Note, Feb. 14, 2022: L’Office now has new owners and is still great.
The owners of the immensely (and deservedly) popular bistros Richer and L’Office in the 9th arrondissement have scored another hit with their new restaurant, 52 Faubourg Saint Denis in the 10th, adding yet another fine eatery to this up-and-coming gourmet destination.
Like Richer (but not L’Office), 52 has no phone and does not take reservations, so my lovely goddaughter Oona and I arrived early for dinner, at 7:30 (yes, that’s early in Paris), to make sure we would get a table. A wise decision, since even though it was a Monday evening, the largish restaurant was packed shortly after 8:30.
That leads me to my only (minor) complaint about the restaurant: although the service from the staff of “all boys,” as the 16-year-old Oona immediately noticed and found odd, was unfailingly attentive and friendly, I did feel that they wanted our table made available as quickly as possible. There was no overt pushiness, but our second courses arrived only a minute after the plates from the first had been removed, leaving no time for rest and reflection.
That aside, we thoroughly enjoyed our meal. Oona is a vegetarian who doesn’t eat fish, and I was worried for a moment that there would be nothing she could eat on the carte du jour, but she chose a vegetable-based starter and then found something else to her liking on the list of small plates.
Her starter was a walnut sablé topped with pieces of beet cooked in port, beet purée wrapped in little cones of thinly sliced radish, and shavings of smoked white chocolate (I couldn’t taste any smokiness). The chocolate was the first clue that the chef likes a touch of sweetness in his dishes, but it was never overdone.
She was very happy with that unusual preparation, but she really went into fits of ecstasy over the next dish, a generous helping of burrata, served with a purée of red peppers, extra-fine olive oil and extra-extra fine tapenade, one of the best I have ever tasted. Wow. What a great combo.
My starter was an original take on one of my favorite foods – pretty much never seen on Paris menus – chicken livers, which can be difficult to prepare properly. While they cook up quickly, it’s a delicate process. Cooked a tiny bit too long, they are unpleasantly dry and rubbery. Undercooked, they are rather slimy. These were perfectly done, browned on the outside and pink on the inside. They were topped with an original accompaniment, a kind of nutty cracker studded with pistachios. A vinegary (balsamic) foam did the trick in cutting the richness of the livers.
As if to make up for Oona’s vegetarianism, I went all-meat, ordering the pork cheek “lacquée” with ginger as my second course. The generous serving of tender pork was deliciously accompanied by butternut squash (all the rage in Paris restaurants these days) and cooked chestnuts, creating a lovely combination of textures and meaty and sweet flavors.
For dessert, Oona chose the dark-chocolate cream with clementines, candied kumquats and cocoa crisps, a festival of chocolate and citrus that was as good as as it sounds. I had the pear and ginger clafoutis with sesame ice cream and Jamaican pepper, an interesting twist on a classic French dessert.
Congratulations to the owners of 52 and its predecessors. They have once again carried the day with creativity and quality in the kitchen and amiable service in a lively setting.Favorite