28 January 2011

neil young & aligoté: derain's "allez goutons"

This past autumn I had a lot of fun describing various French Chardonnays in terms of David Lynch's cult television series Twin Peaks. But by now I've finished the series, and so much wine remains. The other night at Autour d'Un Verre I was dining with the team behind the hotly-tipped forthcoming Marais taco / cocktail bar La Candelaria, and one of them, my friend J, brilliantly suggested the career of Neil Young as a rich vein of descriptive imagery for the Aligoté we were drinking.

I had asked for just such a suggestion, of course. He didn't like, come out with it apropos of nothing. That would have been odd, although less so than normal, since the particular Aligoté in question, Domaine Derain's "Allez Goutons," was the kind of far-out glimmering simple beauty that just begs for a few minutes of searching description.

27 January 2011

magnum misadventures: jeanne a, 75011

Having recently endorsed the general usefulness of the all-day-even-Sunday kitchen at the frightfully overdecorated 11ème épicerie-à-manger Jeanne A, I must now offer the following enormous caveat: wine is available from magnum only.

I adore magnums as much as any wine geek. But all magnums, all the time is kind of like the attractive girlfriend who surprises and dismays you by insisting, everytime you sleep together, that her six attractive friends also join you in the twin bed. "This is fine!" you cry. "Just not every night!"

My friends and I discovered the mag policy when we popped in for what was meant to be a quick dinner Sunday evening. It was the last night of fashion week, half of us had worked showrooms all day, and we all had a magazine party to get to. Imagine our perplexed, crestfallen faces then, when it became clear that if we wanted to have a drink with our poulet rôti we had to, you know, really drink.

It is just a good thing there were six of us. And that there was an appealing, if somewhat overpriced, mag of 2007 Domaine Huet "Le Mont " Vouvray available. We did what we had to do.

26 January 2011

the fashion at the time: l'hedoniste, 75002

Last Saturday the intended cosy casual dinner for two or three with my friend D eventually (and happily) turned into a roving thirsty party of eight, when it turned out a number of other colleagues from NYC and Tokyo were able to join us.* This presented the conundrum of where one might dine not-horribly in the center of Paris on a Saturday with a brigade of people in the middle of fashion week.

Happily, this is just the function in which the recently-opened 2ème restaurant L'Hedoniste excels, for the time being. It is extraordinarily not horrible - even excellent, at times, if one is able to forgive the prices, which are all a notch above what dishes and wine actually merit, and the slightly hapless one-man kitchen, from which most things seemed to leave lukewarm, rather than hot.

But that is the kind of restaurant this is. If it were hot, there is no way I could have invaded on a moment's notice with D et al , and had, despite my criticism, a very enjoyable meal.

21 January 2011

too good to be true: twin peaks & dauvissat chablis

It was perhaps perceptible from my uncharacteristic silence on all things Twin Peaks for the past month or so that I have indeed finished watching Season 2. There are no more seasons now. At some point my friend F and I just succumbed to the temptation to race through two or three episodes per night, either because the episode we had previously watched was so gripping, and we wanted to watch further, or because the episode just passed had been totally pointless, so we wanted to fast forward, as it were, by watching further.

The net result is that I skipped reporting on a few bottles of terrific Chardonnay I'd purchased specially to pair with Twin Peaks. Like, for instance, a 2008 Chablis by Vincent Dauvissat, cousin of the legendary Raveneau brothers, and a legendary vigneron in his own right. Dauvissat produces (to my knowledge) four premier crus and one grand cru, none of which I elected to splash out on, when I saw them at Caves du Marais, since the occasion was to be just a simple night in.*

Instead F and I sipped the normale, a wine whose gentle good graces are so predetermined as to feel almost unearned, like Billy Zane's sauve successful rich-kid character John Justice Wheeler, who saunters onscreen towards the middle of Season 2, promising intrigue or character reversal but delivering neither.

20 January 2011

correct, naturally: les côtelettes, 75004

I make no secret of enjoying 19ème natural wine bistro Quedubon partly for the warmth and bravado of Gilles, the ever-present owner. So in visiting his other, older restaurant Les Côtelettes (formerly L'Impasse) for the first time the other day with my British friends R and A, I was curious to see which charms stayed consistent without the man himself around. R and I had steeled ourselves for whatever, both finding it odd that neither of us had previously heard much about the restaurant, despite its immediate proximity to an apartment (R's little thimble-sized garret) that we'd both lived in at different times. And we understood that it would only be natural for this little bistro just off the Place des Vosges to play things a bit safer for the tourist crowd.

