La Mediterranée

What do you do when you’re a stranger in a strange city, and the place you had in mind for dinner is “complet, complet, complet” (French for “fully committed")? Start walking, look for a restaurant full of locals, not tourists, and most importantly, follow your nose.

The scents of garlic and stewed seafood wafting out from La Mediterranée, a charming restaurant tucked away on the quiet Place de l'Odeon, were promising enough to make me forget my original destination, the complet seafood place 21, which is supposed to be the new cool thing. But the atmosphere at La Mediterranée is much livelier, with its bright murals, its paintings of Jean Cocteau (who seems to be the patron saint of this restaurant), and its groups of Parisians speaking quiet but emphatic French.

The menu diverges from traditional French territory and into nouvelle cuisine that evokes Greece and Italy. Olives, cucumber, pine nuts, red pepper flakes, and a fresh bay leaf decked the iridescent skin of sardines crues. Raw sardines rarely appear on any American menu, maybe because filleting and deboning these tiny fish is too trying. In the raw, their strong fish flavor is akin to mackerel but even more oily. Verdant olive oil balances out the fishiness, and pine nuts were an uncannily intuitive accompaniment. They are to nuts what sardines are to other raw fish: delicate, slightly more herbal, and without any of the harshness of the bigger guys.

Although there are always new things to explore, one of the goals of a culinary trip to Paris should be to try classic French dishes here to see what they “should” taste like. The rich broth in La Mediterrannee’s bouillabaisse could be a meal in itself. Here is the source of the tempting aromas on the Place d’Odeon – garlic, herbs, a little wine, and a lot of fish that had been reduced to the flaky particles in of an opaque stew. The chef doesn't go overboard with all different types of seafood but uses simple small filets of dourade and mullet, briefly fried in butter then slipped into the broth. Add to this the crostini and piquant mayonnaise sauce served alongside, and you have the perfect dish.

It seemed miraculous to come across this excellent restaurant by accident. Longtime visitors of Paris complain that the food is not what it used to be. But even the most clueless of us tourists can follow our noses and hope for a happy accident.

La Mediterranee
2, place de l'Odeon
Paris 75006
01 43 26 02 30

Rue Saint-Honoré

That's right, kiddies: We're not in Manhattan anymore. Welcome to Paris.

The weather is unseasonably cold, but the French remain unruffled. On the Rue Saint-Honoré in the 1er arrondissement, the women wear trench coats with belts artfully tied. The mysterious French artful-tying gene, first noted with the advent of Hermes scarves, has yet to be pinpointed. In men this translates into an ability to toss a scarf over one's shoulder just so. The look is very debonair, and as for the men of New York, well... let's hope you're watching.

love the shoes
tuxedo shirt
French men put more effort into their hair. (If you have it, flaunt it.) A random poll of women says: John Edwards was onto something.

colorful scarves

the mixing of unrelated patterns

All-black is always correct.
three generations of window shoppers

two young girls
snakeskin trenchcoat - YSL?
trenchcoats abound

Believe it or not, this trench is from Zara.


Hill Country

Fette Sau is a hard act to follow.

This became apparent as soon as we walked into Hill Country. Where was the smell of barbecue? In Williamsburg, the scent of roasting meat bewitches you a block away, here there was barely a whiff of it, even when the counter staff opened the cantilevered storage units that contain piles of brisket, beef ribs, and fatty pork.

Manhattan might mean "island of many hills," but this ain't the boonies anymore. If Texas-inspired Hill Country exuded that barbecue scent, the neighbors would be hoppin' mad. (It's tough not to lapse into Texas talk as soon as you get here, what with the honky tonk music on the stereo.) On the other hand, Hill Country is conveniently located just blocks away from several subway lines, and this, as my fellow diner the Cheese Guy pointed out, is its biggest advantage. The cavernous hall, lined on one side with piles of firewood, chock full of wooden tables, and punctuated by BBQ and beer stations, easily fills with Manhattan diners, many of them guys in ties. This doesn't even include the equally cavernous downstairs space, which has several long tables for large parties and live music several nights a week. But dang if it ain't hard to hear in Hill Country: the acoustics are terrible.

