Pottoka

Pottoka in Paris

Sometimes I feel like a nitwit, especially when people start talking about all the new restaurants in Paris. I am a creature of habit (and I don’t like disappointment), so I generally go to the same places. I also tend to stay on the Right Bank, where I live, as the restaurants tend to be more exciting and less-fussy, with a more casual ambiance.

But I’d heard good things about Pottoka, over in the 7th arrondissement, helmed by chef Sébastien Gravé, who likes to improvise on his native Basque cuisine, known for lots of colors and contrasts, as well as a hint of spice. The restaurant is named for a breed of smallish horses from that region, which is located in the southwest part of France, and spans into Spain as well. So the foods often feature red peppers, lively seasonings, and seafood. It’s also famous for the Ibaïonan (Basque) charcuterie, which is some of the best in the world.

Pottoka in Paris

Since I was on my own, I didn’t start with any of the nice charcuterie on offer. But the list had some notable things on there, including cécina (dried beef, which if you haven’t tried, is great stuff) and cochonailles (cured hams and sausages) from the notable Eric Ospital. Scanning the dining room at midday, from the looks of things, this was a working lunch crowd that probably had to go back to their desks afterward, so not many people were drinking wine. I had a ton of work piled up back at home, too, but couldn’t resist a glass of cool Jurançon from Domaine Cauhapé that was pleasantly dry (some are sweet). It was a very generous pour and I cursed the unpleasantness that was waiting for me at my own desk.

Pottoka in Paris

I started with a precise circle of crabmeat covered with lemon mousse and avocado, centered in a pool of rosy beet “gazpacho.” Draped over the top was a jellied round of beet juice. It was a lovely entrée and I scraped the bowl clean; my only comment was that the citrus mousse was a bit assertive for the delicate crabmeat. But beaucoup de points to the kitchen for not finding one speck of crab shell in the dish, which is the surest way to ruin anything with crabmeat in it.

The Lucite bowl, cut out from a larger square, was a little curious, and I couldn’t help wondering how the servers would remove the “bowl” from the table. Fearing the sound of broken fingernails, I kindly lifted it up for them when it came time to clear my place for the next course, which was gambas à la plancha with a fregola sarda “risotto,” which was more like a rich sauce with little balls of toasted pasta in it, along with bits of zucchini and wild chanterelle mushrooms, adding an earthy note to the perfectly cooked prawns. A Basque touch was added by dusting the foam surrounding the dish with spicy piment d’Espelette. The dramatic, high-sided bowl made me unsure of where to pile up the prawn shells once I was finished emptying them, so I made a little makeshift “raft” with one of the tiny beet greens to hold them, then I pushed them aside to eat the leaf. Next time, I’ll ask for a side dish.

Pottoka in Paris

I really wanted to try the gâteau basque for dessert, a traditional dessert that’s a buttery cake that sandwiches a dense, cream filling inside. It’s one of my favorite desserts – but I was stuffed. (The four women behind me were splitting one slice. And if there had only been two of them, I might have asked for a taste of theirs. But I didn’t think it fair when there were four of them battling it out over one order.) So went for the fig tart with mascarpone and prune-Armagnac ice cream, layered over a speculos spice cookie. Every dessert that was coming out of the kitchen looked spectacular, and mine was no exception. They were obviously all made in-house, so kudos to Chef Gravé for pulling them off so nicely. I loved the speculos cookie, similar to a gingersnap, although I could only make it through three-quarters of my enormous dessert before calling it quits.

Pottoka in Paris

The three-course lunch is €27 if you order the plat du jour (the daily special), with your choice of appetizers and desserts from the regular menu. (There’s a €35 menu which allows you to choose from other main courses from the printed menu. And a few specials are on the chalkboard.) The restaurant is tiny, so if you go, expect to be close to your neighbors. I wasn’t sure if I needed to call for a lunch reservation, but when I walked in and saw everyone in there, I was glad I did. Although I decided since I was by myself, I’d take a seat at the bar and let them seat a walk-in two-top at the table that I’d reserved. (Once a restaurant employee, always a restaurant employee) But I didn’t feel alone there, as I had an oversized bottle of Armagnac on tap to keep me company. The staff is very friendly and efficient, and everyone in the kitchen smiled at me on the way out. A happy staff (and chef) makes good food. And that seems to certainly be true at Pottoka.

