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Le Dauphin, Paris

Praises sung

Praises have been sung and we have all heard too terribly well about Inaki Aizpitarte and his Chateaubriand, the best of France according to The World’s 50 Best Restaurants List, for its innovative, tremendously reasonably priced, ever-changing tasting menu. The thing is, when I was there, I only found my menu of that day hit-and-miss and left nowhere near the edge of satisfaction..

Le Dauphin, neighbour to Le Chateaubriand, is Inaki’s second addition into Paris’s booming “bistronomique” scene. It follows the formula not otherworldly from its brother restaurant. Innovative dishes, jovial ambiance, and no website. The only difference is that Inaki scrapes off the tasting menu format and institutes a tapas dining menu of over 30 dishes, excluding cured meat and cheese options. The price per dish fluctuates between €6 and €20, with the average being €11-14.

The place looks a quirky coupling of wooden tables, granite floor, a lot of mirrors and stark white fluorescent lights. There is an island of wine bar in the middle and an ad hoc wine glass chandelier. Booking at Le Dauphin is, of course, essential but the reservation line isn’t so much a pain in the arse. You can call all day, as opposed to Le Chateaubriand’s line only taking calls from 12-2pm. Walking in after 9pm is also possible, and you can sit+eat at the bar.

A meal of no boundary!

This tapas bar format means liberty. (A lot of it).

I ordered some few dishes, topped up my meal with some more, and more. Food can land on the table as one dish at a time or all at once, depending on the kitchen. (I rearranged the sequence below in order of what I think it should be).

Oursins, Navet & Citron Caviar (€13) was a dish to behold. This was a chilled broth of lemon carpaccio, pickled radish and sea urchins. Very clean and refreshing taste that merited from an acute layering of acidity. The subtle sea aroma from curd-y urchins was pleasantly juxtaposed by seaweed dust and sea purslane. Ravioli Grilles (€6) was delicious gyoza with a twist of shallot & red wine vinegar dipping sauce. The casing was expertly done – delectably chewy and crispy – while the filling oozed very well thymed meaty-ness. St Jacques & Panais (€16) was one of the most memorable dishes of the evening. Here two succulent scallops surfing on a wave of sweet parsnip puree were seared to heavenly crispy-ness on one side while the other was left raw and naturally, exuberantly silky. The pickled turnip discs added zingy pleasantness and the parsnip crisps bitefuls of mild medicinal bitter taste.

Poireaux, Oignons & Oeufs de Truite (€10) featured charred leeks and perfuming onions. The latter was slow-cooked for an intensely sweet and moreish effect. Trout roe provided accidental pearls of fishy salty-ness. That said, it’s not one of the most rave-worthy dish of the evening. Risotto a l’Encre (€11), however, was the quintessence of luxurious comfort. In this dense and glossy pool of squid ink, the al dente rice grains did not float or sink, but were suspended in between the surface and the bottom. The cheese-infused ink had miraculous consistency to do just that. The taste was rich and sublime, but more liquidified than its Spanish counterpart of Arroz Negro. I could lick this bowl clean over and over and over and over and over again!!!!! Marquereau, Persil & moules (€11) was, by no means, less impressive. The fillet of mackerel was pan fried for an exceptional crisp and served minimalistically with parsley puree and watercress. Grassy herb sauce lubed up the oily, nicely salted fish and implemented flavours not short of being explosive and cleansing. Good acidity from the pickled radish, and the perfectly poached molluscs injected an oceanic scent to the dish.

(Half way to my finishing line of writing this post. I can’t believe I had eaten this much!!!)

Meat!

Demi Pigeon de Paul Renault, Coing & Figues (€14) arrived with a crispy skin but still blood-leaking pink. Game-y, very game-y. The pairing of sharp quince and mellow sweetness from roasted figs was a touch of genuine uniqueness. “Paul Renault” referred back to the farmer who bred the bird (and I can assure you he did a bloody good job at that). That said, my preference went directly to Wagyu, Aubergine Fumee (€15). The majestic beef was just seared. Just! One bite into this led to carnivourous robustness., which the very, very smoky aubergine and the rich dehydrated black olive powder worked to intensify. And to balance this off, there were rings of grilled sweet red onions. Simply gorgeous…

Sweets…

Glace au Lait Ribot (€5) was translated into fermented milk ice cream. The flavour, however, was mild, like a smooth paste of non-fat yogurt ice cream. Big peppery kicks from olive oil. I liked Tarte aux Fruits Rouges (€8) more. The crusty biscuit played a boat for fresh raspberries and strawberries and spiky Italian meringue. Vibrant and expertly assembled flavours. There was a note of lavender in the background, too.

<3 <3 <3

That’s it!

I had 10 dishes at Le Dauphin, all of which delivered. The evening felt unrestrained (unlike at Le Chateaubriand), and the place got more bustling at night break. Le Dauphin is seriously where I don’t have to take myself too seriously, when I know and can rest assured that the food I eat is taken absolutely seriously. While I wouldn’t make so bold a statement that this was one of the best meals in my life, it was, along with L’ Arpege, the best and most exciting meal I had in Paris. The bill wasn’t as explosive as the flavours. €100 including a glass of wine and a bottle of water seems a fair price for such a big meal, high quality ingredients and innovations.

Enough said,

My head rating says, “10 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “10 out of 10″.

LE DAUPHIN

131 Avenue Parmentier
Paris
75011

Tel. +331 55 28 78 88

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Passage 53, Paris

Fated!

My visit to Passage 53 was accidental.

