Wed 20 Jul 2011
Champignon, David Toutain's forest-floor assemblage of fungi.
66, rue de Mazarine, in the 6th Arrondissement.
Lunch and dinner, Tues–Sat.
01 43 29 33 83.
Agapé Substance, among the most anticipated Paris restaurant openings of the summer, is a showcase for 30-year-old chef David Toutain, who, armed with a set of long tweezers, sends out exquisitely plated, highly conceptual food from his lablike kitchen.
The menu offers few clues as to what’s in store; it’s a grocery list of main ingredients. Egg. Crab. Courgette. You won’t know what you’re getting until you get it.
Even then you’ll probably have some questions. “What the heck is berce?” for example. It’s a wild roadside edible (English translation: hogweed—I think we’ll stick with “berce”) deconstructed for the amuse-bouche into forms not immediately recognizable as food. Ladies and gentlemen, rue Mazarine has gone molecular.
We began with “egg” and “courgette.” The egg was cooked at a low temperature, the white still translucent, the yolk awaiting the pierce of a fork to spill out and mix with the ethereal emulsion of young garlic, studded with one fresh almond. The courgette arrived with tender little pattypans, draped in a foam judiciously infused with just enough lavender.
Next, two boulettes of a loose crab in a bowl, which the waiter filled with the contents of two ampoules, one containing a clear broth of crevettes grises (little gray shrimp), the other bright with citrus. I could do without the test tube theatrics, but the resulting elixir was vivid and delicious.
Our favorite was the “champignon,” a forest-floor assemblage of fungi interspersed with a savory hazelnut crumble and a pesto of consoude (another wild herb). Monkfish came with a risotto-style farro and an earthy tonka bean sauce; pigeon was served bloodred, with beets to match.
Like many Paris restaurants, Agapé Substance is a small, narrow space without much elbow room. The single long table is a direct extension of the kitchen counter. There are high stools, which are comfortably cushioned but backless, with little space for your feet and no obvious place for handbags. During the day, natural light gets through the frosted-glass window at the front of the room, but at night, the buzzy lighting casts an electric haze over everything, tinting your food and your date with a slightly yellow pallor.
And yes, that is an iPod on the table. It holds the wine list.
In such close quarters, we were lucky to have friendly neighbors, a pair of Australians on a world trip. We shared dessert—a refreshing avocado ice cream with red fruits—but I would have forgone that for an extra helping of the sublime four-year-old Comté they served. Not a foam of Comté, just Comté.
In a nutshell: Agapé Substance serves up pristine, ultramodern cooking with a touch of molecular wizardry in a space-age space.
Price check: Three courses, 39 euros (four for 51 euros). “Carte blanche” menu, 65 euros at lunch, 99 euros at dinner.
If Agapé Substance sounds good but the pretense and price don’t, visit Septime in the 11th, where another young chef is making waves.
80, rue de Charonne, in the 11th.
Lunch and dinner, Tues–Fri. Sat: dinner only.
01 43 67 38 29.
Editor’s note: For a gourmet walking trip, check out our DIY downloadable trips.