Saturday, July 31, 2010

Stella Maris @ Paris

When in Paris, go for a Michelin starred meal. It was too good to miss, almost as if I went to Paris and missed Eiffel Tower. As a first attempt, I went for Stella Maris, a Michelin 1-starred restaurant instead of the much raved about Le Cinq, Guy Savoy or Le Meurice.

Stella Maris is hemmed by Chef Tateru Yoshino, it offers French cuisine done inventive style. Chef Yoshino has a chain of restaurants in Japan as well. He prides himself in serving food based on "the concept of Terre (Earth) cusine that involves preparing dishes as nature intended without disturbing their inherent beauty or essentiality".

A well-hidden restaurant despite its proximity to Arc Du Triomphe. With a stoke of ill luck and poor direction sense in foreign land, we ended up searching for this place for a good half an hour at least when it could have taken much less.

Finally at the doors of Stella Maris. It looked like a cozy outfit and was one. With a capacity of at most 20, the restaurant was fully booked for the weekend evening. Warmly greeted at the door, we had the pleasure of having a waiter to take our coats and show us to our seats on the second floor. Another takes over with the menu. And another comes over to take our beverage order. All in, there were 3 waiters shuffling up and down the stairs making sure every need was attended to.

Leather bound menus, very simply put together.

A pity the lighting was not too complementary for proper shots, these were the best I could. Thankfully, the ambiance at Stella Maris was not too atas nor rigid, diners chatted and laughed at ease. Adored the comfort available which is uncommon in local least in comparison with places like Iggy's or even Garibaldi which I sat through lunch with a stiff back. We had the company of 2 other tables of Japanese who were probably there to show support to Chef

Complimentary parmesan cheese puffs were served after our orders were taken. These were fresh from the oven, piping hot. These lil baby buns were toasty and as suggested, very bite-sized. These are no ordinary puffs, a nibble reveals a waft of parmesan fragrance. Rich in taste and best of all, the puffs are bouncy. I laughed out loud when the deflated puffs bounced back to its original shape upon nibbling, like sponge infact.

Warm water that was served boiling hot...I'll forgive them since they were served in such gorgeous china.

Amuse Bouche of Beetroot Jelly, Parma Ham Chip, Blue Cheese and Passionfruit emulsion. I am a fan of beet to begin with. Love, love....looooooooooove the beetroot jelly! Cubes of beetroot embedded in beet jelly, the textures were wildly adored. I crazily love how the pungent blue cheese, salty parma ham chip, beet jelly and passionfruit emulsion created such awesome flavours despite sounding odd reciting aloud. Chef Yoshino did not tip the scales by going overboard but with such delicate balancing of flavours...I was already jumping for joy within.

Bread basket of White and Rye Bread as well as Cereal Buns were offered with French butter. The strangest bread would go to Rye Bread that looks uncannily like Sour dough bread...only more sour in fact so sour, I winced. The texture of the breads are too rough for pleasure which is unfortunate given that all the breads tasted in the bakeries had been mindblowingly good.

Does it not resemble a flying spaceship with biscuit wings? This was new on the menu. The tuna tartare was a tower made of fresh minced tuna and avocado puree beneath, not forgetting the crunchy bits. The mini tower itself was outstanding on its own, pleasing even a non-sashimi fan.

This was paired with cherry tomatoes and spring onions that were equally good.

Duo of foie gras that was an artpiece that had me gawking.

Another must try in France has to be foie gras...double delight when you get it done two ways! Foie gras at its finest, velvety smooth yet buttery in an unfathomable way. This has to be the best ever eaten. What brings the foie gras up a couple of notches? The liver bits that are embedded within the buttery mass which hints of the real stuff included.

Roasted pistachios and candied berries are strewn haphazardly but these are lovely enhancements of sweet and savoury.

See the toast at the side? It's a toasted fluffy wedge that can be used to wipe up the sticky sweet-salty-miso sauce at the side.

Lamb with innards and peas.

I found the lamb too salty and not as tender as I hoped. An overload of liver and innards here. A slight grouse here, the innards were barely cooked with traces of blood when sliced open.

Signature of Stella Maris, I had my reservations after Iggy's subpar "signature" performance coupled with me not being too huge a fish fan.

It arrived looking like a slab of salmon sashimi. How wrong was I. Smoked to such perfection, every mouth was a celebration of Chef Yoshino's Japanese origins. I love to death how he paired it with a blob of blue cheese and roe...daring experimentation I say! A wedge of lemon is provided to whet the appetite, a couple of drops made this more appetizing. Spy the poached tomatoes lurking behind? I lost the heart to the sweet tomatoes that have been so thoughtfully de-skinned and de-seeded.

And when you think the magic ends does not.

What looked like a cross between bulbs and asparagus was coated so finely with tempura batter...I've not quite eaten such light tempura before.

I was expecting a palette cleanser but that did not come.

Away from the conventional french delight, Chef Yoshino infuses this with sweet potato coupled with a scoop of pistachio icecream and candied tomato. A slight grainy texture of the sweet potato creme brulee rivals the smooth creamed icecream...I say Ooh-la-la in appreciation.

Apple pastry with lemon sorbet was sublime! Easier on the palette than sweet potato creme brulee.

Complimentary petit fours.

Unique macarons attempted throughout the Paris leg of the trip. Honey centered these are!

I am sold on how he marries vegetables into his dishes and making them extraordinary...tomatoes were constantly used through most the dishes yet I did not get tired of them. Dinner was a 2.5 hour affair though paced leisurely, there were points I wished they did not leave us so alone (we were reading the menu for at least 15 minutes!) One star, a mini foray into the world of Michelin stars...without a doubt the quality is notches above with polished and finer tastes.

70€ for dinner

Stella Maris
4, rue Arsene Houssaye in Paris, 75008