By Maria Desiderata Montana
Senior Food and Wine Critic
At Bleu Bohème, owner and executive chef Philippe Beltran understands what people like: simple comfort food, a bit daring, but never pretentious.
This Kensington restaurant is reminiscent of a French neighborhood bistro with a country charm. “Blue represents a comfortable color, a special kind of international blue I’ve seen in many places around the world,” said Beltran. “Bohemian is the lifestyle I adopted since I was young growing up between France, Italy and Spain; then traveling the world, meeting different people, enjoying their traditions, simplicity, culture, and the simple food.”
Raised in France, Beltran is of Italian and Spanish descent. He gained inspiration to cook from his Italian Grandmother, and strongly believes that the secret to a really good dish is simple flavors that are mixed and balanced well. “Some dishes transport you to Paris, and some to the country,” said Beltran. “It’s all about the experience the customer enjoys, food they can recognize, and how well it is prepared. It’s not about how cool the chef can be!”
The menu changes seasonally and Beltran keeps the prices right. From the bistro items, mussels and charcuterie, to the bistro entrees and paysan food, every dish is unique and lovingly prepared. Continuously challenging himself in creating, searching and experiencing different ingredients, Beltran described his close relationship with his suppliers. “They guarantee me the best possible ingredients for my cooking,” he said. “My favorite thing to do is to try something at home and then try it at the restaurant.”
For starters, the moules (black mussels) in a creamy blue cheese cream sauce are so good, that after the mussels have quickly disappeared, you will end up dipping the warm and crusty french bread in every last drop of cream sauce. Pair with sauvignon blanc, Reserve Saint Martin, 2006.
And, since the French are known for their consumption of mouthwatering pastries, I opted to stay on first course with the Tarte Chaude au Reblochon. This warm flaky pastry is topped with bacon, onion and roasted sliced thin apples, covered with melted Reblochon de Savoie cheese. Pair with rosé, Les Deux Rives, 2007.
More classic French country cooking is evident in the Soupe à l’Oignon Gratinée, the most decadent, self-indulgent blend of caramelized sweet onions and fresh herbs simmered in a beef consommé and topped with croutons and melted Gruyere. Pair with an easy to drink blend of syrah and grenache that is the Vin de Table, Ted The Mule, 2006.
Another traditional French dish, don’t miss the Boeuf Bourguignon with chunks of Angus beef slowly simmered in red wine with button mushrooms, bacon, mini-potatoes, carrots and caramelized pearl onions. Pair with Côtes du Rhône, Les Violettes, Domaine Moillard, 2007. The deep violet red color and aroma of dark berries and raspberries is a perfect match with the succulent beef.
Making homemade ravioli is a challenging project I learned from my Italian mother. I am never convinced anything can measure up to her recipe, but sure enough, Beltran’s homemade wild mushroom raviolis, served over a bed of spinach with white butter and fresh herb sauce, proves to be the real thing. Pair with Bordeaux, Mont. St. Emilion, Chateau Puynormond, 2005. This rich, inky, full Bordeaux drinks like a cru classé.
I’ve had a personal relationship with Nutella (and a big spoon) since I was a child. This chocolaty and creamy hazelnut-based sweet spread is a staple in my household. When Chef Beltran brought me a light and airy crêpe, overly stuffed with Nutella and a side of vanilla ice cream, it reminded me of my mother’s own version. Forgo the dessert wine here, and sip on a double espresso instead. You’ll have a lot to talk about!
Bleu Bohème is located at 4090 Adams Avenue in Kensington. For more information call (619) 255-4167 or visit www.bleuboheme.com.
Maria Desiderata Montana is an award-winning food and wine journalist, editor, and published author based in San Diego. She gained an appreciation of European cuisine from her parents who were born and raised in Calabria, Italy. Visit her website at www.sandiegofoodfinds.com
Special Recipe by Chef Philippe Beltran
Camembert Fondue in its Wood Box
Takes an imported Normandy Camembert, make sure it comes in a wood box.
Take the wrapper off. Place Camembert back in its box. Poke fairly large holes on top of the Camembert with a fork, and pour one tablespoon full of Calvados apple brandy. Place the cover back on top of the box, closing it. Place in oven at 350 degrees F. for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the oven. Check from time to time until the Camembert is melted on the inside and very soft to the touch on top. When the Camembert is nice and melted inside, remove it and serve it at once with baguette croutons and slices of apple.
Camembert (from Normandy) marries really well with the Calvados (also from Normandy), and apples (which Calvados is made of).
Make sure to serve at once when ready. This is perfect for a group appetizer or a party!