For some reason I hadn't predicted that I myself would be taken for a tourist. It's probably my mushmouthed hyper-tentative accent that did it. Anyway I found myself getting steered very forcefully away from the one interesting Jura wine on Les Côtelettes concise, principled little list.

19 January 2011

kind of sort of open! les trois seaux, 75011

Olivier Aubert on left. 

When I first met Olivier Aubert, he and Nath Acroft were behind the bar at the scrappy Spanish-toned natural wine bar they'd recently opened near the Centre Pompidou, La Bodeguita du 1Vème. They were headbanging along to "Bohemian Rhapsody." In the months since, M. Aubert has evidently been on kind of an entrepreneurial tear, first opening La Bodeguita du IXème near Grand Boulevards, and now, as of last week, a work-in-progress restaurant called Les Trois Seaux on rue de la Fontaine au Roi in the 11ème.

"Les Trois Seaux" translates to "the three buckets," and at the other Friday night's quiet opening party, as my friends M, B, and I surveyed in the fresh red and yellow splotchwork on the walls, I couldn't help wondering whether the bar's new name perhaps derived from a happy afternoon spent with some paintbrushes and numerous bottles of wine. As evidenced by the pace of his restaurant openings, Olivier doesn't seem to be the type to overthink things. I can only hope everyone else in the neighborhood finds the basic ideas as charming as I do: natural wines, informal service, simple tapas...

18 January 2011

something else entirely: la bodeguita du IXème, 75009

In the 3ème there is a faddish twit restaurant called Derrière that is outfitted to look like someone's shabby-chic apartment. It is pretty much a playground for inattentive club kids who, knowing nothing of what constitutes good cooking or good drinking, seek a restaurant that offers, as substitute for both, gimmicky things like foozball tables and a "hidden" smoking room.*

The dining area of the recently-opened La Bodeguita du IXème, sister-cave to La Bodeguita du IVème, happens also to look kind of like an apartment. With more emphasis on the shabby side of shabby-chic. But there, happily, the similarities between the two establishments end. La Bodeguita du IXème is not in fact a restaurant, just a solid well-intentioned cave à grignoter. I juxtapose it with Derrière only to provide a contrast between funny décor intended as the crux of a concept - a terrible idea, reminiscent of mini-golf courses - and funny décor as the result of hapless necessity, which is what you find at La Bodeg du IXème. The weird clocks suspended on the walls and the hideous rec-room couch at the latter establishment are basically forgiveable and even kind of charming.

Anyway, what matters is the wine.

17 January 2011

the forces of seitan: soya cantine bio, 75011

I like vegetarians fine. But I tend to avoid vegetarian restaurants,* because their common founding precept - that eating meat is unethical or unhealthy or unnatural - runs counter to my own reverence for preindustrial gastronomic and viticultural traditions. Every great western cuisine has contained meat since time immemorial, and most eastern cuisines as well. So part of me is inclined to believe that the late-20th-century rise in vegetarianism in the west is largely a result of a kind of anthropomorphic thinking that is itself only made possible by the modern industry of meat production, which ensures that consumers are never obliged to actually handle animals, except as pets. We now have the luxury of finding it abhorrent, rather than normal for millennia, to kill things for food.

That is the long version of my argument. The short version is: the wine lists a vegetarian restaurants invariably suck, and the food is usually a cultural mishmash of doctored dishes and pathetic meat substitutes. It's like vegetarian restauranteurs, having pre-identified their not-so-gastronomically-demanding market segment,** feel no need whatsoever to impress anyone else.

Let me now get around to saying that Soya Cantine Bio in the 11ème totally won me over, despite all the above skepticism. It would be a rarity in San Francisco or New York, even; in Paris it is downright astonishing: a vegetarian restaurant with an excellent, well-considered natural wine list.

14 January 2011

blogging about blogging about the new soup at spring boutique, 75001

I was Christmas shopping at Spring Boutique last month and my friend Josh there introduced me to another Paris food blogger who began taking pictures of the soup I bought. So I took pictures of her taking pictures of the soup I bought.

Wendy Lyn does the Paris Kitchen blog. She evidently has a keen eye for new material.

13 January 2011

n.d.p. in london: terroirs, covent garden

I kind of went about visiting acclaimed London wine bar Terroirs backwards. It's my fault. I'd read about how two years ago, in partnership with leading British natural wine importer Les Caves du Pyrène, Terroirs opened near Charing Cross, and how the restaurant has since proceeded to upend the London dining scene by introducing strange vivid glorious natural wines by the legendary vignerons (mostly French).* So I was duly eager to visit. But since I was staying way east in Hackney, among a bunch of homebody artist folk who seem to avoid central London the way I used to avoid West LA or Marina Del Ray, my friends and I visited first the newer venture by the Terroirs owners, a much smaller more charming restaurant called Brawn on Columbia Road. This may have been the reason I found Terroirs sort of ho-hum in the end. I'd already seen the beautiful evolution of their concept at Brawn.

