Abaluche Wine Company

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Following the Gourmand Trail, Part Deux

Part Deux takes us from the inimitable Pierre Gagnaire just around the corner to the classic Taillevant, and on down the Faubourg St. Honoré past Le Bristol to Alain Senderens and finally, the Pavillion Ledoyen.

Waiting for the guests
Taillevant, 8ème, **
Granted it's first Michelin star in 1948, just 2 years after opening its doors, Taillevant has been the barometer for fine French cuisine since then.  Always classic, the restaurant has moved three times, achieved a three-star status, and currently resides inside an 19th century townhouse on rue Lamennais.  The history of the restaurant is rich; once occupying the former embassy of Paraguay, opening Les Caves Taillevent and L'Angle du Faubourg, and the eventual loss of one star in 2007.  Chef Thomas Keller also spent some time behind the stoves here before moving on to New York in the mid-80's.  Chef Alain Solivérès is the current master of the kitchen, and the cuisine is still considered some of the finest in the city; the experience of a lunch or dinner tasting at Taillevant is unparalleled, and always highly recommended.

The Famous Bakery
You'll then find yourself near the Rue du Faubourg St. Honoré, a perfect excuse to promenade down this famous route, and you can see the gradual transition from sleepy art galleries and antique shops to designer chocolatiers, patisseries, and finally, Hermès (the original saddler opened here in 1880).  You'll also pass by one of the city's most celebrated hotel properties, Le Bristol, where our 6th top restaurant lies.
At 749€ a night, why wouldn't you check in?
Le Bristol, 8ème.  ***
In the decadent hotel that opened in April 1925, right along the Rue Faubourg St. Honoré and Avenue Matignon.  The hotel and it's eponymous restaurant were named for the Count de Bristol, a famous British traveler who was renowned for his splendid taste of all things luxurious and refined.  But it's history as a hotel dates all the way back to 1829, known then as the Vogüé Hôtel, named for the Count Charles de Vogüé.  Today, the hotel is just as resplendent as it most likely was at the turn of the century, in part due to a grand restoration that was just completed in 2011.

Originally founded 1880.
Continuing down the Fbg St. Honoré, you'll pass the grand ateliers that made the this street their home as early as 1880 (Hermès, Lanvin) to the early 20th century pioneers of Parisian haute couture (Chanel, Balenciaga, Pierre Cardin, Rochas, Christian Lacriox).  At Rue Royale, turn left to walk past Gucci up to the Place du Madeleine.  At this picturesque place (and one of my top 3 Places in Paris), you'll see our 7th restaurant on the list.

Alain Senderens, née Lucas Carton.
Alain Senderens, 8ème, **
Formerly the famous Lucas Carton restaurant, Chef Alain Senderens, a founding father of 'Nouvelle Cuisine', took over ownership in 2005 where he renamed it, and kept the cuisine as hot as it was when he began cooking there in 1985.  Famously, he claims to have returned the three stars the restaurant earned as Lucas Carton when it was relaunched, claiming that he "could not charge an affordable price for meals while keeping up the standards Michelin required." He has apparently not lost his magic touch, as the restaurant now boasts two stars.  Even if the prix fixe menu of 100€ is too much, there is the fantastic Bar Passage du Senderens, the entrance inside an adjacent arcade, and a dining room above the main restaurant with a lovely leafy view of the Place du Madeleine.  The tasting menu, although smaller, is just as carefully designed and presented as I would assume it's done downstairs. Flavors pop, and reflect the seasons perfectly.  A great way to experience the great cuisine of Chef Senderens, at an even smaller fraction of the price of his already modestly priced menu.

Dejeuner à la Passage Senderens
Heading down towards the Place de la Concorde and the Seine, along the rue Royale, you'll pass the splendid façade of Maxim's, with the heavy burgundy-colored velvet drapes and intricate gilded Belle Epoque details. I've only been in to enjoy a Kir Royale at Le Petit Maxim's next door, but hope to return someday for the full show.  Head to the right of the Concorde, to pass in front of the grand Hôtel Crillion, to the left of the Espace Pierre Cardin, and across the Champs-Elysées.  You'll discover the last stop on the Gourmand Trail, Ledoyen.

Maxim's:  The Gift Shop
Christofle, rue Royale
Ledoyen, 8éme, ***
Established in 1791, this is Paris's oldest restaurant.  The history and impact of this restaurant on French cuisine through the centuries is palpable the minute you come face to face with the Pavilion.  With the ornate gilded and crystal-encrusted decor, lush landscaping, and million-dollar view of the Jardins des Champs-Elysées and the Place de la Concorde, it is no wonder why the nobility and the royalty of France came to this spot to dine (as well as artists and literary luminaries).  But at the same time, it does not overpower or intimidate you.  It seems you have been invited to a fabulous dinner party at a friend's estate in the countryside (who happens to be the Emperor).

