When asked what makes a wine natural, I often reply that a wine is natural when it is bought by natural wine buyers. I'm only being half-facetious: Paris is blessed to be home to several generations of curmudgeonly gatekeepers to the natural wine scene, restaurateurs and cavistes who have been working to define what natural wine is for upwards of thirty years. This cliqueyness has its drawbacks - such as an incomprehensibility to outsiders, unenforcability, etc. - but it also creates a palpable sense of community in Paris.
If Le Rubis, a terrific, new-ish neighborhood bistrot by Sentier, largely escaped notice upon opening in April, it's because reviewers were unaware of its impeccable bona fides in the natural wine community. Or unaware of the value of such cred. Co-owner Marie Carmarans is the ex-wife of celebrated Aveyron winemaker Nicolas Carmarans, and together they were the second generation of ownership of legendary natural wine bistrot Café de la Nouvelle Mairie. What's more, she's often aided at Le Rubis by her husband, Michel Tolmer, a cult figure in his own right for being the illustrator behind the ubiquitous "Epaule Jété" poster that has become, throughout France, the easiest way to identify a natural wine establishment.
Along with co-owner Geraldine Sarfati and chef Roberta Tringale, Marie Carmarans has created the closest thing the right bank has to the 6ème's Café Trama : a refined, contemporary bistrot with the confidence and smarts to remain simple.
Le Rubis, confusingly, shares a name but nothing else with another Le Rubis in the 1èr arrondissement, a charming, stonklingly old-school Beaujolais bar run by Josette and Albert Prat. Here I might as well round out the elaborate intra-Parisian restaurant scene backround info and mention that Carmarans' Le Rubis took over a space on rue Léopold Bellan formerly occupied by natural wine bistrot L'Hédoniste, which restaurant I'd always found to be well-intentioned but overpriced.
Le Rubis chef Roberta Tringale's straight-faced cuisine is practically an inversion of L'Hédoniste's aspirational saucework. The spare presentation a plate of sautéed squid on my first visit made me blanche, thinking I'd accidentally ordered what was intended to be a diet-conscious dish. The squid, however, was perfectly tender and subtly seasoned, and needed no further adornment.
On another occasion - an office party I'd organised to celebrate the end of fashion week - the lucky half of my colleagues received richly flavourful Black Angus steaks, plated with similar simplicity.
Thrill-seeking critics might find the menu a bit ho-hum. Tant pis for them. I'd deem it a rare example of an unself-conscious, quality-oriented contemporary bistrot menu. Why are such menus rare? Because new business owners in Paris are presently fleeing the bistrot format, in favor of a photogenic menagerie of overpriced small-plate Japonica...
Le Rubis' service hours are less conventional. A relatively long lunch service is offered from Tuesday - Saturday, extending into apéro hours, but dinner is offered only Thursday and Friday. It's confusing to remember, and would seem to imply an unhurried approach to financial remuneration on the part of the ownership. So would the prices on the wine list, which are uniformly reasonable, with many good options in the 20-25€ range.
Languedoc winemaker Alain Allier's rosé cuvée "Galéjade" was in glowy form when I tasted it at lunch on Le Rubis' roomy terrace. A melon-friuted blend of Grenache and Cinsault that in 2013 showed less pithy oxygen-influence than I'd percieved in previous vintages, making it a fine addition to the perennially under-attended genre of turbid natural rosés.
And as our staff party wound down Marie produced a bottle of Antoine Arena's Bianco Gentile for us all to share, delighting us almost as much as her husband's improvised illustration on my copy of his book.
It was an immensely enjoyable evening by any measure. By that of office parties, which are typically strenuous, negotiation-intensive affairs, it was a dream. Le Rubis' staff are a model of warmth and reactivity, such that the event felt rather like business among friends. In the sense that we all knew the same circle of restaurateurs and winemakers, it very much was.
Lately I've come to believe that it is largely this sense of community - moreso even than the inherent qualitative or moral value of natural wine as an ethos - that is responsible for the success of natural wine in Paris. Your average drinker, in Paris as elsewhere, can't tell bubbly from bathwater. But it takes no special expertise to discern when one has entered a tight subcultural enclave. I suspect that, like myself, many clients return to natural wine establishments for just this reason. The familiar faces exert a human appeal. In such places one does not merely drink, one reaffirms one's place in a community; in going out, one feels very much at home.
14, rue Léopold Bellan
Tel: 09 84 39 42 49
As ever, my friend and occasional dining foil John Talbott has preceded me to Le Rubis. He seemed to appreciate the food but had a poor service experience.
Emmanuel Ruben, in his review of Le Rubis for Le Figaro, provides his readership with his usual one micron of poor judgment. "Readership" in this case is perhaps too strong a word; so is "review," and, for that matter, "judgment."
A significantly more informative, though no less critically suspect, piece on Le Rubis at the Glougueule website which sells Michel Tolmer's book.
A review of Le Rubis at Le Pourboire.