Beef was not on the menu in my kitchen when my children were young, partly because I didn’t eat it much but mostly because I didn’t know how to cook it. In 1999, Hubby and I went on a trip to Paris that changed my opinion of beef and opened up my kitchen to a host of new recipes. I don't remember much about Paris from that trip in 1999 except for the beef dinner. What I remember much more vividly is our trip to Paris in 1985. Funny how that works.
In 1985, we were quite young and very adaptable. We stayed at a quaint, inexpensive hotel in the 6th arrondissement which suited us fine but I no longer remember it's name. After settling in, we set out on our first evening to find a place recommended to us called “Willi’s Wine Bar.” Remember, this was pre-internet so we couldn't look things up prior to travel and calling international on our land-line-only phones was very expensive. We had booked a hotel by phone, from the recommendation of a college professor, and off we went to Paris.
Wine Bars were a somewhat new phenomenon in Paris in 1985. Our friends in the wine business had told us about Willi's and we were excited to try it so it was the first place we headed. We found it with ease and loved the concept of wine by the glass and small plates. It was a lively and fun location to start our night, much better than the typical bar of those days, which we tended to avoid. Hubby made fast friends with the bartender (now he would certainly be called a sommelier but back then he was still a bartender) as they discussed vintages in depth and talked about the best and brightest wines of the moment. Hubby knows his wines and there is nothing a sommelier likes better than talking about wine. We got extra-special treatment from our new friend.
After a few glasses and some tasty bites, Hubby asked his new friend where we should go for dinner. One recommendation only...we had to eat at Chez George. Mr. Bartender said it was locals only, fantastic fresh French food, and an amazing wine list. He called over and told them we were coming. It wasn’t a far walk. The first thing I remember about Chez George was when we entered the cozy dining room, there was a large platter of teeny, tiny, deep red strawberries on a little cart with some other desserts. I couldn’t believe those little strawberries could be very good and I somewhat doubted our restaurant choice.
The place was definitely French. It was small and plain, and there wasn't a foreigner in the room. Hubby talked to the appropriate Wine Guy that had been referred by Mr. Bartender and we were told to order a very special wine, one that had never before been seen in the United States and, in fact, not seen in France until recently...it was a white mutant of a red grape called a Nuit St. Georges Blanc and it was from Burgundy. Hubby put his trust in Wine Guy and we were helped through the French-only menu and ordered.
I know we loved our food, but I don't remember exactly WHAT food we ate for our first two courses. I do know that by the time dessert rolled around, we wholeheartedly trusted everything they told us to do at Chez George, so we ordered the tiny strawberries. They were sublime. It was a bit of a food epiphany for me during a time when complicated food was all the rage. I realized that great ingredients stand on their own. I have never tasted another strawberry since with the amazingly sweet and pungent flavor of those unadorned French wild strawberries. And that wasn't the wine talking. Although what happened after the strawberries can only be told from the memory of someone who drank a few glasses of wine at a wine bar, followed by an entire bottle at a restaurant.
The mutant, rare wine was unique, rich but light, delicious, affordable, and we had to have more. Hubby desperately wanted to take a bottle home to the States to share with friends. He talked to Wine Guy who told him production was very limited and it could not be purchased in any shop. But Wine Guy saw the passion in his eyes and said if we went to the desk by the door upon leaving (literally behind a curtain) and paid cash, he could sell us a bottle to take with us. Hubby was elated. We finished up, went to the desk where the bottle emerged and Hubby went to pay. And then he panicked. He didn’t have enough cash. He started riffling through his pockets and pulling out change. I went through my purse and found some more coins. We were getting close, but not really. Wine Guy just looked at us and smiled, “Please...take it. I can see you will enjoy it.”
But the story does not end there. We had no money for a taxi, which were cash only in those days, so we began the long walk home. About half way there, we were both feeling the byproduct of all our beverages and desperately needed to use the toilet. I searched my bag again and came up with a 1 Franc coin that was needed for the public toilets on the street corners. But we only had one. The toilets were so small that only one person could go in and I guess we couldn’t leave the door open to go one at a time. I’m sure there was a good reason, perhaps the amount of wine in our systems, we decided we had to go in together if we were both going to use the toilet. We did some acrobatics to get in and managed to both go while holding on to the precious bottle of wine. But, somehow, during the process of trying to get out of the stall, I dropped the bottle. Quelle Horreur!!!
Fortunately, not for me but for the bottle, it landed on my foot. The bottle didn’t break and Hubby was elated once again. Disaster averted, except for the fact that my foot was swelling up quickly and hurt like heck. And we still had to walk home. My foot puffed up for a day, turned lovely shades of purple and ached for the rest of the trip, but it was not broken. And Hubby had his wine so he very willingly accommodated my frequent stops to rest my foot. The bottle made it safely home, probably because I was never allowed to handle it again, and it was thoroughly enjoyed by our guests who especially appreciated the story and the effort we exerted to bring it to our table.
But back to the beef and our return trip to Paris....Whew, this is a long story made longer! We returned to Chez George on our trip in 1999 and loved it's low-key authentic feel just as we had nearly fifteen years prior, but no groundbreaking wines or memorable recipes resulted from that dinner. It was the unpredictable next night that lives on in my recipe file. The night after revisiting Chez George and revisiting our favorite wine (which had increased in production over the prior fourteen years and wasn't nearly as rare) we were invited to the apartment of our good friends who live in Paris for a casual stay-at-home night.
Tom was the best man at our wedding so he and Hubby go back a LOT of years. Tom and his wife Erica are models-turned-business-owners who have been living and working in Paris for decades. You can imagine how tres chic they and their lives are, living in a magnificent apartment in the Marais with their adorable daughters and all of Paris at their doorsteps. And of course, like all the French it seems, they have impeccable taste in food. In their tiny apartment kitchen on rue du Temple, Tom whipped up some simple ribeye steaks in simple parisian style in a matter of minutes. They were tender, and juicy, and flavorful, and well...meaty. They were nothing short of spectacular. The thin ribeye's were seared in a pan, topped with a dab of butter, then drizzled with truffle oil before resting for a few minutes. I tried his method shortly after returning home and just like that my kids (and myself) were steak lovers. Merci Tom and Erica, and Paris.
"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast." -Ernest Hemingway
Tom's Truffled Ribeye (recipe for 2 persons, double or triple as desired)
2 ribeye steaks, about 1/2" thick (10-12 oz each)* 1 T olive oil 1/2 tsp salt 1 T butter, room temperature 1/8 to 1/4 tsp pepper 1 tsp truffle oil (I use white)
Massage olive oil and salt into steaks, dividing evenly. Let sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes. I often leave them out for 30-45 minutes to take the chill off completely. Heat a large pan to medium high and place the steaks into the dry pan. Let the steaks sear for 2-3 minutes.** Using tongs, grab one end of the steak and gently pull away from the pan. It should be nicely browned and pull away from the pan easily. Flip over and sprinkle with pepper. Continue to cook another 2-3 minutes then remove the steaks from the pan onto a side plate. (If you leave the steaks in the pan, they will keep cooking and not allow for the juices to redistribute.) Divide the butter between the the two steaks and place a pat on top of each. Drizzle with truffle oil and let sit 5 minutes before moving each steak to a dinner plate.
Notes: *Ribeye's are often about 1" thick. If you like your meat very rare you can cook the the thick steaks (increase time a bit) but I usually just slice them in half to make two steaks that are 1/2" thick each. **The cooking time varies depending on thickness of steak, temperature of meat and desired doneness. I like medium-rare so a total of 5 minutes in the pan is about right for me.