There’s a reason I’ve never suffered from a fear of sommeliers, and his name is Roger Dagorn. In the 1990s, he was the sommelier at New York City’s Chanterelle, a restaurant of the sort often forbiddingly (and annoyingly) described as “temples” or “monuments.” But if the fearsome reputations of such places set up the expectation that they had to be staffed by the most exalted and priestly of professionals (I remember Bianca Bosker’s tracing of the sommelier lineage back to the sacred cupbearers of ancient Egypt), the service at Chanterelle subverted that expectation. And if the office of sommelier is arguably the most hieratic of all fine-dining functionaries, its legendary sommelier is likely the friendliest and most down-to-earth sacred cupbearer you’ll ever meet.
His restaurant career began when he was a teenager, at his family’s French restaurant in midtown Manhattan, Le Pont Neuf. But I’ll always associate him most closely with Chanterelle, where he worked from 1993 until the restaurant closed in 2009, and where he was honored with a James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine Service, and in this I don’t think I’m alone. Chanterelle was an unusual place—still discussed and mourned by many a decade after it shut its doors for the last time.
Ruth Reichl, the restaurant critic for the New York Times, known for her democratic taste (it could be a “monument” to haute cuisine one week, a humble Chinatown noodle joint the next) granted it four stars—the highest acclaim she could bestow—in 1993. After rhapsodizing about the food and the service, this is how she concluded: