18 February 2014

pioneers: le tagine, 75011

I started frequenting my friend Marie-Jo Mimoun's adorable Morroccan restaurant Le Tagine about two years ago. Mimoun has a superb little Rhône-focused wine list, featuring, among others, such legends as Domaine Gramenon, Dard et Ribo, and Jean Foillard. Yet on every visit I'm surprised by how little wine is consumed in the place. The haute-Marais clientele, largely white and French (i.e. non-Muslim), seem to stick to beer.

I can only assume it's because Le Tagine doesn't look like a wine place. It looks like a chill spot for some ethnic food with the family on a weeknight. And I get the impression that Paris diners - native and tourist - are more reluctant to purchase serious wine from people who don't look classically French.

Justin E. H. Smith, professor of history and philosophy of science at Université Paris Diderot, recently touched on this bias in a terrific NYTimes Opinion piece, where he astutely cited the link between European nativism and "the celebration of terroir and 'Slow Food'." It's a discomfiting alliance based on resistance to globalism and its effects. At worst, as in the case of Friulian winemaker / hatemonger Fulvio Bressan, the resistance is manifested as outright racism. In France, we see certain slippery creeps organising anti-Muslim protests under the guise of "sausage and wine" parties beside mosques. On a far more innocuous level, you have the fact that quality terroir-driven wines in France - let alone natural wines - are consumed almost exclusively in identifiably French restaurants.

In the case of Le Tagine, an overlooked gem of a restaurant that boasts stupendous service and solid soulful Morroccan cuisine alongside its well-priced wine list, it's a crying shame. On the plus side, there's almost always a six-top free when I need one.

11 February 2014

parisian pizza: il brigante, 75018

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.

07 February 2014

loire salons 2014: la dive bouteille, les penitantes, la renaissance des appellations, les vins anonymes

If ever you wish to experience an almost out-of-body sense of superfluousness, visit the January Loire salons and tell the natural winemakers you meet that you are a journalist. Of hundreds of winemakers present, only a vanishingly small percentage are subject to the conditions that would warrant paying you any attention whatsoever, i.e. they use the Internet, have wine to sell, and are aware of the commercial value of positive press. I've illustrated the scarcity of this demographic in a handy bubble graphic after the jump.

I never take it personally. Since at present I have the luxury (or misfortune, depending on when you ask me) of not buying and selling wine for a living, I kind of just moon around the various tastings and do my best to make the sort of fleeting interpersonal connections that become useful at later dates, such as when I'm trying to secure interviews, or volunteer for harvest work, or plan bike trips around tasting appointments. "I'm the guy who stared at you and waved from across the restaurant in Angers! Who said hello with from behind the restaurateur accompanying your Canadian importer!" etc. (These are fictitious examples, but not far from reality.)

I leave it to readers to judge whether this constitutes a useful perspective on the Loire salons. This year I accompanied my friend J to La Renaissance des Appellations, Salon Les Penitantes, Les Vins Anonymes, and La Dive Bouteille. What follows are some scattered takeaways.

04 February 2014

beyond izakaya: restaurant 6036, 75011

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.