I have been to Zébulon, next to the Palais Royal, twice before. Each time it had a different chef, and both were great. Now, a new chef, Guillaume Dunos, presides over the open kitchen, so it was time to pop in again for another test run.
The decor of the restaurant, which has two dining rooms, with the kitchen in the middle, and entrances on two different streets, has remained pretty much the same: sober and handsome, with a baby grand piano in one room.
When we asked the dynamic server what had happened to the reasonable fixed-price lunch menu the restaurant used to have, he explained that Dunos had introduced a new “concept” (a word that always makes me shudder): smaller, sharable plates instead of the classic progression of starter, main course, dessert. There is nothing really new about small sharable plates, however: just about every restaurant in Paris (I exaggerate a bit) has jumped on the bandwagon. He recommended that we each order three dishes, but that seemed like too much and would have quickly run the bill up, so we chose a total of four dishes from the “bouchées” and “assiettes” (slightly larger servings) categories.
We had some regrets about that when we saw the small size of the servings, however. My starter, for example, consisted of three small crispy rolls filled with butternut squash purée with vin jaune, topped with trout roe. Beautifully done, and “a lot of work,” as my friend Jeff said. They were very fine but didn’t quite add up to enough to merit so much preparation.
More successful were Jeff’s raw oysters with buttermilk foam, figs and fig vinegar, served on a bed of sea-snail shells (appearances count here, as you can see from the photos). When the buttermilk foam was mixed in with the vinegar and oyster juices, they balanced each other out perfectly, for a delectable result.
The main courses made up for our very slight reservations about the starters. I had a dish with a rather unappealing name: symphonie de lard (pork symphony), which turned out to be a reinvention of spaghetti carbonara, with, instead of spaghetti, angel hair celery root cooked in apple juice. It formed a little nest with the egg yolk on top and the sauce underneath. Bits of fresh apple and confit pork belly added sparks of flavor. On the side was the very unusual addition of a square marshmallow, sweet but not too sweet, with contrasting meaty gravy and crispy bits of smoked pork on top. It may sound like a lot of pork, but it was carefully dosed so as not to be overwhelming. Altogether a joy, it fully merited its symphonic appellation.
On the other side of the table, Jeff was happily downing his big fat rabbit-stuffed fresh tortellini with lightly smoked sturgeon and watercress in rabbit broth.
Obviously, this was not a chef who was going to serve ordinary desserts. Since the hazelnut cookies with white-chocolate ganache, fig jam and hazelnut ice cream were not available, we chose the veggie desserts. The rich, moist carrot cake topped with caramelized carrot ribbons and served with carrot ice cream was truly delicious, but what is carrot cake without a thick layer of cream-cheese frosting on top?
The other dessert was slightly less impressive: lemon and fennel cream layered inside thin crisps made with fennel seeds, accompanied by an excellent yogurt and fennel ice cream.
Dunos, described on the restaurant’s website as adding “a touch of eccentricity” to gourmet classics, is obviously a chef to watch. I did get hungry again only a few hours later, though, so it may be worth splurging an extra dish or two. Each one is sure to be an adventure.Favorite