Sunday, January 31, 2010

I Am Addicted

I am addicted to fresh homemade pesto.

Forget the manufactured preserved stuff in jars. That stuff compares to fresh homemade pesto like motor oil compares to Normandy butter. Once you’ve had fresh homemade pesto, not only will you never want to go back to the mass produced 12-year shelf life stuff, you’ll also never want to be without a supply of homemade pesto in the fridge.

But isn’t it hard to make you whine?

Ah non, ce n'est pas comme ça!

In fact I’m going to walk you through how to make my basic recipe.

Here we go:

      1 bunch of fresh basil, preferably sweet Italian basil
      1/4 cup, approximately, of extra virgin olive oil
      1 bulb of garlic, peeled
      3 small dried peppers, such as bird chilies.
         (A half a teaspoon of crushed red chilis will do instead)
      1 teaspoon pine nuts
      1 tablespoon parmesan cheese
      2 pinches of salt

In a blender or food processor put in all the peeled garlic cloves and about 1/3 of the oil. Pulse a few times. Add a small handful of basil leaves, but none of the thick stems or twigs, Pulse. Use a wooden spoon between pulses to push leaves down. Add more leaves. Pulse. Add more leaves and another 1/3rd of the oil. Pulse. Repeat until 3/4 of leaves are used up. Add the rest of the oil then the rest of the leaves. Pulse several times until a thick paste is blending. Add more oil if needed. Add the salt. Pulse a few times. Add the pine nuts and pulse until they are mostly chopped, but not puréed. Now add the cheese, but this time just stir the cheese in with a spoon.

Voila, fresh homemade pesto!

Place you pesto in a bowl. Cover and store in the fridge when not being consumed. If kept covered when stored the pesto will be good for a week or more. It will mellow as well, being sharpest immediately after being made.

See?  I told you it was easy.

The above is my basic recipe. After you’ve mastered the basic formula, you should experiment. Yes, do go ahead and play with your food. There are a hundred ways to alter this recipe and make fantastic variations or adjust things to your personal taste. With pesto, if it’s good, it isn’t wrong.

Here are some simple suggestions:
- More garlic if you wish a stronger edge (I usually do).
- Increase the percentage of basil for a greener taste.
- Mix in some alternative basil leaves with your sweet basil, such as lemon basil or Thai basil for some exotic blends.
- Skip the chilies, for a zero heat experience, or up the amount for a real kick!
- Swap the pine nuts with almonds, walnuts or even cashews.
- Try different grated hard cheeses. Some strong cheeses can drastically affect the flavor.

Purists will tell you that nothing beats pesto made in a large mortar and pestle. I’ve had it that way, and while the process does have its aesthetic component, and the results are flavorful, it is also very timely and requires a lot of effort for a little pesto. And I like a lot of pesto.

In fact I’ve gotten into the habit of doubling or tripling the above recipe.


Because pesto is good on far more than pizzas and pasta. Put a spoon of fresh pesto on a hot steak just before serving, especially if cooked on the grill, and discover steak heaven. Or use it as a dip for veggies, mix with mayo for an awesome artichoke diping sauce, or rub down a chicken in pesto before baking. Make pesto bread (like garlic bread but with pesto), or add it to your scrambled eggs, or to rice… endless are the places where fresh homemade pesto can improve your day.

And it is guilt free: Fresh greens, fresh garlic, dried chilies, olive oil, some nuts and a bit of hard cheese. It’s all healthy stuff. Heck some people buy garlic tablets so they can get the health benefits of raw garlic. Me, I eat fresh pesto!

Next time you’re at the market and see that bunch of fresh basil, pick it up and bring it home. Put on some Paolo Conte and make some fresh pesto. Then enjoy with a friend.

Who knows, you may even become a fresh pesto addict, like me. And that’s a good thing.

Mangez lentement et goûter la vie,
Le Capitaine

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Le Cocktail “Americano”

A handful of years back, while sitting in a delightful café in Paris I tasted my first Americano. It has since become my cocktail of choice.

