First things first. Le Pescadeux is a made-up word and doesn’t mean anything. But get on board. It’s a delicious journey.
The captain of the ship is Mr. Gregarious, aka Chuck Perley, with an actor’s big personality and a Canadian’s down-to-earth demeanor.
He’s apt to call you “my darling” on the first meeting and attributes his civic virtues (like paying the bills on time) to his Canadian heritage.
This charming little SoHo restaurant follows the French culinary migration, from the Canadian Maritimes (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island), through Quebec, down the Eastern seaboard on through to Louisiana.
Seafood looms large on Le Pescadeux’s menu, and wherever possible, is wild and from sustainable waters. “I’m the only idiot who orders from his purveyors four to five times a week. If we run out, we run out. I like to keep everything fresh,” Perley said.
He said he has “culinary ADD,” hence the reason for introducing “fish duets.” The duet is where diners can order two half-portions of fish for $28. It’s a brilliant idea.
“Even if I’m at Le Bernardin, halfway through my fish—and it’s great fish—I’m a little bored. … A lot of people seem to share my disease of ADD and everybody digs [the fish duets],” Perley said.
Branzino, which is found in almost all restaurants, is not on the menu at Le Pescadeux. Instead Perley brings in a sweet and delicate North Atlantic dorado.
Learning to Cook
When he was 14, Perley was running track and field, and started to feel sluggish. He went to the doctor who took a blood test and showed him the vial.
“What’s all that white stuff?” Perley recalled asking the doctor. “Well, he goes, ‘Normally, it would all be red, but your mother is trying to kill you. What is she cooking with?'” Chicken fat, Perley told him.
“His advice to me was either to learn to cook or leave my mother. I said, ‘I’m not leaving my mother, I’m 14 years old.’ I had to survive so I learned to cook. To this day I’m a pretty good cook. I just can’t cook for 100 people. I’d go crazy.”
The fish focus was partly because of health. Although Perley is fine now, he said he is susceptible to these fatty deposits and has to be careful.
Not that everything is 100 percent healthy, of course.
There are also some typical dishes from Quebec, including the famous (or infamous) poutines, fries served with gravy and cheese curds, a dish so popular that even Le MacDo serves it. “I say it comes with a side of Lipitor,” Perley said, “It’s a clogger.”
The Quebec chowder is like a New England clam chowder, but with bacon thrown in—which definitely takes it up a notch.
The sugar pie, made with maple syrup, molasses, and brown sugar, apparently also comes with a side of Lipitor.
Opening Le Pescadeux
The brain wave for the concept of Le Pescadeux came during a three-year sabbatical that Perley took after closing his previous restaurant, Le Pescadou, Manhattan’s first French seafood bistro. (Le Pescadou means a fisherman in Provençal).
As it often happens, the 15-year lease was ending and the new rent levels were stratospheric.
He took the opportunity to visit family and friends in Canada and Europe. After some time, his girlfriend spoke up. Perley said, “She kicks me out of bed and says, ‘Would you stop watching “Law and Order”?’ I said, babe, I have 70,000 episodes I must catch up on—because I did a couple of ‘Law and Order’ in my days as an actor.”
Perley was Canada’s first Method actor, and did many films and voiceovers there before moving to New York to try to be the Gene Kelly of Broadway. His agent told him that with his face, he’d be getting jobs playing gangsters and cops. He was a working actor for 20 years.
He was also a scriptwriter, writing some futuristic stuff—the optimistic kind, not the apocalyptic kind. “Why live life with your glass half empty all the time?” he said.
Meantime, the wheels were turning. Perley decided to go back to his roots.
He described how in 1759, at the Plains of Abraham outside Quebec City, the last major battle was being fought between the French and English for control of Canada. The British won; some of the French decided to stay (in Perley’s version, they thought they didn’t care what tyrant they lived under; it was still a tyrant). Others decided to move away, down to Maine, New Hampshire, and all the way down to Louisiana, down the Acadian trail.
