I'll post articles as I manage to retrieve them. They'll often be accompanied by some sort of brief explanation. ( nb: several articles have been posted in other sections of the site.)
Restaurants come and go. It would be wise to see if the places I've recommended still exist. Some may have gone out of business, others may have moved or changed ownership.
An Open Plea for Help: As the Wall Street Journal's site is still subscription only, I can't retrieve many of my pre-2002 articles. (I don't want all of them, only the ones that are still relevant.) So, if any of you subscribe to the WSJ and would be willing to search for some of my lost articles, please send me an email.)
Louis-Benjamin Dagueneau profile LA Times, Oct. 11, 2010
Fouee Restaurants in the Loire Valley WSJ, Sept. 2010
Montlouis Petillant Originel LA Times, June 3, 2010
Bordeaux 2009 En Primeur WSJ, April 2, 2010
France's Maverick Winemakers (plus sidebar): IHT, Nov. 17, 2007
Olivier Roellinger: Maison de Bricourt: Yes, Chef magazine, Winter 2008. I've used the author's cut as the editors sent me a .pdf file of the entire magazine and I don't have the wherewithal to separate out my piece.
Burgundy : author's cut of an article written for the October 2007 issue of F&W.
Le Fooding: WSJ 2001
Paris Wine Bars & their Current Picks: IHT 2005.
Rabelaisian Pleasures: LAT, 1994.(The article includes 3 recipes, two of which -- the spiced pears and the walnut bread -- you're sure to add to your repertory.
French Vintners Want Liberte: WSJ Jan. 2003
Vinisud: WSJ April 2002
Budapest: Choice Tables:NYT 2004
Budapest: Choice Tables: NYT 2000
Garage Wines/Valandraud: WSJ Nov. 2001
Lyon (the bouchons and the market): Choice Tables: NYT 2000.
Seville: Choice Tables: NYT
Brussels: Choice Tables: NYT
Paris Tea Salons: Choice Tables: NYT
Rouen: Choice Tables: NYT
Lisbon: Choice Tables: NYT
Morellino di Scansano: WSJ Jan. 2002
Amsterdam: Choice Tables: NYT 2004
Salzburg: Choice Tables: NYT 2004 (with an added restaurant)
2001 Bordeaux En Primeur: WSJ May 2002
Barcelona: NYT 2002: Travel article w/ restaurants
Bordeaux's Iconoclasts: F&W 2001. The Thunevins and Chateau Valandraud.
Prague: Choice Tables: NYT 2001.
Bath: Choice Tables: NYT 2003
Olivier's Twist: Food&Wine 2004:article on Olivier Baussan, founder of Occitane and O & Co.
Son follows in late winemaker Didier Dagueneau's storied footsteps
By Jacqueline Friedrich, Special to the Los Angeles Times
October 14, 2010
When he died during a light-plane crash in September 2008, Didier Dagueneau, then 52, had already become a legend in the world of wine. A perfectionist, he almost single-handedly changed the image of Sauvignon Blancs from Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre in France's Loire Valley.
Rather than shrill, feisty whites tasting of grass, green beans, gooseberry or pipi de chat (the somehow more polite French term for cat's pee), Dagueneau's Sauvignons were statuesque, beautifully balanced wines with flavors reminiscent of citrus zests, apricot, fig, passion fruit and minerals. They cost as much as a Grand Cru from Burgundy's Cote d'Or, and consumers did not hesitate to pay: a Dagueneau wine was a work of art.
His funeral, which drew wine people from all over France, was held on a sunny afternoon one day before the start of the 2008 Pouilly-Fumé harvest. And many in attendance wondered whether his son, Louis-Benjamin, then 25, would be able to cope with this challenge, which even in calmer circumstances would have been daunting. The Dagueneau domaine consists of 27 acres of vines in Pouilly-Fumé, a couple of rows of vertiginously steep vines on the famous cru Les Monts Damnes in Sancerre, and a small vineyard in Jurancon. Merely harvesting and fermenting all those grapes would be an accomplishment; producing wines on a par with those of his father seemed beyond the realm of possibility.
We need not have worried. Louis-Benjamin has now completed two vintages on his own, and his 2008 and 2009 vintages are nothing less than splendid, fully the equal of any wine made by his father. The 2008 "Pur Sang" is the apotheosis of the Loire. Voluptuous yet finely etched, it wraps its flavors of crystallized grapefruit and lemon zests around the tongue. Grandiose. A vin de meditation. David Schildknecht in the Wine Advocate sums it up with: "the 2009 collection … promises to be the best group of Sauvignons rendered in that year.… The 2008s are also superb."
Still. It must have been agonizing, surreal?
"No, it was very easy. Everyone gave the best of themselves," Dagueneau says, sitting in the small house in front of the wine cellar that the Dagueneaus call La Maison d'Henri. It has an office downstairs and a couple of bedrooms on the second floor.
I had lived in the Maison d'Henri for a couple of months in 1990 while researching a book on the Loire. At the time, Louis-Benjamin was a droll and dreamy little boy of 7. Now he's tall, muscular and bearded, and every bit as opinionated as his father.
In fact, it seems if I close my eyes, it sounds like Didier and not Louis-Benjamin who is talking. And, as articulate as his father was, Louis-Benjamin brings Didier and his convictions even more clearly into focus.
Since he worked side by side with his father from 2004 on, he seems to take his success as a matter of course. "I started working in the vineyards and tasting wines when I was 10," Dagueneau says. "When Didier opened a great bottle — a Jayer, say, or an '89 Chinon Dioterie, or a Mas Jullien — we tasted and I listened to what he said and tried to find what he described in the glass.
"When I was about 14 or 15, I really started tasting Sauvignon Blanc. Our own wines. We'd taste those made from grapes that had been de-stemmed and from grapes that hadn't been de-stemmed, for example, wines that were filtered or not filtered, sulfured or not sulfured; wines aged in different types of barrels or barrels with different levels of toasting. We'd taste the lees, the grapes, oxidized wines."
Dagueneau went to several professional schools, earning a degree in viticulture and oenology. Before returning to the family property in 2004, he apprenticed with vintners as exigent as his father, spending at least a year with Francois Chidaine in Montlouis and Vouvray in the Loire and another year with Olivier Jullien at Mas Jullien in the Languedoc. He remains close to both.
"But I really learned everything from Didier," he says. "In essence, a wine must reflect its terroir and its vintage. No. 1: Wine is made in the vineyard. Everybody says that, but no one does it. You need to be rigorous and to have good sense. Second: Respect for nature. We converted to organic farming back in the 1990s. We tried everything in the vineyards and the cellar. We kept what we liked, and we ignored the rest."
So-called natural wines have become an important trend — the word "natural" subject to many interpretations but often embracing some variation on the noninterventionist, less-is-more philosophy: no weed killers or commercial fertilizer in the vineyard, for example, and, when it comes to winemaking, no added anything, starting with sulfur, sugar and yeast, and no manipulations like controlling the temperature of fermentation, or fining or filtering the wine before bottling.
Louis-Benjamin, like his father, thumbs his nose at the natural-wine dogma: "We're noninterventionist, but it's not nature that prunes the vines or that presses the grapes," he says, and spells out some of the techniques they adopted and those they discarded.
"Working the soil — by plowing, sometimes with a horse — is something we kept. We don't use weed killers and we kept some of the infusions [essentially homeopathic vine treatments], others not. And we don't work with laboratory analysis. We decide the date of harvest by tasting the grapes. We decide if we've decanted the wine sufficiently by looking at the juice, and so forth. We rejected working without sulfur or without added yeasts. You can't make dry wines without yeast. There'll always be some residual sugar or, if the fermentation goes too slowly for lack of yeast, there may be some off-flavors like volatile acidity. We do everything to keep the fermentation temperature cool. We don't fine, but we do filter the wines."
"Another thing Didier taught me," Dagueneau says, obviously warming to the subject and sounding more and more like his father with every sentence, "wine has a certain potential at harvest. Every intervention you make, if it's not at exactly the right moment, you lose something. You have to make the right decision at the right time in order to keep what nature has given."
Now, in mid-October, Dagueneau is delighted with what nature has given.
First, he became a father (of a son named Lou) on Sept. 20, a week before harvest began. And then he succeeded in bringing all his fruit in before the rains began at the beginning of October and is jubilant about the quality — comparing it to 2002, one of his favorite vintages.
Thinking back on the 2008 harvest, Louis-Benjamin reflected, "I had a difficult moment of feeling that I was living Didier's life, that I'd stolen something. Then I realized that I was lucky. For me the hardest thing has been that my father didn't live to taste my first vintage. This is a regret that I'll always carry with me."
Jacqueline Friedrich is author of "A Wine and Food Guide to the Loire."
Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times
* The Wall Street Journal
* SEPTEMBER 3, 2010
Soul Food à la Française
Savoring fouée, the puffy, delicacy-stuffed bread, is a mouthwatering trip into France's distant past
By JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH
'Eat with your fingers. It's more practical."
The owner of a French restaurant advising French clients to eat with their fingers? Etiquette is so hard-wired into the French brain that its well-bred citizens attack chicken wings with bold knife and fork. We are, however, in La Grange à Dîme, a fouée restaurant in the French town of Montreuil-Bellay,, a breed of eatery known by few travelers. And fouée-restaurant fare practically defies cutlery.
Fouée is an ancient bread. History tells us that it was born as a way for bakers to test the heat of their wood ovens: they'd rip off a piece of dough, roll it out and stick it in the oven. Minutes later, out comes a puffed-up bubble of hot crust filled with air. Its closest relative may be the pita. But your standard pita is burlap to the fouée's gossamer.
Nature abhors a vacuum and so does a fouée. You prick it open and fill it with various stuffings, most of them dictated by local tradition, to wit: rillettes (unctuous pork spread called "brown marmalade" by novelist Honoré de Balzac), mogettes (the Vendée's celebrated dried white beans), Loire goat cheese and lightly salted butter.
Here you have the mainstays of the honest-to-God fouée restaurant, a style of eatery pretty much limited to the Saumurois in the western stretch of the Loire Valley. The set menus vary little from one place to another and are usually fleshed out with mushrooms, a meat preparation, salad, dessert and serviceable regional wine.
Killjoys might dismiss these as "theme" restaurants, but there's nothing Red Lobsterish about La Grange à Dîme or the best of its cousins. Their foodstuffs are based on ancient foodways—many known to Rabelais—and are resolutely home-grown.
Your meal at La Grange à Dîme, for example, starts with a glass of sweet Chenin Blanc from the Coteaux du Layon to accompany a galipette, a large (locally cultivated) mushroom, stuffed and baked to melting crunchiness in the hearth.
Next the fouées are brought from the hearth to be filled with rillettes, butter or, better yet, both. And along comes a lightly chilled Anjou rouge, in this case, a forthright Cabernet Franc.
The main course, confit de canard and mogettes, cooks in the hearth in a big casserole to lip-smacking crustiness. I stuffed everything into the fouées which I had already smothered with butter. Disgustingly delicious. Then came salad and tangy goat cheese, followed by the first strawberries of the season and topped with the best whipped cream I have ever eaten.
La Grange à Dîme, a 15th-century structure, was once the storage place for "gifts" (taxes, really) that commoners were obliged to give local lords. The heavy wood beams, the magnificent chestnut eaves all date from the building's origins. From time to time musicians perform medieval music, and the staff, at all times, wears period dress.
This, at first, made me fear terminal corniness. What the staff was actually wearing, however—long skirts, embroidered vests and smocks—was no different from what they wear during the numerous local fairs and reunions of wine brotherhoods. This is Plantagenet country. There is always a reason to don medieval garb and cue the local Jordi Savalls.
What's more, it fits the setting. Montreuil-Bellay, an enchanting town on the river Thouet with an 11th-century château, invites strolling—around the fortress, the narrow streets, the lush river banks. And most of the other fouée restaurants are located in similarly captivating settings such as troglodyte caves—enormous, hydra-headed labyrinths created when the stone was quarried for building the local châteaux, churches and homes. Many now serve as winemaking or mushroom-cultivating cellars.
About 13 miles west of Montreuil-Bellay you'll find some of the Loire's most remarkable troglodytes, among them Dénezé-sous-Doué, its walls completely covered with enigmatic 16th- and 17th-century sculptures, and La Rochemenier, a 20-room troglodyte village, with farms and a chapel, of more than two acres. La Genevraie is, blessedly, part of this ensemble.
La Genevraie's setting is enchanting: A path curves down to the entry, bordered with flowering rosebushes. The main room is surely as close as a troglodyte cave can ever get to evoking a proper English tea parlor—with its candles and vases filled with fresh roses, its window sills lined with antique dolls and its walls hung with old kitchen utensils.
Chopped mushrooms, cooked with carrots and seasonings, come stuffed into fouées. Then rillettes followed by rillauds, large cubes of pork which have been salted and simmered in water until fork-tender. These have been sliced into glistening little strips and piled onto superb mogettes. There is a break before cheese and dessert (excellent pear-and-chocolate tart) to tour the caves, see the oven and chat with the owner-baker.
The authenticity and the quality of the products served at both La Grange à Dîme and La Genevraie have been guaranteed by the Parc Naturel Régional Loire-Anjou-Touraine, which supervises activities associated with the Loire since it has been recognized as Unesco's largest World Heritage site. Two other restaurants are also recommended: Le Cave aux Moines, where fouées are served with mushrooms grown on the spot, and Le Moulin de Sarre, a working flour mill with a fouée restaurant adjunct.
Many of the ever-increasing number of fouée restaurants don't make the grade. Le Clos des Roches, deep in the fields of Grezille, however, is every bit as good as the best.
You might want to bring a flashlight when dining here. From the parking area you must descend a rocky path to a dirt road, past a private home, before getting to the troglodyte that houses the restaurant. The fouées here are oblong rather than round and might win the gold medal for quality. The young server keeps them coming and lights a candle under a serving dish for the mogettes—which follow the rillettes and butter, accompanied by slabs of smoky Vendée ham cooked in the wood oven. There's salad, excellent goat cheese from north of Angers and, for dessert, Tarte Tatin.
Each of these restaurants is cavernous. They accept tour buses. Fear not. You're likely to be surrounded by locals out for a down-home feast.
WHERE TO STAY
Château de Verrières (above)
A 10-room gem in the center of Saumur, behind the National Riding Academy (Cadre Noir), with a dreamy park and a pool. Owner Yolaine de Valbray-Auger couldn't be more accommodating. Rates from €150 ($189.80) for a double and €290 for an apartment-size suite decorated with museum-quality Chinese pottery. Tel: +33-241-38-05-15 (from abroad); firstname.lastname@example.org
Demeure de la Vignole
If the owner's froideur doesn't deter you, this 10-room semi-troglodyte hotel overlooking the vineyards of Saumur-Champigny has a lot to offer: a charming site; thematically decorated rooms; and, above all, a dramatic heated swimming pool carved into the rock of its own troglodyte cave. Think Fellini. Rates from €95 for a double. +33-241-53-67-00, email@example.com
(In general, call ahead to check off-season opening hours.)
La Grange à Dîme
02-41-50-97-24; grange-a-dime.com; open nightly in season and for Sunday lunch; open weekends off-season. Closed Mondays.
Les Caves de la Genevraie
[Bread_Cave] Julien Hekimian for The Wall Street Journal
Le Clos des Roches (above)
02-41-45-59-36, lesclosdesroches.fr; open for lunch and dinner with reservation; closed Mondays, Friday lunchtimes and Sunday nights except during bank holidays.
La Cave aux Moines
Le Moulin de Sarré
Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page W4
Copyright 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved
French wines' natural sparkle
Petillant Originel sparkling wine, to which sugar and yeast may not be added, is a product of the Loire Valley's Montlouis appellation.
By Jacqueline Friedrich, Special to the Los Angeles Times
June 3, 2010
Reporting from Paris —
At L'Ebauchoir, an upscale bistro in Paris' 12th arrondissement, a quickly gentrifying neighborhood east of Bastille, a swarm of wine professionals — journalists, bar owners and sommeliers — is diligently tasting a range of Chenin Blancs from the Montlouis area of France's Loire Valley.
At the stroke of 7 p.m., two vignerons, Bertrand Jousset and Damien Delecheneau, interrupt the tasting with an ear-splitting call to attention.
They are standing at the front of the restaurant, beside an oak wine barrel attached to a small bottling machine, and are about to demonstrate a crucial step in the making of a new kind of Montlouis: a thoroughly dry, gently sparkling wine officially named Pétillant Originel but often called by its makers Pétillant Naturel, or more affectionately, Pet'Nat.
Montlouis is an appellation just east of the city of Tours, where white wines are made from Chenin Blanc in a multitude of styles — from bone dry to unctuously sweet; from still to two traditional types of sparkling wine, méthode traditionelle, made like Champagne, and Pétillant, which, with half the bubbles of Champagne, is creamier and less vigorously fizzy.
And now comes Pétillant Originel, which won legal status from the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine in 2007, different from traditional Pétillant. Most significant, Pétillant Originel must be absolutely natural, a product of the grapes harvested and no more. It is illegal to add either sugar or yeast at any stage of the wine's production, although both are commonly used in Champagne.
Hyper-naturalists view these additions — not to mention the use of other additives such as enzymes and bentonite — as nothing more than chemistry, all of which undermines the purity of the wine.
While eschewing additives may be a matter of principle for all Pet'Nat producers, for Montlouis vintners like Delecheneau and Jousset, it is also a matter
of law, not to mention painstaking, meticulous work in vineyard and cellar, as
Jousset is about to demonstrate.
A rangy 35-year-old with the square-jawed good looks of a latter-day Marlboro Man, Jousset explains that the barrel is filled with new, unfinished wine. The wine stopped fermenting in January while it still had 14 grams of residual sugar and has been kept in a refrigerated room since then.
Behind him, a small assembly line of vintners suctions the wine from the barrel, through the spigots of the bottling machine and into bottles that are then capped like Coca-Cola. Jousset continues: Once warmer weather arrives, that residual sugar and any remaining natural yeasts will restart the fermentation and, in the process, produce the bubbles that make the wine sparkle.
"It dawned on me," recalled winemaker Delecheneau, 31, of Domaine de la Grange Tiphaine, "I don't add sugar or yeast to my still wines, so why do I add them to my Pétillant? This was in 2005. That's when a group of us started talking about Pétillant Originel, although we called it 'Pet'Nat' at the time."
Whatever you call them, the wines are made, for the most part, by resolutely organic, doggedly noninterventionist vintners, among them Christian Chaussard, who, Delecheneau observes, inspired him and a lot of other young winemakers.
Way back in the 1990s, when Chaussard was located in Vouvray — across the Loire River from Montlouis — he made a fizzy, not-quite-pétillant simply by letting his Vouvray re-ferment spontaneously in springtime.
Those were the very early days of the hyper-naturalist, noninterventionist winemaking movement in France — when outliers like the Puzelat brothers (Clos du Tue-Boeuf) and Claude Courtois (Cailloux du Paradis) in Touraine and J.J. Brun in Beaujolais (Domaine des Terres Dorées) began opting for organic or biodynamic farming and forswearing industrial yeasts, enzymes, sulfur, added sugar, added tannins — you name it — as well as just about any technique counseled by modern enologists.
Since that time, hyper-natural winemaking has become a movement, spreading the gospel of "natural wines" throughout France and well beyond.
And the Pet'Nat movement is spreading throughout France as well. Now relocated an hour north in the Coteaux du Loir appellation, Chaussard remains true to the cause, making a variety of quirky hyper-natural wines including Pet'Nats such as "You Are So Happy," a herbaceous blend of Chenin and Sauvignon Blanc, and "You Are So Bubbly," a foamy weave of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Grenache and Cinsault.
Other popular producers such as Pierre and Catherine Breton in Bourgueil, Thierry Puzelat in Touraine, and Dominique Derain in Burgundy are among the growing number of eco-serious vintners adding some Pet'Nat fizz to their line of still wines.
Most of these Pet'Nats from outside Montlouis are sweet — ranging from slightly off-dry to as sweet as Dr Pepper — and many hark back to old-fashioned styles of winemaking (appropriately called méthode ancestrale and méthode rurale) in the regions of Limoux and Gaillac.
An important subgroup is deep pink, in the style of Cerdon, a sparkling wine in the Savoie's Bugey appellation. Emile Heredia from the Domaine de Montrieux outside Vendome, for example, makes a Cerdon-like Pet'Nat called Boisson Rouge from old Gamay vines. Simon Hawkins of Domaine de Fontenay in the Côte Roannaise makes a sudsy Gamay with the sweet-tart flavors of cranberry relish.
Montlouis Pétillant Originel is totally dry, however. And it differs from Pet'Nats in another significant way: Most, if not all Pet'Nats, are vins de table or vins de France — in other words, not part of any official wine group, with all the anarchy and qualitative differences that implies, from the urbane to the outlandish. Montlouis Pétillant Originel is governed by law and aims to be reliably urbane.
Jousset and Delecheneau, along with Xavier Weisskopf (Domaine des Rocher des Violettes) and Domaine Alex-Mathur wanted to make a Pétillant that was not only ultra-pure but also a full-fledged wine — ripe, vinous, consistent in quality and fine enough to serve in Michelin-starred restaurants, but reasonably priced. (Most sell in France for $10 to $15.)
To this end, they drew up a quality charter with exigent requirements. In addition to abolishing the addition of yeast and sugar, the charter mandates low yields, greater ripeness of the grapes than is anticipated for most sparkling wines, as well as aging for a minimum of nine months before being disgorged.
"It's very difficult and very risky," Delecheneau says. "The danger is that the wine might stop fermenting."
Less consequential risks include off-flavors resembling beer or cider, which is why Jacky Blot of Domaine de la Taille aux Loups decided to add just a bit of yeast for the prise de mousse when making his very successful "Triple Zero," a Montlouis Pétillant.
According to Delecheneau, his Pétillant Originel is catching on nicely in the U.S. and the wines are beginning to surface in up-to-the-minute wine bars and shops in Paris like La Quincave and Cru et Découvertes.
To understand the simple yet huge pleasures that are Pétillant Originel, try Xavier Weisskopf's 2006. Disgorged in 2008, it's rich and appetizing, lightly salty, with subtle, intriguing flavors of apple and stone. Downright gourmand. Add grace notes of ginger and you've got the 2007 version.
Weisskopf sells almost his entire production of Pétillant Originel to Denmark. "They're crazy for natural wines," he explains.
It is also available in Southern California at Wine Expo and Hi-Times Wine Cellars. Indeed, availability of any Pet'Nats is spotty — though that is supposed to improve by early summer —it's a new product made in startlingly small quantities.
Risks combined with the very newness of the wine explain why only four Montlouisiens currently produce it and why there is so little of it — roughly 20,000 to 25,000 bottles a year.
But as Delecheneau and Jousset point out, the wine has no track record. Other vintners may be waiting to see how it catches on; others may be experimenting until they get it right.
Thierry Bruneau, general manager and wine buyer for L'Ebauchoir, which specializes in hyper-natural wines, was impressed by what he tasted and intends to add a Pétillant Originel to his list soon, most likely Jousset's 2008 "Bubulle" or his favorite, Delecheneau's 2008 "Nouveau Nez."
"It was creamy, dry and mineral. I liked it a whole lot. They're a hard sell right now because people don't know them, but once they try them they really like them and order them again."
Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times
* T h e W a l l S t r e e t J o u r n a l
* F O O D & D R I N K
* A P R I L 2 , 2 0 1 0
T h e F i r s t T a s t e o f 2 0 0 9
S a m p l i n g a n e w B o r d e a u x v i n t a g e
(I have no idea why the formatting is so weird!)
B y J A C Q U E L I N E F R I E D R I C H
F r o n s a c , F r a n c e
[ w i n e ] B o n A p p e t i t / A l a m y
A w i n e - b a r r e l s t o r e h o u s e a t C h ‚ t e a u P o n t e t - C a n e t i n P a u i l l a c , F r a n c e .
O n a c o l d , g r a y P a l m S u n d a y , a s v i l l a g e r s w a l k e d t o c h u r c h b e a r i n g b o u g h s o f b o x w o o d a n d l a u r e l , w i n e w r i t e r s f r o m P a r i s , N e w Y o r k , L o n d o n , S e o u l , A m s t e r d a m a n d b e y o n d , b e a r i n g l a p t o p s , i P h o n e s a n d s p i r a l n o t e b o o k s , d e s c e n d e d o n t h e C h ‚ t e a u d e C a r l e s .
T h e c h ‚ t e a u l i e s o u t s i d e t h e v i l l a g e o f S a i l l a n s , n o r t h e a s t o f t h e c i t y o f B o r d e a u x , a n d o v e r l o o k s a n u n d u l a t i n g s w a t h o f v i n e y a r d s w i t h i n F r o n s a c , o n e o f m o r e t h a n 2 0 B o r d e a u x a p p e l l a t i o n s o n t h e r i g h t b a n k o f t h e G i r o n d e E s t u a r y . T h e w i n e w r i t e r s h e a d e d f o r a r e n o v a t e d o u t b u i l d i n g o n t h e c h ‚ t e a u ' s g r o u n d s . T h e y h a d c o m e t o s a m p l e 1 3 5 y o u n g r e d w i n e s a s w e l l a s a d o z e n o r s o b a b y w h i t e s f r o m t h e e s t u a r y ' s r i g h t b a n k , i n a t a s t i n g o r g a n i z e d b y t h e a p p r o p r i a t e l y n a m e d C e r c l e R i v e D r o i t e .
T h e e v e n t m a r k e d t h e b e g i n n i n g o f a y e a r l y r i t u a l o f t a s t i n g t h e n e w w i n e s t h e 2 0 0 9 B o r d e a u x e n p r i m e u r . T h e t a s t i n g s a r e h e l d t o g i v e t h e w i n e t r a d e j o u r n a l i s t s , b r o k e r s , i m p o r t e r s a n d o t h e r s a n e a r l y f i x o n t h e v i n t a g e . T h e p r o d u c e r s p r e p a r e s a m p l e s o f w i n e s t h a t h a v e b e e n a g i n g i n b a r r e l s f o r o n l y a f e w m o n t h s , a n d t h a t w i l l s t a y i n t h e b a r r e l f o r a g o o d 1 8 m o n t h s t o t w o y e a r s m o r e b e f o r e h i t t i n g s t o r e s h e l v e s . T h e r e a c t i o n s t h e b u z z , t h e g o s s i p a n d , m o s t i m p o r t a n t l y t h e e a r l y r e v i e w s f r o m i m p o r t a n t c r i t i c s l i k e R o b e r t P a r k e r w i l l i n f l u e n c e t h e p r i c e s t h e p r o d u c e r s s e t f o r t h e i r w i n e s , w i n e s t h a t w i l l b e s o l d a s w i n e f u t u r e s i n t h e m o n t h s f o l l o w i n g t h e s p r i n g t a s t i n g .
T h e B o r d e a u x w i n e r e g i o n c o n s i s t s o f 5 7 a p p e l l a t i o n s l e g a l l y d e f i n e d w i n e - g r o w i n g a r e a s s p a n n i n g t h e r i g h t a n d l e f t b a n k s o f t h e G i r o n d e . T o t h e n o r t h w e s t l i e s t h e M È d o c p e n i n s u l a , w h i c h e n c o m p a s s e s s u c h e x a l t e d a p p e l l a t i o n s a s P a u i l l a c , M a r g a u x , S t . J u l i e n a n d S t . E s t Ë p h e ; t h e n o r t h e a s t i s t h e h o m e o f S t . … m i l i o n a n d P o m e r o l . T h e L e f t B a n k i s h o m e t o m o s t l y C a b e r n e t - d o m i n a n t b l e n d s , w h i l e R i g h t B a n k w i n e s a r e m a d e p r e d o m i n a n t l y f r o m M e r l o t a n d C a b e r n e t F r a n c .
T h e s a l e o f B o r d e a u x w i n e e n p r i m e u r h a s e x i s t e d f o r a l o n g t i m e . I n i t i a l l y t h e f u t u r e w i n e s w e r e s o l d s u r s o u c h e o r w h i l e t h e g r a p e s s t i l l h u n g o n t h e v i n e . T h e r e w a s a p r a g m a t i c r e a s o n f o r t h i s : P r o d u c e r s n e e d t h e e a r l y i n f l o w o f c a s h t o b u y o a k b a r r e l s . L a c k i n g s u c h r u d i m e n t a r y c o n c e r n s , t o d a y ' s f u t u r e s s a l e s a r e a l l a b o u t f i n a n c e : E v e r y b o d y i n t h e w i n e m a k i n g f o o d c h a i n g e t s p a i d w h i l e t h e b u y e r w a i t s f o r h i s p u r c h a s e i n t h e h o p e s t h a t t h e f i n i s h e d p r o d u c t w i l l a ) b e a s g o o d a s p r o m i s e d ; a n d b ) i n c r e a s e i n v a l u e , t h u s j u s t i f y i n g t h e g a m b l e .
T a s t i n g N o t e s
B u t t h e s e i n f a n t w i n e s a r e n o t e a s y t o t a s t e , p a r t i c u l a r l y t h e m o s t s o u g h t - a f t e r r e d s t h a t h a v e j u s t s t a r t e d t h e i r b a r r e l a g i n g . T h e y c a n b e r a w , h a r d , c l o s e d , a s t r i n g e n t a n d a c h i n g l y t a n n i c . A n d t h e y a r e u n f i n i s h e d . B a r r e l a g i n g w i l l l a s t f o r a y e a r , t w o y e a r s o r l o n g e r ; t h e w i n e s m a y a l s o b e f i n e d a n d f i l t e r e d ; t h e b l e n d t w e a k e d .
A n d n o m a t t e r h o w d i s c e r n i n g a n d e x p e r i e n c e d t h e t a s t e r , t h e v e r d i c t c a n b e w r o n g , o r w r o n g - i s h . T h e w i n e s m a y e v o l v e d i f f e r e n t l y t h a n i m a g i n e d : T h e 2 0 0 1 s , f o r e x a m p l e , h a d t h e m i s f o r t u n e o f f o l l o w i n g t h e b a l l y h o o e d 2 0 0 0 s a n d w e r e w r i t t e n o f f a s a n t i c l i m a c t i c . T h e 2 0 0 1 s h a v e e v o l v e d v e r y n i c e l y , t h a n k y o u , a n d n o w n o o n e r e m e m b e r s h a v i n g m a d e a n y t h i n g b u t t h e w a r m e s t e n d o r s e m e n t o f t h e m .
T h o u g h o n e y e a r t e n d s t o r e s e m b l e t h e n e x t , t h i s y e a r ' s P r i m e u r s c o m b i n e s b a d n e w s a n d g o o d n e w s i n a w a y r a r e l y s e e n . O n t h e o n e h a n d , t h e g l o b a l e c o n o m y h a s b e e n i n t h e d o l d r u m s a n d B o r d e a u x m a r k e t h a s b o r n e i t s s h a r e o f t h e m i s e r y : C a s e s o f 2 0 0 7 s a r e c o l l e c t i n g d u s t i n w a r e h o u s e s . ( B o r d e a u x , i t s e l f , a s e v e r y o n e a g r e e s , b e a r s m u c h o f t h e b l a m e f o r t h e w e a k s a l e s o f t h e 2 0 0 7 s , h a v i n g r a i s e d p r i c e s d e s p i t e t h e f a c t t h a t 2 0 0 7 w a s a d e c i d e d l y i n d i f f e r e n t v i n t a g e . ) A n d i n t h e U . S . , m a j o r B o r d e a u x i m p o r t e r s a r e s h u t t i n g u p s h o p .
T h e g o o d n e w s i s t h e 2 0 0 9 h a r v e s t i t s e l f . T h a n k s t o s u p e r b w e a t h e r f r o m J u n e t h r o u g h O c t o b e r , t h e v i n t a g e w a s a l r e a d y b e i n g c o m p a r e d t o t h e g r e a t 2 0 0 5 b e f o r e a n y o n e o u t s i d e t h e i m m e d i a t e f a m i l y h a d e v e n t a s t e d a d r o p o f i t . A n d i m p o r t a n t n e w m a r k e t s w e r e o p e n i n g u p : i n a w o r d , A s i a . A r e c o r d 6 , 0 0 0 v i s i t o r s f r o m a r o u n d t h e w o r l d a t t e n d e d t h i s y e a r ' s P r i m e u r s .
S o j u s t h o w g o o d a r e t h e w i n e s ? P r e t t y d a m n e d g o o d , a n d t h e b e s t m a y b e m y t h i c . T h e r e d w i n e s a r e d e e p l y c o l o r e d , f r a g r a n t , r i c h a n d s u c c u l e n t . F e w t h a t I t a s t e d a r e , a s s o m e h a d f e a r e d , j a m m y a n d h e a v y . R a t h e r , m a n y a r e f r e s h a n d b a l a n c e d , d e s p i t e a l c o h o l s w e i g h i n g i n a r o u n d 1 4 % . W e l l - u p h o l s t e r e d w i n e s , t h e t a n n i n s t e n d t o b e r i p e , t h e a t t a c k s s i l k y o r v e l v e t y o r b o t h , t h e f l a v o r s r e m i n i s c e n t o f b l a c k c h e r r y , b l a c k b e r r y a n d r a s p b e r r y .
S o m e a r e s o t a s t y a n d b a l a n c e d t h e y s e e m r e a d y t o d r i n k n o w . M o s t , h o w e v e r , h a v e r o u g h p a t c h e s i n m i d - p a l a t e , l a r g e l y f r o m t h e o a k t a n n i n s . W i l l t h e y s u c c e s s f u l l y d i g e s t t h a t o a k a n d b e c o m e o n e d e l i c i o u s l y i n t e g r a t e d w h o l e ? I t h i n k a l a r g e p e r c e n t a g e o f t h e m w i l l , p a r t i c u l a r l y t h o s e a n d t h e r e w e r e m a n y w h i c h , d e s p i t e a s t r i n g e n t s t r e t c h e s , f i n i s h e d w i t h a s o f t r e p r i s e o f t h e i n i t i a l f r u i t f l a v o r s . ( I s h o u l d n o t e t h a t t h e r e w e r e s o m e w i n e s t h a t t a s t e d o v e r - e x t r a c t e d a n d t o o d e n s e , w i t h c o o k e d f r u i t f l a v o r s ) .
T h i s w i l l b e a v e r y f i n e v i n t a g e f o r l e s s p r e s t i g i o u s b o t h l e s s e x p e n s i v e a n d e a r l i e r d r i n k i n g a p p e l l a t i o n s l i k e s i m p l e B o r d e a u x , F r o n s a c , M È d o c , t h e C Ù t e s d e B o u r g . S o m e o f m y f a v o r i t e s i n t h i s c a t e g o r y i n c l u d e G i r o l a t e a n d C h ‚ t e a u T h i e u l e y C u v È e F r a n c i s C o u r s e l l e ( b o t h B o r d e a u x A O C ) , C h ‚ t e a u J o a n i n B È c o t a n d C l o s P u y A r n a u d ( b o t h C a s t i l l o n ) , C h ‚ t e a u F o u g a s " M a l d o r o r " ( C Ù t e s d e B o u r g ) , C h ‚ t e a u l e s T r o i s C r o i x ( F r o n s a c ) , a n d H a u t C a r l e s .
F o r m e , t h e m o s t s u r p r i s i n g a s p e c t o f t h e 2 0 0 9 s w a s t h a t m a n y o f t h e m h a d f l a v o r s r e m i n i s c e n t n o t o f B o r d e a u x b u t o f t h e R h Ù n e , s p e c i f i c a l l y t h e e x o t i c p e r f u m e s o f S y r a h a n d t h e d u l c e t t e x t u r e o f G r e n a c h e .
I w o u l d l a t e r d i s c u s s t h i s w i t h J e a n - L u c T h u n e v i n a t a p r i v a t e t a s t i n g h e w a s h o l d i n g a t h i s h o m e . M r . T h u n e v i n i s t h e o r i g i n a l " g a r a g i s t e " w h o l i t e r a l l y m a d e h i s f i r s t C h ‚ t e a u V a l a n d r a u d , a S t . … m i l i o n , i n h i s o w n g a r a g e . T o d a y M r . T h u n e v i n s e e m s t o o w n S t . E m i l i o n , m a k i n g a f u l l r a n g e o f i t s w i n e s a n d m a r k e t i n g t h e w i n e s o f m o r e t h a n t w o d o z e n h i g h - p r o f i l e d o m a i n e s .
M r . T h u n e v i n p r e d i c t s h e ' l l s e l l 8 0 % e n p r i m e u r a s f u t u r e s a n d e x p e c t s t o p r i c e t h e i n i t i a l o f f e r i n g a t ¨ 1 7 5 ( $ 2 3 6 ) a b o t t l e , e x c l u d i n g t a x , t h e s a m e a s t h e 2 0 0 5 v i n t a g e . H i s m o s t i m p o r t a n t m a r k e t t o d a y i s H o n g K o n g , w h e r e h e s e l l s o n e t h i r d o f h i s 1 5 , 0 0 0 b o t t l e s o f C h ‚ t e a u d e V a l a n d r a u d . K o r e a c o m e s n e x t , t h e n J a p a n . H e e x p e c t s t h e C h i n e s e m a r k e t t o f o l l o w q u i c k l y .
" T h e C h i n e s e b u y e r s a r e l e a r n i n g w i t h t h e 1 8 5 5 c l a s s i f i c a t i o n s , " h e s a i d , r e f e r r i n g t o t h e o l d e s t a n d s t i l l m o s t i n f l u e n t i a l s y s t e m d e s i g n a t i n g B o r d e a u x ' s t o p - r a n k e d w i n e s . " T h a t ' s w h a t t h e y b u y , e v e n i f t h e c h ‚ t e a u x i n t h a t c l a s s i f i c a t i o n a r e n o l o n g e r v e r y g o o d . B u t t h e t e r m " g a r a g i s t e " h a s b e c o m e e s t a b l i s h e d i n t h e s a m e w a y t h a t " n o u v e l l e c u i s i n e " a n d " n o u v e l l e v a g u e " d i d . W e ' v e b e e n a r o u n d f o r 2 0 y e a r s n o w . W e ' r e n o t n e w a n y m o r e . "
A n d w h a t ' s n e x t ? I a s k e d , s u s p e c t i n g t h e a n s w e r I g o t : O r g a n i c , b i o d y n a m i c , a n y t h i n g e c o l o g i c a l .
A n d s o I t r a v e l e d t o C h ‚ t e a u P o n t e t - C a n e t i n P a u i l l a c , t h e b l u e s t o f t h e b l u e - c h i p a p p e l l a t i o n s . I t w a s t h e f i r s t o f t h e 1 8 5 5 c l a s s i f i e d g r o w t h s t o c o n v e r t t o b i o d y n a m i c f a r m i n g , t h e v e r y s t r i c t o r g a n i c v i t i c u l t u r e w h o s e p r i n c i p l e s w e r e d e f i n e d b y t h e A u s t r i a n p h i l o s o p h e r R u d o l p h S t e i n e r i n t h e 1 9 2 0 s . H o m e o p a t h i c v i n e t r e a t m e n t s a n d h e r b a l i n f u s i o n s a r e u s e d i n s t e a d o f c h e m i c a l s . P l a n t i n g , p r u n i n g a n o t h e r v i n e y a r d o p e r a t i o n s a r e s c h e d u l e d a c c o r d i n g t o t h e p o s i t i o n s o f t h e p l a n e t s .
W h e n I a s k e d g e n e r a l m a n a g e r J e a n - M i c h e l C o m m e w h y h e h a d o p t e d f o r b i o d y n a m i c s r a t h e r t h a n o r g a n i c v i t i c u l t u r e , , h i s r e s p o n s e w a s h e a r t f e l t : " W e w a n t e d t o g i v e s o m e t h i n g b a c k t o t h e e a r t h , n o t s i m p l y t o r i d i t o f w h a t e v e r w a s d i s t u r b i n g i t . O r g a n i c v i t i c u l t u r e i s l i k e g o i n g t o b a t t l e w i t h a b o w a n d a r r o w r a t h e r t h a n w i t h a b o m b . "
T h e 2 0 0 9 w a s l i k e n o o t h e r P a u i l l a c I h a v e e v e r t a s t e d , a n d P o n t e t - C a n e t ' s m o v e t o b i o d y n a m i c s w i l l s u r e l y b e f o l l o w e d . B u t s o m e t h i n g e l s e n e w a n d p r o m i s i n g h a p p e n e d i n t h e 2 0 0 9 v i n t a g e .
T h e h e a r t o f t h e g r o w i n g s e a s o n J u n e t h r o u g h O c t o b e r w a s g l o r i o u s , a s I ' v e s a i d . B u t t h e m o n t h o f M a y ? N o t s o m u c h . T h e r e w e r e f o u r s e r i o u s h a i l s t o r m s a n d q u i t e a f e w g r o w e r s l o s t s i g n i f i c a n t p e r c e n t a g e s o f t h e i r c r o p . T h e s m a l l a p p e l l a t i o n o f C Ù t e s d e B o u r g w a s o n e s u c h a n d s o m e o f i t s y o u n g e s t v i g n e r o n s , t h e i r c r o p s e n t i r e l y d e m o l i s h e d , f a c e d b a n k r u p t c y .
