Your Queens correspondent lived for a spell in Paris, and during her last two weeks there, she discovered an amazing restaurant chain called Flam's. Specializing in Flammenküche, a pizzalike Alsatian specialty, Flam's had a rather un-Parisian policy: It was all you-can-eat. Though other all-you-can-eat restaurants do exist in Paris, the only people I ever saw going into them were shady busloads of confused tourists, and they were darkly lit buffets, not unlike New York City's weird Midtown delis full of steamer tables.
The classic Flammenküche, also known as tarte flambée, has a thin crust topped with fromage blanc, lardons, and onions. Like any good chain, Flam's offers a bunch of salty and sweet variations as well. At Flam's you can order Flammenküche individually or you can pay a set price and have as many savory and sweet pies as you want. It was awesome.
Anyway. I was unable to remember the name of this amazing food after I ate it ("flukeykook" was as close as I came to recalling it) and sadly moped around New York upon my return, occasionally muttering about this amazing pizzalike food. After I posted about this mystery food on the Martha Stewart cooking bulletin boards, a representative from the French Culinary Institute kindly posted André Soltner's very own recipe with helpful hints for tarte flambée. (Click through the jump for recipes, including the Lutèce variation.) But still. I'm lazy, and though I was grateful for Mr. Soltner's recipe, I wanted a Flam's of my own in New York!
I never did find a Flam's (and sadly, Lutèce closed its doors before I had a chance to celebrate there à la Chloe Sevigny in The Last Days of Disco), but I did find 718.
Located in the awesome borough of Queens, 718 offers a number of different types of tartes flambée. [The one pictured above is a tuna tarte flambée. The photos I took of the classic tarte flambée were too dark, so I used Mr. Dickinson's photo. You get the general idea. Girl Slice did not try this kind; she prefers the classic version. The Mgmt.] Though it does not have the all-you-can-eat menu of Flam's (boo), the classic tarte flambée is quite good. It's a tad heavy on the lardons for my taste, but overall, mighty delicious. Their tarte is pretty big, so you might want to consider sharing it as well as another appetizer.
Unfortunately, they don't offer any of the sweet variations that Flam's does, but it's still worth a visit. 718 is owned by a native Alsatian, Raphaël Sutter, so he would probably be horrified to hear his restaurant compared to Flam's. Like if we compared a real pizzeria to Domino's. But hey, what are you gonna do?
718 also has fancier aspirations than a lot of the neighborhood's surrounding restaurants, with mood lighting, nicely upholstered banquettes, and dramatically sculpted plates. That doesn't mean the restaurant has not succumbed to a wacky Astorian tradition thoughbelly-dancing during dinner.
André Soltner's Tarte Flambée
Though I've never made tarte flambée, I know that fromage blanc can be hard to find in New York. Murray's Cheese claims to carry it. I haven't tried that, but the fromage blanc I've had from Ronnybrook was pretty crappy. Mr. Soltner suggests substituting cottage cheese instead, but I bet that Total, the extremely fatty Greek yogurt, would work as well. You'll also need butcher bacon, not the store-bought strips, to get proper-size cubes. Mr. Soltner seems to make strips, not cubes, in his recipe, but butcher bacon is still necessary either way.
Mr Soltner: "The name of this dish, either in French or in Alsatian, refers to a flameeven though there is no flame. But originally, these tarts were baked in a village baker's oven, and during the baking, the flames of the fire licked into the oven over the tarts. This is a very traditional Alsatian dish, still popular today, in fact more popular now than it was 30 years ago. In the southern part of Alsace, where I come from, this dish was once rarebut now it is served all over Alsace. Many Alsatians go to small restaurants for their light evening meal, and this is what they often havewith Alsatian wine. Tarte flambée is like a pizza, but made with bacon, onion, cream, and fromage blanc. You usually cannot get fromage blanc in America, so I frequently use cottage cheese, and it works very well ... when I go home to Alsace, we make a feast of eating Flammenküche.
7 ounces Pâte à Pain Ordinaire (recipe follows)
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 cup fromage blanc (you may also use cottage cheese)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Pepper, freshly ground
1/2 cup crème fraîche
1/4 pound smoked bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4 inch strips
1 small onion (about 4 ounces), sliced very thin
1. Divide the pâte à pain ordinaire into 4 equal parts, and roll the parts out into 4 rounds, each 8 inches in diameter. The circles will be quite thin.
2. Oil the pastry sheet, using very little of the oil. Put the pastries on the baking sheet. Pinch up a very small edge on each pastry circle. Refrigerate.
3. Put the fromage blanc (or cottage cheese) in a food processor and process until smoothabout 30 seconds. Add the flour, salt and pepper to taste, 1 tablespoon of the oil, and the crème fraîche. Process again until smoothabout 30 seconds more.
4. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Meanwhile, in a skillet, sauté the bacon and onion in the remaining oil until the onion is barely tender.
5. Take the pastries from the refrigerator, and spread the cheese mixture over them, leaving a 1/4 inch uncovered path between the mixture and the edges of the pastries. Sprinkle the bacon and onions on top.
6. Put the baking sheet, with the pastries, in the preheated oven, and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and the topping is also a little brown. Serve immediately.
Note: This recipe is for the traditional Alsatian way of preparing the tarte flambée. But at Lutèce, in place of the pâte à pain ordinaire, we often used feuilletage rapide (quick puff pastry). Both methods are goodthe puff pastry is a lighter dough.
Pâte à Pain Ordinaire
1.3 ounce of fresh baker's yeast or 2/3 envelop active dry yeast.
1 1/4 cups water, lukewarm
1 teaspoon sugar
1 pound all-purpose flour, sifted, plus flour for your hands
1 teaspoon salt
1. In a bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water, then add the sugar. Mound the flour on a work surface, and form a well in it. Put the salt in the well. Little by little, incorporate the dissolved yeast and sugar into the flour, kneading with your fingers at first, and at the end with your hands, until you have a smooth pasteabout 5 to 8 minutes of kneading.
2. Form the dough into a ball. Put it in a bowl, cover the bowl with a damp cloth, and let the dough rise in a warm place, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
3. Flour your hands, and knead the dough again to deflate it, 1 to 2 minutes. Form the dough into a ball again. With a knife, cut 2 incisions about 1/2 inch deep in the form of a cross into the top of the ball.
4. Put the dough in a bowl again; cover it with a damp towel, and let the dough rise in a warm place for about 2 hours.
Note: The dough may be used right away, but it is better to refrigerate it for a while before using.
718 review [4/2/2009; Serious Eats New York]