Parlor House Bistro in Dunedin reveals what is enchanting about authentic bistro dishes
3.5 out of 5 stars
1757 Main Street, Dunedin
Aperitifs: $ 7- $ 22; entrees: $ 16- $ 37; desserts: $ 7 – $ 13; wine / cocktails: $ 6- $ 16
When I drive to Weathersfield Commons from Route 580 in Dunedin, I see an old friend. It’s Delco — legendary for some of the area’s best Philly cheesesteaks. What is surprising is that the mall is now also home to a rare bird. A true French bistro honest to god heralding its heritage with entrance doors framing translucent glass inserts, which feature decorative lilies.
Inside, there are rows of welcoming tables with crisp linens and black tented towels set on white porcelain alongside glittering stemware. The large wall of windows faces west for stunning views of the burning clouds with the afterglow of the sunset.
My heart races when I see Parlor House Bistro offering foie gras in two stages. It just doesn’t seem to fly very long on the menus around Tampa Bay. The restaurants that serve it when I review unfortunately seem to remove it from their kitchens when I return. I am a recognized follower of French cuisine, however, and “foie” is one of the great delicacies of world gastronomy, sandwiched between (for me) truffles and caviar. Of these three gastrodivas, this is the most affordable luxury ingredient. Chef Ryan Steffensmeier really does it justice on a beautiful plate that almost looks too good to eat. The hot medallion is sliced and quickly seared to be accompanied by slices of stale green apple and an apple reduction on the left.
To the right, a fresh tea towel cut from a poached cylinder (think lux pâté) rests on parallel lines of orange gastric with a pair of orange segments and two toasted baguette rusks cut obliquely crisscrossed. It is a starter that recalls Gascony, a province in the southwest of France where foie gras reigns supreme.
French onion soup is a manual. A white ceramic ramekin covered with a thick stringy layer of succulent Gruyere that gives way to a giant crouton soaked in steaming beef broth filled with caramelized onions. No surprises, just Parisian comfort.
A long rectangular slate lines up six bite-sized crispy pork belly rounds next to a delicious wildflower honey sriracha that walks beautifully on the knife’s edge between sweet and spicy. Chunks of rich blue cheese and shreds of pickled celeriac lie on top under a few microgreens. It is simply delicious.
Our starters also offer classic French bistro dishes in a refined form. The super tender filet mignon has a perfectly charred crust as well as a delicious green pepper cognac cream sauce with lyonnaise potatoes and surprisingly tasty candied carrots with grill marks. When was the last time carrots surprised you?
The duck leg confit with pistachios and garlic potatoes is based on a schmear of braised root vegetable mash and a red cherry beer reduction that provides a tangy side to balance the richness of the game birds.
The flour-dusted, boneless rainbow trout fillet is really delicious. It is surrounded by a blend of heirloom grape tomatoes, orange wedges, crispy sage leaves, light Parisian gnocchi (choux pastry cheese dumplings) and delicate shishito peppers puffed up with brown butter. I am a happy man.
My companion’s intertwined perfectly pink double-cut rack of lamb chops sits on succulent mashed potatoes and streaks of spinach, sage and almond pesto and redcurrant and port jam. It’s a colorful and tasty plate that ends with a pile of carefully gnawed bones.
You rarely see crêpes suzette on a menu these days, but it’s a French classic with a Grand Marnier caramelized butter sauce. Parlor House Bistro serves it with vanilla ice cream and a dollop of fresh whipped cream. My problem is that to match the high quality of the previous dishes, this one has to be flambé at the table so that the pancakes arrive at the table hot, especially served with ice cream.
The same goes for the jubilee rolled cherry pancake. The filling looks like preserves when whole cherries would enhance the flambéed port and amaretto which must be freshly heated to complement the homemade churned cherry ice cream.
The dessert that really hits the mark is the hot donut-shaped French crisp topped with thick, velvety, balanced ice cream with an absolutely striking zigzag of decadent burnt caramel that I would happily eat by the gallon. And the accompanying cappuccino is perfect with a voluminous cloud-like foam.
Chef Steffensmeier reveals the enchantment of authentic bistro dishes. The service is relaxed, yet attentive, and the wine list affordable. And since I live in Dunedin, my only conundrum is how many times I can come back for foie gras and still remain anonymous.
CL Food Critic Jon Palmer Claridge is the Bay Area’s longest-serving food critic and dines anonymously during the review. See his list of The 50 best restaurants in Tampa Bay in 2019, see the explanation of his rating system and read his new book, “Drink.more.wine! “
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