30 March 2015

somm-run: le siffleur de ballons, 75012

If coverage of some of my favorite Paris addresses is long overdue, it's usually because I inadvertently befriended the staff and / or ownership before I had a chance to write anything. It's hard to write about one's friends. One either gushes aimlessly, or, if one is me, one tosses, underhand, a few critical softballs, and soon loses friends. Often it doesn't seem worth the risk. What, one asks oneself, do I get out of this ?

I'm still trying to figure that out. This blog is approaching its 500th post, which, when you think about it, is a lot of booze. A lot of sacrificed lunchbreaks, a lot of aimless travel, and above all, a lot of unsolicited opinions. As with most commitments in life, I'll probably never stop thinking of ending it all.

But I'll take advantage of the valedictory humour I'm in lately to say something about my friends at Le Siffleur de Ballons, Thierry Bruneau's pitch-perfect neighborhood wine bar on rue de Cîteaux, where I can be found at least once a week. For newsiness, I might add that since autumn the bar has offered splendid aged faux-filets to share, triaged over from Bruneau's other restaurant L'Ebauchoir across the street.

24 March 2015

symbiosis: la cave du daron, 75011

For better or worse, the fate of tiny 11ème arrondissement caviste and wine bar La Cave du Daron seems intimately linked to its famous neighbors across avenue Parmentier. Inaki Aizpitarte's ubiquitously publicized triumvirate of Le Chateaubriand, Le Dauphin, and Le Cave are like the Great Whites Sharks of Goncourt, leaving the impossibly low-key La Cave du Daron to perform a remora-like function, living off the overflow.

I lived three blocks away for four years, and for all that I appreciated owner Jean-Julien Ricard's varied and intelligent wine selection, I could never think of much to say about the place. It's the size of a sardine tin, comprising just eight or so seats. Small snacks of prepared foodstuffs are available. While Ricard organises semi-frequent events with outside chefs, including Maori Murota (ex-La Conserverie, presently making lunches at Le Verre Volé Sur Mer) and Adeline Grattard (of Yam Tcha), La Cave du Daron's miniscule size pretty much restricts their audience to the hardcore fanbase of the visiting chef in question.

Ricard, too, has a loyal fanbase of young professionals who populate the bar during apéro hours. If I'm quite late in joining the party, it's because his wine prices can be a little high. What changed, then, to make me visit the other evening, and finally discover the charm of La Cave du Daron? Well, in the time since I praised the utility and simplicity of apéros at Aizpitarte's Le Cave, that wine shop has stopped serving bottles on premises, leaving La Cave du Daron as the block's only option for fine wine consumption without the attendant obligation of expensive cuisine. Modest and welcoming, Ricard is well-suited to the role he's found, as the Goncourt local's favorite low-key foil to the brouhaha across the street.

19 March 2015

n.d.p. in andalusia: bodegas el gato, rota

On the surface, there appears to be no reason whatsoever for a wine traveler to visit Rota. It is the runt of the sherry towns, almost entirely overtaken, since 1953, by a vast American Naval base, whose 4000 or so American personal tend to favour beer over the regional wines. Guinness and Corona are as easily obtained as sherry in Rota, and all three drinks vastly outsell the town's helplessly unappealing specialty, a sweet wine in the passito / vincotto vein called Tintilla di Rota.

But Rota is where the Native Companion and I wound up spending a few days last summer. We were visiting our friend B, who works on the Naval Base there, and enjoys the perk of a splendid beachfront apartment. We duly beached it up, frozen margaritas, barbecue, and beer. It was almost as an afterthought that we paid a visit to Bodegas El Gato's unassuming despacho des vinos one afternoon, drawn as much by a sense of anthropological duty as by the psychedelic cat mural on the bar's exterior.

We peered into the retail area, which seemed to be shut, or staffed by small dogs. We noticed that the Bodegas El Gato's Fino hasn't the right to the Jerez appellation; the bodega instead bottles it as a vino de mesa (table wine) and refers to it, on their website, as a "Fino Andaluz." In the adjacent terraced bar, populated unanimously by older Andalusians, we nibbled some surprisingly affecting goat cheese, which we both found more memorable than the bodega's Fino Andaluz. But nothing prepared us for dinner that evening, when our friend B led us to Bodegas El Gato's bar, around the corner from the despacho. In a standing-room-only space, behind a long bar, beneath audible neons, its mugging, churlish chefs grilled up explosive chorizo sandwiches and crackling, curlicued shrimp, plates which, while costing next to nothing, collectively amounted to our favorite restaurant experience in the entire region.

03 March 2015

n.d.p. in the loire: l'ardoise, angers

Given the tumultuous social jockeying that surrounds dinner invitations during the Loire salons, I hadn't expected to get to hang with my friends Kenji and Mai Hodsgon at all this past January. So I was delighted when they proposed dinner at one of their favorite local bistrots, an unassuming place a few blocks from the Grenier Saint-Jean called L'Ardoise.

And I was more than delighted - astonished! - that the restaurant matched the quality of the company that evening.

L'Ardoise turned out to be that rare, semi-mythical destination for the wine traveler, a marvelous small-town natural bistrot that, like Le Chat in Cosne-sur-Loire or Aux Crieurs de Vin in Troyes, displays more sophistication, humour, and ambition than most of its big-city counterparts.