Pros: Great food, nice space
Saturne has been an instant hit. I overheard J.P. Gené, food writer for Le Monde, mention its opening on a Tuesday a couple of weeks ago, but when I dropped by on the day after it opened, there was already no room at the inn. It was fully booked, with a week’s wait for a table, which I booked there and then – so much for spontaneity. We were impressed by the warm welcome and the smart (read expensive) interior in the main dining room, a former courtyard, with a handsome glass roof. The floors are wood, and the furniture, like the chef, Sven Chartier, is blond and Scandinavian.
Saturne has been such an instant hit that you can’t open a newspaper or magazine without falling over a breathless review of the place, so this article is probably superfluous, since it will also sing its praises to the heavens. The only real problem with Saturne is the noise factor: with 30-plus diners, you have to shout along with them to make yourself heard by both the servers and your dining companions.
I also have a problem with the wine list, which gives you a loose-leaf choice of about 100 wines, classified by region, and within each region by winemaker. That’s all the information you get. To my credit (or not), I recognized one that I had tried and enjoyed at a tasting a couple of years back. So we had a Côtes de Roussillon Vin de Table Domaine du Possible called Ce n’est pas la mer à boire, which means, “It’s no big deal.” Very drinkable and very affordable.
You can, of course, ask for details about the wines, as the other head honcho is Ewen Lemoigne, the former sommelier from Racines. I wasn’t very complimentary about him when I first went to Racines, not having found any kind of connect between his eloquent descriptions of his wines and what they actually tasted like. The glass of dessert wine I asked for with dessert this time was an example of this. I was looking for my usual sticky white, and used the appropriate term in French (“liquoreux”) to ask for it. The label on the bottle said Muscat, and I, thinking “Muscat des Beaumes de Venise,” a true sticky white, ordered a glass. Ho hum. Think restrained retsina with a touch of vinho verde greenness and bubble-tickle. It might have been interesting at the other end of the meal, perhaps, or drunk as a curiosity, but it wasn’t what most people would call a liquoreux.
These are unimportant quibbles, because the food is more than first rate. The two fixed-price dinner menus are in fact the same, except that the more expensive option includes fish and meat, and cheese and dessert. We chose the cheaper option, and kicked off with a lovely little fishy amuse-bouche of baby squid, tomato and a really tasty thick, inky sauce.
The starter was a fillet of red mullet, with a couple of smoked mussels and aubergine. I’m not really doing justice to the chef with that description, but most of the adjectives and adverbs have already been taken by other reviewers. That and the amuse-bouche told us we were in for a good time in a pair of more than capable hands. Sven Chartier is star material.
The main courses were perfectly cooked pollack with a citrussy sauce, and a supreme of a very well-fed guinea fowl, with a two types of onion, some salad leaves, and half a potato that had somehow been imbued with coconut, the surprise taste of the evening. The superb bread also deserves a special mention.
The cheese had been left at room temperature, for which grateful thanks, and the brioche perdue with popcorn ice cream and smashed raspberries was a worthy wrap-up to the meal.
What more can I say, except join the lemmings and beat a track to Saturne’s door.
Saturne: 17, rue Notre Dame des Victoires, 75002 Paris. Tel: 01 42 60 31 90. Métro: Bourse. Nearest Vélib stations: 1, rue Léon Cladel; 1 rue des Filles Saint Thomas. Open Monday-Friday for lunch and dinner. Fixed price menus: €35 (lunch), €37 and €59 (dinner).
Reader Tina M. Lynch writes: “I just wanted to take the opportunity to share my experience of Saturne, because my friends and I did just what you said and jumped on the lemming bandwagon!
“First off – the food. Yep – I agree with what all the critics are saying – the food was fantastic. We all chose the fixed-price lunch menu (tuna or onion tart to start, dorade or lamb for the main, cheese or peach concoction for dessert). The ingredients were ultra fresh, the flavours mingled splendidly with each other, and the fish and meat dishes were cooked to perfection. They had run out of the starter I chose (onion tart), but made a great subsititution with mushrooms and it was excellent. We all chose the lamb, which was succulent and savoury, and we also all had the cheese (aged gouda and cantal), which was carefully shaved and gorgeous to eat.
“The wine – they definitely have an extensive wine list, and even an extensive water list. We had champagne to start and then a lovely St Joseph. It went perfectly with our food. One of us had a splendid calvados for a digestif. Our complaint about the wine list was its availability – there seemed to be only one copy that was ‘making the rounds’ and it took quite a while to get to us, even though it was a Monday lunch, and we were VERY thirsty by the time we were able to place our drinks order. It was frustrating because the young man stopped by a couple of times to see what we wanted to drink, but then when we started asking questions, he said we’d have to wait for the list…..!
“The place – the restaurant still has that ‘new car smell’ and I like the idea of being in a room that isn’t really a room but was a courtyard! And, if one heads down to the loo and accidentally turns the wrong direction (there are no signs), one can see their pantry room all nice and neat and orderly, as well as another storage room that still has the ladder and paint-cover cloth!
“The cons – the noise. It really is loud. Only after most of the other diners departed did we feel it was a comfortable noise level. We also thought it was too bright. Other than that, we had a great meal and enjoyed discovering something brand spanking new!”
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