19 December 2011

straight classic: le severo, 75014

If we define popular staples as foodstuffs that could conceivably be employed as a "health boost" icon in video games - things like steaks, burgers, and fries - then we've pretty much isolated a segment of cuisine that everyone and their mother have strong opinions on, no matter how indifferent or clueless these diners may be about anything more sophisticated than sesame buns. Classic, simplistic comfort food is just very inviting to armchair critics. This manifests itself nowadays in the rainforest of blogs devoted such cuisine.

Conceptually pure restaurants like 14ème steak standby Le Severo are partial beneficiaries of this dynamic: the restaurant is rightfully famous city-wide for its marvelous cuts of meat. Nevertheless I can't help feeling that something gets glossed over, lost in the branding, when I read about the place: namely, the impressive sophistication of the panoramic blackboard wine list, which is basically a big billboard for all that is good about Le Severo's supplier, the occasionally controversial* Caves Augé.

Running a wine list in Paris is, I'm told, notoriously difficult, in part due to the hassles of dealing with vignerons on, ahem, a case-by-case basis. It's the curious downside of living so close to key wine regions: vignerons are happy to deliver the wines themselves, according to their own wonky schedules.

It's a start contrast to how I used to work in LA, where when I ran out of wine I would simply bark down the phone at an importer or distributor's representative until he or she promised to get it to me next day with a cherry on top. If you tried same technique with French vignerons for a week, you'd soon be forced to become a vodka bar or something; no one would sell you a centime's worth of wine.

Le Severo get around this with by working with Caves Augé, one of the two key Paris distributors of quality natural wine. (The other being Le Vin En Tête.) Working with either as a middleman usually means a restaurant and its customers will pay rather more for wines, though to my eyes prices on the list at Le Severo seemed more or less fair,** given that the place functions at a relatively high price point to begin with. In much the same way that prices of winery-direct wine tend to vary according to how much the vigneron likes a buyer, we can expect that a top-notch O.G. place like Le Severo probably makes out okay in the Caves Augé agreement.

It's easy to understand why. Owner William Bernet has since 1977 turned this corner of the sleepy 14ème into a citywide destination for connoisseurs of steak frites, tartares, and, most remarkably for Paris, dry-aged beef.

With my visiting friends L1 and L2 that night I tucked into three different cuts, which, embarrassing as it is to admit it, was sort of an educational experience for me. I was raised vegetarian, and only began eating meat with gusto at age nineteen. For this reason I have to this day a regrettable philistine tendency to view any cut of beef I order at a restaurant as being just another hunk of better or worse meat.

At Le Severo most meats are sourced from star-butcher Hugo Desnoyer; quality is therefore assumed, and one is free to focus on the intrinsic traits of each cut.

The rumsteak, lean and notably gamey. In comparison to the other two cuts we had it lacked a bit of fatty satisfaction. At 23€, you get precisely what you pay for. 

At the other end of the spectrum, L2's filet de boeuf, cut into explosively flavorful crimson coins, felt gorgeously decadent.

L1 took the faux filet, or sirloin, cleaner tasting and fattier than the rumsteak, the most sensually textured of the three cuts we devoured that evening.

With all this we drank a commandingly rich and figgy bottle of 2004 Château des Tours Vacqueyras, latering moving onto Dard et Ribo's ebullient 2009 Saint-Joseph "Pitrou," sourced from 1ha of vineyard of same name. The latter wine was pungently purple, with dancing tannicity and a pleasant turfy funk. If the Château des Tours Vacqueyras were an actual château, the "Pitrou" would be its stable yard. Nevertheless I'm always pretty confident turning to Dard et Ribo's wines as a way to introduce visiting friends to the genre of wines I tend to drink here in Paris; across the vigneron duo's' range there is a expansive, crowd-pleasing personality, based on perfect ripeness and supremely balanced tannins.

At some point during the meal I was amused to spot, on the cash register atop the restaurant's service bar, the card of my friend Christophe Philippe's eponymous restaurant, another left-bank meat monument.

The mutual appreciation between the two restaurants is perceptible, and the hilariously spartan presentation of dishes at Christophe has a probable antecedent in the appetizers at Le Severo. The only garnishes on L2's chorizo, for instance, were its own mesmerizing whorls.

Both restaurants, too, share an abiding focus on natural wines, a fact which I take to be a refutation of the arguments I seem to constantly hear that presuppose a conflict between natural wine and classic restaurateurism, hospitality, unpretentiousness, and so on. The Severo is about as authentic as it gets. There is absolutely nothing nouveau or novel about the place, nothing faddish - nothing, in fact, that doesn't speak of a devotion to quality above all else.

This is a formula that nowadays necessarily includes a great deal of natural wine. If, judging by the online reviews, it seems to come as puzzling news to many steak-frites fans, well, tant mieux.

* I've never had any bad experiences as a consumer with Caves Augé. But I would need more than two hands to count the vignerons who've told me horror stories about working with them. 

** I may have been adjusting my vision to the quartier. In general I expect my wallet to explode whenever I cross the river.

Le Severo
8, rue des Plantes
75014 PARIS
Tel: 01 45 40 40 91 ‎
Metro: Mouton-Duvernet

Related Links:

Another stunning left bank natural wine meat destination: Christophe, 75005

An interesting note on "Le Boeuf," a book recently published by Bernet and Gaël Marie-Magdaleine of Le Severo @ JenniferMcLagan
A brief appreciative 2011 post on Le Severo @ JohnTalbott
A brief appreciative 2011 post on Le Severo @ GirlsGuideToParis
A notably more readable and pleasurable account of what was probably the same GirlsGuide meal by the same author @ BarbraAustin (It's funny. When I get paid for writing, it's usually better than the stuff I do for myself for free.)
An incredibly literal and repetitive account of a 2010 meal at Le Severo @ HungryInBankok (Speaking of food-writing, I seem to remember I once met this fellow, who despite all appearances in this drunkenly non-verbal blog post, is an actual food writer. Perhaps I'm remembering wrong.)
A 2006 post on Le Severo that is almost quaint for the way it demonstrates how their prices have risen in the five years since @ DavidLebovitz

A great 2010 tasting at the Dard et Ribo estate @ WineTerroirs

1 comment:

  1. I'll be testing that one soon with some friends, thank you for the review !