A friend who lives in the neighborhood took me to this new Main Street bistro, describing the chef Herve Martin as having great credentials. He certainly seems to have been in the right places, the website mentioning two of my favorites, Troisgros in Roanne and Vancouver Five Sails, as alma maters.
It’s a bit larger-than-expected room with uncrowded table settings and traditional French bistro cambered mirrors on the wall. There are a few outdoor tables understandably unoccupied because of deafening street noise. It’s a perfectly clean and delicious French-food smell and a cheerful sincere welcome as we walk in the door, the place 85% full at 6 PM on a Wednesday night. The size of the room dampens the considerable conversation noise and even a baby crying from time to time.
The menu is pitched between full-on French bistro food (which might have included kidneys or other more arcane stuff) and the expected gentrifying South Main Street crowd. Duck confit, escargot, sweetbread, and scallops as starters; cassoulet, coq au vin, moules frites, vegetarian plat du jour, etc. as mains.
The wine list is abbreviated and without vintage dates (unless you hit “From the Cellar”, where prices start close to $100 and head north), with one carafe and single-glass item per varietal category. Our Chateau de Chamilly backwoods burgundy was coarse and above room temperature at $39 for 500ml.
The sweetbread starter was absolutely terrific. M. Martin certainly isn’t afraid of salt and I didn’t have to ask for any. The beautifully delicate soft-cooked morsels are served with capers, tomatoes, onion, parsley, lemon butter, and a celeriac remoulade, a lovely gently sour treat.
My main was the cassoulet, which was very satisfying. The duck confit was pleasant, and the rest of the elements were served separately rather than in a stew. Unusual in my experience was the inclusion of a couple of square inches of pork belly with its succulent fat. The sausage could’ve been a bit more moist. Friend had coq au vin, traditional, soft and tender, cooked in a reasonable-class red, and served with noodles.
$109 pre-tip for two of us including the wine. Starters average $12, mains average about 24. Near-expectation cost considering the real estate, well below it for the food.
I rate this a minor but significant find. I strongly suspect the chef is holding back his horses in order not to scare off what he imagines is a pretty conservative catchment-area clientele. I think he should go for a little more real French fare because this formerly low working-class neighborhood now has 33-foot lots selling for close to a million. I see there is a brunch menu which looks delicious and I’ll give it a try as an alternative to our favourite Pastis. Food 8.4, service 7.5, ambience 7.9, value 8.6.