The magnificent Ledoyen
Although I can imagine the interior to be just as 'contemporary' for the 18th century as the façade, I'm sure the dishes have undergone some sort of wonderful transformations in their time.  And although not the 'Nouvelle Cuisine' that seems to be de régulier at most of the top restaurants in Paris, the Guy Savoy's and Alain Senderens and Pierre Gagnaire's of France had to gain inspiration from somewhere.  Perhaps this is one of the places.

Est. 1792
It's a perfect way to end the tour of some of Paris's cherished gastronomic palaces.  And now, for my reward:  off to Eric Kayser bakery for a café, a galette du citron, and a fresh baguette for the morning.  Some chefs claim it's the best bread in Paris (for others, it's Pôlaine...more on that debate later), but at 4,40€, this is one of the 'Best Of's' that I can actually afford!

Mmmmm...Eric Kayser pastries.  And the Galettes du Roi!

Bon appétit, et a la prochaine!

Flat Whites, Icebreakers, Canterbury Lamb and Riesling: March 9, 2009

Just a few of my favorite things I’ve found this short while down here in New Zealand. Although not necessarily in that order. In the relatively short week I’ve spent here in the southern part of the world, I’ve seen my first blue penguin, had amazing lamb prepared several delicious ways, tasted a wild goat meat pie, sampled some of the best and most undiscovered Rieslings from this part of the world, and drank my weight in pints of Tui East Indian Ale while enduring a grueling 8 hour cricket match. In the blazing sun. Which, after 6 hours, turned into a frigid bowl of southerly gale force winds. I’ve also learned to drive on the other side of the road. Harrowing, considering that at every moment you are anticipating a head-on collision. And now, looking out onto High and Manchester streets in the center of Christchurch, I’m finally calm and settling into this new lifestyle, relaxed with my favorite Kiwi invention, the Flat White, as I watch the last of the Monday morning commuters buzz around me in a hurried attempt to begin their day-to-day cubicle life. Not me. Today, I travel with fellow Craggy Intern Patrick south of this Gateway To The Antartic to the Aroaki/Mt. Cook National Park. I have to admit, I couldn’t be happier to leave the city behind. For me, this is where the real New Zealand is discovered.

It’s freezing down here. And it’s March – I was expecting weather not unlike San Francisco in late August: warm, but with a slight chill in the evening. Not the case. So, after a necessary stop at one of the many outdoor stores (which are conveniently placed on every corner in the major intersections in South Island towns like Christchurch, Queenstown and Dunedin), I’m now all suited up with my North Face Ice Blue Fleece, my Mont goose-down sleeping bag and comfy ThermaRest camping mattress. I’m a fricking walking REI ad. NZed, here I come!

It’s a good thing that I got some civilized R&R in before embarking on this Great Unknown Journey. Prior to meeting Patrick in Christchurch (and witnessing way too much blood out in the streets for an average Saturday night), I escaped the City for a quick minibreak up to the Waipara Valley. Only an hour’s drive north of Christchurch, it is the perfect little getaway from the city. This is a region that is quickly becoming known for it’s delicate approach to Pinot Noirs and it’s ability to produce dry, off-dry and sweet Rieslings. I was able to taste at a few of the wineries in the region: Muddy Water, Pegasus Bay, Waipara Springs, and a little winery outside the region in little Waikari, Bell Hill, who are doing some absolutely fabulous small block, yet densely planted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on limestone rich soils.

As for the Rieslings, where Pegasus Bay is king in the region, there are plenty more nipping at their heels. The Rieslings of Muddy Water were outstanding, with their dry Riesling showing delicate aromas of peaches, pears and lychee with a bit of hazelnut on the long finish. At 6gr RS, this is the driest style of the region, but the intense acidity and minerality helps to erase any sign of sugar on the palate. My preferred wine of the day. Their medium-dry, the James Harwick, was again just as minerally, with a distinct white floral nose, but a zesty Key Lime pie palate that kept me diving back in for more. Quite yummy. As for their sweeter style, the 2006 ‘Unplugged’ had a bit of Botrytis-affected fruit included, from a block that sits a little lower than their other blocks near the river. At 53gr RS, the wine was definitely more of a dessert style, but you won’t find any cloying fruit notes with this one. A very expressive nose of rose petals and a hint of petrol, the palate was more glycerine in style verses sticky sweet, and again the presence of the minerality and acitidy helped the wine to be focused and present. Other producers I was able to check out included Waipara Springs, Where I had one of the most delectable lamb salads on the terrace with a bit of dry Riesling.

