Restaurant Reviews --> Bijou, Lebanon
A little bit of France across from the County Courthouse
Part of the fun of this newsletter is the "obligation" we have to dine out so that we can write restaurant reviews. You know, it's sort like having to taste and review all of the new wine arrivals. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it!! We think we may have found a real treasure - excellent food, interesting environment, undiscovered, but not quite "hitting their stride" yet.
At the urging of several of our customers, we visited a new (7-weeks old) French restaurant in Lebanon on Saturday night. Yes, you read that correctly - a classic, elegant French restaurant on the Square in downtown Lebanon. We struggled with "why" that location, and while we certainly agree that it is only 30 minutes from downtown, and less than that from the fine-dining population residing in Carmel and Zionsville, the location is certainly on the wrong side of the fine dining map. We certainly hope that the "build it and they will come" theory works. We predict good things should be in store for co-owners Kerry Even and his wife, chef Candace Winter.
Our first impression was one of clubby, old world elegance. Two contiguous storefronts were opened up, keeping the spacious, yet private bar on one side and the restaurant on the other. Lots of dark wood, heavy crown molding and the large bar front gave the feel of having been there for years; however, we learned that it was all newly constructed, built no less by Kerry himself. Half wall dividers topped with marble promoted intimacy between the well-sized and well-spaced tables. While it looked appealing to sit in the front and admire the architecture of the old courthouse, we opted for the comfort of a booth. (Kerry jokingly gave us our choice of the papa, mama or baby bear booth - remember, he built them himself). The interior color scheme of sage green, gold and deep red was reflected throughout the upholstery, carpet and window coverings. A favorite touch was the antique reproduction wall sconce in our booth area with its own dimmer switch. The opportunity to increase the light for menu reading was particularly helpful since Linda advanced into reading glasses just last week, but won't use them yet - since they are for "middle aged people."
Our table was set with an elegant setting of Wedgewood china (yes, we discretely looked at the backside of the plate) which we expected to have whisked away when the food began to arrive. Oh contraire, the entire meal was served on the fine china, and the wine served in good quality, very appropriate wine glasses.
While Linda focused on the decor, I focused on the wood and marble wine station that enclosed 4 U-Line wine storage units and was flanked by two 6 foot Sub Zero wine keepers. These units store their wines at perfect cellarand presentation temperatures. This is the kind of attention to detail I really appreciate. I only wish that any of Indianapolis' finer restaurants had as much respect for their wine and their patrons. The wine list is diverse, has a number of outstanding selections and is very fairly priced. We began with glasses of the Dr.Burkin Wolf, a dry Riesling that makes a nice aperitif but was also a nice accompaniment to the Grilled Prawn appetizer. Dinner was accompanied by a Italian Agligianco from Feudi di San Gregorio at $25, a wine I recommend when the dinner choices say white, but you really want red (Wine Advocate 87, $14 here at Grapevine Cottage). Also highly recommended are the 1997 Monticello "Jefferson Cuvee" Cabernet, a steal at $41 (Wine Spectator 91) and the 1998 King Estate Pinot Gris at $24 (Wine Spectator 87).
The first food surprise was the bread. Perfect French loaves arrived, crusty on the outside and fluffy on the inside prepared in a special oven that injects just the right amount of steam needed to create true French bread. At this point, I was ready to request more bread and extra ramekins of unsalted butter in lieu of dinner, but Linda persuaded otherwise. We began by sharing the Grilled Prawns with Herbs de Provence appetizer. This simple but elegant combination was accompanied by light greens in a mustard based vinaigrette that matched well with the shrimp. Linda then chose the Chicken Lemongrass soup with Shao Mai Dumpling that proved to be refreshingly delicate and filled with fresh lemongrass flavors and a hint of sesame oil and green onion. While I appreciate delicate, don't make the drive without having the onion soup! Dark, rich and thick with sweet onions, it is topped with the traditional crouton and melted cheese and is, without a doubt, the best onion soup I have ever had. Kerry also assured us that Candace's Lobster Bisque is just as intense, giving me a definite reason to return. For our salad we had the Butter lettuce with Dried Cherries and Spiced Pecans in a Raspberry Vinaigrette. Presented as full butter leaves, it was perhaps a little understated for my taste, but much better after we requested additional dressing.
Our entrees were slow in coming, but worth the wait. My sautéed Duck Breast with Mango Sauce was prepared in the classic French style and presented as medium rare medallions (the first time I was served duck this way in Gascony I thought I had been served beef tenderloin by mistake). It was accompanied by two lacey chive and egg crepes, spears of perfectly steamed asparagus with a light garlic butter and dish of outstanding Julianne scalloped potatoes. Linda opted for the Salmon and Scrod in Rice Paper with lime Aioli, again accompanied by perfect asparagus. The fish was prepared like a rice paper egg roll. The fish was just right, moist, tender and very tasty with the lime aioli (a very authentic French garlic mayonnaise - use sparingly). The rice paper wrappers tended to retain a quite bit of the oil, and while very tasty, were best left mostly unconsumed. Other entrees we saw being served were a Beef Filet with a classic Béarnaise and Lamb Loin Chops with Rosemary, two more reasons to go back! Dessert was an Italian cream molded in the shape of a scallop shell with raspberry sauce and excellent coffee served from heavy silver pots. After dinner we learned that Candace has spent time in the kitchens at The Glass Chimney and Five Seasons, as well as recent training in France, while Kerry comes from the computer software business. I think we were most impressed with the quality of the food and the attention to detail everywhere in the restaurant. This is the kind of elegant atmosphere and food that introduced us to fine dining. Had you added an army of snooty waiters in tuxes (part of the reason they all went out of business) and we could have been in the former LaTour restaurant at the top of the former INB Tower.
Both Kerry and Candace confess that staffing is a problem. They were short a server and Kerry was pulling double duty in the dining room while Candace was running the kitchen with only one assistant. I am sure that it is a cart and horse issue. You need the staff to do the volume but you need the volume to pay the staff. They just need to find the right people, hit their stride and it will all come together. In the meantime, the food was excellent and the prices fair, $119 including wine and before tip. Give them a try - we think you will enjoy it! Besides, Lebanon's not that far away if you have a reason to go. From Main Street we were there in 20 minutes. Let us know what you think.... (Reservations Requested)
On the Square
111 West Main Street
Lebanon, IN 46052
765 482 7090
January 31, 2001