When I read a good review of a new restaurant with a female chef on the Rue Lamarck in Paris’s 18th arrondissement, I immediately alerted a friend who lives there and made a reservation. It is called A.lea, as in à Lea, I suppose, after the cheffe, co-owner of the restaurant with William, who handles the front of house.
The restaurant is prettily decorated with white tiles on the back wall, offset by pumpkin-orange walls behind the bar, framing the window onto the kitchen.
The prices here are just slightly below the norm for this type of restaurant promising creative seasonal food. We were offered a complimentary amuse-bouche: vegetable soup topped with crushed nuts and containing an ingredient that popped up a bit too often in other dishes served later: grain mustard. The soup was good, but not sighing-with-pleasure good.
I started with a very impressive-looking vol-au-vent: perfect pastry filled with leeks, shellfish and fish sauce. Nothing wrong there, but all in all, it was a bit bland.
My friend started with the veal tartare with confit lemon sitting on a pool of fish bisque and sprinkled with fresh tarragon. Again, all was fine and fresh, but it failed to bring a look of joy to my friend’s face.
The cheffe finally worked some real magic with the star dish of the evening: duckling with kabocha squash, mushrooms, gojuchang (Korean red chili paste) and stunning meat gravy. The perfectly cooked duck was lusciously tender and married brilliantly with its accompaniments.
The fish dish, on the other hand, was another case of good but not exciting: grilled maigre (stone bass) with cauliflower two ways (purée and florets), bone marrow (vegans and vegetarians are ignored in this restaurant; there were no all-veg dishes on the menu) and red-wine sauce.
The dessert was a surprise: a classic tarte Tatin. I was prepared to scoff at the lack of originality – it wasn’t deconstructed or made with exotic fruits or doused with limoncello – but it was so delicious that I just shut up and scarfed it down. Long live the tarte Tatin! It’s a shame that it has pretty much disappeared from Parisian menus.
William the co-owning server, who was a chef himself in a former life and has worked in a few great restaurants, was cordial and friendly but strangely lacking in professional waiterly skills. When we were ready to order, he ignored us for quite a long time even though there were only a few people in the restaurant at that moment. Later, when I ordered a glass of red wine, he poured it into the glass that had previously held white wine instead of bringing a fresh glass as is the custom in good restaurants. Quibbles, but still …
The duck and the dessert prove that A.Lea deserves a return visit to see what else the cheffe can do.Favorite