Izakayas like Sōma are a welcome new addition to the Paris cuisine scene. The local version of these Japanese tapas bars run the gamut from holes-in-the-wall to rather more posh establishments like Abri Soba. Haikara is such a hole in the wall that I have walked past it many times without noticing it, even the other night when my friends were sitting outside waiting for me.
“Hole-in-the-wall” is something of a step up for Haikara, which used to be a food truck called Munchies, run by chef Sho Miyashita. My friend Jason, a foodie who loves the place, had chosen it to celebrate his birthday with a group of six friends. We had to sit outside on a chilly night because the place is so small, but since we had been forewarned, we were warmly dressed and did not suffer from the cold.
Since they had been there many times, we trusted Jason and his wife Carrie to do the ordering, and the onslaught of small shared plates began, accompanied by refreshing bottles of Furlani Alpino Spumante.
The gyoza (singular) was like none I had seen before: a huge, snaky thing stuffed with veal and shrimp. It was very tasty, but I think I prefer the smaller, more delicate variety. I was in the minority, however, as everyone else loved it.
I was not crazy about the sautéed eryngii (king trumpet mushrooms) with butter, soy sauce and garlic either – I would have preferred them cooked to more melting texture – but once again I was alone, as I was with another dish rarely seen on Parisian menus: abalone, which was cut up in shareable pieces in its beautiful shell. With its chewy texture and fishy flavor, I suspect that this is an acquired taste, which I might well learn to like if I were exposed to it more often.
There my reservations ended. The cucumbers with sesame sauce were a fresh, moreish start to the meal, along with the soft tofu topped with crispy chili oil, ponzu sauce and scallions.
Like everyone else, I loved the beef tataki, with its intensely flavored shiso sauce, and the perfectly spiced brochettes of Iberian pork with black-garlic sauce, both of which we reordered.
The enormous no. 2 oysters were deliciously drenched in a delicate ponzu sauce with umeboshi (salted prunes), while the bluefin-tuna sashimi with soy sauce and wasabi was sheer perfection.
The only generally unacclaimed dish was the Frenchified bao (Chinese bun) filled with Appenzeller cheese and black garlic.
By this time, we were starting to get chilly in spite of all the chili, so we skipped the only dessert available, which sounded delicious: a chocolate ganache with a sauce of berries and yuzu and peanut-and-green-tea crumble.
Instead, we repaired to the nearby Folderol, a truly unique institution down the road that specializes in only two comestibles: wine and ice cream. There are no tables, only a few stools, and customers repair to a mezzanine to choose their natural wine from the bottles on the shelves and then order their wonderful ice cream at the bar from the owners, Robert Compagnon and Jessica Yang, both full of smiles. The most popular flavor among our group was the mint chocolate chip, bursting with the flavor of the fresh leaves. “I feel like I’m walking through a garden of mint,” said the birthday boy, ending the evening on a summery note.Favorite