A Summer Menu from Chefs Todd and Jessica

By Layne Lynch
Photography by Knoxy

Lenoir’s seductive spin on French-infused warm-weather cuisine, extensive international beverage list and cozy shabby-chic decor have been luring legions of diners to the South First Street district since January 2012. Now, with an impressive and ever-expanding list of media accolades under the restaurant’s belt, there’s even more reason to pay a visit. But the most compelling draw to dine at Lenoir is the chance to behold the talents of owners and chefs Todd Duplechan and Jessica Maher.

The husband-and-wife team entered the Austin culinary scene in 2007 after individually building impressive résumés in New York City restaurants like Danube, Tabla and Jacques Torres. Before debuting Lenoir last year, Maher worked with Dai Due’s Jesse Griffiths while Duplechan showcased his adventurous cuisine at TRIO at the Four Seasons Hotel Austin. Yet, like most resolute, ingenious chefs, the couple craved a place to call their own. Enter Lenoir.

Lenoir-Outside

Flashing forward, the whirlwind success of the restaurant has amplified and solidified Maher and Duplechan’s individual and collective talents. But with that vindication has come an immense amount of pressure and expectation, too. “There are definitely days when I feel like we can’t add another single thing to our plate,” says Maher. “But in the end, we’re both hard workers who love what we do. We’re always thinking about how we can continue to stay relevant and creative, and I think that’s what people appreciate most about Lenoir.”

Managing a restaurant with a co-owner and partner is difficult enough without the added intensity of love and marriage, but the duo somehow makes the challenge seem effortless. “I can be a major stress ball,” Maher says, “but Todd is cool as a cucumber, so it works for us. I’ve seen other couples fall apart after opening restaurants together, but being married to my business partner and the father of my child is actually a blessing. We get a creative outlet and we get to create our own unique identity. I find a lot of beauty in that.”

Once a week, the couple escapes the chaos of the kitchen to spend the day together with their toddler, Hollis. On those cherished days, they wind down by preparing light, no-fuss meals like stir-fries and pastas. “We definitely like to keep it simple when we’re home,” Maher admits. “We shop at the farmers market, go on bike rides, walk the dogs. It’s definitely relaxing.”

Lenoir-Toast

For summer, Maher and Duplechan are spotlighting light, acidic and complex-but-not-fussy fare at Lenoir. “During the summer, we like to focus on cold, spicy, light dishes and pair them with crisp wines like rosés and rieslings,” Maher says. “We actually try to have as few hot dishes coming out of the kitchen as possible. Summer is definitely not as diverse or ideal as some of the other seasons, but we appreciate the challenge it presents.”

Enjoy this multicourse peek at the genius that is Lenoir’s team Maher-Duplechan, along with recipe notes by Maher.

A SUMMER MENU FROM LENOIR

 


FIRST COURSE


SUMMER BEAN SALAD WITH TOMATO-PASILLA WATER,
SMOKED MUSHROOMS AND ROASTED SQUASH

Serves 4

This salad takes a lot of summer vegetables and combines them in such a way that each one has a starring role, depending on your bite. The tomato water has an intensity of tomatoes enhanced by the smoky pasilla and mushrooms.

For the tomato-pasilla water:

1 qt. chopped overripe tomatoes
½ of a shallot
1 basil stem with leaves
½ c. white cooking wine
1 whole pasilla chili, steeped in hot water until soft
2 t. tequila
Salt and pepper, to taste

For the bean salad:

1 c. purple hull peas, blanched
½ lb. Chinese long beans, trimmed and blanched
2 medium-size pattypan squashes, cut into 8 pieces each and roasted
¼ lb. oyster mushrooms, smoked over mesquite chips, then
  roasted quickly in a pan
¼ lb. cherry tomatoes, charred over a flame
3 T. olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Turk’s cap flower petals, to garnish

Combine the tomato-pasilla water ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Using several layers of cheesecloth and a strainer, strain slowly in the refrigerator overnight (you can also use an old T-shirt, but make sure it’s clean, of course!). The next day, the tomato water should be a slightly orange hue or a clear liquid that smells and tastes strongly of smoky tomatoes.

