One is expected to sacrifice certain pleasures living in the landlocked North. Our climate is seldom mild, so we revel in those few and precious late-summer days. Our heritage of arts and culture, while prodigious and diverse, is less likely to draw the world’s eye, so we compensate by doubling our pride when a native son or daughter receives critical acclaim. And lately—at least within the Twin Cities—a dining experience that rivals much of anything found on either coast or abroad is unheard of. Thus, we travel, we dream, and we keep our treasured memories of exquisite meals tucked somewhere between sense memory and salivary gland.
It is my extreme pleasure to cross one of those Midwestern sacrifices off my list. La Fougasse’s new seafood menu—from appetizer to dessert—equals some of the best I have had. It was an unexpected delight. In the past, I would associate a hotel restaurant (La Fougasse is in the Sofitel at 5601 West 78th Street) with a predictable menu of overdone vegetables, pasty-looking entrées, and wheeled gallery of regrettable desserts. La Fougasse has none of the above.
The unique and challenging menu is the creation of Chef Serge Devesa, a native of Marseilles, France. His career has taken him to Martinique, Paris, the French Riviera, Montreal, Vancouver, Yemen, Vietnam, New York—and, thankfully, Minneapolis. With such a wide range of culinary influences, he is careful to include touches of different international flavors, while maintaining focus.
Devesa explains, “I worked in Vietnam for two years, but I have to control myself, because La Fougasse is a Mediterranean restaurant. I use some little touch of flavor, like soy sauce or coriander—this kind of spice we don’t use too much in Mediterranean cuisine. It can be a specific touch, but controlled well so that the menu doesn’t look Asian. That’s very important.”
For his ahi tuna steak, this subtle fusion results in a very original yet well-balanced entrée.
Devesa states, “Because tuna is mostly Asian—or you could do it a Spanish Catalan way—I will serve a relish Asian-style, I will make my tuna with pepper, and serve it with a Dijon mustard sauce. And it works!”
It absolutely does. The tuna fits in nicely next to the jumbo scallops, which are served atop a mushroom and potato cake, and lightly drizzled with red pepper puree coulis.
The scallop dish brings me to another typical Midwestern sacrifice. Even in seafood restaurants, I often am disappointed by both the freshness of the seafood and its lackadaisical preparation. I enjoy seafood—I really do—but when in Rome…I find it’s best to eat what the Romans cook well. I thus am accustomed to ordering a steak in favor of anemic salmon. Especially with scallops, I have grown so used to a fishy, overdone hockey puck, I had given up on them completely. It was with some hesitation that I decided to try the recommended scallop entrée at La Fougassee, but I am glad that I put my trust in Devesa’s capable hands. The scallops were done to absolute perfection. His secret to fresh seafood is ordering daily.
Devesa shares, “I prefer to buy 10 pieces of sea bass every day than to buy once a week, and the next three or four days, it gets bad, and I have to throw it in the garbage.”
It’s a lot more work to keep track of his inventory, but also how Devesa keeps costs astonishingly low. A generously sized entrée at La Fougasse is usually in the mid $20s, with one garniture, or side dish, included.
To maximize your dining dollar, La Fougasse offers two tasting trees. Paired with its signature bread, which is made from scratch in-house, one almost could make a meal for two on little else.
I sampled the second tasting tree, which included an appetizer-sized portion of the scallops; tiger shrimp cocktail with aurora sauce; crab and smoked salmon with a lime coriander dressing; smoked trout with cucumber dressing; mussels steamed in lemon grass bouillon; and sea bass à la plancha with lavender sauce. Not one missed note among them. In fact, mussel enthusiasts should take extra care to savor the sauce at the bottom of the dish.
If someone in your dining party isn’t a seafood lover, the menu does include an 8 oz. filet mignon and a roasted half chicken. The resourceful and creative Devesa is happy to accommodate vegetarians as well.
Though he seldom has remained in one place for long, Devesa assures me that he intends to stay in Minneapolis for quite some time. It’s my sincere hope that he keeps his promise.
5601 W. 78th St., Bloomington