U n d e r t h e l e a d e r s h i p o f J e a n - Y v e s B È c h e t , w h o s e b l a c k b e r r y - s c e n t e d F o u g a s " M a l d o r o r " w a s a m o n g m y f a v o r i t e s , a g r o u p o f 4 0 C Ù t e s d e B o u r g p r o d u c e r s d o n a t e d a p o r t i o n o f t h e i r h a r v e s t t o t h e i r d i s t r e s s e d c o l l e a g u e s . T h e r e s u l t i n g w i n e s , n o t s h o w n d u r i n g t h e e n p r i m e u r t a s t i n g s , w i l l b e r e l e a s e d u n d e r t h e n a m e o f C Ù t e s d e B o u r g - S o l i d a r i t È .
T h e 2 0 0 9 v i n t a g e w i l l b e m u c h d i s c u s s e d a n d a n a l y z e d a n d r a t e d a g a i n s t 2 0 0 5 a n d t h e f a b l e d v i n t a g e o f 1 9 8 2 , b u t w h a t I m a y r e c a l l t h e m o s t f o n d l y a b o u t i t i s n o t s o m u c h t h e u n p r e c e d e n t e d q u a l i t y o f t h e w i n e s b u t t h e u n p r e c e d e n t e d q u a l i t y o f m e r c y d e m o n s t r a t e d b y t h e g r o w e r s o f t h e C Ù t e s d e B o u r g .
Sidebar C h ‚ t e a u C o s d ' E s t o u r n e l , S t . E s t Ë p h e , S e c o n d G r o w t h
T h i s w i n e i s h e r o i c i n s t a t u r e . O v e r p o w e r i n g a r o m a s o f n e w o a k g i v e w a y t o s c e n t s o f b l u e b e r r i e s , r a s p b e r r y a n d b l a c k c h e r r y . T h e r e ' s m o r e t h a n a s u g g e s t i o n o f c o o k e d f r u i t , b u t i t ' s q u i c k l y s w e p t a w a y b y f r e s h n e s s , f l a s h e s o f m i n t a n d l i m e z e s t , t a r a n d t o b a c c o a n d a r e c u r r i n g l a c t i c q u a l i t y r e m i n i s c e n t o f p a n n a c o t t a .
C h ‚ t e a u L e o v i l l e - B a r t o n , S t . J u l i e n , S e c o n d G r o w t h
V e l v e t t e x t u r e d , w i t h p e r s i s t e n t f r a g r a n c e s o f r a s p b e r r y a n d b l a c k c h e r r y , t h e w i n e i s g r a c e f u l , h a r m o n i o u s a n d s o g o u r m a n d y o u w a n t t o d r i n k i t u p , b u t i t s s t r u c t u r e t e l l s y o u i t w i l l l a s t f o r m a n y d e c a d e s . B o r d e a u x c l a s s i c i s m a t i t s b e s t .
C h ‚ t e a u P a l m e r , M a r g a u x , T h i r d G r o w t h
A l m o s t c r y s t a l l i n e i n i t s c l a r i t y , g e n e r o u s l y p e r f u m e d w i t h b l a c k b e r r i e s , b l u e b e r r i e s a n d s w e e t s p i c e s , t h e w i n e i s f r e s h a n d s u a v e , w i t h h i n t s o f t a r a n d l i c o r i c e .
C h ‚ t e a u P o n t e t - C a n e t , P a u i l l a c , F i f t h G r o w t h
T h i s w i n e i s g e n t l e a n d t e n d e r , p u r e f r u i t e d , m i n e r a l , f r e s h a s a s t r e a m a n d a s f r a g r a n t a s a f i e l d o f v i o l e t s . I h a v e n e v e r t a s t e d a n o t h e r P a u i l l a c l i k e i t .
C h ‚ t e a u V a l a n d r a u d , S t . … m i l i o n , G r a n d C r u
C o o l , d a r k b l a c k b e r r i e s a n d c h e r r i e s , a s c o n c e n t r a t e d a n d g l e a m i n g a s a f r u i t g l a z e s e d u c e ; t h e w i n e ' s i m p r e s s i v e s t r u c t u r e i m p r e s s e s . Y e s , t h e t a n n i n s a n d t h e o a k m a k e t h e i r p r e s e n c e k n o w n b u t t h e y f a d e i n t o t h e b a c k g r o u n d , b e h i n d t h e s h e e r p r e t t i n e s s o f t h e f r u i t a n d t h e i n v i o l a b l e s o l i d i t y o f t h e w i n e .
J a c q u e l i n e F r i e d r i c h i s t h e a u t h o r o f " T h e W i n e s o f F r a n c e : t h e E s s e n t i a l G u i d e f o r S a v v y S h o p p e r s " a n d i s c u r r e n t l y u p d a t i n g h e r f i r s t b o o k , " A W i n e & F o o d G u i d e t o t h e L o i r e . "
C o p y r i g h t 2 0 0 9 D o w J o n e s & C o m p a n y , I n c . A l l R i g h t s R e s e r v e
International Herald Tribune
France's maverick wine makers
By Jacqueline Friedrich
Friday, November 16, 2007
The Côtes du Marmandais is not exactly high on the wish list of most enophiles. A small appellation - for whites, rosés but mostly reds - it lies in southwest France, halfway between the cities of Agen, of prune fame, and Bordeaux, that hulking reminder that not all vineyards are created equal. Unless, of course, you find someone as gifted as Élian Da Ros to level the playing field.
When 39-year-old Da Ros took charge of his father's 7.5 hectares of vines in the Marmandais he changed everything. Gradually increasing his holdings to 21 hectares, or just over 50 acres, he converted to biodynamics, a form of organic viticulture, bottled his own wine rather than deliver it to a local cooperative, and now sells to ambitious wine bars as well as to a Who's Who of Michelin-starred restaurants, from El Bulli in Spain to Roellinger in Cancale to the Auberge de l'Ill in Illerhausen.
Happily, France has an ever-increasing number of vintners in the Da Ros mold- passionate artistes-vignerons who are determined to make great wine - no matter where their vineyards are. Some, like Da Ros, inherited land; others, with no land and modest budgets, looked for vines in the Valley of the "Uns" - unknown, undervalued, underdeveloped and underestimated.
For Hervé Leferrer (Domaine du Grand Crès) and Hervé Bizeul (Domaine du Clos des Fées), this meant all-but-abandoned hillsides in the Languedoc and Roussillon; for Alain and Isabelle Hasard (Domaine des Champs de l'Abbaye); for Maria Cuny (Domaine Marie Cuny, and for Jean-Marie Guffens (Guffens-Heynen) supposedly minor areas of Burgundy.
Like Da Ros, each has had to push winemaking boundaries to fully realize - and even expand - the presumed potential of the appellation. Whatever nature did or didn't give them, they more than make up for with nurture. Most practice some sort of organic viticulture, pampering their vines like a Sunday gardener pinching back basil. Yields are extremely low, harvest is by hand, and the wines are bottled with little or no filtration. Each has sifted through years of experience to settle on the best winemaking methods they've learned along the way.
Da Ros, for instance, studied in Montpellier, Mâcon and Strasbourg, then became the right-hand man to Olivier Humbrecht, the fine Alsatian vintner who bottles a wide range of wines terroir by terroir. That's what inspired Da Ros to make four different reds. A blend of varying percentages of cabernets sauvignon and franc, merlot, malbec (or cot), syrah and the local abouriou, each cuvée comes from a distinct terroir. The single vineyard Clos Bacquey is the top of the line. The 2004 is as scrumptious as it is soigné, a silken weave of succulent black cherry, fleshy Agen prunes, gentle new oak and cinnamon. You'll be both amused and amazed.
The Domaine de la Romanée-Conti was Hervé Leferrer's muse. When he left his post as the domaine's director he scoured southern France before settling on five hectares in the appellation of Corbières in the Languedoc, at a price a tenth of anything he could have found in Burgundy. This was in 1989. Today, he has 19 hectares and makes Languedoc wines with Burgundian elegance, two whites and two reds, each as vibrant and streamlined as a Bach violin concerto. The graceful 2006 Blanc du Grand Crès, a fragrant blend of roussanne and viognier, fresh as a mountain stream, offers delicate flavors of peach and passion fruit. The 2004 Cuvée Majeure du Grand Crès, Leferrer's top red, is chiefly syrah. Don't look for a blockbuster. This wine is all about harmony and subtlety.
If the wines from Domaine du Grand Crès recall chamber music, those from Domaine du Clos des Fées are downright symphonic. Hervé Bizeul, the owner, was quite the Parisian wine maven from the 1980s through the mid-'90s: he had won the Best Young Sommelier Award, owned a wine bar and was a wine journalist. While visiting the Roussillon, he happened on a vineyard in the Agly Valley, where he was convinced he could make superb wine. The vines were for sale. Bizeul bought them, extended his holdings to 19 hectares, and the rest is history, including the fact that his top cuvée, Petite Sibérie, at 200 euros a bottle, nearly $300, is the most expensive wine in the region. Made from old grenache vines, it exudes aromas and flavors of very ripe black cherries, blackberries, white ash, and oak accents. Almost a meal in itself, it you want to sit with friends, sip it, talk about it and take another sip.
Less voluptuous (and less expensive) but equally delicious is the cuvée Clos des Fées, a velvet cushion of syrah, grenache, mourvèdre and carignan. It cries out for a perfectly roasted duck accompanied by potatoes mashed with the best sweet butter you can find. His 2006 Vieilles Vignes Grenache is a taut, strong white, with floral, verbena and tangerine zest accents. There are other bottlings, too, as well as Walden, Bizeul's optimistically named foray into the negociant business. A yummy, user-friendly red, it's well worth the 7 euros you'd pay for it.
There's something New World-ish about the Agly Valley. But Burgundy? Didn't those wine-savvy monks demarcate everything worth cultivating centuries ago? Apparently not. It's thrilling to find lip-smacking wines coming from unsung areas like the Couchois, where Alain and Isabelle Hasard created Domaine des Champs de l'Abbaye in 1997. Former psychologists, their love for wine landed them on the selling floors of the big wine merchant Nicolas. Last stop, Beaune, where they decided to make their own Burgundian pinot noir. In 1997 they bought vines in land designated as lowly passe-tout-grain, from which they turned out reds replete with joie de vivre. Today, they have 6.5 hectares, having sold off most of the passe-tout-grain land to trade up to a half hectare in Rully and 1.5 hectares of Mercurey. Most of their land, however, is still in the Bourgogne-Côtes du Couchois appellation. Vinified by terroir, there are three pinot noir cuvées, each one an overachiever: The statuesque Les Vignes Martin, the structured and very delectable Les Rompeys, and the exotically perfumed Le Clos, which could be taken for a Volnay.
This Burgundy lover can't wait to taste the Hasards' first vintage of Mercurey, the 2006, which is still in barrel. As it happens, the Chalonnais and Mâconnais zones south of the Côte d'Or, which include both Rully and Mercurey, are humming with activity, thanks to fanatical winemakers like the Hasards.
Jean-Marie Guffens, a Belgian who worked in Burgundy as a winebroker, was surely one of the pioneers. A force of nature, Guffens bought two hectares of Mâcon in 1980. Meursault would have cost ten times as much. Today, in addition to a negociant business, Verget, that spans Burgundy, Guffens, with his wife, Maine Heynen, owns 5.3 hectares, split between Mâcon and Pouilly-Fuissé. In the popular imagination Pouilly-Fuissé and Mâcon seem only too familiar; the first, an also-ran; the latter, an underachiever from which we never expected very much anyway. But the perfectionist Guffens turns out breathtaking whites that rival the Montrachets. His Pouilly-Fuissé La Roche and Mâcon Pierreclos are textured, splendid wines, works of art.
Chablis comes to mind when you taste Maria Cuny's 2006 Bourgogne-Vézelay. It's chardonnay but so distinctive you forget about fruit in favor of terroir. It's a racy, ethereal wine with a stinging freshness and a rush of mineral and herbal tea flavors. Working as a shepherdess for Société Roquefort, Maria was sent to apprentice with a shepherd named Yves Cuny. They married, and six children later the couple decided to return to his childhood home near Vézelay. In 2000 they bought a small vineyard in the shadow of the town's basilica, part of the Unesco World Heritage site. Decimated by phylloxera, Vézelay's slopes were abandoned for roughly a century until a local group replanted them. This year marks the 10th anniversary of AOC Bourgogne-Vézelay status for chardonnay-based whites. Maria Cuny's wines prove that Vézelay is a Burgundian cru to be reckoned with.
Jacqueline Friedrich is the author "The Wines of France: The Essential Guide for Savvy Shoppers."
Ten wines to taste at Paris wine fair (This appeared as a sidebar to the above article. Ten stands to visit at the Salon.
Friday, November 16, 2007
The Salon des Vignerons Indépendants, the largest wine fair of its kind, opens on Thursday in Paris, at Paris Expo, Porte de Versailles. The five-day event offers 1,000 wineries and attracts 160,000 visitors. Feeling bewildered already? We've picked 10 excellent winemakers from four regions. Row and stand numbers are in parentheses:
Champagne: Grower Champagne is often cheaper and tastier than Champagnes from the big houses. Agrapart (S-14): Try the Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, particularly the feisty, barrel-fermented Cuvée l'Avizoise. Moncuit (H-9): Stellar grands crus from Le Mesnil, particularly vintage bottlings: the racy Cuvée Pierre Moncuit-Delos Réserve, and Hugues de Coulmet, a lightly sweet Champagne, perfect for dessert.
Burgundy:Michel Magnien: ( J-33) Côtes-de-Nuits at its most succulent: Try the Morey-St.-Denis Chaffots Premier Cru; the Morey-St.-Denis Millandes, and the Gevrey-Chambertin Seuvrées Vieilles Vignes. Machard de Gramont (C-64): Delectable Nuits-St.-George, including Les Hauts Poirets and Les Haut Pruliers. Goisot (E-7): Excellent, streamlined whites and reds from the outskirts of Chablis. Don't miss the old vines chardonnay and the Sauvignon de St. Bris.
Rhône: Saladin (H-34): Cool Ardèche mountain Rhônes by Elisabeth and Marie-Laurence Saladin. Chaveyron 1422 is the top of the line. Brusset (M-22): Ambitious Cairanne, Gigondas and simple Côtes du Rhône. Domaine Rabasse-Charavin (L-62): Don't miss Corinne Couturier's Cairanne Cuvée d'Estevenas in both red and white. Châteaux La Gardine/St. Roch: (R-57): Delicious Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Cuvée des Générations and the fine Lirac Cuvée Confidentielle.
Bordeaux: If you have to choose just one, make it Château Clauzet: (Q-41): Try the graceful, pedigreed St. Estèphe.
OLIVIER ROELLINGER: MAISON DE BRICOURT Yes, Chef magazine, Winter 2008. I've used the author's cut as the editors sent me a .pdf file of the entire magazine and I don't have the wherewithal to separate out my piece.
The one with the spices. Mention the name Olivier Roellinger to any foodie and that’s the reflex response. Like Marc Veyrat and his hat; like Michel Bras and Veyrat (again) with their wild herbs just gathered from the surrounding mountainsides; like Joel Robuchon and his mashed potatoes. The finely tuned use of spices seems to be a signature chez Roellinger. He uses over a hundred of them.
Mention spices to the chef, however, and his automatic reply, emphatically stated, is “It’s not fusion! It’s the expression of this environment. I’m inspired by soul of St. Malo and its place in history – of explorers, adventurers, and spice traders. By the aura and the force of Mont St. Michel. I subscribe totally to this spirit of openness to the world beyond our horizons.”
One quickly understands that to ask Olivier Roellinger what cooking means to him is, in a very real sense, to ask him the meaning of life.
The following history has – rightly – become part of the Roellinger legend. Now 53, at the age of 21 the future chef was nearly assassinated by five local thugs in what he describes as a Clockwork Orange-type attack. After months in the hospital, he spent two years at home, in a wheel chair, during which time he passed hours reflecting on mortality, on the meaning of life, and more practically, on his decision to study math and chemistry.
“They seemed insipid and pointless,” he recalls, “ I wanted to do something to celebrate the joy of being alive.”
At about this time, his mother – having divorced Roellinger’s father years earlier – was having difficulty maintaining the family home and thought she’d have to sell it. Roellinger was adamantly against this plan. He had been born in this house and wanted, at all costs, to keep it and make it live. He came up with mighty good scheme.
As it happened, while he was at home recovering, his pals from school came to visit everyday. To hear him tell it, the house was always buzzing with activity. As the friends tended to linger, Mme Roellinger felt they needed sustenance. She cooked big family-style meals. They ate. And thus was born the idea that saved the house: he, his mother, his wife Jane, and a friend Andre who still works with him, turned the house into a table d’hote. That was in 1982. In 1983 the influential guide Gault-Millau rewarded this improvised restaurant with a rating of 15/20.Within two years Roellinger’s house had become a full-fledged restaurant, winning its first Michelin star in 1984; its second, in ’88; and its 3rd in 2006.
The Maison de Bricourt itself is a handsome bourgeois home which dates from 1760. It is set back from the port of Cancale on a hill high above the bay of Mont St. Michel. As Roellinger points out, the house once belonged to Heurtaut de Bricourt, a shipowner from the Compagnie des Indes, the legendary firm that traveled the world in search of spices, silk, and exotic woods.
“What’s unusual,” Roellinger points out,” is that there are something like 47 restaurants in Cancale and 46 of them are on the port. I’m the only one in upper Cancale. But people from the region understood what I was trying to do and they supported me.”
Now, with his various enterprises – among them, a cooking school (La Cuisine Corsaire), with baker Yannick Gautier, a bakery and tea salon called Grain de Vanille, and a spice shop called Entrepot d’Epices Roellinger – the chef seems to be colonizing upper Cancale. (Roellinger also owns the Chateau de Bricourt-Richeux, a small hotel/restaurant in a 1920s villa set in a vast park outside of town on a cliff overlooking the bay of Mont St. Michel.)
One can “read” some of the history of the Maison de Bricourt house in its salon – with its unusually tiled fireplace and its vitrines filled with Breton and oriental faience. The three small dining salons look out on a pond populated by fat, satisfied-looking ducks, surrounded by a screen of bonsai and rhododendron. The rooms themselves have a studied spareness. There are few things and they are beautiful – handsome stained wood floors, for example, and elegant Limoges porcelain.
This aesthetic has carried over to Roellinger’s food such as an amuse-bouche of winkles in a subtly devastating horseradish cream sauce served on a bed of seasalt alongside a small slab of seabass delicately scented with green curry, and shrimp whose shrimp-iness is intensified by being served in their own juices.
This was the overture to Roellinger’s 170 euro “Chef’s Desire” menu which, on the night in question, comprised nine courses, including cheese and a medley of desserts. There are no “throw-aways” here: the butter, made nearby, comes from Bordier, and is one of the most celebrated in France. (Bordier also supplies the selection of magnificent, perfectly ripened cheeses.) The inventive, palate-tingling condiments – also sold in Roellinger’s shop – are provocative accompaniments to various dishes.
His Celtic Mustard, for example, a vivid blend of mustard, seaweed, anchovy and cider vinegar, was served alongside John Dory. The fish, marinated briefly in hazelnut oil and ginger, was exquisitely fresh, a silken delicacy resilient enough to stand up to the zing of the mustard.
In addition to the caraway, the tamarind, the passion fruit, and the cardamom, Roellinger highlights local ingredients – from humble Paimpol beans to recherche Tsarskaya oysters raised with great TLC in the bay of Mont St. Michel. These came together in a succulent broth – a foam of the white beans and the fleshy oysters, flavored with citronelle and garnished with the leaves of baby Brussels sprouts. Heated just enough to warm the oysters, the flavors and textures were as rich, as distinct, and as fresh as if they had been served raw but seemed to marry into a satisfying whole when treated to this preparation.
And every single ingredient – from the butter to the oysters – seems to come from someone Roellinger knows personally. He’s one chef you won’t find in Paris, Las Vegas or Tokyo.
“I don’t know how cooks succeed in cities,” he declares. “I can’t understand chefs who simply order ingredients – five kilos of lobsters, say. Every chef should be an ecologist. What we do is a sublimation of nature. I listen to the ocean; I watch it dance. Behind every product there’s a fisherman, an oyster farmer, a history, work. I know all of my suppliers. I need this. The main thing a cook needs is to know what it means to love – a land, people. This is not just a craft. It all starts with the mother – chasing after her child with a bite of something to eat, which is necessary for life.”
Beyond that, he adds, once again waxing oceanic, “Cooking, for me, is a way of casting off the moorings. It’s a form of liberty.
BURGUNDY ARTICLE: AUTHOR’S CUT
This is the Author's Cut (cf director's cut) of an article on Burgundy I wrote for the October 2007 issue of Food & Wine. Note that the three categories are theirs.
MOVERS & SHAKERS
1) Jean-Marie Guffens: Defy and Conquer or Serial Cliché Killer: “There is no reason for any bottle of wine to cost more than 35 euros.” Thus spake Jean-Marie Guffens when I visited him in 2005. Always controversial, Guffens, a Belgian wine merchant who created his own small domaine – Guffens-Heynen -- with his wife, and a larger, negociant business – Verget – with Jean Rijckaert (who has since gone out on his own) in the mid 1980s is not about to stop ruffling feathers any time soon. Just about every move he makes challenges conventional wisdom. He was one of the first producers to bottle his top-of-the-line wines
eg Meursault, with screw caps rather than corks. But that’s minor. He has essentially redefined the role of negociant in Burgundy, setting new standards of excellence and rigor, and producing breathtaking whites from purchased grapes throughout Burgundy, from Chablis to Pouilly Fuisse. Perhaps even more astonishing, he has proved that white wines from the Maconnais can be as majestic and mindblowing as Cortons and Montrachets from top houses (cf the 2002 Guffens-Heynen Pouilly-Fuisse “La Roche,”) And when he works within those exalted appellations, his wines are downright miraculous. The 2005 Verget Corton-Charlemagne was so deep, so layered and so long, it was almost a liqueur. Reality Check: in the USA it sells for $200. What happened to the 35 euro principle? Of course, Guffens was talking about the price his exporters pay. Still, it’s quite a multiple. Though it may not be too much to pay for a wine that sends you into wine orbit after a single sip.
2) Claude Bourgignon: The Soil Whisperer: When Claude Bourgignon talks, friends of the earth listen. Nearly 20 years ago, Bourgignon, a Paris-born microbiologist, pronounced these fighting words: “The soils of many of Burgundy’s appellations (depleted by the use of chemical fertilizers, insecticides and week killers) have no more life in them than the soils of the Sahara desert.” Since that time, Bourgignon has become the flying terroirist, advising winemakers the world over how to reanimate their soils and, thus, enhance the typicity of their wines, by using natural methods like plowing with a horse and digging in biologically correct fertilizers, ie compost. His list of Burgundian clients reads like a 3 Michelin-star wine list, starting with Romanee-Conti, Leflaive, and Lafon in Burgundy, Anselme (Jacques) Selosse in Champagne, Chateaux Ausone and La Tour Figeac in St. Emilion, Mas Daumas Gassac in the Languedoc, and Mas Amiel in the Roussillon. The author of the dense but inspirational Le Sol, La Terre et Les Champs (to be republished in 2008), Bourgignon works with his wife Lydia from their laboratory LAMS in northern Burgundy. Their website, www.LAMS-21.com, filled with pictures of crawly creatures that aerate and replenish soils, explains the philosophy. By the way, to work with Bourgignon, you don’t have to practice biodynamic farming, but it helps.
3) Ma Cuisine: BurgBuff Central: On a cobbled alley off the Place Carnot, this restaurant plays to a knowing crowd of regulars -- both local and visiting wine buffs for whom the place seems to be something of an HQ. The ambiance couldn't be friendlier, the food couldn't be more pleasant, and the reasonably priced, book-length wine list will make you drool. Pierre and Fabienne Escoffier, husband and wife sommeliers, count as friends many of the leading vignerons in the 30 to 50-something age range, vintners like Dominique Lafond, Philippe Charlopin, Eric Rousseau, Pascal Lachaux (Domaine Arnoux) and Jean-Marc Roulot. Not surprising, then, that you’ll find many of their wines – on the list. Anne Gros bottlings, for example, start with her “simple” Burgundies and run throught a 2001 Combe d’Orveau (75 euros) to her 2001 Richebourg (325 e); similarly Coche-Dury and Lafon are equally well represented. Big spenders will want the 2002 Meursault Caillerets (170e) from the former and the 2001 Meursault Perrieres (180e) from the latter. And the list goes on…and on…and on, with long sections in Bordeaux (you can do a sweeping vertical of Yquem – from 1928 to 2002) and the Rhone (12 vintages of Chateau de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf-du-Pape.) Pierre runs the dining room; Fabienne, the kitchen, from shich she serves flavorful Burgundian comfort food. Her jambon persille is terrific and a heaven-sent match for white Burgundy. To accompany red wine, opt for perfectly roasted half pigeon or duck breast that is as rich as sirloin steak. If creme caramel is on the dessert table, don't miss it. Using her grandmother's recipe, the chef creates a version that is silken and ultra-creamy, with hits of lemon and rum. Note that the Escoffiers also run a wine shop, Les Caves Sainte Helene, next door. Ma Cuisine, passage Ste. Helene, 03.80.22.30.22; firstname.lastname@example.org.; ma email@example.com.
4) Bouchard Pere & Fils: Big and Beautiful or Super-sized and Just Plain Super: Under the direction of Joseph Henriot, this important producer has become a true ambassador for the region. It is one of Burgundy’s largest grower-negociant houses – making wine from both its own vineyards (more than 230 acres, most of them Premier or Grand Cru) as well as from grapes and young wines that it purchases. Once an underachiever with a lot of good land, Bouchard is now virtually synonymous with quality, offering excellence and consistency at every level of its encyclopedic range. (Bouchard owns William Fevre, an outstanding producer of Chablis.) In France, such domaines are called “locomotives,” as they drive their respective regions forward, making a strong presence on the world stage. No question: we all adore the artist-vignerons whose minuscule production sells out before we can our hands on a bottle. But we should give thanks to quality-driven big houses like Bouchard. Not only do the set a fine example, they insure that there’s enough great Burgundy to go around so that the less obsessive among us might just possibly find Bouchard’s “La Romanee” or its Beaune 1er Cru Clos de la Mousse, both exclusives, happens on a wine list or see its signature wine, Beaune 1er Cru Greves Vigne de l’Enfant Jesus – an embodiment of the “iron fist in a velvet glove” analogy -- in a shop where we’ve gone to get a special bottle for an important birthday.
5) Vincent Dureuil-Janthial : The White Knight: Every generation has its shining stars, its role models. For Burgundy, in the first decade of the 21st century, Vincent Dureuil, 37, is a vigneron who will inspire generations to come for his unerring precision -- his flair for choosing exactly the right nano-second to harvest, for exampleso that the grapes are super-ripe without being over-ripe, and his light touch with the wine press. He made his name with magnificent white Rullys , particularly the 1er Cru, old vines bottlings like Les Margotes and Le Meix Cadot. Rully is part of the Chalonnais, south of the Cote d’Or. You’re not supposed to make whites here that rival Puligny-Montrachet. Dureuil does. And recently he expanded his reach into the coveted crus of Puligny where he makes a predictably superbChamps-Gains. Nor are his reds – a sensual Mercurey and exquisite Nuits-St.-Georges des Argillieres – to be ignored. Production is very limited. If you find a bottle, grab it. And if you come across his old vines Rully, buy a case.
6) Frederic Magnien:The Red Baron or God Bless the Child (thats Got his Own):
We’re in 1993 or thereabouts. Dad (Michel) nixes son Frederic’s ideas for change, telling him, basically, to go forth, get a negociants license, buy grapes, make wine his way and show dad what he could do. Which is precisely what Frederic did, bottling the resulting wines under the Frederic Magnien label. With brilliant results. Now he’s making wine from pruchased grapes under his own label and he has taken over his father’s vineyard, producing wines under the Michel Magnien label. Like his good buddy Vincent Dureil, Magnien, 35, is a role model and is likely to be remembered as one of the greatest producers of Burgundy of his generation, though his forte is red wine. Dynamic, with the can-do spirit of a Pilgrim father, Magnien has apprenticed in both Australia and California. He cycles the Cote d’Or countryside, scoping out potential vineyard sites. (He’s looking for chalky, stony soils and good morning sunlight.) He then thins clusters with a vengeance and sorts the harvested grapes meticulously, two, three or four times. There are numerous bottlings, from small parcels throughout the Cote d’Or– including Grand Crus such as Clos de la Roche and Charmes-Chambertin. Extremely hard to pick a favorite here but I see that, in my two pages of notes on the Frederic Magnien 2004 Chambertin Clos de Beze (GC), I finished with “What more can you demand of a wine?
7) Domaine Dujac: Expanding Family Values: It is a truth universally acknowledged that there can never be enough great Burgundy. The recent expansion of the Dujac family’s wine business, then, is cause for celebration. Jacques Seysses,a previous generation’s role model, built his justly esteemed domaine in Morey-St. Denis from scratch, consistently producing elegant, fine-grained red Burgundies – from Morey-St-Denis Villages to the Grand Cru Clos de la Roche, to Premier Crus from Gevrey-Chambertin. Recently joined by his son Jeremy, the two have added a negociant arm – Dujac Fils & Pere – thus expanding their line in Morey and Gevrey-Chambertin and adding some Chambolle-Musigny and Puligny-Montrachet as well. And they keep growing. In 2005 they acquired a couple of very desirable hectares, including minuscule pieces of Le Chambertin, Bonnes Mares and Romanee St. Vivant, and somewhat bigger parcels of the Premier Crus Romanee les Beaux Monts and Les Malconsorts. And as the family grows, so does the wine business. Jeremy’s wife Diana is a UC Davis-trained enologist. In addition to the Dujac wines, hey make the wines for her parents’ domaine, Snowden Vineyards in Napa, and they’ve invested in land in the south of France as well, Domaine de Triennes. As the Seysses family goes global, this Burgundy lover prays that they’ll never leave Morey-St. Denis. That they’ll continue to make heartstopping wines like the vigorous, monumental 2003 Clos St. Denis Grand Cru, a wine that exudes everything anyone could want in a Burgundy.
8) Philippe Pacalet: Theme and Variations: The Theme: two grape varieties – pinot noir and chardonnay; the Variations – the infinite expressions each of these grapes can render in the diverse soils of Burgundy. Yet another type of role model, Pacalet, 43 and a University of Dijon-trained enologist, goes to great lengths – literally – to give voice to as many expressions as possible to these two noble varietals. He rents small, well-placed vineyards throughout the region – from Chablis in the north, to St. Aubin in the south, with stops in Chambolle-Musigny, Pommard, Corton Charlemagne and, particularly, Gevrey Chambertin, where he has parcels in Grand Crus like Charmes-Chambertin and Premier Crus such as Lavaux St. Jacques – and maintains winemaking facilities at key spots within each subregion. Sounds like a big operation. Yet, all told, Pacalet has only 7.5 hectares, about the size of small-to-mid-sized family winery. And in order for his grapes and his soils to truly speak, Pacalet practises what I have called hypernatural winemaking. He waves away questions about organic or biodynamic farming, saying, “Yes, yes, but what I’m after is vin de terroir, I don’t care about labels. I care about the life of the soil.”Briefly, then, Pacalet uses indigenous (wild) yeasts, ferments his wines in wood vats with no added sulphur, and bottles his wines without filtering them – including the whites, when that’s possible. Non-interventionist winemaking is risky business: flawed wines are legion. Not, however, the finely-tuned wines chez Pacalet, from a Chablis 1er Cru Beauroy that’s fresh as a waterfall, to a silky Chambolle-Musigny, to a vibrant, structured Gevrey-Chambertin. Maybe he’s the Glenn Gould of Burguny wine.
9) Dominique Laurent: The Wine Refiner: It is said that artisanal negociant Dominique Laurent is to red Burgundy what Jean-Marie Guffens is to white Burgundy. That’s not inaccurate. A former pastry chef, Laurent set up his negociant business in the Cotes de Nuits in the ‘90s and very quickly became the reference for very high quality, hand-crafted red Burgundys. But I prefer to compare Laurent,who doesn’t actually grow the grapes and make the wine he sells, to one of France’s great cheese mongers or affineurs, as they’re called in France: he’s someone who buys top-quality, freshly made product – in this case red Burgundy wine from, say, Chambolle-Musigny and Gevrey Chambertin, including Grand Crus like Bonnes Mares Clos de Beze – and then “raises” it with TLC, in his own cellars, in his own barrels. (Snarks say “with 200% new oak.”) The wines are bottled by hand, barrel by barrel, without filtration or added sulphur. Almost inevitably bottle variations occur, so does the occasional mini-flaw, but the wines – like a slightly oaky though structured and succulent 2002 Chambolle Musigny – are polished, site-specific, exciting and delicious. And, when all is said and done, the Guffens analogy has its merits: both have played major roles in redefining – and significantly upgrading – the role of the Burgundy negociant.
10) Domaine Jacques-Frederic Mugnier/ Chateau de Chambolle Musigny: The Clos Comes Home: This excellent (and improving), minuscule domaine, known for its racy, seductive versions of Chambolle-Musigny – including Bonnes Mares and Musigny – more than doubled in size in 2004 after recuperating the 9 hectare Clos de la Marechale, a Premier Cru in Nuits St. Georges that Mugnier ancestors had previously leased to Faiveley for a period of 50 years. In honor of the repatriation – Mugnier is the sole owner of the plot – new cellars were built and extra staff hired. It’s an important property, Mugnier, a former pilot,has proven to be a superb and a dedicated young vigneron, and the wine world will be watching to see how he fares with what had been Faiveley’s signature wine. Full disclosure, I have a certain sentimental attachment to this wine, having bought six bottles of the ’59 (then made by Faiveley, natch) at an auction in the Loire Valley for around $40 a bottle. (Everyone else was bidding on Bordeaux, Chinon and Vouvray.)
MOST SOUGHT AFTER
1) 1985 Romanee-Conti GC: Domaine de la Romanee-Conti: At a May 2007 sale at Christie’s Auction House, a case of ’85 Romanee-Conti
from the Domaine de Romanee-Conti made wine auction history – bringing down the hammer at $237,000. This comes out to roughly $20,000 a bottle. A track
record of outstanding quality combined with achingly limited supply (about 600 cases yearly from a 1.8 hectare plot), guarantees that this wine head
any list of sought-after bottles.Domaine de la Romanee Conti, or DRC, as it's known, is one of the most famous domaines in winedom, its various bottlings topping the wish-list of any wine geek worth her Riedel Burgundy glass. And the Grand Cru Romanee Conti, with its tiny production of amazingly nuanced, ineffably profound wine, is la crème de la crème and is priced accordingly. its very worthy, nearly as regal stablemates – La Tache, Richebourg, etc – will also set you back a pretty penny.But Romanee-Conti
leads the pack. Two bottles of the ’86 brought in 10,000 euros when the cellars of Paris’s Hotel de Ville (City Hall) were auctioned off last year. For a mere
6600 euros you can buy a bottle of the 2003 – at least that’s what the website www.monmillesime.com promises.
2) Domaine Leroy: 1996 Richebourg: Such is the aura of sanctity surrounding Lalou Bize-Leroy (despite the haute couture wardrobe) that I find myself referring to her as Notre Dame de la Cote d’Or. A perfectionist’s perfectionist, Bize-Leroy’s closest rival is the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti – of which she was co-manager until 1993. Perhaps biodynamic viticulture’s most prestigious convert, Bize-Leroy makes splendid wines – whether at Domaine Leroy or Domaine D’Auvenay. A bottle of the above mentioned Richebourg is on sale at 888 Euros (down from 1110 Euros) on www.chateauonline.fr.
3) Henri Jayer: 1999 Vosne-Romanee “Cros Parantoux”: When he died in September 2006 at the age of 84, Henri Jayer was firmly established as Burgundy’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, the sage, mentor and guru for a generation of idealistic young vintners. While Jayer made a complete range of Burgundies – from Passe-Tout- Grains to Echezeaux – his most treasured bottlings must surely be the Vosne-Romanees he made from a tiny Premier Cru parcel at the top of the appellation called Cros Parantoux. You can buy a magnum of the ’99 for 9500 pounds sterling from the respected British merchants Berry Brothers & Rudd.
4) Comte de Vogue: 1999 Musigny Vieilles Vignes: One of the oldest and most celebrated domaines in Chambolle-Musigny, Comte de Vogue owns 70% of the Grand Cru Le Musigny, with a healthy percentage of old vines. (There’s also a minuscule amount of white.) A profound, structured and immensely concentrated wine, the 1999 might just be ready to approach in 2008 – if you can find it. . (Hint: it has been seen on the Berry Brothers & Rudd website –www.bbr.com -- at 389 pounds sterling.)
5) Comtes Lafon: 1999 Montrachet: Although the domaine is mostly associated with Meursault – where it produces truly noble wines – its most sought after cuvee surely comes from the small piece of the Grand Cru Le Montrachet which it bought in 1991. You can find the 2004 in specialist shops in Paris for close to 1200 euros. The more evolved ’99, however, is probably the one to drool over now – if you can find it.
6) Coche-Dury: ’96 Corton Charlemagne: Top wine mavens – the self-same sages who pronounce Jean-Francois Coche the best white wine maker in Burgundy – have declared his ’96 Corton-Charlemagne to be “perfect” – scoring it 20/20; 100/100. This wine has also been seen on Berry Brothers & Rudd website – at 2100 pounds sterling.
7) Domaine Leflaive: 2002 Chevalier (or Batard) Montrachet: Under the ascot-sporitng, oh-so aristocratic Vincent Leflaive, this domaine became the most celebrated producer of Puligny-Montrachet. Its wines, admired for their consistency, majesty, age-ability and deliciousness, became “must tastes.” When Anne-Claude Leflaive inherited the domaine from her father she became an empassioned convert to biodynamics. Batard and le Chevalier, both whites of great depth, intensity and purity, are considered the most complex and long-lived. (And, when asked to bring a bottle to a very special dinner, Anne-Claude – in my limited experience – usually offers Batard.) Expect to pay about $600 a bottle for either of the two recommended above.
8) Domaine du Clos de Tart: 2002 Clos de Tart: Under Sylvain Pitiot’s stewardship, the wines from this domaine have become more stylish, riper, and more forward – seemingly without having lost complexity or elegance. The 2002 Clos de Tart is one of the stars of the vintage – racy, vigorous and downright gorgeous.
9) Bernard Dugat-Py: 2002 (or 2005) Mazis-Chambertin: It would be sadistic to have singled out Bernard Dugat’s Chambertin GC: there are only 200 liters of it and, as a result, the cuvee must have its own tailor-made barrel. Nevermind. Dugat makes thrilling wine -- always in small quantities – in a number of Gevrey’s most privileged plots. Always intensely concentrated and ultra-ripe, they are also pure, fresh and majestic.
10) Armand Rousseau: 2002 (or 2005) Chambertin-Clos de Beze: Never flashy, the Rousseau style is discretion itself. Subtlety is the byword here. The wines are haunting, finely-tuned and distinctly terroir-driven. They also age remarkably well. The Clos de Beze is a monument.
UNDER THE RADAR
1) Arnaud Ente: 2002 (or 2004 or 2005) Meursault “Seve du Clos”: (Kermit Lynch has the 2005 at $125.) Cut to the chase: some of the most thrilling white Burgundies I’ve ever tasted come from this eco-friendly small domaine. Ente makes a range of spectacular, unfiltered Meursaults, all of which are breathtaking. Clos des Seves, made from century-old vines, is complex, layered, and so rich it’s almost viscous.
2) Domaine Arlaud: 2005 Morey-St.-Denis 1er Cru “Les Ruchots”: ($110): An eco-friendly domaine with a new generation at the helm and very small quantities of some mighty fine Burgundy. There are only 200 cases of this beauty. Immediately seductive, with a hauntingly mingled nose, lush, ripe 2005 fruit and cascade-like freshness, it still needs a bit of time to shed its baby fat and let its majesty shine.
3) Domaine Patrick Javillier: 2005 Meursault “les Tillets”: ($63) For another view of Meursault, try the atypical but utterly authentic versions from Javillier. Oakaholics beware: wood flavors don’t dominate here. These are mellow yellows of purity, extremely ripe fruit and lots of marrowy texture. Javillier’s Meursault Charmes is, arguably, his most prestigious and complex wine but “les Tillets,”a lipsmacking fusion of butter, cream, preserved lemon, minerals and stone, is more widely available.
4) Anne Gros: 2005 Chambolle-Musigny La Combe d’Orveau ($94): Supple yet structured, poised and precise, the fragrant reds from Anne Gros really do seem to have a feminine touch. Her piece of La Combe d’Orveau, too high on the slope to be part of the Grand Cru, may owe a good part of its freshness and fluidity to a location formerly deemed too cool to merit classification. What’s more, you can start drinking this wine now. Gros’ powerful 2005 Richebourg – five times the price – demands patience, not to mention the detective skills of Sherlock Holmes.
