Wine Club Newsletter - July 2011
For our July Wonderful World of Wine Newsletter, I felt compelled to share this restaurant review with you. I figure I have read somewhere north of 8,000 restaurant reviews, and this piece written for the April 2011 Vanity Fair by A. A. Gill kept me coming back to read it again, nearly a dozen times now.
Gill’s describes with exceptional insight the goings on with the restaurant pomp and circumstance from the old world standards, something I addressed recently in a recent WOW newsletter.
The review is longer than my normal story, but well worth the read.
By A. A. Gill
From Bill Clinton to Woody Allen, it seems every American (or Brit) visiting Paris on an expense account has the same favorite “Please don’t write about it” bistro: L’Ami Louis. Given its colonic décor, surly service, unbelievable food, and hefty bill, the restaurant is a true Gallic triumph.
As you know, it was Thomas Gold Appleton, Longfellow’s brother-in-law, who said, “Good Americans, when they die, go to Paris.” He failed to add that, prior to joining the choir eternal, good Americans all go to eat at L’Ami Louis. Presidents, movie stars, C.E.O.’s, playboys, and Woody Allen all make their way to a little bistro on a side street near the old market of Les Halles. It’s not just good Americans—fat Englishmen are drawn to L’Ami Louis. Two nations, separated by a common language and a mutual antipathy to each other’s cuisine, are joined in an appetite for L’Ami Louis.
In all my years as a restaurant critic I have learned that there is a certain type of florid, blowsy, patrician Brit who will sidle up and bellow, with a fruity bluster, that if I ever happen to find myself in Paris (as if Paris were a cul-de-sac on a shortcut to somewhere else) there is this little place he knows, proper French, none of your nouvelle nonsense, bloody fantastic foie gras, and roast chicken like Bridget Bardot’s tits, and that I should go. But, they add, don’t bloody write about it. We don’t want Monsieur Yank and his good lady wife turning up in droves. It’s called …
I know what it’s called. L’Ami Louis. I ask the hotel concierge at Le Meurice to book a table for lunch. “L’Ami Louis,” he says, with a pitiful sadness. “It’s always L’Ami Louis for les Anglais.”
What you actually find when you arrive at L’Ami Louis is singularly unprepossessing. It’s a long, dark corridor with luggage racks stretching the length of the room. It gives you the feeling of being in a second-class railway carriage in the Balkans. It’s painted a shiny, distressed dung brown. The cramped tables are set with labially pink cloths, which give it a colonic appeal and the awkward sense that you might be a suppository. In the middle of the room is a stubby stove that also looks vaguely proctological.
At the end of the dining room is the tiny kitchen and an even tinier bar, where the waiters lurk like extras for a Gallic version of The Sopranos. The staff are an essential part of Louis’s mystique. Paunchy, combative, surly men, bulging out of their white jackets with the meaty malevolence of gouty buffalo. They may well be related by blood—theirs or other people’s. They exude a pantomime insolence, an existential Le Fug Youse. As you walk in, one approaches with an eyebrow raised and nose aloft to give you the benefit of full-frontal froggy nostril. If you get past the door, and many don’t, the first thing your waiter does is take your coat. The next thing he does is fling it with effortful nonchalance into the luggage rack. Returning customers know to keep wallets, BlackBerrys, and spectacles out of their pockets. As it is, a tinkling dandruff of change scuttles behind the banquettes.
We are sat at a table by the door. Our particular chubby, oyster-eyed fellow dumps off a pair of menus and a large book without a word or the offer of a drink. The menu is brief and bloody. The tome is the wine list. It turns out to be a massive eulogy to claret. Every grand château and vintage is represented with sycophantic prices. The wine cellar is behind the lavatory in a crypt that smells overpoweringly of fetid bladder damp. After a lot of smiley semaphore, I manage to beg a single glass of house red for my companion.
We order foie gras and snails to start. Foie gras is a L’Ami Louis specialty. After 30 minutes what come are a pair of intimidatingly gross flabs of chilly pâté, with a slight coating of pustular yellow fat. They are dense and stringy, with a web of veins. I doubt they were made on the premises. The liver crumbles under the knife like plumber’s putty and tastes faintly of gut-scented butter or pressed liposuction. The fat clings to the roof of my mouth with the oleaginous insistence of dentist’s wax.
