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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Wednesday Night Cocktail Adventure: Clin d'Oeil

Clin d'Oeil
15, rue Copreaux
Paris 75015
Téléphone: 01 43 06 83 35

You know what it means when you ask your girlfriend if the guy she's trying to set you up with is cute and she answers: "He's really nice and he's got a great sense of humor." Well, if you ask me if the Clin d'Oeil makes up top notch cocktails, I'll tell you: "The bartender's really charming and the seats are comfy!"

Set off on a quiet street and open only six months or so, the Clin d'Oeil is probably not yet a destination restaurant and pulls in mainly a very local crowd. With a nod (or a "clin d'oeil") to old Hollywood glamour, the owner has tried to create a classical American bar feel with dark wood, tastefully modern red vinyl chairs and head-shots of silver screen stars like Jean Harlow and Humphrey Bogart decorating the walls of this petite but inviting space. When we arrived around 9, the place was calm with just a couple of tables of diners. With his distinguished grey hair and crisp black suit, Tony (owner/barman/server) cuts a dashing figure as he zips around making drinks, serving food and chatting with patrons. Having previously worked at the crowded Les Editeurs as well as many other restaurants and cafes, I imagine he's used to handling multiple tasks and people simultaneously.

The lack of usuals, Matt and Violaine, was made up for by the addition of Melanie and Tara, so we settled in for some light girly chat over a few drinks. The cocktail menu is rather a small and basic selection (Americano, gin fizz, pina colada, etc.) at about 7 - 9 Euros each. I started with the usual martini, which was not listed on the menu, average and served in a champagne flute. Melanie ordered the potentially interesting Scorpion (rum, apricot liquor, pineapple juice, lemon juice, grenadine & cayenne pepper). There have been countless variations on the original Trader Vic's Scorpion recipe, but the only thing this one had in common was the rum. Tony told us that he was taught this recipe by the iconic French singer Serge Gainsbourg, which I think makes for a fun tidbit to drop when it's ordered. We liked the Scorpion, but I think a bit more cayenne would have taken it up a notch. Tara enjoyed her mojito. Salty olives and peanuts came with the drinks. For another round, Tony recommended margaritas, which left me non-plussed. There was either little or no cointreau or it may have been bottled lime juice, which I think tastes much tarter than fresh.

We chatted off an on with Tony throughout the night and he is genuinely enthusiastic about running a cocktail bar. He promised that later visits would yield more choice behind the bar, including fresh citrus, and explained that he wants a "young cocktail" crowd. Unfortunately, for the moment, the prices aren't cheap enough to pull in a young crowd and the drinks not interesting enough to pull in a serious cocktail crowd. I noticed that 33cl beers (just around a half pint) run between 5 to 6.50 Euros, which is on the high side if you're looking for a young crowd.

But, I do believe he merits a respectable crowd - I'm just not sure what for yet. Once he figures out his angle and works it, he'll successfully pull in plenty of drinkers and diners. For the few very enjoyable hours we stayed there, the only other customers remained the two to three tables of diners. The menu looked interesting, including a well-priced 20 Euros 3 course lunch menu and what we saw arriving at the tables looked good.

At the end of the evening, as he was clearing off the last emptied tables, Tony came out with a bottle of tequila and Schweppes and ceremoniously prepared us a round of tequila poppers. My favorite libation? Nope. But, come on....who hasn't knocked back of a few of those on a cinco de mayo down at Telaque Paque!? And, I do appreciate that he was doing something that seemed fun and different for us once he realized we were curious and inquisitive about his drinks and drink making skills.

While the cocktail menu lacks oompf, I'm having a hard time criticizing Clin d'Oeil. Overall, not a bad place to stop by for a drink of something standard or possibly try the lunch menu if you're in the area. While not a cocktail destination for me, I'm seriously rooting for Tony...I hope he figures out what works best for him and packs his place out. He's got a lot going for him, it's just not what I'm necessarily looking for on a Wednesday.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Wedensday Night Cocktail Adventures: Why Paris

Why Paris
60, Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau
75001 Paris
Tel : 01 40 26 47 63

I'm going to try and not let this post morph into a modern day Abbot and Costello sketch - but with a name like "Why" you see how I might go there.

My first impression of this smallish spot is that the dark walls contrast with the stark white tables and chairs to give it a warm but modern ambiance. The background music, while not overwhelmingly loud, was fun and funky - with Boogieman and the nearly forgotten 80's single Din Da Da making me dance around in my chair just a little bit as I perused the list of cocktails on offer.