Of course some of the items reflect Perley’s own history, and his diverse hometown of Montreal. During the early ’60s, there was an immigration flux of Portuguese, and as a young child, he would run around his father’s workplace and would be fed the Portuguese employees’ lunches. One dish on the menu comes straight out of his childhood playbook: the calamari, scored, pan-seared, and then pan-roasted ($14).
Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times
It’s a little work of modernism, with squid ink à la Jackson Pollock splashed on the plate, followed by the calamari, and then topped with shishito peppers for a note of sweetness. The calamari is tender, and half the fun is playing with the squid ink (very discreetly of course), watching it settle into the squid’s scored indentations, or painting patterns on the plate.
One of items that Perley said he could never take off the menu is the crab cakes ($17). Just before I tried them, he said, “Just wait, you’re going to die—or, no—you’ll go to heaven!” They are marvelous, pillow-like in their lightness, and delicious, perfect with the spicy rémoulade and crunchy, thin slices of fennel.
Perley is such a fan of crab cakes he orders them when eating out, ever hopeful but often disappointed by the proportion of filling (lots) to crabmeat (little). So he endeavors to make a crab cake that is just the opposite.
Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times
A Spectacular Bouillabaisse
There is the traditional bouillabaisse, made with fish, and then there is bouillabaisse done in the Québec fashion, where, in Perley’s words, “we throw in the kitchen sink.”
And what a kitchen sink it is: jumbo shrimp, clams, mussels, lobster—all plump and juicy—and cod fillet, each adding its own song to the harmonious symphony in the bowl.
But it was the broth, a deep rust-colored saffron broth that stole the show. It was complex, elemental. It reminded me of something I couldn’t put my finger on: the ocean? It was more than that. It felt both familiar and elusive.
The touch of saffron gave it a golden warmth and richness. The chef handled it expertly. In less capable hands, it could have made the broth taste metallic.
I went from clam to mussel to lobster to shrimp to cod, over again, taking a bite and in between, sips of the broth. I completely forgot about my dining companion while the bouillabaisse was in front of me. (If you’re reading this, sorry.) It had a sort of hypnotizing effect, like a siren song.
A side of croutons with rouille and shredded cheese is offered—dunk the crouton in the rouille, slather with cheese, and sink it into the bouillabaisse (Bouillabaisse Québecquoise, $29).
Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times
As mentioned, the fish duet allows you to try two different kinds of fish for $28. I had a tender, creamy pan-roasted wild salmon with leeks; the other one was the octopus, braised in red wine, with a little spicy kick. Perley won’t reveal how he gets his octopus tender, but it is, and has a robust flavor, nicely accompanied by aioli.
There’s also meat at Le Pescadeux. Early on, Perley tried to get a smoked brisket delivered from Schwartz’s, a famous Montreal deli. Good news: they did deliver to Manhattan. “Terrific,” Perley said, “I’ll take 100 pounds.” The bad news: The minimum delivery was 2,000 pounds.
The solution? Perley decided Le Pescadeux would make its own version, smoked in-house for four hours with maple chips, and then braised in a veal stock for 4–5 hours. “Not exactly the same as we do in Montreal but close enough.”
There’s also a not-to-be missed side dish, caramelized Brussels sprouts with thick-cut bacon and green apples ($9), a perfect combination of sweet and savory. The sweetness comes from the green apples and what else but a dash of maple syrup.
And for that, and many other culinary contributions, thank you Canada, and thank you Chuck.
90 Thompson St. (between Prince and Spring)
Tuesday–Saturday noon–3 p.m.
Monday–Thursday 5:30 p.m.–11:30 p.m.
Friday & Saturday 5:30 p.m.–12:30 a.m.
Sunday 5:30 p.m.–10:30 p.m.
Sunday Jazz Brunch
Sunday 11 a.m.–4 p.m.