31 July 2012

n.d.p. in barcelona: coure

There are myriad indicators of good hospitality in restaurants: prompt service, thoughtful suggestions, graceful reservation systems, etc. Perhaps the most outright challenging for a restaurant, however, is the time-limited meal, such as what my friend / colleague R and I were obliged to impose on Barcelona gastro-bistrot Coure at the tail end of our Barcelona trip last fall.

This is where the guest shows up, hastily states the name of his reservation, and then explains in the nicest possible terms that he's delighted be here but must leave in under an hour - and can the host or hostess kindly work that out with the waitstaff and kitchen staff? Given the often terse or restricted channels of communication between front-of-house and back-of-house staff in restaurants, this is more challenging than it may initially sound - sort of the triathalon of restaurant communication. I hated having to perform it back in Boston and Los Angeles restaurants, and I hate asking for it myself.

But R and I'd had twenty-four hours in the city without sitting at a table for a meal. We'd worked through the night, we needed lunch, and I'd heard nice things about Coure from my friend Cesar E. Castro Pou from Terroir Santo Domingo (at that time my one Barcelona connection). It seemed worth chancing a last minute sprint, even if it did involve running literally a mile with our suitcases to the restaurant.

26 July 2012

one stop shop: chez plume, 75009

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.

23 July 2012

n.d.p. in barcelona: l'anima del vi

Not Paris ! Barcelona ! To mitigate the drop in readership that occurs whenever I begin talking about cities other than Paris, I've gotten into the habit of spacing out such posts with Paris coverage. But this has the unfortunate effect of exacerbating what is already a journalistically unfathomable delay between travel experiences and blogging about them...

Anyway, in Barcelona last November on the recommendation of my friend César from Terroir Santo Domingo Imports I visited L'Anima del Vi, Barcelona's only natural wine shop (as far as I know), founded and run since 2006 by Benoît Valée, a Frenchman who hails - if I remember correctly - from the south-west somewhere.

The shop is a pleasantly scrappy space, painted green and red, furnished with cinderblocks and boxes. The ceiling descends over the register area, an unfortunate architectural feature that has the effect of making anyone positioned there seem to be lurking or brooding. Weirdly, when R and I passed by, there was just one other customer, and by enormous coincidence she happened to be another Unspecified International Wine Industry Media Person. I got self-conscious - it felt redundant to ask a round of semi-standard blogger-questions that the person standing next to me had presumably just asked. So R and I just nosed around, got a couple reccommendations, and before we left for lunch I bought a few treasures to lug back for the Native Companion, most notably a zero-sulfur artisanal vermouth by Casa Pardet in the Costers del Segre DO.

18 July 2012

situation vacant : l'office, 75009

I learned relatively recently that a restaurant I often passed in the 10ème arrondissement - a miserably named,* anonymous-looking establishment called L'Office - had been garnering great reviews under the direction of a newly-installed American chef.

Then the other day - after having met said chef, Kevin O'Donnell, through mutual friends, and after having dined once at his restaurant - I learned that O'Donnell is already slated to return back to the states. In Paris one gets used to people passing through; acquaintances often last for the duration of their summer courses or fellowships or internships. This still seems like quick turnover, particularly for a place that appears to have some momentum.

Maybe I have just been in France too long - I've forgotten how fast American careers can move. In any event, I thought I might as well share my impressions of L'Office, before they lose all relevancy. They can be summed up by saying that O'Donnell could perhaps benefit from more time in Paris restaurants, but I totally understand why he might want to escape France pronto. To phrase this less enigmatically: the cuisine at L'Office was a little under-sketched, which is something that can be improved, and one of the servers completely sucked at his job, which is something that, in France, cannot easily be improved.

16 July 2012

pulled up: racines, 75002

My friend L and I hadn't intended to go to Racines for lunch. We'd planned to go to Gyoza Bar, a very contemporary Japanese concept that has opened across from the pioneering natural wine bistrot. But there was a line at the gyoza place, and we were famished, and finally it amounted to a sort of pilgrimage for this natural wine afficionado to dine at Racines, a restaurant that, under the direction of its founder and former owner, serial restaurateur Pierre Jancou, did so much to promote a certain ethos of natural wine in France and abroad. 

Whether Jancou's famously combative, didactic style of hospitality is a salutary accompaniment to natural wine remains open for debate. I have some friends in the wine scene who seem permanently put off natural wine expressly because they associate it with what they consider to be poor hospitality. For what it's worth, I have the impression Jancou has mellowed since his time at Racines; at his present restaurant, the 10ème's Vivant, I've never had anything but stupendous service. If I hadn't visited Racines before this, it's because I was usually dining at Vivant.

I saw no urgent reason to visit what I presumed must be the husk of a great restaurant; to repurpose a Saul Bellow line, it felt like praying to the gods of an extinct volcano. It's part of Jancou's racket that he sells his restaurant's at the peak of their popularity, such that the best a new owner - in this case David Lanher - can hope for is to maintain Jancou's standards. On the basis of our lunch the other day, I can report that Racines still serves superb food and wine. The restaurant itself remains a beautiful, patinated space. What's missing is Jancou, whose standards - like those of any great restaurateur - are not limited to superb food and wine in beautiful spaces.

06 July 2012

summer vacation

For various reasons, updates will be sporadic for the next week or so.

I'll eventually post a few musings on Greek wine, should find I any wine on this island...