10 November 2011
As I shuffled home from work on a recent Friday afternoon with my face in my iPhone, holding a sack of cheese, a familiar Australian voice hailed me from the terrace of 11ème bar à vin Aux Deux Amis. It was my friend James Henry, who's presently raking in high praise as chef at a different 11ème wine bar, Au Passage.
I was meant to meet the Native Companion nearby for a self-consciously healthy juice-bar lunch, intended to allay our respective hangovers. But who should James turn out to be dining with, but my friend the Jura vigneron Ludwig Bindernagel, whose 2011 harvest was recently my first real experience with grape-clippers. It turns out Ludwig and James know each other from the latter's days in the kitchen at 1èr arrondissement restaurant Spring.
Well, there were two extra seats at the table. I had the NC meet us and we did the hair-of-the-dog cure with Ludwig's razor-fine 2009 Poulsard throughout lunch, which meal now provides a nice opportunity to clarify my stance on Aux Deux Amis, a place I've sort of slagged off in the past.
Actually, I pretty much stand by everything I said in the other mention of that bar on this blog. The service at Aux Deux Amis is comedically awful. (Even on this visit, dining with friends of the house, I had to track down the server to give our lunch order, and then he appeared visibly annoyed that we had not ordered with the rest of the table we had joined.) But what I've previously written about the bar has focused only on this aspect, and neglects to mention why, at the end of the day, the bar stays busy.
For one thing, owner David Loyola's wine list has broadened considerably since the restaurant first opened. Then, I remember there being just a few natural but not so kindly priced selections scrawled illegibly on a mirror, frequently poured into glasses that, having been chilled on the fly by blasts of water, often still had water in them.** While these habits haven't changed, they're now augmented by a deep bottle list that emphasizes the filthy-risky side of natural wine. (Jean-Christophe Garnier, for instance, and Jean-Marc Brignot, two vignerons about whom I remain totally unconvinced, despite having enjoyed certain bottles now and then.***)
Meanwhile, chef Matthieu Perez's cuisine has transformed from merely bold and fun - tortillas, burrata, sardines and the like - to something much more virtuosic. On the lunch menu that day was horse tartare, a nod to French tastes of a generation ago. (Around Paris one still sees the occasional chevaline or horse butcher shop still up and running, despite changes in public opinion.) As intrigued as I was, I foresaw some mid-meal ethical indigestion if I were to order it, so I contented myself with a delicious trout filet perfumed with orange-infused butter and smoked salt.****
And just a wee bite of James' plate of raw horse. It was quite a bit like the beef tartares I'm hypocritically totally okay with eating, except notably leaner and more finely grained.
Also very impressive was a hauntingly delicate dessert of creamed chestnut, fromage blanc, and roasted salted hazelnuts, that Perez was very accurately calling a compôte d'automne. Perez joined us towards the end of the meal, replacing James, who had to go see about opening prep work for dinner service at Au Passage. By then the NC and I were in much better shape, and we all shared a bottle of JC Garnier's off-dry sparkling Grolleau, a turbid and berryish wine that plays a pleasant Brachetto-like role at the end of a meal.
Ludwig, before becoming a vigneron, worked for years as an architect just a few streets away in the same neighborhood. He revisits Paris fairly often, mostly to see his family. He visits clients too, he says, but since his existing client base reliably buys up his production, he's not obliged to seek out new ones. Given that his old Oberkampf neighborhood becomes more and more a destination for the natural, soulful sort of wine he now produces, I imagine he wouldn't have to travel far to find new demand, should his production increase.
And if, given the choice, I'd still book a table at Au Passage rather than Aux Deux Amis, due to the former's warmer service, the arrondissement is still all the richer for the fact that both wine bars exist, and flourish.
* Such is my backlog of material at this point that I fear the next Jura harvest might be in full swing by the time I get around to discussing the one I just attended.
** A pet peeve of mine that seems to derive from differences in wine professional education between the states and France. I was taught, in the USA, that residual water in a wine glass should be strenuously avoided, except in those instances at tastings when one is switching from red back to white wine. My friend Edouard from 11ème wine / cocktail bar L'Entrée des Artistes tells me there's no such emphasis on the avoidance of watery glasses in French wine education. I have only his word on this though.
*** Brignot, it must be said, much less often. Of the five or so bottles of his that have been opened for me, I think four have been irretrievably flawed. One exploded in a friend's closet shortly before I even arrived for dinner.
**** Perez still has some strange ticks in the kitchen, chiefly the one that inspires him to throw smoked salt, a fairly distinctive, faddish flavor, on almost everything he puts out. He inexplicably uses the stuff like some use chopped parsley.
Aux Deux Amis
45 rue Oberkampf
Tel: 01 58 30 38 13
My previous post on Aux Deux Amis, 75011
Lovely lunch at Au Passage, 75011
A 2011 dinner with Ludwig Bindernagel at his cellar in Poligny
Some notes on the chambre d'hôte run by Bindernagel's wife Nathalie
A 2010 review of Aux Deux Amis @ MegZimbeck
A 2010 review of Aux Deux Amis @ BarbraAustin
A 2010 review of Aux Deux Amis @ JohnTalbott
My friend Sophie's recent visit to Ludwig Bindernagel @ Sophie'sGlass
An amusing 2009 post on Jean-Christophe Garnier's wines @ Jim'sLoire
A tangentially-related, not 100% convincing article arguing for the necessity of horse-slaughter @ the NYTimes'HorseRacingBlog (Sort of astonished that this exists, a whole blog devoted to it at the Times. Go figure.)