I love French food.
Love it. Could nearly eat that and only that every day for the rest of my life.
It would be an even easier decision to make were the French to suddenly include noodles and potstickers to their repertoire.
That being said, I am hypercritical of every single thing that enters my mouth - whether it's a burger or a soufflé, it must be well executed. I'm ever vigilant of the quality of my own cooking, which frequently disappoints me, and equally so with other's. I'm the worst, however, at restaurants.
I worked in the food industry for nearly all of my very short adult life up until two years ago. With the knowledge of what goes on in the back of the house, I see little reason for poorly composed or inadequately cooked foods. In fact I visited a restaurant this week that I adored in the past, only to be severely disappointed with nearly everything ordered.
With that preface, I must introduce you to Bistro Christine. A new kid on the culinary block of Monterey, CA, Bistro Christine is quickly becoming well recognized as a serious contender for the best purveyor of French cuisine in town. I've now been to Bistro Christine twice - and each time I was so completely blown away by the simple perfection of their food that I am heartbroken I will be moving across the country soon.
The cooking is classic French, compliments of the owners and chef (husband and wife team Christine and Francis) hailing from Normandy. The focus is on homey, bistro style cuisine using the freshest, highest quality ingredients to create simple, well-made food that showcases the inherent qualities of each component. Add to that a well-appointed wine list and the exemplary service offered by Christine, and I find it difficult to top the experience had at this little bistro.
The first thing brought to the table is a basket of homemade bread - still steaming from the oven.
It was still so hot, in fact, that I singed the tips of my greedy fingers while trying to steal a piece too soon.
My MiL, in town visiting for special occasion, chose a 2006 Puma Road Pinot Noir from Franscioni Wines at Black Mountain Vineyards. This pinot is to die for. It's not currently available for retail sale - and it's a travesty that it's not. Fruity and fresh with the perfect body. It was well put in this article, that "Someone could’ve taken all the fruit out of this bottle and painted a pretty serious still-life."
To start I ordered the endive gratin - a recipe I've noticed in Simple French Food but was wary to attempt until having tried it.
It is a head of endive, wrapped in ham, smothered in Béchamel and topped with cheese It is then baked until hot and bubbly and the cheese gets all browned and sexy.
It may not sound all that glamorous, but it is a classic French preparation. It was perfectly made, well seasoned, and so superbly delicious I could easily eat one every day. Sadly, I don't think my thighs would appreciate that.
Next up was a crock of Onion Soup au Gratin - a dish so often defiled that I tend to avoid it on most menus. At Bistro Christine, however, it is quite obviously prepared at length. The onions are caramelized to perfection, the broth is quite obviously made from beef bones, and the cheese is Gruyère. As a side note, if you're making this soup at home and do not use Gruyère, I reserve the right to kick you in the shins.
If you can't find a recipe you like, use Thomas Keller's. Because really, there isn't much that man can't do well.
For entrées, my husband ordered medallions of filet mignon with a black pepper sauce.
The medallions were melt in your mouth tender and the black pepper sauce - my god! Divine is the only word that can attempt to describe it.
My MiL ordered sea scallops in a tarragon sauce.
Although I'm not a huge fan of tarragon, I can appreciate it in small doses. This pushed the limits of that, but the sauce itself was outstanding. The scallops were flawlessly cooked and, as you can see, generously portioned.
You'll have to excuse the blurriness of the scallops. I forgot my tripod, the lighting was not in my favor, and that Puma Road Pinot was starting to work it's magic...
I ordered the half roast chicken au jus with fries.
I cannot actually remember the last time I had enough confidence in a restaurant to order the chicken. I've always thought that if I wanted to chew on dried leather that I'd prefer to use one of my neglected pairs of Anne Klein stilettos. I was feeling adventurous though - and was not disappointed. It was moist and juicy, the skin crisp and well-seasoned. And the fries - my god the fries.
They were accompanied by a homemade mayonnaise that nearly brought me to tears.
My husband insisted that he didn't like it because it wasn't the "right" color - meaning a bleached, anemic white. I responded with, "No - this is most definitely the right color." Homemade mayonnaise makes my heart sing - the jarred kind makes me want to - well, you know.
Christine, lovely woman that she is, brought us a sampler of desserts - gratis.
They too were well-executed, though I am unsure if these are made in house. Whether they are or not has not effected their quality though.
A lovely frozen lemon confection -
And a perfect lemon tart, both topped with candied lemon and orange peel.
There was also a brandied chocolate mousse that could not have been more delicious, but without my tripod I was only able to capture a blurry mess that only slightly resembled a chocolate mousse.
It was a lovely meal - one that I hope to repeat at least once more before our move away from Monterey. I hate to sound like a walking advertisement for anything, but I am a firm believer in supporting good restaurants. Bistro Christine deserves to succeed. My worst fear for this place is that someone will dine here and not appreciate the gem that it is.
If you are in Monterey - stop by. You won't be disappointed.
481 Alvarado Street
Monterey, CA 93940
Wed-Sun. 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Wed-Sun. 5:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.