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Bambara -- Signature dishes at restaurant are out of the ordinary

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Roasted Corn Bisque with Peeky Toe Crab is not your basic bowl of soup.

Notwithstanding, the signature dish has become a menu favorite at Bambara, Salt Lake City's "New American Regional Bistro" in the Hotel Monaco/Continental Bank Building, 202 S. Main St.Hearty, rich, and generously laced with a deliciously uncommon crustacean, "Peeky Toe" typifies executive chef Scott Blackerby's inventiveness. The unique chowder fits well with the overall whimsy found in the Bistro's interior design.

Blackerby arrived in Salt Lake City with more than 18 years of professional experience. His credentials read like a culinary dream team of restaurants. There was 41/2-star Nana Grill in Dallas, Atlanta's Peachtree Cafe, Veni Vidi Vici, and the swank Tulipe in Los Angeles. Most recently, Blackerby polished American regional cuisine in the Pacific Northwest, in the Restaurant at Seattle's Hotel Edgewater.

And there's more.

In the early '90s, he served as corporate chef for Terntable Restaurant Management in Dallas. His job description? Cooking in Venice, Bologna and the Italian Riviera. He also collaborated with Italian cooking authority Marcella Hazen on several projects.

His training included an emphasis on seafood at the Chaise Lounge in Dallas, mastery of contemporary French cuisine at Tulipe in L.A. and Euro-American cooking at Gaspar's in Dallas. Each kitchen tour shaped Blackerby's culinary talents.

His style is apparent. It's a surely solid presentation of the best of American regional fare, enhanced with Italian, French and Asian styles and ingredients. And plated in a way that each serving seems to mirror the decor.

Clarify is a cooking term having to do with melting butter.

Blackerby clarified the meaning of new American bistro food. Besides Peeky Toe Soup and Crab Cakes, other Bambara signature selections include Avocado, Mango and Petite Green Beans on Mixed Field Greens with Cilantro Ginger Vinaigrette; Grilled Colorado Lamb Sirloin; DuPuy Lentils and Roasted Garlic Glaze; Free Range Chicken with Forest Mushrooms; Pearl Onions and Celery Root Mashed Potatoes. It goes on . . . changing with the seasons and availability of ingredients.

Enter the restaurant from Main Street, and you'll immediately feel the playfully eccentric decor (a large screen displaying fancily frocked monkeys is looney yet lovely.) You'll notice a frequently appearing swirl pattern in the plush rug and on the flatware. A Halloween suggestion from Martha Stewart inspired Shannon Wimmer and staffers to carved a Bambara swirl into a pumpkin. The stunning sculpture was prominently displayed on the kitchen counter, until it collapsed.

Chef Blackerby works "center ring" -- mid-restaurant, in an open, elevated kitchen crafted for his visually theatrical cooking style. His perch overlooks the converted bank lobby that seats 180. (A separate private club accommodates 35.)

After preparing today's lamb, Blackerby demonstrated the cooking technique he often employs --

braising.

"Braising is in between pan frying and roasting," he said. "I don't know anyone who doesn't like that top crust of beef or the skin off the roast chicken."

Cooking Light magazine recently showed step-by-step photographs of "perfect braising."

A few braising tips:

Season meat with spices before browning.

Heat the oil over medium-high heat.

Add meat to pan. Meat should be browned on all sides and not crowded into the pan (a heavy pot, such as a Dutch oven is best). This step will create a flavorful caramelized crust and leave browned bits in the pan that are later incorporated into the sauce.

If necessary to avoid crowding, prepare the meat in batches.

Remove the meat from the pan after browning; set aside. Add veggies and stir them with a metal or wooden spatula, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

Add the liquid, stirring and scraping any remaining browned bits still stuck to the pan. Bring to a boil, and return the meat to the pan. Cover with a lid, and cook according to the recipe. For most braised dishes, the liquid should be no more than 1 or 2 inches deep, coming about halfway up the meat.

After the allotted time, check the meat with a fork for tenderness. If the meat shreds easily, it's ready. If it's still firm, continue to cook, checking periodically, until the meat is tender.