As rents have soared, it’s become more difficult to find a really good meal in Saint Germain des Prés—restaurant margins just don’t generate enough profit to pay for a prime spot in this now luxury-brand-heavy neighborhood. That at least partly explains both the diminutive size and the stiff prices of L’Agapé Substance, one of the better new tables to have opened in the quarter for some time. (Agape is Greek for brotherly or selfless love, as opposed to the passionate and erotic eros; by extension it refers to a friendly communal meal.) An offshoot of the original L’Agapé in the 17th arrondissement, the tiny boxcar-like restaurant has its own very talented chef, David Toutain, who formerly worked at L’Arpège, Marc Veyrat, Mugaritz in Spain and New York’s Corton, overseeing an open kitchen. Dining here is mostly table d’hôtes style—20 stools perched at one long wooden counter—with just three small tables for two on the side. The wine list is on an iPad, and the menu doesn’t explain anything—it’s just a list of the ingredients to be found in the small-plate tasting menus here. Not everyone will love this format, but Toutain’s cooking is very good. A recent meal included dressed crab in a bouillon of North Sea shrimp; griddled razor clams, squid and zucchini in lavender foam with yuzu cream and dill flowers; monkfish with épeautre (spelt); veal with black-olive tapenade; and peaches poached in lemon verbena syrup.
66 rue Mazarine, 6th, 01.43.29.33.83. Lunch menus €39 and €51, Carte Blanche tasting menu €65 lunch, €99 dinner.
Prices are per person without wine.
Originally published in the September 2011 issue of France Today