19 December 2011
If we define popular staples as foodstuffs that could conceivably be employed as a "health boost" icon in video games - things like steaks, burgers, and fries - then we've pretty much isolated a segment of cuisine that everyone and their mother have strong opinions on, no matter how indifferent or clueless these diners may be about anything more sophisticated than sesame buns. Classic, simplistic comfort food is just very inviting to armchair critics. This manifests itself nowadays in the rainforest of blogs devoted such cuisine.
Conceptually pure restaurants like 14ème steak standby Le Severo are partial beneficiaries of this dynamic: the restaurant is rightfully famous city-wide for its marvelous cuts of meat. Nevertheless I can't help feeling that something gets glossed over, lost in the branding, when I read about the place: namely, the impressive sophistication of the panoramic blackboard wine list, which is basically a big billboard for all that is good about Le Severo's supplier, the occasionally controversial* Caves Augé.
14 December 2011
In principal, one goal of anyone making wine naturally - organic, biodynamic, or anywhere in between - is heightened expression of terroir. I'm of the opinion that the success of the venture is most perceptible when one evaluates it across the boundaries of individual domaines and regions; in general, one might say, natural wines tend to reflect more dramatically the vicissitudes of the vintage and the composition and exposition of the soil. This is because, when compared to the panoply of invasive techniques available to the contemporary winemaker, natural winemaking is a fundamentally subtractive process. It is, at least in part, a resistance to overcorrection of naturally occurring traits.
Nevertheless, when we use terms like "non-interventionist," we risk obscuring the fact that winemaking itself is one big intervention. What we taste in a glass remains a product of the individual habits and customs of a given estate. Evaluating wines is always a more or less informed stab in the dark about which traits come from the whims of nature and which come from the whims of man.
This brings me, finally, to my conflicted feelings about Cascina delle Rose, a 3ha organic Barbaresco estate we visited in Piemonte this past August. The estate had come highly recommended from two different sets of friends - a surprise, since despite having tasted the region's wines pretty exhausively, I'd never heard of them. Estate owner Giovanna Rizzioli was a marvelous hostess, intelligent and expressive, and the best of the wines we tasted reflected the same qualities. There was, nevertheless, across the range of wines, a rigidity of style that felt determined by something other than the terroir of the estate's 3ha of vineyards. (Cue darkness, stabs.)
09 December 2011
I would have some real thinking to do, if in the future I am ever given the choice between dining at a Japanese restaurant in Paris and committing seppuku. Which, I shall have ask myself, will be more painful? Or is the latter sort of inevitable, as a method of saving face after the shame of the former?
My experiences with Japanese food in the City of Light have run the gamut from grotesque - the gnarly bentos for sale on rue Saint Anne, with their unidentified fried objects atop shoe-sized rice wads - to dispiriting, as in the rapacious and tasteless stylings of the Issé group, who specialise in marking up much the same Far East paraphernalia as everyone else, only much further.
Until recently I held out quite a bit of hope, thinking that perhaps all the Japanese restaurants I'd tried in Paris had, despite their most ambitious efforts, simply not been expensive enough. But this past women's fashion week brought with it the occasion to visit Guilo Guilo, a somewhat pricey spot in the 18ème renowned for its tough reservations and the seasonal innovations of its chef, Eiichi Edakuni, who somehow simultaneously maintains a successful restaurant in Kyoto. I say "somehow" because I left Guilo Guilo with the impression that Edakuni's chief innovation there is not his food, which is unmysterious and delicious, but rather his aggressive rudeness and bald unprofessionalism, traits which I can't help thinking would only be tolerated by a French audience who, wowed by Japophilia, have been too quick handing out the Genius Card That Excuses Everything. (Polanski has one, too.)
07 December 2011
If there were awards for this sort of thing, one might well be given to my friend F's insane biodynamic micro-cuvée of oxidative Loire Gewürztraminer, which I tasted this past summer.
'Gewürztraminer?' I hear you cry. 'Isn't it totally illegal to even have Gewürztraminer planted in the Loire?'
This is true, and this is why I'm declining to give the winemaker's name, and also why I waited for several months to pass in between this post and the last post in which I mentioned his (legal) wines. Of course, the most discreet thing to do would be just to savor the memory of this strange kangaroo of a wine and never mention it on the blog accompanied by photos and background information and tasting notes.
05 December 2011
On this blog I can sometimes give the impression that an unbridgeable gulf exists between restaurant industry people and people who merely like food and wine a lot. It is true that people who've spent time working in restaurants at a certain level tend to drink more, tip more, sleep around more, and generally manifest in their daily lives the influence of the pirate ship ethos that more or less reigns in these restaurants. All this is relative, say, to people who sit in offices. Restaurant industry people also often have a higher regard for manual proficiency and efficient hospitality, because these virtues are crucial to getting through each night.
There is, however, something to be said for the value of outside perspective on the restaurant industry. Particularly in Paris, where some truly backwards and small-minded memes are insensibly entrenched, such as rudeness, sloth, inconsistent sham formality, over-reliance on set formules, and, what can be worst, a blasé attitude towards fine product, which behavior in some bygone era may have reflected the uniform excellence of French cuisine, but which in today's globalized GMO'd additive-heavy world just appears clueless.
Ô Divin, a small cave à manger-slash-bar à vin tucked away beside a recording studio near the Parc de Buttes Chaumont, is perceptibly not run by anyone with serious restaurant industry chops. Co-owner Naoufel Zaïm previously worked in clothing retail, and came to love food and wine somewhat by chance. It demonstrates that experience isn't everything, because, as the Native Companion and I discovered the other night with our friends M and J2, Zaïm has succeeded in creating one of Paris' greatest wine bars.
02 December 2011
Between towns of Barolo and La Morra on the via San Pietro, there's a few picnic tables and a water fountain at a rest station named for the boarded-up and presumably empty chapel that overlooks it, Saint Peter's Country Chapel. Although it looks like there might be a magnificent view of vineyards just over that hill, I can attest there is not: the immediate area seems to have insensibly been landscaped in such a way as to specifically prevent any kind of vista.
Nevertheless it made a fine site for a picnic after a trudge around Alba where everything was shut at midday on a Sunday. We'd packed various cured meats and gorgeous irregular tomatoes and ate them with a shared knife. Mid-meal we were all extremely bemused to learn that, according to the signage, Saint Peter's Country Chapel had been built by "the sole survivor of a tragic orgy" that had taken place in the old castle across the road.