That collective gasp you may have heard last night? It was the crowd at Oak Cliff’s Bastille on Bishop best mussels contest after it was announced that Marc Cassel and his much loved mussels of Park and Green Room fame had not made it out of the first round of competition. Sacrilege or tough competition? I was one of the judges and I’ll just say that the winner — former Lola (and soon-to-open Lucia) chef David Uygur — nailed it. His aromatic and very French mussels mirepoix stole the show. For photos and more details from a fun yet humid and steamy night in the Bishop Arts District, jump along.
Let me just say that the inaugural Bastille on Bishop block party had better become an annual tradition. This thing was a lot of fun: wine, live music courtesy of the Kessler Theater, a petanque court (which looked like a combo of bocce and horseshoes), a French maid costumed relay, and, of course, lots of mussels. Despite the hot and humid weather, the crowd was so great that the organizers sold out of tickets to taste the tasty bivalves. That left a lot of hungry and curious onlookers staring at us judges as we slurped through three rounds of anonymous entries. True, we didn’t know who cooked what. But one entry was quite obvious: Zen Sushi’s Michelle Carpenter. Making it to the final round of three, she was the only one to prepare three different interpretations of mussels for each of the three rounds, and her artistry was on display. Easily, Carpenter scored highest for presentation and her flavors were spot on, never masking the mussels soft briny flavor unlike many of her other competitors who loaded up their mussels with spices and ingredients. Tony Gardizi — who is opening his new Decanter in Bishop Arts this year — also finished in the top three. Though his presentation was sloppy, the broth was the most fragrant: nutty, yellow curry with soft vanilla notes. Of all the entries, Gardizi’s was the only one whose broth I sopped up with bread, making sure to get every drop. It was that good. But the winner and hands-down favorite was Uygur’s mussels. It was the perfect blend of appearance, aroma, and flavor: finely diced onions, carrots, and celery in a golden broth. Like I said earlier, very French. I know Uygur is opening an Italian restaurant — Lucia — soon. But he needs to figure out a way to work these mussels onto his menu. If he does, they may just overtake another celebrated chef’s mussels as the best ones in the city. (I know, I know, Cassel fans. That’s blasphemy.) Congrats, Chef Uygur. You deserved last night’s win.