Where Cocktails Come From, and Where They Go

It’s Springtime and we’ve introduced a new cocktail menu. To say our customers appreciate it would be too formal and too mild; let’s just say that people are drinking it up!

What makes this cocktail menu so successful is that it reflects the trend in cocktails. An urban trend realized in rural Vermont.

The reason cocktail trends originate in cities is a simple one. Change comes from the young, the young mostly live and play in the city and the city has more restaurants and bars than, well, anything except ATMs. Most importantly, young urbanites won’t drink a cocktail just because it’s new; it has to be good and it has to fit within their generation’s larger trends of fashion, lifestyle and personal expression. It has to be fresh and unique and edgy, just like they are.

The Fellini Bellini, served on Mother’s Day 2012.

When it was time to update the Brasserie L’Oustau cocktail menu from cold-weather potions to more sprightly spirits for warmer months, we requested recommendations from as many reliable sources as we could find – servers, bartenders, managers, friends, journals and professional publications from far and wide. We discovered that pear and peach are this year’s cutting edge flavors so we included the Bella Pear Martini and Fellini Bellini. If someone likes a cocktail with lemon or lime, we have the newly inspired Ipanema Caipiroska and Leblon Caipirinha. After all, we like to add a little crispness to the warm summer breezes at Brasserie L’Oustau.

The cocktails do more than reflect the weather and trends of the day; they need to coordinate with the menu. In May, when the New England weather more consistently turned from winter to warmer, it was time to redesign the lunch and dinner menus and we incorporated ingredients that would be in season and welcome during the Spring and Summer. The lighter, sweeter, more aromatic dishes of Spring replaced the heavier comfort foods from colder months. It was a perfect time to bring the cocktails into the light as well with fruit purees, acidic touches and carbonation.

Our outdoor tables are a perfect place to dine during the warmer months, and we look forward to the pastels and bubbles of our seasonal cocktails adding a touch of celebration to the fresh Vermont breezes, warming sunlight and seasonal menus.


Hospitality Isn’t A Simple Act

Trying to explain hospitality isn’t easy and I’ve been stubbornly working for many days to discover this. I could look up “hospitality” in the dictionary or talk to a professor in the Cornell University hospitality program, but one answer wouldn’t be enough and the other would be too much for this arena. But hospitality is one of the most important considerations to Brasserie L’Oustau’s operations; providing a high level of hospitality is what makes the difference between acceptable and exceptional service, between a satisfied customer and one who will return again and again.

The goal of hospitality at Brasserie L’Oustau is to make you feel as though you’re a member of a special club, respected as soon as you walk in, and by the time you leave we want you to feel thoroughly cared for and satisfied with everything about your meal. We want you to return so we will know more about you to provide better service, such as who is your preferred server, if you have menu favorites or allergies and what table you would enjoy most.

When Michel Boyer opened Brasserie L’Oustau de Provence in early 2012 he brought more than a new restaurant to Southern Vermont; he introduced diners to a level of hospitality developed during decades of hotel and restaurant management around the world, most recently at Brasserie 8 ½ in New York. For nine years previous he was General Manager for food services at the New York headquarters for the United Nations. He proved his ability to understand and respect many different cultural hospitality paradigms and how to provide them through rigorous employee training and supervision.

Michel is keenly aware that the essence of hospitality is respect, both internally and outwardly to all customers. Our core staff members bring talent, enthusiasm and commitment to their positions and treat one another and their jobs with respect. These things bolster the positive attitude of all employees and set the foundation for any personal and professional interaction throughout the day. The culmination of this attitude occurs when we serve our customers with care and attentive respect.

A top hospitality employee has many characteristics which cannot be taught: warmth, optimism, curiosity, honesty, empathy, respect, diplomacy, sincerity, ambition, responsibility and accountability. We are able to hire talented and committed staff following rigorous interviews, screening and intuition. Michel’s intuitive abilities have been developed after years of extensive observing and evaluating the potential in many candidates. Being very selective assures that our customers have a consistent fine dining experience, and only people who complement the team and our service paradigm can do that.

Hospitality is the ancient practice of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm,  friendly and generous way. Brasserie L’Oustau hospitality makes those ancient practices real for today’s guests.


“Oo la la L’Oustau!”

