Tue 8 Dec 2009
For my birthday on Dec. 7, 1984, we met some friends for dinner at La Tourelle, a French restaurant just off the Overton Square district of shops and bars and restaurants in Memphis. At the time, remember, we still lived in Senatobia, Miss., a small town (in a dry county) south of Memphis, where we taught at the junior college. Most of our entertainment dollars, believe me, were spent in Memphis.
La Tourelle closed in July 2007, just after its 30th anniversary. Located in a wooden Queen Anne house (with a round tower), the restaurant was owned by Glenn and Martha Hays. He was the track coach at the University of Memphis for 36 years and was a devotee of France and French cooking. La Tourelle was an incubator for chefs in Memphis, many of whom passed through that kitchen to open their own restaurants in the city. It was one of the restaurants I wrote about the most in my 20 years of reviewing restaurants for the newspaper here. The Hays still own the thriving bistro-style Cafe 1912, a few blocks south of La Tourelle, which is now Restaurant Iris, presided over by award-winning chef Kelly English.
Anyway, that night, 25 years ago yesterday, we gathered in La Tourelle’s smaller dining room, an intimate space with a fireplace, to celebrate my birthday. It was the first time I had eaten rabbit, an animal we don’t see enough of on restaurant menus, probably because (a) it’s difficult to cook without drying out, and (b) dining on Thumper just messes with people’s heads.
Though I had been writing a newspaper wine column only for five months, the phenomenon had already begun; when a waiter offered a wine list, it was passed to me, usually with the words, “You’re the expert, you choose the wine.” At this point my expertise was more likely a combination of nervous geekdom and bravado, but on this occasion, I ordered a bottle of the Georges Duboeuf Juliénas 1983, the first time, I’m pretty sure, that I had tried a cru Beaujolais. Juliénas is a middle-of-the-road cru Beaujolais, not as delicate as Fleurie, not as spicy as Brouilly, not as robust as Morgon, yet with an appealing fresh, dark, slightly spicy interiority of its own. Actually, it’s my favorite of the 10 crus of Beaujolais, at least in this mood of retrospection, and it was, as my notes attest, terrific with the rabbit fricassee.
The price of this wine on La Tourelle’s list was $11.50, “not a bad price for a restaurant wine,” I wrote in my label album. Ah, those were the days.