Monday, February 16, 2009
Ze Kitchen Galerie: St. Valentine Hits the Spot
This one has been on my radar for some time, I think dating back to when Pariscope used to carry the essential little Paris Time Out English guide in the back of the magazine. Better late than never, I reserved for a pre-V-Day dinner, hoping to avoid the Saturday night throngs out celebrating the big day for romance. Never one to hold superstition in the way of a good meal, I snorted disdain at the precarious warnings of Friday the 13th and booked a good three weeks in advance. The rest is history.
If being escorted to a corner table in the rear of the restaurant, sandwiched in-between the large glass separating the open-to-view kitchen and the couple at the next table close enough for us to sense the tremors of their beating romantic hearts is your idea of a romantic dinner, then ask for table no. 24 when you reserve. That was where yours truly & Co. were installed. But in fact, it’s not as bad as it sounds. The alternative was being sandwiched between four beating romantic hearts. As it was, the proximity of the table to my left gradually evaporated into thin air (assuming that ‘proximity’ is capable of evaporating into anything, pardon my grammatical construction, svp) with each subsequent glass of wine. Plus, I was too transfixed by the entertaining spectacle taking place in the kitchen on my right, for which we had a front-row seat. I counted a staff of eleven carrying out a finely choreographed routine of dish preparations, all under the watchful eye of chef William Ledeuil, who was awarded "Chef of the Year" by GaultMillau Paris Guide in 2006. On to the food.
As is my wont, I didn’t enter Ze Kitchen tabula rasa, but had done some reading online beforehand. What I learned is that this is another restaurant that tends to polarize people. Over at the Chowhound site, PhilD lamented how perplexed he was by the rave reviews accorded Ze Kitchen and related how ‘distinctly unimpressed’ he had been by a couple of meals there last summer, decrying out-of-balanced flavors and jarring juxtapositions of the restaurant’s benchmark east/west fusion theme. LikeFrogButOOOH responded that he never experienced those problems and generally found Ze Kitchen’s meals extremely well-executed. I have to put myself in LikeFrog’s corner on this one. Eschewing the 75€ (or somewhere in that ballpark) ‘discovery menu’—which our waiter described as a 3-3-2 tour of the menu (with half portions of ala carte selections), we opted for the ala carte trifecta (entreé, plat, dessert) to accompany our slightly bitter, but very satisfying bottle of 2005 Madiran ‘Meinjarre’ (22€ red, comme habitude). Feeling it impolitic to take photos of my soon-to-be-consumed food, I hereby present some previous Ze Kitchen concoctions, borrowed from A Moveable Feast's blog:
Ze Kitchen’s web site includes a now dated facsimile of the carte, but it should give you a general idea of what we were offered: two crustacé and poisson marinée entreé selections (huitres, King crabe, & bulots vs. St. Jacques Marinées), a selection of bouillons and pâtes, five choices of Plats à la Plancha, and a selection of desserts. We selected both of the marinated seafood/fish entrées (21€ each), the grilled cabillaud and shoulder/breast lamb plates (32€ and 34€, respectively), each of which was interestingly prepared—it is modern, fusion cooking afterall—and, sorry PhilD, balanced and refined. If I elaborate on my selections, at first I was a little perplexed at the oysters+King crab+snails marinated entreé, but it grew tastier with each bite. The presentation didn’t make much sense—where to begin?, etc.—but it worked anyway. I was left with a green sauce that I cannot begin to describe, but I sopped it up with my spoon, took another drink of wine, and started feeling my own beating romantic tremors. The grilled cabillaud was awesome. Grilled only slightly, the fish was lightly cooked to perfection and surrounded by steamed vegetables whose origins and names I could not begin to surmise. Let’s just say they were vegetables that had come from Planet X, but they were superb. But the highlight of the evening, by far, was the white chocolate ice cream Wasabi dessert (11.20€), which both Co. and I opted for after I happened upon some favorable comments online. Don’t ask me to describe it—just go and order it. You’ll find out.
On the downside, Ze Kitchen offers no amuse bouche to speak of, save a small bowl of tasty black olives, nor does it offer any interesting little cakes to accompany the end-of-meal espresso. For a Michelin one-star restaurant, you’d think that would be standard operating procedure, and it never hurts to put a little more effort into the little things like that. The restaurant itself is chic and finely appointed, but not snobbish—the fashionable crowd was pretty laid back and it was a comfortable evening, despite the closeness of the tables, and our waiter (who had the odd habit of sneaking up behind me) was young, friendly and helpful. The service, criticized elsewhere online, was flawless—plates arriving and departing on schedule and without much adieu. The table problem, by the way, can be avoided by double-dating—there were some more isolated tables for four scattered around the room. Finally, I didn’t mention why it’s called Ze Kitchen Galerie, but I assume that should be obvious from the accompanying photos. The restaurant serves as a gallery of a sort, with modern paintings lining the walls, all available for purchase. Ze Kitchen’s left bank next-door neighbor is another noted Parisian restaurant in the same price range, Les Bouquinistes—without exception, the Internauts agree that Ze Kitchen is your better bet. I haven’t yet tried the Bouqs, so I’ll pass on that account.
Overall, if you are tired of traditional, classical French cooking and up for some modern, unusual fusion, I recommend Ze Kitchen Galerie. Well deserving of its Michelin rating, we clocked in at a respectable 157€.
ZE KITCHEN GALERIE 4, rue des Grands Augustins 75006 Paris tel. 01 44 32 00 32