30 September 2010

the saga continues: twin peaks & pouilly-fuissé

In keeping with the series' theme of split personalities (or "parallel identities," as Lynch has described them), with Twin Peaks this week the Native Companion and I shared a Mâconnais wine pretty much diametrically opposed to last week's heavenly St. Véran: a self-consciously classic Pouilly-Fuissé from the classic vintage of 2005, by the relatively large, widely lauded Domaine du Chalet Pouilly.

Diametrically opposed, I should say, in all realms but overall quality. Where the Perrauds' wine from last week was sulfite-free and so alive it seemed to swoon around the room, DduCP's Pouilly-Fuissé, while not lacking in personality, is a much more precise, educated creation - sort of a Special Agent Dale Cooper kind of wine.

29 September 2010

obligatory admiring post about: spring buvette, 75001

No, I haven't been to the restaurant upstairs. The friendly American couple (C and his wife E) I met outside informed me there was a three-month wait for reservations. This would be welcome news for liver transplants or space tourism; for a meal I have to profess I consider it a kind of insanity.*

Me and C. 
So it will come as welcome news that at 21h on a Saturday night in autumn, when my chef friend P and I left after sharing a delightful impromptu light meal with C and E, Spring Buvette still exuded a kind of prayerful, exclusive-hotel-lobby calm. Candles didn't flicker, wine didn't spill, and communal tables - which I'd expected to be kind of trough-like and lively - were still mostly empty.

So, yeah. You can get a table, and the staff - uniformly bilingual - are all pretty awesome. Part of me suspects that Daniel Rose's real secret to success - beyond the market menu, culinary ingenuity, etc. - is his fidelity to American customer service, which in Paris is considerably more scarce than great cuisine.

There are other Americanisms visible in Buvette's presentation. The big wine glasses are a treat**. The rear wall of half the restaurant is lined not with a standing bar but with two chairs and a teensy table that add significantly to the aforementioned hotel-feel. Also, it might have just been that night, but the place was chock full of Americans. I feel this might be due to the general appeal Rose's story has for American bloggers and American press in general. Chicago chef conquers Paris culinary scene! It's a kind of expat triumphalism, rendered all the more hysterical for the decades Americans have spent in quaking awe of French cuisine.

But: the wine, the wine, the wine. It's why I popped by that night, and why I'll invariably be back shortly after I receive my next paycheck. The Buvette list is absolutely crammed with serious grand-slam wines. So much so that I'm compelled to break my unofficial rule of only raving about one wine per post.

28 September 2010

oh man, where do i sign up?

In honor of the lamentably hilarious death of owner of the Segway company, who piloted his self-balancing scooter off a cliff, I thought I'd mention a relevant Paris attraction I discovered in the course of unrelated research for this blog: Segway wine tours.

You know how Segways always seem out of place, no matter where they are? Just imagine a fleet of them steered by tipsy tourists, knocking over racks and bottles, breaking glasses, running over pedestrians... An experience no one could ever forget.

I'm seriously in awe of whoever thought of this. Also I just had a good idea for my next birthday party.

27 September 2010

monday riesling + cod ceviche: quedubon, 75019

The other Monday I found myself back at Quedubon in the 19eme. Partly because my first meal there earlier this month was brilliantly enjoyable, but mostly because Quedubon is one of the only natural-wine-focused restaurant in Paris that is open on Mondays*.

On a Monday night it is simply wonderful to trek to a side street through a light late-summer drizzle and sit down to, say, a blushing plate of mild French-y cod ceviche and a glass of 2007 Domaine Ostertag "Clos Mathis" Riesling.

25 September 2010

farewell, 2008: love for the off-vintages

In keeping with this blog's near-constant coverage of cru Beaujolais, I'd like to bid farewell to La Cave de l'Insolite's last bottle of Georges Descombes' 2008 Régnié, which I purchased and drank last week. (Apologies for the blurry self-photo. We had, you know, been drinking.) 

This is nothing to get sentimental about, as by most reckoning 2008 was a miserable vintage for Beaujolais, and Michel at l'Insolite always has more terrific cru Beaujolais in stock. But it seems a good moment to reflect on these vexing wines, which were not without their rewards, and which furthermore are vaguely interesting as a case study (ahem) of some differences between French and American wine criticism. 

