dinner at Passage 53, Paris

Some of the passages in Paris are lovely jewel boxes of exquisite merchandise, some are a mixed bag of the trendy and the tacky, and the portion of the Passage des Panoramas in which Passage 53 is found holds a few quirky little shops and a collection of tiny restaurants, of which the 53 is the star. Like all stars, this one makes its own rules.

The restaurant is tiny, white and cream, reverent in feeling without being gothic. If it's 16 feet wide, that's a lot. To my thinking, the prohibition on indoor smoking is what makes it possible for places like this to survive. No merry closing dinners, no bus tours, no shouting drinkers comparing exchange rates! thank you, juddering Euro.

We sat back and smiled while staff explained that there's one menu, many courses, tiny to small portions. OK, I'm in. After a glass of champagne, some tiny drinky nibbles, and a small cup of creamy pumpkin velouté that actually tasted like pumpkin but also tasted good (the expresso foam on top helped, I'm sure), things got serious: a single perfect oyster on very light smoked haddock mousseline, airy almond foam topped with caviar. Would I have thought of this? No. Did I love it? Mmm-hmm.

Up next: a seared sea scallop, a flavorful beurre blanc, slices of deep-fried baby artichoke, and me suddenly realizing that all these courses, all this food, were prepared upstairs and carried down a charming elderly iron circular staircase on trays that looked wider across than the diameter of the staircase. Dirty dishes disappear into the back of the restaurant where they are dealt with - you see nothing going upstairs. We learned later that the staircase dates back to 1798, and is classified as a historical monument!

Then what everyone calls "the white course:" tiny seared calamari on a bed of almond and cauliflower cream with seared baby calamari and shaved flakes of raw cauliflower. It's subtle, in fact, I've heard that some people haven't been able to taste anything of this dish, but we loved it. These may have been the best calamari of a lifetime, including those served by friends of ours in New Jersey. Another fish course: a small filet of baby cod in a frothy broth with radishes.

OK, here's where my notes start to get blurry and the order of things gets a little scrambled - did I forget to say there was a lot of lovely wine on the table as well? again, the foie gras of a lifetime, cold but not too cold, served with a touch of quince coulis, like eating silk; two meat courses: a seriously excellent breast of pigeon, cooked sous vide and now I think this is how pigeon should be cooked forever, because it was done to a ("rosée") turn but still tender. Then noisettes of venison - look, I'm running out of adjectives, how many times can I say "perfect" and "excellent?" Right, I could say "sublime", and I will. Remember, late October is game season in France, one of the reasons we chose this time to go.

Desserts - yes, that's a plural. I was immobilized. My best love was a "deconstructed" Mont Blanc, airy chestnut mousse with a touch of - cinnamon? ginger? too subtle, plus chunks of meringue, served in a verrine (double old-fashioned glass).

I'm sure that wasn't me making slurpy noises, the place is not so small that you hear what's being said at other tables but we all know how the sound of slurps travels. I'm sure I've left out some of the small stuff like palate cleansers, refreshers and pre- and post desserts.


  1. Hello:
    This all sounds divine! Each of the dishes you show here looks like a picture from Vogue and we are certain that the food was very deserving of your adjectival praise. It all oozes confidence in a good product delivered to a high professional standard. And that, most probably, is how they not only survive but thrive!!

  2. Thanks for taking us to 53 it was divine!
    I love those passages in Paris. The staircase? That's incredible.
    How smart of you to go the end of October, you don't fool around!

  3. Oh, delicious photos and description. I want to go out for lunch now, but I'm sure it would not measure up to this meal in my mind. Thank you for sharing, what are we having for dinner tomorrow?

  4. Hi, all! Usually when there's a tasting menu, there's one thing that one of us doesn't eat (mainly me, Himself eats anything), so this was unusually perfect. The pictures I took of the Passage des Panoramas, however, were blurry and under-lit. Fortunately the local merchants had a handout with that gorgeous photo on it. Unfortunately I couldn't scan the handout or the pic into my computer. Then I got the bright idea of googling Passage des Panoramas. Well, that photo is everywhere, so apparently a lot of bloggers and restaurant web sites have had problems similar to mine. Hey, it's about the food, right?

  5. Ah yes, I know I will be eating a lot of chestnuts come this Christmas... even eclairs made with them.

  6. Southern Belle Ph.D.November 9, 2011 at 2:28 PM

    Hello Wellfedfred, Thank you sooo very much for such a wonderful review of your experience in Passage 53. I felt as if I were there as I read it. I always learn something new when I read your reviews so I am already looking forward to the next one.

  7. Hi, SouthernBellePhD, thank you! I'm glad enjoyed!

  8. I. Die. How did I miss this little culinary gem? Means I'll have to make my way back to Parreee!! Thanks very much for sharing!

  9. What a perfect dinner. I love the small portions, thoughtful presentations-- doesn't sound too fussy. The desert-- amazing!
    Well, nothing that exquisite happening up here this weekend, but I am making Richard Sax's Cranberry, Pear, Apple Crisp for a group dinner tonight with friends who just spent 6 weeks in Paris on sabbatical. Lucky.

  10. hI, ClosetCrisis, the secret is research, research, research! actually since the 53 has 2 Michelin stars, the real trick was scheduling a res. that fit with availability at our other desired destinations. Put it on your list for next time, definitely.

  11. hi, Lane, that sounds wonderful. The debate goes on - are cranberries "airelles" or "canneberges"?

  12. The last time we were in France after about 12 plate meals involving foie gras my hubs actually admitted that he might have eaten his fill of the stuff.

  13. plate meals - yeah I don't know what that means either.

  14. tabitha - oh, ok, cause I was just about to ask.


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