Holy service

I think the scarcity of good service in Paris has caused many (including me) to simply forget what it even feels like…

Let’s settle one thing: working in the service industry in Paris pays a hell of a lot less than in tip-based US or Canada.

In Paris, service staff  fall in three categories: those who are doing it part time while they pursue their real career, those who love it and those who don’t but don’t have a choice.

In Canada, I would work thirty-hour weeks spanning three to five days, make between 150$ and 300$ a shift and have a busboy, bar service and runner for my (max) 8-table section. I cost the restaurant virtually nothing and me keeping my job (and making a living) depended entirely on whether I did a good job and clients were happy. It’s called meritocracy.

And then there’s France…

Two words: cotisations sociales. If an employee is getting a net hourly wage of 7,26EUR, he actually costs his employer 14,60EUR. You do the math.

Restaurants in France can’t really afford to pay these “double salaries” to a busboy and a runner to make the waiter’s life easier. So yes, most waiters are overworked, tired, “en coupure” (they do lunch service, take a “break” and then do dinner service) and sometimes get quite grumpy and unpleasant.

But I digress…

Credit: Holybelly

Recently, my negativity and bitterness about service-lacking Paris has transformed into a most happy disposition thanks to Holybelly! It had been a while since I have felt that welcomed and well-cared for. It’s not a Michelin-starred loin de là! We are talking your neighbourhood daytime Café done right. The coffee is delicious (Belleville Brûlerie of course) and the food is rocking (Sarah & Lise are female-chef-machine-wonderduo) ! I urge you to try the savoury (13eur) or sweet (11,5eur) pancake extravaganza served weekdays before noon and weekends nonstop until sold out.

At Holybelly, both owners are respectively in the kitchen and behind the espresso machine honing their expertise so it comes as no surprise that the places you get the best service in Paris are usually server/sommelier/chef-owned. It’s their business, they are there, and they care.

Credit: Holybelly

Nico’s chatter is entertaining and he is genuinely in a good coffee-happy mood every day (I’ve been numerous times… yes!). The girls wave hello and the whole place is very relaxing, laid-back with great music.

Hipster-magnet? Perhaps… but at least you don’t get the clichéed horrible “french service” I think it’s really time we stop tolerating in the name of Parisian authenticity.

Holybelly just raised the bar.

19 rue lucien sampaix – Paris 10th

Drink Jura now and forever!

Throw a bunch of sommeliers, chefs, foragers and winemakers in a 40-person bus for a weekend and you’re bound to have a pretty incredible time.

When forager Stéphane Meyer a.k.a. “Le Druide” popped his head through Frenchie a couple of weeks ago and asked me if I wanted to haul ass down to the Jura to taste some wine, forage some leaves, eat some good cheese and taste a 150 year old Vin Jaune, the answer was unequivocally yes.

Next question: how many could I bring along? Greg and wife Marie (who recently integrated Frenchie’s team as his highly efficient partner in the creation of Frenchie to Go) joined the fun as well as another newbie: Caroline Loiseleux (great friend and ex-sommelier at Itinéraires). We all made our Saturday-morning grasse matinée sacrifice to head down to Gare de Lyon, discover Jura and spend some time with our peers.

To name a few, there was all of Terroir d’Avenir’s crew, sous-chef of Sergent Recruteur Daniel Baratier and girlfriend Charlotte Arnaud who heads up the floor at l’Arpège. Astrance’s Pascal Barbot and longtime sommelier Alexandre Jean (we call him Réjean) were game as well. We shared our TGV seats with La Dernière Goutte’s Juan Sanchez and one of his Semilla chefs.

Once in Dole, after a 30-minute drive, we hit up the cellars of François Rousset and started to taste. Vintages flew by as François calmly poured 1994 Vin Jaune (19 years of aging) and listened to our guesses. It was fresh and vivid, with bright flavors of passion fruit, lemon zest, nuts, figs and truffle. His wines are never heavy and atypical of what you’d expect of Jura Vin Jaune. Réjean comments, “These are the Vin Jaunes that make people who don’t like Vin Jaune love it!”. François’ father was a teacher but kept making wine on the side as his family had for a long time for their personal consumption. Then François took over and set up in 2007 in Nevy-sur-Seille right under Château-Chalon.

