Imagine if you turned down a side street in Paris and happened upon a small neighborhood bistro,” was HervÃ© Bochard’s response to my inquiry about the atmosphere of year-old CafÃ© Les Baux. Sadly, it’s been years since I’ve been to Paris, and with three kids and a career it isn’t likely that I’ll get back any time soon. So the thought of a classic Parisian bistro in nearby Millbrook sounded too good to be true.
Chef-proprietor Bochard is doing his best to bring a touch of France to the Valley, and in many ways he’s succeeding. A week after eating there, I’m still thinking about the perfectly crisped pommes frites, and the impeccably sautÃ©ed sole meuniere ($18). The menu is classic French, and the ambience reminiscent of a traditional bistro — casual and low-key. Closely spaced tables fill the un- pretentious dining room whose sienna walls are adorned with unique sconces that resemble tree branches. Chef Bochard trained in the south of France, in the Provence region, and named his restaurant after a tiny village there. After stints at Tavern on the Green and Le Cirque 2000, he brought his considerable talents to Millbrook.
His garlic soup ($6) was silky-smooth and deeply flavored, and a generous portion of mussels ($7.50), steamed in white wine with herbes de Provence and scallions, were sublime. Tender escargot ($8.50), bathed in a rich butter sauce flavored with Pernod and just the right amount of garlic, couldn’t have been better, and when the bread basket was finally replenished, we soaked up every last bit of the heavenly sauce.
The charcuterie plate ($9.50) consisted of two pÃ¢tÃ©s, sausage, a slice of ham, and the requisite cornichons. The pÃ¢tÃ©s — a smooth duck pÃ¢tÃ© with a center of fois gras, and a more coarsely textured pork and duck pÃ¢tÃ© — were our favorites, though they were served very cold and would have been more flavorful at room temperature. We finished off our appetizers with a fresh mesclun salad ($6), lightly dressed with a mustard vinaigrette.
Between courses we selected a wine. We were surprised to find relatively few medium-priced selections from France on the restaurant’s list, so we decided to stay local and made a solid choice in Millbrook Vineyard’s 2001 Cabernet Franc ($22).
Since we were dining in the evening and had fasted in anticipation of a large meal, we bypassed the small selection of less expensive sandwich offerings and instead chose our entrÃ©es from the more substantial fare on the “Les Plats” side of the menu. The aforementioned filet of sole was exquisite. This was simple, competent cooking at its best. The skin was golden and gave way to a moist, delicate interior. The butter, parsley, and lemon sauce was delicious — it did not overwhelm, but perfectly complemented the fresh, flaky fish. Saffron rice and a medley of vegetables, including haricots verts, carrots, snow peas, and broccoli florets, completed the dish.
The duck breast ($22) was well paired with a deep port wine sauce, and served alongside it was the vegetable medley and a divine potato gratin. Nicely seared medium-rare sirloin steak ($23), perfectly cooked to order, came with a spicy green peppercorn sauce served on the side — perfect for dipping the exceptional fries. Our last entrÃ©e was a special that night, softshell crabs ($25) in a lemon beurre blanc. The chef got it right again. The crispy-skinned crabs were perched atop sautÃ©ed spinach and diced roasted potatoes, which went beautifully with the rich, tart sauce.
We ended our meal with a trio of French classics — tarte Tatin ($7), crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e ($6.50), and a strawberry crepe ($6). The crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e was velvety smooth, with just a hint of vanilla and a nicely caramelized top. The chef’s rendition of the famous French upside-down apple tart was pleasing, with sweet chunks of apples suitably topped off with a dollop of crÃ¨me fraÃ®che, and the light, paper-thin crepes were filled with a fresh strawberry compote. Unfortunately, our tea and coffee were tepid and got colder as we waited for cream.
CafÃ© Les Baux succeeds on many levels, but sometimes veers off track in its pricing. Bistro fare is meant to be easy on the pocketbook, reflecting the no-frills service and relaxed atmosphere. I don’t mind paper placemats, and I could certainly overlook having to stare longingly at my idle charcuterie plate while waiting for bread, but if the prices are a little high, I expect more attention to these details.
I’m thinking of going back and ordering one of the well-priced sandwiches ($7 to $8.50). There are only five, but I’d start with Rillettes pÃ¢tÃ© on a baguette with cornichons and a side of frites ($7). That way, I’ll be pleasing my palate while protecting my purse. And pleasing the palate is what CafÃ© Les Baux does best.
CafÃ© Les Baux is located at 152 Church St. in Millbrook. Lunch is served daily from 12-3 p.m., dinner from 5-9 p.m. on weekdays and until 10 p.m. on weekends. Appetizers range from $5.50-$12, entrÃ©es from $12-$25, and desserts $5-$7. 845-677-8166.