Vivant

cured pork belly with pepper

If you have a lot of food concerns – if you need to know how something is cooked, or what vegetables are included in les légumes – although they’re happy to answer, at Vivant you should just let your experience of the restaurant be guided by slipping out of the mode of being in control, and putting yourself in the capable hands of the staff of the restaurant. Some of the wines, which are unapologetically natural, are a leap of faith. And you might find yourself being surprised and delighted, or dubious and perplexed. It’s part of the experience.

blackboard menu at Vivanttomatoes for Pasta
herb saladseared white asparagus with Parmesan

Pierre Jancou was the former owner of Racines, an excellent restaurant which featured market-fresh food. Like so many other places in Paris and elsewhere, many say they do cuisine du marché, but a majority aren’t sourcing from the producers themselves and are still getting ingredients from market middlemen.

pasta with eggplant, tomatoes, ricotta

Pierre is someone who does know where everything is from, and he can tell you the provenance of every piece of fish, wine, herb, vegetable, and sausage served at Vivant. After letting go of Racines, he left Paris for a while but is back in a small, personal location in the middle of the 10th, in a colorfully tiled space that was formerly a shop that sold birds. After passing by streets filled with African hairdressing shops and the youthful crowds drinking on the newly-hip rue du Faubourg Saint Denis, when I stepped inside, I was happy that I had pointed myself in the direction of Vivant.

vivant

It was nice to see Pierre and his friendly staff behind the bar, as well as racing back to the kitchen to check a pasta, or taking orders from a table in the small dining room. Because I’m always punctual, I had a quick glass of wine at the bar while I waited for my friends Barbra, Meg, and Alec, although this is not a wine bar so guests should reserve a table for lunch or dinner.

(Because of local laws, this isn’t officially a wine bar, so stopping in just for a glass of wine isn’t possible.)

natural wine at Vivantwine list at Vivant
pierre jancou of Vivantpain des amis

Vivant is funky and fun. But eating here made me realize how different dining is in France than in the states. The chalkboard listing for Poularde indicates that it’s chicken, but there’s no mention of how it’s cooked or which vegetables were going to be the légumes listed alongside. In the states, each vegetable would have to be note on the menu and guests would want to know what cut of chicken it was, how it was going to be cooked, and what kind of sauce it was going to come with. At Vivant, it’s best to put yourself in the hands of the staff and let them do what they do best.

Vivant in Paris

white wine at Vivant

So leave all the stuff outside the door. When my friends arrived, I chose the Lieu de ligne (line-caught pollack from the Basque region) served on a pile of lightly sautéed spinach.

"crazy" salad with smoked mozzarella tilework at Vivant

I don’t normally order sausage in restaurants because the portions are always so huge. And sometimes the sausages can be so rich, it’s hard to digest afterward. But the wonderful cast iron cocotte of vegetables lightly cooked in butter – radishes, turnips with their greens attached, and broccoli – were just the right accompaniment to the meaty andouillette, which French friends that I subsequently dined with, raved over.

And I’m a big fan of their pasta dishes, which are often deceptively simple. A bowl of wide tubes of pasta bathed in a tomato and eggplant sauce came with a scoop of herbed ricotta, that melted into the flavorful noodles. I didn’t want to share!

blackboard menu at Vivant chocolate ganache-meringue at Vivant

Since we had nearly three-quarters of a bottle of wine left after dinner (and it wasn’t our first), we did decide to share a plate of Italian cheeses; a wonderfully salty, crumbly pecorino, and a milky wedge of Tallegio, a cheese I haven’t had in a long time. The dessert menu changes daily but there is often Gâteau Zoe, a chocolate cake named after Pierre’s daughter, and you might find a Ricotta Tart with rhubarb compote, or chocolate ganache with salted butter caramel and a crunchy meringue resting on top.

wine at Vivant

Places like Vivant have replaced the old bistros, many of which have resigned themselves to serving dishes merely reminiscent of their glory days, rarely sourcing fresh ingredients, and disappointing diners that are hoping to get a taste of good French cooking. This is honest food, and very good cooking, and what people in Paris – and elsewhere – should be eating today.

ricotta tart with rhubarb compote

Happily, a younger generation is moving forward and places like Le Garde Robe and Spring, Frenchie, and Les Fines Gueules are part of this movement.

