The restaurant Abri, whose name means “shelter,” literally provided refuge from the rain on a recent October evening, although I almost walked by its unassuming, brightly lit glass façade — from the street it looks more like a takeaway sandwich joint than a proper restaurant.
In fact, it is a sandwich joint, albeit a gourmet one, but only during the day on Monday and Saturday. We were there for dinner. Although it was only a month old, we had already had to wait two weeks for a reservation, so quickly has word spread about the talents of chef Katsuaki Okiyama.
Don’t expect traditional Japanese food, however – just a Japanese touch – in this unusual little place with a casual-smart feel. The chef works behind a stainless-steel bar that takes up most of the room, leaving space for only 20 diners. In the guise of decor: hanging industrial light fixtures, wooden tables, schoolroom chairs and a wooden door to nowhere with distressed yellow paint.
In keeping with current Parisian dining trends, customers have no choice and take what the chef offers (with allowances, of course, for allergies and dislikes). For €38, Abri provides a generous series of dishes: three starters (we actually got four), a fish course, a meat course and dessert.
The meal began propitiously with marinated mackerel with kombu (kelp). Oily mackerel
can sometimes be overpoweringly fishy, but this was delicate and refined. It was followed by one of the standouts of the evening: perfectly cooked encornets (squid) topped with
a little square of lardo di colonnata and set on a purée of artichokes and mushrooms, an unusual combination that turned out to be a marriage made in heaven.
This was followed by a refreshing plate of colorful heirloom tomato sections with a touch
of tomato purée and tiny coriander flowers.
Next came a pretty glass containing a curried pumpkin soup with a coffee-flavored mousse, topped with a tarragon leaf. This was another risky combination that was pleasant enough but didn’t pair convincingly.
The chef’s talent with fish was once again demonstrated by the next course: pollack with a Pernod emulsion, topped with a spinach leaf. We couldn’t detect the taste of Pernod at
all, but we didn’t care; we were too happy with the fresh, flawlessly fried fish with its crispy, oil-free skin.
Perhaps the least successful dish was the duck, which came in two pieces, one all tender,
flavorful flesh and the other rather boney and fatty. My friend Jean-Christophe pointed out that the way it was cut made it less appealing. A good Frenchman, he likes his duck to be cut so that it has a layer of skin, a layer of fat and a layer of flesh. He wasn’t wrong.
The meal ended with a divinely light fig clafoutis with a crispy top, a marvelous
interpretation of a dessert that is often too heavy for my taste. It was accompanied by a scoop of rather bland caramel ice cream that would have benefited from a touch of salt.
We were efficiently served throughout the evening by a waiter and waitress who were both soft-spoken and charming.
Next time I want to try those sandwiches or the €22 lunch menu, which sounds like great value.Favorite