18 May 2015

off the map: la poudrière, issy-les-moulineaux

I credit former La Cave de l'Insolite proprietor Michel Moulherat for introducing me to natural wine. His wasn't the closest wine shop to my old apartment on a loud, leery intersection on rue Saint Maur. But it was the closest wine shop staffed by someone who was both well-informed and willing to share his knowledge. I'd often stop by on the way home from work - but never if I were in a hurry, because Moulherat's voluble, Irish-accented conversation and the bevy of bottles he invariably opened could quickly take up much of an evening.

Then a few years ago Moulherat sold La Cave de l'Insolite to some earnest young restaurateurs. He did a spell consulting on wine for fine restaurant wholesalers Terroirs d'Avenir. I don't know what else he did. He kinda fell off the map.

So I was delighted to learn recently that Moulherat is back in front-of-house these days, running the wine program at La Poudrière, a homey new natural wine bistrot and cave-à-manger tucked in a railway arch in Issy-les-Moulineaux. Where the hell is Issy-les-Moulineaux? the overwhelming majority of readers might reasonably ask. It's the southern terminus of the Métro line 12. There's a Museum of Playing Cards there, which I guess makes two reasons to visit, counting La Poudrière.

Among Paris wine collectors the town is known for its private cellar facilities, quarried into the local chalk. It was famously the site of a terrorist car bomb attack during the era of the Algerian war. Nowadays Issy also functions as an office park, for the like of France 24, Canal +, and Coca Cola France. Walking from Mairie d'Issy to La Poudrière, one perceives Paris and its historical construction petering out block by block, being replaced first by squat rows of semi-detached houses and shut cafés, then by monolithic new housing units resembling lunar colonies. The effect is like racing into a very tacky future.

La Poudrière owners Fabrice Mury and Pierre Chartron signed the lease for the restaurant as far back as 2012. But their business plan was contingent upon completion of residential housing nearby, which ran far behind schedule. So Mury, who'd previously been working at L'Ecir Café in the 14ème, ran Le Poule au Pot in the 7ème for two years as a stopgap project. He and Chartron finally opened La Poudrière in February 2015.

It's a conscientious, unpretentious, well-groomed cave-à-manger. There's a terrific terrace, if one doesn't mind a panoramic view of nothing. Moulherat has helped them round up a good selection of youthful, low-sulfur natural winemakers, with a particular emphasis on Auvergne.

There aren't any heavy-hitter bottles, nothing worth crossing town for, but that seems appropriate for the neighborhood and the clientele. (Even in the center of Paris, enlightened restaurants must go to great lengths to reassure the mouse-like public that good taste is not inherently snobbish or expensive. Presumably this is why La Poudrière contains a foozball table.)

The restaurant's kitchen is run by Jaume Morera, who previously worked at Akrame and Jour de Fete. I can only speak of lunch service, but the cuisine is well-sourced, satisfying, and extremely inexpensive by Parisian standards.

A highlight was a refreshing white beet and sobacha soup, which went down like a kind thought.

We shared a bottle of Vincent & Marie Tricot's 2013 "Petit Rouge de la Côte Ouest," an Auvergnat gamay that showed too much volatile acidity for my tastes. I have a notion that the rising cult status of the wines of Patrick Bouju and Pierre Beauger has had a "rising tide lifts all boats" effect for Auvergnat natural wine, which would help explain the recent popularity of the Tricots' wines.

In truth there is no reason to incite a stampede of fine-diners to Issy-les-Moulineaux. (Nor would such a thing be possible.) The reason to visit La Poudrière, or to at least consider visiting La Poudrière, is cultural anthropological.

Americans in Paris like myself tend to assume, without really meaning to, that most quality establishments here open with us - our money and our international press apparatus - at least partly in mind. We assume, without really meaning to, that Parisians, like ourselves, must seek out contact with other cultures. We think: if a tree falls in Paris, and the New York Times doesn't hear a sound, did it really happen?

We are, of course, totally mistaken. It is our defining feature.

I asked Mury why he opened in Issy-les-Moulineaux, thinking he'd explain it was an up-and-coming neighborhood. Instead he replied in earnest that it was because he lived right nearby. Moulherat also lives close by. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of a short commute.

La Poudrière, a tasteful Paris-adjacent natural wine spot where tourists never tread, is a small reminder that French natural wine became a globally influential phenomenon to some extent despite itself. For every Racines NY, there is a La Poudrière, where natural wine remains an intra-French phenomenon, one which, like many other intra-French phenomena, evinces very little awareness of being regarded. In the worst instances, this innocence comes at the expense of service standards and general professionalism. In the best - and La Poudrière is indeed one of the best - it is a lesson in charm and sincerity, something to mull over on the long Métro journey home.

La Poudrière
58, promenade du Verger
Métro: Mairie d'Issy
Tel: 01 46 45 87 29

Related Links:

The old La Cave de l'Insolite... (I'll admit to not really liking what it has become. Under the new proprietors, it's a dopey downmarket restaurant with helplessly uninformed staff who try their best to serve natural wine.)

François Régis-Gaudry's enthusiastic review of La Poudrière in L'Express, the comment section of which rather hilariously illustrates the challenges of opening a quality-oriented restaurant in those parts of greater Paris that have been left to cheapo greater-Parisians.


  1. What a lovely story and good to see the old ways still in vogue.

  2. Aaron-- I'm back in town after a few days away and catching up on my blog reading. I'm so glad to see what has become of Michel!! We also had lost track of him - he and my husband used to work together and we stopped by La Cave de l'Insolite from time to time . . and then once I went and some fellows told me he'd sold them the shop! I've already sent this to my husband, and i'd guess we'll make the trek. Michel's daughter gave me the most beautiful bouquet of flowers at our wedding.