I went to les Sources de Caudalie over a decade ago with the intention of bringing a group of guests there. While it was, indeed, a lovely place, it wasn’t really near anything, so folks wouldn’t be able to go out explore on their own unless they had a car. However, it is smack-dab in the middle of Bordeaux wine country, on the Château Smith Haut Lafitte estate, which is an 143 second walk from the hotel and spa. So maybe I didn’t make the right decision after all. I mean – a winery, a spa, and three very good restaurants? — why go anywhere else?
Results tagged foie gras from David Lebovitz
I was recently reading a Paris-based website and a reader had written to them, asking them why they were always talking about restaurants in the 10th arrondissement where “.. there isn’t much to do there.” The response was that that’s where most of the new and interesting places are opening. And while it’s not where most visitors dream about staying when they come to Paris, there are certainly plenty of interesting shops and restaurants there, as that’s where the younger chefs are setting up shop.
I get the reader’s point, that they (like many visitors to Paris), are looking for more traditional French restaurants, such as bistros and brasseries. The other evening I went to a bistro in Paris, up in the 11th, with a friend who is a food writer. The menu outside noted that the cuisine was fait maison (homemade), and we were excited about trying this address, which he’d heard was very good. And I had brought along my camera, hoping to share it.
But alas, the food at the unnamed bistro was served tepid and while it was made with the ingredients that were, as the French would say, correct, the dishes served to us were obviously prepared in advance and rewarmed. (And served on cold plates, which negated the reheating of the food.) It was all very average, including the lemon meringue tart, which, due to the lack of taste, made us conclude that it had obviously been languishing in the refrigerator long enough so that all the flavor had been leached out of it, replaced by that unmistakable dullness of refrigeration.
One of the things about living in a city like Paris is that you spend a lot of time – well, dealing with life. Bills to pay, paperwork to do, typos to avoid, stolen bikes to replace, smokers to dodge on sidewalks waving lit cigarettes (I got nailed the other day – ouch!), or buying a pair of shoes, can easily take up much – or all – of your days. It’s too-easy to get wrapped up in all that minutiae and let all the things you love to do get overwhelmed by the other things that tend to take over, if you let them.
I’ve let them and decided to do a little turn-around by revisiting the places and eating the things that I love in Paris. It’s easy to forget the pockets of wonderfulness that people see when they come here for a week – the parks, the boulevards, the chocolate shops, and just taking a stroll and getting some air (in between all the sidewalk maneuvering) and take in the city.
Macarons aren’t new. Macarons gerbet, or filled macarons are distinctly Parisian and have been around for about 150 years. True, they are available elsewhere nowadays. But like a New York or Montreal bagel, or Chicago deep-dish pizza, certain foods get designated with an appellation because they are so closely associated with where they were first made. (Bagels and pizza are from neither of those places mentioned, originally. And macarons, which were originally from Italy, then came to France and are usually available as simple, crispy cookies made with egg whites, sugar and almonds.) But that’s getting back into minutiae, a word I had to look up the precise spelling for, twice (more minutiae!) and I’m more interested in tasting pastries. So I took a stroll over to the relatively new Pierre Hermé macaron boutique in the Marais.
Macarons kind of had their day in the soleil. Everyone wanted to either make them, or come to Paris and sample them. For a while, almost every day a question or two would land in my Inbox from people who were making macarons, wondering why their macarons didn’t have the ruffled “feet”, or why their tops cracked – and could I diagnose them? Interviewers were astonished when they’d ask me what flavors of macarons Parisians made at home, and I responded that I couldn’t think of anyone that made macarons in Paris because no one had the space for a baking sheet on their kitchen counter. And honestly, it’s easier for people to get them at their local pastry shop or bakery.
Uncharacteristically, I’ll spare you the specifics, but I need to catch up on about 147 hours of sleep. And while we’re at it, I could use a hug. And since the former isn’t necessarily easy to come by here, as is the latter, I was embrassé by dinner at Alain Ducasse restaurant. While it’s been tempting to remove the “sweet life” byline from my header until things return to normal, since one of the sweeter sides of Paris is an occasional foray into fine dining, I dusted off my lone, non-dusty outfit, and rode the métro to a swankier part of town.
When I was in Monaco and I went to visit the chefs and the kitchen at Alain Ducasse’s restaurant, Louis XV, the pastry chef asked if I could possibly stay and taste their lovely desserts. Unfortunately I had to catch a ride back to Paris because I didn’t want to miss, well..nothing – I couldn’t stay. Then a few weeks later, a lovely invitation to his Paris restaurant arrived in my mailbox and I cleaned myself up, then headed into the aquarium.
Someone recently asked me if people in Paris have started raising chickens in their backyard. I had to pause for a minute, and wanted to remind folks that Paris wasn’t Brooklyn, nor does anyone have – at least in my circles – a backyard in Paris. And if they did, they could afford a country house and would raise their chickens out there. But French people also don’t celebrate “the pig” with the same enthusiasm as the current craze in America, England, and other anglophone cultures.
There’s no overpraising meat, fat, or pork products; things like pâté, rosette (salami), saucisson sec, and even museau (head cheese) because in France, they’re all extremely common. Although things have changed a bit and nowadays, I would venture to say that many young folks would wrinkle their noses up at a plate of head cheese or tête de veau, and I was recently at a dinner party with a mix of French, Swiss, and Italian friends and everyone squirmed when the subject of consuming rabbit came up; I was the only one who said that I sometimes do eat it.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
Table à découverte (in French)
Ptipois (in French)
The other night I was standing on the métro and found myself face à face with a little affiche advising me, minding my own business as I rocketed below Paris, that it’s not alright to eat Mr. Ed. Then on Tuesday, I was taking a stroll through the thirteenth, on my way to have lunch with a friend in Chinatown, and came across a sign pleading a stop to the practice of le gavage, the forced stuffing of ducks and geese to make foie gras.
A lot of Americans think that all the French are unequivocally daring eaters, or aren’t picky, which is partially true: when you have a dinner party, you don’t have to worry about someone showing up who’s allergic to peanuts or dairy. Aside from a certain American who won’t eat squid, everyone around here eats almost anything, and just about everything might show up on a menu if you get invited to dinner. Except offal, which, in spite of the fact everyone thinks the French like to chow down on stomach lining, testicles, and kidneys, there’s plenty of them that turn up their noses at the idea of digging into a steaming dish of any of the above. btw: In case you invite me over for dinner, I’m with that camp.
I have two strategies for finding good restaurants, which I use often—especially when traveling. I’ve never, ever been steered wrong using them, and I’m happy to share them with you.
One method I employ is to walk into a fish market and ask them where to eat. Fishmongers always know where to find food that’s impeccably fresh and those strapping young men never fail to steer me towards the best addresses.
The other method I rely on, if it’s lunchtime, is to walk around and see what restaurants are packed-full of older businessmen. Most often they’ve worked in the neighborhood for a long, long time and have their favorites—which is usually because of the good food.