You only live twice: lunch at La Tour d’Argent

Above: La Tour d’Argent’s signature dish, duck breast in civet. The duck bones are crushed in a press and their juices are used to make a civet (sauce). Civet is an ancient recipe. In my translation of the 15th-century Ars Culinaria by Maestro Martino (UC Press, 2005), you’ll find an excellent recipe for venison civet, for example.

In all honesty, I’m a little embarrassed by the extravagance of a lunch Tracie B and I enjoyed in Paris a few weeks ago while we were in town for the NN+ tourette France 2009.

Above: We drank a 1991 Volnay Les Champans 1er Cru with the main course. Lunch wasn’t cheap but the list was jam-packed with very reasonably priced “outer borough” Burgundy. I was looking at 1989 Marsannay but the excellent sommelier pointed out that 1991 is drinking better in general and that Marsannay would have been too tannic with our duck. His choice was superb and he kept me well under my price point. Note the dust on the bottle: this is a sign that it has been well cellared in situ and has rested peacefully. (Check out Eric’s cool article on “Those Other Burgundies.”)

Especially in these tough times (and believe me, I am so relieved and fortunate to be busy with work these days, when so many of my peers are having trouble), I couldn’t help but be more than a little self-conscious.

Above: Watching the wine service at La Tour was a thrill. Our sommelier was so friendly and helpful. Frankly, it’s intimidating to approach a wine list like that (check out this pic that Tracie B snapped of me). I knew that I wanted to drink old Burgundy and I told our steward my price point, my preference in style (traditional), and we discussed our menu. The 91 Volnay was fantastic and you’d be surprised at how little I paid for it: because La Tour buys so much wine on release, the prices are actually surprisingly affordable (as long as you stay clear of the heavy hitters).

But, hey, you only live twice: I can’t imagine that Tracie B and I will be back in Paris any time soon and a lunch like this is something you do once in your life (And since we were on tour, we ate mostly ham sandwiches while we were there! And so this was our one extravagant repast. Believe it or not, I actually lost weight.)

Above: For every course, the mise en place was a work of art. I loved how they trimmed the lettuce leaves to match the size of these delicately sliced, raw scallops. We paired this first course with a 4-year-old Savennières.

I’ve read a lot of food and wine bloggers talking about how they are cutting back on and reeling in their wine budgets, these days (and so are we here in Austin). That’s perfectly understandable as well as indispensable in this new “age of responsibility.”

Above: A picture really isn’t worth a thousand stinky flavors and aromas! The cheese course was phenomenal. We paired with an equally stinky vin jaune.

But it is equally important to go out and spend money on wine and in restaurants and support local businesses and merchants. Remember: every time you buy a bottle of wine (even if you’re spending less on wine these days), you are supporting a whole chain of people in the industry — producer, importer, broker/vendor, distributor, and restaurateur/retailer (including the shippers, drivers, delivery people, etc.).

Not that La Tour d’Argent needs any help from me and Tracie B: a pair of bankers sitting next to us ordered two bottles of old Mersault and I can only imagine what they paid (probably in the thousands, gauging from my perusal of the list).

Above: I have no idea what we ate for dessert but it was delicious.

Lunch is certainly more affordable at La Tour than dinner and Tracie B and I stuck to the fixed price menu. You would be surprised at how little we actually spent, considering the venue.

All I can say is that the experience was worth every penny. Tracie B was simply stunning that day, the sunlight reflecting off the Seine and giving her a glow that I will never forget as long as I live.

You only live twice…

One night in Paris with Alice

Above: Alice F and Tracie B, two of my favorite ladies, and I went natural-winebar-hopping the other night in Paris.

If you ever get a chance to go natural-winebar-hopping in Paris — where many believe the winebar concept and the natural winebar were born — with the leading lady of natural wine writing, Alice Feiring, go for it. In perhaps the only city on earth where the maître d’s are ruder than the hosts at Babbo or Sparks Steakhouse, Alice your-table-is-waiting-right-this-way Feiring, Tracie B, and I ended up at Racines in the picturesque Passage des Panoramas at the end of the night a few weeks ago while we were in town for gigs with NN+.

Above: The first wine we drank at Racines was this entirely stinky, cloudy, dirty, oxidized Chenin Blanc by winemaker Eric Callcut, who calls it “The Picrate,” which I imagine is a reference to the picric acid. I imagine that picrate tastes like saltpeter since it is used in explosives but I didn’t get a gunpowdery note on this wine. Thoughts?

