31 July 2013

hey one-percenter : le griffonnier, 75008

Hey, One-Percenter ! Ever wished to enjoy a simple French bistrot experience, only significantly nicer, at marginally greater cost ?

Haven't we all. I'm barely solvent, and still I routinely find myself wishing I could simply pay more for a civil experience in Paris. There's a cultural chasm in contemporary French restaurateurism, between the segment that whorishly lunges after money and modernity, and the rest, to whom the very idea of money is vaguely offensive, like a horse suggesting horse-riding to other horses.

The great thing about 8ème arrondissement power-bistrot Le Griffonnier is it's the sort of establishment one thinks must exist, and turns out, in fact, to exist : a place where politicians and bankers eat the same unimprovable French village staples as you do for lunch every day, only their plates arrive with a glistening side of wealth, by which I mean serious service and serious wine.

29 July 2013

lettie teague nearly encounters natural wine, remains skeptical

Vis à vis this howler of an article published earlier this month by Wall Street Journal wine critic Lettie Teague, I'm like the medieval juror who shows up late to court only to find the guilty defendant has already been executed. My work here seems to be done.

Teague's article was so journalistically bankrupt, however, and betrayed such an objectionable misunderstanding of the subject of wine in general, that I thought I might blow on the embers around the stake a bit before I return to my day job.

My few French readers might quite like my chief criticism : that Lettie Teague passed public judgment on an arguably French phenomenon without quoting any French people whatsoever. It's like asking Europeans to define barbecue, or brunch. The sources she quoted (full list presented in all its absurdity after the jump) seem to have been chosen at random, or perhaps in the course of research for unrelated articles. Teague's conclusion, after sampling no self-identified natural wines and speaking to precisely one person with more than a peripheral relationship to the scene (Alice Feiring), is that some wines considered natural taste good, others don't, but she doesn't want to hear about it either way. She just wants a nice beverage.

25 July 2013

killing it : restaurant bones, 75011

Good or bad, a meal never quite gets replicated, because too many variables are in play. Menus change, weather shifts, vintages turn, staff move on, tables break, bars get worn, hype evaporates - and so on. In Paris, where even basic hospitality remains touchingly uncommodified, restaurants are even more protean than the norm, with the quality of a meal often coming to depend overwhelmingly on whether one's server feels chipper on a given day. A critic's challenge is to arrive at conclusions that apply to more than one experience.

The most challenging subject, therefore, is a restaurant that unceasingly challenges itself. My friend James Henry's new-ish place Bones is one of these. Tucked on a side street off métro Voltaire, the northernmost border of the culinary renaissance currently occurring in the Faidherbe-Charonne area (Septime, Le Six Paul Bert, Rino, etc.), Bones was a barnstorming success from the get-go. I could have raved about the meal I had there back in January, a tour-de-force that crested with an unforgettable dessert of fresh almonds, coffee mousse, goat yogurt sorbet, and lemon. But had I done so I couldn't have reported simultaneously on the subsequent expansion of the bar menu far beyond pulled-pork sandwiches; the restaurant's brief flirtation with à la carte service; and the flourishing of its by-the-glass list, which bests most restaurants in Paris in both breadth and quality.

I also would have missed the steady improvement in Henry's bread-making skills. He has good reason to want his bread to succeed: as Americans are to scrambled eggs, so are the French to bread, a subject on which even the dullest nitwits feel entitled to nitpick. When one sits down to dine at Bones, one is treated to a hat trick of forcefully flavourful house-made products - charcuterie, butter, and the bread - that serve as a kind of clarion, a wake-up call to any guests who, perhaps on the basis of Bones' bare décor, were expecting a simple bistrot meal.

11 July 2013

the home front : touller outillage, 75011

As preamble to what I'm about to say about new 11ème wine bar Touller Outillage, I thought I'd introduce readers to its surrounding Parmentier neighborhood, where I've been living for the past four years. 

Two parallel roads descend southwest from Menilmontant, one of which, rue Oberkampf, I've previously described as "a waterslide of vomit" until it hits métro Parmentier. There are student bars, concert venues, dire nightclubs, and leery downmarket bistrots straight out of a Jeunet film. The other road, rue Jean Pierre Timbaud, is first occupied by a mosque and the related Islamo-paraphernalia industry, arrayed around a dusty pigeon-painted public square; but southwest of this pious interlude the road resumes the habits of its neighbor and becomes a debaucherous slag-heap of strong beer and kebabs. Bisecting these two roads is rue Saint Maur, a nice enough road further south-east, but one which along this particular stretch houses both a miniature skee-ball hall and a deserted bar themed around race-car simulators.  

When diners, both Parisian and international, complain, with certain justification, that natural wine has become a trendy luxury, they are most certainly not referring to my neighborhood or my street. Which is why I take it as a salutary development - a sign that natural wine is reaching new audiences - when Said Messous, owner of Jean Pierre Timbaud nightclub L'Alimentation Generale, reveals himself to be a closet natural wine fan, and helps his cousin Farid Meza open a roomy, egalitarian, helplessly unhip wine bar like Touller Outillage right next door.  

05 July 2013

paris wine company launch

My good friend and frequent travel companion Josh Adler is launching a company that ships wine from France to private clients the USA. He's called it Paris Wine Company, a name I initially hated but which has grown on me slightly since. Unbelievably, the domaine name wasn't already taken, possibly having been passed over as too faceless or ill-targeted. (Pets dot com, anyone?)

Parisians sure won't be buying much wine from him. Parisians by and large don't spend any serious money on wine, and the few that do don't seem to purchase from anyone they haven't known for generations. Josh will mainly be shipping to our fellow Americans, in an importer-distributor-wineseller circumvention that has already teed off several other industry friends. What's good news for private wine clients, these industry friends argue, is bad news for them and the industry they serve.

I can see both sides of the argument. I delve into them after the jump. But the occasion for this post wasn't soul-searching on my part. It was to mention - all philosophical qualms ceding precedence to friendship - that Paris Wine Company is launching tomorrow, July 6th, with a tasting / party at Verjus Wine Bar (75001) at 2pm, featuring superb Angevin vignerons Nicolas Bertin & Genevieve Delatte and Kenji & Mai Hodgson.

01 July 2013

the angevin clan, pt. 3: bertin-delatte / l'echalier, rablay-sur-layon

In writing about the generation of young Anjou vignerons I've come to call the Angevin Clan, my chronology has inadvertently worked against central figures Nicolas Bertin and Geneviève Delatte of Domaine Bertin-Delatte.  They're the last of the clan to be discussed, when in fact it was Delatte who introduced my friends and me to Cédric Garreau, and it was at Bertin and Delatte's unfinished house that we all gathered for lunch after tasting with Garreau and Kenji and Mai Hodgson.

Having founded their 3ha estate in 2008, Bertin and Delatte have a few years more experience than the other vignerons at the lunch table that day. But Bertin only gave up his part-time job tending vines for nearby estate Domaine Pierre Chauvin the week before we visited. (Cedric Garreau, for his part, still does vineyard work for other estates to make ends meet.) Bertin may have encapsulated the challenges facing a young vigneron in the Coteaux de Layon when we asked him whether he'd ever tried his hand at making the region's eponymous sweet wine: No, he said, because he doesn't like drinking it, it's hard to make, and it's hard to sell.

Bertin and Delatte make just one wine in any appreciable quantity: L'Echalier, a mostly young-vine dry Chenin that, I was to realise over lunch that day, I had always been drinking too young. Can I be blamed ? It's what one usually does with young-vine Chenin in that price point. How was I to know, before meeting and tasting with the winemakers, that "L'Echalier" positively blooms in the bottle after two years?