Monday, October 12, 2009

Gambling on Flammenkuche in Cusco

Colmar (Alsace)

I fell in love with flammenkuche, or tarte flambee, in Alsace. It's deadly stuff, a down-payment on a heart attack, as is most Alsatian food. Flammenkuche is one of the great members of the extended pizza family. In its simplest form, onions, bacon and creme fraiche or fromage blanc sit atop a thin pizza crust. Adding gruyere makes it gratin. Adding mushrooms makes it forestiere. I couldn't get enough of it when I stayed in Strasbourg and visited Colmar. Flammenkuche was one of the reasons I returned to Strasbourg (though it has many other charms, culinary and otherwise), on another trip to France.

I'll bet are plenty of places in Paris to get a tarte flambee (for Paris I'll use the French name, rather than the Alsatian one), but I've never tried one there. The two I've had in New York (Cafe d'Alsace and the Bar Room at The Modern) were totally disappointing. The only town outside of Alsace where I've had a great one was Montreux, Switzerland, when I was there for the jazz festival in the late nineties. I asked the waitress if she were Alsatian. "No," she replied, "I'm Swiss, but the owner is from Alsace, so you get the best of both worlds!"

Flammenkuche, Cusco-Style

It was a longshot, but when I saw that there was a French-Mediterranean cafe in Cusco that served flammenkuche, I just had to try it. So for one meal I took a break from my exploration of Peruvian cuisine. The place was just off Plaza San Blas, and all the other diners were French. The chef-owner is a young guy from Saint-Etienne, near Lyon. I neglected, unfortunately, to note the name of the place, but its menu included familiar cafe items like salads, croque monsieur, and couscous.

If it had turned out to be a great flammenkuche I'd have had something to write about. A great flammenkuche in Cusco--who'd have imagined? But it wasn't a great flammenkuche, or even a good one. There was no creme fraiche or cheese, just bacon and onions, and the crust was nothing like a pizza or a flatbread, but more like a crispy tortilla. It was sort of a flammenkuche tostada.

Still, I did have something to write about after all.


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