Beets with mackerel.
1 bis, passage St.-Sébastien, in the 11th Arrondissement.
01 43 55 07 52. Lunch and dinner, Mon–Fri; dinner only, Sat.
It’s very possible that you will second-guess your directions on the way to Au Passage. This Paris wine bar, which opened late last summer, is on a nondescript street with virtually no other visible commerce, little traffic and no character. All of which, of course, is part of its charm.
No money seems to have been put into the room. Red and white paint is slapped on the walls; the light fixtures would be passed up at a flea market; a sofa and two armchairs have been lined up along the back wall to form an improvised, low-slung banquette. Like all restaurants, it looks better full, when scooter helmets and jackets cover the tacky coat rack and the crowd—mostly young, mostly without pretense—fills the mismatched tables and chairs.
A few of the usual suspects are on the menu: saucisson, anchovies, rillettes, the now-ubiquitous burrata. But this is not the Paris wine bar to visit if you’re hoping for a board of mixed meats or cheeses. Here the cooks (in particular an Aussie named James Henry, who once worked at Spring) are actually cooking and composing colorful, seasonal small plates in the bold and bright style favored by the city’s best young chefs these days.
Fennel and radicchio salad.
I loved the salad of radicchio and fennel, the bitterness tempered by rich ricotta and golden olive oil, lightened with fresh mint. The beets with mackerel were a wonderful mix of blood-sweet earth and oily fish spiked with herbs. A plump piece of squid was splattered with red pepper and its own ink. The seared bavette with shiitakes was a mini–main course, and this is something to love about Au Passage: you really can make a meal of small plates here.
There was one letdown. Our dessert ricotta arrived accompanied by juiceless, hard, white-in-the-center strawberries. How about some figs or pears?
The wines are natural, and the by-the-glass list offers an appealing variety of styles. I drank a minerally Alsatian Riesling followed by a delicate red burgundy, both interesting and food friendly.
All of this is sweetened by friendly service and low prices. Wines by the glass go for between 3.50 and 6 euros, and the food is priced from 4 to 9 euros, a fantastic value for food this thoughtful.
I would happily visit Au Passage anytime, and at these prices, I can.
In a nutshell: Au Passage expands the wine bar genre well beyond cheese and charcuterie, offering a small-plates distillation of Paris’s current culinary ethos at small prices.
Price check: Small plates, 4–9 euros; wines by the glass, 3.50–6 euros.
If you like the sound of Au Passage, you’ll also like Aux Deux Amis, a boisterous Oberkampf wine bar that would be too hip if the food weren’t so good. Read the review.
Aux Deux Amis
45, rue Oberkampf, in the 11th.
01 58 30 38 13. Tues–Sat, lunch and dinner.