Tag Archives: Marcel Proust

France – ne me quitte pas

Feeling like filet. Pic: Clare Kleinedler

Feeling like filet.
Pic: Clare Kleinedler

Well, we lasted almost two weeks.

It’s remarkable that we held out for that long. But we did.

Remarkable why? Well, given the amount and quality of beef I’d eaten a fortnight ago in Bordeaux I’d reckoned it would be months before I’d want to encounter another steak.

Likewise, after the seafood smorgasbord we tackled in Le Petit Commerce I doubted I’d want shellfish again until a visit to Howth in midwinter.

But it’s hard to shake off French cooking. After two weeks of whole-wheat pasta, roasted veg, rice and – to be fair – a monstrously delicious rib-sticking mac and cheese dish at The Woollen Mills, we wanted back.

But how can you replicate dining al fresco at the balmy Place des Quinconces on an autumnal weekend in Dublin?

There’s two ways: do it yourself or go to La Maison at Castle Market in central Dublin. We did both.

The DIY meal was steak – a filet mignon to be precise. The cut lacked the fat-fuelled taste sensation of a La Tupina sirloin but, seared for two minutes on each side in a scorching pan and seasoned with just sel gris and pepper, it was a perfect Friday night dish.

Admittedly it lacked the accompaniment of open-fire-cooked duck fat frites, and I still had to wash up afterwards, but it was enough to place us back by the Garonne, however briefly.

La poelee de la mer sauce bonne femme, at La Maison, Dublin

La poelee de la mer sauce bonne femme, at La Maison, Dublin.

The following night was more of full-on French dip.

La Maison markets itself as fine dining. Maybe it is, in terms of service at least, but the menu also has a strong rustic feel, with pungent pates and meaty cassoulets.

Despite a number of good meals in Bordeaux we’d missed a decent pate. In La Maison we got at least two – one a chicken liver and the other a pork rillette. Both were meaty, earthy, fragrant.

They were the curtain raiser for the real star though, my entrée of fresh and shell-fish in white wine sauce. Salmon, trout and a white fish (that, frankly, I’d swallowed before I recognised) were mixed with mussels and baby potatoes to make a dish grandly dubbed ‘la poelee de la mer sauce bonne femme’.

This was a more modest offering than that the Le Petit Commerce showstopper but, alongside a crisp sauvignon blanc, it was satisfied my lingering pangs – of hunger and for France.

Perhaps it was the last of the ‘sauce bonne femme’, the blaze of my companion’s crepe suzette, or the cognac afterwards, but for an hour last weekend I could have been sitting in a bistro off the Triangle d’Or.

What’s “I could get used to this” in French?

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A la carte à La Maison, Dublin.

A la carte à La Maison, Dublin.

“An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me.”

It’s perhaps unsurprising that it was a Frenchman who immortalised the concept of taste as memory. Unlike Marcel Proust I’ve never experienced it with madeleines.

Filet mignon and la poelee de la mer though? – that’s a different matter.

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Taste another little pizza my heart

Clogherhead. It's all about the seafood. Pic: Clare Kleinedler

Clogherhead. More fishing than flatbread.
Pic: Clare Kleinedler

How far would you go for a slice of pizza?

Eighteen miles across pot-holed country roads in a taxi to a small fishing village perched on the edge of the Irish Sea?

That’s where I found myself last Saturday night, clinging to my seatbelt, en route to La Pizzeria in Clogherhead, Co Louth.

Clogherhead’s more renowned for fishing that flatbread. It’s also the home of Captain RedMan, a headless sea captain’s ghost who reputedly spends his time wandering the area.

If it’s primo Italian cuisine he’s after the RedMan’s in luck – a chef named Jian Carlo has set up there. A local legend on foot of his erstwhile trattoria of the same name in nearby Drogheda (and, er, ‘direct’ customer manner) Jian Carlo opened his new operation in Clogherhead a few months back.

His previous oven produced some of the best pizza I’ve had in Ireland. Eighteen months had passed since we last had a slice there, so my wife and I undertook a pizza pilgrimage last weekend.

My frutti di mare – with added anchovies – was very good. Thin, dry crust, less rather than more mozzarella, just enough tuna.

Bon anchovy! Jian Carlo's finest.

Bon anchovy! Jian Carlo’s finest.
Pic: Clare Kleinedler

It wasn’t as I remembered it, though. But that may have had nothing to do with the dish itself.

Thinking about it afterwards it occurred to me that memory – the context of place, time, company, weather – influences my palate as much as my tastebuds themselves.

A madeleine-dipping Frenchman realised this long before I did, of course.

Swapping French biscuits for Italian flatbreads I asked myself: what were my most memorable slices?

Here’s my top five, in no order and with taste just one of the ingredients:

La Pizzeria (the original): the punch is the base and the crust, which could be eaten with just a slather of sauce. Thankfully Jian Carlos added that tuna, prawns and those anchovies (if you asked). For two years we couldn’t visit Drogheda without eating it.

Pizza Stop: a go-to staple in my single days this alleyway bistro boasted a seafood pizza with the saltiest anchovies (detect a trend here?) of any I’ve had in Dublin. Calamari a go-go too.

Capri - no salad. Frutti di mare at Verginiello. (Pic: Clare Kleinedler)

Capri – no salad. Frutti di mare at Verginiello.
Pic: Clare Kleinedler

Steps of Rome: back in my 20s this Chatham Street joint sold €2 slices to go, which often fortified my buddies and I on trips from Neary’s to gigs in Whelan’s. I can still taste the crumbly base – I suspect semolina.

Ristorante Verginiello: Capri’s overpriced and blinged up. This pizza was neither – I can still taste the mussel juice mixed with the melting cheese. The fact that we tasted it on our honeymoon made it even better. Jackie O, you missed out.

Artichoke Basille’s: on a 2010 work trip to NYC I hit their original East 14th Street outlet. Eschewing meat I opted for a crab slice. Perfect seafood, incredible mozzarella, this was the best pizza I’d ever had. The following day I wrapped up my morning run by breakfasting on another couple of slices. Next time I’m in town it’s a taxi direct from JFK to 14th Street.

Now that's a pizza crustacean - Artichoke Basille's crab slice.

Now that’s a pizza crustacean – Artichoke Basille’s crab slice.

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