Monday, August 15, 2011
Bijou Cafe - A Gem in Grandma's Clothing
You know how when they say "charming" in a real estate listing, they really mean an old fixer-upper? Well, in that respect, the Bijou Cafe is "charming." The food is nothing short of amazing, but the inside? Well, it could use a designer's touch. Their website describes the "enchanting decor" as being like that of a "quaint, but modern European cafe." Hmmm. I don't see it. When hubby and I walked in, I felt like I had entered any other grandma's condo in Sarasota. The artwork in gold frames. The green carpet. The purple walls. The light wood chairs with the curly-cue arms. I'm not sure what about that is modern. But if you can overlook the grannie vibe, the cuisine is definitely worth it!
As soon as we were seated, we were served up a tasty little amuse bouche. The waitress told us what it was so fast, that I didn't really catch it. Some sort of strawberry mousse with dried cranberries on top of a really crispy toast wafer, I think. But I imagine that these little bites change frequently, so you're likely to have something different when you visit.
Next, hubby and I didn't have to think twice. We both ordered up a cup of the Shrimp and Crab Bisque. This soup is PHENOMENAL. Literally magic in liquid form. The menu says it's made with cognac, sherry, baby shrimp, blue crab and cream. But they're definitely leaving something out. In addition to being creamy and savory, this soup is delightfully spicy. I can see little red flakes in the bisque, so I'm thinking cayenne pepper. Every spoonful will light up your mouth with joy. Trust me. Order a cup. Or a bowl. But whatever you do, don't skip the soup!
For the main course, I was hmmmming and hawwwwing, and couldn't really decide what I wanted. After that soup, I was sure anything would be a let down. So I let the waitress recommend something for me. Her personal favorite was the Rare Yellowfin Tuna, because of the unique preparation and combination of flavors. I usually don't order rare tuna as an entree because the sheer quantity of the entree portion usually overwhelms me. But tonight, because of the afterglow of the bisque, I went with it. This dish was a stunner! At the bottom is a layer of chayote and carrot salad in a ginger orange emulsion, topped with a layer of thin slices of rare tuna, sprinkled with toasted cashews, drizzled with red chile oil. It was that elusive yet euphoric combination of crunchy, melty, salty, spicy and sweet. Every bite was a new discovery of flavors. Every bite was fantastic.
Hubby on the other hand, knew exactly what he was going to order - the Filet Mignon. It was char-grilled, served with a Cabernet reduction, bacon "dust", wild mushrooms and a heaping helping of Gorgonzola flan. Again, the saltiness of the bacon and mushrooms blended well with the tangy taste of the Cabernet sauce. The filet was perfectly cooked at his selected temperature of medium rare, and just melted in your mouth.
And in lieu of the herbed mashed potatoes that came with his dish, we got a side of the Bijou's Famous Pommes Gratin Dauphinois. At this point, I died and went to heaven and all the choirs of angels sang beautiful music just for me. I mean, seriously! Gruyere cheese, garlic and cream oven baked with potatoes and then finished under the broiler. PUH-LEASE. This stuff was richer than Donald Trump. The intense flavor of the Gruyere cheese was the perfect compliment to the salty potatoes and I absolutely loved the crunch of the top crusty, bubbly layer. Again, you HAVE to order these potatoes. They're famous for a reason.
After researching Chef Jean-Pierre Knaggs, who has owned and operated the Bijou since it's opening in 1986, it's not hard to see why the food is as fabulous as it is. His recipes are a result of his travels around the world in his 150 ft private luxury yacht and reflect everything from French to Cajun to South African influences. It truly is a treat to experience the creativity and originality of the Bijou Cafe's cusine. But Jean-Pierre, if you're reading this - please bring your decor into the 21st century!!
Atmosphere - C
Taste - A+
Presentation - B+
Service - A
Price - $$$$
1287 1st Street (At Pineapple Ave)
Sarasota FL 34236