review: cave à manger…

The last time I saw my friend LaTache, I was in my running clothes eating porchetta out of a food truck.

In the months since, he had moved to France and made it his home.

So, on my recent trip to Paris, we met for dinner at Saturne, Sven Chartier’s upwardly trending cave à manger near the Bourse. Arriving with him were his friends, la Maroc and Périphérique.* We made a happy foursome.

*                *                  *
1st Course: Saint Jacques

*                *                  *

Saturne is a very good restaurant masquerading as an upscale wine bar. That’s not to say that Ewan Lamoigne’s wine list here is unserious. To the contrary, his list, populated entirely by vins naturels – organic and biodynamic wines – is finely curated, a novelty for wine professionals (I was sitting next to two of them).

But the food here is unusually good for what you’d expect from a wine bar.

The menu is joyously simple and incredibly affordable. At dinner, you have two options: four courses for 37€, or six courses for 59€. In addition, there are a few a la carte add-ons, like a variety of hams, freshly shaved in the dining room on a gorgeous, vintage Berkel meat slicer, and ribbons of Comté, offered with or without black truffles.

We started with the former and inserted the latter. Both were excellent – especially the Bigorre ham, velvety and flavorful, made from an Ibérico breed of free-range pigs from the Pyrenees.

We ordered the six-course dinner. After consulting Lemoigne, a few bottles arrived.

Supplement
Jamon Noir de Bigorre
(14€)

1st Course
Saint Jacques
Ratatouille d’hiver.

2nd Course
Sardine Grillée
Herbes et cédrat.

3rd Course
Saint Pierre
Araignée de mer, poireau crayon.

4th Course
Agneau de Lait des Pyrénées
Pomme de terre fumée.

Supplement
Comté

 

5th Course
Chocolat
Héliantis, noisette.

6th Course
Brioche
Miel, bière blonde.

Petits Fours
Madeleines

Jacques Lassaigne Le Cotet Champagne

Vin de Table, “La Griotte”

Arbois Pupillin, Maison Pierre Overnoy, 2004

To see all of the photos from this meal, CLICK HERE.

* * *
2nd Course: Sardine Grillée

* * *

I believe “terroir” is the label that has attached to Chartier’s style of cooking. Once a disciple of both Alain Passard and Arnaud Daguin, and most recently seen in the kitchen at Racines, his pedigree is palpable.

The focus here is on the quality of the ingredients, which is offered as the ultimate expression of the earth and sea.

Chartier’s food has a refined, farmhouse feel. More sketches than drawings, his plates have a spontaneity about them. His food is colorful. It’s tactile. It may not be precise or perfect, but there’s energy in its simplicity.

Our first course, however, may have been a little too spontaneous, a touch careless. Scallops arrived warm under an avalanche of winter vegetables, raw and cooked (“Saint Jacques“). The splatter of color and the textures was awesome, if not a bit overwrought, an unnecessarily showy and unedited vomiting of produce that overwhelmed the scallops. This plate, alone, seemed to defy Chartier’s otherwise clean form.

The rest of our courses were much more tame, more thoughtfully presented.

* * *
3rd Course: Saint Pierre

* * *

My favorite dish was a grilled sardine, headless and clean, served with raw pieces of sardines and baby greens (“Sardine Grillée“). Fragrant flashes of cédrat – a citron – dotted the plate. Smokey, bitter, and tart, this was a surprisingly lively composition.

I also loved our main meat course, a plate of suckling Pyrenees lamb that included a roasted round of shoulder meat wrapped in a crisp crackling veil. Beside it stretched a bone, shaggy with fatty meat (“Agneau de Lait des Pyrénées“). There was also a slice of smoked potato hash with a crunchy crust, and a baby onion, halved and roasted until candy sweet.

John Dory was wonderfully cooked (“Saint Pierre“). I could tell from its texture that it was extremely fresh. The sauce that coated the fish had a rich, crab flavor, but was over-salted and had a strange, rubbery texture. I scraped most if it aside, using it as a condiment, judiciously. The charred sticks of baby leeks that criss-crossed the top, however, were great. The outside skin had been burnt, black and bitter, leaving the inside of the stalks silky and sweet. Altogether, this dish had a very classic feel and flavor.

* * *
Madeleines

* * *

The desserts were fantastic.

There was a rocky pile of chocolate meringues and hazelnuts topped with ice cream made from a type of salsify. This was gianduja re-imagined, softened by the round, earthy sweetness of root vegetables (“Chocolat“).

A toasted block of brioche arrived with chestnut honey ice cream and beer foam (“Brioche“). To some, this might have been a challenging sell. To me, the leathery flavor of the chestnut honey and the acrid beer foam was a thrilling combination of flavors.

At the end, curiously caramelized madeleines arrived, darkened in flavor and color by chestnut honey. I loved them.

The bread here was phenomenal. It had a thick, crunchy hull, a textured crumb and a toasty flavor. I ate three too many slices. It’s called pain des amis and it comes from a baker named Christophe Vasseur of Du Pain et des Idées.

The interior of Saturne is stark. Like Chartier’s plates, it looks sketched: heavy on the white, light on details. And like the meat slicer that stands, spotlighted, to one corner, it has a throwback feel. You could be in a black and white reel from the 1950’s, the banquettes crowded with suits with skinny ties.

I love the vibe. It’s like rustic collided with jazzy.

I love the light fixtures – pencil-thin lines, soft curves.

I love the wood floors. People have called them blond. I call them stressed.

The tables, however, I would call blond. And the chairs too, which have a decidedly mid-Century modern angle to them. They give the restaurant a slightly Scandinavian look.

Above all of this stretches a glass canopy. During the day, the dining room must flood with natural light. But at night, all we saw were doe-eyed droplets of rain streaming down the ceiling’s gentle slope.

I have heard that this all makes for a very loud dining room. I can’t say I noticed. But then, the restaurant wasn’t full the night we were in. And my company was thoroughly engaging.

Given that Chartier is only twenty-four years-old, the food that we had was pretty impressive. I hope and expect that it can only get better.

Excellent ingredients. Solid cooking. Interesting wines. Doable price point.

Go. And take your friends with you.

Saturne
17 rue Notre Dame des Victoires
Paris, France
+33 1 42 60 31 90

~ by ulterior epicure on March 29, 2011.

One Response to “review: cave à manger…”

  1. Thanks for a nice report. We, too, really enjoyed Saturne. (Absolutely loved our progression of wines.) Food a half-step behind our meal at Le Chateaubriand, perhaps, but still quite good. I’ll be writing about both soon.

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