A Colorful Tasting Menu at Cromagnon

A ride together around the sun, a year spent building a home and then being confined in it. Our noces de coton. To celebrate our first wedding anniversary we decided to try out a restaurant that we had walked by many times on the olde Rue du Palais Gallien, one whose name we had said back and forth to each other on many occasions. “Cromagnon” ignited within us a kind of primal urge for freshly felled prey and we came to associate the place with red meat and other paleolithic pleasures. In the end, it’s not really what the restaurant is about at all. Instead, Cheffe Oxana Ramat (originally from Moldova) presents her perfectly well-rounded, “floral” cuisine, inspired by Japanese and Italian influences, through a seasonally rotating tasting menu of 3 or 5 courses. Ingredients are locally sourced, wines are from all over. I think the name comes from the fact that they used to offer a kind of fondue-esque DIY food experience whereby guests cook chunks of meat on a hot brick of Himalayan sea salt. I’m not sure when they stopped doing this or whether the pink salt is still used in the kitchen, but if it isn’t we didn’t miss it. On a very hot August evening, following a very hot August afternoon spent reminiscing with terrace beers, we arrived at Cromagnon ready for a culinary experience. We chose the 3-course menu and a bottle of Francois Villard Crozes-Hermitage.

The first of our pre-entrée bouchées was a lovely little dish with slick lumps of cuttlefish and flying fish served in a slightly piquant cream of wasabi mayonnaise and tiny wasabi-flavored green beads. A pretty presentation on a kind of smooth black and white stone; a very light and fresh thing whose cool heat cleansed the palate and prepared it for the journey ahead.

Our second bouchée was an earthy flower pot with a delicious cream of crévisse (crayfish) on the bottom and bits of black truffle running through it like damp soil. Soaking up this cream was a very fluffy kind of spongecake, which also bore a few beads of black caviar over the top. When spooned out all together, this dish offered a fantastic combination of murky marine and earthy funky flavors, along with a kind of cookies-and-cream texture.

For his entrée, husband chose the tartare of local trout, which was chopped into bite-sized chunks and tossed in a tart and slightly bitter juice of citrus, which provided tons of flavor and held the chunks together without cooking the fish (as is done in a ceviche). Served over the top was a frosty quenelle of avocado ice cream, as fatty, ripe and satisfying as the fruit from which is was made. And finally, some briny trout caviar to add a savory, marine touch. This dish was fantastic, the cool, mellow ice cream melting against the slick chunks of fish, so refreshing on a hot summer’s eve.

My entrée was a carpaccio of paper-thin Wagyu beef, the folding of which onto itself to form succulent little mouthfuls brought me great pleasure. The thing was presented under a glass cloche to keep in a kind of wood smoke to which it was exposed before serving. The smoke ended up licking the meat, leaving its gentle imprint but not overpowering the flavor of the beef. In the center of the carpaccio was a bright orange egg yolk inside a crispy, buttery, flaky basket of caramelized cornmeal crust which smashed into brittle little pieces under the touch of my fork. When the thick, dense yolk rolled over the thin, delicate slices of meat, it bound each bite together and hydrated it beautifully, adding a kind of silky-smooth, indulgent twist to the experience. Earthy bits of black truffle and some kind of smoky yellow caviar lent the dish umami and texture. Delicious.

Our main dishes were two-of-a-kind with only a difference in protein. I opted for pigeon, which – when available – I choose always. This preparation was absolutely divine. The meat was so tender and smooth; my teeth glided through its fibers like a hot spoon through frozen cream. Each bite was heaven: a thin layer of fatty, browned skin, then that moist, supple and elastic red meat that released its flavorful juice, hydrating each mouthful. The portion was quite generous too, plump lumps of breast meat and a juicy little drumstick. It was seasoned delicately with autumnal flavors, notably cinnamon, and served with steamed root vegetables (turnips, celeriac, kohlrabi), as well as a thick green pistachio cream topped with toasted pistachios. The colors were beautiful, though the cream a bit sweet for my taste, so I only rubbed a little bit over the meat to let it mingle with the toasty warm seasoning of the latter. A joy of a dish to behold, visually exciting and very satisfying.

Husband got the same dish with a few slices of aged, beautifully marbled beef bursting with umami flavor. The meat here was beautifully cooked, tender and fatty on the inside with a thin, crispy crust coating it.

Dessert was a two-part ordeal, which began with a glossy mound of piquant blueberry ice cream, seasoned with floral verbena and mint, served with some airy rods of sweet merengue. A very light, very refreshing, and very subtly sweet dessert that I loved, despite my gradually worsening sugar intolerance.

Dinner ended with a fruity and floral touch. Dessert #2 was two cool slices of poached pear served in a bowl with a quenelle of floral and fresh verbena ice cream and a dense and smooth ball of custard with a very deep honey flavor. This was topped with a bright and acidic lemon gelée, which offset the flowery sweetness of the custard nicely. Underneath it all was a buttery, flaky sablé shortbread cookie, which added texture and a touch of salt to even out the sweetness. And a slice of dehydrated strawberry brought an extra hint of acidity. Another beautifully composed dish, whose combination of verbena, honey, peach and citrus flavors whispered “It’s summer,” and sent us into a pleasant post-meal haze.

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