When your wife's parents say how about we take your daughter Saturday night so you can have an evening out, there really isn't a moment of hesitation. Of course the answer is YES or in this case OUIIIIII!!! The reflection starts immediately after the harried response - where are we going to eat? Since my days of frequent restaurant dining have dwindled, I've been stockpiling a list of places I'd like to try. Google Maps comes in quite handy for this -- if anyone wants to collaborate on a Paris restaurant map, do let me know.
In this day of instant feedback, thanks to Facebook, Twitter and the like -- I post a quick question -- Yamt'cha or Passage 53 for Saturday night. A well known Parisian concierge responds nearly instantly and tells me I need to try the new "menu degustation" at Passage 53. Done! I head over to La Fourchette or the English version, The Fork and book my first online reservation. Confirmation comes through within a couple of hours and we are good to go.
When you arrive at the Passage des Panoramas just opposite the Musée Grévin, you start thinking what kind of tourist trap is this -- reminds me of Place du Tertre or what's the name of that street in the 6eme I used to affectionately call bacteria alley? Anyway, you move forward knowing you are going to find a gem in this Passage - apparently the oldest in Paris.
Et voila! A small, stylishly designed bistro if you will. There couldn't have been more than 20 seats and several couples were sitting alone at tables for 4 -- nice to have the space which is rare in a small Paris restaurant -- I doubt this will last for long unless it's intentional which is shocking. The staff is incredibly friendly and accommodating. After an aperitif, champagne of course, you are informed that you have a choice between two menus -- one at 60 euros and another more copious at 80 euros. Of course I'm going for gluttony here and the more the merrier if you want to sample a chef's creations.
What I really appreciated was the possibility to have wine by the glass accompanying the menu. It's a pleasure to have a chance to sample a number of different wines with a tasting menu than having to stick to one bottle, especially when your wife isn't drinking. The selected wines were excellent and I believe all from Bourgogne where the chef spent several months studying the regional wines and how they would work with his cuisine.
OK, enough background information. Let's get to the food and here's hoping I remember all 10 dishes. First up, a puree of broccoli with extremely minuscule broccoli flowers on top and a dash of Spanish olive oil. Good, but honestly not earth-shattering -- the contrast of textures was creative. Second was the chef's signature dish and something I had never tasted. A tartare de veau on a chopped oyster bed - very refined and subtle. The chef has a philosophy of never using more than three flavors in a dish, so you essentially are always tasting the purity of the ingredients.
The third dish was calamari - no, not the fried kind - but portions of fresh calamari exquisitely cut into small squares but remaining attached to the larger piece (if that makes any sense - a picture would have been better) - set on a purple cauliflower puree with shards of sauteed white and purple cauliflower -- ok now things are getting interesting and with the arrival of each dish -- better I'd say.
The fourth dish was likely my favorite of the night. Sauteed foie gras with mara des bois (wild strawberries) and a hot rhubarb sauce. This is one of those taste sensation experiences -- everything melting in your mouth at the same time. I usually prefer mi-cuit to sauteed, but in this case - pure pleasure.
Now on to the main courses -- 2 fish dishes and 2 meat dishes. I don't know if it was because I was blown away by the foie gras, or the wine was kicking in, but I don't remember as many of the details. There was a rouget followed by lotte. Both were good, I preferred the rouget. Then we had pintade with a nice crispy skin, followed by a very tender piece of veal.
(rouget = red mullet, lotte = monk fish and pintade = guinea hen)
There were two desserts, now you must be thinking I was drunk because actually I really don't remember them. I don't think I was drunk and I seem to recall I liked both desserts. What does this tell me? Write down the courses, take pictures, or just deal with the fact that this review is not comprehensive.
Bottom line -- I loved it -- thought it was truly creative without being over the top and for the time being, totally reasonable for a 10 course tasting menu. It was a lot like Astrance at the beginning -- let's see what happens when the stars come.
53, Passage des Panoramas
01 42 33 04 35
*if you want a romantic experience, they have a private terrace on the first floor which you can reserve -- or for a group up to 8 people try dining in the private wine cellar