Tonight’s Specials: OK, sorry Kitchen Crew, I had too much coffee and want to CRUSH IT TONIGHT at FIGUE

Figue+Desert+Smash+hi+res-106-2399067727-Opictured is my opening Kitchen Crew, some have moved on and some are still with us!

SMALL PLATES

Soupe de Poissons $10

Marseilles’ famous puréed Fish soup, Rouille, Parmesan

Little Flamenco Dancers $12

Pork, Serrano Ham and Fontina Cheese involtini; Tomato, Olive and Caper sauce

Margherita Pizza $14

Tomato, Basil, Mozzarella

Amatriciana Pizza $16

house cured Guanciale, San Marzano Tomatoes, Pecorino

Pizza alla Diavolo $16

shaved Salumi, Garlic and Red Chili Flakes

Scallop Crudo with Piquillo Pepper Granite $16

Mint and Citrus cured diver Scallop, organic Sicilian Citrus Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper Moroccan Calamari and Octopus $18

deep fried Calamari and Octopus with Harissa powder, Green Charmoula

AMERICAN BERKSHIRE PROSCIUTTO AND BURRATA $18

Di Stefano Artisan Burrata, Brioche Crostini, Fig Jam

Carpaccio of Octopus $18

Truffle Aioli, Arugula, Asparagus & Truffle Salad, shaved Manchego, Brioche Crostini

New Caledonia Sweet Blue Prawn Crudo $18

Sashimi grade Spot Prawns, Tomato Confite, Artichokes, Basil

Papillon of New Caledonia Blue Prawns and Burgundy Truffles $30

crispy Butterflies of sweet Blue Prawns, Cabbage Salad, Truffle Beurre Blanc

Paleta Iberica de Bellota $42

Cinco Jotas pure bred Iberico shoulder Ham aged two years

Tomato Olive Focaccia, Green Tomato Jam, shaved Idiazabal Cheese

BIG PLATES

Squid Ink Chitarra Pasta in Guazetto $28

Greek Branzino, Mussels and Shrimp in a Saffron Tomato Brodo, hand cut Squid Ink Pasta

BUCKWHEAT PASTA WITH RABBIT RAGU $28

hand rolled Buckwheat Pasta, Rabbit Ragu, Sicilian organic Citrus Olive Oil, aged Pecorino

Crispy John Dory $32

New Zealand St. Pierre, Chorizo Croquette, Saffron Aioli

SPIT ROAST JIDORI CHICKEN $26

Chickpea Fries, Ratatouille, Preserved Lemon Jus

Daube of Slow Braised Wagyu Beef Cheek $36

baked Ricotta galette, Cherry Tomato confite, Pumpkin Seed Crumble, Micro Arugula

Filet of Beef with Artichokes and Truffles $48

Potato Puree, caramelized Onions and Bacon, Artichokes & Burgundy Truffles

SWEETS & TURKISH COFFEE

Moroccan Donuts and Harissa Hot Chocolate $9

house made Donuts, Cinnamon Sugar, spicy Hot Chocolate

Turkish Coffee $10

Honey and Cardamom flavored Coffee prepared and served in a copper Ibrik

When asked by a social-climbing Paris hostess how he liked his truffles, Curnonsky replied,
“In great quantity, Madame. In great quantity.”

 

~ Curnonsky (Maurice Edmond Sailland), French writer (1872-1956)

Bouillabaisse: Dem’s Fighting Words!

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Have a glass of Pastis, watch a Marcel Pagnol movie or look at Paul Cezanne’s paintings and get yourself into the mood.  Today is all about Marseilles and real Bouillabaisse.  We had a passionate discussion over dinner, and I am still convinced there is no other city in the world that argues more about its specialty than Marseilles.  Sure, New Yorkers think those crappy pizzas that are synonymous with their city are good (what else would a Chicago boy say?) and are vocal about it.  Chicagoans are fervent of their beautiful deep dish pizzas.  But the level of enthusiasm pales in comparison to that of Bouillabaisse.  In Marseilles, family members cease to be family members, neighbors’ houses razed while they are on vacation and gardens gnomes gone swimming with the fish Godfather style over the correct Bouillabaisse fish.  Marseilles even has a charter that TELLS you, rather than guide you as to which fish may swim into the Bouillabaisse and which cannot.

