Clandestino’s pleasing decor warms up an otherwise ordinary interior.
Last week, a British friend who lives in Paris e-mailed me from New York City with an urgent message: I must eat at Clandestino. Ever obedient, I reserved a table for the following evening.
In spite of its name, Clandestino is no secret – most Paris foodies discovered it as soon as it opened, but I had been slow in following the crowd. After all the good things I had heard about it, I was surprised that it was so easy to get a reservation and even more surprised to find that only half of the tables were filled on a Friday evening.
As we worked our way through the set menu of an appetizer and five courses, I couldn’t help wondering why this was so. The off-the-beaten-track location? The price (€44.40 per person; not unreasonable given the high quality of what we ate and in line with similar restaurants with similar formulas, such as Le Galopin)? It didn’t make sense, but there it was.
Each dish was exquisite, beautifully balanced and original. We began with an amuse-bouche
of an oyster in blood-orange juice with a touch of fresh dill and raw cauliflower, a zingy appetite opener.
Next came raw flathead mullet with endives, hazelnut oil and finely chopped onions (with
only a trace of bite), the whole sparked up with bits of kumquat and a few leaves with the pleasantly sour taste of sorrel.
That was followed by a fat scallop sitting on a bed of puréed kabocha (a sweetish winter squash), topped with slices of black truffle. Hints of citrus cut the sweetness, and the tiny
crunchy bits we detected in the purée turned out to be caramelized pistachios. The truffles themselves were disappointingly tasteless, and we wondered where the bacony flavor we noticed was coming from.
Next up was what was perhaps the star dish of the evening, although it was hard to choose one. Its description sounds rather ordinary – pollock with potatoes, spinach and hazelnut butter – but it was full of surprises. Those melt-in-the-mouth small potatoes in hazelnut
butter were divine, even to a non-potato lover like me. The spinach leaves had been transformed into light, crunchy deep-fried chips. A few capers here and there added a bit of acid to brighten the neutral flavors.
After four fish dishes, we had our first meat: a tender, juicy piece of Kintoa pork with some shreds of cabbage, baby turnips and mustard leaves. My dining companion found the
addition of a few anchovies to be incompatible, but I thought that the combination was rather inspired, with the sharpness of the anchovies toned down by the pork, and the pork livened up by the anchovies.
It was time for dessert: a beet parfait with marinated pear and heavenly passion-fruit foam topped with bits of cocoa – another masterly balance of flavors.
All this was served in the pleasant ambiance of a former Korean restaurant only slightly redecorated with some attractive wood-slat shades on the lighting fixtures and a collage of flea-market kitchen utensils on the wall. The service was efficient and highly reactive but rather obsequious.
Clandestino was opened by architect Marcelo Joulia, who is also behind the popular Argentine restaurant Unico. Yet another Japanese chef in Paris, Masayuki Shibuya, provides the inspired cooking.
Let’s hope that Clandestino’s name was not a self-fulfilling prophecy and that its tables will soon fill up with the customers it deserves.