Bistro de Paris fills an upscale niche on Carmel's West Main Street
Carmel’s recently revamped West Main Street has achieved that pulled-together, eclectic artsy vibe reminiscent of rich districts in international cities. So it was natural that an upscale restaurant hailing from an international city would occupy the former Pizza King on 9 W. Main St.
Bistro de Paris is the latest Caribbean-flavored endeavor of Chef Kathy Jones (formerly of Island Café and Cobblestone Grill, currently of Decadent by Design). The menu has been presented in other write-ups as African-American-influenced French, conjuring odd conjectures: croque-monsieur with candied yam frites? Duck confit and collard greens? No. There is no soul food on this menu. (Nor, for that matter, any croque-monsieurs.)
Co-owner Kama Fily does hail from Mali, a former French colony in West Africa. But mostly, the bistro’s extensive menu blends savory-sweet island flavors with French favorites. And Jones’ jonesing for seafood: There is an entire Menu de l’Ocean aside from the brunch, lunch, dinner and hors d’oeuvres offerings.
Jones’ crab cakes, which have appeared in her previous ventures, apparently have a following. Here, the Famous Bistro Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes ($15) are interpreted with yucca “mash” and plantains, served with island butter sauce.The grayish crabmeat isn’t the star in this casserole, but rather the layers of savory-sweet textures. The crisp, salt-touched plantains against the yucca mash and sweet, smooth butter sauce nearly eclipse the mealy crabmeat. Everything together is quite good.
Textures seem to be one of the restaurant’s preoccupations. The grilled brie ($11) is mild and creamy, given delightful form with a firm walnut crust. I would have found the appetizer perfect if not for a slightly perceptible burned flavor to the grilled nuts. That trait also plagued the BBQ Saumon Vegetable ($22), which had a bit of a bitter aftertaste, though the culprit — charring — provided a nice crust to the tender salmon. But extra points go to this dish for its tangy, perfectly pitched apple cider soy reduction and crisp veggies.
The four menus offer almost too much terrain to cover. But Jones’ Menu de l’Ocean is not to be missed, if only for its items’ freshness. (Jones cut her culinary teeth on seafood; she was only a teen when she became a seafood prep cook at Chez Rondelet in Florida.) The menu includes everything from conch ceviche, to escargots, to a potato blini ($13) with lumpfish caviar. The latter could become a menu flagship, simply for the thick lumpfish’s decadence, which sits atop a fluffy fried pancake of airy whipped potato.
Despite the seafood’s overall freshness, there were some discordant notes: The seared tuna ($13), for example, came with a flat, overly chili-powdered avocado “salsa” that did little to complement the fish. The Pacific Rim scallops ($14), brushed with honey ginger sauce and served on the half shell, are good — if you don’t get a bit of grainy shell or sand in your bite.
As for the traditional French offerings: They’re most apparent during Sunday brunch, which includes a starter item and entrée for $20. The menu includes everything from crepes to scrambled egg wraps infused with different fraises and confits. The Bistro Benedicts are served on toasted brioche bread with poached eggs and leek caper Hollondaise sauce.
Admittedly, I have not been to the bistro for breakfast. The closest I have come to its Parisian cuisine was the vegetable canard roller — a nouveau egg roll stuffed with duck confit and julienned vegetables. I couldn’t really taste the duck confit.
French wines comprise about half of the bistro’s extensive wine list. The beer list,though no hardcopy menu exists yet, isn’t half-bad, either: I spotted a bottle of Chicago-brewed Goose Island beer on my last visit.
Bistro de Paris fills a vacancy on the Main Street strip in Carmel. The menu is ambitious. There’s a red rose on each cream tablecloth, and large, eclectic art pieces throughout the eatery. The food is pretty good. If you’ve got a palate for French fusion food, you might be satisfied —or not quite bowled over. Yet.
Bistro de Paris
9 W. Main St., Carmel
Lunch: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.;
Dinner: Monday-Thursday, 5-9:30 p.m.
Dinner: Friday-Saturday, 5-10:30 p.m.
Brunch: Sunday, 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Dinner on Sunday: 5-9 p.m.
Food: Three and a half stars
Atmosphere: four stars
Service: Four and a half stars
Recommended dishes: Famous Bistro Lump Crab Cakes, potato blini, brie chaud