Chef Koji Aida’s evening procession of pure Japanese tastes is a mix of subtle and explosive maneuvers that arise from his steady hand and a magical teppanyaki grill. This austere retaurant set on a quiet 7th arrondissement street near the Bon Marché department store may not be for everyone. Some will find flavors too subtle, or will consider the ceremony more of a side show, even what some call “the Benihana experience.” But to my mind, lovers of pure Japanese food and artistry should do themselves a favor and reserve for an evening’s pleasure. The restaurant is small, with room for just nine at the counter, four in a private room, and two spots for tableside dining. There is a single, set menu that offers a steadied procession of creative, ultra-fresh offerings. In a single dinner, Aida manages to cover extensive ground, with fish, shellfish, meat, eggs and plenty of herbs, spices and vegetables woven into the combination. On my last visit we had a treasured spot at the bar, right in front of the spotless stainless steel griddle. I will never forget – and will forever try to imitate – his plump, soft-cooked egg yolk set in a clear glass vessel (photo), topped with a seaweed and bonito broth laced with bits of black winter truffles. A beautiful work of art on its own, the dish offered lovely textures, mouth pleasures, color, aromas. Other favorite memories of the 11-course meal include a palate-opening tartare of veal and oysters bathed in tangy, golden bits of gelatin; and a stunning dish of mackerel rolled around a mound of sushi rice then wrapped in rectangles of nori. The chef deftly toasts the seaweed, then takes a blow-torch to the prepared rice and mackerel bundles, an explosive taste that was luxurious in the mouth. The meal has a clear rhythm, a “wow” taste followed by a subtle one. After the mackerel came a tiny taste of glistening, line-caught seabass (bar de ligne) escorted by a dab of freshly grated wasabi horseradish. Alongside, a bit of crunch and freshness came in the form of finely shredded cucumber and radish salad. Who would have thought to deep-fry a naked scallop, but here a duet of fried coquilles Saint-Jacques are sliced in half to display the scallop’s amazing progression of textures and colors, raw to crisply cooked. A simple mound of fleur de sel on the side served as a singular seasoning. Beef tenderloin – from none other than Paris’s star butcher Hugo Desnoyer – is seared on the hot griddle, then cut into bite-sized cubes and sauced ever so lightly. What should have been the star of the meal came out just a bit too dry for my palate: Aida worked like an orchestra leader constructing his showpiece, a studied mix of grilled lobster, lobster roe, sushi rice, eggs and gentle seasoning, all gathered into a perfect mound on the griddle and delivered to diners in the signature hand-crafted pottery. Nothing is left to chance here, and for some that may lack drama. I love the place, and after the finale, clementine sorbet with a touch of clementine puree, I walked out into the night feeling fresh and oh so light.
AIDA, 1 Rue Pierre-Leroux, Paris 7, Tel: +33 1 43 06 14 18 (call after 2 pm for reservations) Métro: Vaneau Open: Dinner only Monday-Friday. Closed Saturday & Sunday.
www.aidaparis.com (in French and Japanese) Email email@example.com
Dinner: 160€ omakassé (tasting) menu (210€ truffle menu, in season)