Part of the new menu, Zucchini Blossom Beignets.
When it comes to downtown West Palm Beach’s dining scene, there have been few constants. The Clematis Street corridor has been like a revolving door in the past five years, with eateries coming and going faster than reservations could be seated. So when a restaurant weathers the recession while delivering a consistently great meal, it deserves a tip of the hat.
Pistache French Bistro is just that: an anchor establishment that gives the downtown area culinary heft. After celebrating its fifth anniversary in April 2013, Pistache underwent a sort of a renaissance—what owner Thierry Beaud likes to call Pistache 5.0. The renovations included an interior design makeover and a revamp of the menu that had hardly changed, an effort led by Chef de Cuisine Isaac Cerny.
“Thierry was ready for a change,” says Cerny, who rose through the ranks of Pistache’s kitchen in two short years. “You don’t really get a chance to change a menu that drastically, especially in an established restaurant.”
Cerny, who hails from Jupiter, cut his teeth in the kitchen of Café Boulud when Chef Zach Bell, now executive chef at Addison Reserve in Delray Beach, was still at the helm. With a traditional French background and a splash of international flair, Cerny’s vision for the menu comes through on each dish.
“About 70 percent of the menu is new, with the rest tweaked,” Cerny says.
The bevvy of new flavors includes the grilled swordfish, which takes on a Moroccan bent and is marinated with preserved lemons made in house. The zucchini blossom beignets stuffed with bay scallops, meanwhile, were created on a whim but have become a sought-after small plate [get the recipe here]. Each menu item was reassessed or recreated by Cerny, then vetted by Beaud and Pistache regulars as specials before making the cut as a permanent dish on the menu. The end result proves Pistache not only has staying power but also is an establishment looking toward the future—Pistache 6.0 and beyond.
We caught up with Cerny at Pistache one busy afternoon in January and discussed his vision for the menu, his favorite flavors and more.
Tell us about your cooking technique.
I think my cooking philosophy is pretty traditional. I’m not really into doing all the molecular gastronomy crazy stuff; I just want to make food taste good. I like to update classic dishes [and] throw a nice twist on them, maybe using a different ingredient that you would not normally use, while trying to keep it as seasonal as possible.
Savory and very French, Cerny improves on a classic, Gnocchi Parisieene, for the new menu.
What one ingredient do you have to have in your kitchen?
I like to preserve my own lemons. It’s an easy thing to do. They will last for a very long time, and it adds great depth of flavor to whatever you add them to. We take lemons, quarter them and cure them in a salt, sugar and spice mixture in the cooler. It draws all the moisture out of the lemons and really intensifies the flavors with all the aromatics in there with the different floral notes.
Right now, we use them in our couscous in our swordfish, and we make a marinade out of it for the swordfish. It has this really strong, sharp, lemony flavor.
What was it like creating a new menu?
Thierry had a lot of faith in me. This is the first menu I created, so a lot of the things that have been kicking around in my head found their way on the menu. But it's funny—when you do a menu, there are all these things you’ve envisioned, but you also have to make it feasible to actually execute. So there was a lot of tweaking things here and there to make it work.
Which dish is a must-try?
The gnocchi is one of my favorite menu items. It’s made the French way—no potato—so its very light [and] perfect for warmer weather [get the recipe here].
And the zucchini blossoms are really good [get the recipe here]. We stuff them with bay scallops, which are a little smaller, sweeter than the diver scallops. It’s a different combo that you wouldn’t really think of.
What are you looking forward to this spring?
I like fava beans; I’m really looking forward to those in spring. I like to just braise them out with a little bit of butter and chicken stock—kind of make a ragù out of them. You can add it to pasta, use them as a side, make a puree. It’s really good.
The citrusy and refreshing Blood Orange French 75 cocktail.
What’s your take on the Palm Beach food scene?
The food scene is getting a lot bigger in Palm Beach County. I don’t think it gets the credit it deserves, but it's really starting to open up. It’s better than most people realize. There are a lot of chefs out there that really care, that want to put out really good food night in and night out.
What Aaron Black is doing over at PB Catch—the Seacuterie—you can’t find that anywhere else. It's pretty spectacular.
Zach Bell was a big inspiration for me. Cafe Boulud was the first job I got after culinary school. He really taught you to care; everything was prepared the right way every time. It was tough, but he taught me a lot. I really respect him.
And Tim Lipman up at Coolinary Cafe is great. It’s inventive and inviting at the same time. It doesn’t feel pretentious; just a nice, chill place.