Interview with Etheliya Hananova of Comice
Interview with Etheliya Hananova of Comice
Photo by: Joann Pai
Name: Etheliya Hananova
Location: 16th arrondissement of Paris
Where are you from? I’m a first-generation Canadian born to Russian parents. I spent my childhood in Winnipeg and most of my adult life in Montreal.
What brought you to Paris? My husband and I came here six years ago for jobs.
What were you doing before you moved to Paris? I was working as a sommelier in Montreal.
Tell us a bit about your hospitality background. I was born into the restaurant business. My family had two restaurants in Canada while I was growing up and I have been working in restaurants for my whole life, first as a server, then as a sommelier.
When did Comice open? September 19th 2017 (the exact date we’d said we’d open, by some incredible miracle, especially when you take construction in Paris during the month of August into account!)
I guess the “concept” is that, rather than being a chef-driven restaurant (with the chef at the top of the hierarchy and everything coming behind that), we wanted to be about creating a harmonious experience on all fronts.
The quality of the cuisine is at the heart of the restaurant, but we strive for the service, the wine program, and the atmosphere to be at the same level of excellence. We try to adapt to each guest to the best of our abilities in order to create a kind of a “custom-made” experience for each occasion.
Photo by: Joann Pai
Tell us a bit about the current menu. The cuisine has its own distinct character, with a balance between lightness & brightness and generosity & richness that has always, for me, been the appeal of Noam’s cooking (and therefore, incredibly wine-friendly.) At the heart of it, it’s product-driven French cooking based on classical techniques. We have some signature ingredients that we work with (organic free-range veal from Jacques Abbatucci in Corsica, organic poultry from Simon Graf in the Gers region), and a couple of dishes that have become signature dishes (Shellfish Tagliatelle, Cauliflower à la Grenobloise.) We’re moving into fall with a number of new elements in keeping with the season (the fall is always a super exciting time for ingredients!)
What made you choose the XVI arrondissement? We weren’t looking specifically to be in the 16th arrondissement, but it kind of happened naturally. We were determined to have an open kitchen overlooking the dining room, preferably in a location that was more central or slightly to the west, and after looking at a large number of spaces, this was the one that was most in line with the layout we had in mind. I like [the neighborhood.] Though it has traditionally been reputed for being a residential/bourgeois area, it’s actually an area that has been growing and changing and has been, thus far, under-exploited. There are a lot of food-and-restaurant loving people and young professionals in their 30’s and 40’s moving into the area looking for larger spaces than the centre of Paris can allow. It’s clear that the neighborhood is evolving.
How do you choose your wine selections? My first love is French wine but I love wine from a lot of different places and strive to remain open-minded and democratic. In my years of experience tasting, I’ve come to feel strongly that thoughtful, sensitive, artisan-driven winemaking with a commitment to excellent vineyard work and responsible agriculture on good quality terroirs results in the finest, most interesting and faceted wines.
When I choose a wine, I hope for it to be moving and harmonious with the cuisine and I consider myself an intermediary between the winemaker and the guest. I feel that it is a responsibility to get it right, to do justice to both the winemaker’s efforts, the cuisine, and all of the team’s work behind it, and [above all] to the guest, for whom, no matter what the price of the bottle is, it is an investment that they are trusting me to respect with a choice that fits their palate and the occasion.
Which dish are you currently most excited about on the menu? I really love pairing wines with the cauliflower dish. It’s a complex dish with crunchiness, acidity, vegetal elements, nuttiness… a lot of challenging elements for wine, and is really fun to pair with. The 1999 Jura chardonnay from Julien Labet that tastes at least 10 years younger than it is and skin-macerated Ansonica from the Macchion dei Lupi have been some of my favorite pairings for that dish lately.
Photo by: Joann Pai
What is a wine that has recently blown your mind? I can’t pick just one. I love the Jura, I think it’s a beautiful region for food-friendly wines. The 2015 Terres Blanches Chardonnay from François Rousset, 2015 Poulsard en Billat from Julien Labet, the Bourgogne Pinot Gris rosé from the fabulous Chablis winemaker Athénaïs de Béru, a deceptively humble 2015 Haute Côtes de Beaune Pinot Noir from the humble organic winemaker Jean-Yves Devevey– EVERYBODY should be drinking his wines. 2015 is not traditionally a vintage that has been my favorite because it’s generally a bit rich and concentrated, but all of these examples are finessed and elegant. Also, the 2013 Saint-Joseph from Julien Cécillon (I tasted it completely independently of the fact that PWC imports it, and was blown away by its balance).
What are some restaurants (worldwide) that have inspired you? My favorite meal ever to this day was a number of years ago at a summer fish barbecue that was run by the chef from the Barcelona restaurant, Gresca. It was an outdoor place in Spain near Girona overlooking the water with beautiful line-caught fresh fish and seafood and garden-grown vegetables simply grilled. It really made me appreciate how much the quality of the initial product has an impact on the final result. For me, that applies to wine as much as to food. I’m personally drawn to places that focus on serving beautiful, well-seasoned and exceptionally-prepared cuisine that is transparent, where you know what it is that you’re eating and where you feel a sense of comfort from the experience. I think that’s true luxury.
Where are some of your favorite places to eat and drink in Paris? For classical, high-end French bistro cooking, we like to go to Jean-François Piège’s La Poule au Pot. They use really nice products and the execution is great. It’s a profoundly Parisian-feeling experience. Mokonuts is outstanding for lunch. They’re dear friends (they cooked for our wedding before Mokonuts existed), so we had memorably good wedding food and they will be in our hearts forever. Le Rigmarole has beautiful, sensitive, elegant cooking with an outstanding wine list; Jess and Robert are the best. Brutos for amazing Sunday roast chicken lunch or delicious Sunday night wood-fired entrecôte with extremely dangerous (amazing) Caipirinhas. Cravan for breakfast, cocktails and coffee… we love that they’re around the corner from us, we go there all the time. Le Petit Celestin is super-fun on Sunday nights, it pretty much always turns into a dance party no matter what.
Where are some of your favorite non-food/drink related spots in Paris to hangout? I love going for walks along the lake in the Bois de Boulogne on Sunday and Monday afternoons. The nature helps to clear my head. I also like walking along the Île des Cygnes near Comice, off of the Pont de Grenelle. It’s about a kilometer walk on an island in the middle of the Seine that leads up to the Bir Hakeim bridge. The view on the Pont de Grenelle, with the Eiffel Tower to one side and the Statue of Liberty (the French version) to the other, is pretty special.
What is a piece (or two) of advice you’d give to someone visiting Paris for the first time? Don’t try to hit all of the major sites at once, as you’ll spend half of your days in lines. Wander the city and don’t try to schedule every minute of every day. Paris is as magical when you have no plans as when you have an agenda. This is one of the best cities in the world to just explore and take in. Do plan your meals, though. Unlike some cities where you can often walk in to restaurants, reservations are essential in most good places.
Photo by: Marie Hennechart
Address: 31 Avenue de Versailles, 75016 Paris