Strange to say, but until fairly recently Paris’s restaurant scene was rather provincial. If you didn’t want French food, you had to settle for mediocre, dumbed-down Chinese, Japanese, Italian or Indian. Mexican was pretty much nonexistent. The occasional exception was for food from former French colonies in North Africa or Vietnam.
Happily, those days are gone. Is it the influence of the Internet? I’m not sure, but in any case it is clear that foreign restaurants in Paris are becoming much more sophisticated and cosmopolitan.
One example is a small place called La Vague on Rue du Faubourg Saint Martin in the 10th arrondissement, a street becoming a little paradise for foreign food (see this previous review), with trendy new restaurants alternating with dilapidated hairdressing parlors and wholesale clothing and accessories shops as the area gentrifies.
La Vague specializes in Nikkei, that interesting fusion of Japanese and Peruvian cuisines, both of which feature raw fish in the form of sushi and ceviche. It’s funny to think that a wave of Japanese emigration to a South American country over a century ago is influencing what we eat in Paris today, but so it is.
The restaurant has a pretty, cheerful decor that relies greatly on repetition and religious kitsch, with a long hallway hung with myriad mirrors of different sizes and shapes, and a multiplicity of crucifixes decorating the restroom, along with a picture of a smiling psychedelic skull with flowers for eyes. In the restaurant itself are more images of happy skulls, chairs painted shades of blue and white, and a display of cacti.
La Vague offers four categories of dishes: ceviches, tatakis (barely seared and marinated meat) made with Black Angus rump steak, buttifaras (Peruvian sandwiches) and a variety of side dishes.
We tried everything but the ceviche, which, judging by the quality of the other dishes, should be excellent. As you can see from the
photos, the dishes are a riot of color, all bursting with fresh ingredients and sparkling flavor. We loved the tataki buttifara, served on a poppyseed-encrusted roll, and the chimi churry tataki with red and green peppers, onions, parsley, child peppers and Xéres vinegar.
My friend Tom, a quinoa skeptic, was even won over by the salad made with that trendy grain, electrified with red onions, mango, fennel and coriander. The only dish I had any reservations about was the causa poulpe. The squid and other ingredients were fine, but I didn’t take to the cold mashed potatoes that are part of this unusual salad.
We weren’t expecting much from the desserts, but that was a mistake. They were both lusciously addictive: a version of tiramisu made
with coconut, pink cookies from Reims, yuzu and strawberries, prettily topped with a violet flower and a strawberry, and a tres leches (three-milk) cake.
Let us all now say gracias to those long-ago Japanese emigrants to Peru and contemplate the many blessings of mixing and migration.