After I met up with my new friend Tio Pepe in the wine bar across the street, Juveniles, my happy glow and I wandered over to Verjus. These nooks and crannies and winding tiny streets on the far side of Palais Royal, where all this food love stuff was located, were all new to me. And on a slightly drizzly afternoon...well, maybe only if you're in love with Paris as I am, seeing the beloved in a new surrounding like this, doing something just really heart-wrenchingly adorable - like looking all picturesque on a drizzly spring evening - just cements the relationship, though it may be a dysfunctional relationship premised on unrequited love.
Amy had no such problem as I had finding the tiny Passage Beaujolais wherein Verjus is located (which is not the above picture, which is instead part of the series of Palais Royal pictures pre-Tio Pepe). This is no doubt due to her love of data, mapping, and the fact she is a graduate of Rice University, a school for rocket scientist types.
I arrived first, as one should hope as I was just across the street. I took the seat back against the wall, from which point I could look out over the expanse of this tiny little jewel box of a space that is this restaurant. Surrounded by windows it seems: two sides of the restaurant are consumed by extra tall and long casement windows. That natural light, dark wood floors, clean white linen tablecloths, candlelight everywhere with the flickering votives, the dusk of Paris descending, the clinking of glassware, the hum of conversation everywhere -- all a good sign this might be a nice evening.
I'd had a great day. So I decided (another) aperitif was in order. Deux coupes de champagne. We then order the Market Menu. 55E. This seems so reasonable for Paris. For this I am getting the magic that is the culinary work of the Hidden Kitchen couple. But of course we must also have the wine pairing...This goes up to 85E. Still, a bargain for Paris it seems to me for something along lines of a "fancy" dinner, especially considering I am sitting with light diffused through casement windows and the Palais Royal nearby, which means I am channeling Colette, who lived therein, and on whom I partially wrote my Senior Honors Thesis for French. (Some postmodern feminist theme of misogynistic males coopting the female artist's success or stifling it somehow. Riveting stuff.)
Course 1. mozzarella, watercress, radish, smoked curry, honey cornbread, capers. Paired with a 2008 Patrick Miolane, St. Aubin. See below.
We were taken aback by the tiny morceau of cornbread's crunchy yet tender texture and that honey with the curry thrown in. We sit back. We sigh. What did we talk about? Probably the food. The curry. The place.
Course 2. skillet trout from Banka, shaved mushrooms, picholine olives, ricotta dumplings, verjus jelly. Paired with a 2010 Domaine de Lucie, Crozes-Hermitage, "Aux Pitchounettes." I thought this was the "main dish." I am glad one cannot order this wine by the case while sitting there. Supposed I could have via phone. I was numb with delight though. I was then very surprised when another substantive dish arrived:
Course 3. grilled milk fed veal, glazed salsify, miso labne, picked cauliflower, nori crumbs. Paired with a 2008 Vina Von Siebenthal, Aconcagua Valley, Chile, "Parcela #7." I want to slow down everything so it will never end.
Cheese course: Could not resist. 14E supplement (for 2 persons). A selection of cheeses "from maison Hisada." What made it so especially lovely was the minimalist garnish, the perfect extra taste sensation, to accompany a particular cheese.
Last course: there was an option of a soft oatmeal cookie, greek yogurt sorbet, bourbon raisins, hazelnut butter, roasted grapes. We go for the chocolate option: dark chocolate and rye whiskey cake, citrus salad, carmelized white chocolate, tinka bean buffalo milk ricotta. Paired with an Emilio Hidalgo, Morenita Cream Sherry.
By now we are chatting with the couple next to us, who had realized by then that we were from Austin (hard to not overhear in such close quarters), which they know by reputation as a cool place, which it is. They are Tim and Deborah. They are from Portland. And they are way groovy.
Braden, chef/owner and part of the mod couple gastronomic dream team, had arrived to personally serve the dessert courses for Tim and Deborah. Braden and Tim and Deborah begin talking, and that includes us then by extension. Braden decribes the hunt for this location and the saga of getting it renovated. See also this. He is so good-natured. He tells us this space was the 78th place they looked at in the resto venue search. We talk about the food. The renovation. Their plans.
Tim and Deborah leave.
But no, Amy and I were not done. We decide we need a digestif. Amy, the scotch connoisseur, wants scotch. But first we stop by the WC, again, downstairs.
Amy espies a scotch selection. Though they are closing up shop down there, she engages a lovely and charming woman whom I believe must be Laura of the dream team, and they discuss meadowy grasses, streams, and the nature of scotch. They take in the aroma of many bottles that Laura opens for the purposes of the discussion.
I think this must be part of her smart person persona coming through, this seemingly arcane area of expertise.
We finally say good-bye.
I only about then realize: THIS is the wine bar.
And, you know, what else is there to do when you have eaten very, very well, and are very full, and had, well, not an insignificant amount of wine, albeit tasting portions, but to venture out into Paris and see what else one can eat and/or drink.
We were very close to our Sunday night venue for dinner, so we ended up at Les Fines Gueules as they were about to close up for the night.
Amy got her scotch. I got an array of tastings from our favorite waiter, whom I learned, by asking him, had the name of Jean-Francois. He started me out with "Reine Claude." Per a guide to digestifs, this genre of digestif, these eaux-de-vie, are "clear as spring water, [and]their potency (40 to 50% alcohol) can take you by surprise." But the fruit itself that is developed into this lethal libation is a very lovely plum and what David L calls perhaps the most delicious fruit in the world.
Understatement as to "surprise" .... I ended up with something else, to taste, and then something else.
It was a good thing that as Amy and I glided home that night to the Rue de Bievre there were no open flames anywhere close to me.