But the two restaurants, finally, are shooting different fish in different barrels with different guns. Terroirs, comprising two floors of slick natural wine ambassadorship, situated smack in the big overproduced theatre district, is about as subtle as a bazooka. Walking around central London always feels a bit like Attack of the 90ft Restaurants! but nevertheless it was very strange, after passing so much time in pokey Paris natural wine dives, to see in Terroirs the hugely successful Disneyfication of the natural wine movement.

The place was jammed on the Thursday night we dropped in. So we didn't even eat. Just soaked in the scene, and a bottle of 2008 Pierre Frick Alsace Chasselas "Sans Soufre."

12 January 2011

if you must buy wine at a supermarket: naturalia

I know I rail against supermarkets constantly. It's kind of my raison d'être on this blog, simply because of the frequency at which I am asked the question: 'What is the best wine I can find at (insert horrid cynical supermarket chain where not in a million years will you ever find one honest wine)?'

But a few months back I noticed some actually very nice biodynamic wine available at Naturalia, the 39-location-strong Paris organic market chain. If I didn't mention it then, it was only because I wanted to observe a little longer to see whether perhaps it was a one-off blip, whether they hadn't just purchased some back-stock from some agent's stock liquidation or God-knows-what...

In fact it's true. I passed through a Naturalia again the other day and saw no less than three wines I'd happily drink, at predictably competitive prices.*

11 January 2011

n.d.p. in london: 69 colebrooke row, angel

Having at some point decided my recent wine explorations in London would amount to almost nothing, just a lot of screw-capped new-world Chenin, I was proportionately more eager to visit the city's various cocktail destinations.

Possibly I was just more eager to drink. It doesn't matter.

I met my Parisian New Zealander friends P and Z at the unassuming molecular mixology bar 69 Colebrooke Row, near Angel, where the first and only disappointment of the evening was hearing from the genial leggy server that the bar's general manager, a sharp woman called Cara I'd once gotten drunk with in Paris, was away from London for the holidays. Oh well. Even without the personal touch, 69 Colbrooke Row makes a profound impression - chiefly because its whole underdone ethos is a successful (I hope?) refutation of the dead-obvious lux approach I found so dull at ECC Chinatown.

10 January 2011

everything all of the time: jeanne a, 75011

Down the street from my apartment in the 11ème there is a slightly fusty restaurant called Astier. I haven't yet been there; I mean to, but it has always emanated a kind of middling, pretentious air that puts me off at the last moment. There are something like 40,000 restaurants in Paris (source: the BBC) so one has no choice but to follow one's gut on these things.

Guts are fallible, however. A prime example is my reaction to Jeanne A, the cave à manger / épicerie / deli / you-name-it restaurant the owners of Astier have recently opened next door to said restaurant. Upon first walking by, shortly after Jeanne A opened, I saw an automatic sliding door, several magnums of Moet and Veuve Clicquot for sale, and some generally frightful decor, and I kept right on walking. The last thing the neighborhood needed, I thought, was an overpriced moron marchand, seemingly plucked straight from rue Saint Antoine, hawking yet more industrial foie-gras, foiled chocolate, and mass-market Champagne.

Happily, as my visiting friends R and S and I were delighted to discover the other Sunday, I was pretty far off the mark with this analysis.

07 January 2011

n.d.p. in london: little georgia, hackney

In the course of some typically cursory research for this blog post, I turned up an execrable hack restaurant review of Hackney b.y.o.b. haven Little Georgia by The Sunday Times' Giles Coren. Ordinarily I'd just hit the little 'x' on the browser and graze onwards, but in this case the reviewer, a man who is on record as being "proud to be famous for being rude," manages to miss the graces of the restaurant so squarely as to actually infer their existence to a perceptive reader. Like, if you are at a party and someone is walking around blindfolded poking the other guests with a tail, you can be confident there is a donkey present.

In this case, Coren's eagerness to impersonate A.A. Gill - another Sunday Times restaurant critic,* another famous tosser - leads him to spend 15 of the review's 20 paragraphs making wincingly humorless, tone-deaf jokes about how people in Hackney are, in general, poorer than he is. He repeats again and again in his endless intro** the common blunder by which writers and speakers routinely lower themselves beneath even the most quivering insecure eastside hipster, which is to say he complains about hipsters. When Coren finally gets to the meal he emits little more than the names of the dishes at Little Georgia, having pretty much spent his literary load complaining about the hipsters in the poor neighborhood where he feels unwelcome.

