Iratze

A Bright New Basque Star

March 8, 2017By Heidi EllisonRestaurants
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The low-key decor provides a neutral background for a great meal.

A group of five of us gathered spontaneously at a gallery opening the other night and later managed to get a last-minute reservation at a new restaurant in the 11th arrondissement: Iratze, whose name means “fern” in Basque. We had no idea what a treat we were in for.

The decor here is simple and modern, with some walls painted deep red and others of exposed stone or brick with wooden cupboards and tables with upholstered chairs, some covered in flowery prints.

The staff here is friendly and relaxed yet efficient and helpful. A special mention for the Australian sommelière, who has chosen some highly interesting wines, including an “orange” wine (made from white grapes macerated with the grape skins) from Italy (Umbria Reggio 2014, Cantina Margo) that was like nothing else I had ever tasted: earthy but crisp, with a hint of smokiness. We also loved the bottle of Anjou we shared.

The food won our hearts right away. The crab starter was fresh and light, brightened with ginger, cucumber and celery, and

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complemented by a crispy cracker I’m guessing was made with seaweed.

Even more interesting was the top-notch foie

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gras, a generous helping with a variety of original accompaniments: miso, rhubarb and prunes, all sprinkled with coffee powder. My friends who ordered it were simply glowing with pleasure.

The main courses kept up the pace. The pigeon

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was rich and rare, served with salsify, which was brilliantly cooked so that its skin was nearly but not quite burnt and delightfully crisp, and the flesh cooked to a turn. A fruity sauce nicely balanced the deep flavor of the meat.

Those who ordered the lotte (monkfish) were

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delighted with its firm yet tender flesh, carrots and flavor-enhancing kumquat, ginger and lemongrass accompaniments.

We didn’t think it could get much better than this, but the desserts were a wonder, especially the “cheese” course, which was really a cheese-flavored dessert. That may sound horrible, but it was outstanding. The Fourme d’Ambert

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(a blue cheese from the Auvergne) was whipped up to a creamy froth and served with a wine-soaked pear topped with – the coup de génie – crispy grated and grilled ceps.

My dessert was fantastic, too, but slightly

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outshone by that cheese dish, which we all kept dipping into. I had the bergamote “curd” with hazelnuts, meringue and bits of celery for extra crunch. The chocolate dessert with litchi, beets and green cardamom, while fine, was the only one that didn’t elicit accolades.

When the chef, Mathieu Moity, made his rounds at the end of the meal, he stayed for a long time to chat, his eyes shining, happy to be appreciated and proud of his recipes and his new restaurant. Iratze is a new star in the Paris bistronomy firmament.

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