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French cuisine with a new twist in Brooklyn

March 29, 2013 2:59:44 PM PDT
If you think French food is stuffy and formal, think again. This week's Neighborhood Eats features a real French neighborhood spot.

It really isn't a bistro, but it's far more than a cafe.

It's more like a French diner, the kind of place you may eat at several times a week.

Three Letters, as it's called, is located at 930 Fulton Street by Waverly Avenue in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.

At Three Letters, old French recipes get an updated twist.

So instead of mussels and a side of fries, it's poutine, or fries topped with mussels and gravy.

"It's modeled after a French bouchon and I think it really captures it," says one customer.

"It has the dim lighting, it's always full, but not too full. With the great wine and the great food, it's perfect."

And already popular in the Clinton Hill neighborhood.

"We really feel that this neighborhood is the next place for people," said one of the owners, Asa Johnson. "We also felt that this neighborhood didn't have a place like this and we would be a useful service to the community."

Three Letters gets its name from the three owners: Asa, Cam and Pip.

"We all have three letters in our first name, and there are three of us," Johnson said. "So we sort of came to the conclusion after a lot of research that that's what we would go with."

Pip is the chef, and one of his dishes is a version of a tartine, but he makes his bread with corn.

He sautees mushrooms with shallots.

That goes on top of the warm cornbread.

A poached egg on top of that, and it's finished with roasted pumpkin seed chili vinagrette.

"We sort of went for a French truck stop-like feel out front, so I'm kind of doing that in the back too,"says Pip.

A place that people are making a habit of stopping at.

"People have really grueling commutes, and a grueling day of work," says co-owner Cam Honsa.

"And they come back into their neighborhood and we want them to sort of relax and have a nice comfortable experience with really good food and really good cocktails."

Recipe for Mushroom Tartine with Pumpkin Seed Vinaigrette

(serves 4)

8 oz. cremini mushrooms, halved and sliced thin

4 oz. shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced

4 oz. oyster mushrooms, sliced

canola oil for sautéing

1 T. unsalted butter

1/2 C. white wine

1/2 C. vegetable stock (or water if you don't have any veg. stock)


Black pepper

1 C. green pumpkin seeds

1 T. canola oil

2 t. salt

1 medium heat green chili, seeded (Italian longhots are perfect)

1 T. lemon juice

2 T. white wine vinegar

2 T. olive oil

1/2 C. canola oil

4 good eggs (the better quality the easier to poach, and the more delicious)

Brioche, Challah, or any sliceable, rich bread

For the Mushrooms:

Heat oven to 400 degrees In a large ovenproof sauté pan, heat about 2 T. canola oil on medium high. Put cremini in the pan with a good sprinkle of salt and pepper. Keep heat up as the moisture is drawn from the mushrooms, about ten minutes. When most of the water has cooked out of the cremini, add the shiitakes and oyster mushrooms. Stir well, and place the whole pan in the oven. Roast, stirring regularly for about 20 minutes until browned and shiny. Pull out of the oven and set the whole pan aside until ready to plate.

To finish: put pan back on medium/high, add the butter to melt, then the wine and stock. Stir vigorously to incorporate the butter into the sauce. Cook down until the sauce thickens some. Season to taste.

For the vinaigrette:

Toss pumpkin seeds with oil and salt, and toast, shaking regularly, until lightly browned; about 20 minutes. Might as well double the amounts of everything because these are delicious and you will eat a lot of them.

In a blender, combine chili, 1/4 C. of the toasted pumpkin seeds, olive oil, lemon juice, and vinegar. Blend very well. When smooth, drizzle the canola in to emulsify. The end result should look a bit like mayonnaise, but a little looser.

For eggs:

Bring a small pot of very salty water just up to a simmer. Poach each egg one at a time for about 3 minutes, until the whites are firm but the yolk still gives some to touch.

To assemble:

Toast 2 slices of the bread for each portion. Pour the mushrooms on top of the bread, top with the egg, drizzle a good amount of the vinaigrette on top in an artful way, and sprinkle pumpkin seeds on top. If you want to get fancy, top with some tiny sliced chives or parsley.