Sunday, February 21, 2010

French Bistrot in Philadelphia

Bistros in France are restaurants that serve simple, delicious and unpretentious food in a casual and comfortable atmosphere. Bistrot la Minette prides itself on being an authentic French bistro in the heart Philadelphia. So, when my friend and I stepped into this establishment late one cold, snowy, Friday night, I was pleasantly surprised by the authentic bistro décor. As the General Manager, John Gonzalez, walked us to our table, I surveyed the restaurant. The walls were covered with scenic photos of France, which I later learned were taken by Peggy Woosley, a professional photographer and the wife of Executive Chef Peter Woosley. The room was filled with diners eating at the small, white, marble tables so typical of French bistros. Moreover, the chatter of satisfied clients and the clink of copper pots from the open kitchen muffled the French music playing in the background. As I contemplated the menu, I was glad to see many classic bistro dishes, such as Escargots de Bourgogne and Cassoulet de Toulouse as well as other dishes I was less familiar with; for example, Flammenküche, described on the menu as being an “Alsatian ‘pizza.’”

After ordering, my friend and I were given a complementary gruyère gougère, which is a small, warm cheese puff. Being a fan of cheese, and of complementary food, I found the amuse-bouche hard to resist. When my appetizer arrived minutes later, I was struck by the presentation of my Escargots de Bourgogne ($12). Instead of being served in shells or a small bowl, each escargot was placed in its own individual grey, ceramic terrine. The presentation was impressive, but I found the taste and texture of the escargot even better. This dish was a wonderful example of the holy trinity of escargot preparation: a perfect balance of butter, parsley and garlic. My companion’s Terrine de Campagne ($9), which is sort of like a cold, French version of meatloaf made from pork and chicken, was served with two little brioche buns and ceramic jars of cornichons (the classic French pickle) and Dijon mustard. Although my companion and I both liked the dish, we agreed that we would have liked the flavor of the terrine to have been a little stronger and meatier.

When our server arrived with our main courses, my dinner partner and I both took a minute to admire, and take photos of, our beautifully presented dishes. My Truite Meunière ($23), a miller’s-style trout was wonderful in its simplicity; it was generously covered in a lemon brown butter sauce and served with green beans and fingerling potatoes. The fish was cooked just right—the meat tender enough to cut with a fork and the skin nice and crispy. The sauce was simple, but tasty, in the way only butter can be and the vegetables were well-cooked. However, the most notable thing about the dish was the sprinkling of chopped, toasted almonds, which gave each bite a unique taste as well as a satisfying crunch. Nevertheless, my friend’s Lapin Rôti à la Moutarde ($25), a mustard-braised rabbit with house-made tagliatelle, was the favorite of the two dishes. The rabbit’s sauce, a rich and powerful mixture of mustard, parsley and white wine, exploded in my mouth with its intense flavor. Moreover, the rabbit was tender and moist and the pasta, cooked to an a la dente perfection, was an ideal vehicle for consuming the flavorful sauce. My friend’s only complaint about the dish was that there wasn’t enough sauce or pasta, a testament to how much he enjoyed his meal.

Despite feeling slightly full from our previous two courses, my friend and I consumed our two desserts with gusto; we shared a Tarte Tatin ($8), a type of hot upside-down, caramelized apple tart as well as a raspberry Mille Feuille($8), a classic French dessert of layered puff-pastry, vanilla cream and fresh raspberries. Both deserts were simple, unpretentious and delectable—the defining traits of bistro cuisine. Moreover, after we finished our meal, our server presented us with two pieces of home-made dark chocolate truffles to fortify us against the cold Philadelphia night.

Overall, Bistrot la Minette is what it says it is—a traditional French bistro right off of Sixth and Bambridge. If you are searching for complicated, stuffy and pretentious French food, this is definitely not the restaurant you want. However, if you enjoy eating simple and classic French dishes, in a warm and inviting atmosphere, then Bistrot la Minette is the right place for you.

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