Cocktails each have their moment, and one cocktail doesn’t fit them all. My short list of favorites include:
      - A good and spicy Bloody Mary when the morning calls for a drink;
      - A classic martini (wet and made with Brokers Gin please) when the occasion demands it;
      - A Pimms Cup, which I discovered in a very classy joint in the French Quarter of New Orleans, is best when something different is called for;
      - A Negroni when you feel the need for something refreshing featuring a little extra kick;
      - And of course the southern French institution, a  Ricard with it’s accompanying jug of water and tall glass of ice on hot afternoons, or even better a Moresque, made from Ricard and Orgeat syrup with water and ice.

But when it comes to the classic before dinner drink, my preference is the Americano.

The Americano was invented at Cafe Campari in Italy sometime in the 1860s. It was originally known as the “Milano-Torino” because of its ingredients: Campari, the bitter liqueur, is from Milan and Cinzano, the vermouth, is from Turin (Torino). The story is that in the early 1900s, the Italians noticed a surge of Americans who enjoyed the cocktail. As a compliment to the Americans, the cocktail later became known as the “Americano.” And should you think it’s some frou-frou umbrella drink, note that it is the first drink ordered by James Bond in the first Bond novel, Casino Royale.

The classic Italian recipe for an Americano is:
      1 part Campari
      1 part sweet vermouth, preferably Cinzano
      1 part club soda
      Slice of orange.
      Serve over ice.

This classic recipe is the way you will find it most often, and what is described in most cocktail books. It makes for a good drink, but this is not the way I like it best. You see, while I was eating and drinking my way around Paris, then Lyon, Beaune, Saint Remy, and other miscellaneous destinations around France, I discovered that there is a “Parisian” take on the Americano.

Rumor has it the Americano migrated to Paris around the 1920s. Where, at some point, in some Parisian café or hotel bar, the recipe changed.

The basic “Parisian” Americano is:
      1 part Campari
      1 part sweet vermouth
      1 part dry white vermouth
      Slice of orange
      Serve over ice.

Folks, this is a very good drink. And this is the way I first had it in that delightful café not too far from the Arc de Triomphe.

But it gets better.

Later, somewhere along my travels,  I had what I like to call the “deluxe” version of the “Parisian” Americano, and it was terribly dangerously delicious. Habit forming even.

Here is how you make a “Deluxe Parisian Americano”:
      1 part Campari
      1 part Lillet Blank
      1 part Lillet Rouge
      Slice of orange
      Serve over ice.

To my tastes this is the ne plus ultra of the Americano.

Go ahead, be dangerous, do a James Bond and order one… but be warned you’ll probably have to instruct the bartender how to make it.

Unless you’re at my place that is.

Le Capitaine

Salma Hayek promoting her "favorite" drink: Campari

Lillet Blanc and Lillet Rouge, critical components to a deluxe Parisian Americano.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

iPad – Another Revolution?

Let’s talk technology for a moment.

I just watched most of the unveiling of Apple’s new iPad.

During the presentation I did get excited. Quite excited. In large part because Apple does such a beautiful job when it comes to user experience on their devices. There is absolutely no doubt the user experience on the iPad is brilliant and elegant. Art married with technology. My instant response is I want one.

But then my rational side (and wallet) start chiming in, attempting to drown out my impetuous, artistic, aesthetic and gadget loving enthusiasm.

And so I step back and attempt to look at this as a marketer.

I do the instant quick take: comparing product to market, looking for the opportunity versus challenges. Who would buy this? Is there a market for a portable device that sits between a laptop and cell phone?

Previous attempts to market tablet computers by Dell, Sony, HP, Microsoft, etc. failed. The MBA response would be no, there is no room in the marketplace for this, regardless of how beautiful and elegant it is. It has been shown that people do not want to carry a third device. The iPad is not sophisticated enough to replace a laptop, especially for business users. The MBA analyst will probably tell you that it will fail.

