Service lags behind food at French newcomer


Overall rating: 1 of 4 stars

Food: French classics in a classic setting

Service: sweetly inept at times

Best dishes: lentil salad, steak tartare, foie gras terrine, profiteroles

Vegetarian selections: salads, soups and sides

Price range: $$$-$$$$

Credit cards: all major credit cards

Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; dinner, 5-10 p.m., Sundays-Thursdays and 5-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; brunch, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays.

Children: I'd get a babysitter.

Parking: both self and valet parking available at Buckhead Atlanta

Reservations: yes

Wheelchair access: yes

Smoking: no

Noise level: moderate

Patio: yes

Takeout: yes

Address, phone: 3035 Peachtree Road, Atlanta. 404-869-9944


People over the age of, say, 45 will recognize Le Bilboquet for what it is. Not just a French restaurant, but a certain kind of French restaurant that was popular about 20 years ago — one that imbued classic brasserie style with uptown fanciness. Take in the sights at this Buckhead Atlanta newcomer — the zinc bar, the gleaming porcelain dishes, the natty waiters, the scrolling font of the menu — and you know where you are.

Even the women having lunch here seem to have taken their Chanel tweeds out of mothballs.

Any Atlantan of a certain age might even greet this restaurant as a new generation’s answer to Brasserie Le Coze. Like that beloved Gallic fixture, which left Lenox Square in 2006 after more than dozen years, Le Bibloquet is an offshoot of a chichi New York eatery. The original Le Bilboquet, which has kept a stalwart presence on Manhattan’s Upper East Side for more than 30 years, has lately chosen to bring its show to similar neighborhoods in cities where moneyed folk look for foie gras: Sao Paolo, Brazil; Dallas; and — ta da — Atlanta.

They will indeed find that luscious goose liver at Le Bibloquet — a thick slab of it set with brioche toast, sweetened wine jelly and a sprinkle of crunchy sea salt. This appetizer may cost $24, but it is so perfectly correct, served at the right cool temperature, cleaned of all stringy bits, and portioned to share without regret.

This kitchen mostly does right by its classics. If you’re hankering for a worthwhile steak tartare, moules frites or fat profiteroles with vanilla ice cream and bitter chocolate sauce, you will be happy to taste the finessed renditions Le Bilboquet is capable of. The food is almost good enough to make you accept the elevated prices here, where a meal can easily tap out at $100 a head. Alas, the service staff isn’t yet up to the task, and I can’t in good conscience recommend a restaurant that’s this expensive without some caveats.

But, man, I do love that steak tartare, so deftly sharpened with caper, mustard, Worcestershire and that bare drop of hot sauce that doesn’t burn so much as extend the flavor a few seconds longer on your tongue. I love a salad of beady puy lentils, tossed with bacon and onion, then molded into a neat puck on the plate and capped with frisée lettuce. There’s even a beautiful kale and quinoa salad that has such a fine acid balance to its dressing that it seems to have come from a grand Parisian brasserie rather than a health food store.

I couldn’t help but love that foie gras, even though its presentation long after our other appetizers left something to be desired. I espied a food runner bringing it out of the kitchen with a paper ticket, looking confused, and then asking several of our neighbors in turn if they had ordered it. When I flagged him over to take ownership, he looked at our table and, not finding any place to put it down, simply handed me the plate and the ticket. There was a bit of hurried space-clearing, during which some dirty silverware ended up in my lap. And, look! Here came the entrees, a minute later.

I suspect the front and back of the house don’t talk to each other. How else to explain the fact that I ceremoniously kept getting presented silverware — at one point I had four forks — only to have them all cleared before the food arrived? Another time a waiter knocked a fork off the table, and it took three entreaties to have it replaced.

Later on, an experienced waiter recognized me as a critic and took over the table, showering us with charm and sweet touches, such as hot towels to wipe our fingers after downing a bowl of mussels in a perfect marinière sauce. The people next to us, who also had mussels, didn’t get the same treatment.

They did seem to enjoy their meal, regardless. There’s much to relish here, such as a fresh sauté of tender squid with melting bits of squash and pepper. It arrived with a cloth-wrapped half lemon that you squeeze over the top, a lovely detail. A steak frites came off as only acceptable in a town where one can find better steaks and better fries, which aren’t right from the freezer bag. But a tender escalope of veal with a side of buttery potato purée seemed an old friend, and branzino fillets emerged from their saute pan crisp but not at all oily.

The technique in this kitchen can be really solid. The house signature Cajun chicken offers spice-rubbed boneless chicken breast slivered and fanned over a beurre blanc sauce. I ordered it twice, and once it was cooked, cut and arranged with such great finesse that it reminded me why French cuisine was once considered the greatest. Another time the slices looked a bit thick, a bit uneven, their edges slightly raggedy. It was fine boneless chicken, a Wednesday dinner at home.

But even the merely OK food here would go down better if the energy inside felt more true to brasserie form. Where are those deft, efficient French waiters who bustle about and know how to squeeze every inch from a too-small bistro table? Le Bilboquet does such a good job with all the other details, I wish they would figure this part out. I love the little rounds of butter topped with a sheet of vellum imprinted with the restaurant’s name. I love the chocolate pastilles that come with espresso service.

I love being back in this kind of French restaurant. It’s been too long, Atlanta.