29 October 2010

some burgundy lying around: spring boutique, 75001

Rue de l'Arbre Sec is, for me, the Bermuda Triangle of Paris. If I mention passing thataway to friends they seem to expect by now that I'll miss all appointments later in the evening; my whereabouts will unknown (or not so unknown) for hours. It's just that between Spring Boutique, Spring Buvette, and Le Garde Robe - all within spitting distance of each other - there's usually something going on, people to say hi to, a bevy of random Burgundy open...

And in such a manner one quick aperitif turns into a long research session involving red teeth and hasty tasting notes scrawled on the back of a tax document (not pictured). Josh at the Boutique the other night happened to have a smattering of Domaine Chandon de Briailles's wines sitting around. It's a Savigny-les-Beaune estate known as much for its gorgeous house and gardens as for its adherence to biodynamic principles. But it's important that I mention that these wines have not, at time of writing, been ordered by Spring Boutique, and are not available there. These were samples, which fact lead to a discussion of why crowd-testing sample bottles is actually a great idea - even beyond the general enjoyment it provides to a geek such as myself, passing by on a rainy night. 

28 October 2010

big heart, small plates: la cave de l'insolite, 75011

La Cave de l'Insolite, my friend Michel's offbeat natural wine lair near Oberkampf, has just begun serving a tiny menu.

In proper insolite fashion, this was done with zero fanfare. Michel touched up the paintwork on the place, and threw in a few new tables. When I say 'new' in this context, it is a very relative term; regulars can rest assured that the tables are rustic and antique-seeming, and the place is still spacious, whimsically decorated, and soulful.

I passed through last Friday and lucked into a mini-tasting of the new menu with the gregarious Olivier Chabanis of Domaine des Agates, a 27ha-or-so organic estate in the center of the Rhone Valley that produces wines under the Côteaux du Tricastin AOC*.

Guillaume et Olivier

27 October 2010

who wants to trade for some poached eggs?

For our staff meal after fashion week we had a choice of entrée: smoked salmon or poached eggs. Since the restaurant in question was a low-key destination for authentic French cuisine, I lumped for the eggs, thinking you can get smoked salmon pretty much anywhere, e.g. airports and nightclubs, and anyway it's overfished, etc.

But when I saw the actual oeufs poché I thought I might have made a horrible mistake.

The presentation here strikes a queasy balance between the scatological and the anatomical. In addition to being a rounded nugget of suggestive size, a poached egg also has kind of a scrotal twist on top, the effect of which is greatly heightened when you place two of them side by side, as here. Now imagine half the staff of a fashion company, whoever didn't order the smoked salmon, grinning uncomfortably, all thinking the same thing.

Happily, it was delicious. The sauce was red wine, bacon, and probably the entire day's steak drippings. You just needed a little bread to soak things up.

26 October 2010

jean-luc poinsot (la badiane) tasting: le garde robe, 75001

Z, P, et M. Poinsot
On the night we attended last week's Jean-Luc Poinsot tasting at Le Garde Robe, my New Zealander friend Z informed me she had an "unusual surprise" for me. I assumed the surprise was simply that her excellent, occasionally somewhat reclusive husband P was actually going to join us for once. (P designs for Lanvin and is accordingly perpetually swamped with work.)

Although P did indeed end up joining us, it turns out she had been referring instead to a small green guava-like fruit called a feijoa, which she had been delighted to find at a market here in France, and which she placed in my hand and told me to eat later.

According to Z, everyone in New Zealand has a tree just bursting with feijoa in their back yards. I've yet to eat the thing - it seemed unripe so it's still sitting on my desk - but I really appreciated the gesture, since, as perhaps Z noticed, the guiding philosophy of what I drink and how I eat and this blog as a whole is essentially just a reverence for the native peculiarities of any given region. I'd never even heard of a feijoa.*

Anyway, all this is long preamble to why I dig Jean-Luc Poinsot's wines (thus, why me and Z and P were out that night in the first place). His strong, distinctive range could come from nowhere else on earth but  Provence - the first proof being the winemaker's exclusive use of local varietals, like the strange, scented candle-y Tibouren rosé I covered in a previous post.

25 October 2010

riesling & rice vinegar: alsace-japon dinner

My friends M and H and I were even to the very end unable to decide on a catchy name for the Alsace-Japanese-themed dinner we hosted at my landlady's place the other night. The idea was to serve my friend M's stunning Japanese / Chinese home-cooking with a range of interesting Alsatian bottles, whatever we could turn up on a week's notice. The theory being that these are the type and quality of wines that I wish were available in great Asian restaurants, but which very rarely are.

