|The chefs work behind a window, like fish in an aquarium.
Updated Nov. 12, 2008
As we pushed through the doors and entered the chic interior of Ze Kitchen Galerie, the warmth of chef William Ledeuil’s welcoming smile was pleasantly complemented by the cool caress of air-conditioned, smoke-free air – much appreciated in the unwonted April mini-heat-wave reverberating off the street outside.
Like the atmosphere, the rest of the fairly spacious interior was cool, too, with a fine wooden floor, gray walls, colorful paintings and stylish seating arrangements (British-racing-green leather banquettes). The acme of cool is the king-sized aquarium window, behind which busy chefs were jiving in their allotted square meter.
The name of the restaurant is silly schoolboy franglais, of course, but let’s forget about that and concentrate on locus and the hocus pocus the chef works with ingredients.
The fixed-price lunch menu (€35 euros for three courses and a glass of wine) offers half a dozen starters, five main courses and five desserts, enough to keep you coming back for more. The descriptions are properly mouth-watering and announce a very Asian cast to the food, with such ingredients as wasabi, curcuma, galangal and lemongrass.
Nothing in the menu descriptions prepares you for the colors and artistic arrangement of your plate, however. My companion had the starter of the day: asparagus and fillets of smoked fish, set in a lake of pastel green and yellow froth. My farcis de tourteaux (zucchini stuffed with crab meat) came in a near-magenta sea of beet and ginger gazpacho dotted with perfectly circular islands of mango- and turmeric-flavored sauce. Each stuffed cylinder of zucchina wore a perky hat formed by a sliver of black radish, topped by a few bright orange fish eggs and a tiny purple flower. Awed as we were by the sheer splendor of the presentation, it was some time before we could bring ourselves to dishevel such lovely creations.
The taste test was another success. The asparagus dish was a kaleidoscope of fleeting tastes. The zucchini made a grand vehicle for the crabmeat, although the fish eggs overpowered the delicacy of the crab and zucchini pairing somewhat. I enjoyed it more when I ate the radish and fish eggs separately. The beet gazpacho was delightfully cool and a fine match for the mango sauce. With each bite, the brain came close to foundering on a tidal wave of flavor signals.
The main courses were not quite up to the Olympian standards of the starters. My fillet of John Dory (Saint Pierre), the daily special, was overdone and rubbery, while the grilled squid and octopus ordered by my companion fell short of bliss. I realize that fish is difficult to get exactly right, but I think we should help chefs achieve perfection in a certain class of restaurant by sending the food back – especially when dining alone, when there is no risk of embarrassing a dining companion or slowing down the meal – if it is not all it should be.
That said, the trio of baby turnips served with my John Dory, which had each undergone a different treatment, was an education in itself.
The final act was quite the opposite of a letdown. Regular readers may remember that I’m not much of a dessert man, but whatever you eat at Ze Kitchen Galerie, don’t pass up on dessert. You finish the meal as you started, with a riot of color on your plate and a riot of flavors that send your taste buds into a delicious turmoil. My rich rhubarb and ginger cake, served warm with guava ice cream and a jus of sharp morello cherries, was an apotheosis, as was the blood-orange sorbet with poached kumquat and Piedmont hazelnut caramel sauce.
The generous glass of wine accompanying the meal was a fruity New World Chardonnay. More than that I cannot say, as the waiter was a bit short on information. Most of the publishing crowd at the surrounding tables seemed to be content with bottled water. The tap water that was brought to our table on request was excellent. The espresso could hardly have been bettered this side of Milan.
Almost full marks, then, to William Ledeuil and his crew. Even now, I’m trying to think of ways to justify going back to work my way through the rest of a supremely alluring menu.
Update, Nov. 12, 2008: ZKG has earned a Michelin star since last I was there, and the result is audible in the unacceptable noise levels: my date and I could hardly hear ourselves speak. You could simply commune with the superb Asian-touch food wearing earplugs, I suppose.
Ze Kitchen Galerie: 4, rue des Grands Augustins, 75006 Paris. Métro: Saint Michel. Tel: 01 44 32 00 32. Closed Saturday lunch, Sunday, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Fixed-price lunch menu (includes a glass of wine): €35. A la carte: €50-70.
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