As I suck my teeth, I watch the waiters saunter up and down the aisle like Vichy ticket collectors. Another one appears. Not fat, not white, not a caricature. A lithe, handsome boy, who is probably North African. He is plainly a prop. His job is to be wrong, to soak up blame. The big men bully up, roll their eyes, wave their chubby knuckles at him as he delivers and clears and sweeps crumbs. A man pretends to cuff him round the ear and looks over at a table of Americans with a grin and a wink to include them in the jape.
An Englishman in blinding tweed and racy cap pushes through the door and roars. A waiter steps forward, arms outstretched, and makes hee-haw, hee-haw noises like Bart Simpson pretending to speak French. It is the practiced and familiar ritual greeting of mutual incomprehension and ancient contempt. Our servant glides past and does a silent-movie double take. “Your snails!” he exclaims. “They have not come!” His cheeks bulge as he flaps his short arms. In all my years of professional eating, I have never seen this before. I have seen waiters do many, many things, including burst into tears and juggle knives, and I once glimpsed one having sex. But never, ever has a waiter commiserated with me about the lack of service.
Twenty minutes later, possibly under their own steam, the snails arrive. Vesuvian, they bubble and smoke in a magma of astringent garlic butter and parsley. We grasp them with the spring-loaded specula and gingerly unwind the dark gastropods, curling like dinosaur boogers. They go on and on, expanding onto the plate as if they were alien. We have to cut them in half, which is just wrong. The rule with snails is: Don’t eat one you couldn’t get up your nose.
Twenty minutes later, our plates are taken away. Twenty minutes after that, our main courses arrive. Or rather, my companion’s does. A veal chop, utterly plain, unaccompanied or sullied by decoration or inspiration. Just an awkwardly butchered skinny rib that has been grilled for too long on one side and too little on the other so that it is simultaneously stingingly dry and overdone and flabbily, slimily raw. She can’t decide which side to complain about.
I have decided not to go for the famous roast chicken, mainly because I’ve suffered it before and I’d just been watching a Japanese couple wrestle with one like a manga poltergeist from some Tokyo horror movie, its scaly blue legs stabbing the air. So on to the broiled kidneys. Nothing I have eaten or heard of being eaten here prepared me for the arrival of the veal kidneys en brochette. Somehow the heat had welded them together into a gray, suppurating renal brick. It could be the result of an accident involving rat babies in a nuclear reactor. They don’t taste as nice as they sound.
As an afterthought, or perhaps as an apology, the waiter brings a funeral pyre of French fries—they taste of seared and overused cooking oil—and then a green salad of frisée and mâche, two leaves that rarely share a bowl, due to their irreconcilable differences. They have been doused in vinegar that may have been recycled from the gherkin bottle. Dessert is four balls of gray ice cream and something that had once been chocolate.
Now the good bit. The reckoning. The foie gras appetizer was 58 euros. That’s $79. A single glass of house wine was $19. And the final bill for lunch for two was $403. That isn’t the most expensive meal in Paris, but in terms of quality, service, atmosphere, and all-round edible value, it’s way out there at the far end of the naughty step.
So why do the Americans and English come here?
Men who, at home, are finickity and fussy about everything, who consider themselves epicurean and cultured. Men who choose their own ties and are trusted with scissors and corporations, who have “sophisticated” on their Facebook pages. Why do they continue to come here? They can’t all have brain tumors. The only rationally conceivable answer is: Paris. Paris has superpowers; Paris exerts a mercurial force field. This old city has such compelling cultural connotations and aesthetic pheromones, such a nostalgically beguiling cast list, that it defies judgment. It’s a confidence trick that can make oreille de cochon out of a sow’s ear—reputation and expectation are the MSG of fine dining.
But still, it’s undeniable that L’Ami Louis really is special and apart. It has earned an epic accolade. It is, all things considered, entre nous, the worst restaurant in the world.
Growing Region: Langenlois, Austria
Varietal Blend: 100% Grüner Veltliner
Fermentation: Stainless Steel Fermentation
Suggested Retail: $22.00
WineSellar Club Case Price: $15.99
Grüner Veltliner: Watch, as it becomes an increasingly popular varietal selection in the homes and restaurants across the United States. Its refreshing drinkability, purity, the price, and the complexity these wines have to offer make them quite attractive. Our producer, Weingut Jurtschitsch, have records dating back to the 15th century regarding wine produced at the Estate. The vineyards are organically farmed since the 1970’s, and great care is taken to keep lots separate. Overall a winning formula for our white selection for July 2011.
