Dinner at L’Arpege

Friends,

With my story about L’Arpege I’d like to start near the end of the meal. L’ Arpege was our only three star restaurant I selected. Sukie and I had dined there years ago and loved it (it was two stars then) and I wanted see where Chef Alain Passard had taken his restaurant over the decades.
As the final main plate was being presented, Wynne and I noticed that the chef was making a tour of the dining room. He stopped and spoke with what looked like old friends and new. We were at the end of his circle. I must admit that I had a bit of awe in my soul – tempered with a huge amount of respect for Chef Passard.
He came to the table, quickly looked at our plates and ran to the kitchen to bring back more natural juices for the guinea fowl. I rose out of respect and we spoke for several minutes. His last statement was that he loved his work more each day than ever before.

…And that my friends is a tale of two graying chefs who both feel so lucky to be doing what they do every day!
I love the photo of the two of us. He placed a clean, long apron over his working apron to visit the guests. A simple blue shirt and yes seersucker pants … perhaps a new style for me. No toque, no stiff jacket, no pretense, just a man who loves his garden and his restaurant and shows that love in his food and his gracious nature.
Why the reference to the garden? Some years ago he took his three star restaurant to vegetables only. He has subsequently returned fish and fowl to the mix.
The vegetable only menu is still available; we chose the basic twelve course lunch menu. Not the classic cuisine lunch menu. I can’t imagine what that must have been like. We were satiated as it was.
Wynne and I have learned to ask the sommelier to guide us with the wines. We can’t manage bottles any more so suggestions of wines by the glass are necessary. His suggestions were like the entire experience: superb. An Alsatian took top honors.
Remember, all of the vegetables are grown in his own gardens – just like Thomas Keller at The French Laundry.
Starting with fantastic butter. I truly love this specialty of France. Gorgeous color and texture and some times with coarse salt within. Baby radishes no larger than the tip of my little finger; gentle of texture and taste. Moving quickly onto three miniature tartelettes with the thinnest, most crisp pastry shell. Each filled with a different vegetable purée. Rich bursts of flavor of beet, turnip and celery.
Next was baby ravioli filled with lightly minced veggies; all in a Chrysanthemum (thank you auto spell) broth. One bite each – scallions, courgette-zucchini, spring onion all mixed with some cheese and who knows what else. I’m trying to simply enjoy and not overly delve into technique.
A gratin of red onions in a layer so thin. A creamy garlic soup with a poached quail egg – fresh garden potatoes. The procession of small courses flowing to the table.
A surprise of a beet tartare with fresh french fries. An egg yolk resting in a bed of creme fraiche to look like a whole fried egg. Taste and texture were perfect. Wynne now loves beets and baby Chantrelles.
During the service, the staff toured the room with both the Turbot and the guinea fowl as they came from the oven.
The guinea hen was roasted in a salt crust and had the most beautiful crusty skin I’ve ever seen. My portion had a good section of skin still attached and had some wonderful globules of yellow fat adhering to the skin and adding even more flavor. These two were the main plates, and are two of my favorite foods. I love the texture of the turbot and the taste is, well in general, I find the taste of fresh fish hard to describe with the most important point being that it must be fresh. Seafood with a strong taste generally is not fresh.
Quickly moving on to the desserts. A puff pastry with layers of young rhubarb and garnished with raw almonds and then the much anticipated plate of pastries. I’d eat macaroons if they tasted like this; all of the pastries one bite or two. A beautiful fresh apple tart with thinly sliced apples made into a rose.
The flavors of the meals were gentle and fresh; as if one had just come from the garden with a basket of produce and in fact they had. There was not any taste combination that stood out. Simply a marriage of the best ingredients with a chefs touch, allowing the products natural taste to be the star.
Chef Alain Passard is a consummate chef and host and someone for whom I have so much respect…. He loves his work and it shows…

Your Friend,

Tony

Dinner at Verjus

Dear Friends,

Verjus, Paris………
I often speak of expectations when discussing my own diningexperiences and recognize that our guests do as well. If my expectations arelow and my experience is well beyond the meager hopes, then what atriumph. On the contrary, when expectationsfail to meet the wished for outcome, then disappointment rages.

I’m not certain why I had placed Verjus on such a pedestal. Wasit reading that two Yanks were making a big splash on the food scene in Paris? Was I simply hopeful that my American peerswould have truly set themselves apart?

Bottom line: The food was terrific. Creative, well thoughtout and generally excellent.