He is a very discreet man and is still very unknown. It is a shame because his wines are fantastic. His style is very pure and extremely drinkable. He remarks to me in one of our conversations when I ask him why he thinks his style is so atypical that “a paramount factor of wine quality in Jura is the cellar and its situation“. The yeasts that live in the cellars and are responsible for the veil of yeast on the vin jaune and allow it to carry on years with no topping up play a major part in the product obtained. The situation of the cellar and its ventilation, temperature difference and general humidity level is also a unique “terroir” factor to the final result.

Next stop, famille Serret’s beautiful home lies atop Château Chalon and was the stage of our Saturday lunch.  The chefs start opening bags brought from Paris and get cooking. Creamy foie gras, pastrami, bacon, gambas and miso mayonnaise, juicy hot dogs, Yellow Landes chicken put sous vide with Spérule Odorante and then cooked over an improvised grill, homemade terrine, and the list goes on.

Surrounded by all these food and wine lovers, I couldn’t help but feel so thankful… and then the sun came out.

After downing a couple of bottles of Overnoy’s Poulsard 2011, some went for a walk through Château Chalon but I opted out for a well-needed afternoon nap in on of the Serret’s many rooms. I was dreaming of Comté, morrels and tender Landes chicken when I was awoken by a call from Greg informing me that they were tasting 150 year-old Vin Jaune from the Serret cellars and that he knew I’d be pissed if I didn’t get to. Good man!

Monsieur Serret had pried out of the vestige of his cellar a unique and incredible bottle pre-1860s that was identified as such because of the shape of the bottle.

As the sun went down, we tasted history in a glass. The colour was ochre with flecks of black (probably dead lees that were completely oxidized) and the nose held notes of dried apricot, lemongrass, figs and black truffle that quickly vanished. Even for the minutes its grace lasted, we tasted something that no one alive when it was bottled ever lived to try.

Sometimes humility comes in the form of a 62cl clavelin.

The trip ended with a day of work on Sunday and a flash-tasting of over 150 wines produced by 30 natural winemakers at Le Nez dans le Vert. As well as tasting wines, we took advantage of Olivier Grosjean’s presence to get a signed copy of his collaborative book “Tronches de Vin” that simply ROCKS!!!!

Breakdown of our tasting

Julien Labet is at the top of his game with the delicious Fleur de Savagnin 2011 and his Chardonnay En Billat 2011, both crisp, mineral with vivid acidity that are heading straight for our wine list at Frenchie.

Jean-François Ganevat still has nothing to sell but that’s old news. If you do manage to get some wine, Grusse en Billat 2012 was superior to Grands Teppes 2012 by a mile.

Jean-Pascal and Peggy Buronfosse (in Rotalier next to Fanfan) are getting better and better as the wines gain in minerality, acidity and overall complexity.

We spent some time fawning over Pascal Clairet‘s wines particularly his Fleur de Savagnin 2010 and his Chardonnay Les Corvées sous Curon 2010 both incredibly fresh, crisp and pretty wines.

We enjoyed Domaine de la Borde Julien Mareschal‘s wines particularly his Arbois Pupillin Chardonnay “Caillot” 2010 that was both deliciously salinic and very reasonably priced. The vines are on limestone soils exposed south with a 30% slope at 550 meters.

Another heartthrob was Domaine des Marnes Blanches‘ Géraud Fromont who makes delicious pure Côtes du Jura Chardonnay “En Lévrette” 2010 that is aged 18 months in oak vats and could easily pass for a Burgundy Chardonnay from the Côte de Beaune. It is on limestone soils sprinkled with Gryphaea which is a fossilized shell and adds a great deal of minerality to the wine. Think Chablis but oakier.

Let’s not forget dreadlocked hippy Étienne Thiébaud from Domaine des Cavarodes. His Arbois Savagnin Pressé 2011 is beautiful and slow to reach Paris but thankfully we are patient.

Even though Philippe Bornard is notorious for being a ladies man and I wouldn’t go home with him, his Arbois Pupillin Ploussard 2005 La Chamade was the bottle I wanted to wake up to.

