Friday, November 19, 2010

PB Boulangerie-Bistro: Bring on the Stars!

I know many of you have been looking forward to a report on the newest dining sensation in New England – that would be PB Boulangerie Bistro, of course. Since November is half over, Sven and I were able to get a spur-of-the-moment reservation. Yes, Wednesday was the big day: we finally got to dine at Wellfleet's marvelous new French bistro ...

"Oh! Philippe isn't here tonight" Valeria Rispoli exclaimed with great disappointment as she seated us at a small table in the center of the room. "Bon appetit!"

I was sorry to miss her husband, the famous chef, but glad to be there nonetheless. A slew of delicious-sounding specials rolled off our waitress's tongue, including butternut soup, a regular appetizer which B&B guests had described as fabulous. I felt a bit overwhelmed by the choice and regretted even more Philippe's absence. One dish that intrigued me was squid with ink-dyed pasta. Instead, I picked the risotto with black truffles and suggested to Sven that he might enjoy the cod with smashed potatoes, another favorite with our mid-summer and early-fall guests. We began with a yummy beet salad, and champagne, compliments of the chef.

This week the dining room was decorated with orange banners announcing the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau 2010, just like in restaurants and wine stores all over France. Sven asked Sebastien, the "sommelier," for a glass, but the rules did not permit opening the first bottle until midnight, November 18th. (Yesterday PB chefs started serving up a number of unexpected dishes, using the fruity wine. Even Boris decided to incorporate it into his bread.)

There was much excitement in the air, although PB has now been open five months. Only five tables were full at 5:30, and a lone diner sat hunched over the bar, leaning into his mussels from Chatham with obvious relish. Beyond him, I noticed Ben Zehnder in the kitchen, chatting with the assistant chef. While we were waiting for our entrées, the waitress brought complementary cups of butternut squash soup, yum! (Customers can also purchase it in the adjoining bakery.)

The room was bustling and a bit noisy, but quieted as Sebastien began to hand-crank the "luminaire," an unexpected touch that made us feel as if we were truly back in France, in an earlier century. While Sven sang along to "Sous les ponts de Paris," I noticed a gentleman in an electric wheelchair had accessed a table with his lady friend, and thought how incredible it is to have a local establishment like this one. Check out my risotto! It was sublime.
Sven enjoyed his cod, too. "After the French Revolution, the nobility got wiped out," he was explaining. "So, there were a lot of chefs out of work. They started their own restaurants."

An adventurous diner, at a neighboring table, had ordered the squid. His wife said she was a French teacher. One look at their happy faces told me this outing to PB had been the highlight of their Cape Cod trip. I photographed his entree before it left the kitchen. Does it ever look good! "How was the squid?" I asked.

"Scrumptious!" he declared with a grin, as a trio vacated one of the booths, veteran PB diners, apparently.

"This is our third or fourth time," said the father when I asked about his meal. "And, we didn't have to wait tonight!"

I returned to our table and discovered someone had managed to refold my napkin, displaying the PB front and center. Our waitress? Sebastien? Certainly not Sven! It was another nice touch that reminded me this restaurant is indeed special.

"Know where the word bistro comes from?" my husband asked. "After the defeat of Napoleon, there were a lot of cossacks in the Russian troops, quartered in the fields west of the Champs Elysées. They wanted food fast, so they said, "Bistro, bistro!' and the name stuck."

Since the kitchen is open, we could watch the chefs, in their white toques, at work. No sooner had we finished dessert – creme brulée – than Sebastien brought "tarte tatin" and a narrow tray of pastries, the width of the table. Sven helped himself to a miniature "millefeuilles" and, before taking a large bite, announced, "These are called Napoleons in Sweden." He was about to tell me that the chef's hat originated in Turkey when Boris Villatte suddenly swept up to our table, off duty at last.

The baker told us how happy he was that we had finally made it in for dinner. What a sweetheart! We discussed vacation plans and how hard it is to find good organic flour in the USA, but that is for another post, and superfluous here. What mattered was the quality of the food. We had enjoyed an excellent meal and said so.

I was watching the ballet at three joined tables behind me, where two waitresses were helping Valeria set up for the next group of diners. Sebastien hovered nearby. I could not help but remark the conscious effort, on the part of each member of the PB staff, to make the dinner experience truly remarkable for every client. No wonder this place has garnered so many rave reviews. All I can do is add mine today. Bring on the stars!

Did you get to try PB this summer or fall? What was your favorite dish?