Saturday, February 19, 2011

Le Garde-Robe

This is my third wine bar review on my march through Paris this February and I am beginning to figure out that there is a wide range of flavors in this niche, from hole-in-the-walls to trendy 'hot' spots with 100 open bottles. I would put Le Garde-Robe in the class of a hole-in-the-wall with simple charcuterie and cheese offerings and a medium wine list that is good for dine-in or carry out.

Yet, with the more than pleasant and chatty servers and the ability to pull a bottle off the shelf at retail and drain it on the spot, I would recommend a visit. It is rustic and charming and conveniently located in the 1st, near Spring and Le Fumoir. The plates were very good with a touch of flair (loved the idea of honey on the cheese plate!) and the simple bottle of Blanc set me back 15 E's for a total bill of under 50 E's for two.

Whereas Willi's offers actual fine dining in a casual setting with great wine selections,and L'Avant Comptoir has a short simple wine list but with mouth watering taste morsels, Le Garde-Robe is a plain vanilla wine cafe. If you are in the neighborhood it is worth a visit. And if you do go, ask the bartender/cook how his new movie is doing.

"How do you tell if you're a good actor?"
"You're only working weekends at the wine bar."


"So what do you do for a living?"
"I'm an actor."
"Really, what bar do you work at?"

Isse - Paris

Although I am more familiar with the wine bars and traditional restaurants in the 1st, I have noted and read that the 1st is becoming the 'Little Tokyo' of Paris and is chock full of all types of offerings from 5 seat sushi hole-in-the-walls to high-end gastronomique affairs at 100 euros per person, and everything in between. My curiosity was peeked and I was ready for a change-up from steak frites.

Having walked past the windows the night before I was taken by Isse's clean decor and array of sake bottles, so we walked in and were ushered downstairs as the upstairs was full. And as I am no expert on Japanese cuisine or sakes we invited the server to throw down 4 to 5 courses paired with a variety of sakes which we all shared.

This has proven to unnerve some restaurants we have visited recently for some reason but I think it is a great way for a restaurant to showcase their best offerings. I know for a fact that at La Poste we would welcome the challenge, but as Isse had been only open (or, re-open) for a week I forgave their shyness and welcomed their grace.

Across the board the food offerings and sakes were enjoyed and there were some favorites. All in all it was a most enjoyable night and although I am no expert on sushi (and avoid all the half-off offerings in Cincinnati) I would say that the quality and freshness of the raw fish was the best I have had to date.

Isse is part of a four venue chain which includes a grocery store with sake tastings and a light lunch. It will be on my next stop to "Le Petit Tokyo de Paris" after crossing off a few more wine bars on the to-do list.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Willi's Wine Bar - Again

Willi's is a must stop every time in Paris (along with Maceo), so once again I found myself there one late afternoon because I was in the neighborhood on the way to the kitchen and bath supply house to research tile, toilets and shower faucets for the apartment remodel. I had insisted on a bribe of wine and food because I thought that it would help with my attention span later.

The advantage of being a regular at one of your favorite wine bars(and being naturally pleasant to all servers) is that when you arrive at 2:30pm and the couple in front of you is told that the kitchen is closed, you can sit down quietly at the bar and the server whispers to you that if you want the 'plat du jour', there is no problem. Smiles all around.

As we were in a hurry and the kitchen WAS closed, we shared a simple apple/onion tatin on arugula lightly dressed in olive oil and then lamb tagine over couscous. The wine bar, however, was wide open. The Saint Joseph blanc that was suggested was outstanding and the Red paired well with the lamb. If I could find this Blanc back in Ohio, it would be my personal house white. It is a stunning, bright, complex blend of Marsanne and Roussanne.

So connections do help, but manners will serve you better. So it's not always about dropping big tip bombs. Next time though I will get there earlier so that I can run through the whole menu, and yes she did get more than 4 euros for her efforts.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

L' Avant Comptoir - Redux

On my first day in Paris after the red-eye from CVG, I am hungry and thirsty and fatigued and a bit spaced out and a sommelier/friend from some fancy LA restaurant wants to hit L'Avant one more time before heading home. No problem, so we hit it hard for my first time this trip, the first of many as I average about 3 stops per week here.

I will spare you the adjectives. Just go. But it's always crowded so be prepared to get jostled, and chatted up by the other ex-pat fanatics. Maybe you will hear a story of the best 'couscous' restaurant in Paris run by some 90 year-old man who will only let you in his secret location if he knows you and likes you. A 'couscous' speakeasy. We're not in Cincinnati anymore.

