La Belle Vie!
P’tit Louis Bistro sends you to Paris for a night
Tucked back off the main stomping grounds of Nob Hill, P'tit Louis Bistro is simple and elegant, while still something of a secret. And while the wanton and kinetic energy of Les Années Folles would be impossible to recreate, P'tit Louis Bistro is content with an intimate and inviting space that harkens back to Paris between the wars, an exacting menu and as patient and decadent a dining experience as you can find in town.
For starters, I'd recommend a Thursday night dinner. Not only is the foot traffic a touch lighter on average, it's also the first night of each week that they offer bluepoint oysters on the half shell ($15 for a half dozen), flown in fresh from the East Coast. As with most top-notch seafood, there's nothing especially strong or "fishy" about these sumptuous delights. Served on a bed of crushed ice with half a lemon, they offer up just the requisite brine but are otherwise as approachable as a scallop dish. Try as I might, I couldn't pick between the two sauces they served alongside—one a bright horseradish-forward cocktail style sauce, the other thick with chopped shallots and fresh herbs. The soupe à l'onion gratinée (French onion soup, $8.50)—to my thinking, a bellwether dish for any French restaurant—is one of my favorites in town. The broth is deep and rich with the bouillon and sherry, layers of silky onions and a sturdy hunk of bread all smothered by a melt of luscious gruyère. It's a dish for three of our four seasons, and exactly the thing for a cool, blustery evening stroll.
For dinner proper, again you'll find a familiar cast of characters, but executed with excellent ingredients and precision of technique. The filet mignon ($28 + sautéed mushrooms $2) is suggested at medium rare, and is a fine cut of meat. It comes pan-seared to temperature and lightly basted in butter and herbs. It's everything you want in a steak, and can easily stand toe-to-toe with similar offerings citywide. The buttery mushrooms melt into each bite, and on the side is a clutch of asparagus plus an architectural au gratin potato which, despite being a touch one-note this time, is usually a stand out. In short, exactly what you'd expect from this classic cut. The magret de canard (duck breast, $28) is that delightful protein-and-fruit pairing of earthy, rich roasted duck and the bright tang of bing cherries. The breast is served sliced on the bias, over the sauce alongside that same au gratin potato, and some al dente green beans.
To wash it all down, I'd pick from their small, well-curated wine list of six whites and seven reds—all at various price points and featuring helpful hints for pairing. To accompany the filet and the duck, we went with a bottle of Michel Gassier's Le Fervent Syrah ($45), a crisp and dry mineral-meets-fruit affair from the Rhone Valley with just enough glycerin to finish smooth. It found the fruit of the duck dish, and the pepper in the filet, but would probably drink too big for the seafood dishes.
For dessert, I went rogue and actually ordered the crème brûlée ($6.50). I rarely do so only because, like the onion soup, it's a litmus test of a French restaurant for me, and many don't measure up. It's a simple dish in truth, and yet so many end up missing. P'tit Louis Bistro's version is dense, and rich in vanilla, creamy with the perfect candied sugar on top, and I am proud to say, wholly up to snuff. I'd order it again in a snap.
Price-wise, I can't say it's a bargain—though they are certainly on par with quality and costs of similarly situated spots. It may well come down to a matter of choice. If you prefer traditional French over more experimental fusion or updated takes on the cuisine, then you'll find plenty to love. For a special occasion, a date or even just to treat yourself, you'll find a comfortable spot, subtle and refined, and an enjoyable meal all around. And how better to remind ourselves that living well is truly one of life's great mysteries solved!
3218 Silver Ave. SE
Lunch: Thurs-Sat 11am-2:30pm
Dinner: Tues-Sat 5-10pm
Brunch: Sat-Sun 11am-2:30pm
Alibi Recommends: Traditional French dishes done well, but make sure you try the oysters on the half-shell, the soupe à l'onion gratinée, and save room for the crème brûlée!
Vibe: Get misty-eyed in a cozy, ‘20s-Paris-like feast for the senses.