Although the Riesling was quite expressive and lovely, it was the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from little producer Bell Hill that really stole my heart. Built upon a former limestone quarry and production facility, it is evident why Marcel and Sherwyn decided to turn the property into a home for Pinot and Chardonnay vines. The backdrop was luscious, with a light rain falling on the densely carpeted clover-green peaks and hilly ranges while the spun sugar clouds dotted the sky, tinged with a bit of gray, looking down onto the grazing sheep below. Upon a bluff overlooking all of this extravagance sits Bell Hill.

More vineyard than production space, the love is definitely felt in the dirt, where the vines are planted close together in tough limestone soils, perched on ridges and slopes and fight to be the very best they can be. The soil is actually three distinct layers, with the topsoil consisting of dark clay, the mid section, and largest section, all limestone, and the deepest layer a very fine, packed greensand soil. Wilco, vineyard manager from Holland via Martinborough, shows me each block and expresses just how carefully each row is cared for.

To taste with owners Marcel and Sherwyn is a magical experience, to say the least. After a quick tour of the tiny but functional crushpad and production room, I am escorted though a door in what looks to be an outhouse shaped like a mushroom, down a metal spiral staircase to a magnificent, yet ‘Lilliplutian’ cellar below. 12 oak barrels and a wall of mostly Burgundian wines line the inside of this submerged container. There, Marcel pulls samples of their 2008 Chardonnay, recently finished with ML. It tastes fresh and new, yet resplendent of limestone and mineral. Key lime, kiwi and honeysuckle with subtle tropical fruits accented the palate and finish. A gorgeous texture of Chantilly cream finishes it off. Delightful.

For the Pinot Noirs represented, all were pulled from the barrel, Marcel blending blocks together, and offering tastes of single block samples. All had beautiful expressive fruit, with the resplendent acidity and minerality gained from the soils. A hint of herbality and gaminess was something I could definitely sink my teeth into. The most expressive of the 2008 Pinots was that from a block affectionately dubbed the “Problem Child” block. It was one of the first planted, and so the most mature; however, the soils have been turning up curious deposits from its former life as a limestone processing plant, so each vintage presents new challenges and discoveries. If what was tasted from the barrel is any indication, this block is the one to look out for. The texture was both of lace and satin, with strong expression of fruit tannins and limestone, and the complexity of all the components was outstanding for the wine’s young age. Upon bottling, I can see this particular Pinot becoming even more elongated and defined, with years of aging giving it even more complexity.

Upon returning to Christchurch, I needed to find the perfect dinner experience to compliment the wine experience I’d just had in Waipara. Walking in awe in the shadow of the Arts Complex, directly across from the Botanical Gardens and the Canterbury Museum, I notice a sign for Annie’s Wine Bar. Intrigued, not only because the place looked like Oxford and Hogwarts all rolled into one, but because it also featured a Wine Bar, I headed straight to the hostess stand. A beautiful space accented by the cut stained-glass windows and soaring beams, the ambience was a 10. Apparently, open flame is acceptable in dining rooms throughout New Zealand, and the white tapers at the tables and ledges definitely tricked me into thinking I was in fact dining in the Grand Hall at some prestigious English university. Looking out through the beveled glass onto the green grassy commons with the last bit of afternoon sun filtering in, I felt very much at home, and like I should have a copy of Keats as my dinner partner.

The staff was quite young and friendly, and displayed quite a bit of knowledge about the local Canterbury wines featured on the list, as well as the flavor profiles for the wines found outside the immediate area. All of the wines poured by the glass were presented in the wine list with the actual label pasted onto the parchment page, with handwritten descriptions listed beneath the artwork. It actually created a sense of excitement to be ordering a glass of wine instead of a sense of dread.

To start, a Nobilo ’05 Method Traditionelle paired with ‘Annie’s Breads & Spreads’: Mint & basil, EVOO & Balsamic & Hummous. Quite non-descript, save for the excellent New Zealand Olive Oil. For the main, the South Pacific Grouper with Red Pepper, Japanese Radish, Tempura Pears & Cardomom. Wonderful flaky texture on the fish, if the spice was a tad bit lacking. To pair, the Aurum ’07 Pinot Gris from Central Otago. A nice pairing, that actually helped to bring out the spice in the dish. With a bright stone fruit nose featuring apricots, lycee, melon and flint, there was a hint on spice on the med-dry finish. A lovely, long citrus and floral palate assists the persistent finish. With the Grouper, the flavors seem to be more pure. Delicate, slightly sweet, and a savory texture that is definitely highlighted by the Pinot Gris.

So, although I have not done the bungee thing or the skydiving thing or the rafting thing, or even the work thing yet, I seem to be LOVING NZed, as it were, and can't wait to try all the above things (and perhaps eat a live worm or two). Provided that working down here is half as fun as playing down here, I should be in for a very good time indeed.....

Cheers and Kai Ora

San Francisco, CA 94118  415-409-9645  info@abaluche.com

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