You Want to Choose Your Wine, No Monsieur, We Will Choose it For You
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There is a new (actually an old revived) tradition in French restaurants: that the stupid customer doesn’t know crap (this is a family site so I won’t use the real word) about wines, so we, paternalistically, will pick out your wine and if you can’t afford it – like JP Morgan asking the price of a yacht – the attitude is, if you don’t have the Euros, you shouldn’t be here.
Now 50 years ago, when there were honest sommeliers at places like the Tour d’Argent or even 15 years ago at the Les Elysées du Vernet, the sommelier-guy or gal was not out to fool or overprice you. He or she would accept your wish for something reasonably priced, but something has happened in Paris, and it may herald the end of the Great Recession – places again have no wine lists and thrust you onto the floor of wine imbeciles.
And of course, a lot of places offer wine pairings to go with your food.
But the place where I recall the most intriguing forced choices (and no one goes unaware of it) was Enrico Bernardo’s Il Vino, where at least in the beginning you could either choose the wine and the meal would be shaped around it or vice-versa, where the waiter says this is what we’ve got today and they serve the wine around that.
I sensed forced choice was a trend, however, when the Racines gang opened Saturne in the 2nd and there was no list and you were told what to have. I went with a dear friend (French, but with me, a pinching-pennies type) and I warned her not to order the 150 Euro wine or I’d have a s***-attack, no matter that the owner/chefs were her pals. She held her council and miracle of miracles they produced a 20-page wine list, which I was able to go to the back and find a “Divers” wine that didn’t break the bank. But just the day this was written, another friend reported they had gone back to the “Trust me, I’ll choose the proper wine for your food” approach. Man!
Then there has been the change at Spring, where Daniel Rose had some extremely good but reasonably priced wines. Now, not only are they no longer available, except at the Boutique, but the wine-guys seem driven to up the ante with an attitude like “at a high-priced place in the 1st, customers expect higher priced wines.”
The day this was written as well, we ate at Le Verre Volé, and like the first time I ate there three weeks ago, they wouldn’t let me choose the wine off the abundant shelves like other wine bars/bistrots a vin/ etc., but decided for us.
Now the wine guy there, as at Saturne, is very knowledgeable about wine and gave us a long spiel about two choices but certainly didn’t point us in a less pricey direction. It was only when Colette had serious objections to what he forced on us, that she ordered a glass of plain old Côtes du Rhone which was much better than the forced upon wine.
So folks – you are forewarned. Spring, Saturne and Le Verre Volé are super places but beware the silver-tongued sommelier. He will, like the waiter in Rome, push you toward the pricey stuff.
The places where there is absolutely great food but watch out for the wines are:
17 rue Notre Dame des Victoires in the 2nd, (Metro: Bourse)
Lunch menu 35 €, dinner, 37 € for 4 courses, 59 € for 6 courses.
Le Verre Volé
67, rue de Lancry in th 10th (Metro: maybe the Gare de l’Est or Jacques Bonsergent)
A la carte anywhere from 20-50 E before drinks.
6, rue Bailleul in the 1st (Metro: Louvre-Rivoli)
Open for dinner Tuesday-Saturday, lunch Wednesday-Saturday
Lunch bouillon 23 (chicken) or 32 € (pigeon) with “small plates” about 6-7, 6-course dinner menu 64 €.
©by John Talbott 2010
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