This coming Saturday will be the last service of the season at Restaurant Éphémère, a lovely and unexpected pop-up lunch restaurant tucked in the Beaujolais-Villages hamlet of Vauxrenard.
Run by the Dutch duo of legal recruiter-turned-restauratrice Gusta van Walsem and chef Jessie Ydo, Éphémère is housed in the backyard of Gusta's boyfriend, the acclaimed natural Fleurie vigneron Yvon Métras. Opening his farmhouse home to a stream of friends, neighbors, and tourist clientele all summer was perhaps the last thing I would have expected Métras to do, short of perform in a ballet. But by all accounts the restaurant has been a success. When this past weekend I asked Métras' son Jules how it was going, he replied, "It's full every day, and there's even people we don't know coming!"
His mild surprise is a testament more to the isolation of Vauxrenard (population: 318) and the near-total absence of promotion behind the project than the quality of the wine and cuisine, which are both splendid. I visited in early July, shortly after Restaurant Éphémère opened, and found the Métras backyard transformed into a dining terrace, where sat, at tables shielded from the sun by a stark yellow tarp, a small cavalcade of natural winemaking peers: van Walsem's friend and fellow Dutch émigrée Florien Kleine Snuverink, a partner at Domaine Les Bottes Rouges in the Jura, Villié-Morgon's Georges Descombes, David and Michele Chapel of Domaine Chapel, along with Métras himself, bemused as ever.
La Bise, where Métras lives - a high-sited lieu-dit, named for the north wind - is not obvious to access. I've been there a dozen times and I still get momentarily lost whenever I return. Restaurant Éphémère closes at 5PM, well before sundown, probably as much to avoid lingering diners as to prevent them from driving off the hill on the way home.
Van Walsem's wine list is selected from natural winemaker friends in the Beaujolais, the Mâconnais, and the Jura. The menu is a three-course affair for 25€. The restaurant accepts no credit cards, which I can imagine leading to some awkward end-of-meal negotiations. The nearest ATM is a twelve minute drive away in Fleurie.
Jessie Ydo's menu is fresh and unpretentious, evincing a pleasantly hands-off approach to many excellent local ingredients, including vegetables from the Métras garden, and cheeses from nearby Ouroux. It is a truism that all one needs for great country cuisine is good ingredients; but good ingredients are precisely what is lacking in most restaurants in the Beaujolais, a fairly benighted place for dining out, all told.
Hence the instant appeal of Restaurant Éphémère, even to locals. A fulsome parfait of chicken liver was savory and smooth, enlivened with a sparkle of fleur de sel.
A splatter of long-cooked beef with red cabbage was far tastier than it looked; it comprised a satisfying balance between the refinement of flavor one demands of restaurant cuisine, and the hearty, instant-gratification one demands of meals during harvest or other periods of physical labor.
I suspect I enjoyed it all the more because I had spent the morning on the bottling line with friends in Fleurie, wrestling with the lever of an antique hand-corking machine.
It takes immense pluck to open a pop-up restaurant in a non-traditional restaurant space. Nothing confirms this like a trip to Restaurant Éphémère's improvised toilet, a hand-dug outhouse discreetly situated a short walk around the corner and through the garden. Consideration of public toilets is where many great ideas end. It's probably the reason nomadic tribes stay nomadic. "Ehh," they say, when the situation becomes impossible to ignore. "Let's just move on."
But it would be folly to expect such challenges to make van Walsem blink. Métras calls her "La Grande," a reference to her height, and, one suspects, her forceful personality. I first met her in 2015, when I worked harvest with the Métras'. Only several years prior, she and Florien Klein Snuverink had courageously decided to ditch comfortable lives in Amsterdam for the deep French countryside. As a fellow non-French person who has spent most of the last decade in the same apartment on a squalid street in Paris, unable to take the decision to leave, I find both women very inspiring.
|Gusta van Walsem, right.
Sebastien Congretel, Régnié
Gilles Paris, Chiroubles
Château des Rontets, Fuissé
Nicolas Dubost, Saint-Germain-sur-l'ArbresleRomain des Grottes, Saint-Etienne-des-Ouillières
Yann Bertrand's First Primeur
Beaujolais Harvests 2016
Christophe Pacalet, Cercié
Sylvère Trichard & Elodie Bouvard (Séléné), Blacé
Jérome Balmet, Vaux-en-Beaujolais
L'Auberge du Moulin, Saint-Didier-sur-Chalaronne
Jean-François Promonet, Leynes
Hervé Ravera, Marchampt
Justin Dutraive, Fleurie
Julien Merle & Nathalie Banes, Legny
La Fête des Conscrits, Villié-Morgon
Domaine Leonis (Raphael Champier & Christelle Lucca), Villié-Morgon
Beaujolais, Autumn 2015:
Xavier Benier, Saint-Julien
Jean-Gilles Chasselay, Châtillon d'Azergues
Marcel Joubert, Quincié
Nicolas Chemarin, Marchampt
Anthony Thévenet, Villié-Morgon
Romain Zordan, Fleurie
Yann Bertrand, Fleurie
Domaine Thillardon, Chénas
Sylvain Chanudet, Fleurie
Patrick "Jo" Cotton, Saint-Lager
Pierre Cotton, Odenas
L'Auberge du Col du Truges, Le Truges
Julie Balagny, Moulin-à-Vent
La Cuvée des Copines 2015
Beaujolais Harvests 2015
Beaujolais Bike Trip, Summer 2015:
Georges Descombes, Vermont
Jean-Paul Thévenet, Pizay
Jules Métras, Fleurie
Rémi et Laurence Dufaitre, Saint-Etienne-des-Ouillières
Jean-Claude Lapalu, Saint-Etienne-La-Varenne
Benoit Camus, Ville-sur-Jarnioux