Sa Qua Na is a two-star restaurant in Honfleur, tucked on Place Hamelin among tourist shops, cafés, and restaurants serving moules-frites. The façade is discreet, the window shades hung at different heights as though someone got distracted in the midst of pulling them up.
Peering in the window, the restaurant looks dark, closed. Once inside, the image flips. Seated at a window table in the perfectly lit dining room, tourists on the other side of the glass seemed close enough to touch yet they can’t see in. It’s a little disconcerting.
But it really doesn’t matter as each plate that arrives is so arresting in its subtle artfulness that it immediately captures all the attention.
Chef and owner Alexandre Bourdas spent three years cooking in Japan at Michel Bras Toya Japan. There, he learned deft handling of Japanese ingredients and a deep understanding of seafood. Out of five main courses, four were fish and each was better and more perfectly prepared than the other. Beyond that, though, was the chef’s deep and skillful understanding of each fish, a rarity.
Thus, the monkfish that was bathed in a delicately explosive chicken broth infused with fresh coconut, lime and lovage, was brilliantly fork-tender, not simple to achieve.
Lieu jaune, a most banal fish that we call pollack and use in surimi, was an elegant square of delicacy in the hands of Chef Bourdas. He swiped it with miso, garnished it with burnt leeks, surrounded it with a foamy cream of chicken broth to achieve a pinnacle of pure flavor.
Steamed daurade, or sea bream, came showered with grated raw cauliflower and grains of couscous spiked with caramelized almonds. Dots of tart coriander leaf chermoula were a perfect counterpoint to the nutty, tender fish.
Cod, the queen of the sea, was ethereally flaky in a stew of tiny shell beans, cubes of potato, flecks of parsley and black truffle. The creamy garlic aigo boulido that surrounded it was a dream.
Grilled beef tenderloin with savoy cabbage and paper-thin celery root, seasoned with sancho pepper, was prepared with similar skill, but amongst the seafood perfection it felt like an interruption, an intruder.
Chef Bourdas has a sweet tooth – he sprinkles sugar in places one wouldn’t expect, like the caramelized almonds with the sea bream, or the funny little sweet and savory meringue sticks served as an appetizer. Where sugar shines most, though, is where it belongs, in the desserts. The restaurant’s version of pineapple upside down cake – a fluffy brioche stuffed with caramelized pineapple and pastry cream, topped with a smear of home made vanilla ice cream, was a delicious blast from the 1960’s. The little round of almond French toast topped with a dome of meringue stuffed with mandarin sorbet and garnished with spiced mandarin marmalade was brilliant and fun.
There was more, from savory amuse-bouches to a Pantheon of sweets after the meal. Everything was a pleasure. But the heart of the matter, the poems of the poem, were the seafood dishes.
Restaurant SaQuaNa, 22 place Hamelin. 14600 Honfleur
Téléphone : +33 (0)188.8.131.52.80http:
Open thursday through Sunday noon and evening