Back in early November I asked Beaujolais vigneron Karim Vionnet where he'd be spending the soirée of Beaujolais Nouveau in Paris. He said he'd be a little bit everywhere, as usual, but he'd certainly be starting the evening at (inaudible).
"Au Sauvignon," he said, audibly this time, though seemingly without any confidence that it would be an interesting occasion. He rummaged around his paperwork and found the place's card. He didn't seem to know what the restaurant was or how his wines had wound up there, let alone how he had agreed to spend the soirée of Beaujolais Nouveau there - but that may just have been Karim being Karim. My interest was piqued because there are very few places serving natural Beaujolais, or natural wine at all, in Au Sauvignon's Saint-Sulpice neighborhood, which must rank among the dowdiest in Paris. A rich grandmotherliness suffuses the air; one senses the denizens have buying power, but without the willpower to consume, in the way that the elderly, through no fault of their own, simply stop eating much at mealtimes.
I wound up visiting Au Sauvignon for a late lunch in December and was pleased to find that the restaurant, if that is what it may be called, is perfectly adapted to its neighborhood, and in such a way as to render its style of service queerly contemporary for the city at large. The menu is composed entirely of the snack foods deemed acceptable by former generations of well-to-do Parisians who probably disapprove of snacking outside the context of a tough day's shopping at Le Bon Marché. This means tartines, oysters, and omelets at all hours, with osetra caviar available for anyone having a really bad day.
Founded by Auvergnat transplants Henri and Alice Vergne in 1954, Au Sauvignon remains in the same family today. The guiding principle, throughout half a century, seems to have been not to fix what isn't broke.
There's a charmingly antiquated selection of well-made conventional wines, along with the aforementioned bottles of natural Beaujolais, which leap off the list both in terms of value and quality. My friend P and I initially went for a bottle of Jo Landon Muscadet to accompany our oysters. It was the winemaker's more conventional "Clos la Carizière" cuvée, which for whatever reason lacks a bit of snap. The beautiful glassware would be a consolation to even the most meagre wine, however.
I passed a lightly pensive moment with our oysters, upon noticing that each shell bore an inscription that happened to match my orthographic shorthand for the former Native Companion. More wine helped.
Then again, I may just be turning into a grandmother.
Perhaps out of respect for how much my friend and I were drinking, no one arrived with the check, which I understand is otherwise anomalously de rigeur at Au Sauvignon. It is a practice for which I applaud the ruthless and effective Auvergnat ownership. More checks ought to get dropped in Paris; they ought to rain from the ceilings of the city's bistrots onto the heads of the nattering, unadventurous, underemployed diners. It would surely come at the expense of several bon mots about the weather and upcoming vacations. But think of the potential economic gain!
80 Rue des Saints-Pères
Métro: Saint-Sulpice or Sèvres-Babylone
Tel: 01 45 48 49 02