Isabelle Garcia knew she wanted to open a restaurant in Wilkes-Barre offering French cuisine, so she brought in as her executive chef Gwenaël Le Pape, with whom she had worked for a well-known New York restaurant group.
But in setting up the new Southside Bistro, which opened earlier this month in the former South Side Bank building on South Main Street, she and Le Pape found they were likely the only place offering authentic French cooking in the area.
“It’s what I like to call country French dining,” Garcia said, noting the fare she grew up on in southern France.
Le Pape, who has worked as an executive chef at several well-known restaurants in Paris, London, New York City, Washington, D.C., and Miami, and in February won the championship on Food Network’s “Chopped,” said country French cooking is so called because of its heartiness and where it comes from.
Southside Bistro serves brunch, lunch and dinner, offering sandwiches from lobster roll to hamburgers and cheeseburgers, appetizers such as assiette de charcuterie — dry sausage, chorizo, prosciutto, pâté, cornichons and toast — and Burgundy escargot as well as a raw seafood bar, dinners such as roasted half chicken au jus or steak frites minute and classic hearty French dishes such as duck confit, coq au vin — braised chicken in red wine, bacon, mushrooms and potatoes — and boudin noir, or blood-pudding sausage.
Le Pape said he only uses fresh ingredients. He won’t use frozen lobster, except perhaps in a bisque, if he has to.
He noted, too, that Garcia has given him carte blanche on creating the menu, though she has had some input.
“She’s giving me a lot of freedom as far as specials,” he said. “I feel she has great trust.”
After Garcia made suggestions for the menu, “I took it from there,” Le Pape added.
Garcia and Le Pape have known each other for years. Garcia had traveled around the world with Club Med and landed at the Les Halles Group, owner of two famous French restaurants in New York City, after moving to the United States in 2000. There she met Le Pape.
Both later moved on to other opportunities. During his time in various major restaurants, Le Pape worked beside world famous chefs Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Anthony Bourdain, who was chef-at-large at Les Halles when Le Pape was executive chef.
Garcia drew him to Wilkes-Barre, he said, because, “It seemed like it was a time in my life I was available and it was a time she needed me.”
He was supposed to be a consultant for 90 days. The next thing he knew, he was getting an apartment above the restaurant.
1 piece duck-leg confit
1 1/2 ounce frisee
1 1/2 ounce chicken liver dressing
2 ounces diced French fries
1/2 ounce chopped shallot
1 tablespoon garlic
1 pinch chopped parsley
1 pinch chopped truffle
1 ounce duck fat
To taste, salt and pepper
To prepare confit:
Prick the skin of the duck all over areas that cover fat. Salt the duck leg, let it rest at room temperature for 20 minutes to an hour. Put a thin sheen of oil or melted duck fat on the bottom of a casserole dish, then place the duck leg in and cook 250 to 280 degrees for 90 minutes to two hours. When the skin begins to look crispy, turn up the heat to 375 degrees. After 15 minutes, look for a light golden brown color. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10-15 minutes. Save the accumulated fat.
To complete the dish:
Warm up the duck leg in a hot oven to crisp it up. Saute the potatoes in leftover duck fat with garlic and shallots. Set the frisee in a medium bowl with chicken liver dressing then finish the potatoes with truffle and parsley. Place the frisee in the center of a large plate. Set the duck leg on top it. Pour the crispy potatoes on top and around.