidently, room is needed for new bottles and money is needed to redo the kitchen in order to try to earn back the lost Michelin stars.  I am quite sure that I will never grace the dining room of La Tour d'Argent, but I will continue to admire it from the Seine on my annual cruise down the river.  I am equally as sure that my taste buds would not know the difference between a $37,000 dollar bottle of cognac and, say, one that cost $30 (I do not think I've ever bought a bottle... I've sampled it, though).
Note:  I did some research after first posting this-- I asked Seth at Wine Authorities what one should expect to pay for a "decent" bottle of cognac.  He came back with $200.  Okay then.  Next, I asked the bartender at Nantucket Grill at Sutton Station where I was sipping a glass of Pinot Noir and he said to  never go under $30, $50-$60 is more like it, but that there are bottles of the stuff that go for about $3000.  Evidently they are in beautiful crystal bottles that are collectors' items.

Did you know that the restaurant in the movie Ratatouille is based on La Tour d'Argent?  Now you do!  I love that movie-- the scene when the rats are on the roof roasting their cheese and they get hit by lightening is too funny.
It is Friday.  I do not have after school study hall duty so I am able to leave school at the "normal" time, around 3:30.  I think a civilized celebration is in order.  A celebration of another good week, chilly weather signaling the approach of Christmas, the fact that one of my all-time favorite students (I know, I know, I am not supposed to have favorites) is home from his tour in Afghanistan safe and sound, the ASU Mountaineers are in the play-offs, traveling to Montana to play tomorrow on their way to another possible national championship, Durham Academy's varsity basketball teams traveling to Charlotte to play two games (the boys' team won in overtime against Hickory Grove), and the Guilford College men's JV basketball team will play in the Dean Dome Saturday afternoon.
Anyway, here is what a civilized afternoon looks like...

 Tomorrow I am taking a group of my students and the BFF to the Saturday afternoon performance of "Phantom of the Opera" at the DPAC, Durham's fabulous new performing arts facility.  I cannot wait.  I've never seen the stage production.  I've watched the 1943 film version with Claude Rains several times, though, because my son was obsessed with it when he was around 8 or 9 years old.
Hmmm, as for dinner, a nice warm pot of ratatouille would taste good tonight, n'est-ce pas?  I don't know if they serve this at La Tour d'Argent or not.  Pressed duck is their speciality.  They even have a farm where they raise their own ducks and when you order one, you receive a card with its number.  At least that's what I read.

(from My French Kitchen by Joanne Harris - author of Chocolat- & Fran Warde)
Serves 6

9 Tbsp. olive oil
2 red onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
3 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into chunks
2 eggplants, cut into chunks
4 zucchini, cut into chunks
3 (14 1/2 oz) cans chopped tomatoes in juice, or 2 lbs ripe fresh tomatoes, peeled
Bunch of oregano, chopped
Bunch of marjoram, chopped
Bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat 3 Tbsp of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, add the onions and garlic, and sauté for 3 minutes.  Add the peppers, eggplants, and zucchini; mix well and cook for 5 minutes or until the vegetables have gained a little color.  The add the tomatoes, 1 2/3 cups water, the oregano, marjoram, parsley, salt and pepper; mix well and simmer gently over medium-low heat for 1 hour, stirring from time to time.  Stir in the remaining 6 Tbsp olive oil and check the seasoning.  Serve hot or at room temperature.
For variations, try using red wine instead of water, or chilies for extra bite.

Anouchka's Chile Garlic Bread
Serves 6

1 medium-hot fresh red chile, such as jalapeno or red cherry
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 sprig thyme
1 tsp coarse sea salt
12 Tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 baguette

Heat the oven to 375F.
Cut the chile in half lengthways, remove the seeds, and dice the flesh.  (Keep the seeds in if you like the heat.)  Put the chile, garlic, thyme leaves (stripped from the stalks), and salt in a mortar and pestle, and pound until it forms a paste.  Put the butter in a bowl, add the paste, and mix well.
Slice the bread almost to the bottow every 1 1/4 inches or so, then put some of the butter into each incision, spreading it over the inner surfaces.  Put the bread on a baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes.  Serve hot.

(If the strength of the garlic seems a little overpowering to you, roast it in the over for a sweeter, more delicate taste before blending it with the other ingredients in a mortar and pestle.)

Bon appétit et bon weekend, Paris!

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