23 July 2014
I thought it would be bigger news when late last year Inaki Aizpitarte opened a shoebox-sized wine shop between Le Chateaubriand and Le Dauphin. Instead, outside of a few blurbs in the French press, it was basically a non-event. Curiously, and rather appealingly, this seems to have been intentional.
You have the shop's almost Google-proof name, Le Cave, a French pun* that doesn't scan in English. You have the shop's quixotic concept, which is to offer exclusively non-French natural wines. You have the fact that food is sold to-go, but no food is available for consumption on premises - not a cheese rind, not the barest sliver of charcuterie. Yet a rotating cast of the shop's exotic, borderline faddish wines are available by the glass.
What does Le Cave offer that could possibly make it a destination ? Nothing. And I imagine this suits the Chateaubriand group fine, since their two adjacent restaurants already have enough overflow to require the services of a waiting room, which is Le Cave's primary function. Happily, staffing what could easily have been a lean mean man cave is a razor-sharp lady called Beatrice, who, seemingly alone in the restaurant group, has serious hospitality skills. And so Le Cave becomes, despite itself, a low-key weeknight destination, one which I prefer to both restaurants.
13 March 2014
In the not-too-distant future, when Paris drops the pretense of being French, Le Fooding will organise several multinational corporations to erect a statue in honor of Frenchie founder Gregory Marchand.
Smaller versions of the same statue made of Claudio Corallo chocolate will be sold in Frenchie To Go, which by then will be a fixture in frequent-flyer lounges throughout the western hemisphere. As now, the original Frenchie To Go location on the rue du Nil will be frequented principally by foreigners for whom the experience of eating a pulled pork sandwich in the City of Light is unforgettably tickling. "Can you believe it?" they'll beam at one another between bites. "We're in Paris!"
The attraction-packed rue du Nil, of course, will be unremarkable by then. For it will have become an urban planning template for much of the city. (Already, some well-intentioned financeers have plans to create another foodie wonderland by Arts et Metiers.) Actual Parisians will have long decamped outside la Peripherique, where a fugitive culture of sitting around consuming nothing in well-preserved cafés will persist. For city real estate - even of the momentary kind, like a seat at a restaurant - will be priced beyond the means of all but visiting princelings. The latter will flock to Paris from all over the world in order to taste, at Frenchie To Go and its many imitators, the absolutely definitive versions of the cuisine they remember from turn-of-the-century food blogs.
11 February 2014
As a foreigner in Paris of a certain profusely fertile age group, I often wonder what it would be like to raise a child here. These reveries fill me with dread. One day I would wake up surrounded by an ideologically French family. It's cute when French toddlers obediently proffer their cheeks to relative strangers for goodnight kisses before toddling off to bed. It's less cute when French employees explain they took a fourth cigarette break because they needed a little pause.
And it's frankly pathetic that over half the country agrees that François Holland's right to philander with spectacularly clumsiness shouldn't be questioned by journalists. The President's recent press conference reminded me of the climactic scene from the Wizard of Oz: "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain." (To which the obvious response is, if you want us to do that, you should begin by keeping it behind the curtain.)
But sometimes I wonder if I'm becoming indoctrinated, too. I already demand room-temp cheese and fresh bread wherever I go, which means I can't live anywhere else in the world. And a real red flag went up the other day, when at the devilishly charming Montmartre restaurant Il Brigante I genuinely enjoyed a locally popular foodstuff I've heretofore foresworn entirely: Parisian pizza.
04 February 2014
Last fall I helped my friends from 11ème arrondissement German bar Udo put together a small wine list for their new project, a gallery space and Japanese small-plates restaurant called Düo that opened in October.
If I haven't yet written about Düo, it's because I want to give the team there time to work out the service kinks before I start cheerleading about the place. I figured the concept was original enough - inexpensive Japanese small plates and solid natural wines - that buzz would build of its own accord.
I realised I may have waited too long when the other day, just a few blocks away from Düo, my friend E and I stumbled upon the newly-opened 6036, a SIM-card-sized restaurant serving - what else? - inexpensive Japanese small plates and solid natural wines. I guess it's a full-blown trend already. 6036 bills itself as izakaya, or Japanese bar food, but this is a ruse: it's actually a modest and sincere gastronomic experience, helmed by chef Haruka Casters, formerly sous-chef at 10ème arrondissement tasting-menu destination Abri.
28 August 2013
Ever since moving to Paris I've found London frightful. I think this is because I've come to define quality of life in terms of short commutes and availability of good bread and wine.
It's also because London, despite technically existing in Europe, gastronomically seems to comprise part of the big blank New World. Early industrialisation and the culinary privation of the last century's wars are two factors among many that have conspired to essentially delete the traditions binding the populace to native British cuisine, leaving Brits, like the average American, ahistorical, open to suggestion, lost in the supermarket. What I see when I visit restaurants in London, for the most part, is Manhattan: everything feels market-tested, branded to death, fat with investment - as though marketing execs and interior designers were more important to a restaurant than chefs and restaurateurs.
So, unlike seemingly every other press outlet, I won't congratulate Michael Greenwold, co-chef of 20ème market menu gem Roseval, and James Whelan, propietor of 10ème bar L'Inconnu, merely for bringing a little bit of London variety to Paris with the opening of Paris' first fish'n'chip shop, The Sunken Chip ! (Their exclamation point, not mine.) I find the concept chirpy to the point of being unsettling, and the décor could use roughing up and rethinking. I will instead congratulate Greenwold for coming up with a positively revelatory plate of fish'n'chips, several components of which are a benchmark for both cities, not just Paris.
26 July 2012
It's embarrassing to admit, but my vegetarian upbringing has left me squeamish about chicken. I grew up surrounded by them - my mother kept a whole henhouse for the eggs - but I remain more or less innocent about how to prepare or cook one, or even ingest one publicly without getting fat and bone fragments all over the tablecloth. What I had growing up instead of chicken dinner was a steady supply of vegetarian literature, replete with horrifying factory farm images, which have conditioned me to treat chicken - famously an innoccous, almost babyfoody meat - as though it were fugu. In other words, it's not something I'll purchase from Franprix, or from any of the innumerable anonymous streetside rotisseries where the carcasses are skewered so tightly as to no longer resemble birds, but rather a row of violated goosefleshy donuts.
So nowadays I'm susceptible to bouts of bird-envy, whenever a host unveils a well-cooked fowl. There's something irreplaceably heartwarming and communal about everyone gathering around a table dismantling the same creature.
One of these days - perhaps when I reside somewhere with an oven - I'll teach myself how to cook birds. Until then, my frequent shortcut solution is Chez Plume, an absolute godsend of a take-out counter-slash-lunch spot that opened last winter on rue des Martyrs. The restaurant specialises in all kinds of fowl - several chickens from the Landes, guinea hens, ducks - all "élevé en liberté," and available roasted by the whole or the half at very reasonable prices. It's possible to reserve birds in advance, a good idea at peak times. And when you arrive to pick up dinner, available also is a well-curated selection of pretty serious mid-range natural wines. It's almost like owner Alexandre Girault overheard some sedentary rue des Martyrs types complaining about the difficulty of accessing ethical meats and natural wines on a daily basis and he decided to make it absurdly easy for everyone.