Akrame Benallal is a chef to watch. When I dine out, I want to be surprised : but not too much. I want the familiar : but not too familiar. I want to be tested : What IS that spice I can’t quite put my finger on ? But most of all, I want to leave satisfied and with my wallet still intact. Benallal – having trained with Pierre Gagnaire and Ferran Adria – understands all of these desires and fufills them. I don’t know many Paris restaurants where you can enjoy a two-course lunch like his for 25 euros, 35 euros if you add dessert. His modern, all-grey dining room seats just 20 or so diners, with an open kitchen and a stool-height table d’hotes. His food is spontaneous, light, and both playful and serious at the same time.He is a fan of sous vide or cooking ingredients vacuum-sealed in a low-temperature water bath. And he loves to get to the essence of an ingredient, turning it into dried powders that work a special magic. I loved his complex and satisfying first course of a runny, delicious sous vide egg set atop a pungent avocado puree, topped with strips of haddock, a smokey white foam, and a crunchy corn powder, reminscent of corn chips. Sound weird ? It wasn’t. Just great flavors full of surprise. A main course of steamed cod (photo) appeared a bit more mainstream, though the alabster fish was topped with a bright green sprinkling of spinach powder, and accompanied by a cup of flavorful carrot essence that I would have taken for a more forward-flavored butternut squash. Dessert was ethereally light, a blending of essence of vanilla and essence of raspberry, a mysteriously cloudlike creation that was neither a cream nor a mousse but just substantially satisfying. Note that the restaurant is closed in August, so make a note to try it in September.
AKRAME, 16, rue Lauriston, Paris 16. Tel: +33 1 40 67 11 16. Métro: Charles-de-Gaulle Etoile. 25 and 35 euro lunch menu; 45 and 55 euro menus lunch and dinner. Open : Monday to Saturday, Closed Sundays and August. http://www.akrame.com. firstname.lastname@example.org