Ah, but there is another category. Forget tablet computers; let’s talk eBook readers aka eReaders. Forrester reports that an estimated 3-million eReaders were sold in the U.S. in 2009. 30% of those sales just in November and December. They predict that over 6 million eReaders will be sold in the U.S. in 2010.

There clearly is a market, and a fast growing market at that, for eReaders.

Folks the iPad is the Cadillac of eReaders, and at $499 I predict that most people wanting to buy an eReader will do the small jump up to an iPad, because when you compare an iPad to the Kindle or Nook, well, it’s like comparing a Toyota Yaris with a Ferrari California, but without the big price jump. So you have an instant fast growing market for the iPad simply as an eReader.

But the iPad is so much more than an eReader.

Though not designed to replace a laptop it does have a significant suite of work tools. Now add the total Internet functionality of the iPad (advanced browsing, email, chat, etc.) extensive multimedia entertainment functionality (who needs a portable DVD player), big screen color gaming capability (no need to carry a separate portable gaming device anymore), advanced photo management, everything iTunes, mapping, the most elegant user interface on the planet, plus add in the 140,000 iPhone apps that will port to the iPad, and of course the already huge market demand for eReaders, and my friends you have a device that if properly marketed, clearly has potential for sales in the multiple millions.

Now if Apple can just execute some good marketing.

Yeah, like I said. I want one.

A la votre,
Le Capitaine

The Apple iPad:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Just how small a world is it?

Late 2007 we rented a big village house in the south of France for Christmas week. I used an agency, went through their catalog and found what looked like an ideal house in a very small village called Ansouis. I checked the dates we wanted on the agency web site and it was available. After getting approval from the multiple family members involved, I proceeded to book it.

The agency called me the next day and said there was a problem. The owner, who lived in Chicago, wanted to come stay at her house during the week I had requested. She had not been to her house in France for almost a year, and could we change our schedule? Er, well no. We had a road trip planned for the week before, and New Years in Paris all set up. Plus we had already booked our airline tickets and hotels. We wanted this house, or I would have to start the search all over again. Turns out the owner had already booked her airline tickets as well.  After some back and forth we agreed to pay the ticket change fee for the owner and she would arrive when we left. Everybody happy.

When we arrived we found the house to be fantastic. Beautiful, big, comfortable, ancient stone walls, the place full of history and original works of art, and a huge very well equipped kitchen to boot. The place was warm, comfortable, had a big fireplace, nice bathtubs, and more room than we expected allowing each to have privacy when they wanted it. I mean there was really nothing that you could complain about. Right around the corner was the village boulangerie that made to die for croissants early every morning, and to our delight, small classic tarte tropeziennes that were dangerously delicious.

We all agreed we had lucked out. We had Christmas there and it was good.

The last day we packed up our stuff, cleaned up the house, and before hitting the road, stepped out of the front door, walked across the small town square the house faced, and sat down for some hot café crèmes at the bar that had become one of our regular hangouts. The bartender/owner made really good café crèmes.

While we sipped a woman comes in. She greets the bar owner speaking French like an old friend, then comes over to us, speaking English she asks how our stay was. Turns out she is the owner. We tell her how much we love her house, that we are pleased, and upon hearing this she is pleased. During this time she keeps giving me the once over. I look at the front of my shirt – Did I spill?

We wrap up our pleasantries and she starts to leave, turns around and comes back to me, asks, “Do I know you?”

I do my best imitation of a village idiot “Eh, uh, what… no…?”

“Where do you live?”

“Los Angeles.”

“Hmm, I live in Chicago. Come to Chicago much?”

“No, not really.”

“I’m sure I know you.”

I look at her carefully. Nope, I have no idea who she is.

She asks me “What do you do for a living?”


“Me too. Ever work for Earthlink?”

WTF! “Uh, yes. I was their VP Marketing.”

“Do you know Wendy F., she was the creative director there?”

Jaw drops. “Yes. I hired her at Earthlink. But Wendy and I are old friends, we go back a ways.”

