La Dame de Pic, Paris: A foodie highlight in the City of Lights

A Michelin-starred lunch is a great way to check back in with French food culture

Sat, Nov 10, 2018, 06:00

   

La Dame de Pic

I spent 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.

November is Food Month in The Irish Times, with food-related content in all our sections, plus reader events, competitions and exclusive content at irishtimes.com/foodmonth
November is Food Month in The Irish Times, with food-related content in all our sections, plus reader events, competitions and exclusive content at irishtimes.com/foodmonth

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. 

Best oyster

My opener is the best oyster I’ve ever tasted. It’s a Tarbouriech, so meaty it looks like a chunk of chicken fillet, presented raw and shell-less on the plate. These babies come from the French Mediterranean, and this one is a plump nutty ur-oyster, the embodiment of all the oysters I’ve swallowed over the years. There’s a zinger of a lovage ice cream and a tiny tower of celery remoulade about the size of two Rolos stacked one on the other. 

Then a bowl of black ravioli with the pasta the exact texture of brie skin wrapped around Brie de Melun, the lesser-known but more robust sister to Brie de Mieux. These parcels deliver a farmyard gush of flavour, that’s tempered with a gentler potato milk with matchsticks of potato for more layers of comforting. 

The lunch menu “main” is an octopus dish where the tentacled arms have been glazed like roast meat and teamed with three different colours of cauliflower. There are tiny cubes of pork, mouth explosions of flavour startlingly big from something so small. It’s all finished with an aniseed hollandaise, from the unapologetically buttery French playbook, with a light touch. 

My main is a butternut squash dish with ribbons of the vegetable trimmed to tagliatelle shapes. They just miss the notch of softness needed to get to pasta texture, but are still delicious. As I get an extra dish on my menu, they thoughtfully provide the other diner with a plate to take a taste. 

Desserts are as high-end as you’d expect. I have a bit of plate envy for the cheaper set-menu option. An apple tart tatin with Japanese whisky and barley ice cream is gorgeous, but Mum’s fig cheese cake with lemon thyme is memorable pastry cheffing in the city of memorable pastry.

Michelin-starred eating in Paris is not a sport for bargain hunters. The €59 lunch along with the €105 “pleasure” menu in La Dame de Pic is a delightful way to see how the food culture that invented restaurants is doing things these days.  

Lunch for two with a glass of wine and coffee came to €191

  • Verdict Clever classic food where comfort and flavour rule
  • Food provenance Extensive – lamb from Aveyron, cheese aged by Nicole Barthélémy, those Tarbouriech oysters
  • Facilities Beautiful
  • Music None in the dining room
  • Vegetarian options Good (for France)
  • Wheelchair access No