A Bistronomique Dinner at Porte Quinze

Tucked away on a barely-there side street between the Quai de la Douane and Place Saint-Pierre is Porte Quinze, bistro gastronomique of Ivorian Chef Gilbert Okoin. With its modest capacity of just 20, the ambience is intimate, and the interior as discreet as the location. Light wooden surfaces, touches of taupe, grey and white here and there. A contemporary display of stainless steel whisks, spoons and graters on the wall, along with hand-painted ceramic pitchers for a personal, organic touch. The message is clear: it is the food, here, that is meant to add the splash of color.

For dinner, Chef Okoin proposes a choice of two fixed menus, the 39-euro Petite Porte with amuse-bouches, appetizer, main, dessert and mignardises or the 55-euro Grande Porte with double the appetizers and mains. The dishes are kept secret until they arrive at the table. No amount of snooping will reveal the plan for the evening, not the restaurant website, nor the very polished, minimalist and absolutely lovely IG account. Pre-dinner snooping is futile, actually, since the menu is highly seasonal, changing every 2 weeks. Behind the counter of his open kitchen, Chef Okoin creates dishes inspired by traditional French cuisine, highlighting technique as well as his own innovative flair. And while there were some things here and there that could’ve been refined, the overall experience was pleasant and engaging, a little adventure through the mind of the chef in a cozy, intimate environment.

A pair of amuse-bouches arrived first. Busy rambling on to friends about the new things in my life, I unfortunately did not pay close enough attention to the explanation. I remember red carrot upon orange carrot on a stiletto spoon and a tender puck of brussel sprout topped with a warm green puree of something similar in flavor. The presentation was nice – a colorful start to the meal.

On a chilly December’s eve, a shallow bowl of warm polenta foam was the course to best hit the spot. Although quite unremarkable (read: hard to photograph) to the naked eye, this dish actually proved to be quite an exciting experience both in terms of texture and flavor. The foam was smooth and frothy throughout, with bits of corn for texture here and there. A wonderfully silky, glossy outer coat was drizzled with good olive oil. The almost floral, unmistakable sweetness of corn and the sober, vegetal flavor of the oil were offset by touches of heat from red pepper. A charming take on a soup dish, with an understated elegance.

Next up, a land and sea combo. Land was represented by a generous hunk of carrot “steak,” a kind of millefeuille consisting of many paper-thin slices of carrot stacked on top of one another. Tender throughout, but with a pleasant bite maintained, caramelized to a crunch and slightly charred around the edges. The earthy “root” sweetness of the carrot balanced nicely with plenty of garlic. Awesome. From sea came a firmly coiled octopus tentacle, mildly seasoned and just a tad too rubbery for my taste. And over the top, a creamy bernaise with a nice gloss and plenty of flavor, though perhaps a tad too generous on the plate.

The meat course came dressed up with plenty of festive flair: dark green and red, and what looked like fresh snow sprinkled over the top. Two cylindrical torchons of ethereally soft and smooth bunny flesh were intertwined with moist lumps of foie gras. While I appreciated how incredibly tender the rabbit meat was, and even its classic juxtaposition with melt-in-the-mouth foie gras, I was disappointed by the lack of textural contrast here. It was all just too delicate, too fragile, too mild without a solid backbone or crunch to measure it against, and my palate was left seeking something to crackle against it. Adding to the already overwhelming softness and moistness of the dish were the juicy sautéed leaves of Swiss chard, whose deep iron minerality was beautifully balanced with the white-hot heat of freshly shaved horseradish. I loved that. And on the bottom, a pool of blood-red cranberry glaze, glossy and smooth, like jam.

To be fair, the textural contrast did come in the form of a perfectly golden brown gratin served on the side. A crunchy, unapologetically thick layer of cheese was melted over very finely diced Swiss chard stems cooked until tender and served in a kind of creamy white sauce. I liked the root-to-stem use of the chard. I liked the DIY experience of cracking the cheese crust. I just wish the main and its side were more cohesive.

Dessert rocked, keeping me fully engaged in this meal through to the bill, despite my complete lack of a sweet tooth. Two perfect chunks of bitter-sweet chocolate brownie, with a smooth, moist center and a flaky, brittle exterior, were topped with a frosty cream of tart natural yoghurt. Then, a trail of freeze-dried black olive powder provided its vegetal, earthy twist to the mix and a single spattering of dark chocolate sauce reminded us that this was still a dessert.

And to finish out bottle of Domaine de la Janesse Côtes du Rhone on a (n only very slightly) sweet note, a classic dark chocolate truffle dusted with cocoa, served next to its equally dark ally in the domain of all things fruity, a pâte de fruit of tart and tangy blackberry. The jammy, smooth, sticky, elastic cube of dark violet blackberry found a perfect partner in the dry powder and cool melting ganache of the truffle. The Morticia and Gomez of confectionary.

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