Present moment perfection
In late-September a friend gave me a single fig from her tree. I ate it, tasting in that moment a moment so true and pure it was better than riches… just quiet joy. Local, seasonal fruit. One sunlit moment in time. Completely ordinary, yet unaccountably beautiful. A very simple, yet very thoughtful gift, which is always the best kind.
Time being what it is, that now seems a long time ago, but the sensation remains vivid. As time rushes forward—scientists proving the earth’s velocity truly has increased, it’s not just our crazy lives—we humans rush about striving for mindfulness, single moments whose purity or beauty breaks through the chaos for seconds and leaves us without words. These moments, like the fig, fill our lives, many perfect moments becoming one beautiful whole. And yet so many of them are lost, forgotten, washed away by the afternoon tide while others stay etched in our minds over the long years ahead.
In this month’s column, I’d like to propose wine as an anchor that grounds us, connecting us to what is good and real and lasting. Wine’s history stretches back thousands of years, lending continuity and perhaps credibility, but think also about those occasions when we most imbibe: long meals with family and friends, shared laughter, tears, confessions and sometimes downright hilarity. Wine gulped without tasting, or drunk to get tipsy is not the same as wine sipped, savored and used to enhance a consciously prepared meal.
And so the moments pass, one ephemeral instance after another, constituting our lives. We may never end the constant barrage of chores, work and obligations we feel compelled to complete, so perhaps the best we can do is to go through life awake with eyes opened in reverence, grateful for this blink we’ve been given on earth.
Wines for contemplation and mindfulness:
Meditation, Vin de Pays Cité Carcassonne, 2009 – From Château Blau in the distant shadow of the Pyrenees near the walled city of Carcassonne comes this organic blend of 50% Syrah and 50% Egiodola. You knew that one, right? Egiodola is a Basque word meaning “pure blood” and the grape is a cross between Fer Servandoni and Arbouriu. The crew at Château Blau have this to say: “Organic farming is not just a matter of doing nothing and watching the weeds grow. It is also watching the weeds grow. And it is observing in order to try to understand. And acting preventively by using common sense and some simple products, sulphur, copper, herbal preparations, organic insecticides. All on a living soil, nourished by compost.” Plum-scented, fleshy and well-structured with good aging potential. $18
Valle dell’Acate Cerasuolo di Vittoria, 2008 – Wines from this Sicilian winery are made by the talented Gaetana Jacono whose family has been in the business since the nineteenth century. Gaetana uses primarily indigenous Sicilian grape varietals and all organic methods. The Cerasuolo di Vittoria is as elegant and complex as the winemaker herself; a spicy, smoky blend of Frappato for freshness, fruit and finesse with Nero d’Avola for dark fruit nuances, licorice and menthol…a marriage that works beautifully. 92 pts. Wine Advocate. $22
“I return link by link along the iron chains of memory to the city which we inhabited so briefly together.” –Justine, The Alexandria Quartet
In The Alexandria Quartet, Durrell writes, “When you are in love with one of its inhabitants, a city can become a world.” He was speaking of Alexandria, a city I visited only once and only because of that particular novel. If a city is what it does to you, so too, a great book is what it does to you, and the Quartet shaped my life for years to come. But last month, the city was not Alexandria, but rather Rome, a city historically allied closely with Alexandria. A city is what it does to you, but perhaps even more, a city is what you give to it. And a small group of us gave our all and our hearts not only to Rome but to Florence, Cinque Terre and to much of Italy. Perhaps a few hearts were even left over there.
The Italians call it il dolce far niente, “the sweetness of doing nothing.” Americans call it “hanging out” or “vedging”; young Americans say, “chilling.” Social scientists and sports participants speak of the “flow experience” or “expanded present.” And Buddhists and the rest of us try to live in the moment. Travel helps us with this because, away from routines and the known, we see with new eyes—or perhaps old eyes seeing anew.
Now back to a routine, albeit a beloved routine, the taste of Italy still lingers, the smiling face of its people, even its pasta, still vibrant. Yet for all its breathtaking art, and there is much, the greatest art may well be the art of being happy and of making other people happy, something at which the Italians excel. Therefore, in an attempt to embrace the spirit of Italy while back in Virginia, let’s gather in gratitude and toast with a few Italian favorites.
