Eating escargots properly requires certain etiquette. The edible gastropod mollusks — often served straight from their spiral shells — are considered a delicacy and farmed extensively across France, Algeria, and Turkey. In Paris, where they are often served as an appetizer, drenched in garlic butter, the shell should be held in a napkin-covered hand, a snail fork in the other, its delicate prongs used to extract the escargots' firm, chewy meat.
You can practice your technique and indulge in this quintessential French dish at the 2-month-old Escargot Bistro in Oakland Park. Here, executive chef Jacques Bagot prepares classic French cuisine alongside owners Didier and Andrea Martin.
Andrea, the restaurant's sometimes-sous-chef, creates several of the menu's most popular dishes, including her quiche escargots. She loves snails, something she explains emphatically — with plenty of
Tucked into the corner of a commercial shopping plaza that also houses a barbershop, a Thai restaurant, and a tanning salon, the restaurant is a cozy spot with plenty of homespun charm: only six tables, a three-seat bar, and a kitchen separated from the dining room by thick silk curtains and manned by a single chef. During lunch, you can spend an hour chatting with Didier and Andrea about the menu, but come dinnertime, you may spend more than that, watching as orders file in
For lunch and dinner, the menu reads like a glutton's feast: bœuf Bourguignon served with al dente pasta; rack of lamb smothered in ratatouille; pan-seared snapper drenched in a sauce flavored with citrus and Madagascar
Bagot prepares each à la minute. An affable, passionate Frenchman, he'll tell you that he uses only fresh spices from Morocco, which he orders weekly to ensure a timely delivery. He'll also inform you that he's been cooking for nearly 40 years and that he's served the likes of Céline Dion and John Wayne. He mans the kitchen alongside Andrea, a tall, slim blond from Cannes, the fabled gold coast of Southern France (and a region she believes is far superior, culinarily, to Normandy, from where her husband Didier hails).
If you ask the owners what they recommend, Didier will suggest you start with a salad, served as a bed of fresh greens, a healthy conveyor for one of three homemade dressings that include the chef's vibrant green French herb, thickened with oil and redolent of cilantro, basil, and dill; a beautifully smooth sun-dried tomato; and a sharp aged balsamic with a custardy consistency.
Or you can go for Bagot's "one-of-a-kind" French onion soup, made with three kinds of onion (red, Spanish white, and Vidalia) simmered not in a chicken stock as most Americanized versions of the soup can be, but in a traditional beef broth where the onions caramelize, thickening to a sweet sludge. Served in a traditional ceramic ramekin, it's topped with a thin slice of broth-soaked toast — the same bread Andrea bakes fresh in the kitchen each day — and coated in a thin veil of melted Gruyère cheese.
Andrea will offer her quiche next. Unlike Bagot, she isn't professionally trained in the culinary arts, but she learned to make some of the most typical French dishes, including the restaurant's quiche Lorraine, from her mother.
Her specialty, however, is quiche escargots, which Andrea says she has been making since 2006, the year she and Didier opened a small French bistro in West Palm Beach. Made daily, it's served in hefty slices, cut from pies framed by a thin, buttery-soft pastry crust and filled with a savory custard made with three types of cheese.
As you might expect, the menu also lists plenty of snails. In France, escargots are purged from their shells and often cooked in a broth of garlic butter, chicken stock, or wine before they are placed back into their coiled confines with a dollop of butter and sauce for serving.
At Escargot Bistro, you might be surprised to learn the snails aren't fresh but canned. Didier explains they are better this way, marinated for 24 hours in herb-infused olive oil until the tough, rubbery meat becomes supple and tender. Would you know if you didn't ask? Possibly. The snails may not be chewy, but they lack a certain je ne sais quoi — their flavor is slightly dulled and missing that telltale, musky note that only fresh escargots can offer.
After marinating, these snails are given the traditional country-style French fixings, from simple butter and garlic to escargot "au gratin," served with meaty slivers of Portobello mushrooms, artichoke hearts, spinach, and a hearty dollop of béchamel sauce, all topped with melted mozzarella.
As satisfying as these dishes are, it would be a shame to overlook Bagot's specialty, one he's named "
As with all the escargots at Escargot Bistro, the mollusks are marinated and sautéed in a garlicky sauce before they're baked between alternating layers of puff pastry, mushrooms, and spinach. The homemade dough — a salty-flaky cross between Middle Eastern phyllo and rich croissant that explodes with flavor as it soaks up the escargots, mushrooms, and herb marinade — is almost as much of a delight as the snails themselves.
But it's the lacy, buttery crepes — both savory and sweet — that deserve the final order. Andrea was the pastry chef at her West Palm Beach bakery, and she'll remind you that crepes were her most popular item. The secret is in the batter, a family recipe that bakes to the requisite chewy consistency, with lacy edges fried to a delicate crisp. For dinner, the crepes are rolled around chicken and mushrooms; mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes; smoked
The same batter is used to make both the savory and sweet
With its overly casual atmosphere, Escargot Bistro can make you feel a little too at home — like Mom and Dad might scold you if you don't finish your meal. But the food is certainly as good as home-cooked, and the service — thanks to a fawning Didier and Andrea — is friendly and attentive. And after enjoying a glass or two of a good Beaujolais, you might even forget you're in a rundown shopping plaza in Oakland Park.
1506 E. Commercial Blvd., Oakland Park. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Call
- French onion soup $6.50
- Quiche Lorraine $8.50
- Mille feuilles d'escargot $11.50
- Crepe Suzette $7.50