At the French restaurant Cuivre on Huaihai Road, the best dish on the menu is one that isn’t there. It’s the bread, and it comes anonymously alongside the other food we ordered and pushed to the fringe of our table. The brown souffle-shaped loaf doesn’t stand out among the bright watercolor-like plates, but it’s the culinary equivalent of stealth wealth: rich in garlicky, nutty flavors, loaded with soft and crummy textures, and flush with rosemary.
It’s an air of casual confidence that Cuivre carries well. We sat outside in the new outdoor terrace for dinner – their first renovation in seven years – where owner and chef Michael Wendling told jokes while kneeling beside our table wearing a handlebar mustache and a Mickey Mouse t-shirt. The former chef of Allure French Cuisine at Le Royal Meridien runs the restaurant with Fanny Cervera, and she delivered glasses of white Sancerre like a seasoned mountain biker nonchalantly discussing her favorite black diamond runs.
Cuivre isn’t completely old money; the wine list spots a number of natural wine producers especially from Beaujolais, Languedoc-Roussillon, and the Loire, and there’re orders like the chia seed and spirulina Superfood, a paleo tuna tartare with tapioca chips, and Onion with hummus, chia seed crisps, and petals of Iberico cheese. “We try to keep up with the trend of people wanting healthier dishes,” said Wendling.
But it’s the traditional country-style food that make a point. The escargot, brimming with garlic butter, was rich and savory – “just like how my Mom made it,” Wendling said – while the lamb tagine was sweet, spicy, tender, and thrillingly complex. There was also a baked red snapper, juicy and so well seasoned that the accompanying butter sauce wasn’t needed, and the chocolate mousse was ethereally light and fluffy. The best way to order, however, is to pick something soupy or saucy off the menu, because you’ll get that bread to mop it all up.
1502 Huaihai Zhong Road / 淮海中路1502号