I ate at Le Dauphin shortly after it opened in 2011 and loved the food, but hadn’t been back since, in part because of the painful decibel levels in this marble box of a tapas bar.
I was happy to return, however, for the leaving party of a colleague at Purple magazine and curious to see how the place had evolved.
The noise levels were far less of a problem on this warm summer night, with half the clientele out on the sidewalk smoking or taking the air.
When some of us went outside to join them, we peeked through the window of the Dauphin’s big brother, Chateaubriand, a couple of doors down. It all looked very staid compared with the buzzy atmosphere in Le Dauphin.
Impressively, superstar chef Iñaki Aizpitarte was at the Dauphin in person, bringing out dishes from the kitchen and checking to make sure everyone was happy. They were, thanks to the very professional service from the waitstaff.
What did we eat? One divine dish after another came flying out of the kitchen, shared by all of us at the big high table. One of our favorites was the “tapioca do Brazil,” sort of like arancini (Italian rice balls), only cube-shaped and made with tapioca and cheese. Satisfying crunch on the outside and tender softness inside, without a trace of grease.
We only tried one dessert, but it was a star: a deconstructed lemon meringue tart that properly puckered the mouth with tart lemon and then soothed it with soft meringue, a crunchy pastry crust adding to the pleasure.
At lunchtime, Le Dauphin offers no tapas, just a menu of Asian-style soups. A week later, I went back a to try them with my visiting friends Jill, Rachel and Eve.
We tried three of the four soups on offer: mussels with “wavy” noodles, cold soup with ponzu (a citrus-based Japanese sauce) with pork and spinach, and cold tomato soup with preserved tomatoes, cucumbers and grilled peppers. I thought the latter was a bit bland at first, but the more I ate of it the more complex I realized it was. All three were a treat and made with excellent, super-fresh ingredients. The grilled pink grapefruit half topped with a crust of caramelized sugar we had for dessert was a surprisingly satisfying and delicious combination of intense sweetness and sourness.
While the soups were great, I recommend going at dinnertime to really appreciate Iñaki Aizpitarte’s talents.
Back in 2011, when Paris Update’s much-missed former restaurant critic Richard Hesse reviewed Le Dauphin not long after it opened, he called it a “humming foodie paradise.” That description still holds.