I stepped into this small, homey eatery in the 9th arrondisement of Paris one Saturday night to find myself completely surprised by the food I saw being whisked around the room on the arms of black and white clad servers. Is this a bakery, I thought? Is that- I gulped and then proceeded to drool- dessert? All around me were these decadent, perfect, pupil-dilating puff pastries with impossibly delicious frostings beckoning me to eat them. Where am I? I thought. But alas, I soon realized it was not dessert I was looking at after all; the aromas swirling around the room were savory, not sweet. I inhaled a hint of spice, a hint of garlic. The drooling continued. I was seated at a table near the back of the restaurant- a cozy space with eclectic furniture and shades of blue. Upon looking at the cocktail menu, I chose the ‘apple pie’ and subsequently began to devour it when it arrived. It was a sweet, slightly tart, apple concoction all condensed into one little glass, complete with a palm tree mixer. Already, without even touching the food to my lips, every sense had been awakened. Welcome to the fabulous and incredibly underrated Parisien wonder, Privé de Dessert.
Owner and operator Sephora Nahon opened the restaurant two years ago on the premise of combining her two passions: sweet and savory food. She was met with criticism and a lack of support, but was confident in her idea. And sure enough, she got a loan from the bank, assembled a team of cooks and waiters and opened her first location all in the midst of getting married, having her first child and a year later, opening her second location. Her idea is simple and unique: delicious food that looks like gourmet dessert. The amazing thing is that Sephora never went to culinary school. She went to business school, worked for a big media group and only had 40 hours of basic pastry training. In her original business plan, she wanted something different, cutting edge, unique. But she didn’t know how to achieve that. And then, the idea came to her.
Privé de Dessert rotates their menu twice a year: one in summer, one in winter. It is small, about only 6 items under entrées (starters), plats (main course) and desserts. The menu is filled with puff pastries stuffed with salmon, avocado and whipped mozzarella, tiramisu made of foie gras, tender beef and mashed potatoes with the most magical sauce that you’ve ever met, and their most prized concoction lovingly known as the star of the restaurant: the Saint Honoré burger.
A year after her first location opened, Sephora opened a second location in the 2nd arrondisement of Paris, a small, take-out lunch spot. Many of the same items exist at the second location, but there are also new additions as well like pizza in the shape of what looks like a slice of banana bread or duck in the shape of a rillette. The second location has a very similar atmosphere to the first, but with a slightly more relaxed feeling, as it’s more of a take-away cafe. However, both locations have what Sephora calls a “homey, cozy, easy feeling.” What she strived for in creating her restaurant and her brand was giving guests the sense of “feeling good when they walk through the door.” And as a paying customer with high expectations as I am a foodie myself, that is exactly how I felt.
In addition to her two locations, Sephora managed to write an amazing and beautiful cookbook- a compilation of all of her recipes, past and present. It’s full of gorgeous, professional photographs of her delectable food including my favorite which is a tomato stuffed with whipped mozarella and topped with another miniature cherry tomato. It’s out of this world. Even better, everything is prepared in house with only the freshest ingredients. They don’t even own a freezer, people!
It’s quite remarkable to think that Sephora built this business from the ground up in such a short amount of time and with such success already. It started with just one person with one menu- all her own recipes-, and one dream. Now it includes multiple cooks and a wait staff, a whole team of people that she calls “very close” and “like family to her.” Every few months, the team, the same people whom she hired originally- a testament to her and her business as this is rare in the restaurant world- collaborate on a new menu for the next season.
Later the following week after my incredible meal at Privé de Dessert, my boss and I were welcomed back to the second, take-away location to sit down with the owner herself. What a treat! We were met with more fabulous gems- hot dogs in a blanket meant to mimic a pain au chocolat and shrimp, cream and avocado-filled puff pastries. Sephora gave us a wonderful interview, and she struck me as an incredibly ambitious and driven young business woman, which is refreshing in a world where men dominate the industry. My favorite treat from PDD 2 would have to be the pain au chocolat, which my boss and I dubbed the “pain au dog,” our spin on the once-trendy “cro-nut”- a mix between the American doughnut and the French croisant, which NCIS LA’s Densi calls “a pastry baby between France and America.” (See below for a link to a t.v. mention of the cronut.)
It’s not just the attractive and unique concept or the restaurant’s warm atmosphere and friendly wait staff or even the fact that it’s not chalked full of tourists that singlehandedly draw people to this fabulous Parisien eatery. Perhaps it’s the care and the passion that’s put into the incredible food, which tastes even better than it looks and as you can see, it looks incredible. So you can imagine how good it tastes! Privé de Dessert or lovingly dubbed PDD isn’t just food, it’s art that comes with a truly unforgettable experience that like any good show, leaves it’s audience waiting and wanting more.
Sephora’s plans for the future include opening 10 new locations all over the world, her top choices being London, New York City and Tokyo- all food hubs in their own right. She would like to venture abroad and expand her customer base, since the majority of her clientel today are French. She took a moment to ask me if a similar concept existed in the United States, where Abby and I are both from. We both paused contemplatively and looked at each other. “No,” we both responded, “In fact, there’s nothing like it.”
The genius, inspired idea of mixing sweet and savory springs to mind the famous cronut debat between Kensi and Deeks in NCIS LA: