30 November 2010

christmas profiteering: the not drinking poison gift guide

Image nicked from purecashmagazine.com.
Every year people ask me what to buy for the wine geek or aspiring wine geek in their life. Every year I write the same few book titles on the backs of a few napkins, which are presumably still balled-up in these same people's jacket pockets, having been instantly forgotten, and laundered into oblivion by now.

This year is going to be different. I've created a Not Drinking Poison Gift Guide!

29 November 2010

n.d.p. in madrid: common decency at bocaito

After a few nights spent careening around Madrid en masse guided only by iPhones and good intentions, it was a tremendous relief on our last night to actually have a reservation in our name somewhere. My friend D's friend C, a Madrid native, had made the res from London and then moved heaven and earth to arrive in time for the main course.

I suspect that D had made us intentionally late for C's sake, actually. We all trooped into Chueca-district restaurant Bocaito loopy on sherry and about an hour late, prompting the matronly proprietress to unleash a wild tirade on impoliteness and ethics to the only member of our party who could understand her, which happened to be Y, the curator of the group show in which D's wife E was performing. We all seated ourselves red-faced with heads bowed - but grinning, since at very least we were seated, and at a restaurant that promised to be decent, even.

26 November 2010

n.d.p. in madrid: a few quick splashes at taberna tempranillo

It's hard being a walk-in party of ten on a Friday night. You might as well all wear matching signs that say "Sucker." The fact is, any restaurant worth sitting down at will be booked solid on a Saturday night; the ones that are not are the strugglers and failers, whose general sad desperation is reliably reflected in that of the waitstaff, who will rob you blind without blinking.

But in Madrid that is the situation we found ourselves in. My friend D and I had a few tip-offs for chaotic tapas bars, but everyone (notably his wife / my friend E, the reason we were all in Madrid in the first place) preferred to sit down after a hard days' museum viewing. For twenty minutes all ten of us ricocheted around Calle Cava Baja, rejecting restaurant after restaurant for being either too slammed or too disturbingly calm. Finally D made an admirable well-intentioned capital-dee Decision and convinced everyone to wait still longer for a half-promised table at a what was quite plainly a sinister rip-off joint for old-school geezers.*

Everyone but me. Immune to shame, I told everyone I'd return when the table was ready and I popped off solo to revisit one of the recommended manic tapas bars we'd passed earlier, Taberna Tempranillo.

25 November 2010

n.d.p. in madrid: the vision of la venencia

I actually spent about 90% of my time in Madrid viewing sculptures, paintings, and installations at the city's numerous well-appointed museums and art spaces. My friend E's performance at La Casa Encendida consisted, in a purely visual sense,* of the artist alone in a sailing ship suspended by cables from the roof of a large hall above an artificial tempest of whirring air-blowers. It was pretty striking.

Now, for the sake of encouraging interdisciplinary appreciation, and at the risk of sounding like a total philistine, I'm going to aver that the scene at La Venencia - the rightly famous sherry bar in central Madrid where we all went after her performance one night - moved me in a similar fashion.

24 November 2010

n.d.p. in madrid: hangover cuisine at almendro 13

Posting about this place not because it was particularly spectacular by any measure, but rather because I found it illustrative of the general joyous brutality of the whole tapas concept.

You walk in and fight - almost literally fight - your way to a table still cluttered and smeared with the greasy debris of its last occupants, where you wedge yourself in and immediately employ coats, scarves, and handbags as vital seat-holders for whichever poor souls among your party are kind or credulous enough to volunteer to fetch food and drinks, neither of which can be ordered from the table you just fought for. You must leave your seat and visit either the bar (either floor) or the kitchen (ground floor only), which venture risks inviting invasion by hawk-eyed seat-stealing Spanish women with lip-rings.