We queued up for 'cue, which is sold by the pound. In a Katz's-like system, you get a ticket at the outset and get your own food. This is true to Texas style, so if you prefer table service, chances are you'd be better off in a fancy-pants New York place.

The biggest difference between Hill Country and Fette Sau is the smoker, or lack of a huge, hardworking one like Fette Sau's Southern Queen. Hill Country's brisket is juicier than Fette Sau's, probably because it's been cooked for a shorter time. But as any barbecue aficionado can tell you, this means it loses something in the flavor department. The rub on the outside is good, but it doesn't penetrate far into the beef. The same goes for nicely peppery rub on the pork ribs. And if you ever wonder whether the current Berkshire pork obsession is just spin, contrast and compare the two meats and you'll taste the difference. Because of the shorter cooking time, Hill Country's non-Berkshire pork ribs were still pink inside and chewy, not falling off the bone.

The beer can game hen proved to be a worthwhile experiment. Deep fried with an open beer can inside, it tasted nicely herbal and moist, with crispy skin. It had flavors I didn't realize hen or canned beer could have. How they managed to wedge a whole can o' beer in this lil' critter I'll never know.

Unlike Fette Sau, Hill Country is not hostile to vegetarians. There are a heap of sides, many of them meat free. Sharp, slightly oily Longhorn cheddar decked the pasta in the excellent mac-n-cheese, and the corn pudding is perfectly salty-sweet. Black eyed pea salad was ho-hum, and chipotle deviled eggs sounded much more exciting than they were, but they're a nice apertif to the barbecue if you get hungry waiting in line.

Normally I wouldn't review a place this early on, but I had an opportunity to go and a camera, so please consider this an early report. Over the course of the evening, however, it became apparent that a lot of thought has already gone into Hill Country. By "thought," I mean "focus group input." Like the latest designer fragrance, nothing in the formula offends, but nothing sticks out at you, either. The faux-fluorescent lighting and kitschy props nailed to the walls reminded me of TGI Fridays or Chili's, though thankfully none of the servers are wearing "flare." Hill Country has only been open for a matter of weeks, but their in-house barbecue sauce is already for sale at the gift counter by the door, though it's a pretty average sauce. Setting up a gift counter before you have a devoted following seems like creating your own celebrity fan club before you're even famous.

Nevertheless, since this is the kind of free-range place where no one kicks you out, we meandered downstairs to listen to live blues. The luckiest moment of the night came when one of the sous chefs literally tossed Chef Mary and me a bourbon pecan pie at the bar. It was hands down the most delicious pecan pie we've ever eaten (sorry, Mom), loaded with fresh nuts and laced with bourbon and molasses.

The bourbon pecan pie, the sugared bar nuts, the bands, the friendly counter staff, the space for huge parties, and the location are all good reasons to return to Hill Country - and the Kruez sausage is supposed to be a tasty Texas specialty as well, though we didn't get a chance to try it. But if I have a hankering for pork ribs again, I'll be danged if I'm not on the first train out to Williamsburg.

Hill Country
30 West 26th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues
New York, New York


Women (and Men) in Comfortable Shoes

Forget ballerina flats, peep toes, and espadrille wedges: Casual and athletic sandals are the popular choice for the summer. A category once dominated by Birkenstock and Teva has exploded to include dozens of brands and thousands of styles, many of which are actually stylish. Zappos.com lists no fewer than 12,174 pairs of "Women's Casual Sandals."

As for those of you who are not fans of "mandals," it looks like you might as well get used to them.

the shoe that started it all

a family of flip flops and sandals

Birks and Crocs

Birkenstock thong sandals