"Sophia," Hand-colored archival photo by Franc Palaia (2011)
HOLIDAY IN PARIS
by John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER: MICHAEL'S, NEW YORK
by John Mariani
CAN THE 2009 BORDEAUX LIVE UP TO ALL THE HYPE?
by John Mariani
Bristol's Beaux Arts building dates back to 1757, before
the French Revolution turned the town topsy turvy, and
it has been a grand hotel since 1925. Closed for a
complete renovation and enlargement, the hotel has a new
wing, and it has retained every inch of its
classic architectural charm while showing a new polish
and, it seems, a youthful vitality among the
staff. Any whiff of Gallic snobbism has vanished.
The rooms are sunny, as much as possible by letting in the flood of the soft Parisian light that made the Impressionists giddy. The bathrooms are now California large and gorgeously appointed, marble from floor to ceiling, the amenities first rate. It would be hard to match the elegance and views of the Prestige Suite (left), and it's easy enough to see why the hotel is a favorite of the fashion crowd. (Le Bristol, incidentally, is renowned for its High Tea fashion shows.) It is one of the few grand palais hotels that also offers an extensive children's program and even a separate menu for them. And the lobby has its own roaming resident white cat named Fa-Raon who is much indulged by both staff and guests.
The hotel has its own florist, so there are vases of fresh flowers everywhere. There is a spa and very beautiful pool, business center, hair salon, and for a remarkable 10 euros you can rent a Bristol Smart Car to go shopping. (Just how many gift boxes fit into a Smart Car?)
The biggest change here has been the relocation of the main Épicure dining room, which has had three Michelin stars for years now, to what had been the summer garden space. Now enclosed for year-round dining room, it is awash in sunlight, twilight and starlight through glass doors and windows. The old dining premises, where I most recently had an exceptionally fine lunch, is being turned into banquet facilities.
I cannot, then, speak of the new premises but I can easily rave about the quality of Chef Eric Frechon's cuisine, which now seems lighter and less complex than it used to be yet still solidly within haute cuisine standards of luxury. Instead of a seven-course extravaganza at lunch, I asked Frechon if he could serve each of us different three-course meals (we always switch plates), and of course he was far more generous than that, sending out exquisite amuses, breads, and tidbits to spur the appetite while we sipped Pierre Mouncuit Rosé Champagne. The amuses included foie gras lollipops with spun sugar and chips of crispy cheese and pistachios, with flavors and textures galore, the sweetness followed by the burst of cheese. There was also chorizo-studded egg custard, and an odd, small green ball that when placed on the tongue bursts with olive oil.
A creamy cauliflower mousseline in red onion gelée followed, with haddock foam--that last vestige of Ferran Adrià's culinary legacy--the kind of dish that exemplifies haute cuisine moderne, but without gimmickry. We both began with a succulent large langoustine and caviar, served cold, with crispy celeriac and a bit of Japanese lemon. Then came one of Frechon's signature dishes, macaroni stuffed with truffles, artichoke and foie gras (below)--the French are never one to skimp on expensive ingredients when it comes to pasta--which was slipped under the broiler with a topping of Parmigiano cheese. With this we drank a Château Dubois-Challon Fleur Amandine 2009, the marriage decadent in the most honest ways. Veal sweetbreads were braised with Amaretto, sweet red onions and candied and fresh almonds to add texture. Although the description sounds cloyingly sweet, this was an outstanding, well-balanced dish, accompanied by a hearty Château Barde-Haut 2000. The fish served was a whiting in a bread crust with what was described as "al dente" New Zealand spinach with curry oil, and it was sensationally good, served with a perfectly mature Domaine M. Colin Chassagne-Montrachet 2009. A lovely selection of cheeses was matched with a Domaine Rolet Père et Fils Arbois Vin Jaune 2004, while a pre-dessert of a stalk of meringue with a sour citrus sorbet, mango gelée, and mango powder was an intense spark before black Provençal figs poached in a spiced strawberry juice, with ice cream and biscuits (plus numerous cookies, candies, and chocolates), accompanied by sweet Domaine Etko Commanderie Centurion from, of all places, Cyprus. It was liquorous and delicious.
This vast display of dishes was served in a very civilized two hours, and it is fascinating to watch the timing and tempo of the staff, the captain knowing precisely when to signal waiting waiters with their silver trays to bring the next course, the busboys always attendant to breads and removal of dishes. It was a flawless meal.
The restaurant has a cache of more than 30,000 bottles and a thousand selections. Menus are printed in various languages, and, of course, taxes and service are included in the price of the food. Dinner first courses run 78€-110€, main courses 62€-120€. A 6-course tasting menu runs 250€.
The Bristol is offering a Christmas package that includes a one-night stay, American Breakfast for two, a bottle of champagne and chocolates in your room upon arrival, and a special gift for children, from 650€. Christmas Réveillon dinner is 590€.