23 November 2010

n.d.p. in madrid: rocking txakolina in la latina

A common misconception, when I drag tired friends from bar to random bar in a foreign city, is that I'm searching for The Best Wines. Usually I'm too busy urging everyone onwards and researching other addresses to even begin to clarify that greatness isn't what I'm after - that all I'm after is typicity*: something that speaks of a particular area or a culture.

So while killing time before my friend E's art opening this past weekend in Madrid, I was quite thrilled to have several healthy glasses of random fizzy Txakolina at Lamiak in the La Latina neighborhood. (Admittedly much of my good mood may have derived from watching the bartenders.)

22 November 2010

savant chinois: q-tea, 75009

Instead of offering a straight informative review of Q-Tea, a criminally unassuming Chinese restaurant in the 9ème, I'd like to sketch a blurb of a pop-academic article I'd like to write someday, on the subject of selective aesthetic blindness.

(When greatly moved by something, I get the instinctive urge to produce a response commensurate, in ambition, to whatever it was first moved me - in this case, the greatest Chinese food I've ever tasted.)

21 November 2010

estoy perdido!

Image swiped from chnm.gmu.edu.

The recent uncharacteristic radio silence is not because I have stopped drinking, or thinking too much about drinking.

It's because I've been bumbling around in Madrid for the past three days, sherry glass in hand, largely incommunicado.  

Once I change into some clean socks and get my thoughts in order I'll begin posting all about it.

18 November 2010

champagne 101: salon du champagne @ julhès paris, 75010

It figures that what was, objectively speaking, the least interesting tasting on my calendar this month proved to be probably the most satisfyingly educational. My landlady and her husband had invited me to a Champagne tasting at their strangely-named cave of choice in the 10ème, and since I'd flaked on similar invites in the past, I joined them this time, even though it was a rainy Saturday morning, and no vignerons were slated to attend, and after getting a late start I still had a sack of sopping groceries in my wobbly bicycle-basket.

The cave, it turns out, is named after its propietor, Nicolas Julhès, a charming, energetic, slightly elfin gentleman with very much the right ideas about wine. And the tasting was so edifying precisely because it was so simple: 8 large-to-enormous Champagne houses pouring two wines each, their basic and a selection cuvée, which presentation caused me to realise that despite having tasted all these wines before on various occasions, I'd never actually had the opportunity taste them side by side in quick succession.*

17 November 2010

impromptu mas foulaquier tasting: spring boutique, 75001

The other night I promised myself just an apéro at Spring Boutique with Josh and my friends D and C. But then the arrival of Josh's excellent friend T prompted us to have a further bottle of Riesling. Then, no sooner had we unscrewed the cap of said Riesling than in strode the snazzily-bespectacled wine agent Sylvie Chameroy, with Blandine Chauchat, of Mas Foulaquier, and a truly dizzying array of biodynamic Pic-Saint Loup samples.

I start with good intentions and I wind up with red teeth.

16 November 2010

honorary member: twin peaks & vin de pays de sainte marie la blanche

I'm not cut out for sticking to themes. Faced with a choice between two mid-range organic Mâcon Chardonnays that I knew to be a little heavy around the waist and Emmanuel Giboulot's crackingly great (and great value) "Terres Burgondes" blanc, I had to spring for the latter, even if, not being Chardonnay, it threatened the thematic integrity of my blog series.

Giboulot's "Terre Burgondes" is 100% Pinot Beurot, which is the name they use for the smattering of Pinot Gris in Burgundy. Pinot Gris is in turn synonymous with the grape many Americans request when they desire a wine with no character at all: Pinot Grigio.*

So I sat around with the Native Companion the other night watching Twin Peaks drinking a bottle of PG.

15 November 2010

how did i manage to overlook: caves du marais, 75004

Actually, it's no shocker that after a year and a half here in Paris, including two months living just a few blocks away in the Marais, I hadn't noticed Caves du Marais. It totally blends in.*

There's also the question of the name. Dry, grey names like this, that reference only the what a place is and it's location, are always a toss-up - they can either be cruddy no-nothing corner establishments, or they can be, like, the Union Square Café. Sometimes, as with Caves du Marais, you can't really tell from outside. I only wandered in because I noticed some of Antoine Arena's good Corsican wines in the window.

