The stakes are high in Paris when an established, beloved restaurant like cave-à-manger pioneer Le Verre Volé opens a seafood sequel, in this case the drily-dubbed Le Verre Volé Sur Mer. Not because Parisians are discerning about seafood. Quite the opposite! Seafood sequels in Paris must be convincing because when they are not, a curtain drops, and we risk recalling, as quivering forkfuls ascend, that Paris is the Chicago of France, a landlocked abattoir with no real claim to oceanic expertise.
Successes ranging from L'Ecailler du Bistrot to Le Mary Celeste to Clamato all show that the trend remains at high tide. With all due respect to most of that list, I suspect this has to do more with socioeconomic factors than with outright quality. Better, cheaper oysters are available in, say, Boston. For raw fish, try Liguria, the Adriatic coast, or Tokyo. But Parisians, like their counterparts in other wealthy capitals, demand something healthy-ish on which to drop their euros. Hence fish.
Le Verre Volé Sur Mer is thus an irresistibly logical next-step for Verre Volé owner Cyril Bordarier, whose original restaurant still does gangbuster business up the block. The seaside version is, alas, a rigid, cack-handed cash-in. From the Little Mermaid wall artwork to the miniscule wine list to the confoundingly amateurish cuisine, it screams of a concept in search of a vision, or, at very least, a competent chef.
The failure is surprising, given the impressive quality of Le Verre Volé, Le Verre Volé Cave, and L'Epicerie du Verre Volé. I'm a regular customer of all these businesses. Le Verre Volé, despite its kitchen turnover and its mistaken reputation as a destination for serious wines, is a worthy institution with a magnificent ambience and a formidable price-quality ratio. Le Verre Volé Cave, despite manager Cyril "The Other Cyril" Brouard's towering, ultimately endearing irascibility, is where I buy most of my great Beaujolais. And L'Epicerie du Verre Volé, despite sourcing much of its product from better-value neighbors in Paris, is a cornucopia of well-informed gourmandise.
Le Verre Volé Sur Mer, on the other hand, has no redeeming features.
Disregarding our potential for critical ferocity, my friends and I were the ideal table. We ordered the entire menu with minimal discussion.
Five minutes later, almost all of it came out at once. In a restaurant this small - 18 covers - it is not the hallmark of a well-oiled kitchen machine. It is the hallmark of dishes conceived for minimal heating and convenient plating, representative of the increasing saladization of fine dining.
That most dishes looked beautiful only left us feeling more betrayed after tasting them. Some royal purple clams in a keen orange broth tasted outright vomitty. (I have never before witnessed my formidably omnivorous friend and colleague Meg Zimbeck spit something out.)
Worse still was some squid en persillade, a dish that reminded me of having once described ox penis as having the texture of "land squid." This was like that, only without flavor.
To go on would be morbid. Across the board, dishes lacked all salt and acid. Reliably, a Japanese element cropped up - daikon here, soy sauce there - as if to reassure diners that some foreign sensibility had informed these blithering dull creations. I understand that the nighttime chef, for now, is a fellow from Montreal called Laurent.
If forced to return at gunpoint, I would order his herring and cabbage, which, alone among the dishes on offer that night, possessed a correct balance of sweetness and acid, along with a spiffingly perfect boiled egg. I also enjoyed the side dish of rice with mussels, in which the latter's pliant delicacy contrasted excellently with the former's rustic grain.
What to say about the wine list, except that you shouldn't go to Le Verre Volé Sur Mer for it? It's a well-edited, but drastically edited version of what you can get at the original up the road.
We shared a bottle of Savoie-via-Bourgogne vigneron Dominique Lucas' supple, elegant Savagnin. If the bottle nonetheless left me conflicted, it's because I'm coming to realise suppleness and elegance are the foremost features of all Lucas' wines, regardless of terroir or grape variety... I had a similar suspicion a few years ago regarding Cascina delle Rose's too-light Barbarescos: that I had in my mouth, rather than wine, the hand of the winemaker. To its credit, Lucas' Savagnin still showed musky fruit and fine brown butter notes.
Towards the end of the meal, our Maldon oysters arrived, weirdly warm, on less a bed than a sheet of watery rock salt.
Oysters after a meal is like being offered a handjob after an orgy. No one even wanted that at that point.
The space now inhabited by Le Verre Volé Sur Mer used to be a terrible downmarket wine shop. I would walk by from time to time and shake my head, wondering what dimwits patronised such a hopeless bargain bin when Le Verre Volé was just up the road. The inhabitant at the address has changed. The business model, preying upon dimwits, has not. The dimwits around the Canal Saint Martin have just gotten richer and become likely marks for bad crudo.
Le Verre Volé Sur Mer also offers, at lunch, enjoyable Japanese comfort-food bentos (not pictured) by my largely self-taught friend Maori Murota, who was most recently seen at Düo, a short-lived gallery-café near Parmentier, now under new ownership. I had recommended her there for the position of chef, in which, I'm afraid, she didn't exactly shine. There were various reasons, but primarily it was her lack of experience working for other chefs in professional kitchens. She cooks like her audience consists of adoring fashion industry home-cooks, which in her private tutoring practice, it does. Professional kitchens are less cuddly and demand more rigorous discipline.
At Le Verre Volé Sur Mer she is once again working solo, proposing more or less what she proposed at Düo, which is to say that nothing has changed, and that her placement at Bordarier's new restaurant is just further evidence - as if any were needed - that the entire effort has been phoned-in with scant attention to quality. Bordarier is capable of good restaurateurism. But for now he's gone fishin'.
Le Verre Volé Sur Mer
53, rue de Lancry
Métro: Jacques Bonsergeant
Tel: 01 48 03 21 38
A rave for L'Epicerie du Verre Volé, 75011
A rave for Le Verre Volé, 75010
A typically uncritical, noun-heavy blurb on Le Verre Volé Sur Mer at A Food Tale.