Valdinera “Chiaro di Luna” Nebbiolo Rosato,(organic) - This rosé from Piedmont stole my heart. It has an uncanny way of being both delicate and meaty, fruity yet mineral-driven. And there is an ever so slight spritz to it too, which is just right on a hot day. Made from 100 % pink Nebbiolo grapes; not red but pink. And what a beautiful Italian name, “Chiaro di Luna. Put on a certain Beethoven sonata or go howl at the moon. Pair with Trout baked with fresh herbs, free-range chicken with parsley and lemon, steamed mussels in Thai curry coconut milk. $16.99
Now if you think only monks can make wine, time to check out the nuns of Monastero Suore Cistercensi in Lazio. In this peaceful abbey, eighty women of the Cistercian order work vineyards, orchards and gardens organically. For aesthetic reasons more than religious ones, I have always loved the Cistercians who, believing in purity through austerity, built their abbeys or monasteries in some of the most remote, yet also some of the most beautiful, places I know. Rusticum - A blend of Trebbiano, Malvasia, Verdicchio and Grechetto. The juice is left to ferment on the lees for a period, extracting all of the flavors, colors and textures of its fruit. The result is a wine of deep golden color and penetrating minerality with hints of herbs, particularly anise, and wild flowers. $29
Wine With Food: Part 2
September 10, 2013 at 8:00 AM
Why drink wine with a meal? Apart from the pleasure it gives, it helps us digest. I would empirically prove this time and again in Paris when, after a lengthy dinner out with friends and bottles of wine, I would rise the next day and go running in the park. Surprisingly, yet invariably, if I’d had wine, I’d run better than if I’d had none. (If I’d had too many glasses I no run so good.)
Why this is true is most likely because wine aids in the production and flow of the gastric juices which facilitate digestion by breaking down the food in the stomach quickly and effectively. Wine also helps regulate insulin during digestion which regulates weight.
The same tannins in red wine that have been touted for health reasons (wine is a well-known antioxidant because the phenolics, found in skins, stems and seeds, reduce the amount of cholesterol deposited in the arteries decreasing one’s chance of heart attack) are what give wine its structure and are softened with food. There’s an old saying, “Buy on apples, sell on cheese.” In other words, apples will bring out the defects in a wine, where cheese will enhance it. This works because the cheese softens the tannins. Same thing with tea. What do we do to lessen tannic acid in tea? We add milk.
A Beyond Ordinary Travel group enjoying wine with cheese and meats
These are factual, chemical reasons for having wine with food, but the pleasure wine affords is equally important, for although it affects something less tangible or provable, I believe it is perhaps something more essential. When we stop to pull the cork from a bottle of wine there is more going on than the simple thought of drinking wine or even pairing it with the perfect meal. When we pull that cork and pour the glass, we are taking a pause from hectic life and, for that moment, savoring. Whether for ritual or relaxation, whether metaphysical or purely gustatory, it’s a step back from the craziness of life, a step back in time to simpler ways of life. (Or very simple, since wine dates back to the Neolithic Period 8500-4000 BC!) And doesn’t this in itself de-stress us, further helping digestion (or whatever ails us)? Thus, around and around it goes… So Bibendum, as the Romans would say. Drink up!
Château de Recougne, Bordeaux Supérior – 75% Merlot, light tannins, ripe plumy taste, an everyday drinking kind of Bordeaux. $15
Château Boutisse, St-Emilion Grand Cru – 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon with lush cherry fruit, chocolate and coffee notes. Tannic on the finish, it goes especially well with beef. $28
Château Meyney, St-Estéphe, 1998 – Classic, timely, much has been written about the great St-Estèphes. Austere tannins will mellow with age and food. Quintessential food wine. Pair with lamb or duck.
Domaine des Baumard, Savennières – a white food wine from the Loire. Made 100% from Chenin Blanc, a grape famous for its sweet whites, this wine is dry, yet complex with floral and honeysuckle aromas. Almonds and citrus on the palate. Pair with fish dishes and cream sauces.
Wine With Food: Part 1
September 3, 2013 at 6:59 AM
Most everyone knows that wine with food is one of the best marriages going. Yet I know couples who open and drink a bottle of wine before dinner.
Shocking? Or the norm? Just wait.
“Then do you open a second bottle?” A friend asks them.
“What do you drink with dinner?”
“Nothing. Well, sometimes water. Or Coke.”
Shocking? Or the norm? Your answer will reveal much about how you view the relationship of wine to food.
I’m fascinated by this relationship, for it seems to be changing and with its change, so too are the wines. More and more wines, European and New World alike, are being made to drink young. Nothing wrong with that. They’re approachable wines, which means easily drinkable. They’re fruit forward wines, which means lots of fruit up front, rather than barnyard or musty characteristics. They’re smooth and delicious. Nothing wrong with that. But is there?
