I was a big fan of Ottolenghi even before I stepped into one of their restaurants. When I got a copy of Yotam Ottolenghi’s first book, I was blown away by the photographs of gorgeous dishes, heaped with generous amounts of fresh chopped herbs, irregularly cut vegetables often seared and caramelized, and roasted, juicy meats accented with citrus or unexpected spices, usually with a Middle Eastern bent. The bold, big flavors came bounding through the pages and appealed to me as both a diner and a cook.
Results tagged restaurant from David Lebovitz
Before I started working at Chez Panisse, way back in the early 1980s, I didn’t really know all that much about the restaurant. Prior to moving to California, I’d read an article about “California Cuisine” and of all the places listed, the chef of each one had either worked at this place called Chez Panisse or cited it as inspiration. So I’d picked up a copy of The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook, which listed menus and the recipes featured in the restaurant.
As I read through the book over and over, I was intrigued by this place where people injected tangerine juice for multiple days into legs of lamb then spit-roasting the hindquarters so that those syrupy-sweet juices not only moistened the meat but caramelized the outside to a crackly finish. There were descriptions of salads of bitter greens drizzled with walnut oil that were topped with warm disks of goat cheese, which were made by a woman who lived an hour north of the restaurant and had her own goats.
Thinking about it now, I am sure that I’d had goat cheese on backpacking trips through Europe, but never really paid attention to it. But these fresh disks of California chèvre that oozed from the bready coating that were part of one of the menus in the books sure sounded pretty good. And a tart made of sliced almonds, baked in a buttery crust until toffee-like and firm, and meant to be eaten with your hands, along with tiny cups of strong coffee alongside. I kept that book on my nightstand for bedside reading for months.
When I go out to eat, it’s usually not with the intention of writing about a place. I go out to eat to have a good time with friends and enjoy the food. (And perhaps a little wine.) But I found that whenever I don’t expect it, I hit on a place that merits talking about. Septime opened and caused a ripple of excitement in Paris. A number of years ago it was gastro-bistros, usually owned by well-regarded chefs who’d closed their larger, fancier places to open smaller dining rooms serving variations on traditional French food, at reasonable prices. They all appealed at the time, when regular dining had because out-of-reach for locals and visitors, and it gave the chefs a chance to relax and serve the kind of food that they (and guests) were happier to eat on an everyday basis.
Then a few years ago, a younger generation of cooks came up through the ranks, who wanted to break from traditional French cooking, the génération coincé, or “cornered generation”, who felt constricted by the rules and traditions, and started doing things out of the boundaries. Some didn’t (and still don’t) do a good job, but those who do, at restaurants like Vivant, Jadis, and Les Fines Gueules do it successfully. And I’m happy to add Septime to that list.
I started off with Velouté refraichi / Haricots verts / Pêche blanche, a rafraichi bowl of room temperature soup blended with green beans. Parisians don’t go for ‘sparks’ of flavor; they prefer subtle and smooth, replying on herbs as the underlying flavors rather than chiles and spices. And I missed those ‘sparks’ of something salty or lemony, or something peppery, to offset the uniform smoothness of the soup. I think the white nectarines meant to provide that jolt, but having big chunks of fruit on top of vegetable soup was a little incongruent. But the somewhat sexy mound of rosy white peach mousse on top served the purpose of incorporating a fruit element successfully. Although I should confess, I’m generally not a big fan of sweets or fruits in soups or salads and it would have been nice to have something salty or assertive to perk it up.
But then again, I don’t even normally order soup in restaurants. So what do I know?
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.
In the fall of 2012, Pierre Jancou changed the concept of the restaurant, opening a wine bar next door and bringing in another chef to oversee the food in the restaurant. The casual wine bar features small plates and does not take reservations. For the main restaurant, they are now taking reservations online, via their website.
Other Reviews of Vivant
Table à découverte (in French)
Ptipois (in French)
It’s kind of funny because the two times I went out with two different French friends for Mexican food this week, they practically wiped the table clean. Both said after eating, “Daveed…j’ai encore faim.” (“I’m still hungry.”)
The first time was at Cactus, where my friend (who I am pretty sure has .5% body fat) wolfed down his burrito and the aforementioned declaration of hunger, proceeded to order three additional tacos and eat them in rapid procession, then eat dessert as well – plus a handful of chocolates he had stashed in his pocket.
After my visit to the Vevey market with Chef Stéphane Décotterd, we headed back to Le Pont de Brent, his restaurant located above the lakeside Swiss town of Montreux. While he was laying out the fish for the day, which he had just sourced, I noticed the kitchen was unusually calm for pre-service and I didn’t see anyone in the usual panic that happens in restaurant kitchens just before the customers arrive. The cooks were quietly doing tasks like peeling and slicing vegetables into tiny pieces, rolling leeks around scallops with thin wisps of black truffles in between, and baking off miniature tartlet shells.
Laid out neatly on trays, he showed me the different fish he had, from a kite-sized Turbot to a blue lobster from Brittany, with tiny black eggs stuck in between all the craws and crevasses.
What’s not to like about Edzo’s Burger Shop? Imagine a hamburger joint that offers not one, but two different options for sustainable and humanely raised beef. Or “Old Fries” for those that like our frites extra-crispy. Or Angry Fries, dusted with “four kinds of spicy.”
