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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: le Secret

Le Secret
16 avenue de Friedland
Paris 75008
Tel:01-53- 53-02-02

I think Aveze tastes a bit like dirty grass (in a good way). Now, I'm not a professional bartender - rather a professional customer - and I'm feeling pretty carefree today, so I'm going to let myself slide with that personal but not entirely accurate description.

But, if you were a professional bartender and I showed up on the other side of the counter with a bottle of Aveze and asked you to help me figure out how to serve it a half hour from now to people who might not like the bitter taste of this atypical french aperitif, what would you do? Well, if you were Greg at Le Secret, you'd take the bottle, taste it, test it and try and come up with something tasty. But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Last night I stopped by this relatively new bar just off the Champs Elysees. As some of you know, this is not my preferred part of the city. But, this little find might motivate me to get there more often. I enjoyed le Magnifique, so I didn't really doubt I was going to find things that pleased at another of Olivier Demarle's establishments.

This cozy, intimate and discreet bar is staffed by knowledgeable and friendly servers who deliver excellent service without some of the off-putting obsequiousness I sometimes find in this overpriced area of Paris. Lights and music are dim and additional tables are nestled into the second floor loft above the bar. The sophisticated loungey decor and ambiance makes it feel like a bar for interesting & mysterious, cocktail drinking adults.

A row of several bottled bitters stood at attention as I ordered a martini made with Beefeater 24. Some of my friends aren't very enthusiastic about Beefeater's latest product, but I'm finding myself kind of liking it. Greg made up a proper martini in a chilled glass with a twist and served it to me alongside a bowl of nice potato chips.

I have a tendency to get overly enthusiastic about places I really like, so I am going to point out one small flaw with my martini: I think it might have been stirred too long or too vigorously. There were (just a few) very tiny ice chips in it & it was not hot at all. At 45%abv, Beefeater 24 is approaching Tanquery 10 or Bombay Sapphire strength, which is sometimes too hot for my taste. But, I do like a little kick, and I didn't get the strength I was expecting out of this martini. The vermouth was minimal, so I assume there was a lot of dilution from the ice going on here. That criticism aside, having watched him make several other drinks & interact with customers, I think Greg's outstanding bar skills make this a place worthy of a visit (or several.)

Matt was thrilled with his side car & Violaine took one of the house creations that was also winner. We tried Matt's pretty much perfect old fashioned. I ordered a 7 sins sour (the only drink on the menu that lists its ingredients only as 'le secret') was intriguingly delicious. If asked nicely, Greg will probably tell you what goes into this tasty combo.

The prices - a bit on the steep side - range from 14 - 16 Euros for a cocktail and drinks are categorized as Feminine, Masculine and Plurals - each with about 7 or so cocktails. The girls must drink more vodka because the majority of their drinks were made with it. The boys get a more interesting selection of drinks based on aperol, rye, jack daniels & gin. The third category was a good mix and is where my 7 sins sour fell.

Yes, Greg knows his stuff & is personable as well. I can only assume the rest of the staff members - having come from some nice Paris cocktail destinations in their own right - are on par with Greg. In short: this bar is making some fine cocktails! And, while we all know I've got a cocktail crush on the ECC boys, it's really nice to see someone else in town involved in some worthy pursuits. I was also very interested in the food menu which includes some basic but appealing bar comfort food like club sandwiches, cheeseburgers and nems at around 18 to 20 Euros.

When I was leaving to go to some friends' for dinner, I asked Greg what he suggested for the Aveze. He made up a couple of fun cocktails that worked with it. Unfortunately, I didn't have all the ingredients on hand to recreate them once at their place, so we all drank our "dirty grass"aperos with a bit of soda...and fortunately there was champagne on hand for those who needed a chaser.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

DIY Edition: Cocktail Class with Colin Field of Bar Hemingway, Ritz

Bar Hemingway, Ritz/Escoffier School
15 Place Vendome
Tel: +33 1 43 16 30 30

There is no such thing as a perfect cocktail. This comes from the man who many would argue makes exactly that. But Colin Field, Head Bartender at the Bar Hemingway for the past 16 years, believes that to be great, a cocktail must be viewed within an entire context of who’s drinking it, why and where.

In the past, I’ve intentionally avoided Papa Hemingway’s old haunt for Wednesday Cocktail Adventures. Having been there before, I didn’t doubt that the cocktails would be perfectly executed. But, for me, the 30 Euros price tag is near impossible to justify – even given the coddling and historical elegance of the Ritz.