24 September 2010

we are the champignons: mushroom season au marché de la bastille

I really dig the market stands who present nothing but mushrooms and their necessary culinary accompaniments: spring onions, fresh bay, thyme, garlic, etc. The various mushrooms create these brilliant color-field canvases, and the whole scene is fragant with their poignantly vital scent.

No. 3 / No. 39, Mark Rothko, 1949. 

I picked up a surprisingly large sack of trompettes de la mort (trans. "trumpets of death," i.e. black trumput mushrooms) that day, which I'm still cooking through over the course of this week, testing various variations on the pancetta / spring onion theme. It's making me pine for a good Nebbiolo, which is unfortunate, because the odd great Barolo or Barbaresco or Valtellina you turn up here in Paris is invariably cruelly overpriced. (More than usual.)

Related links:

A blog devoted to mushrooming in Brittany
BBC Black Trumput Mushroom Recipes
The National article on mushroom season

23 September 2010

summer's last rosé: le garde robe, 75001

There ought to be a term - possibly Italian? - for the relief a frustrated professional experiences upon entering an environment where he or she feels, at last, understood by his or her peers. I get this when I walk into a restaurant or bar or cave and see those subtle, reassuring hallmarks of a Place That Gets It - e.g. evidence a market-based menu, or Junipero gin on offer, or, as in the case of Le Garde Robe, a superb wine bar in the 1er, the presence of a brilliantly offbeat rosé like Jean-Luc Poinsot's 2007 "Antiboul." 

22 September 2010

a junkyard called the future: iPad wine lists

Image swiped from regmedia.co.uk. 

Reading the NYTimes last night, I was bemused to discover that iPad's are being employed in certain restaurants as substitute wine lists.

Actually, "bemused" is sort of a light-hearted way of saying "filled with a profound ambivalence." (If you think I walk around the city all day in a permanent state of bemusement, then you know me very well.)

Instinctively I want to heap this idea in with cryogenic wine preservation systems, in a junkyard reserved for unbroken things that got fixed. But...

21 September 2010

even the losers: pineau d'aunis

Image swiped from lastfm.com.

Even the most celebrated grapes of the Loire - Sauvignon by a mile, with an honorable mention to Chenin, although the latter is more interesting - tend to be considered runner-up or alternative wines by the drinking public. (C.f. the discouraging number of drinkers you meet who profess to love Sancerre primarily because it's not Chardonnay.) This is fine by me, since it keeps prices down. At least relative to white Burgundy, or (red) Bordeaux.*

But dig a little further and you find a whole other realm of obscurity in the Loire, bizarre little village grapes like Cot, Grolleau, Romorantin, Gros Plants, and the subject of this post, Pineau d'Aunis, the name of which grape seems to really beg for a good anagram**. 

Image swiped from lagrapperie.com.

Had you asked me a few months ago, I would have told you that many of the above loser grapes were, in my experience, straight from the Aligoté school of pleasureless oddity winemaking. I'm in the midst of revising this opinion, though, motivated largely by two terrific Pineau d'Aunis-based wines I've had lately.

20 September 2010

follow your nose: au nouveau nez, 75011

In a perfect world - one with no shortage of material, and natural wine available everywhere - I would decline to post anything about Au Nouveau Nez, the blip-sized little cave à grignoter in my neighborhood, because doing so only increases the chances that, when I next stop by seeking a divine St. Véran and a plate of charcuterie, both tables will be occupied. There are only two tables. (If you read this and subsequently crowd the joint, you have to let me pull up a stool.)

I went there for what turned out to be a long apero with my British friend B the other day, and we lamented the impossibility of anything like Au Nouveau Nez ever turning up in London* in the near future. In London everything would require too much explanation, we reasoned. The fresh charcuterie and well-judged cheeses on offer, the slim selection of natural wines, the rotating what-ever-we-have glass pours - all these things would get fussed-over, exoticized, over-presented. There would be a coherent graphics package. Whereas in her tiny outpost in Paris' 11eme, the friendly and punctilious proprietress Nadine serves everything rather comme il faut.

18 September 2010

nothing to report: la gazzetta, 75012

I'd been hearing great things about La Gazzetta for ages. Finally went there with my folks the other night. My folks are getting on in years, and they're not huge drinkers; in this regard, La Gazzetta was perhaps an inspired choice. Because the service was remarkably attentive, super-professional, great for fussy people - and the wine list was a tedious shrug-worthy let-down. Not even I felt like drinking too much. (And let's remember my parents were in town, usually cause to drink oceans.)

