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Monday, September 20, 2010

One-handed Cocktail Adventures: le 47 at Chateau Fontenac

54 rue Pierre Charron
75008 Paris
01 53 23 13 13

One of fun things about writing a booze-related blog is meeting lots of interesting people. Visiting imbibers usually end up joining me for a drink or two, which is how I found myself at Curio Parlor with Chris of SpiritsReview. Afterwards, Chris and his wife invited me to tag along for drinks at le 47.

You don't hear a lot of cocktail buzz around this discrete little bar of the 4 star hotel Chateau Frontenac near the Champs. The bar itself (overseen by the exuberant Ugo Frabetti) is rather tiny, the decor is upscale cozy with plush arm chairs grouped around low tables and ambiently dim lighting from tasteful chandeliers.

My impression (read: wild ass guess made by someone who has never worked in a hotel) is that running a cocktail bar in a hotel is more challenging than running a dedicated cocktail bar, due to having to work within the constraints of the whims, restraints and direction of hotel management whose primary interest may not be craft cocktails. But, Ugo manages this little bar with flair. The selection - though small - is good with a respectable 8 choices of gin. (Beefeeter, Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray, Hayman's Old Tom, Gvine, Hendrick's, Beefeater 24, and Tanqueray 10.)

Cocktails range from 16 - 20 Euros, with a choice of champagne, short and long drinks. The heavily pushed Cognac Summit is present, but you'll also find more unusual choices for a Paris bar such as the Pimm's cup, Tommy's Margarita or a Ramos Gin Fizz, one of the drinks our party ordered.

Because the Ramos Gin Fizz requires eggs and there were none behind the bar and the kitchen was closed, Ugo offered to "climb into" the closed room service somehow to procure the needed ingredient. We waited for sometime, until he returned: egg in one hand, other hand held gingerly against his chest and a curious expression. Apparently, during the egg-hunt Ugo broke his hand (in two places we found out later) and had to close the bar for the night to newcomers.

But for us, he was still determined make sure we got to sample the cocktails we'd been waiting so long for by now. He poured me a nice glass of champagne to sip while waiting for him to stir up some drinks and the evening degenerated into a fun and entertaining time of joking with Ugo, watching him direct hotel staff, Chris joining in a bit behind the bar and various different drinks to sample. And, when it finally did arrive, my Beefeater 24/Noilly Prat martini was excellent (and just perfectly cold!).

This address is not the latest hot spot or a see-and-be-seen scene. It's a refined and quiet bar for a relaxing drink off the heavily-trodden cocktail path from a barman with the winning combination of knowledge, enthusiasm and great customer service. But if you want to go see Ugo, you'll have to wait a month until he comes back from the medical leave for his cocktail-related injury.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wednesday Cocktail Adventures: Le Lucien of Hotel Fouquet

Le Lucien Bar, Fouquet Hotel
46 avenue George V
75008 Paris
01 40 69 60 00

The Bedazzler is a "cheap-ass rhinestone-studding tool favored by art teachers and over-excitable soccer moms everywhere, the biggest piece of crap sold on late-night TV since the Thighmaster, the reason women own shirts with glittery kitty-cats on them." Oh how I wish I had come up with that totally apt description myself (even though, secretly, I'd like to own one.) So, the Bedazzler is the first thing I thought of when I came face to face with the lifesize panther standing guard at the entrance to Fouquet Hotel's Bar Le Lucien:

This five star hotel at the very tip of the fancy "Triangle d'Or" is a (sometimes forced) melange of classic and modern design both inside and out. Once past the Swarovski encrusted kitty, we were able to better appreciate the mix of old-school style and trendy swank. Tasteful bookshelves line the walls and welcoming oversized, overstuffed chairs fill a room punctuated by modern ostentasia like the huge, blinged-out, lit-up Grey Goose bottle in a display case. The gorgeous terrace continues the theme of old+new a bit more successfully. Perhaps this bipolar decorating scheme reflects their (trademarked!?) concept of "Dignified Luxury"© which is a philosophy of providing luxury surroundings while remaining environmentally responsible. (Two extremes which I do give them big props for attempting to reconcile)

The cocktail menu begins with a page of bubbly-inspired choices, followed by a page of Grey Goose vodka cocktails, a page of Bombay Sapphire gin cocktails, and finally a page of various rhum, tequila and whiskey based cocktails. Each category contains four or five established cocktails (Singapore sling, cosmo, etc) and four or so house creations. A cocktail will set you back 24 Euros. The gin choice is a scant Hendricks, Tanqueray 10 and Bombay Sapphire. [and they are clearly pushing the Bombay and Grey Goose with whom they must have some kind of partnership] Barsnacks of garlic nuts, olives, crackers, hummus-filled pastries and smoked salmon with quinao were more impressive in abundance and presentation, than flavor.

