Bistrot La Minette

I wrote the below review after my first dining experience at Philadelphia’s Bistrot La Minette in the summer of 2011.  After dining there several times during the past two years, most recently for dinner on Sunday, I can still say that it is a top choice.

My husband, my dear friend and I started the evening with a toast of Kir Royales sweetened with Crème de Cassis.  Looking back, those cocktails should have been a hint at the luxurious meal that was to come.

Although the menu changes every three months, the chef insists on preserving some staples, including the escargot and rabbit from our first trip.  As a result, the menu on Sunday contained some old favorites as well as new options.  For our first course, we ordered the following:

  • Terrine de foie gras – duck liver paté with arugula, cognac raisins and a honey vinaigrette
  • Salade d’endives – endive, fennel, walnuts, Comté, pears and a walnut dressing
  • Tartar de saumon – salmon tartar, mustard vinaigrette, Puy lentils, crème fraiche and a blood orange vinaigrette
Endive salad
Endive salad

The foie gras was silky and rich; the sweetness of the cognac raisins and the toasted brioche on which the foie gras was served were complemented by the peppery arugula.  Our waiter, Kane, paired the foie gras with a Domaine Berthet-Bondet MacVin du Jura, a white dessert wine that was the perfect counterpart to the lush foie gras. The endive salad made for a lovely presentation and a perfect combination of fall fruit and greens.  The blood orange vinaigrette gave the already refreshing tartar a wintery twist.

Terrine of foie gras
Terrine of foie gras

We then enjoyed the following main courses:

  • Joue de boeuf bourguignon – Burgundy style beef cheeks, bacon, mushrooms, pearl onions, potatoes and roasted carrots
  • Ravioli aux poireaux – leek ravioli, brown butter, carrot puree, spinach and Boucheron cheese
  • Lapin roti à la moutarde – mustard braised rabbit with tagliatelle

The beef cheeks were a rich and hearty, but not heavy, dish for a cold, windy day.  One of my favorite things about the bourguignon was that the potatoes were sliced in long strips and caramelized to a golden brown on one side.  The leek in the new pasta offering served as a mild yet tasty filling to the ravioli.  In addition, we were happy to find that the rabbit was as good as it was the first time, braised to a perfect texture.

Kane was not only very attentive and knowledgeable, but also very creative and generous.  When we ordered the house special dessert, the tarte tatin – an upside down apple tart with caramel ice cream – Kane told us that he would also bring a tasting of sorbets and the mille feuille aux framboises to our table.  The cassis, pear and apple sorbets (all made in house) were as fresh as the fruit themselves, and I would recommend them as a light postlude.  I also must mention Kane’s dessert wine pairings, especially his Calvados cocktail with ground cinnamon and ginger to accompany the tarte tatin.  The sweet spices softened the Calvados and transformed it into tarte tatin in a glass.

Trio of sorbets
Trio of sorbets

After another superb meal, I am confident that there is no cozier place to be on a frigid fall or winter evening than in the dining room of Bistrot La Minette.

Tarte tatin and mille feuille
Tarte tatin and mille feuille
Calvados (paired with tart tatin) and Port (paired with mille feuille)
Calvados (paired with tart tatin) and Port (paired with mille feuille)

Bistrot La Minette – Authentic French Bistrot in Philadelphia’s Queen Village

 by Susan E. Poppiti, Esquire

This month, cousin Susan offers this interesting restaurant review.  For those of us who don’t get out of Delaware much, “bistrot” is an alternative spelling for “bistro”.  –Ciro

When I think of restaurant reviews, I think of Ruth Reichl, former restaurant critic for the New York Times and last editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine.  Prior to writing a review, Ms. Reichl would dine at a restaurant up to five times over a period of many months.  In addition, Ms. Reichl frequently visited restaurants in elaborate disguises to prevent chefs, servers and sommeliers from discovering her true identity as she dined.[1]

I therefore begin my review with a disclaimer.  I did not visit Bistrot La Minette five times prior to writing this review; I dined there once.  Also, I was not incognito; I went during the heat wave in early June and decided that it was just too hot for a wig, hat and heavy make-up.  Despite my nonconformance to Ms. Reichl’s practices for my first restaurant review (at some point, I would like to find myself in a position to follow her practices), I believe that I can offer a thorough, objective opinion.  I dined at Bistrot La Minette with three other discriminating palates – my husband Vincent and two of my original cooking students who will attend my program for the third time this summer (part of the program will include accompanying us on “A Food Tour in Provence, France”).  Together we sampled ten dishes from the menu, each ordering a different appetizer and main course and then sharing two desserts.  This deliberate selection gave us the opportunity to enjoy a multitude of taste sensations.