“Wendy is a good friend of mine too. You ever go to her place on Cloverdale, back in the early 80s?”

Other jaw drops. “Yeah…”

“I met you at Wendy’s place at one of her small parties. Yeah, I remember you. We hung out a couple times.”

Stunned. That was almost 30 years ago. I met her several times at Wendy’s house 30 years ago, and she recognizes me. Seriously, she recognized me?!? And we just stayed at her house. In France. In a tiny village in the country. Which she hasn't visited for a year. She arrives a half hour before we leave. Too many coincidences. My head is spinning.

Then she asks, “Did you see Wendy’s painting on the wall in the master bedroom?”

Uh, that would be the room I stayed in.

A la votre,
Le Capitaine

The house in Ansouis. This picture doesn't do it justice:

A couple pictures of the village of Ansouis:

Monday, January 25, 2010

Le Saint Amour

Embrace the Butter

[Note - I first wrote this 9 days after they opened, and that was about 6 months ago, so things may have changed]

Where does this French brasserie sit in the panoply of Los Angeles' French restaurants? Not as expensive as Anisette, and not as cheap as La Dijonaise. The same balance can be said for the food: A definite step above La Dijonaise, with a menu featuring truly classic French fare, but not quite at the quality and presentation level of Anisette.

The restaurant is filled with "almost there" moments. The décor, fashioned after a classic French brasserie is almost there. It’s as if they just couldn’t get to the last steps. The tables, chairs, wall fixtures are all there, but then the windows loose all opportunity to have classic French brasserie stenciling and instead nothing fancier than some simple white lettering. The high ceiling is white… White? Why? And the lighting points up at the unfinished white painted ceiling drawing the eye upward. The music is muted and not French at all. It’s a French brasserie for god sakes! Where’s the Aznavour, Yves Montand, Le Grand, Charles Trenet, even Edith Piaf. Instead we get elevator 80s music. Owner's should go to Anisette to get an idea of how to finish the decor off.

And the waiters – Some, if not all in the restaurant speak French, but refuse to speak it to the guests and instead mutter it quietly to themselves. It’s as if they are proud of their English, so insist on speaking English only. We are in a French restaurant; we want the appearance of the French experience please. We like it. It is cool to hear the chef and waiters calling out to each other in French. Good ambiance. One last comment about the personnel – the chef was distant. Even though it’s an open kitchen he will not make eye contact or talk to the patrons. The guests shouldn’t have to work at it, they should feel welcome in his restaurant. A chef that will stop at your table for a couple quick words, and notices when your leaving and gives a friendly good bye is one that will see a lot of repeat business. This chef has much to be proud of, please, step out of your kitchen and say hello to your guests.

Now to the food: First, the menu is a definite cut above. I know of no other restaurant that serves boudin noir, or saucisse de Lyon avec lentile, or salade frisson aux lardon (well Anisette does but it is $15 for a small bowl!). Many wonderful decisions to make at Saint Amour and plenty of excuses to return. I mentioned the quality is good. A big cut above La Dijonaise, and even Mr. Marcel. The prices are higher than Mr. Marcel, but not much. All the sausages and patés and such are made in-house, and it shows. We had the lentils and they came with two different delicious Lyon style sausages. The lentils were perfectly cooked and had the proper slight vinaigrette flavoring. Only suggestion would be a touch more Dijon in the mix. The boudin noir came with mashed potatoes and poached apples ($17). Each was good, but the whole lacked unity, a unity that should have been made up of butter. It was like a diet boudin noir plate. In the past when I’ve had this in France they were always swimming in a butter sauce that included caramelized boudin and apple flavors. Here it was all dry. Good, but dry. I was tempted to pull butter out of the breadbasket and slather it around. Tiaré had a game hen served with foi gras in a wine reduction sauce over green beans, or something like that. At $24 it was the most expensive dinner entrée on the menu and based on how she inhaled it, I can only guess that it was delicious. Well actually she told me it was delicious, and Tiaré is a gourmand enough to know.

