Agape Substance in Paris, an experimental nightmare!
I've reposted this from the review on my website, linked here so you can see photos. I still can't believe this happened. It's like waking up from a nightmare. Background: have eaten at many similar restaurants, am not a stranger to tasting menus/curious experimental cuisine. This bordered on masochistic.
I am literally agape right now. Agape at the lack of substance at Agape Substance in Paris tonight. 500 Euro and an agonizing three hours later, My dining companion and I are trying to piece together the shards of a confusing evening of Samuel Beckett-esque futility. TL;DR: I have never had a worse meal in my life.
To put it succinctly, Agape Substance is best left for a clientele tired of being beaten with birch switches and paying for it, a special type of customer who wants something a little more public. To them, I recommend this tasting menu, accompanied by dim fluorescent lighting and sallow-toned smoked mirrors. A scarily accurate glimpse into the future, I now know how it will look when I go to the DMV when I'm 40. Throughout the course of an evening, we went through over 20 courses of incongruent, vapid bites with strange visual cues and a seemingly Freudian undertone in a restaurant best suited to a 1980's swinger's club. This is the fucking Dorsia of the Left Bank.
We started with butternut squash tuile. It tasted like dessicated Fruit Roll-Up housed in a customized slab of china, overly sweet to start a meal.
Following that were pork trotter chicharrones with minced dory fish on top. Crispy and porky, they gave us a vague sense of hope for the meal to come.
I was anxiously anticipating our next dish, a berce sponge with hogweed flower. Agape is known for its flagrant usage of berce, but the improbably bright Soylent Green coloring and kitchen sponge-like flavor were disconcerting.
A mini-pizza with pine nuts and caviar was tasty, if meager.
We ended our selection of amuse bouches with a dried salsify with white chocolate creme fraiche and olive. Wow, this dish was confusing. Texturally, it was like eating flaccid carrots with slightly stale dip, as though the inspiration for this was found rooting in the back of the chef's refrigerator one late evening. The chocolate was dulled by the richness of the cream, a white sploogy void on the plate.
Our first savory course, king crab with grapefruit, mint, and artichoke consomme was inoffensive and tasty, with a vibrant sweet and savory component from the citrus fruit and herbs.
Parsnip with smoked sea salt, olive, and rye came shortly after. Tasted like a loaded baked potato sans Bacos. It was also at this point that we noticed that the "special truffle supplement," an additional 50 Euro per person, merely consisted of hunks of truffles shaved over this, as well as other dishes, we received throughout the evening. A must to avoid.
Following this was a runny half-boiled egg with orgeat syrup, blanched almonds, and polenta. I do not know why this was placed where it was in the menu, or really, what purpose it served all. It was, as Camus may have said, an indicator of a wholly indifferent universe. It raised some important questions about taste and the meaning of life. For instance: Why am I eating raw cookie dough-flavored food sandwiched between the appetizer and main course? Who wants to see their date awkwardly dribble gooey, raw organic fluid down the corner of their mouth in public? As tasty as it was, reminiscent of marzipan, it was existentially confusing to a fault.
Duck liver with raspberry consomme, inoffensive and unremarkable. Fresh tasting but bland. The spongy liver could have easily been replaced with mushrooms and I wouldn't have known.
A hollowed sea urchin with chestnut soup was visually impressive if boring. The richness of the soup cut the urchin's naturally sweet, briny flavor and neutralized the effect of both.
Carrots and mustard, a trial in mental tenacity. Why, I ask, would any self-respecting restaurant toss hot carrots and mustard on a plate halfway through the meat courses? In a recent review of Agape, Alexander Lobrano praised a similarly simple dish as "lucid." This, too, was lucid, though more in a Ken Kesey fashion than a Kubrickian genius as he would have us believe. Mindfuckery served with bread and butter.
