“Mâche” means “lamb’s lettuce,” and the verb “mâcher” means “to chew.” We didn’t see any of the former when we ate at the restaurant Mâche in Paris’s 10th arrondissement the other night, but we did plenty of the latter, with great joy throughout
Mâche impresses right away with its wonderfully playful decor: a child’s dream kindergarten, with brightly colored furnishings, black-and-white-striped columns and geometric shapes. I think the interior decorator has a slightly sadistic streak, however – soon after I sat down I smashed my head on the sharp triangular projection from the wall behind me. The friendly restaurant manager, apparently used to such accidents, moved our table slightly to lessen the danger. It worked.
Choosing among the four starters and four main courses was difficult because they all sounded so unusual and interesting. They were, and they turned out to be as colorful as the restaurant’s decor. I finally opted for the zucchini flowers stuffed with confit Taggiasca olives and apricots, served with a blob of earthy black garlic and flooded with tomato gazpacho.
It came with the fanciest croutons ever: a crispy, buttery bar of toast topped with cream and flower petals. A delight, especially when all the ingredients got mixed up together.
On the other side of the table, one of my friends was sampling the “tagliatelle” of raw cuttlefish and kohlrabi with sorrel and verbena, and a sauce of apple, celery and yuzu kosho (a paste of chili, yuzu and salt), topped with even more colorful flowers: pansies, by the look of them. It was wonderfully refreshing on a hot evening, but probably the least flavorful of all the dishes we tried.
The main courses were superb. I had the thonine (little tunny), just seared on one side and topped with black sesame and shavings of white chocolate. It was served with little sandwiches made of pickled cherries and beets with a creamy filling and drizzled with chili oil. Another amazing combination of top-quality ingredients.
The deboned pork chop ordered by one of my friends was the juiciest and most flavorful I have ever come across. It was topped with coffee beans and toasted acacia powder and came with spelt risotto and red orache leaves.
The vegetarian offering was not a mess of overcooked vegetables thrown together at the last minute to accommodate foreign diners, as is sometimes the case in French restaurants, but not here! Chef Michaël Gamet, who once worked at Astrance, is not one to snub vegetables. It was a delicious dish of ravioli stuffed with smoked butternut squash, with lemongrass-and-mezcal-infused butter, black curry seeds and basil.
Gamet’s playful creativity continued with the desserts, one of which was, rather shockingly, Ossetra caviar with yeast, black garlic, lemon and koji (Aspergillus oryzae, a fungus used in the making of sake and soy sauce). Now I regret not having tried it.
The other two desserts sounded almost as unusual, but taste-wise they were not at all extreme. Both were delightful. “L’Éphémère” was described as “a cloud of kefir and tonka bean, preserved plums with Espelette pepper, toasted banana, a chestnut-honey cookie, sunflower seeds and black meringue.” we never did figure out what made the meringue black – charcoal? – but it tasted great.
The “blackcurrant and rosehip sorbet with pink pepper, milky siphon, and pain de Gênes (almond cake) soaked in fortified wine” also sounded weird but tasted great.
With all those fancy, exotic ingredients, you might expect this restaurant to be very expensive, but it was not. With the exception of a lobster starter, priced at €32, the first courses were €14 or €16, and the main courses ranged from €17 to €26.
The only slightly dark spot on the evening was our server, who was brusque and unfriendly, and tended to disappear – she was nowhere to be seen when we wanted the bill, only to turn up five minutes later sitting at a table chatting with customers, even though the restaurant was still quite busy.
Call me oversensitive, but I find that unfriendly service can seriously detract from the whole experience of eating out and vice versa. Luckily, the cliché of the rude French waiter no longer holds, and, in the case of Mâche, the restaurant manager, Mathias Fouré, saved the evening with his reactivity and good cheer.
That should give you something to chew on.Favorite