I suggested we call it the "Axis Powers Dinner," but the idea was rejected on the grounds that Alsace isn't really Germany, Italy wasn't involved in our dinner at all, and then, of course, general tastelessness.

But I'm proud to say that even without a good title, we managed to stay admirably on-theme throughout the night's drinking, with the exception of a tremendous 1997 Georges Vernay Condrieu that my friend J brought, for which we had no choice but to, er, forgive him. Due to recent interruptions in Paris wine deliveries caused by a late Alsace harvest this year, it had actually been surprisingly difficult to find anything particularly special from the region - so after numerous slender just-pleasant base bottlings from Stentz-Buecher, Binner, Kreydenweiss, etc., the persistent, savory-honey, beeswaxy Condrieu hit with all the force of a A-Bomb. (Sorry.)

M's amazing hand-drawn menu sketch after the jump.

23 October 2010

french landlords

... Don't always have you over on Friday afternoons for a bottle Arbois* and home-made foie gras.

I'm just extraordinarily lucky in this regard. My landlady and her husband are, in addition to being hugely generous and very patient about the rent, both legendary gourmands. We throw dinners now and again. They are a large part of the reason I feel so at home here.

*Some 2006 "Tradition" (Chardonnay / Savagnin) by Les Caves de la Reine Jeanne, Stéphane Tissot's négociant side-project. Light for it's type, a bit brief, good afternoon wine. Went nicely with some peppered aged pecorino we had afterwards. 

22 October 2010

surrealist chardonnay: twin peaks & côtes du jura

Watching Twin Peaks twenty years on, I'm still continually struck that anything this surreal and perturbing was ever shown on network television. The only contemporary equivalent that I can think of is Fox News, which for various reasons is not a fair comparison. The surrealism permeating Twin Peaks is not circumstantial, nor is it entirely played for effect; it is instead a kind of setting, a place the characters inhabit. And each time we're tempted to read the general strangeness as commentary on Twin Peaks the town, on small-town nowhere America, some bizarre character from the outside world arrives - e.g. Agent Cooper, Agent Albert, Judge Sternwood - bearing the implication that the surreal is universal.

That being said, if the town of Twin Peaks were in winemaking France, I have a feeling it would be located in the Jura, a region northeast of Burgundy in eastern France, abutting Switzerland, where some of the world's strangest Chardonnays are produced.

21 October 2010

guts & daring: le bal café, 75018

I mentioned it before, in my post on the 19eme's Quedubon: it takes guts and daring to open a great restaurant in an unlikely locale. Contrary to the rosy views of Paris and its dining scene held by those not living here, the City of Light can actually be pretty discouraging of innovation, deviation from the norm, newness in general. (This goes beyond the gastronomic; it is a kind of national attitudinal malaise that is too insidious and pervasive to go into here.) So I'm just dumbstuck with admiration at the courage of my friends Alice and Anselme, who've recently opened Le Bal Café, a St. John-inspired musuem café / restaurant just off the Place de Clichy, an area whose fame derives primarily from the plethora of sex clubs located just to the east. 

I passed by the other night with some friends after a concert, and was happy to see the Le Bal Café still half-full, even late in the evening. I imagine the place will fill up further once word gets out on how screamingly reasonable their prices are. 

20 October 2010

vitello tonnato revulsion

I suspect the chef behind this plate presentation was either insane, or morally opposed to the consumption of veal:

I really dig a good vitello tonnato. It's admittedly not the prettiest dish, often winding up a little grey and flat. But in this case, since the champignons de Paris don't really add much to the flavor, I have to assume they were chosen for their visual effect, which, alongside the fleshy veal and the yellowish tonnato sauce, practically screams "severed ears." It's pretty lurid.

I won't mention the (otherwise great) restaurant it came from. And I can attest it tasted okay when you closed your eyes.

19 October 2010

gamay, young and old

My friends and I shared a bottle of 2005 Jean Foillard Fleurie a few weeks ago at Le Garde Robe. I for one* was TOTALLY CONSUMED with curiosity, wondering how this keen, floral, graceful cru by a terrific vigneron from a famously tight vintage was unfurling, five years in.

Five years is not a long time for classic wines from stock portfolio regions like Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo, Rioja, etc. It's not even very long in terms of 2005 Beaujolais, which was, in general, wound like a tripwire.

On the whole though, I have the impression that Gamay's aging capacity is somewhat underestimated. I do this too, in spite of occasional evidence to the contrary. People tell me stories about tasting Morgon from the 60's, which sounds positively far-out. And I recently tasted a surprisingly spry 1998 Gamay-based Coteaux Giennois (Loire - northeast of Sancerre) called "Biao!" by an organic vigneron called Matthieu Coste, but only after staring at the entry on the wine list at Spring Buvette for 10 skeptical minutes and attempting somewhat pointlessly to interrogate the server as to the wine's continued servability.

