27 April 2017

out in the street: vignes, 75019

Vignes' opening party, before the terrace seating was installed.

The great legacy of the cave-à-manger neologism has been to turn most new Paris wine shops into functional bars. You'd have to be either insane or misanthropic to open a wine shop that merely sold wine in Paris these days. The same license permits wine retail and restaurant activities and the line between what constitutes a restaurant and what constitutes a bar (which designation requires a more expensive and regulated Licence IV) is in effect extremely blurry. As often as not, lack of a License IV redounds to a proprietor's benefit, because he or she retains the bulletproof excuse that the kitchen is closed whenever it becomes necessary to decline to serve the visibly drunk or deranged. Inspections are rare, so proprietors are under no obligation to apply the same standards to normal happy drinking humans. Wine shop becomes ostensible restaurant, actual bar, albeit one that tends to close by midnight.

The latest to gainfully skate this line is the former manager of Thierry Bruneau's popular 12ème arrondissement wine bar Le Siffleur de Ballons, Frédéric Malpart, who opened his caviste - bar-à-vin Vignes in Belleville back in March. Like Malpart's former workplace, Vignes boasts a clean, blonde wooden décor, airy white lighting, kind staff bearing simple meat and cheese plates, and an open-minded selection of organic, biodynamic wines.

Unlike Le Siffleur de Ballons, Vignes has a handful of spacious terrace tables, and gives out on the broad boulevard de la Villette. It is instantly the only terraced bar serving a natural wine selection in Belleville*, and a valuable addition to the neighborhood renaissance presently underway.

25 April 2017

don't change: osteria ferrara, 75011

The similarities with between the restaurant Sicilian chef Fabrizio Ferrara opened last fall - Osteria Ferrara - and his former restaurant, the beloved Caffe dei Cioppi, are easy to recognize. At the new restaurant, an understated and tasteful redesign of the former bistrot occupant, Au Vieux Chène, one encounters the same unshowy preparations, the same loose risotto, the same divine sbrisolona, the same just-edgy-enough wine list.

It's a more interesting exercise to note what has changed. Paris, for one thing.

In the years since Caffe dei Cioppi closed, Ferrara's contemporaries Giovanni Passerini and Simone Tondo have raised the bar for Parisian Italian cuisine with their own, more expensive namesake restaurants in the same immediate neighborhood. Burrata has become as unavoidable as saucisson sec. The frighteningly-named Big Mamma Group has conquered middlebrow east Paris with a fleet of packed restaurants serving a simplistic, wincingly commercial take on pan-Italian cuisine.

In 2017, Osteria Ferrara impresses most by its quiet sense of maturity. There is ample space between the tables. From the stereo, nary a boom-bap nor a distorted chord. In the culinary hotbed of east Paris - where small-plates of offal are as common as mezcal and wine labels resemble the undersides of skateboards - sophisticated, product-driven dining can sometimes feel like the province of youth alone. Stepping into the calm predictability of Osteria Ferrara feels, in the best way, like dining at the grown-ups' table.