Le Relais de Venise’s Secret Sauce

 Little did we know that when we dined at the corner restaurant near our hotel in Paris that we were eating at a place where for years there’s been a fight over the secret sauce that’s served with their steaks.

        Maybe it’s a French thing.

        For some background, my husband and I were on our honeymoon and had booked a Viking River Cruise on the Seine and then added some before and after stays in Amsterdam where it is more easy to get run over by a bicyclist then a car and Paris where we stayed at a little hotel near the metro in the 17th arrondissement so we could visit other parts of the city without spending a fortune on cabs. Though we didn’t plan it this way, Hotel 10 Le Bis, our hotel was near numerous little cafes and a little grocery store where we could easily—and cheaply eat or buy food for quick meals and snacks.

        One intriguing café was Le Relais de Venise where every night we would see long lines of people waiting to eat either in their dining room or on their outdoor patio. Though the interior of the restaurant looked so French bistro with its polished dark wood, tiny tables with crisp white table cloths, and servers dressed in black uniforms, the outdoor section was right on a busy corner filled with traffic and pedestrians, noise, and the rumbled of trucks and sounds of horns honking.

        What could be so great about lining up to eat there, we wondered. But one evening, after climbing up from the metro station and seeing there was no line, we decided to give it a try. The only tables available were outdoors and so we sat at a very small table next to another small table where a single woman sat, smoking a cigarette. That turned out to be a very lucky thing.

        When our server arrived I asked to see a menu and she (we would find out later her name was Gertrude) abruptly told us she was the menu. Well, what could we order? Steak frites, she replied—either “bloody or well done.”

        We told her “bloody”, and she gave us an approving look. But we were a little baffled. Was there really only one dish on the menu?  It turns out that at this restaurant which opened in 1959, there was only one entrée and steak with French fries was it. When our waitress returned with a salad topped with walnuts (no one inquired whether we had a nut allergy—which fortunately we don’t) and a crusty French baguette, I saw there wasn’t butter on our table and asked for some. Oops, one would think I had tried to order a Big Mac.

        “No butter,” Gertrude told us.

        “There’s no butter?” I asked.

        “No butter,” she replied.

        “How about olive oil?”

        “No olive oil,” she told us.

        Now, I knew that in a French restaurant there had to be both in the kitchen, but I guess neither butter nor olive oil was allowed to be carried into the dining area, so we ate the bread—which was very good—without either.

        This is when the woman at the table next to us decided to intervene. She lived in Paris she told us but had spent years in the United States working as a publicist for musicians in New York. Le Relais de Venise was unique, she continued, because they only served one dish—steak with French fries served with Le Venice’s Sauce de Entrecote.  I guess that makes decided what to order for dinner super easy.

        Since the creation of the sauce, its exact ingredients have been kept secret and that probably worked until the invention of the internet.  After some type of family squabble and a going of separate ways, the sauce itself became a battleground so complex and full of intrigue that the Wall Street Journal did a lengthy article about it all six years ago.   I guess when you serve only one dish and the sauce is a necessary part of it, feelings about who owns the recipe loom large.

        Anyway, after we ate our salad (no choice of dressing as it already was dressed with a vinaigrette which was very good), our steak with fries arrived—with the sauce spooned over the meat. It was delicious.

        What’s in it? I asked the woman next to us.

        “It’s a secret,” she said. “But I’ve been eating here for decades so I know it. But it’s really better to come here.”

        She promised to give me the recipe, but I think she changed her mind because she never sent it. She may have been afraid that Gertrude would get mad at her or maybe the restaurant owners wouldn’t allow her back in. Neither would surprise me.

        I noticed, as we were eating, that the servers were moving through the crowded café with platters of meat and piles of French fries. And almost as soon as I had cleared my plate, Gertrude showed up again, heaped—without asking but that was okay—more French fries and slices of the sliced steak and sauce on my plate. At no charge.

        “They’ll do that until you say you don’t want anymore,” the woman told us.

        “Is there a charge?”

        “No, it’s all part of the meal.”

