Vantre may look like an unassuming Paris bistro, but its staff has some very impressive credentials. That is obvious at once from the deep wine knowledge even on the part of a very young waiter, and by the large book that is the wine list. It turns out that the sommelier, Marco Pelletier, and one of the servers previously worked at Eric Frechon’s three-star restaurant in the Bristol hotel, while chef Iacopo Chomel used to work at Passage and Saturne.
My dining companion, Tom, wanted to take the wine list home with him so he could read the whole thing, but he settled for just drinking some of its offerings, starting with a tart Alsatian white, La Pente, from the Domaine des Côtes Rousses.
Tom went for luxury in his starter of Brittany lobster with peaches and pickled onions. Thrown in for good measure were some fava beans. This dish revealed something else about the restaurant: that it has a fantastic fruit and vegetable supplier. The peaches and beans were perfection, as were the cherry tomatoes and lamb’s lettuce in my crab starter. Everything was fresh and bright, even if the dishes were not revelatory.
Tom’s main course, veal ribs cooked in beer, was a guilty pleasure for him. Guilty because he doesn’t usually eat veal because of the poor conditions in which the animals are raised in America. He had been told by a French friend, however, that that wasn’t the case in France. I’m not sure if that is true, having seen some horrors on French farms, but everything else about the restaurant convinced me that the veal, too, would be well sourced. Served with lovely spinach and hazelnuts, it was definitely of top quality. Tom cut away the fat, which I thought was delicious, but there was rather too much of it.
I had the pigeon, cooked very rare, almost bloody. It came with something I hadn’t seen before: dried enoki mushrooms with a deep, earthy flavor. And then there were a couple of slices of marvelous eggplant, tender and flavorful. Both main courses had sauces that begged to be mopped up with the tasty dark bread.
As has happened twice recently, at Berty and Le Bordeluche, the dessert outshone the other, very good, courses. The server talked us into trying the chef’s potato-based dessert, described as “suave” on the menu, made from his mother’s recipe. We were dubious but acquiesced. It was a little cake, amazingly light considering that it was made with potatoes, but it wasn’t very flavorful. The flavor was provided by a scoop of blood-orange ice cream.
It was the other dessert that drove us mad with delight: a chocolate ganache with chocolate crumble, topped with a caramel mousse. The secret ingredient was, of all things, capers, which added pleasing bursts of saltiness. It was the quality of the chocolate (Valrhona, I found out later) that made it so good, however.
“Vantre” is the archaic spelling of “ventre” (“stomach”). Ours were more than contented when we left.