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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Another Wednesday, Another Cocktail Bar

La Famille
41, rue des Trois Frères 75018
Tél : 01-42-52-11-12

When I was young, my mother always said not to drink too much or play with dry ice. And, I also remember that old urban legend about the kid who died from eating pop rocks. So, for last night’s cocktail adventure, I decided to tempt fate and do all three of the above in one glass. (It was actually liquid nitrogen, not dry ice – however, it does make all the drinks look like various Halloween themed things that I was told not to touch as a child)

La Famille is a small (and busy) restaurant on Montmartre with a very friendly and warm vibe. All the staff is impressively welcoming, but I was especially taken by Houssin, the bartender. You walk in and there is a tiny counter just at the entrance with five or six stools. I knew immediately this wasn’t really a place to order a martini, but rules are rules. I ordered my drink and he asked me if I wanted it shaken or stirred. (And was the second bartender during my adventures to tell me that Americans prefer them shaken, while French prefer them stirred.) I took it stirred. Houssin, apologetically, told me the only Gin in the bar was Gordon’s. He chilled the glass with liquid nitrogen while preparing the drink: a good measure of vermouth and the Gordons. Afterwards, he said himself that it probably wasn’t the best martini I’ve had. I agreed, but it was the ingredients, not the technique, so I couldn’t fault his skills.

There is no drink menu, so while I had my martini, Matthieu (my one consistent drinking partner for Wednesday Cocktail Adventures) started with the drink of the day. I really can’t tell you what was in it – basil? – but it arrived smoking cold and adorned with poki sticks and teddy bears. I’m not a big fan of drink-accessories. If you put something in my cocktail, it better be more than just a pretty face. But, I was already so tickled by the place that I barely batted an eye and certainly didn’t think “what the hell are those bears doing in his drink!?”

Houssin is an artist who uses cocktail ingredients as his medium. (and I say that specifically – rather than saying he is a “cocktail artist”) He thinks drinks should touch the five senses and have a meaning behind them. Our second round were “shots” – little drinks in cubicle glasses topped with a spoon of chocolate pop rocks and smoking from a dose of nitrogen. Now, I’m not sure I understood him correctly (it was a bit noisy) but I swear he said they had gin and cranberry in them (but they were green?)

Regardless of how busy the place was (and the fact that he was making cocktails for just about everyone in the restaurant as well as those of us squeezed up to the bar) he remained friendly, chatty and obviously so enthused by what he was doing that it’s hard not to let his excitement color your feelings and make you think you want pop rocks with all your cocktails. At one point, a crowd gathered to watch him making mango caviar. (I say ‘caviar’ – but they were actually very large, but the process was the same). Now, I know in other cities, molecular gastronomized cocktails are nothing new. But, this is definitely something different for Paris. (and Houssin did say that he strives to be different). And considering the effort he puts into these, they are a bargain at around 11 Euros. (actually, I have no idea of the exact prices – I’m making a guess based on our total bill, but with no menu, I’m not sure)

So my overall take is that I can’t really rate this by my usual cocktail bar standards. Just go visit this fun, friendly, funky bunch. (and best to do so right at 8pm when they open or later in the evening after the dinner rush) They probably don’t need the advertisement because the place was jam-packed, but you’ll have a good time and appreciate the atmosphere. Don’t bother with a martini; just put yourself in Houssin’s hands.

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Sunday, May 4, 2008

It all began on a Wednesday...

A few months back, I embarked on a personal project to find the best cocktails in Paris. Every Wednesday, I visit a different cocktail bar early evening and order two drinks. I start with a Martini and then follow with something different (the house ''specialty" if there is one). I've been posting reviews on my Wednesday Cocktail Adventures over on eGullet (where you can find my comments on Harry's, Experimental Cocktail Club, Flute, Murano, & le Fumoir). Expanding on that, I've created "52 Martinis" to document my Parisian tipples and sips on Wednesdays and occassionally other days, if motivated!

