Jouvence is a Michelin Bib Gourmand selection on Rue de Faubourg St. Antoine, just around the corner from L’Ebauchoir. Bib Gourmand status means that it is a nice restaurant with very good food in pleasant surroundings, but not up to a Michelin star. That is, you probably can afford it, at lunch anyway. A quick internet search (e.g., “Bib Gourmand Lyon”) will reveal the Bib Gourmand restaurants in European cities, and larger US cities. We eat at one near us now and then, Millie’s, and we’ve eaten at a bunch of others downtown. There are only 69 Bib Gourmand restaurants in Paris. Jouvence is the only one in the 2d.
So to Jouvence we went for dinner on our second day in Paris after our expedition to the impressionist exhibit at Fondation Louis Vuitton, not to mention morning strolls to the Pantheon, the Musée National du Moyen Age, and the Jardin des Plantes. After walking 14 miles and a light lunch at La Criée, we were ready for a nice meal.
Jouvence is a small gem. There are a few tables outside, some stools at an extension of a small bar and 28 seats squeezed between the wall-banquet and the bar. It’s a classically crowded place, with customers sitting cheek by jowl at tables close enough together to make getting to the banquet seat a challenge for, uh, well rounded Americans. Jouvence is nicely decorated and very comfortable withal.
We settled in and ordered. To start, Nancy ordered the chair de torteau, salad Castelfranco, coriander, vinaigrette miel-citron,
while I ordered the oeuf bio croustillant, artichoke poivrades, aioli, et pourpier d’été, and a glass of the house rosé. (Only the house wines — one red, one white, and one rosé — were available by the glass. That saved me the trouble of deciding among unfamiliar wines.)
That is, I had an egg that had been poached (actually soft-boiled since it kept its shape) and then fried in a crust. It was accompanied by artichoke hearts and purslane, a succulent weed that was new to me, and aioli. I ordered it because I had seen similar dishes on each previous menu I’d seen, as well as menus I surveyed on line during pre-trip research. I had only the vaguest idea of what to expect, and no earthly idea what pourpier d’été might be. The clear way to find out was for me to try it. It tasted quite good. It was a very good aioli and I liked the purslane, and who can complain about eggs or artichoke hearts? I don’t know that I’ll get it again, but I’m glad that I tried it, and I’m glad I had a nice glass of rosé with it.
Once again, though, it was not as good as Nancy’s appetizer, which turned out to be crab layered with a very leafy kind of radicchio (the salad Castelfranco), in a honey-lemon vinaigrette. She graciously let me have one taste, but daintily ate the rest in the most lady-like way imaginable.
For my main course, I ordered magret de canard, betteraves acidulous, mignons rouge, cerise’s Burlat, jus réduit, and switched to a glass of red wine.
I love duck, and I blush to admit that I ordered it without reading, and certainly without comprehending the entire description of the dish. I have just a smattering of restaurant French and had no idea and no care in the world what a betterave or a cerise was. I do know “magnet de canard” and when I see it I order it. A little learning is a dangerous thing. In addition to the duck, there were some red onions, (fine with me) beets, (not a problem at all) but also cherries. What is it with duck that makes people want to add sweetness to it? The same malign impulse explains the sweet barbecue sauces some benighted souls put on pork. People, people, please. Rich meats don’t need sugar. They don’t want sugar. The duck otherwise was cooked rare, as I prefer it, and had a good flavor; but it seemed a touch tough, at least in part because the knife was dull. Serrated blades are a lot better for cutting cooked meats.
Nancy ordered the boeuf Angus, caviar d’aubergine fumé, noisettes torréfiées, jus réduit — a steak with eggplant and hazelnuts.
My US readers will assume that Nancy ordered the steak rare or very rare. No. Medium rare. Yet you could still hear the lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea.
Well, not quite. But be warned, all of you medium rare fans. Grilled meats are cooked much less in France than in the US. “Saignant” is the French term for medium rare, but saignant meat actually comes out quite rare, purplish in the center and red up to the crust. If you order the French version of rare, you say “bleu” and, sure enough, it comes out blue. “A point” is probably closest to medium rare. The same principle holds in Italy as well. Nancy, Liza, and I were once at a sensational restaurant in Rome with the lovely and talented Jenny Dudley Argueta, and Liza and I shared a steak, among many other courses. The steak appeared to have been waved over a hot grill from a great height for about as long as you wave the vermouth bottle over an extra dry martini. Liza was taken aback as, indeed, was I. I squeezed some lemon juice onto the steak to get the exterior to turn brown. That steak was delicious to the last scrap.
The steak at Jouvence went back to the kitchen for some more cooking, and it returned quickly and cooked as desired. Again the steak knife was dull, but the steak had a good flavor and all of it disappeared from Nancy’s plate, with only moderate participation from me.
Let’s talk about the eggplant flanking Nancy’s steak. Spectacular. Wonderful. It had been puréed to the consistency of mashed potatoes (those ultra-buttery French mashed potatoes) and was lovingly seasoned. Nancy waxed poetic over the eggplant.
Despite my whining about cherries on duck, I definitely would go back to Jouvence. I think Nancy and I both learned something about ordering. I really need to be more diligent in guarding against sugar in savory dishes in French. God help me when I get faced with a menu in German. The appetizers were good — Nancy’s was very good — and Jouvence really is a very nice place. You should give it a try.
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