5) Domaine Robert Arnoux: 2005 Vosne-Romanee: ($78) This is when you know you’re a goner: I could spend an entire evening simply swirling and sniffing this wine – black pepper, white pepper, mingled fruit, licorice. On the palate, it’s equally fine – wonderfully nuanced and racy. While waiting for it to age a bit, opt for the complex, refreshingly fluid 2004 Romanee St. Vivant – if, that is, you can find it.
6) Coche-Bizouard: 2005 Meursault “Les Chevaliers”: Finesse is the byword at this rising star of a domaine, from the overachieving Aligote and Chardonnay, to the seductive Monthelie, to the range of excellent Meursaults, including the concentrated, crystalline “Les Chevaliers” and the impossibly long “Charmes,” so rich it’s a meal in itself.
7) Domaine Georges Mugneret-Gibourg: 2004 Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru “Les Chaignots”: ($88) I dare you to spit this nuanced, lipsmacking red, a weave of plum, herbal tea, and forest underbrush with light oak accents. And you can drink it now, while Marie-Andree’s splendid 2005s -- from classified parcels in Vosne-Romanee, Chambolle-Musigny, Gevrey-Chambertin and Clos Vougeot (downright mindblowing)-- gently come of age.
8) Domaine de la Pousse d’Or: 2005 Volnay 1er Cru En Caillerets Clos des 60 Ouvrees (Monopole): ($87): Patrick Landanger, who made his fortune in prosthetic body parts, bought this renowned domaine in 1998, built state-of-the-art cellars, invested in new and even more prestigious vineyard plots and has been restoring Pousse d’Or to its rightful gloryThe Clos des 60 Ouvrees is essentially a cru within a cru in Volnay, one of the finest red-wine appellations of the Cote de Beaune. Totally owned by this domaine, the vineyard is further blessed by having very old vines. Not surprising, then, that the ripe,luscious and stylish 2005 bursts with upfront charm but that there’s real depth, elegance and complexity not too far under the surface.
9) Jerome Galeyrand: 2005 Bonnes-Mares: A dynamic young vigneron whose wines have improved dramatically since his first harvest in 2002, Galeyrand seems to have hit his stride with the 2005 vintage. Rich, fresh, ultra-pure and mineral, his range of reds (unfined, unfiltered and bottled by the phases of the moon) – from Cotes de Nuits to Gevrey –Chambertin -- are so tasty you’ll lick your lips with pleasure. The Bonnes Mares is impossible not to love.
10) Jayer-Gilles: 2002 or 2003 Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru “Les Damodes”: Plush, pure and blueberry-scented, this is a supreme example of Nuits St. Georges – succulent, fresh and elegant, even in the overheated 2003 vintage.
All the Rage in Paris? Le Fooding
By JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH
February 9, 2001
PARIS -- Fooding is the buzzword of the moment here. Merging the English words food and feeling into a French noun, it was coined in early '99 by Alexandre Cammas in the hip Parisian magazine Nova. And ever since, le fooding has been on every Paris gastronome's lips as well as on food-oriented pages from Elle to the Air France in-flight magazine.
At the end of the year, Figaroscope, the weekly entertainment section of the daily Le Figaro, wrote, "[Le fooding] has become a movement and might well turn into a phenomenon, stirring the consciences of gastronomic critics. Behind its trendy sounding name, le fooding seeks to give witness to the modernity and new reality of drinking and eating . . . in the 21st century. . . . [E]verything is fooding so long as audacity, sense and the senses mix. After Gault and Millau's nouvelle cuisine, le fooding?"
Yes, yes, but what on earth does that mean? To get a better grip on this seemingly seminal locution, I called Mr. Cammas himself. An intense 29-year-old beanpole, he told me, "In February '99 I was writing an article on hot restaurants with DJs, like Cafe Mosaic and Man Ray, and, just to fool around, I asked if le fooding threatened le nightclubbing. It was a play on words. At the time, le fooding didn't mean anything. But right away the word was picked up by journalists in other papers. And it was irritating to see how people interpreted it. A writer at Liberation said that to do fooding you had to go to a restaurant carrying two mobile phones, wearing a Paul Smith suit, eat expensive, mediocre food and have Catherine Deneuve at the table opposite you. So at Nova we felt we had to define it and do something to make people understand what we meant by the term.
"We realized that the word fooding combined two aspects of the dining experience that previously had not been taken as an entity," Mr. Cammas continued. "Up until now, the focus was totally gastronomic and that was too limited. To eat with feeling in France is to eat with your head and your spirit, with your nose, your eyes, your ears, not simply your palate. Concentrating on gastronomy alone means that certain places are completely overlooked.
"My favorite example is Favela Chic. It's not a good restaurant -- far from it -- and I've read lots of reviews that say that. But those reviews don't give readers the necessary information. Readers ought to know that people go to Favela Chic for a drink, then a second drink, maybe a feijoada that isn't the best in Paris but that's not important, and then at midnight there's an incredible ambiance with people dancing on tables. It's a real party atmosphere. Merely to say the feijoada was overcooked tells you nothing about the place. Yet I think the person who invented Favela Chic has as much merit within that particular category as the person who has three Michelin stars. It's just that their work is different, but it all revolves around the table. It's fooding, but it's not gastronomy. Fooding isn't a recipe. There's no cuisine of fooding. There's no chef who created fooding. It's not fusion food plus a DJ plus design. Fooding is simply a word that my collaborators and I find more appropriate for talking about the universe of the table."
To interpret -- or, as Mr. Cammas says, to "read" -- the "universe of the table," the Nova crew works with a mental grid of criteria that takes into account food, decor, music, ambiance, hospitality, the pulchritude of the servers and more. In early December Nova mounted a week-long Fooding Festival with an art exhibit at the "water bar" of the tony boutique Colette; as well as cooking demonstrations accompanied by a soundtrack at Bon Marche's lavish food market; a debate at Cafe Flore; and an awards dinner at Alcazar, the left-bank restaurant owned by the British food and furniture mogul Terence Conran.
Among the 18 honorees were La Favela Chic (for best musical ambiance); Thiou, a sizzling new Vietnamese restaurant in the seventh arrondissement (for best place in which to "see and be seen"); Bon, owned by the omnipresent aging rock star Johnny Halliday and designed by Philippe Starck (for the most convivial toilets); Le Verre Vole, an adorable wine bar in the 10th arrondissement (best wine cellar); Twins, an eight-table family restaurant on the quickly gentrifying Rue Oberkampf (best canteen); and L'Astrance (for best menu).
Where sheer gastronomic excellence and creativity are concerned, L'Astrance, which opened in October, was one of the most notable restaurant debuts of the year 2000. Of the Fooding award, co-owner Christophe Rohat told me recently, "I have no idea what it means."
And, frankly, its definition seemed elusive, if not superfluous, to me. After all, haven't people always chosen to go to one restaurant over another for all of the diverse reasons subsumed by the word fooding? "Yes," Mr. Cammas agreed, "many people did fooding before the word existed. But more people are doing this today than ever before. One michelines less than one does fooding." (The man likes to coin words: micheliner , v. int.: to make ones dining decisions based on the Michelin Guide.)
And in France, at least, Cammas and Co. may be on to something. "It used to be that the sole reason we'd choose a given restaurant was because we wanted to eat whatever its particular specialty was -- choucroute, foie gras, oysters, couscous. Fooding has changed all that," explained Christian Flaceliere, a wine writer and consultant who happens to be not only a sensible man but one of the first people with whom I ever discussed the fooding phenomenon. At 55, he takes a longer view of the gastronomic scene than Mr. Cammas, tracing dining patterns from high-calorie postwar cooking through the streamlined nouvelle cuisine of the 1970s to the present day, and he sees fooding as one of the grand crossroads in French gastronomy.
But Mr. Flaceliere disagrees with Mr. Cammas about what it is. To him, fooding is very much a combination of fusion food and up-to-the-minute restaurants. "Le fooding is always new," he asserted. "It's 'we happy few,' a discovery, a place about which you can say, 'You haven't been there? You must be out of it.' Like Korova," he added, referring to a hot restaurant owned by the omnipresent, yuppie TV personality Jean-Luc Delarue, at which the signature dish is chicken in Coca-Cola sauce.
Mr. Flaceliere made a typically French moue when I observed that Mr. Cammas rejects the reflexive linking of fooding to trendiness and that Mr. Cammas, after all, invented the word. (Indeed, he has even copyrighted it.) But such ideological dust-ups seem inconsequential when the two men, both close observers of the French food scene, agree that the national way of eating is undergoing a fundamental change, a tectonic shift thus far described only by the loopy word fooding. It could only happen here.
Paris wine bars thinking 'petit'
By Jacqueline Friedrich International Herald Tribune
(Note: this is the version that appeared on the IHT website. A slightly different version appeared in print.)
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2005
PARIS Who is Marcel Richaud? And why is his name printed on nearly every wine list and scrawled on the blackboard of nearly every wine bar in Paris?
Richaud is the vintner who brought southern Rhône wine into the modern era. His Côtes du Rhône and his Cairanne - a Côtes du Rhône village - are plush reds with succulent, ripe fruit, great freshness and purity of flavor, a welcome change from the scratchy, leathery, standard Rhônes of yesteryear. So when you see a Richaud wine on a list, be happy. You can't go wrong here; the price is right and the flavor is delectable.
Wine styles change. Time was when every bistro offered Duboeuf Beaujolais alongside Jaboulet's Parallel 45 from the Rhône and Olga Raffault's Chinon. And a good wine bar owner would go out into the countryside, buy in bulk from his favorite vigneron, and bottle the decidedly rustic - though often charming - wine himself. That was maybe 20 years ago. Today's Parisian bistrotier steers clear of the big houses. Like a journalist chasing a scoop, buyers scour the major wine fairs - Vinisud, say, or the Salon des Vins du Val de Loire - and their collateral "off" tastings to find dynamic young vintners who make exciting, reasonably priced wine. So the good Paris wine bars, wine-oriented bistro or wine shop - like Lavinia near the Madeleine, Le Verre Vole on the Canal St. Martin, Les Papilles and the Café de la Nouvelle Mairie in the Fifth and Les Enfants Rouges in the Marais - are the best places to sample the delicious discoveries coming from every corner of the hexagon and to find out what's really happening on the French wine scene.
We are living in a golden age of French wine quality, despite the well-publicized crisis in sales. True, disgruntled southern growers from the hills behind Montpellier to the outskirts of Beziers have made headlines recently.
But producers like Richaud and Sylvain Fadat, who produces Domaine d'Aupilhac in the Languedoc, are making - and selling - wonderful wine. Fadat, however, was one of the precursors.
The heart of his production is a range of fragrant, spicy and elegant reds from the Montpeyroux subregion of the Coteaux du Languedoc. Like most Coteaux du Languedoc reds, they are made from a mix of grape varieties similar to that of southern France in general and Chateaneuf-du-Pape in particular. A quirkier Aupilhac red, however, has become wine bar favorite. His pure Le Carignan, a formerly overlooked, undervalued player in the southern mix, is a supple, characterful red with delectably juicy fruit.
The popularity of Fadat's Le Carignan evidences some of the anti-merlot sentiment that was so vividly expressed in the film "Sideways." Indeed, the weirder the grape, the more wine lovers want to drink the wine. Bring on the Cinsault (another part of the southern mix), the Poulsard (the base of many of the Jura's light reds), and Gaillac's Le Len de l'El! By now, indeed, many wine lovers are wondering just when Petit Manseng is going to join the galaxy of superstar grapes.
A staple of France's southwest, Petit Manseng is mostly associated with luscious, nectarlike sweet white wines from Jurançon and Pacherenc de Vic Bilh, a stone's throw from both the Spanish border and the French resort town Biarritz. Perhaps the greatest ambassador of Jurançon is Charles Hours, a bear of a man (coincidentally, his name is a homonym for "bear" in French).
His wines are as generous as he is and they seem to be on every Parisian list - whether the sumptuous sweet wine Clos Uroulat or Clos Marie, made from Petit Manseng's sibling, Gros Manseng.
Another dry white that is all but unavoidable on stylish Paris lists is a Muscadet from Jo Landron's Domaine de la Louvetrie. It's called Amphibolite, after the soils on which its grapes grow. The wine is neither chaptalized nor filtered. Chaptalization refers to the addition of sugar to fermenting grape juice to raise the alcohol level; filtration is a way of clarifying a wine. The resulting wine is very pure, mineral and fresh as a sea breeze.
Most, if not all, of the above producers make "natural" wine. Richaud, for example, uses indigenous yeasts rather than adding industrial yeasts to start fermentation; he never chaptalizes or adds acid, and he does not filter his wines.
Ecologically friendly winemaking is one of the strongest new trends in French winemaking. It may take a number of forms - from "agriculture raisonnée" (literally, reasoned agriculture), to organic, to biodynamic (a system, in which vineyard operations are scheduled by the positions of the planets). In the Rhône, Richaud is joined by Domaine Gramenon, Dard & Ribo, Domaine Viret and Yves Cuilleron - all of whom also share shelf and blackboard space in up-to-the-minute Paris wine shops and wine bars.
While the movement toward natural wines has been growing in force from Champagne to Corsica, the Loire Valley has been one of the leaders. Among the first to grab the imagination of the wine-loving public were the brothers Thierry and Jean-Marie Puzelat, who follow many of the same principles as Richaud in their relatively humble appellation, Cheverny.
Located in the Loir & Cher department, Cheverny's is a terrain more renowned for its chateaus, its white asparagus and its strawberries. Its wines, made chiefly from sauvignon blanc, gamay, pinot noir and cabernet franc, are direct, easy-going quaffers. The Puzelats' wines, however, seem to come from another world: they are very pure, tender, light and mineral. Two whites, Brin de Chèvre and Le Buisson Pouilleux, give an accurate, and rather tasty, impression of their style.
Even more radical is Claude Courtois, also in the Loir & Cher. His wines are as ruggedly individualistic as he is. Sold under the label Cailloux de Paradis, they are placed onto some very deluxe cartes de vin despite the fact that many seem like works in progress. There are some rather strange brews: the sauvignon blanc-based Plume d'Ange, for example, is often fizzy and oxidized. There are also some nice surprises: the hyper-concentrated red Racines, for instance, even though every bottle is marked by a certain warts-and-all appeal.
Actually, Courtois has been a perennial discovery for at least eight years, as have almost all the producers listed above. Some newer names making their way onto wine lists, and putting their respective appellations on the wine lover's map, include Jean-Baptiste Senat from the Minervois, Cyril Phal from the Roussillon and Elian da Ros from the Côtes du Marmandais in southwest France - each of whom makes terrific wine. So do two domaines surely destined for similar success in the very near future: Maria Fita from Fitou and Alain Hasard, who makes astonishingly good Burgundies at his Champs de l'Abbaye in the Couchois.
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By Jacqueline Friedrich _October 20, 1994
"I was born and raised in the garden of France, that is the Touraine," wrote Francois Rabelais, the author of "Gargantua and Pantagruel" and one of the fathers of the novel.
Rabelais set much of the action in his books in Touraine, an ancient province that straddles the Loire River about 150 miles southwest of Paris. Gargantua drank in Chinon's wine cellars; Panurge sought "the truth" in the clear waters of the fountain of the town's Caves Painctes, or painted cellars, and the Picrochole war was fought on its surrounding hills, between the "kingdoms" of Seuilly and Lerne--in reality, two farming villages.
Rabelais, born 500 years ago at La Deviniere, his family's country home just outside of Seuilly, was the complete Renaissance man. A Franciscan, then a Benedictine monk, he was also a doctor, a diplomat, a lecturer in Greek, an astrologer and, above all, a humanist.
And he was always in trouble. His books, thinly veiled satires of the pillars of society--from Sorbonne academics to Vatican clerics--were routinely censored (Calvin declared one "impious"), and Rabelais was occasionally exiled or imprisoned.
Yet when most of us think of Rabelais we think of bawdy feasting. A reliable chronicler of all things gastronomic, Rabelais describes meals with encyclopedic lists of dishes. What's surprising--as well as heartening for those of us with a gloom-and-doom outlook for French cooking--is that many of the regional foods described by Rabelais in the 16th Century are precisely the ones that figure most prominently in today's Sunday dinners in south-central France.
Despite wars and revolutions, not to mention the banalization of many French foods, the Ur -Touraine meal still includes the rillettes , chevre and matelote de lamproie (wine stew of lamprey) that Rabelais noted. And they are washed down with Vouvray or Chinon, direct descendants of the wines his characters guzzle so zestfully.
" Rillettes are as old as the pig itself," claims Jacques Hardouin, a leading Tourangeau charcutier . This rough-textured mash of pork conserved in its own fat is documented as early as the 11th Century. In his painting "Les Heures Peintes Pour Anne de Bretagne," a 15th-Century artist chose the slaughter of the pig to illustrate the month of December and depicted, among other things, stoneware pots for rillettes . Another renowned Tourangeau, Honore de Balzac, speaks of rillettes with relish, noting that this "(brown confiture) formed the principal element of a Tourangeaux midmorning snack."
Rillettes are a style of charcuterie born in the western Loire, between Touraine and Anjou-Maine, whence come the two varieties--the fine, burnished rillettes de Tours and the chunkier, fattier rillettes du Mans. To see how rillettes were made--if not in Rabelais' time, perhaps in Balzac's, 250 years later--I visited Marie Turpault on her farm in Anjou, some 20 minutes from Saumur, the town in which Balzac set his novel "Eugenie Grandet."
Born in 1903, Turpault moved to her current home in 1923 and ever since has harvested its grapes and its wheat and tended its hens, cows, rabbits and pigs. While she no longer churns her own butter or grinds her own flour, Turpault is nearly as self-sufficient today as she was 50 years ago. Germain, her bachelor son, kills a pig a year. Turpault carves out cutlets, conserves the thigh in salt, puts it in a burlap sack and hangs it up the chimney where it will spend six weeks drying over the fire. From other morsels she makes boudins , andouilles and other sausages. Each pig also provides about 30 pounds of scraps and fatty parts, which Turpault puts in a cast-iron kettle with water and salt to cook before the fire for five or six hours to make rillettes. These rillettes are meaty and good and probably taste much as they did to Rabelais.
Of course, this kind of self-sufficiency is rare these days. As farming has become increasingly specialized since the end of World War II, farmers have focused on either wine or cheese making, cattle or cereal. At the same time, charcuterie has become ever more exclusively the business of the professional, a trend reinforced by European Community laws that regulate everything from feed to slaughter to the size of buildings, methods of manufacture, modes of sale and hygiene, hygiene, hygiene.
Rillons , an equally ancient Touraine staple, are large cubes of pork, salted and cooked for two hours until golden. In the neighboring province of Anjou, rillauds are made from the same components, simmered slowly in water and lard until the meat is fork-tender. Anjou claims that its gogue is among the first pork dishes ever created. Basic gogue consists of 15% to 20% each of blood, diced fat and lean pork and up to 60% onions, the whole then stuffed into a skin and simmered for four hours. More elaborate versions add Chinese cabbage, leeks and spring onions. Spicy and dense, with the bloody richness of boudin noir , gogue is usually grilled or sauteed and served with potatoes.
Fressure , an ancient specialty of the Vendee region that makes delicious use of "variety cuts," was among the dishes Rabelais' "Gastrolatres" offered to their god Manduce. Head, heart and lungs are cooked with stale bread and onions and thickened with blood, forming a terrine-like block. It is served hot, like
It is natural that a moist, mild type of charcuterie developed in the moist, mild climate of Touraine, tempered by ocean air sucked up the Loire corridor. Loire goat cheeses tend to be moist too, softer, milder and fleshier than the herbal mountain chevres of Provence.
Fossils found near Vouvray indicate that goats have inhabited Touraine since before recorded history. Cheese-making became part of daily life during the Arab occupation. The Saracens brought their herds with them, and legend has it their women taught the craft to the inhabitants.
In the days of mixed farming, goat cheese was made by farmers with small herds. You can still find them. One night I went in search of a hauntingly delicate chevre I'd tasted. As I entered a barn near Chinon, the last rays of sun outlined a man leaning against a pile of hay, languidly smoking a cigarette while his wife milked her goats by hand. The cheese I bought was aging on a basket hanging from a pulley in a cool shed.
In truth, these rustic cheeses are not invariably the hauntingly delicate embodiments of our cheese fantasies. They range from exquisite to nearly inedible--bitter or raunchy. Now, though, most agree that the qualitative differences between chevres have been leveled--glorious cheeses are difficult to come by, but outright failures are rare too. Increasingly, chevres range from bland to very good, and a few are excellent.
Today there are more than 300 chevre producers in Touraine. An average farm is run by a couple with 60 milkers and 75 acres of land on which to grow clover, hay and barley to feed their herd. (Some goats pasture, but the trend is to keep them penned and feed them crops raised on the farm or locally.) Most milk or fresh cheese is sold to cooperatives or to the cheese merchants and dairies that dominate the business. But a growing number of producers age part of their output to sell at the farm and at markets.
These chevres may be fresh and yogurt-y, firm and creamy or even hard as rock. They may be shaped like logs, pyramids, bricks or disks--forms that date from the 19th Century. Some have no name, others have brand names, and still others claim an Appellation d'Origine Controllee or a Label Rouge, such as the log-shaped Ste. Maure, the Eiffel Tower-shaped Pouligny-St. Pierre, the disk-shaped Selles-sur-Cher, and the truncated pyramid Valencay.
"In Rabelais' day both goat's and cow's milk entered into many recipes such as leek fondues and spinach flans," notes Marie-Therese Renault, who, as a librarian for Chinon's schools, has researched the foods of Rabelais. "They were used to soften the flavor because the greens were nearly wild and were very strong." Also a caterer, Renault has prepared numerous Rabelais dinners. Spinach tart, a frequent starter, is often followed by civet d'oeufs , eggs poached in a red wine sauce, a dish that sounds like Rabelais' barbouille.
Local wine appears in many traditional dishes, from fish, poultry or game stews to cold soups of red wine, sugar and stale bread. One of the most popular dishes throughout the Loire is matelote , a stew of eel or lamprey in red wine that is nearly identical to Rabelais' lamprey in hippocras sauce, made from spiced and sweetened wine. ("Using hippocras was necessary in Rabelais' time when the wines were thin and acid," notes Renault. "Today's wines are richer and mellower.")
The Tourangeaux often garnish their matelotes with prunes and croutons fried in walnut oil. The Loire and its tributaries still supply eel and lamprey--as well as the carp, pike and shad noted by Rabelais. But salmon, once the king of the Loire, is now rare, the victim of pollution, overfishing and excavations of the river bed.
Prunes and walnuts have suffered similar fates. Prunes, once a specialty of Chinon (where they predate those of the more famous Agen, says Renault), are no longer produced in the region, though they still figure in Tourangeau dishes such as noisettes of pork with a sauce of prunes and Vouvray. Hard frosts, followed by the reorganization of fields into large parcels (to accommodate new farm machinery), have killed off most of the walnut trees--which, with the picking, shelling and pressing of oil, once set the winter calendar.
Touraine remains, however, the garden of France--or one of them. Some of the nation's most celebrated varieties of apples, pears and plums--such as Reinette, Doyenne de Comice and Reine Claude, respectively--were developed in the Loire's nurseries. (Rabelais, also a bit of a horticulturist, sent seeds of lettuces--romaine and cress--and melons from Italy.) Sadly, many of the old varieties of fruit have been eclipsed by the ubiquitous Delicious, and the slopes of Rabelais' Seuilly, once home to wine grapes, now produce the kiwis of nouvelle cuisine. But the ancestral fruit tarts, pastes and pies live on, as does the practice of cooking fresh fruit in wine or honey, or steeping them in eau de vie.
And while spices such as cinnamon, mace and saffron, used abundantly in medieval cookery, vanished from the kitchen in the middle of the 17th Century, Renault notes that they are beginning to come back. Other ancient foods are returning to the local menu too, such as pear and apple tapees --fruit sliced, dried in ovens and reconstituted in spiced wine. More salmon are fished than were a decade ago. Gelines de Touraine (rustic, fine-boned black hens), nearly extinct until several producers began raising them, are now served by many of Touraine's top chefs.
And Rabelais' fouace bread appears with increasing frequency. No dish is more central--plot-wise--to Rabelais than the fouace . In "Gargantua," the fouace bakers of Lerne are transporting their goods to market one fine day when the shepherds of Seuilly stop them, asking to buy bread. The bakers refuse to sell, and war breaks out.
Rabelais' recipe for a deluxe fouace --an ancient bread whose name derives from panis focacius (dough cooked on the hearth)--includes "fine butter, fine egg yolks, fine saffron, fine spices." Jacques Mahou, a baker in Tours, recreated the recipe in 1980 using bergamot, saffron and orange blossom water. Renault substitutes cinnamon for bergamot. The epicerie in Seuilly offers a simpler fouace --a plain, oblong loaf. The Nantes fouace is a slightly sweet, dry cake shaped like a five-pointed star.
Related breads include the fouee , bits of leftover dough that puff as they cook, leaving hollow centers like pita, which are often filled with chevre or rillettes. The sweet fouace , now eaten at breakfast or tea, was traditionally linked with the harvest and new wine: The shepherds of Seuilly, after all, planned to eat their fouace with ripe Chenin Blanc grapes.
Wine and Rabelais. Pick any chapter. Gargantua is born bawling "A drink!" An "eternity" of wine punctuates each epic course: claret, Beaune, Graves, and always the wines of Touraine. It is the Truly Drunk of "Gargantua," who, delighting in a suave white, swear: "That's a wine from La Deviniere, from the Pineau grape. By my soul, it's a wine of taffeta, well woven and of good yarn." No less appreciated is Rabelais' fresh "wine of Breton, which doesn't grow in Brittany but in this good land of Veron."
Five centuries later, Pineau de la Loire (Chenin Blanc) and Breton (Cabernet Franc) are still Touraine's leading grapes, and Veron is part of the Chinon appellation.
Chenin Blanc is the base of much of the Loire's sparkling wine. More significantly, it is the sole grape permitted for Vouvray and Montlouis as well as for the great whites of Anjou, among them Bonnezaux, Quarts de Chaume, Coteaux de Layon and Savennieres. These come in a range of sweetness, from bone-dry and off-dry to sweet and luscious as Sauternes.
Young Chenin Blanc wine is charming--floral, honeyed, with scents of quince and apricot. It passes quickly from nubile youth to ornery adolescence. After, say, a decade it begins to reveal its endless complexity and succulence--and keeps getting better. (I've sampled as far back as the 1890s.) Simultaneously taut and luscious, austere and voluptuous, it is constantly appetizing. You never get to the bottom of it.
Cabernet Franc is the principal grape of Chinon, Bourgueil, Saumur-Champigny (the current darling of Paris wine bars) and Anjou rouge. At the northern limits of viticulture, Loire reds tend to be lighter, brighter, less tannic than those from southern climes. A young one sometimes tastes of bell pepper, but more often surges with flavors of berries, cassis, plum and cherry.
Chinon and company age beautifully, too--though not like Bordeaux. Chinon passes through a secondary phase when it fairly reeks of hung game. Then it seems to shed its baby fat, to be constantly refining itself, becoming a distillation of scents and nuances--cinnamon, creme de cassis , prunes, anise and sandalwood, dried flowers, mint and truffles, all the while retaining its vigor and mouth-watering freshness.
Were Rabelais to taste modern Pineau and Breton, he wouldn't recognize the raw wines of his day. In the past century alone, numerous upheavals have shaken the foundations of winemaking--from phylloxera to mechanization to the advent of artiste-vignerons .
He would feel right at home, however, in the caves of Chinon, where he has become a sort of patron saint, giving locals a license to eat, drink and be merry. His Caves Painctes is the home of the wine society, Les Entonneurs Rabelaisiens, which has turned organized carousing into a cottage industry. And despite a France with a strong "neo-prohibition" movement (not bad in a land that has never had a Prohibition to begin with), the Chinonais have adopted, literally, Rabelais' dictum: " Beuvez tousjours, vous ne mourrez jamais. " ("Drink always, never die.")
This cross between a brioche and a French country walnut bread is adapted from Jacques Mahou of Le Vieux Four, Tours. Mahou, whose family has been baking in Touraine since 1620, created this recipe from Rabelais' guidelines. Fouace is delicious at breakfast or tea time and is wonderful with fresh goat cheese.
RICH WALNUT BREAD (La Fouace de Rabelais)
2 packages dry yeast
1 1/4 cups lukewarm milk
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 heaping tablespoon honey
3 to 3 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 to 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon orange blossom water
1/4 teaspoon bergamot, or ground cinnamon
Dash saffron, crumbled
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
In large mixing bowl combine yeast and milk, stirring to help dissolve. When milk begins to take on color of yeast, stir in salt and honey.
Gradually stir in 3 cups whole-wheat flour and 1 cup all-purpose flour. Add orange blossom water, bergamot and saffron. Add eggs one by one.
Turn onto floured board and knead 10 to 15 minutes. Add flour if dough is too sticky to work, but dough should be somewhat sticky and soft. Work in butter by tablespoon as for brioche dough. Knead to incorporate. Add walnuts and knead another 2 minutes.
Place dough in floured bowl, turning to cover all sides with flour. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let rise 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in bulk.
Turn bread out on board and divide. Form each half into ball or dome and place on baking sheet. Cover with kitchen towel. Let rise for another hour.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place ramekin with boiling water on bottom of oven.
When ready to bake, dust top of each round with whole-wheat flour and, using sharp knife or kitchen shears, cut cross into top of each bread.
Place loaves in center of oven and reduce temperature to 425 degrees. Bake 30 minutes, or until bottom of each loaf sounds hollow when tapped and tops are crusty and browned. Makes 2 loaves of about 8 servings each.
Each serving contains about:
229 calories; 471 mg sodium; 68 mg cholesterol; 12 grams fat; 26 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams protein; 0.84 gram fiber.
"Cooking rillettes without a cover is what distinguishes rillettes de Tours from those of le Mans," maintains charcutier Jacques Hardouin. Hardouin uses only salt, Vouvray wine and Marc (brandy distilled from grape skins) to flavor his rillettes. You may want to add more spices. Traditionally, this would be made with half pork shoulder and half pork breast, but the latter is almost impossible to find in the United States.
RILLETTES DE TOURS AU VOUVRAY
2 pounds pork shoulder
10 ounces fatback
1 tablespoon coarse salt, or to taste
1/2 cup dry Vouvray, or other white wine
1 tablespoon Marc, or other brandy
Remove any remaining skin from pork and discard. Cut meat away from large bones. Cut in cubes of 1 inch or less. Cut fatback into 1/2-inch dice.
In cast-iron pot melt fatback over medium-high heat. Add cubes of meat gradually, stirring to color without burning. Stir in salt. Reduce heat as low as possible. If you cannot get heat low enough (fat should not come to boil), create double-boiler by putting pot inside larger pot filled with water. Let cook over extremely low flame 4 hours, stirring occasionally, about once every 20 minutes.
When big pieces of meat break apart easily, increase heat and stir continuously. Add white wine and Marc. Let wine evaporate, stirring continuously, 15 minutes.
Remove from heat. Drain rillettes in sieve, separating fat from meat and reserving some fat. Pour rest of fat back into cast-iron pot. Let meat cool.
Remove any small bones and cartilage from meat. Coarsely crush pieces of meat with fork. Return meat to pot with fat. Bring back to boil. Let boil 2 minutes.
Cool mixture, stirring regularly so fat and meat blend and fat whitens. When mixture becomes homogenous but still soft, ladle rillettes into pots or conserve jars.
Melt reserved fat and pour thin film over each pot. Covered with film of fat, rillettes will keep in refrigerator 1 month. Bring to room temperature before serving. Makes 3 1/2 cups.
Replacing figs with prunes, Marie-Therese Renault adapted this recipe from a cookbook written by the great medieval chef Taillevent . She serves the pears with dry, spiced cookies at medieval dinners. They would go well with biscotti and ice cream too. Make this the night before and bring to room temperature just before serving.
SPICED PEARS (Poires aux Epices)
3 cups water
3 tablespoons honey
7 sticks cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground mace
1/8 teaspoon anise seeds
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3 tablespoons raisins, steeped in hot water
15 prunes, pitted, steeped in 1/2 cup tea
6 pears, peeled, cored and cut into quarters.
In pot, boil water with honey 10 to 15 minutes so mixture reduces slightly.
Add cinnamon, mace, anise and clove to honey syrup. Let reduce 15 to 20 minutes. Add drained raisins and prunes, cut into 2 or 3 pieces.
Add pears and gently baste with cooking juices without stirring. Let mixture simmer until fruit is firm but knife can easily be inserted, about 10 minutes, depending on type and ripeness of pears. Makes 4 servings.
Each serving contains about:
275 calories; 3 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 1 gram fat; 72 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 4.08 grams fiber.
French Vintners Want Liberte
By JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH
January 15, 2003 1:02 a.m.
French wine is highly regulated: The top 50% of production falls into one of 450 different appellations controlees -- or AOCs -- an official designation for a wine from a geographically limited zone made according to legal specifications. Born in 1935-36 to guarantee a wine's authenticity, the appellation model has been imitated the world over. Now, however, a group of winemakers called Vignerons dans nos Appellations is claiming that current methods of judging wines allow mediocre products into the appellation designation while many ambitious wines are excluded.
Here's an example: The Domaine de la Rectorie makes the best rose I've ever tasted, a barrel-fermented blend of grenache gris and grenache blanc called La Goudie. Normally a rose of this kind could call itself Collioure. In 1974, however, the Institut National des Appellations d' Origine enacted a law requiring wines wanting an appellation to be endorsed by panels made up of local winemakers, enologists and wine merchants. This is called the agrement. Year after year, La Goudie was rejected by its panel on the ground that it was "atypical" -- it didn't fit the prevailing profile of Collioure rose, an insubstantial beach wine. "They're destroying the appellations by imposing . . . a system of standardization defined by mediocrity," Marc Parce, the owner of Domaine de la Rectorie and the spokesman for Vignerons dans nos Appellations, told me recently.
It was to combat this predicament, which is increasingly widespread, that Vignerons dans nos Appellations was formed. It started with a Lutheresque "Here I stand" statement written by Mr. Parce and Patrick Baudoin, a winemaker in Anjou. This was circulated throughout France and signed by some 100 winemakers, many of whom have also had their wines rejected. To name just a few: Didier Dagueneau of Pouilly Fume, the Foucaults of Saumur-Champigny, Marcel Deiss and Andre Ostertag of Alsace, Anselme Selosse of Champagne, Francois de Ligneris of Chateau Soutard in St. Emilion and Jean Thevenet of Domaine de la Bongran in Macon-Clesse.
Originally intended to weed out flawed wines, the agrement has been used to eliminate wines made by mavericks, or, as Messrs. Parce and Baudoin put it, "If everyone in an appellation makes a red tricycle and you make a blue tricycle," yours will be rejected. And there are penalties. For example, for many years Mr. Parce was obliged to market "La Goudie" as a Vin de Pays, a lower rank in the French wine hierarchy. Additionally, growers expose themselves to taxes or fines. And, unlike countries with more recent wine legislation -- Italy comes to mind -- in France the AOC system is entrenched and revered. Few French vintners, no matter how irreverent, willingly repudiate it.
Panels' reasons for finding the wines "atypical" include aging of the wine in new oak barrels, too little sulphur dioxide, and the use of natural yeasts to begin fermentation rather than industrial yeasts. Whatever the stated reason, however, the declassification boils down to this: The "atypical" wines taste more expensive, more painstaking and riskier to make, and thus are a threat to the average local producer who has no trouble approving a wine with a whiff of rot, for example, on the theory that "it could happen to me," or "he's my neighbor."
Late last summer, 15 members of Vignerons dans nos Appellations challenged the obligatory tastings in a meeting with Rene Renou, the president of the INAO, and Jacques Berthomeau, a consultant appointed by the Minister of Agriculture. The group has been meeting with government officials in an effort to reform the law.
Many lovely wines are made strictly by the book. "But this group represents something totally new," Mr. Berthomeau told me. "Up to now, the combat was to get people who made bad wine up to a norm of quality. What's new is the battle has become one between different levels of quality. These producers are very visible. If things don't change within the INAO and these people continue making wines that are rejected by the tasting committees," he said, "it will cultivate the idea around the world that the AOCs exist only to put a stamp of approval on mediocre wine, and that the good vignerons find the appellation controlee system irrelevant."
According to Marc Parce, "We don't want to kill appellation controlee. We want to save the system if we can. What makes an appellation is diversity, not uniformity. If the appellations are to be dynamic, we must let people experiment. There must be zones of liberty."
The INAO doesn't make the rules governing each appellation; it merely adopts the recommendations of local growers' unions that define the characteristics of their wine. By adding the word "dry" to its regulations, for example, the growers' union of Clesse-Vire in the Macon region of Burgundy effectively ostracized Jean Thevenet, whose late-harvested Chardonnay vines produce luscious sweet wines.
"People like me or Thevenet are minorities within our regions," Mr. Parce noted. "We can't depend on the growers' unions. We need a centralized force like the INAO to act."
As to the future, he cautions that, "Within 10 years, if nothing changes, the AOC will die. It will be our friends in California who, in 15, will tell us what an appellation controlee is."
Ms. Friedrich last wrote for the Journal on Bordeaux wines.
At a Trade Show,
Mediterranean Vintners Shine
Eye on France
By JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH
April 25, 2002 12:05 a.m.
"It's a simple little wine, but I think you'll be amused by its presumption." So goes the caption of a classic cartoon in which a pot-bellied wine snob pours a glass for a guest. That cartoon came to mind during the three days I spent at Vinisud, a showcase for the wines and spirits of the Mediterranean held every two years in Montpellier.
An increasingly influential trade fair, Vinisud has grown from 400 exhibitors and 4,000 visitors in 1994 (the year of its début) to nearly 1,200 exhibitors and more than 15,000 visitors in 2002. The fair encompasses producers from throughout southern France to destinations as far-flung as Morocco, Cyprus, Greece and Croatia. It is hosted by the southwestern French regions of Languedoc and Roussillon, whose producers represent 58% of the exhibitors. And, as these are two of the most dynamic and quickly evolving wine regions in France, I find I spend all of my time going from one to the next of their 600 different stands, marveling not only at the presumption of "simple" wines from such unrenowned appellations as Picpoul de Pinet and Faugères, but at the steady emergence of really good wine in unexpected places.
The Languedoc, which some refer to as Provence West, spreads over three French departments, the Hérault, the Gard and the Aude. The Roussillon begins at the Corbìères Massif and continues to the Pyrénées and the Spanish border. For the past year they -- or the Languedoc in particular -- have suffered the kind of publicity no wine region wants: bands of grape growers demonstrating, at times violently, over low prices. It's sad but true, however, that these disgruntled growers are a dying breed of Languedoc-Roussillon winemaker, the producers of plonk to be sold at bargain basement prices or sent to the distillery as overproduction. Today's Languedoc-Roussillon is more accurately represented by the ambitious vintners at Vinisud, who lobby not for government bailouts but to win ever more precise appellations for their land, carving up the vast stretch of Languedoc vineyards into a bevy of small, distinct zones.
Traditional grape varieties here range from those barely known by the average wine lover -- grenache, carignan -- to the downright obscure such as macabeu, piquepoul, rolle and bourboulenc. In an effort to enhance quality, growers are increasingly planting respected Rhone varietals such as syrah, mourvedre and viognier. To the dismay of antihomogenization diehards, there has been an exponential increase in the planting of such internationally popular varieties as chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, cabernet and merlot.
"We're the furthest north and the coldest zone in the Languedoc," Jean Benoît Cavalier of Château Lascaux told me. "Our vineyards are on the foothills of the Massif Central. They're 150 to 200 meters high. The night temperatures are very cold. There's enormous variation between day and night. A September morning can dawn at five degrees Celsius; by afternoon, it's 35."
Chateau Lascaux is located in the area of Pic St. Loup, a privileged zone within the Coteaux du Languedoc which may soon become an independent appellation. The coolness of the microclimate here is what Mr. Cavalier credits for the freshness and elegance of his wines. Indeed, his 2000 "Les Nobles Pierres," from Pic St. Loup, was a fine-grained red, essentially syrah, with compact tannins and delightfully juicy fruit.
Cavalier is a relative old-timer in Coteaux-du-Languedoc terms; he's been making wine here for a decade. Fabien Raboul began making wine at his Château de Valflaunes in 1998, and Jean-Christophe Granier, of Domaine les Grands Costes, started with the 2000 vintage. Both make delectable, spicy, mineral-rich reds -- presumptuously serious little wines -- and are clearly vignerons to follow. I spent a good hour at the stand of another group of promising young producers, these from St. Chinian, an appellation lying northwest of the city of Béziers. The group, which consists of the domaines Borie la Vitarelle, G. Moulinier and Canet-Valette, calls itself Les Tontons Zingueurs -- a play on Les Tontons Flingueurs (Pistol Packing Uncles), a popular '50s-era French film, and the zinc countertop of wine bars. And the grenache-syrah-mourvedre-based reds these fellows make are just the type of wines I like to find in wine bars -- generous, sometimes a bit rustic, but always honest and, of course, presumptuous.
