First Taste: La Bigarrade

La Bigarrade

Chefs doubling as performance artists is nothing new in Paris right now—think of Daniel Rose cooking up a storm at Spring and the equally in-fill-view theatrics at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon— but no one pulls out all the stops quite like Christophe Pelé at La Bigarrade, a tiny new place in the quiet Batignolles neighborhood of the 17th arrondissement.

The affable Pelé, the definition of a dark-horse chef (for years, he turned out brilliant Mediterranean-style fare at Le Jardin at the Royal Monceau Hotel, but no one paid much attention), is suddenly all the rage. Side-by-side with Guiliano Sperandio, his second-in-command, he takes the stage behind a short stainless-steel counter, just a step up from his storefront dining room, and the show begins. While many well-run kitchens evoke the movement of ballet, this team manages to combine the speed and agility of tennis pros with the precision of surgeons. And the results—two set tasting menus—(the eight-course Gourmet, $70, and the Gourmand, $94, which includes an additional meat course)—are fantastic. Both change daily, but the basic style behind each menu might be called Franco-Zen, with an emphasis on texture and perfectly balanced spectrums of taste.

My opening course—a feat of pure gastronomic origami—was a plump Gillardeau oyster cut into slices and garnished with sorrel purée, cubed fennel bulb, and herring caviar, all of which parsed out the natural taste of the oyster. Other high notes of this feast were scallop tartare in a soy-sauce-spiked sabayon with orange zest and tiny almost invisible sprigs of escarole; a sublime bon-bon of roasted foie gras in red-cabbage juice with cockles, cockle foam and lemon brioche; steamed cod with caille de brebis (fresh ewe’s milk cheese), puree of preserved lemon and asparagus; and a terrific little filet of rare-cooked Spanish free-range pork with a slaw of carrot, daikon and reglisse root. A mocha-cardamom cream with nougat mascarpone, and a finishing passion-fruit soup with fromage blanc ice cream, proved that Pelé is equally adept at desserts.

The wine list is small but well chosen, with a superb premier-cru white Beaune. There’s a happy groove in this dining room filled with arty locals and people there on word-of-mouth recommendations. My only complaint: the incongruous, cardboard-stiff maitre d’hotel, who tries to ruin all the fun.

La Bigarrade 106 Rue Nollet, 17th (011-33-1-42-26-01-02)

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