At the Table: Surprises in store at Waterford’s Le Quai Bistrot Français

Coquille St Jacques with artichoke and potato mash, truffles Champagne soubise and fresh vegetables. 

Coquille St Jacques with artichoke and potato mash, truffles Champagne soubise and fresh vegetables. 

WATERFORD — There are expectations around here for a French restaurant, even a bistro, and anything short of traditional French cuisine classically prepared gets the side-eye.

Let it go. Allow chef Mo Malih to translate for you and put his spin on classic favorites by using seasonal ingredients and paying attention to the weather.

That means goodbye lamb shank, it’s almost summer. The menu at Le Quai Bistro Français in a storefront on Broad Street in Waterford varies seasonally, weekly, sometimes daily. That’s the best menu of all when you’re trying to make the best food you can.

It’s a charming dining room and not a bit fancy. Bistro, remember? It’s painted country French blue and yellow above creamy wainscoting. The eight tables are linen-covered and the chairs are comfortable. There’s a small bar lined with imported French wine bottles. There was no martini for husband Eric this night.

He didn’t miss it. There was enough going on with interesting food and wine to keep him happy. We had a reservation and were the first customers. We were soon joined by three other friendly couples, all of whom shared that this was a repeat visit. The room is intimate enough to have a conversation.

We sat in the middle of the room, and early evening sunshine provided a warm glow through the south-facing windows above the bistro curtains. The host welcomed us and took our wine orders. Soon the server arrived with menus, a little nervous on her first day.

Le Quai opened in February in a storefront space that housed at least two previous restaurants.

During our visit they were offering eight appetizers and six entrees. Ignore the mixed-green salad and go straight for the soupe aux champignons et châtaignes (mushrooms and chestnuts, $12) or pâté de campagne of pork and duck with pickled vegetables ($14). There’s fois gras poêlé, duck liver seared in truffled Madeira sauce with quince and orange ($34).

For entrees there was an 8-ounce hanger steak with potatoes pont-neuf and bordelaise sauce ($28). Chicken is poulet marocain, with Moroccan spices, preserved lemons and vegetable couscous in saffron sauce served in a tagine ($28). They had braised lamb shank with fondant potatoes and mushrooms ($35); rabbit with mustard sauce and mashed potatoes ($36); Coquilles St. Jacques ($35); and fluke meuniére ($29).

We got off to a good start with a glass of Magali Côtes de Provence rosé for me and Laroque chardonnay for Eric. Wines are sourced from smaller vintners; I heard the host say they find wines not so well-known that offer great value.

Eric ate all the bread except for a small tasty square of house-made rosemary-scented focaccia. The slices of fresh baguette were just right. Bread was served with a slice of European-style butter and a dish of ratatouille.

It wasn’t like any other ratatouille I’ve had; the dominant flavor was sweetness and tang, mostly from tomatoes, and it was smoothly pureed without any seeds. I tried a bit and kept going back.

Eric started with escargots ($14), which were wrapped and baked in pastry, served with sautéed mushrooms over rich cognac cream sauce. “Like a manicotti, with crispy browned pastry,” he said. “The sauce is very rich,” he added as he collected the last crumbs from the plate.

It was not the usual garlic and butter bomb, though there was garlic, he said. It was an elegant preparation.

I had a bowl of vichysoisse ($10), a pale green puree made from spring leeks and potatoes. You could see where the spoon left a trail, but there was too much to finish. It was refreshing, topped with crushed herbed croutons and chopped parsley.

Our entrees arrived at just the right interval and they were visually appealing, colorful and attractively plated. Eric had the fluke meunière ($29), a large fillet sautéed in brown butter sauce with capers, chopped parsley and lemon.

“It’s crispy around the edges,” Eric said. The fondant potatoes are peeled cylinders that are browned at the ends, then roasted slowly in butter or oil and stock. They come out with a crisp exterior and a soft, melting interior.

There were fresh vegetables as well: slender asparagus, haricots vert, parsnip and carrot.

The Coquille St. Jacques ($35) was a lighter preparation, large sea scallops perfectly seared, almost crispy and dark browned but cooked just to doneness. Six scallops circled the plate resting in a puddle of truffled Champagne soubise, an old-school French onion sauce thickened with Béchamel that I could have eaten a lot more of. The base of all this was a potato and artichoke hash, which tasted way better than it sounded. It was really very good.

I liked the crisped onion bits on top, perhaps a nod to the traditional topping.

It is not a typical presentation, in a creamy sauce with the breadcrumb and Gruyere topping, but much lighter. The scallops were perfection; call this dish whatever you want, it’s all about those scallops.

My dinner came with the same fresh vegetables as Eric’s. I found the slim spears of asparagus perfectly cooked, the haricots vert a bit stringy, and the parsnip and carrot somewhat underdone. But they looked terrific and didn’t take too much enjoyment away from the perfect scallops, rich sauce and delicious hash.

I had my leftovers wrapped and we moved on to dessert. Eric ordered a glass of Kuentz-Bas Alsace blanc and was happy when the host added the last bit of the bottle to his glass.

The desserts were spectacular and made in-house. I had île flottante ($9), something I’ve always wanted to try. It’s meringue floating in creamy sauce and out of this world. The baseball-sized meringue was browned and tasted like burnt marshmallow outside, and was blindingly white, moist and sweet inside. I liked the créme Anglaise, in which also floated some raspberries. It was served with almond praline bits, bright red and crunchy like candy.

Eric had the tarte bourdaloue, ($12), a warm dessert made with sliced pears over a sweet, almond-scented batter in a tasty pie crust. It was served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and topped with slightly bitter Armagnac caramel sauce. It was a beautiful tart and tasted just wonderful.

The first-night server couldn’t answer all our questions but the host was listening and he offered assistance. She handled the plates skillfully, whether hot or cold, and carried out clean forks and knives on a napkin-lined plate.

The tab for our food, not including wine, with 7% tax and a 20% tip came to $138.43.

The food was thoughtfully prepared and beautifully presented with just a few hiccups. We left quite impressed with our three-course French bistro meal.

Support this locally owned restaurant and put yourself in the hands of a chef who looks out the window and reads a thermometer to decide what to cook.

Le Quai Bistrot Francais

WHERE: 49 Broad St., Waterford; (518) 874-1047

WHEN: 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday; 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday

HOW MUCH: $138.43 for food, with tax and tip

MORE INFO: All major credit cards. ADA compliant. Reservations accepted. Parking in public lot across the street or on street.

Categories: Food, Life and Arts, Life and Arts

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