Le Marais: A Memorable Meal with a Cookbook to Keep the Memories on Your Own Table

Jun 29, 2017 by

It is probably safe to say that, on any given night, there are several kinds of diners to be found at Le Marais kosher restaurant, conveniently located at 150 W 46th Street in the heart of Manhattan’s theater district: There are what can only be called “regulars,” folks like former Senator Joe Lieberman and his wife, Hadassah, Orthodox Jews who unabashedly refer to themselves as “fans” of this iconic brasserie which stands as one of the pioneers of fine kosher dining.

There are tables at which all but one of the male diners is bare-headed. The one with a kippah probably chose Le Marais as a restaurant to which he could bring his non-kosher colleagues, customers, or friends without having to apologize for anything. In fact, according to the Liebermans, former Senator Chris Dodd once said, after being taken to Le Marais, that he had not often enjoyed a steak dinner—kosher or treyf—that could compare.

Then there were people like your humble correspondent and her husband, who made our first foray to Le Marais in mid-June to celebrate our 50th anniversary. That we had chosen wisely was obvious as soon as we were led to the upstairs dining room, designed to look just like an old-fashioned French steakhouse, simultaneously elegant and comfortably homey.

The restaurant itself takes its name from the district of Paris, located on the right side of the Seine River. Although Le Marais literally means “marsh” or “swamp,” it is known primarily as the section of the city that has historically been home to a thriving Jewish community.

Because we had been invited specifically on a Monday night to partake of Le Marais’s barbecue menu, we passed on some of the dishes for which the restaurant is renowned, namely its steak and lamb dinners, accompanied by its celebrated “Le Marais fries.”

One of us started with a quinoa salad, beautifully dressed and arranged on arugula, which sounded somewhat healthy; while the other went all out and ordered the duck confit salad. According to Le Marais executive chef Mark Hennessey, the duck salad can be made with olive oil, but, at his restaurant, the duck legs, skin on, as well as the potatoes and shallots with which they are served, are cooked in duck fat and presented with frisée dressed with the restaurant’s own vinaigrette. Healthy? Not quite, but absolutely delicious.

We then moved on to the main event, a biscuits-to-brisket BBQ sampler for two, which, in addition to the slow-cooked meat, included to-die-for barbecued chicken and a crisp slaw consisting of jicama, cabbage, carrots, and scallions, flavored with cilantro.

It came with a side of breaded macaroni-and-“cheese,” which our delightful server insisted was traditional BBQ fare, but the ersatz cheese did not make it worthwhile.

Desserts were another matter entirely. The tarte aux pommes with crème glacee (apple tart with parve ice cream) was a joy to behold and to eat. And the only way to describe the creamy smooth peanut butter bombe, covered with dark chocolate, is to say that it is probably what is served in heaven.

Last year, Le Marais’s owner, Jose Meirelles, a Portuguese-Catholic immigrant who never cooked anything until he came to the United States in the 1980s, and Mr. Hennessey, co-authored a cookbook that is, in equal parts, a chef’s delight and a 264-page enticement to return again and again to the restaurant.

Titled Le Marais: A Rare Steakhouse…Well Done, the book is in no way a genteel, subtle affair. Rather, Messrs.’ Hennessey and Meirelles tell it as they see it. They are blunt, candid, uncompromising, and straight-forward. In the kitchen, they must be forces of nature.

Their recipes are not simple, but they are intriguing, and the authors make sure the reader knows it.

“Where else but in New York City does a Portuguese immigrant have the guts to open a kosher steakhouse on the biggest possible stage and then have the absolute gall to make it the most successful restaurant of its kind in the country?” says Mr. Hennessey of Mr. Meirelles in the cookbook’s introduction.

The book is published by Gefen, and the best place to purchase it is at the front desk of Le Marais in Manhattan—get Mr. Hennessey to sign a copy for you.

Duck Confit Salad

Duck Confit

8 fresh duck legs, skin on

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 cloves garlic, peeled

12 sprigs thyme

4 cups duck fat, melted just to the point of being able to pour (“if you can’t get duck fat, don’t worry—you can use the same amount of either olive oil or any other vegetable oil”)

Potatoes

2 Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice and held at room temperature in water

2 medium-sized shallots, peeled and thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

2 tsp Le Marais Vinaigrette

Le Marais Vinaigrette

½ small shallot, peeled

1 clove garlic, peeled

2 small bunches flat leaf (Italian) parsley, freshly chopped

2 Tbs honey

¼ cup Dijon mustard

1 cup balsamic vinegar

1½ cups extra virgin olive oil

1½ cups peanut or vegetable oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

To make the vinaigrette, place the shallot, garlic, parsley, honey, mustard, and vinegar in the container of an electric blender. Cover the container with the lid. With the blender running, slowly drizzle in the oils until fully incorporated. Season the vinaigrette with the salt and pepper. If the consistence of the vinaigrette is too thick for your liking, you can thin it with a little water before using.

Preheat the oven to 250⁰ and make the duck confit. Season the duck legs with salt and pepper, and place, skin-side up, in a 12-x-17-inch oven-safe dish. Sprinkle the garlic and thyme over the duck legs. Pour the duck fat over the legs. Don’t worry if the legs aren’t covered in the fat; they will render out more fat as they cook.

Cover the dish with foil and place in the oven for between 2½-3 hours, until the leg meat is very tender. When cooked, remove the pan from the oven. If you aren’t using the duck legs immediately, let them cool and store in the refrigerator. As long as the legs are fully submerged in fat, they should hold for up to three weeks. If you are using the duck legs right away, take the legs out of the pan and strain the fat into a clean container. Allow the fat to cool and set aside.

Place a non-stick, 10-inch pan on the stovetop over medium heat and add about two tablespoons of the reserved duck fat. When the fat has melted and is smoking hot, add the duck legs skin down and let them cook, untouched, until the skin turns brown and crispy. This should take about 1-2 minutes. Once the skin is fully browned, turn the legs over and sear the meat side. If the skin sticks to the bottom of the pan when you try to turn the leg over, it’s not done searing. You may need to cook the duck legs in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan. Once all of the duck has been seared, set aside until ready to use.

To make the potatoes, add another three tablespoons of the duck fat to the same pan and then add the potatoes. Cook until the potatoes are browned on all sides. Once browned, add the shallots and garlic and cook until brown. Season with salt and pepper. Add the vinaigrette to the pan and toss together with the potatoes to lightly coat.

To serve 8, dress 3 rinsed heads of frisée with Le Marais Vinaigrette and divide the salad evenly among 8 plates. Place a crispy duck leg on top of the frisée and garnish each plate with potatoes and some parsley (use 1 small bunch flat leaf—Italian—parsley, leaves only, thinly sliced).

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