Paris 3

November 15, 2019

But the most fascinating pairing of the trip was the day we ate lunch at Le Grand Restaurant and dinner at David Toutain.  Here you have two supremely talented chefs, both working in the modern idiom, offering completely contrasting notions of what a restaurant might be. 

David Toutain is a chef with a mission.  You know from the moment you walk into the rather strange room with its black walls and bright lights that this is not going to be completely comfortable.  What Toutain wants to do is challenge you.  If you do not leave a meal here with questions – what is food?, what is a restaurant? what is good service?- he will not be content.

The service could not be nicer, but the entire meals unfurls in frantic fashion.  The little towel for your hands arrives and – it’s cold!  Then the first dish comes to the table, a little sculpture with sticks of roasted salsify.  “Pick it up with your fingers.” 

After that the food just comes, and comes, and comes, at a really rapid pace.  There is nothing calm or relaxing about this restaurant.  Half the time you barely know what you are eating and the flavors are strong, intense, and filled with contrasts.

Jerusalem artichoke stuffed with smoked beef tartare.
Beets with white chocolate – served with another, and completely different iteration of the dish.
Celery root, shaved into pasta-like sheets, with hazelnuts and white truffles.
Scallop with celery (the chef’s current obsessions are various forms of celery and hazelnuts).
Focaccia, served with the most intense pine syrup you can possibly imagine.
Monkfish, cepes, hazelnuts
Lobster, served in three different iterations: grilled with juniper….
the claw with grapefruit followed by a bowl of strongly flavored bisque
My apologies for this terrible picture, but it’s proof of how shocked and delighted I was by the sheer force of the flavors: eel cooked in a thick black sesame sauce. It’s like music in your mouth: it keeps resonating long after the last bite is gone.
Next came rate duck, cheese, and the first of the many desserts.
blue cheese fluff with pear sorbet
seaweed and cider
chestnut, citron, lovage
The chef’s favorite childhood desert: beignets with cider.

I should mention that this is the short version of the meal. Those who opt for the major presentation get even more dishes: caviar with bananas, foie gras with butternut squash and clementines, hare with chocolate…. Either way, the staff is sympathetic, talkative, very present and the experience is exhilarating and challenging.

As for the restaurant itself – even the restrooms are unusual. It’s as if the chef wants to emphasize the fact that there is nothing ordinary about this experience. But if you’re willing to open yourself to it, you’ll leave with an entirely unique vision of food.

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