Some are distinctly better than that -- the rich, seductive '99 Borie la Vitarelle "Les Crés," for example, or the '99 Canet Valette "Le Vin Maghani," which was so intense it seemed to have eaten the sun. La Madura, another young St. Chinian winery, makes equally characterful wines while fine-tuning them into something downright elegant.
Minervois and the slightly more restrictive Minervois La Livinière abut the southwest corner of St. Chinian. I spent a good two hours at this collective stand, tasting intriguing reds, whites and roses at the booths of Domaine des Aires Hautes, Domaine Piccinini and Domaine Pierre Cros, whose 100% Carignan made from vines planted in 1905 was as quirky and original as it was seductive. It was also extremely presumptuous -- as was every single one of the deliciously mineral wines from Château Bonhomme and the bistro-ready reds from Château d'Oupia. And there were plenty of wines presumptuous enough to take on some of the big shots from Bordeaux, the 2000 Chateau des Estanilles Grand Cuvée, for example, a deep, dense, sapid red made from pure syrah from the Faugères appellation, which lies directly east of St. Chinian.
Bordeaux came in for quite a beating at Vinisud, particularly as a scandal broke on the opening day of the fair: an unscrupulous Charentais broker was on trial for selling bulk wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon as Bordeaux. Much of the wine in question came from Cabardès, which lies to the west of St. Chinian and Minervois and gained appellation controlée status in 1999.
The climate here, influenced by the Atlantic ocean, is milder than in most of the Languedoc, which explains the presence of grapes suitable to maritime climates -- cabernet, merlot and malbec, for example, in addition to the more prevalent Rhône and Mediterranean varietals. And tasting the excellent reds from Vignobles Lorgeril, an important family domain with three properties in Cabardès and one in Minervois la Livinière, I understood what might have prompted this latest instance of Bordelais cupidity: Lorgeril's '99 Esprit de Pennautier, for example, a barrel-aged Cabardès made from syrah and merlot, was a generous, supple red, with the satisfying complexity of a good fifth growth from the Medoc.
Wines from the Corbierès appellation were also said to have been trucked to Bordeaux. Corbierès is the largest of the Languedoc appellations, and there was a time, just a bit over a decade ago, when the idea of an extensive Corbières tasting provoked side-splitting hilarity. Not true anymore. At least if the Domaine du Grand Crès is any proof of what Corbières can do. The '99 Cuvée Majeure, a blend of Syrah and Grenache, was an elegant, fine-grained wine with subtle mineral undertones. Of course, the winemaker here is Herve Leferrer, who spent five years in the cellars of La Romanée-Conti before buying his own property in Corbières in 1989.
Hervé Bizeul, another high-profile wine maven, has also created a winery in the south. Voted best sommelier in France in 1981, Mr. Bizeul owned wine bars in Paris and wrote about wine before moving to the Roussillon and developing his Domaine Clos des Fées. "We debark the base of the vines to rid the plants of mold build-up," he told me, giving an example of how he's reinventing the wheel in viticulture. Whatever he does, it works.
May 2, 2004
Budapest Chefs Venture Beyond Paprika and Goulash
By JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH
Note: This was the second of two Choice Tables I wrote on Budapest. The mission here was to find new places. The first article focused on classic cooking. I'll try to locate that one and post it too. And nb: Restaurant Baraka has moved.
Note: I've retrieved the earlier article. It follows this one.
BUDAPEST'S Central Market is a vast building in the center of town not far from the banks of the Danube. As animated as any market in France or Spain, its stands display all sorts of fruit and vegetables, poultry, fish and, particularly, embroidered linen, sausages and paprika in every stage, from fresh to dried to powdered. On a recent visit, trestle tables were covered with fresh morels and bunched branches of pussy willow. The scene felt unchanged, from time immemorial.
How misleading. The Market only reopened in Budapest in the mid-90's, not even 10 years ago. And today, the city's most ambitious restaurants are equally recent or even more so. Most are French or Italian or some sort of fusion. Indeed, when I visited Budapest in 2000, the publisher of a local wine magazine told me that the best restaurants in town were Lou-Lou (French) and Fausto's (Italian). The trend that existed then has only grown.
On my recent trip, after watching a CNN report on an apparent groundswell of anti-Europeanism in Hungary, I went to dinner at Ristorante Krizia, a popular seven-year-old Italian restaurant with excellent homemade pasta. CNN filmed its report on Hungarian nationalism in a folk-dance club. But at Krizia, all the clients except me were Hungarian. I wondered: Would local culinary traditions suffer the same marginalization as folk dancing? Would goulash, for example, simply disappear from contemporary menus? Would a seeker of a traditional version be limited to a couple of diehard restaurants like Kisbuda Gyonge or Kehli or be condemned to dine with gypsy music? Would goulash have to take on "gourmet' touches before some youngster resuscitated his grandmother's recipe?
The answers appear to be: it's all happening at once. You can find goulash (and other national dishes) in all stages of evolution in Budapest today, and not necessarily in "Hungarian" restaurants, as I found out. And the soup sections of Budapest's supermarkets carry instant versions by both Knorr and Maggi. In other words: Goulash is dead! Long live goulash!
Is it going too far to call a restaurant seminal? This small, seductive place, owned by David Seboek, a Hungarian-American and a former New Yorker, will surely influence Budapest restaurants for years to come.
Going entirely against the grain here, its menu is brief - a half dozen appetizers, main courses and desserts - supplemented by several daily specials. The food is a well-conceived fusion of French and Asian. The dÈcor is discreet, black and white, with caramel leather banquettes. Like many of the city's new restaurants, it has a mezzanine, making full use of its high ceilings. There are sprays of birds of paradise and good jazz; clients are mainly Anglophones and the Hungarians who do business with them. Table-hopping happens. The new Budapest is a small world.
Mr. Seboek is a pastry chef. Dinner starts with warm, home-baked bread scented with curry, and diners couldn't seem to get enough. For my part, I couldn't get enough of the plump, excellent mussels in a scrumptious hoisin-ginger sauce. Luckily enough broth was left to be savored as a soup.
I had settled on a main course of wild duck breast in a gingered apple soy sauce with goat cheese risotto until I saw a dish I couldn't resist being added to the specials: boneless saddle of lamb with morels. The lamb was perfectly cooked (rosy), with delicate lamb and snappy pepper flavor. The combs of the morels made delectable pockets for the sauce, a jus sweetened with onion and deepened with red wine.
For dessert, my lifelong prejudice against white chocolate was conquered by Mr. Seboek's stellar parfait of white chocolate, which, combined with a superb raspberry coulis, completely upstaged his textbook tarte Tatin.
While I found the staff friendly and attentive in all the restaurants included here, the service at Baraka was the best I've had in Hungary. As if all this weren't enough, the wine policy is truly enlightened: the staff will open and serve by the glass nearly every wine on the very good list. I started with a 2002 Oremus Mandolas Furmint, ($4.90 a glass, at 214 forints to the dollar), a golden wine, richly dry with hints of tropical fruit; and went on to a '99 Gere and Weninger CuvÈe Phoenix ($8.40 a glass), a smooth red blend of cabernet sauvignon and Kekfrankos.
"It's a nonfiction work about living rough." This snippet of conversation overheard in the lounge area of Tom-George told me I was at the heart of the new, cosmopolitan Budapest. No surprise, then, that prices are listed in both forints and euros. Or that every centimeter of the long concrete and aluminum fitted dining room is a design statement, from the wall hanging made of a patchwork of multicolored squares of shag rugs to the Egyptian- or Polynesian-looking statues of black cat deities holding platters filled with votive candles.
The food has been described as fusion. Actually, the kitchen is more like a culinary three-ring circus. There's a sushi bar with an extensive menu; there are club sandwiches, Caesar salads, curries, mozzarella, carpaccio - and there is goulash.
To get into the spirit of the place, I sampled a little bit of several cuisines, starting with a rather superb avocado and salad handroll. Really fresh, absolutely perfect, it consisted of two thick slices of ripe avocado, Batavia lettuce, wasabi and rice, wrapped in Nori. Soy sauce was delivered in an elegant carafe.
Then, to test my goulash-evolution theory, I had to order that. Very far from the cowboy soup of origin, which was made from meat from the cow's leg, this version was made with tenderloin, rather urbane and not at all spicy. It was still a proper soup, though, and not a stew, with a rich broth and carrots and potatoes. But beef tenderloin was the star. There was enough of the very tender meat to make a main course.
Then came green curry chicken, in an enormous bowl, with four big slices of oven-blistered nan sticking out like wings. An icon on the menu indicated the dish would be spicy. Indeed, it was. Scrumptious too, with rich, balanced flavors of curry, coconut, hot pepper and garlic.
Desserts include the universally popular individual chocolate cake with a molten interior. But I couldn't eat another bite. Instead, I ordered an Irish coffee (state of the art) from an encyclopedic cocktail menu that includes fruit concoctions and milkshakes. The wine list is not quite as ambitious: among its offerings are a dozen so-so wines by the glass. I chose a '97 Tokaji Szaraz Szamorodni from Disznoko ($3.40), which tasted like a pale fino sherry.
Voros es Feher
This restaurant's name means "red and white." In other words, it's a wine bar. And if one of the treasures of the new Hungary is its wine - in my mind there's no doubt about that - Voros es Feher, which opened four years ago, has to be one of the best places to get a fix on the rapid evolution of the country's wine regions.
A sleek but comfortable room that would be at home in London or Paris, it is in the heart of the theater district. The opera is nearby, as is the music conservatory and Franz Liszt Square with its wall-to-wall cafes.
Voros es Feher is a lovely spot for a snack or a full meal. The main menu has lots of attractive nibblies - p‚tÈs, hams, "creams" (dips), alone or as part of combination plates - as well as a range of salads and more substantial main courses. The blackboard lists an attractive array of daily specials.
I started with the cream combination dish, which brought a trio of dips - fresh ewe's-milk cheese blended with chives and sun-dried tomatoes, a Transylvanian eggplant caviar and a smoky paprika salsa. All were very fresh and piquant. A daily special of pan-fried pork chops with fresh morels and squares of polenta, nicely seasoned with fresh rosemary and thyme, was well thought out and well realized. It was also downright wine-encouraging: it would have happily accompanied all of the reds and a good number of the whites.
Now, about that wine. There are roughly 30 by-the-glass offerings, including Vega Sicilia's Valbuena, not really surprising as that top Spanish estate owns Oremus, a winery in Tokaj, whose nectarlike Aszus are also on the list. But most of the wines are Hungarian, and all are interesting. I started with a 2000 Nemeth Harslevelu (a white grape grown in the Tokaj region) at $1.90 a glass. It was deliciously pungent, off-dry, with vivid fruity flavors. Then a 2000 Kekfrankos from Weninger ($4.35 a glass), a stylish oak-aged red that was just great with my pork chops and morels. And I splurged on a '98 Tokaji Aszu 5 puttonyos from Degenfeld ($14.55 a glass). A glorious blend, it went beautifully with my dessert, a homey nut torte studded with sour cherries.
In this unprepossessing place on a dreary square behind the central market, I came full circle goulash-wise, finding the spirited, rustic version I'd eaten in the Hungarian countryside, vibrant with paprika and loaded with carrots, potatoes, dumplings and smoky chunks of beef. Given the goulash, the interminable menu and the dÈcor - all exposed brick and no-nonsense wooden furniture - you could be excused for thinking that Borbirosag (it means Court of Wine) had existed for decades. But it opened only last October, and that long menu has all the dishes that seem obligatory on both Old World and up-to-date Budapest menus, starting with mozzarella.
But there's a good wine cellar, the Slow Food magazine sits prominently on a shelf and the most tempting menu items seem to be faithful versions of dishes grandma would have made. Only these were made by a young chef, Szoka Zsolt.
Ask about specials here. When I visited, the chef was offering traditional Easter dishes. I chose rabbit paprika, a homey and soothing preparation that came with a mountain of tangy cottage cheese dumplings flavored with dill. They were delicious on their own and even better when used to sop up the paprika sauce.
Two desserts were both Hungarian Easter specials. The first, which my waiter translated as "egg liquor pudding," was essentially eggnog layered with whipped cream. The second, translated as "boy catcher cookie," came with a long explanation by the waiter. A fruitcake made with raisins, citron and nuts, it was the sweet option traditionally offered by girls to boys who courted them with gifts at this time of year. (The savory option was a hard-boiled egg.)
There is a nice range of wines by the glass, a varying selection of 30 from the cellar of 130 wines. The list in Hungarian only identifies those made by what it calls the "new generation." I tried two of these, a 2002 Egri Kiralyleanyka from Eva Thummerer ($2.45), a light floral white; and a 2003 Duzsi Tamas Szekszardi Oj Voros, a grapey, richly fruity red ($2.80). You can buy bottles to bring home, which is what a Swedish couple who'd fallen in love with the place was doing. With their purchase they received terra-cotta wine coolers. Like everyone, I got a little wooden Easter bunny with my bill.
Hungary's official currency is the forint, but the euro is widely accepted. These restaurants accept major credit cards and have nonsmoking areas. In general, English-language menus are available, but daily specials tend to be in Hungarian only; staff members usually speak enough English to help you order. Prices are based on a meal for two, with wine.
Baraka, 12-14 Magyar Utca; (36-1) 483-1355. Monday to Saturday for dinner only. About $100 for two, at 214 forints to the dollar.NB: the restaurant has moved to a more central location since this article was printed.
Tom-George, 8 Oktober 6 Utca; (36-1) 266-3525. Open daily for lunch and dinner. A two-course lunch menu is $6.70 a person; about $97 for two.
Voros es Feher, 41 Andrassy Utca; (36-1) 413-1545, fax (36-1) 413-1546, www.vorosesfeher.com. Lunch and dinner daily. About $97 for two.
Borbirosag, 5 Csarnok Ter; (36-1) 219-0902. Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. There's a two-course lunch menu for $4.35 a person. About $49 for two.
JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH, who lives in Paris, is the author of "A Wine and Food Guide to the Loire" (Holt).
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company |
And, if you're looking for more traditional food, here is the first Budapest Tables article.
CHOICE TABLES; Foie Gras and Fogas in Old World Settings
By JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH
Published: July 16, 2000
THE best restaurants in Budapest are Italian and French.'' Thus spake Laszlo Alkonyi, the editor of Borbarat, Hungary's leading wine review. Indeed, Fausto, his favorite, and Lou-Lou, Italian and French respectively, are very good restaurants in which you'll meet ''le tout Budapest.'' But they weren't my favorites. A week of dedicated dining in Budapest's Hungarian restaurants was as delectable as it was illuminating. I didn't find the Magyar Alain Ducasse, but I did eat really good local food and felt very much part of the life of the city.
Hungarian food is heavy. But though my friend Joyce and I were there during a heat wave, we never found it unappetizing -- even goulash, which is not a stew but a meat soup, originally cooked by cowboys in cauldrons over an open fire. It's seasoned, of course, with paprika. And paprika, both hot and sweet, is the universal spice, often replacing shakers of black pepper on dining room tables.
Hungarian menus are epic in length, and portions are usually huge. Goulash is inevitable, as is veal or chicken paprikas, freshwater fish like fogas (pike perch) and catfish, stuffed turkey, goose and goose foie gras (Hungary is one of the world's leading producers of foie gras), noodles with bacon, sour cream and turo (cottage cheese), and palacsinta, translated as pancake or crepe, either sweet or savory.
Most restaurants have English menus and claim that English is spoken. Brush up on your sign language. You usually do get what you think you've ordered but not always. And the mistranslations can be hilarious. ''Smooth hound,'' for example, was one restaurateur's stab at wild pigeon. Go know.
Hungarian wines are another delicious discovery. A revolution is under way as vintners reinvent their craft after 40 years of working under a state system that favored quantity over quality. Sweet, luscious Tokaj aszu, the unctuous white dessert wines, are the jewels in Hungary's crown, but there are also fragrant whites and supple reds, particularly from the Villanyi region.
The name means Aunt Nancy and this restaurant, in the suburbs north of Buda, has an appropriately familial feel. A white cottage with extensions added over the years; a large garden with chestnut trees; shelves of home-preserved peppers and pickles; kindly waiters with pot bellies; and enticing smells from the kitchen. It's an inviting, appetite-whetting ensemble and, after a memorable meal, I'd happily work my way through the restaurant's entire repertory.
No easy task, this. Nancsi Neni has a typically encylopedic menu. But not everything is on hand at all times -- as I realized after ordering a series of appetizers, all of which were unavailable until I hit upon fish soup, a rustic, tasty broth rich with the flavor of paprika. In it was a superfresh steak of catfish that had been perfectly poached in the broth and would have made a satisfying meal by itself. Deep-fried zucchini, however, was so delicious we'd have liked a bigger portion. Its curious accompaniments included good white rice, sweetened sour cream (ubiquitous in Hungary) and a delectable garlic-potato puree.
Sullo, young pike perch from Lake Balaton, gets royal treatment here. Somehow it is fileted but remains whole. Then it is breaded and deep fried. The fish is incredibly delicate and the breading, though a tad salty, is crunchy and delectable. We also ordered what had been billed as ''shaggy ribs'' but what we got was Wiener schnitzel. No complaints, however, as it was tender, juicy and encased in an excellent garlic-accented breading. The garnishes, though pleasant, were the same as those served with the zucchini.
Pancakes filled with turo mixed with lemon peel, raisins and vanilla-scented sour cream reminded me of my grandmother's blintzes. They were so delicious that Joyce, who was not going to have dessert, polished off half and said, ''This could be my ideal dessert.'' The ambitious wine list includes the '99 Etyeki Kuria chardonnay ($7.75), a crisp, clean white with an aroma of apricots.
Founded in 1885, this venerable restaurant is next door to Hungary's National Museum. Airy and genteel, it's a fine vintage setting with dark wainscotting, tiled walls, sculptured beams and enormous windows with great swags of drapery. The clientele is an agreeable mix of businessmen, denizens of the art world, ladies who lunch and tourists.
The service is admirably professional and the cooking traditional without being stodgy. Case in point: Muzeum's pancake Hortobagy style, a beggar's purse stuffed with a toothsome mix of ground chicken and peppers on a sauce of roasted red pepper, is a lip-smacking taste of Old World cooking. The presentation of smoked trout was mouthwatering: a large fillet draped across a platter with a mound of sliced cucumbers gleaming in paprika, parsley and honey dressing. Muzeum's veal paprikas, tender chunks of good meat in a creamy paprika sauce, was so classic it could be served at diplomatic dinners. Lake Balaton pike perch Muzeum style presented two slabs of fish, one in a dill-accented sauce, the other breaded and wrapped in bacon. We preferred the latter but, in both cases, the fish was delicate and moist, with fine, silky texture. And the garnish of egg noodles tossed with roasted garlic, dill and bacon was brilliant enough to stand on its own.
For dessert, the sour cherry strudel was very good indeed: a layer of juicy tart cherries encased in a rich, flaky pastry crust flavored with nuts, lemon peel and lots of cinnamon. And the '97 Egri Leanyka from Vilmos Thummerer ($8.90), an appetizingly floral white, was the ideal choice for a summer lunch.
''The Pearl of Little Buda'' is a heartwarming restaurant in Obuda, the oldest part of the city. The decor is eccentric and utterly charming. Doors of numerous armoires have been pieced together to form a sort of wainscotting; the ceilings are painted as if vaguely inspired by Tiepolo; there are old family photos and breakfronts filled with Herend porcelain. In the garden, packed with locals on a warm summer night, a pianist pounds out Mozart as emphatically as the accompanist in a ballet class. The service is unassuming and friendly; the food, as unaffected and endearing as the setting, starting with honest-to-god goulash (as tasty as the home-cooked versions I'd eaten in wine regions) and very good oxtail soup.
Textbook chicken paprikas came with a stellar version of sztrapacska, a Slovakian specialty combining potatoes, cottage cheese and ewe's milk. And what was billed as a ''Hungarian goose feast'' was precisely that: a plate overflowing with goose drumstick and thigh (wonderfully crackly skin and succulent meat), a slab of foie gras (overcooked), a mound of delectable braised red cabbage and a deliciously homey heap of potatoes cooked with onion and paprika.
Somloi galuska, a popular Hungarian confection consisting of very moist sponge cake interspersed with pastry cream, raisins and nuts, the whole bathed in rum and chocolate sauce, is about as rich a dessert as I can imagine. Surprisingly, it was light and fluffy. More restrained but equally satisfying was a cake filled with warm sour cherries, ground walnuts and turo. A '97 Kadarka Szekszardi ($14) from Peter Vida, an assertive and tart light red, intrigued me but disappointed my knowledgeable companion, Laszlo Alkonyi, who has greater expectations of the kadarka grape. He had no reservations, however, about the quality of the meal.
If ''Sex and the City'' ever shoots in Hungary, Remiz, which typifies New Budapest, would be a major location. Remiz means tram depot, and the restaurant, set back in a shady garden north of the city center, resembles a street car made of white brick. Its small dining rooms are crowded, noisy and engagingly decorated with an eclectic mix of posters, fake columns and 30's-style chairs. An elderly pianist ripples through rock ballads accompanied by a trombonist.
The vast menu has Italian and French overtones. The specialty, however, is meat grilled on lava stone. I've heard complaints of overgrilling but that was not my experience. On the contrary. Our grilled spareribs were the best I recall having eaten, glistening, meaty and succulent. But the enormous portion was enough to feed four and was so delicious that we gave short shrift to the mellow grilled foie gras nicely accompanied by cooked apple slices and parsleyed potatoes. Our appetizers, though not as memorable, were tasty, particularly the lightly smoked eggplant mousse. Whipped into a mayonnaiselike emulsion, it was (meaninglessly, to mind my mind) stuffed into a fresh pepper. A '97 Cuvee Phoenix from Gere & Weninger ($21), a lightly spicy red from Villany, went admirably with just about everything.
The young, harried waiters get the job done without a lot of niceties -- particularly when it comes to dessert. Advised to visit the display case, I did and chose a somloi galuska, as delicious as the version at Kisbuda Gyonge.
''We always have lunch at Cafe Kor,'' the well-traveled Danish owner of a Tokaj vineyard told me. He enjoys the breezy, cosmopolitan flavor of this casual restaurant near the basilica. And it seems to be a hang-out for the cell-phone-toting generation, which fills the place at mealtime. In a good-sized room with large windows, ceiling fans and racks of Hungarian newspapers, Cafe Kor offers daily specials written in Hungarian and English on a pull-down roll of butcher paper. And the young servers speak much better English than their confreres in other restaurants.
You can order ''small'' portions for 70 percent of the price of the normal dish. As we learned with a roasted goat cheese appetizer, the ''small'' portions would be a normal American serving. The dish itself turned out to be a perfectly fried fritter stuffed with garlic-scented goat cheese. Yummy. It came with a big helping of good salad and fresh tomatoes. Lecso (Hungarian ratatouille) was a straightforward and lustily flavored stew of tomatoes, paprika and red and yellow peppers with eggs scrambled into the blend as well as chunks of meaty sausage.
Cafe Kor's short wine list is excellent, and everything offered by bottle is also available by the glass. We treated ourselves to the '96 Bock Royal Cuvee Villany ($18), a vigorous blend of cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir, aged in new oak barrels.
Around the corner from the Fine Arts Museum and across the street from the zoo, Gundel, which opened in 1894, is the city's most famous, most historic and most expensive restaurant. The legendary chef Karoly Gundel took over the place in 1910 and created a number of dishes that have become part of Hungary's restaurant repertory. In 1991 George Lang, the Hungarian-American restaurateur, bought Gundel with the backing of Ronald S. Lauder, spent millions renovating it and reopened it with much fanfare, thus signaling the rebirth of fine dining in Hungary. Though other spots now surpass Gundel in quality, it remains Budapest's ultimate occasion restaurant and the one in which you're most likely to run into someone from home.
Surely it is the city's most beautiful dining spot. The vast and sumptuous room has immense windows giving onto the park, columns polished to a mirrorlike gleam, beautiful chandeliers, silk banquettes, oils by Hungarian masters, lavish bouquets and tables set with Zsolnay porcelain.
It is a real pity, then, that my meal at Gundel disappointed. The six-piece orchestra played show tunes off key; the service, at times considerate, was mostly condescending; and the food was decidedly anticlimactic. By chance I ordered almost the same meal as the one I'd enjoyed at Kisbuda Gyonge and Gundel suffered by comparison. The goulash was pleasant but one-dimensional; the goose was dry and overcooked, except for the thigh, which was juicy and delicious, as was the melt-in-the-mouth braised cabbage. Roasted crown of rabbit was so dry as to be inedible and the accompanying ''ratatouille'' seemed a bland afterthought. How ever, ''Uncle Lang's hot smoked goose liver,'' an appetizer, was perhaps the best foie gras I had in Hungary. It came with frizzled onions -- a witty turn on liver and onions -- and a flavorless wedge of potato pie. Crepe a la Gundel, filled with raisins and walnuts and bathed in a chocolate sauce, may have been the best dish of those I tried.
Gundel's own wine brand dominates the creditable list from which we ordered the '98 Cuvee Tiffan from Ede Tiffan ($30), a suave red with flavors of plums and black cherries.
This restaurant is Gundel's bistro spinoff. Decked out like a country auberge, it has an inviting garden with tables under enormous umbrellas. Though the service is inept if well-meaning and the food lackluster, the setting is so pleasant that lunch here is irresistible after a morning at the nearby Fine Arts Museum.
The emphasis is on home-style cooking. But the limited lunch menu is thoroughly standard, with no suggestion of freshness or hominess. Ditto for the execution. Hungarian meat soup was a flavorless broth with no meat in sight. A mixed salad, a slaw of cucumber, carrots and frisee with a yogurt dressing, was average. Mititei, dense little sausages of lamb, beef and pork, were salty and dry but tasty all the same. Only rib steak stuffed with meat and red peppers hinted at skill and thoughtfulness in the kitchen. Three desserts were available when I visited: ice cream, strawberries and a pleasant cake made with canned peaches. Underwhelming. Gundel wines are the only ones offered. Of these the '97 Egri Bikaver ($13) was a medium-bodied red with the spicy fire of paprika.
Bill of fare
All of these restaurants serve both lunch and dinner, and you can arrive at any hour. Most have some way of accommodating nonsmokers. Unless otherwise specified, all accept major credit cards. Prices are for two, with wine but not tip, at 270 forint to $1.
Nancsi Neni, 80 Ordogarok utca, North Buda; (36-1) 397-2742. Open daily. About $48.
Kisbuda Gyonge, 34 Kenyeres utca, Obuda; (36-1) 368-6402 or (36-1) 368-9246. Closed Sunday. $53.
Muzeum, 12 Muzeum korut, Pest; (36-1) 267-0375. Closed Sunday. $50.
Remiz, 5 Budakeszi ut, North Buda; (36-1) 275-1396. Open daily. $50.
Cafe Kor, 17 Sas utca, Pest; (36-1) 311-0053. Closed Sunday. No credit cards. About $33.
Gundel, 2 Allatkerti ut, Pest; (36-1) 321-3550. Open daily. About $110. Note that if you visit the nearby Museum of Applied Arts, you should keep your ticket. It entitles you to a 10 percent discount on a weekday lunch.
Bagolyvar, 2 Allatkerti utca, Pest; (36-1) 343-0217. Open daily. $60.
JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH is the author of ''A Wine and Food Guide to the Loire'' (Holt).
In France, a Vintners Revolt
Born in the Garage
By JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH
November 8, 2001
No wine region presents a façade more serene or self-satisfied than Bordeaux. Here, it seems, the truths about making great wine have been understood for eons, needing only an occasional tweaking to allow for technological advances such as stainless steel and temperature-controlled fermentation tanks. Yet recently a handful of vintners has been challenging the status quo of this most status-conscious of viticultural areas. The minuscule quantities of hand-crafted wines these upstarts release have been getting better reviews and are commanding prices as high -- and sometimes higher -- than those from the aristocratic châteaux that produce classified growths, the same domaines that have monopolized the playing field for as long as anyone can remember.
Or at least since 1855. That's the year the Medoc classification system -- which established a five-tiered system of "growths" or "crus classés" -- was established. Châteaux Latour and Margaux, for example, are first growths; Beychevelle is a fourth growth, and so on down the ladder. St. Emilion has its own classification system, last revised in 1996, with Châteaux Ausone and Cheval Blanc, both Premiers Grands Crus Classés "A", at the top. And, by tradition, a wine entitled only to the generic St. Emilion classification would never try to best a Premier Grand Cru, either in quality or price.
Thus, when the '92 Chateau de Valandraud, a new name in St. Emilion, got an 88 from Robert Parker (one of the highest scores the Wine Advocate's wine-rating guru gave for that vintage) and won first prize at the prestigious Foire de Paris, as well as a coup de coeur (an expression indicating instant infatuation) from Michel Bettane, France's premier wine critic, it came as an unpleasant wake-up call to the complacent chatelains of historic properties. Worse for them, at a Sotheby's auction in '96, six-bottle lots of Valandraud (vintages '92, '93 and '94) outsold 12-bottle lots of '82 Latour, '86 Lafite-Rothschild and '89 Mouton-Rothschild.
Valandraud's owners, Jean-Luc Thunevin and Murielle Andraud, are an unlikely couple in a Bordeaux wine scene in which the legendary domaines are owned by jet-setting dynasties or huge insurance companies. Mr. Thunevin, 50, is a former bank employee, and Ms. Andraud, 45, was a nurse's aide. In the mid-'80s they bought a small house in St. Emilion, and Mr. Thunevin opened a wine bar. Soon he owned several wine bars and shops and began a wine brokerage firm. Gradually he sold everything except one shop and the brokerage, which currently represents some 400 domaines, mostly in Bordeaux.
In 1990, he bought a couple of rows of vines on the outskirts of town. When he began making his own wine, Mr. Thunevin had no money for equipment, so he destemmed and later pressed the grapes by hand and used the time-honored, if now somewhat quaint, technique of stomping the grapes by foot. With no cellar, he made the wine in his garage, with the assistance of Alain Vauthier, his best friend and owner of the venerable Château Ausone, and Michel Rolland, currently Bordeaux's most sought-after consultant.
Today you can't spend five minutes in the Bordelais without someone broaching the subject of Mr. Thunevin, who some wag has nicknamed "Tue-le-Vin" (kill the wine). The criticisms aimed at his wines basically boil down to the following: They are not traditional; they are New World and Parkeresque; they won't age; they are too expensive. Yet many of those who claimed Mr. Thunevin would have no effect on the overall Bordeaux wine scene are adopting the very techniques that make his wines so tasty. And a number of other wineries, particularly in St. Emilion, have began making Valandraud-inspired wines. A movement, dubbed vins de garage (garage wines), was born; its practitioners were called garagistes.
Mr. Thunevin speaks rapidly and has an impish sense of humor that belies a rock-solid business savvy. And he is on his way to becoming a major player in Bordeaux -- with a new state-of-the-art wine cellar, 20 hectares of vines in St. Emilion and consulting contracts with a half-dozen wineries throughout Bordeaux, including properties in St. Estephe and Margaux.
Before he would show me his vines and cellars, Mr. Thunevin conducted a whirlwind tour of the domaines of four other garagistes, noting, "We're now almost as numerous as the classified growths." That's a bit of an exaggeration, but he's spot on when he observes that many different types of people are making garage wines. Tasting samples of 2000 as well as earlier vintages at each of these stops, a distinct flavor profile of the garage wines emerged. They are deeply colored, with rich saturation. Elegant and hugely inviting, they are sumptuous, with plush flavors of ripe fruit. Their texture is fine-grained, with some velvety and others more like silk. Of course, the same words might apply to quite a few traditional Bordeaux -- Châteaux Ausone and Cheval Blanc, to name merely two neighbors of Valandraud. But Mr. Thunevin certainly has a point when he says that the word "tradition" has too often been used as an alibi for thin, vegetal wines made from unripe grapes. "The essence of garage wines," he said to me, "is lower yields and a riper harvest."
Behind those simple words lies a painstaking approach to viticulture and winemaking, involving, for example, multiple passes through the vineyards to remove, by hand, excessive foliage to improve the aeration of the grape bunches, to thin grape clusters to lower yields and, at harvest time, to hand sort the grapes to remove anything unripe or tainted by rot.
Eye on Bordeaux
"We've invented nothing," Thunevin tells me, noting that viticulture at Valandraud is essentially organic. "These practices were once common but they disappeared. We reintroduced them, and now more and more châteaux are following our example."
Some of Mr. Thunevin's techniques are so experimental and controversial they get him in trouble with the law. Last year part of his production -- as well as a percentage of the wine from several other high-profile châteaux that conducted similar experiments -- was declassified by the Institute National des Appellations d'Origine Controlée, the government body that regulates production of French appellation-of-origin wine, because Mr. Thunevin had spread plastic sheeting between his vines at the end of the growing season. If it rained heavily, the sheeting might prevent water from reaching the vine roots, swelling the grapes (which dilutes the juice) and possibly spreading vine maladies. The wines made from these grapes can only be sold now as lowly Vin de Pays.
But it seemed to me that the secret behind the lushness of Valandraud's wines had most to do with the influence of Muriel Andraud's parents, professional gardeners who specialize in growing chrysanthemums for All Saint's Day. When I visited Valandraud on a sweltering morning in July, Ms. Andraud was in the vines with a team of workers who had been clipping leaves since 6:30 a.m. Ms. Andraud strolled along the rows of vines -- now snipping a wisp of excessive growth called an aile (a wing), now pushing an errant vine behind the training wire.
This, as Mr. Thunevin says, is haute couture. Not every château can afford to do it. But it is axiomatic that the quality of the wine depends upon the quality of the harvest. And you instinctively know that grapes pampered as they are under Ms. Andraud's tutelage are bound to produce very special wine. All of which made me think that the moniker vin de garage, while catchy, was no longer true and never did get to the heart of the wines. These wines are, in essence, vins de jardinier, gardener's wines, and it Valandraud's most significant influence in the Bordelais may just be to make other domaines reflect on the way they cultivate their own gardens.
CHOICE TABLES; Food for the Soul, Lyonnais Style
By JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH
Published: December 31, 2000
LONG considered France's capital of gastronomy, Lyon is blessed with culinary history as rich as its extraordinary produce. Not only does it have a galaxy of starred restaurants but it also has styles of eating unique to it: from the cooking of its ''mothers'' (the city has always been known for its restaurants run by women, and often named for them, as in La Mere Brazier) to the ''machons'' (now translated as an informal meal) that fed its silk workers, to its ''bouchons,'' perhaps its most venerable -- and arguably its most lovable -- gastronomic institution.
Several theories surround the origin of the name ''bouchon,'' all of them related to the horse and carriage era. The most likely hypothesis is that the name derives from the pine branches -- bousche in old French -- put over the doors of cabarets to indicate that wine could be drunk there. Over time, bouche became bouchon.
Today Lyon has 20 true bouchons and a lot of fakes and hybrids. A society, Les Authentiques Bouchons Lyonnais, protects the patrimony. It takes as its patron saint the redoubtable Gnafron, the chronically tipsy friend of Guignol, the comical puppet original to Lyon. And every bona fide bouchon posts the official insignia -- a plaque depicting Gnafron raising a glass.
Most bouchons are situated in well-traveled sections of Lyon, near the Hotel de Ville, for example, or the Opera. All are distinctly casual, very popular (reservations are a must) and filled with Lyonnais. The design elements are similar: aside from the bouchon plaque, diplomas from one or several Lyonnais eating societies like the Confrerie des Francs Machons (surely a gourmand's play on freemason, francs macons). There is Guignol paraphernalia everywhere, and the menu is nearly identical from one bouchon to the next.
While execution may vary enormously, the food is the essence of homeyness. You're likely to find a number of bistro staples -- from mackerel with white wine to Lyon's celebrated charcuterie to tete de veau and pike quenelles (the delicate dumplings are a Lyonnais specialty) -- as well as dishes peculiar to bouchons.
These include Lyonnais salads composed of dandelion greens or frisee lettuce tossed with bacon, croutons and poached egg; salads of sheep's feet seasoned with a tart remoulade sauce; gateau de foie de volaille (somewhat like a steamed pudding made of chicken livers) served in a bechamel sauce and garnished with quenelles or ravioli; sabodet, a sausage made of pig's head; and tripe, tripe and more tripe -- as in gras double (blanched, sauteed and simmered) and tablier de sapeur, the most boucho nesque of all dishes: a large wedge of tripe marinated in wine, breaded and fried and served with a piquant sauce.
Cervelles de canut, fresh cheese beaten with creme fraiche and seasoned with wine, vinegar, chives, shallots and parsley, comes with the cheese course, as do fromage fort -- a pungent blend of many leftover cheeses dosed with wine -- and St.-Marcellin, a cheese I had never tasted properly ripened until this trip to Lyon, where I never had a less than perfect version. Praline tarts are the only surprise in an uninventive dessert repertory that is stocked with creme caramel and riz au lait.
It is often said that Lyon is crossed by three rivers, the Rhone, the Saone and the Beaujolais, the wine most closely associated with the city. Beaujolais and its crus (Morgon, for example, and Chiroubles) as well as wines from the northern Rhone like St.-Joseph, are usually all that's available and they are most frequently served by the ''pot,'' a 16-ounce bottle. Nothing elegant here but it all goes down very easily, as my friends Annette and Pascal and I learned on a delectable gustatory spree several months ago.
We all have our own fantasy France. This is mine. Convivial, warm and inviting, Le Garet seems always to have existed, an eternal second home to serious eaters. Its decor is classic bistro -- a red velvet curtain at the door, red Leatherette banquettes, mirrors with daily specials, tall vases of fresh flowers and bric-a-brac. And there are individual touches -- the wall mural painted 60 years ago by a Lyonnais artist, crisp white linen covering vintage card tables. Michel Laurent, the owner, and the matronly waitresses joke with habituees and newcomers alike. Complete strangers offer tastes of their dishes. A meal here engenders such a sense of well-being and bonhomie that, despite the trenchermen-like portions of cholesterol-loaded food, it should qualify as a medical deduction.
Order cochonnailles (charcuterie) and get a tray of bouchon staples: tart and mustardy museau (beef muzzle) vinaigrette, perfect lentil salad, chunks of cervelas (sausage) and a salad of gelatinous and well-seasoned pied de veau and beef tripe. The salad du marche is the standard Lyonnais mix of poached egg, bacon and homemade croutons, here on a bed of dandelion greens. It could not be more appetizing. The feuillete de pomme de terre is a two-crusted pie of very buttery, fresh puff pastry encasing nicely seasoned potatoes.
Tete de veau comes in its cooking pot. From the accompanying sauce gribiche (a vinaigrette with capers, cornichons and hard boiled egg) to the various chunks of calf's tongue, it's terrific -- tender, juicy and flavorful. A pike quenelle the size of a giant Idaho potato or an oblong matzo ball is the real thing. Light (relatively, anyway), firm, with good, fresh flavor, it's better on its own than with the rather soupy sauce. Despite looking like a chicken fried steak, the tablier de sapeur had an insinuating flavor, a pleasantly mellow blandness nicely lifted by a piquant tartar sauce. We're talking fatty, however. (It was not for nothing that I was accompanied by two friends who love variety meats even more than I do.)
Beautifully ripened St.-Marcellin preceded textbook creme caramel. From the (typically) brief wine list, a vibrantly fruity '99 Chiroubles from Rene Savoie ($13, at 7.4 francs to $1) fit both mood and food.
Fantasy France, Take 2. Once an epicerie (the French version of a general store) selling wine ''to go,'' Chez Hugon is a tiny no-frills cafe, seating 35 at small tables covered with red-and-white checked cloths. Enter and the smells of onions caramelizing and of wine sauce simmering set the taste buds humming. At lunch, it's full of businessmen. All regulars, so much so that they are way beyond the simple familiarity of tutoyer-ing the owners: Arlette Hugon, who shares the cooking with her son Eric, takes orders addressing clients as bibiche (little dear) or pupuce (little flea).
It's easy to understand customer fidelity here: the food, brought to the table in large stainless steel bowls, copper pots or in Le Creuset-type casseroles, is the essence of homeyness, of recipes passed from one generation to the next. Mackerel in white wine is fresh, meaty and satisfying, the abundance of lemon a bracing addition. Gras double, sauteed tripe, is often fearsomely fatty. No need to worry here. The tripe, cooked with onion, parsley and white wine, was miraculously light-tasting. Perfection.
Chicken in vinegar presented a flavorful bird in a thick, piquant sauce, rich with the flavors of tomato and tarragon. The sabodet was so delicious, mellow and marrowy, it didn't need the red wine sauce accompanying it. Scrumptious Lyonnais soul food and just fine with a fruity '98 Moulin a Vent from Gerard Perraud ($17).
By the time we reached dessert -- a sugary tarte aux pralines on a very fine sable crust and superb creme caramel -- we had entered into conversation with two men at another table. Drinks were offered, Champagne bottles opened, and by the time we left, we'd arranged the marriage of my friend Annette's daughter to Arlette Hugon's son.
