There are certain tensions in the world of good food. Creative chefs like to play and sometimes their play is so successful that it becomes a tradition and sometimes tradition becomes ossified and over-familiar and even not very tasty. So great success breeds its own antithesis. Think of the big culinary wheel turning: Brilliance-Tradition-Boredom-Rebellion-Brilliance. It’s all laid out in the rock opera Tommy and if Max Weber had opened a restaurant, he could have explained it a whole lot better.
Chef Al Paris is a scholar and he plays both ends of this little game. He’s got Heirloom at the top of Chestnut Hill, a brilliant little BYO with a local, quirky, rebellious,surprising menu. I don't want you going there because it's tough enough to get in as it is. He’s also got the Paris Bistro (great coincidence with the name, huh?). He tells us that the Bistro is a place of Respect for Work of Enduring Excellence. It’s a restaurant dedicated to the Philadelphia-radical idea that certain great things are worth preserving, no matter how old they become.
I followed Chef to the Weavers Way store in Chestnut Hill to pick up a few things and make one of those classic dishes from the Bistro. Chef Paris’ idea is that once you know the basics, a crêpe makes everything taste better. You can use the words in bold below for your shopping list. What follows is one of the Bistro’s Crêpes of the Day.
In a high-sided sauce pan over medium heat, put a bit of olive oil and a tablespoon of butter When the butter sizzles, add the scallops. Cook for a minute, turn, then add one-inch strips of salmon. After another minute, add some small shrimp.
Turn the seafood until the salmon loses its shiny newness, then add some finely chopped leeks and shavings of fennel. Wait a few heartbeats and throw in chopped garlic.
(When the leeks begin to wilt, you can add a splash of pernod, tilt the pan and let the alcohol burn off. Many cooks would be satisfied at this point-having set flesh on fire- and turn to leave the kitchen. Resist that temptation, there are good things ahead.)
At Paris Bistro, Chef Paris adds some reduced broth from bouillabaise. On the off-chance that you are out of bouillabaise, try some clam juice or fish stock. Finish the seafood with some chopped tomatoes, an herb of your choice and-of course-a dash of cream.
Now the simplest thing to do here is put this puddle of deliciousness in a bowl and attack it with a spoon. At the Paris Bistro, they wrap this baby up in a crêpe. the quick and dirty version of this luscious pancake is to heat a pan medium hot and pour in a batter based on pancake mix. Try these proportions:
1/2 cup Buttermilk Pancake Mix
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups water
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Be stingy as you pour the batter in the pan, then swirl the pan to get the thinnest possible coating of batter. Use a long spatula to flip the crêpe-the whole process should take just over a minute. You can make the crêpes a bit ahead and keep them covered and warm or you can assign the job to your sous-chef.
At the Bistro we had our crêpe with a glass of white burgundy but you would do as well with the beautifully-crafted La Fin du Monde.
Of course, you can make this recipe your own. You can move the seafood around-Chef himself suggested halibut, skate and cockles. You can toast the spices and go all Thai, you could make a rich, earthy root-vegetable soup as your liquid and so on. But as you play with this idea, you might find it fun to get over to the Paris Bistro every once in a while and check out this Enduring Excellence thing.
If you want to emulate the elegant presentation at Paris Bistro (and why wouldn't you?), use a slotted spoon to put the fish on the crepe, fold the pancake up as you like and then spoon the sauce on the side of the plate.
|If someone offered you that, would you smile?|