I sometimes wonder if I might have been French in a past life because I’m always on the hunt for authentic country terrine, duck confit, or cassoulet. When our family visited friends in France, my idea of sightseeing included trips to local Carrefour supermarkets and a Paris shopping excursion which culminated in the basement bistro of the Galeries Lafayette (the French version of Neiman Marcus) eating (what else?) foie gras. Imagine what a pleasant surprise for me to find a French bistro right in downtown Pelham! Even better was that I spent the day behind the kitchen door with chef Manny Lozano of Bistro Rollin.
Restaurant: Bistro Rollin
Description: What a pretty restaurant! The dark wood walls, complete with inlaid panels, are complemented by the French doors throughout. They not only separate the various dining areas but also keep the space light and open. The two cozy built-in window seat nooks offer a view to the 20 seat al fresco dining area. Inside, the two spacious dining rooms offer seating for about 90.
If you are wondering about the origin of the restaurant name, Rue Rollin was the street where owners Barbara and Arthur Bratone lived during their time in France. It’s no wonder that they have described Pelham as NYC’s 5th arrondissement!
Cuisine: Although described as American Bistro, the menu most definitely has a traditional French slant. The selections change seasonally, and specials vary from day to day.
Owners: Neighborhood locals Barbara and Arthur Bratone opened Bistro Rollin almost four years ago, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that we share a love for all things French. Arthur has spent almost a lifetime traveling back and forth to France for business and pleasure, with the icing on the gâteau (ummm, cake) being the couple’s six month stint living in Paris in 2008 (so jealous!). Along with their son, Paul, who is usually front and center at the restaurant welcoming guests, it’s not surprising that this family has succeeded in capturing that quaint bistro experience at Bistro Rollin.
Executive chef: Chef Manny Lozano’s passion for food goes way back to when he was just a teenager working in White Plains restaurants. His first serious position was at the Doral Arrowwood Hotel in Rye Brook, but that was just a stepping stone to leap to NYC where he worked under some culinary powerhouses like Charlie Palmer and André Soltner. He has been around the kitchen block a few times working with Wayne Nish at March (that’s where he cooked for Julia Child) and Jean-Michel Bergougnoux at L’Absinthe. Coming back closer to home, he lent his chef friend Chris Eddy a hand in opening Winvian in Litchfield Hills, CT. So, when the Bratones were looking for an opening chef for their new bistro, they couldn’t have made a better choice placing Manny in charge of their kitchen. What does chef Lozano look for when he’s hiring potential restaurant candidates? Passion for their craft; he believes true passion can trump experience.
Sous chef: The young sous chef, Eric Mauro, was overflowing with energy when he arrived to start his day in the kitchen. He hails from Brazil where he attended culinary school and comes with the impressive credentials of interning at Restaurante Martin Berasategui, a three-star Michelin restaurant in San Sebastian, Spain. He’s been an integral part of Bistro Rollin since it opened and continues to bring a level of experience and focus I found quite unique for his age.
Kitchen staff: Osmar Lopez, Israel Osorio, and Minor Lopez are the hard working kitchen team diligently assisting chefs Lozano and Mauro.
Signature dish: It’s a toss up between two classics: The Bistro Frisée Salad with bacon, garlic, and a poached egg dressed with vinaigrette and the Onion Soup Gratin complete with croutons, a combination of veal and chicken stock, and a duo of Emmental and Gruyère cheeses. Chef Lozano’s secret to creating a signature dish is starting with great ingredients and being conscientious not to rush the process.
Bar scene: The new R Bar was recently unveiled after a renovation in which the front door was shifted to the center of the restaurant creating a better entryway. The bar is mix of light and dark woods, a sleek granite countertop, and wrought iron stools.
Build it and they will come, as my husband and I immediately chose to have dinner at one of the comfy window seats in the bar area. More than a few other diners also gravitated to the space to enjoy an after work meal and some friendly conversation.