I was immediately impressed by the menu which featured a good number of standards such as Manhattans, ti punch and bourbon sours, some new and interesting creations such as the bubble gum, bee sting and Why Paris Chocolate (all of which were a hit with those who favored sweeter drinks) and the unusual: "cocktail destructurés". Owner and bartender, Christophe, previously worked at le Forum, so he already had a pretty good arsenal of cocktail making skills before branching out on his own. My Bombay martini was stirred, served up in a chilled glass with a twist and tasted like it was made with love and care (I was given a choice of gins when I ordered, but took the house). With six of us packed around a couple of four tops, we had the opportunity to sample several drinks. Everyone was generally happy with their choices and for the second round I moved onto the deconstructed cocktails.

The Somerset was a measure of tequila with a bit of lime served up on the rocks in a martini glass accompanied by a puree of tomato and avocado. To consume this uniquely presented little concoction, you take a spoon full of the puree and follow it with a sip of the tequila. While I wouldn't order one after another of these, I did get a kick out of the presentation and enjoyed the one I had. While I was disappointed with the 'gimmicky' drinks i had at the Plaza Athenee some time ago, I felt none of that here. With these drinks - though in a similar vein - i felt like Christophe has much more of a genuine interest in creating and sharing something special with his clients and at a much more reasonable price of around 12 Euros. Violaine followed up with the deconstructed Planteur consisting of pineapple slices, jellied angostura orange and rum and a mini planteurs.

A few of us girls ended up lingering longer than usual, and after awhile Christophe brought over a small minty drink. While I never think a barman 'owes' customers a drink, i think it's a nice touch when they bring something around on the house after a few rounds. One of the reasons we may have stayed longer than usual were the tasty bar snacks. No mere olives or pretzels, the Why brings out a nice tray of bread, salsa and rillette de veau. While the salsa was so so (I'm pretty picky about my salsa and could tell this came from a jar) the rillette was the star. Tasty and substantial, it allowed the group to while away a bit more time without having to rush off to get something in our tummies.

Why prices are completely reasonable for the quality at 10 to 12 Euros. However, what I noticed particularly catching patrons and passerby's eye were the mojitos and caipirihnias at 6 Euros on offer at the moment. And, the few outside tables seem a good place to sample one of these during the summer months while people watching.

So, overall, for the Why bar, I give a very enthusiastic "Why not!?"

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Wednesday Night Cocktail Adventure: le China

Le China
50 Rue de Charenton
75012 Paris
Tel : 01 43 46 08 09

I'm back .... and, so is the China Club! But, you'd be forgiven for thinking they were still closed since the old website saying so remains online. They do have a new site, but the first thing you'll come across on most google searches is the original. Yeah, we know: sometimes the Internet lies.

I always enjoyed the China Club back in the day. I'm not sure why they closed, but the space, under new ownership and no longer called the "China Club" but "Le China" retains all of the original decor and charm of the original. They've still got a hiply classical feel with heavy red velvet drapes, warm leather sofas and the crisp black and white tiled floor. Warm wood furniture adds to the comfortable elegance of this locale and the lighting is dim enough to avoid the interrogation room feeling of many French establishments. The ambiance is accessible chic: it feels a little special without being intimidating. The ground level is spacious, calm and on my visits - which generally take place in early evening - rather empty. The lower level offers up the same cool deco and probably pulls in a sizable young and pretty crowd with their free nightly concerts. I think this spot could work for an quiet tête à tête or a bigger, lively group depending on when and where you deposit yourself here.

Le China does a decent happy hour price-wise, assuming you want to order two of the same thing. From 6 to 8pm you can have your second cocktail free: not the second drink of your choice, but the same as your first order. So, if you're going for the classic dry martini off their menu at 10 Euros, you can end up with effectively two at 5 Euros each. Not a bad price, but less of a steal if you're not in the mood for back to back martinis. But, I was pleased with my Tanqueray martini with a twist so i did have a second. I'd say this is the best 5 Euros martini I'll ever get in Paris. And while you're sipping, beautiful waitstaff bring tasty olives that we think were marinated in sesame oil & chili sauce.

The non-happy hour prices range from 10 - 12 Euros with a few interesting sections including "New York prohibition cocktails", "classics" and house creations. I don't fully understand the the "Prohibition cocktails" category since it includes drinks created as recently as last year. (perhaps they mean prohibition-inspired?)* The classics include some solid basics like martini, martinez & old fashioned. Violaine tried the raspberry daiquiri off the "classics", which was made with fresh raspberries and was simple and refreshing. The food menu appears reasonable and features a range of dim sum, noodles, buns, etc.

Overall, if you're looking for a chilled out hideaway from the typical Paris drinking spots, this somewhat forgotten old standby deserves a revisit.

* update 6/9/2011 Happy hour is no longer two for one and just 1/2 price drinks & prices have raised to 12 Euros.

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