The recent opening of charming 9ème market-menu restaurant Encore signals the inevitable outright codification of two recent Paris restaurant trends. The first is apparent from the restaurant's name, which follows in the cheery, brand-hungry, ultimately insipid footsteps of Merci, Grazie, and Beaucoup. The second is the fetishization of Japanese chefs. Abri, Vivant Table, Sola, Kei, Le Sôt l'y Laisse, L'Office... And now chef Yoshi Morie, formerly of 6ème restaurant Le Petit Verdot, returns at Encore. Not since Commodore Perry showed up with canons aimed at Edo have the Japanese found themselves in such pressing demand as in present-day Paris restaurant kitchens.
Encore un nouveau resto gastronomique avec un chef japonais ? Oui, encore un, même.
Happily, the opening of Encore also signals wine director Florian Perate's return to France, after a few years spent in London working with UK natural wine heavyweights Les Caves de Pyrène. Perate, originally from Troyes, formerly worked there for my favorite restaurant in the world, Aux Crieurs de Vin, and has been living and breathing natural wine since he was a teenager. What this tells me is that if, on opening night, Encore didn't quite yet possess enough personality to transcend trends, it assuredly soon will. At which point I'll return for an - oh, enough already.
When I talk about a restaurant's personality, I mean, among other things, an interesting wine list. Encore's is presently a little bare-bones, a greatest-hits collection seemingly sourced entirely from Caves Augé. Knowing Perate, this is not the result of limited ambition. It's probably attributable to a limited opening budget, and the difficulty of getting wine delivered domaine-direct during vacation periods. (Vignerons guard the sanctity of their vacation time as jealously as does the rest of the French population.)
My friends and I shared bottles of Eric Pfifferling's Chemin de la Brune and Marcel Lapierre's Morgon, both from 2012. Two supremely enjoyable unsulfured classics, perfect for any occasion and any sort of cuisine. Pfifferling's Chemin de la Brune is, in good year like 2011 or 2012, France's greatest natural rosé, superceding even the same winemaker's richer, more tightly-allocated Tavel rosé, in my book, by dint of offering a drinker something found almost nowhere else in natural wine: a glowy, pale rosé, slender and refined.
|I forgot to take a pic that night. This is same wine from 2011, which I had recently at Autour d'Un Verre.|
It's an unmacerated blend of Cinsault, Aramon, and Grenache. Some previous vintages have shown distracting levels of residual sugar and / or secondary fermenation, but 2011 and 2012 are both showing beautifully.
If I nonetheless sound a bit ho-hum about the wine at Encore it's because in the context of a gastronomic meal - in this case, Encore's 40€ four-course menu - one often wishes to mark the occasion by trying something one doesn't drink all the time everywhere. It's how restaurants ought to justify restaurant mark-ups: by maintaining a well-curated list that includes rarities and obscurities, a task that takes real work. I like it when wine lists and menus contain perceptible statements.
But Encore will get there in no time. During a restaurant's first week of service, success is defined as getting plates on tables with no explosions or bloodshed. And in this Encore was seamless. Perate handles the tables while owner Franck Aboudarham, a veteran of Paris' restaurant scene who recently put in time in both front and back of house at Frenchie, serenely oversees the bar area.
The meal the night we went was book-ended with mediocrity. A starter of aubergine, brie, unidentifiable foam and oyster leaf would have been significantly improved by removal of the brie, which sat sluggishly on the otherwise silken and perfect wedges of aubergine.
And dessert was a forgettable brownie and ice cream combo, replete with more foam, the whole thing half-melted by the time the plate arrived.
In between these dishes was some of the best cuisine I've had all year - real star-making stuff.
Veal was served two ways, tartare and seared, tataki-like, with ribbons of razor clam and crunchy, skeletal shavings of cauliflower. It was not only delicious, but creepily mesmerizing, like one of those Visible Man models.
And a plat of monkfish, chanterelles, and sea snails was a singularly intense marriage of forest and sea, like a walk in a public park in Atlantis. Every ingredient was in magnificent form: the monkfish flesh rich but not chewy, the chanterelles hauntingly bright and peachy.
I left the meal sufficiently convinced Yoshi Morie has more going for him than a Japanese passport and some zeitgeist.* And Perate and Aboudarham between them possess enough perspective on wine, hospitality, and restaurateurism to make anything succeed. Their restaurant's physical space is airy and brut, with a dash of mid-century modern among the hodge-podge of chairs adding a touch of design-mag gloss.
So it seems safe to say Encore as a whole has a bright future, once all the ingredients cohere into a purposeful meal.
* Much has been made of the delicate twists and new perspectives and what-not Japanese chefs bring to cuisine in Paris. Less frequently mentioned are the practical incentives restaurateurs have to hire Japanese chefs, namely their superior cultural work ethic and their relative unfamiliarity with French labour law. Frankly I'm surprised French restaurateurs don't hire more Japanese front-of-house staff. It would solve so many problems.
43, rue Richer
Métro: Cadet or Grands Boulevards
Tel: 01 72 60 97 72
An Oct. 2012 piece on Japanese chefs in Paris at LeFigaro.
A Dec. 2012 piece on Japanese chefs in Paris at JohnTalbott.