Saturday, December 11, 2010

Willi's Wine Bar

Willi's Wine Bar has been open since 1980 and is well known for their fine wine selections of local, small producers and a smattering of offerings from all over the world, but a well-kept secret to many travelers (but not the local ex-pats) is that the food is great. I have had several wonderful meals there and even more fun is the piercing dry wit of the proprietor, Mark Williamson.

He somehow got lost in Paris years ago, having washed up from England, landed in Steven Spurrier's (of 'Paris Wine Tasting of 1976' fame) wine shop before opening his own place. So he knows his wines and knows a few good stories.

So stop in for the wine, stay for the food and don't forget to buy a poster on the way out. And if you are still hungry and want to enjoy another great meal stop in to Maceo just a few doors down. Mark runs this operation also and it is a 'real' restaurant with comfortable chairs, extensive wine list and great food. I will review it at a later date after I finish hanging my posters from Willi's.

The Best Place in Paris

The best place to eat in Paris, and there are many truly outstanding restaurants and bistros that have an international following with prices and attitude to match, is often the corner bistro in about every neighborhood. I love it that you can pop in any one out of hundreds and have a wonderful meal that is not too expensive and finish it off with a little espresso, maybe a Calvados and something sweet.

This dessert is from, if I can remember correctly, the little cafe on Commerce around the corner from my apartment. Steak frite or the grilled salmon are just fine and the dessert is perfect for someone who can't make up their mind and wants to share. Because the best place to eat in Paris is not about the "best" food, it's about spending time with your "best" friends. My favorite meals have been because of the company and not the cuisine. And with some people I have never had a bad meal. I've had terrible service and questionable foods which make for great conversations as we laugh it off and roll our eyes, but never a bad meal. Never.

Bon Appetit!

Friday, December 10, 2010

5 Star on a Budget - Le Meurice

There's no way you can afford to stay here so I won't even talk prices but if you want to pretend that you did, slide into the bar, get a table and order a few cocktails, take in the room and think of bygone eras where style counted and money was cheap.

So four cocktails will set you back about 100 euros which is cheaper than the Ritz and is a grander room than the Hemingway Bar. When I go to New York City I always head to the Oak Room for a cocktail because it is a civilized room as I live in the Midwest. (Actually the lobby bars at the Brown in Louisville and the Netherland Plaza in Cincinnati are not too shabby.)

But the lobby bar at Le Meurice is for me the best spot to have a very expensive cocktail in a truly grand, historic room. So if you are ever in Paris I will meet you there as long as you are buying. And the chips and nuts are free as is the people watching.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

L' Avant Comptoir

L' Avant Comptoir is a little hole-in-the-wall stand-up wine bar that maybe holds 15 people if they're skinny French people. I'm guessing it would hold 12 Americans. It is located near the Odeon Metro station but I'm not saying anymore because they definitely don't need the business. Every day at lunch and on weekends it is packed and it does help a little if you know the staff. Just a little. You will still have to wait to get served by shouting over the heads at the counter, and they will most likely forget an item or two over the din.

But I have learned to just ask Eric to send 3 items out, his choice and keep the Cotes du Rhone Rouge (or his choice) flowing, unless we start with the oysters, then send one glass (pronounced vare) of Sancerre and then switch to Rouge. It helps to hit him with a 10 or 20 euro tip at the end which is quite unusual in Paris as most leave just a 1 or 2 euro tip. It gets his attention. I learned that trick at China Grill in South Beach when I was a regular back in the 90s. Hit the bartender hard on a slow night, and then when you arrive on Friday or Saturday on a busy night when it's 4 deep at the bar, he would make eye contact and ask for my order. over the wondering glances of everyone in front of me. "Who is that guy?"

Just me with a solid plan and $20 for good service.

Oh, back to the food. L' Avant offers small bites (smaller than tapas? - I'll let you know when I get back from Barcelona) that go for 3 to 6 euros. Soups are amazing, the beef tip sandwich is amazing, the sardines in butter is/are amazing, but the signature dish is the Croquettes of Ibernian jambon. I thought there was cheese inside. Nope, it's just melted ham. The picture above is the grilled foie gras and pickled peppers which is also amazing. I haven't had a bad bite yet.

The wine list (there isn't one - just ask Eric what's there today) is short, but local, small production and perfect for the setting. One of the Reds I had was amazing and I wish I could find it to take home.

So, if you can find the place, go and if I'm in town you will probably find me there with a bunch of new friends who are ex-pats as over a two week period I only went 5 times. The Odeon station is about 7 stops from my apartment. It is a great place to meet friends, have a bite and a few glasses of wine and then wander off for more serious food, but if you have no other plans then just order more wine and have Eric send out 3 more plates. And don't forget to tip your waitress.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Domaine Rostaing - Update

I have said before that Cincinnati is a bit of a village. I love it as it is home with friends and family and has one major league team (sorry Bengal fans), but it is a smaller Midwestern town.

Having said that, there are some benefits to living here. It's all about connections. We now have Cote - Rotie in the cellar. And it wasn't 184 euros ($250). And if I wanted I could have taken down more than 6 bottles.

