RENÉE …SANCE

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There’s an interesting Matisse exhibition at the Centre Pompidou called “Pairs and Series.” An exhibit of works in plural. As others, Matisse did the same scene or pose several times capturing or experiencing with each another aspect of what was before him.  He is quoted:  … one must know the end of the painting when you start - describing his process as …. almost working backwards.

So we’ll start with the end of Renée’s birthday. She started the day saying at 76 it was important to celebrate the fact that one is still alive and well at this age more than to celebrate the day of one’s birth.

We looked forward to the end of the day and dinner at the much talked and written about, Spring.  And that’s a story in itself. Exactly a month ago, we had gone to the Swan Bar on Montparnasse – remember our blog about finding the bar and the New York owner, Lionel Bloom (yes he is a Joyce scholar), as our newest friend? That night we went to the Swan (yes, he’s a fan of Cezanne and the painting of Leda and the Swan) because a Parisian friend of many years, Malou Beauvoir, was singing.  We chitchated with Lionel, had a few glasses of Bergerac (a rather robust red wine from South West France – the Dorgogne) and heard Malou go through her varied repertoire. As always she was full of life, captivating her audience with her voice and style.

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At the bar Renée met an American (lots of them at the Swan) who owned an art gallery in Washington, D.C.  In the course of the conversation - naturally about Parisian food and restaurants - he mentioned Spring, where he had a great meal. But, he cautioned, it was as hard to get into as The French Laundry in Napa.

It’s been said that luck is often a question of timing. We had talked about splurging on a great meal for R’s birthday. In our six years coming to Paris we’ve been to one 2 star and one 1 star Michelin restaurant and weren’t impressed with either except for the bill.

Having heard of Spring from other sources we decided to take a stab at a reservation at Spring for R’s birthday, two weeks hence.  Mostly we believed it was a lost cause. That  night, when we got home, E googled Spring Restaurant, and found glowing reviews about Daniel Rose, a Jewish kid from Chicago who didn’t speak French or know how to cook when he first came to Paris in 1998. Since then and after much experience cooking and training in France, he opened his first restaurant in 2006. He was an immediate success and now he’s celebrated as one of the best chef’s in Paris.

There are no email reservations. They have to be made by phone or in person and like The French Laundry, they suggest the best bet for a reservation is to call in the late afternoon and hope there’s been a cancellation.

It was almost 1 AM. E dials the number of the restaurant. After many rings, a man answers.  E goes through his telephone routine, “Je parle francaise petit peu … parlez anglaise, s’il vous plait.” The male voice answers, “Oui.”

So E goes through his speil and asks for a reservation for R’s birthday. The man on the other end of the line asks E if he’s from New York. E’s accent is a dead giveaway.  E confesses and there ensues a long conversation between him and Daniel Rose, who had answered the phone. He is still there cleaning up. E says it’s his wife birthday and she was born in Chicago, the birthplace of Daniel himself. “Her birthday?” Daniel says. “Yes,” E replies. “She’ll be 76.”“Maybe I’ll bake her a cake?”

By the time E hung up (it’s almost 1:20 AM) there was an email conformation of the reservation.

We arrived at 6 rue Bailleul in the 1st Arrondissment. A tiny one block street behind the Louvre, paralleling Rue de Rivoli and Rue Saint-Honoré. When we look in the window, we see that most of the tables are occupied except the best one, right in front of the widow.

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We walked into a pleasant room with an open kitchen and five or six chefs bustling along with Daniel Rose, in his black chef’s apron and matching black beard.   danopeb.jpg   Immediately, as you walk in the door and into the kitchen/dining room to the greetings of the team working at the restaurant and DR himself, you feel part of a family event. Daniel greeted us, remembered the conversation of that night the reservation was made.  He told us that this morning he woke and looked at his notes for the day which said Roumanian salami and birthday cake. A part of the repartee was E’s willingness to get him a Roumanian salami from Chicago in exchange for a reservation for his wife’s birthday.

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Seated at the window looking out at a small cobblestone street in old Paris surrounded by the soft buzz of conversation in a what seemed a fairly large but cozy dining room of a well furnished but unpretentious house, life was good.

The wine book was well furnished, running from a wine for 28 Euros up to a DRC at 2,600.  One has the option of choosing the wine pairing dinner as well as choosing one’s own.  Since there is one menu (unseen, unwritten) for every diner, the pairing sounded perfect.  The chef  chose the food, made the food and who would know better not only what wine will compliment the food and the way it has been prepared.

The sommelier was a charming young woman, Farah, who explained each wine as she poured it. They were each perfectly in accord with each dish.  There were 6 courses since we chose to include the cheese course.

First course: reading from left to right, veal tartar with raw quail egg and parmesan tuile; top dish: puree of jeruselum artichoke and sea urchin, fish course was sea bass, next was a melt in your mouth piece of foie gras  appealing to the mouth at every bite through the almost crusty outside to the tenderest slightly cooked interior, then a duck breast again perfectly seared exterior and deep rose color throughout in a oh-so-slightly-sparingly-spread sweet sauce, a selection of 5 cheeses at the absolutely perfect temperature, to the finalité of Chocolate sorbet and poached pair.  A wine with every course subtly matched.  One never notices how much is being drunk.  Even the level of alcohol is restrained.

So … we could go through the menu and the wines, but who knows when they will be replicated.

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What’s really important is the way Rose cooks:

He is a genius in the selection of and respect for the food.  The seasoning, the combinations, the sauces and the wines  support and allow the the taste of the food to be revealed gloriously.  His food is absolutely French! He is an artist in his responsiveness to the raw materials. He’s subsumed his ego to the food

A few words about the wine pairings: all were French, low in alcohol and from small vintners; all wonderfully transparent, as they molded to fit the food, not to change or override the taste but to bring it to its fullest flowering.

So here we were, in Paris. R who was born in Chicago celebrating her birthday, having a quintessential French meal from a young guy from Chicago.

He didn’t make a cake, but a fabulous chocolate sorbet with pastachio granité with a lit candle.

 

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Then the coup de grace. Rose is suddenly outside on the street in front of us. In one hand he has a bottle of champagne, the other hand holding a clever.

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One karate chop of the clever takes the top off the champagne, the bubbles pour out and within moments we have 2 glasses of champagne at the table.

Like Matisse, Rose’s food is his art.  He picks for the day that which he see’s at the market to be the freshest and at the peak of flavor.  He then works backwards to produce the perfect stage on which to present the food using seasoning and technique which never overwhelms the perfection of it’s natural flavor.  He composes it elegantly but simply,  pairs each dish with a wine with exactly the right tones to further strengthen the composition, provides an atmosphere warm and casual yet formal enough to remind you that you aren’t “just anywhere” and Voila, a masterpiece.

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Renée’s birthday was  a little over 3 weeks ago. We’ve been too busy to put the above on the blog. But … the meal was so sensational that while we were there we made a reservation for later in the month. A long-time friend of R’s was visiting from LA and two extraordinary friends from Chicago. We went back the other night. And there was Daniel in the kitchen.

Of course, we were wondering if he could replicate our last visit. He greeted us with bises and champagne. We all agreed to have the wine pairing with the food. We were asked: “Is everyone okay with oysters and foie gras?” That was the introduction to another fabulous meal. We won’t go into the meal or the wines. No need to describe them. They were perfect. After our first meal, R had said it was the best meal she had ever eaten. Now there are two best meals we have ever eaten.

 

 

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