New Yorkers have long enjoyed the always crowded but exquisite French bistro Le Bilboquet on East 63rd Street near Madison, on the Upper East Side. Now it has come to Dallas, not just in name but accompanied by its wonderfully gifted chef and some of its New York staff. It occupies that venerable space on Travis in the Knox/Henderson area that has long been dedicated to excellent French cuisine, the departed and much-missed L’Ancestral.
When I first saw the glitzy announcement of Le Bilboquet’s new opening in North Texas in the 2013 Restaurant Issue of Modern Luxury Dallas (which rated it second of the “Five Most Exciting New Restaurants” in Dallas and gave it a breathless review), I didn’t make the New York connection and read it by mistake as “Le Bibliothèque” French for “library” or sometimes even “bookcase,” or more memorably in “Le Bibliothèque nationale de France” which is France’s equivalent of our National Archives in Washington.
No, this lovely new gem of a Dallas restaurant, Le Bilboquet, is named for that charming French game of childhood where you try to flip a ball on a string into a cup on a stick — a stick that has one end of the string attached to it. There is an American version of the game where the string is replaced with a sturdy rubber band, making the moving ball that much harder to catch in the cup. So that is the meaning of bilboquet.
How the restaurant space has changed! And for the better! Anyone who remembers L’Ancestral will find the interior of Le Bilboquet unrecognizable. Gone are the dreadful pictures of ancient ancestors on the walls. The walls themselves, in fact, are gone. They have been opened up, replaced with large crystal-clear glass windows admitting a wonderful natural north Texas light. The tables are smaller (and perhaps too closely packed together), and the average age of the diners has fallen from about 70 to 30. In short, everything about the venue on Travis you may remember has been transformed, and much for the better.
The interior is as wonderfully classic as the food, and I was pleased to find glossy white tablecloths, freshly picked flowers at every table, and of course an unexpected bath of natural light. The chef at New York’s Le Bilbouquet, “Momo” Sow, has moved with a few of his key associates to Dallas, and the results are spectacular. The food is solid Parisian bistro fare, with a soupçon of Momo’s keen appreciation for cuisine novelle and his own distinctive multinational style, yet always with a strong French accent.
My partner and I both started with a light appetizer, salade de crabe et avocat, that was delectable and flavorful without being filling. The fresh lump crabmeat was right out of the ocean, mixed with thinly sliced young onions, a hint of lemon in the whipped mayonnaise, and of course avocado and some greens — minced lettuce and celery. It was out of this world.
For the entrée we both chose a veal dish cooked in a light lemon sauce, escalope de veau au citron, perhaps the most tender morsels of veal I’ve had in the last year, in a delicate sauce and served with a fresh salad and of course fried string potatoes cooked the proper way (I cannot bear to call them “french fries” which in America are usually cooked in vegetable oil, which renders them tasteless, even if allegedly “good for your heart”). It was nice to have the salad served with the main course, rather than before it. The veal was just superb, because Momo understands that the most important thing to remember about tasty veal is what happens to it long before you start to cook it. The cutlets must be pounded to perfect tenderness, and these just melted in your mouth. They were superb.
For dessert we both had a magnificently fresh crème brûlée that was clearly made minutes before it was served to us. Outstanding! Then, to wake us both up, my friend had a cappuccino and I had an espresso while we watched the very chic crowd of see-and-be-seen young men and women from Highland Park who seemed to be very well-to-do and happy to spend two or three hours over lunch. Trust funds are a wonderful invention, and not uncommon in Dallas. And they make for lovely diners.
The service was excellent and prompt (our young waiter was a bright student who is finishing his first year at in college). A lunch to remember, and one to be surely repeated, and soon.
Le Bilboquet is at 4514 Travis Street between Knox and Armstrong. It is often booked solid, especially for dinner, so you will definitely want to make a reservation by calling (469) 730-2937.