I don't mean to put any pressure on it or anything, but the future of Miami as a serious restaurant town rests on Bistro Bisou.
Okay, so maybe that is a little pressure. And maybe a bit overstated too. But the point is still a good one.
See, just about any decent size burg worthy of its urban angst, greedy developers, and perpetual traffic jams has at least a few ostentatiously upscale restaurants where the local swells can buff their egos and empty their wallets over foie gras and Cristal. But what makes a serious restaurant town in my mind isn't the handful of designer palaces dishing out ridiculously expensive über-cuisine. It's the number of small, affordable neighborhood restaurants that deliver food crafted with four-star care and no-star pretensions, as if a good meal were a normal part of everyday life, not a validation of your socioeconomic-hipness status.
9519 S Dixie Hwy, Kendall
786-268-0178. Open for lunch Monday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.; dinner Sunday through Thursday 5:00 to 10:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5:00 to 11:00 p.m.
Which brings me back to Bistro Bisou.
It's a charming little place, very budget-chic, whose burnished hardwood floor and rough-textured, golden-hued walls and elliptical metal sculpture hanging from the ceiling almost make you forget the cheesy Dixie Highway strip mall that lies just beyond the front door.
The menu is classic bistro, nothing too fussy or fusion-y or vertical, mostly old reliables like steak frites, bouillabaisse, duck confit, roasted chicken -- you know the drill. The wine list is small but thoughtfully chosen, a mix of French and Californian bottles, many priced at $30 or less.
Service is more than agreeable; the staff makes you feel like an old friend who just happened to drop by for a glass of wine and a quick bite. And those bites are, for the most part, quite satisfactory, very good even. They bode well for the future.
The menu boasts several dishes rarely seen in our trend-flogging local eateries, and you really should try at least one. Celery root remoulade maybe. It's delightful in its unabashed simplicity -- julienned celery root tossed with a mustardy mayonnaise and plated with baby greens and cherry tomatoes.
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Mussels get a slightly less traditional sendoff, steamed in a cream-enriched broth subtly flavored with chives. The broth was delicious, but the mussels themselves were distressingly puny, offering up fingernail-size lumps of meat that were almost impossible not to overcook to dry, chewy tastelessness.
Steak frites, on the other hand, was damn near perfect, except perhaps for an overly heavy char from the grill. Still it's hard to argue with a rosy-rare hunk of flavorful rib eye and a daunting mound of crisp, golden, greaseless, utterly addictive fries. I wouldn't bother with the brandy-green peppercorn sauce served alongside; the steak is good enough not to need it, though a pat of maitre d' hotel butter might be nice.
And when was the last time you saw rabbit on a local menu? Bistro Bisou will make you regret the omission elsewhere with its hearty braised bunny in apple cider with whole cloves of garlic and green olives. Tender isn't the word here; the meat falls off the bone at the merest threat of a knife. (Note to bunny lovers: They are not cute; they are not lovable. They are vicious little creatures that would just as soon nip off your finger as chew through your aluminum siding. They are, however, quite tasty.)
For dessert the molten-centered chocolate cake is a worthy choice, though not wildly original. If it's not as dense, chocolaty, and achingly luscious as one you'd find at some posh emporium of Mine Is Bigger than Yours cuisine, well, that's just the point. With Bistro Bisou, Miami's future as a serious restaurant town is in good hands.