After years of rustic bistros, chef David Toutain is reviving haute cuisine.

By Kurt Soller
September 21, 2015
David Toutain
Credit: Matthieu Salvaing

Complaining about the food scene in Paris is like saying your private plane doesn’t have enough seats. But if you’ve been to Brooklyn, or Portland, Oregon, or Chicago—or anywhere, really—and visited restaurants that are casually rustic, locally driven, and generally modern in feel, then Paris’s reigning bistronomie trend can give you a sense of déjà vu. Frenchie and its successors remain popular and great, but it’s time for a new era in Parisian dining.

A forward-thinking group of chefs is looking to modernize haute cuisine, with its labor-intensive sauces and elaborate plating, and make it a sophisticated but not stuffy experience. And no one nails it quite like David Toutain, whose namesake restaurant in the Seventh Arrondissement serves just two menus: nine courses for $80 and 15 for $116. If you’re lucky, you’ll be welcomed by the brilliant Canadian sommelier Linda Violago. Instead of the wine pairings, order whatever bottles she suggests to go with the night’s meal.

The food changes daily, though most of it is ambitious and a bit strange: little balls of beef carpaccio with raspberries hidden inside; beets whittled into something resembling a film canister, then stuffed with more beets for a double dose of earthiness; hunks of eel with apple confetti in a pool of black-sesame sauce.

All of it is formalist in execution, undeniably French, and mostly served on unglazed plates that would’ve made Escoffier cringe. That’s kind of the point: fine dining need not be a religious experience, and Toutain gets that. At one point, just before the meat course, you even get to pick your own steak knife. (Too bad you can’t keep it.)

The room is equally informal, alive with laughing locals, and decorated like a Stockholm Airbnb, with blond-wood tables and exposed bulbs dangling from cords. Dessert, too, is on the playful side. The night I dined, fresh strawberries arrived looking like the Sydney Opera House, propped up by little spheres of ice cream. Then came rich truffles served buried in the chef’s chocolate version of dirt. Dirt! That last bit of kitchen science is something many nouvelle gastronomie chefs have been riffing on for a few years now. Toutain’s success lies in taking something familiar, classic even, and simply doing it better.