The first minute I rested my wearied buttocks in Paris I received an apologetic phone call from a hard-to-book, 2-Michelin-starred restaurant whose table I had secured. The guy on the phone informed me that my lunch reservation was cancelled due to “last minute unavailability”. (Bl**dy, f**king French!). 10 calls or so after I got myself a table at Passage 53, another Parisian hard-to-book, 2-Michelin-starred foodie haunt. This, surely, must be fate..

Yet, 10 trips up and down Passage des Panoramas. It wasn’t so fated as I couldn’t find Passage 53. Maybe it’s my stupidity as when looking back at my photo log I did manage to snap a picture of the restaurant without realising its whereabout. (Can you spot it?).

 

The Menu?

Tucked in a small shopping alley, Passage 53 was an intimate venue seating no more than 20. It boast a nearly all Japanese team in and outside the kitchen. (Chef Shinichi Sato is an Astrance, Gagnaire and Aida alumnus). This came with a language barrier (FOH doesn’t speak much English and booking is taken in French) and a size problem (the narrow spiral staircase to the upstairs loo only allows skinny Asians to move with liberty).

The menu was not Japanese but innovative French with a Japanese precision and understanding. All tasting. The cheaper “Dejeuner” option (€60) consisted of 5 courses, while the price doubled for the 10-course “Degustation”. I went for the latter.

My amuse bouche of Pumpkin Veloute tasted intensely and purely of pumpkin, well juxtaposed by the bitter cafe au lait foam and the distinct coffee bean aroma. Sourdough bread came with chilli-ed butter, which I tucked in before snapping a shot. Oyster & Caviar arrived steeped in perniciously light and smoky haddock foam. The foam had a distinctiveness of flavour – sea-like salty-ness and zesty orange skin – which mediated the two pricy delicacies with a sumptuous touch.

The procession of sea creatures continued with skillful and balanced pairings with vegetable items. Cauliflowers sliced into A4-thin leaves toppled meticulously scorched and grilled squids in a creamy nest of cauliflower puree. Very subtle and I tasted the purity of what should be tasted – squids and cauliflowers. The textural marriage of delicate but crunchy cauliflower and chewy, squiddy springy-ness felt like somebody was joyfully tap-dancing in my mouth. Scallop and Deep Fried Artichoke was less spectacular but by no means substandard. Crispiest artichoke injected acidity into the plump scallop, while the tiny drop of Beurre Blanc puree and the anise-y astina cress smoothed and mildly spiced the dish. Then there was Cep Mushroom Many Ways – veloute, carpaccio, and a quenelle of cooked, chopped ceps (there is a technical term for this but it escaped me) – accompanied by roasted cod fillet and garnished with mustard cress. The mild veloute was frothy rather than creamy. It worked to enhance the sweet, firm and perhaps miso-glazed cod, counteracting the thinly shaved pickled walnut that was hidden underneath.

To finish this off, I was given a bowl of crystal-clear, parsnip consomme with caramelised onion ravioli. A heart warming palate cleanser to prepare me for the meat courses…

The meat courses…

There were two and both were sensational. Bresse Chicken with White Truffle d’Alba (€40 supplement) was the epitome of autumnal foliage. I marvelled at the precision of these delicately shaved truffle – same size, shape and thickness. The aroma permeated not only my table but those nearby. These leaves of truffle disintegrated at the tip of my tongue. Under this lavish bush lay a square-shaped chicken breast with super crispy skin, creamy mashed potatoes and slow-cooked egg yolk. It wasn’t a complicated but simplistic dish wherein all ingredients were exceptionally done and sang together and apart for their own right. Sadly, it wasn’t long until my eyes turned green, for the table next to me was given two bushes of truffle for the same dish (they went for the cheaper tasting menu, hence a bigger portion). BLOODY HELL..

What they did not get, however, was this waterbathed pigeon breast with pine nut sauce, quince puree and creamy cereal risotto, the most potent dish of this meal. Sweet nutty pine had its texture migrated into silky risotto. The sharp acidity from quince was a pleasant slap of taste and provided a creative contrast to the game-y pigeon of buttery creaminess. (I still wanted more of that bloody truffle, though!!).

There was an obvious Gagnaire influence in desserts, if not in the taste, in the presentation. Five mini-desserts arrived at once. The preparation showcased skills but not necessarily innovations previously implicit in savoury dishes. My Mandarin Juice, Jelly and Foam was a refreshing palate cleanser. Another dessert of an unidentifiable flower did not thrill. Banana & Chestnut Mont Blanc with Banana Ice Cream was heavenly, while an ambiguous shot of a chocolate disc cracked to reveal Roasted Fig with Boozy Sabayon was a true autumnal comfort. I finished it all off with a dark and luxurious chocolate tart with orange marmalade.

The bill and more…

I am not reluctant to say I enjoyed my meal at Passage 53 very much and I particularly liked the sustained approach to innovative cooking. The kitchen has done well in exhibiting skills to enhance the superb ingredients with minimal pairings. The taste, also, is not too experimental and clinical. Inventive, yet familiar.

If I am to look at this from a completely different perspective, however, my meal at Passage 53 results in dishes being solidly good rather than terribly explosive and exciting. It’s not like at L’ Astrance or Gagnaire where I heard of combination of dishes and felt thrilled to eat. However, the safeness also pays off, for unlike A or G where dishes could be too risque, the painstakingly calculated flavours at Passage 53 will (and should) always deliver.

..the truly only flaw in my opinion is the unapologetically small portion size and I did need a post-meal tapas crawl to actually fill me up!

Enough said,

My head rating says, “8.5 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “8 out of 10″.

PASSAGE 53

53 Passage des Panoramas
Paris
France
75002

Te. +331 42 33 04 35

www.passage53.com