Revisited Autour d'Un Verre the other night, Kevin Blackwell's cave à manger hideaway in the 9ème. I'd first been some months ago with my fellow American expats D and C who live just up the street, and it was with these same folks I returned, along with our visiting friends L and B, from the LA band Fool's Gold and the Rome fashion / lit mag Grey, respectively. It was like the summit of the far-flung Americans.
M. Blackwell is American, too, and I suspect this is the reason many Paris food-writers have been moved to comment on what they feel is a surprising air of unfriendliness about the place. To me their criticism seems to result from the forgivable misconception that all Americans are preternaturally chatty, particularly when you encounter them in Paris.* Some Americans are chatty, and some are nice guys who just kinda brood in the kitchen looking sort of like Michael Stipe all night.
It's true that the service at Autour d'Un Verre has on both occasions struck me as kind of doddering and overwhelmed. The thing is, these qualities and the aforementioned taciturnity are in no way atypical of Paris restaurants. Simple, well-sourced food, gritty natural wines, and a total lack of all pretension: these, however, are rare assets, and they're why I'll keep returning to Autour d'Un Verre whenever I'm in the neighborhood. The place was jamming on a Wednesday night, from which I take it I'm not alone in my reasoning.
I started with a plate of tasty skagen, or shrimp on toast. It's an anomaly on the otherwise Frenchy menu, and presumably is a nod to Kevin's wife-and-partner's Finnish background.
It took some cajoling, but we got B to assent to drinking a bottle of white with us before moving onto red.** I took the opportunity to retaste, at J from Spring's suggestion, Domaine de la Cadette's 2009 Bourgogne Vezelay "La Châteleine." I'd had it once before at Le Verre Volé and been underwhelmed, but along with J I now find that first impression somewhat unaccountable. The "Châteleine"I had Autour d'Un Verre that night was brilliant, with a high-toned attack I can only describe as bizarrely Chenin-like soon coalescing into a more familiar, and very well-built, palate of apple and honeysuckle.
I'll observe that it becomes slightly ironic that the wine I found disappointing at VV was so pleasing at AdUV, when one considers that this latter resto is occasionally tagged as a poor man's Verre Volé. The comparion, on the surface, is apt: prices at AdUV are even lower, and the cuisine and the service are considerably less showy, lacking the occasional Asian inflections in the former and the swaggering call-it-charm of the latter.
But finally the pleasures available at these restaurants are roughly equal. They just demand different occasions. When you want to hear conversation and have an unhurried dinner, AdUV is your spot. It's also a welcome refuge from the jarring upsell tactics of VV; neither restaurant has a printed wine list or even a reliably updated ardoise, but in AdUV's case I feel this is stems more from general nonchalance re: professional service, rather than some pushy scheme to get you to spend more.
So, yes. It is kind of a poor man's Verre Volé. But only in the gloss-over, genre-summary way that, say, The Kinks could be described as a poor man's The Who. In reality, there is a difference in spirit.
*This is not totally unfounded: c.f. my first visit to Spring Buvette.
**I'm becoming more and more aggressive in my responses to people who declare themselves a red or a white wine drinker exclusively, as if it were a predestined thing, like blood type, rather than a not-infrequently uninformed opinion based upon a few unlucky bad experiences with cruddy examples of the other wine type. I think this counts as a personality flaw (in me).
Autour d'Un Verre
21, rue de Trevise
Metro: Grands Boulevards
Tel: 01 48 24 43 74
The Renovation of Le Verre Volé
LeFooding on Autour d'Un Verre
WineTerroirs on Autour d'Un Verre
Meg Zimbeck on Autour d'Un Verre