Few things are as gratifying to a restaurant-loving vegetarian as seeing a whole table of food obsessives unable to talk about any dish other than the one you ordered. Sure, the seven-hour lamb was great (I heard), and the braised squid was perfectly tender (I was told), but when I sat with the inimitable Patricia Wells and friends at brasserie Lazare in Paris, it was a salad of haricots verts, artichokes and hazelnuts that stole the show.
Of course, Wells wouldn't take me anywhere she knew couldn't handle such cooking. As a former vegetarian herself, she is an avowed plant lover. At Lazare, the textures alone of that salad -- crisp-tender beans, crunchy hazelnuts and almost-starchy artichokes -- made it something we raved about well into our next meal, and even the next day.
Wells is more than a writer, of course, even though I was visiting because she has written a long-awaited new edition of her landmark book, "Food Lover's Guide to Paris." She is also one of the most popular cooking teachers in all of France, with weeklong sessions in the city and in Provence that sell out many months in advance. In other words, she knows her way around a recipe, and she makes a habit of getting them from chefs, so by the time I returned from my trip, instructions for the Lazare salad were waiting in my email inbox.
She adapted it from Lazare's chef, and I took it a little further, adding even more hazelnuts and crushing half of them so they dispersed into every bite. My favorite part of the recipe: The step that calls for you to immediately immerse the just-blanched artichoke slices in the lemon-hazelnut vinaigrette while they're still warm, so they soak it up.
The result: pitch-perfect seasoning, and a reminder of one glorious spring day in the City of Light.