Screw cap! Love it. A wine that is meant for early consumption and easy drinking need not bother with cork. Not so sure I agree with the color scheme of the metal/grey/silver capping with the pale yellow label, but hey, it’s the wine that is important. It has a little spritz when you first pour, which dissipates soon. A brilliant light yellow corn hue, very clear, and glistens in the light like a brand new bicycle under the Christmas tree. Clings to the glass like 30 weight oil, nice!
Clean and pure aromas of white tree fruit, some creamy spice (cinnamon), pine nuts and ginger flower. You may also notice some ripe orange essence, minerals and chalk, sprig of green herbs and mint.
Fresh and refreshing mouth feel. Very clean, with a tight but yielding crispy acidity. In fact, it yields to a honey like texture as it opens with air.
White peach and apricot are the fore flavors. It sort of reminds me a little like a European style lemon lime yogurt; rich, creamy flavors of the tree fruit (and gooseberry), yet edgy with the citric flavors. Also noticed honeydew melon, with mineral and chalk.
Here’s a great summer sipper. Use as an aperitif at a reception with fine appetizers, cheeses, or even on its own. I had mine with smoked salmon appetizer and enjoyed it as well with the scallops in lemon butter sauce for dinner that night. Very satisfying, indeed.
Growing Region: Sonoma Coastal Region, California
Varietal Blend: 100% Pinotage
Fermentation: 100% French Oak, New and Used
Suggested Retail: $32.00
WineSellar Club Case Price: $23.99
Watch, as it might become an increasingly popular varietal selection in the homes and restaurants across the United States. Sound familiar? Pinotage is not for everyone, as characteristically it has a little bitterness. However, that is often countered with deep, dark fruit and chocolate flavors. I happen to LOVE Pinotage, but it is rarely grown in the U.S. This was a South African creation from the year 1925, whereupon Pinot Noir and Cinsault were grafted into one, and dubbed Pinotage. The varietal received little respect until later in the 1990’s, when South African wine making vaulted in quality. Fabulous with stewed meats!
Nice, black looking Burgundy bottle with the white label with the black font “Fort Ross” reading clear. The word “Pinotage” is a little difficult to read, say if it were sitting on a shelf. The wine is opaque at the center with a dark cherry skin color at the edge. Quite pretty overall.
I think the nose has a beguiling, haunting quality to it. The spicy, deep black fruit compote, with the charcoal and Asian spices are really cool. Dark chocolate and fine oak are excellent additions, with blackberry, black cherry, black pepper, a crush of herbs, saddle leather, and perhaps maple syrup.
At once, it is profoundly fruity and has a slightly bitter finish. This is the way Pinotage is supposed to be. Our Fort Ross Pinotage is explosive in the mouth, and is mouth-watering actually. Full-bodied fruit hits a stem like character on the finish and battles our senses and sensibilities. Be wine liberal, allow yourself to enjoy it. IF you don’t like it, put it in the refrigerator overnight and have it the next day. The bitterness will be gone,
Deep cherry fruit is lengthy, backed by black berry, black pepper, and fresh green herbs. Also notice the nice vanilla oak treatment, a touch of prune. I noticed the wine becoming more complex after 30 minutes, and realized some cola flavors and a touch of saffron, of all things.
Check this out: It is a 2006 vintage, drinking very young and has a nice future ahead of it. Pinotage is meant to have with food. In fact, it needs food! Start the grill before opening your first bottle. Then serve with (preferably) fatty red meats, pork with fruit sauces, flavorful cheese, sausages, anything that needs a kick of acid and bitter to round out the fat of the product you’re using.
Growing Region: Napa Valley, California
Varietal Blend: Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Graciano, Petite Syrah
Fermentation: French Oak
Suggested Retail: $32.00
WineSellar Club Case Price: $25.99
Here’s one that is definitely flying under the radar. Winemaker/owner Mark Herold (past proprietor of Merus Wines) has embarked into the world of non-traditional California varietal blending, as illustrated by ”Collide”. Folks, it isn’t very often we find this mix of varietals, especially the Graciano grape, in California. It should be noted that these varietals are all used in Spain, perhaps providing the focus and inspiration for Mark.
A rather simple but contemporary packaging leaves little clue to the shopper what is happening inside. Screw cap is fine, nice colors and design. The wine is unbelievably dark, black/opaque through most of the wine, as only the far reaching edge of the rim shows bright ruby-red-crimson. The tears stain the glass purple on their way down the inside of the bowl. It is almost intimidating looking at the depth of color. After all, these are grapes!