I opted to go with the wine pairing option. Yet, I was notaware until the next evening that a significant percent of Verjus’ wines areNatural or Organic.

Should be no big deal, but these had flavor profiles that Isimply did not enjoy. Our next evening At Spring, we discussed the naturalwines and those served at Verjus and had our opinions confirmed that they are goingin a very different direction with their wine profiles.

Two of the wines were quite nice, two were okay and two werein my personal opinion undrinkable. My questions about the wines were met withcondescension at best. And not from apurely French server, but a very frenchifiedAmerican- like my new word! I gasped at the thought that we may treat someof our customers comments in this manner.

Back to the food…

Sea Bass Seviche with buttermilk pureed potatoes, lemon,chives and shaved asparagus. Nice tastes and texture. Loved the potatoes. Thebeetroot cured trout had no discernable taste from the beetroot, a very mildcure with no specific cure taste or affect. Nice piece of raw fish. We had lotsof that.

Chanterelles must be in huge supply at the farmers markets.They are all over Paris menus and are fabulous. Perfect barley and a broth withnettles, lots of fresh herbs and a slightly warmed egg yolk. Stirred togetherit made for wonderful tastes and textures. The texture of the barley, the richnessof the egg ,and all the flavors working very well together.

Loved the skillet seared duck breast on the next course.Would love to have had a little more smoke on the smoked celery root. Thegrilled flank steak came cut and grilled very thick and was full of flavor;more tender than one would imagine.

A palette cleanser: A small portion of fresh rhubarb granitaand a pine scented panna cotta. Flavors, texture of the granita with the pannacotta were much fun.

I love the art of making ice cream. The mascarpone ice creamserved with some very ripe and flavorful strawberries in a cherry consommé wastart, sweet and terrific. I’m finding there are very few pastry chefs in thesesmall boutique restaurants. They rely on the chef to use product and culinary skillto create flavors. It’s very well done.

A server who truly cared whether we liked the wines or notcould have rescued the evening and made it more special. Food was spot-onthroughout the meal. For my tastes, the wines were generally of a style I wouldnot choose to drink.

So, loved the sea bass ceviche, the chanterelle mushroomwith the barley, liked the duck and the flank steak, loved the granita andpanna cotta and the strawberries.

We left with lots of questions about how we serve guests.Some times the best learning comes from others mistakes, not their successes.

Your Friend,

Tony

Dinner at Yves Camdeborde’s Le Comptoir

Friends,

Yves Camdeborde’s Le Comptoir gets a 27 rating for food and 17 rating for decor on Zagat. Reservations are hard to get and one must plan ahead. I read reviews and heard people whom I respect talk glowingly about the food.

Monday night at 8:30 was to be our chance to drop into this matchbox sized restaurant and see if the hype met reality. There is seating per night and then only Monday through Friday. Wynne and I arrived a few minutes late – Paris traffic will do that – more on that on our culinary adventure at L’Arpege.
We were the last table to be seated and given one that, by many standards, might not be considered the best. However, Wynne and I loved it. Once again, very crowded seating – Ridgway could get twenty tables on the front porch with this style of seating.
A small menu awaits on the table. The first course is set, the next two offer choices, and the cheese and dessert are set. Beautiful crystal and silver and enough fun decor pieces to make my decor rating go up. Nothing bland in any way about this exciting dining venue.
Once again Champagne as an aperitif and a bottle of Sancerre Les Romains Vacheron for the meal. A beautiful loaf of bread was placed on the table that had an intriguing aroma. I picked, pulled, sniffed and tasted it before asking… “A touch of curry and Esplette peppers,” I was told. It was so good with the champagne. We ate more bread here than at any other place so far.
Because we were the last to be seated, we saw tons of food coming out of the kitchen. My menu “French” was good enough to guide Wynne away from the Pouple. Ordering and discussion to this point had all been in French.
I watched the room as the first courses were delivered to others and from the menu. The visuals were amazing. Saw a martini glass with three layers: foam on top, darker mixture in the middle, and rich green on the bottom. Pretty sure there were mushroom in it and guided Wynne appropriately.
First course delivered – A crisp piece of bacon rising as the garnish. Foam with some flavor, both sure what and then the surprises began. Tiny mushrooms sautéed with crisp bits of lard. Dug to the bottom to find fabulous spring pea purée and while digging found a beautifully poached egg.
Wynne finished hers first – so much for the mushroom issue. Fabulous way to begin. Flavors and texture and surprises to please all the senses.
I ordered the grilled Octopus. Wynne ordered the grilled Langoustine. Both were perfectly and simply cooked. Grilled with fresh herbs on top and very little sauce needed to make the dishes wonderful. The Octopus was so much more tender than many I have had.
The next course brought a perfectly rare roasted filet for Wynne and sweetbreads for me. Poached whole and then sliced across to yield a very thick portion for sautéing. Salt, pepper and a beautiful brown butter was all that was needed. The texture of the sweetbreads was perfect. Each plate garnished with fresh pea purée and fresh peas and limas from the garden.
Cheese tray is placed on your table and your neighbors as well so that you can eat all you want. All were ripe to perfection, generous of flavor short on that acidic sharp taste that turns me away from many cheeses. Tried several that I suspected might be beyond my taste palate and found them my favorites. Quince paste, honey and cherries to garnish.
Dessert, like the first course, looked as if it might be fun. Only thing we saw was a simple chocolate dome being presented and then chocolate poured over. The idea is frightfully simple yet wonderful. The chocolate dome covers some caramelized bananas and some crisp bits. The very warm chocolate sauce is poured over the dome and then it melts. Visually fun and tasted great.
About a third of the way through dinner we discovered that the entire staff was totally bi-lingual.
Le Comptoir is great fun and the food -mostly bistro style- is as good as it gets. The restaurant is located on a very busy corner and is constantly turning away guests; including an American princess who tried to buy her way in several times. I saw what looked to be good customers given the no and simply shrugged and walked out.
We had so much fun and the food was even more than what I expected.