A good French Burgundy or Bordeaux may be delicious on its own, especially when given time to age, but it’s made to be drunk with a meal. Such wines are often described as complex. The great Bordeaux can be extremely tannic, owing to the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, and don’t soften except with time. Yet, pair these wines with dinner and you see how the wine complements the food and vice versa. The food softens the tannins, but the wine still retains enough structure to balance the meal. If, on the other hand, you had paired a super jammy New World Shiraz, for example, with the same meal, the wine might not be able to stand up to the food. This is not to say that Shiraz does not complement many foods, for it does. Only that many wines that taste scrumptious on their own, don’t do justice to a meal. And this is why often a customer will taste a French wine and say, “A little rough.” Or “too earthy.” Because its not being used the way it was meant: with food.
It’s a cultural difference. Europeans drink much more wine per capita than we do in America, but they drink it with lunch and dinner (and sometimes breakfast).Americans drink more wine as a cocktail before a meal than do Europeans.
Because of growing consumer demand for easy to drink wines, even European producers are changing the way in which they make wine, changing methods and beliefs that are centuries old. Alcohol content too is creeping up. Alcohol content of 13% used to be the exception reserved for Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Now it’s the norm and 12-12.5% becoming rare. It’s not unusual to see Zinfandels and Australian Shiraz’s at 15-17%.
Following are wines I consider “food wines.” See if they don’t enhance the meal more than that glass of Coca-Cola.
Château de Gaudou – from Cahors in the southwest of France. Often called the “black wine” it’s so full-bodied. Merlot/Malbec blend. Pair with Cassoulet, duck or hearty beef. $12
Domaine Berthoumieu, Charles de Batz – from Madiran, this wine is outstanding. Made from 100% Tannat, it is tannic, but the tannins soften with food. $22
As always, buy meats from local farmers or buy free range.
What the Parisians Drink
August 22, 2013 at 11:24 PM
In Paris for a couple of weeks recently, I decided to determine what the French national beverage was, and walked around interviewing Parisians of varying ages with my thick American accent. All were gracious, if a bit curious about this obvious hence silly subject, and wanted instead to talk about Dick Cheney. I did, however, in between political discussions, reassure myself that the French national drink was still…can you guess? Yup, that’s right, Coca Light (Diet Coke) with regular Coca a close second.
Okay, let’s clarify. I did see unsettling quantities of Coca Light being consumed during the day by the Parisian youth, but wine is, and always will be, the queen of France. Wine is drunk with the meal. The way it works is that if one wants a drink beforedinner, it’s an apéro (aperitif), not wine. If you fancy something while pondering the menu, order a coupe de champagne or a kir (crème de cassis and dry white wine) or a kir royal (with champagne) and the waiter will be pleased and perhaps bring anamuse-bouche or amuse-gueule (appetizer, literally “amuse your mouth.”) Once you’ve decided what you’ll have for dinner, only then do you choose a wine to compliment your food. Parisians rarely go for the expensive best bottles, rather the simple regional wines. And, in a country that considers wine a natural right and basic necessity, it’s no surprise that restaurants offer an exemplary choice of good, well-priced wine. After the meal there can be a digestif, which could take many forms: cognac, armagnac or eau de vie, all said to help digest, hence the name. Then there is the wonderful, obligatory café. Black and strong, (don’t order café au lait which is only for morning and frowned upon after midmorning), a neat shot of espresso, the perfect end to a meal.
Where does the Coca Light fit in? Certainly, shudder, not at dinner, but it, together with Schweppes, Orangina, Lorina, Chocolat, and Infusian, the typical offerings on café menus, are ubiquitous before Parisians during the day in cafés. I feel sad that what we Americans have offered the French (apart from Normandy and Black Jack Pershing in a previous war) is Diet Coke and McDonald’s, also wildly popular in France as elsewhere in the world. Real Coca-Cola seems justified, but Diet Coke that insidious poison…. Never mind.
Other popular drinks during the day include beer on tap (pression), Leffe (from Belgium), Fischer and Kronebourg are especially good, particularly the Kronebourg 1664. Fruit juices made from real pressed fruits such as lemon, Citron Pressé. You will be given a bit of fresh lemon juice in a glass, a pitcher of water and a couple packets of sugar, and you make the drink according to your taste. And syrup based drinks. The French have an enormous collective sweet tooth. One sees young French students sitting out in cafés with glasses of green liquid before them. It looks like our crème de menthe, but hasn’t the alcohol. Grenadine is common too. Then of course there is always the café, or an infusion of herbal tea, also called a tisane/tilleul.
I wish I could report that there is come new, really cool trend on the rise, but no, the Parisians are still drinking pretty much the same thing they have been for decades. With good reason.
Art therapy at St-Paul de Mausole
July 15, 2013 at 7:28 PM
This post was written by one of our travelers, Lauren.
