Tuesday, May 15, 2012

EATING THROUGH THE LAST DAYS OF SARKOZY: RACINES AND VIVANT


In preparing for trip, we came across more than a few sites that mentioned Paris' cave à mangers, which - and I could be fumbling some French niceties here - is generally used to describe small, intimate restaurants that also double as 'wine stores,' though I'm not sure anyone would want to just buy a bottle at any of them and skip out on a meal.  Bottles are offered, and if you can't finish it during dinner, you pay a small corkage and take it home.

At Racines and Vivant, however, finishing up a bottle should come easy, as both offered food so breathtakingly soulful that it demands leisurely, contemplative participation - the type that takes a full bottle of wine (or more).  Both are connected to Pierre Jancou: Vivant is his current restaurant in the 10th arrondissement, and Racines is one of his former restaurants in the Passage des Panoramas (one of the city's first covered commercial passageways, dating as far back as 1799) in the 11th, and currently helmed by Renaud Marcille.

Both also specialize in cuisine de marché (or market fresh cuisine).  I was a bit taken a back to read David Lebovitz's comment (from his amazing eponymous website, which is a godsend when preparing to visit Paris) that "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," which was exactly the opposite of what I had assumed the Parisian culinary scene to be like.  But Jancou seems to be the real deal, gaining a reputation for sourcing everything himself, and becoming particularly known for his commitment to natural wines. 

Vivant
43 Rue des Petites Ecuries (10th) Paris +33 1 42 46 43 55

It's odd that Jancou's own website, More than Organic, discusses mainly wine with little mention of his cooking (though perhaps not that odd, as it is utterly painful to try and hunt down information about many smaller Parisian restaurants, many of whom do not maintain a website)(Paris By Mouth's "Guide to Paris" becomes absolutely crucial) - the "Map" page doesn't even list Vivant.  That's particularly as the food is incredible, the sort of experience that most travellers will wish their Parisian experience to be.  It's definitely market fresh, and cooked with the sort of passion and honesty that premium ingredients demand.

Foie gras - the best we had in Paris, by far - was paired simply with sweet roasted red onions.  A housemade pork sausage was paired with seasonal root vegetables.  A pasta came with rich ricotta, the likes of which I've never had.  It's the sort of meal you don't take notes on, that you try to commit to memory, to be nostalgic about soon after.

We spoke with Jancou after our meal, and he asked what other restaurants we planned to go to, giving his opinion on each.  He described Vivant and other restaurants as being 'open heart' (as opposed to the more contemporary and minimal restaurants that are 'closed heart'), and that's as apt a description as I've ever heard.





Racines
8 passage des Panoramas (2nd)
+33 01 40 13 06 41



That's not to say Racines is any less great.  Though Jancou sold the restaurant long ago, Renaud Marcille's not letting the restaurant's reputation slip, and it's hard to say that either restaurant is the better of the two (though I'm going to give Vivant a slight edge just for the bread they serve).

White asparagus was in season, and Racines' version - simple, and emphatic on its natural sweetness - made me a fan of a vegetable I formerly avoided.  A poularde was served with roasted seasonal root vegetables, all in devotion to France's superior butter.  A cod fish was nestled atop fresh greens and bits of potato.  All eaten - deservedly - in a delightful, wine-tinged haze, with a romance deserving a Woody Allen tribute all its own.



Joe.
the clutterer Web Developer

7 comments:

  1. why is it that europeans can get away with such simple, subtle yet impactful delicious food and the same cannot be duplicated here in north america? it seems that food here relies more on style and panache. it no longer pays just to be "good", because that just means it's boring. which is an irony because food in better vancouver restaurants are not necessarily good all the time.

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  2. Melissa - that's certainly a complex discussion, but one that's worthwhile to have. I generally agree with what you're saying here, with a few exceptions here and there.

    The long and short of it is that I don't have a comprehensive explanation, but I do think Vancouver's relative youth (and relatively smaller population) have something to do with it. In fact, I'm willing to posit that for our country at large. There was a great piece in the Globe about this recently in the context of the recent San Pellegrino list, where Canada didn't garner a single entry.

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  3. "why is it that europeans can get away with such simple, subtle yet impactful delicious food and the same cannot be duplicated here in north america?"
    Complex question indeed. It must entail a host of factors, and not a single-factor kind of reply.

    The first thing that comes to mind is the freshness, the sourcing,that are more readily available in Europe, which people like Jancou take the pains to deliver.

    Secondly, I have eaten very well on both coasts of the US, but often the meal reaches a point where I wish the chef had stop tweaking and tweaking his tweaks. It seems many chefs can't stop when things are at the "just right" stage. They continue, an a good meal starts becoming a somwhat fussy - or very fussy - meal.

    Lastly, my reaction at Vivant is the same: so simple yet so outstanding. I have come to the conclusion that Jancou's cuisine is not simple. Control is not simple. A soigné attitude is not simple. And "just righ" is never simple. Fred Astaire made things look simple too. You try dancing like him !

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