For better or worse, there’s a bit of Henry Ford in me, an uncompromising spirit in the compromises I make. His customers could have any color car they wanted, as long as it was black. Likewise my girlfriend and I could vacation anywhere, I stubbornly told her, as long as it was a city with exciting restaurants.
I’m not only stubborn but also rather stupid for objecting initially when she proposed Paris. Jaded by meals too staid and too expensive there in the past, I thought it a boring choice. Nothing, restaurant-wise, seemed to be moving there. Nothing seemed to be happening.
But truth be told, I had not checked in on Paris in over two years. I was increasingly emotionally distant. Our relationship had deteriorated, beaten down by my illicit flings with other cities, one-night stands with far-flung restaurants I might now call my favorites.
Saturne helped us hug and make up.
Here both the furniture and the font nodded toward the Nordic, a fixation of mine since our trip to Copenhagen last year. The wines that sommelier Ewen Lemoigne chose conjured dreams of living in the Loire valley and summering in Sicily. And the food — realized by a chef two years younger than I — led me to think that… well, I should get my act together professionally.
His name is Sven Chartier, and his first plate looked like somebody dragged a weedwhacker through a flower garden, leaves and petals turned to confetti in its wake. Somewhere down there were raw scallops from Cancale and sea urchins from Galicia. Which components were garnish and which were the intended stars of the dish was a point subject to debate. But salad and seafood both kept me happy. So why discriminate at all?
Infinitely simpler and inarguably more focused were rings of squid, charred and snappy around the edges. Each piece had bounce and vigor, a texture somehow both yielding and not at the same time. Wild rocket and toasted bread crumbs tossed with squid ink provided punctuation. Each statement was clear and effective.
A roasted filet of fish — one you might label meagre, drum, corvina, or any other number of names depending on where you live — washed up on a smoked potato puree, buried under nettles. It was impeccably cooked, with skin so crackly I first assumed it still wore scales. Roasted chicken was no less technically sound, moist and tender, a bird from Landes properly respected. Grilled pencil leeks propped up the poultry, with vinegary mustard seeds peppered around, a swatch of butternut squash puree to sweeten the deal. But my girlfriend looked unconvinced. She looked, actually, rather bored.
I pushed forward, endeavoring to either lift her spirits with cheese or funnel enough wine into her glass that the whole world, particularly her cheeks, would look rosy. In both pursuits, I think I was successful.
The cheese was Comté, one of my favorites, aged 31 months and sliced extra thin. The accompanying bread, too, deserves mention here. It was rustic, with a loose crumb and a thick, violently crunchy exterior. They get it from a guy named Cristophe Vasseur and it’s called “pain des amis,” because he makes it, I am told, just for his friends. Thus there may or may not be requests from me pending for every person of that name on Facebook. I need that bread in my life.
Wine, of which we had three bottles, was a smashing success. The bracing acidity of a Loire Valley chenin blanc primed us for the oxidized, non ouillée funk of an Alsatian pinot gris. But nothing primed us for the super-easy-drinking “Contadino 7″ from Frank Cornelissen, a Belgian who fled south to Sicily to make the kind of wine he wanted to. At the base of the Mt. Etna, he grows obscure grapes like nerello mascalese and ferments the juice in amphora. The results speak for themselves.
For these choices, I take no credit. The first two were suggestions of the very capable sommelier, while the third was an old favorite of our host, LV, himself a Belgian ex-pat. It was he who made the reservation for us, he who put Saturne and several other spots we visited this trip on my radar in the first place. For this, I owe him no small thanks.
The three of us lingered over dessert, discussing meals past and future. To the present one, there were two happy endings. The first tasted of spring, a season faster approaching here in Paris than back home in New York. Sorbets of sorrel and violet chilled under a foamy grapefruit cream, marble-sized mounds of meringue and a tangy goat cheese powder. In turn came a tiramisu of sorts made with sunchokes and Ethiopian green coffee. Both gracefully tip-toed the line between sweet and savory.
And so it is with my relationship with my girlfriend, an unendingly sweet girl that fell for an unsavory character like me. Up to this point in our trip, Saturne had provided my favorite meal. And while I’m not sure she agreed, after the meal she slinked back into her seat on the metro with a quiet, satisfied smile. She’d been right all along about this trip. Paris, I’ve always loved you, but I think I’m falling back in love with you.