Of course, I visit a lot of bars for 52 Martinis. But, I also indulge in more liver-friendly research through books, magazines and chats with plenty of knowledgeable industry people. In this vein, I decided a cocktail class with Mr. Field, himself could be highly educational. Courses are offered in either French or English and go from 15h00 to 16h30 on Saturdays. (cost: 100 Euros)

Our group of 12 sat in the bar while Colin shared his cocktail philosophy, stories and samples. This is a man who has a lot of thoughts and theories on drinking. This is also a man who invites overused adjectives: stylish, impeccable, personable, professional. You simply have to respect anyone that elevates their chosen profession to such a level. The hour and a half course stretched closer to two hours as we broke into groups for an exercise – which included sampling the finished product.

Initially, I wasn’t certain that I could learn much in such a short period of time. I can now confidently say that anyone with a serious interest in cocktails will appreciate an afternoon spent in the company this exceedingly charming bartender. By 16h00 I was revamping some of my own thoughts on cocktails and revising my budget to include more drinks at the Ritz.

If you’re hoping to learn how to make a mojiti or toss shakers, this is not for you. But, if you want to better understand what makes cocktails interesting, personal and palatable, don’t hesitate to sign up. By the time I left – Ritz martini glass and certificate in hand – I was thinking: there may not be a perfect cocktail, but there just might be a perfect bartender.

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: Ladureé

75 Avenue des Champs Elysées
Paris 8ème
Tel. : + 33 1 40 75 08 75

I'm not a sweets person, but when it comes to macarons, that's a whole different story. My absolute favorite in Paris are at Pierre Hermé, but Ladurée turns out some excellent ones, as well. Obviously, I like cocktails, so when Ladurée opened a bar last last year, this seemed like a no-brainer visit for me. However, I'm not a big fan of drinking on the Champs Elysées, so I didn't rush to it. But, after awhile, how can you resist a bar that - according to their menu - makes, "the minutes become more precise in the way of getting faster while remaining faithful to its values at the same time: elegance and delicacy in all shapes!" So, Elspeth, Matt & Violaine joined me here to see how they might (as further claimed on their menu) "profit of all influences linked with its history."

In general I find the Ladurée decor fussy-frilly-pretty. But, step into this bar in the back of their Champs branch, and you'll get a completely different feel...or in the their own words: a "complimentary house living at a different rhythm." Clearly, I am getting a kick out of the translated text on their menu, but I'll try and get back to my own words. After some discussion we decided on art deco - with modern glowing violet touches. Elspeth likened it to sitting inside a cake. I wasn't getting cake-feel, but more Geiger bar-feel. Strange comparison, I know. But, work with me here: the intricate iron work reminds me of delicate creepy cobwebs or android skeletons. I don't think that's the look their going for, so if you do visit, think cake and not creep!

Before our visit and up to this point, I was mentally prepared to knock this bar on my blog (even though I love the macarons). I imagined it to be more gimmick than substance. But, a look at the menu made me rethink my quick-to-judge attitude. The list of classics feature some solid basics (Manhattans, Martini, Singapore Slings). In addition, they offer up 10 house creations at 18 to 20 Euros and 6 macaron cocktails, which go for a hefty 22 Euros.

I started with the dry martini and got a well prepared Tanqueray Ten martini, stirred, in a chilled glass, with an offer of a twist or olives (which I accidentally ate before taking the picture). Bartender, Jerome, was professional and friendly and clearly took his work seriously. Elspeth tried the pleasantly sippable Baiser Vole "Vesper", one of the house creations made with Grey Goose, Noilly Pratt and Lillet Blanc. Jerome brought over a plate of four tiny & tasty quiche nibbles as well. We didn't try the food, but the tapas plate at 10 Euros, with a selection of 5 items, looks like it could potentially be a good deal.

Matt & Violaine each took one of the macaron creations (think: seriously adult milk & cookies!). Matt's violet was sweet, but good. Violaine's pistachio was interesting (in a good way) and refreshing. Both are creamy drinks and better if stirred before drinking. I also tried a house creation - the Suivez-moi (green pea juice, pear grey goose, grapefruit syrup and ginger cordial) which wasn't just pretty to look at, but tasty as well. While the bar stock is not enormous, it's sufficient: a couple of gins (Tanqueray Ten, Bombay Sapphire) a couple of vodkas, a handful of rums. The house creations - while a bit heavy on the vodka-based drinks - seem to be put together with some thought for the flavors combinations working in interesting ways.

Matt declared this one of his favorite Wednesday spots. While I know you can get better prepared serious cocktails elsewhere, I, too am a fan. He likened it to La Famille, where you might not be able to order a perfectly executed obscure classic, you will definitely get something unique & well-done. And, as a bonus: on exiting the bar, you pass right by the macaron shop and can pick up a few to take home. (of course we did.)

So, I wouldn't go to Ladurrée for cocktails on a regular basis, but, I will definitely go back. When grandma comes to town, take her to the Madeleine Ladurée for tea. But, when fun friends who like a bit of flash come for a visit, take them for a uniquely sweet evening cocktail at the Champs Ladurée.

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