Friday, March 23, 2012

Maison Kayser: Le restaurant du boulanger (The Baker's Restaurant)

Gourmets will tell you that wine and food should complement each other. Restaurants therefore sometimes go to great length to pair different wines with different dishes. In Gaillac (in Southwestern France), we once dined at a restaurant where you could pick either your menu or your wines but not both as the chef was adamant he wasn't going to let his carefully prepared meal be marred by the choice of the wrong wines. It wasn't a fancy place and my very elderly parents (with whom we were traveling) were a bit taken aback: in all his born days, my Dad had never heard of such a display of authority by a restaurant owner. Since he wasn't about to let anybody dictate his choice of wines though (too momentous a decision), he picked one for each of his three courses (he obviously wasn't the designated driver) and ended up quite happy with the dishes that accompanied them (anticipatory curiosity probably had a lot to do with it as I don't recall the cuisine as particularly memorable). We did the opposite and picked the dishes and were equally happy with the mystery wines that were brought with them. Altogether a different kind of dinner and a fun evening...
But have you ever been to a restaurant where food is systematically paired with bread? Well, thanks to Jean-Philippe de Tonnac, author of the compelling Dictionnaire universel du pain (a must-have reference for French-speaking breadophiles) whom I met in Paris last week and who recommended I try Maison Kayser's new restaurant in Bercy Village, I now have and I love the idea. The restaurant is so new that at the time of this writing, it isn't even listed on the Kayser website.  
It is located 47, Cour Saint-Émilion in the 12th arrondissement. Prices are not cheap but considering the location, they aren't outrageous either: a lunch consisting of an appetizer plus an entrée or an entrée plus a dessert (I am not a dessert person so I picked the soup but the Kayser desserts are gorgeous) will set you back €14,90 (about $20) per person, tax and service included.

I took this picture of Kayser pastries at Europain as the Kayser bakeries seem to have a very strict policy against in-store photography. At the restaurant they reluctantly let me photograph what was in the plate in front of me when I told them I would blog about it but they clearly didn't like it. So I kept it to a minimum.
Of course pairing food and bread isn't a revolutionary concept in France. Certain cheeses are best accompanied by specific breads, oysters on the half-shell are traditionally served with thin slices of buttered rye bread and my paternal grandmother wouldn't have dreamed of serving her famous "civet de lièvre" (hare stewed in red wine) without "galettes de sarrazin" (buckwheat crêpes).  But Eric Kayser, the famous Parisian baker whose liquid levain tsunamied through the home-baking web some years ago, went one step further recently by opening a restaurant where each course is served with a different bread.

Among other offerings, the menu pairs "coeur de sucrine" (bib lettuce salad) with pain au levain, foie gras with fig bread (a classic), lamb tagine with olive bread, entrecôte Béarnaise with buckwheat pavé, etc. It doesn't make use of the full array of Kayser breads but I suspect the breads will change with the seasons. What I had was both light, tasty and fresh. Ironically though, the mushroom soup that I picked as an appetizer was supposed to be served with a slice of buckwheat pavé (garnished with slivers of smoked salmon) and it actually came with turmeric bread, the very same bread that also accompanied the main course (poached chicken breast and vegetables with horseradish sauce). I didn't even notice because we were too busy talking and by the time I did, it was too late. So if you go, make sure you get the "right bread" for your dish. It wasn't a big deal (I couldn't see myself  complaining about fragrant turmeric bread studded with almonds, nuts and hazelnuts) but the whole idea was to try a new bread with each course and that didn't work as planned!
Still we had a most pleasant lunch. Of course it doesn't hurt that Maison Kayser is located in picturesque Cour Saint-Émilion, the center of the French wine trade in the 19th century and well into the 20th. The friend we were with had grown up in the Marais and has fond memories of coming to Bercy with her father to pick up small barrels of wine for family consumption (I too grew up in a family where wine was normally bought by the barrel and bottled at home but our barrels usually came straight from the producers and I never visited Bercy when I was a kid). 

The neighborhood has grown on me though and Parc de Bercy has become one of my favorite spots for dreaming in the city. And now that it has a good bakery, I can even dream about living there, cooking my way through my favorite recipes and pairing them off with the whole gamut of Kayser breads...


  1. great story and pictures

  2. Hello MC,
    What beautiful photos, capturing those reflections...
    It is marvelous this restaurant pairs breads with dishes - so glad you found out and got to enjoy - it sounds like it was a beautiful lunch.
    :^) breadsong



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