        Which was a deal as the tab wasn’t very high even with the addition of a glass of the house wine which is made at the family owned vineyard Chateau de Saurs in Lisle-sur-Tarn, 30 miles northeast of Toulouse. Indeed, the restaurant was opened by Paul Gineste de Saurs as a way to help market the wines but now there are at least three—the one in Paris and then another in New York and London. As for the sauce there are several stories. A rival restaurant said to serve a similar sauce says that it is not new but instead was one of the classic sauces said to be the backbone of French cuisine.

        Another has it that the restaurant where we ate was modeled after Cafe de Paris bistro in Geneva which has served this dish since the 1940s. The sauce, according “The History and the Development of the L’Entrecote Secret Sauce,”  a Facebook page devoted to the subject, was developed by the owner’s father-in-law.

        I told you it was complicated.

        Of course, as soon as we got back to our room, I Googled the restaurant and the sauce. It took some digging, but I found recipes for both the secret sauce and the salad. Or so I think. I’m planning on trying them soon along with a French baguette or two from Bit of Swiss Bakery which I will be serving with butter.

Le Relais de Venise-Style Salad Dijon Vinaigrette

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Kosher salt to taste (nutritional info based on 1/4 tsp)
Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (or walnut oil)

Whisk or shake in a mason jar until mixture is homogenous.

Serve on a bed of mixed salad leaves topped with some chopped walnuts and shaved Parmesan.

Serving Size: 4

Le Relais de Venise’s Steak Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 large shallots
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons mustard
  • 1 bunch tarragon
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Peel and slice the shallots.

Peel and roughly chop the garlic.

Add the olive oil to a small pot over medium heat.

Add the garlic and shallots and cook until soft and slightly colored.

Add the chicken stock. Simmer for three minutes.

Pull the tarragon leaves off of the stems and put them in a blender.

Add the remaining ingredients to the blender.

Carefully pour the chicken stock mixture into the blender.

Puree until completely smooth.

Pour back into the pan and bring to a boil. Cook for one minute. If the sauce is too thin simmer for a few more minutes.

Pour over slices of rare or as Gertrude calls it “bloody” or however you like your steak. Serve with potatoes or French fries.

Learn Bread Baking with Parisian Baker Apollonia Poilâne

Courtesy of MasterClass

The Poilâne Bakery, founded in 1932 and famed for their wonderful breads, continues to be located  at their flagship store at 8 rue du Cherche Midi in the 6th arrondissement of Paris.  But now you don’t have to travel to France (though who wouldn’t want to?) to buy a loaf or even find one of the bakeries in the U.S. that sell Poulaine breads.  Instead you can learn to make your own through MasterClass, the streaming platform where offering learning experiences from the world’s best across a wide range of subjects, is featuring Apollonia Poilâne who will be teaching a class in bread baking as well as sharing family anecdotes and expert techniques.

In staying true to its founding principles—making high quality bread for all—and in creatively joining the arts of living well and eating well, Poilâne has flourished, offering its savoir-faire across France and all over the world.

Courtesy of MasterClass

“In this flash-in-the-pan world, Apollonia represents the things that endure—a company passed down through three generations and a commitment to honoring the timeless tradition of bread baking,” said David Rogier, founder, and CEO of MasterClass. “In her MasterClass, she will intimately share her passion and help members understand how to best utilize their senses while baking.”

Courtesy of MasterClass

              In her MasterClass, Poilâne will teach an approach to bread baking that is sensory, fluid, and adaptable, sharing her passion for honoring the philosophies and techniques that her family has perfected over the last eight decades. Through rich stories of Poilâne’s personal history alongside expert tips, MasterClass members will learn her family’s method for making five kinds of bread, including brioche, rye, and her novel sourdough starter.

Courtesy of MasterClass

Incorporating her warm energy and profound determination into her lessons, Poilâne shows how a loaf of bread, and the practical ways to use it, change over time. She’ll share her rare insight on the evolution of bread, paired with a number of creative and practical recipes involving bread at all stages, which she calls breadcooking. From a true-to-form take on pesto to an innovative riff on granola, her view on using bread as an ingredient should inspire members to never leave a crumb behind. Regardless of prior baking experience, members will leave Poilâne’s class feeling inspired to try their hand at her recipes and feel a deeper appreciation for the timeless traditions of baking bread.

