15 October 2012

gem-laden: vivant cave, 75010

When serial-restaurateur and natural wine authority Pierre Jancou first informed me a few months back that he'd be changing the concept of his project Vivant to its current incarnation, the pricier and more ambitious Vivant Table, he'd been careful to mention that nextdoor he'd soon be opening a more informal Vivant wine bar. My first question for him was whether he really meant a wine bar, or whether in fact it would be yet another cave-à-manger restauranty sort of thing.

As he readily admitted then, it's a cave-à-manger restauranty sort of thing. In fact, much to the relief of anyone devoted to the old Vivant, Vivant Cave (as he's calling the new cave-à-manger) is basically a whittled down version of the original, just with a beefed up épicerie component where Jancou intends to sell many of the ingredients his kitchens employ. There's half the seating, half the menu (prepped in the Vivant Table kitchen and finished in the Cave), and, interestingly, no reservations.

It's a good thing the bar is comfy.

That said, I don't expect the no-res thing will last long. I laud the idea, for it brings the bar's concept closer to being an actual high-quality drop-in-and-say-hi wine bar, a rare category in Paris. But the space is sort of a tricked-out pantry, the are just eleven table seats, and prices are precisely where they used to be at the old Vivant, which is to say they're fair for what one receives, but a notch higher than the wine-bistrot norm. If you add a potential wait for a table-turn to the cost-benefit analysis of a night out to Vivant Cave, the idea becomes a little forbidding.

My friends and I had taken advantage of the bar's low key opening night to occupy its sole five-top. Over half the table was in town from New York for fashion week, but collectively we put to rest the industry's dietary stereotypes by devouring two gigantic picturesque plates of Tuscan ham before appetisers arrived.

Pierre Jancou is one of maybe three Paris wine buyers who's taste in Italian wine I trust. (Two others are La Retrobottega's Pietro Rossano and Roseval's Erika Biswell). As such I didn't hesitate to try a Gavi frizzante on offer that evening, despite the foreknowledge that - with the shining exception of Stefano Bellotti - much of the wine produced in that appellation is the oenological equivalent of printer test paper.

I thus discovered that, belying their artless labeling, Castello di Tassarolo are a very forward thinking biodynamic estate, among the pioneers of sulfur-free winemaking in the region. What fascinated me about their tank-fermented 2011 "Sparkling Spinola" (so named for the historied family who own the estate) was, perversely, how screamingly pure it was, despite no added sulfur. All slender pear-fruit and white flowers, without the barest hint of the barnyard, the wine possessed all the poise and precision of, say, Villa Sparina's bottled-fermented Cortese sparkler, but without the buttoned down, occasionally joyless qualities of the latter wine.

It was sort of like post-punk funk as practiced by Wild Beasts, a group that, especially on their second album, retained the spirit of predecessors like Gang of Four and early Talking Heads, even while dispensing with the jarring elements of their sounds:

This is only remarkable in the context of the grape, Cortese, which is by default fairly nondescript, and often needs a fuzz-pedal of dirt or overripeness to give it any personality whatsoever.

Given it was the opening night, anything I say about menu structure at Vivant Cave ought to be taken with a few grains of salt. Ditto both appetisers available that evening: a house-smoked bufala mozzarella, served with a rough cut vegetable salad enlivened with a dash of sharp ricotta, and a burrata served with black olives, capers, basil, and tomato. Consider it just burrata fatigue if I found the latter dish a little bit wane and overchilled, though the depth-charge potency of the capers just about redeemed it.

Having already gone on about one wine, I'll just mention briefly the marvel we had to accompany the various mozzarelli: a 2003 "L'Original" by Julien Courtois, a brawny orange tiger of a Menu Pineau with an Amontillado nose and a lavish, mouth-coating palate of roasted salted hazelnut. It would not surprise me if over the next few weeks if many of the back-vintage rarities disappear from Vivant Cave's imposing wrought-metal fridge unit, as these wines get snapped up and the restaurant's selection normalizes a bit - but for now it's kind of a treasure trove.

Perhaps as a strategy to deter crowds, Vivant Cave offered only two fairly unctious options for plats on opening night: andouillette and rabbit.

Both were superb - the pristine quality of the andouillette in particular shone when presented this way, boiled in bouillon rather than sautéed.

As at the original Vivant, the cheese plate is fantastic, and the dessert - now the only dessert - is a bit underwhelming. The "gateau de Zoe" is a moonrock of dense chocolate cake that, for all the quality of the ingredients, feels a bit like ticking a box marked "chocolate cake." But much like, I suspect, whoever's responsible for its place on the menu at Vivant Cave, I personally could give a toss about dessert and would probably have done the same thing. In fact I would have stipulated that the only desserts were liquid and made from distilled grape marc and available exclusively at the bar until 22h30, because such a policy might encourage people to actually shove off instead of lingering for hours, a universal tendency in this city, and one which will probably make the tiny, gem-laden Vivant Cave a bi-monthly delight for this author, rather than a weekly one.

Vivant Cave
43, rue des Petites-Ecuries
75010 PARIS
Métro: Bonne Nouvelle
Tel: +33 1 42 46 43 55

Related Links:

A blurb on Vivant Cave @ LeFooding
A pre-opening blurb on Vivant Cave @ ParisByMouth
A blurb announcing Vivant Cave @ TheParisKitchen

A comprehensive post on Vivant Table @ TheParisKitchen

The previous incarnation of Vivant


  1. Thanks for this super informative review! That andouillette photo -- wow.

  2. merci ! and many thanks for reading ! i really enjoy your blog as well.