Passage 53 (Paris)
I’ll admit it: I had low expectations for Passage 53. This newish restaurant inside the city’s oldest covered passageway has drawn very mixed reviews. A number of eaters who I trust have been disappointed here. Other palates had been pleased, but their measured compliments never moved me to pick up the phone.

Then my boyfriend, who wanted to celebrate a new job, asked to go. I’m not one to shy away from spending money on food, but the idea of shelling out €200 for mediocrity was honestly filling me with dread. Nevertheless, I made a same-day reservation and tried to keep an open mind.

It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Here’s why:

The product is impeccable. We expect this from a place that’s owned by Hugo Desnoyer, the butcher whose name is scribbled on source-savvy menus all across town. The butter is Bordier, the oysters Gillardeau, the veggies of course are Joël Thibault. These are the things that I will long for if ever I’m forced to leave France.

Star ingredients do not themselves make a meal. In other provenance-crazed restaurants (les Fines Gueules, Racines, Cou de Poule…) they turn in a solid and respectable performance. Under the direction of P53′s chef, they shine. Ballsy combos, complimented by near-perfect technique, coax the best from each element.

Take this dish, for example:
Passage 53 (Paris)
This is arguably the best veal in the capitol, paired with some of the best raw oyster in the world. In another restaurant, either element would likely stand on its own. Putting them together is a bold move – one that frankly doesn’t sound or look appealing – and the taste is shockingly good.

Passage 53 (Paris)Another winning dish: a perfectly seared piece of calamari on a bed of almond and cauliflower cream with shaved flakes of raw cauliflower on top. It looks innocent (the all-white presentation) and tastes anything but.

For game nuts, there was a saddle of rabbit cooked sous-vide and presented with a civet of the meat in a dark chocolate sauce. It was a heady combination and visually stunning on the plate.

And speaking of chocolate, the demi-tarte that they presented with a scoop of very coffee ice cream had the thinnest crust I’ve ever seen in my life. I took a post-bite photo as evidence. Really, wow.
Passage 53 (Paris)
And that dessert wasn’t even my favorite. The pear ice cream with candied celery sort of blew my mind (again).

At dinner, there are dégustation menus at both €60 and €80. With four glasses (each) paired by Guillaume, including two coupes of Jacquesson, our tab climbed to €248. At that price, this isn’t an every day sort of place. But for a celebration? Absolutely.

In a nutshell: Hit Passage 53 for a special splurge, and you’ll be delighted by the controlled daring and near-perfect technique using France’s best ingredients.

> Reprinted with permission from The Girls’ Guide to Paris

> Read more trusted reviews for Passage 53 at Paris by Mouth

7 Responses to Review: Passage 53

  1. Food Snob says:

    Great read. It is a very exciting place.
    I love the cauliflower-calamri dish.

    So happy you enjoyed it!

  2. Adam says:

    Isn’t this the place that has a Japanese chef? That could explain the rather daring and unusual combinations you describe so well. You don’t mention the decoration, but whenever I’ve walked past here it has always seemed really cold and impersonal – am I mistaken? Also, without wanting to take anything away from the skills of the kitchen staff, it doesn’t look like the kind of place to go if you’re hungry! What’s wrong with une tarte entière?!

  3. Meg says:

    Yep, it’s a Japanese chef in the house.

    I didn’t mention the decoration because I don’t love it. The cracked tile floors and narrow spiral staircase (to the bathroom) have a certain charm. Beyond that, the space lacks soul. They’ve added a row of banquettes against one wall, so each table has one booth seat and one freaky club chair seat. Previous reviews have complained ferociously about those chairs and I agree. They’re not comfortable and they sit lower than the banquette so that the two diners are not at the same height. Ridiculous. Moreover, the back of the booth is so far from the table that you’re obliged to either slouch way back or sit up straight without support.

    If they changed their seating they’d have a star within the year.

    As for the portions, they’re on the small side but exceedingly rich. And we’re talking 10 courses for the dégustation (the one at €80) so hunger honestly isn’t a problem.

  4. Nancy says:

    We also had the 10 course degustation, with similar selections, it seems. I loved the dinner. I too was amazed by that crust for the chocolate tarte — our ice cream was caramel, though. Also, we sat upstairs at the private table, which elevated our experience, both literally and figuratively.

  5. Sigrid says:

    Can you reserve the upstairs table? We would love to go there but the way you describe the downstairs situation doesn’t sound too tempting …

  6. Meg says:

    Hi Sigrid,
    I’m sure you can try to reserve the upstairs table. Just ask!

  7. Laidback says:

    We just finished the €45, 5 course lunch, highlighted by the veau de lait. Interestingly, my wife loved the chairs as she pushes to reach 5 ft., and found them very comfortable since her feet reached the floor. I was also comfortable on the cushy banquette, but I enjoyed the end seat with a semi-wrap around back that was perfect for resting my arm between courses. We definitely did not leave hungry, which I feared after the 1st couple of dainty courses, but as the meal finished with a crescendo, we were sated. The colimaçon is terrible for us big boys. The wine list is a tribute to Burgundy, especially the whites, as the sommelier recently worked there.

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