At Jean Paul's House, Peruvian Bistro Fare Comes With a Smile
Jean Paul's House is a home. To be more precise, it's a 1930s coral-and-wood cottage located on the outskirts of Wynwood at the address formerly occupied by Out of the Blue Café. Jean Paul Desmaison, its namesake, is a chef. And a damn good one too, as he proved with his tenure as partner at La Cofradia in Coral Gables, where he showed a knack for translating traditional Peruvian cuisine into captivating contemporary gastronomy.
Desmaison also was an owner of the original La Cofradia in Lima, Peru, which he brought to the Gables in 2005. Two years ago, he split with his business partner, and this past February, he opened Jean Paul's House with partner/fiancée Jill Olcott.
The eatery no longer resembles a coffeehouse. The renovated setting features faintly patterned beige-on-taupe walls contrasted by deep-chocolate-colored banquette seating that runs along the right side of the room, and a dark wood bar on the opposite end. Old-country-style wood chairs surround glossy-topped tables; a pair of tattered farmhouse tables for larger groups are positioned at the two front windows. Candles, linen napkins, and fresh flowers add to the pastoral elegance.
Outdoor tables under red umbrellas grace the front and the right side, which is cozily secluded. A back room has been outfitted with a market space for the chef's homemade products, although it probably won't be ready for another couple of months. Like any newly purchased house, this one is a work in progress.
Jean Paul's décor successfully melds modern and rustic sensibilities, and the same is true of the food. "A bistro serving New World cuisine with a Peruvian touch" is how the couple describes it. Another way of putting it is that the concise menu hews to the current American dining notion of fresh ingredients prepared without much fuss, but distinguishes itself from the pack with a lacing of French and Peruvian influences.
Diners and, more specifically, drinkers might opt to start with any or all of the three bar-snack "bites": homemade potato chips with huancaína and black mint sauce ($3); a lightly fried prosciutto-and-Manchego empanada with swirls of fig sauce to contrast the salty components ($3); and a small plate of garbanzo beans, sautéed spinach, and thin half-moons of slightly picante chorizo sausage ($4) — just like you'd get at a respectable Seville tapas bar. It's a great plate for swiping slices of darkly crusted country bread brought to each table.
Eight appetizer options cut across a varied swath of tastes: eggplant carpaccio, blue cheese/tomato tart, pan-seared clams, baked crabcake, mussel soup, grilled octopus, veal meatballs, and crisp pork belly. That last offering is uniquely delectable, the meat so softly tenderized by long, slow braising that it texturally resembles a brisket culled from pig. The flavor and accompanying sauce exude sweet, earthy notes of Pisco 100; halved red grapes garnish the three wedges of belly, with a puff of sweet-potato purée piped alongside. A small thatch of field greens tossed with dressing was so oversalted as to be inedible. The trio of Ping-Pong-ball-size meatballs were too salty as well, but less obtrusively so. Otherwise, the spheres of chopped veal were redolent of basil and doused in a simple red sauce with a dollop of ricotta cheese on top.
Tiradito is one of three crudos, along with salmon sashimi and ceviche of the day. The type of fish used in the last varies according to the daily catch, but the style of presentation is traditional — lime-macerated slices of red snapper (when we visited) with red onion, large pale kernels of Peruvian corn, and a neat wedge of sweet potato softly boiled and flavored with cinnamon and cloves.
Desmaison is a native of Lima, but as his name suggests, ancestral roots can be unearthed in France. A taste of the bouillabaisse likewise indicates a convincing Gallic bloodline. The broth — an ethereal simmer of lobster stock, brandy, and mirepoix — comes brimming with shrimp, mussels, plump clams, and a moist fillet of seared red snapper.
The same snapper, steamed and served en papillote, is topped by rings of preserved lemon, tomatoes, and meaty top neck clams, all intoxicated with white wine, olive oil, and garlic. It was a delicious piece of fish, but watercress salad on the side, threaded with grape tomatoes and dressed in olive oil, was also way too salty to enjoy.
On the opposite end of the seasoning scale was a plate of soft, eggy, homemade tagliatelle noodles with fresh artichoke hearts and tomatoes; it didn't need salt as much as it cried out for more of the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and olive oil that were too parsimoniously applied.
Jean Paul's lomo saltado, the Asian-style Peruvian stir-fry, is a refined rendition using cubes of beef tenderloin cooked medium-rare with onions, tomato, red peppers, and aji amarillo in a slightly tangy soy-and-Pisco-100-based sauce. A side of thin French fries accompanies the saltado, but there is no traditional rice.
Patrons desiring that grain can select it from a half-dozen à la carte side choices. We chose a medley of oven-roasted vegetables that included zucchini, yellow squash, asparagus, peppers, carrots, and garlic cloves — cooked just right with olive oil and fresh thyme.
Jean Paul's favors simplicity over innovation, but the lunch menu boasts two very creative sandwich ideas: a butifarra of house-roasted pork leg, sweet-potato rounds, red onions, mint salsa, and mayonnaise served on ciabatta, and on the same bread, a niçoise sandwich plied with all the namesake salad ingredients ($9 each). Lunch also brings a Black Angus burger on brioche ($12) and French lentil stew topped with farmed Scottish salmon ($15). As a rule, Desmaison tries to purchase his products a lot closer to Miami and goes organic when possible.
Pastry chef Lamyaa Samir thinks out-of-the-cake-box with a luscious pink peppercorn génoise: two thin squares of spiced pound cake layered with mascarpone cream and topped with more mascarpone and fresh figs. Another of the five desserts ($7 to $8), passionfruit tart, likewise impresses with a bronzed meringue cap and "piscojito" sauce made with mango, pisco, and mint.
The amiable staff works professionally. Except a forgotten empanada order on one visit, service was flawless. Guests are not only warmly greeted upon entering but also chaperoned to the door with an equally sincere departing salutation — and a heartfelt thanks for coming.
As we said, Jean Paul's House is a home.
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