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…