Restaurant News & Reviews

When in Hollywood, do as the French do

From the top, baked brie and apple slices, French onion soup and a crab cake at Bistro 1902, Hollywood.
From the top, baked brie and apple slices, French onion soup and a crab cake at Bistro 1902, Hollywood.

The Place: Bistro 1902 on Hollywood Boulevard has a rustic interior with brick walls, a small bar in back, black leather banquettes plus a large sidewalk patio under an awning with a planter filled with foliage. There is a gigantic chalkboard on one wall listing wines. It has a warm and inviting feeling; dress up or come casual. French songs on the soundtrack help transport one to a bistro in France, but not so loudly you can’t converse. Lighting is low and flattering unless you sit by a front window in daytime.

The History: Owner and chef Karim Laitaoui was born in Paris, where his grandfather ran a bistro. His mother was also a great cook, making Sunday suppers for the whole family. At 18 he left for Guadalajara, Mexico, to study marketing. He then went to Vancouver and did time in French, Italian and Mexican restaurants, working his way up from busboy to chef. He went to New York and worked at an upscale Dominican restaurant then returned to Mexico to open a crepe shop, sold it, and came to South Florida to visit a friend and stayed working at Paul’s Bakery and the former Bal Harbour Bistro. One night, he and his wife planned to dine at an Argentine steakhouse and saw it was for lease. After remodeling the space, he opened five years ago; he recently streamlined the menu and added some new dishes. He also makes all the crepes and desserts.

The Food: Here’s where to find traditional French bistro dishes as well as bang bang shrimp; a club salad with bacon, tomato and blue cheese; mushroom risotto and pasta carbonara. At breakfast there are sweet and savory crepes. Try the Benedict with bacon; Parisian with ham, mushrooms and brie; Florentine with spinach, chicken and Parmesan or a fresh fruit crepe. At lunch or dinner start with escargots with butter and parsley; fried frog legs; a charcuterie and cheese platter; brie and apple slices baked in feuille de brick (like phyllo). Entrees include the bistro burger; duck confit with potato gratin and mushroom sauce; sole beurre blanc; classic beef bourguignon cooked for hours in red wine; and a half Maine lobster with mashed potatoes and asparagus. The secret to getting bouillabaisse not on the current menu, is to order the lobster bisque and ask for an upgrade; they will add lobster, shrimp, mahi, mussels, potatoes and seasonal vegetables. For dessert a tray is brought to every table and you choose from mango mousse, salty caramel lava cake and walnut and banana clafouti.

You Didn’t Know This: The seafood soup bouillabaisse originated in Greece. The Phoceans, an ancient Greek people, founded Marseille in 600 BC in what is now France. They made and enjoyed a simple fish stew known in Greek as kakavia. A soup similar to bouillabaisse also appears in Roman mythology: It is the dish Venus fed her husband Vulcan to lull him to sleep while she consorted with Mars. The word comes from bouillon abaisse meaning “to reduce by evaporation” by boiling fish in seawater to form a ragout.

Linda Bladholm is a Miami-based food blogger and writer and creator of Mermaid Sea Salt and Indian Spiced Toffee, available at Cream Parlor, 8224 Biscayne Blvd.

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