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The Flavors of France at Bistrot La Minette

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French cuisine. To all, but the most knowledgeable and dedicated foodies, the idea can be intimidating. I know, at least, that it intimidates the hell out of me.  After all, French inspired cooking is essentially responsible for fine dining as we know it today, and many styles and techniques owe their roots to the precision, patience and practice of centuries of dedicated French culinary artists.  Thus, as I begin my own tutelage at The International Culinary School this week, I wanted to try something authentic. Something real.  Lacking the appropriate funds to fly myself to Paris, I instead ambled over to the humble Bistrot La Minette in Queen Village.  Headed by Chef/Owner Peter Woolsey, whose impressive resume includes a degree in pastry arts at the famed Le Cordon Bleu in France and positions at Stephen Starr’s Striped Bass and Washington Square, this fairly new French Café style bistro has already garnished a reputation around Philadelphia as one of the best flavors of France you’re going to find on this side of the pond (well, in the Philadelphia area, at least).

         The stage is set just off the hustle and bustle of South Street.  A large curtain separates the dining room from the street, helping sustain the illusion that you stepped out of the cold and into a quiet corner of France.  The tables are opposed by one long red booth that runs the length of the café.  Soft yellow light glows from simple chandeliers.  Photographs line the walls, punctuated with a chalkboard of proper French pronunciation.  The décor exudes warmth and comfort.  As we’re seated, General Manager John Gonzalez informs us that due to their specific location, they’re not allowed to participate in Restaurant Week that’s currently happening in Philadelphia.  Fortunately, they weren’t daunted by district lines, and “unofficially” prepared a prix fixe three-course menu playing all through January for $30 per person ($42 with wine pairings).

         We graciously decide to participate in Bistrot’s own version of Restaurant Week, or Month as it would be, with a few of our own additions (naturally). 

Bistrot La Minette         Bread is served.  In most instances, I wouldn't consider this noteworthy.  However, Chef Woolsey married into a family of third-generation artisan bread bakers from France’s Burgundy region, and if you’re not careful, the fresh baguettes placed on your table will evaporate your appetite in minutes.  They’re that good.  Our first course from the prix fixe menu is a soup and salad.  The three-green salad, sharply dressed with a Dijon dressing and served under toasted baguettes and smooth boucheron cheese, was bright and properly crispy.  The root-vegetable soup was creamy, earthy and very good.  The fried leeks and black trumpet mushrooms gave the soup a nice sense of balance.  The salad gets a B+, thanks to that wonderful boucheron cheese, and I gave the soup a B.

 As a follow up, we went off the prix fixe and sampled a couple of first course items from the regular menu.  The salmon tar tar ($14), mixed with hard boiled egg, topped with lentils and drizzled with a blood orange vinaigrette, was a complex variety of flavors all working together in beautiful harmony (not to mention very pretty to look at).  An easy A.  With the tar tar came a unique gnocchi ($9), different from the gnocchi I was used to in that it was smoother, resembling a softer, creamier au gratin potato.  It was very hearty for a first course, served with mushrooms, caramelized onions and comté cheese. It wasn’t the prettiest dish, but the hearty dishes tend not to be.  B-

Bistrot La Minette

Our prix fixe entrées were a traditional beef bourguignon and a pan-seared dorade filet.  The beef bourguignon essentially reflected the soul of Bistrot La Minette; it was like something mom would make.  If mom had an extensive knowledge of fine French cuisine, of course.  The beef practically melts before you get a chance to chew it, and deserves an A-.  The dorade filet is flavorful, and quite tasty.  The walnut vinaigrette it’s served over cuts through the heavy flavor of the dorade like a knife.  A fennel confit rests under the filet and boasts phenomenal textures and flavors.  Another A-.

         Before long, we’ve reached desert, and for any chef with pastry knowledge as extensive as Chef Woolsey, this is the crucial moment.  Our sweet-tooths were ignited with a blackberry sorbet in raspberry sauce that was so light I hardly believed it was there.  It was, hands down, the best sorbet I’ve ever had, and the rest of the desert followed suit.  From the prix fixe menu, we had a lemon tart and black currant sorbet that balanced sweet and tart with the precision of a tight ropewalker.  Our other option was an above average crème brûlée that cut out the excessive egg-i-ness that normally plagues crème brûlée.  From the daily desert menu we ordered a white wine-poached pear that was like a shot of Christmas to the taste buds.  A+

         I won’t try to admit I’m an expert on French cuisine.  Far from it, as a matter of fact.  However, I know good food and good atmosphere as well as any of them, and Bistrot La Minette offers them both in spades.  Restaurant Month wraps up at the end of January, and I urge any and all to check out this wonder of a French bistrot before it’s over to get an adequate sampling of Chef Woolsey’s fine cuisine and be properly introduced to what you’ve been missing.  Bistrot La Minette and its knowledgeable staff is sure to be a regular fixture for return visits. 

Overall experience: A-

Address: 

Bistrot La Minette
623 S. 6th Street
Philadelphia, PA 
P 215.925.8000

Hours: 

Dinner | Monday - Thursday 5:30 - 10:30 pm | Friday - Saturday 5:30 - 11:30 pm

Lunch | Tuesday - Saturday 11:30 am - 2:30 pm

Closed Sunday