30 March 2015

somm-run: le siffleur de ballons, 75012

If coverage of some of my favorite Paris addresses is long overdue, it's usually because I inadvertently befriended the staff and / or ownership before I had a chance to write anything. It's hard to write about one's friends. One either gushes aimlessly, or, if one is me, one tosses, underhand, a few critical softballs, and soon loses friends. Often it doesn't seem worth the risk. What, one asks oneself, do I get out of this ?

I'm still trying to figure that out. This blog is approaching its 500th post, which, when you think about it, is a lot of booze. A lot of sacrificed lunchbreaks, a lot of aimless travel, and above all, a lot of unsolicited opinions. As with most commitments in life, I'll probably never stop thinking of ending it all.

But I'll take advantage of the valedictory humour I'm in lately to say something about my friends at Le Siffleur de Ballons, Thierry Bruneau's pitch-perfect neighborhood wine bar on rue de Cîteaux, where I can be found at least once a week. For newsiness, I might add that since autumn the bar has offered splendid aged faux-filets to share, triaged over from Bruneau's other restaurant L'Ebauchoir across the street.

Le Siffleur de Ballons' interior navigates the middle road between ringard and too-cool, a clean, contemporary space that, for once, doesn't look conspicuously attuned to its own beauty. There is an earnestness to the décor that I find soothing. It celebrates the simple appeal of well-selected products on shelves, from Christine Ferber's cult Alsatian jams to jars of confiture de lait to - of course - the broad wine selection. The latter, like many of Paris' best wine programs, relatively undogmatic. It consists of about 70% natural wine, which is to say that the other 30% is what most differentiates it from other Paris natural wine bars.

Le Siffleur also has the advantage of having not one wine buyer, but three. Bruneau is aided in the selection by his managers Tristan Renoux and Fred Malpart, both of whom possess a knowledge and enthusiasm that is almost unheard of in a bar of Le Siffleur's dimunitive scale.

Renoux even makes his own wines these days, from grapes purchased from his uncle's domaine in the Languedoc, Château Landra. Pictured here is a Syrah he made in 2012. But soon he'll be releasing this year's wine, a Grenache.

He and Malpart are always ready with recommendations for the wines that happen to be tasting good at a given time; between them, and between L'Ebauchoir and Le Siffleur de Ballons, one gets the pleasant impression that wine discussion never really stops. I see this level of staff engagement as the hallmark of a sommelier-run enterprise. (Thierry Bruneau was formerly sommelier for Michel Richard Citronelle in DC.)

My only criticism of the wine program at Le Siffleur is that in its glass pours it displays somewhat too much consideration for neighborhood cheapos, often leaving me no eminently interesting options outside of bottle selections. Of these there is happily no shortage. Last summer Renoux introduced me to the wines of Christophe Curtat, who at around 40 years old counts as one of the young guns of the Saint Joseph appellation. Formerly he worked in sales of jewelry and lingerie (!) before ubiquitous Rhône vigneron Yves Cuilleron encouraged him to start a domaine. Curtat studied with Cuilleron and other domaines in Australia and South Africa before beginning his own domaine with just 1ha in 2005. Since then the domaine has expanded to 3,5ha, of which 2/3 is planted with Syrah.

But it's his Saint Joseph blanc I found most captivating: 100% Roussanne, it bears the very apt name "Sous l'Amandier," for indeed the wine's keen white floral aromas yield to a decidedly almondy palate, with nuanced notes of honeydew and beeswax.

Le Siffleur's cheese and charcuterie plates are reliably tasty, and make up in generosity what they sometimes lack in star components and plating finesse. (The stray apricots adorning the cheese plate have puzzled me for years.)

The rest of the menu consists of bar snacks, ranging from the serviceable - some tinned mackerel, a daily soup in winter - to the occasionally life-saving, like a sobering ramekin of roast potatoes and roblochon.

The faux filet for two stands out from the rest of the menu's dependable basics. Sourced from La Boucherie du Rouillon and aged 5 weeks, it rivals, in succuluence and density of flavour, the more famous meat slabs up the road at Bistrot Paul Bert.

We'd devoured half before I remembered to take a picture.

There's not much worth saying about a steak in Paris; they're as common as cobblestones. But it's interesting to see Le Siffleur - and, at a different price point, nearby restaurant Bones - successfully recontextualise the bistrot steak for the wine bar format. In Paris, where quite a few kitchen-less wine bars rely on those of their adjacent restaurants, and where alternative fast food is largely limited to dogfood-grade kebabs, the wine bar steak serves a real and useful function, being at once filling, indulgent, and relatively simple to fire. At Le Siffleur de Ballons, it means one can safely sit down for an apéro, and never leave.

Le Siffleur de Ballons
34 Rue de Cîteaux
75012 PARIS
Tel: 01 58 51 14 04
Métro: Faidherbe-Chaligny

Related Links:

Another reason I hadn't yet posted about Le Siffleur de Ballons is that, right when I was about to, back in 2012, David Lebovitz beat me to the punch. And who can compete with him?

L'Ebauchoir, 75012

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