07 April 2014

from the ground up: yard, 75011

A few weeks ago I organised a hilarious and, thankfully, thereafter utterly unrepresentative meal for a visiting friend at Père Lachaise bistrot Yard. I hadn't been to the restaurant, but had heard about it for years and thought why not. Unfortunately for my friend, who idolizes the strenuous "modernist" cuisine of the likes of Inaki Aizpitarte, Yard was between chefs. We later learned that owner Jane Drotter had been in the kitchen that night, winging it.

All at the table agreed that it was like not even eating at a restaurant. It was like dining in the countryside at the house of a French friend's mother who had never been to restaurants. We fled to Clamato for a second dinner to remind ourselves what food with flavor tasted like, and my friends learned never again to trust me for a restaurant recommendation.

As usual, I was just ahead of my time. Not a week later, I learned that Shaun Kelly, ex-chef of Au Passage, and Eleni Sapera, ex-cook at Bones, were taking over kitchen duties at Yard, instantly rendering it a destination. So my friends and I returned on Friday for an entirely different register of meal. It was a testament both to how much Drotter got right with Yard in the first place, and to the transformative power of a certain circle of young foreign chefs in Paris

To be fair, Yard has existed for five years. Its name is a reference to what the entire lot its built on used to be: just a construction yard, until Drotter and her American father, a construction superintendent, took the chance on developing it. Drotter's brother did the spiffing, burnished industrial interior, which, through clever recontextualisation, succeeds wildly even as it resembles many "French" concepts in London. Encountering a space like Yard in Shoreditch would be tedious. On a serene side street near Père Lachaise, it's charming.

Under its previous chef, Fabrice Mellado (who now cooks at 17ème wine bar Lucien La Chance), Yard had a reputation as a pleasant brunch environment. Now, with Kelly and Sapera turning out a starkly sophisticated market menu and a generously priced natural wine list by Drotter, it's poised to become something more.

I expect the menu will expand. It was three appetisers and three slightly meagre mains long the night we visited. The former were all of a very high caliber, particularly a dish of octopus, potato, and fresh peas.

Sometimes Kelley's austere plate construction works in his favor, as with a finely spiced roast carrot, or a comically violent murder scene of superb squab.

At other times it can seem like a pointless test of will against guests, as when undressed lamb arrived cold and undercooked, and was sent back, only to be returned, still rather undercooked. It was extremely good lamb, with a three-dimensional flavour unto itself. But a lick more fire and a splash more jus would have done the ingredients better service, let alone the guests.

Drotter and her colleague Justine do a fine job smoothing the edges tableside, anyway. I would be hard-pressed to cite a warmer welcome in a Paris dining room. And there's lots to drink. Drotter received what seems like a nice allocation of dreadlocked Loire rising-star François Saint-Lô's magnificent wines.
We drank a lot of them anyway...

Saint-Lô spent time working with Oliver Cousin before founding his own micro-domaine in Berrie a few years ago. Impossible to tell, at this point, if he's a winemaking genius or if he struck gold-rush terroir, or both. But his Chenin Blanc "La Ch'nin de Vie" is glowy and perfumed, redolent of musk and clove, with oxidative flavours dappling its robe without dampening its acid. 

And his Cabernet Franc "On L'Aime Naturel," at 12º alcohol, is the most refreshing and wholesome red wine I've tasted since those of Cédric Garreau. Yard had it only in magnum, which was appropriate, as it is almost impossible to drink less of this wine.

Towards closure that evening Yard was invaded to capacity by a bevy of staff and owners from nearby restaurants, among them James Henry of Bones, showing his support for two friends and ex-employees. Henry's early menu at Au Passage is fast becoming a sort of ur-text for a certain generation of Paris wine bars, having been replicated, with major or minor variations, by Henry himself at Bones (minor), and by others at Entrée des Artistes (minor), La Pointe du Grouin (major), Le Mary Celeste (first major, now less so), etc. 

Traditionally, Paris restaurants enforce sustainable check averages with fixed-price menus, because native diners are otherwise apt to occupy tables for hours whilst consuming almost nothing. But the savviness and success of Au Passage's presentation of small plates emboldened other chefs to ditch fixed-price menus and to trust clients to purchase enough food.

In this respect, Yard will be an interesting case study. It may be only blocks away from well-to-do rue Paul Bert, but - how to say this delicately ? - the Père Lachaise locals are stinting flint-nosed cheapskates. While smoking outside I heard no less than two groups of passers-by cluck their teeth at Yard's menu prices, which are, by the standards of contemporary Paris, completely reasonable. And even on rue Paul Bert, Bertrand Auboyneau's Le Six Paul Bert, which began as a conservative small-plates concept, has raised prices and become a fairly typical four-course fixed-price menu place.

Will the new Yard change its neighborhood or will the neighborhood change the new Yard? I know which side I'm rooting for. 

6 Rue de Mont-Louis
75011 PARIS
Tel: 01 40 09 70 30

Related Links: 

Wendy Lyn scooped the new of the new chefs' arrival in a recent post at The Paris Kitchen
More new Yard buzz at Le Fooding.

A 2012 post on Yard's previous incarnation by Bruno Verjus at Food Intelligence.
A 2009 piece on Yard's previous incarnation by François Régis-Gaudry in L'Express.

1 comment:

  1. Always a pleasure to read your writing, Aaron, even if Paris is nowhere near being back on the cards. Keep on keeping on.