February 26, 2008By Richard HesseArchive

Vintage Value

vintage restaurant, paris
Serge Gainsbourg, who watches from the photos on the wall, would probably have approved of the wine list.

It was the chalkboard wine list in the window that drew me to Vintage. It contained many of the top names from the natural wines movement, along with some I didn’t recognize. Claude Courtois’ Quartz from the Sologne literally topped the list. Only then did I take a look at the menu, which offered a three-course lunch for €15 and a daily special at €10.50. Judging by the dishes listed, they clearly had a real chef in the kitchen.

The chaps running Vintage are serious about their wine and food. They may not be in the same league as bistronomy boys like Yves Camdeborde, Gilles Choukroun and their ilk, but they are doing a serious job for budget diners.

Our €15 lunchtime menu was a small miracle of value for money (if you avoid the dishes with price supplements), and the mark-up on the wine is very fair: the most expensive tipple on the list is a Champagne by Emmanuel Lassaigne from the Aube, near Troyes, at a very respectable €50 for the 2003 vintage. We hesitated between a Georges Descombes Brouilly (€30) and an Anjou Domaine des Griottes “La Griotte” 2006 table wine, made by Patrick Desplat, at €27. This is one of those “natural” wines that I confess I’m not too enamored of, the opposite of the big, plummy wines from further south. Even when poured into a carafe, they still need a couple of hours to develop, which you don’t necessarily have at lunchtime.

That said, we were surrounded by a sea of water drinkers. I suppose that’s normal for lunchtime in a place frequented by young professionals (the business daily La Tribune is right around the corner, as is one of the big banks), but it must be frustrating to put so much effort into putting together a wine list only to have people drink water (plain old water straight from the faucet; another plus for Vintage, which doesn’t push bottled water).

The menu offers a generous choice of nine starters and as many main dishes, with a sensible mix of surf and turf, but not much choice for vegetarians, outside of a cassolette of oyster mushrooms (pleurotes).

We began with fishy starters – mackerel rillettes and an octopus salad à l’espagnole, which means it had red peppers and chorizo in it. The octopus was the perfect consistency and the Spanish ingredients gave the whole thing a nice lift. It went very well with my aperitif glass of Quartz from the revered Sologne winemaker: I’d been meaning to try it for some time, and was not disappointed; it is an excellent wine on its own terms. I found the rillettes had some of the oiliness that puts me off that particular fish, but my dining companion thought them entertaining.

She then had veal kidney with an Armagnac cream sauce that had obviously just been made in the same pan used to fry the kidney. It came pink, as requested, sitting on a bed of sautéed celeriac full of concentrated celery flavor.

In my interestingly named croustillant de joue de boeuf, sauce vierge, the crispy “croustillant” bit had nothing to do with pastry, as one might have expected, and everything to do with lightly cooked, crunchy vegetables: a layer of savoy cabbage below and carrots and turnips all around, with a good sprinkling of herbs. The sauce vierge (tomatoes, olive oil, lemon, garlic and herbs) added a discreet touch of color and smoothness to the very tender slow-cooked beef cheek.

We could have had cheese, and the board looked tempting, especially as it was kept at room temperature, but instead we plumped for milky puddings: a delightful pannacotta with pear compote lurking beneath the surface and riz au lait – a grown-up rice pudding made from fat grains of risotto rice, cooked al dente with a considerable amount of cream and very little sugar.

The decor? Simple brown and off-white walls, with photos of Serge Gainsbourg and other pop luminaries. A few seats at the bar. The music was intrusive and added to an already high noise level, but it was turned down a notch or two on request. Tables and chairs had a touch of Japanese style.

In the evening, the prices are higher and the portions larger, but you can still come out at €30-€35 (with wine) per person for three courses.

Vintage is the kind of place where you go to chill out with friends, secure in the knowledge that what’s on your plate and in your glass is excellent quality and won’t ruin you, even though you might be a bit hoarse the next day from shouting over the music.

Richard Hesse

Create_Boutton(‘/communiquer/varicelle/images/plan_color20B.gif’,”,’46 Rue d’ Argout PARIS-02EME’,2,’Adresse’,’600542′,’2429751′) Vintage: 46, rue d’Argout, 75002 Paris. Tel: 01 40 26 57 54. Métro: Bourse or Grands Boulevards. Nearest Vélib’ stations: 14, rue Bachaumont or 2, rue d’Aboukir. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Fixed-price lunch menu: €15. A la carte: €25-€30 (three courses, not including wine).

© 2008 Paris Update

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