30 March 2012
My friend / invaluable guide J and I had a question mark on our tasting schedule after leaving Domaine Alain Burguet in Gevrey. We'd been thinking to go taste with Sarnin and / or Berrux of the excellent natural Burgundy négociant operation Sarnin-Berrux. But the way things shook out it seemed simpler and more timely to pass by the tasting rooms of Domaine Comte Senard in Aloxe-Corton, not because the acclaimed, somewhat pricey wines were to be any great discovery (for J, at least), but because the night before we'd gotten pleasantly soused in Beaune with a sharp young sommelier called E, who helps run Domaine Comte Senard's restaurant and tasting rooms.
As ever, it makes a world of difference when you know the person showing you around a domaine. You see more, you taste more, you don't run the risk of being treated like a tourist and charged 10€ for three glasses of current-release stuff poured by a bored local teenager. E showed us around the historied, fairy-tale-ish estate, run since 1971 by Count Philippe Senard, and then let us taste through a nice rambling range of vintages and wines, including the estate's most peculiar bottling, a Aloxe-Corton blanc made from Pinot Beurot, a.k.a. Pinot Gris.
27 March 2012
The classic Parisian defense of chaotic or miserable or under-exploited establishments insists that such places should be cherished for their flaws, since they represent the Paris of bygone age. And there are indeed more than a few restaurants - Le Petit Vendôme ! Le Rubis ! etc. - that truly merit such sentimentalism. But in my experience the Time Capsule Defense is in most cases a strange psychological sleight-of-hand by which restaurant patrons excuse, in addition to the unmistakeable avarice or viciousness or laziness in a restaurant's service, also themselves, for failing to voice any protest.
Eyes wander up from hideous plates to rest more comfortably on ancient vermouth ads and rustic farm equipment adorning the wall. A guest in this sort of restaurant abandons the idea of deriving culinary-aesthetic satisfaction or even sustenance from a meal, and instead considers the whole experience a sort of living museum, of chiefly historical or sociological interest.
"I've been to this museum before!" is what I usually shout in such situations, and skedaddle. If after a concert recently it was actually me who led a few friends to wine bar throwback Aux Tonneaux des Halles, it was only because it was a thronged Saturday night and we had no other choice, and because Aux Tonneaux remains distinguished, among weird Time Capsule Restaurants, for its superb natural wine list.
23 March 2012
Organic Chablis producers Alice and Olivier de Moor are pretty ubiquitous on the circuit of natural wine tastings I try to follow in Paris and the surrounding area. It just figures that a few months ago the rare professional tasting I decided to skip on account of a hangover - wine agent Sylvie Chameroy's portfolio tasting at Le Café de la Nouvelle Mairie - was the one at which the de Moors débuted their first red cuvée, a 2010 Bourgogne Rouge under their négociant label Le Vendangeur Masqué called "Le Rouge d'Etienne," limited to something like 800 bottles. My friend Kevin Blackwell of 9ème natural wine bistro Autour d'Un Verre raved about it to me that same evening, when we ran into each other at dinner. Kevin had purchased fully a third of the production, with the rest going (I think) to Le Baratin, and one other account I'm forgetting.
In the months since that night I'd been bugging Alice, Olivier, and Sylvie, whenever I ran into them, for a taste of the Bourgogne Rouge, much to their amusement. Of course they never brought it to tastings, since it had already all been sold (just not, alas, shipped). Finally, over dinner with some LA friends at Autour d'Un Verre last month, Kevin availed me of the opportunity to purchase a bottle, only after I'd specifically asked about it (it wasn't on the list), and then only after warning me that the wine wasn't yet en place. [Tr. Wasn't showing that well.]
Yes, it was !
20 March 2012
... And now for the opening of a laudable venture that Paris actually needs: an elegantly simple coffee-geek café called Télescope, tucked away by Palais-Royal on rue Villedo. It's the debut project of David Flynn, formerly barista at the 18ème's Bal Café and La Caféothèque before that, and Nicolas Clerc, a photographer turned coffee enthusiast. Today will be their first day open to the public for business.
The space is tiny, well-appointed, feels a bit like a seat in a Scandinavian lighthouse. Just four or five tables and a spacious bar, upon which will be offered an array of pastries. I suspect at least some of the latter will be sourced from among the gang of talented expat baker chicks who seem suddenly to be everywhere.(Ofr Galerie, La Candelaria, Brunch Bazar, etc.) In the mornings there will be tartines and toast, and the café's intake from on-premises sipping will be buttressed by a wholesale operation.
No, Flynn and Clerc don't plan to serve any wine. But Télescope remains wholly relevant to this blog, because I can't write without coffee. And since it's the city's first conveniently located coffee bar, Télescope stands to be my main supply of responsibly-sourced, masterfully-roasted, afficionado-approved coffee, something which, despite the testimonials of every dreamy-eyed tourist, remains a total rarity in Paris.
