Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Bijou Café: A Culinary Gem in Old Sarasota






Nestled on the quiet corner of Pineapple and First, The Bijou is one of Sarasota's prettiest restaurants, with a small beautifully landscaped courtyard in the front that beckons with twinkle lights in the evening. Lovely inside and out, the cuisine is even more enticing, and the service — knowledgable and friendly. With an emphasis on fresh local produce and sustainable seafood, The Bijou's seasonally changing menu reflects chef Jean-Pierre Knagg's South African and French heritage. Chef Knaggs grew up with the culinary influences of a French mother and South African father. Both home cooks, his parents prepared “simple but great food,” which led to his early interest in cuisine. Zagat has continually named The Bijou Café as one of the top restaurants in America, but it's also a lovely spot to enjoy a relaxing lunch in the cozy outdoor courtyard. Popular favourites on the menu include their signature Bijou Burgers, a blend of ground brisket and chuck, chargrilled and topped with a choice of cheese, served with Caesar salad or pommes frites, Wild Mushroom & Gruyère Grilled Cheese on semolina bread or their famous Crab Cakes, pan-fried and served with a Creole remoulade. One of my favourites is the Shrimp & Crab Bisque with cognac, sherry, baby shrimp, blue crab and cream. Exquisitely rich, thick and velvety with a hint of cayenne, I knew from the first spoonful that it was the best bisque I'd ever tasted.





Bijou's sensational lunch menu

Warm and squishy house baked bread

A bowl of whipped butter

A lovely glass of chilled Muscadet

Shrimp and Crab Bisque with garnish of fresh crab 

New England Clam Chowder

The Bijou Café's Duck Quesadilla with black bean salsa, goat cheese and crème fraîche

Crab Cakes made with lump crab, pan fried and served with Creole remoulade and pommes frites

The famous Bijou Burger made with a special blend of ground brisket and chuck, char-grilled and topped with gruyere cheese and served with pommes frites

Housemade chocolate truffles served on a chilled plate with berry coulis











Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
Serves 6
Recipe courtesy chef Jean-Pierre Knagg

2 large butternut squashes, about 1 1/2 to 2-pounds each
6 tbsp unsalted butter
2 yellow onions, chopped
8 fresh sage leaves, shredded
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock, or canned broth
1/2 cup crème fraiche
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Ground nutmeg, to taste 
Pinch of sugar 


Preheat the oven to 400°F, and prick each squash with the tip of a knife. Place the whole squashes on a baking sheet and roast until a knife penetrates the skin easily, about an hour. Remove the squash from the oven and, when they're cool enough to handle, cut them in half lengthwise and discard the seeds and fibres. Scoop the pulp into a bowl and set aside.

In a saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Add the onions and half of the sage. Cook while stirring occasionally, until the onions are tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the stock and squash pulp, raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for a few minutes to combine the flavours. Remove from heat.

Working in batches, purée the soup in a blender or food processor, and return it to a clean saucepan. Alternatively, pass the soup through a food mill placed over the pan. Reheat gently over medium-low heat, and season with salt and pepper. If the squash is starchy rather than sweet, a little nutmeg will help. If the nutmeg does not give the proper flavour balance, add a pinch of sugar. To serve, ladle into warm bowls and garnish with whipped crème fraiche and the remaining sage.



Char-Grilled New York Strip with Blue Cheese Butter
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy chef Jean-Pierre Knagg

4 New York strip steaks, about 1 1/2 inches thick
2 tsp Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper

Blue Cheese Butter:
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup quality crumbled blue cheese, such as Point Reyes
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1 tbsp Dijon-style mustard
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper


Remove the steaks from refrigerator about 45 minutes before grilling. Combine all of the flavoured butter ingredients in a food processor and pulse until thoroughly combined, and adjust the seasoning to taste. Heat an outdoor grill to high and oil the grates. Season the steaks with salt and pepper and grill until nicely charred, about 6 minutes. Flip and continue to grill until desired doneness, about 4 more minutes for medium-rare. Serve topped with blue cheese butter.