Excellent food, charming service, and attractive space conspire to make Bistro Parisien a uniformly delightful dining experience.
By Ryan McGreal
Published January 25, 2010
I'm nominally a vegetarian, though I'll make an exception for the chance to try something really interesting. Let me say that I fell off the wagon hard this weekend.
It started with the Robbie Burns Dinner on Friday night (my Irish Catholic ancestors are rolling in their graves right now), complete with bagpipes and "For a' that, and a' that / It's coming yet for a' that" ... and, of course, haggis. (No wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie, alas.)
Haggis, for those of you with only a hazy awareness of it, consists of sheep's organs minced with onions and spices, stuffed into a stomach (the sheep's first, and later yours) and simmered. It turned out to be quite tasty; it rather reminded me of a cross between a coarse fois gras and the steak and kidney pies my parents used to feed me as a child.
But after an evening of neeps and tatties and suet ... well, Scotland isn't exactly known for its culinary excellence. So on Saturday, we reset our palates with a visit to Bistro Parisien, 150 James Street South between Bold and Duke.
France is known for its culinary excellence, and that excellence was on full display during our visit.
The traditional French restaurant, located in one of the gorgeous nineteenth century stone rowhouses on James South, is warm and clean, with tall windows, high ceilings and an ornate medallion highlighting the large chandelier that overhangs the tables.
When we arrived, the maitre d' took our coats and led us to our seats to the sweet sounds of classical Chanson.
The waiter was attentive and charming, regaling us with entertaining stories as he poured our wine. He might have come across as obsequious but for the appealing frisson of a sharp edge that is the hallmark of all great waiters.
But the food. After all, the food is why people go to French restaurants. (For that matter, it's why Knopf continues to sell Mastering the Art of French Cooking fifty years after the first publication.)
I'm happy to report that the food at Bistro Parisien was uniformly excellent, complemented nicely by the crisp, fruity French house wine, La Vieille Ferme.
After enjoying fresh-baked sesame bread, we started with a selection of appetizers: escargots in mushroom caps baked under cheese; grilled calamari with tomatoes and olives; and pâtés of rabbit and wild boar, served with toast points and garnished with radish and pickled red onion.
The escargots were delightfully buttery and garlicky. The calamari was fresh and tart and tender. The rabbit paté was smooth and almost creamy, while the boar had more of a wild, gamey bite to it; the two contrasted nicely.
For my entrée, I had the lamb shank (sourced locally from Cumbrae Farms) served on a chevre bread pudding with roasted root vegetables, beets, green beans, steamed broccoli, encrusted baked cauliflower and spinach and cheese.
The lamb, braised in a red wine sauce, was tender and delicious, falling off the bone. The pudding was moist and flavourful, and the array of sides nicely balanced each other and the lamb itself.
The other guests had the Coq au Vin, a traditional dish of braised chicken in red wine and mushrooms; and the special of the day, a delicate sole with capers, tapenade and grilled shrimp, served on a bed of frites. Everyone was very pleased with their meals.
We were all quite full after the main course, but we had espied another diner enjoying a crème brûlée and we couldn't resist sharing one around our table. Like the rest of the meal, it was as delicious as it was stylishly arranged. The custard was rich with a nicely caramelized crust, garnished with chocolate, berry and vanilla coulis and fresh berries.
For all that, the prices are quite reasonable; excellent value for the high quality of the food, presentation and service.
We've been meaning to try out Bistro Parisien since it opened in July 2006. After we finally made it there on Saturday evening, we left with only one regret - that we hadn't gone sooner.