When my sister and brother-in-law were in town, my father and his wife, Nancy, came for a few short days as well. In an attempt to be a good host, I made a reservation at Saturne after Elze recommended it. Though she had never eaten there herself, she had heard wonderful things about it. Young Chef Sven Chartier is half Scandanavian and half French, giving him a unique perspective on food and fine dining, and it certainly shows in both the atmosphere of his restaurant and level of his dishes. I have never experienced something so unique but so seemingly obvious at the same time. And in my opinion that is the mark of a true master. When you put something in your mouth that you have never seen before and upon eating it think to yourself, "This makes perfect sense on my tongue, why hasn't anyone done this before?"
Saturne has a set menu every night at 60 euros with a 60 euro wine pairing. It may not be extremely cheap, but considering the price of a subpar meal at every other Parisian restaurant, it's a steal. And if you happen to be on a liquid diet you are more than welcome to sit at the bar and go through the wine menu if you like. Though we skipped the wine pairing and went instead with champagne, and a few selections from the pairing menu, it was clear that the sommelier at Saturne knows what he's doing. Each wine was more than delicious.
The restaurant is beautifully light with white walls and blonde wooden tables. Minimal and exuding what I can only imagine is a scandinavian-vibe (I've never been so I'm relying purely on stereotypes). The main part of the dining room sits underneath a large sky-light that looks up into the middle of the building. In one corner is a large shiny metal machine that we were lucky enough to sit next to and which, as it turned out, was not a torture device as it appeared but an old school meat slicer with a large leg of jambon sitting on it waiting to be cut paper thin for expecting diners.
We sat down and ordered our first bottle of champagne along with cheeses and jambon, all of which were more than heavenly. The jambon was pink and moist, sweet and smoky, and so fresh it was beautiful. The cheeses we ordered, the picodon d'ardeche & mache a l'huile de noix and the saint-nectaire de st-bonnet (which was my favorite of the two) were smooth and delicious and reawakened my excitement for french cheeses which, after almost a year, had begun to grow numb. The champagne was, of course, wonderful, but considering that I adore all champagnes I'm not sure if I am the most trust worthy judge of the bubbly. All the same, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves just as much as I was, and we all sat with a childlike sense of anticipation for the meal we were about to receive.
Without having to say a word, our first course came out, beautiful and fresh. A large spring onion with thinly sliced bits of radish, small granules of cauliflower, and trout roe with a spiral of yogurt sat in front of us, ready to be devoured. It was hard for me to wait and take pictures, but the food was so gorgeous I didn't mind the excuse to bask in it's glory a few moments before digging in.
Saturne is known for it's use of fresh, French ingredients, and this was certainly apparent in this first course. Light and crisp with a nice richness from the yogurt that was neither heavy nor overwhelming, the trout roe gave bursts of sea-fresh saltiness, and the spring onion, radish, and cauliflower added subtle hints of earthiness and spice that brought the entire dish together.
The second course was something I was looking forward to. Raw oysters have always been one of my favorite things. One of the first more bizzarre foods I ever ate, I must have been about 7 years old when I slurped a raw oyster from its shell and when I uncovered a miniature pearl from its meaty folds I was, not surprisingly, forever hooked. What I didn't expect was to be even more blown away by the oysters the chef has prepared.
Sitting atop a mount of grey sea salt the normandy oysters were glistening, fresh, and beautiful to look at. Sprigs of watercress gave the oyster a bright and charming appearance and small orbs of fresh pear mimicked round pearls on top of the oyster. A disc of dark green watercress gelee sitting on a thin slice of dried pear hid a dollop of creme fraiche and looked like a round of seaweed. These looked like oysters fit for King Titan, and they tasted just as fanciful and perfect.
The oysters were incredibly fresh and exuded the bright saltiness of a sea breeze. The sweetness of the pear and grassy flavor of the watercress played beautifully with the oyster, and the creme fraiche, while barely noticeable, added a delightful richness to the dish. All in all, these are probably one of the best things I have ever eaten and were so perfectly balanced that while I could have eaten every oyster they had in the house, I was also completely happy and satiated after slurping down the two on my plate. The combination of the flavors and textures (the juicy oyster, the bursts of pear, the leafy foliage from the watercress) came together beautifully. The only trouble I had with them was that they were a bit unladylike to slurp in one whole bite, but they were so delicious I forgave them for this single trespass.
When the third course came around I was on the edge of my seat in anticipation. Yet another gorgeous plate was placed in front of us and I knew it would be delicious for underneath the celery root "pasta" (which was not a pasta at all but instead thin julienne slices of cooked celery root) sat a gorgeous yellow egg yolk peering up at us.
Every flavor was noticeable on it's own but married together effortlessly. The foam like texture of the mushroom, the crunch of the "pasta", and the thick gooeyness of the egg yolk blended interestingly in my mouth and the earthiness of this dish was a nice flip from the fresh sea element of the previous oyster dish.
The fourth course was already upon us and yet I don't think any of us were feeling filled or uncomfortable. Sure we were being plied with champagne and a pleasant atmosphere, but I think it is a testament to a good chef to create plate that can be cleaned without making the consumer feel regretful or wishing they had worn their elastic waisted pants.
