Le Grand Bistro & Oyster Bar -- a transformative French restaurant downtown -- just launched its fall menu, and chef John Broening, who conceived that menu, is giving us a reason to celebrate autumn's bounty. The menu, 90 percent of which is new, is swelled with root vegetables, woodsy mushrooms from the wild, provocative spices and braised meats that chase away the chill. "It's food from the colder weather regions of France, Alsace and Brittany, especially, plus I've incorporated a few North African touches," says Broening, who took over the Le Grand's kitchen in July, ensuring that French class was, indeed, in session. A few of the staples -- the tartare, steak frites and onion soup -- remain on the menu, "though even these I've tried to refine a little," notes Broening. And the takeaway, he adds, is that "good, fall, French cuisine is hearty but not heavy."
Last week, during a staff tasting, I had the opportunity to sample several of Broening's new dishes, including a stellar plate of housemade ravioli, plump with cremini mushrooms and pooled in a sherry-kissed broth; a lovely Berkshire pork chop left to meditate in a brine of rosemary, salt and brown sugar and served with sauteed Brussels sprouts smoky with bacon; a hearty root vegetable tagine with saffron couscous -- couscous, says Broening is "now France's national dish next to steak frites" -- and a fall salad of watercress, celery root, figs, shaved fennel and blots of goat cheese.
Broening has also graced his menu with foie gras, and the foie, he points out, is made using a country-French technique. "It's marinated in salt, pepper, nutmeg and brandy, then slow-cooked in a sterilized jar and set in a pot of simmering water," explains Broening, who then smears the foie on a thin slice of toasted ciabatta. "It's a delicious and unfussy presentation," says Broening, an assessment with which I agree.
The tasting, of course, included sweets, which are now a large component of Le Grand's culinary culture. The pastry program, executed by Emily Rasmussen-Goodwin, "emphasizes modern twists on traditional French dishes," explains Broening, citing, for example, a raspberry clafoutis, which he describes as "a homey French dessert that's a cross between a cake and a pudding."
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You can ogle at that dessert and many more of Broening and Rasmussen-Goodwin's new dishes on the pages that follow.