Growing up in Burgundy, France, Jean Pierre's opportunity of a lifetime occurred in 1951, when he began to study the art of French cuisine under the celebrated chef Jules Dumaine. "My father told me that I was to go and learn from Dumaine, so I did," Pierre says. Today, the Frenchman is a 72-year-old grandfather and the chef at La Cave — passing along techniques and recipes to his own apprentice, Jacob Gates.
In 2008, Pierre and his daughter, Carole Giraudeau, said au revoir to the fine-dining business when they closed their North Side restaurant, Bella Arte. But they weren't done with restaurants, and so they opened La Cave in Carytown this past March. While they're gradually adding affordable menu items and specials to the roster of their French café, the plan is to keep it simple. "We do not want a full-scale restaurant like we had before," Giraudeau explains. "It's too much work, and right now is not the time to do it." Using a minimalist approach to gourmet cuisine, Pierre's dishes are made-to-order: He prepares smoked-salmon croissants, escargot and pâté sandwiches with speedy precision.
But there are also simpler pleasures to be had at La Cave, namely a French hot dog. An imported European frankfurter machine — found at many cafés in France — heats a baguette from the inside out on a warming stick and injects it with Dijon mustard and a steamed sausage. The café's elongated bar is ideal for wine tastings, while curved banquettes offer intimate seating for sharing tapas or a cheese plate. Pleased to offer pairing suggestions for the latter, Giraudeau prefers Bordeaux or Burgundy wines that harmonize with strong cheese flavors like Gorgonzola, Brie, Boursin and Gruyère. For more information, call 355-3131.