Thursday, January 26, 2012

Bistrot La Minette

The monthly gathering of our Sunday Supper Club in January met at Bistro La Minette for their Sunday prix fixe dinner. $29 gets you a four course meal that would cost nearly twice that on a normal night. This is such a great deal for a restaurant of this caliber. If you bring a sizable group, you can also get seated in the private room just off the main dining area, lending a really intimate family feel to the evening. 

I never knew how much I loved, and how little I knew about, French cuisine until coming to Bistro La Minette a few years ago. At first look a French menu is intimidating - fancy preparations, lots of descriptions in French, and the occasional escargot (snail) on the menu. Bistro La Minette makes all this accessible to us non-Francophiles by offering less of the fine dining dishes and more bistro items like steak frites, cassoulet and coq-au-vin. This is what the masses eat and can afford in France. Simple preparations of good ingredients. 

We've eaten here a few times, once even for valentine's day, and it's always been great. This meal was one of the best meals we've had. Mainly because of such a good group of friends to share it with, the attentive and knowledgeable servers, and the range of foods that you get to try at a dinner like this. 

table for 15 please?
Pre-appetizers. Little bowls of fresh baked, still warm bread with crocks of salted butter stop the belly from rumbling too loudly for the anticipated meal to come. Pichets de Vin of red & white wine for $20 a piece kept everyone's glasses full. We had the entire side dining room to ourselves, which was probably a good thing for the rest of the dinner patrons after a few pitchets of wine. These pichets are a great deal - their house wine is nothing to snub your nose at and it's definitely more fun drinking it from a pitcher. 

Potage Parmentier - winter root vegetable soup; roasted chestnuts, sauteed chantrelle mushrooms

The soup course was a "potage parmentier" which is a puree of winter vegetables with some roasted chestnuts and sauteed chantrelle mushrooms floating on top. The menu mentions a drizzle of black truffle oil, but I didn't taste it. Didn't matter, the soup was still great even without it. The earthy chantrelles were perfect contrasting with the slightly sweet, creamy soup. Maybe some parsnips pureed in there?  Hard to tell exactly, but there was definitely a little bite underneath that cream base. Would love to try that truffle oil in there next time. 

Escargots de Bourgogne - Burgandy snails, herbed butter, crouton
A few or the more squeamish types got a salad for their appetizer, while the adventurous eaters at the table opted for the Escargots de Bourgogne that were offered on the prix fixe menu. Cleverly served in tiny little granite ramekins, one for each snail, with some rich herbed butter and an itsy bitsy crouton on top. If you can get over the texture, escargots are an intense burst of flavor in a very small package. Tasting earthy, dark, and like a concentrated portobello mushroom, they are such a quintessential French menu item. The little crunch of the crouton and the luscious butter sauce make these such a treat. This is why you go out to eat. No one is making these at home. 

Sardines Grillees - fresh filleted and grilled sardines, roasted red peppers, lemon vinaigrette
I've recently fallen in love with sardines. Not the oily, fishy tasting ones we usually think of that have been on the shelf at the Acme for 3 years. I'm talking about fresh from the ocean and either grilled or quickly deep fried. We had fantastic ones at a tapas bar in Sevilla - soooo good with a cold cervesa. Bistro La Minette offers theirs as a side dish - filleted and deboned (heads off), grilled, served with some roasted and peeled red peppers and a simple, bright lemon vinaigrette. Absolutely great. The slightly salty, oily fish grills up so nicely with a perfectly charred skin. They are crunchy and rich all at the same time. It's a shame they get such a bad rap. Give these a shot and see if you're not a convert. 

Pave de Saumon au Raifort - pan seared salmon, lentils cooked with onions & bacon, brussels spouts,  creme fraiche horseradish
The main course was salmon, pan seared with a creme fraiche and horseradish sauce (who knew it went so well with salmon?) on top of a bed of lentils that were cooked with bacon & onions and a couple brussels sprouts that had clearly seen some pork fat and/or butter. I don't necessarily associate salmon with French cuisine, but they have to eat something other than duck and beef right? This piece was seared nicely, not drying out the fish, and the horseradish sauce was perfect with it. Definitely have never seen it served over salmon but this was a great pairing - would love to try this one at home sometime. Even the lentils were good - not too starchy and with that glaze of bacon fat and chunks of onion, it was great with the fish. 

Gateau l’Opéra Multi-layered almond sponge cake, chocolate ganache, coffee butter cream, crème Chantilly  8

Dessert was prototypical French. The Gateau l' Opera - an almond sponge cake with alternating layers of chocolate ganache and coffee butter cream. This is the kind of thing that has made Paula Dean the spokeswoman for diabetes medication. So light yet so decadent. On the side was a scoop of the best vanilla ice cream I've ever tasted. The indulgently rich flavors of very fresh vanilla beans and high fat ice cream. Just a taste is all you get, but that is all you need. This is roll your eyes in the back of your head good. 

empty glasses and full bellies...

The weekly menu for the prix fixe is posted on the Friends of Bistro La Minette Facebook page which can be found here. It's usually up by Saturday afternoon  for the Sunday evening dinner. Doesn't give you much time to plan, but that's not really what it's about. This is about putting your trust in the chef, opening your mind and palette to some tastes and foods you've possibly never tried, and enjoying a meal with friends & family. Bon appétit! 


Food Baby Rating - Twins! 

Bistro La Minette
623 South 6th Street (at Bainbridge)
Philadelphia, PA

No comments:

Post a Comment