The room is glass, wood, and metal, with big-hipped dame Jeanne carafes here and there, glimmering in the low light like soap bubbles. It’s not a big restaurant, but it’s not small, either. It could be on W. 11th and Bleecker as easily as the 11th arrondissement of Paris. But young chef Bertrand Grébaut worked for Alain Passard at L’Arpège, going on to earn one Michelin star at Agapé at only 27, unlikely bullet points on any West Village cook’s resumé.
My first meal here, in early May, was an utter pleasure, not least because of the good company, or that it began with a coupe of Lassaigne at the bar. We were seated in front of the pass at the open kitchen, radishes and butter arrived, and we required no coaxing to commit to the five-course menu.
It started with white asparagus, served with a funk-and-brine sauce gribiche with oysters, both delicate and assertive. Our eyes all rolled back into our heads after the first bite of perfect miniature gnocchi, browned and surrounded by a silky corn cream, nutty shavings of gouda and tiny blossoms.
Trout was sauced with a red wine reduction, served with asparagus (green this time) and a few paper thin slices of raw mushrooms, which added up to something earthier and richer than the sum of its parts.
Finally, a few succulent slices of poulet jaune, with gilded, crisp skin, a bit of mustardy jus and few leaves of orache, a kind of ancient, wild spinach. Dessert was poached rhubarb with strawberries and a quenelle of tangy frozen lait ribot.
Grébaut takes the prevailing farm to table ethos and backs it with serious skills and creativity. His food is visually gorgeous, and he neither over nor under-manipulates his ingredients. The five course, 55€ carte blanche dinner is a great value for cooking of this caliber — though you can spend less for sure — and the service is professional and calm. I would eat here anytime.
The second meal, taken a few weeks ago, was more spartan and austere, very much in the cold, high register of the cuisine that’s blowing down from the north these days. The first dish was a composition of raspberries, fresh and turned to ice, with young almonds, raw favas, some very fresh cheese — ricotta, or thereabouts — with little green leaves here and there. It reminded me of something.
Then a bowl arrived with an egg floating in the middle of a fantastically clear, concentrated bouillon which the waiter described as including foin. Hay. The bowl was nested in its charger with hay, too, which was also a rang a few bells.
The pigeon was a study in red and purple, from its bloody breast to the shaved candy stripe beets, bitter treviso with charred edges, and the smear of red current and beet puree that painted the plate.
A filet of just-cooked maigre swam in a delicious olive oil and current sauce, with shaved fennel and more obscure greens. Bitterness, acidity, chlorophyll. No starch.
Three of these dishes bore an uncanny resemblance to things I had at Noma last September. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though the plates that really stood out for me at Septime had a little more richness, depth, and warmth. The gnocchi, that egg-yolk enhanced bouillon (hay charger notwithstanding), the humble chicken: These elicited “mmmms” from me and the rest of the table, as did a dessert of silky ganache with caramel and passion fruit sorbet.
“Mmmm” always trumps “Hmmm”, if you ask me.
By the way, Septime is named for the lead character — the exacting, possibly criminal patron of an elegant Paris resto — in a 1966 film called Le Grand Restaurant. The movie is a farce, but this restaurant is definitely not.
Septime 80 rue de Charonne, Paris 75011, +33 (0)1 43 67 38 29
Read more about Septime on Paris by Mouth.