51, rue Jouffroy d’Abbans, in the 17th Arrondissement. 01 42 27 20 18.
Open Mon–Fri; lunch, noon–2:30 p.m.; dinner, 8 p.m.–10:30 p.m.
I was recently invited to dine at l’Agapé, a Michelin one-star restaurant that has been creating considerable interest since opening a more casual cousin on the Rive Gauche, l’Agapé Substance. Sitting in the very calm, very genteel 17th Arrondissement, the restaurant is formally dressed in muted tones, with large tables set far apart, and wildly modern art on the walls. At some Paris restaurants, the formally clad waiters move purposefully about. Here they seemed to glide effortlessly, maintaining a facade of absolute calm.
Toshitaka Omiya, the chef at l’Agapé, has only been running this kitchen since September, and we were excited to let him have his way with us. We agreed to the tasting menu as four mini gougères (cheese puffs) with piment d’Espelette were placed before us. The sommelier offered a pairing menu to accompany our meals, and I reluctantly agreed, knowing full well that a tasting menu could easily run to five or six courses. He assured me that each glass would only be a sip or two.
The bread was the first true sourdough this San Franciscan native has enjoyed since being in Paris, and it was the perfect support for the ultrarich butter from Jean-Yves Bordier, in Brittany. A hot/cold kabocha squash soup arrived, looking like any pumpkin soup, but when I slid my spoon in, a pool of vivid green lay beneath, bursting with flavor. It was clear that we were in for a night of surprises.
Our next course was cooked oysters with leeks, served in what looked to be a block of marble. This time the surprise was from the cellar. The sommelier had had the audacious idea of serving a diluted whiskey, the earthy, smoky flavors adding the perfect mix of surf and turf.
I can’t possibly describe every course; there were eight in all. But the next morning, as we ran off our gluttony along the banks of the Seine, we were both feeling nostalgic for the smoked veal carpaccio, the turbot with Jerusalem artichoke, the quivering bit of foie gras in duck broth and the pigeon on chestnuts.
The sommelier continued to surprise us, serving a beer with sea scallops and a Chilean wine with the pigeon. We were never disappointed and usually impressed with his selection, often taking notes just for ourselves.
Dessert was the pièce de résistance and the best chocolate pastry I have had in a long time. A golden ball is served on a chocolate-painted plate. The waiter comes by and crushes the jewel with the back of his spoon, revealing a puddle of pear with passion fruit for the final surprise of the evening.
This is chef Omiya’s first time running a kitchen, and I suspect that he has much bigger surprises in store as he fills his shoes.
In a nutshell: French cuisine as art. Subtle yet generous dishes in a refined, subdued ambience, with plenty of surprises.
Price check: Menu for 90 euros; tasting menu with truffles, 175 euros.
If you like l’Agapé, you’ll also enjoy le Laurent. Read the review.
41, avenue Gabriel, in the 8th Arrondissement. 01 42 25 00 39.
Lunch, Mon–Fri at 12:30 p.m.; dinner, Mon–Sat, at 7:30 p.m.