Photo courtesy of Amazon.

              “Baking at home, putting your hands in flour, getting a feel for the dough and seeing your bread rise is a one-of-a-kind experience, one that you must do in your lifetime,” said Poilâne, whose book Poilâne: The Secrets of the World-Famous Bread Bakery (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) was released last year. “In my MasterClass, the most important lesson I will teach you is how to attune your five senses to what it is that makes the perfect loaf.”

Courtesy of wikimedia commons.

            Beginning life cradled in a crib made from a breadbasket, Poilâne was poised to take over Poilâne, her famed family bakery in Paris, founded by her grandfather in 1932. Following the accidental death of her parents in 2002, she assumed the title of CEO at the tender age of 18 and ran the international bakery and business for four years from her Harvard University dorm room. 

Courtesy of MasterClass

Poilâne’s class is now available exclusively on MasterClass.

ABOUT MASTERCLASS:

Launched in 2015, MasterClass is the streaming platform where anyone can learn from the world’s best. With an annual membership, subscribers get unlimited access to 100+ instructors and classes across a wide range of subjects, including Arts & Entertainment, Business, Design & Style, Sports & Gaming, Writing and more. Step into Anna Wintour’s office, Ron Finley’s garden and Neil Gaiman’s writing retreat. Get inspired by RuPaul, perfect your pitch with Shonda Rhimes, and discover your inner negotiator with Chris Voss. Each class features about 20 video lessons, at an average of 10 minutes per lesson. You can learn on your own terms—in bite-size pieces or in a single binge. Cinematic visuals and close-up, hands-on demonstrations make you feel like you’re one-on-one with the instructors, while the downloadable instructor guides help reinforce your learning. Stream thousands of lessons anywhere, anytime, on mobile, tablet, desktop, Apple TV®, Android™ TV, Amazon Fire TV® and Roku® players and devices.

Follow MasterClass:

Twitter @masterclass

Instagram @masterclass

Facebook @masterclassofficial

Follow Poilâne Bakery:

Twitter Poilâne (officiel)

Instagram @poilane 

Facebook POILÂNE (page officielle)

Paris in Stride: An Insider’s Walking Guide

17. Clown bar
All illustrations © Jessie Kanelos Weiner

Imagine strolling through Paris with a friend, one who knows the greatest little patisseries, cafes, outdoor markets and shops tucked along winding cobbled streets. Together the two of us try on amazingly chic designer dresses at La boutique Didier Ludot and amble through the courtyard gardens and gaze at the Swedish art work at Institut Suedois located in the Hôtel de Marle, a 16th century mansion in the heart of the central Marais district.

We order small plates of fantastic food amidst 19th century murals of clowns at the appropriately named Clown Bar, considered one of the city’s finest restaurants. After stopping to admire the Eiffel Tower, we trek even more before stopping to reward ourselves with ice cream at Berthillon Glacier. We are, definitely, Parisian insiders.            ParisInStride_p67

Wait—don’t have a friend in Paris? Don’t even have tickets or plans to go sometime soon? Well, Rick of Casablanca told Else they’d always have Paris and for the rest of us, before we get there, we’ll have the recently released Paris in Stride: An Insider’s Walking Guide (Rizzoli 2018; $27.50), co-authored by Jessie Kanelos Weiner, a Chicago gal who grew up on the Northside and Sarah Moroz both of whom have lived in Paris for the last decade. Charmingly illustrated with over 150 of Weiner’s delicate watercolors, the book curates walking itineraries the authors put together to go beyond the typical guidebooks.

ParisinStride_p134-135           “We wanted to put together walking tours of a timeless Paris, the type of Paris that will always be the same,” says Weiner. “We wanted something that wasn’t too text heavy, a book that was a jumping off point to see what you want to see, one that wasn’t prescriptive but takes you down the side streets.”

Paris is Weiner’s passion and wandering its streets is what she loves to do.

“It’s a city based on pleasure,” she says, “and one with many beguiling things along the way.”

Illustration credits ©Jessie Kanelos Weiner.
1. Beaux Arts_Saint Germain walk_Paris on Foot
.