Michael Lomonaco Just Returned From Paris. Get Ready To Be Jealous Reading This.
Porter House chef recharged his batteries
Chefs love to travel — for inspiration, to experience the cuisines of other cultures or just to get away from the heat of their own kitchens. When they return, we hit them with some questions — where'd they stay, what'd they do and WHAT DID THEY EAT?
Michael Lomonaco opened Porter House in the then–newly built Time Warner Center in 2006, taking on a 140-plus-seat upscale steakhouse concept on the fourth floor of a giant luxurious mall. It’s a massive operation that has the chef working long days and many nights (you can read our in-depth interview with him about it here). It’s the kind of pace that drives a man to seek a vacation, which is exactly what the chef did recently. And, hey, it was in Paris. The food is pretty good there, non?
What was the main purpose of your trip, and how did you plan the trip?
This was pure pleasure (albeit mixed with work à la busman’s holiday). The pleasure of Paris, the food and wine and the sights — of course it’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it — and it’s not "work" if you love what you’re doing. The planning of a week in Paris revolved around exploring the City of Light’s modern bistro scene, which holds great interest for me. The surprise here is that a great steakhouse — like Porter House for instance — has more in common with Parisian brasseries and bistro than one would imagine. The fun, informal atmosphere, simplicity of superior ingredients, precision cooking and straightforward presentation, the warm welcome both unstuffy and full of bonhomie.
What was the highlight?
The restaurant, Spring. Daniel Rose’s excellent market-driven cooking, beautifully set in a comfortable townhouse, with outstanding service and superb wine program. All of this left me completely refreshed and excited about the Paris dining scene; not because this American chef has taken it by storm, but his remaking of the Paris restaurant has helped others find their creative center, with French cooking at the soul and perfect ingredients made better by this new burst of creative passions.
The flight home, or more correctly that this great trip was over.
What airline did you fly and how was it?
Great flight on Delta, whose new Delta Club experience made outbound and inbound all the more relaxing.
Where'd you stay, and what's your mini-review of the place?
I am a great romantic and prefer the atmospheric to the deep luxury — not that my hotel wasn’t luxurious, but its history and back story are the first draw. I prefer to stay with the Hotel d’Angleterre on the Left in the 6th arrondissement. This hotel is warm, gracious and unpretentious, with a great breakfast daily. Set in a beautiful historic townhouse and notable as the hotel that hosted Ernest Hemingway’s first retreat to Paris.
What was your best meal on the trip?
Again, I think this goes to Spring, although it is tough to compare when all the restaurants were selected for their uniqueness and special characteristics: [Alain] Ducasse’s Rech, Rose’s Spring, the historic Le Dôme, all had some edge in a tight race — with Le Comptoir du Relais and Chez L’Ami Jean mixed in. C’est la vie.
Did you meet with any chefs?
Daniel Rose was kind enough to spend time chatting with my wife and me, taking special note of Diane’s menu choices, his wine team pairing our meal brilliantly with unusual selections from the regions of France. Also a little shopping spree at Dehillerin for some copper cookware. I am such a traditionalist!
How did the trip inspire what you are cooking today?
My long lived joy with the cooking of fall was doubly inspired by this trip and my first taste of pigeon, wild mushrooms and foie gras.
Natural wines are huge in Europe, but particularly France. Did you drink anything worth mentioning?
Some great Burgundy, Domaine Jérôme Galeyrand Chambolle-Musigny. Outstanding Chablis, Languedoc and wines from the Jura, particularly Domaine Labet 'Nature' Poulsard Vin rouge.