When Jacques Mélac’s father opened Le Palais du Bon Vin here in 1938, it was a clamorous quarter of typesetters, printers, and smithies. Before and after work and during breaks they fueled up on vin de pays and handed their empties over the zinc to be filled for home consumption. In emulation, perhaps, of Molière, who expired on stage, Mélac père died in 1977 following a fall down the stairs of the Palais’s cellar, a bottle of Chablis in hand (he was about to fix his wife a Kir). As the new proprietor, Jacques Mélac changed the name but not the décor. The pulley lights with doily-draped shades and banged-together cubbyholes for stacking wine bottles are d’origine, and you still have to walk through the kitchen to get to the main dining room. Mélac also added food, including products (ham, fresh and cured sausages, bread, trout, beef, cheeses like Cantal and Fourme d’Ambert) and prepared dishes (pâtés, terrines, confit of pig’s liver, the veal-tripe bundles known as tripous) brought up from his native Aveyron, a département within the Auvergne where the approach to eating goes beyond the normal French levels of fetishization and partisanship. You could spend a lot of time, as I have, driving around the Auvergne trying to uncover rare regional specialties, or you could just go see Jacques. A poêlon aveyronnais turns out to be an individual cast-iron casserole of weirdly compatible chicken livers and fried eggs in a roux-thickened red wine–and-shallot sauce tasting marvelously of meat and smoke. Farçou—onions, lardons, and Swiss chard bound in crêpe batter—is a revelation. Marrying easily with these dishes are the appellations—Cairanne, Côtes du Ventoux—which Mélac has helped rehabilitate. He himself makes a Corbières, Domaine des Trois Filles, as well as a dozen or so liters of "Château Charonne" from a vine that climbs in front of his establishment on the Rue de Charonne. Every September it is blocked off for a street fête where, amid music and dancing, the grapes are harvested and pressed, the juice bottled, and the bottles raffled off, with the proceeds going to a neighborhood fund. The vine was transplanted from Mélac’s father’s garden in Aveyron.
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.