02 May 2013

another (excellent) restaurant : le six paul bert, 75011

Some time after we stopped dating, my ex F moved to a really superb apartment just next to one of Paris' most beloved bistrots and steak-frites destinations, Bistrot Paul Bert. I can be sure she did this purely to make me jealous, because she herself is vegetarian.

Despite this hurdle, we've managed to remain good friends. So back in January it was a tip-off from F that hipped me to the opening of Bistrot PB proprietor Bertrand Auboyneau's then-new place, Le Six Paul Bert, a small-plates spin-off just down the road from the motherships. (Auboyneau also has PB's adjacent seafood restaurant, L'Ecailler du Bistrot.) Initial rumours had given me to believe the new place was to be a wine bar - and the mere idea of a wine bar by the maestro behind Bistrot Paul Bert filled me with a kind of dread and awe, imagining how unbeatably great such an undertaking would be.

But the rumours turned out to be rumours. Leaving aside its functions as an épicerie and its speakeasy-style name, Le Six Paul Bert is Another (Excellent) Restaurant, albeit one that adopts some of the trappings of small-plates wine bars. The effect is to inadvertently highlight, for anyone who may have believed otherwise, how alien the idea of a new world-style wine bar is to Paris.

Plates at Le Six Paul Bert are sized between appetisers and mains, but a formule of three of them plus dessert is still offered, just in case diners really can't wrap their heads around the idea of sharing. Such a dinner sets one back 38€, which is, probably not coincidentally, roughly the same price as the formules as Bistrot Paul Bert and L'Ecailler du Bistrot.

For it's not just Paris diners who resist the idea of an informal wine bar meal. Successful Paris restaurateurs, Bertrand Auboyneau among them, evince little desire to lower their price points, even when the style of service changes.

I would have killed for some Nebbiolo with this. 

Hence one pays as much for a meal at Le Dauphin as at Le Chateaubriand; almost as much for a meal at Frenchie Wine Bar as at Frenchie; just a notch less for a meal at Vivant Cave versus Vivant Table; and so on. What often gets forgotten in this Batman - Robin restaurant set-up is that the restaurants - the Batmen - were initially acclaimed for their human informality relative to Michelin places - the Supermen? - pitched at similar levels of quality, often leaving the Robins of the scenario, the wine bars, with little to define themselves beyond even more informality. In the case of Le Dauphin and Le Chateaubriand such a thing isn't even possible, it would have to involve waiters dropping trousers and knocking over tables or something.

Anyway. Service at Le Six Paul Bert, on the other hand, is marvelous. Edouard in particular is as telepathic as he is telegenic, and ought to be cloned and staffed at all fine restaurants worldwide.

Later - after my first visit, pictured here - my friend Solenne Jouan joined the Six Paul Bert team as sommelière and wine director, with predictably excellent effects on the already-superb wine list, which is even more resolutely natural-leaning than those at Auboyneau's other establishments. His lists predate the contemporary vogue for natural wine, but can nonetheless be said to embody its best articulation: balanced, discriminating, and undogmatic, they contain something for everyone.

For me they contain a vivid, baked-nuts & lemon-toned 2007 Overnoy Arbois Savagnin, and, more recently, whatever Jouan has up her sleeve. In my experience, she adds to the list considerably more often than she updates its written contents. There are typically four or so selections each of red and white wines available by the glass. I remember finding it odd there weren't a few more expensive glass selections.

The answer might be found in Le Six Paul Bert's knee-pinchingly uncomfortable bar construction. The stools are too damn high, leaving one's ankles swinging like a toddler. Once again: ceci n'est pas un bar à vin. It only looks slightly like one.

I'll admit to finding the rest of the décor lurchingly overdone and borderline nightmarish in places. (The ornamental lampshade made out of spoons and forks and knives...) But I've been bringing quite a few people to Le Six lately, and everyone seems to outvote me and find it all adorable, so what the hell do I know.

Auboyneau's chef at Le Six is a Montreal native called Louis-Philippe Riel, who displays a confident and unshowy command of the intricacies of the small-plates idiom. A typical menu is full of surprises, although perhaps the most surprising facet is how few vegetarian dishes are available. One comes to expect a few in most menus of this style. Happily on the night F and I went with my other friend M the kitchen were happy to prepare a plate of gnocchi.

I found myself unexpectedly amused by an ingenius taco-like dish of celeriac and veal tongue. I turned over a morsel or two on my own tongue in vain, trying to discern the celeriac, until I realised that it was very effectively comprising the taco shell itself.

Trompe l'oeil effects like this are extremely hard to pull off with class; usually they're either too intellectual or too obvious. This one, rather like the restaurant as a whole, occupies a richly satisfying middle ground.

Le Six Paul Bert
6, rue Paul Bert
75011 PARIS
Métro: Faidherbe-Chaligny
Tel: +33 1 43 79 14 32

Related Links:

An absolute rave about Le Six Paul Bert @ DavidLebovitz
A very positive review of Le Six Paul Bert at HungryForParis.
A neat endorsement of Le Six Paul Bert at Oenos.
An early review of Le Six Paul Bert at GillePudlowski, heavy on the adjectives, including, of course, "bobo."
A pre-opening preview of Le Six Paul Bert at TheParisKitchen

An interview with Bertrand Auboyneau at TheParisKitchen

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