My Tanqueray 10/Noilly Prat martini came, stirred, cold and with the requested twist. I don't love Tanqueray 10 in my martinis, but acknowledge that my tastes change over time so gave it another try. The drink was well-made. (I still would have preferred a different gin, but that's my choice) I followed up with a So Easy...F (champagne with a cognac tea liqueur). Matt and Violaine's drinks included the Bombay Fouquet (Gin, sweet vermouth, fresh basil, lemon juice, raspberry puree and passion fruit juice) and the Bombay Marrakech (Gin infused with Moroccan spices, fresh orange juice, grenadine, pineapple juice and fig jam).

The service was flawless and the staff seems to have a solid grasp of the cocktail menu - having both a real familiarity with the drinks and being able to suggest based on tastes. They're using some interesting and unusual ingredients (eucalyptus water, fresh wasabi, egg whites, jasmine syrup) and beautiful garnishes (many of which are meant to be consumed to add to the experience of the drink). They're even doing Cointreau Caviar.

Yet, while the drinks were excellent by Parisian standards, I still can't bring myself to give them a fully enthusiastic two thumbs up. I can't help but thinking the drinks could use a slight bit of tweaking (less citrus twist in my So Easy...F, more basil in Matt's Bombay Marrakech.) to bring them to perfection. I get the impression that it is first and foremost a 5 star hotel and secondly a cocktail bar. And that, I believe, is the problem with a lot of upscale hotel bars: they're damn good & you're often bedazzled by the accessories and service, but they could be better for the price.

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Friday, September 3, 2010

American Cocktail Adventures: Ralph's

173 Boulevard Saint-Germain
75006 Paris
Tel: 01 44 77 77 00

I hate being told no. On two previous attempts at cocktails in the bar of Ralph Lauren’s eponymous restaurant I called ahead to make sure they were open, yet arrived to find them closed for a private function or not open at all. On both occasions I grumbled to the staff how annoying it was to make the trip after confirming by phone and was met with typical French insouciance and no hint of apology. That ensures I’d be turning an especially critical eye to this spot when I finally made it past the uniformed doormen.

Friend and fab fellow-blogger, Kim, joined me and we made our way through the sweet courtyard dining area, which she rightly remarked has a Costes vibe. Happily the bar decor does not disappoint. The space is small with just a few tables nestled up against comfy leather booths scattered with a mix of large plaid and faux fur throw pillows. Horsey pictures hang from the walls and the tabletops are finished with small vases of pretty red roses. The high and exposed wooden beam ceilings give it a warm and cozy feel without being claustrophobic.

The menu is divided into house creations, American cocktails, classic cocktails and martini cocktails. Inexplicably a couple of the drinks are mentioned under both the classic and American headings. Of note: it's overflowing with typos, misspellings and illogical switches between French and English. “Wiskies” feature prominently on the menu and we had difficulty guessing what “citron ass” might be. And perhaps this menu code-switching gives an indication of what to expect: an establishment that cannot commit to being either entirely American or decidedly French.

The waitress/bartender was friendly enough but clearly a bit hesitant and uncertain about what she was doing. But big points on the bar snacks of sugared and rosemary nut mix and fried okra (yum!) My martini was a stirred a Tanqueray, Noilly Prat. I wasn’t given the option of a twist or olive and got a much too thick twist. However, the temperature and proportions were good and overall it was a pleasant enough drink that I didn't feel gouged at 15 Euros. Kim ordered a cosmo, which was a bit too heavy on the citrus, but otherwise handled correctly.

While tasty enough, Kim’s second choice of a mint julep, could have been better executed. The mint was a swampy mess and the ice was cubed rather than crushed. I also think a julep cup rather than a glass would be better in a place that considers themselves on the posh side. I also had an Americano about which I have no complaints.

We were unexpectedly joined in the bar by a frisky little mouse scurrying along the moldings. When we pointed it out to the French waitress she joked (in French) that we were in an American establishment so it was Mickey Mouse. I found that an amusing “save” but still felt like they could have been a bit more apologetic and even offered something to improve the visit. Really I don’t think either of us were terribly bothered by the mouse. But, again, it’s a nice place and little furry critters scampering about really freak some people out.

Speaking of fellow clientele, I am slightly concerned that those frequenting Ralph's could lean a bit more towards the pearl and twin set or obnoxious noveau riche Americans than is to my liking. But after spending a few hours here, we had the place basically to ourselves.

While I haven't tried the American-style food here, you can read a good report on it by Phyllis over at Paris Notebook. And for a better idea of the decor, check out Kim's pictures of it over on I Heart Paris (she also gets credit for the photos on this blog post).

So I must do as Ralph's does and say both yes and no. With its limited range of spirits and clear lack of serious cocktail consultation in setting up the bar, this is not a drinking destination for hyper-cocktail-critics. Notwithstanding, for its prices, I think the bar is charming and discrete and will keep this address for a leisurely drink with a friend or a romantic tête-a-tête.

So, to my readers, I say the two of us had a lovely time there and decided we would go back again for a good enough drink and delightful surroundings. But, to Mr Lauren I say: You're an American, with an "American" establishment in Paris. Polish up those cocktail skills and own it, Ralph!

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