The Lucien BarriÉre Group's founder, François André, dreamed of owning Fouquet's restaurant as long ago as the 1920s, and his nephew Lucien went on to build on his uncle's legacy of grand hotels, with the Group eventually owning and operating 40 casinos, 16 hotels and more than 90 restaurants. But the famous Fouquet's (once a coachmen's inn and the first restaurant to open on the Champs Élysée) eluded them. Intimately bound to the history of French and international cinema, from which the Molière and César Awards Ceremonies were launched, Fouquet's was also the place during World War I where the French flier aces drank when not shooting down German biplanes and zeppelins. The restaurants had a good run until the 1970s, when, like the Champs Élysee itself, it went into decline. A new owner tried to revive it but it took three years of legal battles and the award of Historic Landmark status to prevent Fouquet's from being shuttered by the landlord. In the fall of 1998, with the Champs Élysée now chic with expensive fashion stores, the Barrière Group took it over and began its renovation, with the new hotel opening in 2006.
The Group describes the new décor as "modern yet baroque," with plenty of posh appointments throughout, including an open-air terrace and beautiful interior garden, with every room offering views of the Champs Élysée or George V. Velvet and damask are used in the curtains and canopies, gold-leafed arches and columns are everywhere, and the bathrooms are among the most spacious in Paris, with black granite floors and walls, double sinks and TV screens. Soft drinks from the mini bar are complimentary, as is an internet connection--which I hope becomes the norm in at a time when other hotels in Paris charge exorbitant rates for such an amenity. There is, of course, a completely modern U Spa and a 50 by 26 foot swimming pool.
The 40-seat restaurant within the hotel is called Le Diane (below), after one of the Barrière family, opening onto that lovely garden patio. It's all about light here, quite modern, with gold and mauve contrasted with orange and sprays of the season's flowers. The silverware is Christofle, the china Limoges, the glassware crystal. Here Chef Jean-Yves Leuranguer makes a modern cuisine tending towards a lighter spirit, with dishes like tomato tart with burrata; Challans duck with a turnip confit spiced with orange and ginger; mullet with zucchini flowers, olive oil, and sauce vierge; pressed quail with foie gras and chutney; and wild strawberries with vanilla cream and almond croustillant and rhubarb sorbet. His cooking is very much centered on the main ingredient, not distracted by so many others, and the pedigree of those ingredients--Challan duck, Charolais beef, and more--is unassailable.
Le Diane is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and Chef Leuranguer offers tasting menus at 78€, 98€ and 125€. À la carte appetizers run 29€-59€ and main courses 42€-66€, which these days in Paris constitute moderate prices for this caliber of cuisine. Le Diane is also featuring a Christmas dinner as part of a Le Diane package that includes a luxury room or suite, American breakfast for two, dinner at Le Diane, complimentary pass to the spa, and more.
I did not have time to dine at Fouquet's but I was enchanted at least to have breakfast there. While retaining a look that partakes of its Belle Epoque history, it is wonderfully bright and shiny, and its prospect on the Champs Élysée and Avenue Georges V is nonpareil. One need not try too hard to imagine everyone from Jean Gabin and Romy Schneider to Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant sitting at a table here, and although it's often regarded as a brasserie, the dining rooms (one upstairs) are quite elegant, with crystal chandeliers, leather banquettes, thick carpeting, and mahogany accents, with scores of black and white photos of the celebrities who have filled its tables.
Chef Leuranguer oversees the kitchen here, too, and the menu is considerably more traditional than at Le Diane, with starters (27€-49€) like lobster in fennel soup, parsnip soup with foie gras; and smoked salmon with potato puree; and main courses (48€-64€) like John Dory a la nage with coco beans and mizuna; roast rack of lamb with vegetable tian; and sautéed sole with steamed potatoes.
There is a menu at 89€. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Le Royal Monceau Raffles
24 Avenue Hoche
There are two restaurants at the new Royal Monceau, one indelibly French, called La Cuisine, the other stylishly Italian, named Il Carpaccio. I reported on both some months ago, but I happily had occasion to return to La Cuisine this fall to see how the seasons were changing the menu there, under Executive chef Laurent André and chef de cuisine Gabriel Gapin, who focus is on ingredients rather than presentation. There is an emphasis on roasting and grilling without fuss.
I am also happy to report that prices here are somewhat below those at other deluxe hotel dining rooms in Paris, with appetizers from 22€ to 41€, main courses 39€ to 55€, a seafood prix fixe dinner at 90€ and vegetarian menu at 39€. There is a communal table (below) with aluminum chairs, the open kitchen faces the dining room.
You might begin with medallions of Brittany lobster come with a vegetable salad and a silky mushroom marmalade. There is the inevitable pasta dish, one night done with lobsters and sweetbreads, a rich, wonderful dish, or the more traditional Parisian gnocchi, piped from a pastry tube, were rife with peas, wild mushrooms and a julienne of ham; currently Burgundian snails are added. Chestnut soup, perfect for the season, comes with guinea fowl meat on toast, while duck foie gras is roasted till its center is creamy and pink, served with fresh fig and black pepper caramel.
