Restaurant Review: Restaurant Review
Cozy French classics
Reviewed by Rachel Feit, Fri., Feb. 24, 2012
Mon.-Thu., 11am-2pm & 5:30-9pm; Fri., 11am-2pm & 5:30-10pm; Sat., 5:30-10pm
Bistrot Mirabelle8127 Mesa Dr. Ste. A-100; 346-7900 Monday-Thursday, 11am-9pm; Friday, 11am-10pm; Saturday, 5-10pm; Sunday, 10am-3pm www.mirabellerestaurant.com
When veteran restaurateur Brian O'Neill purchased Northwest Hills' Mirabelle Restaurant from Michael Villim (onetime owner of the now-defunct Castle Hill Cafe), he knew he already had a loyal neighborhood client base. Mirabelle's chopped "hacke" chicken salad and its duck-and-sausage gumbo were comfortably enshrined among the neighborhood's choice comfort foods. But O'Neill wanted to give the restaurant a new personality without sacrificing the devoted customer base. Inspired by a cookbook his wife brought back from a trip to Provence, France, O'Neill decided to reinvent Mirabelle as a French bistro (the gumbo and chicken salad remain).
Austin is already embracing the new Bistrot Mirabelle. Monthly five-course wine dinners sell out within a few days of announcement. Lunch business is brisk, and even Monday nights are impressively hectic (sometimes a little too hectic for the newbie staff to keep up). Owner O'Neill and Executive Chef Clinton Bertrand have developed a delightfully appealing menu peppered with French and American classics that are both accessible and affordable. Thirty bucks gets you a three-course, prix fixe meal. Ours consisted of a satiny chestnut soup tufted with fried sage leaves, followed by a spot-on baked trout with persillade (minced parsley, olive oil, and garlic). Dessert was a baked, buttered apple cradled in honey-vanilla ice cream.
Daily chalkboard specials adhere to the bistro mold. Monday's cassoulet ($21.95) would satisfy a French truck driver's most elemental comfort food cravings. Big and brawny, it has homemade garlic sausage and a duck leg confit nestled among slow-cooked white beans, carrots, and an herby tomato broth, all topped with crisp breadcrumbs. Thursday's choux farci, cabbage stuffed with spiced pork and beef, has already become a local favorite.
The regular menu is dotted with well-loved French classics such as onion soup ($7.95), mussels ($9.95), coq au vin ($14.95), and steak tartare ($12.95), as well as some American standbys like hamburgers ($13.95) and roast chicken ($17.95). The duck rillette ($9.95) is generously portioned and skillfully executed at the hands of chef Bertrand. However, instead of the classic mustard and cornichons, Bertrand serves his rillette with apple butter, which offers a nice contrast in flavors. I was pleased also to see a merguez sausage sandwich ($12.95) on the menu. Mirabelle's merguez is not a cased sausage, but rather a mint-spiced ground lamb served on a baguette with French fries. It had all the right flavors of Moroccan merguez, though I really felt the sandwich needed harissa (Moroccan chile paste) to give it punch. Bistrot Mirabelle faltered only with the steak au poivre ($17.75); the green peppercorn sauce was more like cream gravy for chicken-fried steak than anything else. It wasn't poorly flavored; it was just not what we expected. Frankly, I'm willing to overlook some culinary imperfections when I feel like a restaurant offers quality food overall. And this is the case here.
Do save room for dessert. The lemon steamed pudding is an inspired confection. Soft meringue encases spongy lemon cake ($6.95) accented by a puckery pool of lemon glaze and crisp cookie crumbs. The whole ensemble forms an irresistible study in sweet, citrus, creamy and crunchy. Don't like lemon? Then go for the chocolate tart sprinkled with sea salt and topped with olive-oil ice cream ($6.95).
I've often wondered why classic-style French bistros are not more common in Austin. After all, the bistro business model is one that seems perfectly suited to the city's tastes and casual attitude. In France, classic bistro fare is essentially worker food: unfussy steaks, simply prepared fish, sandwiches, clean salads, and of course, lots of French fries. What's not to love? And at Bistrot Mirabelle, there is a lot to love.