L’Astance is one of the tougher restaurants in Paris to get into. I made the reservations about 7 weeks in advance. Our friend called for me since she is fluent in French. I am really glad that we did that. The chef, Pascal Barbot, is one of the hot chefs in Paris.
I would compare L’Astance to Per Se in New York. The menu, tells you that you are about to have a gourmet feast that will be creative. Sit back and enjoy. I actually liked the way they gave you a menu and inside, in French, it tells you what to expect.
The restaurant resides in the 16th, down a long set of stairs near the Metro. The location feels like a found area.
Christophe Rohat, the manager and I believe owner, greets you at the door. Small and intimate. An upstairs and downstairs. Maybe 8 tables in the downstairs room. Almost mustard colored banquettes in leather surround the room, they are low. The walls are a dark grey yet textured as if someone had made long steaks of black on a blackboard. A few small burnt red pillows are placed on the banquettes. The tables have comfortable leather chairs which fade into the wood work. But, my all time favorite, is the chargers on the table. The chargers come in about 6 different colors. Round glass pieces that sit as your plate until you are served your meal. Each plate has a singular color running through it as if the color has been pulled across with a thick brush. The room is so understated and those chargers just give the room a pop. Loved them so much I attempted to go buy them but the shop is closed and the owner moved to Poland. I am determined to find her.
The meal, well, the meal was an incredible experience for all of us. A foodies paradise. We also split 3 bottles of wine between the 5 of us which added to the whole experience.
We began with a small plate of thick yet miniature toasted pieces of brioche about the size of your palm that had a dollop or rosemary lemon butter on each that had melted by the time you eat it. This comes with a spoon of a melted cheese. Maybe 1/2 tsp of cheese with a small green leaf on top. Simple, elegant and tasty. You are supposed to eat one separate from the other.
Next out was the palette cleanser. A decent sized shot glass. 3 separate flavors. On the bottom was a melon puree about 1/8″, next was a puree of ginger about 1″ up and then last was a berry foam on top. Kind of strange but definitely did the trick which is to open up the taste buds.
This is where the bread and butter comes out. The bread is delicious and they should stop filling up your plate every time you finish a piece because there is so much food yet to come that it isn’t necessary. I have done these 8 course events before and you really need to pace yourself. One of the other things that happen is the placement of the food. Every placement is timed and choreographed. Each dish comes out and is served to everyone at the exact same time. It is very elegant. I always like that. We all eat together, no waiting, no getting cold.
Next course out is the “house specialty”. Everyone gets a slice of this. My guess is the original piece looks something like a rounded mallomar, but bigger. It is thinly sliced raw mushrooms incorporated with medium sliced pieces of fois gras. On one side of the slice is hazelnut oil and the other is a lemon curd. I really loved it. Very innovative. Beautiful presentation too.
The girls really liked this next course. The plates are all deconstructed so you can eat each thing separately or decide what you want to eat together. What I find genius about this is that everything singular taste delicious on its own but no matter what you pair it with on your plate, the merging of those two flavors create something entirely different and it generally works. This plate was 2 small grilled shrimps, shelled. A long molded dollop of a ground peanut paste with an Asian flavor like a chutney and a variety of individual vegetables. I can’t remember each one. On an individual plate came a large tempura miso leaf. Simple and crispy. This dish was light but full of flavor.
Next out was a rolled fillet of sole ( they like rolled sole here ) that had been poached and lightly seasoned and finished off in an oven because the top was a tad crispy. Really beautiful and delicious. An individual razor clam where the clam had been taken out, chopped with greens and shallots and a tad bit of garlic then placed back in the shell. A piece of Japanese spinach that had been folded over and over again and then rolled and flavored in dashi. Rolled up to be the size of half of your pinky. 2 small round Japanese radishes that were covered in poppy and sesame seeds. One bok chop leaf in the middle of the plate and a soy circle in the middle of the plate to pull each taste through. Clever.
We began to move into more substantial courses. Roasted small fillet of Scottish salmon sitting next to a tamarind raisin sauce that really kicked and a handful of different individual vegetables such as 1/2 a snap pea that had cumin flavorings. I believe there was another option to go with the salmon on your plate which was an onion mint salsa.
I saw other people getting duck or maybe it was lamb because at the beginning they asked if there was anything we didn’t eat. We said we eat everything so our next course was veal which is what the chef had planned. One juicy loin of veal served with a cherry jam, a poached small purple onion and a few greens.
I loved the next course. Fois gras that had been pan fried in a Sauternes which made it almost sweet with large white cannelloni beans and edaname beans over the top. Sublime.
Oh, yes there is more. We now move into the dessert courses. As much as I liked them, they were missing some chocolate which would have been nice and easy to add since there were so many options.
First out was a vanilla bean custard that was a tad harder and cold in the middle like a cream cheese. Loaded with specks of vanilla and full of flavor. I had gone into one of the gourmet shops in town and found a jar of vanilla beans. They were supple and intoxicating. I imagine that is what went into this dish.
We then got 4 different plates that you are supposed to eat starting in a certain way. A method to the madness. First start with the lemon grass mint sorbet to cleanse that was super spicy. Then you moved to the honey ice cream with roasted fruits and brown sugar. Next to that was a crystallized hard sugar with a custard inside and a white chocolate and a tangerine sorbet down the center. Last of that course was a meringue cannolli piped with custard and a lime sorbet and grapefruit sorbet in the middle. I loved this.
We were not done. This was very innovative but not sure it rocked my world. In 3/4 high egg shells, they had poured a jasmine scented eggnog in them to drink along side with mini browned honey Madeline’s and a fruit plate with berries, apricots and white peaches. Best fruit I have had this summer.
We rolled out of the place. They could not have been nicer to us and the experience was well worth the cost. The night not yet complete. We raced over to the Eiffel Tower before it closed. Josh had not gone up yet and Fred hadn’t either. Not really Fred’s thing and Josh was a little anxious about going up. Anxieties that need to be dealt with head on.
When you go at night, 15 minutes before closing time, the line is minuscule. We were up at the top within 20 minutes of getting there. The city was magical. The tower glistened. Now that we know the city we can all point out areas and highlights. It was really a wonderful end to a special evening.