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?).
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!
My head rating says, “8.5 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “8 out of 10″.
53 Passage des Panoramas
Te. +331 42 33 04 35