Semilla: A new kid on the block

Semilla Opening 3 15 12
Mushrooms Semilla 3 15 12

American Juan Sanchez and New Zealander Drew Harré have become favored food and wine fixtures in the Saint-Germain neighborhood (with restaurants Fish, Cosi, and wine shop La Dernière Goutte) and my good friends seem to have hit yet another all-bases-loaded home run with their newest endeavor, Semilla, a tapas, or small-plate style restaurant carefully designed for the way we want to eat today. A “soft” opening on Thursday produced winning dish after winning dish, with Meilleur Ouvrier de France chef Eric Trochon at the helm, dreaming up a mix of totally new and amazing to-the-point inventions, as well as soothing classics with a modern, updated edge. Here’s the idea: a nice mix of little and large tastes for vegetarians, meat eaters, lovers of the classics as well as the adventurous. Juan, Drew, and their crew have spent more than a year fine-tuning this lovely spot, updating the beams and brick décor into a clean white yet bistro-like space, with an all-stainless open kitchen. On the menu: paper-thin slices of delectable charcuterie from Corsica;  an amazing  starter of grapefruit, coconut cream and Asian herbs; a creamy velouté of mushrooms; a must-have plate of seared shitake mushrooms grilled-seared with just a touch of oil, salt, and pepper (photo); fabulous skate-wing topped with a peppy sauce vierge;  a state-of-the-art blanquette de veau; a rosy-rare côte de boeuf; a  dessert of winning citrus-based soupe d’agrumes. And more to come! The wine list is on its way, with always dependable and affordable selections from Juan the Magnificent. They are still in test mode, so lunch only this Friday and Saturday. Sunday will be brunch, then steaks and stuff for dinner. Coming Monday, it’s 7/7. To be continued…………..(By the way, Semilla is Spanish for “seed.”)

SEMILLA, 54 rue de Seine, Paris 6. Tel: +33 1 43 54 34 50.Métro: Saint-Germain des Prés or Mabillon. Open: Daily.

Lunch: 19€  unique menu. Open between lunch & dinner for charcuterie and drinks.

Dinner: A la carte 35-55 €

Saturne: a keeper

Squid, Ble Noir, Osyter Mousse Saturne

Too much ink has already been spilled over Saturne, one of a handful of current cult restaurants in Paris. Since the restaurant’s opening in September, much of the word has been negative and underwhelming, suggesting the place might have needed a softer opening. All I can say is that a recent lunch at the hands of young chef Sven Chartier (last seen at Racines) tells me this is a place that I am going to want to return to again and again. What we want today is fresh, inventive fare that is at once familiar and surprisingly new and Saturne delivers.

The blond wood decor and airy glass roof is warming, and service (despite a bit of confusion over a reservation)  is attentive and correct. Sven loves the mandolin, and everything from all manner of root vegetables to golden Comté cheese are sliced paper thin. The vegetables arrive as though they were lean, shiny sheets of colorful pasta, all the while guarding their integrity and flavor. Main courses, such as a moist cochon de lait and fat slices of codfish, were cooked to perfection. And there are some pleasing surprises, such as alabaster squid topped with a tiny buckwheat blinis and an effusive oyster mousse (photo).  I didn’t love the wine, a “natural” beverage, Domaine Valette's  Viré Clessé 2005. It had a maderized edge, no balance of fruit and acid, an added, alas, nothing to the experience. Desserts were a bit heavy,  with a thick brioche perdu  and  overly saturated baba au rhum. But I’d go back again and again just to sample baker Christophe Vasseur’s pain des amis, a vibrant, thick-crusted loaf with a bright and nutty flavor. (Boulangerie du Pain et des Idées,  34, rue Yves Toudic, Paris 10.)  At lunch time, snacks and wine are served at the bar near the entrance.

Saturne, 17, rue Notre-Dames des Victoires, Paris 2. Telephone : +33 1 42 60 31 90.  Métro Bourse. Closed Saturday and Sunday. 35 euro lunch menu, 37 euro dinner menu.

Yum yum Yam'Tcha

Shrimp and Water Chestnut Wantons Yam T'cha

Is it worth the wait? Three months or more for dinner, a tiny bit less for lunch. That’s for you to decide, but a recent lunch at Yam’Tcha, a 1 1/2-year old postage stamp of a restaurant was not only memorable for the food, but throughout was even-handed, carefully paced, not the least bit precious, and just a perfectly nice place to be on a rainy November day in Paris.

Chef Adeline Grattard (pedigrees include time spent with chefs Yannick Alléno now of the Michelin  three-star in the hotel Meurice and Pascal Barbot, of the Michelin three-star L’Astrance) and her Chinese tea sommelier husband Chiwah Chan make a rare pare, she working elegantly in her tiny box of an open kitchen at the entrance, he with great ceremony (but not ceremoniously) delivering tiny cup after cup of soothing and remarkably matched teas that pair lusciously with her carefully constructed French-Asian cuisine.

The meal included a myriad of ingredients and flavors, tender Brittany mussels merged with fermented beans and pumpkin noodles, anointed with just the right touch of brown rice vinegar; a duet of giant wontons (pictured)  stuffed with plump and full-flavored shrimp and deliciously crunchy water chestnuts;  a pad of steamed foie gras shook hands with a delightful blend of wakame seaweed and julienne of turnips, with a foam of dried scallops that emerged much like a sprig of parsley, not essential to the dish, but a pleasant nod.

There’s no menu choice at this small, 20-seat restaurant, but I won’t complain. The food is remarkably light, not a bit show-off, and just different enough for all of our everyday fare to make one sit up and take notice. I love the décor, simple and elegant with lovely little chopsticks and must-have Italian porcelain in pale earth tones. The brief wine list is remarkable. We enjoyed two delicious and well-paired Burgundies. The white Nuits St Georges Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier Clos del a Marechale was chardonnay to perfection, almost as though the winemaker was thinking of Grattard’s fare as he vinified. Equally well-paired was the red pinot noir Nuits St Georges Les Boudots from Michel Noellat, a wine with a gentle touch of spice and smoke, elegant and right at home in this little jewel box of a restaurant. The name, by the way, is Mandarin for “drink tea,” and you will!

Yam’Tcha, 4, rue de Sauval, Paris 1. Telephone From 50 to 65 € per person, without wine. Closed Sunday evening,  Monday, and Tuesday.  Metro: Louvre-Rivoli.