24 March 2014

heaven is a place...: café trama, 75006

In the course of an otherwise friendly conversation the other day, a chef-restaurateur I know asked me in exasperation whether Paris contained any establishments I actually like.

I protested that, on the contrary, my tastes are quite easily discerned. I like boring restaurants best. One gets so sick of interesting restaurants.

My favorite meals in recent memory are those that would interest most dedicated gastronomic adventurers the least. The first was Bistro Bellet, Nico Lacaze's spiffing bistrot re-boot on the rue du Faubourg Saint Denis. More recently, I fell out of my chair for Café Trama, an impeccably tasteful rue du Cherche Midi restaurant whose reputation as a bourgeois canteen short-sells the enormity of its achievement. With a mild, unshowy menu by chef Bruno Schaeffer, a brilliant wine list by Le Rouge et Le Blanc editor Paul Hayat, and a welcoming, well-appointed dining room run by owner Marion Trama, Café Trama is like a beacon showing the way home to wayward novelty concepts citywide. All it does is positively ace the basics of restaurateurism, something everyone else has seemingly forgotten to do.

It is a pretty space with a convenient, unchallenging menu, nice staff, fair prices, and things I want to drink available. Why is such a restaurant almost unique in Paris ?

I'll admit that I'm more demanding than most diners in the drinks category. I am awash in booze on all social occasions, and I have come to believe that life is just too short to suffer through harmful substances of unexceptional quality. One is born and one dies with a limited liver. For this reason alone I pine for restaurants that provide serious wine without all the fuss, ambition, and expense typically associated with serious wine. Café Trama is a godsend in this regard.

Paul Hayat has put together what is, in its geographic balance, its perceptible emphasis on less famous natural winemakers, and its smattering of outstanding, well-aged gems, pretty much the ideal bistrot wine list. Paris contains vaster, grander wine lists. But Café Trama's is almost more impressive for being so concise, in the same way that one might congratulate an architect for the rare feat of achieving greatness without working on a grand scale.

During a solo lunch at the bar one day I enjoyed a glass of organic Rablay winemaker Bruno Rochart's unfortunately-titled Anjou blanc "Moque-Souris." (It's the name of the Chenin parcel. But it also contains the word "mouse," so in the inconsistent realm of natural chenin it's like building a tropical resort and calling it Mosquito Bay.) Happily the 2011 is among the most burnished and satisfying young Chenins I've had in a while, with a chiming purity of fruit and pleasant sweet-onion complexity. The wine sees a year in oak before bottling.

Returning for dinner during fashion week, my friends and I shared a bottle of 2002 Raveneau 1èr Cru Chablis "Les Butteaux," which was offered at price that would be impressive even for the Yonne countryside, let alone the 6ème arrondissement.

Wine geeks of all stripes leap for Raveneau even in minor vintages. So a wirey, action-packed classic like 2002 felt like a real find, even if, glimmering tension, electric lemon and woolliness aside, we ultimately drank it too young. (Predatory wine geeks and actual predators rather disturbingly employ the same logic: if not me, then surely someone else will? so why not me?)

The menu at Café Trama is designed for versatility, the better to accommodate the needs both of inconsistently hungry Bon Marché shoppers and of diners seeking proper multicourse meals. Staples like tartare, couscous, or a croque monsieur are offered as meals-in-themselves, while appetisers are primarily shareable. Quality is high and innovation is low, across the board.

I greatly enjoyed a decidedly Franco-Italiano caponata, in which the gleaming freshness of all components more than compensated for the lack of traditional caponata tang.

And I was pleased that the ginger and basil nuances on a Desnoyer-sourced tartare were mostly gestural, yielding a completely correct and enjoyable tartare.

It's true that an entire city that offered no options beyond Café Trama's menu would be rather dull. But a city that performed hospitality with the same aesthetic sensitivity as Marion Trama's team would be dull in a heavenly way, like in that Talking Heads song: "Heaven is the place where nothing ever happens."

In restaurant terms, heaven is a place where no one glares at you for personal reasons or acts diva-like about doing routine bar work, where you are greeted promptly upon entry, where requested items arrive in a timely fashion after one request, where product selection reflects experience and enthusiasm, where prices are fair, and where, most importantly, no one tries to impress you with novelty whilst failing at anything else on this list.

Café Trama
83, rue du Cherche-Midi
75006 PARIS
Métro: Rennes or Saint-Placide or Vaneau
Tel: : 01 45 48 33 71

Related Links: 

Bruno Verjus rightly cites Café Trama as an object lesson in good taste in his July 2013 post 
John Talbott also dug Café Trama in his Aug. 2013 post
Alexander Lobrano also dug Café Trama in his Oct. 2013 post
Wendy Lyn is right on the money in her Oct. 2013 post
Some faint praise for Café Trama from Gilles Pudlowski, whose Nov. 2013 post seems to evince boredom
Someone from the Girls Guide To Paris is justifiably delighted to live near Café Trama
The reviewer from TimeOut seems to have caught Café Trama's staff on an uncommon off night

A nice exhaustive account of a 2012 visit to Bruno Rochard at Pipette (in French)


  1. Nice review, sounds like a wonderful place. I will put it on my list.
    Thanks !

  2. Had a great time at Café Trama last week; excellent food, a wine list full of names I like, and very friendly staff. Thanks for the tip!