Although next time, I’m getting the Garlic Fries because when the pile landed on the table next to us, drizzled with garlic-parsley butter, me and my dining pal Louisa both turned and began engaging our neighbors in a conversation, perhaps with the hidden agenda that they’d be so kind as to offer us a bite. She and I never said anything, but the looks passing between us made me pretty certain she was thinking exactly the same thing that I was thinking.
What’s not to like about a somewhat out-of-the-way bistrotière like Astier, serving examples of classic French cuisine, keeping the torch alive of a genre that’s become harder to find done right?
The pre-fixe menu at Astier is a little gentler at €35, and you can choose from four of five selections in each category. There’s more extensive selections on the à la carte side of the carte. (Traveler tip: Menu in French means a fixed series of dishes, often les plates du jour composed of various courses. A carte is the actual physical menu.) but we were thoroughly pleased with chunky block of house-made foie gras sprinkled with fleur de sel, with toasted brioche and chutney alongside.
Warm brandade (whipped salted fish and potatoes) was a good rendition of the classic thankfully served in appetizer proportions, although I could have done without the diced roasted peppers on top which detracted from the taste. (I may also be a little biased, though because also can’t stand roasted peppers.) My main course was a shallow bowl of slow-roasted, tender lamb shoulder with stubby baby carrots in a thick jus and exactly what I felt like eating sitting in a Parisian bistro.
The star of the show at Astier, which I hope they never take off the stage (I’m sure there would be a riot if they did, and I’d lead the pack) is the massive cheese plate. There’s hardly room on the table for it – Another tip: hold on to your wine glasses when they set it down – then dive right in. We had to guide our stunned neighbors when it was their turn with the cheese board—Romain is especially good at taking charge and took control, slicing cheese for them and putting in on their plates. When it was our turn, he loaded me up with five superb specimens: Époisses (which was the best I’ve ever had), Salers, Brie de Meaux, a fine, ripe Camembert, and a tangy Basque sheep’s milk cheese.
(Next time someone says the French practice portion control, they can remove Romain—and his damn 28-inch waist—from that equation.)
Needless to say, I could barely eat my rice pudding, which tasted fine with some poached fruits embedded in the top, but when the waiter set down a studly Baba au rhum in from of the man behind us, just about every head in the room turned, especially when the garçon split it open and doused both halves with nearly a quarter bottle of rum. His wife, who was being prudent forking up a warm chocolate cake, said to me “C’est le meilleur Baba au rhum à Paris!” And from the look of his face, she wasn’t lying.
We had a bottle of Chenin blanc (€22) from the Touraine*, which was the first selection on the reasonable wine list, after we started off with two glasses of Champagne. (€11 each and kind of steep, but I really needed a glass that night and didn’t think it’d be polite to drink one in front of a dinner companion without springing for one for him as well.) Dinner for two, with a few supplemental charges, because we veered a bit from the menu fixe, came in at €118. A few years back, a major food magazine was going to do an issue on Paris, but the editor told me she was concerned about the prices in Paris, especially with the exchange rate. But a four-course meal like this in any American city, with wine and two pre-dinner glasses of bubbly would cost about twice as much.
(I’d also like to give points to Astier for serving bottles of chilled filtered water, still or sparkling, at no extra cost. France is one of the largest consumers of bottled water in the world, and the tap water is perfectly safe to drink, and free. The waitress told me they were trying to reduce waste and the strain on the waiters, who were tired of carrying all those cases of bottles. It’s a great initiative, one which I hope more restaurants worldwide would adopt.)
It’s tricky these days to find an honest French meal in Paris, made with good ingredients by actual cooks rather than hired hands. And when I left, I took a peek in the sparkling kitchen where the cooks were staying busy plating up food for the other lucky diners. The waiters were hovering by the door and the owner was behind the bar polishing glasses, waiting to say goodbye as we left. I was a little sorry to go, but happy that there was a reasonably long walk home in front of me, because I needed it.
44, rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud (11th)
Tél: 01 43 57 16 35
Restaurant Astier is open seven days a week. They also have opened a take-out/eat in dining annex next door that’s very casual, focusing on rotisserie meats, charcuterie, and wines by the glass, called Jeanne A (42, rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, Tél: 01 43 55 09 49)
Related Posts and Links
Jeanne A. (Hungry for Paris)
Rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud (Secrets of Paris)
Jeanne A. in the 11th (John Talbott’s Paris)
Paris Bistro Astier: For Old Times (and New) (Patricia Wells)
*I’m far from being an expert on wine, but I sure like it. And I used to come to France before I moved here and was usually timid about ordering it because of my inexpertise, so would limit myself to order bottles with familiar names, like Côte du Rhone and such. But I’ve been trying to learn more (by tasting, bien sûr) and as I started moving toward white wines, I found I was really enjoying wines from the Touraine, an area not far from Paris called the Loire.
The best white wine from that region is Sancerre, which is always priced a bit higher than the other white wines. (And usually merits it.) But other white wines from the Loire are Sauvignon blanc and Chemin blanc, and are often quite good and economical choices, if that’s a concern. You don’t have to pay a lot of money to drink decent wine in France.
Muscadet is another white wine produced in the same region, which has the unfortunate association (because the names are similar) with inexpensive sweet wine called Muscatel, which it doesn’t resemble. Muscadets aren’t always great wines, but some aren’t bad and I’ll take a glass at a bar during l’heure d’apéro, the pre-dinner drink.
So if you’re in a restaurant and want to try something different, if you see the word “Touraine” listed after a bottle, and something bright and minerally appeals to you, you might want to give one a try. And if anyone gives you a hard time about it, tell them you’re supporting the local wines.