Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Bijou Café in Sarasota: A Culinary Jewel

One of Sarasota's prettiest restaurants, with a small beautifully landscaped courtyard that beckons with twinkle lights in the evening, The Bijou is beautiful inside and out. Nestled on the quiet corner of Pineapple and First, the cuisine is even more enticing, and the service is 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, who 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 or in one of the charming indoor dining rooms. 

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. My absolute favourite 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 and still is. As of September, Chef Ryan Williams became the new executive chef of The Bijou, with Jean-Pierre greeting guests as they return time after time at this little gem of a restaurant in Sarasota. 

The lovely menu at The Bijou Café

Delicious fresh bread rolls 

Whipped butter

Côtes de Provence Rosé

The sensational Shrimp and Crab Bisque with cognac, sherry, baby shrimp, blue crab and cream

Soupe a l'oignon with Gruyere

The Chargrilled Bijou Burger made with ground brisket and beef chuck, secret sauce and choice of cheese served with a Caesar Salad

The Bijou Burger made with ground brisket and beef chuck, secret sauce and choice of cheese served with golden pomme frites

Salad Nicoise with rare yellowfin tuna, roasted peppers, haricots vert, potato, hard boiled egg, sliced radish, anchovies and Nicoise olives

Baked Pasta with Braised Pork, Roasted Vegetables & Creamed Corn
Serves 6-8
Recipe courtesy of chef Bob Camille, The Bijou Café

For the braised pork:
2 lb boneless pork shoulder
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken stock
1 sprig rosemary
1 bay leaf

For the casserole:
4 ears corn, kernels removed from cob
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 small onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 stalks celery, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 carrot, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 purple top turnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
A few sprigs fresh thyme
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more for greasing pan and drizzling
1 lb penne or other tubular pasta
1/2 bunch Swiss chard, coarsely chopped
6 oz fresh goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

Season the pork generously with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high, add the pork and brown on all sides, about 10 minutes, then transfer the pork to a plate.

Add onion, carrots, celery, and garlic to Dutch oven. Cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 5minutes. Add wine and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits from bottom of pot. Add chicken stock, rosemary, and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Return the pork to pot along with any accumulated juices and reduce to a gentle simmer. Cover and let cook gently, turning every 30 minutes, until tender, about 2 hours. Let cool enough to handle.

Transfer the meat from liquid to large bowl and pull into 1-inch pieces. Moisten pulled pork with some of the cooking liquid, and set aside. Combine corn, cream, stock, and pinch salt in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook until corn is quite tender, about 4 minutes. Let cool, then purée in blender until smooth, and set aside.

Heat the oven to 375°F. Toss the onion, celery, carrot, parsnips, turnips, and thyme in oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven, tossing occasionally, until lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside.

Toss cooked pasta, braised pork pieces, roasted veggies, and chard in large bowl. Season to taste. Grease a 9-by-11-inch baking dish. Fill halfway up with pasta mixture. Add half of the creamed corn. Repeat until casserole is full and then top with goat cheese and bread crumbs. Drizzle with olive oil and bake until browned, 25–30 minutes.

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