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Wednesday Cocktal Adventure: Flute

NOTE: For searching convenience, i'm cutting and pasting my earlier entries from eGullet before my blog existed, so there are no photos for these first few & these are not recent entries - i just thought it would be better for them to all be in one place...just some housekeeping!


19 rue de L'Étoile, 75017 Paris Tel. 01 45 72 10 14

Pulling myself back away from philosophical musings and debates on the meaning behind the price of a cocktail (which risks rambling off subject) and back to the topic at hand….

The Experimental now has some good company in my list of current favs. I think I said something upthread along the lines of the quality of the cocktail was my sole criteria. And, I think I lied just a little. I’m realizing that quality (knowledge & skill of bartender, range of ingredients, hard to find ingredients, appropriate cocktail making accoutrements) is the most important and most heavily weighted criteria. BUT, other aspects of the bar (atmosphere, price and service) are obviously going to play a part in my determination of what’s best (and it should go without saying, I mean ‘best’ for me…everyone has their own personal preferences)

Upon entering, this tiny space offers a 3 or 4 stool bar seating area and a ‘fireside’ seat tucked off in the corner. Upstairs is larger with a handful of tables and seats scattered about. I was shown to the tiny fireside spot – the space I can only assume now is possibly reserved for newbies like me who didn’t realize you have to make reservations to drink here. The feel is very cozy-trendy-lounge, small and intimate.

Flute is primarily a champagne bar, with a wide range of bubbly at (what seemed to me) reasonable bar prices – 80 or so for a bottle of Veuve Cliquot - sold by the bottle, glass or tastings. The Paris Flute has been open for three months – there are two other Flutes in New York, which have been open for 10 years.

Not varying from my standard procedure, I ordered a martini. (my table may have been the only one not drinking champagne) I was asked if I wanted it shaken or stirred, with lemon twist or olive. The house is Bombay Sapphire. The 12 Euros martini (stirred & with an olive) was very nice, indeed, and accompanied by little Japanese snacky cracker things (you all know which ones I’m talking about even if I don’t know what they’re called) and olives.

Mathieu, the bartender, was not only friendly, but obviously interested in cocktails. We got into a discussion on whether the tendency is to shake or stir in the US and where to find good cocktails in Paris. Both he and the 2nd bartender there last night (Antonio? Or maybe Antonio is the third who wasn’t there) both came from high end hotel bars, so they know what they’re doing – and also know how to cater to demanding cocktail clients from other places. (And, incidentally, if it matters to anyone just visiting Paris, they speak English). In talking with Mathieu, I get the impression that he makes a point of exploring the cocktail scene beyond Paris to keep up with new trends and tastes. (He was telling me about his visit to the London Milk and Honey)

He showed me the upstairs area and seemed genuinely enthusiastic about the place. When I asked what the bar snacks were like, he later brought me over a plate of the spring rolls to try (nice, light, summery, and with a tasty, but not overpowering sauce). For my second round, I asked his opinion & after getting some information on my preferences served me a tasty and refreshing tequila-based concoction. Matthieu (not the bartender, but my one consistent drinking partner on Wednesday nights) declared his drink the best he’s had so far in our trials. (strangely I can’t remember the exact name of what he ordered – something Mambo? –it was good, but not my favorite – a bit too coconutty – but that’s purely personal taste on my part)

As I left I tried to make reservations to come back on Sunday with some out of town visitors for champagne. But, sadly, they are closed on Sunday and Monday.

Overall, I was very pleased with this choice. The knowledge/service/price combo was excellent. And, while they don’t have the same range of spirits and bitters (they only have angostura) as the Experimental Cocktail Club, I forgive them that, since their main focus is champagne. Knowing now I need reservations – I have them for Saturday to try their champagne and will also be checking out their Tuesday night happy hour. (buy one drink, second one offered)

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