Bistrot La Minette, located on 6th Street just south of South Street, is a truly authentic French bistrot.   I first realized this when I scanned the drinks side of the menu and saw the four brands of Pastis offered and the variety of options for Kir Royales, from the traditional Crème de Cassis to the St. Germain elderflower liqueur.  Then, words like sardines, rabbit, duck and escargots started to pop off the menu, and I knew this restaurant was truly français.

The appetizers ranged from a pâté en croute to wild mushrooms served in a Jura wine over a puff pastry with fava beans.  One of our starter selections was the grilled sardines served with roasted red peppers.  The presentation was striking – the alternating silvery sardines and red pepper strips created an attractive mosaic.  The lemon fennel seed vinaigrette was an ideal accompaniment to the sweet peppers and slightly salty sardines.  Another of our choices was the Pissaladière, a traditional Provençal onion tart with anchovies and olives.  Rather than serve a slice of a larger tart, Chef Peter Woolsey created an individual small square of crisp pastry, perfect for cutting into four smaller squares for sharing.  The favorite appetizer was unanimous – the Escargots de Bourgogne.  These snails were served with herbed butter in individual tiny potteries.  Each was topped with a thin crouton to provide a perfect crunch along with the slight chew of the snail.  Not only was the presentation ideal for passing around to share, it provided the perfect vehicle to enjoy every last drop of herbed butter.  Once the snails were consumed, we tipped back the small containers like shot glasses and left no trace of delicious butter behind.

Some restaurants offer such dazzling appetizers that the main courses are anticlimactic.  This was not the case at Bistrot La Minette.  The main dishes were just as attractive and tasty as the starters.  We enjoyed the lapin rôti à la moutarde, rabbit braised in Dijon mustard, with homemade tagliatelle pasta on the side.  The tanginess and bite of the mustard in this classic French preparation highlighted the mild, sweet rabbit.  Our group also sampled the pan roasted duck breast with black currant sauce, white asparagus and potato confit.  The white asparagus served as a light and bright contrast to the thick, sweet sauce.  My main course was the faux filet, a pan seared NY strip, with porcini jus.  I was compelled to order it when I saw that it would be served with one of my favorite spring delicacies – ramps.  (As you’ve probably noted from the fava beans, ramps and asparagus, the chef does an excellent job of incorporating fresh, seasonal ingredients.)  This beef proved to be a very tender and flavorful cut.  As one of my student friends is a Peggy, we had to order a side of the Gratin de Pâte “à la Peggy”, the baked macaroni and cheese named after the chef’s wife.  Even this classic American dish was made more French when enjoyed alongside the above dishes.

To conclude our dining experience, we ordered a trio of sorbets and a trio of gelati.  The highlight of the fruit sorbets was the dark, rich cassis, and the focal point of the gelati was the rich, creamy coffee.  This was a light, refreshing ending to a meal filled with a myriad tastes.

On a practical note, the prices were reasonable, with appetizers ranging from $10 to $14 and main courses ranging from $18 to $29.  The wine list is also affordable and offers a good variety – an important feature in light of the many BYOB restaurants in Philly.  We noted that the restaurant also offers movie nights on its outdoor patio where diners can enjoy a French movie along with a French meal.

I highly recommend Bistrot La Minette for anyone in search of a French culinary adventure on this side of the Atlantic.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2011 issue of The Journal of the Delaware State Bar Association, a publication of the Delaware State Bar Association.  Copyright © Delaware State Bar Association 2011.  All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

[1] See Ruth Reichl.  Garlic and Sapphires.  New York: Penguin Books, 2005.

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