I have a new favorite spot in Paris. It’s, not surprisingly, a wine bar and restaurant. It’s true that I do enjoy a glass or three of wine from time to time (shh!) and well, food, it’s my comfort zone. If I’m not cooking, I’m eating. And so, this is really the perfect place to find me.
The ever charming, Olivier Magny, owner, sommelier and author of Stuff Parisians Like, a hysterical and snarky look at his fellow Parisians, has created a unique and exciting experience at O-Chateau. He and his incredibly savvy and equally charismatic, business partner and friend, Nicolas Paradis, have taken the hoighty-toighty out of wine education and have made it remarkably accessible and enjoyable for even those who never thought they could learn all that much about wine. From their new home near The Louvre, in a beautifully remodeled storefront, featuring a wine bar and restaurant, a stunning stone wine cellar/tasting room and a large downstairs event space, they provide guided wine tastings throughout the week as well as excursions to several parts of the French wine country.
In a very relaxed atmosphere, with incredibly friendly sommeliers, each tasting provides a wealth of information about wine from all corners of France. You can partake in sessions from one hour tastings to full scale wine tasting lunches or dinners and easily walk away and be able to impress your friends and neighbors back home with everything you have learned. You are certain to smile and laugh and you may even speak a little French when you are done! There are even river cruise tastings and a day trip to the Champagne region will take you through some of France’s most beautiful countryside and quaint villages, all the while mellowly sipping glasses of bubbly.
Prefer to try some wine on your own? Well, at O-Chateau’s wine bar, patrons can sit at the bar and sample from forty different wines housed in the By the Glass refrigeration and dispensing system. In measures of a large sip (3ml) up to a full glass (15ml) you can try red, white and rose wines plus a few Champagnes, all at very affordable prices. During happy hour, from 6-8pm, you can even sample a glass of whatever the house is serving that night for a mere 5 euro. A real steal considering the superior quality of wines offered. They also offer “flights” of wine that have been pre-selected or you can do like I did one night and just start at the top of the wine list and work your way down. I choose 6- 3ml glasses at a time to try and in three turns I had tried every single red wine with the exception of the Petrus. (I am on a budget myself!) With the expert guidance and knowledge imparted by Maxime, the bar manager, I learned something about each wine I tasted (Yes, I took notes!) and now I know exactly what characteristics I prefer in my glass. Not to mention, it was great fun to try so many at once! (Afterwards, I had mustered up enough courage and took a ride on the nearby famous Paris ferris wheel, La Grande Roue, and wasn’t even afraid of the heights! I’ve since taken a daytime ride as well and have to say that the wine helped! In my defense, it was a very windy day and the swinging car didn’t go over well with me. Another story!)
As usually happens, you may become hungry while appraising your beverage. You can order from the bar menu where you’ll be served wooden boards overflowing with premium cheeses or charcuterie. They are far too much for just one person to eat on their own, but sharing with your barmates or friends is ideal. Small plates, like the simple but elegant bruschetta , foie gras or the generous slices of the exquisitely sweet, salty and slighty nutty Bellota ham served with slices of fresh baguettes are perfect accompaniments as well. Or if you are really daring, you can just have dessert!
Each evening, the restaurant serves a set three course menu featuring only the freshest, seasonal ingredients available for just 32euro. You can turn that menu into a full “Tasting Menu” (65euro) which includes 3 wines and 1 Champagne thoughtfully chosen by an expert sommelier to match your meal. This is a real bargain given the excellence of each handcrafted menu item. Of course, if you so desire, you can also indulge in each course ala carte; appetizer (11euro), main course (17euro) and dessert (7euro). You don’t have to break the bank in order to have a marvelous meal with wine here.
My first dining experience at O-Chateau came on New Year’s Eve when I booked to attend their gala event, a wine tasting dinner and party. O-Chateau’s dynamic and extremely talented Executive Chef, Campbell Whitman created a stellar menu for the night. Hailing originally from California where she was a personal chef, Whitman is also the daughter of Old Creek Ranch Winery owners and a Cordon Bleu, Paris graduate. When she isn’t designing delectable dishes for O- Chateau, she can be found writing her blog, Boots for Breakfast.
