Mad About Paris, Much more than a guide
Paris is, of course, full of surprises and amongst them the famous passages, the covered alleyways cutting through ancient stone, are a real universe of the unexpected.
There are still quite a few of them, mostly situated on the right bank and many of them concentrated around the Grands Boulevards, and you really never know what to expect. A flashy gallery of high-end boutiques? A swirling cluster of Indian restaurants? Or just a dark, run-down, smelly tunnel?
The passage des Panoramas is the oldest of them all, inaugurated in the year 1800, and it is still in good shape. Would you expect a two-star French-Japanese restaurant here? No. Should you go and eat there, at Shinishi Sato’s „Passage 53“? Well, probably, yes.
After all, you’re on the safe side. „Passage 53“ is a restaurant that all Parisian food critics love. Francois Simon calls it just „excellent“, for guide writer Gilles Pudlowski it feels like a „poem“, Meg Zimbeck can feel (or see?) the precious ingredients „shine“, and John Talbott found all he had simply „terrific“. Finally, two freshly earned Michelin-stars aren’t bad either.
It’s a pleasant restaurant to begin with, a narrow dining room, softly lit and nicely furnished in white and cream. Japanese waiters will greet you, the whole kitchen team is of Japanese descent as well but they only use the best French ingredients they can get hold of – and turn them into something very unusual, special, rare.
Don’t expect to get a written menu or to have any choices. Sato’s concept is to offer a daily „menu surprise“ consisting of a long row of small, well-crafted dishes. Menu prices vary due to ingredients used but you’ll end up with 110 Euros per person (152 US$). And you’ll end up having a lot of white food.
Seems that Sato has a tendency of turning a lot of things into a tartare or a foam or a cream, serving it accompanied by white sauces on white plates with other white add-ons. A signature dish would be a piece of white fish placed on a bed of cauliflower cream and sprinkled with crude cauliflower splinters. That sounds a bit bland (and is) for people who are more on the rustic side. But, hey, when you’re open to the unexpected, you’ll have a good time here.
You might have, for instance, a spectacular veal-and-oyster tartare, a slice of turbot ennobled by a sweet light sauce of cèpes, a strip of veal in the company of a herb salad (dark green, for a change) – and what you’ll always have is a beautiful dish, a sensitively decorated, artfully presented plate. It’s as if European food was going sushi, visually.
Foodwise, it is a mixed picture. Some of the courses are excellent and charm you with that unsalted Japanese finesse, getting the ingredients’ essence on your palate. Yet others are just white and pretty tasteless and overall bland. Let’s put it this way: Passage 53 serves high-quality food mainly for the eyes, and sometimes succeeds in winning over your tongue and teeth as well. Those are the great moments. And they come, as so often, unexpected.Passage 53