26 February 2015

sleepwalkin': le bougainville, 75002

A time-capsule wine bar and restaurant like Le Bougainville, ensconced on the dowdy side of the Galerie Vivienne, perfectly embodies the simultaneous joys and frustrations of living in present-day Paris.

On the one hand, much of the city's grace lies in the fact that, mere paces from its financial center, places like Le Bougainville persist. The restaurant is gloriously unselfconscious, evincing an insensitivity to décor that borders on senility. A piano hunches unplayed by the entryway; garish fluorescents zig-zag overhead beside the bar; an almost characterless adjacent dining room still resembles whatever unrelated shop storage area it once was. Local suits and lost-looking tourists dine on goose rillettes, oeufs mayo, herring salad, roast pork: low-cost village fare, untutored but uncorrupted. Complementing all this is an incongruously good wine list containing just about the entire sought-after range of cult Jura vigneron Jean-François Ganevat, at mysteriously great prices.

But as happens so often in Paris, the scent of mystery leads us to the trough of incomprehensibility.

Daytime service at Le Bougainville is inattentive chaos, and seems to feature actual child labor. I once asked the very young fellow serving us for coffee, and then watched him clear tables for fifteen minutes. I gave up on the coffee and asked for the check. While acknowledging my requests, he continued to do nothing but clear tables. When, after ten more minutes, my companions and I simply marched to the bar to pay, he seemed astonished that we no longer wanted our coffee. When I told him it had taken too long, he protested that he wasn't the one behind the bar making coffees. That is not how restaurant service works, I thought. But how was he to know? He looked fourteen.

Le Bougainville's terrific wine list, meanwhile, reads as though it were formatted by chimpanzees. Aliens encountering the list might mistakenly be led to believe that Jura wine consisted of the following distinct categories: white, Ganevat, ouillés, and red.

To be fair, Ganevat's wines are indeed sort of a category unto themselves in Jura winemaking. Where the rest of the region's greats make unabashedly Jurassien wines, Ganevat's routinely taste as as though vying (often successfully) for Burgundy's laurels. This befits the winemaker's long cellarmaster experience in Meursault. But it also means that - in Paris at least - his white wines are almost invariably encountered too young, in a sort of a pristine, Sleeping Beauty catatonia, often bereft even of the rustic pecorino sardo notes that serve as a sort of diversionary expressivity in other young Jura whites.

It just makes it all the more revelatory when one encounters a bottle that is showing, like the 2010 "Chamois de Paradis" I shared with some friends at apéro hour on a recent evening. Even for a cuvée that reliably shows a finer grain than his other Chardonnays, this was in sing-song form, with buoyant white fruit that blossomed like a showgirl from a birthday cake.

During apéro hour at Le Bougainville, one comes for the Ganevat, and one stays for the lists other charming curiosities, like Renaud Guettier's dark, forceful 2005 "Adonis" Pineau d'Aunis, a black pepper shotgun blast. I had always presumed Guettier's muscular Coteaux du Loir reds would hold up well. Now I know.

Ordering wine at Le Bougainville remains a bit of a lottery experience. Vintages are often wrong, and with one or two exceptions, Le Bougainville's staff know nothing about wine beyond having been at some point instructed to carafe every bottle they serve.

Dining, too, is hit-or-miss. The other day at lunch, the mijoté de veau and the roti de porc came in precisely the same too-sweet sauce.

Simple appetisers are more reliable. The bar's mixed cheese and charcuterie plate deserves special mention for the high-quality of its components.

Here, as in sections of the wine list, one can discern traces of the superlative quality standards that may once have obtained at Le Bougainville, before everyone involved began sleepwalking.

It is almost as though the renowned social stability of Parisian society has had the effect of removing any incentive whatsoever for business owners to self-evaluate, at least for those owners who through savvy or inheritance came into possession of good real estate.

Whether I enjoy Le Bougainville on a given day depends on my mood, for this idea strikes me alternately as a source of entertainment, and a human tragedy.

Le Bougainville
5, rue de la Banque
75002 PARIS
Tel : 01 42 60 05 19

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I would still prefer to dine among sleepwalkers at Le Bougainville than with the craven wankers who run nearby restaurant Saturne.

Verjus Bar à Vin is a very nice option in same neighborhood, if one seeks exclusively Anglophone company.

Willie's Wine Bar is too. 

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