Turning up the heat: In this extremely tight kitchen, they’ve managed to squeeze in some major fire power. Between two Southbend and two Vulcan ranges, there are 24 burners and four ovens ready and waiting.
There’s an overhead broiler and a double fryer which turns out oh so heavenly hand-cut, twice fried frites — both crunchy and creamy at the same time.
Sous chef’s favorite dish: Eric’s favorite is the hearty, warm-you-up Cassoulet. It is a winter dish of a slow cooked mix of duck confit, slab bacon, lamb shank, veal shoulder, garlic sausage, and white beans.
Most complicated dish on the menu: The Duck and Foie Gras Pâté a l’Orange is pretty high on the difficulty scale. This dish starts with grinding up two cuts of pork, the loin and belly. What’s added in next is something called a panade to keep the meat moist. This is a simple paste of bread and milk, but it sparked an interesting discussion between chef Lozano and me (more on this below in the Secret Ingredient section). The most decadent step in the pâté process is the addition of slices of foie gras and duck breast. The pièce de résistance is the orange zest to give it that citrus essence.
Now, once all the ingredients have been combined, the mixture is put into rectangular ceramic terrines lined with plastic wrap (for ease of removal when done) and covered with duck skin.
The terrines were placed in a bain marie (pan with water) and cooked in the oven for a few hours.
Out of the oven, cooled and unmolded, the end result is what makes all the hard work so worth it. I had the pâté for lunch, and this dish sent me directly to my happy place.
Secret ingredient: My idea of a secret ingredient is the milk and bread panade that Manny used in his pâté. Why, you ask? Because I unabashedly believe that it is a panade that makes my meatloaf the best on the planet. And I figured if it worked in meatloaf, why not try it in meatballs, stuffed cabbage, or even hamburgers. Yup, all with the same result — moist and tender meat. But, I’ve always been curious as to what the food science/behind-the-scenes magic reason was to how/why it actually worked. A little research on my part turned up some interesting facts. Manny’s theory that it had to do with an enzyme reaction between the milk and meat was absolutely correct. Calcium and lactic acid in the milk has some sort of an effect on meat enzymes in the process of breaking down proteins and softening collagen (the tough connective tissue that turns to rich gelatin during low and slow cooking — think tender fall apart beef short ribs). It amazes me that something soooooo simple as bread and milk can make such a huge difference!
Chef’s culinary mentor: The experience of working with chef Jean-Michel Bergougnoux at NYC’s classic French brasserie L’Absinthe branded chef Lozano, but in the very best way. Chef Bergougnoux’s work ethic and standards instilled in his team that there was only one way to do things — HIS WAY. This meant that Manny learned to work at a level of excellence that was extremely challenging. Attention to detail was embraced and demanded, insuring that the final product would be consistent and exact every single time. How could these culinary lessons not influence Manny’s own standards today? He is constantly striving for perfection because he feels anything less would be a disgrace to chef Bergougnoux.
Favorite kitchen gadget: A handy tool for the chefs in this kitchen is the Microplane grater used for zesting lemons or grating nutmeg. Here’s a fun fact — Microplane is a registered trademark of Grace Manufacturing Inc., a company that makes precision metal parts (high tech tool and die) like watch faces, speaker grills, locksmith tools and, believe it or not, food graters. The Microplane was originally a carpenter’s wood rasp that chefs started smuggling into their kitchens.
Adding to the growing list of mystery gadgets in this category, Manny placed this item on the counter:
He slyly asked me if I knew what this was for. Okay, it looks like a teeny tiny dinner bell with out a clapper. Since the top of this instrument pulls up, maybe it’s a type of suction cup? Sadly, that was the best I could do. Well, here’s the deal: it’s an egg cutter. Who knew there could be so many ways to cut an egg? Manny placed the bell-shaped bottom on top of the egg and pulled that plunger top back. When he released the top, the force cracked the egg top clean off. Simple and efficient!
