A cute angle
Part 14 of a 2006 Alsace/Paris travelogue
by Thor Iverson
3 April 2006 – Paris, France
Lavinia – Yes, the wine sold here is expensive. But the arrangement whereby one can purchase a bottle from shop and bring it upstairs to the in-store restaurant, sans corkage, makes it well worth a visit. And today, it’s also a convenient meeting point for lunch with a long-time friend who works in Paris.
While scanning the shelves, I have an entertaining but embarrassing eavesdrop on one of the employees, whose exasperation is, at least to me, palpable as he tries to help a pair of Americans. They ask only two questions, over and over:
“Is this bigger than that one?”
What a sad, sad way to experience wine.
Upstairs, Lavinia’s slick little lunch joint is, as usual, filled with suited types having a professional nosh…the time for which has quite obviously contracted given the alacrity with which most eat. Worse, nearly everyone eschews wine, though an occasional brave soul takes a small glass. What is France coming to? My friend – who works for the government and thus can enjoy all the wine he wants, and on a leisurely schedule – joins me, pointing out some famous French TV personality that I’ve never heard of (if it’s not Melissa Theuriau, I’m not interested). We sit down to a fine, simple meal of beef cheeks, potatoes, an excellent Tomme de Savoie, and fair coffee; it’s no bargain, but once again the wine makes it all worth it.
Allemand 2001 Cornas Reynard (Rhône) – Decanted without having to ask, it’s still (as expected) quite firm, with dark black earth soaked with dried blood, finishing lush with iron-rich flavors of both. Very mineral-dominated, with excellent structure. Grows with air, though in the end we run out of wine before that unfolding is complete. Balanced and long, but not at its best at this stage.
I snag two generally-unavailable-in-the-States bottles on the way out…bottles which seem to virtually destroy Lavinia’s computerized checkout system. Thankfully, the waiting process doesn’t unduly tax my horridly insufficient French, and after about fifteen minutes’ delay I’m finally out the door…to be greeted by a city much thicker with gendarmes (in riot gear) than the one I’d left. At long last, the much-promised strikes are underway.
I have to take a fairly roundabout path back to our hotel, as the Assemblée Nationale is the epicenter of the trouble and our hotel’s right behind it. Theresa’s fresh from a business meeting at La Defense, and eager to hit the tourist road; I’m a little post-prandially lethargic, but why waste the day? Taking another circuitous route around the festivities, we revisit a few iconic sites I haven’t toured since my very first visit to Paris, and rest a bit in Seine-side cafés. Soon, it’s time for dinner.
l’Angle du Faubourg – Wandering around a ritzy, old-money neighborhood with time to spare, we stop at an absolutely classic brasserie (the name of which I don’t record, but it’s right out of a movie set) for a drink, then head to this establishment, which serves as a “second” restaurant to the famous Taillevent. The interior is, unsurprisingly, gorgeous, with a sleek, modern design in vivid yet comforting colors. Its lineage, however, is indicated by the fact that we have no fewer than four simultaneous greeters at the front door. It’s also dressy, as befits the restaurant and the neighborhood, but one randomly-entering quartet of Brits in jeans and sweatshirts is seated without complaint or comment. Nonetheless, I don’t feel out of place in suit and tie. In unfortunately typical one-star fashion these days, the clientele seems to be about half French and half foreign; add two stars, and I suspect the ratio would tip precipitously towards the visiting team.
Blot “La Taille aux Loups” Montlouis Pétillant “Triple Zero” (Loire) – Flat and chalky, aromatically unexciting, and yet absolutely palate-cleaving. This is an…aggressive…choice for a by-the-glass pour, and (as I’ll find out later), it’s not alone in that regard.
Service is in the classic upscale French mode, and it must be said that our sommelière is kinda hot (albeit severe and angular; she looks like she might hurt the bottles), which Theresa teases me about for the rest of the evening. The wine list is full of youngsters and a bit pricey, but what’s most noticeable is how much stronger it is for reds than for whites. We both choose a tasting menu at a fairly reasonable € 70; and, of course, we’re compelled by the food to order a white.
