Bistro 1902 Brings a Taste of Paris to Downtown Hollywood
You might not know you like French food yet, but you do. Cuisine as we know it would not be where it is without the influence of classic, haute French cooking. From sauces and sous vide, to bistros and brasseries -- as well as plenty of groundbreaking chefs and ambitious restaurateurs -- the panorama of plating food is, at its core, française.
All photos by CandaceWest.com Bistro 1902's sweet lemon meringue tart
Although South Florida is certainly no bastion of French fare, a few places have found their way into the fray and made a name. In Hollywood, Bistro 1902 fills the franco void thanks to its owner, Paris-born Karim Laitaoui. He is often at the front of the house, greeting guests and helping to seat them -- a necessary evil for any true, family-run establishment. But his real job is in the back of the house; Laitaoui is executive chef, on the line each night executing each dish with nascent precision, despite no formal training.
Laitaoui learned many recipes working the line before taking the reins to lead his own establishment several years ago. One recipe he didn't have to learn, however. It's one he's known since childhood: his mother's crepes. Today, it's a task so familiar, it's hard for him to single out what makes them so special. Depending on the recipe, he'll use anything from sparkling water and beer to tequila and Grand Marnier to cut the batter. They're cooked over a gas flame in a special skillet imported from France. But the most important factor might be location. Laitaoui swears they won't come out the same anywhere other than his kitchen, even if you use his batter.
"When you travel as much as I have, you want the comforts of home," says Laitaoui. "For me, that meant the food. TV, you can find any channel online. Family can visit. But the food, you have to make that for yourself. I begged [my mother] to teach me so I could have them whenever I wanted."
Laitaoui and his family moved to South Florida in 2004. Together, they frequented a downtown Hollywood steak house called Beef Eater until an evening in 2010.
"We showed up one night for dinner, and the doors were closed," says Laitaoui. "My wife and I had always wanted to open our own restaurant, so we called the next day to inquire about the space. A few months later [in 2011], we opened."