Among the many excellent restaurants in one of the gastronomic centers in the world in Paris, a low-key natural wine bistro named Clown Bar has consistently caught my attention. What I did not realize at the time was that the head chef leading the kitchen at the restaurant was this Tokyo-born Japanese man named Sota Atsumi. French and Japanese cuisines share a lot of attributes, including creativity in plating, focus on ingredients and dedication to master craftsmanship, hence why it’s not uncommon to see Japanese chefs making their names for themselves with dishes from France instead of their home country. Chef Atsumi has recently decided to leave Clown Bar for his first solo project called Maison in Paris, and to my excitement he decided to have a preview dinner series for arguably the most demanding diners in the world through a three-month residency at Chefs Club in NYC, where my wife Jun and I have already had excellent meals twice, first with the rising African American chef JJ Johnson, then with an excellent DC restaurant Dabney). After booking a table at the first available date, Jun and I came to the now familiar space, watching chef Atsumi and his crew in action at the table. Overall, it was a very good meal that had some truly memorable dishes.
You can order a la carte for the pop-up dinner, but trust me and just go for the five-course tasting menu at $95 per person (you can also add a wine pairing option at $55 per person). Even better is the fact that you can choose from one or more options from each of the courses, and therefore Jun and I each ordered something different so we can all share 10 dishes together. Despite its opulence in flavor, French cuisine can get tiring and overwhelming at times. What really made our meal from chef Atsumi stand out is the refined flavor where everything is so clean and balanced without being heavy. When she tasted the burrata cheese on top of green pea vichyssoise (a type of cold thick soup), Jun asked me whether the theme of this pop-up dinner was a healthy eating campaign. I didn’t respond right away, but could tell that the kitchen’s use of condiments was quite judicious, as you see in sea urchin with white asparagus where I could barely taste anything other than the raw ingredients. The kitchen also does a very good job with keeping seafood at ideal levels of temperature and texture. I could eat the roasted oyster with spinach puree all day for its addictively smoky feel, and the grilled octopus with pil-pil sauce and squid ink was one of the tastiest ones I’ve had in my recent memory, with more or less perfect chewy bites that are neither too soft nor too hard.
The seared arctic char with sorrel and beurre blanc, while gently cooked, was a little too salty, but I had no compliant whatsoever about brill a la plancha that worked absolutely beautifully with couscous and lobster bisque. In the past six months or so during my culinary journey, I couldn’t immediately think of a better seafood dish I had had before. The kitchen also does something special with meats. Jun and I wished the black angus beef came on its own instead of in a puff pastry pie (called pithivier), but the addition of foie gras and pepper cream certainly added a bit of flavor punch that wasn’t unpleasant. On the other hand, I can’t to this day stop thinking about the roasted chicken dish, especially its dark meat that was simply cooked to perfection and achieved the ideal smokiness to make me smile immediately. Between the two desserts that we had ordered, I was a huge fan of the grilled corn ice cream with salty crumble and white chocolate that was so delightful in its combination of flavor and texture. The other dessert, strawberry mille feuilles, was also interesting with the addition of marjoram (a type of herb) ice cream with its minty flavor.
Chefs Club has a fairly big dining space and getting a reservation won’t be a huge challenge, although the restaurant got crowded over time, especially with many Asian diners who had come to see chef Atsumi in action. His residency is over on July 21, so hurry up to secure your reservations in case you haven’t already. There is full bar with a wine list that is not short on natural wine varieties (which is why Jun and I didn’t bother looking at the wine list in details as we just can’t stand those types). If you can, definitely get one of those counter seatings where you get to watch the diminutive chef Atsumi running the kitchen with his team with quiet force and devotion to his food. I don’t know when I will get to visit Paris (I certainly want to make a trip with Jun at some point in the future to show her the beautiful City of Light), but I will certainly try to book a table at Maison. For the time being, if you are in New York looking for an elegant yet not fussy dining experience, I highly suggest checking out the pop-up dinner at Chefs Club.
KenScale: 8.5/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.5/10)
- Creativity: 8.0/10
- Execution: 9.0/10
- Ingredients: 8.5/10
- Flavor: 9.0/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
- Value: 8.5/10
Address: 275 Mulberry Street, New York, NY 10012
Telephone: (212) 941-1100