18 October 2010

beaune & brains: le baratin, 75020

The funny thing about pairing with cervelle de veau is, at least in my case, I'm not necessarily looking for something that will accentuate or highlight particular flavors of brain. With brain I'm actually seeking a wine that, while not totally effacing what's characterful about the organ, will perhaps sand away or obscure some of the ferrous tang that can accompany the taste of brains. 

16 October 2010

chilling at la bodeguita, 75004

I understand, but vehemently dislike, the habit of automatically serving all white wines in ice buckets. Allowing for certain exceptions - most sparkling wines, vino verde, very hot days, etc. - I'll always insist that if a white wine is worth drinking, it's worth drinking with no more than a light chill.* So you can, you know, taste it.**

But I have to admit I smiled when, at La Bodeguita du IVème the other day with my friends D,C, E, and K, our Cour-Cheverny arrived bobbing in what appeared to be an enormous repurposed kitchen-grade tomato tin.

15 October 2010

"he gave us the wine to taste, not to criticize"

I've always loved Jonathan Richman but I really could not disagree more with this song. What should we do then, Jojo, just guzzle it down*? What if the host was really hoping we'd have some kind of response? Maybe it was something special he or she had been saving. Furthermore, isn't an unexamined drink, like, not worth drinking?

Also, while on the subject of disagreements with Jonathan Richman, I might just go ahead and say that his concert the night before last at La Boule Noire was way too heavy on his noodley 2000's-era work, and also way too brief.

*Like the insufferable housemate in his 1992 song "You Can't Talk To The Dude."

14 October 2010

fall wine preview tasting at spring boutique, 75001

Above are my tasting notes for the Fall Wine Preview my friend Josh hosted last week at Spring Boutique, the retail wing of Daniel Rose's mini-empire in Paris 1èr.

Public retail tastings are ordinarily kind of boring. I don't always take notes. Unless a particularly great vigneron is involved*, you often get just a thin crowd of goggle-eyed wine neophytes eagerly swirling and sniffing a range of easy-sell barbecue wines - whatever the distribution rep needed to unload on the retailer.

Spring Boutique isn't really on the same planet as that kind of wine shop. What's available here is continually rotated through the stunning wine lists at the nearby Spring restaurant and wine bar. In a previous post about the wine bar I mentioned how the glass pours there all seem chosen particularly for dramatic effect; how all of them are eminently memorable examples of their types. Same goes for the selections here. Josh and co. deserve further credit for actively seeking out interesting wines by producers that are not French - Les Crêtes, from Italy's Valle d'Aosta, and R. Lopez de Heredia from Spain, to name just two.

If you really want a blow-by-blow of the Fall Wine Preview, you're welcome to attempt to decipher the notes above. Listing wines and describing them gets a little boring unless you're about to drink those very wines, so I've tried not to structure this blog that way. I'll just mention the highlights:

13 October 2010

not really pairing anything with: bufala mozzarella

The trumpeting self-publishing hubbub of the Anglophone expat community here in Paris sometimes allows us to forget there are also corresponding expat groups from other, more interesting cultures inhabiting the same city. So I'm lucky to know my friend L, an Italian whose copious free time and multinational background allow him to move freely among both Italian and American circles. He travels constantly, and whenever sur la route du retour from Campania he makes sure to back a suitcase full of fresh bufala mozzarella.

Which in Paris provides a nice occasion to throw a party. If you've ever seen the line outside of Cisternino when the burrata arrives on Thursdays, you'll understand what I mean.

Our friends A and P. No prizes for guessing which one is Italian. 
I arrived late the other night, but just in time to snag a few slices of dreamy white mozzarella. Like many afficionados, L insists that fresh bufala mozzarella never be refrigerated, and instead simply left at room temperature in its amniotic sac of whey until eaten. So what you get is lukewarm suitcase cheese. It's terrific, meaty and ripe in a way that the legally imported stuff rarely approaches.

As happens all too frequently, I was asked what we ought to pair with fresh mozzarella. Having spent time as a sommelier at a restaurant themed around mozzarella, I ought to have an easy answer by now. I don't.

12 October 2010

months with an 'r': le baron rouge, 75012

Le Baron Rouge began serving oysters again this past weekend. My friend J and I were extremely amped about this. So much so that we plotted some casual afternoon drinks weeks in advance, and didn't cancel even after it became apparent that J would have to squeeze them in between business meetings.