Sea bass is roasted on a spit (not easy to get right and keep intact), and accompanied by polenta, black olives and dried tomato coulis. Also from the spit cames browned, succulent squab à la "Rossini," with foie gras and truffles. There is even a selection of sushi here, like razor clam with golden caviar, as well as a cold shellfish consommé.
It is very difficult these days to justify ordering both cheese and dessert, so go with someone willing to share both. We were delighted by the variety of perfectly ripe cheeses, breads, and condiments (14€), no less than the exquisite desserts that includes a delicate rendering of millefeuille pastries. The montebello dessert is a pistachio dacquoise biscuit with pistachio mousseline cream, and seasonal berries. There is also a citron tart with lemon cream and candied lemon, and an entire page devoted to macarons, which have become the sweet rage of the moment in Paris.
The 35,000 bottle wine list, overseen by Burgundian sommelier Manuel Peyrondet, is very strong for a young restaurant and growing; prices are haute reasonable, with some good wines under 60€.
The big, spacious room itself bright but softly lighted, with crystal chandeliers and 1960s mod colors throughout, reds, blues, yellows, with graffiti-like messages on columns; it's a great spot for people watching, especially since the hotel has actively courted a show biz crowd, so that some rooms are named after great performers, like Ray Charles, and the hotel has its own cinema room with 100 seats.
The rooms at the Royal Monceau have been designed to feel more like apartments in their appointments, with particular books and décor resembling a (well-off) artist's atelier. Le Royal Monceau is very much the hotel of the moment, and given its forward-looking decor and breezy public spaces, it is likely to be so for a good long time to come.
Nomicos, formerly of Laserre and Alain Ducasse, brings
his own modern French cuisine to this new casually
chic restaurant near the Arc de Triomphe, with a sleek
slender dining room with gray basketweave
wallcoverings and burnt orange fabrics. Its size
and menu scope is a pretty good indication of the
style of 21st century free-standing restaurants in the
city now, for few individuals, without massive
financial support from a hotel or luxury goods
company, can any longer launch the kind of restaurant
that garners three Michelin stars--despite Michelin's
hollow boast that they only judge what's on the plate,
never the plate itself.
MICHAEL'S, New York
Michael's was unlike any other restaurant of its day,
for while it was in the
vanguard of what was being called "New California
Cuisine," the restaurant had a breezy American style
to it, replete with some of the emerging American
artists' paintings and sculptures decorating the room,
including Jim Dine and David Hockney, which his wife,
painter Kim, helped him to collect. The patio was pure
California casual chic, with white umbrellas, daisies
in the Perrier bottles, and an engaging crew of
waiters dressed in khakis, pink Oxford shirts and knit
ties. All that, and wonderful French-California
cuisine--those first menus were entirely in
French--was engagingly new, and long before the word
"locavore" was coined, McCarty, along with other L.A.
progenitors were cooking with only the finest,
freshest ingredients available from the California
cornucopia. At the beginning, McCarty was the menu
creator but along the way he had a notable number of
young talents, like Jonathan Waxman, to oversee the
Michael's is open for breakfast Mon.-Fri., lunch Mon.-Fri., Dinner Mon.-Sat. Dinner starters $16-$22, entrees $30-$45.
The Man About Town is on assignment.
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NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
Can the 2009 Bordeaux Live Up to All the Hype?
we go again.
very happy with the wines, though I’ll hold my
exhilaration at bay thus far. My concern is implicit
in my scribbled note that “the 2009s taste like really
good California cabernet blends,” which is a
backhanded way of saying that California blends are
becoming more complex but that Bordeaux winemakers,
already troubled by global warming, may be making
their wines in a far bigger, more forward—dare I say,
overripe—style that tends to impress the critics. This
is not your father’s Bordeaux.
John Mariani's wine column appears in Bloomberg Muse News, from which this story was adapted. Bloomberg News covers Culture from art, books, and theater to wine, travel, and food on a daily basis.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT TACOS THAT
BRINGS OUT THE BEAST IN MEN?
A man in Georgia, dissatisfied with the filling in his food bought at Taco Bell, returned at four AM and tried to throw a Molotov cocktail though the drive-thru window but missed, hitting only the building. . . Meanwhile, in San Diego, a man ordered a burrito at a taco stand to distract attention from his accomplice, who was dressed in a gorilla mask, trying to rob the place.
. . . NOT TO MENTION THE WAY CHEFS REACT TO AA GILL
After reading a negative review by critic AA Gill in the Sunday Times, Chef Charlie McCubbin from the River Cafe, Brecon, allegedly swung a punch at kitchen worker Keith McVaigh, then pushed him downstairs and tussled with him. He also allegedly used "foul" language and "appeared intoxicated."
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