April 7, 2009By Richard HesseArchive

Tapas with a twist are a specialty of the house.

Pros: Outstanding vegetable cooking; great staff; restful, understated decor.

Cons: Wine list a bit short; at these prices, diners could be seated a little less cheek by jowl; two dinner sittings, early or late (best to adopt Spanish habits and go late).

I confess I am a dummy when it comes to Spanish food. The first time I was in Spain, Franco was still in power, and the last time, 25 years ago, I was still in gastronomic rompers. I have eaten menús turísticos throughout a large swathe of the northwest quadrant of Spain and OD’ed on melocotón en almibar(that’s canned peaches in syrup to you). When people rave about the little tapas bar they know in Barcelona or Madrid, I look interested and tuck the info away for another day, but for lack of knowledge, I cannot share their enthusiasm.

I’d been wanting to go to Fogón in my capacity as restaurant reviewer for a while, and I wasn’t disappointed with either the premises or the food, drink and service. The tasteful modern design of the interior doesn’t intrude on your enjoyment of the rest, and the well-informed staff are delightful.

Here’s the lowdown on the food. Tapas, as anyone knows, are meant to be eaten while standing at a bar. Catch the French doing that. So we had sit-down gourmet tapas for starters and dessert, with a dish of rice (they don’t call it paella here – too downmarket, perhaps) in between. The drawback here is that you have to eat more or less the same things as your dinner date – a bit frustrating for me, as I like to dig in to everything on the table. That goes for the paella (sorry, rice), too, which, like risotto in Venice, is only served in helpings for a minimum of two.

The amuse bouche was a blast: a sliver of raw mackerel skewered between a raspberry at one end and a strawberry at the other, a magical combination of tastes. There was also a little shot glass of gazpacho made from something green and anchovies, which was also all flavor.

The tapas included a sort of mini-stew – a little piece of roast lamb with baby vegetables – in a round of pastry (pictured above). A layered confection of goat’s milk cheese, eggplant caviar and red pepper purée made an equally brilliant impression on the eyes and the taste buds. And a little pocket of squid with a spoonful of green peas was a winning combination of simple, complementary tastes.

The rice bore not the slightest resemblance to the huge dishes of turmeric-yellow rice with an abundance of mussels, chicken, chorizo and shrimp that you can see at any French open-air food market of a Saturday. This rice was rice-colored, but it came with the delicate profundity of a masterly stock, and judicious and generous use of fine saffron. There were bits of chicken in it, and it was topped with what I recognize as the flat green runner beans my father used to grow up poles in the garden. The chef had somehow managed to cook them soft while preserving all their springy flavor. He’s a whizz with vegetables. The rice was outstanding in its earthy yet sophisticated simplicity, a tribute to the chef’s art.

A generous piece of Manchego cheese followed, accompanied by a breathtaking Montilla-Moriles oloroso (a sherry-type wine) whose deep gold color belied its dryish salty mellowness. The most outstanding feature of the dessert tapas was the Chantilly cream, which had been whipped with a dash of sherry vinegar and went magically with the minted strawberry in the shot glass.

At €75, the Tondonia Gran Reserva was beyond our budget, so we settled for a 1999 Tempranillo Reserva, which did a sterling job throughout the meal. The wine list could be longer and more informative. Wouldn’t it be nice if French restaurateurs would admit that 90 percent of French diners have no idea about wine, take a leaf out of the Anglo-Saxon book and, when there isn’t a sommelier around to advise them, help them out with an honest description of what’s on offer and an idea about food pairings. Dream on.

Richard Hesse

Fogón: 45, quai des Grands Augustins, 75006 Paris. Tel: 01 43 54 31 33. Métro: Saint Michel or Odéon. Nearest Vélib stations: 7, rue du Pont de Lodi; 41, quai de l’Horloge. Open Tuesday-Friday, 7 p.m.-midnight; Saturday and Sunday, noon-2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.-midnight. Closed Monday. A la carte: around €45*.

* three courses, not including wine

© 2009 Paris Update

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Reader Jerome Reese writes: “I love Fogón, but even if you’re alone, you have to pay for two people if you order a paella (the price is per person, and there’s a two-person minimum for a paella). There is no “paella for one” on the menu, so if you’re three people, for example, you have to pay for paella for four, which is a rip-off as the place is not inexpensive. Also, it should be mentioned that the first service is much more sedate and touristy than the second service (people who come at 10 PM and later usually), which is much more like in Spain where people eat late, and it’s a much hipper ambiance (the crowd is usually well-dressed in a quietly elegant way – lots of designers, architects, artists, etc.). The menu has wonderful artwork that Miguel Barceló painted for the restaurant (he’s a friend of the chef), which goes well with the lovely interior design (the silverware in the little drawers on both sides of the table, for example, the shape of the water glasses, etc. – many exquisite ideas) and truly superb food (which is cheaper than a French equivalent). Going for the second service, however, also means leaving at midnight on a very full stomach!”

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