With the meal we had a bottle of 2005 Saint Amour, naturally. What else are you going to drink on your first visit to a brand new restaurant called Saint Amour! At $34 for the bottle it was a fair price. I know what the bottle wholesales for, and this price was as low as you would find at a wine retailer. No ripping off the customers here. And it was quite good, thank you.

For desert we split an ille flotant – another classic French dessert you don’t see here very often. It was quite good, but I was put off by the presentation. The “ille” was a big square block instead of the mountainous pile it usually should be. The big square block gave me that mass production feeling.

So, overall, not a bad start at all. When we went the place had been open for all of 9 days, so clearly some we need to alow for some bugs to work out. Still on a Monday night it was 70% full, and for a new place that is not bad. We will be back in hopes that things go from good to better to great.

My advice to the owner/chef: embrace your French-ness, embrace the brasserie traditions, and embrace the butter, it is after all one of the secrets to classic brasserie cooking.

Le Capitaine

Here is the link to their web page:

La Dijonaise

I eat here fairly often. 


Because it offers French food at very reasonable prices. 

That’s not the only reason, but it is a major one. There is no less expensive French restaurant in Los Angeles than La Dijonaise. It’s not fancy, the decor is basic, but it is clean, very friendly staff and owners, and its at a nice location. They are not trying to be fancy, but do take pride in being good. Not great, but consistently good basic French fare. From escargot to steak frites, poulet dijonaise to duck confit, it is all good, especially when considering the prices. They also have an above average moules frite. Way above average, and for less than anybody else in town that I’ve been able to find. 

Even their desserts are good. Nothing extraordinary, nothing at the level of Anisette, but that’s not why you go here. You go here because you want some good basic French food, friendly service, and your wallet is thin – for that La Dijonaise can’t be beat.

Le Capitaine

Here's the link to their web page:

Anisette Brasserie

Paris in L.A.

Let’s get a few things out of the way
1. It’s noisy
2. It’s expensive
3. The service is good, considering the atmosphere, noise, crowding and general liveliness of the place.

OK those are the negatives. Here are the positives: This brasserie is just like eating in Paris: It’s noisy, expensive and the service is good considering the atmosphere, noise, crowding and general liveliness of the place.

The place is ALIVE. The décor is authentic. And the food is REAL French food, which mean’s it’s absolutely fantastic. This is not a place you go to, to see and be seen. This is a place you go to because flying to Paris for dinner is at times impractical. 

I’ve eaten at Anisette a dozen times now, and it has NEVER failed to delight the senses. They serve Badoit water – the best in the world. The house carafe of wine is always good, such as you don’t have to look at the wine list if you don’t want to, but if you did the selection of French wines is designed to please the wine lover, not impress the snob. And that philosophy applies to all the food at Anisette. It’s designed to please the senses not impress the snob. Look, you may get stuck at a tiny table on the balcony crowded against other people, but if you love good food, it just won’t matter. Yes it’s expensive. Figure $100 a head for dinner if you have a cocktail, appetizer, entrée, desert and wine. And aside for that little pang of pain when you pay, you won’t care, because your mouth, nose and stomach will be in heaven. You will walk out thinking to yourself… when can I come back?

If you are on a budget, then go for lunch (not breakfast). Things are a bit quieter, and the prices cheaper. You can go in for lunch and get out, including a glass of house wine, for about $35. Not the cheapest lunch in the world, but probably amongst the best in LA. My only regret is that they took the Soup de Poison Provence avec ca Rouille off the menu, and it was the best I’ve ever had in the states.

Last word: Go now before something changes, like they get bought out, or Chef Alain moves on to someplace else, or the in-crowd discovers it and ruins it.

Le Capitaine

Here's the link to the restaurant's web page:


I'm going to start by just posting some restaurant reviews I wrote about some of the local French restaurants here. These were all done last year, well, actually the one on La Dijonaise was about a week ago... that's how goes.

OK, restaurant reviews are not deep thoughts or profound pontification, but it is useful, right?

They'll be more.

Le Capitaine