For the bean salad, combine all of the vegetables with a little of the tomato water and the olive oil and salt and pepper, then divide into 4 bowls and top with a few petals of Turk’s cap.

Suggested wine pairing: Adami Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Frizzante Sur Lie, Italy, 2011

 

Lenoir-Snapper
SECOND COURSE

VERMILLION SNAPPER CEVICHE WITH
CANARY MELON, AVOCADO PUREE AND PAPADAM

Serves 4

We have to make a concerted effort to keep the menu light and cooling over the summer—not only because it’s hot outside, but because our tiny little restaurant heats up inside pretty quickly even with our multiple air conditioners cranking out cool air. This dish is a good example of what we like to think of as “hot weather food,” with cooling melon, chilies and lightly cured Gulf vermillion snapper (or red snapper will work perfectly). It’s sweet, spicy, acidic and a touch fatty with the avocado—just delicious!

1 canary melon, peeled, seeded and cut into ½-in. dice
½ c. fresh lime juice
8 oz. fillet of vermillion snapper, thinly sliced
1 ripe avocado
3 serrano peppers, seeded and stemmed
1 orange, juiced
Salt and pepper, to taste
Papadam (chickpea flour crisps available at Indian markets)
Pickled shallots and Thai basil leaves and flowers, to garnish

Puree ¼ of the melon chunks with the lime juice and use the mixture to marinate the snapper for 10 to 15 minutes. In the meantime, combine the avocado, serranos and orange juice in a blender and blend until smooth. Strain the marinade from the snapper and combine it with the avocado puree and season with salt and pepper. Mix the snapper with the avocado puree. Place the papadam crisps onto 4 plates, top each with some of the snapper mixture and garnish with the rest of the melon chunks and the pickled shallots and Thai basil leaves and flowers.

Suggested wine pairing: Nikolaihof Grüner Veltliner “Hefeabzug” Wachau, Austria, 2011

 

Lenoir-Black-Drum
THIRD COURSE

POHA-CRUSTED BLACK DRUM WITH
TOMATO-KALONJI CURRY AND FRESH ARUGULA

Serves 4

This dish makes good use of tomatoes that may not look pretty, but have terrific flavor. We like to crust one side of the fish we’re using with poha, or flattened rice flakes, for texture and the scaly look of it. The tomato curry in this dish is really the star, and the arugula adds a nice peppery, fresh bite to offset all of the roasted flavor and spice.

For the tomato-kalonji curry:

1 sweet yellow onion, diced
4 shallots, diced
6-in. piece of ginger,
  peeled and minced
1 T. grapeseed oil
16 medium-size tomatoes,
stemmed and quartered
2 bay leaves
2 T. cumin seed
4 T. coriander seed
1 T. fenugreek seed
2 T. turmeric
4 cloves, whole
2 T. onion seed (also
  known as nigella seeds)
1 T. Tabasco sauce
3 T. fish sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste

For the black drum fish:

1 c. poha flakes
4 boneless, skinless black
  drum fish fillets
Salt and pepper, to taste
Grapeseed oil
2 T. unsalted butter
1 bunch fresh arugula, washed and dried

Prepare the curry. In a saucepan, sweat the onion, shallot and ginger in the grapeseed oil over medium-high heat. Add the tomatoes and cook down. Toast all of the spices except the onion seed in a medium-hot skillet and add to the tomatoes. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer. Add the onion seed, Tabasco and fish sauce, test for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed. Keep warm.

Put the poha flakes on a plate, season the fillets with salt and pepper and press one side of each fillet into the flakes to create an even crust. In a medium saucepan, drizzle a little grapeseed oil and place the fish, poha-side down, into the pan. Cook until the poha develops color then flip over, add the butter to the pan and baste the fillets with the butter until medium-rare. Remove from the heat, drain on a paper towel then serve a fillet on each of 4 plates with the hot tomato curry and a side of the fresh arugula.

