28 March 2011

time and again: les itineraires, 75005

Like, I imagine, quite a few Paris expats, I used to pay a great deal of attention to the New York Times' Paris coverage before I moved here. After one settles in, the articles understandably begin to seem a little exoticist and ooh-la-la. Nevertheless I still thank that paper for pre-briefing me on 2ème cocktail bar Experimental Cocktail Club, where I can still be found far too often, and 5ème market-menu restaurant Les Itinéraires, where I had a fabulous dinner the day I got to Paris, the highlight of which meal was a positively haunting salad of shaved foraged mushrooms, tiny clams, and citrus vinaigrette.

Inexplicably two years passed between that first meal at Les Itinéraires, and the occasion I had to revisit the restaurant the other night with my visiting friend / colleague D, and her friends S and E, editors, respectively, at Vanity Fair and - where else? - The New York Times T Magazine. The meal was memorable partly for sentimental reasons: I spent much of it marveling at how much life has changed since the day I moved to Paris, when my British friend A gave me a lift from London in his parents' car, during which voyage I managed to get struck with a scorching eye infection that I then confused for allergies, causing me to spend much of my first meal at Les Itinéraires, not to mention my first uncertain jobless week in Paris, squinting like a something that had just emerged from hibernation...

Suddenly there I was at Les Itinéraires again, two years in, enjoying some of the most astoundingly impressive wines I've had in years, thanks to Caroline, the rocking sommelier there, with whom I had in the meantime become friends.

D and I had arrived early, or slightly late, but still earlier than S and E, both of whom had the acceptable excuse of having been schlepping around the globe from fashion week to fashion week for several weeks. So D and I began with a round of Gimmonet 1èr Cru "Cuit" Champagne - a marvelously enjoyable, dependable Champagne, one I've posted about before, but perhaps not the most engaged or ambitious choice for a former sommelier and known wine geek... (Caroline and I had first met at Catherine & Pierre Breton's rafter-raising bacchanal in Bourgueil in January, amid a raucous crowd of vignerons, buyers, and afficionados, all soused.)

What can I say? I was in a delicate position, simultaneously wanting to explore Caroline's lengthy, gem-laden, largely natural list and give it the attention it deserves, and also to order something relatively acceptable to non-geek palates, of which there were to be three, at our table of four.

Anyway, as we waited with our conservative Champagne, Caroline promptly upped the ante by pouring D and I a splash of 1èr cru Fixin. I didn't recognize the name of the estate - all I saw at that point was the word "Monopole," on the bottle, on the basis of which information I decided to let the wine sit and warm up a bit while I finished my other glass.

This turned out to have been a fortuitous decision. Both because the amusé that evening was a great accord: a strikingly harmonious, if laughably nasal-looking creation consisting of a single mussel suspended in cucumber foam -

- and because the wine when it warmed up was astonishingly great. I devoured a plate of fussy but delicious scallop carpaccio and experienced that strange, profligate feeling one gets from sensing that one's artfully composed meal of delicacies is getting totally outshined by a glass of wine.

Sometime after the plats I broke away from conversation at the table to go seek more info on this mystery Fixin. Caroline explained it was Domaine de la Perrière's "Clos de la Perrière" blanc, a sample bottle of a wine in such small production and such high demand she was unable to order it for the restaurant.

The estate is run by winemaker Bénigne Joliet, hence the seeming interchangeability between the names "Domaine de la Perrière" and "Domaine Joliet." Joliet is the 6th generation of his family to produce wine from the estate, which is among the most historied in all of Burgundy - the wines were previously considered to rank among the Grand Crus, until quality apparently declined in the 20th century. The articles I've read on the estate, linked below, all seem to share, and gloss over, the embedded implication that Clos de la Perrière's Grand Cru reputation began to decline at roughly the same time Joliet's ancestors took over the estate, 1853. This is impossible to confirm, of course, but it's an amusing hypothetical, especially since Bénigne Joliet is by all accounts hell-bent on reclaiming the reputation, and the prices, of Grand Cru burgundy for his wines.

He's well on his way, anyway. The 2006 "Clos de la Perrière" was taut, grippingly mineral, and uncannily oystery, but these wiry, saline flavors supported a cache of apricot tones and discreet, integrated oak. It was ray-of-God good, at once subtle and anthemic, hazy and piercingly melodic, like this brilliant track by perpetually underrated proto-Britpop band the Trashcan Sinatras:

Perhaps because I was so focused on the wine, I kind of snoozed through the plat I ordered, a chunk of halibut that been deep fried - presumably in service of some unachieved molecular gastronomic goal - and plumped atop a truly hideous bedding of wilted cabbage and yet more foam, now derived from oysters.

I might now digress for just a second to articulate the withering disdain I possess for most foams, jellies, hi-tech emulsions, meat tied into knots, etc. The rather overused term for these preparations is molecular gastronomy. With certain exceptions made for the most artful, subtle, graceful employment of them, however, I can't help but consider it all Contortionist Cuisine: technically very interesting, but vaguely wrong, and leaving one with the distinct impression that equal aesthetic enjoyment could be had without reaching quite so hard.

Image swiped from possic.de.
A marvelously simple but surprising dessert illustrated this point nicely: a dark chocolate mousse with raspberries, raspberry vinegar, and shavings of beet and Asian turnip.*

Who knew that the mild, fence-posty nothing-flavor of raw turnip would provide such a beautifully refreshing counterpoint to the richness of dark chocolate, and the bite of raspberry vinegar? I didn't know that. Now I know that.

This revelation was preceded by yet another of the most lovely wines I've had all year. After hearing that S preferred reds, and that E couldn't drink much that evening, due to a potential late night shoot with a fairly notorious photographer, I trashed all the careful deliberations I'd been making about the whites on the list at Les Itinéraires, and began discussing reds with Caroline. I mentioned that I preferred reds on the crisper, more mineral side of things, and ventured to comment that her selections of cru Beaujolais were all already very familiar to me...

It turned out she just hadn't reprinted the wine list in a little while. She had back vintages in reserve of many of the rocking great wines on her list, including Foillard's magnificent Morgon "Côtes du Py."

Having just gone on about Foillard in a recent post about Le Chateaubriand, I'll skip the schpiel here, and report simply that the 2000 was in fine form: sharp, leathery, well-worn, with terrific fresh-earth and winter spice notes. I had some reservations about ordering a wine that I knew would be extremely savory in the company of non-wine-professionals, but was reassured by the reactions of my tablemates, who all seemed to dig it fine.

The wine's long-distance runner excellence aside, there's also the dead-simple magic of cracking into older bottles, from which my professional experience in the wine industry does not entirely excuse me. Even as we note a wine's virtues or flaws, some part of us still exclaims, "My goodness! How time has passed!"

* I was about to write "shaved Asian turnip" but the phrase just sounded really dirty and distracting.

Les Itinéraires
5 Rue de Pontoise
75005 PARIS
Metro: Maubert-Mutualité
Tel: 01 46 33 60 11

Related Links:

Christophe, 75005
Dans Les Landes, 75005
Les Pipos, 75005

The review that inspired my first visit to Les Itinéraires @ NYTimes

A fine, substantive 2007 profile of Domaine de la Perrière @ BurgundyReport
Another 2007 profile of Domaine de la Perrière @ Bergman'sBourgogne
A 2006 report on Domaine de la Perrière @ LaBlogd'Olif

A detailed, mostly readable 2010 tasting at Jean Foillard's estate @ WineTerroirs

No comments:

Post a Comment