What was initially supposed to be a single visit to introduce ourselves to the cuisine of David Toutain turned out to be two when an email a month before our visit to Paris stated that our reservation was booked on the same day as a four-hands dinner with two-Michelin starred chef Alexandre Bourdas of SaQuaNa. Intrigued by the collaboration we opted to keep our initial reservation and book another meal there the night before in order to try the work of the man at the helm of his eponymous restaurant.
Being one of the first meals of our first time in Paris, it is here we were introduced to the new age of young French chefs who have been superbly trained under the tutelage of the French greats and others around the world. The similarities to their mentors are obvious – exquisite ingredients, perfect execution, seasonality and more. But the characteristic opulent atmosphere, heavy tasting menus and rich price tags associated with their predecessors are few and far between with this generation. Instead their approach is modernistic yielding relatively lighter menus and more affordable experiences.
In Restaurant David Toutain the modernistic approach began once we stepped into the restaurant. Looking at the aesthetics composed of oak floors, an open space and wooden dining tables without any tablecloths felt reminiscent of the interiors characteristic of scandinavia. But this is Paris after all, and though much seemed different from generalizations of haute cuisine, this restaurant still delivered on the grandiose flavours of autumn.
Starting with a piece of salsifis accompanied by a subtly sweet cream made of parsnip and white chocolate, the root vegetable was wonderfully soft and chewy, reminiscent of a refined and slightly sweet french fry. What followed were a number of snacks that continued to prepare our palates for Toutain’s unorthodox flavour combinations ahead. For example, a crispy wafer made of beetroot enveloped foam containing hints of eel, blackberry and even more beetroot. Thereafter a stout ball of beef carpaccio encased a raspberry and lay on top of a crumble of hazelnut. Surprisingly the nuttiness of the hazelnut went well with the subdued tasting beef. The berry too was just the right amount of citrus to cut the heaviness of the dish ever so slightly.
Now if the aforementioned three dishes were not enough to set the autumn tone of the meal, the following serving of egg yolk with corn, cumin-spiced caramel and cornbread is what truly tipped the scale. One spoonful into the wonderfully creamy chilli con carne-tasting concoction packed so much depth in the eggshell it sat in, it felt like an entire bowl of chilli complete with cornbread on the side.
The seafood dishes too continued on with the call of fall. A dish composed of shellfish such as clams, razor shells and mussels was served with honey made chocolate and pumpkin cooked in orange juice. Aesthetically, it looked as if it would fit right in with the orange hues of the foliage lining the streets of Paris, but gustatorily it tasted like physical bites of fall. A piece of turbot poached in olive oil that followed was not only cooked to that perfect point of the cusp of cooked and uncooked, but was also enveloped by a wonderful caramelized crust and accompanied by a carrot that playfully emulated the appearance of a beet. The quality of the ingredients, the right balance of spices and the execution of the ingredients yielded perfection in every bite.
According to our delightfully hilarious server, Martin, Toutain’s pièce de résistance is composed of eel with black sesame and green apple. Upon hearing its initial explanation, it certainly seemed like an odd marriage of ingredients and flavours. But somehow the citrus and tart elements from the apple, the smoky flavour from the eel and the earthiness from the black sesame puree, surprisingly blended together quite well. And when we think about this dish to this day, a look of bewilderment meets both our faces because conceptually it should not make sense. But that is Toutain’s cooking as we have come to discover, and this dish is the epitome of that. We have however tried to look into the origins of this dish and according to this interview years ago, it is a rift on a traditional Basque dish. From our frequent travels to the Basque Country, I would like to think we have a decent knowledge of the cuisine. But I can’t seem to figure out what dish this plays on. If someone can shed some light on the topic, that would be greatly appreciated.
The night was not all about the superb seafood though, as one of our final mains was composed of pork from the Basque region of France. Although our visit to the French Basque Country has been limited to only one instance, the pork from the Basque Country, whether the Spanish or French side, has always been a cut above the rest. And true to form, a combination of the quality of the ingredients and Toutain’s execution yielded the best pork we had during our time in Paris. Lightly pink, nicely tender and served seemingly almost room temperature with chunks of fat that never tasted this good. Eaten alongside more root vegetables, the dish tasted like harvest in our mouths.
Just as the meal was about to end, we opted to do as the French and ordered a supplemental cheese course. Parmesan cheese gnocchi served with parsley powder and a broth of chicken disappeared into my mouth like evaporated water and soothed my stomach like a bowl on warm soup on a cold winter day. It was sublime, hearty and perfectly balanced.
Dessert too never deviated from the eccentric amalgamations that pushed the boundaries of our palates. A bowl of white chocolate, vanilla, cauliflower and coconut blended together so well we could not decipher what component of the dish was made of what. To put our guessing aside, it was eventually explained that the cream was made of white chocolate, the ice cream was made of coconut and the emulsion was made of cauliflower cooked in milk with vanilla bean. And to finish the night off was a dessert variation of turkey stuffing – rich chocolate sponge cake complimented by refreshing thyme ice cream. Although we both remarked that we would have loved some more of the minty ice cream to compensate for the heavy sponges of chocolate cake, this is France after all, and Toutain would be remiss to not have such a dessert. With a few mignardises in tow our delightful meal was over.
The next day we returned once again under the care of Martin and a new addition, Toutain’s wife, Thai. Dinner this time around was heavier and of course less cohesive which is expected from a collaborative meal. Nevertheless, we enjoyed many of the repeats from the night before and the introduction to the cuisine of Alexandre Bourdas where we found a lot of Japanese infusions and techniques in his cooking. It was another solid meal and by the end of it all, two visits to Toutain’s eponymous restaurant and his unusual flavour combinations extremely reflective of the season at hand was simply not enough to contain our enjoyment of his culinary delights.
Thanks for reading and happy eating,
Carla and Sonny