Pottoka
4, rue de l’Exposition (7th)
Tél: 01 45 51 88 38
Métro: Ecole Militaire


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29 comments

  • October 22, 2014 4:00pm

    All this food looks amazing David!

  • October 22, 2014 4:53pm

    Is Basque food taking over the world? ah…things could be worse! Sounds delicious (except for the serving plates…I’m sure the servers have an opinion on this issue.) Thank you for sharing!

  • Marie
    October 22, 2014 5:02pm

    His name is Sébastien GravÉ

  • October 22, 2014 5:17pm

    You’re the best to show the dessert photo first, not have room for the gateau basque but able to work your way through the figs, ice cream, cookie etc! Basque cuisine inspires heroic efforts. Thank you, as always, for doing your best for us.

  • October 22, 2014 5:18pm

    Me, too…creature of habit who/don’t like disappointment. Nice review.

  • October 22, 2014 5:39pm

    Wow – that looks like an amazing place! We will be in Paris this spring, so I’ll definitely have to commit this to a must do list! Thank you!

  • Marcy
    October 22, 2014 6:02pm

    I had dinner there on my last visit to Paris several years ago, it was wonderful then and looks wonderful now!

  • Sarahb1313
    October 22, 2014 6:09pm

    Oh the whole meal looks stunning. With even how clearly well thought out the combinations in each dish appear, the visual is really just too incredible.
    The artistry in the desserts in Paris, and clearly here, is so seductive and are extended to the other course. I wish I had that same skill. I always joke that even though my desserts may not look fancy (I am no cake decorator, and frankly those things rarely taste all that good) they sure do taste good. People at our social gatherings are known to say they are not dessert people (yeah, I need new friends) but they will only eat it if I have made it.
    I like to think the problem is with the desserts they are eating.

    On our rainy day here today, I am midway through preparing Deb’s Chocolate Babka. Doesn’t look Paris, but I know it will taste fab!!

    Thanks for the little Paris revisit. The photos remind me of the restaurant that gave me the best meal I have ever eaten, last year, also on the right bank, Rue St Honore. I feel like I just had a little mental flashback!

  • Linda
    October 22, 2014 6:24pm

    David, is this a place where you can have a drink and a small nibble or do you have to do a full-on meal? Thanks for the review.

    • October 22, 2014 7:23pm
      David Lebovitz

      I don’t know. They do have charcuterie plates and a small bar, as well as a larger room for groups. They may let you come and have a glass and some charcuterie in one of those places, if it’s not busy, but I’d call and ask because it might not be possible.

  • October 22, 2014 6:33pm

    WIll add this one to the list for the next visit to Paris. That beetroot hat atop the crab dish sounds too wonderful. Having been to Pays Basque I can tell you that the Pottok ponies that dot the Pyrenees mountains are very cute. Not sure that they would appreciate this lovely food in their honour, They seemed very happy with grass.

  • October 22, 2014 7:47pm

    Sadly, I loathe beetroot in any shape or form (people keep saying “Try it like this, you’ll like it prepared this way!” but it always tastes like beetroot, so I don’t. And I can’t digest prawns or shrimp…. so the only part of your meal that appeals to me is the dessert, which looks amazing! I love figs. And prune-armagnac ice-cream (must make some!).

  • Shelley Sorani
    October 22, 2014 8:39pm

    We followed a number of your recommendations as well as our own research (even went to Caractere de Cochon before you posted it) while we were in Paris this past September. We had some absolutely wonderful, beautifully cooked, authentically French meals and blessed you with every bite. Like you we look for less fussy, more casual places so this review leaves me absolutely shocked. The decor may be rustic but lemon mousse and avocado on crabmeat sitting in beet juice!! Yuck! And foam surrounding little balls of toasted pasta!! Cute!!!?? Dramatic, high sided, fingernail splitting bowls!! So disappointed. It would take more than an oversized bottle of Armagnac for us to eat anything there except for charcuterie and dessert (both of which sound great). Don’t give in to the fads, David. You’re too good for that.

  • October 22, 2014 9:21pm

    I am a creature of habit too even down to ordering the same dish at the same place over (and over) again..

    But sometimes trying something new is worth it! Basque cuisine always amazes me because it uses traditional ingredients served up really uniquely. Looks like a lovely cozy restaurant.

    Great post!

