Toast Bastille Day with one of these tasty French wines
Despite this Friday’s fun Bastille Day celebrations, dining out at a French restaurant may not be the best way to enjoy the moment. Crowded seating, harried wait staffs and overwhelmed kitchens are likely to arise. Consider instead toasting the French nation’s continued success with a glass of wine at home.
Then book a restaurant table in a week or two. There likely will be a more relaxed setting to enjoy traditional French dishes and wine styles.
In Pittsburgh, Paris 66 and Le Lyonnais, owned respectively by Frédéric Rongier and Chef Yves Carreau, offer authentic French dining spots. Meanwhile Chef Olivier Desaintmartin runs Zinc Bistro and Wine Bar in Philadelphia. As French expatriates, all three owners offer restaurants with comfortable ambiance, classic menus and delicious French wines served with distinctive Gallic personality.
Growing up in Brittany and Paris, Rongier learned in his family’s restaurant to cook gallettes, a crêpe made from buckwheat flour. After coming to the U.S. to study business at Penn State, he worked at the popular “Ye Olde College Diner” where he made the famed “sticky buns.” At State College, he also met his future bride, Lori, who co-owns Paris 66.
Initially Paris 66 served primarily crêpes and salads. Today it is a charming 50-seat bistro with a full kitchen, a liquor license and bright walls decorated with French commercial posters and photos of Paris.
“We succeed because we bring the best from France and offer it here,” says Rongier, who was born in Paris’ 13th arrondissement.
Larry Laffont, Paris 66’s French-born chef de cuisine, has a deft touch with foie de veau, a pan-seared veal liver braised in red wine and balsamic reduction sauce. It pairs well with a northern Rhône Crozes-Hermitage, an earthy, Syrah-based red with ample dark fruit, plenty of fresh acidity and refined tannins.
At home try the delicious 2013 Maison Nicolas Perrin, Crozes-Hermitage, France (Luxury 72832; $21.99). The wine fits the classique profile perfectly with concentrated dark fruit, lovely balance and a lingering, mineral-laden finish. Highly Recommended.
Paris 66 also serves tasty Cuisses de Grenouilles — plump frog legs sautéed in butter, garlic and parsley. The dish pairs well with crisp Mâcon-Villages Chardonnay. At home try the 2015 Héritiers du Comte Lafon, Mâcon-Villages, France (Luxury 49731; $21.99). Highly Recommended.
Le Lyonnais Chef Yves Carreau grew up near France’s culinary capital of Lyon, and graduated from the Thonon-Les-Bains Culinary Institute. After training in the French West Indies and Los Angeles, he came to Pittsburgh and eventually started the award-winning restaurants Sonoma Grille, Seviche, NOLA on the Square, Perlé and Poros.
Le Lyonnais marks a return to the comfort food that Chef Carreau recalls fondly from his childhood. Main dishes include classic Quenelles Lyonnaise, Blanquette de Veau and Steak au Poivre. Delicious Happy Hour specials include traditional Steak Tartare and Tartine Bourguignonne, both of which pair beautifully with the red, Pinot Noir-based Sancerre that Carreau offers.
At home try the 2013 Jean-Marie Berthier, Domaine de Clairneaux, Sancerre Rouge, France (Luxury 49408; $26.99), a medium bodied, fruity red made from vines growing in limestone and clay soils in the Loire Valley. Recommended.
A native of France’s Champagne region, Zinc Bistro’s Chef Olivier Desaintmartin studied hospitality management in Paris. He then worked for well-regarded chefs such as Michel Guérard (a pioneer of nouvelle cusine) and Gaston Lenôtre, a famous pastry chef.
During construction of his East Philadelphia bistro, Desaintmartin incorporated an original 1919-era Parisian zinc bar top that inspired the name of his restaurant. The chef features everyday French dishes from Provence, Gascony, Loire, Burgundy, Brittany, Paris and Lyon.
“We’re a comfortable neighborhood spot where guests who have visited France find familiar flavors and feeling,” says Desaintmartin of his cozy 40-seat restaurant.
The delicious Saint Jacques et Crevettes Provençale combines scallops and shrimp in a sauce scented with Herbes de Provence and light garlic. It pairs beautifully with a crisp, full-flavored Provence rosé.
Try the 2016 Commanderie de la Bargemone Rosé, France (Luxury 15945; $14.99). The wine comes from Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault grapes fermented in stainless steel tanks. Aromas and flavors of wild strawberries and red currants balance with the zesty minerality through the bone-dry finish. Highly Recommended.
Dave DeSimone writes about wine for the Tribune-Review. Reach him at [email protected].