21 May 2013

the highest bidder : table de bruno verjus, 75012

A good way for a writer to earn money is to cultivate a reputation for authority on a subject rich people like. Wine and food are quite good. Things like polo, yachting, and racehorses are probably even better. All you have to do is publish a great deal on these subjects and sooner or later some organization will reward you for your apparent expertise with a sponsorship or a panel discussion or a publishing deal. Because you will have attained credibility as bait for a luxury clientele.

French food writer, blogger, cookbook author, radio personality, and now restaurateur Bruno Verjus both exemplifies and transcends this phenomenon. On the one hand, he seriously knows his stuff. His blog, FoodIntelligence, is a treasure trove of good recommendations in any price range. In his writing and in his wide-ranging interviews with chefs and artisanal food producers, Verjus evinces a passionate appreciation for, and a nuanced understanding of, the business of real food.

But Verjus is no stranger to promo work. He helps organise the Omnivore food festival. He works as an advisor to Paris auction house Artcurial and coordinated its first charity auction of gastronomic products. And with Table, his new restaurant on sleepy rue de Prague in the 12ème, he's made an ambitious play for the affections of deep-pocketed food fetishists city-wide. It's a dream restaurant for anyone who has ever cried from a balcony, "Honey, let's go bid on a wheel of 48-month parm !"

A swishy touch-activated glass door slides open and transports you to - Barcelona, seemingly. Hams hang, an open kitchen echoes, garish white lighting trains on the topography of the rock walls. Until one lays eyes on the menu, one wonders how a restaurant with a kitchen this large plans to survive serving so few tables, several of which are situated so as to be ill-suited for anything but large parties.

If the design is a bit overcooked, the concept of Table is admirably simple. Verjus, who in conversation will modestly claim not to be a chef, wishes to present only the artisanal food products that inspire him. To this end the menu at Table assiduously lists the provenance of each ingredient. Fully the first page is devote to "produits d'artisans," cheeses and meats the restaurant is proud to merely slice and serve, including a luminescent, richly flavoursome cured Rouges des Flandres beef. (Pictured right on the mixed charcuterie plate.)

At 18€, the Belgian beef isn't a bargain, but nor, in the age of Bellotta, San Daniele, and Parma, are diners totally unaccustomed to paying premiums for serious meats.

It's Table's composed dishes that cause controversy. This side of menu contains just two options each for appetisers, main courses, and desserts.

Some of the restaurant's early press has complained about lack of choice, but I suspect this wouldn't have occurred if Verjus had chosen to offer less. No one seems to complain about lack of choice in the tasting menus at Rino, Roseval, Septime, le Chateaubriand, etc. 

But it must be said that all of those tasting menus contain more, better food, for less money than can presently be had at Table. Additionally, it's bad optics when both a menu's appetiser choices are in the 20€ range. It wouldn't be out of place in a swank hotel, granted. On rue de Prague, amid a concentration of Paris' great neighborhood restaurants, it feels slightly absurd. 

On the night I visited with the Native Companion, we decided to share a burrata served atop a keen, wholesome nettle purée.

The amount of purée was as generous as the dish, overall, wasn't: charging this much for burrata - another produit d'artisan - will invariably cause diners to think back to similarly enjoyable burrata experiences of the past, had for less.

Main courses were illustrative of the strengths and weaknesses of Table's concept. The NC's chicken was marvelous, cooked with maniacal precision, by turns glistening and crispy and moist.

The recipe felt like it had been refined for years in a home kitchen; the original presentation (not pictured above; we had taken a few bites) looked like the work of a top-tier professional kitchen. It was a masterpiece.

My barbue, on the other hand, arrived lukewarm, broken on the plate, lonesome-looking. After I took a photograph, a chalk outline and police tape seemed appropriate.

The fish itself was delicious; great care had been taken not to overcook it, explaining the temperature. But for 34€, one expects a less amateurish result, irrespective of the quality of the fish.

A notable feature of Table's design is the pride-of-place reserved for a West African pineapple on a spit. It's a clever, surrealist touch aimed to build anticipation for dessert. The NC and I gamely took the bait, and enjoyed our roasted "boutille de Benin" pineapple slice, even if the price (14€) seemed inflated by the cost of the wall-mounted spit.

