When I was young, my mother always said not to drink too much or play with dry ice. And, I also remember that old urban legend about the kid who died from eating pop rocks. So, for last night’s cocktail adventure, I decided to tempt fate and do all three of the above in one glass. (It was actually liquid nitrogen, not dry ice – however, it does make all the drinks look like various Halloween themed things that I was told not to touch as a child)
La Famille is a small (and busy) restaurant on Montmartre with a very friendly and warm vibe. All the staff is impressively welcoming, but I was especially taken by Houssin, the bartender. You walk in and there is a tiny counter just at the entrance with five or six stools. I knew immediately this wasn’t really a place to order a martini, but rules are rules. I ordered my drink and he asked me if I wanted it shaken or stirred. (And was the second bartender during my adventures to tell me that Americans prefer them shaken, while French prefer them stirred.) I took it stirred. Houssin, apologetically, told me the only Gin in the bar was Gordon’s. He chilled the glass with liquid nitrogen while preparing the drink: a good measure of vermouth and the Gordons. Afterwards, he said himself that it probably wasn’t the best martini I’ve had. I agreed, but it was the ingredients, not the technique, so I couldn’t fault his skills.
There is no drink menu, so while I had my martini, Matthieu (my one consistent drinking partner for Wednesday Cocktail Adventures) started with the drink of the day. I really can’t tell you what was in it – basil? – but it arrived smoking cold and adorned with poki sticks and teddy bears. I’m not a big fan of drink-accessories. If you put something in my cocktail, it better be more than just a pretty face. But, I was already so tickled by the place that I barely batted an eye and certainly didn’t think “what the hell are those bears doing in his drink!?”
Houssin is an artist who uses cocktail ingredients as his medium. (and I say that specifically – rather than saying he is a “cocktail artist”) He thinks drinks should touch the five senses and have a meaning behind them. Our second round were “shots” – little drinks in cubicle glasses topped with a spoon of chocolate pop rocks and smoking from a dose of nitrogen. Now, I’m not sure I understood him correctly (it was a bit noisy) but I swear he said they had gin and cranberry in them (but they were green?)
Regardless of how busy the place was (and the fact that he was making cocktails for just about everyone in the restaurant as well as those of us squeezed up to the bar) he remained friendly, chatty and obviously so enthused by what he was doing that it’s hard not to let his excitement color your feelings and make you think you want pop rocks with all your cocktails. At one point, a crowd gathered to watch him making mango caviar. (I say ‘caviar’ – but they were actually very large, but the process was the same). Now, I know in other cities, molecular gastronomized cocktails are nothing new. But, this is definitely something different for Paris. (and Houssin did say that he strives to be different). And considering the effort he puts into these, they are a bargain at around 11 Euros. (actually, I have no idea of the exact prices – I’m making a guess based on our total bill, but with no menu, I’m not sure)
So my overall take is that I can’t really rate this by my usual cocktail bar standards. Just go visit this fun, friendly, funky bunch. (and best to do so right at 8pm when they open or later in the evening after the dinner rush) They probably don’t need the advertisement because the place was jam-packed, but you’ll have a good time and appreciate the atmosphere. Don’t bother with a martini; just put yourself in Houssin’s hands.