I managed to drink a little bit of wine over the last six months. Don't ask to see my liver. I will say that it didn't feel like a lot, but it certainly looks like it. The following list includes wines that I drank domestically, as well as wines from my recent trip to Europe. Most of the wines were consumed at dinners. But the recent wines from the Northern Rhone were tasted at the Marche au Vin in Ampuis in January, and the later vintage Cotat's were tasted at the winery a few days before the Marche. I also attended a forty person BYO tasting in Westchester where I tasted a few dozen wines. All in all it was pretty good drinking. I hope you enjoy the notes.
I ended up having dinner at Arpege through a circuitous route. My original plans were to dine at the restaurant in the Hotel Meurice. But the response to my email said that the restaurant was going to be closed on the date I was interested in. Since this was going to be my first night in Paris, and I wanted to have a meal that set the proper tone for what was going to be a rather long trip that was focused on dining, what was I to do instead? In my mind I rifled through the other Parisian three stars restaurants to see if I could come uo with an adequate replacement. I quickly dismissed what I will describe as the lower three-star restaurants such as Guy Savoy or Le Grand Vefour. You could eat well at those restaurants, but I was looking for a chef had the potential to serve us an ethereal meal. That really means just three restaurants when it comes to Paris dining: Pierre Gagnaire, L'Ambroisie and Arpege.
The problem was that I had eaten at all three of those restaurants within the last year, and each had its issues. Though Bernard Pacaud is a top-notch chef, his cuisine at L'Ambroisie is stuck in a time warp and we left feeling bored with our meal. But ultimately it didn't matter because we were talking about a Monday evening and I realized L'Ambroisie is closed on Mondays. Then I thought of Gagnaire. My last meal there hit some tremendous heights, but it also had some ridiculously low lows for a restaurant of its stature. And the last meal that Mrs. P and I had at Arpege was downright mediocre, without a single exceptional dish being served in the entire meal. I racked my brain to think of a replacement. I haven't been to Eric Frechon at Le Bristol or Les Ambassadeurs at Le Crillon, but they both seemed like they were going to be too classic to wow us. This was now verging on a crisis.
My first visit to England took place in 1977. I spent three weeks there, two in London sandwiched around a week driving through the English countryside in a little red Mini.I was a 23-year-old rock ‘n’ roll guitar player who had aspirations of being a professional musician.And outside of my home turf of Greenwich Village, no other place had as much allure for me as London. While that was well before I acquired a taste for fine dining, I had already developed a keen interest in food, mainly cheap eats and ethnic cuisine.But friends who had visited England had warned me about the food.How could this be, I asked myself?I simply couldn’t imagine that there was a place in the world where people didn’t like to eat well, especially a place where they made such great music.
Before arriving in England I spent three days in Rome and three days in Paris. It didn't take me long to have a seminal culinary moment. On my first morning in Rome, I found the cappuccino so astoundingly good that I had six of them in 90 minutes, capped off by a whipped cream–filled cornetti at the pasticerria in the Stazione Termini.And after three days of experiencing the glories of Italy, I got off the overnight train from Roma to Paris to find food paradise.Never before had I seen displays of pastries, cheeses, meats, etc. all laid out so beautifully.It didn’t take long for the cornetti to be topped by what seemed like the perfect croissant, which I suspect was really a stick of butter with the wrapper removed with a little flour thrown into the mix. France and Italy were just as my friends had travelled to Europe had said. Delicious.