Thursday, October 13, 2011

Paris, O Paris...

This is a brief post about what we ate on our recent lovely trip to Paris. We have made it to unbelievable restaurants, sampled amazing chocolates, saw beautiful art, walked romantic streets, and just had a great time. The restaurants we ate at are all in the nouveau French cuisine where the emphasis is on fresh, local, healthy,... and amazing.

Arriving to our hotel, we head immediately to lunch at Ze Kitchen Gallery... a funky and hip restaurant in St. Germain right a block from the Seine.

The appetizers we chose were a play on raw fish. These dishes to me are as good as the fish you get, and they were wonderful (with a unique presentation): Asian flavors, mixed with slightly sweet and crunchy peels of cucumber, some radishes marinated green papaya and mango. Dora had the (raw) sardines, tomato and a ginger like sauce. It is slightly challenging to eat raw sardines as the fish is a little tough.

Trout from Banka....
Sardines
Cod...
Rabbit!

Desert... Chocolate sorbet, Giandua on macademia cookie with a "dried" sugary mint leaf...




The entrees were somethings else. Dora had the cod fish... cooked to perfection with some type of miso sauce and again amazing presentation. I had the rabbit which was braised in the oven and then (I think) sauteed with pesto wild mushroom... Finally, for desert, we shared a Giandiua chocolate masterpiece on some macademia cookie... a perfect ending to a beautiful lunch. Overall, we felt the restaurant, although the food was super delicious, in some way overdid the Asian/French fusion somehow too much. The trout was the most memorable dish, and I would come here just to have it, but the rest, apart from looking pretty (paris style), did not really come through and shine.

The next day, all rested after a long evening of strolling along the streets of the Latin quarter, we head to the Louvres in the morning and then take the train to Rue Varonnes for a fabulous lunch at Septime! WHAT AN AMAZING TREAT... perhaps the best meal we had in Paris (may be anywhere??) The restaurant is unassuming and simple, more like a bistro, in a friendly neighborhood. It does not have the snobby feel of Ze above, but nonetheless very elegant and inviting. The menu is simple: we ordered the "Carte Blanche:" four dishes and wine... (it was difficult to get a reservation here as I called many times more than a month ahead... they only answer the phone right before each sitting... go figure that one out).


The first dish we got was this Tomato dish below.... I have never had a salad as good... an Ode to the Tomato: the grainy white you see is tomato granita, various pieces of heirloom with thin slices of some radish, sprinkle of fresh ricotta, all drizzled with some magic sauce. Wow. I still remember the taste of this when I close my eyes, and if I had to summarize my trip to Paris, it would be this salad: what was it, crunchy and fresh, amazing flavor, cold granita was just the key as the temperature added an aspect of freshness, warm house-made ricotta, and finally the drizzle some sort of oil citrus magic... Bravo to the chef for creating such a SIMPLE combination that elevates the tomato to a front and center masterpiece... Wow.

Tomato, ricotta....

Next, we had the "merlu de ligne" ( a line caught Hake fish -same family as cod) lightly lightly seared and mixed together with among other things a courgette -zucchini- sliced in half and lighly cooked stove top with some slight caramelization ---- WOW. I have never had a zucchini taste so good. The bubbly sauce is made out some boiled ham sauce... I mean this was a total grand slam.
Merlu de ligne
cochon Iberique

The third dish is a meat dish and  out comes this porc "iberique" (from Spain) where the restaurant had the porc farmer eat exclusively a diet of certain mushrooms, and nuts. The meat is seared lightly, covered with a cabbage leaf, also lightly seared with a little aromatic salt, and then all drizzled with some olive oil sauce... I mean this was just pure bliss. Again, as in the above dishes, no fancy acrobatics hide-behind-some-sauce meat, fresh raw and let nature do the work for you. This restaurant is easily at the very top of its form, kicking on all cylinders.
Finally, there was the desert: simple, (cold) chocolate ganache, with an orchestra for the raspberry: a sorbet with a hint of mint and lemon, fresh berries, and all sprinkled with deep frozen raspberry crumbs.

This restaurant represents I think the finest example of this nouvelle cuisine Francaise: simple execution based on 1st class ingredients (they are obsessive about the ingredients - soil, geography of the farm, what the animal eats, where the zucchini comes from....), and fresh. None of the old guard saucy and heavy French, but a more youthful reinterpretation of an illustrious culinary tradition. This is my favorite meal of all time...

Bye Bye - Adios.... (in front of Septime -can I live here???)




Our final top meal came the last day in Paris in this exclusive and amazing restaurant manned by this renegade chef -think of Michael Carlson at Schwa in Chicago- only way more refined and frankly -better. The thing about Agape Substance is that it is at the forefront of hot... very elegant: the restaurant is meant to be a "comptoir" -a counter- with 20 seats where you sit on a 4 legged stool one customer adjacent to another, and the chef is designing the plates close by (about 6 feet from us - in fact, the ceiling was covered with a mirror, so you could look up and see exactly what the chef was making). It does feel cramped but somehow you forget about all this (you have to sit on a stool for 3 hours over lunch!) as you are amazed by not just the food but also watching the chef, Mr. David Toutain, personally putting together almost every dish and often times delivering it to your table... There is nothing I can say here about the restaurant (see the website), but the food is just unbelievable. To hear the waiters explain to you what every dish is made of and where the ingredients come from AND WHY, how it was cooked... and you drink wine, and you drink more wine (even Dora!), and the magic rolls on. Below, I have pictures of the 14 dishes we got...
opening of a parsley mousse....


Cold Tomato soup with powdered avocado... delicious.

Dumpling of some sort with a magical (I still remember this) carrot based broth... wow.

Avocat, caviar....

Zuchinni, shrimp, ...

Haricot vert, salmon, ginger sauce.... wow

wild carrots, mousse of mango, puslane


WOW... this fish was simply divine.

This is perhaps the best dish for me: farro -wheat, perhaps boiled, with a piece of white fish, and caramelized onion...

Chef de service showing off the pork belly from the restaurant's farm in the spanish highlands (I am not joking)

The maestro chef toutain delivering some dishes to our neighbor

Symphony of various kinds of mushrooms

Pork Belly heaven heaven heaven, with collard greens, caramelized onion (heavenly) on an avocado sauce...


light dessert of soaked in liqueur fresh strawberries on a light parsley mousse (yes parsley)

the chef called this "music de chocolat": chocolates with different consistencies: crunchy, gooey, powdered....


This was definitely a memorable meal, a once in a lifetime.

Our visit to Paris was all what we expected... on any given day you can visit more than thirty different restaurants with unbelievable meals served by a legion of creative young chefs living their dreams of cooking in the city of lights, combining the elegance of everything that surrounds them into some amazing dishes.

Bye Paris. We will be back.

3 comments:

Elena said...

Tomato granita? Ham foam? What is this heaven? Yes, I imagine I would definitely skip the raw sardines and go for the mushroom/nut fed pork... something else. If only I could leave for Paris tomorrow - I would.

How did you pick your spots? It's a daunting task for a city like Paris.

Elie said...

I spend long hours on researching where to eat and had a long list, but decided to focus on the 10+ restaurants that 1) are getting a lot of buzz recently (on french culinary websites) and 2) represent Nouvelle Cuisine (i.e. new french)... I did not want to eat 1) beef liver with sauce or any "foreign" food... I have many more restaurants that I would love to have tried if we had more time there.

You guys should go there for Christmas. I imagine it would be magical...

sir said...

I am traveling with a friend with many allergies - should we stay away from places likes these, that are creative, but ith limited menu?