Chez Georges/Au P'tit Bouchon
A minuscule room seating 26 people at tables so tightly wedged you hear every conversation, the restaurant is decorated with the usual diplomas, countless pig statuettes and pig trinkets and class photos of the patron, Michel Deschamps. In the ship's hold of a kitchen, France Deschamps, as friendly and forthright as her husband, turns out fresh, delectable renditions of the bouchon repertory, starting with an excellent salade Lyonnaise and a succulent sausage served on Le Puy lentils dressed with a shallot-rich vinaigrette. Toothsome quenelles, as puffed-up as souffles, come with a classic sauce Nantua. Perfectly sauteed slices of magret de canard (duck breast), finished with browned butter, are garnished with gratin dauphinois that is sheer perfection.
The tarte Tatin is as juicy and irresistible as it is in its home base of Sologne. Our '96 St.-Joseph Grand Reserve from Guyot ($18) was a merely satisfactory red, a minor blip in an otherwise delightful meal.
One of the oldest bouchons in Lyon, La Meuniere opened in 1921. Maurice Desbrosse, a no-nonsense man who spent 15 years at restaurant Paul Bocuse, just north of the city, took over in 1978. But he seems to have changed nothing -- not the peeling wallpaper, the drawings and photos of 19th-century Lyon, the old Byrrh ads and certainly not the food.
Enter the first of two sizable rooms and you're confronted with a long table laden with bowls of lentil salad or pied de mouton, sausages, runny cheeses and wheels of brie, poached pears and apple tarts. And most of the other tables are equally long, occupied by family groups, office colleagues or strangers who, after a fine meal, usually find a reason to start a conversation.
Mr. Desbrosse and his staff of experienced waiters keep the meal moving. First comes a big bowl of gratons, or cracklings (the best I tasted), to go with kirs poured from a magnum. Then tasty appetizers like a salad of ultracrisp greens tossed with hard-boiled egg, potato and strips of smoked herring, and oeufs en meurette, a Burgundian specialty of eggs poached in a red wine sauce. (Here cocks' combs replaced the traditional bacon.) Suckling pig is simmered in a deep red wine sauce. Tender and full of flavor, it is garnished with excellent fresh pasta. A fricassee of beef ''a la Lyonnaise'' is mouthwatering with the flavors of tomato and onion. It comes with macaroni and cheese -- just the way Mother used to make it -- which, surprisingly, is a typical Lyonnais dish. The selection of cheese is amazing and includes terrific little farmhouse chevres.
Riz au lait, a soothing rice pudding perfumed with rum, is comfort food on a very high level. More elegant is the cold souffle of Grand Marnier, which seems more like a parfait. A '94 Cornas ''Les Mejeans'' from Jean-Luc Colombo ($24) was a sturdy accompaniment to our meal.
There is a similar patina of age in the railroad-flat-like dining rooms of this bouchon, with decor from 1934 -- in the bistro tables, the Leatherette banquettes, cracked-tile floors and mirrors embossed with Beaujolais grapes. Brigitte Josserand, a tomboyish woman with a Tintin crewcut, somehow manages to oversee both kitchen and dining room while maintaining an ongoing family argument with her husband, Henri, a bald man with a thick brush of a mustache who is as impassive as his wife is volatile. The mood is relaxed and friendly, however, and you eat pretty well here.
The salade Dombiste, consisting of moist smoked carp on a bed of greens served with carp rillettes, is a pleasant, relatively light option. Snails in a delicious garlic and chive cream sauce were satisfying even though the snails tasted canned. Calf's liver is cooked to order and bathed in a creamy mustard sauce and the gateau de foies de volaille, while less homey than at Chez Hugon, was very good indeed. Desserts are forgettable but the '97 Moulin a Vent Domaine du Granit Vieilles Vignes ($19) was smooth and nuanced.
A Ma Vigne
A minuscule family restaurant near the Prefecture of Lyon, A Ma Vigne is a member of the official bouchon society.
Aside from the Gnafron plaque, however, there's little about the place that says bouchon. Not the menu, with offerings like gravlax, not the relatively well-packed wine list with possibilities like a supple '97 Crozes-Hermitage from Chave ($17.50), not the prints of sailing ships that decorate the walls.
And the generally unremarkable food presents very little reason to cross the Rhone to come here -- with one important exception: the crisp, golden homemade French fries -- frites -- with the honest-to-god flavor of potato.
They are worth the detour. And the best thing to have with them is steak, pan fried and tender as butter.
Cafe des Federations
The most famous of Lyon's bouchons, the Cafe des Federations has been called ''the soul of Lyon.'' Restaurants are nothing if not living, breathing organisms, susceptible to change. And, given our thoroughgoing disappointment in a meal there, we could only assume that the cafe had radically changed since its glory days. It has become a theme restaurant. Among the bouchons we visited, it was the only one filled with tourists.
We were seated in a sad little side room and, with assembly-line regularity and no explanation of the single menu formula, were presented with a small bowl of gratons (tired), a large bowl of salade Lyonnaise (not bad), then small bowls of lentil salad (pleasant) and potato and herring salad (mediocre) and a rather too-fresh game terrine.
Then we were given a choice of main courses, the best being the andouillette from Bobosse, one of Lyon's leading charcutiers, which had been marinated in Beaujolais and was served with a creamy gratin dauphinois. Then followed a very good cheese tray. Desserts were lackluster. There were only two wines to choose from -- a mediocre Morgon and a ho-hum Cotes du Rhone.
Service at first was brusque, but grew nicer as the evening wore on. But though you get a lot to eat here, as well as the opportunity to sample many bouchon specialties, the food we tasted seemed made without conviction.
Bill of fare
All of these restaurants accept Visa. Some restaurants have set menus, and estimated prices for them are given for one person. Prices in the $55-to-$70 range reflect the estimated cost of a meal for two, with a moderately priced bottle of wine and include the tip factored into French tabs.
Some restaurants have nonsmoking rooms. It is worth noting that most bouchons have old-style French stand-up toilets.
Le Garet, rue du Garet, 7, First Arrondissement, (33-4) 126.96.36.199. Closed Saturday and Sunday. Menus at $13 (lunch only) and $17. $60.
Chez Hugon, rue Pizay, 12, First Arrondissement, (33-4) 188.8.131.52. Closed Saturday and Sunday. $70.
Chez Georges, rue du Garet, 8, First Arrondissement, (33-4) 184.108.40.206. Closed weekends. $60.
La Meuniere, rue Neuve, 11, First Arrondissement, (33-4) 220.127.116.11. Closed Sunday and Monday. Menus at $13, $16 and $22 (lunch); $16, $18 and $22 (dinner). $70.
Le Jura, rue Tupin, 25, Second Arrondissement, (33-4) 18.104.22.168. Closed Sunday and Monday in winter; weekends in summer. Menu at $14. $65.
A Ma Vigne, rue Jean Larrive, 23, Third Arrondissement, (33-4) 22.214.171.124. Lunch served Monday through Saturday. Dinner (for groups only) by appointment. $65.
Cafe des Federations, rue du Major Martin, 8, First Arrondissement, (33-4) 78.28.26.00. Closed weekends. Menus at $16 (lunch) and $20. $55.
A MEAL IN THE MARKET
By JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH
Published: December 31, 2000
In a city as food-oriented as Lyon, a visit to the main market is a must. And the Halles de Lyon, in a modern building near the Part-Dieu station, is one of the most mouthwatering markets I've seen.
Rarely have I encountered so many excellent cheese mongers -- among them the celebrated Renee Richard -- with gorgeous selections of tommes, chevres and St.-Marcellins just ready to ooze.
At the charcutier Bobosse you find the fat andouillettes served in many of Lyon's bouchons. Claude Rolle's stand offers luscious-looking sides of smoked salmon, caviar and aperitif cups of mousse of foie gras mixed with pistachios and currants.
Among the tempting restaurants are the city's newest bouchon, Chez les Gones (33-4) 126.96.36.199, which was closed on Sunday when we were there -- and is also closed on Monday. Just as well. We had our hearts set on oysters, and the gourmands sitting next to us at Le Garet had told us that Maison Rousseau was numero uno in that department.
Founded in 1906 and now run by the fourth generation, Rousseau has a small dining room behind its market stand. By 12:30 every table was taken. We opted for stools at the bar attached to the stand and started with a dozen sparklingly fresh oysters -- Marennes d'Oleron -- and a ''pot'' of dry white Macon, then giant shrimp with a mustardy mayonnaise and country bread. We saw snails sizzling in a garlic, butter and parsley sauce being carried into the dining room -- and immediately decided to share an order. Perfect. Then a properly weeping St. Marcellin cheese from Renee Richard before it was time to take the train back to Paris (the tab totaled $46).
Maison Rousseau, Cours Lafayette, 102, Third Arrondissement. (33-4) 188.8.131.52.
Open Tuesday to Saturday 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Sunday 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Closed Monday. It accepts Visa only and has no separate smoking section.
JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH is the author of ''A Wine and Food Guide to the Loire'' (Holt).
January 21, 2001
CHOICE TABLES; Six Places in Seville Where Tapas Are Just a Start
By JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH
SEVILLE, the capital of Andalusia, may also be the noshing capital of the world. Tapas were born in Andalusia, and the wealth of tapas bars in this city -- from literal holes in the wall to tony cafes -- bespeaks a unique style of eating, one well suited to a climate that is warm and sunny much of the year, to late traditional meal times, to an irrepressible joie de vivre and, concomitantly, to conversations in decibel levels too high for conventional restaurants.
This may explain why, despite an abundance of great food and superb produce, as well as a population of more than 700,000, there seems to be a relative dearth of what most think of as fine dining establishments in Seville. On a recent trip with my friend Joyce, a fellow expatriate, our most exciting meals were in tapas-oriented restaurants.
Dinner at the Michelin-starred Taberna del Alabardero was lackluster (though the wine list was excellent), and at the highly recommended Casa Robles, near La Giralda, it was no more than ordinary. That said, Egana Oriza and Poncio, two stylish restaurants, were every bit as wonderful and authentic as our favorite tapas spots.
Plain or fancy, Seville's menus usually embrace Andalusian specialties, starting with what I find the juiciest, most complex ham in the world: the black-hoofed pata negra ham, which seems to hang from every ceiling in town. (Pata negra is the familiar name for the Iberian breed of pig that feeds all or mostly on acorns (bellotas). If fed exclusively on acorns, the ham may be called bellota; if it comes from Jabugo, it may take the name of that village in northwest Andalusia.) Other classic dishes include gazpacho, expertly batter-fried seafood, and oxtail stew. As an aperitif, or as an accompaniment to a tapas meal, nothing beats dry sherry -- fino or manzanilla.
Situated at the end of the Murillo gardens and across the street from the university (formerly the cigar factory where Bizet's ''Carmen'' was set), Egana Oriza is Seville's most stylish restaurant. It once had a Michelin star and, to my mind, it still merits one: the menu is ambitious and well realized; the wine list is excellent and the service is professional and considerate.
A large, airy dining room, with high ceilings and wall-to-wall windows, makes Egana Oriza feel like a winter garden. Its spare decor -- wrought-iron columns, chairs and tables swathed in white linen, cherry-stained parquet floors -- give it a fresh, contemporary feel.
A meal begins immediately with a typically Andalusian starter of meaty olives, giant, crunchy capers and cloves of cured garlic (you see this triad everywhere). Then comes a plate of perfectly grilled chorizo.
The night we dined there, artichokes sauteed with garlic and Jabugo ham were a mouth-watering appetizer, as was a spider crab casserole. The latter consisted of sweet crab meat blended with a rich seafood sauce, stuffed back into the crab shell. Listed as a main course, it made a wonderful starter.
I don't think I'd ever seen woodcock on a restaurant menu, so I jumped at the chance to order it. While not as memorable as woodcock I've had roasted over wood fires by the men who hunted them, Egana Oriza's version was satisfying indeed. Served with a nuanced game sauce and garnished with toast smeared with a delectable mash of the bird's liver, the woodcock delivers its wild flavor with a real punch. It's not for the faint of heart.
More mainstream was a serving of two huge lamb shanks, their fork-tender meat falling off the bone. Complemented with roasted green and red peppers, eggplant and zucchini and a rich, tomato-accented gravy, this was a deliciously sturdy dish and the perfect companion for the robust red we had selected, the '96 Rioja from Remelluri ($15, at 175 pesetas to the dollar).
Among the many tempting desserts, the almond crepes are as ingenious as they are tasty. Crunchy little packets covered with slivered almonds and sitting on a pool of chocolate are stuffed with excellent almond paste. With coffee came elegant cookies and chocolates.
This engaging restaurant in the Triana district is so far off the tourist map that our taxi driver doubted its existence. Such anonymity won't last, however. Opened in May 1998, Poncio is already one of Seville's best restaurants. When the doors open for dinner (at 9:30), its three small, comfortably bourgeois dining rooms quickly fill up.
The chef, Willy Moya, studied cooking in Paris and his inventive, self-assured cooking reveals a French influence while remaining firmly rooted in Andalusia.
After an English-speaking waiter patiently translated Mr. Moya's enticing menu for us, we started with glasses of sherry and bechamel-filled croquettes, a typically Andalusian tapa. Served with Jabugo ham as nuanced as fine wine, the croquettes, though flavorful, were too heavy.
That was the only disappointment. Everything else was stellar, beginning with salmorejo encapotado, a thick version of gazpacho topped with chopped egg and Jabugo ham. An incredibly suave emulsion, it had gentle garlic and olive oil notes.
Puff pastry encasing caramelized endives and topped with melted goat cheese was a fresh, thoughtful dish. Flavorful roasted sea bream, garnished with a handful of first-rate shrimp, came on a deep and masterly sauce that blended Andalusian spicing with the classicism of Escoffier.
Thick slices of Iberian pork shoulder were tender and juicy, with outstanding flavor. Served on a delicious sauce with hints of apricot, it was a terrific dish.
All the desserts looked wonderful and the ones we selected didn't disappoint. Torrija tibia confitada a la naranja sevillana was a delectable version of French toast, showered with slivered almonds and garnished with rich cinnamon ice cream. More unusual was an individual cheese cake with a sherry vinegar glaze, posed on a sherry vinegar sauce. The cake, as airy as whipped cream, was downright ethereal.
Poncio's short wine list contains some fine options, among them a '95 Rioja Alta Vina Pomal Reserva ($13.75), a red that was simultaneously hearty and refined.
In the heart of Seville's business district, not far from the town hall and the Plaza Nueva, is this engaging fish restaurant with a tapas bar up front and several small dining rooms, simple and homely as those of a pension, in the back.
In the mood for seafood with rice, we booked for dinner, only to learn that this dish was served exclusively at lunch. Not to worry. Our waiter, who spoke no English, gamely, with the operatic gallantry of a matador, constructed a meal for us, beginning with an appetizer plate combining items we'd requested with those he thought we ought to taste. It was superb.
I have an enormous affection for tortillitas de camarones, latke-shaped fritters of flour, chick pea flour, tiny shrimp and green onions. Those at Barbiana are the best I've ever tasted and had the texture of deep-fried lace.
Ortiguilla, deep-fried sea anemone, is another popular Andalusian starter. And Barbiana's version is stellar: bite through the delicately crunchy exterior to release the near-liquid filling, the flavor of which seems a blend of oysters and sea urchins.
Grilled sargo, or rockfish, is served with roasted red pepper and a garlic-infused juice. Rustic and satisfying, with a flavor reminiscent of cod, it is one of Barbiana's signature dishes and a very popular tapa -- which we learned on a return visit for that seafood and rice.
Dinner at Barbiana is, as our waiter put it, ''tranquilo.'' Lunch is a three-ring circus, particularly in the classic tapas bar, filled with men in suits and well-heeled couples. Vendors push through the crowds hawking lottery tickets. It's enormous fun and the food is terrific.
We started with a homey, hot and thick tomato soup, moved on to a piquant salad of shrimps, onions and peppers, and ended with tasty little casseroles of seafood and rice.
Desserts are not a strong point, though Joyce, who normally loathes whipped cream, adored the crema de canela here -- really just whipped cream flavored with cinnamon. The wine list is rudimentary, but we enjoyed the '98 Protos Ribera del Duero ($14.25), a deep, dark red, and you can't go wrong with the house manzanilla ($1.25 a glass).
Meson de la Infanta
Which restaurant, I wondered, would have the finest jamon de bellota? No contest. It was this lively tapas bar-restaurant near the bull ring, where the ham is sliced with surgical elegance by a master. Sushilike in its moistness and freshness, the ham was winy and complex. I suspect those pigs fed on three-star acorns.
We arrived early for Saturday lunch. Instead of choosing one of the cozy dining rooms, we opted for stools at the long tapas bar. As the crowds of eaters had not yet descended, the barmen had time to explain the numerous offerings to us.
First, we were poured glasses of fresh, steely manzanilla from stainless steel coffee pots lodged in beds of ice and given a plate of fat olives, crunchy capers and vinegary garlic cloves. When we looked askance at the garlic, our barman nodded vigorous reassurance, saying ''suave.''
Good humor prevailed -- even when groups of regulars arrived as well as families with baby carriages and locals having a tapa while waiting for a pound of ham to go. An earthenware casserole of shrimp was super, with a wealth of sweet, succulent, perfectly cooked shrimp and golden shards of garlic.
Gazpacho andaluz, presented in a tall glass, was a pale salmon color, bracing, textured and light, with delectable flavors of tomato, garlic and olive oil. Creamy spinach mixed with chick peas was so good I could eat it every night.
Coquinas, thumbnail-sized clams, were delicate and briny in their garlic and parsley flavored juices. And stuffed piquillo peppers, served on a thick piquillo pepper sauce and garnished with rice seasoned with garlic and parsley, was marvelous.
Instead of dessert, we opted for glasses of rich, deep palo cortado sherry from Lustau ($2.25), a resonant finish to a lip-smacking meal.
Situated near the Heliopolis district, in a neighborhood of high-rises and expensive cars, this two-and-a-half-year-old restaurant could not be homier. A lobster tank separates the small tapas bar, with its display of glistening fresh fish, from the minuscule dining room, a bright blue and white space decorated with handsome model ships.
They may not speak English here but our waiter knew when to stop us from ordering too much, guiding us through our options with much playful gesticulating. We started with a local delicacy -- mojamo de atun -- very thin slices of cured, dried tuna. This has a smooth, somewhat leathery texture.
Eggs scrambled with any number of foodstuffs -- from chorizo to sea urchin -- is omnipresent on Andalusian menus. Trastienda's version, with green asparagus, was a very satisfying dish, which also included nuggets of ham and flavorful shrimp.
The grilled fish looked gorgeous, but we opted for arroz con bogavante (lobster), served only for two. Our portion could have easily fed four. Unlike paella, this recipe is deliberately soupy -- the soup being a russet-colored, intensely rich seafood broth flavored with saffron. Embedded in the rice was an abundance of succulent shellfish -- lobster, shrimp, clams and more.
I love a warm red with this kind of dish and the '95 Protos Reserva ($26), a spicy and mellow wine from the Ribera del Duero was perfect.
About all we could manage for dessert was the homemade raisin and walnut ice cream. Then came complimentary glasses of the house digestif -- a potent cherry-flavored spirit -- as we lingered over coffee.
When the esteemed French chef Michel Rostang spent a long weekend with his family in Seville recently, they ate three times at La Albariza. That was recommendation enough for me. Overlooking the Guadalquivir River in the Triana district, this is a tapas-bar-cum-restaurant from central casting: white stucco arches, terra cotta tile floors, scores of pata negra hams hanging from the ceiling, a half dozen or so sherry barrels stood on end for noshing and more barrels arranged in rows against the wall, as if in a genuine sherry aging cellar.
When we arrived for lunch sometime after 1 p.m., the dining room had not yet opened, but groups of businessmen were eating tapas and drinking sherry. So we staked our claim on a barrel and began our meal with a plate of herby marinated olives, slices of very good ham and tortillitas de camarones, not as stellar as those at Barbiana but addictively tasty all the same.
At 2 p.m., we adjourned to the simple, brightly lighted dining room and continued with puntillitos, tiny squid the size of thumbnails. Lightly breaded and deep-fried to perfection, the squid were tender and almost sweet. Similarly treated calamari were slightly rubbery but good eating all the same.
Green peppers were so expertly fried that the skins were stippled with heat but the flesh was deep green and deliciously crunchy. Superb. Alinos de salpicon, a salad of large, juicy shrimp tossed with tomatoes and green peppers and a tart vinaigrette, was fresh and appetizing.
With it all, we drank glasses of steely manzanilla ($1.60) and deep, nutty amontillado drawn directly from the barrel ($2.85). A perfect and inexpensive midday meal.
Bill of fare (sherry included)
In restaurants that cater principally to a local crowd, lunch generally begins sometime after 2 p.m., dinner after 9:30. Most places have English menus -- though you can't always rely on the translations. We never saw a nonsmoking section.
Prices below are based on tapas or a meal for two with a bottle of wine or glasses of sherry but no tip, at the exchange rate of 175 pesetas to the dollar. Unless specified, these restaurants accept major credit cards.
Egana Oriza, Calle San Fernando 41; (34-954) 227-254, fax, (34-954) 502-27. Closed Saturday lunch and Sunday, and in August. About $130.
Poncio, Calle Victoria 8; (34-954) 340-010, fax (34-954) 334-143. Closed Sunday and in August. About $85.
Barbiana, Calle Albareda 11; (34-954) 211-239. Closed Sunday and in August. About $60.
Meson de la Infanta, Calle Dos de Mayo 26; phone and fax (34-954) 561-554. Visa only. Closed Tuesday. About $40.
La Trastienda, Avenida Ramon Carande 19; (34-954) 628-172. Open daily. About $85.
La Albariza, Calle Betis 6; (34-954) 332-016. Closed Monday. Visa and MasterCard only. About $55. JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH
JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH wrote ''A Wine and Food Guide to the Loire'' (Holt).
November 17, 2002
CHOICE TABLES; In a City of Stars, 5 Local Favorites: Brussels
By JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH
BRUSSELS has to be one of the eatingest cities in the world. Its population of just under one million is served by a gaggle of Michelin-starred restaurants: 2 three-stars, 3 two-stars and 15 one-stars. Not to mention endless varieties of great beer, frites stands promising only freshly cooked fries, mouthwatering chocolate shops next to gorgeous pastry shops, oyster stands on market squares where you can sample Colchesters and Marennes along with a glass of Chablis, and street after street lined with tempting restaurants.
On a recent trip, a friend and I sampled a variety of restaurants popular with Bruxellois, all in different neighborhoods. It seems hard to go wrong. My one caveat: avoid the solid phalanx on the Rue de Bouchers, off the Grand' Place. Only one, Aux Armes de Bruxelles, attracts local people and, though I found it disappointing, it does offer respectable mussels and frites, the city's signature dish.
Comme Chez Soi
On a square in the center, this restaurant is as much a symbol of the city as the Mannekin Pis statue. Founded in 1926 by Georges Cuvelier, Comme Chez Soi, with three longtime Michelin stars, is run by Pierre Wynants, Mr. Cuvelier's grandson, and Lionel Rigolet, Mr. Wynants's son-in-law, both chefs. If the latter has introduced Jamaican peppers and turmeric to the kitchen, this is still a bastion of Old World cooking; though I didn't find it awe-inspiring, it is a very satisfying bastion at that.
Depending on your point of view, the several small dining rooms are either cozy (my thought) or cramped, a comfortable ensemble of banquettes and chairs, silver-plated Art Nouveau vases on each table and Art Nouveau glass and woodwork inspired by Victor Horta.
Many of the most tempting dishes are served for two. This was the case with our appetizer of warm oysters with Belgian endive (called witloof in Belgium) and bacon. The oysters, just warmed through, retained all their brininess; the endives were as delicate as I've ever tasted, and the cream sauce, infused with oyster and bacon juices, was delectable. Fillet of sole with mousseline of riesling and crevettes grises (tiny shrimp) is one of the classics here. Delicate and comforting, it combines perfect fish in a subtle sauce based on egg yolks and white wine. The season's first partridge is wrapped in vine leaves, expertly roasted and presented in two services, first the breasts, then legs.
For dessert, crepes caramelized with orange sauce and flambéed with curaçao were buttery and scrumptious. But the fraîcheur des Antilles -- a mix of excellent pineapple sorbet, strawberries and lemon-flavored cream -- was a bowl of glop. It seemed to have been left out so long it was melting. Service is professional, but the wine list is outrageous. Everything was twice the price it would have cost elsewhere, with few choices under $50. Our '98 chardonnay from Coche-Dury cost a whopping $68.
L'Écailler du Palais Royal
On Saturday, an antiques market takes over the handsome Place du Grand Sablon. I can't think of a more pleasant morning than an hour investigating the stands followed by lunch at this fish house, a longtime Bruxellois favorite that has one Michelin star. With its mullioned windows, its turquoise fish-scale tiling in the oyster-shucking area and its beautiful wood bar, L'Écailler has an Old World feel. But the handsomely dressed crowd that packs it noon and night is le tout Bruxelles. You are where it's at: this restaurant is permanently in style.
Every centimeter is used for seating -- including the bar, a great option for single diners -- so the blackboard listing specials is practically pressed into your face. Do order from it -- English oysters from Colchester, for example. They're expensive, at $33 the half dozen, but so fresh their vivid brininess hits you like the slap of an ocean wave. Scallops, grilled ever so delicately and served with a pile of girolle mushrooms, another daily special, were simple perfection.
From the printed menu, we chose two classics. You'll probably never find a more refined version of croquettes de crevettes grises than the one served here. Two fat breaded and deep-fried squares enclose a thick sauce packed with the delicate shrimp. A little goes a long way. Then, a real winner -- tender, meaty monkfish in a subtle cider-based sauce, served with slices of caramelized apple.
Desserts disappointed, but not because of quality. Ice cream topped with chopped dates and figs and flavored with jasmine was too perfume-y for me, and I prefer my profiteroles filled with ice cream, not whipped cream, thank you. But the cookies that came with coffee were downright Proustian: they reminded me of the pastry my grandmother brought to our house on Sundays.. Service is efficient, if borderline brusque. The wine list, sadly, is uninspired. Our 2000 St. Romain ($38) was yet another oaky chardonnay.
La Table de Mamy
A long $15 cab ride from the city center requires a serious reward at the end. Philippe Gillet's three restaurants -- Table de Mamy and, nearby, Le Grill du Vieux Boitsfort and Aux Vieux Boitsfort, with one Michelin star -- inspired such a trip. Yet somehow at the latter the combination of distance and luxurious, studied cooking, like mushroom carpaccio with foie gras and truffle shavings, didn't tempt.
But I'd have taken two buses and a train to get to Table de Mamy, the unpretentious restaurant Mr. Gillet created as a showplace for grandmothers' cuisine. If Belgium has soul food, this narrow, noisy restaurant on a corner of the residential neighborhood Woluwe-St. Lambert is where to find it.
I wanted to order everything on the menu and relished everything I ate. Mamy's billowy poached egg on a bed of honest mashed potatoes, covered with top-notch hollandaise, the whole liberally strewn with delicious petites grises shrimp, is simply wonderful -- the kind of food I long to come home to when the spirit wants a bit of warming.
The rabbit compote, simmered to the shredding point, seasoned with bacon and formed into a terrinelike block with prunes, was succulent and satisfying.
Pain de veau is Belgian meatloaf made with pork, beef and veal. At Mamy it is prepared to order and served for two. It may well be the best meatloaf I've ever eaten, juicy and flavorsome, and covered with a delectable shallot gravy. It was so good I took a doggie bag -- including what was left of the toothsome cauliflower gratin -- back home to Paris.
The profiteroles (with ice cream) at the next table looked so sublime it was impossible not to order them. And I'd love to have the recipe for the brown-sugar tart, a homespun confection that made my companion think of pecan pie without the pecans; to me, it recalled sugar cookies fresh from the oven. And it was a stroke of genius, too, to pair the pie with coffee ice cream.
The short wine list is full of temptation. It's hard to resist Andre Ostertag's Sylvaner Vieilles Vignes ($24), but I chose a red, the '99 Faugères ($23), a dark, stick-to-the-ribs charmer.
Bistro M'Alain Tradition
''Right now it's the city's best bargain,'' my friend Jo, a Belgian journalist, said of this restaurant. Jo and others enjoyed recounting the history of its peripatetic owner, Alain Troubat; his life in Kinshasa, Zaire; his string of previous restaurants in Brussels -- all leading up to the opening of two runaway hits: this place, off the Place Ste.-Catherine, and the nearby Bistro M'Alain de la Mer, on the Place Ste.-Catherine, devoted to fish and seafood.
Mr. Troubat himself oversees the latter, leaving the Bistrot M'Alain in the hands of a young chef, whose painstaking exertions are visible in the open kitchen at the back of the long, narrow restaurant.
It's a pleasant space, spare and contemporary, with good jazz and great kitchen aromas. At Saturday lunch every table was filled with serious eaters. Everything tempts but it's hard to go wrong with a special of sautéed wild mushrooms -- girolles and trompettes de la mort -- treated to a good grinding of black pepper and just the right dose of garlic.
Better still are the snails (petits gris de Namur) made into a stew with potatoes and green olives, an unusual, delectable combination.
Fillets of excellent line-fished bass are perfectly cooked and come with two sauces: a dulcet red bell-pepper cream and what was billed as a basil coulis but, for someone tired of summer pesto, turned out to be much more interesting: an emulsion that picked up the flavor of the vegetables' Indonesian spices that would have made even cardboard taste good. Beef cheeks, cooked for 12 hours, presented succulent, spoon-tender hunks of meat on an intense beef gravy. Over this, the hostess pours a sauce of potatoes, cream, milk and olive oil. Scrumptious and just great with the '98 Château de Lascaux ''Nobles Pierres,'' from the up and coming Pic St. Loup area of the Coteaux du Languedoc ($32.80), a strong red chosen from the thoughtful wine list.
Olive oil on nougat parfait is not a dessert that makes my mouth water -- on paper at least. But here, the oil, mixed with vanilla, tasted like white frosting and went deliciously with the top-notch nougat ice cream.
All things considered, one can forgive Mr. Troubat the bad pun: malin can have a range of meanings -- mischievous, sly, wicked, cunning, cute, shrewd. But all these words have something premeditated about them, whereas, to me, the Bistro M'Alain Tradition is, above all, heartfelt.
Wine Bar Chez Paule
If I ever open a wine bar, I'd like it to look like this handsome, casual spot -- with exposed brick walls, open kitchen, fireplace for the winter and backyard garden for summer dining -- in the well-heeled, gourmandizing neighborhood of Uccle. I believe I dined unrecognized, although I wasn't certain. In any event, the owner, Paule Ambroes, is one of the rare restaurateurs to introduce me to a French wine I've never heard of: the 2000 Coudée d'Or ($33), a fascinating, characterful white Côtes du Rhône. The rest of the wine list is equally mouthwatering, and the food, all based on first-rate ingredients, is pretty terrific, too.
My friend and I started with meaty rillettes, then a special of pieds de mouton mushrooms, perfectly pan-fried and seasoned with just the right amount of garlic. Excellent gravlax came with fine blini. And homemade vanilla ice cream, doused with rum, was accompanied by a whole potful of freshly melted Belgian chocolate -- the best chocolate sauce of the trip.
Bill of fare
The restaurants below accept major credit cards. Estimated prices are based on a meal for two with a bottle of wine and tax. All but Bistro M'Alain Tradition have nonsmoking areas.
Comme Chez Soi, 23 place Rouppe; (32-2) 512 29 21; fax (32-2) 511 80 52. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Menus at $64, $109, $139 (but note that many prix fixe dishes are for two). About $300.
L'Écailler du Palais Royal, 18 rue Bodenbroek, Place du Grand Sablon; (32-2) 512 87 51; fax (33-2) 511 99 50. Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. About $190.
La Table de Mamy, 212 avenue des Cerisiers, Woluwe-St.-Lambert; telephone and fax (32-2) 779 00 96. Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday (dinner only Saturday). Menu $22. About $85.
Bistro M'Alain Tradition, 6 rue de Flandre, Quartier Ste.-Catherine; telephone and fax (32-2) 503 14 80. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Menus at $27.50; $34.50. About $100.
Wine Bar Chez Paule, 762 chaussée d'Alsemberg, Uccle; (32-2) 332 28 44. Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday (dinner only Saturday). Menus at $24 and $34. About $90.
JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH, author of ''Wine and Food Guide to the Loire,'' lives in Paris.
November 21, 1999
CHOICE TABLES; Where Teatime Has a Parisian Flair
By JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH
THE world of the Parisian salon de the seems to exist in a universe parallel to that of the city's cafes and wine bars. But while the latter correspond to every visitor's image of France, tea parlors tend to evoke England. Forget preconceptions. Paris has scores of wonderful tearooms, and they are as much a part of the city's fabric as its cafes and bistros a vin.
The genre has several subtypes: the pastry specialists (generally attached to patisseries, these allow you to taste some of the best pastries in Paris without buying a whole cake); the tea purists with brews as rare and expensive as first-growth Bordeaux wines; and the relaxed spots with good enough tea, homey snacks and the lived-in feeling of a neighborhood hangout.
Every Parisian has a favorite, and, correspondingly, each salon seems to have its loyal clientele. All are comfortable havens for single diners as well as fine places in which to have a light meal. In all, tea is brewed from leaves, never from tea bags, and served in individual pots.
If time, money and calories were no object I'd go to Laduree every day. A half-block from the Place de la Madeleine, Laduree, which opened in 1862, is the Nutcracker Suite (albeit a worldly and smoky one) come to life: romantic murals, enormous mirrors and an abundance of gilt trim. Its cosmopolitan clientele doesn't mind waiting for a seat at one of the tiny marble-topped tables wedged in tightly downstairs rather than be banished to the more spacious but less animated nonsmoking room upstairs.
I love Laduree's entire tea menu, from its infinitesimal cucumber sandwiches and state-of-the-art croissants (it's also popular for breakfast) to its legendary macaroons. On my last visit, a friend and I shared three sublime examples from the exquisite pastry selection.
We started with Plaisirs Sucres, an intricate layering of caramelized puff pastry, hazelnut cream shaped into cigarette-like logs, whole hazelnuts and shavings of milk chocolate. It was crunchy, creamy and extraordinarily delicious. St. Claude is the name given to a succulent chocolate cake flavored with candied orange peel and Grand Marnier -- a splendid bonbon translated into pastry form. The individual cherry tart -- a cookie base and a strudel topping encasing sweet-sour cherries and pistachio cream -- was simply stellar. From a selection of about 10 different teas, we chose the Darjeeling G.F.O.P. (Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe) from the Himalayan border, an elegant brew served in heavy silverplated pots. And we lingered over it until the no-nonsense waitresses shooed us out as the clock struck 7.
In 1997, a new branch of Laduree opened on the Champs-Elysees. It's an immense restaurant-tea salon-bar-pastry shop decorated with crystal chandeliers and frescoes of gods and goddesses backed by Tiepolo clouds. I find there's a whiff of the theme park about it. The original Laduree is the real thing.
Founded in 1854, Mariage Freres is, perhaps, Paris's pre-eminent tea merchant. Walk into its tony shop in the Marais, and the aromas of scented teas envelop you. The shop itself feels like Dickens's London, with its dark canisters of tea on burnished wood shelves and serious clerks weighing and bagging teas. There are handsome teapots for sale as well as boxed teas and gift sets. There's also an element of the British Empire in the potted palms and ceiling fans.
The dining room is an island of calm. A skylight lets in the afternoon sun. A buffet displays cakes and tarts, muffins and scones. The tables are set with white linen, and chamber music plays on the tape deck.
The tea menu, organized by continent, country and province, offers 460 possibilities. To aid in your selection, a book written by Mariage Freres is placed on your table with the menu. It does help, but a knowledgeable staff member proves even more effective. (English is spoken.)
I told my waiter that I was hesitating between several Indian teas from the spring harvest (first flush) and the summer harvest (second flush). He instantly replied, ''It's 5:30, order a first flush.'' He then singled out five ''musts,'' finally pronouncing the Namring Upper S.F.T.G.F.O.P. (Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe) the ne plus ultra of afternoon teas. Delicately perfumed, ever so slightly smoky, with light floral, honey and vegetal notes, it's what I call a ''pay attention'' tea.
Mariage Freres's lunch menu features dishes incorporating tea. In the late afternoon, tea figures in confections such as green tea financiers, but most of the desserts are classic renditions of fruit tarts and the like. There are also a handful of savory options. I chose the Nostalgie de Pondichery, a $23 menu that included both sandwiches and pastry as well as a pot of tea. It wasn't cheap -- particularly since I was charged a supplement of nearly $3 (noted on the menu) for my pricey tea -- but it was a satisfying light meal.
The sandwich platter was built around an elegant variation on the croque-monsieur: two circles of white bread covered with melted cheese sandwiched thin slices of smoked salmon. It was positioned on a bed of mesclun salad, with eight rather measly finger sandwiches alongside.
For dessert, the chocolate-hazelnut pound cake and a raisin scone served with butter and tea-infused jelly, both honest and homespun, were the best bets to accompany the last sips of my expensive and very special tea.
Who doesn't find a reason to go to Fauchon, the grande dame of Paris fancy food shops? Well, things have probably changed since your last visit. The old epicerie has moved across the street to the Rue de Seze, and its former home on the Place de la Madeleine has become a salon de the for the carriage trade and tourists. (Next summer the company plans to open a New York branch in the Swissotel Drake.)
From the plush, feminine decor -- well-spaced tables dressed with fine linen, hot pink drapes and comfortable armchairs -- to the formal, professional service, Fauchon feels like a Michelin three-star restaurant. And it's just as expensive. (A club sandwich, for example, costs $26 but comes with exotic garnishes such as avocado sorbet.)
One of the most tempting options, and a good deal, all things considered, is the $29.50 tea menu. This brings small plates of mini-sandwiches, mini-croissants and mini-tartelettes, along with a hot beverage. And even with pricier choices, high quality is evident throughout -- right down to the slice of nicely marinated black olive on my delicious Basquaise tuna tartelette, a firm puff pastry disk supporting a wealth of tuna, ham, roasted sweet peppers and spicier espelette peppers. This came with generous slices of excellent Bayonne ham, which, my waiter explained, had been seasoned daily with espelette pepper, giving it a spicy kick.
Auguste is the name of a pastry that looks something like a chocolate-covered starfish but even more like a Gaudi tile. It comes in four flavors, the au poivre de Java being the one for chocolate fanciers. This splendid confection combines a cookie crust seasoned with sea salt, chocolate ganache and caramel, both accented with Java pepper, chocolate mousse and chocolate chips in a dark-chocolate shell. Instead of tea, though Fauchon has an impressive two-page list, I chose deep and pungent Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee.
Founded in 1802, two years before Napoleon crowned himself emperor, Dalloyau's realm is ever expanding. A purveyor of excellent pastries and chocolates as well as elegant savories (from foie gras to stuffed quail), Dalloyau has eight outposts in Paris and its environs, four with tea salons. Its flagship on the rue du Faubourg St.-Honore was recently redecorated. A sleek epicerie fine occupies the ground floor. Upstairs is the cool, contemporary tea salon, with widely spaced banquettes and arched windows looking out on one of the most fashionable avenues in Paris.
At teatime you can can order a variety of savory dishes as well as sweets. On a recent fall day, I started with a warming gratin dauphinois, tender slices of potato baked with cheese and cream, lightly scented with garlic and mixed with slivers of ham. It came with a large mesclun salad and good whole wheat rolls.
For dessert, Dalloyau makes what has got to be the Platonic ideal of profiteroles: five balls of fresh tasting choux paste filled with homemade ice cream (the excellent vanilla is the classic choice but I asked to have their superb, grainy coffee as well), the whole bathed in a rich hot chocolate sauce and showered with slivered almonds.
Pastries are equally fine. The delectable ''Dalloyau,'' with hazelnut buttercream enveloping meringue and bits of praline, recalls an inside-out dacquoise. The tart of figs on a puff pastry disk, restraint personified, is just as much of a treat.
The young servers are adorable and eager to please. The only demerit goes to the cursory selection of teas and coffees. But that doesn't seem to bother the crowd of businessmen and women, well-dressed matrons with dogs, architects and fashion types who stop here for a late afternoon pick-me-up.
L'Artisan de Saveurs
Quality and tender loving care are evident everywhere in this soigne and inviting restaurant-tea salon conveniently situated on the Left Bank near Bon Marche, the Bloomingdale's of Paris. The tasteful room has beautiful table linens and red velvet banquettes.
About a half-dozen light dishes are offered for lunch. My tasty terrine of duck and chicken liver was attractively presented on a large plate spilling over with salad tossed with perfectly sauteed chicken livers, strips of cucumber, small rounds of good toast and mango and white currant chutney. This was nicely accompanied by a '96 Sancerre Domaine de St. Romble ($4.10), a supple, slightly spicy red, one of 13 wines offered by the glass.
Three plump figs cooked in Maury, a port-like wine from the south of France, and served with a mascarpone parfait was an original and delicious dessert.
There is a thoughtful selection of 25 teas. When I asked for a recommendation, Patrick Loustalot-Barbe, the smiling, soft-spoken owner, proposed a mellow, perfumed first flush Balasun S.T.G.F.O.P. (Special Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe). Homemade gingerbread was a beautiful accompaniment, its rich flavors softened by the sweet butter served alongside. There was a pot of fabulous honey as well, but that's what I call too much of a good thing.