Villard 2004 Condrieu Le Grand Vallon (Rhône) – Lush honeysuckle, peach blossom, plus pear and peach syrups. Long. Thick and slightly lurid, with a dry bite on the midpalate. There’s fair acidity, which is about all one can expect from most Condrieu these days. It gets better with air. Not up to Christophe Pichon’s standards, but pretty tasty.
The amuse is a delicious “shot” of tomato essence and fennel cream, which is followed by a creamy soup heavy with chestnuts. This, too, is excellent, but surprisingly similar to the amuse. And the next course is…one can see it coming…a cream-laden risotto with a twirl of ham. It’s all very good, but it’s a bit of a parody of classic French cuisine.
The next course at first seems to offer a little respite from dairy: crispy dorade with nicely-cooked (not overcooked) vegetables, but it again everything rests in a cream-based sauce. What’s going on here? Was there a national cream surplus resulting in some sort of government-funded buyback program? Is a surplus of crème liquide the issue over which teenagers have taken to the streets?
With a heavenly slab of foie gras poached in Banyuls (thankfully free of any suspiciously white sauces), I ask our somewhat munchable sommelière if there’s a glass of Banyuls that might go better with it than our Condrieu. I don’t get one. Instead, she launches into a mini-soliloquy, explaining that what I really want is a dry red wine. Well, no I don’t…but she does seem convinced. I finally consent.
Villeneuve “Château de Roquefort” 2003 Côtes de Provence “Les Mûres” (Provence) – Rough strawberry, mixed cherries, and earth. Very, very, very concentrated, with ripeness and intensity to spare, plus a sharp, scraping acidity (how’d they get that in 2003? never mind, I don’t want to know) that cleans up after the wine’s gone home for the day. Striking. Good? Maybe.
It’s just as well she doesn’t return to inquire after the pairing, because it’s awful. We appear to have lost the love, the hottie sommelière and I. Anyway, there’s a stunning Brebis (one perfect cheese, full of a surprising minerality, and something that goes a lot better with the Côtes-de-Provence than the foie gras), a fruity sorbet-like sphere, and a concoction that tastes like a volumetric expansion of a chocolate-covered espresso bean with a plethora of fried, crispy things sprinkled around the plate: banana, parsley, etc. I’m not sure it works; it feels like a grocery cart accident more than a fully-conceptualized dessert. A fine coffee nearly brings the curtain down on the evening, but there’s one more act for me.
Darroze 1974 Bas-Armagnac (Southwest France) – Warming alcoholic heat, but balanced and supple. Concentrated black raspberry with notes of walnut. And…is it? Yes, it is. A touch of cream.
We take the Métro only as far as Concorde, and walk back to the hotel. It’s a majestic evening in a majestic setting. And it’s our last. The streets remain still, poised, waiting…
4 April 2006 – Paris, France
The Parisian infrastructure swings into action as we rise, cleaning up the refuse from yesterday’s protests in anticipation of today’s continuation (which is, we learn later, to turn violent). We do a short post-breakfast walk, enjoying the bright sun and wishing we could stay another day, but we’ve arranged for a taxi to the airport (far earlier than we’d like) in order to avoid the transportation strikes we’re assured are on the day’s agenda.
At the airport, in the one and only nice part of Charles de Gaulle (the rest is a stinking dive), an unbelievably pleasant Air France agent offers us € 600 to consider taking a later flight. Is this any way to run an airline? We gladly accept, and though we end up on the flight anyway, we get to keep the voucher…which helps pay for this trip.
Maybe they should consider saving that money and spending it on in-flight wine service.
Skalli 2004 Vin de Pays d’Oc Merlot (Languedoc) – Soupy cherry and unshowered foot. Ick.
Copyright © Thor Iverson.