Where food, culture, and politics meet

Frenchie - Bar à Vins

2019-11-23 16:37:00+01:00 by Weldon Goree in Restaurants

Tags: paris wine foie terrine tagliolini burrata marchand

Miracle men

At Sentier, where Rue des Petites Carreaux begins its climb up Montorgueil, a tiny alley breaks off to the east. It's name is Rue du Nil, a hat-tip to the Egyptian craze that swept Paris after Napoleon's Middle Eastern adventures, but it's only a block long and wide enough for a single car.

20 years ago, the alley was boarded up on both ends. 200 years ago, it was called Rue du Cour des Miracles, referring to the slum it led to (now mostly the French public finance department headquarters): "Miracle men", who would beg for alms during the day citing some hideous medical condition which would miraculously disappear at night. That's at least what 19th century Parisians told themselves.

In the way of cities, the slum became a garment district, and in the way of garment districts, it came to be very densely inhabited by immigrants seeking low rents. The dressmakers and haberdashers are long gone, and the grands boulevards are no longer low-rent, but Rue du Nil for decades stayed boarded up because nobody could figure out what to do with it.

Frenchie

At least until 2009, when Grégory Marchand moved back to Paris after working for Jamie Oliver in New York. In his residency there he picked up a love of American street food, and the nickname "Frenchie".

Frenchie's has a star and a months-long waiting list now, though it's still in an alley that otherwise looks like it has a lot of heroin needles in it. But he has expanded his empire to include a lunch counter, a caviste, and a wine bar; several of his suppliers have followed suit and the alley now also hosts a butcher and a fishmonger.

In lieu of waiting 6 months, we tried the wine bar.

The space is tight. Tight even for Paris. We shared a 4-top with some other couple and the servers weaved in and out between chairs to serve everyone. The kitchen is shockingly small: the brigade stand shoulder to shoulder next to each other, and they have to coordinate turning around to the station behind them.

Frenchie's wine bar does not take reservations, and opens at 6:30. We got one of the last available seatings at 6:40. And we were in for a treat.

The menu format is the ubiquitous small plates that normally draw my ire, but Marchand avoided the usual traps that irritate me. The plates were not just three bites of fat and salt to make you go "yum": they were thoughtful, delicate, and most of all balanced.

The wine selection was broad, even for single glasses (which the servers kind of ostentatiously pour out of Jeroboams in the cramped space). I went with a Domaine de la Meunerie.

A glass of Domaine de la Meunerie

The food is brought out as it's ready, so the order will not always be logical. Our first was the duck foie gras with mango coulis and roast pecans.

Duck foie gras

Then came the terrine; I think it was pork and chicken. The standout was the piccalilli.

Terrine with piccalilli

This was followed by the burrata salad. The sense of balance I mentioned earlier was perfectly displayed here: sweet burrata, salty anchovy, bitter herbs, and acidic dressing all played off of each other. This was absolutely not your standard "drown yourself in rich burrata" entree; it was an invitation to see the ways burrata smooths over all of the salad's tastes.

Burrata salad

And finally the star of the evening, the tagiolini with black truffle. This one maybe was more of a "gasp at the richness of this small plate", but you expect that for a truffle dish. The pasta was of course perfect, and the cream sauce actually survived the encounter with the truffle and remained an important component.

Tagiolini with truffle

© Weldon Goree