Two weeks ago I had a really fabulous lunch at Itineraire. I'll also admit that I haven't been so excited about any restaurant in a very long time.
It is centrally located near metro Maubert Mutualité, in the Latin quarter.
The room itself is not cavernous, neither is it tiny. Tables are spaced far apart you regretfully cannot hear your neighbours' conversation. There is white tablecloth and proper table setting with padded seats but nothing stiff about the decor. There is plenty of natural light streaming in through the large pane windows to put people in a good mood, at least our table of six were when we went for lunch.
The service staff smile, make eye contact and work smoothly and efficiently.
The food. It's good value and as I'll elaborate later, mighty damn fine. The menu is written in chalkboards, the prix-fix is 36 euros for 3 courses, with hardly any mention of supplements which is very unusual these days. 2 courses go for 29 euros and there is also an à la carte menu. The cooking style is new wave bistro, they take mainly regional and local seasonal ingredients and deliver adept new twists on familiar classics, it's a style of cooking that every wannabe hot restaurant in town aspires to but rarely get right.
My starter of cold velouté of white asparagus with tofu arrived looking coolly voluptuous with its extravagant shavings of fresh white asparagus and scatters of violet petals. The sweet nutty flavours of the white asparagus in the soup were in no way diluted by the pillowy blobs of tofu floating on top, if anything the play of narrowly contrasting textures and temperatures completely seduced me. Suddenly, the teeth crunched on something more solid;it's a candied hazelnut, how fun! I was not expecting to enjoy soup so much, but I did. All around me, the ladies were exclaiming their pleased surprise, over seemingly mundane dishes such as marinated mackerel fillets and veal carpaccio.
I did not take a picture of my excellent main course but click on this twitpic link to see a blurred image. Roast Challan chicken with beef tomatoes and squid ink mustard. The roast chicken was delicious, the meat moist and really flavourful, but the insanely delicious squid ink mustard really took the thunder. While the combination didn't really work for me, when eaten in tandem- a bite of chicken, followed by another of tomatoes and squid ink sauce- they complement each other very well, like a good food and wine pairing.
I was really full by then, but with the two previous courses showing so strongly I was very curious about dessert. I chose strawberries and rhubarb. I asked the waitress if the rhubarb would be sour. She said the strawberries would alleviate some of the tartness but a rhubarb being a rhubarb I should expect some acidity. When the dish arrived I was not expecting to see the rhubarb in a barely-cooked state. All these while I have been cooking rhubarb to mushy pulp along with loads of sugar and a good dollop of some creamy stuff like fromage frais or heavy cream to balance its assertive tartness. Understandably then, I was a bit worried, but went for it anyway. The knife cut through the stalk easily. It was not raw-tasting, but mildly sweet and intensely rhubarby with a tender-crunchy bite, together with the macerated strawberries they make an ever so elegant couple. And you know what? The rhubarb was not even sour, the lip-puckering I had been expecting simply did not happen, so I could relax and enjoy the bright medley of flavours, to be then followed by a little coffee and excellent home-made madeleines.
My lunch companions were in a similar state of rhapsody too. I've known them for nearly two years, and have not seen them so happy about a place before. Amazing food at reasonable value in a comfortable setting in the middle of town, really, what else can one ask for?
5 rue de Pontoise, 5th arr