Dining on the Wine Trail: Autour de l'Âtre, Grusse
A precious presentation belies true skill and sincerity at ex-Agapé sommelier Gabriel Guinnebault’s new south Jura locavore dining destination.
Officially open since May 21st, Autour de l’Âtre is the long-awaited tasting menu restaurant of Gabriel Guinnebault, former chef sommelier of Paris one-star Michelin restaurant Agapé.
Last year, before beginning construction on the site, Guinnebault and his companion Léa Lobry (who is founding her own small Jura estate nearby) ran an informal guingette in the restaurant garden, delighting locals with charcuterie, cheese, pizza nights, craft beer, and natural wine. This work-in-progress iteration of Autour de l’Âtre was itself long-awaited, since the Jura at large, and the southern Jura in particular, is painfully thin on dining options. (Some student friends at Montmorot Viti once directed me to the best sandwich place in the area, from which I emerged with… a reheated French taco.)
As they open this summer offering a five-course tasting menu, Guinnebault and his team find themselves in the curious position of competing not with any other ambitious restaurant in the southern Jura - there is none - but with the locals’ fond memories of the guingette.
The garden, when I visit in June, is still a work-in-progress. The restaurant, built into a refurbished barn, is airy and minimalist, its ornamentation limited to a sculptural chandelier in the form of a gigantic inverted leafless goblet-trained vine. The eye is appropriately drawn rather to the handsome open kitchen, and to the hearth at the restaurant’s center, where Guinnebault presides.
Certain aspects of service and presentation at the restaurant version of Autour de l’Âtre are reminders of the cultural distance separating the conservative 17ème arrondissement of Paris (where Agapé shines its star) from the verdant, no-frills hills of Grusse. Daintiness haunts the dining room like a perfume. The comically large cutlery was forged by a local metalworker who, I imagine, can craft a fine harpoon.
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The restaurant’s concise, brilliant, and radical natural wine list is preceded by a long explanatory text, patrician in tone, that makes a dedicated natural wine fan wish to jump through a stone barn wall.
One stays, for wines from the likes of Jérôme Saurigny, Patrick Desplats, and Fabrice Monnin, along with a healthy preponderance of natural wines from the Jura.
At five courses, Autour de l’Âtre’s dinner menu is, for now, non-abundant and starch-free, ensuring mild pizza nostalgia among hardworking vignerons and their employees. (A non-negligible clientele in Grusse.) One encounters a mid-course of seaweed plated to resemble pasta and cannot help but wish it were actual pasta.
These are, however, issues that will probably resolve themselves - the story of an ambitious young restaurant adapting to its place, and vice versa.
After one inhales a spartan amuse-bouche of radish and raspberry, and an opening salvo of beet and local sheep cheese that strongly resembles another amuse-bouche, Autour de l’Âtre’s fundamental charms prove strong.
Guinnebault is a largely self-taught chef, but one would have trouble guessing it, to taste the immaculate Saint Pierre (John Dory) he prepares on the hearth the night I visit: fresh, firm-fleshed, and marvelously smoky atop its sweet snap peas, carrot, and zucchini. With the exception of the Saint Pierre, and a succulent, tapas-like course of octopus slivers, every ingredient derives from local farms, and packs the flavor to prove it.
Autour de l’Âtre’s sparse dining room contains, for now, just four tables, giving the impression that more are on their way. Guinnebault nobly says he’d rather welcome fewer clients, and serve them well, than pack the place and give less than his best. The problem with perfection, as fans of Jura wine have learned this last decade, is wherever you find it, there’s never enough.
Autour de l’Âtre
13 La Doye Grusse
+33 6 17 13 99 27
A May 2022 article on the opening of Autour de l’Âtre in Le Progrès.
More Jura reports:
An interview with Didier Grappe on hybrid grape varieties.
Pulling wood in Katie Worobeck’s new vineyard in Saint-Laurent-la-Roche.