15 June 2015
As diners and critics, we're willing to discern greater depths in a chef's plates if he or she has led a swashbuckling lifestyle, or at least can be presented to us as having witnessed the mysteries of foreign cultures. In contemporary Paris, the résumé spice du jour is "travel in Asia," a transcendant, cuisine-altering experience for chefs ranging from David Toutain to Saturne's Sven Chartier to Le Servan's Tatiana Levha. If, of that list, only Levha's cuisine shows any direct engagement with eastern cuisines, don't blame the chefs. Blame their publicists, and culinary media outlets.
Les Déserteurs, the upscale market-menu restaurant opened last year by chef Daniel Baratier and sommelier Alex Céret in the former Rino space on rue Trousseau, is, like its chef, deficient in narrative flair. The name is a witticism referring to the owners' former workplace, the untrendy Ile Saint Louis Michelin one-star Le Sergent Recruteur, a restaurant that I now read is in liquidation. When the joke passes, we're left with the following premise: Two Friendly French Guys Open Slightly Pricey Restaurant.
Diners will be forgiven for not leaping to book six-tops. I myself only went because they had a last minute table on a Saturday night, and I often work in the neighborhood. I was therefore caught entirely by surprise by the restaurant's outright excellence. From its pacing to its apportionment to its marvelous contents, a meal at Les Déserteurs is a tour de force of sensitivity, where the refined, vegetable-driven country cuisine is as nuanced and mature as the wine list.
The storied restaurant space must be as much a curse as a blessing. Giovanni Passerini's Rino proved beyond all doubt that the space and the neighborhood could support a high-value meal. But inhabiting the same space did no favors for establishing Baratier's cuisine for what it assuredly is: a new identity with an original voice.
Les Déserteurs' menu is, it must be said, monstrously overwritten. Baratier and Céret might have done better to provide information like, say, the name of their asparagus farmer, upon demand, rather than trumpeting it on the menu itself. It shortsells Baratier's wizardry to present him as a pedantic épiceur. That said, the duck sausage we shared while perusing the wine list was extraordinarily well-chosen, rich and indulgent.
The salad of zucchini and rhubarb that followed was a work of ingenious contrapuntal texture, immensely flattered by its tangy hazelnut vinaigrette.
The menu that night had cited "tormented asparagus," which summons a mental image as cruelly amusing as the dish itself was tender. Here as in the salad, Baratier showed impressive attention to textural nuance.
A hunk of delicately flavorful rump steak, larger in real life than it seems pictured here, capped a rare hat-trick of flawlessly-executed dishes. I didn't care a whit that the dessert that folllowed was a little forgettable and unergonomic. The meal had already succeeded wildly.
Sommelier and co-owner Alexandre Céret formerly worked with an immense Champagne list at straightforwardly conservative Michelin two-star restaurant The Greenhouse in Mayfair. At Les Déserteurs he's set his sights lower, but one sense his London experience in the far-flung reach and general openmindedness of his selections. The glass pour is among the loveliest I've encountered in Paris, featuring things like Zidarich's glimmery skin-macerated Vitovska, and Sylvain Pataille's Marsannay masterpiece "Les Longeroies."
Being too voluminous a drinker to have much truck with glass-pours, I instead alighted upon a well-priced bottle of 2004 Robert Michel Cornas "Cuvée des Coteaux."
Céret deserves praise for taking care to mention that Robert Michel's Cornas, stylistically, is a far cry from the honking, brawny fruit of most of the appellation. Indeed, the 2004 "Cuvée des Coteaux" showed the levitational side of syrah, scanning something like an older Saint Joseph, its sinuous black fruit laced with notes of tea and clove cigarettes. Robert Michel, who retired in 2006, was, needless to say, not a natural winemaker. But he worked traditionally and well and belonged to the category of acclaimed artisanal domaines whose fame predates the contemporary fixation on sulfur use. I would desperately like to see more of the wines of such domaines integrated into the diehard natural wine lists of Paris' most ambitious contemporary restaurants, most of whom, in a baby-with-bathwater gesture, have jettisoned the greatest traditionalist wines of famous appellations along with the white tablecloths, chandeliers, and obsequiousness of Michelin-style service.
Les Déserteurs takes its own chisel and mallet to the crumbling Michelin edifice, but leaves the pillars of service and wine more intact. At time when restaurants like Le Chateaubriand and Saturne have rendered progressive Parisian fine dining Giacometti-lean, a meal at Les Déserteurs arrives with the classical sumptuousness of a Rodin.
46, rue Trousseau
Tel: 01 48 06 95 85
Alexander Lobrano's spot-on 2014 piece about Les Déserteurs.
The Paris Kitchen's write-up of Les Déserteurs sees Wendy Lyn trying out a critical voice, which is entertaining in the same way it is entertaining to watch friends try on funny hats.
Le Fooding's note on Les Déserteurs is, by the standards of the publication, relatively informative, perceptive, and cool-headed.
Pop-up sommelier Laura Vidal popped into Les Déserteurs, and liked it. A key difference between the critical perspective of foodies and that of actual restaurant professionals is the latter, as Vidal does here, tend to get more excited about ambience and acoustics than food.
François Simon enjoy everything in his visit to Les Déserteurs.