Braden and Laura, the fabulous duohttp://hkmenus.com/
French tapas in Paris, who knew?
The “Hidden Kitchen” has had some phenomenal write-ups and reviews since they opened more than 3-years ago and highly recommended by so many people that I was concerned that all this hype would unconsciously make my expectations so high that they couldn’t realistically meet it. Most people starve themselves in preparation for a large meal, amateurs! Since I am an eating pro, I prepared that afternoon by eating practically a whole baguette to stretch out my stomach; after all, we are going to have 10-courses.
We got their email giving us their address and we were all asked to please be punctual ( 8 pm) so they could serve in a timely manner. It was a very, very warm night, so I’m glad I wore loose clothing, and oh yeah, I can “grow” into them. We met our friends Joël and Cynthia at about a quarter to 8 pm, in fact we were the first ones to arrive. Immediately, I was impressed by all the marble as you entered the building. There was the proverbial teeny-tiny elevator that said it can fit three, but unless you’re waifish models, in reality it can only fit two, so Cynthia and I took the elevators while Joël and Jack walked up to the 3rd floor.
We were greeted very warmly by Laura and served a cocktail of Zubrowka Polish bison grass vodka, and a lychee, topped off with a sparkling wine from the Loire. Now how can you go wrong with that? The dining area where we were to perform gluttony was beautiful. It was quite simple and understated, but very, very elegant. Another good sign.
Not one to be shy, I went to the kitchen and met Braden, the Chef who would be cooking tonight. Very unassuming amicable nice man. For such a large apartment, they have a very small kitchen, so typically French. So, my mind was wondering, #1 how is he going to prep and plate our food when there really wasn’t a lot of work space? And, #2, I digress, with Paris being one of the premiere gastronomic capitals of the world, inquiring minds what to know, "why are the kitchens always so damn small and inadequate?"
The others started to arrive and some were LATE, but hey, I’m not their warden. So, we started about 8:30 pm.
First Course: an amuse bouche. It was a tomato water gelatin with bacon bits and greens. It was very refreshing and cooling. It was like a deconstructed BLT layered, but minus the bread. Wow, another good sign.
Second Course: Chilled lettuce soup with skillet aroncini, hazelnuts and avocado, paired with a 2009 Domaine Nicolas Réau, Bonnehomme de Chenin. I really liked the soup, did I mention it was a warm evening and air-conditioning is a rarity in Paris. The wine was great. Lettuce has a lot of water, and oftentimes tastes just like water, what a surprise. But this cold lettuce soup was not only refreshing but very tasty; however, I didn’t care too much for the aroncini, which was stuffed with rissoto, avocado, and blue cheese, although the flavors sound strong, I could not detect those components, plus the texture was a bit too rough, but the soup was delicious.
Third Course: Basil dumplings with Zucchini, summer Squash and pecorino, paired with 2008 Domaine labet, Côtes du Jura. Our group unanimously liked this dish, it was simple, well presented and you were able to taste each component. And, the dumplings were a nice contrast to the zucchini.
Fourth Course: Sea Bass with asparagus, peas, quinoa and brown butter, paired with 2007 Château Pierre-Bise Anjou. This had to have been my favorite dish. The skin was cooked to perfection, and the meat still retained its juiciness. What I liked was that the brown butter with the quinoa gave it an almost “nutty” flavor. I could have eaten this all night.
Fifth Course: Palate Cleanser. This was Braden’s interpretation of a “mint julep” – it was excellent. Again, because it was a warm evening it was so refreshing. It basically consisted of a sorbet topped with mascarpone and of course a mint leaf.
Sixth Course: Monkfish (poor man's lobster) with Chorizo Ragout, roasted celery and baked chickpeas, paired with a 2008 Domaine Jamet, vin de pays de Collines Rhodaniennes. This was my second favorite dish. I see a trend here, fish on a warm night… Monkfish is extremely meaty and heavy, and like lobster, if cooked too long can be really rubbery. Braden cooked it perfectly, and the nice surprise was that the chickpeas were actually “chili-ed” (spicy), the surprise bite gave the dish a nice and interesting dimension.
Seventh Course: Flank Steak with corn, almonds, okra and green beans paired with a 2005 Domaine Piquemal, Côtes du Roussillon village. This too was a very good dish. It was hearty without feeling heavy, and the meat was cooked perfectly, in other words not alive and breathing like the French would normally have it.
Eight Course: Heirloom tomato salad. I think mine also had a slice of apricot. What can I say, on a warm night, what a nice salad to have. The crouton was interesting, I think it was made with cornbread, I liked it.
Ninth Course: Caramelized White Chocolate Cake with rhubarb Sorbet, paired with a 2008 Château Pierre-Bise, Cabernet D'anjou. Loved the warm white chocolate cake, but I did wonder for a minute, since it was quite moist in the center that if the original intent was to make a “lava” cake, regardless it was delicious. I’m not a Rhubarb fan, but people around me said it was good. I loved the wine, it was nice refreshing and paired well with the dessert, but than I'm a sucker for a good rosé.
Tenth Course: Coffee and Doughnuts. Now this was the oddity. We just finished eating a fabulously, elegantly plated, and delicious dinner, and we got doughnuts?!? This was bizarre to me. To continue the elegance of the meal, I could've seen maybe a chocolate truffle, or petite fours, but doughnuts that look and tasted like miniature doughnuts you get in a box at any supermarket in the US, just lost it for me. This was the only “miss” of the whole evening, minuscule on the large scheme of things, but such an easy fix.
We were very lucky the group who attended melded quite nicely and Braden and Laura were very, very hospitable. We commented that they must have stock in silverware. Imagine changing out silverware for 10-courses. Their service timing was impeccable. I had heard from previous attendees that the wine paired with the food was just so-so, but that has changed dramatically. Juan Sanchez, owner of La Dernière Goutte and Laura revamped the wine pairings, I have to say they did a excellent job.
10-courses sound ominous, but in reality they were small tasting portions. I’ve always liked tapas, and this seems to be the rage right now, so this reminded me of very elegant French tapas served by courses. With 10-courses not everything can be perfect or to everyone’s liking, but in this case they came damn close. My hats off to Braden and Laura, considering their small kitchen, they are miracle workers!
So, the question needs to be begged, “Did they meet my expectation?” Bah Oui (most definitely yes). Would I go again?” a bien sûr (absolutely), “Would I recommend it?” absolutement (absolutely)!
NOTE: Bookings must be made well in advance.