A magazine I write for sometimes called Punch recently published two interesting pieces about what it means to be a sommelier. The comment threads beneath these articles quickly devolved to something approaching trench warfare, with lines clearly drawn between those who consider "sommelier" a role, like an emcee, and those who consider the term to be more like a title or accreditation, like "PhD" or "Licensed Beautician."
Personally, I would very much like to have already internalized and recited the industry catechism required for certification by any of the big sommelier accreditation bodies. Then my opposition to them could be taken seriously. As it is, any criticism I might offer would rightly have the ring of sour grapes.
I'll stay mum for that reason. I will however say that for a sommelier to emblazon his restaurant's menus with his name and the epithet "Best Sommelier in the World," as title-winner Enrico Bernardo does at his recently Michelin-annointed restaurant Goust, is a laughable act of hubris, one that inadvertently seems to trivialize the responsibilities of a sommelier. It's like calling a certain chair the Best Chair in the World. Ultimately, it's a place where you sit, not terribly dissimilar to the second or even the third-best chair in the world. A restaurant is a place where you eat and a sommelier is the fellow who helps you navigate the wine list. To truly require the utmost services of the Best Chair in the World or the Best Sommelier in the World, one would in both cases have to be a very demanding ass.
The rest of us who enter Goust planning merely to eat food and drink wine are unfortunately in for a minor letdown, since for all its rigor the sommelier competition Bernardo won had no section on good taste in restaurateurism.
Goust is invisible from the street, tucked onto a 1st floor space on rue Volney. Upon entering the building, a host waits for you to address him and then smilingly leads you up the steps to the restaurant. I visited recently with the Native Companion to take advantage of the restaurants seemingly quite generous lunch menu. (Dinner is another story - 75€ or 130€ tasting menus. On the basis of this lunch, I will never willingly experience dinner.)
I say 'seemingly' because I left lunch convinced that the restaurant was sourcing an entirely different, cheaper register of ingredients for its lunch service.
There is just simply no way a Michelin-ambitious restaurant of Goust's caliber would ever serve such pasty, nerve-riddled foie gras at dinner.
Nor, presumably, would beef of such middling quality ever appear on Goust's dinner menu. My faux filet was also marred by outlandish plate presentation, unpleasantly suggestive of female genitalia.
Meanwhile a starter of polenta, egg, ham, and shiitake needed no cost-paring, since it cost zero to begin with and similar dishes promptly feature on cheap bistrot menus citywide.
Most laughable was a dessert of a sphere of Cadbury-quality chocolate praline encasing some tonka bean frozen yogurt. No joy remained in this dessert once the sphere was cracked. That was the whole trick: it was a sphere.
I don't know what kind of easily-tickled grandmothers are currently handing out Michelin stars, but Goust's elevation to the firmament possesses dispiriting implications.
I would be remiss not to mention the almost characterless Savennieres the NC and I shared with lunch, a 2004 "Clos du Papillon" by Domaine Baumard. I'd had Savennieres in mind, probably thanks to Eric Asimov's recent piece on the appellation, and thought it might be interesting to taste something with a little age.
Alas, Domaine Baumard are a rather technologically-driven domaine (see Jim Budd's impressive reporting on their use of cryoextraction in their Quarts du Chaume) and the wine, stelvin-capped, had gained nothing from the passing of a decade. It was like tasting glassware, just a lean-gleamy vaguely herbal splash of nothing.
There are however many other excellent things available on Gousts' wine list. The restaurant does deserve kudos for offering an impressively broad selection of German wines, in particular.
But enjoying great wines in earnestly luxurious circumstances disgusts me.
I can't help but feel I'm collaborating with a corrupt regime of wine glad-handing and self-congratulation. Incidentally, this is also why I am against the aforementioned somm guilds. To be part of that club requires approving the status quo, the time-honored channels through which fine wine has been profitably served to rich geriatric twits for generations. Goust is one of those channels, a Michelin-starred nursing home.
10, rue Volney
Tel: 01 40 15 20 30
Punch - "The Myth of Sommelier Certification, Debunked"
Punch - "In Defense of Sommelier Certification"
Alex Lobrano endorses Goust's tasting menu
Adrian Moore endorses Goust's tasting menu
François Régis-Gaudry of L'Express Styles endorses Bernardo's pairings at Goust
Gilles Pudlowski endorses Goust