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Helene Darroze and fat

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Joined: 09 Aug 2006
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 09, 2006 9:04 pm    Post subject: Helene Darroze and fat Reply with quote

Hi folks, my wife and I spent last week in Paris for our 7th anniversary.

We're both huge fans of French cooking -- I actually "learned how to cook" from working my way through Volume I of Julia's Mastering the Art of French Cooking -- particularly bistro and "cuisine bourgeoise." Our tendency is to usualy snoop around a neighborhood and find where the locals eat, a strategy that has and continues to work very well. But this being our anniverary, we decided to go for a Michelin 2-star -- Helene Darroze, on rue d'Assas.

I'm sorry to say the experience was a bit underwhelming. Overall, my impression was that Helene is still maybe finding her "voice" as a chef, and once she does, her offerings will be magnificant. But she's a long way from being there, in my humble opinion.

We ordered, as "plat," a dish whose French name escapes me, but was pork -- a bone-in loin slice, two types of sausage, on a boudin, and a chunck of bacon/lard,. cooked in the souther French style, with white beans.

It arrived as a sort of deconstructed cassoulet -- half a plate of beans with sausage and lard, then sliced pork loin, over which was drizzled a brownish and I'm sad to say rather tasteless sauce. What threw me, though, was the amount of fat -- pure, unadulterated, shimmering, white fat -- in the pork loin.

I should state here that I am a huge fan of fat, particularly pig fat, and all sorts of pork products. This is probably because I am a native of the American South. I cook with lard. I season vegetables with bacon and ham hock. Fat is flavor. Fat is God's basting agent. I think the extent to which fat has been bred out of America's hogs is a sin against the order of nature. I don't have a problem with fat, in other words -- but at least 60% of this loin was fat. It wasn't loin streaked with fat, it was fat streaked with loin, or larded with loin, if you'll permit me a small bon mot.

So my question is this -- is pork loin cooked in the Southern French style supposed to be so heavy on the fat? Is that how it's been served for lo these many generations to the good folks of Languedoc, a delicacy my jaded American palate was not really equipped to handle? Or had I been given a bad piece of meat? In New York City, sometimes butchers, if annoyed at a customer, will give them fairly regrettable cuts. Was I the unwilling recipient of some butcher's ire?

At any rate, if you visit Helene Darroze, beware the pork. The fish dishes did seem popular. The room is very attrative, but the wait stass is required to perform a great deal of annoying busywork. The desserts were tasty, but nothing to mnake one sit up and gshout, have tasted the ambrosia of the gods.

I can unreservedly recommend the beef cheeks at le comptoir, in St Germain. Obviously marinated for days and slow-cooked with carrots, the marinade, and stock, they were butter-soft, with the sauce rich and compelling, exactly what a French sauce should be -- and had Helene's sauce for the fatty pork been of that character, I'd have left with a much better impression.
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Joined: 30 Sep 2004
Posts: 1855
Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

PostPosted: Tue Oct 10, 2006 4:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Gosh! So sorry your anniversary dinner was so disappointing. I cannot really give you too much information but we did spend several weeks over a few years in Languedoc and Provence and generally stuck to regional cooking. It certainly tends to be good hardy fare but I cannot think of any occasion where the meat was excessively fatty.I even tried Pied et Paquette, a very rustic and traditional dish of pigs feet and other pork parts stewed for a longtime and not even it was very greasy. One cassoulet we tried was a bit fatty but it would have been duck fat I suspect.
Vivant Linguae Mortuae!!
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Joined: 24 Sep 2004
Posts: 443
Location: Paris, France

PostPosted: Tue Oct 10, 2006 6:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jholyfen - Sorry to hear of your less-than-stellar experience. I am not sure whether Hélène Darroze intended the pork loin to be that fatty: Southwestern cuisine can be a bit heavy -- though any modern chef with talent will usually lighten it up as much as he or she can -- but the meat shouldn't be all fat, and more important, the overall dish shouldn't be tasteless. If this ever happens again, you could tell the waitstaff (politely and in a low voice so they don't lose face) that the dish seems off. But perhaps the language barrier makes this difficult.

I myself have never dined at Hélène Darroze's because I've heard very conflicting reviews (some love it, some hate it) and for the prices that she charges, I'd rather go someplace where I'm 99.9% sure I'll have a good experience.

FYI, and if you read French, François Simon (perhaps the most famous of our food critics) has just written up (or should I say "down"?) the new "finger food" area of her restaurant. Seems like he didn't like it much.
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