Hiramatsu: How the Mightly Fall

PARIS -- One wonders if Paris is not becoming too much like New York, where trendiness and “of the moment” mean more than gastronomic quality or true fidelity to a favorite restaurant.

I have many friends who have probably never visited a restaurant more than once. Or a restaurant that’s been open more than a millisecond. They play “the first to know first to go” game in restaurant land. But no matter how much they praise the place, they never go back. Who has time if one is obsessed with only the new?

Hiramatsu is a great example. When this miniscule, 18-seat spot opened along the banks of the Seine on the Ile-Saint-Louis in October 2001, you could not beg, borrow, or steal a seat in this elegant jewel-box of a restaurant for months on end. The fact that it was awarded a Michelin star the following March (when barely no one had heard of it) only helped to fan the flame of success. Its reputation was not helped, however, by the practice of not honoring those much-coveted reservations. I heard of numerous examples of clients making reservations, confirming the table that day, and being turned away at the door like total strangers.

So when I called for reservation a few weeks ago, I was delighted to capture a table for two for lunch just two days in advance. When my companion and I arrived, we found we’d be sharing the restaurant with just four other diners, an American couple on their honeymoon, and a Japanese couple on their honeymoon. How the mighty fall.

OK, on to the food. I’d say the chef gets it right about half the time, which is not good enough for the prices charged. I DID sample one of the more memorable dishes of many months: I can close my eyes and still taste the remarkable seared fresh langoustines on a bed of macaroni stuffed with cauliflower. I know, it does not sound that remarkable, but the giant macaroni filled with the most delicious white purée was a taste of pure, soothing joy. Alongside, zucchini blossoms were stuffed with a mixture of olives and minced zucchini, a lovely pairing.

Did I say zucchini blossoms? On a stormy, cold and rainy day in January? Whatever happened to seasonality?

I could also have run into the kitchen to hug the chef for his outstanding starter of the freshest of ecrevisses – crayfish – paired with the most perfect smoked pigeon breast, all set on a bed of truffle-laced vegetables and surrounded by a luscious avocado coulis. Beautiful as well as delicious, a first rate dish if there ever was one.

Then things begin to go downhill. If I closed my eyes as I ate the roasted veal I might have guessed tuna or swordfish that was way overcooked and well over the hill. How could a kitchen offer such disparity? And that for 45 euros? No way.

The wine list is huge and if you want to drink a 1986 Cheval Blanc (600 €) a 1990 Côte-Rôtie La Ladonne (837 euro) or a 1989 La Tache (1200 €) it’s yours with a healthy credit card. But there are some finds, such as the Minervois Château Cabezac 2000 that we adored and felt just a little smug about finding it on the list, at 26 €. Other good bets include the 1996 Savigny-les-Beaune Domaine Michel Gaunoux at 45 €, a 1996 Château Montus Madiran at 48 €, and a 1998 Mercurey from Domaine Michel Juillot at 40 €.

7, quai de Bourbon
Paris 4
Telephone: 01 56 81 08 80
Fax: 01 56 81 08 81
E-mail: paris@hiramatsu.co.jp

Closed Sunday, Monday, three weeks in August and Christmas week. Menus at 50 and 70 € (lunch), and 92 euro (dinner). A la carte, 130 to 150 €.