28, rue Henri-Monnier
In case you’ve been living under a polished rock from Urban Outfitters and missed it: Paris is in the midst of Hipstergate. Debate has been sparked. Outrage has been expressed. Camps have been chosen. I’m not going to use today’s post as yet another avenue to discuss the issue because i think it has already been intelligently and amusingly covered. Instead, I’ll take the opportunity to review a new SoPi spot so twee that it sounds like a joke about hipsters: New Yorkers coming to France to sell Americanized French comfort food to Parisians in a carbon copy of their NYC shop. But, since I came down on the ‘hipster’ side of the current debate, I went to Buvette Gastronomique with an open mind.
Buvette has a stylized French farmhouse aesthetic with pastel tones, antique-like plates, mini-silver serving stands, rickety wooden stools and chairs, and exposed brick walls. It’s basically a rather pretty representation of the rustic france of American fantasies, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I dropped in a couple of weeks ago for a ladies lunch and enjoyed the tiny servings of reinterpreted French classics like croques and hachis parmentier. They’re not what you’d find in a traditional bistro, but they were both fun and tasty. (although I can’t quite put my finger on the unusual flavor in the hachis parmentier – nutmeg? cinnamon?) Both the cheeses and the duck rillettes received unanimous praise as well.
We tried a few different wines which were hit and miss, but perhaps due to a range of personal tastes. The only thing that wasn’t entirely enjoyable during this visit was the service. Although I was the first person in the restaurant, it started off slow and sloppy with a wait time of 20 minutes from the time I arrived to the time I was asked if I wanted to order even a drink. We stretched lunch out over a few hours and service improved immensely with a different staff member helping us select wines and cheeses. Regardless of their level of attention to customers, the staff does seem to pay attention to detail as far as their products and confidently gave informed and helpful answers to all of our questions about their dishes and wines. It was an enjoyable lunch and my curiosity was piqued by the list of cocktails on offer.
So, I stopped in again this weekend to check out drinks selection, which hovers around a very reasonable price range of 8 – 10 Euros. In addition to classics like Bloody Mary, Martini or Negroni variations, there are some frenchie type choices. You can choose from Kir options or appropriately bubbly aperitifs. There is a page of four cocktails with some Gallic virtue whether it be simply their name (en francais) or their (possible) origins: Bee’s Knees, Vieux Mot, French 75, Sidecar. This seems like a pretty decent showing for a place that doesn’t necessarily bill itself as a serious cocktail bar.
My martini was good enough. Based on taste, I would guess they are using Hendrick’s, light on the vermouth. It came with both a twist and an olive, which is not my usual preference but I can live with it. The server inexplicably left the mixing glass and strainer with my martini, although there was nothing left in it. But, at 10 bucks I’m not going to quibble too much on these details. I’m happy to see that Paris seems to be moving into the phase in which every establishment is not a craft cocktail lounge but restaurants are starting to clock onto the fact that they can serve decent drinks even with a relatively small selection of booze behind the counter.
Due to their licensing requirements, customers must order something to eat in order to have a drink. We tried a trio of tartines (nut pesto, ham pesto and ratatouille), which were all good enough for the low price of 5 Euros. But, what confounded me, yet again, was the service. We were the only two customers in the place, while six staff members did everything except give us a menu. I eventually had to ask for a menu so we could actually get to the business of patronizing the place. It’s all rather odd because – again – the staff seemed pleasant, friendly, and interested in the products but just a little unmaliciously negligent and confused about their priorities. This is why i didn’t try the second cocktail I ordered; they simply forgot about it. By the time we realized the drink wasn’t coming, I was already running late enough to grab the bill and move onto the next stop.
Overall, the food is fun and well done. A lot of people will love this space for what it is, while a good number will like it in spite of what it is. Personally, I have no issue with the American reinterpretation of French plates being sold to French palettes. However, they really need to work on their customer service because that’s one bad Parisian cliche they don’t need to play on.