Three minutes after I got to Au Passage restaurant/wine bar, I started to fret that taking my parents there was a mistake. Let me explain: Au Passage is a hipster spot. Located down a slightly grungy alley in the 11th arrondissement, Au Passage looks and feels like a dive bar. The tables and chairs are a mish-mash of club chairs and hand-me-downs, the bar is fully stocked, the playlist seems to consist of nothing but the White Stripes, and the menu is 10 or 12 items scrawled on a chalkboard. In other words, it’s the kind of place where I feel right at home and to which I’d NEVER knowingly take my sweet parents. I started apologizing profusely. (It’s small plates! They hate small plates! They haven’t had their dinner! The music is too loud and too rock and roll!) My dad looked worried. “It seems very nice,” my mother said reassuringly.
Ten minutes later, after the gamine and charming server-cum-hostess had brought over a bottle of nice Bergerac and some remarkably good bread, things were starting to look up. We eschewed the tempting shoulder of lamb for the whole table (€40, I think), in favour of eating everything else on the menu (all small plates €8). By the third dish, I stopped worrying about whether or not my parents were having a good time, because the food is DELIGHTFUL.
It is deceptively simple, in that the dishes are not overly complicated by fussy presentation or too many components. However, they show intelligence and thoughtfulness in how they’re composed, and the techniques that are used are executed impeccably. The result is that the beautiful ingredients shine through, and each dish pops with flavour and colour. So, a salad of yellow and red beetroot was given delicacy and richness by excellent fresh ricotta (house made, I’m guessing), and accented by pungent briny anchovy and tart fresh sorrel.
“Mack et coqs” – mackerel sashimi, perfectly-cooked tiny shelled cockles, sliced raw summer squash and capers – was utterly delicious – the mackerel, especially, was glorious, its buttery texture complemented by the chewy cockles and crisp squash.
My mother and I fought over an exquisite carpaccio of red mullet, which was probably my favourite of the sashimi plates. I remember the pickled onion and paprika, but was too busy fighting her off for the last bits of fish to identify the herbs dusted over the top.
I thought that the tuna, flecked with an intriguing loamy salty spice blend and served atop a yogurty dressing, was slightly overpowered by heavily smoked aubergine (IMO, the fish was so fresh and sweet, it didn’t need it), but my dad disagreed.
The two meat dishes were total show stoppers. The steak tartare was served deconstructed, as it should be, and the steak was cut into ballsy half-centimeter chunks, as if to say, “So you think you like raw meat? I’ll give you raw meat.” Well, yes. And fuck yes, the meat really was that good – silky, tender, perfect.
But the dish that blew my mind was the foie de genisse with roasted grapes and potato purée. “Genisse” is not calves’ liver, but—I Googled it—the liver of a young female cow who has had her first calf. This was served just seared on the outside and deep blood red on the inside. It was intense – the taste at first is delicate, almost sweet, and then comes the powerful iron punch of very fresh, very rare liver. I am not a liver person. I repeat. I am NOT a liver person. But I kept coming back to this plate, and my dad, who is a liver person, said he thought it was as good a liver dish as he’d ever eaten in his life.
By this time, a kind of protein-fueled delirium had set in. My mother was saying plaintively (cue Polish accent), “Maybe we should order another steak tartare. I am not hungry. It is greed that is making me say this.” And my father put down his fork and said, “I’m sorry to say, Susan, but I think this restaurant is excellent.”
We didn’t order another steak tartare (for which I am wholeheartedly grateful) but we did get the Saint-Marcellin (a whole cheese, €5) and both desserts. The first, described simply as ganache with salted butter caramel (but dusted with biscuit!) was naughty, unctuous, and delectable. With the second (fresh berries and ricotta) comes my only (minor) complaint of the evening: the ricotta, lightly sweetened and baked (I think), like a deconstructed Italian cheesecake, was just a wee bit dry. I DON’T MIND.
So, how did I wind up in a magical hipster dive-bar-restaurant-for-gourmands with my parents? I discovered Au Passage thanks to Twitter (I like to call it “Stalker”), which led me to a lovely piece by Greedy Diva on where to eat in Paris on a Sunday or Monday. (Incredibly useful information by the way. If you’ve spent any amount of time in Paris, you’ve probably been confronted with the conundrum of where to find a good meal on a Sunday that’s not L’As du Fallafel.) The bad news? Well, the rest of the world just discovered Au Passage too, thanks to a post in the New York Times food blog by Alexander Lobrano, published just two days after I ate there. (Phew!) So the Parisian hipster contingent may be outnumbered by khaki-slacked foodies following the restaurant buzz, but don’t let that stop you from going. As my dad said, Au Passage is EXCELLENT.
1 bis, passage Saint Sebastien, Paris 75011
+33 1 43 55 07 52
Website: http://www.restaurant-aupassage.com/ (but it’s under construction)
Price per person: €30 including wine
The verdict: Must try!