Tuesday lunch at L’Arpege, Giverny road trip during the day and then Verjus for dinner in a short while.

Your Friend,

Tony

 

Dinner at Les Ombres

Dear Friends,

Last night’s experience was just about as I had expected. Took a taxi to Les Ombres. The restaurant sits atop the musee branley and looks southwest directly at the Eiffel Tower. Another beautiful and cool paris evening. We arrived and were promptly seated at the best table for two in the restaurant. No cynicism here, it was spectacular.
The restaurant is all glass and steel, walls and roof. The decor is the view.
Service was slow to bad, food was ordinary and expensive, i.e., no value. But the view… C’est magnifique!
That’s all you’ll get out of me about last night.
Tonight, a restaurant I am very excited about, le Comptoir du Relais.
Very small, very casual setting, it’s only about the food. Will be excited if the chef, Yves Camdeborde is in the house. Hoping for a very special culinary evening.

Your Friend,

Tony

Dinner at L’Atelier Etoile de Joel Robuchon

Friends,

Our first serious dinner last night. L’Atelier Etoile de Joel Robuchon. In the food world his name is right at the top. Like many French chefs he has opened more casual facilities to bring his cuisine to a broader audience.

We walked from the hotel, and when we arrived on the Champs Élysées, we headed due west into the setting sun, it was nine pm, towards l’arch de Triomphe. We had the address and were told it was inside the Publicis drugstore!,,, not a place one would expect to find great cuisine. We cautiously walked through, following signs and came to a stair case that led us to our destination.
Black and red and some what modern. Pretty much everyone sits at a three sided counter where you watch the kitchen perform. We were seated immediately.
A glass of champagne to begin. I had never seen the oversized champagne glasses they used. Love them!
Our server Maree, accent aigu on the first e, spoke english well. You are sitting with in inches of your neighbors so it is easy to spy on their plates. The Amuse – wow a stubby shot glass of a Parmesan mousse – three layers of extraordinary flavor. I gotten better at enjoying and not always wondering how it was made, as I ave absolutely no idea!
Lots of small plates – so over consumption can be controlled. We shared four plates. A wonderful Dorade, white fish, sliced carpaccio style with only the best olive oil, fresh lemon some salt and flecks of a mildly hot pepper. Quite a generous portion.
Langoustine en Ravioli- paper thin with a mostly classic french lobster sauce. A small taste of very good caviar garnished.
Next a ravioli made with veal feet, and served with the smallest Girolle, Chanterelle in USA.  I love wild mushrooms and they were exceptional. A fillet of Rouget sautéed with a little eggplant underneath.
Dinners are accompanied by chef Robuchon’s famous butter enriched potatoes. I had forgotten about that recipe…OMG!  Yes that good. (Might try it for Allison).
They brought a complimentary dessert, a laying of coconut cream, mango and passion fruit.
Wynne had the soufflé in honor of her dad. I had the tarte Tatin, curious about how he would handle, les pommes…Both were excellent.
Fresh from the oven Madeleines arrived in their cooking tin. Full sized, not the minis, are available at Cafe Boulud in NYC.
Wynne was presented a bag of goodies to take home. Madeleines for breakfast, longue du chat and house made candies.
A fabulous experience, and wonderfully attentive and helpful service!
I loved observing the kitchen. We could watch a chef who was responsible for lots of last minute preparation, selecting the largest Porcini mushrooms I have ever seen. Peeling and preparing fresh small artichokes. And so much more.  A wonderful dining experience, made even better by the attentive staff!
Your Friend,
Tony

