Results tagged restaurant from David Lebovitz

Verjus

fried chicken

If you’re one of those people who’ve been trying to get one of the coveted places at Hidden Kitchen, the supper club in Paris, liberté and egalité have arrived in the form of a wine bar and restaurant called Verjus.

verjus wine bar Verjus blackboard

After running their successful dinners, they’ve decided to take the plunge and create a warm space where they could welcome any and all guests, whether they want a glass of wine in their cave, or a full meal in the upstairs dining room. The restaurant is now open (and it sounds like they have enough stories about the problems they’ve had starting it up to write a book), the wine is flowing in the cave beneath it, and both are wonderful.

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Quay Restaurant

ewe's milk ice cream

Since it’s my blog, I can do what I want. So I’m going to start with – what else? – dessert. At one of the opening dinners for the visiting chefs who came from around the world for the Crave Sydney Food Festival, four Australian chefs got together and made dinner for us. Tasting menus can be hard because for one thing, they’re a lot of small dishes and it can be hard to appreciate things when blitzed by a bunch of different foods and styles of cooking. And for another, by the time you get to dessert, your taste buds can be wiped out from the multitude of things that came before. And believe it or not, some people even wave off dessert. I know, weird.

But when this dessert was set down in front of me and I dug my spoon in, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but found a dreamy dish of ice cream made from ewe’s milk spread over a layer of caramelized walnuts and macarons, a bit of prune, and Pedro Ximénez sherry. It was a delightful contrast, the crunchy, nutty base with a layer of cool ice cream. And on top were scattered shards of pulled caramel, chocolate, and vanilla milk skin that you kind of broke off as you wished, to customize and change the taste of each spoonful.

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Kylie Kwong at Billy Kwong

lunch with Kylie Kwong

I crave Asian flavors, which became apparent on a couple of occasions this month. For one thing, it seems that I want to add chiles and fresh ginger to everything. Here is Sydney, Australia, where so much of the food feels Asian-influenced – clean flavors, fresh ingredients often cooked quickly over high heat (cooks using fiery woks always seem to be “attacking” the food, simultaneously pulling out and searing flavors), and served with immediacy – I mentioned to a dining companion that I loved everything I’ve eaten here. And what was particularly delightful was that my favorite flavors were used liberally in the food, including fresh ginger, which was so Asian. He looked at me, and said “Really? I think of fresh ginger as an Australian thing.” But when I said that I always saw fresh ginger piled high in Chinese markets, he said, “You know, it’s abundant in regular markets here in Australia as well.”

Being from California, Asian food is my “comfort” food and I never realized how much I depend on a bowl of spicy bibimbap for lunch in the winter or a light plate of cold buckwheat noodles with nori and ginger dressing in the summer. I like any and all Asian food, no matter what time of the year it is or where I am.

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Nopi, in London

scone and doughnut

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.

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Chez Panisse at Forty

Chez Panisse 40th Anniversary

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.

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Septime

Septime

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

But then again, I don’t even normally order soup in restaurants. So what do I know?

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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)

Paris Tacos y Burritos

tacos

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.

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