Just south of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence are groves of olive trees and rows of cedars. Driving along the D5 highway, one might miss the Maison de Santé Saint-Paul de Mausole which rests back from the highway. I know our first trip to St-Rémy, we certainly did.
The olive groves off of D5
However, back in the surroundings of this traditional Provençal landscape is a special place of rest. It is a home for psychiatric patients, individuals with special needs, and the elderly. Art therapy is used with the patients as a method of healing.
Cloister at St-Paul de Mausole
Grounds at St-Paul de Mausole
And one of the patients…Vincent Van Gogh. The courtyards and grounds are filled with scenes familiar to many. From an art standpoint, his time in Provence was his most productive period.
Scene for Les Oliviers
Vincent Van Gogh’s, Les Oliviers, image via Google Images
Scene for Le ravin des Pairoulets
Vincent Van Gogh’s Le ravin des Pairoulets, image courtesy of Google Images
Van Gogh lived here after his stay in Arles, and after the loss of his ear, committed himself. It is evident the staff appreciated Van Gogh as they let him paint alone outside, a designation not given to many. In St Rémy, Van Gogh created 143 oil paintings and 100 drawings within one years’ time.
My aunt, Miss Talent, enjoying the grounds at St-Paul de Mausole.
Still today, patients create masterpieces in the form of painting and sculpture. They are for sale in the small shop that sits below Van Gogh’s old room. It makes you wonder about undiscovered potential, perhaps within one of today’s artists living there. After all, Vincent maybe earned $100 as an artist before he died.
The Irises, was also painted by Van Gogh at St-Paul de Mausole. In 1987, it was the most expensive painting ever sold. Image courtesy of Google Images.
Our leader Kay Pfaltz read this quote as we pulled away from the site,
“The world concerns me only in so far as I have a certain debt and duty to it, because I have lived in it for thirty years and owe to it to leave behind some souvenir in the shape of drawings and paintings – not done to please any particular movement, but within which a genuine human sentiment is expressed.” ― Vincent van Gogh
I for one am very glad for his souvenirs.
A picnic at Chapel St. Cosme
June 15, 2013 at 7:25 PM
This post was written by one of our travelers, Lauren.
When I went to the South of France most recently, the group was led by an incredible guide. Having lived in Paris and Southern France, Kay knows a ton about the food, wine and landscape of France.
One of Kay’s favorite spots in the South of France is the chapel of Saint Cosme in Gigondas, in the heart of Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape country.
She had the idea that it would be nice for our group to see the chapel. That morning, we stopped in Bonnieux for the morning market to stock up on more French cheeses, breads, olives, and tapenades. We all shared our purchases in the form of a picnic to enjoy and experience the beauty.
This chapel is partly ruined. In fact, we camped out in the nave with our picnic because of the intense wind that swirled around the chapel. Luckily, there was a small bench that was useful as a “table”.
Seeking shelter in the nave
A special group of ladies
Luckily, we had a nice ‘community’ supply of wine from our stops at the L’Auchan grocery, Château Beaucastel, and Château de Ségriès.
After tasting a few delicacies, I wandered around the stone path that led above the chapel.
Walking around Chapel St. Cosme
Climbing into the vineyards above the chapel
The chapel is surrounded by gorgeous vineyards above. It makes such a beautiful panorama in the Provençal sky. Our group is grateful to Kay for taking us to this special place.
Catching the Heart
May 15, 2013 at 7:54 AM
This post is by Kay Pfaltz, Founder of Beyond Ordinary Travel.
“There are many things will catch your eye, but only a few will catch your heart. Pursue those.” In the language of books this might mean judging not from cover but content. In the world of wine I think it translates to forgetting what clever label adorns the bottle and learning to judge wines not only by how they taste and appeal to our senses, but also how they stand up over time and how the winemaker treats the earth without which there’d be no vine.
Grounds at La Stoppa, Italy
I call certain wines, which are made sustainably and taste delicious, with layers of complexity that often evolve over the course of an evening or sometimes days, my ‘heart wines.’ It’s true that wine in moderation, especially red wine, is excellent medicine for our hearts, but what I mean by my heart wine goes beyond the medicinal to something more metaphorical, and beyond the physical to something much less tangible… that something that must be felt with the heart. Your heart wines will be different from my heart wines, but what matters is that they stir something deep within you and you feel a little bit more spontaneous, a little bit more sensuous and a whole lot more loving. You’ll want to share these special wines and good feelings with your friends!
The love and attention that quality producers put into their wine as well as the way in which they treat the earth translates itself into the overall experience we receive from the wine. So look for wines that are made sustainably, producers who work in harmony with the earth not dumping down chemicals for maximum short-term yield.