Some things are worth fitting into your schedule at all costs. There is simply nothing like the atmosphere at Le Baron Rouge when oyster season's in full swing. No matter the time, no matter the weather, no matter the lack of available surface space, there's reliably a crowd of jovial drinkers of all age groups knocking back the tastiest, cheapest oysters the oceans have to offer. People spill out into the street, commandeering the hoods of parked cars and the tops of nearby recycling bins.

A side note: I have certain insane friends here who believe it's okay to eat oysters during the R months when they are, ahem, 'milky.' 'Milky' is a polite euphemism for the frightful gonadal sex-funk you taste when oysters begin to mate during the hot months. Some people dig that I guess. The rest of us just wait till October.

Le Baron Rouge
1, rue Théophil-Roussel
75012 PARIS
Metro: Ledru-Rollin
Tel: 01 43 43 14 32

Related Links:

Muscat Sec at Le Baron Rouge
Aperitifs at Le Baron Rouge

11 October 2010

character reversal: twin peaks & mâcon-chaintré

To my mind, David Lynch's greatest formal innovation with Twin Peaks - his half-parodical adoption of the "low" genre of television soap opera - was less an innovation than a restoration. The key tropes we associate with soap operas, e.g. hidden lives, sudden character reversals, things being generally never as they seem, are as old as literature itself. They're as elemental to Shakespeare's comedies as they are to Proust's A La Recherche du Temps Perdu. What Lynch did was to restore these plot elements, which had fallen to being just that, mere pivots for action, to their proper literary place as descriptors of the human psyche.

And so as we plowed into the strong(er) first half of Season 2, it was only fitting that the Native Companion and I shared a bottle of Domaine Valette's 2007 Vielles Vignes Mâcon-Chaintré, a wine that ended not at all as it began, a wine of two faces, of double lives... A wine I really ought to have researched a little further beforehand, and decanted. (Slaps forehead.) 

09 October 2010

why i started this here blog: a money-making scheme

With certain exceptions - David Lebowitz, Chocolate & Zucchini - this is the level of English-language food-blogging going on here in Paris. And practically nothing focused on wine. This enterprising blogger - who I turned up in research for a post about a wine shop - has found a novel way to monetize her blog. Selling her services as a best friend!

Why didn't I think of this?!

Actually, I'm not really a top-notch, Grade A best friend. I'm way too critical. So the only way I'm ever going to compete with this Best Friend Donna character is by ruthlessly undercutting her prices. I know there is the risk of an Amazon-Walmart-style price war, wherein we'll both compete until we're offering free Tupperware parties and palm massages, but I'm willing to chance it all - to be your Best Friend On A Budget.

08 October 2010

etna rosso where you least expect it: à la ville d'udine, 75011

I'm fortunate enough to live near no less than three Italian traiteurs here. One I avoid, because I find it a bit too slick and they have no cheeses. Another is Cisternino, on rue Saint Maur, which sells brilliant fresh burrata. The third is A La Ville d'Udine, to which boutique I would resort, until recently, only when the line at Cisternino was too long.*

Now this last traiteur has changed ownership. I guessed this without having to ask, when the other day I saw a few new bottles of killer Etna Rosso by Benanti sharing shelf space with the usual humdrum Chianti nonsense you see in all the other Italian specialty stores here.

07 October 2010

half the right ideas (the good half!): balt, 75002

Balt, a relatively new sandwich place in the 2ème arrondisseent, has got half the right ideas. The good half, happily: a real care for the ingredients that go into their made-to-order sandwiches (spiced lomo, Julien baguettes, mayonaisse maison, fresh tomato salsa, etc.), strong customer service, Marcel Lapierre's delightfully bright "Chateau Cambon" Beaujolais by the glass...

06 October 2010

natural enough: la p'tite cave, 75013

Before I start raving about La P'tite Cave, a refreshingly non-ideological cave on boulevard Port-Royal in the 13eme, I ought to admit a pretty big bias in this here blog: I tend to cover a certain type of cave. Mostly the ones that are not overly concerned with securing cases of current vintage Bordeaux for key corporate clients. The ones that have a wider selection of loser Loire grapes than Champagnes. The ones that sell more Beaujolais than Burgundy.

There are two reasons for this. One is that I'm perpetually broke, and so have extra incentive to seek out the more obscure pleasures of the wine world, since they generally have a better price-quality ratio. The other reason is political, and has to do with my beliefs about the necessity of natural wine-making. Caves that emphasize natural winemaking just tend to have proportionately less emphasis on the Grand Names of French Wine.

