20 June 2011

pro bistro: l'ébauchoir, 75012

It occurred to me the other evening, during my first visit to 12ème neighborhood bistro l'Ebauchoir with my visiting friends M and A, that upon entering we had effectively rendered it impossible to evaluate the restaurant's normal service standards, by ordering an ostentatiously excellent bottle of Champagne like it was nothing.

It was M's first night in Paris, where he'd been flown after winning a blind-tasting contest sponsored by Ruinart. He was celebrating. It was Anselme Selosse's "Version Originale" Blanc de Blancs, dégorgée 2009. I got over my micro-journalistic quandary pretty quickly.

And regardless - if the extenuating minor-league baller circumstances can be overlooked - I suspect that l'Ebauchoir's sterling service would have been just as sincere had we ordered a Loire pétillant. L'Ebauchoir is that rare thing in Paris: an efficient, well-run, philosophically-sound restaurant, replete with a sharp, expansive natural wine list.

Co-owner and wine director Thierry Bruneau spent 15 years as a sommelier in the states, most notably at Citronelle in Washington, DC. I gather that during this time he absorbed certain habits of hospitality and rational restaurateurism. It's perceptible in the promptness of just about everything, but also in the construction of the wine list, which displays none of the grab-bag, stab-in-the-dark tomfoolery that characterizes many Parisian natural wine lists, even the likeable ones, from Le Chateaubriand to Aux Deux Amis to Les Fines Geueles. The list at l'Ebauchoir feels brilliantly considered.

One example is the focus of the sparkling wine section. L'Ebauchoir's list contains the aforementioned Selosse bottling (about which more shortly) at a very reasonable 120€, then another natural grower champagne at just less than half that, and then a few Loire sparklers in the 20€-something range. It's a precise sampling of French sparkling wine, containing something for all occasions, and no more. Critically, there are few Champagne lovers alive who wouldn't be extremely satisfied with Selosse's "Version Originale."

A three-vintage blend of Chardonnay that spends 42 months in bottle before disgorgement, it's markedly less oxidative than his "Initiale" bottling, though the yeastiness and intensity yielded by the bottle age and minimal dosage of the "Version Originale" might deliver a brief shock to anyone expecting a creamy or sumptuous style of Blanc de Blancs. This is stone-hewingly chiseled Chardonnay, with a strong emphasis on mineral, scallion, and lemongrass. A sort of persistent electric citrus peel effect. While we caught up on the two years since we'd last met, M and I were helpless to keep from pausing, every two sips or so, and marveling at the sheer craft of the wine.

Of even more note on l'Ebauchoir's wine list is the Burgundy section - among the most well-selected and egalitarian I've seen in Paris. No one needs me to explain that good Burgundy is justifiably very expensive. Natural Burgundy - by the likes of Domaine Derain, J.C. Rateau, Emmanuel Giboulot, along with biodynamic heavyweights like Domaine Leroy - is both expensive and somewhat limited, as a field,* with the result that the region is either under-represented or not represented at all on the lists of many Paris natural wine bistros. Nevertheless M. Brumeau has corralled a lovely list of predominantly northern Burgundies at l'Ebauchoir, most falling between the 30€-50€ range.

We went for a 2008 Olivier Guyot Marsannay "Les Favières," on the basis of M. Bruneau's advice that it had a little more matière to it than a similarly priced 2009 Monthélie that had caught my eye.

M and I came around to appreciating the advice - but it took some time. The 2008 "Les Favières," sourced from lower-lying 25-30 year old vines, was as comprehensively closed as Paris in mid-August. In retrospect we should have simply asked for a decanter. Only about halfway through the bottle did any fruit whatsoever begin to show amid the black tannins and trip-wire acidity: some blackcurrant, some plum, some peppery notes. The effect was like picking out the loveable sonic details, on repeat listens, of the Talking Heads' claustrophobic, paranoiac Fear of Music.

The well-sourced bistro comfort food at l'Ebauchoir is as inviting and populist as the wine list, but notably less acid.

In fact, every dish lacked acid, from a sweet duck foie gras starter to some marinated sardines to sôt-l'y-laisse, which exotic term refers to certain tender nuggets of chicken found between the thighs and ribcage. Tender, yes, but still essentially chicken nuggets, and not appreciably enlivened by such firecracker accompaniments as peas and carrots.

It's true that, as an American with a background in Italian restaurants, I seem to find many dishes over here lacking in acid, salt, and general va-va-voom. But in a restaurant that shows such cosmopolitan savvy with wine and service, it's almost endearing that the kitchen stumbles only in being too genially small-fry French. L'Ebauchoir succeeds nonetheless, a perfect go-to for anyone with an anniversary thirst and a weeknight appetite.

* Though seemingly less so in Rateau's case, as his basic bottlings are available in Paris bio-marché chain Naturalia.

** In English they're known as "chicken oysters," a less preferable term, in my mind, for sounding vaguely redneck and testicular. 

43, rue Citeaux
75012 Paris
Metro: Faidherbe - Chaligny
Tel: 01 43 42 49 31

Related Links: 

Nearby 11ème / 12ème coverage:


A good pic of bottling at Selosse @ OwenFranken
A 2005 post on Selosse by Eric Asimov @ NYTimesDiner'sJournal
A justifiably enthusiastic 2007 tasting with Selosse @ Sharon'sWineBlog


A 2008 blurb on on l'Ebauchoir @ TheGuardian
A positive 2007 review of l'Ebauchoir @ TableàDécouvert
A surprisingly substantive article on l'Ebauchoir @ Paris-Bistro


  1. Great review! I'm going there for my Paris-verssaire tonight and looking forward to great natural wines and pretty good food!

  2. oh wow.That's Morgan Harris ! Selosse fan !

    somm NYC