It’s not new and it’s not a gourmet’s paradise, but Au Vin des Pyrénées is a longstanding favorite that’s worth knowing about for many reasons: the always friendly welcome from cheerful, youthful staff who actually seem to care about their customers and keep a close eye on them; the reliably good food, served quickly; the late hours—I almost always go at around 11pm after a film or an opera at nearby Bastille; the fact that it’s open every day; the charmingly quirky decor, dominated by antiques and references to wine; and… well, I think that’s enough.
I have been there twice in the past couple of weeks and, I am ashamed to admit, ordered the roast chicken (free range) both times, a main course I generally avoid in restaurants because it is usually uninteresting—just chicken—and, since it’s something I can and often do make a home, I would rather try eat something less routine. The first time I ordered it at Au Vin des Pyrénées because it was late, and I was in the mood for something light and comforting, and the second time because I had enjoyed it so much the first time, especially the just-right mashed potatoes, nice and potatoey and not too creamy. On the second occasion, however, it was served differently, with a nice oniony jus and French fries (a bit soggy and certainly not the best I had ever had but not bad), and I still enjoyed it.
I had started with the croustillant d’asperges, roquette et parmesan, a very tasty bundle of al dente asparagus wrapped in crispy filo pastry and served with a lemony hollandaise sauce and a fresh arugula salad with generous flakes of parmesan, while Connie tried and loved the cold pea soup with mint, creamy and refreshing, which I had also greatly appreciated the week before. For her main course, she had the slightly gamey epaule d’agneau confite, tender bits of lamb shoulder served with a nice ratatouille.
The dessert list offered the usual suspects, moelleux au chocolat (soft-centered chocolate cake), crème brûlée, brioche perdue (why do Paris restaurants all have the same desserts?), etc. The only one that seemed tempting was the lemon tart with éclats de meringue, which we shared. It was lemony and very tart, the way we both like it, and the “éclats” turned out to be sticks of crunchy meringue that complemented rather then overwhelmed the lemon curd with their sweetness, while the two perfect fresh raspberries were just the right punctuation.
Again, this isn’t the greatest restaurant in the world, but it’s a safe bet for enjoyable meal in an area lacking in excellent restaurants. For warm weather, there are are few sidewalk tables on the quiet Marais street. Only one drawback: it can be quite noisy when crowded.
Apparently the name refers to the fact that the place used to be a wine warehouse rather than to the restaurant’s fine wines. In fact, the wine list is rather limited, but offers some perfectly drinkable options.