19 March 2012
Perhaps concerned that by opening Paris' most misleadingly-named wine bar last year, they might have managed to alienate bozos, goombas, and fraternity candidates, the indefatigably ambitious fellows of the Experimental Cocktail Club Group have lost no time launching a new attempt to recapture these critical audiences: The Beef Club, a two story steakhouse-slash-cocktail bar-slash-nightclub, on rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, by Etienne Marcel. In the words of Dave Barry, I am not making this up.
With The Beef Club the ECC gents will now compete with local wine-huckster Olivier Magny, whose moron-magnet wine bar Ô Château on same street has until now been the de facto destination for all those who'd wish the pleasures of Paris to be more like those of Las Vegas.*
What can I say? I wish the ECC folks a lot of luck, not least because the Native Companion works for them and is liable to catch hell if I get too vicious. In the spirit of congratulation on The Beef Club, a place I will inevitably overcome my revulsion to visit sooner or later, I thought I might offer some concept suggestions for the next ECC restaurant venture.
16 March 2012
My caviste friend J had prepped me for my first jaunt through Burgundy by explaining that while the vignerons we know in the Loire and the Jura might be charming hosts, their counterparts in Burgundy typically react to new buyers by performing a sort of social tornado drill, covering the head with both arms and hiding under a desk away from windows until danger has passed. With the awareness that it's nothing personal, just a function of overwhelming demand, one just grins through it and learns not to expect too much from first-time visits.
What we certainly didn't expect from our first visit to Domaine Alain Burguet in Gevrey-Chambertin was to encounter two extremely genial, curious, dynamic young winemakers - Burguet's sons, Eric and Jean-Luc - whose Odd Couple-esque dialogues during the tasting were nearly as enjoyable as the wines themselves.
14 March 2012
L'Ecailler du Bistrot, the seafood-slinging sister restaurant nextdoor to Bistrot Paul Bert, shares many qualities with the latter legendary steak-frites destination. The décor is traditional but not overbearingly so, the service is snappy and relatively warm for the city, and the wine list, laudably, is tilted towards natural stuff. But - besides the menus - there is one unmistakeable difference between the two restaurants, and it becomes perceptible a few moments after one is seated at l'Ecailler du Bistrot.
You hear a lot less English at l'Ecailler.
There are certain very rare occasions in Paris when a lack of Anglos in a dining room can herald the discovery of some rough-cut gem of a resto, as yet unknown to tourists and expats. A visit to l'Ecailler du Bistrot is not one of these occasions; the restaurant, booked solid most nights and situated right beside every good Paris host's go-to for entertaining out-of-towners, is not that sort of gem. Here the lack of Anglos unfortunately means the restaurant provides a service that only the natives in Paris, the Chicago of France, would popularise: very expensive seafood.
12 March 2012
I get no end of quizzical looks from people actually working in the wine industry here in France. Partly this is because, even after several years living in Paris, my French remains halting at best, full of stammers and weird grammar.* But it's also because the wine folk who interest me - the weirdo visionaries without business plans - are almost unanimously unable to fathom why anyone would write a wine blog. Anyone who wasn't, you know, making money from it. This is the unstated question that hovers over most of my cellar tours.
I want to make money too, obviously. I love money. I'm just going about chasing it in an extremely roundabout way, like a dog who initiates a correspondence chess match in order to attack the postman. The blog functions, when it functions, as a living résumé - a way to get more paid writing gigs.**
Now and then this actually occurs. With this in mind, I suggest everyone go purchase the new issue of GREY Magazine, a fashion-slash-literary magazine, where I have a humor piece on the subject of presidential drinking habits. Not wholly wine-related, but not unrelated, either. The concept was something the editor Brantly Martin and I came up with over a great deal of whiskey at the Hotel Amour last October. I had been reading a lot of Woody Allen at the time. A few quotes after the jump.
01 March 2012
Anyone seeking some semblance of completion in this blog's list of recommended (or faintly-recommended) Paris natural wine spots would have been right to point out the curious absence, until now, of material on Le Chapeau Melon, ex-Baratin proprietor Olivier Camus' celebrated set-menu cave-à-manger in Belleville.
I actually adore Le Chapeau Melon - it has almost everything I habitually seek in a restaurant. Camus' self-trained cooking is tasteful but rugged, accented with game attempts at innovation; his wines are as humbly priced as they are masterfully chosen.
If until recently I hadn't been back in almost two years since my first visit, which occurred some months before I began blogging, I think it was mainly due to the set-menu thing. Set-menus sometimes make me feel trapped in a meal. So it was fortuitous that upon finally returning to the restaurant with some friends and colleagues from New York, we landed on a Sunday, when the Le Chapeau Melon serves à la carte, and the resulting meals, more informal, less fussy, are all the better for it.