23 September 2014

reborn: vivant cave, 75010

Given that this is a wine blog, I usually avoid posting on chef career moves. The practice risks stoking the already outsize demand in Paris for internationally-trained chefs who can legally work here. Additionally, there are other blogs following kitchen politics far better than I ever could.

But the recent hire of chef Svante Forstorp at ex-Pierre Jancou wine bar Vivant Cave seems unusually significant. Forstorp previously cooked in Paris at Café Smorgas, Aux Deux Amis, Bones, and Nuba, and has made friends everywhere along the way. He's a chef's chef, with a frank plating style and fondness for smoked salt.

Vivant Cave, for its part, was poised to become yet another pretty ex-Jancou restaurant shell, until Forstorp darkened the doorstep. Forstorp's characterful presence almost singlehandedly makes Vivant Cave a destination, paradoxically the best new restaurant of the much-fêted, meaningless rentrée without even being a new restaurant.

A visit the other night with my friend and editor Meg Zimbeck of Paris By Mouth began as a feast and turned into a bacchanal. Seemingly half the Paris wine and restaurant scene turned out to sample Forstorp's work-in-progress menu.

The good news begins before anything leaves the kitchen: prices seem to have come down slightly since the restaurant's previous incarnation. Gone are Jancou's perplexing stabs at pasta; replacing the Italian bent of the old menu is a magpie aesthetic that, while rooted in France, borrows from as far afield as Lebanon, Japan, and Forstorp's native Sweden.

A tomato salad with shiso leaves was literally smashing, a splendid example of Forstorp's effortless contemporaneity.

The tomatoes had been torn apart, as if they had, on their way to the plate, first passed through the earth's atmosphere. It's a complex gesture, tearing a tomato apart like this; it evinces a daring unconcern for the tomato's natural dimensions, and perhaps even a note of comical frustration with the tomatoes available in Paris. Those in the salad were of high if not stratospheric quality. Their preparation exceeded them brilliantly.

There are very few chefs whose work I'd bother dissecting in this way. Forstorp himself is a cerebral fellow though. I suspect it might carry him away at times. On the slim menu the night we went there were two separate colours of tuna, the sort of study in minor variation that chefs typically find more interesting than their clients. 

To be fair, they were drastically different dishes. The thon rouge was relatively unsuccessful, salt-curing have rendered it slightly ear-like in texture, which jarred with desserty accompaniments of crême fraîche and lemon curd.

The thon blanc in seaweed sauce, on the other hand, was as hearty as it was nuanced, with a pleasantly swampy presentation that foregrounded a flavoursome roast courgette.

The first of many wines that evening was the most memorable for me: a keen, succulent, herbacious Viognier from young Ardechois winemaker Gregory Guillaume, who began his 3ha domaine in just 2011. The cuvée was quite aptly entitled "Lucky"; it seems providential indeed that Guillaume, in just his 3rd vintage, has made the best Ardechois Viognier outside of Andrea Calek's significantly pricier white. Sommelier David Benichou, formerly of New York's Ten Bells, deserves major credit for keeping the restaurant's wine program interesting.

The establishments Pierre Jancou sells typically congeal into formulaic luxury versions of their former greatness: see La Crèmerie, the self-replicating Racines restaurants, or, for that matter, Vivant Table, the unconvincing highbrow concept next door to Vivant Cave. They are fine places to consume fine product, but they often lack personality.

Vivant owner David Lanher (who also took Racines off Jancou's hands, and who maintains the nearby Restaurant Paradis) has neatly solved this problem at la cave by bringing on Forstorp.  It's not a stretch to read this as acknowledgement, from an older guard of Paris restaurateurs, of the expanding influence of the little culinary expat network that links the kitchens of Au Passage, YARD, Bones, and now Vivant Cave.

You might imagine that James Henry, the chef responsable for the still-echoing success of Au Passage in summer of 2011, is smiling somewhere. And you'd be right. He was there that night too, supporting his friend.

Vivant Cave
43 rue des Petites Écuries
75010 PARIS
Tel: 01 42 46 43 55
Métro: Bonne Nouvelle

Related Links:

Vivant Cave during the Jancou era

1 comment:

  1. "poisted"

    Sounds fun, and I can't wait.

    How's Vivant Table these days?