Imagine swiped from fontvert.com.

It wasn't that the wine was all bad. We had a passable if somewhat overripe and limp bottle of Luberon (Grenache Blanc from southeastern Rhone) by Chateau Fontvert that went nicely with the calamari and cod and tuna we ate throughout the 5-course tasting menu. It's just that with the space so well-designed*, the service so wire-tight, Swedish chef Peter Nilsson's skills so evident, why didn't they finish the job with an engaging wine list? It's a pan-mediterranean restaurant, for Christ's sake. They had SO MUCH TO WORK WITH.

17 September 2010

oh, you shouldn't have: literary critics, bad champagne

Image swiped from sunnysidenyc.com.

Over at the Paris Review blog, I notice that Parisian literary critic Nelly Kaprielian went to interview Michel Houellebecq armed with a bottle of Veuve Clicqot. It always surprises me when an expert in one field reveals a total lack of sophistication in another field. But, save for the regrettable tendency of English writers to pronouce ignorant dictums on drinking (see Ford Maddox Ford, either Amis, etc.), the two fields have little in common, so I shouldn't blame Mme Kaprielian for name-checking such a dull mass-market cherry-coke Champagne.

Image swiped from jonathanfrance.wordpress.com, c/w Mariusz Kubik.

I do, though. Later in the same article they have a Chateauneuf-du-Pape with Moroccan food, which sounds just wrong.

I think my omnicritical impulses result from having done one or two weird career-switching pirhouettes so far in my life. (Two is if you count studying writing only to immediately begin a largely unrelated mini-career in wine.) Mercifully few people ask me about the writing career - instead they ask about the transition from wine & food to fashion (what I do now, other than write this blog).

16 September 2010

split personalities: twin peaks & st. véran

My friends here in Paris are mostly all aware by now that I've finally just this year twenty years too late begun watching Twin Peaks. I won't shut up about how great it is. I feel almost guilty for having raced through several episodes at the Native Companion's place the other night, since I'm well aware there are only two seasons and it famously falls off hard in the second. The fun with these sorts of supercompelling TV series - of which we seem to have an overwhelming deluge these days - is very much in the ritual.*

Image swiped from some other nameless blog.

Since when I last mentioned Twin Peaks it was in reference to a middling Chablis I drank while watching the pilot, I figured I'd continue the Chardonnay thing this week, and start another ritual. Chardonnay & Twin Peaks. Chardonnay - the Every-Grape, much-maligned, too often innocuous - seems a good match for the series' fictional town. In both, you can dig up some fascinating personalities, far-removed from the innocent dull stereotypes, with just the barest bit of research.

So with Episodes 1, 2, and 3, the NC and I shared a real dream sequence of a St. Véran by the Beaujolais-based Isabelle et Bruno Perraud.

15 September 2010

some other, better paris: le dirigeable, 75015

Update: 23/10/2013: I've just heard Le Dirigeable has closed. Bummer. 

Gilles Bénard, owner of another great restaurant, Quedubon, on why he doesn't cross town to see his friends at Le Dirigeable more often: "Ici à Paris, on est très sedentaire..." (Trans: Here in Paris, we're very sedentary.)

Let's see: a 35-hour workweek, an employment-for-life system that gravely disincentivises turnover in any form, lopsided rental law that pretty much prohibits eviction, powerful unions totally opposed to even reasonable sorts of labor reform, whose frequent crippling strikes are viewed as kind of national pastime... No kidding, Gilles! Getting Parisians to cross a medium-sized city for dinner is probably a little like raising the retirement age a wee bit.

But so it goes. Le Dirigeable, one of the city's most well-hidden dining gems, is way out in the 15eme arrondissement. Unless you're an entrenched Parisian family who lives out there, it's a hike. I can enthusiastically attest, however, that it's worth every step. Owned and run jointly by my friends Guy and Franck, this is the sort of natural, unpretentiously fine restaurant that in a perfect world would crown every neighborhood.

Guy & me.

14 September 2010

gamay au grand palais: mini palais opening, 75008

Image swiped from bc.edu.

Last night on a surprise invitation from my visiting friend J I attended the re-opening night of the newly refurbished restaurant in the Grand Palais, titled Mini Palais.

Not the name I would have chosen, either. For one thing, the place is huge.But what can you do. I imagine the board of investors for a deep-pocket place like this would probably fill both dining halls.

Really working the antiquity angle with the decor.

