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A Young Chef Swims Up-Seine in Paris

Posted May 1, 2018 9:14 p.m. EDT

While most millennial restaurateurs are populating the Right Bank of Paris with trendy neo-bistros, Baieta is swimming up-Seine. The first restaurant from Julia Sedefdjian, who earned a Michelin star at 21 years old as the chef at Fables de la Fontaine, planted itself on the Rive Gauche in March, foregoing an Instagram-oriented atmosphere for a firm focus on what matters most: the food.

Just one side-eye at the neighboring table’s sea bream tartare with lemon grass cream floating on lobster-infused coconut milk and I wondered how customers could concentrate on anything else. The minimalist décor certainly wasn’t distracting, but deviated from the restaurants of Sedefdjian’s contemporaries who aim to replace the stuffiness of higher-end restaurants with an ostentatiously cool setting.

Baieta also attempts to democratize haute cuisine with a relatively inexpensive fixed weekday lunch menu (a starter and a main for 29 euros, about $36), and the friendly young staff and cheerful logo erases any pretentious airs.

Sedefdjian and Baieta’s co-founders, Sébastien Jean-Joseph (sous-chef) and Grégory Anelka (manager), met at Les Fables de La Fontaine, where Sedefdjian became the youngest Michelin-starred chef in France at the time, in 2016. “We wanted to create the place where we would want to go when the three of us go out,” Sedefdjian said. “Where we can eat well for not too much money, and where we feel at ease, at home.”

Baieta means “little kiss” in the local dialect of Nice, a wink at Sedefdjian’s hometown and her culinary influences. A traditional Niçois dish, the pissaladière, is served as an amuse-bouche: a warm slice of Mediterranean sun on a typically gray Parisian day. The homemade short, fluffy bread is baked with its toppings: onion confit, black olives and anchovies. The fish come from a Basque fishmonger who prepares the anchovies on the boat as soon as they’re caught, painstakingly removing the bones with tweezers.

The courses soon got heartier and I was hooked. A starter of succulent, caramelized pork breast glazed in ginger, herbs and its own juice, garnished with cubes of mashed celeriac and celeriac chips, was a playground of texture and flavor; an herb sauce added the exact freshness required to lift up the meat. When the mains arrived my partner gleefully tucked into a cod roasted in butter fraternizing with a variety of clams; it was accompanied by a foamy garlic emulsion and laid atop a bed of fregola sarda, a small, round Italian pasta.

Sedefdjian’s impressive resume includes a degree in pastry arts, so it was no surprise that desserts were equally exciting. Dollops of lemon cream on a fennel shortbread tasted light and rich until I incorporated the pastis and lemon sorbet into my spoonful — the result was a punch of sweet and sour zing. For our post-meal digestif, we opted for the Clément rum, aged in the restaurant’s own oak barrels — a delicious byproduct of Anelka’s Martinique origins and love of rum.

“I feel free. I’m finally in my own home,” mused Sedefdjian, now her own boss at 23. “If I want to do something, I have no barriers. If I want to serve a pissaladière as an amuse-bouche, I’ll do a pissaladière as an amuse-bouche. Because that’s what I want to show my customers as soon as they arrive: bienvenue chez moi.”

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Event info: Baieta, 5 rue de Pontoise; restaurant-baieta-paris.fr.

An average meal for two, without drinks or tip, is 120 euros, about $150.