Last fall I helped my friends from 11ème arrondissement German bar Udo put together a small wine list for their new project, a gallery space and Japanese small-plates restaurant called Düo that opened in October.
If I haven't yet written about Düo, it's because I want to give the team there time to work out the service kinks before I start cheerleading about the place. I figured the concept was original enough - inexpensive Japanese small plates and solid natural wines - that buzz would build of its own accord.
I realised I may have waited too long when the other day, just a few blocks away from Düo, my friend E and I stumbled upon the newly-opened 6036, a SIM-card-sized restaurant serving - what else? - inexpensive Japanese small plates and solid natural wines. I guess it's a full-blown trend already. 6036 bills itself as izakaya, or Japanese bar food, but this is a ruse: it's actually a modest and sincere gastronomic experience, helmed by chef Haruka Casters, formerly sous-chef at 10ème arrondissement tasting-menu destination Abri.
Any outright comparison between 6036 and Düo would be unfair for a number of reasons. The former restaurant, whose name refers to the distance in miles as the crow flies between Paris and Tokyo, comes with a fine-dining pedigree and the benefit of not having an art gallery attached. It is also much, much smaller: the dining room seats a total of 14 covers.
The space formerly housed a creepy anonymous take-out pizza place. I happened to live across the street for four years, and cannot remember ever having seen a client enter that pizza place. Never did I envision one day having a splendid meal within the same walls.
Not a lot has been done, cosmetically. Some bad art photography has been added. It bears mentioning - only because I can't think of much else to criticise about 6036 - that the restaurant evinces an obliviousness to décor and graphic design that is almost astonishing for a Japanese concept. This is a nation where the even 7-Eleven's practice a high level of visual merchandising.
All of Caster's aesthetic attentions, apparently, are devoted to her cuisine, which is as affecting as it is unfussy.
Hearty onigiri come accompanied by no more than cucumber and smoked salt.
Clams in a sake broth are partially veiled by a delicately crunchy cabbage leaf.
The lone moment of near-flashiness was the gelatin used to transform loose ricotta to a quivering salad the texture of panna cotta. But even that technique is common in Asian cuisine, particularly desserts.
A hangar steak prepared in miso sauce with lotus chips reminded me that a whole universe of marvelous beef preparations exist beyond Paris' ubiquitous steak frites.
At 12€, the dish was also far less expensive than anything else of its quality currently being offered in the city. The same applies to the rest of the menu, where smaller, appetiser-sized dishes run between 3,5€ and 8€.
With all this we savoured a glowingly vivid bottle of Renaud Guettier's 2008 "La Diablesse," an old-vine Chenin Blanc from Indre-et-Loire that sees 36 months barrel-aging. It's voluptuous apple-blossom flavors and lightly waxen heft were a superb accompaniment to Casters' cuisine. I later learned that all the wines at 6036 are sourced from my friend Michael Lemasne, at superb rue Paul Bert cave Crus et Dècouvertes.
My only complaint is that there aren't yet enough wines. Given that izakaya was originally to Japanese dining what the cave-à-manger is to contemporary French - a booze merchant who serves food - the term seems a misnomer at 6036. (It is nonetheless far preferable to the word "tapas," still in use at rue Richelieu rip-off joint Issé, who, last I checked, didn't serve anything remotely resembling tapas.)
Casters offers takeout service to overcome 6036's size limitations. But with a full dining room, the kitchen gets stretched a little thin,which means that plates arrive one by one, and a little slowly. A bounteous freewheeling nosh-fest it is not, despite the low menu prices. These factors combine to make me wonder how long 6036 can feasibly persist in its current state of pokey, underpriced charm.
I'll be back often as long as it does, anyway. And it bodes well in general for the future of Japanese cuisine in Paris - not to mention this particular corner of the 11ème - if a concept like 6036 can succeed.
82, rue Jean Pierre Timbaud
Métro: Couronnes or Parmentier
Tel: 01 73 71 38 12
More Japanese food + natural wine in Paris:
Düo, 75011 - My friends' Japanese small plates / natural wine place, where I helped with the wine list.
Nanashi II, 75003