13 September 2010

chardonnay raised by wolves: gilles et catherine vergé

Image swiped from wildernessclassroom.com.

Many of the most innovative and fascinating vignerons working in France right now conduct serious business under the humble Vin de Table appellation, the laws surrounding which stipulate that said wine can display neither vintage nor grape varietal on the label. Hence you often get labels like this one, which adorned one of the most memorable wines I've had in months.

A label like this says almost nothing, but nevertheless it's total catnip to the wine geek who notices the following things: 

12 September 2010

wine list playlist: talulah gosh + old vine grenache

For variety's sake, a little viscious lighthearted song I've been digging all summer. If this song were a wine, it would be a 2006 Vin de Pays de l'Ardeche called "Briand," by Domaine du Mazel, that I drank the other night at Le Dirigeable. Brisk, tart, and deep as a bagel-cut. Neither the wine nor the song is particularly fresh, since by the standards of inexpensive south-central French VdP 2006 might as well be the mid-eighties. Actually there is probably a wider metaphor to be proposed here, about the similar lifespans of pop songs and simple table wines. But then every so often a strange leftfield classic comes along, like this wine, like this song, both of which feel as fresh as the day they were composed.  The wine is an old-vine Grenache and the song is Talulah Gosh.

Image swiped from vin-bio-naturel.fr.

11 September 2010

white wine, asian food, asians: gohan night @ café commun, 75012

Here is a link to an NYTimes article that touches tangentially upon one of my favorite pairings: German wine and Chinese food. It's worth reading, even if the author has evidently done backflips with what was essentially a Dining & Wine piece in efforts to make it relevant to the current rash of humiliating American xenophobia.

I mention it (the pairing, not the xenophobia) as preamble to coverage of a really lovely meal I had last Friday at Café Commun, a community events space in the 12eme. The meal was prepared by my Japanese friend M, who's had kind of the opposite career arc to my own.

10 September 2010

heaven is an aperitif: le baron rouge, 75012

I count it among my blessings that I don't live closer to Le Baron Rouge. It's a ten minute bike ride, not exactly leagues away, but that's enough to prevent a complete descent into grinning autoconversational drunkenness, which is what would surely occur if I were at liberty to pop in for a quick splash of Muscat Sec, say, before work in the morning.

Why is the place so appealing to me? Why would Le Baron Rouge be my downfall, and not any of the countless other wine bars in Paris? I don't want to go to great length about this (mostly due to blogger self-consciousness about covering the already-breathlessly-covered), but I'll say that no other wine bar so perfectly realizes the romantic ideal of the Rustic French Wine Bar. 

09 September 2010

who's the dude in the skirt?

Image swiped from telegraph.co.uk.

The other day while picking up a few bottles at La Cave de L'Insolite, Michel (the owner) introduced me to two Loire valley winemakers who were there promoting their wines. Unfortunately I was in a hurry and couldn't taste with them. But I wanted to plug their domaines anyway, because it feels worth mentioning that these were some really nice nonjudgmental guys. How do I know this? I came straight from work and was wearing sarouels, which from certain angles look somewhat skirt-like, and which I usually don't wear to wine events, or around winemakers, who are essentially farmers, since I'm aware that doing so transmits an image of pure girly-man foppery. But no one batted an eyelash. We chatted about the harvest in Anjou.

Image swiped from blackcdg-ny.blogspot.com.
What to wear to when meeting winemakers? If you knew the long hours spent agonizing in front of the mirror, thinking which dungarees, which boots, which stained tee-shirt... 

Domaine de l'R

Domaine du Clos de l'Elu 

(Again, no idea if the wines are any good. I can vouch for their nonchalance in the face of high fashion though.)

08 September 2010

we're not on same: les pages du vin, 75005

The other night the Native Companion & I stopped into a wine bar in her neighborhood called Les Pages du Vin, planning to have a quiet glass of white wine while we decided what to do for dinner. I'd popped into this cave à manger a little over a year ago, shortly after they opened and shortly after I arrived in Paris. I remembered how nice the proprietors were. I also remembered being nevertheless kind of unimpressed with their selection of wine, which struck me, at the time, as being a little cold. This is a difficult concept to express. The other night while NC checked her watch I spent fifteen minutes glumly perusing bottles expressly designed to look like classic wine bottles -

- and trying to think of the French term for "slickness." 