We started the day early with croissant and pain au chocolat from a Boulangerie in Cheval Blanc then braced ourselves for an exhilarating ride through Marseilles morning traffic.  A few times I was obligated to play chicken with a Gauloise smoking truck driver as we fought for lane domination.  If you ever find yourself lacking colorful adjectives for that play you are writing just take a ride through Marseilles rush hour.  We finally docked the Renault near the Vieux Port and took to the streets by foot.

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The first stop was a store that specializes in all things Provence. I am always nervous when Lisa goes in here.  It is much like when I slip into a bookstore and come out 16 cookbooks fatter trying to pretend like nothing happened.  Lisa bought several gifts for family and friends back home.

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For the next few hours we wondered thru the streets of Old Marseilles dodging dog turds, photographing cool looking doorways and drinking Pastis.  One has to work up an appetite for Bouillabaisse. Marseilles is the second largest city in France and the largest port in Europe.  The earliest human evidence, dating back 30,000 years, have been found in the underwater caves near Cosquer and depict two Frenchmen fighting over what are the correct bouillabaisse fish.  Marseilles was founded in 600 BC by Greeks from Phocaea as a trading port under the name Massalia.  It transferred to Roman control, was conquered by the Moors and now us.  The streets are so narrow and small that you are amazed your car fits let alone the one racing towards you at a cool 137 kilometers per hour.

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Simone looking at Beau like he is nuts

for suggesting that shellfish are part of a true bouillabaisse

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After a delicious pastis in old Marseilles we returned to our cars and drove to l’Epuisette for an epic lunch.  L’Epuisette is somewhere you should go to at least ten times before you die. The bouillabaisse needs to be ordered 24 hours earlier.

I present our epic meal at l’Epuisette in pictures as words will fail to adequately describe it.

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Auguste, my cousin Catherine and Roland’s amazing child, gave Beaumont Sophie le Giraffe

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Amuse Bouche number one: three mousses Bouillabaisse, Asparagus and Mushroom

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Amuse Bouche number Two Scallop larded with Bacon in a Cream Sauce

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Aioli, Gruyere and Rouille With Garlic Crouton for the first course

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Bouillabaise: an Act in two courses Bouillabaisse is ALWAYS served in two courses. First the broth the whole fish were cooked in is served with croutons smeared with rouille and covered in gruyere.

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The broth is wonderful and perfumed with pastis, saffron and garlic.

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After first and possibly second helpings of broth are served the whole fish are presented as to show ‘Mais Oui, we know the correct fish’

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The congel eels, chapon, grendin, rascasse and st. pierre are lined up fileted on your plate waiting a few ladle fulls of broth to be spooned over

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Note the correct silver utensils for eating fish. Every piece of silverware is correctly sized and fitted for proper surgery on the course in front of you. I would have licked my plate but people were watching.

Bouillabaisse is a religion. After decades of street battles and disappeared garden gnomes the Chefs of Marseilles created the Bouillabaisse Charter of 1980 to codify the ingredients and still the guns of war. 11 restaurants signed on and the war rages.

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The Best Cheese I have ever Eaten, bar none The cheeses were served with an unbelievable fig bread

Marseilles 23 Marseilles 22 Marseilles 21 Marseilles 20Followed by desserts Valrhona Chocolate Tart; Mango served like a poached egg; a futuristic tarte tatin and Mango and Yuzu Cannelonis

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Following desserts was trio of mignardises Lemon Tart, Raspberry Macaroons & Chocolate Bombes

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”

― Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

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The French have the good sense NOT to serve coffee till you are finished with your sweets. I never understood why someone would want to hide the flavors of an apple tart with the overpowering flavors of coffee. If you think about it, it simply makes no sense. A good meal is to be lingered over and enjoyed. No rushed and hurried experience that promotes indigestion.

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Servers won’t even bring your bill till you ask for it. I have gotten into so many arguments over the years about the French relationship to eating versus the American. Maybe like an infant, we are just a young nation and haven’t learned proper conduct at the table.

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Outsanding View from the Dining Room

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Beaumont and Auguste play on the glass floor in the dining room Ocean waves crashed below creating an unparalleled experience

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The three cousins! Catherine, Francois et Andre avec Auguste

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The Story of ‘How We Came to BE’, The Menu Exploded: A Deeper Look at Our Approach

 

“It’s a simple business: Develop good food

and get it into people’s mouths. The rest sort of takes care of itself.”

