Magic at the Mountain
Locals and tourists alike say “trÃ¨s bien” to the classic French fare at Windham’s Bistro Brie & Bordeaux
What makes French food French, I asked Bistro Brie & Bordeaux co-owner and chef, StÃ©phane Desgaches. “Everything!” he exclaimed. “It’s the butcher block paper on the tables, it’s the fresh food, it’s the chicken, the fish, the local greens; it’s the cheese; the cream and butter.” It may not be the most concise answer, but StÃ©phane clearly knows his French fare. “We have so many classic dishes here that French people grew up eating for holidays or special occasions,” says Bistro co-owner (and Desgaches’s wife) Claudia. “We’ve had numerous French people come up from Manhattan and say that they can’t get this food in the city anymore because everyone is doing all the nouveau stuff.”
The couple opened their eatery in June 2006 in the small ski-resort town of Windham. Though the Bistro was StÃ©phane’s fifth restaurant opening (and the first he could call his own), there were some interesting hiccups along the way. Windham was in the midst of revitalization: Main Street had to be dug up; sewers had to be replaced; even some of the old trees had to be cut down (though luckily replaced).
Fortunately, Windham’s goal of conservation and rejuvenation melded beautifully with Claudia and StÃ©phane’s vision for the Bistro, which is housed in an 1875 building that was originally home to the Windham Journal newspaper. Using old photos as their guide, the pair restored the gable roof, put up cedar clapboard, and used as many of the original dark wood beams as they could inside.
The restaurant’s bright interior, which is bathed by tremendous natural light and nicely accented by sunflower-yellow and barn-red walls, makes a vivid and lasting impression. (Think of Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning” — “and the sun poured in like butterscotch and stuck to all my senses” — and you’ll get the idea.) StÃ©phane laid the white-tiled floor himself, hand-cutting the tiles and adding slate blue, yellow, sage, burgundy, and gold accents throughout. The music drifting through the place is mostly French and jazz, and the walls are lined with fine art, much of it featuring the surrounding mountain landscape — which is fitting, since you can actually see skiers coming down Windham Mountain from the front of the Bistro.
The Bistro’s menu reflects StÃ©phane’s well-earned eclectic and professional sensibilities. Originally from Lyon, in the east central region of France, he cut his teeth working with some of Europe’s finest chefs (including Michelin four-star Chef Roger VergÃ©) before moving on to deluxe properties in the Caribbean, South America, and the U.S. In 2000, he opened the Willows Lodge in Washington State, a five-star, five-diamond boutique resort and spa that was soon dubbed “Best New Restaurant” by Evening Magazine. But in the end, StÃ©phane’s latest venture is about his dream to have his own restaurant, and to live (and work) the kind of life he wants, in a bistro-like atmosphere that is warm, without pretension or formality. The couple resides upstairs from the restaurant with their three sons — four-year-old twins and a six-year-old. “The kids have been down there in pajamas and boots,” says Claudia. “The customers love it.” Our party noticed the welcoming vibe immediately when the bartender emerged to greet us, and the pleasant service continued throughout our visit.
The Sunday brunch had many appealing favorites (like wild mushroom omelets, French toast with fresh berries, and banana pancakes), but we kept our focus on the more lunch-like items. The Croque Madame, a French classic, is essentially a grilled ham and cheese sandwich topped with a fried egg. The Bistro’s version, made with potato bread, GruyÃ¨re cheese, and luscious bÃ©chamel sauce, was a real treat — and filling. The accompanying side salad was piled high with arugula and other greens, the dressing a flavorful Dijon vinaigrette. The Petite Tarte d’Onion Claude et Fromage de ChÃ¨vre, which translates to a warm onion tart with melted goat cheese, is a house favorite. The tart consisted of layers of open-faced buttery pastry circles topped with beautifully caramelized onions and melted goat cheese. It was a very basic dish but each tasty ingredient was assembled with care. It’s always the little things that stick in my mind; each side salad, including the one for the tart, was spot-on fresh and dressed perfectly.
The Truite FumÃ©e, or smoked trout salad, was served with herb-dressed salad and beets. Flecked with diced red pepper, the trout was light and fresh and had a nice punch of smoky flavor. The carpaccio of beets below it were sliced paper thin and topped with fresh chives and a lively, sweet apple juice-reduction vinaigrette — very well done. (See salad rave above.) We also tried the Assiette CharcutiÃ¨re, or country-style patÃ© with cornichons, onion marmalade, and Dijon mustard. The savory, slightly tangy patÃ© was made from locally raised pork. (While the Bistro features local and organic ingredients when possible, StÃ©phane and Claudia would like to use more of them. Unfortunately, many purveyors simply won’t make the trip to their Catskills locale. But Windham is a growing resort town with skiers in the winter and golfers in the summer. This bodes well for the Bistro; I expect in another year or so, those purveyors will be making more trips to the area.)
For dessert we had a warm Apple Tartin with vanilla ice cream. The apples by themselves were tart; however, combined with the sweet and creamy sabayon that dressed the plate, and the vanilla-flecked ice cream, the tastes came together in a luxurious way.
Brunch prices at Bistro Brie & Bordeaux were very reasonable. In addition to individual dishes, they have a three-course prix fixe brunch menu for $14.95. We nearly changed our order so we could try one of the tempting brunch specials being served nearby: a warm rosemary panini sandwich with portabella mushrooms, roasted peppers, eggplant, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and grilled chicken with a pesto dressing. And the delicately browned hand-cut pommes frites (classically served in a metal cup wrapped in paper) smelled fabulous. The dinner menu is heavy on meat dishes, but still diverse enough for everyone. EntrÃ©es include Steak frites Ã la Bordelaise; risotto with wild mushrooms and truffle oil; angel hair pasta with mussels and shrimp; herb-crusted rack of lamb with roasted fingerling potatoes; and seared salmon tournedos with bÃ©arnaise sauce and julienne vegetables. In addition, the Bistro has a popular three-course special on Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday nights for $14.95. So there it is… simple, beautifully prepared food, a trÃ¨s charmant village atmosphere, and an authentic French chef. VoilÃ : one classic French bistro in the Catskills.
Bistro Brie & Bordeaux Dinner Wednesday, Thursday & Sunday 5-9 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5-10 p.m. Saturday lunch 12-2:30 p.m., and Sunday brunch, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Closed Monday and Tuesday. u5386 Rte. 23, (Main St.), Windham. 518-734-4911.
Chef StÃ©phane Desgaches’s main menu highlights French favorites; his specials incorporate other influences
The Truite FumÃ©e (smoked trout salad), served on a carpaccio of beets, was
“light and fresh”