Right away you can tell Flamant is the kind of restaurant that fosters an atmosphere of fun. Adirondack chairs circle a fire pit right out front of the building – and that’s no accident. It’s an invitation. It’s a casual reminder to take time to relax. It’s symbolic for the finer things in life: to enjoy yourself with good food and friends.
Once inside, you’ll see how owner and head chef Frederik De Pue imbues his culinary sanctuary with a sense of casual sophistication that sets the tone for the food. The decor is elegant and understated with subtle pops of whimsy, like the Haitian papier-mâché animal heads which greet you upon entering.
In the continued spirit of fun, there is always one, shared dish on Flamant’s menu. It’s this dish that I had the pleasure of getting up close and personal with during my visit. “I always thought it’s kind of fun to bring something you can share with your partner or other people,” Frederik explains. Sharing an expertly crafted dish with friends and family, what could be better?
If you’ve answered “nothing” or “not a darn thing” than this dish is for you (and your companions). To start, it’s a major upgrade on the whole “meat and potatoes” concept. Think along the lines of The Ugly Duckling or Cinderella. It’s a relatively simple meal that’s been made into a luxurious, decadent feast due to the quality of ingredients and skillful craftsmanship.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time to capture the entirety of Frederik’s thorough explanation of this dish on the video, but the details merit description here. Everything centers around a local, organic Bell Evans chicken. It’s tied tightly to keep the moisture in. “You can see the shape of the chicken, it doesn’t sit open it’s really compact,” Frederik points out. It’s stuffed with thyme, rosemary, salt, pepper, and garlic (but not too much, as you’ll see why later).
The chicken hangs out in a sous-vide bag cooking at a low temperature for four hours, which is essentially a water oven, or as I like to call it, a slow cooker on steroids. The chicken is then air-dried for 24 hours and brushed with room temperature butter. Next comes a little salt and pepper seasoning, a couple branches of thyme, and it’s ready to bake in the oven for about 30 minutes.
This is where the magic happens. That coating of butter – or “layer of fat” as Frederik puts it – gets this beautiful bird nice and crispy on the outside, while all the flavors meld together inside. The juices are released, and when it’s all said and done you have the most tender, flavorful chicken ever. I mean, can you say winner winner chicken dinner? (Sorry.)
The aforementioned restraint on garlic was due to the accompanying side of potatoes au gratin. Frederik was clear that he does not put cheese in this dish, and with so much flavor from the garlic cream, it’s not needed. To make the cream, garlic is blended with half and half on the stove with a little nutmeg, salt, and pepper. In this way, “it’s always uniform,” Frederik says. “The base will determine the flavor of what your gratin will be.”
Next, the potatoes are sliced thin – but not too thin – to allow each slice to absorb the flavor. “If you go too thin, what’s gonna happen is the liquid is not going to penetrate into the potato,” Frederik explains. The potatoes are layered in a dish about halfway, seasoned with a little salt and pepper, then a few sprigs of thyme are thrown in. Another layering of potatoes goes down then Frederik pours in the garlic cream. Here, he allows everything to sit for a minute so that the air can escape. As he’s describing this he shakes the dish and I can see the air bubbles coming to the top. “It means that between the potatoes you have now the cream,” he says. “In the oven it’s going to start evaporating, and you don’t want a dry gratin.”
The potatoes are baked for about 45 minutes until cooked through and a nice brown crust develops on top. “I like this part where it’s a little burnt on the edge…That’s part of the deliciousness of cooking,” Frederik mentions. I couldn’t agree more. The end result is an even permeation of flavor throughout the potato au gratin and the most heavenly sensation of garlic creaminess on your taste buds.
Last, but not least, let’s not forget about the little prosciutto-wrapped jewels nestled amongst the spread. The use of blanched Belgian endive is one of the many nods to Frederik’s hometown. “Blanching is boiling water with salt and a little sugar because of the tartness. Sugar will take away the tartness from the endive,” he clarifies. They’re cooked for about five minutes before getting rolled in slices of prosciutto di Parma and baked for another five minutes. Honestly, these guys are like the cherries on top of a superstar sundae from Narnia.
Every element in this meal is so thoroughly enjoyable and complementary of each other that it’s hard to single out one of them as a favorite. I can see myself sharing this meal with a friend over lunch while washing it all down with a Belgian beer. Simultaneously, I could see this dish as the centerpiece for a celebration with friends and family alongside one of Flamant’s craft cocktails. I could even see it as Frederik does; “This could be my last meal.”
Frederik’s Belgian background and culinary training shines through his dishes, along with a sense of humor that was clear to me even during our short time together. “You have to have fun when you cook,” Frederik proclaims. Fun and attention to detail go a long way here. After all, good food doesn’t have to be hard: it’s all about simple ingredients, execution, texture, and taste.
Annapolis Restaurant Week is happening right now, and that means one of the best ways to explore a menu — a little bit of everything.
(Word to the wise: reservations are strongly encouraged, especially on the weekends.)
Videography and Photography courtesy of Patrick McNamara of Drawn to the Image