Japan is the flavor of the day in Paris, whether we’re talking about young Japanese chefs cooking French or Japanese food with flair or a hybrid of the two. The trendy, French-owned Sōma, which has just opened its second branch in the ninth arrondissement (the original is in the Marais), falls into the latter category.
A row of (presumably Japanese?) cooks labors behind the bar with its bamboo stools, while the front of house is taken care of by French natives.
This izakaya (Japanese tapas bar) isn’t exactly authentic, but who cares when every dish you order is exquisite?
We started with a revisited spring roll with gambas, vegetables, rayu (Japanese chili oil) and cashews. Wonderfully tasty and super-fresh.
The next dish, tender eggplant with agedashi (a savory dashi sauce), was a perfect contrast to the spring roll: warm, dark and earthy.
We ordered the next dish, mentaiko spaghetti, purely out of curiosity about what they would do with Italian pasta and were rewarded with a tasty dish of cold, al dente spaghetti with a sauce made with fish roe, topped with shiso leaves.
The meat dishes were superb. The crispy-skinned slices of tender pork tonkatsu (cutlet) with a lovely tartar sauce were to die for, and the flash-seared beef tataki with herb ponzu (citrus-based sauce) was every bit as delicious in its own way.
The desserts were also thrilling, especially the coconut-flavored mascarpone with black-sesame ice cream and coconut foam.
The other was a mochi (rice cake) with sesame ice cream in watermelon and cantaloupe soup.
We greatly appreciated the fact that the dishes were served one at a time rather than all at once (as in many restaurants of this type), giving us time to savor each one.
The evening was marred by only one thing: a trendily hirsute, blue-jeaned waiter with an I-don’t-give-a-damn attitude. His female colleague was the exact opposite: warm and charming.
To give just one example of his unpleasantness: when he served a bottle of very nice Menetou-Salon, he brought it to the table already opened, poured a large amount into one of the wine glasses rather than just the usual sip for tasting, and slammed it down in front of my male dining companion, even though I had ordered the bottle. My friend promptly passed the glass over to me to make it clear that I should be the one tasting it. A little wine-service training would seem to be in order here.
I don’t usually recommend a trip to the restroom in restaurants, but the one at Sōma deserves a visit. Unfortunately for anyone with disabilities, it’s downstairs, but it is scented with a wonderful fragrance and is decorated with erotic manga. A window offers a strange, brightly lit view down into the depths of the building. Through it you can see freshly painted water pipes and a display of colorful Japanese umbrellas. A kimono hangs on the wall at the very bottom.
Although the Marais Sōma has a reputation as a hangout for hipsters, the new location hosted a nicely mixed crowd on the evening we were there. In the end, the food made up for the one less-than-positive thing (that waiter), and I would go back at the drop of a kasa.