On Park Avenue, a Precious Jewel
A change in location puts Paris Bistro on the road to perfection.
Photos By Norma Lopez Molina
It took a change of owners and a move to a more fitting Winter Park location to put Paris Bistro on my list of places to visit.
Park Avenue is certainly no stranger to cuisine française, having been home to the perennial Cafe de France for many years. Meanwhile, Maison des Crêpes and Restaurant du Parc had occupied a space—same space, different times—in the avenue’s Hidden Gardens.
Since moving from its old Aloma Avenue location in December, Paris Bistro has also resided within a hidden garden, in the interior of a retail quarter called Shops on Park (look for marble and Art Deco flourishes and giant koi fish in pools).
Tatiana Cerruto purchased Paris Bistro five years ago when the previous owners (who had run one of my favorite restaurants, Le Bon Appetite) moved back to France. Cerruto was continuing a family tradition started by her father, an Italian diplomat and restaurateur, in Washington, D.C. With her husband, Chef Sebastian Colce, she established a reputation for fine dining at a somewhat inconvenient address. Now the location and the cuisine are in alignment.
Fronted by a massive glass wall overlooking the public space of the Shops, this latest version of the Bistro is displayed like a French dollhouse wrapped in cellophane and placed on a favorite shelf. The room is warm and comfortable, with classic 18th century cranberry and tan toile wallpaper, large tiled mirrors and a cambered wood ceiling.
Despite what Joyce Kilmer famously said, a Californian company called NatureMaker can also make a tree; its steel and epoxy handiwork is on display as a 14-foot artificial banyan tree just outside the glass wall. The organic shapes and colors of the impressive construct can be seen infinitely reflected in the restaurant’s many mirrors, like an unintentional but pleasing homage to the Tiffany stained glass windows just down the street in the Morse Museum.
The skillful combination of country simplicity and esthetic refinement is the miracle of French bistro-style cooking. Boeuf Bourguignon is, after all, just beef braised in wine, and when we make it at home, it’s stew. In the hands of an artist like Colce, the dish becomes a classic of slow-cooked tender meat and vegetables, intense with the essence of Pinot Noir and exceeding the sum of its ingredients (“Beef Burgundy” on the menu; $17.95).
Another specialty of Burgundy (the area, not the wine) is on the appetizer menu as escargot de Bourgogne ($9.25). Such a simple shopping list to add to deshelled snails—garlic, shallots, parsley, wine, butter, breadcrumbs—yet what a rich start to the meal, served in a porcelain plate that reserves the emerald butter for dipping with surprisingly firm baguette bread.
I laughed when I spotted canard aux peches listed ($19.95), because it reminded me of an episode of TV’s Fawlty Towers, where the main course was three kinds of duck: served in a creamy butter peach sauce, in cherry sauce or duck surprise—“duck without peaches or cherries,” as Basil Fawlty explains. There is no surprise here, unless you’re not accustomed to exquisitely roasted, crispy-skinned bird, which you can probably order sans sauce—but why?
Be prepared when the orange roughy and red snapper casserole arrives ($20.95). What’s not mentioned on the menu is the impressive puff pastry shell that tops the combination of fish filets, shrimp, scallop, onion and roasted leek. I had a similar entree recently where the dough sat on top of the filling like a discarded shoe; the Paris Bistro version is a thin, light cloud that, once broken, soaks up the delicate wine-and-fish stock sauce, and almost disappears.
Entrees are accompanied by some small and masterful side dishes, on this occasion a petite cube of creamy broccoli quiche, and a dish of pommes Dauphinoise (sliced potatoes baked in cream and garlic) that was devoured as soon as it arrived.
If I had to suggest a perfect restaurant for Park Avenue (and it’s my job, so I do), it would be this one. Upscale enough to impress, but with a casual ambiance, reasonable prices (the three-course lunch special for $11.95 is a steal) and jewel-box charm.