Passage 53 was our last major reservation of the trip. We had been buttered, basted, and foie gras’d the past week and thought we had seen all the tricks. But we were about to be blown away. As mentioned, it was all hands on deck with my family making sure we found the best eateries in Paris. We sifted through magazine top 10 guides and newspaper write-ups, consulted friends, compared notes, and honed the list (you may have realized food is a blood sport in my family by now). This one came highly recommended by my brother’s colleague working in Paris: “A Japanese chef who has worked in France for many years; in one of Paris’s most charming covered galleries; one of the city’s best-kept secrets.”
It took us a few minutes, but we found this jewel box of a restaurant tucked among shops and bars in a narrow covered walkway. Its austere white backdrop—on display through a 200-year-old original glass door and façade—stood out from the rest, and the crowd marching past would inevitably stare in, a few people inquiring if there were openings for lunch. There weren’t. This place held about 20 diners, and about half of them were Japanese—a good sign, because the Japanese are about as serious as the French when it comes to food. Moral of the story: book in advance (and no more than six in a group).
I guess I should mention that Chef Shinishi Sato has earned himself a Michelin star recently, and if you ask us he should be given another. Basically he’s taking French haute cuisine and elevating it with the painstaking attention to detail that only the Japanese have the patience for—a sweet roasted onion presented as a palate cleanser, with jamón ibérico slices delicately inserted between each layer, and a crumble of sea salt over the top. I mean, come on. I’m about to extend my stay to eat this all over again.
First things first. In recent years, white wine has basically been eliminated from my rotation. It became sugary and cloying, and threatened a headache in the morning. But this Meursault white Burgundy we kept trying was changing my mind. Anyone who has a line on a good one for a decent price, I’ll be your best friend.
The waiter passed around fresh black truffles in a Cognac snifter to get our appetites churning—nice touch. In season in winter, he said they’re $2,500 per kilogram (cue Andrew pretending to drop the glass).
Amuse bouche: Parsley velouté and foam. To the left are two butters—one salted and one spicy from Jean-Yves Bordier. We had tasted a lot of butter and this one got a lot of knife time that day. Paris food aficionado David Lebovitz on Bordier: “I know I sound like an insufferable snob (more than I normally do), but I’m at the point now where I’ll only let Bordier butter cross my lips. Many say it’s the quality of the cream, or what the cows eat. It’s also due to the fact that the butter is made from slightly-soured or cultured cream, which gives it a nutty, mellow tang and reacts differently when baked.”
What he said. I bought two kinds at La Grand Epicerie the next day and smuggled them home in an empty boot. I feel it’s an even tradeoff since, upon our return, U.S. customs had a line out the door and let one of the officers go on lunch break as people sweated and children cried and we barely moved. Oh, and all the flight attendants kept hopping in front of us. But back to happier events!
The next dish is not pictured because, well, I ate it before I remembered to shoot it: Oyster in smoked haddock cream, garnished with apple gelée and beluga caviar (now you see why I ate it).
Flash-grilled calamari with cauliflower purée and raw sliced cauliflower
Seared scallop with black truffled Jerusalem artichoke purée. This was amazing.
Skate with parsnip purée. Another nice thing about Passage 53 is that the portions were reasonably sized. We didn’t feel overwhelmingly stuffed at the end of his long, decadent meal (though, come to think of it, we did walk home, across a wide swath of Paris).
The view of the passageway from our table
More delicious white Burgundy is requested from our very gracious host.
Oh no, here it comes again: the foie gras course. Here, with clementine and jasmine. We all swooned at how inventive and even refreshing this preparation was (the norm had been with a Port reduction and Parmesan foam), but, at our gras saturation points, only a hearty few finished it (I know, we suck).
Here it is: the sweet roasted onion layered with jamón ibérico, and a sprinkle of sea salt on top. We peeled each layer back and let the onion dissolve on our tongues. An inventive twist, indeed.
At this point the Passage 53 staircase must be discussed. This, too, was originally here 200 years ago, and I’m pretty sure Napoleon would have been too big for it. You basically held on to the railing for dear life going up or down (wine or no wine), and we were shocked to watch the kitchen staff (cooking upstairs) hand dishes from atop this puzzle piece. You have to laugh thinking about the American worker who would have sued long ago for slipping on it. Here, the 200-year-old staircase simply deserves its due respect.
Crispy chicken with soft-boiled egg and shaved black truffles.
Pictured at top: Sous vide pigeon with mashed quince, balsamic and pine nut sauce, anise
And, when in France, eat six desserts. I couldn’t scribble fast enough when he announced the dessert descriptions. In my notes I see: Lemon, yogurt with white chocolate tapioca, banana, cocoa, chestnut, chocolate fudge.
But my brother Oliver—getting his Masters degree in All Things Chocolate—might be able to fill us in.
Oh lord, a bonus dessert (probably for ordering all the white Burgundy)—black truffle ice cream with shaved black truffle. Have you heard it’s truffle season?? Yes, it was excellent.
Goodbye, lovely restaurant. We hope to see you again someday!
Other Paris restaurant reviews:
Joël Robuchon’s 3-week-old L’Atelier Etoile
Frederic Simonin: An Excellent Secret
Nomiya: Art Installation or Lunch?
Christmas Eve dinner at Taillevent
Christmas dinner at Le Cinq
Casual Paris: Le 404 (Moroccan) and Café de l’Alma
Bonus Paris post: Le Chateaubriand, Darling or Dud?