|A decor designed to impress.|
As the politicians say (or sometimes neglect to say), I have to confess to a possible conflict of interest. I went to Le Clarisse with a long-time friend who is a distant cousin of the front-of-house man, Olivier Maria, who teamed up with chef Arnaud Mene and opened Le Clarisse in August. The restaurant is named after one of the ships captained by Robert Surcouf, the most famous of French privateers in Revolutionary times.
I went along on the understanding that no mention of my reviewing activities be made and that we should pay our way (which, except for an introductory glass of bubbly, we did). The family connection was good in that we were given a tour of the kitchen and got to chat with chef and staff before the evening service, which made us feel important and was a fine appetite-whetter.
A great deal of thought, effort and, probably, hard cash, has gone into the restaurant’s decor, which is designed to impress without going beyond the comfort zone into kitsch. The color scheme is black and gold, and the space is high-ceilinged, with a small mezzanine that can be used for private functions.
The attention to detail is sufficiently unusual to be worth noting. The eye-catching rectangular dessert plates, with three depressions for scoops of this and that, were designed by a master glassmaker, for example. Diners are comfortably seated, and the owners have not waited for next January’s blanket non-smoking law to ban to tobacco use.
Chef Mene is quite clearly headed for Michelin stardom. This, he modestly admits, is one of his ambitions. For his clientele, he is targeting the local ministries and international agencies.
Mene’s autumn menu is packed with good things made with recognizable ingredients – this is no molecular gastronomy hangout – skillfully put together in original and satisfying ways. The velouté de ceps, a creamy concoction, came with a fat, pan-fried slice of the seasonal wild mushroom sitting in the middle of it, reminding me of truly memorable tempura-style ceps eaten in the hills east of Florence (with the same companion) a few years back. My stuffed squid starter (calamar farci et son croustillant) finely balanced a melting outer pocket that tasted of the sea, with a stuffing of finely chopped vegetables and whatnot, each part pleasingly complementing the other.
The lièvre à la royale, foie-gras-stuffed hare, which my companion laid claim to on account of the family connection, is one of those recipes that requires a lot of time, good wine, costly ingredients and lengthy messing around with the bits you don’t want to know about. It’s the sort of dish you make to impress your guests; it keeps you in the kitchen for hours and severely depletes your wine cellar. Far better to try Mene’s, which was a star performance – a good chef is a genuine labor-saving device, when you come to think of it.
The hare was served with another autumnal medley, this one consisting of mushroom cannelloni, beets and fried squash slices. Thoroughly satisfying. My own veau à l’ancienne (roasted veal chop and kidneys) was served with fresh spinach in a light cream sauce and sautéed potatoes. It’s hard to get more traditional, but traditional in the best possible sense. No time-worn standbys, these, but dishes lovingly crafted and reinvented.
The restaurant’s star dessert is a praline, invented back in the 19th century, which involves a circle of puff pastry and a lot of hazelnut butter cream. After what I had just put away, this was beyond the call of duty, so I opted for the house-made sorbets – the rhubarb one was particularly delectable. My companion’s baked country apple was topped with caramel ice cream, and once again was an example of perfect contemporary country cooking – the French touch at its most alluring.
The wine, a Utopie 1 Chemin des Rêves made by one-time pharmacist Benoît Viot, was one of those Languedoc country wines whose unpretentious pedigree belies a seriously good winemaker doing something that doesn’t quite fit into the appellation canon. The carefully chosen wine list offered plenty of other tempting bottles as well. Similar care was taken with the selection of coffees, and I allowed myself the luxury of a Blue Mountain – a rarity in Paris.
With one eye on upscale eateries in New York and London and the other firmly glued to the line of French culinary greats, Le Clarisse and its owners deserve a good sendoff on what one hopes will be a long and happy voyage.
Le Clarisse: 29, rue Surcouf, 75007 Paris. Métro: Invalides. Tel.: 01 45 50 11 10. Nearest Vélib: facing 3 rue Constantine (next to Invalides Métro station). Open Monday-Friday for lunch and dinner; Saturday for dinner only. Fixed price menu (three courses): €54. Dishes are individually priced if you don’t want to go the whole hog.
© 2007 Paris Update
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