La Bigarrade, Paris, France

A difficult afternoon was tempered by an elegant night, in no part due to my dinner companion and the effortless service at La Bigarrade in Paris. I had mixed feelings about maintaining the reservation. That was the morning my grandmother had passed away, but we ultimately decided to go in her honor, toasting her with sweet wine and tender seafood. It was a dinner I won't quickly forget, and an experience I don't regret.

La Bigarrade is located in the Batignolles area of the 17th arrondissement, not too far from the scenic Square des Batignolles. A tiny, but bright and vibrant restaurant, we made reservations to try out their grand tasting menu as part of a dual bacchanal to celebrate both Miss Love's visit to Paris and my 22nd birthday.

We opted for the wine pairing and found it quite manageable, definitely moreso than the all-out blowout at wd~50 and Rogue24 (review to come), with clever pairings designed to be consumed with multiple courses. This format of tasting was both economical and multi-faceted, as it allowed many scents and flavors of the wines to emerge when interacting with different courses.

We started with a bread course of Neapolitan olive oil and a light, airy foccacia. Simple, yet palate cleansing as it was meant to be.

The first two amuse bouche courses, served side by side with a 2011 Anjou (whose producer I have regretfully forgotten) were delicious and springy. The first, a delicate melon, paprika, and chevre gazpacho with a little olive oil, was floral and piquant, something I could have enjoyed in a much larger quantity. The accompanying razor-thin slices of avocado, shredded tuna and crab meat, and smoked sea salt with cilantro was a rich, saline homage to Chef Yasuhiro Kanayama's Japanese origins. The sweetness of the Anjou played well with the smoky, briny flavors in the fish and creaminess of the cheese.

Our second amuse bouche section featured a Kumamoto oyster with champagne, vinegar, (yes, you read that correctly) Tobigo, and applesauce. This was an impeccable example of the versatility of the chef. The entire bite was infused with an effervescence from the champagne and the roe, and a host of tangy flavors from the various acidic elements of the dish. The applesauce added an essential, quirky sweetness to the dish. The second amuse bouche was a potato, beet, and red onion dish. Not the most inventive, but visually pleasing and comfortingly monolithic in its flavors, like a cold borscht. The earthiness of these flavors brought out the more musky side of the Anjou.

The seafood course came next, a beautiful blue lobster tail in a white bean puree, brown butter, and grapefruit sauce. This tasted like a lighter, more modern take on the "classy" cruise dish of the 60's, Lobster Newberg, a dish my grandmother may have enjoyed on a vacation as a younger woman. This dish, however, was not laden with butter and heavy cream. The nutty brown butter was deftly cut by the individually riced grapefruit flesh particles, a task completed with the precision of a surgeon, lending a sweet acidity to the dish. With our second wine, a 2008 Julien Meyer Riesling Muenchberg Grand Cru from Alsace, it was perfectly paired. This Riesling had a classic halbtrocken flavor profile and sweetness, tense and honeyed with a slightly smoky finish.
We followed the delicacy of the lobster with another fish course, lemon-infused sole with thin shavings of cauliflower, brown butter, fresh thyme, and mollusks. Despite a second round of brown butter and citrus, this didn't feel repetitive. It was crisp, vegetal, and tender on the inside, with a salty bite from the mollusks. We enjoyed this with a 2010 1er Cru Mersault-Blagny from producer Sarnin-Berrux. Notes of acacia, bitter almond, and a delicate oakiness made this one of our favorites of the evening.

Our third savory course deviated from Franco-Japanese dishes to a decidedly Southwestern flavor profile. Sous-vide pork with a corn, arugula, and soapy oaxalis salad sounds innocuous enough. However, the chef undercut the bold spices with very subversive, clever Asian flavors and ingredients within the dish, like peanut oil and lemongrass. This was one of the most delicious pork dishes I have ever enjoyed. Crisp, fatty, and smart. This was paired with the heady, masculine 2007 Domaine Lucien Boillot et Fils Gevrey-Chambertin  "Les Cherbaudes".

Finally, we finished strong with a rare roasted pigeon with grilled mushroom and tamarind mash and a pear and potato sauce. The visual presentation of this dish made me think we were being served steak frites! This was a savage, meaty dish with bold flavors and a clean, aromatic fruitiness from the pear. Very well-balanced, and classic when paired alongside the 2008 Chateau Massereau Bordeaux.

The cheese course was simple, yet astounding, immediately bringing me back to lazy summer nights enjoying simple dinners on the back porch with Miss Love back home. It was incredibly vibrant and summery, featuring a chewy Brebis cheese, a chevre round, and a dab of the best mustard I have ever had, sweet and tangy. This was served with a small glass of dolcetto from Italian producer Bera Vitorrio.

We then started our rollercoaster ride of sweet treats, commencing with a trio of miniature desserts, all interconnected with similar flavors and sensations. A pineapple granita, fresh and icy cold, segued to a brilliant, tangy pink grapefruit gel underneath a fizzy basil-mascarpone lime cream. This second dessert may have been my favorite course of the entire evening, so perfectly was it prepared. This was followed by a basic and bold preparation of sliced figs in a white vinegar gelee.

Cardamom ice cream with a brown butter crumble followed alongside a butternut squash creme brulee, two sweetly autumnal desserts.
Tiny, tender hazelnut financiers with crispy chunks of fleur de sel made for a marvelous transition to our chocolate dessert and mignardises.

Our final dessert was simple, yet nostalgic: a chocolate torte with a smear of white chocolate and pink peppercorn. Spicy, sweet, and prepared in a way that let the natural flavors of the chocolate stand out.
The last bite of the night with the last swig of wine: tender vanilla dacquoises with a sweet Chantilly cream filling. The perfect ending to a wonderful evening. The food was artfully prepared and the service impeccable. Our waiter spoke to us in French, offering to slow down or repeat information at any time, and noticed later on in the evening that I was surreptitiously taking photos and told me not to hide my camera- that photography was fine and encouraged!

The unique flow of this dinner evoked so many memories, taking us through the seasons and years in a time-lapsed tour de force. It was sweet and melancholy given the circumstances of the visit, a bittersweet encapsulation of the passage of time in small bites. It truly astounds me that chefs whom I've never met, servers I'll never see again, could evoke such precision and kindness in their cuisine. In this sprawling, lonely city, I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else.

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