Restaurants open, close and change so frequently that even the most conscientiously researched restaurant guides are usually a bit dated when first published; and it’s all downhill from there. Relying on a guide that’s a year or two old can be, at best, problematic.

So why do I enjoy browsing in a Paris dining guide that was published in 1969? Certainly not because I’m planning a trip to Paris and am searching for restaurant recommendations. Not even to marvel at the prices of the period, though that aspect is certainly startling: an “expensive” meal, for example, cost $8 to $10.

The book has enduring value because of its author, Waverly Root, an American news correspondent who lived in Paris for more than 50 years, and in the process became a noted food authority. His books include The Food of France and The Food of Italy – both considered classics of gastronomy.

I enjoy reading Root’s Paris Dining Guide for several reasons, not least of which is the quality of the writing. The book is seeded with trenchant observations. A few examples will capture the flavor of his writing: “Anyway, people don’t go to Maxim’s to eat. They go to see or be seen. They have an insatiable appetite for looking at each other.” Or, again, “Let’s face it: the food here is pretty bad. But then it always was, and the point of citing the Dome is that visitors who want to recapture the atmosphere of Hemingway’s Paris can do so here.”

The book is a treasure for armchair time travelers because Root includes establishments “which you may enjoy visiting because in them you will get under the skin of this fascinating city.” Such as, “the eating places of a bowling alley, or a racecourse, of the zoo, of the lawyers in the Palace of Justice, of stockbrokers, or of diamond merchants who roll their precious baubles casually across the table like marbles. In these places, you can be an anthropologist rather than a gourmet.”

For the practical minded, the guide is well larded with useful information, including, “His apple tart has a particularly light crust because he adds a little oil to it, a forgotten secret of two generations ago,” or the passing observation that St. Hubert is the patron saint of hunting – which should make him a candidate for Louisiana’s state saint, if there were such a thing.

In his restaurant critiques, Root also mentions food pairings that contemporary cooks may find enlightening. One of those, the serving of raw oysters with an accompaniment of small hot sausages, sounds like such an inspired combination of tastes and textures that it makes you want to run out and gather the ingredients for a feast.

This felicitous marriage of the land and the sea provided the idea for the main course of a winter menu: venison with oysters and sausage. The oysters, while not raw, are barely cooked in red wine, oyster liquor and Asian oyster sauce sharpened with shallots. The dish offers a richly varied combination of tastes and textures.

The venison – which, if not available, may be substituted with beef or pork tenderloin – is accompanied by red cabbage braised with red wine and prunes and baked sweet potato rounds spiced with ginger. The salad is one of my favorites: arugula dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and brightened with shaved Parmesan. Arugula, by the way, is not something foreign to Louisiana. Century-old New Orleans cookbooks document that it was much in favor at the time.

For dessert, I’ve reached back into my own past for a cake recipe that appeared in Elizabeth David’s A Book of Mediterranean Food, published in 1950. I came upon the cake about 30 years ago and was so enamored that I baked it frequently. I made the cake recently for the first time in decades, and it’s every bit as good as I remember – very light, made with eggs, sugar, oranges, bread crumbs and ground nuts. Her recipe calls for almonds; I’ve substituted Louisiana pecans.

Venison with Italian Sausage and Oysters
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pound Italian sausage
4 slices venison loin (or beef or pork loin)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1/2 cup red wine
2 tablespoons Asian oyster sauce
12 oysters with their liquor

Heat olive oil in a heavy skillet and cook sausage on medium heat, turning frequently, until nicely browned. Cut sausage into slices and continue cooking until browned well. Remove sausage, drain on paper towels and keep warm. Pour off fat from pan, season venison with salt and pepper and cook quickly until desired degree of doneness. Remove venison and keep warm. Add shallots and deglaze pan with red wine, scraping up any brown bits adhering to pan. Add oyster sauce and oysters with their liquor and cook briefly until edges begin to curl. Arrange venison and sausages on warm plates and top with oysters. Cook down liquid in pan until thick and syrupy and spoon over oysters. Serves 4.

Braised Red Cabbage with Red Wine and Prunes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium red onion, peeled and chopped
1 cup water
1 medium head red cabbage, cored and chopped
1 cup red wine
16 pitted prunes
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium pot cook onion in olive oil until softened, about 5 minutes. Add water and cabbage, bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer. Meanwhile, in a small pot bring wine and prunes to a boil, cover, turn off heat and let sit until prunes plump – about 5 minutes. Strain wine into pot with cabbage. Reserve prunes. Simmer cabbage until tender, about 1 hour, adding additional water if necessary. Add prunes and balsamic vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serves 4 or more.

Gingered Sweet Potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 large sweet potatoes
kosher salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet. In a large bowl, combine olive oil and gingers. Peel and slice sweet potatoes about 1/2-inch thick. Add potatoes to bowl and toss to coat well. Place potatoes on baking sheet, sprinkle with kosher salt and roast for 10 minutes. Turn potatoes and roast another 5 minutes. Serves 4.

Salad of Arugula and Shaved Parmesan
4 cups loosely packed arugula
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Parmigiano Reggiano

Combine arugula, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste in salad bowl and toss well to coat. Arrange salad on serving plates. Using a vegetable peeler, shave thin slices of Parmigiano over the tops. Serves 4.

Orange and Pecan Cake
Adapted from Elizabeth David, A Book of Mediterranean Food

4 eggs, separated
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup ground pecans
1/2 cup fine bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 tablespoon orange flower water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10-inch pyrex baking dish and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Beat egg yolks with sugar until light. Add all additional ingredients – except egg whites – and mix to combine well. Whip egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold beaten whites into batter and turn out into prepared dish. Bake until nicely browned and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean – about 25 minutes. Cool, then turn cake out and serve with orange flower cream (recipe follows). Serves 6-8.

Orange Flower Cream

1/2 pint whipping cream
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon orange flower water

Whip cream with sugar until it begins to thicken. Add orange flower water and continue beating until soft peaks form. Makes 2 cups.

Categories: Travel