Le Loir Dans la Theiere
As comfortable as an old shoe, this tea parlor in the heart of the Marais feels like a vintage Greenwich Village coffeehouse or a hangout in a college town, with its haphazard collection of secondhand furniture, posters for gallery exhibits and a whimsical mural of Alice watching the dormouse crawl out of a teapot.
The homespun food fits the setting: it's flavorful and basic, and portions are generous, from the big slabs of quiche (goat cheese and zucchini and potato-bacon are particular favorites) to the fruit crumbles, tarts and cakes displayed on a big sideboard. The moist orange cake with white frosting is straight out of a country fair competition. The staff is friendly and laid back. In all, this is an ideal place in which to relax, chat or just daydream.
On a recent rainy fall afternoon, everyone at Angelina seemed to be drinking hot chocolate, one of the house specialties. Called L'Africain, it is made by melting chocolate and sugar in a copper pot and blending it with milk. It is served in a pitcher with a side of unsweetened whipped cream. And it's one of life's guilty little pleasures to sit at a marble-topped table in this vast room, with its Napoleon III columns, gilt-framed murals and huge mirrors, sipping this thick, deeply chocolaty brew and taking in the Tuileries Gardens across the street and the wave of humanity passing through the Rivoli arcade outside the front window.
At teatime you can also eat large salads, light dishes like croque-monsieur or quiche or American-style ice cream sundaes (perhaps a legacy of the address's previous incarnation as Rumpelmayer's) or choose among such pastries as Le Mont Blanc, consisting of meringue, chestnut cream and whipped cream. In truth, the pastries I've tasted -- baba au rhum, for example, or chocolate rum raisin cake -- have been good but rather standard.
Perhaps the most touristy of the city's tea salons, Angelina nevertheless remains thoroughly Parisian. And it's always very busy. Turnover is rapid, however. And service is prompt and mostly polite, though it can get a tad edgy at the end of the day.
Brewing up a storm
The prices below are based on tea or coffee for two, with snacks and pastry, and include the 12 1/2 percent service charge incorporated into French bills. Those noted have nonsmoking areas. Reservations are needed only for lunch.
All sell wine by the glass, generally starting at $3 or $4, except for Mariage Freres, which sells only half and full bottles, and only with meals.
Laduree, 16, rue Royale, 8th Arrondissement; (33-1) 184.108.40.206. All major credit cards except Diners Club. Open daily, 8:30 a.m. (10 a.m. on Sunday) to 7 p.m. About $40 (at 6.1 francs to the dollar). The nonsmoking area is on the first floor. A second branch at 75, Avenue des Champs-Elysees, (33-1) 40.75.08.75, also serves more substantial lunches and dinners. It accepts all major credit cards, including Diners Club.
Mariage Freres, 30-32, rue du Bourg-Tibourg, 4th; (33-1) 220.127.116.11. American Express, Visa, Mastercard. Open daily from noon to 7 p.m. About $32. Officially nonsmoking (though I saw smokers there). Other branches: 13, rue des Grands-Augustins, 6th, (33-1) 18.104.22.168, and 260, rue du Faubourg St.-Honore, 8th, (33-1) 22.214.171.124.
Fauchon, 26, Place de la Madeleine, 8th; (33-1) 126.96.36.199. All major credit cards. Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (The shop opens at 9:30 a.m.) About $50. Nonsmoking area.
Dalloyau, 101, rue du Faubourg St.-Honore, 8th; (33-1) 42.99.90.00. All major credit cards except Diners Club. Daily, from 8 a.m. to 7:15 p.m. About $38. Nonsmoking area. Other branches: 2, Place Edmond-Rostand, 6th, (33-1) 188.8.131.52; 69, rue de la Convention, 15th, (33-1) 184.108.40.206. A new branch at 5, Boulevard Beaumarchais, 4th, (33-1) 220.127.116.11, is scheduled to open this month.
L'Artisan de Saveurs, 72, rue du Cherche-Midi, 6th; (33-1) 18.104.22.168. Visa and Mastercard. Lunch 12 to 2:30 p.m., tea until 6:30, Tuesday through Sunday. Brunch Saturday, Sunday and holidays from 12 to 3 p.m. About $20.
Le Loir dans la Theiere, 3, rue des Rosiers, 4th; (33-1) 22.214.171.124. Visa and Mastercard. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. About $30.
Angelina, 226, rue de Rivoli, 1st; (33-1) 42.60.82.00. All major credit cards except Diners Club. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, until 7:30 weekends. About $28. JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH
JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH is the author of ''A Food and Wine Guide to the Loire'' (Holt).
May 4, 1997
Rouen Has A Way With The Classics
By JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH
ROUEN as a mecca for food lovers? Well, it's not about to unseat Lyons, but, lured by its cathedral and Monet's paintings of it, a friend and I recently spent five days there and were surprised to find the dining as outstanding as the city's best architecture, faience and excellent museums.
Seventy miles northwest of Paris, Rouen suffered greatly in World War II. Its historic center is now a maze of pedestrian streets roughly anchored by the Place de la Cathedrale and the aggressively modern Place du Vieux-Marche. The latter, where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, houses an underground market as well as the Church of St. Joan and is ringed by restaurants.
Canard a la Rouennaise, pressed duck served with a blood-thickened sauce (which often incorporates mashed liver), appears in some form on most menus here. Classics of Normandy, such as stews of fish from the Manche coast sauced with cream and cider, are also popular. Some of the great names in cheeses -- Camembert, Livarot, Pont-l'E veque and Neufchatel -- are among those made nearby. Calvados is a fine way to cap a meal, and pommeau, a blend of Calvados and apple juice, is a delicious way to start.
On a quay of the Seine, near the Place de la Cathedrale, is Rouen's premier restaurant. Its several small rooms are light and spare, drawing attention to its handsome Art Deco appointments and to the fine-tuned cooking of Gilles Tournadre, the chef and owner.
Exemplary ingredients and innovation within a classic context seem the bywords here, starting with the complimentary serving of leek soup with chervil-flecked creme fraiche, and continuing with an appetizer that was both exciting and satisfying: juicy langoustines, cooked not a second too long, topped with a sweet-sour relish of red pepper and onion. Foie gras ravioli in chicken bouillon were almost as compelling; the bland truffle garnish was disappointing, but the tender ravioli were wonderful.
Star turns among the main courses were a lobster fricassee with wild mushrooms and a tourte of duck breast with sauce Rouennaise. The fricassee was as sophisticated and clean as a Chanel suit. Mr. Tournadre embedded a bay leaf in the lobster meat and seasoned the whole with thyme. These flavors, underscoring the lobster's delicacy, provided a bridge to the woodsiness of the mushrooms.
The terrific tourte encased a layer of succulent duck breast, a hash of foie gras (a deluxe substitute for the liver normally used in the sauce) and a layer of nicely cooked cabbage in the most delicious puff pastry I've tasted in years. The luscious sauce was lightly gamy and extremely concentrated.
A complimentary, toothsome crepe of grapefruit and passion fruit preceded two signature desserts. The first was a sublime Calvados souffle, with chunks of apple folded into the egg white and Calvados poured in its core at tableside. Even more delicious was a perfect mille-feuille, the crisp, ethereal pastry pure air and butter, interspersed with a heavenly vanilla creme patissiere.
Service, directed by Mr. Tournadre's wife, Sylvie, was not as attentive as it might have been. The wine list, however, is one of Rouen's best. Our 1990 Auxey-Duresses, a white Burgundy from the reputable Heritiers J. Laleure ($40, calculated at 5.53 francs to the dollar), was slightly oxidized but went surprisingly well with the ravioli and the lobster. An alternative would have been a stellar Sancerre from Lucien Crochet, Mrs. Tournadre's father. A '90 Chateau de Pez, an excellent St.-Estephe ($45), beautifully complemented the tourte de canard.
In this fine restaurant off the Place du Vieux-Marche, a tiny jewel-box of a dining room gives onto a bamboo and rhododendron-filled courtyard, perfect for summer dining. Patrice Kukurudz, the chef and owner, cossets diners with his polished yet generous cooking. An amuse-gueule, or canape, of buttery scrambled eggs tucked back into their shells was a soothing introduction, as was an appetizer of ravioli, bursting with barely cooked scallops, on a lovely langoustine fumet enriched with cream and tomato. His mille-feuille of boudin noir (blood sausage) had layers of puff pastry separating diced apples and silken boudin noir for a fine interweaving of tastes and textures.
Creamy apple sorbet doused with Calvados preceded the main courses, which included another refined variation on duck Rouennaise. Fat slices of duckling breast were fanned over wild mushrooms and caramelized onions, the whole posed on a deep red wine sauce mounted with foie gras. The duckling came from Duclair, which has its own government designation. Its flavor and texture were striking, recalling a succulent Sunday rib roast. Cote de veau en cocotte, garniture bourgeoise, a thick, juicy cut of veal, cooked with pearl onions, bacon and potatoes, had that profound, gentle mingling of flavors that can come only from long simmering.
Terrific homemade bread, studded with raisins and walnuts, eclipses the cheese tray. And Kukurudz's profiteroles may be the best I've ever eaten: delicate choux puffs, filled with ice cream (pistachio, vanilla and hazelnut) on a rich chocolate sauce showered with hazelnuts and almonds. Equally splendid was an individual chocolate cake filled with hazelnut ice cream. With coffee came a plate spilling over with chocolate and orange tuiles, chocolate truffles, macaroons, physalis (Cape Gooseberry), and mini fruit tarts.
The wine list emphasizes small domaines and high-quality grower-negociants -- Leon Beyer and Trimbach in Alsace, Jadot and Faively in Burgundy, Chapoutier in the Rhone. I chose a St.-Emilion, a 1989 Chateau Monbousquet ($43), and found it satisfying but a little over the hill.
A handsome restaurant off a busy square, L'Ecaille is Rouen's leading fish house. Nautical themes inspire the setting: The walls are aqua marine and green and are hung with abstract sand paintings. Alluring floral arrangements of broad green leaves, dried flowers and long grasses brighten the medium-sized dining room, which has several levels.
The motif is contemporary, personal and in keeping with the excellent food, starting with an oyster gratineed with a creamy tarragon sauce. The oyster still tasted agreeably raw, though slightly warmed, its juices mingling with the cream and tarragon.
Bouillabaisse de la Manche, combining Norman fish in a saffron-enriched broth, is one of the ''classic dishes'' of the chef and owner, Marc Tellier. Our waiter cautioned that this was so copious that we should start with nothing more than six Oleron oysters. We were too tempted by the fried encornets (small squid) and frogs' legs, however, to take such a single-minded route. Theses are the Rolls-Royces of fried squid: tempura-light batter, fresh flavor and satisfying chewiness, accompanied by a bracing tartar sauce. The meaty frogs' legs were enveloped in a spectacularly good sauce of fish fumet, vermouth, tomato, garlic and herbs.
Another classic dish was grilled dos de turbot, a triangular chunk from the meaty back of the fish. Here was a textbook example of fine French cookery, from the masterly grilling to the flawless sauce bearnaise, to perfectly steamed potatoes. Filet of turbotin (a small turbot) was sauced with a haunting blend of saffron, tomato and preserved lemon and accompanied by chewy russet-colored rice from the Camargue.
Desserts, a mille-feuille of delicate cocoa-flavored puff pastry sandwiched with vanilla cream and a pear tart with caramel sauce, were upstaged by a magnificent Tom Jones-esque plateau de fruits de mer delivered to another table. I wanted to start my meal all over again.
Our waiter was excellent, though service had some lax moments. The wine list at L'Ecaille also features high-quality grower-negociants. Our 1990 Chablis Premier Cru Vaudevey from Laroche ($54) was both creamy and steely.
The food prepared by Odile Engel incarnates Madeleine Kamman's mouthwatering book ''When French Women Cook.'' Boy, is it good! And on a drizzly Sunday, nothing could be more welcoming than this tiny Norman restaurant on a side street near the Beaux-Arts Museum, with a fire in the hearth and the avuncular Marcel Engel, Odile's husband, leading you to your table.
A warm-from-the-oven baguette waits. Then come twists of puff pastry, so flaky and buttery you want nothing more to whet your appetite except a glass of lush, finely etched 1990 late harvest Gewurztraminer from Rolly Gassmann ($11 a glass). (Regrettably, there are incense candles at each table, surely placed to absorb cigarette smoke.)
Mrs. Engel works alone in the kitchen so her menu is limited, offering three appetizers and three main courses. We started with thick slabs of duck foie gras, nicely marbled and served on homemade brioche toast and a velvety, deeply flavored cream of shellfish soup. Canard a la Rouennaise is served for two but we opted for steaks. My pave (thick slice), beautifully cooked (rare but not bloody), was some of the best beef I've eaten in the French provinces. The steak's mustard sauce was tangy and scrumptious, accompanied by sauteed potatoes, string beans and carrots.
Desserts were equally homey and delectable: a richly caramelized apple tarte tatin and a mousse-y chocolate tart. There is a lovely range of wines -- Alsace, Bordeaux and elegant reds from the northern Rhone, including a sumptuous Cote Rotie from Chapoutier ($47). Service was gracious and enthusiastic.
Auberge de la Butte
As we drove from Rouen to Bon secours, on its fringe about two miles from the center, our cabdriver approved of our choice: One eats very well there, he said of the Norman-style restaurant whose wood beams and breakfronts are lined with faience from Rouen. Indeed, this is the type of place where French families celebrate birthdays and anniversaries (four private rooms accommodate such gatherings).
There is an agreeably old-world feel to the place, both in the unaffected cordiality of Nicole Herve and in the heavy, flavorful and unreconstructed cooking of her husband, Pierre. The menu may offer gazpacho but people come here for Norman classics such as chicken breast Vallee d'Auge, with Calvados, cider and creme fraiche, as well as golden oldies of haute cuisine like ''Tournedos Rossini dans sa Grande Tradition.''
We started with a dulcet blend of scrambled eggs and truffles, and meaty, if dry, hare compote offset by vinegared cherries and a tangy onion marmalade. (Commercial cornichons were an anomaly.) We continued with duckling a la Rouennaise, for two, and as forthright a version as you'll find. The wings and legs were removed, breaded and grilled. They were lick-your-fingertips delicious. The breast meat was tender; its sauce was loud with flavors of shallots, wine, liver and pepper.
A 1990 Cantenac-Brown ($54), a classified growth from Bordeaux, was an elegant partner to our meal.
Cheese selections embraced Brie, Epoisses and Tomme de Brebis de Carayac, a tangy sheep's-milk cheese. An assortment of vanilla and caramel ice cream and chocolate sorbet was refreshing, but Mexicana, a flavorless coffee mousse covering coffee ice cream, seemed more the stuff of sidewalk cafes.
Le P'tit Zinc
There is warmth to spare at this wine bar on the Place du Vieux-Marche: a welcoming clutter of coat racks, canning jars filled with fruit in eau de vie and framed wine labels. There's good jazz on the tape deck and a buzz of conversation. And everyone working here seems to enjoy it -- none more than the owner, Alain Simon, who presents you with two blackboards, each crammed with tiny script announcing foods and wines. Just when you think you've read everything, Mr. Simon flips them to reveal twice the possibilities and beams.
Wines are available by the glass, by the double-glass, by the fillette (about16 ounces) and by the bottle, from $2.80 to $5 a glass.
We chose a '90 Ste.-Croix-du-Mont, Chateau de Coulinat, a lush sweet white made near Sauternes, to accompany a huge and terrific salad of gesiers (gizzards) and duck foie gras tossed with mache, frisee, shallots and walnuts. The gesiers were as succulent and meaty as any I've eaten and the foie gras, which was nutty and complex, was excellent.
We tried a constellation of different red wines by the glass with our main courses. Two hunks of mutton in a light but earthy tomato sauce, with white beans, roasted garlic and perfectly cooked leeks and carrots, was as heartwarming as it was delicious. Its best partner was a 1994 St.-Joseph from Boissenet, a beefy, kirsch-accented red from the northern Rhone.
Simon offered a glass of oaky, one-dimensional Medoc to demonstrate his ideal pairing with our fork-tender duck confit. We preferred a riveting 1992 Irancy from Bernard Cantin, a light pinot noir made near Chablis that went beautifully with the garlic-scented girolle mushrooms that smothered the duck thigh.
As we tucked into dessert -- a marquise, a dense slab of chocolate mousse on creme anglaise and an invigorating soup of prunes and apricots in red wine, orange and cinnamon -- students began arriving for goose rillettes slathered over baguettes ($3.25 to $4). There's something for everyone here.
Le Bistrot de Panurge
This bistro is a find when you want a simple, familiar meal in a friendly place. You've seen the tight banquettes and the vintage photos before and heard the Piaf airs, but they never fail to please. The menu, too, rounds up the usual suspects. But the main attraction is roast leg of Limousin lamb carved at tableside. When I was there only three diners ordered other dishes. And why bother? The lamb is tender, well-seasoned and nicely rosy. I chose herb-scented flageolets as an accompaniment -- the gratin of potato or zucchini looked equally satisfying -- and a Guigal 1993 Cotes du Rhone ($15.40). For dessert a huge eclair filled with chocolate cream provided a Proustian moment.
If you dine
All the restaurants accept major credit cards. Prices are based on a meal for two, with a moderately priced bottle of wine, and include the service charge that is taken into account in France.
L'Ecaille has a small nonsmoking section, and Restaurant Gill has a partitioned area that may be used by nonsmokers on request; the other restaurants try to accommodate nonsmokers as best they can.
Restaurant Gill, 9 Quai de la Bourse, (33-2) 126.96.36.199. Lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Sunday lunch mid-October through April. Menus at $36 (weekdays), $53 and $71, based on 5.53 francs to the United States dollar. About $145.
Les Nympheas, 7-9 Rue de la Pie; (33-2) 188.8.131.52. Lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday, plus Sunday lunch. Menus at $30, $35, $45 and $69. About $108.
L'Ecaille, 26 Rampe Cauchoise, (33-2) 184.108.40.206. Lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Sunday lunch from mid-September to June. Menus at $26 (weekdays) and $46; an all-lobster menu at $87. About $118.
Le Beffroy, 15 Rue Beffroy, (33-2) 220.127.116.11. Lunch daily; dinner Monday and Wednesday through Saturday. Menus at $18, $36 and $50. About $100.
Auberge de la Butte, 69 Route de Paris, Bonsecours, (33-2) 18.104.22.168. Lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Menus at $36 (lunch, weekdays), $45 and $61. About $130. Cab fare to and from Rouen, about $23 with tip.
Le P'tit Zinc, 20 Place du Vieux-Marche, (33-2) 22.214.171.124. Lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. $72.
Le Bistrot de Panurge, 91 Rue Ecuyere, (33-2) 35.15.97.02. Lunch Monday through Friday, dinner Monday through Saturday. Menus at $15 (lunch); $21 and $26. Dinner for two, $63. J. F.
JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH is the author of ''A Wine and Food Guide to the Loire'' (Holt).
July 14, 2002
CHOICE TABLES; In Lisbon, Finding Big Flavors in Small Places
By JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH
PORTUGAL excels in deliciously rustic, straightforward cooking. Not surprisingly, then, on an April trip to Lisbon, two friends and I had our best meals in small, unpretentious restaurants. Our only disappointments were in the deluxe category. Casa da Comida, for example, may be one of the most highly regarded and expensive restaurants in Lisbon. I found the prices high, the cooking banal and fussy.
And although Bica do Sapato, perhaps the trendiest eatery in Lisbon -- it's co-owned by the actor John Malkovich -- has a lot going for it, starting with a gorgeous setting on the Tagus River, the cooking was overwrought and the service irritatingly inept. So, with the exception of Portugal's ever-improving wines and legendary ports, keep it simple and you're likely to be delighted.
Portugal, after all, is a land of a thousand cod dishes and stick-to-the ribs soups based on bread or kale and potatoes (caldo verde). Simply grilled fish and meat are prominent on almost every menu, as are popular dishes such as stuffed crab, rice with monkfish or shrimp or duck, roast suckling pig, feijoada (a rich stew of beans, pork and sausage) and amêijoas (clams) bulhao pato style. Named after a 19th-century poet, the dish is made of clams cooked in white wine, garlic and cilantro, an herb that plays a leading role in national cookery, and which, along with piri-piri (a spicy sauce based on hot red chili peppers), is a legacy of Portugal's former African colonies.
Desserts, which often originated in convents or monasteries, rely heavily on eggs, perhaps none more than the toucinho do ceu, or heaven's lard. A flaming yellow confection of egg yolks and sugar, it is kept moist in a sugar syrup. A little goes a long way. To my mind, the best dessert in Portugal is the pastel de nata, a fabulous individual custard tart. And the best place to sample it is the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, a sprawling pastry shop and cafe down the street from the Mosteiro (Monastery) dos Jerónimos.
Finally, there may be no better place for an aperitif than the Solar do Vinho do Porto just opposite the elevador (funicular) stop for Bairro Alto, the oldest quarter of the city, known for its night life. Run by the Port Wine Institute, it's a dimly lighted salon where you sit in armchairs and order glasses of 20-year-old tawny port from Fonseca and Taylor Fladgate ($4.99 each), to name just two. It's very civilized and a great way to savor Lisbon.
Tasquinha de Adelaide
We loved everything about this place. Adelaide Miranda receives people in her small storefront as if she were welcoming them into her home. There are only 24 seats; the kitchen is an open alcove in the center of a room brightened, on this day, by a huge bouquet of azaleas; a breakfront lined with cakes and tarts; and walls decorated with porcelain plates.
We were the only foreigners, but we quickly felt like family when our young waiter eagerly tried out his English and French on us. We settled on French as the language of the evening after he said, ''I'm on lesson four, 'À Table.' '' What followed were such heartfelt recommendations for certain dishes that we'd have felt like cads not to have heeded them.
And so it was that we ate extremely well, starting with a hearty vegetable soup with a rich potato and chicken stock base; a rectangle of crunchy brick pastry stuffed with molten herbed goat cheese; and crisp samosalike triangles with delectably seasoned meat stuffings called chamuças.
Main courses are served home style, in stove-to-table terra-cotta plates. We had been strongly advised to order the lamb for two, and it elicited the following reactions:
Michel: It melts in the mouth.
Guilhem: It's so good I've got goosebumps.
Me: Eat your heart out, L'Ami Louis.
A sumptuous chocolate cake came with a layer of chocolate mousse and a crackly film of meringue, and there was tart tatin. ''Yes, it's French,'' acknowledged our waiter, ''but it's made in this house.'' And an honorable rendition it was. The wine list, with no vintages and not many winery names, is not very helpful. But we were certainly happy with our 1997 Dão, Castas de Santar, Touriga Nacional, $29, a rich red.
Nariz do Vinho Tinto
Nariz do Vinho Tinto translates as Red Wine Nose, droll but appropriate. José Matos Cristovão, the owner, is also the editor of the Portuguese edition of Epicur, a Spanish food magazine, and his wine list is serious business. There is an entire page, single-spaced, of reds from the Alentejo region. We ordered the '97 Quinto do Crasto Reserva, a suave red from the Douro region -- at $50 it was the most expensive wine we drank in Lisbon but hardly the priciest on this list.
In the swank Lapa neighborhood, the restaurant has two small, spare dining rooms beyond a narrow entry crammed with cookbooks, olive oils and oversized wine bottles. Our table had been set with nibbles -- black olives, bread, pungent Serra cheese, and thin slices of pata negra ham, the incomparable meat of the free-ranging, black hoofed pig -- so we passed on additional appetizers. Every item on the menu tempted, and we weren't disappointed.
Cod roasted with ham fat and served with sautéed onions may have been the cleanest, tastiest version of that fish I've ever had. What was listed as ''game sausage'' turned out to be an excellent rendition of the omnipresent alheira sausage. Evidently handmade, it was deeply smoky, its skin crackly, its filling delicious. Chunks of pata negra ham were roasted and doused with piri-piri sauce. Such excellent ham deserved more thoughtful treatment, but it was toothsome and came with super green turnip tops.
Service turned out to be the only drawback to our meal. Not only did our waiter get orders wrong -- we were communicating through hand signals -- and forget things (like the Madeira that was supposed to be drizzled on fresh melon) but we surely missed out on some of Mr. Cristovão's treasures, not to mention daily specials.
This was not just unfortunate, it was unnecessary. Mr. Cristovão speaks more than adequate French, as we realized at the end of our meal when he came over to congratulate us on our choice of wine. Still, we agreed that this would be one of the first restaurants we'd come back to on a return trip to Lisbon.
Açorda is a Portuguese bread soup, blended with coriander, garlic olive oil, egg and whatever other ingredients the cook wants to add. That it is the signature dish of this emphatically stylish Bairro Alto restaurant is telling: there is a kind of friendly schizophrenia about Pap' Açorda that works. The rooms are minimalist chic -- decorated with little else but three huge Murano chandeliers. The customers are fashionable, many of them air-kissing regulars, and the waiters are young and fashionable, too. This urban atmosphere is combined with down-home cooking.
The owner, José Miranda, a flamboyant presence in black painter's smock, likes to say that the dishes and their ingredients -- the eggs, the vegetables, and so forth -- are ''from the farm.'' Which farm? Who knows? Nevertheless, everything was very, very good, starting with an assertive rendition of clams bulhao pato style.
Shrimp cakes, an upscale reworking of a cod recipe, were satisfying in their eggy breading, though they might have benefited from a dipping sauce (however untraditional). And that universal alheira sausage was mighty tasty.
All of our main courses were excellent, and each came with its own variation on the theme of açorda. (Açorda is available on its own, but you'l
On Scansano's Hillsides,
Vines Now Vie With Sheep
By JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH
January 31, 2002 10:10 p.m.
We sometimes come to like new wines in curious ways. Morellino di Scansano, for example, excited my interest when I was entertaining Italian friends on my home turf in the Loire Valley very far in miles and vinous spirit from Morellino di Scansano's home between Rome and Siena. I had taken my friends to the wine cellars of Bernard Baudry, one of my favorite producers of our local wine, Chinon, which, in Mr. Baudry's hands, is a coolly elegant, highly defined red with luscious flavors of black cherries and raspberries. But they found it confusing, discussing it among themselves in an effort to locate a point of reference. Finally Franco settled on Morellino di Scansano, a wine about which I knew nothing, except that it came from Tuscany and that, for want of something more judicious to say, unimaginative critics often referred to it as the poor man's Brunello di Montalcino.
Several months later I took advantage of a trip to Siena to find out more about the wine, making an appointment with Elisabetta Geppetti of Le Pupille. She is the person responsible, along with Erik Banti, another visonary producer, for bringing Morellino di Scansano to public attention.
"In 1978, when Morellino di Scansano got its DOC [denominazione d'origine controllata], there was very little of it. Maybe 100 to 150 hectares," said Mrs. Geppetti, a 36-year old Catherine Deneuve look-alike, after picking me up at the train station of Grosseto, a drab industrial town at the southern bounds of Tuscany, not far from Le Pupille. "The main activity around here was raising sheep for pecorino cheese production. As recently as the end of the 1980s, Morellino was a hard sell. People thought this part of Tuscany wasn't good for wine. But by the beginning of the '90s things started changing -- for me and the region. Today there are 2,000 hectares within the appellation, and every bit of it is planted. There are 35 producers. At Le Pupille we started with nine hectares of vines. Now we have 65, 45 of which are devoted to making Morellino di Scansano."
The wine is made on a strip of well-exposed hillsides in Grosseto province, in and around the commune of Scansano. Sangiovese, locally called morellino, is the principal grape. It may be used exclusively or blended with up to 15% of a number of other red grapes, including alicante (grenache), cabernet, merlot and syrah. "Our Morellino is a modern wine -- fruity, warm. It's a wine for young people, a California-style wine," said Mrs. Geppetti, as we walked through her spotless cellars.
These are usually words that make the traditionalist in me cringe. But the proof is in the tasting, and Le Pupille's 2000 Morellino di Scansano, with its bright cherry aromas, lissome structure and brilliantly fresh fruit flavors, while easy to love, also expressed the site-specificity that makes for a unique rather than a generic "New World" wine. In other words, here was an extremely pretty wine that would charm all levels of wine lovers.
Like many of her counterparts in other Tuscan zones, however, Ms. Geppetti made her mark not with her ancestral Morellino di Scansano but with an iconoclastic blend called Saffreddi -- a wine singled out by Robert Parker in the Wine Advocate. A blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and alicante, Saffreddi is not entitled to the Morellino di Scansano DOC. Until the Maremma Toscana Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) appellation (a step down from DOC, or the equivalent of France's Vin de Pays) was created in 1995, Saffreddi was sold as a lowly vino di tavola (table wine). At roughly $90 a bottle, however, it is Le Pupille's most expensive wine, and well within the category of high-priced, hand-crafted, unconventional wines called Supertuscans, of which the Bordeaux-like blend Sassicaia is one of the most famous examples.
Indeed, it's the concentration of Supertuscans that seems to have made the Maremma the hottest wine-growing spot in Italy. A formerly boggy coastal region of Tuscany, whose southern boundary consists of the Morellino di Scansano zone, the area is best known for its fierce, all-white sheep guard dogs -- and also for horses, which locals call morello, leading some to believe the wine was named for them.
New wine denominaziones seem to be created here every growing season -- the last being Ansonica Costa dell'Argentario, a white wine made from the Ansonica grape. The price of grapes has multiplied by five. Investments are pouring in, largely from top producers in Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino, such as Cecchi, the Mazzeis of Fonterutoli and Jacopo Biondi-Santi, though Napa's Robert Mondavi and Piedmont's Angelo Gaja are also said to have bought land in the area. And producers like Mrs. Geppetti are making the most of what they've got.
Le Pupille's new cellars, with temperature-controlled, stainless-steel tanks and new French oak casks, were completed for the 2001 harvest. Its product line has expanded to include Micante, a sangiovese-cabernet blend and a dry and sweet white, both blends of sauvignon blanc, semillon and gewürtztraminer. All are sold as IGT Maremma Toscana.
Predictably, I prefer the time-honored Morellinos to the wines made with an eye to New World modes and markets. All of Le Pupille's wines are characterized by their elegance as well as a fineness of grain and clarity of expression. And the '99 Saffreddi impressed me with its generosity and power. Nevertheless, I preferred Ms. Geppetti's top-of-the line Morellino di Scansano, from the single vineyard Poggio Valente, which, at $40, costs less than half the price of the Supertuscan. The '99, pure sangiovese, aged in new French barrels, was fragrant and firm, with a jewel-like precision. Gorgeous and distinctive, it was like no other wine in the world. But it did, indeed, remind me of a great Chinon.
September 12, 2004
Menus That Look Beyond Dutch Borders: Amsterdam
By JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH
LIKE many travelers, I could sum up my image of the Dutch culinary scene in one word: rijsttafel, the multidish Indonesian rice table. Thus, on a recent visit to Amsterdam with my buddy Joyce, I expected that we'd have our share. Not so. Our Dutch friends prefer The Hague for rijsttafel and steered us instead toward traditional French.
There is plenty of that in Amsterdam, including a half dozen restaurants with Michelin stars. Regrettably, our only Michelin experience, the two-star Vermeer, was disappointing. Our clear favorites fell into one of three categories: country or bistro French, Asian-inspired fusion and what I think of as personalized cooking based on solid technique. The freewheeling creativity of Amsterdam's best chefs reminded me of America: with no deeply rooted culinary traditions of their own, they borrow liberally from France, Italy, Indonesia, Thailand and Japan. I felt pretty much at home.
Dutch dining hours, however, surprised me. Restaurants begin dinner service as early as 6 p.m., and, with the exception of hotel restaurants, few of the ambitious places are open for lunch. When noon rolls around, the best options for a light meal are the terrific fresh herring sold at stands around town; bitterballen (essentially fried meatballs) and beer with a chaser of genever (think local gin) in one of the city's traditional brown cafes, like Hoppe or De Reiger; or a club sandwich at one of the casual lunch spots, such as Lust and Singel 404.
Most menus are printed in English as well as Dutch; if not, there is usually a staff member who can translate. Wine lists tend to be global and overpriced. We found service universally attentive and friendly.
Perhaps Amsterdam's leading exponent of personalized cooking, John Halvemaan is a resolute man who refuses to be listed in the Michelin. His restaurant, in a pleasant park on the outskirts of the city, is shaped like a half moon (Halvemaan means half moon). The spacious second-floor dining room looks out over the park. It is comfortably contemporary, with local art on display and potted orchids on each table.
A warm washcloth is the first thing offered. Then comes an amuse-bouche - smoked salmon on guacamole cream, served in an elaborate silver spoon with amuse spelled out in its bowl. And you'd have to be quite a grouch not to enjoy Mr. Halvemaan's reinterpretation of the classic Burgundian oeufs en meurette - a large poached egg covered by foie gras, sitting on a rich gravy flavored by shallots, wine and bacon. His Beemster cheese appetizer was absurdly simple though equally tasty - a pile of rough shavings of flavorful aged-cheese-covered sliced potatoes, the whole scented with truffle oil.
Normally I'm a lobster purist, accepting nothing more than drawn butter, but Mr. Halvemaan won me over to his lobster and curry with a perfectly cooked crustacean whose buttery sweetness was not masked by its delicate coconut-curry sauce. In addition to wonderful fresh spinach, the dish came with a bowl of crispy noodles mixed with paletta ham, tiny Dutch shrimp, coriander and shallots. It recalled Indonesian bami, and was so toothsome it could have been served on its own.
Desserts were delicious and as comforting as a down quilt. The bread and butter pudding was, essentially, French toast, but the bread seemed to have been poached in butter, then glazed with apricot jam until caramelized. Then there was an airy mini éclair filled with tart lemon cream, and caramel-cinnamon ice cream. Heaven.
From a typically overpriced wine list, I chose a 2002 Grüner Veltliner Steinhaus, Summerer, at a reasonable $33.75. An Austrian white, it was floral, mineral and ever so slightly off-dry.
The rapidly gentrifying Jordaan neighborhood is often compared to SoHo or the Lower East Side. And one of its most popular spots for seeing and being seen is this casual, engaging and extremely noisy restaurant. The loftlike space looks as if it has been fitted out for a party, with crayon-colored letters spelling out the restaurant's name on the windowed facade, and wavy wall partitions painted a bright green inside.
With the exception of the typically Dutch salt-cod fritters I ordered as an appetizer, the cooking at Bordewijk is essentially of the hearty French variety, full-flavored and forthright. Irish beef roasted on sea salt was served with a scrumptious béarnaise sauce. The best of the main courses, however, was duck from Challans, a town in the Vendée region of France. First came slices of meaty, perfectly cooked duck breast on a bed of crispy butter-drenched cabbage and sautéed potatoes; then came a succulent confit of the leg, as good as that French country classic ever gets.
Desserts included a commendable crème brûlée, lovely French toast made from Frisian sweet bread and spiked with a rum cream that recalled eggnog, and a refreshing salad of blood oranges with very good stracciatella (chocolate chip ice cream).
Bordewijk also has the best and best-priced wine list I came across. We reveled in a regal '99 Riesling Beblenheim from Marcel Deiss, $43.75, and the '99 Côtes de Nuits Villages, Les Vignottes from Confuron, $53, a truly lovely Burgundy.
The British designer Anouska Hempel made quite a splash in 1999 when she took over an ancient hospice and turned it into a stylish boutique hotel. The handsome dining room, in the hospice's former bakery, continues the black-and-white scheme and makes use of the original brick walls and iron ovens. With large mirrors at both ends and an entire wall looking out on an enclosed courtyard, the room seems larger than it is. And everything from the slate slab for butter to the porcelain cachepots used as candleholders is a design statement.
While the kitchen serves what it calls traditional Thai, Japanese and French dishes, aside from a nod or two to Italy the prevailing influence seems to be pan-Asian. It's all very good, fresh and fashionable.
Unlike dinner, which is à la carte, lunch at Blakes is structured around the four-compartment bento box. We tried two of the three versions offered. In each, the soups were stupendous: the pea-green wasabi soup had vivid flavors of coconut and horseradish, and the prawn dumplings were succulence itself; the artichoke and truffle soup was a heavenly transformation of very earthy things. The best of the rest included seared tuna sushi, asparagus with a tasty wasabi-spiked hollandaise, wok-tossed soft-shelled crab topped with shaved scallions, and slices of honey-glazed duck on a slaw of mint, coriander, scallion and cucumber.
Dessert, too, is presented in bento form. Of four pretty confections, my favorites were the refreshing apple cardamom sorbet and the chocolate comma, a swirl of dark chocolate encasing suave chocolate mousse. On the overpriced wine list, the light, fresh 2002 pinot grigio from Alois Lageder, $44, was a relative bargain.
Jean Beddington, the chef and owner, had a devoted local following before taking a couple of years off for knee surgery. She resurfaced on the Amsterdam culinary scene last November with this sleek little restaurant, which looks like Blakes on an Ikea budget: all black and white, with minimalist flower arrangements and comfortable charcoal gray banquettes.
Ms. Beddington's cooking, like Mr. Halvemaan's, is zesty and distinctly personal. The menu (in Dutch only) is brief: five starters, four main courses. Everything is prepared in an open kitchen, so that the sizzles and smells are very much part of the perceptibly food-loving ambience.
Not everything works. A rösti of zucchini and pistachio served as garnish to a main course, for example, and a dessert of green tea crème brûlée were better on paper than on the plate. But most of what comes out of the kitchen is a sheer pleasure to eat. I loved her appetizer of spicy lamb meatballs covered with slivered carrots and served in a bowl-shaped papadum, and grilled veal tongue on a bed of lentils dressed with a tangy caper sauce.
Guinea hen was irreproachable but less than scintillating. It was scattered with pomegranate seeds - a nice touch - and served with rösti and a scrumptious Chinese-style ravioli filled with sautéed liver. Pike-perch wrapped in pancetta on a bed of mashed potatoes mixed with watercress was accompanied by a zingy mustard-accented sauce - a compelling combination of flavors and textures.
Rhubarb crumble was a lovely dessert with its gravy boat of thick crème anglaise and scoop of praline and black pepper ice cream. From a short wine list, we were more than happy with the 2001 Carmenere Reserve Santa Inés, Legado de Armida, a warm Chilean red ($35).
My guess is that this is the kind of restaurant most people want to eat in most of the time. No culinary fireworks, no orchestrated presentations, just really nice food, a relaxing but vibrant setting, and some of the most welcoming service I've seen.
We arrived at 9:30 on a Saturday night without a reservation. Because of a rebellious stomach, I'd canceled reservations made at another restaurant across town and thought we'd find something near our hotel. Out of scores of possibilities, this was the only place that tempted by its brief but attractive menu, its clean, contemporary setting in a long room with a canal out front, a courtyard and an extravagance of tulips from the flower market nearby.
The place was full and buzzing. The owner, Gijsbert Bianchi, who radiates an infectious joie de vivre, said a table might open up in a half hour. When we returned, it was almost ready and he offered us a glass of Champagne on the house at the service bar: Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs. I'll wait for a table here anytime. Once seated we immediately received a basket of green olive bread and a bowl of mild hummus. Later there would be a tasty ceviche as an amuse-bouche and a refreshing mango parfait as a predessert.
I wanted homey food, and that's what I got, starting with robust onion soup; then nicely braised rabbit with diced pumpkin and mashed potatoes, followed by a fudgy Valrhona brownie with mascarpone ice cream. Joyce's meal was every bit as satisfying - delicately marinated swordfish, nicely seasoned and dressed with deep-fried onions and capers; tender lamb shanks with baby corn and steamed potatoes; and to finish, a slab of Port-spiked Stilton, scooped from the belly of the huge cheese.
Although pricier than the one at Bordewijk, the restaurant's wine list is less expensive and more tempting than most. We happily polished off a 2000 Hautes Côtes de Nuits "Dames Huguettes," a suave Burgundy from Marc Rougeot for $49.40.
Estimated prices are based on a meal for two, with wine. All of the restaurants accept major credit cards. All allow smoking.
Halvemaan, 320 Van Leijenberghlaan; (31-20) 644-0348, fax (31-20) 644-1777. Lunch and dinner, Monday to Friday. Prix fixe menus: $40 and $46.25 (lunch); $75, $85 and $94 (dinner). Meal for two: about $225.
Bordewijk, 7 Noordermarkt; (31-20) 624-3899, fax (31-20) 420-6603. Dinner only. Closed Monday. Menus at $46.25, $56.25, $61.25. About $200.
Blakes, 384 Keizersgracht; (31-20) 530-2010, fax (31-20) 530-2030. Lunch and dinner Monday to Friday; dinner Saturday; brunch and tea Sunday. Bento lunch, $35; dessert bento, $15. About $225 (for lunch).
Beddington's, 141 Utrechtsedwarsstraat; (31-20) 620-7393, fax (31-20) 620-0190. Dinner only. Closed Sunday and Monday. Menus at $53 and $60. About $190.
Zuid Zeeland, 413 Herengracht; (31-20) 624-3154, fax (31-20) 428-3171. Dinner daily. Closed for lunch on Saturday and Sunday. Menus at $37 and $43. About $140.
JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH, who lives in Paris, is writing a guide to French wines.
CHOICE TABLES; In Salzburg, Light As a Feather
By JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH
Published: July 25, 2004
Note that there is an additional restaurant here. It was to have been published as a sidebar but there was no room!
HAS the term nouvelle disappeared from our culinary vocabulary? This is a question I asked myself in between some surprisingly fine meals on a trip to Salzburg in April. I found myself describing meals as ''nouvelle Austrian,'' wondering at the same time if anyone used that expression anymore, if the concept hadn't died sometime in the 80's.
These questions never came to mind during an eating trip to Vienna several years ago. There, the food at fine restaurants was resolutely French, even when cooked by Austrian chefs. And Austrian food was generally heavy, even in the hands of creative cooks.
In Salzburg, however, I found much of the cooking exciting and elegant. Using the staple foods of the country such as game, freshwater fish, seasonal fruits and vegetables -- white asparagus was in season while I was there -- local chefs created streamlined versions of traditional dishes, making even stick-to-the-ribs dumplings seem almost ethereal.
I should note that my friend Joyce and I didn't eat in the touristic center of Salzburg but, for the most part, in residential and day-to-day business-oriented neighborhoods. Based on our experience, Salzburg has more to boast about than its music festivals -- the most prestigious, the Salzburg Festival, runs July 24 to Aug. 31; its restaurants provide year-round delights for food lovers.
A number of Austria's best restaurants are in the hilltop villages within a 45-mile radius of Salzburg. Obauer is one of them. We took a late-morning train ride from the city one Sunday, then walked a short way from the Werfen station to a main street lined with pretty two- and three-story shops and guest houses. Obauer was already filled with residents who had settled in for a long lunch.
With a garden in back and windows looking out to the mountains and an ancient fortress, Obauer is a comfortable place, effortlessly joining the old (beamed ceilings and stone walls) with the new (an unusual but appealing color scheme of terra cotta and lavender, for example). Sustenance arrives immediately: little pots of butter and chicken liver mousse; a platter of canapés, including a slice of delicious dried sausage that seemed like a ritzy beef jerky, a terrine of venison, pickled quail's eggs and a fabulous ham made from venison.
Now this is where I started thinking nouvelle Austrian. Take, for instance, an appetizer shaped like one of the tennis-ball-sized dumplings you see in the markets. It was strudel pastry encasing a duxelle of mushrooms, a hash of delicate lake trout, and a forcemeat of that trout, served with a delicate white-wine cream sauce infused with mushroom flavor. Absolutely superb.
Or ravioli stuffed with cheese and caramelized radicchio and scented with Austrian apple-balsamic vinegar. Again superb. Simple elegance reigned where main courses were concerned: fine Werfen lamb with its pan juices, buttery Swiss chard and an onion stuffed with white polenta, for example, or gorgeous leg of herbed venison, topped with smoky wild mushrooms and accompanied by three different compotes (cranberry, Rowan berry and box cedar berry), and a celestial celeriac purée.
Both dishes married perfectly with our '99 Blaufränkisch from Weingut Prieler ($76, at $1.26 to the euro), a cool, streamlined red.
Desserts were the least interesting part of the meal, with the exception of prunes soaked in Banyuls, a Port-like wine, and topped with ganache -- downright decadent. Next time, I'd opt for a glass of 2002 Beerenauslese from Alois Kracher ($11), a honeyed dessert wine clear as a waterfall, and the sweets that come with coffee.
Herbert Schmidhofer is a rising star in Austria's culinary galaxy. Mr. Schmidhofer, who is 30, runs the kitchen of this deluxe little restaurant in Hotel Schloss Mönchstein, a small castle-hotel on the hillside that looms over Salzburg. We went for lunch one beautiful day and, passing through the small jewel box of a dining room with high ceilings and starched white linen, sat outside, on a terrace overlooking the city.
We immediately ordered a lovely, fresh white wine, the 2003 Grüner Veltliner Federspiel-Kreutles from Weingut Knoll ($44), and were thus ideally prepared to savor the stellar meal we were about to have. Mr. Schmidhofer's cooking, which I would define as nouvelle Austrian, is all about finesse, mastery and good sense, starting with ''welcomes'' -- the charming term used instead of amuse-bouche or amuse-gueule -- of a taste of foamy cream of asparagus soup and a bite of smoked salmon over a mousse of white asparagus.
Appetizers were wonderful, and main courses were even better. We started with steamed filet of char, a meaty pink lake fish, which was served with diced steamed potatoes in a cream-based sauce and with scrumptious potato ravioli filled with leeks and chives. Slices of tasty braised calf's tongue had been layered over a lip-smacking purée of potatoes and horseradish, the whole resting on a bed of rosti potatoes.
Most Salzburg restaurants offer at least one vegetarian dish. Mr. Schmidhofer's was brilliant -- white asparagus baked in crepelike phyllo pastry, served on a classic sauce Béarnaise. He poached local lake trout in a court bouillon and served it with homemade egg noodles tossed with a truffle cream sauce. Every element was terrific by itself and extraordinary as an ensemble. I'm still dreaming about it.
A nod to tradition came with his dessert of Salzburger nockerl. Served for two, this soufflé of soufflés could easily feed four. Flavored gently with cranberries, it was sublime, as was the panna cotta ice cream accompanying it. It was easily the best dessert of the entire trip.
Silk screens of Marilyn Monroe and Mick Jagger at the entrance. Uh-oh, I thought, we're in for hipper-than-thou Attitude. Well, not at all. The restaurant, in a freestanding house about a 15-minute walk from the center of town, could not have been more welcoming, though we seemed to be the only nonregulars in the dinner crowd. The two medium-sized wood-paneled rooms with striped grosgrain shades on the windows were as homey as a lodge, and the decibel level spoke of good cheer.
The food was fun, too. It was good, and creative, starting with welcomes of a nugget of fried kid on potato salad and a taste of red pepper mousse with avocado cream.
You can't go wrong with the local freshwater fish, whether it's the light, pan-fried trout on nicely dressed arugula, the whole resting on sublime white asparagus, or excellent grilled pike-perch served with red pepper risotto, and creamy cucumbers topped with crayfish. Earthier options are no less appealing. The sheep's milk tart, really a pizzette, with molten cheese, olives and red and yellow peppers, could not have been more appetizing. Saddle of venison was both gamey and tender. It came with lavender-flavored gnocchi, a mistake in my book, but also with big, fat morels, which were exquisite, particularly with the Port-infused sauce.
Desserts, such as a frozen chocolate and orange terrine, were ambitious but disappointingly bland. But it's fair to say that we steered away from the more daring choices, like asparagus and saffron ice cream. No matter. I'd come back here for the wine list alone. There's so much temptation even in the by-the-glass possibilities. The night we visited, they were pouring a Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel, among other things, and after taking note of our interest, the very considerate waiter gave us a taste. This nicely bridged the gap between a fragrant and mellow 2000 Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Weingarten Alzinger Loibner, $44, and a '99 Blaufranisch Hochberg, H. Igler, $43, a suave red. Yes, we left a bit tipsy.
Literally on the other side of the tracks from the historic center of Salzburg, this engaging restaurant occupies part of the ground floor of a modern high-rise. From the outside, individuality is the last thing you'd expect. But that's exactly what you find. The décor is a cheerful mishmash, combining a small open kitchen situated behind the bar, a half-dozen or so tables, mini-Murano-style chandeliers and shelves of conserves and wine bottles. The bar itself is worth examining. Its underside is a tangle of wrought-iron work as worthy of inspection as a street sculpture; its countertop is crowded with bottles of eau de vie, except for the far end, housing a laptop and a teddy bear.
The caring service is provided by Alexandra Stieglbauer, co-owner, who alternately pampers guests, washes dishes and works at her laptop. The cooking is full-throated and honest.
We arrived on a quiet Saturday night (weekdays are busier) and settled into a large, curved leather banquette. Farmhouse butter and homemade pumpkin-seed bread were put on the table -- a great start. Then came a welcome from the kitchen in the form of a lusty tomato-infused fish soup. I chose another soup as an appetizer, a creamy, foamy broth of spring garlic sprinkled with Parmesan. Then came a juicy rack of kid on a bed of buttery, ultrafresh spinach for me and, for Joyce, an uncommonly tender and flavorful chicken breast accompanied by a delectable asparagus risotto.
Both were just fine with the sturdy red, a 2001 Blaufränkisch Ried Gmärd from Weingut Triebaumer, $36, selected from the good wine list. For dessert we shared mascarpone mousse over strawberries. Served in a small mason jar, it tasted liked whipped triple cream. Delicious.
If you're looking for an old-fashioned beer garden with traditional, back-to-the-source Austrian food, your search ends here, in this sprawling restaurant-cum-brewery. It was raining on the Saturday afternoon when we visited, so we sat inside at one of many long wooden tables, surrounded by families and a group of jolly men who had settled in for a daylong card game. The table was set with a big crock holding knives, forks and paper napkins. There was also a large basket of various types of very good bread, including honest-to-God pretzels, for a minimal extra charge, which seemed to cry out for a glass of the house draft beer. Beer comes in half-liter glasses and the lightest version, which I had, is fresh, malty and good.
You can come for a snack or a full meal, but even the most modest nosh will satisfy a trencherman. Portions are huge. We started with a mixed plate of sausages, roast pork, sliced dumplings, ham, Liptauer cheese flavored with paprika, and gherkins, as well as a preparation that I called Austrian rillettes -- cold lard and cracklings spread on dark bread. Then came a plate-sized slab of deftly breaded Wiener schnitzel with cranberry sauce, salad and potatoes, and small Pinzgauer cheese dumplings. The size of gnocchi, the dumplings were served in their frying pan, and oozed with very tangy cheese.
Delicious as they were, there was enough for four. I got a doggie bag and finished them at home in Paris.
Bill of fare: terrines, duxelles, purées
Most of the restaurants below have menus only in German. Even when there is an English menu, the translation is often misleading; however, there is usually someone in each establishment who can speak English. All accept major credit cards. Estimated prices, at $1.26 to the euro, are based on a meal for two with a bottle of wine. Note that during the Salzburg Festival, some restaurants are open on normal closing days or have extended hours; call for details.
Obauer, 46 Markt, Werfen, (43-646) 852120, fax (43-646) 8521212; www.obauer.com. Closed Monday and Tuesday unless a holiday. The restaurant is about 25 miles from Salzburg. A round-trip cab is about $175. The train costs $15.60 a person round trip. There is regular train service between Salzburg and Werfen, and the trip takes little more than a half hour. Five prix fixe menus from $44 to $91. About $250.
Paris/Lodron, in Hotel Schloss Mönchstein, 26 Mönchsberg Park, (43-662) 848 5550, fax (43-662) 848559; online at www.monchstein.at. Open daily. Lunch menus at $25, $33, $41; dinner, $69 to $74. About $220.
Riedenburg, 31 Neutorstrasse, (43-662) 830815, fax (43-662) 843923; www.riedenburg.at. Five menus from $51.50 to $121. Closed Sunday and Monday and Sept. 1 to 8. About $250.
Culinarium, 2 St. Julien Strasse, (43-662) 878885, fax (43-662) 879188; www.restaurant-culinarium.at. Closed Sunday; dinner only Monday. About $125.
Die Weisse, 10 Rupertgasse, (43-662) 872246, fax (43-662) 872 2464; www.die-weisse.at. Open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 12 a.m. About $65.
You would think that naming a restaurant Ikarus would be tempting the fates. But this very clubby place, which opened at Salzburg’s airport in 2003, seems to have reached a comfortable cruising altitude without burning its wings. Located on the second floor of Hangar 7, a museum for refurbished vintage airplanes, it attracts a business lunch crowd from the city and has a three-week wait for dinner reservations. (Mayday is the risky name of its cocktail lounge, situated just under the ceiling of the hangar and reached by a vertiginous catwalk.)
Much like the “international soloist” policy that drives Salzburg’s music circuit, the concept behind Ikarus is to invite a different star chef every month. At the time I visited in April Dieter Koschina, an Austrian chef with a 2-Michelin-star restaurant, Vila Joya, in Albufeira, Portugal was at the stoves. Our meal, which included a tuna tartar, tomato “jello” and oscietra caviar served in a martini glass, and rabbit stuffed with blood sausage, was as good as the best we had in Salzburg.
In the comings months the following chefs will make star turns: Lea Linster, Le Restaurant, Frisange, Luxembourg (June); Norbert niederkofler, St. Hubertus at the Hotel Rosa Alpina, San Cassiano,Itlay (July); Thomas Kammeier, Hugos and the Intercontinental, Berlin, (August) and Jean-Georges Vongerichten (September).
Curiously, Ikarus has not anticipated transport between restaurant and airport although the distance between the two is just enough to require some form of locomotion, particularly where suitcases are involved. A cab ride, however, costs only 6 euros.
IKARUS/HANGAR-7, Salzburg Airport, 7 Wilhelm-Sparzier Strasse, 0662/2197; firstname.lastname@example.org. Open daily. All cards. About $120 for two, with wine.// Note that you can check the current schedule of chefs at the restaurant's site:www.hangar-7.com.)
JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH is the author of ''A Wine and Food Guide to the Loire'' (Holt).
2001, a Very Good Year for Whites
Eye on Bordeaux
By JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH
May 23, 2002
( This article was written following the tasting of the 2001 vintage 'en primeur.' As it turns out, 2001 was seriously underestimated. The reds, while not as stupendous as 2000 or 2005, are very fine.)
"In August, we never imagined we'd have this level of quality," said Yves Glories, professor at the Faculte d'Oenologie of the University of Bordeaux and a respected observer of the region's wines. Prof. Glories was speaking specifically of the superb 2001 Sauternes and Barsacs, the sweet whites, or vins liquoreux, of Bordeaux.
Justice is at work here. Sauternes and Barsac missed out on the euphoria of the grand 2000 vintage; the millennium year was fair to middling, at best, for the sweets. But in 2001, the vins liquoreux are the clear stars of the vintage, as I and other members of the wine press and trade learned late in March during a week of tastings organized at wineries in the major wine-producing regions of the Bordelais, to give wine professionals an early fix on the vintage. Heavy rainfall the weekend of the 22nd and 23rd of September last year, followed by a beautiful Indian summer -- warm, sunny days, cool nights and steady winds -- favored a uniform outbreak of botrytis, the "noble rot" that shrivels the sauvignon blanc and semillon grapes, concentrating the juice and the sugars.
The very best wines are simply stunning. They have everything going for them -- exquisite balance, power, elegance, creamy texture. They are richly honeyed yet fresh, promising as much complexity as Guerlain's finest perfume. Into this category I'd put Chateaux Rieussec, Suduiraut, Sigalas Rabaud and Clos Haut Peyraguey. Chateau Lafaurie Peyraguey, the color of brushed gold, follows close behind, as do Chateaux Doisy Daene, Guiraud, Nairac, La Tour Blanche, Filhot (with a nose that curiously recalled an off-dry Mosel) and Rabaud Promis. (Traditionally Chateau d'Yquem declines to present its newest vintage at such an early date. One could safely hazard the guess, however, that it will be a monument.) And 2001 was such a exceptional vintage for the nectarlike Sauternes and Barsacs that even less distinguished chateaux made lovely wine.
Examples I'd be happy to sip as an aperitif or pair with a mellow blue cheese include d'Arche, Myrat, Bastor Lamontagne, Caillou, de Malle, Rayne Vigneau, Suau and Lamothe Despujols. (Some of these are also likely to be good bargains.) The successes of 2001 are not limited to the liquoreux; the dry whites from Pessac-Leognan are also excellent, with good acidity, powerful aromas and rich, ripe fruit. Though some tasters found them crisper and drier than usual, I'm pretty confident that the best of these wines will flesh out beautifully with a bit of time. At the top of my list I put an already elegant Chateau Pape Clement, followed by Chateaux Fieuzal and Carbonnieux. I also admired the bracing Chateau Bouscaut as well as Chateaux la Louviere, Malartic-Lagraviere, Larrivet-Haut-Brion and Olivier, all from the Pessac-Leognan appellation.
The reds -- though there are some very lovely ones -- are a decidedly mixed lot. Not only did they have the poor luck to follow the great 2000s, they had a difficult growing season, marked by heavy spring rains that gorged the soils with water, and a cool July, which led to uneven ripening come September, particularly for cabernet sauvignon.
Many wines are marked by a distinct herbaceousness; some also display an astringency due to unripe seed tannins. In the words of Prof. Glories and his colleague, Pascal Ribereau-Gayon, everything depended on vineyard management. Producers who kept yields low by pruning short and by cluster thinning made some very fine Bordeaux -- deeply colored and fragrant, with plush fruit and palate-tickling acidity. Among the tried-and-true, Chateaux Latour, Palmer, Leoville-Barton, Pontet-Canet and Pape Clement made wines of great freshness, breed and elegance. There were some pleasant surprises from established houses: The 2001 Cantenac Brown was the best I've ever tasted from this domaine, and Pichon-Longueville stood out in a flight of Pauillacs. I also liked Chateaux d'Angludet, Brane Cantenac, du Tertre, Talbot and Rausan Segla -- and found a slew of tasty Bordeaux for drinking in the near-term from the Moulis, Medoc and Haut-Medoc appellations, among them Chateaux Chasse Spleen, La Lagune and La Tour de By. These last are likely to be good value in both shops and restaurants.
High-profile newcomers also made impressive wines. The 2001 Chateau Valandraud, a Saint-Emilion, and the 2001 Marojallia, a Margaux, were very sensual wines with intense fruit and sweet spice flavors. Ditto for the deep purple St. Emilions from Chateau Faugeres. And there were some nice surprises. The 2001 Chateau la Girolate, for example, was the début wine from a young winery in the very broad, usually very boring Bordeaux appellation. The product of extremely low yields (about a ton per acre, compared with five to six tons per acre in the broad Bordeaux appelation) and a highly unusual (for a red wine) fermentation in barrel, la Girolate tasted like a liqueur made of merlot. This is too much concentration for my tastes, but the seriousness of the work behind the wine puts la Girolate firmly on my "to follow" list for future vintages -- no matter how good or bad the growing season.
September 12, 1999
CHOICE TABLES; Barcelona Brings Flair to Its Classics
By JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH
A TRIP to La Boqueria market is proof, if proof is needed, that Barcelona is a great eating city. As 10 years had elapsed since my last visit, I decided my restaurant list needed updating before a return trip this May. So I called half a dozen knowledgeable friends and got enough recommendations to keep me eating for a month.
Catalonian food was what interested me most. The idea of a trip to Barcelona gets my taste buds humming with the promise of great shellfish, salt cod, lamb, wild mushrooms and traditional preparations like pa amb tomaquet (bread rubbed with garlic and tomato, then sprinkled with olive oil), escalivada (grilled or roasted eggplant, peppers, onions) and allioli (an emulsion of olive oil and garlic, often including egg).
I was also eager to catch up on what was happening with Spanish wine. I had been hearing a lot about the tiny appellation of Priorat in Catalonia that recently burst onto the wine scene with stunning reds made from a mix of grapes including garnacha (grenache), cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah. I drank Priorat as often as possible.
My companion and I observed Spain's notoriously late dining hours, never reserving earlier than 9:30 P.M. -- and found the restaurants in full swing when we arrived.
Menus, by the way, are often written in Spanish and Catalan. We never had trouble getting information or making ourselves understood, however. This was, perhaps, because service, almost across the board, was kindness, warmth and good cheer personified.
Recommended more highly, by more people, than any other Barcelona restaurant, Ca L'Isidre wears its elegance lightly. Its long dining room, with burnished wood, tasteful flower arrangements and cream-colored walls, feels casual despite the liveried doorman and white-coated waiters who recite the menu in perfect English. When we arrived at 10 P.M. the tables were full and the restaurant was out of a number of dishes that tempted us -- sliced potatoes, for example, with truffles and shrimp in Chardonnay vinegar.
We consoled ourselves with frito a la Andaluza, tiny fish that had been delicately breaded and expertly fried, and the season's first tomatoes layered with sea bass, capers, onions and red and green peppers. The only problem with the piquant and appetizing latter dish was that it too closely resembled an otherwise delightful main course of tuna, grilled to specifications (rare), topped with diced green and red pepper, onions, capers and chervil. Our waiter maintained that people come to Ca L'Isidre for the shoulder of kid roasted with sweet onions. That's probably true. I can't recall when I've had better. And our wine, a '96 Priorat from Clos Mogador ($40) showed it off beautifully. A sensational red, perfumed and deep, it was one of many jewels on Ca L'Isidre's excellent list.
Almost everyone around us ordered the huevos con chocolate fondant y sabayon de rum for dessert. We followed suit. This is a tasty trompe l'oeil, presented in an egg shell, in which the sabayon sauce looks exactly like egg yolk. You spoon the chocolate up from the bottom. It's as thick and rich as Spanish cocoa. A wonderful combination with the velvet-smooth sabayon.
Nuria Girones, the daughter of the owner, Isidre Girones, is in charge of desserts. She worked for the French chef Alain Ducasse and, from that experience, offers a terrific bitter chocolate pastel: bitter chocolate glaze covering a creamy mousse, on a perfect pastry crust, surrounded by creme anglaise.
If I had time for only one meal in Barcelona, it would be at Cal Pep, on a counter stool facing the cooks who deep fry and pan fry with split-second timing, all the while maintaining a constant stream of schmooze with customers and keeping up with orders via walkie-talkies and news-anchor-type microphones attached to their lapels.
Cal Pep, a sliver of a restaurant, is situated on a small square not far from the Picasso Museum. Get there the minute it opens. And don't be dismayed if you arrive early and it's locked up tight. We arrived at 1:20 P.M. on a Saturday and there was no sign of life. At precisely 1:30 the gates were rolled up and by 1:40 every one of the 20 seats at the counter was filled. (There is a tiny dining room in back but the action's up front.) It's noisy, it's hectic, and with our limited Spanish we worried about making ourselves understood. No problem. Arm gestures sufficed.
Our meal started with glasses of savory Lustau Fino Jarana sherry to accompany pa amb tomaquet. Soon a plate of tiny fried artichokes appeared, looking unbelievably good: the sheer coating of flour glistened and was so light that nothing but the pure flavor of artichokes came through. The same treatment was given to a mixed fry of teeny shrimp, calamari and mini-sardines. Superb. Then came tiny clams in a broth seasoned with jabugo ham, hot red pepper and parsley. Sublime.
Up to that point we had been treated very well. Then I spied an enticing bottle of wine on a shelf and, rather than continue by the glass, ordered it. It was a '95 Rioja Remelluri ($16), a warm, spicy red, and after that we were downright cosseted -- by every counterman, by Pep himself, who brought us more food -- including fideus, broken vermicelli-type noodles infused with the flavor of fish broth in which they cooked, interspersed with morsels of fish and served with ramekins of unctuous allioli.
Our meal ended with Cal Pep's cold, foamy crema catalana and shots of Spanish grappa -- which sent us reeling out into the sunshine ready for a siesta.
Barceloneta, between the harbor and the sea, was the traditional home of fishermen. Municipal projects -- the Vila Olimpica, for example -- have made it more mainstream but it's still a raffish neighborhood with a wealth of casual seafood restaurants. Many are tourist traps but there are more than a few gems.
We quickly fell in love with Can Sole. With the barrels of wine on shelves above the bar; with the no-nonsense kitchen, a frenzy of clanging pans and shooting flames; with the 8 x 10 glossies on the wall of celebrity clients like a young George Chakiris from his ''West Side Story'' days and the Mexican singer Sarita Montiel; with the kindly service; and above all with the food.
Sweet almejas, tiny clams, were grilled not a millisecond too long. They disappeared in a flash. Sauteed langoustines were buttery and delicate, good sloppy eating. Bacalao al serallo, easily shared by two, was so delicious it turned my reluctant companion into a salt cod convert. Divided into two rolls, the baked cod came with melt-in-the-mouth potatoes and an allioli sauce so fragrant it practically lifted me out of my seat. Rarely has so much garlic been put to such good use.
A '98 Tinell Blanc de Blancs ($7.85), a floral white from the Penedes region, was a perfect lunch wine. And the desserts -- praline ice cream packed with nuts and nut brittle, and a flanlike orange pudding spiked with orange liqueur -- made a supremely satisfying end to our meal.
Despite its location in an unfashionable neighborhood not far from the Barcelona-Sants train station, La Parra is like a trip to the country. One Sunday we took the metro to the Hostafrancs stop (the best way to get there), then walked a block or two before settling ourselves in the restaurant's small courtyard, under a grape arbor.
An 180-year old former coach house, La Parra lives around its chimney. Everything, or just about, is cooked over wood coals. Walk in the first of two rustic dining rooms and there are platters of meats on display as well as bowls of wild mushrooms (boletes, pleurottes), tomatoes, eggplant -- appetite whetting indeed.
Pa amb tomaquet appears immediately. Here, you make your own. And I've never had better. Your waiter delivers the fixings and instructs you to rub the slices of toasted country bread, first with the garlic, next the tomato and then to drizzle on the olive oil. He watches, smiling helpfully, until he's sure you've got it right.
La Parra is said to have the best escalivada in Barcelona but we were tempted by other things, beginning with pencil-thin green asparagus stalks that were split in half, grilled and served with a romesco sauce (a mildly spicy blend of almonds, hazelnuts, red pepper and tomato). Utterly delicious. Next came a spectacular mix of sauteed wild mushrooms beautifully seasoned with sweet onions and garlic.
Lamb, ordered by the quarter kilo, a little over half a pound, is a meat lover's delight. It's expertly grilled and served with potatoes baked in the chimney and the most authentic of alliolis -- minus the egg. A '95 Ribera del Duero Reserva Federico ($31), a warm, dark red with rich fruit, was an excellent companion.
For dessert, the crema catalana, seasoned with lemon peel, was the best creme brulee I've ever had.
The lunch menu at this stylish year-old restaurant must be the best deal in town. For roughly $10 you get three courses plus an amuse-bouche, a glass of wine and bottled water. When we visited, the menu included a soothing appetizer of scrambled eggs with wild mushrooms and spring garlic followed by chunks of veal (slightly tough) cooked on brochettes with cherry tomatoes and sweet peppers, accompanied by a deeply flavored marmalade of onions. For dessert there was silken orange ice cream studded with slivers of candied orange.
Pou Dolc, near the popular Placa Real, is affiliated with a cooking school of the same name. Its loftlike room in which everything -- chairs, sugar bowls and arched brick ceilings -- seems to have been conceived by an architect (not unheard of in this design-mad city) draws a smart crowd of artists, gallery owners and more buttoned-up types who might be their bankers.
Most order the menu but there are attractive options a la carte. Onion fritters revealed a deft hand at the deep fryer. Though I found its liquid filling bland, my companion deemed the whole sensational. Spinach with almonds, pine nuts, raisins, figs and dried apricots is a traditional Catalonian dish. Here, it's a pleasant appetizer that serves as a light lunch. Macedoine of fruit including diced apple, banana and tiny strawberries, fraises des bois, was served inside a cylindrical orange tuile cookie and garnished with tangy yogurt ice cream. A fresh and lovely dessert.
The short wine list doesn't note vintages but has some good selections. A '95 Pesquera Reserva del Duero, Bodegas Alejandro Fernandez ($21) was a supple red with delicious cranberry flavors. The service could not have been more welcoming.
La Vinya del Senyor
Here's an address for wine lovers. On a pleasant square dominated by the grand Gothic church Santa Maria del Mar, La Vinya del Senyor has an awe-inspiring wine list, encompassing 13 Priorats, 31 Riojas and 14 vintages of Spain's legendary Vega Sicilia. Twenty interesting selections are offered by the glass, such as a hearty '94 Jane Ventura Cabernet Sauvignon, or the subtler '96 Priorat Clos Martinet. There are tapas such as anchovies or cheeses to go with the wines but we were delighted with a simple dish -- soft walnut rolls drizzled with olive oil -- which proved a perfect prelude to lunch.
Barcelona has seven Michelin-starred restaurants. I decided to limit myself to one in order to get beyond the obvious choices. It turned out to be Neichel, with two Michelin stars. I knew that Jean-Louis Neichel was from Alsace, which worried me, as I live in France and didn't want to eat French food in Barcelona. I'd read, however, that Neichel's classic French cooking had been transformed by the influence of Catalonia. But the reblochon, an Alpine classic, on the cheese trolley near the entry gave the game away. Neichel is unreconstructed French.
On the ground floor of a modern apartment building in a swanky neighborhood far from the historic center of town, Neichel would be right at home in Dijon. The all-gray decor is plush. The servers are many, and they are well behaved but regimented. Gallic ceremony doesn't sit easily here: their timing is off.
And although Neichel uses local ingredients -- filets of Emporda ostrich, say, and Palamos prawns -- the flavors are French. The prawns, for example, came in a mesclun salad with lentils, artichoke hearts, string beans, capers and julienned curls of beet. Very nice and very French. Carpaccio of salmon and sea bass had a mound of celeri remoulade at its center. Flavorful Emporda duck ''from Gregorio's farm,'' however, was garnished with an attempt at culinary fusion: a slice of potato rosti topped with Spain's wine-deep Jabugo ham.
That combo didn't work. But Neichel's version of suquet, a Catalonian soup of potatoes and fish, was a winner. Neichel's rendering positioned red mullet, hake, sea cucumber and sea bass on thinly sliced potatoes. The broth, seasoned with garlic, onions, bay laurel and oregano was so delectable it could have been served on its own.
I chose a tasty local preparation of French toast layered with cream and fraises des bois from a dessert trolley loaded with ile flottante and tarte Tatin. And what was on the sweets plate? Proust's madeleines.
That said, Neichel is also known for its wine list. And we savored the thoroughly Catalonian '96 Priorat Clos de l'Obac ($68), a fragrant red of character and dimension. And finally, there is no reason in the world why the Barcelonese shouldn't have a classic French restaurant. My only gripe is that it took me back to France before I was ready to leave Spain.
Bill of fare
In general, nonsmoking areas are not provided. Unless otherwise mentioned, the restaurants accept credit cards. The prices below, calculated at 159 pesetas to the dollar, are based on a meal for two with a bottle of wine, and include the 7 percent sales tax.
Ca L'Isidre, 12 Carrer les Flors, (34) 93-441-1139. Lunch and dinner, Monday through Saturday. About $130.
Cal Pep, 8 Placa des les Olles, (34) 93-310-7961. Lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday; Monday, dinner only. About $55 (for huge amounts of food and a good bottle of wine).
Can Sole, 4 Carrer Sant Carles (Barceloneta), (34) 93-221-5012. Lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday; Sunday lunch only. About $80.
La Parra, 3 Carrer Joanot Marto rell, (34) 93-332-5134. Lunch Saturday and Sunday; dinner Tuesday through Saturday. About $90.
Pou Dolc, 6 Baixada de Sant Miguel, (34) 93-412-0579. Lunch and dinner, Monday through Friday, dinner only on Saturday. Menu: $10 (lunch only). Dinner about $65.
La Vinya del Senyor, 5 Placa Santa Maria, (34) 93-310-3379. About $10 for a couple of glasses of wine and a plate of rolls. Open Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 1 A.M.
Neichel, 16 bis Carrer Beltran i Rozpide, (34) 93-203-8408. Lunch and dinner Monday through Friday, Saturday dinner only. Menus at $50 and $56.50. About $195.
Jacqueline Friedrich is the author of ''Wine and Food Guide to the Loire'' (Holt).
November 24, 2002
Barcelona's Great Urban Spaces unfortunately the formatting here has gone haywire. I'll have to come back and do it all by html codes.Soon. By JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH To someone who has never been there, Barcelona seems fittingly described as Spain's second city. Even the one-time visitor, however, realizes how woefully misguided that designation is: Barcelona isn't second anything; a proud, dynamic city, it is the capital of the rich and diverse region of Catalonia, between the French border, Aragon and the Mediterranean. The city has a long, complex history, distinguished by an unquenchable desire for independence. It has been invaded and occupied by Romans, Visigoths, Moors and Franks, and it, in turn, has done its own invading and occupying: during its first golden age (the 13th century through the 15th) its empire extended as far as Sicily. In the 18th century it definitively became part of Spain. Twice Castile tried to subjugate the city (and the region), dismantling its institutions and outlawing its language, Catalan. The last attempt, by Franco, ended with his death in 1975. Since that time Barcelona has entered what might be called another golden age: playing host to the 1992 Olympics was a spur to extensive urban redevelopment, local pride and initiative; the city has become the design, fashion and leisure center of the western Mediterranean, and Catalan culture flourishes. Barcelona is bilingual but Catalan is increasingly more popular than Spanish. Street signs saying "carrer" instead of "calle" are one thing, but when announcements of a change of program in the city's theaters are made in Catalan, you realize how thorough this cultural revolution has been. And it's a dream city for one who loves urban spaces. My after-image is always one of gracious streets lined with handsome houses and outdoor cafes, sunlight filtering through the leaves of linden trees. Indeed, according to one Barcelona historian, the city has more trees than any other city in Spain, as well as more shops per inhabitant than any other city in Europe. Add this to architectural gems everywhere you look - its important sights are not ghettoized but are part of the ebb and flow of daily life - and a balmy Mediterranean climate that invites outdoor living. Barcelona's streets are made for walking - even the traffic lights are pedestrian-friendly, with exceptionally long green lights at crosswalks.. The Placa de Catalunya is a handy point of reference. The tourist office is here and the large downtown square is a hub for buses and metros, as well as a boundary between several key neighborhoods, the Eixample, the Port Vell (Old Port), and the Barri Gótic (Gothic quarter). The Eixample -- the name means extension -- was developed in the 1850's, after the old city's walls were demolished. The neighborhood, a lovely ensemble of tony shops, private residences, hotels, museums and cafes, reminds me of the blocks between Madison and Park on the Upper East Side. The Passeig de Gracia, the Rambla de Catalunya and the streets connecting them are the heart of the neighborhood and well worth exploring. Although the Passeig de Gracia seems to become more like the Champs-lyses each time I visit (a Dunkin' Donuts and a Mc- Donald's are recent additions), it is where the newly wealthy of the late 19th century decided to strut their stuff, making it a great place to get a crash course in Modernisme, Catalunya's variation on Art Nouveau. Casa Batll is among the most spectacular examples. Remodeled from an existing building by Antoni Gaud in 1905, it displays many of the fantastical elements characteristic of his work. No straight lines, no right angles. Its facade is mottled with blue, green and purple ceramics and vaguely recalls Monet's waterlilies. But it's the grillwork on the balconies that has suggested various nicknames: the house of bones, of yawns, of masks. It's Gaud at his Rorschach- like best.. To celebrate the year of Gaud, which ended Oct. 31, the first floor of the Casa Batll was opened to the public and will remain open at least until the end of the year. There's something to grab the eye every second and every element is so tactile you want to stroke it. Hallways resemble underwater caverns; a recessed fireplace resembles a cave hidden under a mushroom cap. A huge curved window looks out on the Passeig de Gracia, where a class of schoolchildren try to draw the building. Down the road, at No. 92, is Casa Mil. Also known as La Pedrera (the Quarry), it is one of Gaud's most famous buildings. While the facade looks like waves of stone, the roof recalls a surreal miniature golf course with whipped-cream swirls of white ceramic and chimneys in phallic forms. Gaud's most celebrated building, the Sagrada Familia church, is a 15-minute walk. The artist began work on the monument in 1883 and continued until his death in 1926, having finished only the Gate of the Nativity, four towers that look like tall dovecotes in volcanic meltdown. Regrettably, other architects are completing Gaud's project. Respectful as they obviously are of his intent, their additions - for me - undermine the original. Sagrada Familia has become the symbol of Barcelona: it figures on most posters of the city. I have a soft spot, however, for two other monuments - Gaudi's Parc Gell and the Palau de la Msica by another architect of the era, Lluis Domnech i Montaner. The latter, one of the most important Modernist works in Barcelona, is a joy. Nestled in the Sant Pere Mes Alt neighborhood, off the Via Laetana, it has a brick facade, ornamented with mosaics and sculptures that are upstaged by the over-the-top interior. The balustrade of the grand staircase looks like an amber and marble bracelet; the auditorium's wondrous stained-glass skylight, a kaleidoscope. Horses representing the ride of the Valkyries explode from the proscenium wall; busts of various muses of music erupt into three dimensions from flat mosaic bases. If you've managed to reserve for the 10 a.m. tour in English, you'll be out by 11 and can walk down the Va Laetana, take a left on Princesa and then a right onto the charming, perpetually crowded, Carrer Montcada. The street was urbanized in the 14th century, and its wall-to-wall palaces now house museums, galleries and souvenir shops. The Picasso Museum occupies three adjoining medieval palaces displaying Picasso's youthful works as well as his series of paintings based on "Las Meninas'' by Velzquez. Next stop: Xampanyet, as cozy and friendly a tapas bar as you'll ever hope to find. The house wine is a slightly fizzy, refreshing white, perfect with the tangy sardines. On the other side of the Va Laetana, the Gothic Quarter begins at the Pla de la Seu, where street musicians and human statues panhandle in front of the cathedral. Although the facade is relatively modern, the present building was begun at the end of the 13th century. Its treasures include a sculptured choir, the ornately decorated stalls of the ambulatory and an inviting cloister with an Amazonian lushness of palms. The Gothic Quarter is a warren of dark, narrow streets linking squares small and large. The city's most famous square, the Pla-->a Reial -a vast expanse, lined with cafes - is close by but technically part of an overlapping neighborhood, La Rambla, which takes its name from the mile-long pedestrian street running from the port to the Pla-->a Catalunya.
Frankly, I find walking on La Rambla akin to braving the intersection of Bleecker and MacDougal on Saturday night, such is the human gridlock.
Saturday mornings, however, are tolerable. You can even see the bird cages with birds for sale. It's a great time to visit the Boquera (gateway at No. 91), one of the world's best markets. Who can wander among hams and sausages, tresses of dried red peppers, mountains of wild mushrooms and counters of sparkling shellfish without working up an appetite?
What a pleasure it is to stop at Bar Pinotxo, Stand 66-67 near the entry to the market, for a pick-me-up of the house cava, a bracing sparkling wine, or a plate of gorgeous mushrooms, simply pan-fried, or a tortilla, a frittata-like preparation of garlic and onions just bound with egg. I wish I could sample the entire menu but I have reservations at Passadis del Pep, a spinoff of my favorite restaurant in Barcelona, Cal Pep.
Passadis del Pep, a sprawling place with dining rooms on many levels, is a "white tablecloth'' restaurant but every bit as animated as its less formal cousin. They sit you down, pour you some Torello cava, and bring you plate after plate of appetizers - pan amb tomaquet (bread rubbed with tomato and garlic), then sea snails, clams with sherry and garlic, batter-fried baby sardines, shrimp, crayfish, Palams prawns and grilled squid. When it came time to chose a main course I demurred, deciding upon dessert instead, a crema catalana that looked like a free-form crme brle.
Most of the food I love in this city is close to the water. Passadis del Pep is not far from the Port Vell, or Old Port, which has been transformed into a recreational area with a marina, cafes, shops, an aquarium and the Maritime Museum. Bordering it is Barceloneta's gridlike pattern of tenements, where laundry still hangs from the windows. The historic home of dockers and fishermen, Barceloneta has an abundance of casual seafood restaurants. Most are tourist traps.
But there are gems, among them Can Maj, where I had my last meal on this trip on a brilliantly sunny Sunday afternoon. I feasted on batter-fried squid and suquet, a Catalan stew of potatoes, fish and shellfish in a garlicky tomato sauce while sitting on the terrace, looking out over Barcelona's recently reclaimed beachfront. Strollers, sunbathers and rollerbladers took advantage of the gorgeous weather, as did hundreds of sailboats.
I drained my glass of cava and headed home to cold, rainy Paris.
From modernisme to modern
There are several branches of the tourist office; the main one is at 17-S Plaça de Catalunya, I found the staff overwhelmed and not very helpful. You might inquire from Turismo de Barcelona, (34) 93-368-9730, about Barcelona cards, which can be bought for one day ($16.25) or up to five days ($26) and provide unlimited local transportation and some museum and shop discounts. The Bus Turistic has two routes, north and south; a one-day ticket is $14, a two-day ticket, $18. Passengers can get on and off at any point; discounts for various monuments are included in the fare.
What to See
Modernism Center, 41 Passeig de Gracia, (34) 93-488-0139. Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday till 2. A good place for information about Gaudí and other modernist architects. You can also buy tickets for the Ruta de Modernisme ($3), which includes a guidebook, a map and discount tickets to the Palau de la Música and three museums.
Picasso Museum, 15-19 Montcada, (34) 93-319-6310. Open 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, till 3 on Sunday; closed Monday. $4.80.
Sagrada Familia, 401 Mallorca, (34) 93-207-3031. Open daily, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m; $6.
Casa Milà (la Pedrera), 92 Passeig de Gracia, (34) 93-484-5995. Open daily, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Admission $10.
Casa Batlló, 43 Passeig de Gracia, (34) 93-488-0666. Open Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday till 8. $10.
Palau de la Música Catalana, 2 Sant Francesc de Paula, (34) 93-295-7200; fax (34) 93-295-7210. www.palaumusica.org. Visits hourly from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tickets cost $7.