Between her popular blog Appellation Feiring and her wine-memoir/manifesto The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization, there is no denying that Alice is one of the wine writing world’s boldface names — whether you agree with her radical positions or you find yourself diametrically opposed to them (there’s really no middle ground with her, which is something we all love about her). But in Paris, she is considered a primissima donna and Tracie B and I were thrilled to be her companions: the toast of the Parisian natural wine circuit seemed to bow before her as if in audience with the queen.

Above: The charismatic owner, Pierre, already enjoyed quite a following even before Food & Wine called Racines “Paris’s hottest winebar.”

As it turns out, owner Pierre Jancou’s family is from Modena, where I taught for a summer many, many moons ago for U.C.L.A. When we discovered our Emilian connection, he insisted that we taste Donato Camilli Lambrusco, which was fantastic — bright with acidity but light in the mouth. Even though we savored the minerality in every last drop of the Chenin Blanc (The Picrate, above), we agreed that the Lambrusco was the wine of the night. (Franco, I know… I know… I’m the only dude who drinks Lambrusco in Paris. That’s HOW much I love Italian wine!)

Pierre is not the only one at his restaurant that speaks Italian with an Emilian accent. His charcuterie speaks Emilian dialect, too, and the lardo melted sumptuously in the mouth, with the natural fruit of the Lambrusco slicing through its liquid fat like a serrated ravioli cutter on a Sunday morning. I ate blood pudding (below) and beets as my main course (just to keep things light). Tracie B and Alice split the sole, which was also excellent if pricey.

Above: The artisanal and natural qualities of Pierre’s food really stood out in the blood pudding and beets. His radically natural ingredients brought a balance and lightness to a dish you would otherwise expect to be gut-splittingly heavy. I ate every last morsel.

For someone who once performed “One Night in Paris” at the Paris Paris nightclub in Paris (yes, it’s true), this was one night in Paris that I will never forget.

Natural Lambrusco in Paris (and late for sound check)

lambrusco

We’re on our way to sound check (and I’m running late, as usual) and I can’t wait to post about recent enogastronomic adventures. Last night, Tracie B, Alice, and I did drink this fantastic natural Lambrusco by Camillo Donati with Pierre at Racine.

Ok… gotta run… more later… stay tuned!

I could eat a horse (and I did in Legnaro, PD)

From the “keeping it real” department…

Last April, I hooked up with my really good buddy Gabriele “Elvis” Inglesi (above) after Vinitaly for one of our favorite traditions: meeting the “gang” at the horse restaurant. Yes, the horse — equine meat — restaurant. Horse meat is considered a delicacy in the Veneto (where I lived, studied, and played music for many years) and when Gabriele (aka Lelecaster for his mastery of the Telecaster) and I used to tour as a duo there, we would often spend Sunday evening with our friends at one of the many family-friendly horse restaurants in the hills and countryside outside Padua (btw, Padua is English for Padova, like Florence for Firenze, Rome for Roma, Naples for Napoli). That Sunday night, we went to Trattoria Savio (since 1965) in Legnaro.

Risotto with sfilacci di cavallo. Sfilacci are thinly sliced “threads” of salt-cured, smoked horse thigh.

Griddle-seared horse salami, sfilacci, horse prosciutto, and grilled white polenta.

Pony filet. Very lean (yet tasty), horse meat became popular in Europe in the 1960s when it was promoted (in particular by the French government) as a nutritious and inexpensive alternative to beef. In Verona, pastissada de caval — horse meat, usually the rump, stewed in wine — is the traditional pairing for Recioto and Amarone (check out Franco’s alarming article on Amarone, overcropping, and excessive production in Valpolicella, published in the February issue of Decanter magazine).

At Trattoria Savio, we drank pitchers of white and red wine. I’m not sure but the white tasted like Verduzzo to me, the red was probably stainless-steel Piave Cabernet and Merlot.

Gabriele is one of the meanest chicken pickers I’ve ever heard. Check out this YouTube of him with his band Hillbilly Soul:

In other news…

We’re getting the first reports of spins for our new album Ménagerie. This week we were the 6th “most added” band on college radio (Franz Ferdinand was #5). Keep your fingers crossed and please check out our album!

France-NYC trip starts next week and Alice, Tracie B, and I have a date to go natural winebar hopping in Paris. Stay tuned…