Nice deep red and black fruit aromatics, wrapped with some sweet oak, earth and savory sage and rosemary. I swear I can separate the Tempranillo from the other grapes, must be from spending 3 weeks in Spain wine country recently. Anyway, it smells delicious, as it promises both power and elegance. Milk chocolate? I think so!
This is a youthful, highly extracted wine that has layers of fruits and acids, all of which need time to fully resolve. If drinking in 2011, decant or leave it open for a couple hours, it makes a big difference. The entry is full, mouth filling, mouth drying, and very long on the finish. Fresh out of the bottle, it’s a wine for a rodeo cowboy.
Black fruits, all things black: black cherry, black berry, black figs . . . you can say it has a nice black bone. Good oak tones, some herb elements, underbrush and a hint of earthiness. This wine is really young, and will gain further palate complexities over the next few months and years.
I would try this, and if you like it, buy 6-12 bottles and put it away for 3-8 years. My sense tells me it will take on an elegance and sophistication that will surpass its humble packaging and low price point.
Growing Region: Napa Valley, California
Varietal Blend: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Fermentation: New and Used Oak Fermentation
Suggested Retail: $75.00
WineSellar Club Case Price: $44.99 (Check out THAT price!)
For the first time EVER, I am bringing the same wine back into the Gary Parker Collection. We had the Macauley Cabernet last year, and it was a hit. I want to offer another for a few reasons: It recently received a 96 Point rating in the Wine Enthusiast Magazine, and a 92 Point rating in The Wine Spectator. I also think if you drank this wine already and don’t have it in your cellar, it should be. It is very worthy. The case price is incredible. Finally, it will give you a chance to see how the wine has evolved in the bottle since you last had it. Overall, I found the wine to have evolved nicely, with more expressive fruit components, especially blueberry, and enhanced notes of ginger and oak.
OK, let’s spend a few dollars a bottle to make it an outstanding, beautiful example of art and the wine industry. Black look and feel from dark glass, and engraved silver and red fonts with a crest makes for a stunning statement. Oh yeah, the wine is pretty too! Nearly opaque, it is black at the core and deep ruby along the rim. Legs are just the way I like them, clear and forever.
Beautiful beginnings, the black and red fruits aromas pop through the surrounding vanilla oak. I like that a lot. Some black and white pepper notes, chocolate, hints of crushed herbs and dark soil earth tones are very pleasant.
I like to call this wine a lip smacker. It has a very juicy feel, and makes my mouth water not unlike sticking in a fresh piece of gum . . . gets the salivary glands flowing. Medium to medium full in weight, the texture is about the structure here. Vertical impression, meaning youngish tannins are in the right balance to the fruit intensity, so you know the wine has a future ahead of it.
Wonderful California Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley personified. Gorgeous black berry fruit is accented with superior oak influences of vanilla and smoke. More subtle elements are the fresh herbs, pepper, dark soil and chocolate components we noticed on the nose.
I want a juicy, grilled steak with this, to see if my saliva glands are in shape enough to take the entire stimulus. I would keep food pairings simple, marinated grilled meats, including steaks and lamb, and perhaps venison and other game would be great too. Will age and improve up to 2020.
- 3 medium sized sweet potato
- 4 oz. olive oil, or oil of your preference
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon coriander
- ½ teaspoon cayenne or Italian chile (to your taste)
- ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper
For the Dip:
- 1.5 cup of European or Greek style plain yogurt, nonfat if you like
- 1 teaspoon curry
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- 2 tablespoons squeeze of fresh Meyer lemon
- salt and pepper to taste
- Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees
- In a large bowl, add the oil, cumin, coriander, cayenne/Italian chile and salt and pepper.
- Whisk until the color is even any powder lumps broken, and it is smooth.
- Cut the potatoes lengthwise into wedges, at least 8 wedges per potato, leave the skins on.
- Add potatoes to the bowl with the oil mixture in it, and toss until are all evenly coated.
- Place wedges on a non-stick cookie sheet, careful not to have any of them touching.
- Place cookie sheet in oven 12-15 minutes, making sure they do not burn.
- With tongs, flip over the wedges and cook 12-15 minutes more.
For the Dip:
- Add the yogurt, curry, cumin, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
- Whisk gently
- Place into communal dipping bowl or individual bowls.
- Refrigerate until ready.
- Place in decorative glasses (or cups) that are wider at the top than the base, with napkins wrapped cone like around each set of wedges.
- The general rule is the equivalent of one potato to every one glass or cup.
Serves six appetizers or side dish.