Surrounded by busy bars, chain restaurants, and a few red lights, on the corner of rue Blanche and rue de Douai (around the infamous neighborhoods of Blanche and Pigalle), a brand new tapas spot has opened its door a few months ago. Tsubame serves refreshing Japanese tapas-style dishes in a lovely wood and white decor. Vintage Singer sewing furniture refurbished as dinner tables, cozy corners, bright lights, a large menu with plenty of delicious platters, and a choice from several kinds of sweet saké or authentic Japanese beers. Tsubame (meaning swallow in English) is the perfect place for a long food-filled fun evening with friends, a quick dinner to sample some tasty tapas (and wanting to come back for more!) before heading to (or coming back from) a theater play, or a nice bento during lunch hours. Tsubame’s originality (I never had Japanese tapas, sushi doesn’t count here) and very easy going atmosphere, makes me want to drag myself more often to the far north of the 9th arrondissement – an area of Paris I rarely hang out since I live on the other side of town. Spots like Tsubame make me wonder what other gems are hidden here.
When my friend proposed to meet at Tsubame for a Saturday night meet- and catch-up dinner, I wasn’t enthusiastic immediately. The idea of Asian cuisine in tapas style didn’t appeal to me and I certainly didn’t feel like taking a crowded metro during the weekend aaalll to metro ‘Blanche’ . But since I picked out the restaurant for our last food feast (L’ébauchoir, highly recommended), I decided to go along with her plan. And that turned out to be a really wise, and delicious, decision.
While the place has a few starter hick-ups to resolve (noting down reservations wrong, service a little on the slow side with forgetful, through very friendly and eager-to-please, waiters), the awesome ambiance (no stress or pressure from any of the staff to order, settle the bill, or worse: leave) and the possibility to taste so many different menu items, made us go all yay before the first bottle of saké (an excellent Dassaï 50) arrived in a very adorable ceramic carafe with matching teeny-tiny cups. We toasted to life, love, friendship and the future and ordered a pretty large sample of that day’s offer (we really wanted to order everything, but reason took over and we decided to stay sensible).
The first dishes were served together with our Kirin beers: a mix of vegetarian and fish platters such as a pretty big bowl of edamame beans, Kiriboshi (dried radish strips, tasty!), marinated aubergines (eggplant in a very nicely seasoned marinade), wakamé (sea vegetable) with shrimps, nems (always a winner with me), and fried smelts (very small fish). All were yummy though there was nothing special about the edamame beans and the smelts missed a bit of peps. However, our next platters were big hits, especially the ceviche dish with sea bass (voted by all four of us as the best dish of the eve), marinated octopus (yes, yes and yes!) and a big portion of gyu don, beef stewed in saké with veggies and rice (almost a main dish in itself). Kirin, by the way, is a very light and easy to drink Japanese beer and could potentially please non-beer lovers too.
Tsubame’s desserts are mostly French with a little Japanese twist. Me and my lady friend craved some green tea and black sesame ice cream for dessert, but unfortunately, they ran out of it so we tried the crème brûlée with green tea. It was refreshing and not too sugary like a normal crème brûlée. My man was pleased with a very good crèpe with figs. Three and half hours, several cheers, sakés, beers, stories and plenty of flavorful foods later, and it was time to call it a night. We squeezed in a quick deca coffee and green tea before asking for the bill (it was around 25-30 euros pp, absolutely affordable) and taking the ‘long’ ride home, very content after discovering this nice new spot. And eager to go back soon again.
Tsubame is located at 40 rue de Douai in the 9th arrondissement of Paris. Phone: +33 1 48 78 06 84 (they take reservations). Bentos are available for lunch at 11,50 – 12 euros (or 8,60 – 9,50 euros take-out). Tapas available in the evening only, prices per dish ranging between 4 and 13 euros. Desserts are 6 euros. Wines between 3,50 and 8 euros per glass, saké (140 ml) are all 14,50 euros and Kirin beer is 4,50 euros (33cl) or 6 euros (50 cl). Tsubame has several Japanese whiskeys on their menu as well (around 10 euros). While the menu varies daily or weekly, don’t miss the ceviche with sea bass (if available)! Open Tuesday to Saturday from noon to 14h30 and from 20h00 – 22h15 (kitchen opening times). Closed Sun- and Mondays. Closest metro stops: Blanche (line 2), Pigalle (line 2 and 12) and Place de Clichy (line 2 and 13).