Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at 09:23
If you'll allow me, I'll share a slightly embarrassing little secret: even though I absolutely love to cook, and cook all the time, baking scares me. Why? The science of successful baking has always struck me as requiring a rigor in the kitchen that turns me back into the same sullen adolescent who once got Cs in Algebra--to the fury of my father--in a suburban Connecticut high school ("Your pre-school learning aptitude tests showed the same ability for maths as they did for language, so this inacceptable grade is just a reflection of your reprehensible laziness and pigheadness," said Dad...and he was right). My free form approach in the kitchen--hey, maybe I'll add a little pickled lemon to this and why not some browned orzo and then a dribble of Argan oil and a pinch of cumin, etc. has never seemed compatible with the mathematics of baking.
The problem with my reluctance to baking, of course, is that they're times when I get a real craving for one of those baked goods that made dessert such a major moment during childhood meals--apple pies, maple-walnut cakes, ginger bread, date-walnut bread, strawberry short cake, etc. And then I'll give in, and poor Bruno will get home and find me standing in the middle of a fine white storm of flour in the kitchen. He always says the same thing, too: "Oh--are you baking? Why?"
Well, why not?! I thought the other day when I was reading through my friend David Lebovitz's beautifully produced new book Ready for Dessert at lunchtime. David's clear prose style and professional clarity and exigence suddenly goaded me to rise to the occasion, and the next thing I new I was chopping up a big hunk of fresh ginger to make his divine fresh ginger cake and thinking, "this is not only easy, it's fun." So the next day, I found myself busily involved with his recipe for Buckwheat Cake with Cider-Poached Apples and thinking that the reason I love his recipes so much is that so many of them hit sort of an ever so slightly sugared umami bull's eye instead of being the tooth-aching sugar bombs so popular in the U.S. these days. As David himself says in this book, "I don't like sweet things." Instead he often likes his sweets to be balanced by a certain bracing acidity that tames the sugar, whatever its source. I do too, and this is why Ready for Dessert just may be the book that turns me into a bona fide baker. And they're lots of other non-baked desserts recipes that look pretty terrific, too.
The last time I had a meal with David, we had one of our let-yourself-off-the-leash late nights at Tombe du Ciel, a terrific new wine bar in the 10th arrondissement that's run by a very friendly guy who used to be a producer with Island Records. This recording connection surely explained the very hip constituency that ebbed and flowed around us during the course of a great night of snacking and sipping. All of the wines here are naturel, which means no sulfites, and unless you've sampled same, you have no idea how much sulfites alter the taste and character of wine. We started with a very good Sauvignon Blanc from the Languedoc which was perfect with a dozen plump and wonderfully briney Prat-ar-Coum oysters, sea-urchi-spiked taramasalata, and some foie gras, and then segued towards a surprisingly gentle Minervois that was perfect with a selection of Pierre Oteiza charcuterie from the Basque Country.
Around midnight, the place was still jumping, a reflection of the fact that this neighborhood, which I call the tenderloin of the 10th, is one of liveliest and most interesting parts of the city right now. It has an honest and still unselfconscious bohemian funk and a fascinatingly haphard mixture of people, architecture and different types of businesses that makes for a great urban neighborhood. This is why my favorite walk in Paris these days is the straight shot that I did on my way home from this wine bar the other night--right down the rue des Petites Ecuries to the rue Richer to the rue de Provence, an urban axis that offers a fascinating lesson in the realities of life in Paris in 2010.
Tombe du Ciel, 7 rue d'Enghien, 10th, Tel. 09-81-74-77-17. Metro: Bonne Nouvelle or Chateau d'Eau. Closed Sunday and Monday. Lunch menu 13 Euros, a la carte dishes 13 to 19 Euros.