The Chef: James Porter The Restaurant: Petite Maison The Animal: Octopus The Dish: Grilled octopus
Maybe there's something in the air or maybe octopus is just on trend right now, but for whatever reason we've noticed several restaurants around town have added the cephalopod mollusc to their menus. It's a shame most people are turned off by the idea of eating the admittedly intimidating-looking creature, because when it's done right octopus is a real delicacy.
The trick to making tender octopus is to cook the meat slowly to avoid the horrible rubbery texture for which octopi (and squid) have gotten such a bad rap. Chefs from different cultures will have their own techniques, but the basic gist is to boil the octopus to release the extra water in the meat and make it tender. Afterward it can be grilled without risk.
At Petite Maison chef Porter prepares his octopus by pressure cooking the meat for about 45 minutes before cleaning it and finishing it on the grill. The result is pieces of meat that are so soft you can cut them with a spoon, but that also have some nice char on the outside. The contrast between the smokey, burnt flavor of the outside and the tender inside is likely to remind you of excellently barbecued meat.
The red pepper rouille -- a French sauce (similar to a mayonnaise) that's usually served with bouillabaisse -- and roasted corn with which the octopus is served provide a subtle sweetness to the dish.
Porter says this is the third time octopus has appeared on the menu at Petite Masion, though never in this preparation. He admits that octopus is "not French at all" -- and as much as we though we'd miss the old and very-French Petite Masion, we're happy to have more dishes like this.
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In addition to the octopus, Porter has added duck ramen with edamame, enoki mushrooms, crispy chicken skins, and duck egg to the menu. It's not our favorite bowl in town but the rich, miso broth is remarkably good.
Other new additions include chilled heirloom local melon gazpacho with lump crab, avocado, cucumber and crispy frog legs with celery salad, deviled duck yolks, and smoked paprika oil.