Dinner at L’Atelier Etoile de Joel Robuchon

Friends,

Our first serious dinner last night. L’Atelier Etoile de Joel Robuchon. In the food world his name is right at the top. Like many French chefs he has opened more casual facilities to bring his cuisine to a broader audience.
We walked from the hotel, and when we arrived on the Champs Élysées, we headed due west into the setting sun, it was nine pm, towards l’arch de Triomphe. We had the address and were told it was inside the Publicis drugstore!,,, not a place one would expect to find great cuisine. We cautiously walked through, following signs and came to a stair case that led us to our destination.
Black and red and some what modern. Pretty much everyone sits at a three sided counter where you watch the kitchen perform. We were seated immediately.
A glass of champagne to begin. I had never seen the oversized champagne glasses they used. Love them!
Our server Maree, accent aigu on the first e, spoke english well. You are sitting with in inches of your neighbors so it is easy to spy on their plates. The Amuse – wow a stubby shot glass of a Parmesan mousse – three layers of extraordinary flavor. I gotten better at enjoying and not always wondering how it was made, as I ave absolutely no idea!
Lots of small plates – so over consumption can be controlled. We shared four plates. A wonderful Dorade, white fish, sliced carpaccio style with only the best olive oil, fresh lemon some salt and flecks of a mildly hot pepper. Quite a generous portion.
Langoustine en Ravioli- paper thin with a mostly classic french lobster sauce. A small taste of very good caviar garnished.
Next a ravioli made with veal feet, and served with the smallest Girolle, Chanterelle in USA. I love wild mushrooms and they were exceptional. A fillet of Rouget sautéed with a little eggplant underneath.
Dinners are accompanied by chef Robuchon’s famous butter enriched potatoes. I had forgotten about that recipe…OMG! Yes that good. (Might try it for Allison).
They brought a complimentary dessert, a laying of coconut cream, mango and passion fruit.
Wynne had the soufflé in honor of her dad. I had the tarte Tatin, curious about how he would handle, les pommes…Both were excellent.
Fresh from the oven Madeleines arrived in their cooking tin. Full sized, not the minis, are available at Cafe Boulud in NYC.
Wynne was presented a bag of goodies to take home. Madeleines for breakfast, longue du chat and house made candies.
A fabulous experience, and wonderfully attentive and helpful service!
I loved observing the kitchen. We could watch a chef who was responsible for lots of last minute preparation, selecting the largest Porcini mushrooms I have ever seen. Peeling and preparing fresh small artichokes. And so much more. A wonderful dining experience, made even better by the attentive staff!

Your Friend,

Tony

Dining Our Way Through Paris…

Friends,

Wynne and I just returned from a spectacular trip to Paris, France. In addition to several day trips to the countryside and long walks under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, we dined at many delectable restaurants that took our taste buds on a flavorful roller coaster ride. I will soon be posting full descriptions of my delectable meals.

Your Friend,

Tony

We Love You Just the Way You Are

Friends,

Crispy Fish

Crispy FishThe old adage “If it ain’t broke; don’t fix it,” seems to be very much on the minds of many people these days, and is playing out in the headlines of our local newspapers with virtually every new edition.Friends,

It was also very much on my and my business partners’ minds almost twenty years ago, which is why I’m compelled to share my point of view on a topic that, for the community, goes bone deep.

In 1995-96, the decision makers (myself included) of The Chef’s Garden and Truffles perceived that things were broken. So in a naïve move our solution was to toss them out and rename and rebrand the place as Terra.

We didn’t make this decision lightly. Terra was a well thought-out change. Numerous hours were put in by a collection of public relations professionals, marketers and very astute and knowledgeable people who joined forces to create this new image. Our objective was to adapt so we could be positioned to do well for the next decades to come.

Nice idea…but it did not work.

