Chef at Petite Jacqueline
Dish: Lolita’s Bone Marrow (with bread and greens)
Cost: $9 (price varies depending on the size of the bones; ask your server for the current price)
Each week in Deep Dish we ask a Portland chef to share their favorite menu item from another local restaurant.
Fred Eliot left his first life as an office drone in Ohio to become a chef. The French expatriate learned his craft at the French Culinary Institute in New York City, as well as a handful of famed restaurants including Prune and Le Cirque. He eventually left the big city for Portland and Petite Jacqueline, where his palate has come full circle: he’s making the kinds of classic dishes that his grandmother did when he spent childhood summers at her house in France.
Perhaps Eliot’s late entry to the food world is what draws him to Lolita, a restaurant whose owners were an architect and a consultant before a case of late-onset food obsession struck. Or maybe it’s just the close proximity to his house. Either way, Eliot says he’s never had a bad bite at this young restaurant, where the bone marrow is his true weakness.
F.E.: I was upset I’d never made it to Guy and Stella Hernandez’s other restaurant, Bar Lola. So one night when they had first opened Lolita, I stopped by after service and sat at the bar. I saw they had bone marrow, so I had to get it.
A.C.: Bone marrow speaks to you?
F.E.: Anytime a restaurant has bone marrow, I get it. There’s nothing richer. It’s richer than caviar, than uni, than butter. For me it goes back to my grandmother and mother making pot-au-feu, and fighting over the marrow to spread on bread. I really reconnected with it when I moved to New York and ate at Prune. I’d been in Ohio for a long time and there’s no way they’re going to have that in Ohio. Prune had roasted bone marrow with parsley salad and shallots and capers, and it was just, wow. I was there almost every weekend eating bone marrow and fried sweetbreads.Then I worked there and I got sick of bone marrow for a while. I was working sauté station, so we’d pick up the marrow and put it in the oven, and all night long all you smell is bone marrow. If you smell something long enough, you can’t take it anymore.
A.C.: Now that you’re back on marrow, what makes this version special?
It’s super rich, but not an enormous portion. After a long day at work I like to have something that’s not too big because I want to go to bed. But I do like something rich like this or ramen noodles. What’s really cool here is they do it over the fire, so it adds this smokey flavor to it. It’s nothing intense but it’s woody. It’s messy, interactive. It gets everywhere. You need a lot of bread.
A.C.: You wouldn’t just put a glob in your mouth, right?
F.E.: No, some people might but I think it’s much better like this. You’re not going to eat a mouthful of butter. There are a lot of different textures here. The crunchy bread, the salty marrow, the pea tendrils, the salad, everything’s well balanced. Acidity, saltiness, crunchiness. It hits all the marks. Make your little sandwich and you’ll be able to appreciate it. That’s how my grandma used to eat it.
A.C.: Is that the only way you use it?
It’s pretty versatile. I’ve made tortellini with it. There’s nothing that gets close to that richness. Classic bordelaise has bone marrow, we do that at PJ’s. There was a chef in England that would make a pie and plant a chimney cut on top so the marrow would melt into the pie.
A.C.: Can bone marrow be made at home?
F.E.: Yeah. I’m pretty sure they sell some at Whole Foods, maybe Hannaford’s. You use it in cooking a lot. Make a beef stew, or a pot-au-feu, or even a boiled dinner like corned beef and cabbage with bone marrow, which would make your broth a lot richer. It’s better if you brine the marrow, which pulls the blood out and seasons the marrow. Just like brining a chicken. I do a cup of sugar, a cup of salt, aromatics.
A.C.: What else do you recommend here if people are staying for more dishes?
F.E.: There’s a black rice dish with squid ink, served with a spicy aioli, which was great. There’s sometimes a short rib. I’d never had a short rib dish that wasn’t braised, but on the fire it was really good. The 3 lb. porterhouse is amazing. I like the wood-roasted clams, too. I haven’t had anything that was bad here.