Suggested wine pairing: Heidi Schrock Weissburgunder, Neusiedlersee-Huggeland, Austria, 2009

 

Lenoir-Pasta-wih-Duck
FOURTH COURSE

SUMMER SQUASH "PASTA" WITH
ROASTED DUCK BREAST, DUCK CHORIZO AND
MINT MARIGOLD

Serves 4

For the roasted duck breasts:

2 boneless duck breasts
Salt and pepper, to taste

For the summer squash “pasta”:

2 medium zucchini
2 medium yellow crookneck squash
Reserved duck chorizo fat
Splash of warm duck stock (or substitute chicken stock)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Mint marigold leaves and flowers, to garnish

For the chorizo, combine the duck, vinegar, salt and all of the spices and mix together in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight. Using a meat grinder, grind everything through a medium die. Mix well by hand, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Wash and sanitize all of the grinder parts and the machine, then pull out half of the duck mixture, grind through the medium die again and mix with the other half by hand. Divide the mixture in half. In a medium saucepan, cook one half of the chorizo over low to medium heat to brown and render out some of the fat. Drain the fat and reserve. Set the cooked chorizo aside until ready to plate. Freeze the remaining half of the chorizo in an airtight bag for future use.

Prepare the duck breasts. Season the flesh side of the duck breasts with salt and pepper and place them, skin-side down, in a dry pan over low heat. Render the fat slowly until the skin starts to crisp (don’t add any additional oil or fat to the pan). Once the skin starts to crisp, use the rendered fat to baste the flesh side until the breasts are cooked medium-rare, to approximately 140°. Set aside to rest on a plate, then slice before serving.

Trim the top and bottom of each squash. Using a mandoline or a sharp knife, slice each squash lengthwise into 1/16-inch slices. Arrange the slices into several even stacks. Turn each squash stack on its side and slice in half again, lengthwise, to create long, pasta-like strands. Heat the rendered fat from the chorizo then gently sauté the squash strands in the fat. Add the splash of warm stock, season with salt and pepper, then remove from the heat and divide into 4 bowls. Top each with some of the chorizo, then some of the sliced duck breast. Finally, garnish with mint marigold leaves and flowers.

Suggested wine pairing: Quinta dos Roques Touriga Nacional Dão, Portugal, 2009

 

FIFTH COURSE

FRESH CKC CHÈVRE WITH
HONEY AND TEXAS PEACHES

Serves 4

This may not be an obvious dessert plate, but we found that it seemed to suit both those who are, and who aren’t, dessert types. The CKC Farms chèvre has the perfect fresh zing to pair with sweet Texas peaches and honey. I ordered this for myself last summer while sitting down with some friends and was thrilled that it was even better than I had hoped it would be. This also pairs perfectly with summer melons like the honeydew varietals we get here.


For the peaches:

2 lb. ripe Texas peaches
¼ c. cane sugar
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Pinch salt

For the chèvre:

1 c. CKC fresh chèvre
2 T. Texas honey
Pepper, to taste
Splash milk, if needed

Wash, peel (with a peeler or sharp paring knife) and halve the peaches. Remove the pit then dice the halves into large dice (they don’t have to be perfect, so don’t discard the less-than-square pieces). Combine with the sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar—stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and strain the liquid back into the pan—reserving the fruit in a separate bowl. Bring the liquid back to a boil and reduce to a syrup that holds its shape when you pull a spatula through it (like Moses parting the Red Sea). Pour the liquid over the reserved fruit and put the bowl over an ice bath to cool rapidly.

In the bowl of a mixer, combine the chèvre, honey and a touch of freshly ground black pepper. Using the paddle attachment, whip the chèvre mixture on medium speed until smooth (I always add a splash of milk—either whole cow’s milk or goat’s milk—if the cheese seems a little dry. It should be easily spreadable). Reserve and refrigerate until 30 minutes before serving. Drizzle some of the juice from the peaches around each of 4 plates and divide some of the chilled chèvre and peaches onto each. Serve with buttery or nutty crackers.

Suggested wine pairing: Kracher Welschriesling “Auslese” Burgenland, Austria 2010