We were blessed with this title on a web review from a very happy customer, and we love it. It has the twinkle that gives many things French a flirtatious character, a “joie de vivre” that contributes to a love of good food and wine… But I am getting distracted from the subject of this article.

What is an oustau (pronounced “oo-stow”)? Simply, an oustau is a Roman-era style French house found primarily in the southern region of Provence. What makes it unique from other building styles is that it is a large and rambling structure that grew to house the landowner, the laborers and their extended families. The eventual shifts of population, urbanization, politics and agrarian methods would make this style of living obsolete, but many of the stone structures themselves have remained intact. Perhaps the best publicly-accessible example is the Relais & Chateaux hotel Oustau de Baumanière in Les Baux de Provence. The remaining oustaus have been purchased over the years by wealthy individuals or corporations.

Oustau de Baumaniere, a Relais & Chateaux 5 star Hotel in Provence, France.

The kitchen and dining rooms in an oustau would have been used as the central meeting areas where inhabitants would prepare and share food and conversation. Diverse families would become one community around the table. For our restaurant we wanted to combine the good-natured casual quality of a brasserie with the communal spirit of the oustau.

The name Brasserie L’Oustau captures the essence of what we wish to provide our customers — a place where everyone can gather around a table to enjoy life and the community a good meal encourages.


Cork and Cap Conundrum

Screw-cap bottled wines were once reserved for rotgut quality, gallon jug sizes and cheap prices. The better wines would all use a cork stopper. But in the 1970s a few bottlers began to introduce a higher quality wine with screw caps arguing the barrier against oxidation was more complete with metal than cork, and “tainted” wines (where the flavor of the cork passes into the wine) would be eliminated. As true as all that might be, the tradition of the cork stuck along with the flourish of it being pulled from the bottle.

The characteristics of cork itself – air and water tight, pliable and inexpensive – all contributed to making cork the preferred bottled wine stopper for hundreds of years. It is naturally lightweight, rot resistant, fire resistant, termite resistant, soft and buoyant – the perfect barrier between the wine and that which would damage it: air.

One downside to cork is that if it dries out completely it will shrink and become brittle, ergo corked wines should be kept on their sides and the corks wet if they are to be stored for a long time. Stoppers have recently been developed using synthetic materials which would reduce this problem, but the long-term affects of these materials on the wine itself isn’t yet known.

As wine production demands have increased and bottling techniques improved – and perhaps because it simply takes many decades to change some traditions – more and more people are beginning to appreciate the benefits of an easy-to-use and consistent airtight seal.  At Brasserie L’Oustau, it is with the same respect that our servers twist a cap on a bottle of fine wine or pull a cork, it’s just a little less difficult.


Fun Mouth Appetizer

If you’re wondering about this title, it’s a literal English translation of the French “Amuse Bouche” which is a restaurant term for a little tasting sent from the kitchen before the appetizer course. It is common in fine dining restaurants and usually an unexpected surprise for the diner, a special tease for the palate while the meal is being prepared. Depending on the restaurant’s style and regional cuisine, it could be as simple as a tapenade toast or as extravagant as, well, as you might imagine.


Currently, diners at Brasserie L’Oustau receive a bite-size cheese and choux pastry called gougères. Believed to have originated in Burgundy and most definitely French, there is really no comparison in other cuisines of the world. The gougère has a subtle flavor of cheese in an airy, moist, tender and lightly browned pastry. The flavor can be modified by the type of cheese, herbs or fillings but at Brasserie L’Oustau we use one of the classic cheeses — gruyere, emmentaler or comté — and serve them warmed.


We have developed a reliable recipe and bake them using a practiced procedure. It is quite often the simplest foods that present a challenge, and the gougère is a good example of this. We’ve included a link here to a site that will take you to gougère recipes and ideas to try at home, but you are certainly welcome to come taste ours anytime.


Staying On Course with Comment Cards

Blogs and review sites are a wonderful way to find restaurants by reading notes from people who have actually eaten at them. However, they’re the worst ways for a restaurateur to discover that a customer has been unhappy with their experience. It’s too late for the restaurant to correct a problem immediately and directly with the customer, and the review might make potential customers less inclined to go to the restaurant at all.


Michel personally reads all comment cards at Brasserie L’Oustau.