White: Moulin de Gassac, Guilhem, 2010 – As I write the temperature is 101 in the shade. I hope upon press time temps have dropped, but either way this is a wine in which to rejoice. This is the somewhat unorthodox, delicious and affordable bottling from the famous Mas de Daumas Gassac in the Languedoc. Daumas Gassac uses organic viticulture practices and has in the short thirty-some years it’s been producing become a kind of cult wine. Each year the blends differ. The 2010 is a blend of Grenache Blanche, Sauvignon Blanc and Clairette. Look for notes of fresh apples and pears combined with layers of citrus, backed by mineral. $12
Rosé: Mas de Gourgonnier, 2011 – This rich rosé comes from another excellent organic producer in the south, this time in Les Baux de Provence. I have never tasted a wine from Les Baux I didn’t like, and this is no exception. Drive in the long drive and to one side are gnarled old olive trees, apricot trees and on the other side rows of vines. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and Cinsault, it’s a rosé full-bodied enough to stand up to light meats, pastas, quiches and cheese. Orange blossom, raspberry nose and beautiful acidity. $18
Olive groves near Les-Baux-de-Provence
Red: La Stoppa, Macchiona, 2007 – Perhaps more of a fall/winter red, but as one of my wine tasters said after I’d been featuring lighter reds, whites and rosés, “We do have air-conditioning.” All of the wines from La Stoppa qualify as my heart wines, but the Macchiona, a blend of Barbera and Bonarda, is my favourite. Organic, with fruit up front and layers of pure Piacenza terroir, this wine is a unique gem. $36
Line-up at La Stoppa
The preceding originally appeared in Nelson County Life Magazine, now Blue Ridge Life.
Wine and Aging Demystified
May 7, 2013 at 7:21 AM
This post is by Kay Pfaltz, Founder of Beyond Ordinary Travel.
Often I’m asked, “How long should I age this wine?” And the answer is usually, “Drink it now.” For the truth of the matter is a very small percentage of wine should be cellared. Yet it is the mystique of aging—that wine is a living organism and will improve with age—that intrigues us. This and the fact that those wines which do improve with significant aging, only one percent of all wine produced, are the great wines we tend to hear most about or at least to talk about the most.
Wine aging in the cellars of Châteauneauf du Pape
Know then, when you are buying wine, that generally the wine producer has done the aging for you, or more generally that the wine is ready to drink with no aging. Most wine made today should be drunk as soon as you buy it while its fruit is still young and enjoyable. Because of the myth that all wine improves with aging, far too much wine is drunk too late than too early. The great majority of wine will actually start to lose the fruitiness that gives it appeal within six months of being bottled.Therefore, if you have that 1961 bottle of sparkling wine, get out the olive oil and toss the salad greens.
Wine is mysterious and wonderful because, unlike most consumables which deteriorate from the moment we buy them, wine is one of the few things that has the capacity to change for the better. Perhaps the top ten percent of reds and the top four or five percent of whites will improve from aging five years or so. But only the top one percent will improve for two to three decades in the cellar.
So which wines are those that will be more pleasurable after years in the cellar? The red wines with heavy tannins like Bordeaux (preferably a classified wine from the Médoc where the blend is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, not Merlot or Cabernet Franc)and California Cabernets. Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are small and thick skinned allowing for more tannins, which are found in the skins and pips. Thus, paradoxically or perhaps unfortunately, an uneducated wine shopper might grab an expensive bottle of wine off the shelf when in doubt what to get for a fancy meal, only to find that its taste does not match its price. This is precisely because the most expensive bottles are often the ones with the long life expectancy, full of mouth-puckering, inky tannins and generally only commercially available (and affordable) in their youth. These are the wines to age.
Château Gruaud-Larose, Bordeaux
And if you want a truly fantastic wine, do the aging yourself. Buy a good Bordeaux from a good vintage (2000 and 2005 were outstanding vintages) and put it away for ten to twenty years. The result will be mellowed tannins and an amazing wine. If you drink a 2000 or 2005 Château Gruaud-Larose or a Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, for example, in fifteen years, you’ll have not only a stunning and sumptuous wine and wine experience, but you’ll have something you probably wouldn’t be able to find anywhere (that is a well-kept vintage Bordeaux) and if you could, the cost would be outrageous.
Great wines to age
Wines to age other than tannin-rich Cabernets include Madiran, Hermitage, Nebbiolo, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo, Amarone, Ribera del Duero from Spain, botrytized sweet wines, Loire wines made from Chenin Blanc, many Rieslings (probably not most Virginian Rieslings) and grand cru white Burgundy.