~ Richard Melman, founder of Lettuce Entertain You

I once read an article detailing Richard Melman’s approach to designing a new restaurant concept.  The very first step was to create a storyboard that told the story of the new idea, perhaps written by a person who worked there, and was asked to describe life and service in the restaurant.  Everything, from the menu, wine list, art work to even the paint scheme emanated from it.   The idea struck a chord deep inside because I am a visual and small detail oriented person. Since then I have tried to incorporate it into my approach writing menus.

 

a charcuterie market and a spice merchant’s market in Avignon

 

Lately I have been looking for the perfect Sous Chef and Pastry Chef.  I described to a recent Pastry Chef candidate what I was wanting from her, “What I would love is your expression of what should be on the pastry menu of a Mediterranean Restaurant specializing in French, Spanish and Italian with forays into Morocco, Greece, Tunisia, Lebanon.  It is our goal to convey the story, the history of the people, through food.  If somehow you can distill this into pastries than you have gotten what I am attempting.”

I am not trying to be too esoteric; my goal is to take people somewhere, on a three hour adventure from their homes in the California Desert to the shores of the Mediterranean.  I want the experience to be so authentic and real that if you closed your eyes, the flavors, smells and sounds may just well make you believe you are really there.

“The Mediterranean cuisine is one of the most colorful and vibrant in the world, providing sensual dishes flavored with wild herbs gathered from the hillsides; lamb and chicken are often roasted whole over coals; vegetables are abundant and used in a wide variety of soups, bakes and salads.”

 

a whole local pig porchetta straight off the rotisserie

the pig comes from Cookpig in California

 

My inspirations have come from spending a portion of my informative years visiting relatives all over the South of France, to comparative dining to reading a lot online, in books and vicarious trips lived through letters and phone calls of close friends. One of my favorite authors is Colman Andrews.  I recently picked up his book “The Country Cooking of Italy” and came across his recipe for Sguazabarbuz, a variation of pasta e fagioli.  The name intrigued me so much I researched it further.  I came across a web site mentioning the history, “The story tells that on May 29, 1503 Lucrezia Borgia came to Ferrara to marry Alfonso I d’Este and a steward of the Palace, taking inspiration from her golden locks, created this special pasta and passed down the recipe from generation to generation. The pasta is cut into irregular strips, in fact they are called “maltagliati” (cut badly) and if it is cooked in a bean and pork fat broth they are called ‘sguazabarbuz’.”

Another dish making its debut will be a Pistachio, Polenta and Olive Oil Cake served with ‘Spice Road Caravan’ cherries and cherry sorbet.  Individual three ounce cakes made from Sicilian green pistachios, polenta and olive oil batter cooked and served at room temperature garnished with fresh spun cherry sorbet and with what I term Silk Road Caravan spiced cherries.  The Silk Road was a series of paths and trade routes connecting the Mediterranean to Eastern Asia.  The famous camel routes brought cinnamon, nutmeg and other fantastic flavors into the Mediterranean melting pot.

My cake’s origins lay not in a cultural tradition passed generation to generation by any one culture but rather in my head combining bits and pieces of various experiences and references.

Pistachios are native to Western Asia and the Levant between Turkey and Afghanistan.  The earliest traces of pistachios being eaten is 7,000 BC in Turkey, and cultivated and introduced into Europe by the Romans in 1st century AD.  Polenta’s name was originally derived from the Roman staple puls, or pulmentum. Pulmentum also was the Roman’s soldier primary food.  The soldiers were issued grain which they toasted on hot stones and either made into a porridge or baked into crude breads.

Polenta was originally made from millet, spelt or chickpeas, only when corn came from the New World in the 1600’s did polenta’s turn into a cornmeal porridge we know and love.  Cherries originated in Asia and became well loved by the ancient Greeks first appearing in print in 300 BC in the writings of Theophrastus.  By the first century AD, Pliny the Elder had listed eight different varieties under cultivation, some grown in the far off parts of the Roman Empire like Britain.

In America we have the freedom to combine, mix and mutate without the same restraints my French family would face.  They would never dream to mix as freely as I will.  Noted British Chef Marco Pierre White once said the kitchen was his freedom.  The new, still nameless restaurant is my freedom.

Chef François

ps. Vote on the new restaurant name at my FaceBook Chef Page!