April 4, 2013
As my husband and I prepared to leave Paris a decade ago, we thought long and hard about where to go for our “au revoir” meal. After three years of steady devotion to classic French food, we decided instead on Hiramatsu, then located on the Ile St-Louis and newly anointed with a Michelin star. Our two-hour lunch included course after aromatic course of Hiramatsu’s inventive and refined Franco-Japanese creations. It was a meal neither of us will ever forget.
I was reminded of that lunch recently at Le Concert de Cuisine, chef Naoto Masumoto’s sleek, bento box of a restaurant tucked away in the 15ème. Unlike Hiroyuki Hiramatsu — whose lofty sights were clearly set on les etoiles — Masumoto seems to have achieved his highest aspirations simply in the studious and precise preparation of his dishes.
Acclaim seems almost beside the point for the chef who cut his teeth at (the much much pricier) Benkay. A steady and devout clientele (composed largely of Japanese business men and suit-clad ministry types) fills the restaurant daily in an unfussy space that says eating here is serious business.
Which isn’t to say it’s no fun. Watching Masumoto cook is like observing a well-rehearsed symphony in motion. Indeed, his tiny restaurant feels designed for just this purpose. A dozen or so tables are arrayed around the central counter and open kitchen where the chef and his assistants create their flavorful magic on a traditional Japanese cast-iron grill. Observing the preparations was almost as enjoyable as eating it. Most surprising was the result: preparation and plating at a really modest price for what felt like haute-cuisine level quality.
The menu is happily limited – three entrée, plat and dessert selections max for lunch – ensuring total mastery over what arrives on your plate. My creamy risotto with spring vegetables was deeply flavorful and cooked to perfection, neither of which is ever a guarantee for this famously fickle dish. As delicious as it was, however, a glance at our neighbor’s table made me envious: an unusual (but reportedly sublime) confection of foie gras and teriyaki eel.
The arrival of my plat soon eased my woes: a generous serving of succulent gambas tapanyaki nestled in a bed of seasonal grilled veggies. The flavors weren’t distinctly Japanese, nor were they traditionally French, but a seamless marriage of the two that left me ready to reconsider the somewhat tired concept of fusion cooking.
I don’t know about you but desserts in Asian restaurants tend to leave me cold; overly sweet and often gelatinous (yuck), I usually just skip it. Not this time. In fact, my tiramisu au thé vert might have been the highlight of the meal. Another example of Masumoto’s skill in marrying unlikely elements for a surprisingly delicious result.
So, next time you just can’t stomach another magret de canard or supreme de volaille, consider Le Concert de Cuisine for a bit of culinary diversion. Book at the counter for a front row seat to Masumoto’s performance and be prepared to take your taste buds on an exotic and fulfilling journey.
Le Concert de Cuisine
14 Rue Nélaton, 75015
Tel: +33 (0)1 40 58 10 15
- Check out what Le Fooding has to say about Le Concert de Cuisine
- If you’re in the mood for something more low-key or if you’re dining on a budget, check out Happy Nouilles with Diane
- Be sure to visit the pop-up restaurant with the best views in Paris, according to Out and About in Paris, before they close their doors!
Written by Paige Bradley Frost
Paige Bradley Frost, a Los Angeles native, moved back to Paris with her young family in 2011 after first living and getting married there in 2000. A lover of French style and cuisine, she spends her days scouting and writing about the city's gems when not chasing after her two young children. Her articles about parenting, culture and lifestyle have appeared on NYTimes.com, the Huffington Post and various other publications. She blogs about her Paris experiences at http://parisdejavu.blogspot.com.
Website: Paris Deja Vu