Through a twist of fate and good luck, my last dinner in Paris turned out to be an exclusive and memorable experience. The Hidden Kitchen is a secret underground supper club held on weekends in a lovely apartment in the posh 1st arrondissement. The gracious hosts who live in the apartment are a lovely young American couple who moved from Seattle to Paris a few years ago. Braden Perkins, the chef, and his girlfriend Laura Adrian cook a 7 course meal with wine pairings for 16 guests who are lucky enough not only to know about this club, but also to make it onto the list. Although my friend e-mailed a dinner request several weeks before our Paris trip, it was only the day before that we got confirmation that we were in.
I remember the moment we received the confirmation. I told my friend excitedly “Yes yes! Hurry and call them back before we lose our spot!” It was too good to be true- the trouble of securing reservations at this special dinner in itself heightens the whole experience. Then we got information on the secret location. I will only tell you that it’s in a lovely part of Paris, oh about a 10 minute walk from the Louvre. As we entered the building that evening and took the tiny elevator up to the designated floor, I remember feeling a bit nervous. What is the meal going to be like? What are the other guests going to be like? Are we dressed appropriately? The hallway was quiet and we didn’t hear a sound. Were we even in the right place? We knocked on the door, and the moment those large doors swung open, we were greeted by the sounds of laughter and rolling conversation, the smell of food wafting from the kitchen, a friendly handshake from Laura, and a glass of Gratien and Meyer mimosa.
The apartment was beautiful. Pristine wooden floors, crown moldings, ceiling to floor window drapes framing the beautiful view of the city, a marble fireplace, a perfectly set long table for 16 under a shimmering chandelier, and warm glowing candlelight everywhere. The icing on the cake was their adorable Boston terrier Tattie who shared his love with every guest.
The guests were mostly American, and we also had a fun group of 4 Aussies and Kiwis. Amazingly no French, even though we were in the middle of Paris. It was strange to be in this lovely Parisian apartment speaking only English and talking about American culture and news.
As we settled into our seats and perused the neatly presented dinner menu, Braden gave us a warm welcome and explained the amuse bouche- pickled onions and queso fresco on a squid ink cracker. Braden came out before each course to introduce and describe the dish that he prepared in the tiny kitchen.
The first course was a fava bean ravioli with sweet peas in a green garlic spring onion sauce, garnished with dehydrated carrots, parsley and toasted crostini. A nourishing ravioli dish with nice added crisp textures from the carrots and crostini. This was paired with a Sancerre 2005 from Domaine de L’Estang Ligers, a light white that left a lingering sweetness on my tongue.
The second course was a poached egg served with a chilled white asparagus marinated in white truffle oil and lemon, with a parmigiano mornay sauce and garnished with a hat of marinated leeks. Contrary to its hearty appearance, this dish was a bit on the bland side and could have used a little more acidity. Although the asparagus was a tad undercooked, it was nice to be eating fresh seasonal foods. This was paired with a beautiful 2007 Chateau La Bertrande Bordeaux which was my one of my favorite wines of the evening. It had a fine interplay of dry and sweet flavors.
The third course was seared Atlantic salmon seasoned with salt and white pepper in a rhubarb bay leaf sauce, served with kohlrabi lime and nigella seed coleslaw, and a flaxseed cracker. The salmon was perfectly cooked and went beautifully with the delicate rhubarb sauce. It was paired with a 2005 Chateau de L’Aulée from Touraine Azay Le Rideau of the Loire valley, which had a sweet caramel flavor.
The next course was a pan fried mackerel battered in buckwheat flour, served with chive feta, a poppyseed cracker, cucumbers and a red pepper sauce. The crispy texture and light flavor of the cucumber complemented the superb mackerel that was incredibly fresh and delicious. I wasn’t a fan of the red pepper sauce which tasted like Chinese sweet and sour sauce. The dish was paired with an Aquilon 2007 Grenache-Syrah blend from Roussillon, which is close to the Spanish border. I loved this wine which was deep and rich, and not too sweet for a rosé.
The palate cleanser was a playful take on an American classic. Called ‘The Derby’, it was a bourbon jello with lime sorbet and mint garnish. The jello had a nice strong bourbon kick and the lime sorbet was refreshing. This would be perfect for a balmy summer evening. A simple, lovely and revitalizing culinary delight.
The meat dish was a lemon zest and garlic stuffed pork roulade with a brown sugar crust. It was served with white bean, fennel and frisée salad on a bed of basil pesto, an asparagus spear, a deep fried artichoke heart and lemon aioli dot. Although I initially felt like the dish was too busy with so many different flavors and components, it all worked well and I really enjoyed it. The overall balance of flavors was refreshing, although the meat was on the dry side. It was paired with a Côtes du Rhone 2006 from Domaine La Millière.
I loved the beautiful and unique presentation of the beet salad. Wild arugula speared through a tart cherry looked like a miniature beet, though the real beet in this dish was a rectangular piece of tender roasted beet flavored with balsamic vinegar and a dollop of goat cheese on tart cherry purée. A simple but well thought-out dish with strong bold flavors. This was paired with a Mas Du Notaire 2007 Costieres de Nimes from Rhone Valley which was tart and still young.
For dessert we had rhubarb mint sorbet with shortbread cake and macerated strawberries. The strawberries were sweet and delicious and the sorbet was light and refreshing. The shortbread cake was a bit of a disappointment- it was rock hard, unbreakable and inedible.
The petits fours prepared by Laura from the top going clockwise: honey salted peanut caramel, rice krispy treat, blueberry pâte de fruit and tonka bean dark chocolate truffle. I didn’t taste any since I’m not a petits fours type of person, but everybody else seemed to enjoy them.
It’s truly amazing that Chef Braden whipped out a beautiful 7 course meal for 16 people all by himself from a tiny closet sized kitchen, all the while maintaining a perfect flow of service and also managing to come out to chat with everybody before presenting each dish. Laura was a perfect and professional hostess, never ceasing to smile and always staying cool and calm as she effortlessly functioned as sommelier and server to a table of 16. Even though we were all tourists in this beautiful city of lights, for those few magical hours that night it felt like we were hanging out with close friends back home. It’s a special feeling to be welcomed into somebody’s home, to be invited into their sacred space as guests of honor, to be fed with food cooked from the heart and straight from the oven, and to be able to say goodbye to new friends with a warm hug and a ‘let’s keep in touch!’ at the end of the night. This exclusive experience was worth every 80 Euros, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Random trivia: Did you know that in Islam, the nigella seed is regarded as one of the greatest forms of healing medicine available? The prophet Muhammad once said that the black seed can heal every disease—except death.