And as the sun burns through the morning fog we walk a dozen blocks to window shop and check out the liquor store across the street (all three levels) and then catch the bus home for those that like the street views. I'm an underground Metro kind of guy but I get vetoed all the time. Better to follow sometimes, and not lead especially if someone else is holding the tokens.

Paris - A Night on the Town

I am not sure what the best part of Paris is, whether it's the fantastic people watching, the Metro rides, the late night walking around, the classic, elegant rooms from long lost eras, or great meals with wonderful wines. Yes, that's it! Yes, that's it exactly.

Monday, February 14, 2011

WBW #70 -- Wine Blogging Wednesday

I almost left town without posting for WBW #70. This month's theme is 'wines from Spain' which is perfect as I am working on plans to skip down to Barcelona from Paris for a few days at the end of February. My travel consultant is getting tired of my chant that I want to go to Barcelona before anyplace else.

Details on WBW are here. It is an internet event started in 2004 by wine bloggers that spread like wild fire. They even let me host an event once. Once. I'm back!

I cheated a bit and dug through the cellar to find a bottle of Alvear, Pedro Ximenez Solera 1927 from the Montilla Moriles region. Cheated in the sense that I have covered this wine before so it is not new, but the wine is already old. Not a vintage from 1927, but there is a little piece of the 1927 vintage in every bottle as they blend subsequent batches of each vintage until they have a blend of the very old with the new. Jorge Ordonez is the importer and in my book that is a seal of approval.

It is unctious and dripping with balanced sweetness and all I can think of is that it is a dead ringer for Dave's 'Bread Pudding' at La Poste. I am not sure it would pair well because it is so dead on, and great pairings are similar but offer contrast, either more acidity or fruit or RS. Ying and Yang. This would be Ying and Ying.

So this is a rushed review, and a day early. My bad! If I get to Barcelona I will follow up with copious notes and photos from late night dinners. Just don't call during siesta time.

Wine Technology

Last Saturday I was hanging out in a Hyde Park wine store chatting up the owner and tasting some new wines and the topic of wine gadgets came up. I think most gadgets are a waste of time and money. Don't get me started on magnets. They are great on refrigerators as decorations and for checking for bondo on that used sports car you are in love with. Trust me, there is rust in that old car. You won't find it until it's too late.

Magnets for wine however don't work but the Vinturi (and its kind) work. They add 5 hours of decanting time to a young wine in 30 seconds. Just don't use it on any wine older than 10 years or it will cough up sediment and you will need to finish the bottle in 20 minutes. It will not open slowly and delicately over the evening. It will be slammed open like opening a soft top on the highway.

So new technology does sometimes improve your life. I will still always take a 40 year-old Marantz receiver over a new black box, but I am beginning to see the advantages of iPhones, USB turntables and those new spring loaded staplers. I love those staplers. I just can't figure out where they put the batteries to power them up.

Buy a Vinturi and do the test. But give me vinyl and an old Marantz with some AR bookshelf speakers in the kitchen and I can rattle the dishes while I am savoring a perfectly aerated bottle of wine. Now, is there any device out there to take the warps out of old records? That would be a game changer.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sunday -- Chili in Cincinnati

Well, not the weather, as it hit the 50s today with sunshine.

Today we make Chili on Sunday after some yard work, and yes some putting practice until the birds chased me away as they were hungry to get at the feeder. It's hard to concentrate on draining 20 footers when they are chatting away. They won, but I'm coming back in two hours so they had better eat up.

If you want the recipe just get it here. No, there is no spaghetti in this version even if I have lived in Cincinnati for 35 years and there have been a few changes to the recipe recently due to new culinary skills and sensibilities. More organic, even if in a can, and the minced garlic hit the trash this morning. One day I will try fresh kidney beans and diced tomatoes, but today I am saving time to pack for the next trip. Searing the meat on high heat in the Lodge Pot first seems like a good idea, and then adding the other grilled vegetables and let them all blend together in their own juices before adding the beans, tomatoes and liquids makes sense. And then add spices. Sounds like a plan.

The new secret ingredients are bacon and sage (but lightly on the sage), and with the new stereo in the kitchen I recommend Little Feat - Dixie Chicken. But it should be 'live' with Lowell Thomas George, RIP. There are more complete versions of this song and this song cuts out before he is done (like his life was). After 1979, 'Little Feat' died.

'Fat Man in the Bathtub' will work in a pinch.

Oh, if anyone has been to 'Jens Bar & Grill' in West Chester, let me know. If they are using my name, it had better be good! (That obscure reference came up as I was Googling my original recipe.)

The plating ideas were not mine, but were inspired by something I saw on the Food Network. I'm not saying it was Rachel Ray. I'm just not saying. Personally, I like a large bowl with freshly grated cheese and a dollop of sour cream.