Chef at last!

Montreal’s latest sweetheart, Café Sardine, opened on Valentine’s day 2012 and has been rocking ever since. Delicious coffee and donuts by day, they open in the evening for dinner sans réservations. The menu is signed by highly talented, hyper-curious and product-oriented Aaron Langille. Having worked with Aaron at Club Chasse et Pêche in my beginnings, I had already noticed his passion, and was thrilled to see him finally get the opportunity to display his unique culinary vision.

The retro-cool hipster decor is very Barcelona-meets-Brooklyn and highly cozy. Watching Aaron work his magic was amazing and I asked him if we could share a doughnut, a coffee and a chat the next day so I could pick his brain a little.

He did not go to culinary school. Instead, he learned on the job. First stop: L’Express, a Montreal institution. There, he learned for two years from his first mentor, Bruno Le Foll, to cook basic french bistro food in large quantities. Aaron says that was probably culinary school part one. Part two was his two years spent at Club Chasse et Pêche where second mentor, Claude Pelletier conducted the “advanced course” and opened Aaron up to a more refined style and new techniques.

He then worked a while in Barcelona’s renown Comerç 24. Althought the shifts were crazy and he hardly had time to visit the city, he was able to learn a great deal about the importance of product: “Fish, in Spain, you grab it out of the ocean and just eat it!”

His brief trial at Noma was also a game-changer: “It kind of changed how I look at food. It made me discover the way I like cooking.”

I was particularly impressed with one dish he brought out: “maquereau, concombre, graine de moutarde“. The cucumber heart was carved out, the cucumber flesh had been puréed and the skin had been charred and was crispy and sea-weed-esque in texture. I love the daring use of a all aspects of a product one would normally toss in the bin. Aaron was exposed to this during his time at Noma making ashes and finding uses for all these trimmings that are normally thrown away.

During a particularly bad winter  in Copenhagen, the team at Noma were looking for local products which were scarce to find.  One of their farmers had these really old carrots that had been in the ground far too long. They found if you cook them really slow in butter for four hours, they wound up being delicious. Since then, when I come up with a plate, I think about what I’m throwing out and do I really need to throw that out?”

And that is what’s awesome about Aaron: he is always asking himself questions, staying curious and adventurous and looking for different flavor profiles and textures.

I believe he will be one of the great chefs that will define Montreal’s gastronomical future.

Café Sardine

9 Fairmount E., Mile-End, Montreal

+1 (514) 802-8899

CAFÉ : 8:00 – 17:00
RESTAURANT : 18:30 – 12:00
FIN DE SEMAINE : 9:00 – 17:00, 18:30 – 1:00

Éloge de la délicatesse

Il est environ 17h00 et le fond de la deuxième bouteille du déjeuner nous guette. D’ailleurs, c’est le seul inconvénient à la Villa Mas: les bouteilles s’enchaînent à la vitesse de la lumière qui reflète parfaitement l’azur de la mer à 25 mètres de nos Havaïanas et de nos verres Zalto légers comme l’air.

Sirotant allègrement, nous ne sommes pas les seuls à profiter d’une des plus belles carte des vins d’Europe: Lionel Gauby et Clotaire Michal, nos voisins, semblent avoir accumulé plus de flacons que nous en cette fin d’après-midi. Convivialité oblige, nous terminons le déjeuner pour mieux commencer l’apéro avec eux. La valse classique s’impose quand une carte des vins de cette ampleur est présentée à une ribambelle de personnages aussi amoureux du vin: les bouteilles déferlent et se retrouvent vite vides et en bonne compagnie.

Parfois on est juste au bon endroit au bon moment…

Lionel brandit soudain une bouteille et nous verse des verres successivement en déclarant “Ce vin n’existe pas“. En effet, c’est une production infime qu’il a baptisé “El Tuco” en l’honneur de son chien récemment décédé. C’est un moment un peu nostalgique mais beau.

L’homme assis à ma droite a un sourire timide et ému en goûtant “El Tuco”. Il évoque l’émotion, le sentiment, le ressenti et l’importance de ce qu’il y perçoit. Je le regarde avec tout l’émerveillement qu’il mérite. Cette première impression n’est que reconfirmée au fil des minutes et plus tard encore au restaurant étoilé qu’il a participé à hissé au rang du deuxième meilleur restaurant du monde selon le classement médiatisé de San Pellegrino (paru la journée avant notre repas).