Speaking of value, and it may seem that $250 is over the top, but you can't compare this to an everyday $40 Napa Cab. This is on the same level as First Growth, allocated Napa cult wines, the best of the best. The value in wine today is Northern Rhone. Top-line Bordeaux and Burgundies have been priced to absurd levels due to Far Eastern demand. It will only get worse. And in my opinion the Northern Rhone (and of course the Southern Rhone) are the best food wines. The tourists drink Bordeaux and uber-expensive Burgundies (although if you want to lay a DRC on me, I'm not going to object); the locals drink Rhone, and then order another bottle.

OK, enough talk, I've got to find my corkscrew.

Le Villaret - Paris in the 11th

Thought I would start off the restaurant reviews with Le Villaret. These are not intended to be critical pieces but more impressions. Generally if I write it up I like it overall. Your experience could be vastly different as usually the company that I keep and my general lack of shyness makes it hard to have a bad meal. With some of my friends I have never had a bad meal. I have been to places where I wouldn't return but I tend to bring out the best of the situation. Life is short so enjoy it.

Le Villaret has no web-site, is hard to find but I cannot remember a better meal. Food and service were excellent and the wine list was monumental with 6 pages of Burgundy, 1 page just for DRC, 4 pages Cotes du Rhone and then a few more pages for things like Champagne and Alsace, and 1 page for Vins Estrangers which was mostly Sassicaia. Those are the Red wines. There are 10 more pages for the Whites. You get the point.

A good rule of thumb in exploring a new restaurant is to go where the locals go. I was the only American there in this 50 seater which was packed at 2pm for lunch. Tip number two is to focus on lunch as the main meal. There is value in lunch, it is easier to get a reservation and Hell you're on vacation. Go home, take a nap and then have a small dinner which if you have an apartment in Paris you can do quite easily.

Will I go back there. Absolutely. Between Christmas and New Years. Le Villaret goes on the short list of restaurants I will visit every time I visit Paris. Next up, L' Avant Comptoir, another repeat visit. I only went there 5 times in 2 weeks.

Thank God It Was Blacked Out

I am so glad I didn't get to watch the game given how it ended. I can't afford to buy a new TV and no doubt something would have been hurled at the offending instrument.

And now I get to read in the New York Times how incompetent we are, but of course I don't need to read the Times to figure that out.

Nice coverage (no, not the photo):

[Who would fall for it?

The Bengals.

Brees did a solid acting job, moving around the backfield like he was orchestrating a play, then going under center to start his cadence as if he were going to take a snap. Lineman Pat Sims fell for it, jumping offside.


"In my 10 years (in the NFL), this is the first time that play has ever worked," fullback Heath Evans said. "It doesn't work too often."]

So the only reason to ever go back into the Stadium would be the off chance to see if this fan returns as I always have my camera with me.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Paris is Calling

Paris is a new place for me to hang my hat but for a few thousand years people have called it home. It is an amazing city and draws more than 40 million visitors every year. I don't need to sell the place but if you haven't been recently stop in. The water is fine. French is not necessary. Manners are. When you walk into a shop you greet the people there with a Bonjour or Bonsoir after 5pm. (I have seen a street vendor chide a local for asking a question before saying hello. She grovelled and profusely apologized. Think you would see that on Times Square? She was wrong and knew it. Called out. By a street vendor.) Imagine, a city of more than 2 million people (12 million including the 'burbs) where manners matter. It's part of the appeal. And the Parisians are not rude to strangers, no worse than New Yorkers. They just don't interact on the street. In the neighborhoods, in the apartment lobbies and in stores, you must say hello and greet each other.

The Metro system is a dream. $2 gets you all over town in 20 minutes in a clean, well-run system. And no charge for the street musicians but tipping is encouraged. I have been known to drop 4 euros on some of the better acts. The guy with the accordion and boom box blaring in my face gets nothing as I don't want to encourage him. How do you say in French, "Don't give up your day job!"?

There are also thousands of Bistros that offer great food and wine. But when you get seated you might wait for 10 minutes before being offered a drink. Remember your manners. Finger snapping is very counter-productive. Chill and talk with the people you are with. Dining is not all about food here but about sharing time together over a relaxed meal which always includes wine. There are high-end, 3 star venues but my preference is the everyday Bistro with a wine list that is only long enough to fill up a chalk board. End it with a glass of Calvados and a cafe noisette and then head out back to the Metro station wrapped in the warmth of good food and lively companionship.

There are hot restaurants and spots to go but it changes weekly so check with a local. Get away from the tourist spots and hang out in the neighborhoods. But do make it to the museums. They are wonderful as are the grand churches. Even the cemeteries are amazing. Try to find Jim Morrison's grave without a map (Hint: Follow the crowds.) Get ready to walk a few miles though every day so bring comfortable walking shoes, a bag and an umbrella. You will get lost a few times but enjoy the detours. And always bring a camera. For God's sake bring a camera.

There is more but it takes time to cover it all. It's a big city. It's been there two thousand years. I think it will take a lifetime to even begin to scratch the surface. But the lessons you learn there will enrich your life. To be continued....

2004 Wildhurst Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Lake County

Soft blueberry dark fruit aromas with longish finish. Tannins are settled but offer solid structure. Drink now. Very good. Nice find out of the dregs of the old shop inventory. This one goes into the cellar and not the Boy's stash.