At 21 Mazarine Chef and Paul Minchelli, has the softest, most delicate touch with seafood of any chef I’ve ever known. Didier Granier, also part owner who runs the front of the house, greets each guest as though they were JUST the person he wanted to see. Their combination is irresistible.
And then there is the food, oh! the food. The menu changes often, and not at all. That is, many of the offerings are dependent on what the boats bring in, but there are always favorites to return to, like the squid cooked in its ink, or the millisimé (carefully aged) sardines which are served in an escabeche fashion with crisp onions on top.
At a recent meal I swooned over the herring “cousu main,” hand-sewn. What this actually means is the fish is carefully filleted – not an easy task because herring is a very soft fish – the bones are removed, and the fillets are marinated in a bit of vinegar and oil, with a few rounds of carrots and some onions. This is a very simple dish eaten throughout northern France throughout the month of November (and beyond, because it keeps) when the herring are running. In Chef Minchelli’s hands this humble dish becomes haute cuisine.
Didier suggested I try the baby rougets, and he was right. They arrived, six of them, lightly floured and pan-fried. They were salted and peppered, nothing more. Each fillet was the size of my finger, each as delicate as a feather. The accompanying gnocchi in a light cheese sauce were exquisite, as was a spicy split pea purée. It was a perfect dish.
Johan, one of my companions, had two pan-friend whiting on his plate, corralled by crisp fried potato slices. Another humble fish, whiting is the substance of most surimi. Here, though, it turned noble and there wasn’t a word from Johan as he delected the fish. The taste I had was ethereal. Few chefs would dare serve whiting the way Chef Minchilli does, and none would succeed as he does.
Tristan didn’t speak either, as he dove into the inky squid, which is a transporting dish. I always go to Sicily when I eat it, for I had almost its equal one evening there.
Bethany had the house-smoked salmon which literally melted in the mouth like butter. She closed her eyes as she tasted it, transported to a silken, buttery place.
I’ve been in the kitchen with Chef Minchelli, and his method is reflected in his dishes. Elegant, economic, sometimes whimsical, always serious, he takes his time and works with precision. He’ll stop now and then to joke with his kitchen companions, quip with Didier, or visit with a rare guest allowed into his realm. But business is business, and the diner gets the benefit.
Restaurant 21 Mazarine. I love it and so will you.
21 rue Mazarine, 76006 Paris Tel: : +33 1 46 33 76 90