Had a great meal with Hagan Blount, the Wandering Foodie Sunday night at Bistro les Minots in Astoria. Hagan is on a project to eat at 93 restuarants in January with food bloggers from all over NYC. I do not envy his project at all. First, I can’t stomach 3 meals a day. I’m more of a grazer. Second, the richness of 93 restaurants is ridiculous. If I were to give him a gift to celebrate at the conclusion, I would give him celery sticks. Whether he lives to February 1st or not, I was honored that he would request my company at BlesM.
It’s a cool program. Meeting food bloggers from all over NYC. Hagan is a great entrepreneur and this project could be a springboard for many other ventures. Think about all the link love and networking from the bloggers and restaurants alone.
First of all, I love Queens. Rarely any tourist bullshit. One of the owners, Henri, shared most of our conversation that night. He told me he lives in Astoria by the water. He worked in France for a while and managed NYC French restaurants for over a decade. He’s tired of the bullshit moulles frites in garlic white wine sauce and roast chicken in every other French restaurant in the city. He will refuse to make it, it’s just not his thing – although he’s not against a challenge from a freestyling patron.
As usual, I barely glanced at the menu and instead told the owner, “I like everything. I don’t have any particular feelings right now and am completely open. What do you think I should get?” Henri rattled off some recommendations and 2010 started wonderfully.
Cuisses de Grenouilles en Persillade – Frog legs. If you haven’t had frog legs before, the hardest part is actually ordering them and awaiting the reaction from the crowd. Some say they taste like chicken, but they just look like a small one’s wings. The taste is light and rightfully a cross between the meat of a small bird and an unmuscular fresh water fish without the flaking. This version reminded me of my favorite kind of wings, garlic parmesan.
Escargots de Bourgogne – which is snails in a garlic, parsley, shallots red wine reduction sauce inside of a biscuit. Dreamy stuff. Henri likened the snails to a sponge-like consistency. This was true, but my palate focused on the combination of the flaky, puff pastry, the smooth snail texture and the deep flavor of the sauce.
Les Travers De Boeuf Braises – which are braised short ribs in a red wine sauce. I was quoted on Hagan’s review as saying (in a typical American voice)”I didn’t know the French had short ribs.” Well, from my memory, what was actually said was “Excuse me, kind gentleman Monsieur Henri, I don’t usually associate the French with short ribs, but this version is excellent and I thank you for this recommendation.” And they were great, I wasn’t just kissing up to him. The fat on the ribs were incredible. Absolutely melted in my mouth. The added flavoring was strong, but did not overpower the de-boned ribs themselves. This inspires me to start braising.
Moules Frites Maracaines – which are Moroccan style mussels. Henri explained that some of their cooking is of Southern France which has some African influence. The broth with these mussels had chick peas, merguez sausage, tomato and Moroccan spices like cumin and coriander. I completely dug them. This led to a discussion of What is the best way to eat mussels? Hagan preferred to take every mussel out of the shell and put them in the broth, creating a soup with no shells. I, on the other hand, prefer to use the shells themselves as scooping devices, lifting the soup out of the bowl with the mussel’s own shell. Using nature’s utensils makes me feel one with the earth, plus there is an added flavor from the shell itself.
This reminded me of the first time I fell in love with mussels while at SUNY Binghamton at Tony’s Italian Grill in Endicott. Which is in stark contrast to most women who say it was when they first saw me without my shirt…
For dessert we had: a duo of expresso and vanilla creme brulee and an apple tart -The creme brulee’s were strong. I couldn’t get over it. I liked the crust on the apple tart. It smoothed me over. Didn’t tart me out at all.
I find that taking pictures removes me from the situation too often. In the same way that art takes the functionality out of an object, a picture can take the passion of eating out of the meal. Here, I just wanted to enjoy the food and meet a new person so I didn’t take pictures, but now I kinda wish I had. Oh well, looks like I’ll have to come back… I let Hagan take the brunt of reporting duties. You can see his entire report here.
Everything was great. I’d been waiting for a special occasion to come here actually. We talked about how I didn’t want to go on a throwaway date with someone I didn’t care about to a place like this. Not only the money, but I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on either the food or the person. Going out royally would interrupt both, ruining my digestion and probably chances of another date. If I do take someone here, it would be a person I’m comfortable with and probably intending for motherhood (or on someone else’s dime). But now that I’ve gone, I don’t even care about special occasions, I just want to go again – most likely by myself so I can focus.
The more time you spend in BlesM, the more you see how homey and a labor of love the restaurant is for them. Before Hagan arrived, I got a chance to talk things over with one of the owners, Henri, at length. Among the things we talked about was how the economy was affecting business, and it was a shame that he didn’t see his family as often as he’d like. Later, looking at the restaurant’s website, I saw pictures of Henri with his wife and baby – and it’s pretty sad for him to be away from them while we were holding down the restaurant by ourselves. I wish them the best and they deserve the best.
We were showed the beautiful backroom. Looked like a speakeasy. The styling is all Yann and Henri and they even made the bar and the non-uniform tables themselves. Of course I love it. It reminded me of the pride my middle school science teacher, who worked for Grumman, spoke about how his fingerprints were on the moon.
I would love to see this restaurant bustling, everyone enjoying beautiful French cuisine done with integrity. French is something uncommon to Queens and there is no reason this should not be a destination spot. Why it isn’t yet could be the economy or maybe word hasn’t spread fast enough. Whatever it is, it’s a treasure chest. Super lovely. I look forward to a reason to come back here regularly.
One of the best parts of eating here was that it inspired so many memories and thoughts. You can tell by the length of this post. The flavors were deep and complex and the pace was encouraging to relax. This is how we should eat. Where too.