Sea scallop with seaweed butter and chestnut foam had a dated elegance straight out of American Psycho. Served in a whole scallop shell on a massive slab of frosted, custom-cut Lucite with the pomp and ritual of a Patek, I wish I had worn big shoulder pads and Paloma Picasso to match. Shoddy preparation and repeated themes characterized this dish- the scallops had not been detached from the shell and were nearly impossible to remove whole. It wasn't reassuring to already see overlapping flavors (seaweed butter and chestnut foam) so early on in the meal.
Sole with charred turnips, white chocolate sauce, and seabean. Nicely prepared, but too polite and impossible to eat together. The group therapy of dishes, everything participated minimally, but never really contributed to a congruent entirety.
Well-prepared venison, served with one stuffed shell straight out of le Stouffer's. Unfortunately, the sauce appeared -how can I say this tactfully- "hand" made by the chef.
St. Nectaire cheese was tasty, if only for the novelty of eating a wedge of more expensive St. Nectaire than I normally purchase at home.
Raw cubes of kabocha squash, raw flour ice cream (really), and squash caramel. Easily the most puritanical dessert I've ever had. This literally hurt to eat. It was chalky, unsweetened, and vegetal. In retrospect, ordering the shredded Kiton atop crushed diamonds would have been more palatable. I witnessed another diner reach an emotional breaking point when he tasted this dish.
Blackberry ice cream, macadamia nuts, lychee, and meringue was bizarre and also clash-heavy; the buttery, oily nuts greasy mingling with icy sorbet and slippery fruit pieces.
100% chocolate, or as we came to know it, the "Everybody Poops" dessert. Overly sweetened mousse, chocolate bark, and sauce with shapes and textures more resembling emissions from our kitten than a decadent end to a meal. Tasted of Nutella, ganache, and sugar.
Passionfruit and mango caramels came with the bill, a tearful 500 Euro for two including the decent, if inconsistent, blind wine tasting. Shameful. Everything about eating here felt like an exercise in sexual transgression, from the backless chairs to the smoked yellow mirrors to the strange swathes of cowhide strategically placed around the table, and of course, the weird surprises and punishment food. I pity the waiters and waitresses, the only bright spot in the dinner service. Usually, in a situation of this nature, at least you get to see a killer rack for the price. We paid for it both in our wallets (thanks to my companion for taking one for the team) and in our palates and are now self-medicating with Lindt, Ambien, and chocolate milk.
I've got to say, it felt like the central theme for this dinner was divorce on a plate, because the menu seemed hell-bent on ruining more than a few celebrations and anniversaries that night. Our meal was punctuated with sounds of shame and annoyance and more than one justification- "I swear, this never happens!"- the edible erectile dysfunction to disappointed dates. Come for the promise of phenomenal reviews and stay for the bitter end. You paid for the prix fixe, baby, so wipe that egg yolk off your chin, smile, and say "Merci."
When David Toutain was at the helm I already did not like L'Agapé Substance: the decor, the seating, the concept, the general tendency to masturbate with the idea of food, the absence of true cooking. But David is a very able chef and that saved the whole thing from being a mess despite the overly intellectual concept. I felt like telling him: please stop with the little this and that dropped with tweezers and do some real cooking, like roast a whole suckling pig so that I can see what you really can do.
Now that he has left for good, and if your report is faithful to reality and not exaggerated (your use of the word "puritanical" rings a very truthful bell, that is indeed what I sensed when I ate there), I see that nothing could prevent the place to collapse the side it was leaning towards.
Was this review from before or after David left? Tricky to tell as the reviewer has been in Paris for some time and reviews a number of other Paris places on her blog but only Agape on CH.
It would be interesting to know, if after could it be the restaurant needed his guiding hand? I must admit it had been on my list as a number of trusted food writers had praised Toutains cooking - looks like I will need to wait until we see where he surfaces next.
I ate there in November and would not go back. Attitude was insufferable, service was poor, space was absurdly cramped, and while some of the food was quite good, it was not worth the money given the other options in Paris.
Just read that the new chef for Agape Substance will be (already is?) Gaëtan Gentil.
Any info on him ?