Thursday, June 08, 2006

The bottles

I went to my favorite restaurant last week. Les Bouteilles. Ask me for the address if you're ever in Nantes.

I've had a few favorite restaurants in my life. Pizza Hut when I was a child. Hardy's when I was an adolescent. The Pilot House in Wilmington, NC when I was in college. Cyclops in Seattle (until it moved) and Café Septième in Seattle (until it moved). The first year I lived in Nantes it was La Mangeoire, a nice, small very Frenchy kind of place. When I moved back to stay, I discovered Le Café du Change, a medieval restaurant where I first tasted roasted camembert. I'm sad to say, this restaurant no longer exists. Though roasted camembert lives on at my house.

I don't think I could give one specific reason that makes Les Bouteilles so special, it's more of an ensemble kind of a thing. Originally a wine bar, the two guys who own it started serving food to go along with what they were pouring. Here's what a typical meal is like (last week, as a matter of fact).

You walk in and think, man this place is small. But just perfect. Simple, charming, totally unpretentious. There are enough tables to seat 20 and that's it. The walls are stone, the floor is wood, the bar is marble. Although both guys are sommelier by education and experience, one cooks and the other pours.

Once seated, a server came over and took the food order. The choices are limited. For apéritif, there are 4 choices (we got the corsican charcuterie platter and crostini with fresh anchovy and tomato spread). For dinner there are 5 (we got lemon-confit chicken with roasted potatoes and steak kebab with string fries). Then Antoine, the wine guy, came over and made suggestions for apéritif and for dinner. For apéritif we got glasses, muscat (Domaine des Bernardains - it was the best muscat I've ever tasted - like liquid gold and honeysuckle, but better and not poisonous ) for my brother and me, a cooked wine from Provence for my sister-in-law, and a red anjou for husband. With dinner we got a bottle of Bourgogne that was perfection in a bottle.

Dessert was a thin slice of chocolate cake with crème anglaise for three of us, and more muscat for one of us.

The food is not complicated and it's not even the best part of the restuarant . But it showcases the wine and I think that's what they want. If forced, I would have to say that the best part of the restaurant is the fact that those guys LOVE what they do. They are passionate about the wine they serve and when they talk about the farmers and butchers and cheesemakers they work with, you realize they're passionate about food too, (although not at all in a foody kind of way - if that makes any sense) and what excellent quality can bring to a meal and a wine-tasting experience.

After we ordered apéritif, Antoine brought glasses and the three bottles to the table. He poured for everyone except for me, as I had not yet decided what I wanted. He stood and watched as I had a sip from everyone's glass. Husband said, "Chérie, he's got a job to do, make up your mind." So I did, choosing the muscat. After he walked away, I said to husband, "I really don't think it bothered him to wait for me to choose." We all agreed. What he wanted most was for all of us to be happy, really happy, with what we were drinking. He's got the coolest job ever.


beth said...

Thank you for that story. I feel as though I have just enjoyed a devine French experience as I sit here in my kitchen. Oh la la!

Legal Alien said...

Wonderful post about a wonderful place. I don't think I can put my envy into words. But if I could, they would be long, multisyllabic, and nearly beyond counting.

christi said...

is that the place my mom loves, where i got that wine for her from?

Grish said...

That sounds absolutely wonderfull!

Lorraine said...

A) I am so sorry to hear that Cafe du Change closed because I remember my meal there with great affection.

B) I hate you.

zeb said...

Just so you know it might be my favorite place also, especially when I get to go with you. ( that must be the italitan coming out)

1 word for you Gelatto all day- love ya

Nicole said...

Beth - Whenever you make it over here, I promise we'll go.

Pat - And my kids are VERY envious of the fish in the bathtub thing. I just keep saying, "NO WAY."

Christi - Yes.

Grish - It truly is.

Lorraine - Yes, but you have Café Vivace and Dahlia Lounge and Café Lago. Excellent consolation prizes.

Zeb - A)Me too.
B) Don't say that word.

charlie said...

We owned and ran a small restaurant in a very remote area of the Scottish Highlands. It was a great success. People used to say to me, as I chatted to them 'at table' after their meal, things like: You have a really cool job!

Sarah said...

I've been enjoying reading your blog and just had to stop lurking and comment: I grew up in Wilmington and loved The Pilot House too. Great food, especially the seafood, and lovely location right along the Cape Fear. Please keep posting lots about the food you encounter in France--sounds like many of us want to experience it vicariously.