Cozy, classic, French | February 15, 2013 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

Eating Out - February 15, 2013

Cozy, classic, French

Le Petit Bistro does it the old-fashioned way: happily

by Dale F. Bentson

Not that long ago (OK, in light years) the culinary landscape was dotted with French restaurants. Most Americans didn't know much about food beyond casseroles, Lazy Susans and meatloaf at the time.

Julia Child led a cooking revolution with her "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in the 1960s. All the average housewife had to do was grasp an array of techniques, procure mostly unobtainable ingredients, and dedicate most of a day to making stocks and sauces, deboning and braising.

It was far easier to drive or walk a short distance to the neighborhood French restaurant and leave the technique to a trained chef. French restaurants were everywhere, casual to formal, rustic to fine dining. Most are gone now, swept away by changing tastes and the onslaught of appealing ethnic alternatives. Even French cuisine has veered away from its classical roots in favor of faster preparation with simpler ingredients.

Le Petit Bistro in Mountain View has managed to elude change and maintain its traditional heritage. No high-tech here, no nouvelle cuisine, no molecular reconfiguration of food, no kale. Guest checks are still hand-written.

It's old-school but not outmoded, with an exacting code of beliefs that owner/chef Jean-Michel Peuvrelle has carried with him throughout his life. Born in Pas-de-Calais in the northern tip of France, Peuvrelle is the son of a charcutier (butcher). He apprenticed in Strasbourg while earning a degree in accounting.

"It takes more more than being a good chef to run a restaurant," Peuvrelle said.

His family relocated, first to Dallas, then to the Bay Area where they owned four different French restaurants from 1976 to 1989. When his parents retired, Jean-Michel opened his own restaurant.

Now in his 24th year at Le Petit Bistro, Peuvrelle still cooks the old-fashioned way, six days per week. Veal, duck and fish stocks, made fresh daily, simmer for up to six hours; complex sauces are born, tasted, adjusted and allowed to marry in well-seasoned pots for hours.

While the kitchen is fastidious, the dining room is casual. The decor is simple, spotless and homey. Daily specials are hand-written on a whiteboard near the front door. On a recent visit, the waitress told us to take a look before being seated. The specials were neither printed nor repeated.

The menu was simple enough, five appetizers including bisque de homard ($10) an intensely flavored lobster bisque. Did I say simple? The bisque was made with leeks, fennel bulb, tomatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, parsley, vermouth, pastis, fresh herbs and a sprinkle of chili-pepper flakes. The stock was slowly cooked for three hours then strained. A roux was made to thicken the bisque along with cream and a splash of cognac. The results were delicious, with a depth of flavor that left the palate craving more.

The mousse de foie de canard ($10) was from a family recipe. The slightly grainy, fresh-tasting duck pate was served with celery root, carrots, tomato, lettuce and olives. This was not foie gras, but pate made from un-inflated duck livers.

Dinner entrees included coq au vin, duck, beef, coquille St. Jacques and a vegetarian puff-pastry dish.

The black pepper-sauteed lamb chop au jus ($29) with Provencal herbs was sauced with a veal-stock reduction, shallots and sun-dried tomatoes. Green beans, carrots and potato rounded the plate. While the chops were an unusual cut, the meat was fork-tender and the sauce layered with flavors.

Medallions de porc aux champignons ($19) in a mushroom demi-glace was also sauced with a veal reduction, mushrooms and a flurry of other ingredients. The meat was high on the flav-o-meter, and the sauce made me reach for the baguette to mop up every drop.

The traditional desserts were all house-made. The mousse au chocolat ($7) was made with rich Belgian chocolate and cream — and, that night, a splash of cognac.

The warm tarte tatin ($7) was caramelized apple pie with a squiggle of stiffly whipped cream on the side. Chef Peuvrelle told me later the apples had been too squishy that evening. The flavors didn't suffer. It was a comforting dish to conclude the meal.

The wine list had more than four dozen options, few pricey, and all were geared to complement the food. I particularly liked seeing aperitifs of Lillet, Dubonnet and sherry: drinks we used to drink, or saw our parents drink (sigh).

Le Petit Bistro is an old-fashioned but not antiquated dining experience. Classic, refined flavors from thoughtful preparation, using enduring techniques, have kept enthusiastic diners returning for nearly a quarter of a century. Vive la France.

Le Petit Bistro

1405 W. El Camino Real, Mountain View


Hours: Tue.-Sun. 5:30-9:30 p.m.

Reservations: yes

Credit cards: yes

Parking: lot

Alcohol: wine and beer

Corkage: $15

Children: yes

Catering: no

Takeout: yes

Outdoor dining: no

Private parties: yes

Noise level: low

Bathroom cleanliness: excellent


Posted by Le Petit Bistro, a resident of Shoreline West
on Feb 15, 2013 at 3:46 pm

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Posted by Max Hauser, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 15, 2013 at 4:32 pm

Max Hauser is a registered user.

Another good comprehensive look at a local one-of-a-kind restaurant. Petit Bistro has a loyal following of local regulars who appreciate its unpretentious comfort-food style and decent value.

A distinction of this restaurant, worth emphasis I think, is how it contrasts with mainstream 20th-century perceptions of US French restaurants, which (along with imperious headwaiters and intimidating prices) often featured prestigious, "high" cuisine, using rare ingredients (or ersatz imitations of them). But that's not the cooking usually eaten, then or now, at restaurants in France, or made at home there. Everyday, moderately-priced restaurants in France tend toward limited menus and traditional, comforting dishes -- "cuisine bourgeoise." Demonstrating daily what historian Karen Hess concluded in the "The Taste of America" (Viking, 1977): the real history of cooking consisted mainly of housewives creating something interesting from ingredients the gentry wouldn't touch. A previous Voice-Weekly review of Le Petit Bistro (link below) dwelt on this distinction.

Web Link

(The Julia Child quip makes me want to converse some time with Dale Bentson about US cooking history. The quip was good, though in passing it unfortunately fed pop-culture misconceptions of JC's role. In the 1960s she was the latest of 150 years of Americans to "popularize French cooking among the American public." Best-selling US cookbook authors had been doing that since 1832, they just weren't on TV.)

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