A plate of perfectly crisped sole was presented to us by the waiters and I was, again, excited to dive in. I don't usually order fish from a restaurant (unless it comes in a shell) because it rarely wets my tongue in suspense. However the smell of this light fish and the alluring golden hue emanating from it were more than tempting.
Again we were shown Sven Chartier's masterly restraint in both size, flavors, and plating. Simple but perfect, the sole was immaculately cooked and accompanied by a juicy slice of braised endive and radicchio. Every bite was a slap in the face, chastising me to never again underestimate the grace or delectable potential of a nice piece of fish. But then again, not everyone can cook as well as Chef Chartier.
For the fifth course we decided to order a glass of red to complement the cut of beef we would be given. We went with the pairing from the menu and were more than pleased. It was a Irancy 2009, Nicolas Vauthier Chablisen, and it made me slightly sad that we hadn't chosen the wine pairing form the start. But it is hard to be too regretful when you've just polished off two bottles of bubbly. But it did give me a peak into the genius of not only Chef Chartier, but also of his sommelier.
The beef was cooked as the fish had been, to perfection. Red and juicy on the inside with a nice blackened crust it went well with the grilled sweet onions and hash brown "fries," which were more sprinkles of crispy amazingness than anything else. The plate had been sprinkled with bits of mushroom dust which sounded quite magical to me and which I was more than excited to taste. However, I must say that of all the dishes this one did not stand up to the rest. The bar had been set exceptionally high, and somehow this little beef number just couldn't quite make the leap.
Where all of the other dishes had been balanced this one was missing that little something to make it flawless. I could not complain for the the beef had been cooked gorgeously, the sweet onion was forcing me to concentrate on not drooling, and the potato crispies were quickly squeezing their way into the cockles of my heart. But there was something, something, that hadn't made it to the party. On top of that, the mushroom powder was clearly just for show because while it was whimsical and easy on the eyes, I could not taste even a smidgeon of that soil-like mushroom essence.
I hate to make any criticism of the meal since I was completely blown away. And the truth is that this was an admirable dish, that on its own would have been more than satisfying. However, in comparison to all the other heavy hitters we had consumed before, its faults were more clear. I'd been spoiled and was, by this time, just knit-picking.
We were then given our first of two desserts. The concept of two desserts is something that I feel should spread like wildfire and went perfectly with the night's theme of, "Why hasn't anyone thought of this before?"
Since we had finished our glass of red wine, and weren't exactly up to downing another bottle of champagne, we decided to get one of the wines recommended for the dessert, the muscat sec 2009, Anne Marie Lavaysee, Languedoc. It was sweet but not overly so and went beautiful with the delightfully refreshing desserts were were lucky enough to eat.
The first dessert worked mostly as a palate cleanser but is something I would be happy to eat as a dessert (or breakfast) any day. A rich green scoop of sorrel sorbet with triangles of crispy sour apple meringue, minute balls of fresh apple, sorrel leaves, a light licorice ice, and a small spoonful of fromage blanc were resting demurely in the wide bowl. Every component worked to refresh us and the sorrel sorbet was intriguing and different and brought about a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed attitude in my taste buds.
Though there was no citrus in the dessert, the sourness from the apples and the meringue stood strong in their place, and the licorice (which had made me a bit uneasy at first) was faint and light and worked more as an amplifier to the rest of the flavors than anything else.
Though dessert is often my favorite part of every meal, I was sad that this one was coming to a close. Even after six incredibly satisfying dishes, I still wasn't full or disgusted with myself and my snake-like ability to unhinge my jaw in order to gorge myself. The final course was a dish of ice creams, and I was happy to see that the chef was finishing just as he had started, with a light and creamy dish.
Caramel and malted ice cream with a caramel sauce and cinnamon toasted quinoa crumble, the dessert was honest and innovative. The ice creams were texturally smooth the two flavors danced beautifully together that the entire thing made you feel rich just eating it. The pops of roasted quinoa were a stroke of pure genius and were just as fun to eat as they were to look at.
After the meal I went to check out the open kitchen, which was sparkling clean and had only a handful of people working in it by that time, one of which was Sven Chartier.
French chefs can be intimidating, but nothing about this kitchen felt scary or threatening. Even the dishwashers were happy and felt comfortable enough to take a moment from their work to pose for my camera and joke with me.
Having an open kitchen is, to me, a sign of confidence. It shows that he has nothing to hide, not only in how he prepares his dishes, but also in how he treats his staff. After working under satanic menaces, I appreciate this more than I used to, and it makes me respect a chef not only for the talent he shows on a plate, but also for the zen-like control he has over his own emotions.
I find it amazing that someone can create such a fulfilling seven course meal without making it overly filling. Every dish stood out on its own as something new, fresh, and different yet at the same time there was an obvious theme throughout the dinner. Each course made sense and took us further along a journey that Chef Chartier had mapped for us. I was more than thankful to him for this adventure, and even more thankful when I went to tell him so and found him effortlessly sexy and charming at the kitchen.
17 Rue Notre-Dame des Victoires
Tel: 01 42 60 31 90