CHEF JACQUES Maniere is repeatedly praised as one of the most brilliant, creative and highly skilled cooks in the dazzling restaurant world of Paris -- and not without justification. Almost from the first moment he opend a small bistro in a suburb of Paris 15 years ago, he was surrounded by a circle of admiring and adoring devotees, by an aura of scintillating success.
Then he moved to the Boulevard St. Germain in the center of the city with his tiny Le Pactole, where his incredible inventions and temper tantrums virtually made him world famous. There, he was dispensing dinners at the luxury levels of a Mercedes or Rolls Royce.
But Le Pactole (which, incidentally, was the name of the mythical river in which King Midas bathed) was much too small, too old-fashioned and too mechanically inefficient to allow Maniere to become even a Prince Midas. So, in 1975 Jacques moved down the boulevard and opened his much larger and more modern Dodin Bouffant (the name is that of the hero, a grand gourmet, in the modern satirical novel by Marcel Rouff).
Jacques' prices were lower, the splendor of his imagination was outstanding, and the value of the menus excellent. He had switched to the Buick market.
Now Maniere has surprised us all by opening a third restaurant, and this time he is quite frankly in the Chevy market. He is out to prove that you can eat extremely fresh and beautifully prepared food at a relatively reasonable price -- and idea of absorbing interest to every American tourist heading for Paris this fall and for most Parisians as well.
Jacques' new restaurant is called La Maree Verte (the Green Tide) and, depending on the rate of exchange, every meal -- including wine and all tips -- costs a fixed price of 100 francs ($22.50 per person).
As the name implies, there is plenty of fresh seafood, but a reasonably wide variety of meats is served as well. La Maree Verte is so new that I haven't tried it yet, by my Paris friends are sending me rave notices, and several notes from Maniere himself have told me of his plans and recipes.
Maniere was the originator of the nouvelle cuisine idea of opening a meal with an appetizer of raw fish "cooked" in the juice of lemons or limes. The objective in cooking fish to perfection is to coagulate the glutinous protein elements. This is normally done by heat, but can be achieved just as well by marinating the fish in acid juice. The Peruvians with their "seviche" have known this trick for 1,000 years.
It remained for Jacques Maniere to bring the idea to the modern French menu. For his newest restaurant, he is revising and modernizing one of his most dramatic inventions -- an appetizer of raw sea scallops "cooked" in lime juice, then served garnished with whole green peppercorns.
It takes five minutes or less to prepare. The job has to be done the day before serving, so the scallops can marinate overnight in the refrigerator. They then can be served either on ice-cold plates or as canapes on small rounds of toast. Either way, this is a dramatic and original start of a dinner -- delightfully refreshing, excellent in taste and texture. If your friends are squeamish, don't mention the word "raw" until after they have told you how good it is.
RAW SCALLOPS WITH GREEN PEPPERCORNS
(4 servings) 12 fresh sea scallops, washed and thinly sliced across in circles about 1/8-inch thick 1/4 cup top-quality olive oil 4 medium fresh limes Salt, to taste 2 tablespoons finely snipped fresh chives (if available) or an equal amount of finely minced green scallion tops 1 tablespoon finely minced shallots 2 tablespoons whole green peppercorns, preferably Madagascar
Kitchen equipment: Covered glass refrigerator bowl or jar in which to marinate scallop slices, cutting board and sharp knives, wooden spoons, slotted spoon with small holes or slots.
Average time required: About 5 minutes to set the scallops to marinate. Marinate overnight, then serve.
The day before: setting the scallops to marinate.
Put the scallop slices into the refrigerator storage bowl or jar and add the olive oil, the freshly squeezed juice of 3 limes, the chives or green scallions, the minced shallot, and the green peppercorns, very lightly crushed with the flat side of a chopping knife, plus salt to taste.
Stir all these together very gently with a wooden spoon, so as not to crush any of the scallop slices. Cover the container and refrigerate overnight.
Perparing and serving.
At least an hour before serving, place the serving plates in the freezer. When you are ready to serve, use a small slotted spoon to lift out the scallop slices, letting each drain for a second or two. Divide them equally between the four serving plates. Set the slices to overlap slightly and place them in neat, pretty patterns.
Using the slotted spoon, fish out from the liquid some of the green chive or scallion, the shallots, and the green peppercorns. Lightly sprinkle them over the scallops on the plates. Finally, cut the last lime in half and spritz a little of its juice over the scallops, exactly as you would over a plate of oysters. Serve at once, quite cold, with small forks and toast triangles.
Serving notes: If you prefer, you can serve the scallop slices as canapes by placing them on small rounds of toast, or on thin slices of fresh fennel bulb or white turnip, or in little boats of Belgian endive. The scallops should of course, be garnished and spritzed exactly as when they are served on the plates.
Restaurant note: If you go to Paris, you will find La Maree Verte at 9 Rue de Pontoise in the 5th arroundisement and the telephone number is 325.89.41. They accept reservations up to 9:45 p.m. and are closed on Sundays.