Originally published in 2013 on http://www.markberepeterson.com
Executive Chef Yannick Cam opened Bistro Provence, a decidedly casual restaurant, in the spring of 2010. Arriving in America in 1973 Cam has built his strong reputation as one of the top French chefs in the Washington DC area. His long list of restaurants begins with his four years as the head of the Four Seasons Restaurant, to Le Coup de Fusil, Le Pavillion, Yannick’s, and Le Paradou before Bistro Provence. His awards as a James Beard award finalist are staggering. I knew his pedigree before I stepped into his restaurant and was anticipating quite honestly to be blown away. If it was anything but near perfection I was bound to be disappointed. Simply I expected a lot from this meal, after all it was exactly the type of restaurant I love casual atmosphere and incredible food.
So did Cam and Bistro Provence meet my lofty expectations? Walking up to the restaurant my initial reaction can best be described as disappointed. If there was one thing I was asked to make it a better evening it would be to clean up the front of the restaurant. It not only wasn’t inviting, but I seriously wondered if there were two Bistro Provence in Bethesda. This simply couldn’t be the place. While I appreciated the embarrassment of plants outside, they could have some rhyme or reason to them and not the jungle of foliage that you must explore. We attempted to first enter the side service entrance as the entrance is not clearly marked. Entering the restaurant that is where my disappointment ended. I loved the décor, the casual elegant atmosphere. Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t paper placemats and plastic knives and forks. As a matter of fact it was one of the few restaurants you’ll enter these days with true linen tablecloths. My dining partner and I were allowed to choose a table; we were the first ones there that evening, not always a good sign but it was early.
We ordered a bottle of San Pellegrino mineral water, as many of you know I do not drink alcohol or wine due to my liver transplant. I used to be such a wine snob, but ah that was in another lifetime now. A quick glance at the menu and I knew the choices would not be easy or at least they shouldn’t be. To be honest though I am a one-hundred percent confirmed absolute escargots fanatic, addict, and snob, pick your adjective. My eyes eagerly scanned the menu finding my quarry. There it was, “Fricassée D‘Escargots aux Pleurotes, Purée D’Aubergines, Beurre a L’Ail” (Escargots, Eggplant Puree, Pleurotes, Garlic Butter). Pleurotes, it had been thirteen years since I lived in Paris and my French was rusty to say the least. Honestly I didn’t have a clue to what it meant. I knew it was a fricassée so my guess was a kind of mushroom, Oyster mushroom by the way was the answer. They were pure perfection. Honestly the perfect amount for an appetizer, but if there had been twice as much I would have greedily devoured them.
My aunt, my dining partner, ordered “Poupetons de Poisson Jus de Bouillabaisse,” (Fishcake, Bouillabaisse Jus). As much as I am an escargots devotee, my aunt sees the word bouillabaisse and the rest of the menu might as well be blank. She enjoyed every last bite and we were both more than pleased with our first course. A little about my aunt, she is a vegan with a seafood exception. Yes, that is a mighty big exception but she mostly keeps a vegan diet except on special occasions. To say I am not used to a vegan diet is a gross understatement. I have to admit that keeping a vegan diet probably made this meal even more luscious for me. I have great respect and admiration for vegans for their dedication to depriving themselves of so many delicious bites. The thought of merely giving up bacon makes me shiver, much less all meat. I was tempted to order a tall glass of milk, because that seemed so elegant to me at the moment after all the soy I had been drinking. One thing I learned on this trip, that I could have guessed before, there was absolutely zero chance I would ever become vegetarian or vegan. At least not by choice. I simply do not have the constitution to deprive myself of so many things which I love.
My main course option was simply elegant, delicious and absolutely perfect for the night and most definitely not vegan. “Poitrine de Canard Roti, Gateau de Patate Douce, Boudin de Volaille, Choux de Bruxelles,” (Roasted Duck Breasts, Sweet Potato Cake, Boudin, Brussel Sprouts). Roasted duck breast sounded delicious, I love properly cooked brussel sprouts, the sweet potato cake was enticing, but oh Boudin de Volaille. Duck and Foie Gras sausage was all I needed to know. I was sold. As I waited for the meal to arrive I realized I could easily be disappointed as this bite was so set up in my mind. The verdict… it was absolute perfection. It was easily the best thing I’ve eaten this past year. The duck breast was exquisitely cooked, the perfect counterpoint to the sausage. The roasted brussel sprouts were delicious. The sweet potato cake was light and elegant. The sausage though blew away all of my lofty expectations. I knew this restaurant would definitely go onto my list of restaurants to return to simply due to that one bite of perfection, much less for the rest of the elegant meal.
There was really no doubt what my aunt would select, “Bouillabaisse de Coquilles St. Jacques Poelees, Grosses Crevettes, Bar Roti,” (Bouillabaisse of Sea Scallops, Shrimp Sautéed and Bass). She seemed to enjoy every bite. The desserts were delicious, but couldn’t match the elegance of the first two courses. Unless you are an absolute dessert devotee then I would say focus on the first two courses and if you have room left for dessert then great. I’m honestly not the dessert fan that I once was, so the chances of a sweet course blowing away a savory one were very slim. The desserts were very good and my aunt seemed to adore hers’.
Would I return? Without a doubt next time I am in the area Bistro Provence will be on my short list of restaurants for an elegant evening. There are so many mysteries left on the menu waiting to be discovered. I might even discover one of them if I can pull myself away from the escargots and boudin. Thank you Chef Yannick Cam for exceeding my lofty expectations.