Obviously, my Terra story is reflective of what we’re seeing at the Naples Philharmonic (aka Artis-Naples, aka the Phil). Over the last 40 years, I’ve been involved in helping many entities that faced the “Is it really broken issue.” My guess is that the recent recession had an adverse affect on The Phil, as it did for all of us. It’s also possible the original funders (or founders) were tiring of feeding the kitty and perhaps also tired of being the sole supporters of what they created. The Phil was in no way broken irreparably. Did it need a major kick in the seat? I have no idea. What I do know is that the current scenario is basically untenable.

Because of the Terra experience, I also know that any alteration of a recognizable brand, especially in a small community like ours, can have a huge and perpetual backlash.

So then why, when faced with an image challenge, do we too often think that throwing out the baby with the bathwater is the solution? Instead of creating a new image, we should be looking inward and outward to determine the real reasons for whatever maladies exist.

I admit, I don’t know all the details of what’s going on over at Artis-Naples, and most of us probably will never truly know the reasons for the brand change, or the impetus that necessitated a change. But I am certain that the mess they created looks very similar to the one we created some seventeen years ago, and for this I give my empathy.

It’s unfortunate because I know parties on both sides of the fence well. I admire Myra Daniels for everything she accomplished and single-handedly created. I wish the board had reached out to veteran businesses owners in the area like myself to gain a better understanding of the public’s temperament before employing such a drastic change.

The simple reality is that The Chef’s Garden and The Phil might have been a little broken and perhaps needed a little cosmetic work – but a drastic abandonment of a beloved brand was not the answer.

Like the Phil board, our intentions were great: a new image and new concept to face the future. Yet in reality, all we should have done was think very hard about our own failings and take care of them. That is what lasting institutions do.

The bruises have healed for us and I love where Ridgway Bar & Grill and Tony’s Off Third are today. I consider myself fortunate that the law of unintended consequences brought us on this very circuitous path. It was a tough lesson, but a necessary one as it helped us become better at what we do.

And yet hardly a day goes by that Truffles is not mentioned. For nostalgia, there is a little sign in the garden that says “The Chef’s Garden” in its trademark pink and green color scheme. A daily reminder in an idyllic place!

The restaurant world and the music world share much in common. We’re both here to entertain and please our guests and to enrich their lives.

The Artis -Naples will survive. I’m not sure where it all will go, but I sense the hyperbole is only building and that its bruises will take some time to heal.

For me, I now know that subtle and meaningful change is often the best solution.

And that’s why on June 1st of each year I begin the process of planning the next year’s menu. It is also the time when I reflect on the past year and where we stand. Sometimes I make substantive changes to the menu to be certain we are current with food trends. Last year I worked extensively on Ridgway’s menu and this year Bayside Seafood Grill & Bar is the target for some updating.

Every year I also meet with the cooks and talk about processes and procedures. We discuss how to cook each product and what to look for in detail. We also adapt some of the flavor profiles and this nurtures our creativity. We have fun re-learning the basics.

I live in the Satchel Paige world where I simply assume there is someone trying to gain on me and ultimately pass me by! I do look over my shoulders, however. With all of the new restaurants opening, and some I’ve been to have excellent food, it is important to keep up and always try to improve.

I certainly don’t want to repeat the past where we closed two classic Naples institutions in order to open my only regrettable restaurant. Sometimes we forget where we are and how we got there. Thankfully, we can learn from our past mistakes and avoid the behavior and decisions that caused them. I wish our friends at Artis-Naples had the same foresight.

I look forward to seeing you soon at Ridgway Bar & Grill and Tony’s off Third and celebrating food and wine and our common love of all arts.

Your Friend,
Tony

 

Let’s Talk

Friends,

Tony Ridgway Head and ShouldersNaples has had a very good year and we hope we’ll see many local business owners this summer. It will be fun to talk about the local economy is a positive way!

I’m beginning to think menus and will be playing with gluten-free flour this summer.

I look forward to seeing you in the next weeks and we can talk food, wine and slower paced days and nights.

Your Friend,
Tony

 

The Chef’s Garden

Friends,

In our beautiful garden the Queen’s Wreath was in full bloom for Easter Sunday and the week following.  Every night guests enjoyed some of the best seats in town, feeling as though they had been transported to another place and time.  Indeed, it was a special time for all of us.  Our customers know that we do, what it takes to get the job done, especially during the busy months.  It is fun, and thanks to our wonderful staff it all went wonderfully. I’ve noted the northbound car carriers more this year, perhaps because there seem to be so many!  Happily, this yearly indicator of the seasonal change in Naples is felt with less apprehension this year. The ‘Season’ was terrific and now we’re all ready for a little change.  We look forward to seeing our many local friends in the off-season.

Your Friend,

Tony