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French Cuisine Revisited, The Japanese Way

More and more Parisian restaurants are opening up to the explorations of Japanese-French fusion.

Sweetbread fusion (jlastras)


PARIS - Japanese chefs have been streaming into the French capital for the past ten years. Some remain faithful to the traditional Japanese cuisine, and delight their customers with the immensely rich gastronomy of the land of the rising sun. Others fall in love with French cuisine, and learn to master it in France's most famous restaurants or modern bistros. And then, there are those who want to do both.

Many a young chef who once trained à la française now work in a traditional Japanese cuisine restaurant in search of modernity, where their technical skills and fresh ideas are a valuable asset. Kura, which opened only two months ago, is a good example of this kind of fusion. The combination between savory traditional dishes and gourmet modernism featured in their kaiseki menu is simply irresistible. The restaurant is headed by Kura Kazu, formerly of Nobu London, who is assisted by Yoshita Takayanagi, a long-time associate of William Ledeuil (Ze Kitchen Galerie).

In the kitchen, Kura is in charge of Japanese dishes and Yoshita has to come up with creative French meals. Foie gras and fruit puree, sweetbreads served with peanut sauce, tender macaroons and kumquats are all signed by Yoshita; buckwheat noodle maki rolls, duck dumplings in rich broth, sushi, sashimi and swordfish served with soy sauce, sweet or salty, and seafood pot are courtesy of Kura. The result is masterfully balanced and original flavors.

At Kei, formerly known as Gérard Besson, the new owner Kobayashi Kei (trained at the Plaza Athénée and Crillon by Jean-François Piège) prepares French dishes bearing the subtle influence of Japanese culture. Think magnificent corn soup and sable cookies strewn with truffle flakes; or the perfect mushroom stock served in a Japanese cast iron hot pot, and served with a "ochoko" (cup) of sake. The lobster is reminiscent of Alain Ducasse's genius. The lamb and its crisp skin is a testimony of Kei's training in Alsace. On the negative side, the decor is a little too austere, the waiters somewhat ill-at-ease, and the wine mediocre and too expensive. It all adds up to a pricey meal (there is currently only one menu set at 80 euros, but that is expected to change soon).

Le Bistrot à Saké Issé is the perfect place for drinking saké while devouring Asian-French-Japanese tapas. The mind-blowing selection of saké is not only the largest in France but also in Japan, which makes the restaurant more than worth a visit. Tapas may be followed by pork brought straight from the Pyrenees and vegetables, sashimi (tuna, salmon or plaice), fish spring rolls, deep fried tofu served with dashi sauce, and accompanied by a glass of Dassai EU 50 saké. The service is still cautious (the restaurant opened only a week ago), and questions about saké may sometimes go unanswered.

Le Salon de Fromage Hisada, recently opened by Madam Hisada, offers a wide selection of cheeses. On the ground floor, Madam Hisada sells a large variety of cheeses, and degustation takes place in the tiny room situated on the first floor (there are only ten seats, hence the difficulty in getting a table). Here, cheese lovers can either order a generous tray of chesses, the plat du jour (usually Japanese), oven baked Mont d'Or and raclette. The menu includes home-made wasabi tofu (quite strong), green tea, yuzu and soy sauce (Japanese-style) and raclette- plain, smoked or made of goat milk, served with small potatoes and a selection of ham, bacon and sausages. Clients can quench their thirst with Basque cider, Belgian or Lorraine beer, Burgundy or Alsatian wine. There's no standing in the way of fusion.

Kura

56, rue des Boulainvilliers, 75016 (01 45 20 18 32).

Bistrot à Saké Issé

45, rue de Richelieu, 75001 (01 42 96 26 60).

Salon de Fromage Hisada

47, rue de Richelieu, 75001 (01 42 60 78 48).

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