Top Five French Bistros: Beyond Best of Miami 2011

DB Bistro Moderne picked up our Best French Restaurant nod in this past year's "Best of Miami" issue. 1st Avenue Bistro & Bakery won for Best French Breakfast. Nobody took the prize for Best French Bistro because we didn't run with that category this time around. So now we atone with not one, but five fine choices to quench your next craving for quiche and escargots.

(Note: We deemed Pascal's on Ponce and Le Provençale to be more like cozy French restaurants than bistros; Bin 18 not to be quite French or bistro enough; and Le Cigale as just too new.)

5. Le Bouchon du Grove: This Coconut Grove mainstay of Jeanne and Christian Ville's has been serving bistro fare since 1994. Indoor and outdoor tables practically meld into one relaxed, informal space, with soccer jerseys, flags, posters for pastis, and other paraphernalia crammed onto the walls.The cuisine matches the comfort level. Crusty baguettes start diners off properly. Then it's up to you: country pâté, salade niçoise, soupe de poisson, gratinée Lyonnaise, and entrées ($20 to $30) such as duck leg confit, roasted rack of lamb with herbes de Provence, and chicken fricassée. There are also good values to be found among the wines, which probably helped Bouchon win our Best French Restaurant in 2008.

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4. Petit Rouge: In 2010 we indeed chose a Best French Bistro, and Petit Rouge was it. Owner Neal Cooper's 24-seater (plus a petite patio) has a charming, unpretentious ambiance and carefully crafted classic French bistro food. Try the panko-crusted ris de veau in lemon-caper sauce, or the truite grenobloise, or a peerless frisée salad with lardons of bacon and poached egg. Save room for an impeccable pot de crème. Cooper is a Culinary Institute of America grad and veteran restaurateur; his knowledge and experience come through in the elevated bistro food and service.

3. Charlotte Bistro: The décor is eclectic and girly, with patterned wallpaper illuminated by white ovoid lamps. It doesn't look like the sort of Parisian bistro where Hemingway would hang out (although it did qualify as Best Restaurant for Intimate Conversation in 2010). And the food isn't straightforwardly French bistro either. But chef/owner Elida Villarroel served ​apprenticeships in the kitchens of one-Michelin-star L'Alexandrin, two-Michelin-star Pierre Orsi, and three-Michelin-star Michel Bras. So while Charlotte Bistro isn't a French bistro in the traditional sense of the word, the menu is long-simmered in French technique. Onion soup is fragrant with fresh thyme; a coarse, bacon-wrapped pheasant terrine is paired with pear slices in cardamom butter; and lamb chops are marinated with thyme and nutmeg, and sauced in lamb jus with a hint of truffle oil. It's French fare through the creative prism of a Venezuelan chef, and it's delicious.

2. Buena Vista Bistro: BVB is not exclusively French -- you can get farfalle alfredo and curry chicken here too -- but chef/partner Claude Postel's duck pâté, escargots a la Provençale, quiche, salade niçoise, ratatouille, and nightly Gallic specials match up with anyone else's in town. His rillettes du mans -- smooth shreds of fatty pork spread served with cornichons and crusty bread -- summon the best of bistro food: rustic, unfussy, slowly prepared, and slowly eaten. A smart wine list with fair prices ​per bottle and glass as well as cool indoor-outdoor neighborhood vibe make this a local favorite -- along with its sister establishment, the excellent Buena Vista Deli, up the block.

1. Café Pastis: Chef/partner Philippe Jacquet was born in Marseille, trained in Paris, and is able to put out amazingly tasty cuisine from perhaps Miami's tiniest kitchen space. He has been doing so since Friday the 13th of August 1999. The dining room, boasting brightly colored walls, is barely larger than the kitchen -- if you're one of those people who "talk with their hands," you'll probably end up slapping the diners at the next table. Oh, but the bouillabaisse is sublime, as are other specialties of Provence -- and at affordable prices (entrées under $25, many under $20). Our favorites include escargots in pastis-spiked garlic butter; duck legs confit in black-currant/fig sauce; grilled grouper over fennel and fava beans; and steak with peppercorns in cognac sauce and frites (the superb frites are culled from fresh potatoes and served in paper-lined tins).

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