29 Rue Surcouf,
Phone: +33 1 45 50 11 10
Full disclosure: I’m not a big fan of the whole molecular gastronomy trend not just in France, but at-large (though I’m more than happy to be proven wrong and I most definitely (and thankfully) am wrong… once in awhile anyway). But like it or not, Paris seems to be embracing this avant-garde school of cooking wholeheartedly, which is why you’ll find so many mad scientists in Parisian kitchens. It’s not that I hate foam and edible dirt and all. I just want to eat good food that tastes like food rather than like an idea. Make no mistake, David Toutain falls into the avant-garde camp of cooking.
In fact, David Toutain is one of the most buzzed about of the bunch, which is why I had to take a 12:45 lunch reservation because I couldn’t get in for dinner. (I promise I wasn’t bitter!) I felt lucky to even snag a reservation. After all, New York Times Magazine called it “the hottest new restaurant in Paris” back in January 2013. The room itself is modern and minimal with high ceilings, plain white walls adorned with a few pieces of fossilized wood, walnut tables and a lone cluster of a live garlic plant encased in glass. I suppose the room is so spare, so that you can concentrate on the menu, which is hand-written on old school paper; take your pick of four courses, six, seasonal courses, or a ten course tasting menu, which is just too many for the middle of the day if you ask me. (We opted for the six course menu.)
No matter what you settle on, every guest (or at least the day I was there) begins with a ball of blood red Beef Tartare. Yes, a golf-ball sized nugget of raw beef, mingled with raspberry and showered with a hazelnut crumble. It’s a pretty weird way to begin any meal, nevermind that there’s no silverware on the table and the server insists, “Eat it with your fingers.” I love finger foods, but this was a weird and rather primal start, especially seeing as the amuse is usually intended to whet your appetite, which raw beef most definitely does not.
Then came a plate of raw, just picked Peas in their Pod with the stems still attached, topped off with a green “sponge” (that’s what the server called it) of verbena and a few edible flowers, another oddball dish with very little reward. Ditto the Gillardeau Oysters paved with a sweet Kiwi Gelee that overwhelmed the poor little mollusks.
Thank god for the deliciously verdant Cream of Asparagus Soup with a barely cooked egg, which you stir yourself to thicken it, and for the perfectly Grilled Squid, plated with a tasty wild garlic cream. There was an deeply briny nibble of Smoked Eel in an inky puddle of black sesame foam, and a not as successful Poached Whiting Fish in garlic foam, which was lacking in flavor. My favorite dish came toward the end of the meal. It was the Guinea Hen served two ways: Moist white meat and another of dark meat with supremely crispy skin alongside white asparagus, all anointed with a magnificent coffee sauce, (which you could put on anything and it would make it taste good) which brought the dish together.
I love dessert, but I just couldn’t get into the White Chocolate Panna Cotta with a Coconut Glace, but I did dig the Gariguette Strawberries, crowned with Pistachio Foam. I hate to say it, but I will anyway: There are a few good dishes at David Toutain, but it’s definitely not the most exciting or gratifying restaurant in Paris. If molecular gastronomy is your thing, you should hit this spot up. If not, this is the Emperor’s New Clothes. All hype.