Agapé Substance: Of bold flavors and creativity

Egg with Fresh Almonds, Garlic Cream, Thyme, Lemon Verbena

This is not the last time you will be hearing about David Toutain,  the brilliant, 30-year-old chef at the week-old Agapé Substance on Rue Mazarine in Paris’s 6th arrondissement. Think explosions of concentrated flavors, gorgeous food, pristine ingredients, and toss in a friendly, easy atmosphere for good measure. Toutain has studied with Marc Veyrat as well as Alain Passard, and while he flirts with a mountain of unusual ingredients (when did you last eat a root called benoite urbaine?), loves to play with yuzu and feves de tonka, and creates a pesto of the wild green consoude, there is nothing really unfamiliar about his food. As does chef Jean-Francois Piège at at Règle de Je(u), Toutain presents guests with a list of ingredients --- egg, zucchini, crab for a first course; carrot, cod, monkfish as a second course; pigeon, veal, mushrooms as a third; hazelnuts, chocolate, cherries, for dessert. You pick one from column A, etc. deciding whether you want 3 or 4 courses or just let the chef go wild. Not since my first taste of Pascal Barbot’s food at Astrance many years ago have I been so immediately taken with what an inventive chef is trying to convey. This could oh so easily become just too precious, but it’s not.  In a brilliant starter with the tangy citrus yuzu as the star, he managed to include bitter, sweet, salty, crunchy, velvety in a single dish. A single egg starter (photo) combined fresh almonds and garlic cream, thyme as well as lemon verbena. Forward flavors lead the way in his combination of crab and grapefruit in a shrimp broth that was a home run for me. A mélange of the tastiest of wild mushrooms arrived with a pesto of the wild green consoude (its leaf has an oyster-like flavor) and was topped with a welcoming hazelnut “crumble.” The wine list here is strong on natural wines, and I appreciated the pairing of a 2009 Aligoté´ from Alice and Olivier de Moor, a wine that seemed to simply hold hands with Toutain’s modern, approachable fare. There is room for just 24 guests, mostly as one long shared table, making this a convivial place to discover some of Paris’s newest taste sensation

AGAPE SUBSTANCE, 66 rue Mazarine, Paris 6. Tel: +33 1 43 29 33 83.

Métro: Odéon. Open lunch and dinner  Tuesday through Saturday.

Lunch menus at 39, 51, and 65 euros. Dinner menus at 51, 78, and 99 euros.