07 September 2010

musk-rat sex: le baron rouge, 75012

An indulgent rave about a totally obscure little wine that has enchanted me all summer: a 2009 Muscat Sec, by Domaine Piquemal, currently available for a mere 8,2eu / bottle à emporter, or 2,9eu / glass at Le Baron Rouge. 

06 September 2010

practically our canteen: le petit vendome, 75002

A few posts ago while raving about Le Rubis I mentioned there were two terrific lunch places near my office in the 1er. Here's the other one:

Here are the owners, as pictured on the menu, which, on those rare occasions it changes, does so via white-out and Sharpie:

I imagine if there's ever any kind of succession they'll just white-out one of the heads and draw in the new owner. (Related anecdote: we had a good rapport with the previous rugged jolly sandwich maker here. One of my friends made out with him. He left without explanation one day, replaced by someone who looked very similar, only a little skinnier. Equally jolly. There is still a sandwich special named after the original dude.)

05 September 2010

patronizing the rollmop guy: le marché de la villette, 75019

By which I simply mean that I bought some rollmops from him. I didn't, like, badger him with facetious questions about proper fish-pickling technique.

I've always walked by his stand at the market and kind of pitied him, because his product - all manner of smoked and pickled herring, a real cornucopia of herring - is so deeply ill-suited to commercial display.

Actually, I was so reelingly hung over the other morning that I wound up making a lot of silly impulse buys. Overripe époisses, absurd quantities of young coconut milk, almost a tenner's worth of rollmops...* The latter because someone had told me recently that rollmops (pickled herring rolled around pickles, onions, red pepper, etc.) were terrific for curing hangovers. A total lie. I ate a few and then bicycled home, feeling quite like I myself had been pickled and bent around a cocktail stuffing. 

04 September 2010

a slug of henny

A local delicacy I came across earlier this summer, during a very peaceful few days spent on the Ile d'Oléron.

Some people just like cognac in everything, I guess.

I wonder if these will ever catch on like that other famous cognac-based product: 

03 September 2010

eternal sad little life: wine by one, 75002

This futuristic style of wine retail always reminds me of the sex scenes in Woody Allen's Sleeper, where the participants enter a phone booth-like construction for a few seconds and promptly emerge looking disheveled and postcoital. What's missing is a certain physicality.

I was particularly saddened to see Nicolas Joly's gorgeous Coulée de Serrant cryogenically packed into one of these moron vaults, awaiting a decade until enough suckers passed through willing to drop 20eu (or thereabouts) on 10cl of wine in a Jetson-type environment. These wine IV-systems always promise eternal freshness. On the off chance that there's no such thing, the Coulée de Serrant, being a dense biodynamic beast of a Chenin, actually still has a good chance of remaining drinkable for the long haul. (Nicolas Joly extravagantly recommends drinking it over the course of a week, a glass per night. Like hell we will, Nick!) For the rest of the wines in this sad hypermodern little mortuary, I remain skeptical. 

The dude working at Wine By One actually asked me not to take photos, apparently because their architect is very concerned about someone ripping him off. More photos after the jump!

02 September 2010

thank gana it's september: comptoir gana, 75011

My favorite bakery just reopened.

They were closed all of August, probably out shaking the farine out of their hair on the deck of a yacht off the coast of Corse... Leaving us denizens of the 11eme precisely zero options for excellent baguettes FOR AN ENTIRE MONTH. (These are truly pilllowy crusty lovely perfectly-salted creations, the modest highlight of many a meal.)

if cru beaujolais ever gets too cool...

Then to retain my geek cred I'll start talking up much lesser-known Côte Roannaise reds, named for the town of Roanne, west of the river Loire in the Rhone-Alpes region. (Under an hour from Lyons, I'm told.) Gamay from mostly granitic soil, in the hands of a good producer these are brisk, earthy, acid-packed wines, all rust and wild strawberries. Kind of the Huckleberry Finn to Beaujolais' wilier Tom Sawyer.

I drank a bottle last night as a last-minute farewell nightcap with my friend S, who's had enough of Paris and is leaving today:

More description and a video after the jump.

01 September 2010

who needs enemies? aux deux amis, 75011

A brief note on restaurant service, occasioned by my last two visits to Aux Deux Amis, an otherwise excellent wine / small plates place in the 11eme. If you've missed it walking by on rue Oberkampf, it's because it's disguised as any old run-of-the-mill Parisian bar, replete with tacky countertops and lighting that belongs in a dentist's office.