Paris Restaurants: Yen
22, rue Saint-Benoît, in the 6th Arrondissement. 01 45 44 11 18.
Open Mon–Sat, noon–2 p.m. and 7:30–10:30 p.m.
Japan and France share a love of fashion, graphic novels and fine cuisine, inspiring many young Japanese to come to the City of Light to pursue their passions. Some of them stay and become famous designers, artists or chefs. And now many of the most respected Paris restaurants are run by Japanese chefs who have worked in Michelin three-star restaurants. They are earning rave reviews serving up ingenious dishes at places like l’Agapé, Sola and la Table d’Aki.
Other Japanese chefs have chosen to go the more traditional route, bringing the very best sushi and noodles to the local dining scene. Parisians and visitors in search of eating something other than French food end up benefiting from all the culinary enthusiasm, and Yen is one of the best examples of the exceptional Japanese cuisine available in Paris today.
The house specialty at Yen is soba noodles, but this is not a noodle joint. It is an elegant restaurant with a calm, stereotypically Zen decor that features light-colored woods and natural materials. In a downstairs window, a chef prepares the noodles with buckwheat flown in from Japan, tempting passersby into the bright, simple dining room. Neighbors, international superstars, Japanese tourists and fashionistas prefer the discreet upstairs dining room where ikebana flower displays, precious wooden spoons and tiny, exquisitely delicate dishes transport guests directly to Japan. Exposed 18th-century wooden beams are the only reminders that you’re still in Paris.
On my last visit, I sat at my table hypnotized by the voices of Gérard Depardieu and John Malkovich discussing time shared on a movie set as I savored miso-seasoned grilled eggplant. They laughed uproariously as a plate of seasonal mushrooms arrived, and they continued to regale one another as I was served a bowl of very simple, yet absolutely divine, soba in a steamy broth. I love this dish. It is earthly richness with heavenly notes, sipped from a wooden spoon, an unlikely harmony of Mom’s cooking and three-star dining.
A Japanese guest once claimed he had to travel from his home in Tokyo to his sister’s home in Kyoto for a soba this good. The noodles at Yen are so good that I rarely try anything else, but there is sushi and a tempting selection of tapas-style starters for diners who can’t get enough.
In a nutshell: spectacular Japanese soba noodles.
Price check: starters, €12–18; mains €12–24.
If you like the sound of Yen, you’ll also enjoy the udon at Kunitoraya. Read the review.
39, rue Ste.-Anne, in the 1st Arrondissement.
01 47 03 33 65. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m. daily.