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Appetite For Instruction: Moules Frites-Part 1

Demonstrated by Chef Brian Luscher of The Grape

"How do we improve on an institution?"

That's a question Brian Luscher asks himself a lot these days. It's been almost two years since he and his wife Courtney took ownership of The Grape, a cozy bistro on lower Greenville Avenue that's been wining and dining Dallas for over 35 years. Somewhere along the way it achieved "landmark" status, so anyone at the helm of the beloved restaurant must strike a delicate balance between respect and renewal--or risk getting moldy while resting on laurels.

The Luschers chose the former, and they're proving that staying true to the spirit of a local legend can be done while keeping things fresh.

The couple's first order of business was a mini-makeover of the restaurant's décor, a subtle update that maintained its original charm. The menu at The Grape also changes each month to work a few "eclectic and contemporary creations" into the classic rotation. In other words, Chef Luscher has some fun from time to time. "We don't like to take ourselves too seriously," he explains. Quick to crack a joke--and often the first to laugh at it--he is a walking illustration of that philosophy.

Like many chefs, Luscher's not a fan of writing things down. Oh, there's a tiny notebook on a shelf in the kitchen, filled with ballpoint chicken scratches that he calls "recipes", but we're pretty sure it's there just to confuse nosy reporters. Lucky for us, he's willing to commit a few of his secrets to print.

Moules Frites--that's fancy for mussels with French fries--is a European classic and a perennial favorite at The Grape. This simple, perfect dish is an ideal way to get a little taste of the bistro experience at home. We'll break it into two installments, beginning with mussels steamed in wine and aromatics, which Chef Luscher assures us is "hard to mess up". He's right. French fries with aioli for dipping will complete the meal next week.

Step 1: Gather your ingredients. It's always a good idea to have everything ready to go before you begin, but with this recipe especially, mise en place is key.
You'll need:
1 lb. mussels, cleaned and de-bearded (A good seafood purveyor will clean them for you. Also be sure to discard any mussels that are open--and don't close with a gentle tap--when you're ready to cook.)
1 tbsp. olive oil
¼ cup each finely diced celery, carrot and onion
1 fresh bay leaf
1 tbsp. minced garlic
red pepper flakes
2 tbsp. butter
1 lemon, half of it sliced into rounds
fresh thyme
1 cup white wine (Chef Luscher recommends Sauvignon Blanc)
salt and black pepper

Step 2: Sauté the celery, carrots, onion and bay leaf in 1 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat until softened and translucent.

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Step 3: Add the garlic, a pinch of red pepper flakes, a few grinds of black pepper and 1 tbsp. butter to the pan. Stir and continue to cook until the aroma of garlic fills the kitchen.

Step 4: Add the lemon slices and a few sprigs of fresh thyme to the pan and stir to combine.

Step 5: Add the mussels, the white wine and the juice of the other half of the lemon. Turn heat to high, cover and steam for 2 minutes. Stir, cover again, and continue to steam until all the mussels have opened.

Step 6: Finish with the remaining tbsp. of butter and salt and pepper to taste. At this point, you could throw in some crusty bread and call it done, but for the full-on French experience tune in next Thursday for the fries.

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