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Terry & lair-y

Part 12 of a 2006 Alsace/Paris travelogue

by Thor Iverson

1 April 2006 – Metz, France

Thierry “Saveurs et Cuisine” – We meet some friends – one who weekends in Metz but works in Paris, the other a couple from Luxembourg – at what passes for a modern, almost exotic entrant amongst the ultra-traditional French restaurant scene. It’s a beautiful room, the service is excellent, incense is in the air, and the food is precisely executed. Asparagus – crisp, firm, and green – is served with shaved parmesan, smoked salmon takes a Nordic turn with cream-coated zucchini cubes, and a lamb shank is lush with Indian spices. The restaurant is a good value, as well.

There is a downside, and it’s that the wine list is massively pedestrian. As it’s a social occasion, however, I don’t take formal notes. There’s a 1999 Côtes de Gascogne white, reticent with its nutty gravel, cereal, and dried wax; it’s refreshing but ultimately uninteresting. Following that, there’s an over-stripped Faugères, which is far too restrained, showing only a light mushroom character and faded black fruit.

[national assembly]

Square deal
Paris, France

Hotel Bourgogne & Montana – Normally, this hotel would be in a prime location. I say “normally,” because it’s right behind the National Assembly, which is currently a thicket of police and barriers as the city prepares for a strike. Thankfully, this really only becomes a hassle on our last two days in Paris, while the demonstrators (mostly students) chant and throw things for a well-planned hour or two, then disperse to discuss the matter over coffee. The logistics of a French strike are something to behold.

The lobby of the hotel is tiny, the elevator both ancient and barely the size of one very thin person (which makes luggage transport kind of a nightmare), but the rooms are very attractive, and the beautiful bathrooms a rare bonus. Our desk clerk is a transplanted Kiwi, whose accent I place almost immediately (even in French). The only real drawback is a very pedestrian breakfast; better to find a decent local bakery.

Le Repaire de Cartouche (99 rue Amelot and 8 blvd des Filles du Calvaire) – This is a two-floor (and two-entrance) restaurant, which seems more like some sort of portal into a semi-mythical Parisian past than a modern establishment. The atmosphere is utterly compelling; neither lavish nor elegant – in fact, service is quick and more than a little brusque – it’s an absolutely authentic experience, not to be missed.

Bartucci 2004 Bugey Cerdon (Ain) – Lurid strawberry essence, bursting with geraniums. A little heavier than I’m used to, but still good.

There’s nothing wrong with the food, either. After snacking on the house-made rillettes, I move on to a brilliant pistachio and pigeon pâté, then nearly orgasmic oeufs en cocotte with shaved black truffles, followed by a fine pork loin on a flawless bed of lentils. It’s all the simple, direct kind of cooking that made France’s non-haute culinary reputation, and it’s a dying practice. Thankfully, not here.

In addition to the atmosphere and the food, there’s a brilliant, novel-length wine list with a special emphasis on the Rhône and Provence.

Marquis Dutheil de la Rochère “Chateau Ste-Anne” 1990 Bandol (Provence) – Shy out of the gate, then blossoming into a Provençal sunset: black, sun-baked earth radiating its stored heat as it cools, fragrant and well-ridden leather, lavender and other herbs, and black cherries. Still quite firm and tannic. However, I don’t know if I’d hold it too much longer, as after about two hours in the decanter, the seams rip and the wine just dies.

Darroze 1985 Bas-Armagnac (Southwest France) – Almond cream and wood. Warming rather than hot, as a brandy should be. A bit on the simple side, however.

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Copyright © Thor Iverson.