Passage 53

April 21, 2009By Richard HesseArchive

The succulent slow-cooked veal came with
seasonal baby vegetables.

Pros: Ace ingredients, great staff

Cons: A bit pricey, but good ingredients don’t come cheap; picturesque, but very rickety spiral staircase up to the designer restrooms.

On its business card, Passage 53 describes itself as a “lounge-restaurant,” but lounging is the last thing you would think of doing in this tiny space in the Passage des Panoramas, just across the way from Racines. Perhaps it’s the swish silver upholstery, which looks a dead ringer for the seating Alain Senderens installed when he switched from being a three-star to a “brasserie.” Or the glassed-in “private” room for two upstairs. It’s certainly not the roughly mortared walls, which wouldn’t look out of place in a spaghetti western.

Open just three weeks, it has already created quite a buzz in the foodosphere, with a Japanese chef who’s served time with Gagnaire and at L’Astrance (11th best restaurant in the world, according to Restaurant Magazine), veggies from Joël Thiébault, and meat sourced, inevitably but fortunately, from Hugo Desnoyer (one of the owners is Hugo’s son-in-law and has served in the shop).

The service has a walking-on-eggs sensation about it, but the staff is so attentive and helpful that no one is going to complain about that. A few more weeks of the kind of visible success we saw the other evening, and they will have an adamantine ring of confidence. We certainly tried their patience, sending back two corked bottles of Faugères, which were replaced by an excellent bottle of Georges Déscombes’s 2007 Brouilly with outstanding good grace. Our neighbors at the next table, who were strident in their condemnation of what they perceived as an overpriced steak, were listened to with courtesy and massive forbearance. We were also treated to a complementary glass of sparkling Touraine and a cognac as the evening wound down. Now that’s service.

The chef’s signature dish is a veal and oyster tartare – an interesting experience. The little pile of pink veal surrounded by chopped oyster is pleasing to the eye, but the oyster upstaged the veal, I found. The other starter was a simply splendid cream of parsnip soup with almonds. Other menu choices were Pata Negra Bellota (an eye-watering €22) and fresh Landes asparagus with pancetta.

Slow vacuum cooking was used to devastatingly good effect on a milk-fed veal chop served up with a mix of tiny spring vegetables. The meat had lost none of its pinkness, but the fat had been crisped up before serving and the overall effect was one of well-flavored, melting tenderness. I asked for my entrecôte bleue – seared and just warmed through – which was exactly what I got. The confit potatoes were a dream. I could also have had monkfish with puréed broccoli or a hand-chopped steak tartare.

But at €32 euros for the veal, and €26 for the steak, I can see the point of diners at the adjacent table. The owners are in a bit of a quandary here, because they have to make their margin on high-quality raw ingredients that cost a small fortune, even wholesale, and their patrons are not necessarily aware of the fact.

The desserts were a couple of “tiramisus” in shot glasses, one orange-flavored, the other pistachio. Very light and agreeable, but bearing scant resemblance to the genuine article. My panacotta had a bit too much gelatin in it and gave only a hint of the promised lychees and no trace of the bay leaf (perhaps one should be thankful for small mercies), but the strawberry coulis topping had a delightful, slightly alcoholic zing.

A useful addition to the 8,000 or so restaurants of Paris, Passage 53 will, I hope, prosper and go far.

I’ll be very happy to take my carnivorous friends there.

Richard Hesse

Passage 53: 53 Passage des Panoramas, 75002 Paris. Tel.: 01 42 33 04 35. Métro: Grands Boulevards or Bourse. Nearest Vélib stations: 42, rue Vivienne; 8, rue Saint Marc. Open Monday-Saturday for lunch and dinner. Around €35*.

* three courses, not including wine

© 2009 Paris Update

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