The chic new restaurant To (pronounced toe) is decidedly out of place in the laid-back area around the Canal Saint Martin in the 10th arrondissement, still a bit funky/cool in spite of the invasion of clothing stores and restaurants, most of the latter being more street food than gourmet.
A lot of money has obviously been poured into the restaurant’s sleek, minimalist decor. The walls of the dining room are lined with backlit blond-wood boards, and the restrooms downstairs are all black marble. The small, cozy cocktail bar, also in the basement is set apart by a sliding glass door – a great place for an intimate drink.
To’s owner – who is also the proprietor of the Thai restaurant Moom Mam and Japanese restaurant AO Izakaya, both well-reviewed and both located in the ninth arrondissement – obviously has Michelin stars in his eyes for To (our waiter even said as much), which would really be a first for this part of the 10th arrondissement.
The chef and his kitchen crew at To are Japanese, while the wait staff is very youthful, highly solicitous and well trained – in short, adorable. Every dish was patiently explained to us in great detail.
Since we were celebrating my friend Aline’s birthday, we started out with a glass of a very fine champagne, Pierre Moncuit Brut. We then opted for the seven-course, no-choice omakase menu (€69), which turned out to be quite an adventure in new taste sensations.
We were off to an auspicious start with an appetizer of cold creamed-corn soup. Doesn’t sound very exciting to anyone who grew up with the Campbell’s version, but it was divinely dressed up with red pepper ice cream, croutons, cubes of foie gras, corn niblets and a touch of olive oil, with powdered bacon sprinkled on top. It all worked beautifully together and was nothing if not original, with its mix of creamy, crunchy and soft textures and slightly sweet, slightly hot and meaty flavors. This was one of my favorite dishes of the evening.
The next one was less original but still very fine: a ceviche of four types of fish: salmon, tuna, squid and leerfish (new to me), with a lightly spiced sauce, hazelnuts, radishes and bits of fried garlic on the side.
The first meat dish was hand-chopped veal tartare with an oyster tucked in the middle, creating a strange but intriguing flavor. It was topped with chopped hazelnuts and watercress.
More fish appeared in the next dish, but this was fish as I had never tasted it before. Humble mackerel had been prepared chinuki-style, which involves removing the blood from the fish and keeping it vacuum-packed, in this case for a week, as it ages. The result is a mild flavor and wonderfully tender, succulent texture. It was served aburi-style (flash-grilled) with red shiso (an aromatic leaf), nori (seaweed) and succulent sushi rice. This was a dish to remember on every count.
We weren’t yet finished with fish. Next up was lieu jaune (pollock), also prepared with the chinuki method, marinated in white miso and slow-baked overnight, served with a Japanese-style chimichurri sauce made with daikon (Japanese black radishes) and green shiso. It was another triumph, with the firm-textured fish well-served by the deeply flavored, slightly sweet sauce. Heavenly.
One more meat dish followed: beautiful slow-cooked carré d’agneau (rack of lamb), finished in a frying pan and served on a bed of puréed green peas with zucchini and potatoes.
Could they keep up these high standards for the dessert? Definitely. A divine mousse au chocolat was paired with refreshing yuzu/raspberry sorbet, chocolate praline crumble and fresh raspberries. I’d be thrilled to eat this for dessert every day.
From the above descriptions, you can see how complex each dish was and how much work went into each one. Although €69 may seem like a lot to pay for a tasting menu, it’s a bargain when you think about all the attention paid to every detail of the food and to the happiness of the restaurant’s customers – Aline’s dessert, for example, came not only with a candle but also with “Joyeux Anniversaire” written out on her plate.
Take my advice, and go to To!Favorite