Citronelle, Washington, DC
One of the two or three most remarkable meals of the year was delivered by the magician himself, the boisterous Michel Richard. Michel Richard is the most artistic French chef not only in the United States, but probably the world. His presentations and artistic flair are obviously important, but he also delivers the flavors in the food. Some chefs forget that we eat for pleasure, both intellectually and hedonistically. Not Richard. This was a remarkable meal, and it is interesting to contrast the Richard cooking with my other favorite French chef, Daniel Boulud, because they couldn't be more different, yet in terms of intensity of flavor, they are both on the same song page.
As for the wines, the surprise among the Californians was the extraordinary showing of the 1999 Hobbs Chardonnay Augustin, which I have rated highly in The Wine Advocate, but it was just out of this world at this luncheon. That was followed by the 1990 Grands Echézeaux from the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. 1990 is the best vintage I have ever tasted from the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, with 1980 a close second. This wine is fully mature, showing considerable amber and rust, but had those spectacular earthy, animal, root vegetable, and sweet fruit aromatics that make Pinot Noir, when it is good, spectacular. However, it couldn't match what followed, a pristine magnum of 1990 Rayas, authentic and sumptuous, then a stunning array of Bordeaux, a gorgeous 1990 La Conseillante from magnum, nearly at full maturity, the best showing yet of the 1990 L'Evangile from magnum, much younger and more concentrated, but just knock-out stuff, and of course, a wine that can be perfect, the 1989 Clinet in magnum, still young, immensely concentrated and nuanced. It is an homage to Jean-Michel Arcaute, the man responsible for this wine, who tragically died last summer trying to save his son in a boating accident off the coast of Bordeaux. That wine was followed by a tight and closed, but enormously endowed 1975 La Mission-Haut Brion from magnum. It revealed the flavor of scorched-earth liqueur intermixed with blueberry and cassis. This wine needs at least another 5-10 years. A strong showing for the 1945 La Mission-Haut Brion (a Nicolas bottling), it revealed rustic tannin but huge fruit and youthfulness. Lastly, the 1990 Chave Hermitage Cuvée Cathelin is pure perfection, and close to that is the nearly-mature 1991 Guigal Côte Rôtie La Turque, all licorice, truffle, and blackberry liqueur. If your pocketbook can afford it, life is entirely too short not to do this a few times a year.
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Petit Louis Bistro
A lookalike, authentic French bistro, Petit Louis in Baltimore's Roland Park is the creation of restauranteurs par excellence Cindy Wolf and Tony Foreman. You feel like you’ve walked into a bistro on the Left Bank of Paris when you enter Petit Louis. The food is classic bistro, and they do it well. All of the courses we had were flavorful, sometimes a trifle rustic, but delicious in their intensity. This was good comfort food prepared extremely well. The wines started with one of the major surprises for me over the last year, the 2006 sparking wine from Tony Soter in Oregon. I had this several times while I was out visiting Oregon, and I had always been impressed, but this is a 10-year-old sparking Rosé that is just sensational, and I’m talking world class—it’s that good. Something this good from France would cost at least two to three times as much, so kudos to Tony Soter. The 1995 Billaud-Simon Chablis Mont de Milieu was oxidized and undrinkable. The 1996 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos St. Urbain Rangen de Thann was sweet, and although it went well with the foie gras, it was just a little too unctuous and sweet a wine...