Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Bistro at Maison de Ville

Reading and listening to Rene's Parisian adventures conjured up memories of my own family trip to Paris in Christmas 2006. One of the highlights of that trip was our Christmas day meal. After attending noon Mass at Notre Dame, we crossed the Seine onto Île Saint-Louis and happened upon a quaint restaurant whose name I cannot recall. I remember our waiter was a soft-spoken portly fellow who showed incredible patience with my Dad attempting to substitute vegetables instead of potatoes with his entree. I remember the interior had vaulted ceilings, dark woods, and stained glass. I remember that I had house-cured salmon to start and an excellent roasted chicken for my main dish.

But most of all, I remember how incredibly small the kitchen was. The two women occupying that space had barely enough room to stand side-by-side, and their movements seemed to be choreographed into a well timed complementary dance. If one zigged, the other had no choice but to zag.

I had never seen a kitchen of such size until a few years later when I walked into The Bistro at Maison de Ville for the first time. The galley style kitchen is actually one of several attributes which evoke memories of meals in a bistro in the Marais in Paris or a classical bouchon in Lyon. The small, narrow, low-ceilinged dining room is another. Nestled next door to (of all places) the renovated Tropical Isle, ducking into this rather unassuming door on Toulouse transports me to a warm, comforting place where the moment is defined by the food, your friends at the table, and nothing else.

"The Bistro", as it is affectionately known, is well known as the launching pad for Susan Spicer. For many years maître d’ ran Patrick Van Hoorebeek, the King of Cork, ran the dining room. Chef Greg Picolo has been at the helm (and aft) of the kitchen for quite a while now, and the menu reflects his affinity for classical French fare with Creole influences.

Lunch and dinner at The Bistro are almost two completely different animals, with the mid-day menu not nearly as inspiring as its evening counterpart. Lunch at The Bistro should always begin with Chef Greg's pate provencal, whose consistency The Folk Singer describes as "chocolate butter." Pate is good in and of itself, but as you can see above, pate topped with seared foie gras is so much f*cking better. Your best choice for a main course at lunch is the salad of house smoked salmon rillette (which is not really a rillette), frisee, poached eggs, toffika caviar, and creamy caper dressing. This is just an outstanding dish, with the richness of the egg yolk, saltiness from the capers, and crackly pops of the caviar. Moules frites, croque monsieur, a burger, and fried chicken round out the rest of the lunch entrees, all solid overall but not star worthy.

For some reason the pate is not offered on the dinner menu, but often a complimentary ramekin of olive tapenade will found its way to your table. At night, the aforementioned salmon rillette salad is offered with one poached egg as a starter course. Dinner at The Bistro should include duck, and Chef Greg prepares le canard in a number of ways. The deconstructed cassoulet (pictured) is quite the standout, with confit of leg and thigh, garlic sausage, wild rice, and cannellini beans. However, the current duck offering probably was the best duck dish I have ever tasted: Roasted breast of duck, seared foie gras, and grilled peaches. The juicy duck breast was excellent all by its lonesome, but the combination of the breast with the rich foie gras and the sweetness of the grilled peach was a match made in heaven. Even the accompanying creamy risotto had tiny nibbles of duck confit dispersed throughout.

The menu always offers a daily appetizer and entree special, and I have had excellent luck with these in the past. A huge filet of drum is pan sauteed and served with a wonderfully acidic and spicy beure blanc spiked with caviar and wasabi. There is, of course, a filet whose tenderness is beyond reproach, but at $39 for 8oz. I would recommend looking elsewhere. Same goes for the paneed pork tenderloin "Ya Mom and Dem."

I have only made it to the dessert course at The Bistro on two occasions. I can't recall much about the praline torte other than I had written down that it was "awesome." I will never forget the chocolate sundae though - a simple, fantastic dessert with homemade whipped cream and rich chocolate.
Every time I walk into The Bistro and sit down, my first reaction is always "There is just something about this place that I love."  Really, the question should be: What's not to love?
The Bistro at Maison de Ville - Birdie/Eagle
733 Rue Toulouse
Lunch Thur, Fri, Mon
Dinner Thur - Mon


Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more. One of the best restaurants in town.

Anonymous said...

Nice write up. the Bistro is often overlooked. CharlieH

Becky said...

I had the salmon "rilette" (why do they call it that) for lunch the other day with a large $5 martini. Perfect. Love that place.

Cathy said...

Thanks for the review on the Bistro. Peeked in the window when I was in town a couple of weeks ago. It looks just like a Parisian bistro; now I see I will have to return and eat. Your restaurant on Ile Saint-Louis sounds like Aux Anysetiers du Roy. Ate there last December, and it was pretty good. And, yes, I was amazed by what was coming out of that dollhouse sized kitchen.