Chef Thomas Nouantanouvanh is the mind behind new Fresno restaurant L'Aperitif. Photo by Edward Smith
Written by Edward Smith
Chef Thomas Nouantanouvanh calls L’Aperitif Bistro Fusion in Fresno the culmination of his culinary career — a journey that led him from France to Texas to the Tower District, and finally to his French fusion restaurant.
Located at corner of Herndon and Cedar avenues, L’Aperitif is his expression of lessons learned from different cooking techniques from around the world.
L’Aperitif Bistro Fusion opened earlier this month at 6650 N. Cedar Ave. The name is for a drink a guest might have before a meal. That drink might come with an appetizer, but it is a chance for a diner to decide whether they want to eat there or move on, Nouantanouvanh said.
Giving people something they want to eat is exactly what Nouantanouvanh wants to do.
When coming up with the menu and concept for the restaurant, Nouantanouvanh thought about what Fresno needed. He referenced nearby steakhouses, Chinese and Teppanyaki restaurants. Why not bring them all here, he asked. He brought his knowledge from around the world to create the menu.
“My background is in French cuisine, but I’m Asian,” he said. “I used to work with Chinese, Japanese, Korean people in France. I have friends from Morocco, Algeria, Turkey.”
The menu begins with a choice of appetizers including tapas and canapés. Some of the appetizers stand up better to a take-out format than others, he said. He makes sure to tell people which those are.
On the appetizer menu, you can find escargot, spicy meatballs, mussels, scallops or salmon, as well as a selection of wines and sakes.
The menu ends with whole-meal soups, salads and charcuterie, as well as steaks, seafood and pasta.
Nouantanouvanh uses his background as both a sommelier and a fromagerie to pair foods with drinks. He likes to bring things together. Pasta pairs with wine as well as it does with sake, he said. Social media has brought people together and young people look the same around the world. The same is for food, he said. It’s no longer separate.” His ramen is served with cheese.
“Why not have spaghetti with sake, “ asked Nouantanouvanh.
His teriyaki bento boxes are served with rice pilaf because he likes it better, he said. The Salad Nicoise — a type of French salad — is served with grilled salmon instead of tuna because Americans don’t like cooked tuna, he said. He cooks steaks with only salt and pepper, finishing it with butter and herbs.
He stresses simplicity in cooking.
“Less touch, big flavor,” he says.
Before L’Aperitif, Nouantanouvanh operated Tower Sushi, taking over when it was called Mr. Sushi from his brother-in-law. But when the landlords changed, he was limited to month-to-month lease terms. So, he decided to move to Cedar and Herndon avenues in the former Shenanigans Irish Pub and Grill space. The dark wood there reminded him of German beerhouses from when he lived in Alsace, near the border of France and Germany.
Before Tower Sushi, Nouantanouvanh was executive chef at Chukchansi Gold Restaurant and Casino, and before that, he was in Texas. But his culinary roots began in France, where he worked under several chefs, even operating his own restaurant.
Opening up during the pandemic was a double-edged sword for Nouantanouvanh. While no one can dine-in at his restaurant specifically designed for people to sit and stay, he does say that opening up now lets him try out the model.
“For the new concept that I built, it’s good to go slow,” he said.
L’Aperitif is open for happy hour and dinner, beginning at 3:30 p.m. and closing at 8 p.m. When dine-in returns, it will be open until 11 p.m. Until then, he has a temporary menu he is tinkering with.
“Let’s enjoy what we like,” he said. “I like to drink. I like to enjoy wine. I like small food from different countries.”
“This is L’Aperitif,” he added.