Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Restaurant review: Piquant provides the spice of life

Hyde Park’s Piquant evolves beyond a patisserie to offer unique French-accented flavors.

Posted By on Wed, Apr 23, 2014 at 2:19 PM

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click to enlarge Pear tarte tatin. - CHIP WEINER
  • Chip Weiner
  • Pear tarte tatin.

The name Piquant translates quite literally as “having a pleasantly sharp taste or appetizing flavor” and “pleasantly stimulating or exciting to the mind.” This is the self-professed ethos behind all the innovative menu options at this Hyde Park gem.

It’s also apparent in the handsome room divided by a long, high black-padded banquette (topped with glowing rows of tall fat candles) that bisects the space. There’s live music and lots of clear plexiglas chairs to catch the light, making the room sparkle. The restaurant first made a splash last year with its fabulous French patisserie and chef Ricardo Castro’s version of a croissant-donut hybrid that originated in NYC with the trademarked name “Cronut.” As the bakery and lunch service grew, Castro and his partner Rosana Rivera opened for dinner service from Thursday to Saturday just a few short weeks ago.

click to enlarge CHIP WEINER
  • Chip Weiner

The starter side of the menu features yummy sharing plates, flatbreads and slightly larger petit plates. Oh my, what to do? Despite other intriguing gourmet flatbread combinations of chorizo-goat cheese, duck confit and roasted veggies with port reduction, we decide to take the classic tomato and pepperoni combo for a test drive. Piquant passes with flying colors. Roasted tomato and paper-thin pepperoni slices top gooey smoked mozzarella on a thin, crisp rectangular crust. The whole delicious thing is dotted with microgreens and cut into bite-size squares that are perfect for sharing, just as advertised.

Soup du jour on our visit is a luscious crawfish bisque, all tawny and velvety, full of N’awlins-style flavor where the heat kicks in after you swallow and lingers in the back of your throat like a great wine. Serious soup with serious flavor. We are happy campers thus far.

When the tableside-smoked, seared U-10 scallops arrive and the server lifts the white porcelain dome covering the shellfish, the arresting smell of seductive char hits your nostrils. Not only are the scallops huge (U-10 means “under 10 per pound”) and perfectly cooked, but they rest on a lush ratatouille that would meet the standards of even the most particular animated Parisian rodent. Floating atop the mollusks is another miracle of modernist cuisine: blood orange “air,” an intensely flavored, barely-there foam that adds just a hint of bright citrus to the amazingly tender scallops.

click to enlarge Seared U-10 scallops smoked tableside. - CHIP WEINER
  • Chip Weiner
  • Seared U-10 scallops smoked tableside.

A burger “Americain” is made from spectacularly marbled Japanese Wagyu beef topped with your choice of cheese (we chose sharp cheddar) and thick-cut applewood smoked bacon that itself has enough flavor to leave you weak-kneed. A handcrafted challah bun, with a golden dome worthy of the beef, cradles the burger cooked to medium per the USDA. I’d prefer medium rare, but it’s juicy nonetheless. A slice of beefsteak tomato, arugula and mild fresh pickles are on the side. A huge basket of traditional, properly crisp fries adds to the allure.

The fresh catch is sweet mahi mahi with a golden pan sear nested in creamy risotto, which retains a distinct white wine edge. It marries with a Provençal sauce evoking the tomatoes and garlic of the French countryside that finishes with delicate heat from Serrano chilies. In a word, it is delightfully “piquant.”

Pan-seared Scottish salmon is flaky, moist and well balanced by a sweet and sour passion fruit beurre blanc. The butter sauce is lush, with just the right bite from the fruit to complement the fattiness of the fish.

Piquant’s rack of lamb comes from the Everest of suppliers, Niman Ranch. The succulent ribs are cooked sous vide, another modernist technique that produces perfect proteins through a low-temp water bath. Each tender, juicy chop comes alive with a dollop of bright mint pistou that dances on your tongue.

Both the salmon and lamb are accompanied by mashed potatoes flavored with leeks and thyme, and a colorful trio of white, orange and purple heirloom carrots. The herb-leek mix enhances the spuds, and the multicolored root veggies add savory crunch. In each case, they provide a welcome extra dimension of texture and flavor to these lovely dishes.

The dessert menu is so enticing it’s hard to settle on which ones to sample. We finally decide on the raspberry charlotte bombe, which wraps intense berry mousse in light cake and garnishes it with a bright red sunburst fashioned from melted sugar. It is scrumptious.

Even better is the pear tarte tatin, which layers sweet caramelized slices of ripe fruit on a crunchy macadamia crust. The whole thing is topped with decadent smoked-salted caramel ice cream and surrounded by a pool of creme anglaise with a daisy chain of chocolate hearts.

Piquant is not to be missed. Whether you need to see what the “Cronut” knockoff is all about or just taste some of the best French-inflected bistro fare this side of the pond, chefs Rivera and Castro passionately deliver what they promise: “authentic epicurean cuisine.” Luckily, Hyde Park Village has plenty of garage parking for the crowds that are sure to follow. 

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