July 10, 2012
Akrame Benallal, 30, opened his Paris restaurant, Akrame, last spring and received a Michelin star this year. He has received several top awards as a most promising young chef. Linda and I went for dinner the evening of June 14, 2012.
We started with glasses of Francis Boulard Champagne served in lovely curved-top Italian glasses. The hors d’oeuvres included a smear of guacamole and a slice of smoked eel.
There is no written or à la carte menu. We selected the Menu Gourmand, at the discretion of the chef. The dishes were described when they were served, but they were fairly complicated and I am sure I have made mistakes and omissions in my descriptions below. I ordered the wine pairings; the descriptions below are brief, but the wines were not really notable. Linda had glasses of a good Morey-Saint-Denis.
The first course was “l’œuf parfait,” a poached egg surrounded by a smoked foam with sherry, dried beef bits and snipped chives. This was excellent; the flavors were subtle and well matched.
My wine pairing was a nice Riesling from Andlau in Alsace.
The next course was peas, garlic flavoured black crumbs of pain de mie, hazelnut sauce and hazelnuts. A stick of liquorice was grated on at the table. This was also an excellent dish with good seasonal peas and well chosen flavors to go with them.
The wine pairing for this and the next course was a plum-flavored sake, which was of no interest.
The third course was a lasagne of sweet potato sheets, langoustine and grapefruit. I didn’t like this at all. The sweet and sour effect did not work and was not complementary to the delicate langoustines.
The fourth course was a filet of rouget topped with crisped rice, napped with lemon sauce;
a raviolo of black quinoa. The rice and quinoa were interesting and put the bland rouget filet into the background. The dish was enjoyable.
The pairing was a white wine from the Piemonte.
The fifth course was a slice of foie gras poached in a smoked potato broth topped with potato spaghetti. I think that poaching is a dumb way to cook foie gras. The whole dish was mushy in texture and concept, although one could imagine that the flavors would have been nice in a different context.
The wine pairing was a white Burgundy.
We were then served a lemon sorbet. I think it is amazing that a creative restaurant such as Akrame would use such an old-fashioned concept as this. It served no purpose; the previous courses were not cloying to the palate; it would have been very unfriendly to a good wine.
Next, after a very long wait, came a piece of duck breast with a rich brown sauce and some fraises du bois; alongside was a bowl with a foam on top of a nice potato asparagus mash. This was good, but putting some wild strawberry halves alongside did nothing to make this ordinary preparation creative or worthy of the restaurant.
The wine was a Morgon; that ended the wine.
For the cheese course, beet rounds topped clouds of grated 18-month-old Comté;
a salad of young greens.
The grating added lightness and brought out the rich flavor of the aged cheese. Very good.
The pre-dessert was strawberry and raspberries with meringue slabs and yoghurt sorbet. Nice.
The dessert continued the red berry theme. (The regular dessert would have been chocolate and we had asked for a substitution.) Very good.
The mignardises were tiny lemon tarts and liquorice candies.
The meal had started out very well. We were the first diners to arrive at Akrame, a little after 8:00; the maître d’hôtel and the sommelier had plenty of time to spend with us. The egg and pea courses were very good, creative and interesting. The pace was right and dishes were well explained. Then things started to go downhill. The cuisine became uneven in its appeal and the long wait for the meat course obviously irritated several tables as well as ours. There were no waiters; the maître d’hôtel and the sommelier shared greeting, seating, taking orders, serving, clearing, pouring, explaining, chatting etc. The restaurant seats 26 and was full, as I guess it always is. This photo from my seat just after we arrived shows my view of the open kitchen where I could watch the action.
In the kitchen were the chef, who surveyed the dining room as well as cooking; three sous chefs: the very professional woman on the right; the Japanese chef who seemed to be an observer half the time; and, in back a very active, but very young, man. A dishwasher made occasional appearances from the back with fresh pots, pans etc. Akrame is understaffed for its ambitions and potential. The chef obviously has great talent; we hope he can find a way to make his restaurant grow so he can realize it.
19 rue Lauriston, 75016 Paris, Tél. : 01 40 67 11 16