  • October 22, 2014 9:57pm

    With the recent opening of A. Noste by Julien Duboué, this is another great chance to discover the Basque cuisine.
    It can be very seducing in different ways, the traditional one or the tapas style one. Friendly anyway!
    Love it.

  • Doug
    October 22, 2014 10:00pm

    We ate at Pottoka in September. Fabulous lunch, great service, friendly staff. Fish was cooked perfectly. Yes…the Gateau Basque was great! This is definitely on our list of restaurants to return to when in Paris.

  • Joan Koehler
    October 22, 2014 10:03pm

    So glad to find this marvelous restaurant getting the recognition it deserves! It was the highlight of our visit to Paris this spring. The gazpacho was out of this world.

  • Beth
    October 22, 2014 10:06pm

    I am a new subscriber to your e-mail blog and love your descriptions of Parisian restaurants and dishes. Makes me feel like I am there……..and hungry!!

  • Marguerite
    October 22, 2014 10:48pm

    Bookmarked for my next visit. I love everything you said about it. You hooked me at the crab entree, and by the time you got to the Armagnac “on tap,” the hook was set.

    PS. Why can’t we in the US adopt the correct French course terms if we’re using them? You’d think that would eventually catch on since so many Americans travel to France. Maybe when we begin thinking in metric…never.

  • October 23, 2014 1:35am

    Eating lunch out in Paris is a true delight.

  • june2
    October 23, 2014 1:45am

    Shelly Sorani, you’re too funny! You loved his previous recommendations so how can you decide in advance that this one is ‘wrong’? Delicious is delicious, just because it’s in a silly bowl or has some foam – jeez.

  • October 23, 2014 11:37am
    David Lebovitz

    Shelley: I’m normally not fond of fussy presentations or the use of anything other than normal round plates and bowls because more often than not, the kitchen is focusing on them (and balsamic scribbles, et al) rather than concentrating on the food. (Including slate plates.) However here, the food was well-prepared with fresh ingredients. It was awkward eating the prawns in that large bowl, but they were very tasty.

    Marguerite: A new book just came out that explains why Americans never adopted the metric system, called Whatever Happened to the Metric System. I haven’t read it but read a review of it and it sounds like worthwhile reading.

    Not sure why in the US, we call main courses “Entrees” – but people often correct me when I write that, until I remind them that I live in France, where that’s what the “entry” plate is called, or the entrée. (People also try to correct me when I write café express, which is the French version of espresso.)

    • Beth
      October 23, 2014 4:14pm

      Maybe I’m just a “visual” at heart, but I love it when the Chef has a beautiful, creative presentation………somehow makes the food taste even better. My imagination?????

  • Blerina
    October 23, 2014 6:49pm

    We were in Paris last year in august and we just ran across pottoka while searching for a place to eat dinner. We were so glad we stopped by the place is very small so you’re close to other restaurant patrons but the food was amazing. We ended up going twice since it was our favorite place from all the restaurants we tried during our week long stay. Their chef is amazing and the food we ate couldn’t be replicated anywhere. Can’t wait to go back to Paris if only to eat at pottoka again

  • October 24, 2014 1:25pm

    I’m with Shelly.
    I Loved Caractere de Cochon like crazy.
    I’m not keen on food that requires instructions how to eat it, even if it is a beautiful sculpture.

  • October 26, 2014 5:55am

    what beautiful food. i love the jellied beet juice round! and the fig tart, wow. amazing.

  • October 27, 2014 1:12am

    I will relive that tarte aux figues the rest of my life. We rented an apartment around the corner from Pottoka and the timing of your review couldn’t have been better. Truly wonderful and inventive dishes and flavors without being fussy, and we loved dining en masse in the annex on high bar stools. Figs, fennel, beets, avocado, ricotta, langoustines, speculoos …. Just so many of our favorite things on one menu! Thank you for steering us in the right direction.

  • Judy
    October 30, 2014 3:33pm

    The fig tart was photographed so beautifully it is making my mouth water. I am inspired to make this dessert at home. I love figs. Do you have any recommendations for the speculos cookie crust? By chance would you know what type fig was used? Thank you for your great blog. Judy

    • October 30, 2014 7:13pm
      David Lebovitz

      They don’t usually sell figs by variety in Paris but these are similar to Black mission figs. I have a recipe for Speculos cookies in my book, The Perfect Scoop, that could be baked in a larger ring mold (like they do) although you could use a gingersnap cookie recipe, however you wouldn’t want to bake them too “snappy”!

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