25 April 2017

don't change: osteria ferrara, 75011

The similarities with between the restaurant Sicilian chef Fabrizio Ferrara opened last fall - Osteria Ferrara - and his former restaurant, the beloved Caffe dei Cioppi, are easy to recognize. At the new restaurant, an understated and tasteful redesign of the former bistrot occupant, Au Vieux Chène, one encounters the same unshowy preparations, the same loose risotto, the same divine sbrisolona, the same just-edgy-enough wine list.

It's a more interesting exercise to note what has changed. Paris, for one thing.

In the years since Caffe dei Cioppi closed, Ferrara's contemporaries Giovanni Passerini and Simone Tondo have raised the bar for Parisian Italian cuisine with their own, more expensive namesake restaurants in the same immediate neighborhood. Burrata has become as unavoidable as saucisson sec. The frighteningly-named Big Mamma Group has conquered middlebrow east Paris with a fleet of packed restaurants serving a simplistic, wincingly commercial take on pan-Italian cuisine.

In 2017, Osteria Ferrara impresses most by its quiet sense of maturity. There is ample space between the tables. From the stereo, nary a boom-bap nor a distorted chord. In the culinary hotbed of east Paris - where small-plates of offal are as common as mezcal and wine labels resemble the undersides of skateboards - sophisticated, product-driven dining can sometimes feel like the province of youth alone. Stepping into the calm predictability of Osteria Ferrara feels, in the best way, like dining at the grown-ups' table.

Restaurateurs in Paris often seem to have a repertoire of two design strategies to put clients at ease: slovenliness, in the form of an excess of empty bottles or random paraphernalia, and goofiness, in the form of silly artwork or slogans. Osteria Ferrara's décor is laudably stern and text-free, its only mild extravagance some latticed bamboo lampshades that cast a pleasing web of shadow over the ceiling.

It's not really worth dwelling on the menu, which is almost an exact replica of Caffe dei Cioppi. Writing about the latter restaurant in 2013, I remarked, "The only thing more astonishing than the fact that no one else in Paris has replicated Ferrara's blueprint is that Ferrara himself has not replicated Ferrara's blueprint."

Eh voilà! 

The staff were very thoughtful in splitting our shared appetizers and mid-course between two plates, when I proposed dining à l'italienne, with meat following a risotto course.

While it would have been poor form, we probably could have split the main course as well. The Native Companion's tuna steak was positively gargantuan. I was very happy devouring the entirety of a delicately seasoned veal liver.

The aforementioned restaurants Passerini and Tondo have, along with Fabien Lombardi's 9ème arrondissement pizzeria Faggio and Pietro Russano's La Retrobottega, have gone some way towards identifying intelligent Parisian Italian cuisine with simultaneous a focus on natural wines. Osteria Ferrara meets them about three-quarters of the way, which I'd argue is an intelligent approach with Italian wine, given that Italy's natural wine scene is rather less organized - in the gang sense - than France's.

With our meal we chose a 2013 vermentino by Tenuta Selvadoce entitled "VB1." Biodynamic, unfiltered, vinified with natural yeast, it had a lot going in its favor. But I profess to seeing no reason to skin-macerate a Ligurian vermentino; the effect was to render somewhat extractive and impegnativo what might otherwise have been a more elegant, aromatic coastal white.

If anything, I'd be happy to see a few more well-made conventional choices on Osteria Ferrara's list. In its current state, they're almost all corralled into an uninspired subheading, "Vini d'Eccezione."

(I have never understood the logic of this approach. Why unnecessarily remind high-spending clients that they are spending a lot of money? It might not even be a lot of money, to them. One man's vin d'exception is another's vin de soif. Do restaurants do this merely to avoid frightening low-spending clients, who might glance at a three-figure Barolo and skedaddle? Do restaurants seek such clients?)

In any event, I'm sure I'll have ample occasion to explore the rest of the restaurant's list. The Native Companion, before we'd even ordered our meal, announced: "I can't wait to bring my mother here!"

I get along fine with her mother. But I'd return to Osteria Ferrara with them even if I didn't.

7, rue du Dahomey
75011 PARIS
Métro: Faidherbe-Chaligny
Tel: 01 43 71 67 69

Related Links:

My 2013 piece on the former Caffe dei Cioppi.

Le Fooding's succinct list of the dishes they had at Osteria Ferrara.

Télérama's enthusiastic 2016 endorsement of Osteria Ferrara.

François-Régis Gaudry's laudatory piece on Osteria Ferrara at L'Express.

François Simon has it right when he says it's "hard to slip a blade of reproach" at anything about Osteria Ferrara.

Paris-Update's reviewer took care to mention her appreciation that Osteria Ferrara didn't suggest the traditional Italian meal format of antipasto > pasta or risotto > meat or fish. Different strokes, I guess.

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