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Sea scallops with tomatoes and grilled veggies

Bon Appetit!

by Mark Stuertz | Photography by Jill Broussard | Modern Luxury Dallas magazine | August 28, 2013

It’s been a while since Dallas was convulsed by a wave of Francophilia—just count the French outposts here. Today it’s difficult to tease a French bistro amid the concrete, asphalt, steel and glass that make up Dallas’ native flora, and venues aspiring to the genre generally have short lives (remember Bizu on McKinney?).

But now comes Le Bilboquet to fill the gaping hole in Dallas’ French bistro scene. Named after a French game that dates back to the 16th century, Le Bilboquet boasts a pedigree of upper East Side Manhattan extraction. For it is here that founder Philippe Delgrange launched the original Le Bilboquet some 27 years ago.

This locale, though, is backed by a group of loyal Dallas investors, and the crowd, given its location, is naturally glamorous, and all seem to know one another. It’s more like a great private party with much table hopping and popping of corks. But even strangers are warmly welcomed into the riotous scene.

Former NYC staffer and Dallas Managing Partner Laurent Lesort has reanimated this bistro’s spirit on Travis Street, with the help of longtime NYC Le Bilboquet chef Momo Sow. Roosting right across from the shuttered Trece Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar, in the space that the very French L’Ancestral Restaurant occupied for close to 30 years, Lesort stresses that the Dallas incarnation has no ties to the New York original save for an agreement with Delgrange that allows him and his backers to use the name.

Of course, risk lurks for this transplanted bistro, as Dallas is often unforgivably hostile to restaurants with pronounced strands of Big Apple DNA—big-buck investments (Smith & Wollensky, BLT Steak, Il Mulino, Craft Dallas) don’t always assimilate to local culture. They invariably wilt and wither, sometimes succumbing to slow, agonizing deaths.

Yet Le Bilboquet may escape such tragic ends, plugging a yawning niche that Dallas has never permitted to emerge in the steakhouse genre. Helping is a wine list that, though mostly studded with bottles from a handful of French regions (Bordeaux, Rhone, Provence, Burgundy), also features a lot of American labels, from Napa, Sonoma, even Texas, plus a few Italian examples. The menu, too, nods a tad New American with an assortment of familiar culinary staples: Caesar salad, Cajun blackened chicken, tuna tartar, smoked salmon with guacamole and toast, and gazpacho, which is a refreshing deep-red slurry of pureed plum tomato.

So what if Le Bilboquet isn’t what some would consider a beacon of die-hard French bistro authenticity? (“It’s not completely 100 percent French,” concedes Lesort.) That wasn’t ever too much the point. “The original idea,” he explains, “was to create a French bistro as if it were developed by an American—to create a bistro that an American clientele was not going to be afraid of.”

This primal American fear perhaps explains why one of Le Bilboquet’s most popular dishes is the Cajun chicken. Other signatures include the endive salad with Roquefort cheese in Dijon vinaigrette, and the crab and avocado salad, which resembles a segment of California roll, enlarged and ringed by dots of herb-infused olive oil. And though chilled and competent—it’s refreshing and texturally pleasant—it doesn’t compel. Flavors don’t grab, mesmerize and give pause.

Still, the grilled Mediterranean sea bass topped with cherry tomatoes, onion and thyme is flaky and slightly sweet; the sautéed halibut with cherry tomatoes, on a bed of greens, topped with caviar d’Aubergine (egg plant caviar) is equally pleasant. And even if the bronzed pan-seared sea scallops topped with a puff of frisee fails to arouse, it’s lush.

For dessert, the apple tarte tatin topped with sliced almonds and mint leaf, and saddled with a single scoop of vanilla ice cream, is a fine finish, enjoyed in a subdued milieu of egg shell and cream walls; white tablecloths; splashes of original art; and an off-white tile floor set off by green and blue tiles; understated exterior signage; and an expanse of windows spilling natural light in by the barrel during the daytime hours.

Sure, like most newcomers, Le Bilboquet could do with some sexing up, but few can refuse a little French bistro kiss.

Le Bilboquet

4514 Travis St., Ste. 124

Mon.­-Wed., 11:30am-10pm;
Thu., Fri., 11:30am-11pm;
Sat., 5-11pm; Sun., 5-10pm;
Sat., Sun., brunch, 11am-3pm