Vivant

Like a lot of the new places serving good, fresh food, in Paris, Vivant is small, intimate – and busy. So there’s no need to panic, but realize that the owners and chefs sometimes find themselves overwhelmed and are often working half in the kitchen and half in the dining room…and also juggling the reservations line.

On a whim, I unexpectedly picked up the phone shortly after my first meal here and made a reservation. My two French friends hadn’t dined there, and we had a great night, beginning with three glasses of (natural) sparkling white wine, then moving on to a plate of tissue-thin lardo served with nothing but flaky sea salt and cracked black pepper. Burrata, from the nearby Italian Coopérativa Latte Cisternino was amazing, doused in very good olive oil, which we devoured before we moved to our main course. If it’s on the menu, be sure to order it. Although it’s hard to go wrong with anything here.

Vivant
43, rue des Petites Ecuries (10th)
Tél: 01 42 46 43 55
Closed Saturday and Sunday


NOTES: I updated this post with pictures from a more recent dinner, so the descriptions in the article are from my first meal there. The pictures shown include browned white asparagus, cured pork belly with freshly ground black pepper, and an excellent pasta with eggplant and ricotta.

As of January 2014, Pierre Jancou is no longer the owner of the restaurant and there will likely be some changes to the concept. There is still the wine bar next door, Vivant Cave, that features small plates and does not take reservations.



Other Reviews of Vivant

Hungry for Paris

Paris By Mouth

John Talbott’s Paris

Barbra Austin

Wine Terroirs

Paris Notebook

Table à découverte (in French)

Ptipois (in French)

27 comments

  • Great pictures.
    Looks like a place where one could become a regular, for food & drink as well as for the people.

  • So small and cosy. Looks like a great place to visit for a good bite to eat and a bottle of wine!

    The Wanderfull Traveler

  • Sounds like a fabulous place to eat. I like the tradition (if you call it that) of finishing a meal with some good cheese and wine, it seems like a relaxed and satisfying way of finishing a meal.

    -Brenda

  • Haha, the cultural difference. I grew up in China before coming to US and was puzzled at everyone having their own one dish or two dish along with the carbs in one plate. I also don’t understand why some buffet insist us getting a new plate when I go back for second or third.

    Chinese family style is actually everyone just use their own chopstick to get food from the shared dish, which is less fussy but not as sanitary as the American-Chinese way of having a common utensil (chopstick or spoon) for each dish.

  • Fanya: Cultural differences are so funny. The first time I went to a Chinese restaurant with French friends, everyone ordered, saying “I’ll have the…” — “And I’ll have the…” When the server brought all the dishes and set them by who ordered them, everyone ate only theirs. I’ve tried to implement the “Let’s share!” policy, pointing to nearby Chinese families and friends at the large tables nearby, and I’m making a little bit of progress ; )

  • I think it was Meg who had the zampone; there’s no way I would have parted with even a single morsel, it was that good. Going back soon…

    Are you sure? I was pretty certain it was you. Maybe Meg can confirm who split there sausage with who. Need to get my fact-checking straight! (Or perhaps stop at one bottle when I go out with you…) -dl

  • This looks like a truly amazing place!

  • So… sharing at a Chinese restaurant is uniquely American? I think some of the grandest meals can be had – simply by trusting the chef. (And then the American in me says, “Well, maybe be a bit picky about which chef…”)

  • I am quite jealous, there are simply no places I can go to with such atmosphere!

  • I must confess, I am typically pretty anti-sharing myself. I’m not against giving someone a “taste” of what I’m having (if they ask nicely and are willing to reciprocate) but generally speaking I ordered what I ordered because I want to eat it and I don’t want you dipping into my plate with your knife and fork and a gleam in your eye, thank you.

    Unless the rules are established ahead of time because I am also “one of those people” who waffles back and forth so much between which meal I want that I typically want 2 or 3 and we go through half a bottle of wine before I get up enough liquid courage to make a committment or I’ve convinced you that you want 2 out of those 3 as well.

