31 October 2011

n.d.p. in piemonte: vinoteca centro storico, serralunga

Our afternoon in Serralunga d'Alba amounted, finally, to a spiral out to nowheresville, since 90% of the town was shut in August, including, contrary to what the guidebooks said, the 14th-century feudal castle built by the Faletti family in the French donjon style, which had been the only reason J's wife C had wanted to visit the town in the first place. 

That week's heat wave continued unabated. The whole town was like a kiln. I begged off further examination of the castle's circumference and sat in the shade with a guilty-looking cat, surrounded by feathers, until J and C descended with news that the castle was slated to open in an hour's time. We decided to wait it out over a terrace lunch at the only place open that was not a leery-looking hotel: Vinoteca Centro Storico. Which wine bar, we were cheered to discover, is known to international visitors as a regional wine destination, and to regional wine drinkers as a destination for Champagne. 

26 October 2011

soup-er: spring boutique, 75001

I'm late in mentioning this, due to a towering backlog of posts about a recent trip to Piemonte (more to come!), but my friend Josh Adler's cave Spring Boutique has begun serving soup for lunch again. The soup itself is delicious, heaping with rough-cut vegetables and silken meat of the most quixotically exacting Michelin-worthy provenance, this latter obsessional quality being characteristic of Spring chef Daniel Rose's menus.

But the service of soup itself - this is also endearing, for being yet another manifestation of a certain gung-ho, whatever-works energy the Spring team bring to their establishments. By now the Boutique and the restaurant's lower level have cycled through a panoply of different iterations and incarnations, all in efforts to channel the restaurant's chief area of uproarious success - it's dinner service - into less formal, more populist attractions, ones for which there's no need to book months in advance. In Paris, home of the cult of the table, and meals that endure until the époisse has run to the floor, they're fighting the good fight.

24 October 2011

those who know best: le grand 8, 75018

Ask any restaurateur what he or she looks for when dining out, and you'll probably get a perfectly concise description of 18ème bistro hideaway Le Grand 8: simple food, a killer wine list, and, critically, a place that's open on Sundays.

Accordingly, Le Grand 8's dining room positively brims with restaurateurs and natural wine folk, on Sunday evenings in particular. Last week I brought some colleagues there for a meal after our company's showrooms had finished for the day, and upon walking in immediately recognised friends from Autour d'Un Verre, Le Bistral, Le Dirigeable, and the late great Cave de l'Insolite. It took some minutes to actually join the party I'd walked in with, whereupon we sat down to enjoy those same qualities that had drawn all the rest of the town's tastemakers to a few small tables in Montmartre.

20 October 2011

n.d.p. in piemonte: roberto conterno, monforte d'alba

Should you plan a trip to the Barolo region, everyone you know will tell you to do everything in your power to visit Roberto Conterno, winemaker at Giacomo Conterno, the legendary Monforte estate that is to Barolo sort of what Homer is to western literature. Then they will politely wish you luck getting an appointment.

Should you actually succeed in getting an appointment with Roberto Conterno, as my friends and I did this past August thanks to the kingly kindness of O.G. Canavese winemaker Luigi Ferrando, those same folks who wished you luck will unanimously ask you to tell Roberto they say hi.

What can you do. I think this phenomenon says less about people than it does about how people feel about Conterno and his wines. Even for the most jaded professionals who skip tastings, forget samples, and rarely finish bottles, the Giacomo Conterno operation, under Roberto's stewardship as under the last two generations', inspires nothing short of awe.

17 October 2011

cantal's last stand: le petit vendome, 75002

I've just been informed by a colleague that Auvergnat bistro Le Petit Vendôme, the Opéra area's greatest lunch spot, is set to close in December. Apparently the PV folks were never owners of the space, and now the actual owner has decided to rent to someone else. Given the location, just off the Place Vendôme, I suspect I'm not being unrealistically morbid in anticipating that a Quality & Co. or some similar soulless salad-tossing concern will move-in. There are already no less than three on that block alone.

14 October 2011

n.d.p. in piemonte: la cantinetta, barolo

"I'm going to be a slight rip-off."
"That so?"

