29 January 2015

n.d.p. in andalusia: bodegas gonzalez byass, jerez

Don't get me wrong: the Native Companion and I certainly appreciated our visit to Bodegas Gonzalez Byass, which occupies a seemingly Vatican-sized complex in the town's southwest. The canopied courtyards and echoing, dust-blackened bodegas of Gonzalez Byass are as awe-inspiring as any cathedral, and together comprise a truly resplendent monument to the region's historical significance.

Like other monuments, visitors can go on tours of Gonzalez Byass. There are even trains that take 300,000 tourists per year around the complex. This is what we wanted to avoid, of course, and we were very relieved when one of the company's sales directors agreed to meet us for a private visit.

Unfortunately, our visit was unrecoverably derailed by an extended, Kafka-esque scenario that arose with one of the bodega's doormen, who, despite repeatedly assuring us otherwise, proved unable or unwilling to communicate the message that we had arrived for our appointment. It was human error (his), but I mention it because it blighted the bodega's otherwise commendable hospitality in a way vaguely illustrative of the quality limitations inherent in such enormous, depersonalising enterprises.

14 January 2015

happy returns: simone restaurant & cave, 75013

Aggrieved chefs and their supporters routinely cite, among the evils of journalism, the neophilic tendency of critics to descend upon a new establishment and review its infancy, without ever returning to see how it matures.

I more or less agree with this gripe. It's the reason why the public face of an overachiever restaurant like Simone Restaurant & Cave in the 13ème remains frozen in September 2013, when it was no more than a welcoming and simplistic natural wine bistrot with a fine terrace. The Paris press duly reported this, but in most cases could think of nothing more to say besides how sympa the place was. (Whether niceness and decency constitute newsworthiness in contemporary Paris is, for now, beside the point.)

But chef Arnaud Soinsot took over from opening chef Mike Stewart in late August of last year, and Restaurant Simone's cuisine now shows significantly more ambition. For a diner such as myself, disinclined towards innovation in cuisine, it's a development that cuts both ways. What is undoubtable though, is the restaurant deserves re-visitation en masse, and higher, more interpretive praise, for how its owners have taken a desolate streetcorner in a neglected arrondissement and built a little beacon of enthusiasm and good taste.

12 January 2015

n.d.p. in andalusia: casa bigote, sanlucar

What little information was available indicated Casa Bigote was among the best restaurants in Sanlucar. In our defense, Sanlucar is a coastal town in a relatively impoverished region. One feels there ought to be a splendid seafood place, and it ought to be right on the Bajo de Guia, as Casa Bigote is.

One's expectations begin to decline when, on a balmy night in early June, one traverses the bat-infested ruins dividing that section of the Bajo de Guia from the town proper to discover that the restaurants on the quay are quite deserted. Casa Bigote is almost indistinguishable from its neighbors: a sprawling, two-storied complex housing a bar and a restaurant on opposite sides of an small alley. We dined at the restaurant, which may have been a mistake. Perhaps the bar is best. Why else would such we have heard such praise for a genteel seaside tavern offering acceptable traditional fare in Sanlucar at what seemed like Seville prices?

The most memorable part of the meal - which we tried, without success, to repeat - was an older bottle of Manzanilla "GF" from Bodegas Gaspar Florido, an historic bodega whose wines, from what I understand, have more or less vanished since its sale to Bodegas Pedro Romero in 2007. 

07 January 2015

n.d.p. in andalusia: la carbona, jerez

I tend to distrust large restaurants - places where, if you scream, no one would hear a sound. Even at the grandest, most expensive large restaurants, one feels like yet another mouth on the feedlot.

Sometimes my distrust is misplaced. In Paris, the Bourse location of Terroir Parisien operates at an impressively high level, for such an enormous, multifaceted complex. And in Andalusia, the most enjoyable meals I've enjoyed in the region have been at La Carbona, a cavernous family restaurant housed in a former bodega in Jerez.

Incidentally, in five years of writing about restaurants, I can't recall ever having used the term "family restaurant." It evokes Olive Gardens. But the term is inescapable when discussing La Carbona. Its size is a direct reflection of the Andalusian tradition of dining out en masse, with several generations at the table at once. La Carbona is also owned by a family, with chef Javier Munoz' mother Ana running the dining room and the wine list with winning warmth and attentiveness. The menu is as broad and deep as the room, but I never look at it for long. For La Carbona's opulent and unstinting sherry pairing menu, at 5 courses for 32€ with serious wines included, is an unforgettably great deal, one which transcends, in both quality and generosity, the entire overwrought, hucksterish pairing menu genre.