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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Napoleonic post-Egyptian Cocktail Adventures: Shangri La

Shangri La
10 Avenue d'Iéna
75116 Paris, France
01 53 67 19 98

I know can be demanding. And, I can be especially demanding when it comes to high end hotel bars with their promises of perfection and accompanying pumped up prices. Expensive doesn’t always mean better – but I do like to indulge in a bit of lux from time to time. So, I’m always up for a taste test at the latest of swank spots.

Opening its doors early this year, the Shangri La is the most recent of highly anticipated hotel revamps to hit Paris. I stopped in with Wednesday usuals, Matt, Vio and Mel to see if the cocktails live up to the buzz. We began the evening in one of the relaxed front lounges of calm sophistication where artfully mismatched furniture arrangements lure couples and confidents into whispered conversation.

The lengthy menu includes house creations and classics for shorts, longs and champagne cocktails. Classics include Horse’s Neck, Bellini and Bloody Mary. An “Asian Touch” section proposes drinks with coriander, wasabi, ginger or soy sauce. The martini selection – while not including a classic dry – suggests libations like the Garden Martini (Gin, Scallion and Roquefort). But the headliner is the glamorous Pink Lady and her variations.

The Pink Lady, created in 1932 and named after song from a Broadway play popular at the time, was purportedly inspired by Lady Mendl, avant garde actress, socialite and former resident of the Shangri La property back when it was the home of Prince Roland, Napoleon Bonaparte's nephew. If you’re unfamiliar with this cocktail, watch one of my classy cocktail cohorts the Pink Lady herself, Kirsten Amann of LUPEC Boston, shake one up.

Back to the lounge….while discretely attentive staff replenished bowls of olives, and seasoned nuts, we sipped our first round: Dry Martini, Exotic (a Pink Lady variation), Red Flag, and a mojito. In this area, you don’t see drink preparation, but we were all satisfied with our cocktails. My martini seemed to have been stirred. My only (personal) issue was that I thought it was made with Bombay Sapphire which wouldn’t have been my first choice of gin from their selection of Plymouth, Hendricks, Tanqueray Ten, Brokers, Hayman’s Sloe and Hayman’s Old Tom.

Mel and I stayed on for a second round and made our way through the delightfully fragrant lobby (where a signature scent is pumped into the air) to Le Bar in back where we could watch the cocktail work from a closer perspective. The bar decor diverges from that in the front lounges to what I would describe as Ralph Lauren does British colonial. But I guess I would be mistaken, as the press packet calls it Napoleonic post-Egyptian.

Mel asked the affable bar manager for suggestions and his drinks of choice were whiskey and Coke or Campari and soda. With a bit more pressing we got a vodka/pear based suggestion out of him, which turned out to be really enjoyable and much more interesting than I had expected.

The Pink Lady is listed on their menu with Plymouth, but when I ordered, he asked “With Bombay Sapphire?” From a cocktail perspective this seemingly random ingredient swap gives me pause. However, I believe this is indicative of 5 star service. I had previously asked if there was Bombay Sapphire in my martini. My hunch is that - based on my recognition of the brand - the staff assumed it was my preference. As high end hotel staff should, they were anticipating needs and preferences, which is the level of service that normally sets them apart from lesser hotels.

However, even with Plymouth, the Lady disappointed. She was one dimensional, flat. Their original recipe is missing a crucial ingredient of Applejack. Additionally, my guess is that the there was no egg white in the mix (or if so, poorly shaken) and that the grenadine isn’t fresh. Homemade grenadine is relatively easy to make and produces a drink so much richer in flavor and feel that it’s worth the extra effort. While I can’t really forgive, I’m coming to begrudgingly acknowledge the fact that most hotels use bottled syrups and sweeteners. But, when your signature drink depends on grenadine, I can’t really justify using bottled – especially at 25 € a cocktail.

I love the understated grandeur of the Shangri La’s drinking areas, so I’ll be back to try out their extensive green tea selection in the laidback front lounge or sample one of the Asian influenced cocktails in the bar.

And, in the meantime, buzz is already building for the next hot hotel openings, which I will surely be tempted to try…

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Rooftop Cocktail Adventures: le 7th

le 7th, Terrass Hotel
12-14 rue Joseph-de-Maistre
75018 Paris
Tél. : +33

I think it's important to (at least try to) be aware of our faults and to correct them. One of my current personal fault projects: I'm a little bit of a grudge holder. So, when the restaurant atop the Terrass Hotel started fluctuating too much in service and quality for the price, I stopped indulging in their rooftop dining and mentally crossed them off my list of possible eats. That doesn't mean I wasn't longing for a bit of terrace time with them, but I was loath to pay full whack for a meal or talk my way into one of the very few spots for a drink to get it. And, then like an ex strolling back into my life with promise of change, they came up with their latest summer scheme.

No longer are reservations or long meal commitments necessary to enjoy the expansive view. The Terrass Hotel was now teasing me back with its latest rooftop transformation: le 7th. All summer, the rooftop terrace serves exclusively as a no reservations cocktail bar and lounge with the option of finger foods, burgers, salads and pasta should you feel peckish. Maybe we could get back together after all? I met up there with Wednesday regulars Matt, Vio and Mel as well as visiting style-meister cocktillians (and more) Howie and Tawny, to find out.

