I have not been to France, but my wife tells me that Le Select Bistro’s atmosphere is a very good facsimile of a cafe in Paris. Packed full of people talking around tables and decorated with paintings in various styles as well as artistic displays, it does feel as if it hopped across the pond. I’d been itching for something European, and an acquaintance had recommended it as the best French restaurant that wasn’t too expensive, so we settled in for Sunday brunch.
I have to give props to the wait staff. The kitchen is down a level, and so they have to trek up and down stairs with trays in their hand. Their legs must be rather sturdy by their second week, though the first must surely be harsh. Also downstairs is the washrooms and the extensive wine cellar, including framed awards celebrating the bistro’s selection. As we didn’t select any wine, brunch feeling a tad early, we didn’t peruse the list, but the cellar was certainly well stocked.
For once, we opted to not split a single dish and chose our own. I opted for the Steak Hache d’Agneau a l’Harissa, lamb burger with Moroccan spices and aromats. I must confess that I think I selected this for the wrong reasons. My wife has a recipe for harissa encrusted tri-tip that is simply phenomenal. Combine this with memories of Phlight in Whittier, CA’s original version of Petite Lamb Burgers, and I couldn’t resist seeing if Le Select Bistro’s combination of the two flavorings would be as excellent as the two separate. The bar was already set too high. Still, the dish at least made a valiant effort reaching toward it. The size of the burger was too tall to be easily eaten, but that’s not necessarily bad. The difficulty here was that the flavors in the sandwich really needed to be taken all in a single bite. The lamb combined with the tomato and sauce needed the extra tang of the pickle wedges to have a complete experience, a fact that I did not realize until about halfway through. Once there, however, it was a wonderful mix of flavorings and aromas. I detected very little harissa spice and could definitely have used a little more, and the fattiness of it, while holding in the rich flavor, left me a little heavy after. The frites were spiced nicely, a little something beyond the usual salted, fried, julienned potato, but I walked away wishing for more vegetables of some sort. Some roasted broccoli and squash or a salad would have rounded out the dish better, I think. It all comes off as a good entree that yet needs a good tweaking.
Steak Hache d’Angeau a l’Harissa: 3.5/5
The picture does not do justice to my wife’s dish. We were perhaps lamb heavy with the Cotelettes d’Agneau, grilled lamb chops with a rosemary beurre Noisette and spicy Algerian Merguez sausage, but the styles and flavors were so different that it seemed to not matter. The lamb chops appeared small with the much larger bones still attached, but they were done to perfection. The sausage, too, was plump and juicy, spiced so well to give a nice but not phenomenal play on the tongue. Alongside, adding to the high protein content, was an egg ravioli that was an interesting combination as well as a collection of asparagus, mushrooms, and bok choy that were all cooked quite nicely. For a casual dining restaurant, this was a stellar dish and unquestionably one that Chef Albert Ponzo should be quite satisfied with. We were exceedingly pleased and surprised for the price.
Cotelettes d’Agneau: 5/5
We finished off with the cheese plate, and I must say that I’m somewhat at a loss as to figure out how to rate a cheese plate at a casual restaurant. What’s to compare it to? Regardless, as cheese plates go, it was fair. All three cheeses were fairly soft and the accompaniments were a bit spare. The bread was quite good and toasted well, but the grapes almost seemed like they were simply dropped on the plate without much thought, and we really would have liked some honey or the like to go along with it all. The first cheese, a riopelle, was, unfortunately, unmemorable. The second, a tomme de grosse isle was so soft and creamy that it was almost exactly like eating butter that had just a hint of sharpness to it to remind you that it was actually cheese. My wife loved it, though the richness overwhelmed me, and I had to let her finish it, which she was not upset about in the least. The final cheese, benedictin, is a high quality, solid blue, but it didn’t stand out in any way from other blues. All in all, it was nice to have a cheese plate again after so long, but it was a bit of a distance from what we’ve experienced. Is this reflective of the level of restaurant, the quality of cheese that Quebec produces, or something else? I’m not certain.
Assiette de Fromages: 3.5/5
For the price, Le Select Bistro is hard to beat for French cuisine. Possibly more than hard. They have truly produced tantalizing fare, and we are grateful for the recommendation. We look forward to another brunch one of these days.