La délicatesse de Josep Roca m’a profondément touchée. Il n’est pas toujours facile de rester sur la voie de la simplicité et de l’humilité. Parfois on est pressé, on a des rendez-vous, on oublie de prendre le temps d’écouter et de ressentir. On peut facilement s’éloigner de ce qui est important.

Credit: El Celler de Can Roca site web

Josep, lui, écoute attentivement afin de comprendre ce qui pourrait rendre heureux. Pour cela, bien sur, il faut du temps. Au Celler de Can Roca, ils en ont. Ils sont au-delà de vingt en salle et surement autant en cuisine. La valse est mesurée et paisible.

On le sent dès qu’on arrive: la conspiration du bonheur. C’est une séduction tranquille et calculée qui laisse toutefois place à la spontanéité. Chacun semble à l’aise dans cet environnement gentil et épuré ou faire plaisir et partager une cuisine inspirée, inspirante et étonnante donne vraiment, vraiment, vraiment envie d’y retourner. Et c’est exactement ce que je compte faire.

Restaurant Villa Mas.
San Feliu de Guixols (Girona)
Passeig San Pol 95
Téléphone 972 82 25 26

Gagnant: carte des vins incroyable à tous petits prix, produits frais du marché et de la pêche à Palamo, accueil connaisseur et sympathique, vue sur la mer imbattable.

El Celler de Can Roca
Can Suyer, 48
17007, Girona
Téléphone 972 222 157

Gagnant: menu exquis et étonnant, service attentionné et délicat, vins uniques et accords parfaits, décor paisible et comfortable.

More is more or L’Insoutenable gourmandise de l’être

When I first got to Paris, I went to have lunch at Chez l’Ami Jean with Aurélia Filion and Caroline Loiseleux, two of my friends and ex-colleagues of Club Chasse et Pêche. At the time, I hadn’t really experienced the Paris food scene and I was slightly shocked by the frenetic service and the abundance of the food.

I had no idea that this was going to become one of my favorite restaurant in Paris.

Every time I go out to eat in restaurants where the portions are too tiny for my insatiable appetite, I think of Stéphane. Mostly because I wish he would give those chefs a tip or two about “gourmandise” a word that, saddly, does not exist in the english language.

Anyway, since then, I have returned to l’Ami Jean again and again and I have never been disappointed.

Wendy Lyn and I were kidding the other day about the best technique to come out alive of a dinner at L’Ami Jean. She said that it’s better to have a good lunch, that way your stomach is expanded and prepared for what’s coming… I argued on starving myself for days to be able to make the room for all that food.

Now, thinking back, I do believe she was right.

This debate is a realistic one however when you decide to go for dinner at Stéphane’s.

This man does not know the meaning of “Less is more”. But in the departement of generosity and gourmandise, Stéphane is king. I suspect he may have learned a trick or two from mentor and friend Yves Candeborde.

Armed with your best prepared stomach (whatever method you pick), grab some foodie-friends or family who love to eat everything, aren’t anal about a little rock and roll service that gives the place all its charm, like to watch a chef in action, and aren’t afraid to make noise and endure it.

Tell the waitstaff that you want the chef to cook for you and get ready for the best ride of your life! You are about to enter the wonderful world of Jégo. It ain’t always pretty for iPhone pictures, but it’s always delicious and at the end of the day, that’s what really matters.

For the wine, I admit that this time I spotted a magnum of Philippe Pacalet’s Bourgogne Rouge  2010 and couldn’t pass up the opportunity since there is so little in Paris and I ran out of my stock at Frenchie a long time ago. In general however, it’s good to ask the staff what they think is tasting well.

Two magnums later, we polished off the riz au lait (absolute MUST: the best in Paris!) with Champagne Drappier Zéro Dosage.

All in all, eating (and drinking) at l’Ami Jean is a real treat. I don’t think I would inflict it on my stomach every week but I need my trimestrial fix.

if you dare