A Taste of Provence From a Rising Star

Maturity and confidence are great traits to witness anytime, anywhere. Even better when you happen to be on the receiving end, and the talented person happens to be a chef. Flora Mikula - certainly one of the rising stars of modern French cuisine -shines with clear brilliance, with a newly decorated Left Bank restaurant and more verve and stamina than ever.

Unquestionably, she is among the most talented female chefs in Paris, and in all of France. When Mikula speaks, her broad, expressive face lights up like an unfurling flower, and you can see, feel, taste that energy and enthusiasm with every dish, every bite of her authentic, Provencal-inspired cuisine.

Wisely, she has invested time in kitchens in her native Provence, in London and New York before making her way into the kitchen of Alain Passard's Arpege. On her own for the past three years, she is now showing at Les Olivades that she, too, has what it takes.

Right now, everything from meaty clams to her signature confit of quail,
to sweet farm-raised pork to original pots de creme grace her original, tantalizing menu. If you haven't already tried Mikula's caille confite, plump quail simmered to moist tenderness in bath of extra-virgin olive oil (rather than the traditional goose or duck fat of France's southwest), by all means go for it.

On a recent night, she paired the quail with tiny cubes of green apples
for a hint of acid, a showering of freshly toasted pine nuts for crunch and an almost smoky essence, all accented by an ever so faint touch of black truffle oil.

It would be nearly impossible to improve upon her almond-infused amandes gratinees, meaty clams (known as almonds of the sea) dotted with finely ground almonds and grilled to a warm tenderness. A hint of fresh coriander expanded the impact of the shellfish-almond duo, while a mix of mushrooms, onions and spinach (a modern approach to a la grecque) softened the flavors and added a garden-fresh edge.

Spare-rib lovers should adore her approach to an American favorite, with her travers de cochon fermier roti au miel et aux epices, unfatty ribs so meaty, chewy and tender, bathed in a sweet glistening sauce of honey and spices, so shiny you want to don ice skates and go for a spin.

Horn of plenty Desserts are full of hope and promise, with an original
and welcome corne d'abondance, a horn-of-plenty pastry cone filled strawberries and rhubarb and teamed up with a fine cinnamon ice cream.

Equally delicious was the pots de creme duo, one with a bright, licorice-rich anise flavor and the other infused with the flavors of rosemary and thyme. Fresh-from-the-oven madeleines and Bordeaux-inspired vanilla muffins, or canneles, won hearts and warmed spirits.

Other specialties to look forward to here include goat's cheese from
Mikula's native Nimes - picodon - aged in olive oil and perfumed with wild herbs; tender roasted baby lamb; breast of guinea hen with olives and polenta, and a well-priced regional wine list.

Les Olivades,
41 Avenue de Segur,
Paris 7
Telephone 01-47-83-70-09, fax: 01-42-73-04-75.
Credit cards: American Express, Mastercard, Visa. Closed Saturday lunch, all day Sunday, Monday lunch and two weeks in August. Menus at 179 and 250 francs ($30 and $38); a la carte, 250 francs; lunch menu at 130 francs.