In a country known for its extensive use of butter, a meal where butter is scarce is refreshing.  Dinner at Agapé is light and clean, making use of only the freshest seasonal ingredients.

In a country known for its extensive use of butter, a meal where butter is scarce is refreshing.  Dinner at Agapé is light and clean, making use of only the freshest seasonal ingredients.

The name Agapé itself is one of three Greek words roughly translated into English as love.  This title is well-suited as the energetic and enthusiastic passion of the entire staff comes through immediately.  I'd never seen a maître'd more genuinely excited to put together a tasting menu.  He was proud of the restaurant's creations.  And it showed.

The meal started with an amuse bouche  of mousseline de potimarron avec orange, graine de tournesol, a thick soup of winter squash brightened by orange zest and sunflower seeds.  The soup had a strong flavor of pumpkin with a slightly grainy and creamy texture.  The raw sunflower seeds seemed a little misplaced at first; but then I began to enjoy the textural contrast it provided to keep each spoonful interesting.  I really liked this.

My favorite course of the night came next: crevettes de Nouvelle Calédonie crue et marinée avec navets, yuzu, et cacahuète.  These raw grey shrimp from New Caledonia were sweet and extremely fresh but not as sweet as the red varieties of sweet shrimp.  The bitterness of these grey shrimp made the pairing with the yuzu fantastic.  The addition of peanuts and beets provided textural contrast.  The ice-cold temperature of everything heightened the dish’s overall sweetness.

Keeping with the light and fresh theme came carpaccio de betterave  avec parmesan, noisette, et vinaigre balsamique, or thin slices of beet root with salty parmesan, crispy hazelnuts, and acidic aged balsamic vinegar.  The beets had a distinctly earthy taste, which was further accentuated by the parmesan.  I really liked the mix of textures in this dish.

To me, when very tender, veal carpaccio develops a texture similar to raw lean tuna.  Such was the case with the noix de veau cru d’Hugo Desnoyer, espuma au concombre, coriandre, citron, vanille.   This was heightened by the fresh taste of the cucumber for which I already associate with the flavor of tuna from American sushi rolls.  Vanilla, lemon, and coriander gave the meat a sweet fragrance making the dish smell almost like a dessert.  And not to mention that Hugo Desnoyer's small shop in the 14e is known for the finest cuts of meat in the city.

L'Agapé has close ties with L'Arpège with both staffing and philosophy.  Laurent, the current maître’d at Agapé was the former maître’d at l’Arpège.  Both restaurants insist on farm-fresh seasonal vegetables and choose to prepare them in ways that enhance their natural flavors rather than to obscure them.  Agapé’s potager aux poireaus et huîtres was a tribute to the famous dish by Alain Passard.  It was incredible how the sharp brine from the oysters actually made the leeks taste sweeter.

Next came rutabega, espuma au poireau, céléri-rave, jus de poire, long cuts of Swedish turnip with a leek foam, celeriac and a sweet pear reduction.  This dish was tasty, but certainly not a favorite of the night.  I thought the leek foam was more like an aioli in terms of fattiness and texture.  I didn't care much for this dish.

My face lit up when I smelled the next course, foie gras grillé de Charolais, katsuobushi, radis vert et rouge, ciboulette et basilic thaï.  The generous slab of grilled foie gras was tempered with a very clean clear broth, which allowed the fattiness of the liver to come through without feeling overwhelming.  The salty strips of katsuobushi, or dried and fermented tuna, combined with the thai basil made this meat taste both sweet and savory at once.  The thin broth kept the liver moist until the very end.

When cooking scallops, it’s always best to err on the side of raw.  These scallops -- noix de saint-jacques rôties avec chou-fleur, lardo di colonata, purée de cresson -- were pan seared for what seemed like just a few seconds, which allowed them to maintain their sweetness.  I didn’t particularly like the lardo di colonata here and pushed it to the side: it was too fatty for me and I thought it lacked salt.  The watercress puree had a fairly strong flavor for watercress, so I limited its addition to my fork, basically only eating the scallops.  Honestly, the highlight of this dish was the perfectly seared scallops; everything else served as  decoration.

Next came mallard de Landes avec chou-rouge, purée de coing, jus cuisson parfumé avec vinaigre fumé.  I would have liked the skin of this duck to be a bit crispier because I thought it was a tad soggy.   I saved the dish by separating the skin from the meat and eating only the lean part.  Loved the combination of the astringent quince and the smoked vinagre.  These modifications really helped to cut down on the fatty mouth-feel.  The meat itself was very juicy, and its flavor was emphasized by the slight vegetal bitterness of the red cabbage.

I prefer my meats lean, so I’m predisposed to enjoying fattier cuts of wagyu beef.  Titled Boeuf ‘wagyu’ d’Argentine, oignon en robe de champ, béarnaise de la moutarde d’Orléans, this rare cut of Argentine beef was cooked impeccably.  As you can see from the picture below, the beef’s color is astounding : it appears to be beet red.  The meat was served with Agapé’s version of chimichurri, keeping in line with the Argentine theme.  I loved the onion that accompanied the meat and how the skin was left on to preserve a crispy texture.  FoodSnob, with whom I shared this meal, loved the fatty marbling.

I followed with a light assortiment of cheeses, comté de Bernard Anthony (Juin 2005), Chèvre Drôme Gramat, Chèvre-Crabotin, and Munster Nord Vache.  Most memorable was the 4-year-aged comté, also a favorite of Alain Passard.

Our first dessert was a poire William pochée au sirop, sablé à la farine de sarrasin, crème de yuzu, et sorbet à la poire William.  While known simply as a common pear in the US, in France they distinguish between types.  This one happened to be poire William. The grainy texture of the pear mixed well with the flour sable and produced a grainy texture that felt like the pear skin itself.  It was strangely addictive.  The bright citrus flavor of the yuzu was tempered as a crème.  I thought this dessert was outstanding.

I was disappointed to see a piece of chocolate tart brought as the final dessert.  I very rarely enjoy a chocolate dessert; I find its flavor completely takes over anything I’d tasted previously due to its strength.  This one broke the mold.   I tasted it and immediately  wanted more.  This “Samana" chocolate from the Dominican Republic was sweet and rich with a strong taste of salted cocoa butter.  I couldn’t get enough of it.  It was served with a Tahitian vanilla sorbet and a drop of salted caramel.  The portioning of this dish also ensured that I would finish it and want more.

Petits fours were truffe à la fève tonka, crème caramel au fruit de la passion de Jacques Genin, small and to the point.  I didn't particularly like the tonka bean chocolates, nor did I like their inclusion immediately after a chocolate dessert.  But the passion fruit crème caramel was an enjoyable bite.

My meal at Agapé was a very positive experience, calling on culinary influences from both Japan and France and melding them into a relatively light meal.  I did prefer the first half of meal to the second, mostly because I'm crazy about raw shrimp and veal.  But overall this was a really enjoyable meal filled with energy and creativity that made it really fun.  I’m looking forward to my next visit.

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