    I have to say, it makes for a jolly good time as well as a pretty good meal but that might have as much to do with the copious consumption of wine than anything else. So, if you want to share I suggest you pop a cork first.

  • Such an elegant little place. I love restaurants like this – they have that cozy neighborhood feel and astonishingly good food. Best of all worlds.

  • I will put this on my list of places to visit when we are in Paris next year. I appreciate the links to your friends’ blogs also. Sounds like you had a fun evening.

  • Bonjour David,

    about sharing in Chinese restaurants, it is true that we always order individually, but often share when the plates arrive, or at least taste each other’s dishes. We recently had a wonderful dinner at “Dans les Landes”, french tapas, we ordered tons and shared everything with our friend Bénédict Beaugé (a long time gastronomic author and teacher, certainly the best french expert I know on the subject of french food history, also very well traveled) and this sharing was very obvious to all of us.

    About choosing your cut of chicken (Poularde takes an e, it is just a larger chicken, a girl) I have a funny anedocte. A few years ago, a student had indicated as his main course choices “white meat, chicken”. When I met the large group near the market, I said we would cook veal since it was everyone’s first choice. Jeff turned pale, he said he had asked for “white meat chicken”, which in turn made me turn pale. Of course I bought chicken breast for him, but so surprised that a very well traveled and educated person would be so picky. Although when we serve chicken at home we ask guests if they prefer “l’aile ou la cuisse”, we never think of chicken as white or dark, it is chicken, c’est tout.

    These days some groups are pressuring public school and other cantines (cafeteria) to offer Halal, Kosher and Vegetarian choices. This is “contraire à l’esprit de la République” : the public school system which is pretty good is totally free and open to all, including freshly arrived immigrants. The rule is equality, no religious or cultural preferences are allowed within the public sphere “espace public”. It is what we call “le pacte républicain” and these are the values we were raised with, they are opposite to the anglo ones, and I will not judge, however most of us are very much attached to them; our definition of “tolerance” is different, but makes sense to us.

    Your photos are always wonderful, now Olivier and I know why (chut ….)

    Bisous,

    Paule

  • Paule: One big difference is that in the US, restaurants are usually supposed to bend to customers desires where in France (and elsewhere), you adapt to the experience and let the restaurant (or chef) guide you. A Phyllis rightly noted in her blog post – which I linked to – eating at Vivant is not for everyone; the food, the chef, the owner, and the wines are not the customary dining experience. I’m fine with that and I like Pierre a lot, and what he’s doing.

    (And being not offered food and not eating it is considered rude in many European countries; on a recent trip to Switzerland, I simply could not eat the seconds that the waiter brought out for me, and he was not pleased. Restaurants are like someone’s home – you eat what is on offer that day. Special “requests” are always be seen as that; a request, not a demand.)

    As for the assimilation issue, walking home from a class this morning in Paris, I passed a sign as well as a magazine cover, exclaiming that we should stop eating meat. Cultures and countries change, as globalization takes hold and borders in the EU become more fluid. So people of various ethnicities and religious beliefs are living (and eating) closer together. I haven’t eaten in a public school in France, but it doesn’t seem hard to offer a vegetable, a grain, cheese, bread, and meat/poultry/fish, and let students choose what they want to eat.

    Betty: I don’t mind sharing, but there is a ritualistic “everyone take a taste, then pass it around” that I don’t like. If I like my dinner, I want to eat all of it. A number of restaurants in France have fixed menus, which is nice, since everyone can just eat and enjoy the meal, rather than spend time trying to see who got a taste of what, from whose place.

  • Those photographs — terrific! So specific and detailed, they put me back in a Paris bistro, eating great food, drinking wonderful wine. Thank you for brightening my Sunday morning.

  • OMG, I love the retro style of this place! I will go there for sure, whenever I pass by. Especially for that impeccable looking foie gras au torchon (you win my heart if you put a perfect champagne-looking fresh foie au torchon on my table ).

