16 September 2011

ups & downs: avant comptoir, 75006

After fleeing from the malevolent fraudulence on parade at last week's opening of "La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels," my friends and I found ourselves in the 6ème arrondissement on a Thursday night in desperate need of an actual glass of true natural wine. It was this desperation that impelled us to elbow our way into Paris' least comfortable dining experience, Avant Comptoir, a place I wasn't exceptionally keen on revisiting after having a middling lunch there a few months ago.

Perhaps it was in part the sheer relief of once again being in an establishment that knows, understands, and cares for natural wine, but I had a surprisingly lovely experience at Avant Comptoir that evening. No wait, no undue shoving. A screaming fresh octopus carpaccio, a faintly oriental salade d'oreilles de cochon (pigs' ears), and a bottle of Georges Descombes 2008 Brouilly, kindly fetched from nextdoor for us after a brief back and forth with the manager - all of this was sublime, and the memory is only lightly marred, in retrospect, by the fact that I returned two days later and had a totally abysmal experience, one that regretfully confirmed my initial diagnosis of the place as being a good concept executed with neither grace nor consistency. 

Sometimes you get lucky:

At other times the entire restaurant is booked for a wedding party* (!) on a Saturday evening** and the seemingly brainless crêpe fellow at the takeaway counter sells you a crêpe without any cheese, because they ran out.

What can you do?*** The place is a total crap-shoot, and knowing now that it's capable of delivering the first experience makes receiving the second that much more frustrating. I've just finished reading A Confederacy of Dunces, a book my mother left after her last visit (not reading anything into that), so I'm inclined to compare the infuriating inconsistency of Avant Comptoir to the medieval concept of Fortuna's wheel, continually invoked by the protagonist Ignatius whenever he colossally cocks something up. 

For it's true, it was indeed my own fault for relying upon Avant Comptoir for a glass of wine and something to eat. The central conceit in A Confederacy of Dunces is that Ignatius feels himself to have been born in the wrong century. Whenever I chance to visit the 6ème, I find I can empathise. 

* What, a wedding of pugilistic jockeys and dwarfs without many in-laws? How many guests could one conceivably fit in the place? It is the size of a box of childrens' shoes. 

** I'm not against private events in principle. But as a proprietor you take the risk, whenever you book the entire establishment, of seriously teeing off any walk-in clients who may have crossed the entire city with the aim of patronising your establishment. If your establishment takes no reservations and relies entirely on walk-in clients - well, you get the gist. 

*** Go elsewhere, of course. But in this particular case the crêpe was for the Native Companion, who was about to begin a long evening shift, and whose alternative to devouring dry carbs was fainting from hunger at 3am. 

A 2009 review of l'Avant Comptoir @ MegZimbeck
Alexander Lobrano's 2009 write-up of l'Avant Comptoir @ NYTimes
A monumentally ditzy 2009 piece on l'Avant Comptoir @ DorieGreenspan
A qualified 2009 rave about l'Avant Comptoir @ JohnTalbott
A profile of Yves Camdeborde by Jane Sigal @ Food&Wine


  1. I didn't know what "ditzy" meant. I decided not to check a dictionary online and go read the post directly. Now I think I know what ditzy means :)

  2. Hi again. Funny that you call the place a “total crapshoot”, there's definitely a feeling of danger about this place. This is what I wrote about it in the recent update of a Paris guide: “Vous vous faufilez avec un chausse-pied dans ce réduit blindé de monde, et c’est la plongée en apnée. Bien au-delà du coude-à-coude, c’est une méditation étourdissante sur la plasticité du corps humain (attention aux côtes enfoncées tout de même) et le pouvoir de la mode. Vous êtes sur le mètre carré le plus parisien de Paris…”

  3. It's fun, not too serious and cheap. I mostly hit the AC after too many drinks at the Prescription, so it's perfectly located for drunk food...

  4. ptipois: by crapshoot i meant to imply less a feeling of danger than just a total lack of reliability. the crowd itself is usually a pretty tame mix of native and tourist foodies, wouldn't you say?

    adrian: agreed - such that they ought to specialise a little further in that direction, and not close at 11pm, non? that's usually apero hour for me.