Cathedral, Pla de la Seu, (34) 93-315-1554. Open daily, but closes for a long Spanish lunch. If tourists want to enter during that time (between 1:30 and 4:30), there is an admission fee of $4.
Two additional Gaudí masterpieces: Parc Güell, Carrer d'Olot, (34) 93-213-0488, and Palau Güell, 3-5 Nou de la Rambla, (34) 93-317-3974. The Palau is open every day, but closes at 1:30 p.m. on Sundays; $3.
Where to Eat
El Xampanyet, 22 Montcada; (34) 93-319-7003, a tapas bar open every day but Sunday afternoon and Monday. Visa and MasterCard. Two glasses of house wine and several tapas will cost under $10.
Bar Pinotxo, 66-67 La Boquería market, (34) 93-317-1731. Breakfast and lunch daily except Sunday. No cards. Less than $10 for breakfast, $15 to $25 for lunch.
Cal Pep, 8 Plaça de les Olles, (34) 93-310-7961; fax (34) 93-310-5670. Closed Sunday and for lunch on Monday. All major cards. About $60 for a feast for two, with wine by the glass.
Passadis del Pep, 2 Pla del Palau, (34) 93-310-1021, fax (34) 93-319-6056. Closed Sunday and for lunch on Monday. All cards. The restaurant is hard to find as its entrance is a nondescript corridor between two buildings, one of them the Caixa de Pensiones, with a big yellow sign out front. About $130 for two, with a bottle of cava, a Catalonian sparkling wine.
Can Majó, 23 Almirall Aixada, (34) 93-221-5455; Closed Sunday night and all day Monday. All major cards. A meal for two, with wine, comes to about $120. JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH
JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH, who wrote "A Wine and Food Guide to the Loire'' (Holt), lives in Paris.
Food & Wine
How a onetime logger and a former nurse's aide infuriated their rivals by launching one of the most celebrated (and controversial) wineries in France, Château de Valandraud.
By Jacqueline Friedrich
Almost as soon as Jean-Luc Thunevin began making wine 10 years ago, his competitors in St-Émilion were putting him down. Someone came up with the nickname "Tue-le-Vin"--kill the wine. "What gets them," the 50-year-old Thunevin says, "is that I have a big mouth and I attract a lot of media attention." Indeed, the first time I met him, he was with a TV crew that had been following him around for a week, filming his every encounter for the popular French weekly show Capital. He has since appeared on the nightly news, and this fall he'll be the subject of a report on Envoyé Spécial, the French equivalent of 60 Minutes.
His methods are controversial, but what's beyond dispute is that Château de Valandraud, the groundbreaking St-Émilion domaine he founded with his wife, Murielle Andraud (whose name he gave it), is turning out wines that are not only getting better reviews than those of many nearby blue-chip châteaus but also--and this really rankles the long-established wineries--fetching higher prices.
In the mid-'80s, Thunevin and Andraud--he had been a bank employee and a logger, she a nurse's aide in nearby Libourne--bought a small house in the center of St-Émilion, and Thunevin opened the town's first wine bar. Before long he owned several wine bars and shops and had started a wine-brokerage firm, which now represents some 400 domaines, mostly in Bordeaux. (He has sold the wine bars.) In 1990 he bought a couple of rows of vines on the outskirts of town. The next year he turned out 1,500 bottles; because he had no money for equipment, he'd had the grapes stemmed and pressed by hand, and he stomped them with his own feet to break up the fermenting cap of skins and pips. He did the work in his garage, and thus St-Émilion's vins de garage movement was born.
The following year, 1992, was a mediocre vintage for Bordeaux but not for Valandraud: Its wine scored a respectable 88 (out of a possible 100) from international critic Robert M. Parker, Jr.--higher than most of the Bordeaux châteaus. Michel Bettane, France's leading critic, awarded the wine a coup de coeur in La Revue du Vin de France, and it won a gold medal at the prestigious Foire de Paris. In 1996 Parker reviewed the '94 and '95 vintages, giving Valandraud among the highest scores in Bordeaux, and at a Sotheby's auction, six-bottle lots of '92, '93 and '94 Valandraud sold for $5,285, $6,138 and $6,138 respectively--more than 12-bottle cases of '82 Latour, '86 Lafite-Rothschild and '89 Mouton. Other wineries in the St-Émilion appellation began making Valandraud-inspired wines: La Gomerie from Beau-Séjour Bécot; L'Hermitage; Gracia; Croix de Labrie; Rol Valentin; La Mondotte from Canon-la-Gaffelière.
The Valandraud style is distinctive--plush, warm and spicy, with ripe fruit and no jagged edges. Some observers have called it California-like. Yet when Thunevin and Andraud started out, they knew next to nothing about making wine. They did know what they liked: handcrafted wines like Le Tertre-Rôteboeuf, another boutique St-Émilion wine, and Le Pin, from Pomerol. And they had the wisdom to hire the great consultant Michel Rolland, known for the sumptuous reds he makes from impeccably ripe grapes. (This technique involves some risk; the longer the wait to harvest the grapes, the more chance that rain will ruin them.)
Perhaps most important, the couple had the example of Andraud's parents, professional gardeners who specialize in growing chrysanthemums for All Saints' Day. The expertise it takes to harvest an entire crop of flowers for a single day inspired the labor-intensive work in the vineyard: few chemical treatments; very low yields, owing to severe pruning and bunch thinning (which is why it's so hard to find the wine, except at a few restaurants); aeration of the vines by leaf removal early in the season; and harvesting the grapes as late--that is, as ripe--as possible. After fermentation, the young wine goes into new oak barrels.
This approach is, as Thunevin puts it, "haute couture," involving the kind of detail work that not every domaine can afford, and it peeved competitors. "They said, 'Valandraud can do the kinds of things they do because they're so small,'" Thunevin recalls. "'Their vineyards are no good. It can't last.' And we've proved them wrong about everything! Not only have we lasted, the practices we've initiated--or, rather, resuscitated, because they had been common techniques but had disappeared--are spreading."
They're no longer small, either. Thunevin and Andraud now own 20 hectares (about 50 acres) in St-Émilion, and they're expanding into other parts of Bordeaux and beyond: They've just bought a hectare in Maury, in Languedoc near the Spanish border. They're also in charge of viticulture and winemaking for about a dozen additional châteaus in Bordeaux, including such highly regarded properties as Marojallia in Margaux, as well as two hectares in St-Estèphe.
What really put local noses out of joint, though, had more to do with social than with viticultural classes. Not so long ago, people like Thunevin and Andraud would have worked for one of the grand châteaus, not for themselves. And even if they'd had the temerity to make their own wine, they wouldn't have dared charge higher prices than the grand châteaus did. (In the wake of some of the most famous châteaus' spectacular price hikes for their 2000s, though, Thunevin notes that Valandraud isn't the most costly. Cases of the still-unreleased 2000 Valandraud are reportedly selling in New York for $2,700; Latour and Mouton for $3,000; La Mondotte, a garagiste wine from Canon-la-Gaffelière, for $4,500; and Château Cheval Blanc, which received Parker's highest 2000 score, for $1,200 a bottle.)
Thunevin is still courting controversy. This year a percentage of his wine--as well as part of the production of two other châteaus, including Michel Rolland's Fontenil--was "declassified" by the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine, or INAO. As an experiment, the winemakers had spread plastic sheeting between their vine rows from mid-August to mid-September, the idea being that if it rained heavily during this critical period, the sheeting might prevent water from reaching the vines' roots, swelling the grapes (which dilutes the juice) and possibly spreading vine maladies. The INAO considers the practice an alteration of the terroir, and so now the wines, despite their pedigree and their true superiority, can be sold only as lowly vin de table. It should be added that this slight hasn't affected either their reception or their prices.
When I visited Château de Valandraud this past spring, on the eve of the annual marathon tasting of the newest Bordeaux, Thunevin's tasting room was as crowded as the subway at rush hour. The counter was filled with his wines and those of the wineries his brokerage firm represents, and the tasters included a slew of boldface wine names, including Alain Vauthier of nearby Château Ausone and Philippe Porcheron of Marojallia.
Vauthier and Porcheron were also among the guests at a casual dinner Thunevin and Andraud threw in their spacious living-dining room, with an anything-but-casual (in fact, a truly dizzying) variety of wines. Andraud made a delicious leek soup (soup, she says, is the best thing for reviving palates weary from tasting wine) and succulent, garlicky shrimp. The couple opened their personal cellar to their guests, and after three exceptional white wines from Bordeaux and the Loire Valley, we drank no fewer than six reds with the main course (a delicious dish of veal, potatoes--from Andraud's father's garden--and smoky morels in a luscious cream sauce) and three with dessert (a rich chocolate cake and an even richer crème caramel). I got to sample four Thunevin wines, including the 1999 Marojallia and the gorgeous 1999 Valandraud; I also had the lip-smacking Château Ausone '95 and the rare 1990 Château d'Arche Sauternes.
After dinner we drove to the Valandraud cellars to taste Thunevin's 2000. The wine was deep, rich and potent,with the juicy flavor you get when you bite into a piece of ripe fruit. Young Bordeaux, largely because of their tannins, are famously difficult to drink, but there wasn't an ounce of aggressiveness in this one; I'd have been happy to have had it that night with dinner. It's sometimes said that Thunevin's wines won't age, but I'd be willing to place money on the 2000. I'll have to devote some time to tracking it down, though. It's just about all sold out.
Jacqueline Friedrich is the author of the award-winning A Wine and Food Guide to the Loire.
This article originally appeared in October, 2001.
CHOICE TABLES; Prague Restaurants Move Up in Class
By JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH
Published: July 29, 2001
(I was sad to learn that Angel Cafe had closed. That was over a year ago. Maybe it has reopened? Note, too, that Prague was a great place to shop for antiques. But the city was crawling with antiques dealers in 2001 so there may not be many bargains left. If all else fails, cheer yourself up with the good ice cream at Cream 'n Dream.)
ONCE upon a time, not long ago, all restaurants in what was then Czechoslovakia were state owned. Menus were based on recipes from three government-approved cookbooks. And waiters had nothing to gain by being gracious.
This, of course, was before the collapse of Communism in 1989. Today the restaurant scene in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, is nothing if not volatile. There's still plenty of barely edible fare (of which dumplings as heavy as hand grenades are a perfect example) as well as surly service. But the mid-90's brought entrepreneurs like Sanjiv Suri (V Zatisi, Circle Line, Bellevue and Mlynec), who introduced a pan-European eclecticism into the kitchen, updated classic dishes, brought designers into the dining room and gave waiters lessons in hospitality.
Now you can find almost anything and most of it is at the very least decent -- and sometimes a lot more. As my good friend and tango buddy, Guilhem, and I recently discovered, there's fusion food everywhere (Pravda, Mecca, Kampa Park among many others), great pizza (Colisseum, Kogo), as well as Continental restaurants on the top floors of tall buildings (La Perle de Prague, U Zlatne Studne), and the best brunches this side of the Atlantic (Angel Cafe, Patio).
Most wine lists are international, spanning South Africa, Australia, the United States and Europe. And there is always a handful of Czech wines; usually the least expensive, they tend to be soft, pleasant, early drinking wines. On a happier note, the Czech Republic has some of the best beers in the world. And after a long day surveying the beautiful streets of Prague, nothing is more welcome than a freshly tapped Pilsner Urquell, Budvar, Radegast or Gambrinus.
The Alcron, which opened last September, may be Prague's first world-class restaurant. Carved into an alcove of the Radisson Hotel, it is an Art Deco-inspired jewel box. Its seven tables are comfortably spaced in front of a crescent-shaped mural of couples dancing against a stylized Manhattan skyline.
The emphasis is on fish and shellfish, and the chef, Zdenek Pohlreich, not only buys top ingredients but also knows precisely what to do with them. Every dish is beautifully presented. An amuse bouche (rare in Prague) of smoked duck breast on a mix of wild mushrooms was served in an ornate silver spoon. Subtle, refined and assured, it was a hint of what was to come.
Tartare of yellowfin tuna presented chunks of seasoned sushi-grade fish, topped with a poached quail's egg. There was only a smidgen of the promised caviar but it was very good, and the dish was garnished with the tiniest, mildest leaves of arugula I've ever eaten. A serving of king crab's leg brought layers of zucchini and roasted tomato interspersed with delicate crab salad. But it was the garnish of truffle risotto wrapped in a parmesan-flavored pancake that stole the show.
Soft-shell crabs were in season and Mr. Pohlreich, who'd had them shipped from Maryland, offered three preparations. We chose the version in which the crab was fried tempura style and served with tiny Thai asparagus on a bed of vermicelli. Encircled with a piquant chutney of mango and lemongrass, it was scrumptious. Medallions of monkfish, wrapped in bacon, seasoned with thyme and served with fresh fava beans and a confit of chicory, were excellent.
The competent waitress warned us that there would be a 15-minute wait for the chocolate soufflé. It was worth it. Served with pistachio ice cream on a morello cherry sauce, it tasted like a brownie hot from the oven. The caramelized apple tart, with its sugar-dusted puff pastry, Calvados-flavored crème anglaise and vanilla ice cream, was all freshness and delicacy.
The sole disappointment was the wine list, which had only three Czech whites, among them a merely drinkable 1999 Rulandske Sede Marcincak ($19.50 a bottle, calculating the dollar at 40 korunas).
Facing a pretty, cobbled square, this restaurant is part of Sanjiv Suri's empire. In its ads it claims to be Prague's favorite restaurant. Maybe, maybe not. But it does seem to top the list of most foreigners, and it does have a lot going for it, starting with the friendly, efficient staff. The décor is distinctly feminine, every inch of wall and ceiling painted with cloud motifs, ferns, roses and wisteria. There are white wrought-iron lawn chairs with cushions, potted ferns and candles everywhere. You feel as if you've wandered onto the set of a commercial for a floral-scented air freshener.
The food, too, is a bit fussy, and struck me as what we used to think of as ''gourmet cooking'' in the 1970's. But it's fresh and honest. Spinach soup, for example, could not have been more satisfying. It was also rather filling, as it came with a big chunk of Norwegian salmon, perfectly poached in the broth. Homemade spinach tortellini was a big plate of very good pasta, the filling tasting mostly of caramelized onions and only marginally of the billed shiitake mushrooms.
Main courses are more traditionally Czech, as evidenced by flavorful roast rabbit served on thickened gravy and accompanied by garlicky fresh spinach and an onion that had been stuffed with mashed potatoes and parmesan. With the exception of the heavy bread dumplings, Bohemian roast goose was equally pleasing. Tasting of its light honey-lavender sauce, it was tender and juicy and nicely garnished with tart red cabbage as well as good sauerkraut wrapped in a slice of meaty ham.
V Zatisi's cardamom crème brulée is flawless, but the dessert not to miss is the strudel, a paper-thin crepe rolled around warm, seasoned apples and served with frothy walnut ice cream.
From a wine list that is somewhat more ambitious than most, we selected the 1999 Frankovka Barrique ($19.75), a soft, pleasant red.
U Zlatne Studne
High on a hill in the Mala Strana district, this restaurant might also be called Windows on Prague. On the fourth floor above a hotel of the same name, it overlooks the city's dizzying mosaic of domes and spires and terra-cotta rooftops.
The chef, Titus Elias, formerly of the popular U Patrona and Circle Line restaurants, has said that he aims to capture the city's first Michelin star. At this point, I think that distinction would go to Alcron, but U Zlatne Studne would surely win an honorable mention.
On a balmy summer evening, ideal for the outdoor terrace, our meal began with a pleasant amuse bouche of smoked salmon sushi with a spoonful of wild mushrooms marinated in soy sauce, followed by baked Slovak goat cheese, creamy and pungent, on a bed of diced red and yellow pepper. Then came a soothing, flavorful asparagus soup, somewhat bizarrely garnished with sliced strawberries.
Rack of veal in a walnut crust was rather mushy and flavorless, but duck breast was just fine -- a thick, generous slab of tender, juicy duck, accompanied by roasted apples and new potatoes.
Warm, caramelized apples interspersed with layers of phyllo pastry were a light, fresh dessert. Amaretto crème brulée, studded with pistachios, was slightly liquid but quite pleasant. Our waiter, by the way, was excellent, but his helper's mistakes, combined with the slowness of the kitchen, made for a very long meal.
One senses that this is very much a period of shaking out for U Zlatne Studne. One area needing work is the unpleasant smell coming from a neighboring building (which makes dining inside a more appealing option than the terrace). Another is the wine list, which charges nearly double the going price for Czech wines. Out of protest, I ordered the Australian 1997 Penfolds Bin 128 shiraz ($61), a user- friendly red.
''This is a modern British restaurant,'' the owner, Matthew Smith, said to us as we lingered over cappuccino and free lemon biscotti. A stone's throw from the British Council, Angel Cafe is spare, comfortable and contemporary. On this brilliantly sunny Sunday, it was packed with Anglophone expatriates who seem to have adopted the place. Mr. Smith and his colleagues could not be friendlier and the food is delicious.
All baked goods are made at the restaurant, starting with the sage scones, banana bread and Irish soda bread put on the table as you arrive. For brunch, you can't do better than the cheese and buttermilk biscuit accompanied by sage-onion sausages, scrambled eggs and prosciutto cooked like bacon -- unless, of course, you opt for the four huge slices of lemon-vanilla French toast drizzled with a compote of blackcurrant and lingonberry mixed with crème fraîche.
We were so smitten with the place that we returned for lunch the next day, taking seats in the back garden. We shared a fresh salad of tuna, mixed greens, avocado and carrots, then the day's special, Moroccan chicken -- tender white meat, beautifully seasoned with ginger, cumin and hot pepper -- on a bed of spiced couscous and Puy lentils, and finished with a slice of citrus cheesecake. More coffee, more biscotti, and Guilhem, who lives in the Third Arrondissement of Paris, sighed, ''I wish there were something like this in the Marais. But it would always be crowded.''
Owned by Sofia and Andrej Reiser, a Czech-Russian family, Clementinum is a casual and popular spot that would look at home in TriBeCa in Manhattan.
I loved the relaxed feel of the place but, aside from the appetizers, found most of the food merely pleasant, from the potato gnocchi with salmon and broccoli to the tenderloin of pork to the apricot tart and mocha mousse.
On the other hand, I could happily make a meal of those appetizers, chief among them the vegetable pancakes, with lots of sweet fresh peas, on a light oyster mushroom sauce; the fresh spinach dumplings -- the size of golf balls -- with a cheese sauce and fried onion rings; and the puff-pastry packet enclosing full-flavored sauerkraut and slices of smoky sausage -- sort of Gray's Papaya for the gods.
The wine list is more thoughtful than most. We were quite happy with the 1999 sauvignon blanc Vinne Sklepy Lechovice ($5.50), a fresh, clean white.
Another product of the Eastern European diaspora is this minuscule Yugoslav restaurant in the Vinorhady district that opened nine years ago, after the owners emigrated from Serbia. Simply decorated with homemade curtains, Ikea lamps and naïve seascapes, it is distinctly a mom-and-pop affair serving fresh, real home cooking. We started with warm baked bread and a big scoop of urnebes, a wonderfully pungent spread that would have been perfect with a dry martini -- made from Balkan cheese, cream cheese, red pepper, garlic and oil.
Then came a delicate omelet, stuffed with roasted red peppers and what tasted like melted farmer's cheese. Next, homemade sausages, densely packed and nicely seasoned, and cevapcici (short fingers of spiced, minced meat). Slightly greasy, they were very satisfying and came with chopped raw onion. We found they were better complemented by adjvar, a coarse mash of roasted red peppers.
The best beer in Prague? For us the hands-down winner was the lager made by this small brewery in the center of the city. Served in tall mugs, the beer had a two-inch head as firm as beaten egg whites. It was fresh and malty.
We had just flown from Paris, and a pub snack seemed ideal. So we headed here on the advice of a cleaner at our hotel who claimed to be an expert on pubs, and we were not disappointed.
The restaurant-cum-brewery, a warren of dining rooms upstairs and down, serves nonstop. Even at 3:30 a.m. there were customers digging into spicy chicken wings and schnitzel in the glow of copper brew kettles. (Beer is brewed after closing time on Tuesday nights.) We started with fried bread with garlic, served in a basket with cloves of garlic for do-it-yourself rubbing. It was great with the beer. Next we shared the Old Bohemian Platter, a large serving of roast pork, grilled sausage, tangy sauerkraut and heavy potato and bread dumplings. Good honest fare and a fine introduction to Prague.
A close runner-up in the best beer competition is the yeast beer from this brewery. Refreshing and lightly sour, it's but one of numerous homemade variations. (The house's more recherché beers include sour cherry, banana, coffee, samp and champagne.)
As at Novomestsky Pivovar (pivo means beer in Czech), brew kettles in the main dining room set the decorative theme. The menu and the quality of the food are much the same, too. We tried Brewer's goulash and a roast pork preparation that the menu called ''Czech cuisine favorite No. 1.'' The meats and their gravies were one step above the level of cafeteria fare, albeit a good cafeteria. Both came with enormous bread dumplings that were the best we tasted in Prague. The cheerful dining room was full when we arrived at 8:30, and when we left scores of new eaters were streaming in.
Bill of fare
Prices at the following Prague restaurants are approximate and based on a meal for two with wine but without tip. They are calculated at 40 korunas to the dollar. Except for the very top restaurants, meals in Prague are inexpensive. Every restaurant we visited had an English menu and most servers speak English. Unless otherwise stated, major credit cards are accepted.
Alcron, Radisson Hotel, Stepanska 40; (42-02) 2282-0038. Closed Sunday. About $100.
V Zatisi, Liliova 1, Betlemske
namesti, Stare Mesto; (42-02) 2222-1155. Open daily. $75.
U Zlatne Studne, U Zlatne Studne 166/4; (42-02) 5753 3322. Open daily. About $110.
Angel Cafe, Opatovicka 3; (42-02) 2493-0019. Open Tuesday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 to 10 p.m.; Saturday to Monday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. No cards. $18.
Clementinum, Platnerska 9; (42-02) 2481-3892. Open daily. $50.
Modra Reka, Manesova 13, Vino hrady; (42-02) 2225-1601. Open Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner; Saturday, dinner only. Closed Sunday. No cards. $20.
Novomestsky Pivovar, Vodickova 20, Nove Mesto; (42-02) 2223-2448. Open daily for lunch and dinner. $9.
Pivovarsky Dum, corner of Lipova and Jecna, Nove Mesto; (42-02) 9621-6666. Open daily for lunch and dinner. $8. JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH
JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH wrote ''A Wine and Food Guide to the Loire'' (Holt).
SOPHISTICATED REPASTS IN BATH
By JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH
Published: August 10, 2003
Note: My only regret with the editing of this piece was that my references to Jane Austen were deleted.
BATH, blessed with well-preserved Roman baths and a magnificent ensemble of Georgian architecture, is a World Heritage site. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the beautiful people came here for the season, taking the waters, meeting for tea in the Pump Room and for balls in the Assembly Rooms. Though that era is well past, Bath is still an alluring small city.
Where gastronomy is concerned, Bath is anything but provincial. In addition to numerous pubs and tea parlors, there are restaurants, both plain and fancy, as sophisticated and ambitious as any in London. If you choose correctly, you can eat very, very well, as my friend Joyce and I found during a long weekend last April.
(A caveat for those who, like me, cherish memories of magical meals at a restaurant called Hole in the Wall: it still exists, but ownership has changed and so has almost everything else about the place. It's still cozy and comfortable, but the food is ordinary.)
Bath merits a very minor footnote: it claims to be the birthplace of the Sally Lunn bun, a kind of lightly sweet, round brioche. It is sold only at a shop and restaurant called the Sally Lunn House; most other tearooms in the city serve the Bath Bun, basically a variation, distinguishable by the sugar topping and some currents. The buns are not unpleasant, but not worth a detour.
Bath's Georgian architecture is nowhere more beautifully represented than in the Royal Crescent, its elegant buildings the color of champagne. Local laws prohibit signs on the facades so the Royal Crescent Hotel is unmarked, identifiable only by the smart sports cars pulling up curbside and the porters rushing out to greet them.
Pimpernel's, the hotel's restaurant, is separated from the main building by a serene garden with allées of lavender and lilac. When weather permits, you can eat outside, and we had been looking forward to exactly that. But it had turned wet and windy, and we were very happy to be ensconced in a comfy corner banquette that gave us a full view of the handsome dining room.
Steven Blake is the chef, and everything that comes out of his kitchen seems well conceived, from start to finish. Here is one instance in which the dishes were much more appetizing in reality than on the wordy menu. And each was exquisite to look at without being fussily architectural.
A perfect case in point was an appetizer of nearly raw rolls of blue fin tuna wrapped in paper-thin slices of bacon and quickly seared. The tuna sat on a ''slaw'' of seaweed, carrots and onions, dressed with sesame oil and vinegar, and was served with a subtle orange-miso sauce so delicious the chef ought to sell it by the jar.
Ballottines are a classical French preparation in which poultry (usually) is boned, stuffed and rolled into a sausagelike shape. Frankly, I often find them much ado about nothing. Mr. Blake's, however, was a delight. A meaty sausage of quail with delicately seasoned forcemeat, it had been cut into rounds and arranged prettily on a large, square plate. Surrounding it were dabs of poultry glaze, bits of vinegared carrots and onions and the bird's little legs. Lovely. Similarly, poached chicken was perfectly cooked, soothing and elegant. The chicken sat on a bed of delectable puréed celeriac and was garnished with equally tasty tiny chicken quenelles, baby onions and a dice of carrots and turnips. Braised pork belly with a nuanced sherry vinegar jus could not have been more succulent. It was perfectly complemented by a mix of cabbage, spinach and bacon.
Desserts, too, were stellar. A warm dark chocolate tart with orange sorbet and candied orange peel was a delicious combination, and the individual amaretto soufflé was billowy and light as air and nicely accompanied by very good mocha ice cream.
And the wine list was above reproach, with a wealth of super choices -- many by the half bottle -- including an excellent 2000 Cahors from the Château de Cèdre ($35, at $1.65 to the pound).
The Bath Priory
In a hotel of the same name, the Bath Priory is every bit as civilized as Pimpernel's; its oak-paneled dining room, one of several rooms that are used at different times, looks out on another sumptuous English garden.
I was alone for my last meal in Bath, Sunday lunch, and, after much obsessing, opted for an elegant repast -- accompanied by harp music -- at this restaurant with one Michelin star, rather than another temptation, a venerable roast with Yorkshire pudding at a pub.
The kitchen, under the direction of Robert Clayton, is as exacting and on target as Pimpernel's, if more classic, starting with warm-from-the-oven bread sliced at the table and an amuse-bouche of rich, good tomato soup served in a tiny Wedgwood cup.
A hash of delicate crabmeat and scallops stuffed into a large raviolo, on a bed of what the menu called carrot tagliatelle, was an excellent composition. The long strands of carrot, best eaten by twirling around your fork, looked like angel-hair pasta. They were cooked al dente, and beautifully complemented by a foamy sauce with concentrated flavors of shellfish stock. Sautéed wood pigeon, its meat so rich it straddled the line between fowl and beef, was accompanied by perfectly seared foie gras and layered atop a braised red onion. That, in turn, sat in a pastry cup that had thoroughly imbibed the sweet onion cooking juices. Accompanied by baby carrots, baby turnips and tender young spinach leaves, it seemed the perfect spring dish.
The caramelized lemon tart, my dessert, tasted like a citrus-flavored crème brûlée with a luscious sable crust.
Sadly, the restaurant's wine list was not nearly as enticing as Pimpernel's, though a half-bottle of 2000 shiraz-cabernet from Penfolds ($20) was forthright and generous. However, the service was the most professional and accommodating I found in Bath: as I had a plane to meet, the dining room was opened early for me, at noon (I was there anonymously, and telephoned my request when reserving), and advanced from aperitif to tea with care and grace. I couldn't have asked for more.
FishWorks Seafood Café
At street level and next door to a drool-inducing sausage shop, FishWorks is a wonderful fish shop where you can buy Rossmore Rock oysters, for example, or Cornish whiting. Up a narrow flight of stairs is a modest-looking restaurant serving very ambitious food. Mitchell Tonks has become one of England's celebrity chefs. He's got books, TV shows, cooking schools and has opened several other branches of FishWorks, the latest one planned for London. And his menus are so mouthwatering, his food so irresistible, I wish he'd open a branch in Paris.
The tiny dining rooms here are casual but bright and cheerful. The only problem is that the tables are quite small so that there's no room for the finger bowls and extra plates for mussel shells you'll inevitably need. The young servers are casual, too, though friendly -- even if they don't offer to fillet your fish. Most of all, the food is terrific: a combination of fine ingredients, respect for those ingredients and imagination, along with an emphasis on really local fish like Newlyn brill and turbot.
Dartmouth crab salad was a lovely layering of delicate, fresh crabmeat and cucumbers, nicely accented by a tarragon mayonnaise. Fat and juicy River Fowley mussels, cooked marinière style, were scrumptious, as was their garlicky broth.
Impossible to resist, honest-to-God Dover sole was a beauty, gleaming with butter and flopped over a large plate. Perfectly cooked, it was as delicate and soothing as a coddled egg. Pan-fried harbor prawns were simply gorgeous. Seasoned with just the right dose of chili, lime and coriander so that each ingredient was distinct but didn't overwhelm the prawn flavor, it had us sucking the shells to get every last drop.
Main courses do not come with garnishes here. Instead, you choose one or several side dishes, such as roasted tomatoes with pesto (pleasant) or fennel salad tossed with mint and chili (bracing, refreshing and very good). Surprisingly, given the fishy emphasis, desserts are another strong point; there's a pastry chef in the kitchen, and the Sicilian lemon tart is textbook perfect.
Even more surprisingly, given the no-frills setting, FishWorks has what I found to be the best selection of wines of the places I visited. There isn't a clinker on the list, from the vintage muscadets from Luneau-Papin to the 2001 Costa di Giulia ($44.50), a floral yet steely blend of vermentino and sauvignon blanc from the exciting young Tuscan producer Michele Satta.
Any romantic will want to eat in one of Bath's great Georgian buildings. The most obvious is the Pump Room, the grand 18th-century salon that forms part of the Roman bath complex, though we found tea there an expensive disappointment; the only pleasure was in the setting. A much more satisfying choice is Popjoys next door to the Theater Royal. It was built in 1720 for Julianna Popjoy, the mistress of Richard (Beau) Nash, Bath's master of ceremonies in the city's heyday, who lived here after having gambled away his own home. His portrait hangs above the marble fireplace, the focal point of the intimate main dining room, which seats about 40 at 12 tables. (There is a room of equal size upstairs.)
Packed for pretheater dinner, Popjoys is best experienced at normal meal times; then you can enjoy very good food and live for awhile in a setting familiar to Jane Austen (one likes to imagine), a frequent resident, and, of course, Beau Nash. Tomi Gretener, the Swiss-born owner and today's master of ceremonies, is a cordial host and runs a tight ship; service is excellent.
A great whetter of appetites is the smoked fish plate, a generous serving of salmon, tuna, trout and eel, delicately oak-smoked, silken in texture and served with a thimble-sized glass of Smirnoff Black Label vodka. Equally commendable, though so filling it could be a meal in itself, is the guinea fowl and wood pigeon terrine, meaty and juicy and nicely garnished with preserved kumquats.
The subtle flavor of good spring lamb was overwhelmed by its Madeira sauce, which had been reduced to a glaze. But the filet of angus Aberdeen was all a beef lover could have hoped for -- well-aged, perfectly char-grilled, and served with a panoply of vegetables, among them two types of potato, including creamy pommes dauphinoise.
A lovely way to end the meal, the dessert medley can easily be shared by several diners. There's a classic crème brûlée, a chocolate and rum terrine that tastes like a cool ganache, and, best of all, a small prune and almond tart. With its light, crackly exterior and an airy, flanlike interior, it was both homey and sophisticated.
The wine list had no surprises but a half-bottle of '95 Château Fourcas-Hosten, a reliable Bordeaux red, for $36, is always a safe bet.
Bill of fare
Estimated prices are based on a meal for two, including wine and V.A.T. but not tip. All the restaurants take major credit cards and are nonsmoking. Additional information on Bath restaurants is available at www.visitbath.co.uk.
Pimpernel's, Royal Crescent Hotel, 16 Royal Crescent; (44-1225) 823 333 or e-mail reservations @royalcrescent.co.uk. Open daily. Lunch menus at $30.50 or $23 (two courses) and $41 (three courses); dinner menu $67.50 (two courses) or $81 (three courses). About $200.
The Bath Priory, Weston Road; (44-1225) 331 922 or e-mail mail @thebathpriory.co.uk. Open daily. Lunch menus at $33 (two courses) and $41.50 (three courses); dinner menu $78; the Sunday lunch $49.50 menu includes coffee and petits fours. About $165 for Sunday lunch.
FishWorks Seafood Cafe, 6 Green Street; (44-1225) 448 707; enquiries @fishworks.co.uk. Open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner; Sunday lunch only. About $130.
Popjoys, Beau Nash House, Sawclose (44-1225) 460 494; popjoys @btinternet.com. Open Monday through Saturday. A smoking area can be arranged. Lunch and pretheater (5:30 to 7 p.m.) menus at $20.60 (two courses) ; $25.60 (three courses) ; dinner menu $38. la carte menus available all day. About $150.
JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH, who lives in Paris, is the author of ''A Wine and Food Guide to the Loire'' (Holt).
Olivier's Twist | Olivier Baussan
Olivier Baussan, founder of Oliviers & Co. and L'Occitane, made his fortune selling artisanal olive oils and herb-scented soaps. Now he has a fresh ambition: to open a new kind of Mediterranean restaurant in America.
By Jacqueline Friedrich
There's an old saying that you make your own luck. It's also been said that succeeding is a habit. Olivier Baussan, the founder of L'Occitane and Oliviers & Co., embodies both principles. Baussan began his career selling flacons of lavender and rosemary essences in Provençal markets; today his worldwide empire includes 470 L'Occitane boutiques, which sell artisanal beauty products, and 58 Oliviers & Co. stores, stocked with handcrafted olive oils. Baussan is also a restaurateur with his eye on America: He owns La Table O&CO, a store and restaurant with outposts in France, Belgium, Brazil and—as of last fall—San Francisco. He's just launched another market and restaurant in Manhattan uniting L'Occitane, Oliviers & Co. and La Table O&CO under a single roof. (The place was not yet named at press time.)
On a recent trip to meet Baussan in northern Provence, where he is based, the first thing I learn is how central a figure he is in his corner of France. Everyone knows him; everyone has an anecdote. "His first workshop [for distilling lavender and rosemary essences] was in my father-in-law's shed," says the taxi driver who takes me to Baussan's office in the tiny village of Mane. Later, as Baussan and I walk through the market in Manosque, the largest town in the area, there are hellos and handshakes every few feet.
When I arrive at Baussan's office, he wastes little time on preliminaries. A boyish 51, dressed in jeans and a gray pullover, Baussan quickly takes me on a tour of his operations in the nearby villages—stopping at a mill here, a factory there—while he tells me the story of how he came to build his business.
Baussan, who is the son of a journalist and an artist, was born in the village of Ganagobie, a few miles from Mane. He spent his teenage summers in Corsica working with a fisherman; the two became so close that when the fisherman retired, he gave his boat to Baussan. But Baussan's parents had a different idea for his future. They convinced him to sell the boat and attend university in Aix-en-Provence, where he studied poetry and American literature.
Then, as he puts it, "I stumbled upon an alembic." The handsome copper still, used for distilling plant essences like lavender oil, was sitting in a shed on the side of a road. When he drove past it one day during college, Baussan literally did a double take, made a U-turn, found the machine's owner and asked to buy it. "I told my friends I met an alembic," he says in the same way he might have said that he'd met a wonderful woman. And L'Occitane was born.
This was the '70s, when selling flacons of essential oils of lavender and rosemary fit into the peace-and-love ethos of the times. Then, in 1981, Baussan passed an old soap factory. "It was shut up tight," he recalls. "I found the owner and asked for a tour. I told him I wanted to learn the ancestral ways of making soap. I arrived at 3 in the afternoon. By 8, the old man had offered me the entire contents of his factory. He said he was retiring. It was crazy. It was as if I had been given my boat in Corsica again." Soon handcrafted soaps made from essential oils joined the L'Occitane line. Within a year, the company's sales tripled.
After Baussan and I drive past one of his first factories, a small stone building he wants to turn into a museum where he can teach blind children about careers working with aromas, we arrive at the headquarters of L'Occitane. It's a seven-acre factory in which huge, airy spaces give way to small, sunny offices. Baussan stops in one to check out an idea for new packaging. He studies it—a naive sketch of the sun—shakes his head and says, "Have a child draw it."
Our next destination, Oliviers & Co.'s headquarters, is unmistakable because of its wood facade. Exteriors like this are unusual in France, but Baussan, who has an eye for design, wanted his factory to blend into the countryside. Here, he explains to me how L'Occitane led, indirectly, to the creation of Oliviers & Co.
On a trip to the West African nation Burkina Faso 21 years ago, Baussan visited a village cooperative for women who harvest the nut of the karite (shea) tree, the oils of which are used in beauty products. "The karite tree seemed to have the same importance for this part of Africa as the olive tree has for the Mediterranean," he says. "It feeds you. The butter you make from its nuts gives beauty." When Baussan returned to France, he asked a local photographer to document the life of an old man from Lurs, a village near Mane, who pressed olive oil. Six years later, after the man died, Baussan decided to continue the project. He asked 20 photographers each to spend a year shooting olive trees and their fruit, and he published the results in a book.
In 1993, Baussan opened a poetry bookstore with a friend, an American poet, on the Île St-Louis in Paris. (Selling part of L'Occitane to investors eight years earlier helped give Baussan the time and the means to, as he puts it, "reunite all his favorite poets on one shelf.") The bookshop was a cozy place where people were encouraged to sit and read. That was the problem, Baussan recalls. Lots of people came and read, but nobody bought anything. So Baussan, who had begun collecting artisanal olive oil, started putting bottles of oil on the shelves to sell with the books. Gradually, the bottles edged out the books. In 1996, he started Oliviers & Co.
The company now bottles and sells 22 different extra-virgin olive oils. Most come from France, Italy and Spain, but there are also oils from Greece, Uruguay and Lebanon. All are made by families or small cooperatives. All the suppliers must follow Baussan's exacting methods of cultivation and production, from the pruning of the trees (thinned so that "a bird could fly freely inside them," Baussan says) to the olive harvesting and pressing (within 24 hours of picking). "The oil," he says, "should be as pure as freshly squeezed orange juice. The minute it's exposed to air, it begins to deteriorate."
And each of these oils has a story. The Uruguayan oil, Los Ranchos, comes from a property that French immigrants planted with olive trees in the 1950s. A woman from Aix-en-Provence who knew nothing about olives inherited the estate and came to Baussan for advice. He and his team restructured the estate "from A to Z," Baussan says, and within two years they were bottling and selling olive oil from the estate. In Lebanon, Nayla Moawad, the widow of the assassinated president René Moawad, asked Baussan for help in modernizing the country's olive oil production as a way of honoring her husband's memory. A year and a half ago, Oliviers & Co. began selling high-quality extra-virgin olive oil under René Moawad's name, with the profits going to charity.
Baussan has also been collaborating with highly respected chefs. Jean-Marie Meulien, the former owner of the two-Michelin-starred L'Oasis in La Napoule, France, helps develop condiments and sauces for Oliviers & Co. Recently, spices such as Moroccan saffron and spreads like an artichoke-and-olive dip have been added to the line. With Pascal Rigo, of San Francisco's Chez Nous and Le Petit Robert, Baussan is working to bring his global vision of Mediterranean food to San Francisco and New York. Rigo oversees the menus at La Table O&CO in San Francisco and the new restaurant in New York City; dishes include a Provençal saffron-flavored fish soup with fennel and a North African—inspired dessert in which dates and figs are wrapped in flaky phyllo. Rigo devised recipes to complement the distinctive flavors of Oliviers & Co. oils: He tosses fingerling potatoes with rosemary and thyme, then roasts them in a mild olive oil like Oliviers & Co.'s Clemente. He also adds olive oil to a lemony cheesecake for a bit of fruitiness.
As night falls, Baussan and I head to Forcalquier, a town where he once sold flower essences at the market, to have dinner at a branch of La Table O&CO. The space, decorated with wood and iron, includes Baussan's own designs—an entire wall, for example, is given over to old granary-style drawers built to his specifications. The stainless steel sink Baussan created for the bathroom is so eye-catching that the British design guru Terence Conran asked for permission to copy it. (He didn't get it.)
I ask Baussan what his next project is. "My dream is to spend a year fishing in Corsica," he says, and to send his catch to Michelin-starred restaurants throughout France. Baussan recently bought a house in Corsica and a restored vintage fishing boat to replace the one he had to sell as a teen. Given his ability to make his own luck and his habit of succeeding, I won't be surprised if that dream turns into yet another profitable venture.
Jacqueline Friedrich, the author of A Wine and Food Guide to the Loire, splits her time between Paris and the Loire Valley.
This article originally appeared in April, 2004.