My seat for the evening was barside and I was promptly granted a lovely glass of Champagne Grand Cru from Pierre Paillard. Sipping champagne and listening to the cool jazz playing on the sound system set a terrific tempo for inaugurating the night’s events. By now I had been to O-Chateau on a few occasions so it was nice to be recognized and welcomed so graciously.
The appetizer of Duck Foie Gras soon arrived, topped with Fleur del Sel de Guerande and Fig Preserves, providing a perfect bite of gently bitter pate, sweet fruit and a touch of salt in every mouth-watering morsel. The course was paired with a glass of Domaine de Souch 2009 vintage from a small vineyard in the South West region of France called Jurancon, in the Pyrenees. Wine producer Yvonne Hegoburu, who is now 85 years young, began making Domaine de Souch in 1987 when she was 60 years old as a tribute to her late husband Rene, and is now said to have one of the best wines in the entire Jurancon appellation. Impressive!
The main entrée featured a delicate piece of Salmon filet swathed in a velvety caper cream sauce teamed with a light and airy broccoli soufflé and paired with an unlikely glass of red wine- Gevrey Chambertin “Cuvee Ostrea” 2009 from Domaine JL Trapet in the Burgundy region. I would have thought that the structure and texture of this wine would have been too overpowering for such a light dish, but I stand corrected. The elements of red fruits, cherry and plums provided a lovely sappiness that complemented the acidity of the sauce and nicely balanced the entire course, debunking, yet again, that myth that fish only pairs well with white wine.
By now the music was picking up and the atmosphere was turning much more “party” like but not into full swing before the dessert arrived. A chocolate bomb, or as the menu referred to it, La Flocon de Pierre Herme, a thousand times richer and more divine! Creamy, heavenly chocolate goodness in every forkful. Of course, saying it in French helps too!
Dessert was skillfully paired with a Saint-Estephe, Chateau Haut-Marbuzet 2007, a spicy, finely, balanced and flexible wine.
The rest of the evening was brimming with music, singing, a cabaret performance and lots of dancing. Everyone had a fun night filled with laughter and happiness. And as they say in Vegas, “What happens in Paris, stays in Paris”.
My second meal at O-Chateau was prepared by Habiybah Washington, who also attended Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and is a former, fellow New Yorker. She created not only one of my favorite meals at O-Chateau, but also the best meal of my entire stay in Paris so far. Simple a dish as it may seem; a filet, broccoli and potatoes gratin dauphinois, I have experienced my share of nearly inedible filets here in Paris. There have been fatty ones, thin ones and dry, chewy, leathery, tasteless ones. All at a rather expensive price too. This filet, however, stood out against all the rest. It was seasoned perfectly, accompanied by a luscious mustard cream sauce, temperature right on the money, medium rare, not too bleu and not too brown. A beautiful shade of pink! There also was not a single bite of that horrid gristle anywhere, thus avoiding that awkward moment when you have to decide if you will choke to death if you swallow it or risk embarrassment by spitting it into your napkin. Every single bite literally melted in your mouth. Silky, tender and juicy-just as a filet should be.
One of my favorite comfort foods is gratin potatoes and they are really easy to mess up. Overcooked, the dish becomes very dry and grainy. Undercooked, its just hard pellets of potato and unmelted cheese swimming in sauce floating around your mouth. Not very appetizing! But these potatoes were soft, creamy and smooth with hints of pepper, nutmeg and that delightful, rich cheesy tang. I was lucky enough to have an end slice, where the cheese on top crisps ever so around the edge providing a sexy mouthful of textural contrasts. I soaked up all the remaining sauce with the broccoli and devoured everything on my entire plate. Had I been alone at home… well, lets just say they wouldn’t have to scrape my plate that much. I seriously could have easily eaten two servings and not have been ashamed of myself!
I’ve returned to O-Chateau a few evenings since and it has sort of become my “Cheers” in Paris. If I’ve been out touring all day and I am nearby, I’ll pop in and have a seat for a while, a glass of wine and either a snack or dinner. As a solo traveler it’s a great place to just relax at the bar and chat with the sommelier who’ll not only guide you through O-Chateau’ menu with precision and care and provide recommendations you are sure to love but will also make you feel very welcome and a part of the O-Chateau family.
68, rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1st)
Phone: +33 (0)1 44 739 780