I have always wondered how the best chefs come up with new recipes. Obviously, their prior experience and inspiration from other chefs play major roles – let’s not even mention those who just follow the trends or outright copy the new inventions of other chefs; remember when foie gras crème brûlée was all the rage in almost every bistronomic restaurant in Paris? – but they must spend a lot of time getting the balance of ingredients and flavors just right. These thoughts were prompted by the amazing complexity and originality of the dishes created by chef Sukwon Yong, a former sous-chef at Ze Kitchen Galerie, for his year-old restaurant Perception.
Considering the amount of work that goes into not only the invention but also the preparation of each dish, the price of €75 for the six-course tasting menu (the option we chose) and €95 for eight courses is not outrageous, especially since all ingredients are sourced from some of the best producers and suppliers in France. If that’s too steep for you, though, the €35 three-course set menu at lunchtime is a bargain.
While Yong is of Korean origin, his cuisine is French with, not surprisingly, some Korean and other Asian influences. The menu we chose started off with no fewer than three amuse-bouches, which immediately made it clear that the chef was putting his all into every bite – no olives or preprepared pâtés here. First, we sipped a fabulous butternut/pumpkin cream soup with a touch of coconut and ginger from a little glass. Alongside it were mini-tacos with anchovy cream and perfect bite-sized “croquettes” of pork glazed with spicy sweet-and-sour sauce and coated with crunchy popped buckwheat.
Against our better judgment, while waiting for the full meal to arrive, we couldn’t keep our hands off the marvelous sourdough bread served with butter flavored with mild Espelette chili pepper.
We started with a sort of extra-posh ceviche: super-fresh dorade (sea bream) marinated in coarse salt and kaffir lime with radish angel-hair “pasta” and a “five-spice” (sweet, bitter, sour, salty, and savory) vinaigrette with pink peppercorns. Pickled onions and the citrusy bite of a lemon condiment added to the medley of flavors. “Sharp and fresh,” said one of my friends, and full of little flavor surprises.
The second starter was one of the chef’s classic dishes: steamed Brest (the best) chicken, slow-cooked for extra tenderness, with a sesame/peanut condiment. It was served with colored cauliflower and turnips. A creamy chicken emulsion and panko (Japanese bread crumbs) with satay sauce and a touch of chili finished off this complex yet delicate dish.
The first “main course” was a minimal dish of rouget (red mullet) cooked a la plancha with a lemony condiment on top, accompanied by a creamy-yet-light potato mousseline flavored with saffron, sweetheart cabbage and a small round of potato, which was slightly undercooked, almost crunchy, the only, very slight fault I found in this entire meal, although I have a feeling the chef did it on purpose. It didn’t work for us, however.
Lamb from the Limousin region of France played the leading role in the meat course, and it was a star turn. The saddle, topped with chestnut “chips,” had a nice barnyard flavor and a thick layer of crisped fat, but the real gem was the small round of melt-in-the-mouth filet mignon. The lamb shared the plate with a reduction of the cooking juices and a sort of small crepe with a “Florentine” filling made with béchamel sauce, spinach, mushrooms and chestnuts. A pear-and-Sichuan-pepper condiment provided a lovely fruity/spicy contrast. (The chef is happy to provide vegetarian substitutes for meat dishes, and judging by what we ate, they will be every bit as creative.)
The first dessert was a rum-free baba (in other words, a sponge cake) with passion fruit, mango and ginger, topped with lovely soft, Italian-style meringue and served with mango sorbet and three drops of ginger-flavored honey.
Dessert no. two consisted of pistachio “cookies” frosted with white chocolate and accompanied by crunchy pistachio praline and orange-blossom ice cream sprinkled with rose powder. A flowery, fitting finale for a sumptuous meal.
While we were eating in the quiet, comfortable dining room with soft lighting, served by the friendly maître d’hôtel Barnabé Lahaye and his assistants, who patiently explained each dish to us, Frances, whose birthday we were celebrating, regaled us with tales of her 100-year-old friend Herbert, a gourmet who taught her how to judge a good restaurant: no salt and pepper on the table. The food is already perfectly seasoned, so “you know you’re in good hands.” Herbert would love Perception. And so should Michelin – don’t be surprised if a star is in the offing.Favorite