What’s on the prep list: First task was prepping the ingredients for the rhubarb chutney which is served with the Roast Long Island Duck Breast. Slicing and dicing up rhubarb, orange peel, and onions was generally a simple task.
Then, the evil mandoline made a scary, but necessary, appearance — cue maniacal laugh maniacal laugh
I firmly believe that kitchen gremlins steal the plastic guards for these mandolines since the guards are always missing.
So carefully, very carefully, I sliced up garlic and ginger.
(Kitchen tip: Manny demonstrated that the easiest method to peel ginger is to use a spoon to scrape off the tough exterior).
The chutney starts with cooking the onions, orange peel, garlic, and ginger in a mix of vinegar and sugar. When those ingredients softened, in went spices like cloves, bay leaves, cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, and star anise.
The raisins were added and last to go in was the rhubarb since it cooks so quickly.
The final result is a tangy sweet companion to the rich duck breast.
What’s cooking in the kitchen now: Manny was getting all his chicks in a row (literally) for a special Moroccan Chicken Tagine dish he was preparing to complement a showing of Casablanca at the Pelham Picture House. First, he browned up all the legs and thighs. Then, the chicken got an aromatic braise in chicken stock, saffron, fennel, thyme, cilantro, onions, carrots, garlic, and a special variety of chili pepper from the Pyrénées called espelette. He added almonds and dates for sweetness at the end, and the dish was finished with sliced olives and fennel flowers which came directly from Lieb’s Organic Farm in New Rochelle.
Music: Personally, I like to listen to some music as I work, but I can surely understand that during service it can be annoyingly distracting. This is a quiet kitchen, but I did notice that sous chef Eric was plugged into his IPod as he was working before service. What’s on the playlist? One of my favorites, Lady Gaga, but I’m not sure I agree with his description of mellow!
Pet peeve: Tasting is imperative in chef Lozano’s kitchen. He wants his team to taste dishes at least five times consecutively to make sure the seasonings and balance of a dish is perfect. Seasoning correctly was an important lesson which Manny learned while working with Wayne Nish at March Restaurant. Chef Nish felt was it was better to have two customers say a dish was too salty than for a hundred to say it was bland.
My random insights: Bistro Rollin has been involved in some seriously cool foodie events. In 2011, for the sake of inspiration, taste sensation, and French immersion, Arthur and Paul Bratone and chef Lozano embarked on a six day 12 bistro road trip thru Paris (they chronicled their adventures right here on Small Bites). Then, last February, the restaurant hosted a dinner for elBulli restaurant royalty, Toni Massanés and Jaume Biarnés. Not too much pressure, cooking for colleagues of Ferran Adrià, the man who has been described as the world’s greatest chef. Chefs Lozano and Mauro accepted the challenge brilliantly with this amazing menu.
At the end of my day, my husband met me for an after behind the kitchen door dinner (being married to a food blogger comes with great responsibility, like enduring picturing snapping and note taking throughout your meal). We were thrilled when Manny offered to put together a little something for us — a chef’s tasting menu highlighting the dishes we worked on during the day. It was a true cross-section of what Bistro Rollin is all about. Each plate was beautifully balanced, lovely to look at and even better to enjoy. Some immediate favorites were the hands-down best we’ve ever had Pork Belly, which was simultaneously crisp, melty, and rich, and the tender Roasted Duck Breast with that rhubarb chutney as the perfect partner. Until we can get a taste-a-vision app, this visual will have to do.
Details: Bistro Rollin, 142 Fifth Avenue, Pelham. 914.633.0780. Bistro Rollin is open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 2:30 pm and Sunday brunch, 9:30 am to 3 pm. Dinner is served Tuesday through Sunday starting at 5 pm.
Patrice Costa is a passionate foodie who is on a personal culinary mission to learn it all from local chefs. She looks forward to sharing her experiences as she goes behind the kitchen door in some of her favorite restaurant kitchens. When not on blogging assignments, she can be found happily working in the kitchen of Harvest on Hudson.