On Friday night, my better half and I walked to the local Loeb to buy some low acid orange juice. On our way, we saw that the vacancy at 1293 Wellington Street that was left by Juniper had been filled and was serving patrons. No sign-age was present, but the paper covering the windows had come down, the walls were freshly painted, two dining rooms were open, and the kitchen was in full swing.
The next morning, we wandered down again. The place was closed but, the chef and the owner were present. Seeing us peaking through the front window and with a small crowd gathering around us, the owner invited us in to take a tour of his new restaurant.
The owner was friendly and welcoming. He showed us around his new bistro, mentioned the tapas, and placed copies of the tentative menu in our hands. Apparently, a total of 25 people took part in a test of the new menu the evening before. The official opening is actually scheduled for next Monday (April 16, 2007). This most likely explains the ample boxes of wine on the floor and the sheets of plain paper that constituted the menu. The menu itself was short and sweet, just the way a bistro menu should read: a page for starters, a page for entrÃ©es, and a page of desserts. Of course, a wine menu was present as well.
Seeing the warm dining area with cinnamon colours, hard wood floors, and soft lights, Jenn and I made a reservation for the same evening. Besides, the menu lists a curious variety of dishes that can be best described as a fusion of worldly delights. Spanish tapas is present, but so too are some Asian (tuna sashimi), Italian (cannelloni), and classical French (coq au vin) dishes.
Our review follows:
Dinner at Le Petite Bill Bistro went well. We were the first to put our names in its pristine new reservation book and it will definitely not be the last time our name shows up.
The atmosphere in the restaurant was very relaxed and laid back. The waiters were quick to joke with customers and the owner was quite the charming host, perfectly happy to engage his guests to recommend a meal or to ask their opinions of their experiences in his bistro.
Though there did not seem to be a dress code, walking off the street in jeans and a fleecy does not do this establishment justice. Nevertheless, several patrons were dressed just that casually.
The dining room is spacious and can easily accommodate almost any group size. During our visit, the seatings accommodated two or four. Though, the tables could easily be moved together for larger groups. The table arrangement promoted privacy and visibility, so that a couple could have an intimate dinner and the staff could easily determine if their attention was needed.
The floor is wood and so are the tables and chairs. Each table was adorned with a reddish brown cloth upon which a single tea cozy flickered its light. The room itself was lit so that a warm glow reflected off the the cinnamon browns and reds of the walls and crown moldings. The effect was a delicate balance between warmth and simple elegance.
The service was exemplary. Our waiter, Diane, was very attentive and friendly. She was also fast, courteous and professional, which seemed common traits for all the waiters in the restaurant.
Our waiter was also knowledgeable about the entire menu and quick to supply recommendations. This was most likely due to the fact that the entire staff had tastings of the dishes from starters to desserts during the past two days.
One miner issue did arise. To the waiters of both this restaurant and others, please do not offer to grind pepper when you serve the meal. This is not East Side Mario’s. Your patrons want to try dishes that have been cooked and plated according to your head chef’s wishes. As a patron, I, for one, am not ready to unbalance a dish before I taste it. I trust your chef seasoned it properly.
Patrons will find both variety and creativity in the menu at Le Petite Bill Bistro. To demonstrate, the following are the entrÃ©es that were offered that evening.
The entrÃ©es vary in taste and origin from classical French to game meats, Asian fusion dishes, and creative take-offs on standard Italian fare. The starter menu was no different.
For starters, Jenn and I decided to split an order of the Savory Beignets.
Dubbed “fancy pogos” by our waiter, these deep fried confections of batter and sausage did not taste at all greasy. This means that the line cook at the fryer station had the oil heated to a sufficient temperature to brown and crisp the batter and he or she removed the beignets at just the right moment that they did not absorb any excess oil after they were cooked. The result was a light and fluffy batter. The beignets were a nice balance between meat and starch. They were served with a homemade ketchup that provided sweet and tart flavors to cut the saltiness of the sausage. The ketchup seemed to consist of finely diced tomatoes and red onions and just the right balance of spices. It was an excellent complement to the beignets.
For entrÃ©es, I had the Bison Burger. Jenn, the Baked Halibut.
I could not resist trying the Bison Burger. This was my first time eating bison. Having seen bison meat sale at Saslove’s Meat Market in the Wellington Village, I have been looking for good recipes to do it justice. Happily, my first taste of this meat came from professional hands.
The burger was cooked flawlessly: perfect doneness with just a slight pink in the middle. Warm juices even spilled onto my fingers as I ate it. The patty had a peppery crust that could only come from a proper searing on a well seasoned grill or griddle. Each bite tasted of very strong beef flavors that were balanced by the sweetness of a slice of ripe tomato and red onion. The fries were hand cut, hot, and crispy. As is the European tradition, they were served with a mayonnaise. It went surprising well with the fries.
Jenn’s dish consisted of a generous piece of baked halibut that was floated in a roasted tomato and fennel consommÃ© on a a sesame seed encrusted rice cake. Extremely unorthodox, the consommÃ© and rice cake provided clean tastes that heightened the flavor of the fish. The fish was perfectly cooked, tender and delicate. The rice cake was crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. It looked like the cake was pan fried because the sesame seeds were browned to impart a nutty flavor, but the rice was not at all hard. Deep frying the cake would have resulted in the rice puffing and crisping as well. The flavorful consommÃ© was simple with a fleeting sweetness and lots of body.
For dessert, while stuffed, we decided to share a slice of vanilla cheesecake with Blueberry Compote and fresh Strawberry PurÃ©e.
While the crumb crust was standard, the cake itself was light and airy, but rich at the same time. Unlike other cheesecakes we have tried, this one did not result in a heavy after-feeling. A luxurious amount of wild blueberries were used in the compote. Both the compote and purÃ©e provided acid to balance the richness of the cheesecake. The portioning of sauce to ethereal cheesecake was exquisite. There was just enough of each to accompany every bite. The cheesecake was perfect to share between two people who had large entrÃ©es.
The entire meal cost $75.69 CAD, which includes an approximately 14% tip. Our starter, Savory Beignets, cost $11.00. The Bison Burger cost $22.00. The Halibut and ConsommÃ© cost $19.00. Considering the quality and creativity of the dishes, this is a fair price.
Le Petit Bistro is a happy addition to the Wellington Epicurean row. The somewhat schitzophrenic menu worried me at first, but, having dined there, the variety of dishes will most likely serve to develop the bistro’s identity as an avant-garde eatery.
We highly recommend the restaurant if you happen into the Wellington Village.
The bistro opens officially at 11:00 am on April 16, 2007.
To the owner, I must apologize, but my work situates me too far away to participate in your opening. I am however happy to be one of the first patrons to dine in your new bistro. Best of luck to you. My better half and I will be returning soon.
Le Petit Bill Bistro
1293 Wellington Street