14 November 2010

minor casualties: oysters & chablis dinner

The occasion was there was no occasion. Oysters are plentiful and cheap and in season, and for a few more days last month, I still had run of my landlady's superbly tricked-out kitchen in Belleville. So the Native Companion and I invited over a crowd of friends and asked that everyone bring either oysters or decent Chablis.

Then we got shuckin'. Or everyone else did. I concentrated on putting the finishing touches to an enormous pot of clam-and-cockle chowder.*

12 November 2010

cocktail curiosity shop: izrael, 75004

One key piece of advice for drinking in Paris: almost never order cocktails. They just plain suck here. With the notable and laudable exception of the Experimental Cocktail Club mini-empire, the cocktail scene in Paris is about as sophisticated as a half-stocked BU frat party in the mid-to-late nineties. For evidence, just look to the ubiquity of mojitos, which in the rest of the civilized world ceased being cool, and began to be recognized as just a watery hassle, about a decade ago. (I can and will write a whole separate post on how keenly I wish for that drink to disappear.)

11 November 2010

chianti petillante: la colombaia @ avn dégustation, 75019

Tasting the wines of Helena Lomazzi, right, with Cyril from Le Verre Volé, left.
At what is essentially a loose conference of rebellious Vin de Table-happy vignerons, it's pretty hard to stand out simply by presenting weird wines. ("They're weird - and?" being the implicit response.) But La Colombaia's Helena Lomazzi, who was also notable for being the only Italian vigneron in the room* at Monday's Association des Vins Naturels Grand Dégustation, had a bottle that actually made me laugh, it was so joyously strange.

A sparkling Chianti.

10 November 2010

viré-clessé anarchy: catherine vergé @ avn dégustation, 75019

The Association des Vins Naturels held its Grand Dégustation on Monday at the Pavillion in the Parc du Buttes Chaumont. I'd actually never been to a more anarchic tasting. Tables were seemingly themed according to general aura ("vin sérieux," etc.) rather than by region or vigneron, and everywhere you looked there was a crushed melee of raincoats, umbrellas, and wet scarves, on account of a vicious unrelenting rainshower outside. By noon when I arrived with my friend D, all bottles had traveled very far from their vignerons, and whatever information you wanted on the wines, you had to kind of fight for.

Nevertheless, a highlight for me was meeting Catherine Vergé, the vigneron behind a bizarre oxidative Vin de Table I raved about recently, best known for her and her husband's acclaimed range of Viré-Clessés. When I spotted her she was sporting her AVN tag on her forehead, looking pretty bemused by the whole situation. (I wish I'd taken a picture then.)

09 November 2010

josé peña sardine tasting: spring boutique, 75001

One of the many reasons I dig Spring Boutique is they are totally unabashed about their enthusiasm for obscure delicacies, no matter how unmarketable.

08 November 2010

beef? or salad? you order first.

One of the comic highlights of my recent trip to Reims came shortly after exiting the station, when we passed this restaurant:

You have to give them credit for choosing a theme and sticking to it. No Asian fusion or funny foams and reductions going on here. No oyster nights or "art" exhibitions or tango lessons on the weekend. I can just imagine having a business luncheon here among a bunch of provincial Frenchmen:

"Bon, qu'est-ce que tu prends, toi?"
"Bah, je sais meme pas encore..."
"Moi non plus. Soit le boeuf, ou..."
"Il y a la salade, aussi, ils en ont de la salade."
"Soit le boeuf, soit la salade, oui, c'est claire."

