Continuing my quest to discover Paris’s best Japanese restaurants, I followed visits to Sanjo and Hakata Choten with dinner at Abri Soba, the second restaurant of the owner of Abri, Katsuaki Okiyama, one of the most brilliant of Paris’s wave of young Japanese chefs specializing in French food. At Abri Soba, however, he goes Japanese, with an izakaya (Japanese after-work bar and tapas joint) specializing in homemade soba (buckwheat) noodles, of course, but also a wide selection of refined tapas.
My foodie friend Jean-Michel has eaten there many times and has been to Japan, so Bonnie and I left it up to him to order.
The first dish he chose from the long list of hot and cold tapas was the potato salad because he remembered that everyone in Japan started their meal with it. Dolled up with smoked white radishes and lardons, it was tasty but too similar to a potato salad I might make myself.
Everything that came after was far more exciting. I think we all agreed that the very best was the beautifully seasoned hay-smoked beef with eggplant. It sat on a bed of gelée, made with a vinegar of Japanese citrus fruits so delicious that I couldn’t stop spooning it up and eating it by itself.
an original (to me, anyway) savory flan with grilled eel;
lightly fried, creamy tofu with dashi, topped with delicate ribbons of dried bonito;
octopus and vegetable croquettes;
raw tuna marinated in soy sauce and served with wonderful fried baby leeks.
We doubled up on a few of these shared dishes to make sure we didn’t go hungry, and we certainly didn’t.
We were dubious about having one of the Japanese-influenced Western desserts, but we were very glad we did. The buckwheat cake with buckwheat ice cream was just right, with a nice little crunch in the cake from the grains. We also tried the green tea pannacotta, a delicious twist on the Italian classic.
Abri Soba is not as hard to get into as the notoriously difficult-to-reserve mothership Abri (more like a canoe, really, it is so small) but it does not take reservations and fills up very quickly unless you arrive early or are clever enough, as we were, to go on a night when France is playing in the World Cup, when most restaurants have a hard time attracting customers. We nearly had the restaurant to ourselves, and the staff had the leisure to watch the match on a cellphone behind the bar. Another tip: if you choose the small plates, order only a couple at a time so they won’t all arrive together.
What did we drink? Sake, of course. Jean-Michel is an aficionado and ordered a light, sparkling sake for us and a more serious one from Oyama for himself. I am no connoisseur, but they were both delicious and far from the sweetish swill I remember from standard Japanese restaurants in America.
We missed out on one important thing: the soba that gives the restaurant its name! A good reason to return.