20 January 2011

correct, naturally: les côtelettes, 75004

I make no secret of enjoying 19ème natural wine bistro Quedubon partly for the warmth and bravado of Gilles, the ever-present owner. So in visiting his other, older restaurant Les Côtelettes (formerly L'Impasse) for the first time the other day with my British friends R and A, I was curious to see which charms stayed consistent without the man himself around. R and I had steeled ourselves for whatever, both finding it odd that neither of us had previously heard much about the restaurant, despite its immediate proximity to an apartment (R's little thimble-sized garret) that we'd both lived in at different times. And we understood that it would only be natural for this little bistro just off the Place des Vosges to play things a bit safer for the tourist crowd.

For some reason I hadn't predicted that I myself would be taken for a tourist. It's probably my mushmouthed hyper-tentative accent that did it. Anyway I found myself getting steered very forcefully away from the one interesting Jura wine on Les Côtelettes concise, principled little list.

The server actually refused to bring it, explaining that we could only ever drink it paired with chicken, morels, and cream. I began listing all the other things Jura whites are known to pair reasonably well with: comté, certain risotti, oysters... It was no use. The fellow came back with the perfectly fine wine we'd asked about initially, a 2008 barrel-fermented Anjou Blanc "Clos Les Treilles" by Nicolas Réau. The server had already opened the bottle, which is not so unusual in France, but given the circumstances - we were clamoring to try the other wine - it was slightly insulting.*

The "Clos Les Treilles" was, at any rate, fairly delightful. As soon as the overchilling wore off, it showed a bright, mineral / grapefruit peel nose, a bracing if somewhat brief mouth, and thoroughly winning herbal finish that had us tossing out descriptors like wintergreen and spearmint. A wine with the simultaneous clarity and opacity of a Broadcast song. (R.I.P. Trish Keenan, incidentally.)

Otherwise, Les Côtelettes' list is one of those in which stable, longstanding, and probably well-earned relationships with favored vignerons is plainly apparent. You can tell because the same names you see on the whites page are repeated without much variation on the red page. Still, everything is well chosen, and prices are reasonable considering the restaurant's location and the wines' quality. I was particularly impressed with the sick line-up of 2007 cru Beaujolais:

Nowhere else in Paris have I seen such clear emphasis on this splendid vintage. Though I suppose it's possible, if totally unlikely, that Les Côtelettes just doesn't move much Beaujolais and therefore the emphasis is purely incidental. Anyway, we splashed out on a bottle of 2007 Jean Foillard Fleurie. Since my experience with the insanely taut 2005 earlier this year, I'd assumed the 2007 would be a kinder, gentler form of Gamay whiplash. Disappointingly, it was thoroughly enjoyable, without masochistic acidity, with a surprisingly thick tannic sheath around everything.

We wound up divided on the merits of the food at Les Côtelettes. R in particular was underwhelmed, even going so far as to make the patently absurd claim that great restaurants are more common in London, while I found everything utterly correct, as the French say, but somewhat unremarkable and heavy on the citrus.

I then accused R of being too British, and he accused me of being too French, which I pretended to take as a complement. Internally, of course, I was mortally offended. Could it be that I'm becoming too French? Could it be that my standards for originality and initiative have slipped, and that all I ask of food lately is that it be well-sourced, evenly flavored, and accompanied by natural wines?

Yes, it could be that. Les Côtelettes hits the mark nicely, in that case.

* This is a sensitivity that comes from having waited tables for years and later managed teams of waiters. You know all the classic waiterly tricks, ways of railroading people, and you are also familiar with the mundane contempt for guests that is at the source of each trick. So having these methods turned on you later in life is always slightly galling.

Les Côtelettes
4, impasse Guéménée
75004 PARIS
Metro: Bastille or Saint Paul
Tel: 01 42 72 08 45
Related Links: 

More on Nicolas Réau @ Pays-Thouarsais

1 comment:

  1. I think I may have accused the author or being too American rather than too French, but post dinner whisky cocktails may equally have obfuscated the memories. I read Huysmans' With the Flow this week and there has admittedly been some improvement in the french bistro restaurant since the late 19th century, at some point. I agree with 'correct' and I'll be going back for some 'correct' food to accompany some decent wine, and perhaps a little because I could almost fall home (if it weren't for 6 flights of stairs). Fancy a return visit A? If only to target that waiter and pour libations with a Jurassic victory? R