I could easily lunch or dine every week at L’Abysse, the open and welcoming new Japanese restaurant run by Michelin three-star chef Yannick Alléno and Japanese sushi master Yasunari Okazaki, on the ground floor of the Pavilion Ledoyen in the 8th.
Over the years I have had the good fortune to eat several times at Jiro, the legendary Tokyo sushi restaurant by sushi master Jiro Ono. But since it’s almost impossible to get a table there now, I can save the airfare and take the 83 bus to sample Okazaki’s sublime, succinct, memorable fare that is the most brilliant and satisfying sushi I have ever eaten outside of Japan.
The open, white and red dining room, decorated by Alléno’s wife, Laurence Bonnel, is as soothing and pristine as the fare. With just 12 seats at the sushi bar and a fine collection of tables at window level, each diner is assured a quiet, relaxing moment. The wall sculpture of thousands of criss-crossed wooden chopsticks is worth a small detour on its own.
Chef Okazaki and kitchen partner Taïchi Megurikami make an exemplary pair behind the gorgeous blond olive ashwood counter. In fact, one could spend the entire meal just staring in amazement at the chefs’ expertise, rolling those balls of rice for impeccable nigari sushi (choose from 15 selections, according to availability, from blue lobster to red tuna, langoustine to monkfish liver), slicing glistening filets of tuna, arranging giant mussels along a platter to be added to their outstanding chirashi, a sort of deconstructed sushi rice bowl. Generally this is not one of my favorite Japanese specialties, often more rice than anything else, but here a bowl of exquisite sushi rice is topped with a colorful tapestry of tuna, cubes of Japanese omelet, and mussels. The seasoning for every bite here is impeccable, well thought-out, and a dream come true on the palate. Once diners have consumed the “topping” a delicate bowl of hot shellfish broth is poured over the rice, an elegant touch. Like a growing number of restaurants and fish shops today, L’Abysse also offers ike-jime fish, killed using the ancient Japanese method of a needle to the brain, making for a product that remains fresh longer, is more flavorful and colorful.
But there is much more than sushi and chirashi at L’Abysse. Alléno and Okazaki have collaborated to create a series of beautiful and full-flavored dishes, from a soothingly gelatinous preparation of corn and bright, vinegared beets; a duck foie gras confit paired with kombu seaweed and smoked eel; and white cabbage with nori and mussels in a warm broth.
If you are a sake lover, you could almost study here for a PhD in that ultimately varied fermented rice drink. We sampled three totally different sakes at one meal, each one more amazing than the other, perfectly paired to the course at hand. Try the Bunraku Kimoto from Maison Kitanishi; the Kimon Nishiki from Maison Senjo; and the Ibiwite Nama, from Maison Sugihara.
Service is impeccable with the outgoing and friendly direction of Adrien Legourriec. I am not a fan of most Japanese desserts, and the Chaource ice cream (prepared with the excellent cow’s milk cheese from the Champagne region) was one that just left me rather cold – too salty and not what my palate wanted after an otherwise perfect meal. The chocolate tart with yuzu ice cream, however, did make me sit up and take notice.
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