27 March 2014

bonne chance: lucien la chance, 75017

A familiar quandary arises when discussing places like charming new 17ème arrondissement wine bar Lucien La Chance. I want to encourage them, because Paris needs more casual, no-reservation places that care about food and wine. But I also want many such places to be better than they presently are.

Preventing improvement is a kind of pervasive municipal campanilismo. (Italian for the local loyalty that extends as far as one's local church steeple or campanile is visible.) Most Paris real estate is tiny, and most Paris businesses are tiny, and if a tiny business is popular with its immediate neighbors, why should the owner care how said business compares to businesses on other side of town, let alone ones in New York or London? The hyperactive Paris-media apparatus to which I contribute doesn't help the situation, and the combined effect is to promote complacency in popular places.

So seems best to call it like it is. Lucien La Chance, which opened last month, is pokey and amateurish, and the scatterbrained natural wine list is laughably imbalanced. Yet I quite like the place and will probably return. What the bar presently lacks in sophistication is more than compensated for by its contemporary, youthful format: like Septime Cave, Touller Outillage, La Buvette, and La Pointe du Grouin before it, Lucien La Chance is a great chill place for an unstructured apéro with an unconfirmed number of flaky friends. Owner Guillaume Blanchot has the right general ideas about wine and product, and an amusing fondness for disco.

Blanchot also has an Italian concept I've yet to visit called Lucky Luciano in the 10ème arrondissement; Lucien La Chance is conceived as its French counterpart.

When I arrived on a recent evening, my agent friend F, who distributes chickens from her family's farm alongside a terrific portfolio of natural wines, was showing Blanchot the wines of one of her Jura vignerons. He showed us a Diana Ross record.

As they finished up their conversation, I found myself flipping Lucien La Chance's wine list over and over like an idiot, looking for the page of white wines. "There are only three white wines?" I asked finally.

Only three, beside fifteen references of reds. They weren't exactly marvels, either, the whites. 

Blanchot didn't seem to think the situation was in need of urgent rectification, which made me question his sanity and the tastes of his clientele. Of course there exists in the 17ème an afterwork crowd of totally uninformed small-time French drinkers who, like their totally uninformed American counterparts, "prefer reds." But catering to these people will repel more informed drinkers and industry folk who tend to spend more. 

Don't get me wrong : I don't think every neighborhood wine bar needs to be an ultra-refined industry hangout à la Clamato. I just think Lucien La Chance will have a much greater chance of making enough money to survive if they can cultivate a clientele that spends more on wine.

The menu, for its part, won't rake in the euros anytime soon, but therein lies its charm. Prices are kind, and fair for the level of cuisine.

Chef Fabrice Mellado formerly cooked at Yard, a pretty 20ème bistrot that I happened to visit recently in the hilariously awful interregnum between chefs. (My friend Wendy Lyn reports that Shaun Kelly of Au Passage and my talented friend Elenie Sapero, who formerly cooked at Bones, have just taken over the menu there. Thank God.) At Lucien La Chance, Mellado offers cute, simplistic small plates he unselfconsciously calls tapas. 

Coques with butter were admirably unadorned and yet possessed everything they needed.

Most interesting and, to use a favorite French expression, perfectible was a plate of tiny quails eggs. It struck me as a nice, shareable riff on the current crop of devilled eggs on Paris menus, which themselves constitute a riff on simple unimprovable oeufs mayonnaise. The eggs themselves, however, were ever so slightly underspiced and overcooked.

In the absence of any appealing whites on the list, F and I shared a bottle of Frank Cornelissen's grippy Etna rosato "Susukaru 5," which I've mentioned previously on the blog. The bottle we opened was a bit brittle with volatile acidity, but, as with many of Cornellissen's wines, there remained vivid, ashy fruit and no small charm in the winemaker's acceptance of chaos.

Susukaru 'stache.

Later, again in the absence of any appealing whites, I had a bottle of Beaujolais overachiever Jean-Claude Lapalu's Beaujolais-Villages from 2012, and that suited me just fine. By then some more wine industry friends had arrived, drawn either by Lucien La Chance's winning ambience or by a desire to sell wine to Lucien La Chance. In either case, it bodes well for the future.

Lucien La Chance
8, rue des Dames
75017 PARIS
Métro: Place de Clichy or La Fourche
Tel: 09 73 52 07 14

Related Links: 

A completely uncritical Feb. 2014 article on the opening of Lucien La Chance in Sortir A Paris
A comically vapid piece on Lucien La Chance in My Trendy Book

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