Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Bijou Café in Sarasota: A Culinary Gem

Nestled on a quiet corner at 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 and outdoor patio tables by day. Lovely inside and out, The Bijou has set the standard for fine dining in the heart of the Sarasota's Theatre and Arts District since 1986. With an emphasis on fresh local produce and sustainable seafood, the restaurant's seasonally changing menu reflects chef Jean-Pierre Knagg's South African and French heritage, growing 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 or one of the restaurants elegant dining rooms. Popular favourites on the menu include their signature Bijou Burger, 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 or their famous Crab Cakes, pan-fried and served with a Creole remoulade. One of my absolute favourites is their exquisite Shrimp & Crab Bisque with cognac, sherry, baby shrimp, blue crab and cream. Exquisitely rich, thick and velvety with a hint of cayenne — it's pure heaven.

The Bijou menu

Warm fresh baked rolls from the Bijou kitchen

Whipped Butter

Muscadet Sevre & Maine, Chateau du Poyot

Merlot from Milbrandt Vineyards from Columbia Valley, Washington

Southwestern Corn Chowder

The Bijou's outstanding Shrimp and Crab Bisque

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

Pan Fried Pompano with Coconut and Pistachio Rice, Citrus Beurre Blanc and Rock Shrimp Sauce served with Grilled Asparagus

Pommes Gratin Dauphinoise
Serves 24
Recipe courtesy of The Bijou Café, Sarasota; photo by Idaho Potato Commission 

18 Idaho baking potatoes
Salt and white pepper, to taste
12 cups heavy cream
3 cloves fresh garlic
3 tbsp melted butter
2 1/2 lbs shredded dry Swiss cheese such as Gruyere

Peel the potatoes and slice very thin to 1/8-inch, but do not rinse in water once they are sliced, as the potato starch naturally thickens the sauce. Generously rub a 4-inch deep hotel pan with the garlic cloves, then butter the pan. Mix the sliced potatoes in a large bowl with the cream and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Place the hotel pan on a sheet pan and bake uncovered at 350°F for about one hour or until the potatoes are soft when pierced with a fork. When cooled, dish the potato mixture into buttered 9-inch casseroles, cover the tops with shredded cheese and add a few more drops of cream to keep the dish moist. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. On demand place the casserole, on a pie pan, in a very hot oven at 450°F for about 10 minutes or until the cheese has browned and the dish is bubbling.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
Serves 6
Recipe courtesy of The Bijou Café, Sarasota

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

Preheat the oven to 400°F, and prick each squash with the tip of a knife. Place the whole squash 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 are cool enough to handle, cut them in half lengthwise and discard the seeds and fibers. 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, then remove from the 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. Ladle into warm bowls and garnish with whipped crème fraiche and the remaining sage.

Crab Bisque

In a skillet, add several tablespoons butter and flour to create a roux. Whisk in 1 1/3 cup chicken broth. Sautée onions and stir into sauce, adding a cup of cream, lemon juice, cayenne and salt to taste, or optional cognac and sherry - simmering for 30 minutes. Add blue crab and baby shrimp and cook for an additional 5 minutes or until heated and serve!