The Doctor is in Pescadou

Photo by Keith MayJazz musicians know food. They can tell you where to get the best grub in cities all around the world and will rave about somebody's mother—maybe their own—who turns out mouthwatering ham, chicken, rice, greens and pie for the entire band when they come to town.

But jazz musicians are rarely known for their own cooking. All those days on the road might be the reason. Or maybe it's because they spend so much of their time in practice—a process known as keeping up your chops that leaves no time for actual chop frying.

The exception to this rule is bassist Dr. Art Davis (the "Dr." results from a degree in psychology), a guy who was close to John Coltrane. You can hear him on the saxophonist's standout recordings Ascension, Ole! Coltrane and The Complete Africa/Brass Sessions. Davis' other credits range from cheeky trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and revered drummer Max Roach to his color-line-busting stints back in the '60s with the NBC studio orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. That Davis (now an instructor at Orange Coast College, UC Irvine and elsewhere) knows vittles is apparent in the fact that his annual scholarship fund-raiser and awards banquet is held at Costa Mesa's Gustaf Anders, among the best restaurants in Southern California. And past visits to his home following concerts were usually rewarded with ample, tasty smorgasbords prepared by the good doctor and his late wife, Gladys.

So good is Davis' cooking that while living in New York, his stove work for a social event was reviewed by noted New York Times restaurant critic Craig Claiborne. Claiborne's column, along with record covers and other memorabilia, hang proudly in the Davis home. In short, this is one bassist who really can cook.

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So when Dr. Davis suggested we dine at Pescadou Bistro, the suggestion carried some authority. I worked up an appetite for our meal by slapping on his latest recording, A Time Remembered, with pianist Herbie Hancock and saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, son of Davis' immortal colleague.

Despite its location—in a storefront across from Newport Beach City Hall—Pescadou manages to impart a south-of-France feel with vibrant colors and eclectic table settings. There are no menus here. A dozen or so daily prix-fixe offerings are listed on a chalkboard the server carries to your table. Three-course meals with soup or salad and dessert are $16.75—slightly more for items like lobster or rack of lamb. You'll find traditional French dishes—frog legs and coq au vin—as well as such bistro fare as rib-eye steak, bouillabaisse and a variety of fish dishes.

Right away, you get the feeling that the cooking here reflects the character of the chef and often owner, Daniel Sidhoum-Kennedy. The good doctor pronounced his split-pea soup rich and satisfying. My salad was dressed with a sprightly, citrus-redolent vinaigrette. The main courses exuded personality: succulent guinea fowl for the doctor and stewed rabbit melting off its bunny bones for me. Gently sautéed veggies were laced around the plates. The overall feeling, despite the crowded room, was that the chef was cooking just for us.

Over light, fruity tarts and strong coffee, we talked about the progress of Davis' 10-year-old scholarship and his plans for this year's John Coltrane Festival (held last weekend at the World Stage in Los Angeles). Good food and good conversation—isn't that what bistros are all about?

Pescadou Bistro, located at 3325 Newport Blvd., Newport Beach, is open for dinner, Sun.-Thurs., 5-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 5-11 p.m. (949) 675-6990. Dinner for two, $33.50-$38.50, food only. beer and Wine. AmEx, MC and Visa are accepted.

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Pescadou Bistro

3325 Newport Blvd.
Newport Beach, CA 92663


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