But why is this?*

05 October 2010

nighthawks at the diner: the newly renovated verre volé, 75010

I have no hipster desire to say anything negative whatsoever about the newly-renovated incarnation of Le Verre Volé. I love the place, outsize popularity and all. My first meal there was the day after I arrived in Paris, and I remember feeling that the whole ethos of the restaurant - unfussy service of great wines, a market menu balanced between novelty and sausages, frank presentation of great things - validated my descision to move to France.

But it has to be said, if only for the sake of critical honesty*: the new wing feels sort of like a diner. The vibe is a little abbreviated. I'm hoping they'll immediately begin to festoon it with all the wine clutter that makes the main dining area so charming.

(Then, a related issue: the new room complicates wine service. This may or may not have been the idea. After all, the more a server can discuss wine selections with you, the more opportunity he or she has to sell you something more ambitious. But if a screamingly busy restaurant like Le Verre Volé has no official wine list, and if the bottles on the walls are mostly empty and bear little or no relation to actual stock, and if furthermore half the guests are seated in a side area where no bottles are visible without resorting to a tedious obtrusive ramble through the crowded front dining room, then I'm sorry but the dream of loquacious upselling has to go out the fenêtre.)

The unadulterated good news is: the kitchen still rocks.

04 October 2010

there goes the neighborhood: (yet another) nicolas, 75011

A litany of reasons why another dull chain wine retail shop is unwelcome in my neighborhood:

1. Le Verre Volé's terrific cave is right down the street.
2. La Cave de l'Insolite - probably my favorite cave in Paris - is just a little further down, on rue de la Folie-Mericourt.
3. Au Nouveau Nez is about a 3 minute walk away on rue Saint Maur. You can sit and have a drink there.
4. There is already another dull chain wine retail place - Le Repaire de Bacchus - literally right across the street. They have 30-40 locations in Paris, which I suppose is small-time compared to Nicolas' 522 locations in France alone.
5. There is already another conspicuously quiet location of Nicolas all of 2 minutes' walk away on Blvd Richard Lenoir.
6. If you really want some slick faceless supermarket wine, you have several Franprix locations nearby.
7. See here for a somewhat lengthy explanation of why mass-retail just doesn't work for wine.

I could go on. Honestly, the only place I would be happy to see another Nicolas location is in London, or any number of other English cities, where to my continual shock it is still extraordinarily difficult to find even barely potable wine.

Anyway, join me in unofficially boycotting corporate opportunist johnny-come-lately wine shops like this one.

02 October 2010

how to survive fashion week: la bodeguita du IVème, 75004

I run into the same problem every fashion week. Friends and acquaintances arrive from New York, LA, Tokyo, all over, everyone stressed overworked and thirsty. When we all finish our respective jobs for the day, often quite late, I'm the only one who hopelessly advocates drinking someplace beyond the dead-obvious tourist-infested center of Paris. Since I'm the one living here, not staying in an overpriced hotel near Opera, I'm not really in a position to insist. We wind up at Irish pubs.

Which is why I'm straight-up ecstatic about the opening, just six months ago, of La Bodeguita du IVème, a particularly rock 'n' roll Spanish-themed natural wine bar right smack near the Centre Pompidou. From which my fashion friends can stagger home on foot, if it comes to it. The writing on the door proclaims "Wine's Not Dead!" and the same rebellious, joyous spirit pervades the whole place, from the unfinished walls to the mismatched chairs that have clearly been inherited from previous failure establishments.

The Spanish theme, too, is taken lightly. From what I saw the wine selection consists of nothing but top-notch natural French stuff. When I popped in with my friend P the other night my eye was drawn immediately to a 2005 Cour-Cheverny by Domaine des Huards, with which we rinsed down a plate of marinated anchovies and some simple hearty tortillas.

01 October 2010

scare the girls away: leathery old bordeaux at le garde robe, 75001

Anyone with even a passing familiarity with le vin will have at some time or another experienced the pain of being asked to choose a SUBLIME glass of wine for an expectant friend who, frankly, wouldn't know a sublime glass of wine if it dripped straight from Jesus' wrist.

It's delicate. You just have to choose something obvious and pleasurable and not oversell it and hope that the friend in question is in a generous mood.

Don't do as I did the other day to my poor friend B, and inflict a fairly geeky, intimate, some would say unhygienic vertical tasting of leathery old Margaux that, due to the expense of the wine involved, requires a great deal of glass-swapping among people who have just met.

What can I say, though. I got asked for a sublime glass of wine on particularly great night at a particularly great wine bar - Le Garde Robe - where they happened to have a number of old Château Malescot St. Exupery Margaux open for 9eu / glass. It seemed very possible that a sublime glass of wine would, in fact, be available!*