Bistro Les Gras
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“The farms decide for us,” says Daniel Martinez, when I ask him how he decides what to put on the menu at Bistro Les Gras. Daniel and his wife Elizabeth opened their restaurant three years ago with a dream to serve the Valley’s best vegetables, fruits, dairy and meat – cooked beautifully in the French style. “Les Gras” means “the fats,” and is a reference to the impression that French food is all butter and cream. Not so, say the Martinez duo, and they set out to prove it by offering dishes like grilled Merguez sausage with vinegar braised greens and chickpeas.
The East Coast pace and agricultural abundance appealed to Daniel, who worked his way across Portland and New York working before settling in the Valley, where Elizabeth is originally from. “We are right in the middle of such rich farmland,” he explains, a necessary element for the type of restaurant the couple was hoping to open. “Northampton has that sense of community you get from small towns, while still being metropolitan enough to attract a lot of restaurant go-ers.” That community feel is all the more apparent as we sit for this interview on the sidelines of the bustling Tuesday Market, where Bistro Les Gras sells nibbles like olives and macaroon cookies.
“You should see my wife and I when the first carrots of the season get delivered. Our eyes light up, we get so excited. The farmers think we’re crazy.” From the get-go, forming relationships with farmers was a priority. The menu changes every month based on what’s freshest in the fields. “We go for simple, fresh flavors. Unadulterated,” says Daniel. For the most part they succeed in stocking the kitchen almost entirely with local products – “there is only really one month where we really struggle, even in winter we can get root crops.” Leaving the realm of produce, nearly all the dairy, breads and sauces served at Bistro Les Gras are made in-house, from the yogurt to the butter to the ketchup.
The bistro is young yet, but already well-known for serving high quality local food. Daring and creative themed dinners like a recent “Whole Hog Dinner,” set them apart in the world of sit-down dining. When a four course meal doesn’t appeal, there is the adjacent “market,” which offers cured meats, house-made pates, cheese and marinated olives to enjoy at home.
When I ask him what he loves about the restaurant business, Daniel smiles and says, “I think it’s a personality trait. I love to eat good food and be around good people. It’s great that I can be working and doing the things I love.”