Dinner with the girls. Exploring Bordeaux’s culinary scene. Didn’t take too much convincing me to decide on Jean Pince, a seafood restaurant specializing in the “democratization of lobster,” whose concept and star dish was inspired by none other than good old Luke’s Lobster in Boston’s Back Bay. The four French friends behind Jean Pince dug the idea of the lobster roll as a dish that makes the luxurious ingredient more accessible to the Everyman. They also apparently dug the canteen-style dining room furnished with refurbished wood and ultra hip bare bulb lighting to create a warm, informal atmosphere. They dug it all so much, in fact, that they ripped it right off, down to the red plastic diner baskets the rolls are served in. That’s all fine though. They do pay homage to “North America” as the origin of the concept on their website. It would’ve been nice to see some clam chowder with oyster crackers on that menu though, but maybe the French haven’t mastered the intricacies of that dish just yet.
Wines – and, as a pleasant change, wines from all over – replace craft beer at Jean Pince. We ordered a South African Chenin Blanc. There’s also a very elegant carafe of rosemary-infused water on each table. That’s pretty cool too.
To start, I chose one of the monthly suggestions, not on their permanent menu, the lobster salad with and mint and ripe mango on a bed of baby spinach. A bold move to pair something as powerful as ripe mango with something as delicate as minced claw meat. But it worked. The salad was also very nicely dressed and had great proportions, with a generous helping of both star ingredients.
My friend ordered the Shrimp and Crab Ceviche, also on their monthly special appetizer menu. This one was nice too. Shreds of very fresh and sweet-meated crab claw mixed up with heartier chunks of gamba and unevenly sized tomatoes to give the mix more juice and zest. My first reaction was to suggest more seasoning as some bites tended toward the watery side, but this would’ve masked the very gentle flavors of the crab, which – as it was – shined through in all their modest glory.
And then, the lobster roll. I love lobster rolls in all shapes and sizes, though I prefer some shapes and sizes over others. The ideal for me remains the LR at Belle Isle Seafood Restaurant in East Boston, where the bread doth overflow with half a knuckle and half a tail, a half pound of lobstah altogether. This one was fine too, the lobster was still in there, literally waving with a large, whole claw sticking right out of the filling. My first reaction after biting into my first LR in 2 years? Awesome! So much lobster! I missed this. But as I savored my sandwich I began to rethink everything. My breakdown follows.
Bread Roll: Fine, very nice in fact. A slightly sweet roll, golden over the top and with the right spongy texture, firm enough to hold the lobster without falling apart. Kind of brioche-y, but I can’t imagine a restaurant in France serving a normal New England style hot dog bun anyway…
Filling Texture: No. The most cherished characteristic of the lobster is its juicy texture. There is nothing like biting into a plump chunk of claw or tail, feeling the tight skin splitting under the impact and the rich, meaty, creamy white flesh bursting out. It’s like biting into a firm and flexed marine bicep. Good lobster is not, by any means, chewy or rubbery, but it does have a certain elastic quality. And that silken fat covering each morsel adds an ethereal glow to the thing. The filling of Jean Pince’s lobster roll is a mash, like the inside of a tuna salad sandwich prepared in a hospital cafeteria. There are no hearty clumps of lobster here, only sad little fibers lost in way too much mayo (or cream?). It sort of feels like someone has already chewed this lobster and spat it right back into the roll. Taking a bite is still satisfying (who doesn’t like a big mouthful of chilled and creamy seafood salad?), but not the way lobster meat is meant to satisfy. This is a rillettes de homard in texture, not a lobster roll.
Filling Flavor: Fine, although that delicate lobster sweetness was completely obscured by the soapy stench of coriander, which was used in excess to season this thing. There was also too much mayo or cream mixed up with the lobster meat. Better leave that lobster alone, maybe brush the plump little nuggets with some (lemon-)butter or just stick to a light toss in mayo. Add some celery or celery salt, but don’t go to crazy. In terms of a “Jean Pince signature flavor,” the cilantro thing isn’t a bad idea, but it sacrifices the lobster, which is what I paid 19 euros to eat a sandwich of.
Conclusion? A bright idea to transport this to Bordeaux, but I enjoy the original more. When I crave lobster meat, I crave those buxom chunks of rotund flesh, twisted out of a bright red shell, dunked in clarified butter and maybe hit with a squeeze of lemon. And in a roll, a bit of mayo to bind the same together enough to form a nice bite. Jean Pince delivers lobster, but with its most precious qualities ripped away. The naturally buttery, slightly sweet flesh is brutally over-seasoned, the plump and juicy texture (such a joy to bite into) ground down into a soggy paste. I just feel like they could have achieved the exact same filling with pretty much any protein (try chicken?). It’s a shame to waste such a decadent and lavish ingredient in doing the same.