Paris Champagne Fete
Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte’s 35th-birthday gala, a cocktail crawl to Williamsburg for Czech liqueur, Becherovka, and a new Thai palace
I never miss a chance to visit the city of lights and romance—recently so well captured in Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris. Last week I traveled there for the Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne fete celebrating its 35th birthday (making it the youngest house of bubbly). Mr. Feuillatte himself, a handsome man in his eighties with a glint in his eye, was on hand for the party. (He sold the brand to the largest cooperative of wine growers in the 1980s, but his name is still on the bottle.) I sat at his side and the photographers snapped photos. Now I was “two degrees of separation” from Yves Saint Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy, Jackie Onassis with whom Nicolas hobnobbed during his salad days.
The gala was held at Maison de L’Archectiture—a large historic property turned party space with a colonnade archway that was lit in an array of colors, and the décor was designed to reenact the artwork. Each year the brand selects a contemporary artist to capture the effervescence of Nicolas Feuillatte bubbly. This year artist Julien Taylor created a wildly spirited party scene that explodes with balloons and bubbles. In this trompe l’oeil montage, Taylor used hundreds of separate photos pieced together to form a cohesive party scene. The same blond woman in the center of the tableau appears six other times in different incarnations wearing various wigs and outfits. In the party space, all the elements of the montage scene were present from the piano and drum players to the birthday cake to glamorous dancers.
The Nicolas Feuillatte Rose NV was flowing along with other vintage cuvees. I especially like the NV Rose because it is just so fresh, balanced and has delightful subtle strawberry notes. The party went on for hours as a smattering of top French celebrities (noted actors Victoria Abril and Francis Huster, writer/philosopher Bernard Weber [The Secret Book of Ants], and Catherine Deneuve’s son, Christian Vadim) circulated through the crowd and paid respect to Mr. Feuillatte.
sheri de borchgrave
Back in New York,
the new imported brands keep on coming. Eastern Europe is getting into the act recently and exporting some classic traditional elixirs to our market. First it was Zu, the bison-grass vodka, with its strong grassy flavor that mixes well with apple juice. And now it is the Czech brand, Becherovka, a spirit at 76 proof with notes of clove, ginger, cinnamon and other botanicals and spices. To me, it’s the taste of Halloween.
A group of select spirits writers started the cocktail crawl at Amor Y Amargo, a new hideaway billed as a “bitters tasting room” on the Lower East Side (443 East 6th Street). Barman and owner Avery Glasser created the most fascinating Becherovka cocktail using dark rum (which he flamed with a hand torch to caramelize it and bring out its sweetness) and several different amari or bitter spirits, in which the small bar specializes. This drink was truly addictive. I was tempted to request another, but I had to pace myself for the long crawl ahead.
Next we were off to the Upper East Side to Hospoda (321 East 73rd Street), a newly opened restaurant specializing in food and drink from Bohemia, Austria and Bavaria. This high design restaurant, with wall-art looking like graffiti under a dark light, has chefs from Prague’s acclaimed La Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise putting out “haut Boheme cuisine.” This is not your goulash from Prague in the early 1990s. (I remember that food being like something you’d be served in the Siberian gulag.)
We tasted a few gourmet small dishes from chef Marek Sada’s repertoire and then got serious about a Czech Pilsner paired with a shot of Becherovka. The Crème Urquell (Hladinka) Pilsner was draught with a thick creamy head. Cocktails were also presented. A simple Becherovka and tonic was quite tasty, though the combo of the Becherovka and dark rum won out. The spirit has such a strong spicy flavor that it needs a strong companion spirit with it.
Then it was off to Astoria, Queens to Bohemian Beer Hall. Truth be told, it was this baroness’s first excursion to Queens. (Of course I’ve gone to the airport, but never to Astoria as a destination.) The rest of the group was honored to help me discover this lively place outdoor beer garden straight out of the old country. Platters of sausages, pork ribs and sauerkraut were waiting for us. On cocktail crawls good sustenance is essential to absorb the alcohol and persevere. Here, more Pilsner and shots of Becherovka (Becca ROV ka), which I finally learned to pronounce after the forth drink. But who’s counting.
It was verging on the witching hour and time to hit yet another borough, the third of the night. Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Suddenly, we were transported from an Eastern European beer hall state of mind to a-lost-in-the-1920’s-Paris perfect hideaway bistro. Everything at Maison Premiere is antique and a recreation of period Paris (gaslights, tin ceiling, even pull-cord antique toilets) right out of that aforementioned Woody Allen film of time travel back to the era of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso. Our cocktails were more Parisian—a flute of Champagne containing our now familiar-tasting favorite Czech spirit. And a drink made with whipped egg whites filling half the long glass with foam and ingredients of grapefruit juice and bitters. With these light-spirited drinks, we feasted on the final treat of the night, a multi-tiered seafood platter of oysters and shrimp.
The next night,
I went from the Williamsburg Maison Premiere’s version of Paris to Manhattan’s version of One Night in Bangkok at the new Qi restaurant in Times Square (675 Eighth Ave., between 42 and 43rd). Open only three weeks, Qi is a gleaming white palace with white tin walls, fanciful bubble chandeliers and sculptures of Thai temple figures. It’s quite a surreal experience to leave a rather grimy block of Eighth Avenue and suddenly enter a perfectly pristine loft space, feeling like you’ve walked into a stage set in Thailand.
At the high-style white bar, I sipped a delightful lemongrass Tom Yum Martini ($10), which was aromatic and had the perfect sweet sour balance, and soon sat down for a Thai feast at a table that had a view onto the ornate Qi temple focal piece. The talented chef Pichet Ong, who first made his name in New York as Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s pastry chef, is creating Thai delicacies like Grilled Charcoal Tiger Prawn, Salmon with Wild Ginger and Spicy Pork with Red Tumeric Curry. The desserts, which are equally irresistible, are a series of creamy puddings served in large shot glasses in an array of flavor combinations including blueberry, coconut, mango and chocolate.