There's an art to doing simple things well. Last night we went to Les Halles (see previous post) and, reasoning that a much-respected brasserie should be able to do justice to brasserie classics, ordered some. I had the steak frites (pictured) and creme brulee. See these on the menu of many UK restaurants and I'm not sure what is more off-putting: their familiarity as dishes, or the familiarity of the pitfalls in their execution. At Les Halles they were pretty much faultless.
The meal put me in mind of something William Grimes, former restaurant critic of the New York Times, said recently. He's just published a book, Appetite City, documenting the history of NYC's dining scene, and we heard him talk about it at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. Grimes would be the first to admit you can't fully explore the subject in just one volume: New York's food culture, from the first immigrant markets to today's highly evolved triumphs, is a genre in itself.
That doesn't mean he can't follow a clear thread of his own, of course, and Grimes's is straightforward: New York is the restaurant capital of the world because, weighing up quantity and quality, it offers the finest examples of global cuisine found anywhere outside their country of origin. Typically this means simple things, done well - which is, after all, what most of us are hoping to achieve every time we get out the pans. We have some high-end reservations of our own lined up this weekend, but so far the basics have been hard to beat.