Named for things that please me (“me gusta” in Spanish) and rhymes with balabusta (Yiddish for “good homemaker”).

Archive for the month “February, 2014”

Desperately Seeking Bouillabaisse



It was like a Seinfeld episode before the sitcom existed (or GPS or cell phones for that matter).

The scene was Marseille, France, and the Americans were desperately trying to get to what had appeared to be a well situated hotel, a block or so from the train station. The route spiraled out of control, driving around and around, getting farther away from the destination with each nearly concentric circle. It was the essence of you-cannot-get-there-from-here.

The big reason for being there in the first place was the famed fish soup known as Bouillabaisse, and one restaurant in particular was known to be just a little bit better at it than its many competitors in this city renowned for the dish.

When we finally broke the one-way street code and got to a phone, we were greeted with the bad news that the restaurant was fully booked.

“So sorry, Madame.”

At that point, my MEGusta went into culinary overdrive and begged the guy for a table for two, telling him that we had come all the way from America for his bouillabaisse, please, please, please.

“You must be here in ten minutes.”


Croutons and Aioli

Croutons and Aioli

We were, and it was worth it, fishy perfection in a bowl, with all the accompaniments as pristine as the poached rockfish and shellfish floating in the broth the color of a perfect sunset. The rouille, a spicy sauce accent (also the French word for “rust”), was pungent but not overpowering. The aioli, freshly made mayonnaise with just enough raw garlic to be interesting, was the perfect enrichment, and, spread on perfectly toasted croutons, a reward in itself.

It’s not a real Bouillabaisse without all the little accoutrements, but this dish has lots of equally delicious relatives.



One variation is called bourride, very much like a bouillabaisse but thickened with egg yolk and pureed garlic, traditionally a pinch of saffron. Served with lovely poached fish of any/all kinds, it does not necessarily have the traditional accompaniments, but a little bowl of aioli on the side cannot hurt.

Another one is plain old fish soup (soupe de poissons).  This can be just about anything but most traditionally is a strained broth made from fish too small to be worth salvaging the flesh, including flavorful crustaceans like thumb sized crabs. You’ll find bins of such odds and ends labeled Soupe de Poissons at markets in the South of France, and this make a great base for soup.

Historically, fishermen of little means lived from the sea, selling their larger catch and making a nutritious potage from what we might call “trash fish”, perfectly edible and delicious, just really bony or otherwise inconvenient for the usual purposes. And the cook can add garnishes such as pasta or other goodies that are on hand in the pantry, or even chunks of meatier fish or shellfish.

Shrimp Shells

Shrimp Shells

Smart cooks save odds and ends like shrimp and lobster shells in the freezer until reaching critical mass, enough to make a pot of shellfish stock, and this becomes the base for many a happy soup dinner chez myMEGusta!

Least Favorite Food = Most Favorite Dessert?

The scene: Many years ago in a lovely restaurant in Paris. MyMEGusta was the luncheon  guest of some long forgotten person, and the other person was doing the ordering.

The horror: The dessert coming out was Oeufs a la Neige, a mysterious egg dish.

Many of myMEGusta’s readers know that her least favorite food is the chicken egg (being very clear that sturgeon and salmon eggs are an entirely different discussion). Don’t ask why, but it’s a loathe, not even a dislike.

Floating Island at Le Perigord

Floating Island at Le Perigord

And eggs were on the way, no escaping it.

But what arrived was phenomenal.

Floating Island aboard l'Austral

Floating Island aboard L’Austral

The eggs had been transmogrified into a puffy cloud of meringue perched atop a vanilla scented custard sauce known as “Crème Anglaise”, drizzled with some caramel.

The dish is known as “snow eggs” because the white meringue resembles a fluffy ball of snow. It’s also called Ile Flottante, or Floating Island.

You’ll find it today at traditional French restaurants such as Le Perigord Restaurant in New York City ( or check their Facebook page to see the Floating Island listed as a dessert on their special menu offered at this writing  through March 17, 2014),  and the best cruise ships, such as Compagnie Ponant’s L’Austral and the Seabourn Spirit.

Who could have imagined that this preparation could transform a least favorite food into a most favorite dessert?

If you were reading the New York Times on February 19, 1986, 28 years ago today, you would have stumbled upon the recipe for this time consuming but relatively easy miracle:

It’s all in a name….

MyMEGusta is fascinated by the proliferation of menu misnomers, truth in labeling issues and plain laziness when it comes to menus.

Uni Martini

Uni Martini

Everything seems to be a martini these days. Put a scoopful of chopped yellow fin in the right glass, and you have a tuna martini. OK, it’s a fad, and everyone understands that it is cool to eat and drink things out of pretty martini glasses. No one expects that it’s a vodka/vermouth beverage garnished with a hunk of raw fish instead of an olive (although that’s not such a bad concept). This delicious “uni martini” was impeccably fresh sea urchin, lightly seasoned, no vodka in sight, and wonderful.



Cassoulet is a different story.  Cassoulet is an old fashioned dish of beans, duck, and pork. Sauced  lobster in a little casserole dish that looks like a cassoulet pot is not “lobster cassoulet”, any more than it would be “lobster wine” if served in a balloon glass. A good friend had a delightful experience recently, loving that his “seafood cassoulet” was much lighter than the cassoulet he remembered from a previous meal, so perhaps this misnomer isn’t always so bad.

Then there’s the whole subject of “truth in menu” or, more aptly put, “Is this a lie or are they just lazy?”

Liar Liar Pants on Fire!

Liar Liar Pants on Fire!

Some violations here are benign but annoying. And some are deliberate misrepresentations.

The manager of a local restaurant didn’t allow tea (as in “tea, the beverage made from tea leaves”) to be served in his now defunct Italian establishment, only offering herbal infusions on the “tea” menu. MyMEGusta is certain that he did not recognize the absurdity in this.

In a time when menus are printed every day, and when servers are making a litany of the provenance of every molecule in the specials, why not call the delicious baby spinach salad what it is instead of arugula? We don’t care if the arugula is out of stock or out of season, just don’t substitute something else assuming the customers don’t know the difference.

Or, when a fancy restaurant lists “duck confit salad” and what comes out is shredded duck (obviously leftover from last night) tasty enough but without a trace of confit seasonings.  Call it “shredded duck” already.

California Roll

California Roll

Then there’s surimi, a pureed fish (or meat) product most commonly shaped and colored to look like crabmeat. It’s a perfectly edible food, if you don’t mind all the processing and additives. The problem comes when it is sold as pricier crab, usually in lower end sushi restaurants. Guess what’s probably in this California roll?

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