Maison Empereur is Ali Baba’s cave for foodies

Maison Empereur is Ali Baba’s cave for foodies

Julia Child reportedly lamented her husband Paul's transfer from Paris to Marseille in the early 1950s, but she took solace in the cuisine of Provence. Perhaps she had already assembled a full kitchen battery at E. Dehillerin in Paris (edehillerin.fr). If not, she also had the riches of Maison Empereur (4, rue des Récolettes, +34 04-9154-0229, empereur.fr) at her fingertips in Marseille. Tucked into a corner of old Marseille a few hundred meters from the Old Port, this “hardware store” (quincaillerie) founded in 1827 claims to be the oldest in France. More than 90 percent of the products sold at Maison Empereur carry the Enterprises du Patrimoine Vivant label, a certification of excellence in traditional artisanry and industrial processes. Yes, you can buy nuts and...Read More
Pastis: the heady sip of Marseille

Pastis: the heady sip of Marseille

Amid all the shops selling olive oil soap in Marseille, we almost overlooked La Maison du Pastis (108, Quai du Port, Marseille, +33 (0)491-90-86-77, lamaisondupastis.com). True to its name, the delightful little shop specializes in the anise-flavored liqueur that is popular in Marseille and throughout southeast France. Pastis was widely promoted in the 1930s as an alternative to the more potent absinthe, which had been banned by the government. That way, the French could continue to enjoy an anise-scented “apero” or apéritif before dinner without the brain and liver damage linked to La Fée Verte (the Green Fairy). A few large producers dominated the pastis market for the first half-century or so. But by the 1980s, a number of boutique producers began to infuse different...Read More
Bouillabaisse without fish but full of ceremony

Bouillabaisse without fish but full of ceremony

If there's one subject more contentious in Marseille than the sanctity of the Olympique football team, it's the proper recipe for bouillabaisse. Some sources argue that it's a poor fisherman's stew made up of bycatch, while the charter of the Marseille Bouillabaisse organization specifies at least four kinds of fin fish and two optional shellfish. That the dish is usually served in two courses and spiced with pricey threads of saffron argues that maybe it was always a dish for the wealthy. Most of those fish species are expensive imports where we live, so we're always happy to find another way to enjoy the dish. Nina Olsson, the force behind Britain's NourishAtelier.com, has provided a really striking vegetarian alternative for bouillabaisse in her recent cookbook,...Read More
Enjoying everything fishy in Marseille

Enjoying everything fishy in Marseille

When a magazine assignment took us to Catalunya last fall, we decided to extend our trip by taking a train to Marseille. After all, it was the only one of the three great port cities of the western Mediterranean that we didn't already know and love. Its history is deeply entwined with Barcelona and Naples. What Marseille has that the others lack is a long slot harbor where small vessels are well-sheltered from the weather. Le Vieux Port (“old port”) forms the picturesque waterfront of historic Marseille. The anchorages here primarily host pleasure craft, but every morning small one- and two-man fishing boats—primarily seiners and trawlers—tie up at the Quai des Belges and unload their overnight catch. In many cases, the fishermen's wives meet the...Read More
A Dalí-ance in Catalan gastronomy

A Dalí-ance in Catalan gastronomy

When we visited Salvador Dalí's home and studio in Port Lligat, Spain, late last year, we didn't know that the cookbook by the most surreal of Surrealist artists had been re-published in 2016. But we knew he loved to eat. Dalí and his wife and muse, Gala, spent a lot of time in their house-studio in the fishing cove of Port Lligat, about a mile away from Cadaqués near the Spanish border with France. The property began as a fisherman's shanty when Dalí bought it in 1930. Over the next 40 years, the house accreted new rooms and wings and gardens and statuary and.... Well, Dalí was prone to excess. That's a photo of the building at the top of this post. It perches above...Read More
La Forge Merlot cozies up to ratatouille pizza

La Forge Merlot cozies up to ratatouille pizza

We always thought drinking good wines with pizza was our dirty little secret. But then we found that great pizza is a given in California's Sonoma wine country. We were especially taken by the pizza-wine pairings at Comstock Wines. Unlike us, the Sonoma folks couldn't enjoy pizza and wine while the New England Patriots. As football season begins to wind down, we're exploring a wider world of wine with pizza. As we learned from pizza guru Rosario Del Nero of Bertucci's, pizza can support an infinite variety of toppings. Just show restraint. “When it comes to toppings, less is more,” Del Nero cautioned. “You don’t want to overwhelm your pizza.” A mixed half case from wine distributor Esprit du Vin (edvwines.com) arrived at the end...Read More
Darina Allen takes food from seed to plate

Darina Allen takes food from seed to plate

Talk about good timing. When it gets cold and snowy here in New England, we pull out the seed catalogs and start planning our summer garden. Right on cue, GROW COOK NOURISH (Kyle Books, $45) by Darina Allen arrived in the mail. It's the 16th book for the Irish chef and co-founder of the Ballymaloe Cookery School (Shanagarry, County Cork, Ireland, +353 21 464 6785, cookingisfun.ie). In a bit of understatement, Allen terms the thick volume a “kitchen garden companion.” It's truly a guide to growing, preparing, and sometimes preserving vegetables, fruits, herbs, and edible flowers. She covers pretty much every fruit and vegetable we've ever heard of and many that we haven't. We were so impressed that we arranged to speak with her by...Read More
Where to Eat at the Airport: SFO

Where to Eat at the Airport: SFO

Dogpatch bakehouse and caffè (dogpatchsfo.com) at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) takes its name from the city's now trendy former shipbuilding district adjacent to Potrero Hill. But it takes its ethos from the region's devotion to fresh local food. The takeaway eateries at Terminal 1 (Boarding Area C) and Terminal 3 (Boarding Area E) display a list of farms and other local producers and suppliers that provide everything from fresh greens to olive oil, vinegar, crusty breads, and Italian cold cuts. It's a last chance for a taste of California before travelers board their planes—perhaps headed to locales less fixated with food. The menu ranges from breakfast burritos and bagels and lox with fruit salad to marinated portobello wraps and select-your-own-ingredients salads. In October, the...Read More
Moshin calculates exceptional biodynamic Pinot Noir

Moshin calculates exceptional biodynamic Pinot Noir

You could say that Rick Moshin (above) is a calculating fellow. Before the proprietor and winemaker at Moshin Vineyards (10295 Westside Road, Healdsburg, 707-433-5499, moshinvineyards.com) got into the business, he was a math instructor at San Jose State. The skills have served him well. He keeps the big picture of winemaking in his head like a blackboard full of calculations while still managing to pay attention to every detail. His wines are like elegant solutions to complex problems. They have a kind of Pythagorean grace. “Biodynamic is the wave of the future,” he said when we visited him in November. He's not doctrinaire about it. The most important principles, he believes, are those that treat the soil like a living organism that constantly recycles whatever...Read More