Anyone who knows the Nouvelles Athènes quarter in Paris’s ninth arrondissement has probably wondered at the sight of a hilltop building fronted with a huge Art Deco stained-glass window. Now, after many years of inaccessibility, the mysterious building on the private Avenue Frochot has opened its doors to the public in the form of a new Peruvian restaurant, the Villa Mikuna. The other evening, we had the pleasure of eating there on the other side of that beautiful
stained-glass window inspired by Japanese printmaker Hokusai’s famous “The Great Wave.” According to the restaurant‘s website, the space was once a brothel and more recently a Corsican gambling club.
We were thrilled to find a restaurant open on a Sunday night in Paris, but when we arrived, we were put off by the trendy young greeter who insisted on speaking to us in English, and by one of the servers, who, when we asked for a menu, pointed languidly to a QR code three tables away, invisible from where we were sitting, and walked away. She also had a way of floating past our table, entirely ignoring our beseeching glances. But then “Louis Garrel” arrived – at least that’s what we called the cheery waiter with curly black hair like the French actor – and everything started looking up, including our lowered expectations.
Since trendy restaurants like this aren’t generally known for their great – or sometimes even palatable – food, we were more than pleasantly surprised by the first course, a delicious white-fish ceviche with tiger’s milk (the citrus-based marinade that “cooks” the raw fish), sweet potato, choclo corn kernels and corn nuts.
One main course was grilled poulpe (octopus). Fighting off pangs of guilt inspired by watching the documentary My Octopus Teacher on Netflix, we managed to enjoy the nicely cooked tentacles served with a tomato sauce and chorizo. Unfortunately, the side dish of new potatoes in a cheesy, spicy huancaina sauce had that unpleasant reheated taste potatoes can get.
The star dish of the evening was the lomo saltado, wok-sautéed beef fillet with soy sauce, onion, tomato, aji panca (a mild Peruvian chili pepper) and coriander. All the ingredients were perfectly balanced and cooked in this satisfying, brightly flavored dish.
The cheesecake with a speculoos (spice cookie) crust and maracuya (passion fruit) sauce was tasty but just a tad too dry, while the fine chocolate mousse was made even more wicked by the addition of salted-butter caramel.
Peruvian restaurants, with their unique combination of South American and Japanese influences, have long been popular in major cities around the world, but are not yet much of a thing in Paris. Villa Mikuna is a good start and has the not-inconsiderable advantages of having a spectacular setting, good – if not gourmet – examples of the country’s cuisine and, of course, Louis Garrel.Favorite