|The simple decor is livened up with designer touches.
Julie Ferrault is going places – that much is clear from her startup restaurant near the Rue Daguerre street market in Paris’s 14th arrondissement. At just 30, she must be one of the youngest chef-owners in France. When I dined there recently with a friend who is a long-time friend of the chef’s mother, the new baby was about three days old, and I was deeply impressed by the mastery of the woman who saw it into the world, despite what can only have been mountainous difficulties. Hence the restaurant’s name, “L’Entêtée,” which could be translated as “the stubborn one.”
You can’t even say she was raised to be a chef. After a stint as a riding instructor, she had an epiphany in her late teens and took herself off to the Cordon Bleu school in Paris, paying her way by working for the school at the same time. After her training, she was thrown into the deep end with an internship at Le Passiflore, a well-known restaurant in the 16th arrondissement whose chef, Roland Durand, a meilleur ouvrier de France, is a whiz at fusing Asian influences with French terroir. Ferrault, a chip off that particular block, uses spices and fragrances generously and intelligently in her recipes. This is another clue to the restaurant’s name, since entêtant means “heady,” usually in reference to a perfume. That headiness is what she likes about cooking with spices.
And I can only agree. Her individual eggplant tart spiked with cumin and coriander found a ready convert with its lovely balance between the spices and the creamy smokiness of the eggplant. (The second time I went, I tasted it again, but this time found the spices upstaging the vegetable: an illustration of what a daunting challenge it is for chefs to repeat the same performance day after day.) A crispy vegetable salad with cubes of just-seared blue-fin tuna (sadly on the verge of extinction – and we helped!) was coated with roasted sesame seeds: entêtant. The tarte Tatin of endive and goat’s milk cheese was more traditionally French, but with an Asian touch in the accompanying sweet-and-sour sauce.
Blood sausage came next, served with mashed potatoes and an Indian-style chutney of green apples. The generous serving of sausage was positively smirking with pride in its homemade credentials, and rightly so. My fillet of perch-pike with Thai sauce, accompanied by rice cooked in coconut milk, almost had me in a swoon. Here in all its glory was the noble kaffir lime that so uplifts Thai cuisine, and it was used to such effect that the delicate flavor of the fish was uplifted too, and I with it. Never have I eaten lighter, more fragrant rice.
Ferrault gets her splendid cheeses from Fromage Rouge in the Rue Daguerre, and serves them at room temperature – easy-peasy, you might think, but a rarity worth saluting, nonetheless.
The soupe de melon aux épices from the dessert board did the same for the taste buds as a sorbet – cleansed the palate and rounded off a fine meal with the lightest touch of sweetness. The fondant au chocolat (rich chocolate cake) was as intense as a discerning chocoholic could wish.
A word on the setting: it fits the chef and her situation perfectly: on the small side, modestly but stylishly done up in modern gray with designer light fixtures and a big, old-fashioned clock. One wall is entirely given over to a chalkboard menu and wine list.
If Ferrault manages to run such an accomplished venue virtually single-handedly (she has the help of an absolutely charming front-of-house person) at this stage in her career, who knows to what dizzying heights she could climb?
L’Entêtée: 4, rue Danville, 75014 Paris. Métro: Denfert Rochereau. Tel.: 01 40 47 56 81. Open Tuesday-Saturday for lunch and dinner. Nearest Vélib’ stations: 16 rue Boulard, 31 rue Froidevaux. Fixed-price menu: €30. www.myspace.com/entetee
© 2007 Paris Update
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