A high­light in the City of Lights

Miche­lin- starred eat­ing in Paris is not a sport for bar­gain hun­ters

The Irish Times Magazine - - FOOD- FILE - CATHER­INE CLEARY

Ispent a sum­mer in Paris as a stu­dent in the 1990s. Much of my time in the City of Lights was spent in the dark­room of the Cen­tre de For­ma­tion et de Per­fec­tion­nement des Jour­nal­istes ( CFPJ). In­stead of restau­rants, I hung out with the vine­gar tang of fixer, spend­ing a large chunk of grant money on pho­to­graphic chem­i­cals and ru­inously ex­pen­sive but beau­ti­ful pa­per in the Fnac de­part­ment store. Formed but far from per­fected ( I still mar­vel at how the av­er­age Parisian knots a scarf), it feels like an enor­mous chunk of luck to have had that time in that city mak­ing im­ages swim into view be­fore the dig­i­tal age swept the whole she­bang into his­tory.

In a small- world co­in­ci­dence, the CFPJ is now on the Rue du Lou­vre close to where we’re headed for lunch. La Dame de Pic is the Miche­lin- starred restau­rant of French chef Anne- So­phie Pic. The chef is in that small club of women chefs who hold three stars. Hers re­side at her fam­ily restau­rant, Mai­son Pic in Va­lence in the south- east of France. She opened La Dame de Pic here in Paris six years ago and it gar­nered a star. It seems like a good spot for a mother- and- daugh­ter lunch. There’s an­other sim­i­lar com­bi­na­tion at the next ta­ble, a young cou­ple on the other side of us and a ta­ble of dark- suited busi­ness­men, all on the sparkling wa­ter, nearby.

The restau­rant is a muted swirl of browns and cream, the car­pet like a huge cowhide with a rivulet of thick cream run­ning down through it. The walls are dec­o­rated with pan­els of creamy leather with 3- D branches of blos­somed tree in the same ma­te­rial. A linen run­ner crisp enough to slice cheese runs down the mid­dle of our sim­ple wooden ta­ble. The cut­lery is the most el­e­gant I have ever used, knives and forks like heavy long- han­dled sil­ver wands.

La Dame de Pic feels like a meet­ing of old and new worlds. Chefs wear the high toques that will al­ways sum­mon Pixar’s Rata­touille to mind. But two snacks ar­rive on a flat stone, Nordic

style. They’re a tiny pil­low of beet in crisp pas­try and a cube of bean curd dusted in cur­ried peanut pow­der that’s so trashily tasty it’s al­most like a cheesy thumbs- up from the kitchen. Yes, we take our­selves se­ri­ously here, the mouth­ful says, but there’s food fun to be had.

The menu does the best thing that menus can do: un­der­play­ing the dishes with few words and min­i­mum flow­er­i­ness. So “sea­sonal mush­rooms” is a

bowl of fluffy but de­light­ful fon­due made with aged Comté. In the mid­dle, there’s a con­fit- ed egg yolk sur­rounded by a lifebuoy of crisp egg, like the glassy bits on the edge of a fried egg. On top, there are blobs of con­fited yolk and cubes of white. It’s a dish that com­bines “look at me” cheff­ing with the com­fort hug of a panda in a one­sie.

My opener is the best oyster I’ve ever tasted. It’s a Tar­bouriech, so meaty it looks like a chunk of chicken fil­let, pre-

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