All in all, high comedy. I visited the place last week in London and can attest that everything Coren failed to notice, all the discreet charms of Little Georgia, pretty much made me swoon with restaurant affection (a feeling seemingly alien to these reviewers I have mentioned).

06 January 2011

n.d.p. in london: brawn, hackney

In Hackney, east London, there is a quite new restaurant called Brawn whose only flaws are derivative graphic design and a misleading name. It opened in December, the kid sister restaurant of a larger one called Terroirs near Charing Cross. It has a blatantly St. John-inspired logo that consists of a wine bottle drawn to look like a pig.
And "brawn" is the British term for testa, or head / face meat, none of which delectable substance was actually present on the menu. These criticisms, however, are roughly the equivalent of blinking during a meal, for me; something I do everywhere, involuntarily, and they in no way detract from the main achievement of this restaurant, the highlight of my recent London trip: it succeeds in presenting excellent natural wines simply and properly, not as though it were some kind of unnatural feat for them merely to be natural.

This would be commendable anywhere on earth. But it's astonishing in London, where titanic overdesigned restaurant groups are the norm, and natural wines are essentially nowhere to be found.

05 January 2011

n.d.p. in london: pembury tavern, hackney

This previous week I spent in London felt particularly long. It was a combination of burnt-out friends and random misfortune. (The house I was meant to stay in was burgled by some miserable bastard on Christmas Eve, while its inhabitant was out treating ten of us to lunch in Soho. In the kind of cosmic bitch-slap that only happens to truly good people, news of the burglary arrived simultaneous with the bill, via text message.) No matter how long I stay in London, however, I always seem to leave thinking I have not spent nearly enough time or money at the Pembury Tavern.

It is just a wonderfully unassuming, kind of pokey beer-geek hang-out in Hackney. A place where I always seem to have good conversation.

04 January 2011

n.d.p. in london: fortnum & mason, piccadilly

If you google "negative epiphany," among the top results are answer-forum queries from writers seeking a single word that might permit them to avoid using the clumsy, rather ad-hoc sounding phrase "negative epiphany." There's isn't one, to my knowledge. This is probably due (inasmuch as the organic manifestations of language and meaning can be "due" to anything) to the fact that "epiphany" by itself ought to mean only a striking revelation or insight, not necessarily a positive one. I suspect it is the fault of literature, which admirably prizes understanding above all else, that the word "epiphany" in contemporary idiom must be accompanied by a qualifier such as "negative" if one wants to avoid conventional rosy connotations.

Anyway, it was in the basement floor wine section of chi-chi London grocery megastore Fortnum & Mason that I had the first negative epiphany* of my recent trip to London.

03 January 2011

n.d.p. in london: ECC chinatown, soho

In London I met up with my New Zealand-via-Paris friends P and Z*, and since we all share an interest in good cocktails, we took the opportunity to check out the new Chinatown location of the Parisian bar group Experimental Cocktail Club.

ECC founders Romée de Goriainoff, Olivier Bon and Pierre-Charles Cros have lassoed a really tremendous site for their first cross-channel endeavor: it's a former nightclub with a 3am license located above a Chinese restaurant on a mobbed street just south of mobbed Soho. Once you claw your way in the unmarked door (which, confusingly, opens outwards but has no handle), you find yourself ensconced in the plush cushions of capital L-luxury, two ambitious floors of it.

So, as much as the lack of signage might hint at the sort of low-key elegance that typifies the original ECC location on Rue Saint-Saveur, the new bar is in fact another grand ante-up beyond Prescriptions, ECC's most recent, and most vulgar, bar in Paris' 6ème arrondissement.

02 January 2011

aligoté perversity: drinking de moor at christmastime

In retrospect, it probably wasn't the most inspired decision to open the Aligoté first, among all the wines I'd brought to share with my friends' families in London. It was an academic decision, one that made sense internally - the next white was an ethereal dew-sweet cru Savennieres by Claude Papin, after all - but was in fact kind of a blunder in the exterior world of social propriety, where the occasion dictated that I open something rather more enjoyable first.

Even setting aside, for the moment, the difficulties of presenting any kind of wine to your average bunch of Brits, who as a people seem to submit to the habit of wine much as one submits to, say, yearly prostate examinations: Aligoté is, furthermore, a resoundingly dislikable grape. So much so that when several of those gathered professed to actually like Olivier et Alice de Moor's 2009 Bourgogne Aligoté, which I'd only brought out of perversity and haste, I was pleasantly stunned.

I chalked (ahem) it up to the peculiarities of the British palate,* and to the near-magical expertise of the de Moors, who I'm convinced are to Aligoté what Jenny Holzer is to LED lighting.