No one will be disappointed at Le Bilboquet, as it’s a fun staycation under the starry (étoilé) glass ceiling where diners get a chance to show off their broken college French and feel like it’s a special occasion night. Le Bilboquet bills itself as classic French, but we thought it was happily more nouvelle, accenting the fresh and light, green vegetables and reduced cook time.
Small details lead to inquiring about what really is a “bilboquet.” The secret is out as a traditional child’s toy with a ball connected to a string implying “playful.” Those with long memories may recall head chef Cyrille Holata, who served under French chef Joel Antunes in the eponymous Joel Brasserie on Northside Parkway, and more recently Davio’s in Phipps Plaza.
The ambiance is a cool vibe punctuated with a Kate Moss Chanel poster and terrarium-like exposed glass with twinkling exterior lights. The TV could be distracting where bar meets bistro. Well-placed other mixed media art is chic. The floor is a snazzy European deco terrazzo.
The cuisine was authentic without being heavy handed, and not overly sauced. It was a modern take on French food with attention to detail. The menu is appetizer loaded with 15 hors d’oeuvres: the red and gold beet salad with oranges and goat cheese (La Salade de Betteraves et Chevre, $16) was a work of art. The beets were thinly shaved instead of chunks. The scallion topping was a nice touch. The tuna tartare ($21) with sesame dressing added Japanese flair. Interesting to note that tuna tartare originated in Nagasaka as a Franco-Japanese creation.
One diner at our table boasted that her best dish was the velvety butternut squash soup ($10), which was a “Large portion with savory pecans and a touch of parsley.” Although I am not traditionally a Roquefort fan, the endive salad ($14) was shareable and the tastiest ever. That’s the first thing I would order on the next visit. The dressing was tossed just right enough to tease and tang. Do not get this dressing on the side. Live large.
Each page of the menu re-states a $2 spilt fee. One wonders how cumbersome that could that be at these price points.
Our fish entrees (les poissons) were the dorade over cauliflower puree and seared Atlantic salmon filet with English peas à la Francaise on a bed of lentils. A standout on the dorade presentation was the firm, bright green rapini, broccoli rabe with all the edible buds and stems, but without the head of the broccoli. It’s known for being slightly bitter and is often paired with Mediterranean entrees. Dorade is a bream fish found in Mediterranean waters of Greece, France, Turkey and even Eilat, on the Red Sea in Israel. Research later showed that dorade is not a kosher fish despite the white meat akin to pompano and red snapper. Branzino with red pepper and fennel confit is another fine choice.
An authentic French restaurant should have an extensive wine list. Magnums and super magnums, vintage, non-vintage, Bordeaux, blancs, American rouges, Loire rouges and cuvées prestige. We had a bubbly glass of Crémant de Limoux Brut NV ($9) which spoke French with bubbly pin pricks on the tongue. And there are trendy cocktails galore. Our server recommended the gin-based Street Car, which did not disappoint.
The most exquisitely crafted dessert was Le Mille Feuille, an elongated Napoleon with whiskey pastry cream and coffee ice cream. It no doubt took some thought in composition but didn’t have enough body. The colorful sorbets in mango, lemon and raspberry were refreshing. Granted more wise and authentic choices would have been caramelized apples à la mode, lemon curd with Swiss meringue /lime supreme, profiteroles, or homemade rice pudding with exotic fruits.
Our head server was right out of GQ magazine and saw that the courses flowed smoothly and the food temperature was on point.
Le Bilboquet has been open for decades on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, along with locations in Brazil and Texas. Here it’s at 3027 Bolling Way in The Shops Buckhead with three-hour free self-parking. Valet is available. Open daily for lunch and dinner. When the weather is nice, sit outside and be transported to a Parisian café.