  • what a cute place! and *gasp* that steak looks gorgeous. contemplating the existence of bobos…

  • If I had a nickel for every time a boy forgot me after I shared my zampone…

  • SO happy that Pierre is back in Paris! I was devastated when Racines closed (though I’d moved away from Paris by then) and I can’t wait to go here next time I’m on a visit to the city. I find his passion for what he does and his style of running a restaurant are exactly my idea of a great way and place to eat.

  • I can’t wait to see this place. Great post! Market fresh food is the best of the best!

  • happy to see even french restaurants serve italian food… we (italian) always think french hate us and our unsophisticated food.
    Martina

  • hi martina: Pierre is actually from Modena (although he has mixed origins) and in Paris, authentic Italian food is starting to be taken seriously.

    I think French people always liked Italian cheeses and salumi, although perhaps they were unfamiliar with many of them since they have their own cheese and charcuterie that are pretty good (and there was no need to go outside their borders to find good stuff.) Now it’s possible to find great pizza, pasta – even coffee, in Paris, if you know where to go. I think it’s a great trend.

  • David,

    please tell Martina that we (les français) love italian food and think italians hate our food : too rich and sophisticated.

    grazie mille,

    Paule

  • I’m reading your blog from a couple of month and I always find something interesting if not intriguing. I was caught in the discussion first because I’m from Modena and we are always very proud and ready to defend our heavy but glorious traditional kitchen.
    If you ever come to Modena, I’d be happy to show you around (we have a wonderful food market in the city centre, one place every foodie would adore).
    Ciao
    Valeria

    PS
    @Paule: it’s not true we (italians) don’t like french kitchen, but in Italy there are less opportunities to taste french kitchen that the one you have in France (at least in Paris). From any point of view I can only see similarities between our 2 countries.
    @David: Taleggio (1xl and 2xg) ;))

  • I didn’t want to open such a debate about how much (or not) italian and french hate/love each other! I tried in Ireland (where I live) French food and I loved it. But it’s true in Italy there aren’t so many occasion to taste French food. Martina

  • Hello All,
    We went to Vivant last Friday and it was superbe. Again, we feel so lucky to be living in our neighbourhood, I would not want to live anywhere else. (I’ve lived in the 13th, 15th and Sèvres). We had stopped by two weeks ago for a glass of wine and had the white sparkling natural wine, Trebbiano, which left us with a tingling, musky flavour that ended with a fruity note. We agreed that we must come back and back we came!

    The restaurant’s name is pertinent, Vivant alias Alive; We each had a glass of pinot noir from Italy, which our server recommended as per our entrée and plates.Our shared entrée, a plate of lardo di Colonnata and italian pancetta, both ultra thinly cut. The lardo di Colonnata from Iberico quite unique to the regular lardo as although, true to it’s unique herbal mixture, we were left with an extra creamy, nutty texture. In order to achieve this, do not each too much bread as you want your palate to remember it’s last bite and enhance the next one to come. Thus developing your own firework!

    Next, I took the lamb which was perfectly, rosily cooked as this helps the meat to develop it’s full potential in savour. The polenta and tiny tomatoes with an original herb oil, well accompanied the lamb. My sweet-half had the angus beef. Extra tender as almost no knife was needed and the flavour was much due to the marbling, which resulted just the right balance in your mouth. Served with potatoes and I think a dash of garlic flowers!

    For dessert, we opted for the parmiagianno with honey and black pepper. A twist to the classic goat cheese version. The cream of coffee, ristretto done to perfection by a lovely coffee machine.

    We strongly recommend this establishment to anyone who is still interested in eating good food that’s well done, and handled by people who care from whom they buy and how it’s made. Knowing what you eat and where it came from it still important to me. Frankly, this guy knows his stuff, is doing an incredible job and it’s happening in my neighbourhood.
    A la prochaine, Pixie

  • To Valeria and Martina,

    please be assured that everybody in France thinks of Italians as our cousins, and are aware of the similarities. We love italian food, there are lots of italian restaurants in France, but alas few serve food comparable to the ones served in Italy. At least we can now get ultra fresh Mozzarella and Buratta. We will be going to Puglia this summer, my friend Alfredo says the food is delicious there. Can’t wait to enjoy the culture, the scenery and CIBO

    ciao

    Paola