Once I made it past the multiple lobby staff and onto the roof, I immediately remembered what brought us together in the first place. The view is special. The faux-grass green matting gives the impression of stepping onto a healthy (but well manicured) lawn and the space is open, airy and relaxed. And, clearly this place has caught more than just my eye. The night of our reunion was a busy one with an abundance of the suit and earpiece crowd.

The drinks menu features 17 classics such as martini, manhattan and negroni and 9 house creations including three mojito riffs, all at 14 Euros each. My usual first order was a disappointment of proportions. While, I like a bit of vermouth in my martini, this was too much. Of the three gins on offer (Bombay, Gordon's and Tanqueray) my guess is they're using Gordon's for the martinis. Opinions varied on the other drinks. In the surprisingly good category were the gin fizz, manhattan and strawberry basil mojito. The caipi was another overly sweet disappointment and the planter's punch tasted of spiked juicebox.

Like many places, pretty garnishes can initially distract from the actual quality of the drink. The attention to visual details and fluctuation in cocktail quality says to me that there are some good intentions behind the bar, but maybe a lack of range and/or knowledge when it comes to serious cocktail skills. Warm weather clients looking for a bit of summer fun without high end cocktail expectations, will enjoy perching above Paris with something cold in hand. But, I would personally love to see a bit more consistency and attention to some of the mixers.

A flute of Lanson Black Label champagne goes for 15 (white) or 16 (Rose), and wines by the glass at 5 to 7 Euros seem a steal when you take into account the view. But, if you want to stick with the cocktails, I'd recommend either a Basil Strawberry Mojito when warm summer evenings call for something with plenty of refreshing crushed ice or a Manhattan once the temp drops with the setting sun.

Opinions on service fluctuated as well. I found the servers helpful in getting us all situated around the table with everyone arriving at different times and attentive about taking orders. However, there were a couple of glitches with Matt's final beer order and everyone found the pseudo-seriousness of the downstairs staff a bit daunting. Fluctuations aside, we had - as usual - a great time together testing and tasting. And, while I snapped the usual pics, Howie captured the moments on paper.

So, Hotel Terrace, I'm no longer holding a grudge. You seem to be making an effort to change. And, while I don't know what our future together holds, I could maybe be down with a summer fling.

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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Chocolate Cocktail Adventures: Un Dimanche a Paris

Un Dimanche a Paris
4-6-8 Cour du Commerce Saint André
75006 Paris
Tél: 01 56 81 18 18

Admittedly, I have my vices. However, sweets aren't one of them. I'm by no means a chocoholic and can easily pass up the dessert cart for any cheese plate. So while I wouldn't trek across town to check out a chocolatière, this Pierre Cluizel spot piqued my interest. First, blogger buzz brought it to my attention. Then I got an email from the friendly Claire over at Cognac Ferrand suggesting I try their cocktails. And, finally I read this post which mentioned (among other pertinent things, of course) the size of the barman's waist. Wouldn't you be curious?

I was. So, I set off to un Dimanche a Paris for an early evening drink (the lounge opens at 4pm) to assess both the barman and his skills with Heather and David as my cohorts. The first floor of this slick, bright chocolate concept store houses the shop, restaurant and tearoom. Upstairs is the laid back lounge with its blond wood floors and comfortable jewel tone sofas and chairs which invite lingering. The highlight in the center is a portion of the over 800 year old Philippe August tower showcased behind plexiglass.

The second highlight was the charmingly good-looking barman, Mikael who greeted us and gave the rundown. All of their cocktails include chocolate and are served slightly warmer than usual to allow appreciation of its flavor in the drink. Instead of offering a set menu, Mikael determines customers' likes and dislikes to create custom cocktails based on their tastes. And, he's more than just an pleasantly animate cocktail menu - he's also got some big names on his C.V. having previously worked abroad for both Alain Ducasse and Joel Robuchon.

My first cocktail was a martini-themed mixture of Potocki vodka, Combier eau de vie de cacao, chocolate and orange bitters and a housemade mixture of cocoa and Sichuan pepper. I don't do chocolate martinis, but this was a step above the overly sweet choc-tails normally served and the peppery addition was a nice touch. Round two was a combo of tequila, grapefruit, Campari, orange and chocolate bitters. Unfortunately, I didn't take notes on the cocktails he made for the others, but if I remember correctly, there was fruit involved. There are some interesting additions to the small bar stock that you won't find in many bars, like the Monkey 47.

You definitely won't get a standard martini or Manhattan here. What makes this bar stand out is the one-on-one interaction. Mikael is clearly enthusiastic about his work and takes pride in creating something unique for the clientele. In response to a few questions about Combier, he brought it out with a bottle of Cointreau alongside for us to taste the difference. David even scored a little bottle of Cointreau Cuisine to take home for a bit of cooking fun. We also got to sample a few of the sweets. Fortunately, the bar is quiet enough to allow for this kind of more personal dialogue with the customer. Although, as I've mentioned before, I do think that bars with no menus should have some indication of pricing, so customers have an idea of what they're in for. In this case, you're in for about 15 Euros a cocktail.

So, while I'm more of a cheese than chocolate girl, this is an interesting deviation from the standard cocktail fare for sophisticated sippers with a sweet tooth.

*update: Mikael is no longer working the bar here and is currently over at Flute

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