Vines of Burgundy
The preceding article originally appeared in Nelson County Life Magazine, now Blue Ridge Life.
Bistros of Paris
April 28, 2013 at 3:46 PM
This post is by Kay Pfaltz, Founder of Beyond Ordinary Travel.
Oh, there are so many and every time I think I’ve listed my favourites I remember twelve dozen more. No joke. But here are some winners, in different categories, mostly bistros, a few brasseries and restaurants. Keep this in mind, and no matter where you go, you’ll have a good meal. Even the local café offers a great salad or omelet with baskets of bread and good local, cheap house wine. I have not listed any three-star or even two-star Michelin restaurants but you might want to try at least one, just for the sheer quality of service and food. I have eaten more than once in all of the five (maybe now six) three-stars in Paris and it is an experience. Stroll, seek and enjoy…. Paris is a moveable feast.
Happy bistro-goers at Les Papilles on Beyond Ordinary Travel’s Paris 2010 trip.
Classic bistros: A bistro has come to mean many things now. But it used to be a sort of Mom and Pop type of place with checkered tablecloths and mimeographed menus. Today there are simple, cheap bistros full of atmosphere and there are also very high-end, high quality bistros (like Benoit) full of atmosphere. Some of these below are considered both bistro and restaurant.
Polidor – 41, rue Monsieur-le-Prince, 6th. A historic bistro that has aged with grace. Hemingway, Joyce, many dined here. Regulars today still have their own napkins and rings. Regulars don’t even bother with the menu but just wait for the waitress to tell them what’s good. The snails are excellent. So is the pumpkin soup in season. Simple and cheap.
Chardenoux – 1, rue Jules-Valles, 11th. Beautiful Belle Epoque bistro. This is one of the prettiest. Look for the long zinc bar. Very French and authentic. Regulars flock here.
Le Vieux Bistro – 14, rue du Cloitre-Notre-Dame, 4th. I call this one the romantic bistro of Paris. Near Notre Dame on the Ile de la Cite, it can get touristy, but you’ll find surprisingly a lot of French.
La Fonaine de Mars – 129, rue St-Dominique, 7th. One of my favourite bistros. A true find in the fashionable and expensive 7th arrondissement. In nice weather sit outside near the fountain of Mars for which it’s named. Quintessential bistro. Order the assiette de cochonnailles de Laguiole or the Boudin aux pommes or the confit de canard.
La Tour de Montlhery – (Called Chez Denise by us locals!) 5, rue Prouvaires, 1st. Chez Denise is open 24 hours and gets really cranking after 9 or 10 pm. This is a carnivores delight and because of its location on the edge of the old Les Halles market (now torn down) it attracted the market vendors into the wee hours. A true institution, lively and wonderful. Everyone should go once. Order up the house Brouilly (Beaujolais), laugh and eat.
Le Petit Marguery – 9, blvd. Port-Royal, 13th. I love this bistro. It’s off the beaten path, in the 13th arrondissement but worth it. Food is excellent.
D’Chez Eux – 2, avenue Lowendal, 7th. In the elegant 7th arrondissement, this restaurant attracts a well-heeled crowd. Food is very, very copious. For instance if you order the crudités as an appetizer, you’ll be wheeled bowls upon bowls of salads and veggies. If you
Chez Réné – 14, blvd. St-Germain, 6th. I named the Basic Necessities Piggeries plate after a dish I had here once full of charcuterie (i.e. every pig product you can imagine.) Been around for a long time. Sit on the tree-enclosed wonderful terrace in the warm months and watch the world go by down the boulevard St. Germain.
Le Petit Pontoise – 9, rue de Pontoise, 5th. Great atmosphere, great food (all the best bistro specialties like boudin noir and kidneys and quiche and tarts for the less adventurous—nice tarte Tatin for dessert). A few outside tables. Very authentic except you may hear American voices since it was recently and unfortunately written up in the NY Times.
Le Rotisserie du Beaujolais – 19, quai de la Tournelle, 5th. Beside the famous Tour d’Argent, this rotisserie is owned by the son of M. Terrail (owner of Tour d’Argent). Having been to the famous and very expensive Tour d’Argent twice, I can say that this restaurant is my preferred choice. Only the view is secondary. This is a meat-eater’s place and if you want veggies (with the exception of mushrooms in fall), go elsewhere. Go early or call ahead and grab a window table and watch the people and the river beyond.
Les Papilles – 30, rue Gay-Lussac, 5th. Used to be somewhat hard to find more than a handful of good bistros in the 5th, but this relatively new one is excellent. 31 euro menu offers excellent, inventive cuisine.
