05 September 2012

bento stowaway: maori's bento at la conserverie, 75002

When I finished my long overdue first meal at my good friend Maori Murota's bento spot by Grands Boulevards, I descended to the kitchen to thank her, and after doing so, asked what I imagine must be a pretty routine question for her. So, I segued, after learning that she planned to travel to Japan for a month. You going to keep this up when you get back?

It's not that her project, a stowaway restaurant operating inside the cavernous design-hell cocktail bar La Conserverie, isn't successful. She routinely runs out of food to serve, and juggles numerous private cooking gigs on the side. The home-cooked Japanese soul-food she prepares is gem-like and nutritious, a natural hit with her previous milieu, the fashion crowd. (Murota was previously an assistant to Christophe Lemaire.)

It's just that the whole conceptually-unrelated-restaurant-within-a-bar situation seems precarious, barely perched where it is - like a food truck, without the truck, with notably more refined cuisine, if not service. In every major city there are a thousand bloggers with peeled eyes and pricked-up ears searching for good unprofessional authenticity, the outsider art of the kitchen, and when one confirms its existence, as at Maori's Bento at La Conserverie, one usually doesn't wait long for it to disappear. But Murota has always struck me as being more or less chez elle in funny situations. So she's returned from her trip to Japan and has reopened for business this week.

Maori Murota, left. 

Since quitting the fashion world a few years ago, Maori has supported herself through random gigs and private cooking classes. The collaboration with La Conserverie came about because the owner was a client of her private cooking classes, and happened to have a kitchen that wasn't being exploited.

I visited for lunch back in July with my friend P, who lives nearby. (For once my delay in posting about something was intentional, not wanting to draw attention to a restaurant that would be closed for August.) Maori's Bento offers just one entrée, two plats, and a dessert, so we basically just ordered everything available that day.

A maki de chinchard topped with tamago was firm and fresh, displaying all the rice nuance (seasoning, texture) that separates intuitive Japanese chefs from, say, someone like me. Chinchard is a sustainable white fish one encounters around Paris from time to time, when one invariably fails to remember what the hell it is. I'll note for the future that in English it's also known as false scad.

Our main course was a gleamingly fresh chirashi de saumon. Were I in a real professional restaurant with professional ambitions I guess I would find it a bit facile to serve salmon, the default fish, particularly to the French, whose unthinking addiction to it rivals that which they maintain to cigarettes. But hell. Maori's Bento is an unfussy, seat-of-pants project, so I don't begrudge Murota her crowd-pleasing gestures. Among the crowd, I was indeed pleased.

Maori first learned to cook from her mother, before later refining her skills in the kitchen at a Shangainese restaurant in Tokyo called Chef's. (This was before her career in fashion, and, as evidenced by the un-Googleable name of the restaurant, also before the era of the internet.) Her cuisine nowadays is a synthesis of motherly simplicity and professional technique, as in the rough-cut cilantro, red onion, and cabbage topping the exquisitely vinegared chirashi.

Dessert fell somewhere between a flan and a creme caramel, and could have used some more thought in the plating. It was tasty nonetheless, and I should note that it was only served that day because they'd run out of the other dessert they'd been serving, a perfectly off-theme lemon pannacotta. (Murota has claimed in an interview with L'Express that she doesn't know how to make desserts, and perhaps should be taken at her word.)

Wine is a complete afterthought at Maori's Bento, which is understandable, given that it's a lunch bento place. For the sake of this blog I took a glass of what was on offer, a 2010 Mâcon-Villages by Domaine Perraud.

This is Jean-Christophe Perraud, not my friend Isabelle in Vauxrenard. I'm told it's just what they happen to have in stock at La Conserverie at a given time. I know little about these wines except they are clean and inexpensive and seem to be popular among more retail-conscious cavistes and importers. (The last time I had one of their wines was at restaurant Albion in the 10ème, where I found it... Clean, and inexpensive.) 

While enthusiastically offering my services as a wine consultant, should Murota ever create her own establishment, I'll stick to beer on my next visit to Maori's Bento, where they serve my friend Kai Lorch's fine Parisian pilsner Demory.

Maori's Bento at La Conserverie
37 bis, rue du Sentier
75002 PARIS
Métro: Grands Boulevards or Sentier
Tel : 01 40 26 14 94

Related Links:

The Japon-Alsace dinner with Maori Murota
Maori Murota's Gohan Night at Café Commune

A July 2012 note on Maori Murota's benots @ Vogue.fr
A June 2012 article on Maori Murota @ L'ExpressStyles
A note on Maori Murota's takeaway bentos @ ElleàTable
A post on Maori Murota's bentos @ TifaMade

More thoughts on bentos: Nanashi II, 75004

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