David Toutain is a cerebral chef. Nothing is accidental and when you enter his brand new 7th arrondissement restaurant you are subject to his rules and his way of thinking. Yet you never feel as though your arm is being twisted. This is not a restaurant for a casual meal, but rather one that is meticulously planned and thought out, and begs for, yes deserves, your attention. And it’s well worth your time.
Toutain, a farm boy from Normandy, appeared on the Paris scene like lightening a few years back at the wildly experimental Agapé Substance, and then disappeared almost overnight. I am so glad he is back.
The setting of the new restaurant on Rue Surcouf, seems at first somewhat of a contradiction. The sparse, cool space -- flooded with light from the floor-to-ceiling glass wall at the front of the restaurant -- feels relaxed, with its light wood and leather furnishings and minimalist décor. Yet the suited and formal service suggests a more serious approach to the dining experience. Immediately, this feels like a restaurant like none other.
As plate after plate arrives from the 68€ carte blanche menu, we are presented with flavors that explode in our mouth but do not overwhelm, as Toutain draws out the essential flavors of each and every ingredient. On the plate, he presents other-worldly creations, but in the mouth, flavors are familiar, calming, and even unusual combinations seem natural and obvious in his care.
Toutain’s ability to see new and interesting potential in ingredients makes him extremely unique – a bouillon of potato skins that smelled like someone walked past you with a dish of freshly baked potatoes, or Jerusalem artichokes transformed with a little sugar into an apple-like dessert. And who on earth would think of combining kiwi fruit with a raw oyster? And who would believe that, on the palate, the pairing would appear perfectly matched, totally sublime.
On one hand, this multi-course excursion can make your brain spin, even give you a headache. The food that comes from the hands of the boyish, mild-mannered Toutain reminds me of many meals I’ve experienced at the table of Pierre Gagnaire: the same cerebral attention, the same wildly experimental flash of genius, the same surprise and pleasure.
There is so much going on – porcelain, glass, cutlery that dazzle and beg for your attention – that a diner might lose sight of what is best about Toutain’s food. Each ingredient is impeccably chosen, each cooked to a perfection that makes me gasp. It’s as though he puts a camera lens on each ingredient and then blows it up, eeking the most honest flavor, texture, pleasure imaginable. He makes any oyster taste like the freshest, most delicious oyster you have ever tasted. He draws a new, welcoming seamless texture from a tiny cube of foie gras, turns what he calls gnocchi into a little pillow that melts in your mouth (photo). The meal is full of “why didn’t I think of that” combinations, like a sprinkling of freshly ground coffee beans at the edge of the plate, for dipping bites of exquisitely roasted pork.
To say that the 68€ menu is a bargain is an understatement. But for my money and time, I could have had a bit less food. And though I am not a huge fan of the no-choice surprise menu, I’ll put myself in Toutain’s hands any day. Service here is friendly and personal, and the wine list offers some real treasures. I loved the sommelier’s two wine recommendations: The Vincent Gaudry aromatic Sancerre was willing to serve as a quiet understudy to Toutain’s food, while Christophe Pichon’s 100% Syrah Saint Joseph was clean, spicy, and forceful. So go, sit back and enjoy, and don’t think too much – David has already done the thinking for you.
RESTAURANT DAVID TOUTAIN, 29 rue Surcouf, Paris 7. Tel: +33 1 45 50 11 10.Métro: Invalides or La Tour Maubourg. Open Monday-Friday. Closed Saturday & Sunday.davidtoutain.com firstname.lastname@example.org Lunch & dinner: 68 and 98€ menus (118 & 158€ with wine), 158€ seasonal truffle menu (210€ with wine) Reservations: recommended.