By Lance Brashear
A young French chef marries a local Ecuadorean cook and together they run a small French restaurant on the dodgy side of the city’s tourism district. This is Le Petit Pigalle. You know it because we’ve reported on it before.
But what you didn’t know, until now, is that the young couple sold to another young couple (another French cook who married another local Ecuadorean chef) and together run the same restaurant by the same name, but with their own personal touch.
Bon voyages, Johan and Cristina. Bienvenidos, Gabriel and Ana.
Gabriel Germain, like the owner before him, comes from Paris. His wife, Ana Carrera, is from Quito. They met at the Hotel Cheval Blanc, a ski resort in the French Alps town of Courchevel, reportedly the most expensive in the world. It is home to a 2-star Michelin restaurant, which, if nothing else bespeaks Gabriel and Ana’s understanding of and deep respect for fine cuisine.
When a successful restaurant, like Le Petit Pigalle, changes hands skepticism often surrounds the transition. Will they still have my steak tartar and confit duck? Did they dump the tiramisu for some new fancy crepe dessert? What has changed?
“The idea is to maintain much of what the founders left, which is a slice of Paris in Quito,” says Ana. “A lot people come and leave and tell us it was like being a short while in France.”
“Above all,” she adds, “the essence of the food has to be French. The quiche is going to be [prepared] how it is in Alsace. The bouillabaisse is going to be as they eat it in the south of France.”
Gabriel refines that point. “There are people who come and say bouillabaisse is not like this and obviously there is a personal touch from each chef,” he says. “The bouillabaisse that I am going to make is not the same as one from Marseille where it also will not be the same in three different restaurants there,” he says. “There is a sensitivity of each chef.”
Classical dishes dominate the menu at Le Petit Pigalle, but Gabriel and Ana assure that they will always complement them with their own offerings.
“The most important thing,” says Gabriel, is to highlight the product.” The advantage of Ecuador and the reason chefs find themselves in a sort of tropical heaven here is due to the diversity of product. And each chef has their favorites with which they love to cook. “The best here are the fish and seafood,” Gabriel says.
And the reason is simple. “It’s for the freshness of the product,” his wife says. “Gabriel goes to the market in the morning and what he finds is what we prepare for the day.” Often that includes seafood of some kind.
Gabriel qualifies this with one other requirement. “The day’s menu changes according to my humor.”
With an abundance of fresh fish Gabriel and Ana offer typical dishes from the south of France. Part of Carrera’s training was at the Place de Mougin in Cannes, where she learned Mediterranean cooking. “We are incorporating a little Mediterranean cooking in the menu to amplify and develop a little the classical cooking of France, in general,” she explains.
This husband and wife team emphasizes that though their menu will change four times a year, a bow to the four seasons of France, which are notably absent in the tropical climate of Ecuador. Gabriel offers some possibilities. “Maybe I will incorporate rabbit…also a good chicken slowly cooked; it could be poached with raspberry vinegar.”
But the dishes that are always in demand still populate their small but complete menu. “The magret de pato will remain, the filet mignon will stay,” re-assures Gabriel.
Other dishes that will not disappear include French onion soup, duck confit, steak tartar, along with “duo de atun” and the rack of (Uruguayan) lamb. For dessert, soufflé and crème brulet will always be available.
The daily lunch menus are where Gabriel flexes his creativity with the offerings of the marketplace. On a recent day he prepared a confit chicken with pasta and salted vegetables. The next, a sea bass with orange sauce and pesto risotto with candied lemon.
And following both of those, he came up with a red wine menu that begins with “Huevos Meurette,” (eggs poached in red wine accompanied by a wine sauce with bacon, onion, and mushrooms) continues with beef bourguignon also cooked in red wine with onions, and finishes with poached pear in red wine with spices.
In all of these dishes Gabriel always comes back to the importance of the product – the “noble” products as French chefs often speak of them. Whether it is organic vegetables or specially-raised game birds, “a noble product is one that needs a particular treatment, which is refined…of good quality from the beginning,” he says.
Gabriel refuses to work with anything else. “All of our products are noble.”
If you would like to try a noble cuisine, Le Petit Pigalle offers daily lunches at $15, tax included. Dinners average $30. Gabriel will prepare a special 5-course tasting menu for $42.50. They open Monday to Friday, 12:30p.m. to 3:00p.m. and 7:00p.m. to 9:30p.m. Saturday’s they serve from the menu only, 12:30p.m. to 3:30p.m.
For reservations or more information about their current menu call 252-0867 or visit the website www.lepetitpigallerestaurant.com.