I feel repetitive and more than a little petty, harping on about cost. But money is indeed an object for most diners, and menu pricing colours our perceptions of everything that goes on in a restaurant. High pricing makes even kind gestures come across as upsell attempts. Upon seeing me pore through the wine list with interest, my server at Table first explained that it comprised Verjus' personal cellar - and then swiftly presented me with another wine list of older bottles, in case I had been hesitating because prices on the usual list weren't high enough. He needn't have troubled himself.

I applaud Table for being perhaps the only restaurant in Paris to actually list older bottles of natural wine. Even the major players in Paris natural wine typically either have nothing old stock, or transparently refuse to sell it to anyone but their very best clients. Verjus' personal cellar contains serious discoveries : a 2000 Foillard Morgon "Côte du Py," a range of early-2000's Poulsards from Pierre Overnoy, numerous mags of Métras Fleurie from same era...

But Verjus' prices betray a certain sentimentality towards the wines - perhaps a resistance to let them go. Two years ago, I had a bottle of that 2000 "Côte du Py" as Les Itinéraires in the 5ème for less than 90€; on Table's list it weighs in at 195€. For Anselme Selosse's "Substance," which is typically listed on Paris restaurants lists for 200-350€, Table asks 600€. I'm not sure to what purpose one would offer the serious wines one loves at prices that screen out all but wealthy people unfamiliar with the wines' going rates, i.e. rich twits, an over-served market if ever there were one.

Table's predominantly natural wine list does contain several bottles in the late-twenties / early thirties range. Of these, the best value and most interesting were all Italian.

The NC and I had glasses of a skin-macerated Cortese by organic Piemontese estate Lo Zerbone, which I'd tasted the week before with my friend Solenne Jouan at Le Six Paul Bert. (It seems to have just come on the Paris market.) It's hazy, squash-coloured, with a nice zip to its waxen, candied citrus fruit.

With our main course I took a bottle of Grignolino I'd never had before, a 2011 by 15ha Monferrato estate Silvio Morando.

I did this on the basis of pretty much never having met a Grignolino I didn't like.  Lean, savoury, tending to show a nice balance between mineral and dark cherry fruit, I'd deem it one of the world's most under-rated grape varieties. On it's home turf in Piedmont, winemakers and wine drinkers alike invariably give it short shrift in favor of showier Nebbiolo or Barbera. But if those two grapes could loosely be considered to represent the Burgundy and Bordeaux, respectively, of the Piemontese wine world, Grignolino has all the pleasurable qualities necessary to be its Beaujolais. At 28€ on Table's list, Silvio Morando's Grignolino wasn't especially cheap for its category - but it seemed so next to the rest of the mark-ups at Table.

I salute Bruno Verjus for his justifiably high regard for his food suppliers. And Table does makes sense as a place of refuge for fine palates at those moments when time or accessibility is more an object than money (conditions that arise fairly often for friends working in the restaurant industry). But to seduce an appreciable portion of comparatively thrifty east Parisians, Table may need some polishing. We dine out partly, if not primarily, to experience the work of real chefs, one of whose chief challenges is finding innovative ways to make fine product cost-effective.

Bruno Verjus, despite his modesty, is indeed a real chef, now with a real kitchen. He has his work cut out for him.

Table de Bruno Verjus
3, rue de Prague
75012 PARIS
Métro: Lédru-Rollin
Tel: +33 1 43 43 12 26

Related Links:

A dramatically overwritten gush of praise for Table at SimonSays.
A somewhat misleading entry on Table at LeFooding, where if you look at the receipt you realise that these two diners drank only three glasses of wine between them in a three course meal, thereby making the bill look remotely reasonable.
Qualified praise for Table at JohnTalbott


  1. I completely agree with you regarding grignolino, though they do need a way to sort out the pale salmon, lightly-oxidized (yet delicious) versions from the cleaner, fruitier, but still not tricked-up versions.

    As for that 2000 Foillard...next time you visit the homeland, you're more than welcome to come over and drink all you want. If you want to hand me 195 euros each time, that's up to you... ;-)

  2. thanks thor, i'll take you up on that. the part about drinking, i mean. (not the part about overpaying for it.)

  3. A lire


  4. He helps organise the Omnivore food festival. ... tablebarcuisine.blogspot.com