Onion Soupe Gratinee

French onion soup is ultimate comfort food in both Western and French cuisine. It’s hearty, it’s warm, it’s comforting, and doused in cheese. What’s not to like?

Variations of onion soups have known to exist in Europe since the Ancient Roman and Greek periods. French onion soup originates back to the 18th century where it all began in Paris, France.

Onions were known as food of the poor, due to their abundance and versatility. Medieval recipes called for cooked onions tossed in water. The simplicity of the entire recipe is what makes it as popular as it is today. Meanwhile, some attribute the recipe to King Louis XV who, returning from a hunt, saw his cupboards were bare except for onions, butter, and champagne, thus came the creation of the French onion soup.

Made from beef broth and caramelized onions, it is placed on a ramekin with Comté cheese, generously sprinkled on top and melted to a brown, buttery crisp. A piece of baguette is drenched in the soup to soak in the rich onion broth. Every bite is a gooey piece of the onion broth-infused baguette, along with a melted, stringy piece of cheese.

A hard cheese like aged Gruyère is key to getting the traditional bubbling crust of cheese; it’s rich, smooth, and melts easily. Although gruyère is preferred, another semi-hard cheese like Emmental can be used, as it used here at Left Bank in our very own version of French onion soup.

Not caramelizing the onions properly will ruin the overall taste of the dish, considering it is the main attraction. They need to be caramelized just enough to get the sweet and savory component.

Nicoise Salade

History

The classic Salad Niçoise, harmonious to the fresh Mediterranean cusine present in the vibrant city of Nice, brings a light blend of produce, fine herbs, and various textures to the plate.

In the late 19th century, this dish originated as a basic combination of tomatoes, anchovies and olive oil, described as “simple food for poor people”. Over time, other fresh and mostly raw ingredients were added to the salad.

Foundations of a Niçoise Salad

Among the variations that are used, but still considered later additions are boiled potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and steamed haricots verts, French for green beans.

A traditional nicoise salad includes equal parts potatoes, string beans, and tomatoes, which are then decorated with capers, olives, and anchovy fillets; all seasoned with oil and vinegar.

A light and refreshing salad that is now served as a main dish, typically includes an assortment of fresh produce and Provencal seasonings. The dressing includes olive oil, vinegar, Provencal herbs, and garlic. Anchovy and mustard are mixed in to taste, lending a slight pungent, tangy kick to the dressing.

Our very own salade nicoise includes seared Ahi, green beans, tomatoes, fingerlings, tapenade, anchovy, roasted bell peppers, and avocado.

While there are countless variations made by locals and famous chefs and its true ingredients are often debated, it is completely up for interpretation. At its heart, the  salade niçoise is meant to be just a refreshing and colorful salad.

Bouillabaisse

Each culture has their own version of seafood stew. We are most familiar with the Italian-American cioppino, but the French have their own fish stew:

Bouillabaisse.

Based out of Marseille in the Provencal region of France, long stands a rich history and tradition behind this fish stew. Bouillabaisse was originally a stew made by Marseille fishermen using the bony rockfish they were unable to sell to restaurants or markets. Then, a concoction of Provencal herbs and spices were simmered with the broth to create this traditional French stew.

An authentic Marseille bouillabaisse must include rascasse, which is a bony rockfish, European conger, and sea robin. According to the Michelin Guide Vert, the four essential elements of a true bouillabaisse are the presence of rascasse, the freshness of the fish, olive oil, and the luxurious saffron.

Bouillabaisse is a classic French fish stew made with a tomato-based seafood broth.

The difference between bouillabaisse and any other fish soup lies in the combination of flavors beyond the seafood stock. A hint of saffron, an accent of zested orange, and a few sliced fennel bulbs and fronds bring out an essence from the seafood that would otherwise remain hidden.

This fusion of unpredictable spices and zest brings the incredible depth of flavor and vibrancy to the bouillabaisse.

 

Traditionally, the broth is served in a soup pot with rouille and croutons and the seafood on a large platter. Rouille is a sauce that consists of olive oil with breadcrumbs, garlic, saffron, and cayenne pepper. It adds a rich garlicky-ness and a creamy mayonnaise consistency, typically added to the bouillabaisse or spread on top of the croutons.

 

A variety of seafood proteins are used, but it is best to vary the textures and flavors. At Left Bank, the dish contains sea bass, mussels, and prawns and a unique twist by adding Pernod, an anise-flavored liquor.

 

The flavor profile on this dish is one you won’t be able to forget.

Brasserie=Beer

White linen-covered tables, outdoor patio, large selection of alcohol, and classic French cuisine.

When one walks into a brasserie, they could expect a large bustling scene with full-service staff along with all of the above offerings.

What makes a brasserie different from a bistro?

A bistro is an intimate, quaint restaurant in an unassuming setting with homestyle cooking. A brasserie is a large, full-service restaurant with a fixed menu and a large selection of drinks. It almost always includes outdoor seating as well. They are open every day of the week and serve the same menu all day. Although most consider these to be slightly nuanced versions of each other, there are some polarizing differences.

History of Brasserie

Brasserie – the word itself is French for ‘brewery’ since there were in-house breweries offered on the premises. In 1901 Chambers’s Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language defined “brasserie” as “in France, any beer-garden or saloon”. In 2000 The New Penguin English Dictionary included this definition of “brasserie”: “a small informal French-style restaurant”.

Evolution of Brasserie

Typically, brasseries today do not offer in-house brewing. Here at Left Bank, it is not as beer-centric, but we still offer a great selection of beer on tap, wine, along with traditional and specialty-crafted cocktails. Some classic offerings at Left Bank are steak tartare, oysters, mussels, charcuterie, and steak frites.

You’ll still be exposed to the traditional brasserie vibe, with a dining experience familiar to that in France. So next time you come into Left Bank, come and enjoy a beer and some steak frites with us!

American Bar: A Brasserie Story

While Left Bank is a French brasserie, some of you may be wondering why the phrase ‘American Bar’ is emblazoned on the exterior of our restaurant.

Just to give a little backstory, a brasserie is typically a French restaurant that offers a large selection of beer and wine. At an American restaurant, you’ll find a full bar with various cocktails and drink offerings.

Left Bank offers a traditional brasserie setting with a full range of drink selections of a modern American restaurant – hence the name ‘American Bar’.

While we have French classics like pastis and lillet, we also offer specialty cocktails like the ‘Cucumber Angelita’, a tequila drink or the ‘Carte Blanche’, which has bourbon. These are drinks that you will not see at a typical French brasserie.

Classics cocktails, such as our LB Martini, margarita, and manhattan are served on our happy hour menu. Here at Left bank, you can enjoy a classic French spread, while still drinking your favorite cocktails. Feel free to join us for your next happy hour or afternoon pick me up!