We had the occasion to dine at Verjus for P’s birthday 2 weeks ago. This was a restaurant I had been planning to visit even before it opened late 2011. Its American proprietors, Laura and Braden Perkins ran the popular Hidden Kitchen supper club before they decided to go brick-and-mortar and bought the cute 2-storey shophouse that now houses Verjus (both restaurant and wine bar). We never had the chance to try out the Hidden Kitchen before they stopped it, and fortunately for us, Verjus was by far the easier reservation to score.
Like many gastro-bistros in Paris now, the design aesthetic here was retro, the mismatching chairs gathered around tables in an insouciant manner, the servers were breezily friendly, and the lighting was trendily dim. It offered a tasting menu with only 2 choices, the 6 course chef’s menu at 70E (110E with wine pairing, and 14E extra for shared cheese platter) and the shorter 4 course market menu at 55E. The dishes were identical other than 2 extra courses for the larger menu (egg and duck) But first, both began with the same amuse-bouche, a little kebab of fingerling potato, pickled onion and pineapple topped with a single potato chip and olive crumbles. A tasty two-bite snack that should work very well on the bar menu too.
The winter meal inevitably started with some roasted vegetables, here sweet beets paired with bitter greens, tart citrus and a mellow walnut paste to meld the stronger flavors together. Quite tasty though not very memorable.
Eggs are comforting to eat anytime of the day, so why not at dinner? Mushrooms and crunchy wild grains added earthiness to the dish, though the dish was ultimately marred by over-salting and a one-note quality to the broth.
More grains showed up for the fish dish in the form of black rice risotto. What I initially assumed to be rice cooked in squid ink was in fact just black rice, or what people in my part of the world know as “pulut hitam”. The fragrance and nutty flavor of the rice worked really well to accentuate the juicy panfried trout, but the buttermilk foam was perhaps unnecessary, being again too salty for my tastes.
The next dish was inspired by eastern Europe, redolent of the flavors I had tasted and committed to memory during our Warsaw layover. The beautifully cooked duck was well seasoned and lightly dusted with rye that imparted a crisp and slightly spicy note to the meat. The slightly sour red cabbage and onion raviolis were more sophisticated looking than the pierogis we had eaten, but tasted very much the same, if not a bit too dry. Still, this dish was well worth the supplement.
From eastern Europe the kitchen turned its eye towards Korea for inspiration. The resulting pork belly dish was a riff off the Korean barbeque staple sam gyeop sal, complete with kimchi and a spicy leek salad. Of course the meat quality was superior to what one typically ate at a Korean barbeque joint, and the dots of yogurt and poppy-seed flecked apple balls that accompanied the meat was definitely not standard.
After the excellent meat courses, I felt let down by the desserts. First of all, we were expecting a candle on P’s cake since I had indicated on my reservation email that it was his birthday. Alas, the candle wasn’t there as it had slipped their minds. So my judgement about the sweets could have been colored by the disappointment. Even so, I felt the flavors too complicated yet not satisfying enough. To me, dessert should be sinful, seductive yet also comforting, and I have not arrived at the point of appreciating the very healthy and unsweet buckwheat cake, nor the nutty oat ice cream that sat on a sandy bed of powdered chocolate, coffee streusel and orange segments.
Writing this two weeks after that dinner, my feelings remain rather ambivalent. Subjectively, I had gone there with overly high expectations given the praise it had garnered by reviewers online and my fragile ego was wounded. Objectively, the cooking was inconsistent while the flavors were not as original or memorable as what I’ve eaten at places that charge similar high prices and operate in the same no-choice tasting menu model. Spring comes to mind. Though I appreciated the set-up and the story behind the restaurant, and applaud the proprietors for their ambitions, I’m probably going to try out other places before I return any time soon.
Address: 52 Rue de Richelieu, 75001, Paris