Like many fine restaurants, Brasserie L’Oustau offers all customers an opportunity to leave ratings and comments about their experience with us, either by name and information or anonymously. Our comment card is included in the bill folder at the end of the meal where there will be a pen as well. There are 9 rating scores, a few specific questions and an opportunity for personal comments which might take no more than a few minutes to complete.

All comment cards are important and taken very seriously; the praises help us know what we’re doing right, and the suggestions can lead us to make further improvements. It isn’t important for us to know who left the comment (although we appreciate that information) but it is important that we continuously get direct customer feedback; customer expectations are constantly evolving and we will stay ahead of the curve only as long as our customers keep us informed. Thankfully, well over half of our comment cards are returned with notes for all variety of reasons, and each is helping us make Brasserie L’Oustau a better restaurant for everyone.

With decades of experience in the hospitality industry, Michel Boyer opened the doors to Brasserie L’Oustau with the power of knowledge and self-confidence. The comment cards help keep our doors open to everyone expecting the finest dining experience. We thank all our customers who have or will complete a comment card at Brasserie L’Oustau, and we look forward to your return.


Bistro. Café. Brasserie!

There are three main styles of French restaurants but the bistro and café are perhaps most familiar to Americans. Images or memories of intimate rooms with tables for two, mottled mirrors reflecting bottles at the bar and walls displaying framed pictures of Parisian streetscapes or French travel posters may come to mind. The food served could be simple or fussy, hardy or light, moderately priced or expensive, and almost always with some sort of Continental influence. The cafés would feature the less expensive foods, perhaps not serve any alcohol and usually make excellent coffee.

Then there’s the brasserie. When we built Brasserie L’Oustau in late 2011 we found many people were unfamiliar with the brasserie restaurant. (The best way to pronounce it would be to say the woman’s undergarment plus a type of horse-drawn carriage: bra + surrey.) To be sure, a brasserie is as original to France as a bistro or café but it is also very unique and well-defined. There are few authentic brasseries in America, and we are one of them; we have had world-traveling customers tell us our design and menu are the closest to a traditional Paris or New York brasserie that they’ve ever seen, and this is our greatest compliment.

A Bit of History: The French word “brasser” translates as the verb “to brew” which gives you insight to how the brasserie originated. In villages throughout France the local brewery is a most important member of the business community and well supported by the citizens. A restaurant inside a brewery is a natural development.

Beer casks of oak.

I imagine a summer lunch break or walking home after a full day of agricultural work sometime in the early 1800’s  when the men and women longed for a relaxing draught of beer and a moment of socializing. They might enter the village’s cool and lofty brewery to sidle up to a counter where the proprietors would swiftly offer a taste of the most recent tap. One glass, two perhaps, and food might be the next request. But these proprietors were brewers, not restaurateurs. The food provided would be simple family fare from the region, familiar to all their customers and easy for the owners to prepare and keep for spontaneous requests. The brasserie restaurant would serve foods like paté and cured meats, cheese boards with bread, confit, long-simmering soups and fresh salad greens from the house gardens. The dishes would be hearty, affordable and familiar. The ambiance is relaxed, a bit noisy from clattering plates and mugs, and everyone is enjoying themselves.

The interior design of Brasserie L’Oustau is simultaneously grand, warm, comfortable and inviting.

At Brasserie L’Oustau we aspire to define and interpret the essence of a French brasserie here in rural Vermont. After searching for many months, we were fortunate to find a building which could have easily fit many large beer casks, and it had already been operating as a restaurant for more than 20 years. After two months’ renovation, we had transformed an American pizza and barbeque restaurant into our French brasserie with a vast bar, tile floors, brass railings, banquettes, large mirrors, warm hues of gold and chocolate brown and an extensive list of beers to complete our full drink menu. There will be articles about some of these details but be assured they are all ubiquitous to a brasserie.

Our menu reflects the traditional fare of French brasseries, and many of these dishes will be discussed as we tend to this blog. The current menus can be viewed on our website where you might find a brandade de morue or steak tatare appetizer (featured in the previous article), warm duck confit salad or moules frites — all familiar to today’s brasserie menu.

Not the least important, serving staff at Brasserie L’Oustau are trained in the classic French service paradigm and wear the traditional uniforms of white shirts, black ties and vests, and floor-length white aprons. The training requires strict attention and takes many hours to complete, but we insist on maintaining a high level of service for our customers’ needs. This may not have been true for the first brasseries in France, but breaking with tradition in this way is a good thing.