Ordinarily you can't go wrong taking dining advice from winemakers.* Where I miscalculated after our visit to Francesco Rinaldi e Figli might have been that I hadn't been speaking with the actual winemaker. Or perhaps there simply aren't any good lunch options within the price range we were seeking** in the town of Barolo itself, which, alone among towns we visited in the region, my friends and I unanimously found to be a self-parodic touristic moneypit.

The main street of the tiny town is lined with tasting rooms, all charging for tastings. There's a "Museum of the Corkscrew" that appears to be just a baroque beard for yet another shop selling wine, t-shirts, mugs, and other wine-ish memorabilia. And the castle that dominates the town houses a Museum of Barolo, which the Native Companion and J's wife C incomprehensibly decided to visit after declining to join us tasting at Francesco Rinaldi e Figli. (At lunch they insisted the puppet shows and hammy videos in the tour at the Museum of Barolo had been very amusing.)

J and I had planned to just get paninos somewhere. But the sandwich café in Barolo that day was unconscionably hot, hotter even on the tarped-over terrace than inside among the candy bars and Lotto tickets. So we had the NC and C meet us on the pleasant terrace at La Cantinetta, a place that was probably most notable for some absurd Batman Eating Pasta With Child On Lap artwork on the wall.

12 October 2011

n.d.p. in piemonte: francesco rinaldi e figli, barolo

In any given wine region, there's bound to be a learning curve for the first-time traveler, as over the course of a few winemaker visits he or she gets a handle on local attitudes. What my friend J and I learned on our first visit in the Barolo region proper, to the estate of Francesco Rinaldi e Figli, was you should never specifically ask to taste a Barolo producer's Grignolino.

10 October 2011

worst hospitality in solar system: saturne, 75002

Anticipating a dinner with friends from New York in town for fashion week, I booked a table two weeks in advance for a Monday night at Saturne, a renowned, self-consciously high-end "cave à manger,"* where on basis of reputation I'd expected a sparkling experience. Chef Sven Chartier and sommelier Ewan Lemoigne both previously worked at Pierre Jancou's Racines in its heyday, and Chartier had put in time at Alain Passard's L'Arpège before that. It seemed reasonable to think my friends and I were in the hands of professionals, when we arrived a few minutes after 9pm for our reservation.

We never sat down, however. To my totally incredulous dismay, Saturne had botched the reservation in a laughably amateur manner, and instead of apologizing for the restaurant's error - it was without a doubt their error, for several reasons to follow - the Lemoigne fellow instead refused to seat us and, with such unquestioning emotionless self-certitude that I began to suspect he was developmentally challenged in some way,** proceeded to insist it was my own fault.

To jump ahead a bit, I'd like to publicly wonder: is this where we are now, with dining? Have we so fetishized fine product and fine wine, on both sides of the service equation, diner and restaurant, that a place like Saturne can succeed despite its operators having no sense whatsoever of basic hospitality principles, even civility? The situation disimproved, as you might have guessed. My friends and I left for a last-minute reservation hastily gleaned elsewhere before the police arrived.

04 October 2011

nightclub wines: silencio, 75002

To my mind the only truly mysterious aspect of David Lynch's new Paris nightclub Silencio is that the bar is the size of a coatcheck.

The space - what I saw of it the other night was a tangle of corridors, a smoking room, and a dance floor - totals 650m2. The result of this size discrepancy is that all the poor punters who succeed in gaining entry (a feat which it turns out can be achieved by simply being young and decent-looking and waiting for ten minutes*) have plenty of time to discuss the conventionally overwrought décor, as they wait eternities for drinks from the psychotically overworked bartenders. Was it really done by David Lynch? Who the hell remembers what the club in Mulholland Drive looks like? Why should being an excellent film director have any bearing whatsoever on the skills required to design a successful nightclub?

Presumably in efforts to minimise waits, Silencio is equipped with a second bar, tucked away in the corner overlooking the dance floor. This bar, however, is completely deserted, because it is the wine bar, replete with eight or ten selections of Douchebag Reds and Predatory Whites entombed in an Enomatic wine dispensing machine. The girl working there looked like her isolation was the punishment for something - perhaps the owners' strange idea that these wines are appropriate in a nightclub setting. This begs the question, then: what would be an appropriate wine in a nightclub setting?