Restaurants & Bars

Bistro Jeanty firing on all cylinders (long)

Jonathan King | Feb 2, 200201:54 PM     4

My eight-year-old had Friday off from school, so we took advantage of the sunshine to drive up to the Napa Valley on an "adventure." Not wanting to leave too much to chance, I booked a table at Bistro Jeanty in Yountville for 1 p.m. I'd been several times before (the most recent visit well over a year ago), and had found it enjoyable enough, but not remarkable. Yesterday's lunch, though, was exemplary, particularly when viewed through the prism of our family's two-week visit to Paris and Lyon last year (during which my daughter learned to eat and enjoy things like pigs' feet, pork cracklings, sea snails, and foie gras). Our meal yesterday not only evoked the best of our lunches in France, but matched them bite for bite.

I'd call Jeanty a bistro (as would the proprietor, evidently), although the SF Chronicle seems to want to have it two ways -- calling it both a "modest brasserie" and an "intimate bistro" in this year's Top 100 listing. It ain't no brasserie by me, and I'm not sure I'd call it "intimate," but by whatever name, it's a wonderful place for lunch. Here's what we had -- though I didn't take notes, so some details are already lost to memory.

We started with Deep-fried Smelts ($8.50)while studying the menu. This appetizer has been on the menu every time I’ve visited. You get a dozen or so beautifully fried, lightly battered smelt (heads removed but digestible spines left in), presented upright in a napkin-lined bistro-style water glass, with a wedge of lemon and a tasty emulsified dipping sauce on the side. (It's pinkish, but I didn't ask what the flavoring was.) Served piping hot, they are crisp and only slightly fishy, and a fine foil for a glass of lightly chilled Corbieres rose ($6).

Then we ordered two salads, to be served together:

Salade au Bacon et Oeuf Mollet ($8.50)

Sounded like, and strongly resembled, a classic salade Lyonnais, with escarole, diced bacon, and a poached egg. Unlike a recent version from Albany’s Nizza la Bella, in which the escarole was flavored by swirling it through the hot dressing in the saute pan (thus yielding a thoroughly hot salad ... yechh!), this one, which featured cool greens mixed with a warm, vinegary bacon-flavored dressing, was impeccable in all respects. The ouef mollet was perfectly cooked, presented squarely atop the salad so that the coddled but still runny yolk could be broken evenly over the salad with one cut of the fork. The dressing was perfectly balanced, and the plate as a whole just couldn’t have been better. My daughter, who first encountered the dish at one of Lyon's marvelous bouchons, thought this version as good as the "original," and I had to agree.

Pieds de Cochon et Haricots Verts ($8.50)

Three large, squarish chunks of poached, marinated pigs' foot atop a bed of mustardy haricots verts. The cartilage had softened enough that the chunks could be cut with a fork; the meat was tender and rich. Very satisfying, though a bit on the filling side. The dressing differed enough from that of the salade au bacon so that the dishes didn’t reiterate each other when served together.

Filling up nicely, we decided to split one of the day's special main courses:

Braised lamb cheeks ($18). Six or eight tender morsels of thoroughly braised lamb cheek, moistened by a rich sauce (probably based on lamb stock, though I can’t be sure) and garnished with peas plus diced potato, green bean, and carrots. An honestly prepared example of cuisine bourgeoise: the sauce was rich from long simmering, and lightly thickened with some kind of starchy liaison. A beautiful dish, more than enough for two to share after the largesse of the salads. The sauce was actually too rich to pair well with the thin but still lively 1999 Beaujolais cru I ordered in half-bottle ($18); it would have been better with something more full-bodied ... perhaps the Buehler zinfandel also available by the glass on the somewhat limited wine list. (Corkage is $15, and next time I’ll take advantage of it.)

Dessert seemed obligatory. I went for my usual bistro fave...

Tarte tatin with creme fraiche ($8)-- an individually prepared tarte (not a slice of something larger), served warm with a tangy, only slightly sweetened creme fraiche. Good crunch to the caramelized exterior, a nice sweet/sour balance to the cooked fruit. I’m no dessert maven, so don’t have much more to say about this except that it was delicious! Unfortunately, it was too sweet to pair well with the glass of dessert wine I ordered, a Coteaux du Layon Chaume ’96 from Ch. la Roulerie ($10), which while lovely on its own was not nearly sweet enough to accompany a fruit tart this sweet, despite the maker’s specific claim to the contrary (http://www.vgas.com/acorou.htm).

Lily went for the creme caramel ($5.50), and claimed to enjoy it. I didn’t try it.

Total: $94.50 plus tax & tip for an indulgent bistro lunch that was as close to the equivalent experience in France as I can recall in this country. Totally worth it.

Link: http://www.bistrojeanty.com/

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