The asparagus with white truffles looked like an abstract painting.
Pros: A delight in serving well-sourced products (Desnoyers again), pleasant surroundings
Cons: A slightly ditzy waitress, who was so nice and new to the job that her faux pas were forgiven; no takeaway wine list (soon to be remedied)
Tucked away in one of those little triangular blocks Paris is so fond of, in the shadow of the august Banque de France and a pebble’s throw from shopper’s mecca on the Place de Victoires, is Les Fines Gueules, a relatively new bistro à vins serving fine food and wines from off the beaten track.
Chef Arnaud Bradol claims to have many more natural wine treasures secreted in his cellar than he features on the chalkboard and is even ready to sell them to go at shop prices. The only drawback is that he has been so busy that he hasn’t yet gotten round to drawing up a list, and he certainly doesn’t have the space in this tiny triplex, where the kitchen is sandwiched between the bar and a semi-basement dining room and an upper dining room, to put any of them on show.
The wine we chose had a label showing the thumbprints of the makers: Cyril Alonso and Nicolas Testard. It was a €30 Fleury 2006, Domaine des Rajats, an estate owned by Testard. The sauce is vinified by Alonso, an “itinerant winemaker” who, my subsequent Web research informed me, is quite a phenomenon.
Alonso, it turns out (where have I been?) was voted winemaker of the year by the Gault & Millau guide last year. In 2004, he set up a wine house called Ancestra to buy organically produced grapes and make natural wines out of them. Since then he has set up an organization called P-U-R (Producteurs Uniques et Rebelles) with other like-minded souls who resist standardization to market his wines and the kind of food items that are produced in tiny quantities to severe organic standards. Not to mention the restaurant run by his wife. Like a gerbil on speed, as my kid sister says.
The unstabilized wine was springy and fresh, did not taste like cider (sigh of relief) and paired well with the food, namely, for starters, a pretty plate of green and white asparagus with parmesan sauce and summer truffles, and a tian of endive with foie gras and a coulis (they called it a suc, i.e., sap or juice, but whatever) of beets. To the eye, the asparagus looked a bit overcooked, but its bite was perfect and the creamy parmesan sauce a fine complement. The tian, a house of cards of endive leaves with a generous portion of foie gras in each layer, needed careful handling (literally) due to the presence of lashings of balsamic vinegar, whose splash and stain factor is unrivalled. Simple and delicious.
Main courses were a “belle sole” that was perfectly cooked, served with a reduction of shallots, tiny new potatoes and cabbage, shredded and lightly cooked with some ham – another perfect rendition of an old favorite. The shrimp (gambas) risotto initially disappointed as the rice was the wrong side of al dente but won us all over in very short order. My own boudin blanc du Poitou au Cognac (white sausage with Cognac ) had been very carefully sourced and was served with mashed potatoes, a few sautéed chanterelles and fresh green peas. Mon Dieu, but it was good!
Desserts were just desserts, but well put-together. My spiced prunes cooked in red wine pushed the right buttons, and there were no complaints either about the apricot tart or the chocolate baba topped with a sort of coconut blancmange.
Had the hour not been so late, I think we would have stayed to join the other patrons gathered around the bar to drink more of chef Bradol’s secret hoard. Les Fines Gueules being a short walk from my home and office, they’re likely to see a lot more of me in future.
Les Fines Gueules: 43, rue Croix des Petits Champs, 75001 Paris. Tel.: 01 42 61 35 41. Métro: Palais Royal, Bourse, Pyramides or Sentier. Nearest Vélib stations: 2, rue d’Aboukir; 20 rue Coquillère. Open daily for lunch and Dinner and in between. A la carte: around €30-€35*.
* three courses, not including wine
© 2009 Paris Update
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