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Eats | FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Late Night in City of Light

A former chef at Chinois takes his special version of California-Asian fusion cooking to the foodies of Paris.

May 29, 1997|S. IRENE VIRBILA | TIMES RESTAURANT CRITIC

On a recent trip to Paris, I thought I'd see what former Los Angeles chef Kazuto Matsusaka was cooking up at Buddha-Bar, the new and very hot late-night spot in the City of Light. Matsusaka was Chinois' chef for years and later cooked at Zenzero and, briefly, Cafe La Boheme before flying off to Paris to open this bar-restaurant in the 8th arrondissement.

At just after 11, when I wandered in one night, Buddha-Bar--a cavernous underground space behind the posh Hotel Crillon on the Place de la Concorde--is packed. Even at that hour, there's a wait for tables. We circle the smoky blue haze of the bar area vainly looking for somewhere to sit while we wait and end up hovering around the maitre d's podium for almost an hour. Finally, it's our turn and a waitress in a red brocade cheongsam, called upstairs by crackling walkie-talkie, leads us down a steep flight of stairs to a table.

The dramatic high-ceilinged room is presided over by an enormous golden Buddha. (Visions of Chinois, no?) Beneath his serene gaze, Buddha-Bar is frantic, festive, very much the scene, thronged with gorgeous women, eccentrics and night owls. On this night, five birthday celebrations are going on simultaneously.

Once we get a table and manage to flag down a waiter, the food, it turns out, is quite a good rendition of the California-Asian fusion cooking Matsusaka was known for at Chinois and Zenzero. Familiar-sounding dishes like sashimi with ponzu sesame sauce, Chinese chicken salad and spicy beef salad, and main courses like crispy quail with orange sauce, grilled lamb chops with herb vinaigrette or sauteed salmon in a red wine miso sauce make up Buddha-Bar's menu.

Matsusaka hasn't abandoned Los Angeles, though. Sometime this summer, he's slated to open Bar Fly (catchy name, eh?) with his Paris partners in the old Nicki Blair's space on the Sunset Strip.

BE THERE

Buddha-Bar, 8, rue Boissy d'Anglas, Paris (8th); phone, 011-33-1-53-05-90-00. Open Monday-Friday for lunch, daily dinner until very late. Appetizers $12-$22; main courses $15-$35.

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