Squid Ink Food Fight: Fraiche vs. Church & State, Moules Frites vs. Moules Mariniére
Sometimes working class food is a bag of Cheetos. Sometimes it's moules frites. I like the second one better--but then, barring an allergy to shellfish, a kosher existence or an unhealthy aversion to fried potatoes--so should you. There are of course many variations of steamed mussels, even before adding ingredients like curry. But generally, it will involve white wine, it will involve garlic, and the liquid mussel essence that leaks from the just-opened shells will combine at the bottom of the pot, creating a broth known to temporarily melt away even the most profound moments of personal despair.
Moules frites at Fraiche in Culver City
Moules are best enjoyed in slightly less swanky settings (as proven here by David Liebowitz), which is why it's a pleasant thing to find for $14 on the Fraiche bar menu, rather than in the dining hall. There is a welcome simplicity in the flavors, all working in cohesion but giving appropriate focus where necessary. The fries are not overly crisp, with those at the bottom of the metal ring soaking up the delightfully pure (and aforementioned) broth. These are not the steamed mussels with French fries that will change the way you look at the dish, but they are unquestionably satisfying.
Moules mariniére at Church & State
The moules mariniére at Church & State, however, do all of that and more. Yes, Walter Manzke has been heaped with praise this past year, and he is about to be given some more. The frites, crisped in lard and peanut oil, I will leave be, as they have already been described perfectly on this very blog. The mussels though, prepared in what seems to translate as "mariner's style", were so good that they (I'm quite sure) stopped the rain from pouring during lunch earlier this week. Gently fortified with ingredients as simple as celery, these mussels do things that others wouldn't think possible. The mussels were cooked to actual perfection, more tender than those at Fraiche, somehow both brinier and creamier, tasting simultaneously of refined French cooking and the salty waters from which they came. These, without question, are the moules you've been looking for.
Now if only there were a Belgian graphic design firm named for a love of moules frites. Oh wait, there is.
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