27 June 2012
Exclamations are ridiculous words. We emit them in surprise or joy or horror with little forethought, and this spontaneity places them in an unmediated realm on the frontiers of thought and language. Things get onomatopeic and we seem to speak in cartoon speech bubbles.
Well, to the non-native listener, exclamations in a foreign language are even sillier. I don't know why on earth an ambitious restaurant in Paris would choose a name like Youpi & Voilà, which translates roughly to "Yippee and there-you-are." Most ambitious restaurants in Paris rely at least partly on Anglophone buckeroos, and you don't want that demographic to react like I initially did, which was to never mention the restaurant by name. (I have instructed friends to escort me to the guillotine if they ever hear me utter "youpi" or "zut" or "hop-la" without irony.)
I probably would have avoided the place entirely, if I hadn't popped by for a Gaillac wine tasting one day and realised that my friend Jean-Philippe Morice, formerly a server at Le Verre Volé, was running the dining room. Which makes sense, in retrospect, since Y&P's Gaillacois chef Patrice Gelbart also put in time with the same purple kingpins of the Canal Saint Martin. What Gelbart and Morice achieve together with the new venture - just a stone's throw from their former workplace, on the impressively obscure rue Viq d'Azir - shows great promise, and could indeed merit an exclamation or two, should they manage to reign in certain overachiever impulses in the kitchen.
25 June 2012
Brunch in France is sort of a sham. It is as though at some point in history a Frenchman visited America and observed an American diner brunch, but asked no questions about how it worked or why people enjoyed it. He then returned to France and tried to replicate the brunch he'd seen: a huge midday meal with many beverages per diner, including just about every breakfast food imaginable. That must cost Americans a fortune ! this Frenchman thought. I'll charge Parisians accordingly.
Hence French brunch. One typically pays 25€+ per person for a set formula meal comprising miniscule portions of many different cheap breakfast foods and beverages - a tartine ! fromage blanc ! a thimble of OJ ! espresso ! tea ! fruit salad ! a cup of scrambled eggs ! a ribbon of smoked salmon ! - all of which lame avalanche arrives in fits and starts, according to the whims of the resentful scatterbrained staff member. (There is typically just one.) The notion of a free refill, like a benevolent God, does not exist.
What's missing, crucially, is the spirit of brunch: of bounty, replenishment, carefree consumption at low stakes. To my knowledge there is only one place in Paris where one finds this: Chez Casimir, and even here one finds only the spirit. Everything else about the place is wonderfully unrecognizable.
19 June 2012
Most wine geeks learn to take the recommendations of non-aficionados with a cellar full of salt. This is because wine, or rather the idea thereof, is one of those elementally good things to which almost everyone is predisposed to a greater or lesser degree, like art, or music, or breakfast. A wine geek therefore tends to listen to casual drinkers talk wine in the way a contemporary art dealer will hear out a description of a painting someone bought at a yard sale.
This is my excuse, anyway, for why it took me so absurdly long to accompany the Native Companion to one of her favorite restaurants, the wincingly named Belleville table d'hôte Mon Oncle Le Vigneron.
Now it's one of my favorites, too, probably for similar reasons as hers. (Not the wine.)
13 June 2012
My excuse for the recent blog drought: I've been traveling. The Native Companion and I spent twenty-four hours in the town of Bordeaux, and then a weekend at our friends' wedding on the Cap Ferret. I doffed my wine hat and donned my vacationer hat. We visited no wine estates, and with our heaping plates of shellfish we drank nothing more complex than inexpensive "bio" Bordeaux blanc and rosé. It was, of course, glorious.
It was also the first time I'd visited said region, a fact that seems to surprise some people. You're into wine, they say, yet you've never been to Bordeaux ? I try to explain that this is a little like saying to someone who takes an interest in horses: you take an interest in horses, yet you've never been to the Kentucky Derby ? After all, it's where the most money gets spent ! But the Derby is for people who take a certain kind of interest in horses,* and ditto for Bordeaux and wine people.
That said, I'm already itching to return. To visit some wine estates (exploring Graves and Sauternes appeals to me greatly), but also to further explore the city of Bordeaux, which in June was almost eerily charming. The old town near the river reminded me of a supersized rue des Martyrs**, only without that street's self-consciousness and slightly besieged quality. Bordeaux's ancient money seems very at ease with itself. Roller bladers minnow between strollers, joggers, and cyclists on the wide promenades lining the river, a sharp contrast to Paris' pedestrian-free Seine-side traffic snarls. The public toilets clean themselves. And what really struck the NC and me, perhaps even more than the wines we tasted, was the general boldness of the city's puns. In the absence of sufficient free time to process my few wine-related experiences in the city and on Cap Ferret, I thought in the meantime I'd present of few of the more notable howlers below.
06 June 2012
Earlier that evening, the wine director of renowned Barcelona wine fortress Monvínic, Isabelle Brunet, told me something that surprised me, although in retrospect it should have been obvious: Barcelona is a beer town. Brunet said that the average resident of Barcelona consumed just 20 litres of wine per year, but 70 litres of beer. By contrast, in Paris the average resident consumed 90 litres of wine per year. (Statistics for Paris beer consumption were not mentioned, perhaps due to present lack of any real beer culture whatsoever in that city.)
That this surprised me is perhaps very American, and very east coast at that. When one does not come from wine country, one imagines that historical wine-producing nations must exist in a kind of perpetual bacchanal, celebrating the national bounty at all hours in various states of undress. But in Barcelona you have a warm climate and a beach and an astronomically successful football club, the second richest in the world: these things, as sure as hops plus water, are a recipe for beer.
I had my own reasons for downing a few cold ones over the frantic meal R and I had afterwards at Tapas 24 , chef-restaurateur Carlos Abellan's subterranean tapas bar. I didn't know many producers on the list, and it seemed pointless and sort of cruel to start interrogating the harried chef / servers careening about behind the bar. Also, the list was written in a format that has always irritated me, segregated by neat price bracket, as though one were choosing phone cards. But the real decider, as ever, was the cuisine. Tapas, Spain's national food group, and its most successful export since the Macarena. Every magazine article ever written on Spain, even those pertaining to unrelated subjects such as the economic crisis, will cheerfully explain the origin of the word tapas, how it means 'lid', etc. To the world at large tapas sensibly means one thing, which is hangover cuisine, whether one is recovering-from or heading-straight-for.