Au Bon St-Pourcain – 10, bis, rue Servandoni, 6th. Walk into this tiny (26 seat) beauty in the shadow of St-Sulpice and you’ll think you’ve walked into (Billy) Wilderian Paris. Owner is former Deux Magots waiter François. Cheap and cheerful and ever so authentic. A find in touristy St-Germain.
Chez Paul – 13, rue Charonne, 11th. There are many Chez Pauls in Paris, but this one may be more people’s favourite restaurant than any other. It is heart-breakingly authentic. You’ll feel like you’re in a postcard. In the workingman’s 11th, a traditional bistro. Tables outside. Order up rabbit rilettes or steak au poivre with cognac.
Chez Janou – 2, rue Roger Verlomme, 3rd. There are two restaurants (not counting three-star L’Ambrosie and Ma Bourgogne which I mention next) on the place des Vosges that I love, but Chez Janou is just behind, away from the crowds, far enough away to keep the tourists at a distance and remain a nice little secret. It’s on a quiet little (almost) square with trees and a terrace for eating outside. It has 80 varieties of pastis so you can pretend you’re in sunny Provence! Even more so if you order up the petite friture d’eperlans (tiny whitebait, floured and friend and served in a basket with aioli on the side.) There’s a house salad of shrimp, avocado and grapefruit sections.
Ma Bourgogne – Place des Vosges, 4th. I keep coming back and back to this restaurant. I love the salads, big salades Nicoise etc. You can sit inside, but best is outside under the arcades of the Place des Vosges. This is where I ordered the carafe of Côtes du Rhône (in a wonderful cracked carafe) and they brought me the left over Beaujolais Nouveau and I took one sniff and sent it back stating I’d asked for the Rhone not Beaujolais. They were shocked that a lowly American knew the difference, and by a mere sniff. Wonderful setting. Check out the Victor Hugo museum at the far south eastern corner on your way out and also pass by three-star Michelin (remember 3 stars are as high as it goes in France) L’Ambrosie, same side as Ma Bourgogne.
Les Fete Galantes – rue Ecole Polytechnique, 5th. This place is tiny, but wonderful. Various ladies over the years have had such a good time, they shed their brasseries and there is a collection upon the wall. Also letters, like one by Kay. Bebe is the Moroccan owner and if you tell him you’re an American friend of Kay’s he’ll most likely ply you with free kirs (in hope of receiving a bra! Just kidding.) I used to bring legions of wine tasting students here twenty years ago. So carry on the tradition! Set menu, excellent value.
Perraudin – 157, rue St-Jacque, 5th. The quintessential bistro with its red and white table cloths and Art Deco tile floors, lace-curtained windows. Go in hungry, order a lot. The sole is excellent. Cheap, hearty, no-frills fare. Very traditional cooking. Leave stuffed.
Chez Lena et Mimile – 32, rue Tournefort, 5th. I include this marvelous set menu restaurant, because of the front terrace outside. Great value. Tartare of salmon is good, as is the duck.
Le Quincy – 28, avenue Ledru-Rollin, 12th. Excellent, traditional and up-scale bistro leaning towards southwestern specialties such as foie gras. Try the cassoulet au confit d’oie (goose).
Le Taxi Jaune – 13, rue Chapon, 3rd. Tiny, authentic bistro serving excellent traditional bistro fare. Unpretentious. Highly recommended.
Le Cordonnerie – 20, rue St-Roch, 1st. Excellent restaurant on the right bank. Really a restaurant and not a bistro. Traditional French cuisine in a 17th-century building.
Café Dalva – 48, rue D’Argou, 2nd. Not far from the Louvre and Palais Royal, Dalva offers very affordable food. Incredible terrace for dining.
Albion – 80, rue du Faubourg Poissonière, 10th. This is a new bistro with excellent, inventive cuisine and traditional bistro interior. Office workers by day and trendy types by night. Open wine shelves, bistro chairs and tables, top quality food on daily changing chalkboard menus.
Au Bascou – 38, rue Reamur, 3rd. Outstanding Basque restaurant. This is a different experience, all Basque specialties. Real raw Basque ham; snails with garlic; roast lamb from the Pyrenéss. Really good and interesting wines. I have never had a bad meal. Grab the front table in the window.
Le Pre Verre – Many tables outside in this trendy restaurant in the Latin Quarter. Wine comes in the stemless glasses. Food is excellent. If on the menu, don’t miss the stunning sweetbreads. Noisy and hectic sometimes inside, but the food is definitely worth it.
