31 December 2012

call it a caviste: la buvette, 75011

In a break from my habit of writing about things long after they've lost all relevance, I thought I'd mention my friend Camille Fourmont's brand new caviste-slash-bar à vin, La Buvette, which opened for business on rue Saint Maur in the 11ème a little over a week ago.

I hadn't seen Camille in a while, and hadn't been aware she'd left her former gig, as bar manager of  Inaki Aizpitarte's overdesigned wine bar Le Dauphin. I just happened to be walking by on an errand the other day, when a Julien Courtois wine label in her sparse window display caught my attention.

It's a surprise to see such a cult wine on that stretch of road, which is otherwise dominated by superettes and timewarpy little do-nothing bistrots that seem to survive, like lichen, on air alone. It's also a surprise to peer in the windows and see - good lord ! - a trim, contemporary establishment, where good taste is as perceptible in the décor as it is in the mostly-natural wine selection. There's clean white tiling, and simple tables and chairs, and, mostly importantly for my purposes, a solid and inviting zinc-capped bar.

18 December 2012

hot potato: roseval, 75020

The remarkable hyperactivity of Paris food-blogging is partly due to the outsize international attention paid what is essentially a medium-sized, semi-provincial city. Thirty million tourists per year arrive in Paris; before, during, and after their vacations, they constitute a readership.

The repetitive nature of Paris food-blogging - and that of Paris dining in general - derives from limited subject matter. Restaurateurism in this medium-sized, semi-provincial city has been, for reasons both economic and societal, slow to catch up to the democratisation of gastronomy that has occurred in the past few decades. Most of the remaining first- and second-wave "bistronauts" of the 1990's and 2000's have long since settled into comfortable routines of semi-pro mediocrity; outside of hotels and Michelin-starred places, one rarely encounters service or cuisine that takes itself seriously.

This is why laudatory coverage of a few restaurants - Frenchie, Le Chateaubriand, Spring, Rino, and a few newcomers including the subject of this post, the 20ème's Roseval - will continue unabated: there stilll aren't enough informal tables whose informality does not excuse staff from evincing actual chops and ambition.* These are the tables that impress bloggers that bloggers can afford. The creative team at Roseval - chefs Michael Greenwold and Simone Tondo and sommelier Erika Biswell - formerly worked at some of these places (Le Chateaubriand, Rino, and Le Chateaubriand, respectively), and to judge by the results of their collaboration, they learned all the right moves. Roseval is the best value of its too-small category: a place where those who work outside the financial sector can experience inventive food and thrillingly obscure wines served by people who believe in what they do.

11 December 2012

planet of women : l'auberge flora, 75011

One would like to cite beauty, good taste, and pleasure as one's dining ideals. But, as in most fields, there are extra-aesthetic concerns. One has to rate establishments according to the scope of their ambition, and according to the service they provide in a given community.

By the latter standard, Bastille-quartier chambre d'hôte L'Auberge Flora is a certain kind of paradise, appearing like an oasis on an otherwise creepy and barren strip of road just east of the Marais. It's the new project of a veteran Paris chef called Florence Mikula, whose previous restaurants, judging by early reviews of L'Auberge Flora, permanently endeared her to a certain generation of Paris food writers. Several elements of the new restaurant are expertly in place, or nearly so: the staff (all ladies, when I visited) are warm and considerate, and a meal is fairly priced, given it's a hotel. What the byzantine menu of tapas lacks in precision or focus it makes up for in sheer novelty. (How nice, once in a while in Paris, not to consume a hunk of meat for dinner.)

But dear god, the décor. It's like getting nuzzled by a unicorn, and waking up surrounded by twittering birds beneath a rainbow on a cotton candy cloud floating magically above a Land Without Men, where wine lists are delivered with butterfly hairclips holding the pages together. (I am not kidding.)

07 December 2012

a village called paris : cave fervèré, 75011

One indication I've been doing this blog too long is that certain restaurants and wine bars I've written about have since been sold, or closed down, or been completely revamped. When I last mentioned my restaurateur friend Olivier Aubert, he had, in the space of about a year, opened three restaurants: La Bodeguita du IVeme, la Bodeguita du IXeme, and Les Trois Seaux in the 11ème.

Aubert is presently selling La Bodeguita du IVeme, having shed the weirdly-shaped and generally unsuccessful la Bodeguita du IXeme long ago. Les Trois Seaux is still operational, still a solid wine bistrot where the respectable food and service are undercut by clumsy décor and a silly name. ("The Three Buckets." I have never understood why they use white tablecloths in a space like that.)

Now on rue des Trois Bornes, one street away from Les Trois Seaux, Aubert is at it again: he's opened a pichet-sized wine bistrot called Cave Fervèré, its name a reference to the iron grillwork on the windows. It's another two-man operation, just him and a chef, with a slim menu of provincial staples, and a shelf of solid natural wines at generous prices. What's to get excited about? you might ask. Why follow Aubert's bantering roadshow of openings and closures to yet another address? Because Aubert's restaurants, in their simplicity and utter lack of pretense, represent all that's best about living in Paris, which is to say they feel like the countryside. Also, he is serving a really killer andouillette right now.