Thursday, July 16, 2015

Disappointment at Porte 12

For the 20 days I was away, I am blessed with many good meals in 2 continents, except a couple that I felt were a bit of a letdown. One of them was Porte 12, a relatively new restaurant in Paris' 10th arrondissement. I was a bit disappointed after having dinner there on the only night that we went for something fancier.

Headed by French Chef Vincent Crepel, Porte 12 has some Asian connections as he worked as Sous Chef at Andre Chiang's namesake restaurant in Singapore before opening the restaurant in Paris late last year, and Andre is a part-owner of this restaurant too, now stretching his arm across multiple establishments in Asia and Europe. The place was tucked away on a quiet street near Poissonniere close to the Metro station, and the space with only 32-seat felt intimate rather than tight, with modern decor in an interesting royal blue tone. On the side was the tiny kitchen where Vincent's culinary team works wonder behind the window.

At dinner time, a single 6-course menu was served at 65 euros. We started off with a few finger food, the thin watercress crisp, then another thin strip of crisp topped with an egg yolk marmalade rested on a plate laden with dehydrated corn kernels. I thought the egg yolk marmalade has an interesting jellified texture that was tasty. That was followed by another finger food - a pair of raw radishes were presented in a bowl of edible soil, and on the side, some smoked hollandaise espuma. That I thought was quite average - yes probably that may be seen as avant garde like 10 years ago, but this looked ordinary in today's standard. Another dish that I didn't quite comprehend was the garden vegetables, with green peas, baby carrots served with pea puree and powder. Again, high marks on presentation, low marks on taste - it's just too raw to my liking especially the double dose of grassy after-taste of the peas. It's forgettable.

The subsequent dish fared a little bit better, but only slightly. The shrimp head-to-tail was kinda cute - while I like the piece of cornmeal-coated deep-fried shrimp head served lukewarm (I had something similar at Andre previously), I thought the shrimp with "Chinese bread" and parmesan crisp was rather bland. The next course - a poached yellow pollock fillet with cabbage, zucchini and orange sauce was alright, but I simply didn't understand what the tapioca crisp had to do in the dish.  It didn't contribute to anything except to make the portion looked bigger.

The best of all was perhaps the last savory dish, which was a piece of pigeon leg confit with the breast cooked sous vide, served with cherry sauce and a "gnocchi" with the texture resembling polenta. It was delicious but I thought the portion was way too small - that's one skinny pigeon and we didn't even get the whole bird.

Both desserts were not bad either - starting with the yoghurt sponge with a hint of tart sharpness with the fromage blanc meringue, sous vide strawberries, crystallized crisp and basil sauce. I thought the combination of flavors was interesting, and the red beet sorbet and dark chocolate espuma was bold but tasty. And what else's good? The little solo piece of financier passed to us as petit fours at the end. But overall, I wouldn't say the meal was close to being memorable, in the positive sense, at least.

Well in all due respect to Vincent Crepel's team, the meal was alright - at least we didn't turn back any dish - but I expected a lot more given all the hype and my experience last time at Andre. I came with high expectations but it fell short. The influence of Andre's cooking and presentation style was there, and Chef Vincent certainly scored high marks on creativity and he definitely did not shied away from new flavors and combinations. There were some dishes we liked during the meal but those were few and far between, unfortunately. I felt he's still wandering around rather aimlessly trying to find his direction - most of the dishes I found were still work in progress.

Without a written menu, I would also appreciate more if the waitstaff could spend a little bit more time explaining the dish to us - a few times they simply rushed off after putting down our dishes, or just told us the main ingredient. (yes, I knew those were shrimps, thank you) That could be a language issue but there are no shortage of staff fluent in English, I assume, given part of the team came from Andre.

Another big problem was that the dining room became extremely hot as the evening progressed and the room started to fill up with more people. They recognized the issue by bringing in a portable air conditioner trying to cool things down, but still, by the end of our meal, I was literally sweating head to toe - that certainly didn't leave a good impression and appetite for us. Thank God I didn't particularly dress up for the meal. Well, blame it on the heat wave you may say, but hey, I didn't have the same problem in any of the other restaurants I have been to during that week.

I am hopeful things may improve eventually and some other people seem to like the place, but for me, there are definitely other restaurants in town that I wouldn't be in particular hurry to come back soon.

When? June 30 2015
Where? Porte 12, 12 Rue des Messageries, Paris
Menu Highlights? Pigeon "2-way" with Cherry and Gnocchi
Drinks? Domaine Gavoty Cotes de Provence Cuvee Clarendon 2012

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