I met Chef Joelle Mollinger, over an Independence Day holiday, on an idyllic day spent boating, on beautiful Skaneateles Lake, in upstate New York. The sky was blue, the water was a bright teal, and our group was happy, and pretty, and (for the most part) gay. But what I remember most was the “snack” that Joelle had prepared for our floating pique-nique – what she modestly described as “a spicy tuna salad“. In addition to being downright delicious, I marveled at the effortless way it wove together flavors and techniques one might associate with the various cuisines of the Francophone – in this case, Provence, Morocco, and French Polynesia.
I was to enjoy Joelle’s cooking twice more, that weekend. The first was at a dinner party she catered at Hollow Leg Hall (my home for the week), where 40 or so guests were treated to such tasty victuals as Grilled Romaine with Bleu Cheese, Balsamic Vinegar, and Cherry Tomatoes; Chicken Tangine with Dried Fruit; Cous Cous with a Panache of Farmed Vegetables; and Grilled Steak with Scallions and Onions.
The next night, one of my hosts and I went to Joelle’s French Bistro – the restaurant that Joelle and her partner, restaurateur Alain Castel, opened in the town of Skaneateles, NY (about a half hour outside of Syracuse) in 2005; after a decade of owning and operating the cozy French bistro, Country Café, in New York’s posh SoHo neighborhood (and for the five years prior to that, Midtown’s 2-star Pigalle).
For dinner, I started with that Grilled Romaine (sublime in its seeming simplicity, where every flavor has a chance to come to the fore), and for my entrée was treated to one of the finest stateside preparations of Steak Tartare (with very crispy Pommes Frites) that I’ve ever eaten.
A little taste of Provence (with a whisper of Morocco woven through), in a quaint cottage, on a hilly country-road, with a patio overlooking a vast meadow, smack-dab in the middle of nowhere; Joelle’s is everything you could want in a bistro: A chef who is both talented and affable; a charming maître d’hôtel who doubles as a very capable table captain (making one heckuva Tartare); and a beautiful setting. What more could you want?
Joelle’s French Bistro
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