Adding to the recent French café/bistro/brasserie reports, I tried Hyde Street Bistro last week for my first time. I had mentioned to Steve Sherman, owner of William Cross Wine Merchants, my disappointment over the frisee salad from Bouchon (link below). He recommended the version at this bistro for the true taste of France, as well as other classics. Armed with this and the many positive mentions on this board, it was a no-brainer to take a look for myself.
My heart started to beat faster as soon as I peered through the window and read the wines of the day jotted on the chalkboard. A California restaurant with the guts to serve Cahors the black wine of southwest France - by the glass earns my confidence! I was even more pleased when I stepped inside and took in the warm pumpkin and saffron tones, paper-topped tables, and French bistro-type period posters and artwork devoted to a fine beverage, wine and grape theme. As the first customer of the day, I had my choice of tables and plopped myself in the back corner next to the wine racks so I could study the bottles. The breadth and quality of the small, but very well-chosen wine list was impressive - Sancerre, Fleurie, Burgundy, Crozes-Hermitage, Cotes du Rhone, Bordeaux Cru Bourgeois, Champagne, and not just one but TWO bottlings of Cahors, plus one of my touchstone wines, Mas de Daumas Gassac, the Chateau Latour of the Languedoc. The California part of the list leans towards the food-friendly crisp and lighter-style of Pinot Noir Morgan, Navarro, Edna Valley but who can ever have too much Pinot?
I made a trip to the ladies room to wash my hands, but mostly because I wanted to take a peek at the tiny kitchen. I was happy to see a big pile of washed frisee draining in the sink no greens shortage here! I also took a look at the small draped alcove tucked in the front corner that appeared to be designed for cozy couples dining.
The amuse, a toasted slice of baguette spread with fresh goat cheese and topped with snipped chives was offered, along with a basket of *warm* baguette and a pot of soft butter. Studying the menu, I almost got distracted by the duck confit, but I stayed true to my mission and ordered the frisee aux lardons, $7.50, moules frites, $10, plus a glass of the days Cahors.
Just by looking at the salad when it was presented, I could tell that it would be true to its roots. The poached egg on top made the slightest shimmy when the plate was set on the table, not the quiver of one too runny or the solid mass of one overcooked, but just right. The warm lardons were cut the right size, browned lightly but not crisped, and had the most satisfying moist resistance biting into them. Plenty of young frisee in the bowl tossed with a snappy and light vinaigrette flecked with an abundance of finely minced sweet shallots and garlic stained purplish-pink by the good quality red wine vinegar. The best part were the hot, freshly fried cubes of croutons that released a gusher of garlicky butter with each bite. I liked that the table was set with an individual pepper grinder so that I could add my own freshly ground black pepper at will. This classic salad was everything I could hope for, simple and perfectly executed.
The moules frites, offered as an appetizer, was more than I could finish after that salad. Fresh PEI mussels, small and sweet, were poached in white wine and butter with some diced tomatoes, shallots, garlic and parsley. The broth had such a heavenly sweetness I asked my server if there might be something else in the brew, a bit of sauternes perhaps? He came back from the kitchen with the answer that the sweetness comes from the natural sugars of the very fresh and high grade shallots and garlic. The frites, served on the side in a cone, were wonderful too.
The wine was 2000 Chateau La Coustarelle Cahors Grande Cuvee Prestige (80% Malbec/20% Tannat) and you can read more about it on the importers website. http://www.charlesnealselections.com/...
True to this appellations reputation, the Cahors was opaque and deep purple-black in color and very powerful. Thick in the mouth with firm yet ripe and velvety tannins, I was astounded at its richness and depth for a young and inexpensive country wine of no portfolio. Smoked meat, licorice, briary raspberry and blackberry, candied plums, espresso, carob, vanilla bean, and roasted nuts plied the palate with huge amounts of flavor in proportion to the robust structure. Certainly a bigger wine that the ideal match with my two dishes, but it was so well-balanced it didnt clash with them either. And, I consoled myself with the thought that the heart-healthy properties of the abundant polyphenols would counteract the lardons. (g) Highly recommended, suggested retail is $12.
The hostess and servers were friendly and helpful. I think they were amused by how much I was enjoying myself. (g) My one complaint is that the glass of wine was served in a Libby's filled nearly to the rim. I remedied this by grabbing a larger stem set on the adjoining table and pouring about a third of the wine into it at a time. For less than $30, including tax and tip, I got an ample and very satisfying meal, and a terrific glass of wine. Three-course prix fixe menu is $27.50.
I learned that the current owner/chef has been here for five years. Believe me, Im kicking myself that it took me this long to patronize one of my own neighborhoods eating establishments. Next time Im missing France, this is where Ill find the cure.