18 December 2012

hot potato: roseval, 75020

The remarkable hyperactivity of Paris food-blogging is partly due to the outsize international attention paid what is essentially a medium-sized, semi-provincial city. Thirty million tourists per year arrive in Paris; before, during, and after their vacations, they constitute a readership.

The repetitive nature of Paris food-blogging - and that of Paris dining in general - derives from limited subject matter. Restaurateurism in this medium-sized, semi-provincial city has been, for reasons both economic and societal, slow to catch up to the democratisation of gastronomy that has occurred in the past few decades. Most of the remaining first- and second-wave "bistronauts" of the 1990's and 2000's have long since settled into comfortable routines of semi-pro mediocrity; outside of hotels and Michelin-starred places, one rarely encounters service or cuisine that takes itself seriously.

This is why laudatory coverage of a few restaurants - Frenchie, Le Chateaubriand, Spring, Rino, and a few newcomers including the subject of this post, the 20ème's Roseval - will continue unabated: there stilll aren't enough informal tables whose informality does not excuse staff from evincing actual chops and ambition.* These are the tables that impress bloggers that bloggers can afford. The creative team at Roseval - chefs Michael Greenwold and Simone Tondo and sommelier Erika Biswell - formerly worked at some of these places (Le Chateaubriand, Rino, and Le Chateaubriand, respectively), and to judge by the results of their collaboration, they learned all the right moves. Roseval is the best value of its too-small category: a place where those who work outside the financial sector can experience inventive food and thrillingly obscure wines served by people who believe in what they do.

The restaurant is about the size of an ink cartridge and the space is under-designed : all precisely as it should be. It's worth pausing also to congratulate the Roseval team on the excellent name they chose. "Roseval," sonically, is about as luxurious a word I can pronounce, cascading off the tongue like a velvet stole slipping off a bare shoulder; in literal terms, it is a variety of potato.

The ingredient itself did not appear in the any of the ever-changing menus I've enjoyed at Roseval, but it's almost fair to say that every other ingredient did. If Tondo and Greenwold's work has a flaw, it's a forgiveable one, resulting from the daily intersection of two creative streaks. Some dishes have too many ingredients. Not everything works. But in such a lively collaboration even the failures are engaging.

For example, a slice of eggplant topped with beef tartare and horseradish, pointlessly tarted up by serving the horseradish in ice form, which promptly melted unpleasantly into daubs of egg yolk and caused the meat to go down like pencil eraser and generally ruined the dish.

On same evening, however, everything else was a dream, from the rouget in fennel purée with hazelnuts to the duck with carrots and anchovies to an impeccably-sourced cheese plate.

Another evening presented the headscratcher of a bit of squid served in fine bread soup with anise flowers, olive tapenade, and bone marrow.

All the ingredients were perfect in themselves, but I was nonetheless left feeling like I'd just consumed an inscrutable visual pun, rather than an appetizer. If this sort of plate arrived more than one course in four, it would become wearying; as it is I'm content to call it part of the restaurant's charm. One might call this the Chateaubriand ratio.

Roseval trumps that restaurant very squarely, however, in the wine and service realms. There is service, and it's prompt and warm, rather than dismissive and swaggering. And I was initially stunned to learn that Biswell had previously been a sommelier at Le Chateaubriand, because Roseval's list is lean, adventurous, and fun, whereas I would deem Le Chateaubriand's wine program as a whole to be, all things considered, Paris' worst: unredeemably sloppy and maintained with malign indifference, if maintained at all. (This is the subject of a forthcoming post, so I'll stop there.)

Usually it's quite simple for me to pick out just one exceptionally interesting bottle I've had at a restaurant. But my visits to Roseval have all been marked by several memorable bottles. Upon first entering the restaurant on my first visit my friends at I ordered my friend Yann Durieux's magnificent 2010 Aligoté "Love et Pif," by a wide margin the best Aligoté I've ever known. (Everyone who blind-tastes it calls it as Chenin, for it's length and persistent succulence.)

IThe kick-off bottle on my second visit was also astonishingly good : a perfumey, ebulliant, and vividly alive bottle of sparkling Chenin called "Chalan Polan" by Japanese-Canadian (!) Loire vignerons Kenji and Mai Hodgson, who Bertrand Celce has chronicled very well on his WineTerroirs blog.

I believe it's the least expensive sparkler on Roseval's list; it nonetheless is probably a contender for my favorite thing I've tasted all year. For the first two glasses I was unable to participate in dinner conversation, being too busy trying to search out precisely why the flavours were so entrancing. (Some kind of cinnamon / ozone accord.)

And these were just the whites and sparklers that spring to mind. I was also delighted to find that Biswell was stocking a Nebbiolo-based Costa della Sesia Rosato from Proprietà Sperino in Lessona, the source of some really heavenly high-Piemontese reds I remember from my Mozza days. I'd forgotten rosato was even produced there.

Revelatory or near-revelatory experiences in food and wine such as the aforementioned - I don't want them every night of the week, but at the same time I believe that in a major city they should be on hand. More than just providing pleasure, such experiences can inspire people to think more about what they consume in general. It's only a small stretch to say that this dynamic adds a moral dimension to culinary aestheticism - particularly when it's served at egalitarian prices.

Now, ought we to erupt in congratulations when talented ambitious chefs and sommeliers offer their services to the not-rich? Or should that just be sort of normal?

It's still not normal in Paris. So congrats to the Roseval gang - we'll be hearing about them a lot, and for good reason.

* Actually, Le Chateaubriand is on this list by default. The service staff there display no ambition whatsoever; they are pretty much just the clowns surrounding the ringleader in the kitchen.

1, rue d'Eupatoria
75020 PARIS
Métro: Ménilmontant
Tel: 09 53 56 24 14

Related Links:

Wendy Lyn praises Roseval @ TheParisKitchen, though I bristle slightly in noting that she has a descriptive tag called "Brooklyn Attitude" - must we really cite Brooklyn as an influence on anything remotely upstart ? I am almost certain that youth and ambition, as qualities, predate turn-of-the-millennium Brooklyn.

Alexander Lobrano praises Roseval @ HungryForParis

A visit to Yann Durieux's cellar in Villers-la-Faye


  1. Love and Pif is the best Aligoté I've ever tasted too.
    How much do they sell it at Roseval? Thank you.

  2. It was 34€ or 36€ last time i checked. can't remember precisely.