07 November 2010

simple comme un boujour: autour d'un verre, 75009

Revisited Autour d'Un Verre the other night, Kevin Blackwell's cave à manger hideaway in the 9ème. I'd first been some months ago with my fellow American expats D and C who live just up the street, and it was with these same folks I returned, along with our visiting friends L and B, from the LA band Fool's Gold and the Rome fashion / lit mag Grey, respectively. It was like the summit of the far-flung Americans.

05 November 2010

pho-k me: pho 14, 75013

I finally got around to checking out Pho 14 in the 13ème. No wine interest whatsoever there, so I won't go into it at length, except to say that it was probably the best pho I've had in my life.

I used to live in LA, where it's sort of a given that the tiny ethnic joints - Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, El Salvadorian, etc. - contain the best food in the city. Paris couldn't be more different; too often the foreign food here is miserably over-adapted to the local tastes, which means a total lack of salt or spice.* Not so at Pho 14, where the pho was also distinguished by the freshness of the beef, the fineness of the tripe, and the focused clarity of the broth. I was kind of blown away.

*We watched as the two teenage French girls next to us carefully removed everything flavorful from their pho, right down to the last onion sliver and coriander leaf, before tucking in. 

Pho 14
129, avenue de Choisy
75013 PARIS
Metro: Tolbiac
Tel: 01 45 83 61 15

04 November 2010

terrific pipsqueak wines: gustave et jules, 75011

One of the central ironies I first confronted, as a wine geek arriving in Paris from the remote asphalt plains of LA, was the shocking difficulty of finding an honest glass of natural wine in a bar here.

It's not actually as easy as you think. Glass pours in all but the best of bars are routinely selected on a basis of either lowest-common-denominator pleasurability, or a proprietor's personal relationships with the vigneron or agent, or some combination of these factors. Neither encourages typicity or expressiveness in glass-pours; in fact they tend to discourage these qualities, which are all I'm really looking for in a glass of wine in a bar on an evening after work. Not miracles, just honesty. 

Now: having defined what little it is I'm seeking in a good neighborhood wine bar, I can set about heartily endorsing the subject of this post, Gustave et Jules. It's an unpretentious little wine bar just down the road from the MacDonald's near Metro Parmentier, and it's remarkable for a wine list that contains almost nothing but brisk inexpensive vivacious dirty life-sustaining natural pipsqueak wines.

03 November 2010

almost fun not knowing: twin peaks & côte roannaise chardonnay

Alright. In my search for exceptional French Chardonnays to pair with episodes of David Lynch's Twin Peaks, I got a little too optimistic the other day, and dropped 10eu on a bottle of intriguing Vin de Table Chardonnay by Domaine du Picatier, from the Côte Roannaise, a Rhone-Alpes region best known for good-value granitic-soil Gamay.

It made for an appropriate, if totally unenjoyable, pairing with Episodes 16, 17, & 18, which together constitute roughly the point where, Laura Palmer's killer having killed himself after confessing, the series loses all suspense and descends into silly time-wasting anarchic nonsense. The wine, whose lot number leads me to believe dated from 2008, tasted like a hasty rough draft of itself, colorless and fade. It was like a page on which you have a setting, a few scraps of dialogue, and a big question mark where you've perhaps intended, at some later date, to add a plot. The Native Companion and I eventually just wrote it off, like pretty much any scene involving the Dick Tremaine character:

02 November 2010

mid-term elections in america today

We haven't been led to expect good news, but here's hoping.

Related Links:

Chocolate & Zucchini on the crapaudine beet

01 November 2010

rhymes with "pants"

I realized belatedly that it was a three day weekend. Like, Friday night I realized this. Since it was far too last-minute to book any really ambitious trips, the Native Companion and I took a jaunt to Reims.

Despite having lived in Paris her whole life, she'd never been, either. When I asked her why, she gave me a look of indulgent incomprehension, from which I gathered that the only reason she was even accompanying me now was she assumed Reims had some kind of significance for wine geeks.

Lunch at Bistro Henri IV, enjoyable enough.