I will stop here and if you go to none don’t worry. These are mere suggestions. There are many, many more favourites… in the 15th, 16th and 17th arrondissements. All over. I just can’t list all, but any good guide book is a good place to start and, as I think I said, the one you stumble upon even if café or chain is the one you’re supposed to be in. You really can’t go wrong in Paris.
Enjoying a Paris wine bar
Wine bars: Le Rubis – 10, rue du Marché-St-Honoré, 1st. On the hidden place du Marche St-Honore sits this little wine bar on the corner…that’s been there forever…or so it seems. Food is classic, copious and cheap. Have a glass of Côtes du Rhône for 3 euros. Dine well for under 20 Euros. Popular with the business lunch crowd.
Juvenile’s – 47, rue de Richelieu, 1st. A tiny wine bar near the Bibliotheque National (National Library) where yours truly K. Pfaltz sat for hours in the big womb of a reading room working on her doctoral dissertation (i.e. day-dreaming). Apparently the B.N. as it’s called in Paris, is a great pick-up place. Sadly that fact was lost on me as no one ever picked me up! Back to Juvenile’s: It is another delightful and affordable experience. Grilled quail, curried lamb, duck breast with sautéed potatoes and greens. Most entrees under 9 euros (remember entrée in France means starter, i.e. before the main course) and the plates (or main courses) are 15 to 16 euros. To finish the meal try one of Bernard Boisson’s (of Maison Audry) incredible cognacs.
La Taverne Henri IV -13, place du Pont-Neuf. This place on the tip of the Ile de la Cite has been around for a long time. It’s often filled with magistrates or lawyers from the nearby Palais de Justice. The square across from it on the tip of the island is called Square de Vert Galant after Henry IV whose statue stands above on the Pont Neuf (new bridge which in true French logic is the oldest in Paris.) To get to the Square de Vert Galant take the stairs down towards the Seine. Pose for a photo under the beautiful sweeping willow. The square behind the wine bar/tavern is also worth wandering around. It houses a couple famous restaurants (Chez Paul) and was famous as the residence of Yves Montand. But it’s worth it to stroll the leafy little park (place Dauphine) for its quiet, peaceful elegance. Inside at the tavern, dine on the usual wine bar fair and drink excellent cuvees of wine.
Willis Wine Bar – 13, rue des Petits-Champs. Willie’s is owned by Englishman, Mark Williamson and ironically may be one of the best wine bars in Paris. “Willie’s” passion is for the wines of the Rhone and here is a fabulous offering. Food is excellent, more restaurant style than bistro. Not nouvelle cuisine, just a bit more delicate. You’ll not be disappointed by either food or wine.
Jacques Melac – 42, rue Leon-Frot, 11th. One of the most authentic and liveliest wine bars in Paris. In the workingman’s 11th, an arrondissement filled with cabinetmakers and artisans, this wine bar offers real Auvergnat dishes. Worth the trek.
L’Excluse – 15, place de la Madeleine, 8th. And other locations. A wine bar chain but not like our chains in the US! i.e. Waffle House! Serves good food and exclusively Bordeaux. An inexpensive way to try some really good wines.
Best wine shops in the world?
Lavinia – boulevard du Madeleine. Actually started in Spain, but this is the Paris branch.
Brasseries: Brasseries are bigger than bistros, and more brightly lit. They were the old beer houses of Franch, so you’ll find beer, but also good Alsatian wines. You can always find good seafood food platter (plateau fruits de mer) but keep in mind, usually raw. Also the Alsatian influence means you’ll find such specialties as Choucroute (sauerkraut) on the menu. The Boucher/Flo group has bought out just about all of the old famous ones. I (and most Parisians) have mixed feelings as it means these old places are now really a chain, but you’d never know it. Go to at least one.
Brasserie Balzar – 49, rue des Ecoles, 5th. Historic brasserie (more bistro sized) that was finally bought out by the Flo Group. Food is decent, atmosphere superb, still frequented by politicians, philosophers and the intellectual elite.
La Coupole -102, blvd du Montparnasse, 14th. After seven or eight decades La Coupole remains one of the most authentically Parisian scenes, with its bustling and solidly professional waiters, young families, old couples, singles and of course for many years…Lauren! It was here we celebrated her birthday.
Brasserie Flo – 7, cour Petites-Ecuries, 10th. An honest 1900s Alsatian brasserie with a faithful, flashy Parisian clientele. Noisy, hectic but for many regulars that’s part of the charm.
Julien – 16, rue du Faubourg St-Denis, 10th. Despite the rather seedy location, Julien remains one of the city’s most chic, most popular nighttime addresses. Look inside this bright, stunning 1890s dining hall and you’ll understand. Better yet dine there.
Brasserie Lipp – 151, blvd St-Germain, 6th. One of the city’s m