The overarching honesty and generosity of La Vierge’s concept places the restaurant alongside overachieving peers like Belleville’s Le Cadoret at the vanguard of a new generation of Paris bistrot that recognizes the value of virtue.
The best way to understand the underground appeal of Empire Celeste is by comparing it to another well-known Parisian Chinese restaurant, Davé. Offering run-of-the-mill Chinese cuisine in a cramped, kitchy red interior, Davé is notoriously popular with the fashion set. Its walls are festooned with images of the proprietor arm-in-arm with Yves Saint-Laurent, Mick Jagger, and Kim Kardashian. Empire Celeste, run by three generations of the Wang family since the restaurant’s founding in 1953, is the Davé of another peculiar subculture: the natural wine crowd.
Nestled on a drab Belleville backstreet beneath the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, Le Cadoret’s blue awning shines out like a beacon. So does chef Léa Fleuriot’s delicate, thoughtful approach to country-bistrot classics. A sleeper hit since Fleuriot and her brother Louis opened it in 2017, Le Cadoret is a bistrot and café where an ostensibly straightforward offering - traditional recipes, inexpensive natural wines, craft beers - achieves the sublime thanks to rare combination of sincere and efficient service, serious value, and an ironclad commitment to ingredient quality.
Disregard what is written on the window of Cheval d’Or’s elegantly-preserved red façade, for what restaurateur Florent Ciccoli (of Jones and Café du Coin, among other endeavors) and chef Taku Sekine (of Dersou) have created on a quiet side street near the Parc des Buttes Chaumont is not a Chinese restaurant. Cheval d’Or is, rather, a tasteful and welcoming luxury small-plates restaurant offering a delicate synthesis of pan-Asian and Parisian cuisines, more middle ground than Middle Kingdom.
Fresh off Paris’ greatest resto reboot of recent years - transforming the defunct destination Restaurant Bones into the beloved seven-day mainstay Restaurant Jones - chef-restaurateur Florent Ciccoli doubled down on the Voltaire neighborhood in late 2017, opening Café du Coin with the aid of frequent collaborator Greg Back (L’Orillon, Les Pères Populaires).
But for alert wine geeks, Café de la Nouvelle Mairie might as well be the Panthéon itself, as pertains to natural wine.
Great natural wines by the glass, fresh well-prepared food, and congenial service at this simple bistro near Bastille.
Is Beaujolais Nouveau a symbol of international marketing run amok, an artificial wine-like confection of sugared-up, overproduced grapes, aimed straight at the lower rungs of the world’s supermarket shelves? Or does Beaujolais Nouveau represent rather the opposite: an homage to local tradition, a village fête for newborn wines, fragile and pure?
It depends where one celebrates. In liquor stores, chain wine shops, and supermarkets around the world, believe the worst about Beaujolais Nouveau. But Beaujolais Nouveau in Paris is something else. The city’s traditional bars and bistrots enjoy unparalleled access to France’s natural wine scene, where many winemakers manage to produce unadulterated primeur wines that retain the fleeting, keen flavors of their village origins. So in Paris in 2016 we can raise a glass to the ironic destiny of well-made Beaujolais Nouveau – a simple village wine that, merely by maintaining its simplicity, can become a curious luxury.
What follows is a list and map of the Paris establishments hosting Beaujolais Nouveau parties in 2016, along with whose wines they’ll be serving, and which winemakers, if any, are expected to be present for the occasion. (Nothing is guaranteed. Winemakers are like that.)
Les Caves de Reuilly’s out-of-the-way location in the 12ème arrondissement ensures an ambience worlds apart from the bustle and hype of more central neighbourhoods: here instead are bands of quality-conscious, budget-conscious Parisians, enjoying honest, inexpensive wine, each other’s company, and the cool evening air. Be sure to ask the staff if the terrace looks full – as often as not, they’re able to simply whip out another table and some chairs for newcomers.
At midday, Fine L’Épicerie de Belleville offers soups and sandwiches enjoyably enlivened with various low-key delicacies (dry Sicilian caper sausage, say, or spiced confit grape cream). Tables in the shop’s deep interior are a refuge from the street for lunchtime diners and the odd professional meeting. Along with cheese and charcuterie, Boussarie stocks a slightly haphazard range of inexpensive natural wine and craft beer. While not a tastemaking authority by any means, Fine L’Épicerie de Belleville remains a handy back-pocket address for things to bring to last-minute weeknight dinner parties and relatives’ birthday brunches.
Chatillon is soon to depart for the south of France to begin a winemaking project, but will continue to run the selection at Le Cave, aided by managing partner Paul Braillard.
Quenioux brought these and many other illustrious names to the shelves of Philovino, the modestly-appointed wine shop he opened in 2011 on a nondescript corner of rue Claude Bernard. The shop’s IKEA-quality décor belies the quality and rarity of its contents. Quenioux has his eccentricities – a disbelief in carbonic maceration, a disdain for what has come to be called ‘natural wine,’ and a latent interest in the occult sciences – but Philovino remains a destination for anyone wishing to experience the established classics of Burgundy, Champagne, or the Loire.
In such troubled times, who needs wine? Who needs cured ham and cornichons? Who among us needs to gather with friends and loved ones? Who can bring themselves to purchase inexpensive bottles of glimmery young gamay and share it liberally with neighbors? Who wants to support Paris’ liveliest tradition-minded bars and bistrots when their business has been threatened?
Well, perhaps quite a few of us. Beaujolais Nouveau, ordinarily an occasion for slightly meaningless fun, can become, in 2015, an occasion for slightly more meaningful fun.
Don’t get excited: Paris has no Brooklyn. Due to short-sighted urban planning in mid-century, Paris is cinched into its ring-road, le péripherique, like a dress it wore sixty years ago and never removed. The sheer impracticality of crossing this eternally congested ring-road has long prevented, in les banlieues, development of establishments Parisians might consider destinations. For Parisians, you’re either within city limits, or you’re way, way out.
La Quincave’s general template – 7€ corkage, simple snacks, natural wines – may have since become familiar to residents of the 10th, 11th, and 12th arrondissements, where caves-à-manger are as common hairdressers. But few newcomers have managed to replicate La Quincave’s frank, stylish ambience or the wisdom of Belcamp’s wine selections.
On any given evening a mixed crowd of locals and tourists – some waiting for tables at Clamato, others just enjoying apéro-hour – perch on bar stools and repurposed grocery crates, mingling to a soundtrack of reggae and vintage jazz classics. For years more a way-station than an outright destination, Septime Cave has since summer 2015 been open for business on Sundays, rendering it all the more indispensable to the rue de Charonne neighborhood.