For a special and authentic tableside souffle experience that few can find outside of France, Contributing Editor Liza de Guia of Chow.com recently visited Capsouto Freres in TriBeCa and filed the following report.
Capsouto Freres is an elegant French bistro in TriBeCa dubbed the “soufflé sanctuary” of New York City. Here they don’t serve souffles in small sizes, like you see in most restaurants. These are the puffy, tall souffles, made-to-order in huge white ramekins.
Jacques Capsouto is one of the three brothers who founded the restaurant back in 1980. He’s been making soufflés for over 30 years, and keeps his recipes a closely guarded secret. The only thing he’ll say is that while most people start with a bechamel sauce, he begins with a creme patisserie -- a prepared-beforehand secret mixture that adds more lightness and airiness to the body of the dessert.
There are always five savory and four sweet souffles to choose from. My favorite is the praline soufflé with hazelnut sauce. In a bowl, Jacques folds the crème patisserie, hazelnut liquor and a homemade hazelnut paste -- made with ground up hazelnuts -- together into a batter. Then, he beats egg whites with a little crème of tartar until soft, airy peaks form. He folds the egg whites into the batter in small batches then pours it all into a large ramekin. He bakes it for 15 minutes until it rises to an airy dome of golden brown.
The finished dessert towers over the ramekin with a delicately crisp outside and soft, light inside that you can break open with a spoon. And the best part is the table side service. With care, Jacques delivers the warm souffle to the center of your table. Then he opens a hole into the sugary crust and, very slowly, pours the hazelnut cream sauce down the middle; adding a big spoonful of whipped cream on top, along with a smile because, somehow, he knows he just made your day.
And though it looks heavy and intimidating, it’s as light as can be. You’ll be surprised how fast you finish it. I’d say it’s a pretty special experience, a perfect dish for when you really want to impress someone.
Capsouto Freres is at 451 Washington Street between Watts and Desbrosses Street in Manhattan.
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