Akrame: Modern and magical


Akrame Benallal is a chef to watch. When I dine out, I want to be surprised : but not too much. I want the familiar : but not too familiar. I want to be tested : What IS that spice I can’t quite put my finger on ? But most of all, I want to leave satisfied and with my wallet still intact. Benallal – having trained with Pierre Gagnaire and Ferran Adria – understands all of these desires and fufills them. I don’t know many Paris restaurants where you can enjoy a two-course lunch like his for 25 euros, 35 euros if you add dessert. His modern, all-grey dining room seats just 20 or so diners, with an open kitchen and a stool-height table d’hotes. His food is spontaneous, light, and both playful and serious at the same time.He is a fan of  sous vide or cooking ingredients vacuum-sealed in a low-temperature water bath. And he loves to get to the essence of an ingredient, turning it into dried powders that work a special magic. I loved his complex and satisfying first course of a runny, delicious sous vide egg set atop a pungent avocado puree, topped with strips of haddock, a smokey white foam, and a crunchy corn powder, reminscent of corn chips. Sound weird ? It wasn’t. Just great flavors full of surprise. A main course of steamed cod (photo) appeared a bit more mainstream, though the alabster fish was topped with a bright green sprinkling of spinach powder, and accompanied by a cup of flavorful carrot essence that I would have taken for a more forward-flavored butternut squash. Dessert was ethereally light, a blending of essence of vanilla and essence of raspberry, a mysteriously cloudlike creation that was neither a cream nor a mousse but just substantially satisfying. Note that the restaurant is closed in August, so make a note to try it in September.

AKRAME, 16, rue Lauriston, Paris 16. Tel: +33 1 40 67 11 16. Métro: Charles-de-Gaulle Etoile. 25 and 35 euro lunch menu; 45 and 55 euro menus lunch and dinner. Open : Monday to Saturday, Closed Sundays  and August. http://www.akrame.com. contact@akrame.com

Les Tablettes: try again

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A recent visit to Jean-Louis Nomicos’s new Les Tablettes left me feeling sated but not satisfied. In the space that formerly housed Joel Robuchon’s La Table du Robuchon, the completely redecorated room – designed to make you feel as though you are in a woven market basket – a lot is left to be desired. The 58-euro lunch menu, which includes wine, is not badly priced and I would have felt it was a bargain if the food had sparkled. It didn’t. A daurade tartare paired with shiso and mango seemed to have no point and was simply bland. A langoustine broth with a tiny mound of minced langoustines seemed a waste. The greatest pleasure in these delectable sea creatures is in the airy texture, totally lost here. I did love the gorgeous lamb shoulder, which cut like butter and was bathed in a sparkling sauce laced with spice (photo).  A cheese course of fresh goat cheese, Parmesan and apple just made no sense, and a dessert of apple compote is not my idea of dessert. I think the chef is not aware of what incredible competition he has these days in Paris. Time to go back to the drawing board.

LES TABLETTES, 16, rue Bugeaud, Paris  16. Tel: +33 (0)1  56 28 16 16. Métro: Victor Hugo. 58-euro lunch menu. Other menus at 80, 120, and 150 euros.  Open daily. www.lestablettesjeanlouisnomicos.com

A lemon lover's dream

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Pascal Barbot is in top form, offering us food that is light, laced with herbs and spices, and an avalanche of varied citrus flavors. I left his 12-course lunch with pep in my step and a palate coated with extraordinary taste memories. How to decide best bite of the meal? The demitasse-sized condiment of spinach and pequillo peppers? The baby ravioli filled with a tangy bite of cedrat or citron? The chili pepper sorbet brilliantly paired with lemongrass and ginger? Or the almost too pretty to eat lemon meringue sablé? (photo). Then there is the warm and golden  brioche spread with a fragrant, salty butter of rosemary and lemon. And of course the chestnut honey madeleines. For grand dining, the 110 euro lunch menu is one the city’s best buys. Pascal Barbot and partner Christophe Rohat have always done it their way, discreetly, professionally, with a smile. And if lucky enough to secure a table in this tiny restaurant, we are the lucky recipients of their talents.

L’ASTRANCE , 4, rue Beethoven, Paris 16. Tel: +33 1 40 50 84 40.Métro: Passy. Open Tuesday through Friday. Closed Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.