A return to Porte 12

Mackerel 'snacké' with cucumber sorbet

I said I’d go back for dinner at Porte 12, and am so glad that I did! Chef Vincent Crepel and his talented staff continue their magic in the evenings with a five to seven-course no-choice dinner, and if it must be “no choice” I will happily cave in to their small plate selections. 

As we were seated at the table, and ordered a glass of Jacques Lassaigne Brut Reserve Champagne, the waiter set in front of us a plain, pale orchre-colored plate adorned with two perfect white truffles – several ounces worth – small and intensely, profoundly, fragrant. When the 28€ supplement to the 65€ seven-course menu was announced, who in their right mind could say no? (The white truffles will be on hand until the end of November, when the choice changes to fresh black Perigord truffles, no price noted yet.) 

Whole white truffles

And then the feast began, a parade of food that was purposeful and powerful, not a drop, a sip, a bite out of place, each ingredient holding up on its own. Crepel’s is a lean cuisine with a punch, not a touch of butter or cream, just the essence of what each ingredient really is.

From the rich fresh mackerel snacké (meaning lightly seared or here, hit with a blowtorch for a quick-grilled touch of intensity) served with a pungent, fragrant touch of cucumber sorbet. On to the dreamy 63° egg doused with potato foam and an unforgettably rich and delicious caramelized onion juice (like a waltz on the palate), contrasted with just a tiny touch of vinegar. We swooned as the evening evolved. Shavings of white truffles here, white truffles there, nothing superfluous, nothing surplus.

63° egg, potato foam, caramelized onion juice, white truffles

 Moving on, the scallops – barely cooked and enrobed in golden-brown “chips” of topinambors, or Jerusalem artichokes – were complete perfection, paired with a brilliant green lovage cream, an exquisite dish, where every ingredient matched, shook hands, went together on the plate and the palate. A few shavings of fresh white truffles did not harm the dish a bit!

Next, codfish paired with soft, almost billowy baby carrots, a butternut squash puree, so very pretty, just a few bites, all showered with truffles.

Then meaty, moist, tender strips of pigeon breast arrived, showered with crunchy rounds of buckwheat, paired with a parsnip puree and slices of beets cooked encased in a crust.

Between bites, we sipped some exquisite, simple wines, including Francois Cotat’s fragrant, atypical Sancerre Jeunes Vignes 2007 (floral, aromatic, with hints of bitter almonds), and Alain Voge’s Cornas Chailles 2011, a rich and concentrated, netural-oak-aged Syrah.

The cheese course, a thin slice of cow’s milk Comté, and an equally elegant strip of sheep’s milk cheese, was escorted by a puddle of mild acacia honey topped with slices of white truffles, another example of a simple yet flawless combination of ingredients joined together on the plate, like your favorite black dress matched with the perfect accessories.

Like many modern new restaurants, Porte 12 has managed to create an elegant, new world white-tablecloth restaurant without the white tablecloths. (What are all the blanchisseries going to do?) This subtle return to a more sophisticated atmosphere is a welcome respite from the in-your-face bare bones décor choices of recent years.

I guess that my only complaint about this compact, well-run restaurant is the black plates. The dark pottery never flatters food, and as far as I am concerned, never makes the dining experience more pleasurable.

As for the finale, the airy mousse au chocolate topped with a chocolate crumble and an unanticipated (but perfectly paired) beet sorbet sent us out into the street dancing. The restaurant’s playlist remains close to my heart. One can always dine with pleasure listening to Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Simon and Garfunkel, even Bill Withers. Go, while truffles are still in season!  And dance!

porte 12  |  12 rue des Messageries  |  Paris 10  |  Tel: +33 1 42 46 22 64  |  Métro: Poissonnière  |  Open Tuesday - Saturday. Closed Saturday lunch, Sunday, Monday and public holidays  |  reservation@porte12.com   |   www.porte12.com (reservations taken online)

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