It’s time to get out the blue, white and red flags this month. It’s Independence Day for France.
Bastille Day occurred on July 14,1789 and marked an important time in Paris as well as throughout the entire country. The historic clash sparked a violent revolution that began two days earlier along with the Fête de la Fédération that celebrated the unity of the French people on July 14, 1790.
Today it’s a holiday, the raison de se réjouir — a time to sing, dine and raise a toast everywhere in the name of peace. We need to conjure up Edith Piaf, Josephine Baker, Julia Child and perhaps a dash of Jerry Lewis (the French adored him).
Before the spirit of the day spreads from The Statue of Liberty to Place de la Bastille, I visited one of the most popular restaurants for expatriates, travelers and locals in the know: Gaby Brasserie Française in midtown Manhattan.
Born in Rouen and trained in Bourdeaux, Paris, etc., Chef Sylvain Harribey, has many accolades and awards. However, most importantly he brings to the table the traditions of his family and the community of his youth. “I challenge myself to discover new ways to refine classic French cooking, preparation and flavors,” he tells me. “I like to bring the freshest items available from the market and I enjoy it when our diners mention their appreciation for something that I created. The people who visit Gaby Brasserie know what to expect but there is often a surprise or two.”
The restaurant currently has a special menu to celebrate the occasion. Following is a tasting of what Chef Harribey and his professional team will be offering. It is inspired by the Potager du Roi — the famed kitchen garden of Louis XIV at the Palace of Versailles — an à la carte smorgasbord of my favorites for you to try in the coming weeks.
I recommend that you start with the Brunetta Tomato Salad: Brunetta tomato, burrata, Dijon pesto olive oil and radishes. This appetizer is sumptuous and complex with a deep, rich and flavorful Brunetta tomato whose coloring could make a plum jealous; it bursts with flavors: sweet, tart and earthy. The dish is topped with burrata cheese that is less salty than Mozzarella and the consistency is softer and creamier. The snap from the radish adds the perfect bite and crunch to this dish.
The Salmon Tartare is made with fresh, smoked salmon, cilantro, shallots and ginger — the dish is as balanced and colorful as a Toulouse-Lautrec painting. It comes with sweet peas, an edible flower and heirloom tomatoes then topped with micro greens. The blend of flavors and textures is one for the French history if not culinary books.
Maine Lobster & Avocado: Fresh lobster, avocado and sauce Aurore. The American crustacean and the Mexican fruit come together with a very French twist — it is beautifully served over a bed of cucumbers and radish. The combination of chilled flavors danced on my taste buds like a ballet. If you are in the mood for a little seafood, this appetizer is very pleasing to the palate. The sweet lobster and robust avocado make for a very good partnership.
With a spin on the soup/drink from Andalucía, Chef Harribey puts his stamp on the traditional summer favorite, Gazpacho. In Seville, they serve it very cold and often in a tall slender glass like a beverage. Here you will receive it in a bowl brimming with the tangy essence of tomato, garlic and seasonal vegetables but also a melon-ball size of sorbet for a little sweetness and extra chill. Delicious.
“I grew up in a region where they raised ducks. My mother used to buy the whole duck with the feathers and all. We could then make the foie gras, duck confit, paté, etc. Of course this was mostly for a special occasion: Birthday, Christmas, New Years… We do not eat foie gras every day. It reminds me of family gatherings and many happy occasions,” said Chef Harribey.
Duck Breast Entrée is skinless seared duck breast, red organic rice, baby spinach and carrots plus sauce à l’orange. The chef has created a healthier dish with fewer calories and removed many of the fatty elements without losing any flavor. To celebrate I also suggest that you share a little of the Foie gras au torchon marinated with cognac and accompanied with ginger marmalade and grilled country bread. Superb.
The Bronzini is a pan-seared filet that rests over Italian coucous with parmesan, spring relish and green jus. Moist, flaky and a pinch salty, the parmesan cheese does not overpower the fish while the colorful spring relish adds a refreshing and picante element to the entire dish.
How can you dine in a French establishment and refuse dessert?
Always save room for a little pastry. I am not a fan of the macaroon, however, I will storm a Bastille or bakery for a delicious mousse.
Bastille Day is this Thursday, July 14th.
Gaby Brasserie Française
44 West 45th Street,
New York, NY
NYC Restaurant Week runs from July 25th thru August 19th.
While the history of all of our nations have endured injustice, strife and unrest, I still believe that we all are at our very best when we share our different cultures and gather around a table with great food, music, joy, laughter and perhaps a glass of French champagne.