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Pommes de terre boulangère

Like most people, I love potatoes. There is scarcely any variety or preparation of them I don’t enjoy. But one of my favorites comes from as close to a bible as we have in the kitchen, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home.

Pommes de terre boulangère is a gratin of thinly sliced potatoes, onion and garlic first parboiled then baked in a flavorful herbed stock. The potatoes release starch into the stock, which in turn thickens and forms an unctuous medium. The top layer browns and crisps, and the rest stays soft and yummy.

This is one of my all-time favorite side dishes; it goes especially well with a nice roast chicken. It is elegant, flavorful and above all else easy. Plus, the thickened stock gives a richness that implies creaminess, yet there is no dairy and practically no fat. This recipe is easily made vegetarian, even vegan, but replacing the chicken stock with vegetable stock or water, and is to the best of my knowledge gluten-free.

The one trick, if you can call it that, is to invest in a mandoline; a cheap Benriner does the job very nicely. You want thin, even slices of everything, and the mandoline accomplishes that with astonishing speed.

Use small, waxy potatoes, like Yukon golds or small white potatoes. I have also mixed up Yukons with fingerlings for some contrast in flavor and texture, and that works very well.

I have found that this is also a recipe that defies precision, so the measurements I give are rough at best. It is most of all about maintaining a balance between the amount of stock versus the potato mixture. Too much, and your gratin will be soupy; too little and it will be dry and tough. On the whole, though, it is better to err on the side of dryness when in doubt.

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A tale of two dinners

I was just last night saying to a friend that in the two-plus years DPaul and I have been in our place, we underwent a radical shift from eating out several times a week to maybe a couple times a month. Of course, I said this over dinner out at the end of a stretch of two weeks when I had already eaten out three times. Hyopcritical, me? Never.

In truth, we eat in most nights. And when we do go out, we have a bad tendency to fall into the habit of revisiting the same places. But lately I’ve made an effort to try to get out and sample new places, at least new to us.

I don’t post about every meal I eat out. It has nothing to do with any grand mission statement about visiting a restaurant so many times before commenting. I am not a reviewer per se. I merely remark on my own experiences, and sometimes I feel the need to revisit a restaurant before I can forge a coherent opinion. Other times I’m just too damned busy or lazy to write one up. In this case, I’m cramming two restaurants into one post in part because of time constraints and in part because, as they were just two days apart, I came away with an interesting sense of contrast on the two places.

Last Saturday we dined at RNM, somewhat spontaneously before a party. The following Monday, six of us went to Les Amis for a friend’s birthday. We may as well have dined in different cities.

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La Provence: Sunshine in the fog


Haven’t we just been a couple of Gallic gallants of late? We hopped from Chez Papa to Bistro 1689 (though the latter is scarcely a bistro or especially French), and last night we decided to check out La Provence, in the curious little cluster of eateries at the corner of Guerrero and 22nd. (Is that Mission or Noe Valley? It’s I think technically in the Mission but has more of a Noe vibe, n’est-ce pas?)

This is a space we know well. For years it was Mangiafuoco, one of or favorite Italian restaurants, not least because it was mere blocks from where we lived. After Mangiafuoco’s closure, it went through a few machinations of short-lived restaurants we never bothered to check out: Da Luisa, Fiamma and I think something else that lasted something like a month. When La Provence opened, we sat back and watched, waited to see whether it would be the latest casualty.

To our mild surprise, it stuck. La Provence has occupied that space for just over a year now, which we decided was long enough for them to work out whatever kinks they might have had. And so last night we made a brief excursion to the south of France.

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Le sigh: Chez Papa

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I have a thing for bistrots. However, since my longtime favorite Cafe Claude‘s fall from grace, there’s been a gaping hole waiting to be filled. I still like Le Zinc, and our one trip to Le Petit Robert was promising, but inside I’ve been moping and lamenting the state of bistrot affairs.

Last night, we met up a group of people at Thirsty Bear to celebrate the return of our friend Steve from six years’ exile in Arizona. (Thirsty Bear is another establishment whose culinary star has faded; we were just there for the drinks. But when they first opened, oh my. I still salivate at the very thought of the fish cheeks. Mmm … fish cheeks.) After a couple glasses of albariño (typical contrarian me — drinking wine at a microbrewery), DPaul and I wanted to grab a bite with our friends Jim and Matthew. After parsing through our options of places we could hope to drop in on at 8:30 pm on a Friday, we decided to head up to Potrero Hill, figuring that between Chez Papa, Chez Maman, Baraka and, as a perfectly acceptable last resort, Goat Hill Pizza, we were bound to find something.

The restaurant gods smiled upon us. Jim popped into Chez Papa first,
asking about the likelihood of being seated (even as people were queued
up outside the door). Luckily, a reservation for five was already ten
minutes overdue, and if they did not show within the next five minutes,
their table would be ours. We waited, shivering in the foggy evening
wind, salivating over the plates that were being whisked out to diners
seated in the enclosed outdoor area. Something more like 15 minutes
later, they seated us at a table against the wall.

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