The food at Bistro du Lac is often magnificent and almost entirely authentic. One hopes that Francophiles and fans of French cuisine will support this restaurant while it works out the bugs in its service, which I found lacking, and its food temperatures, which were often disappointing.
Located in Scottsdale in the former home of Buster’s on the Lake, Bistro du Lac is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week (but closes at 9 p.m., even on weekends — so much for honoring European late-dining habits) as well as weekend brunch from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. On a first visit, I was happy to find Catherine Berraud Dufour, of the now-defunct Au Petit Four bakery, at the front desk. She’s the manager at Bistro du Lac, which she co-founded with longtime friend Thierry Voisin, late of France. Sous chef Charles Delli Pizzi is running the kitchen, and Barraud Dufour is sharing pastry chef duties with Jean Claude Melito.
Bistro du Lac’s interior features bright red walls with white accents, sparkly chandeliers, a separate bar, and a bakery case. Outside, a pair of patios on the man-made Lake Marguerite are set with white-linen-covered tables. The menu is classically French with some culinary tweaks. Cream of mushroom soup is served with Brie-filled profiteroles; Caesar salad is dressed with roasted tomatoes. Mostly, though, Delli Pizzi offers Gallic favorites like beef bourguignon, bouillabaisse, and escargot. A pastry menu offers fresh-baked breads, croissants, macarons, and cakes. Berraud Dufour’s much-loved crepes are also offered here. Sweet classics like crepe au citron (lemon and sugar with strawberry jam) and savory crepes like la reined, a mélange of grilled mushrooms, pulled chicken, Gruyère, and béchamel sauce, are featured.
On an initial visit, we went with classic French cuisine. Escargots de Bourgogne was classically prepared in garlic butter and served in the traditional ceramic dish, sans shells. The snails were tender and tasty, if lukewarm, and the toast for sopping up the delicious butter sauce was profoundly stale. I switched to the basket of fresh, delicious ciabatta rolls that had been brought to the table when we were seated.
Soupe a l’oignon gratinee was sublime, shrouded in a thick blanket of Gruyère and floating with delicate bits of onion. The perfectly salted broth had a neat undertone of tarragon. The soup was memorable not only for its perfect blend of flavors, but because its empty bowl lingered on our table throughout the meal; we had to ask to have it removed.
The house salad was lightly dressed in vinaigrette and crunchy with generous portions of red onion and chopped tomato. Salade de chèvre chaud proved to be an exquisite, extravagant starter, with an entire wheel of warm, gooey goat cheese atop a bed of barely dressed greens and crispy strips of bacon instead of the traditional lardons.
Moule frites was delicious, but — like so much of what we ordered on this first visit — served cold. The mussels were tender and generously bathed in a bowl of classic marinieres sauce of white wine, shallots, and parsley (other sauce choices include mustard and chardonnay cream or Roquefort cream). A side of crispy shoestring frites was piping hot and great both on their own and for soaking up that luscious wine sauce. They come in an unfortunately American presentation: a mini-fryer basket with an even more awkward ramekin of ketchup. (Ketchup? Really?)
Boeuf bourguignon also was tasty — and also served lukewarm. Tasty bits of carrot and onions on a delicious bed of fluffy mashed potatoes were joined in a piquant wine sauce. The tender meat was slightly dry, as if it had been left under a heat lamp.
On a subsequent Sunday night visit, we arrived for a 6:30 reservation and waited in the deserted entry hall for far too long; Berraud Dufour had the night off and there was no one to greet us. The pleasant fellow who eventually showed us to our table (he turned out to be neither our waiter nor our busboy) clumsily cleared the table of extra place settings, removing three of the four glass settings for our party of two.
An order of pâte aux deux façons included a good-sized portion of a compagne pâte, a smooth chicken liver pate, meaty and peppery and served in a little terrine with mustard, cornichons, and a surprisingly large side salad, well-dressed in raspberry vinaigrette. The country pate’s partner was served pot de crème-style, with a thick layer of butter and fat on the top. Below, a nicely liver-y spread offered a hint of tarragon and a nip of Dijon, yet only three meager cornichons lined up in the corner of the plate. We ate ours on the fresh (though not very French) ciabatta rolls on the table.
The salade du lac tomates mozzarella was neither entirely delightful nor completely disappointing. The tomatoes were two scanty wedges, flavorless and hard. A huge mound of spring greens dressed in a balsamic vinaigrette was topped by long, thin strips of tasty, slightly too-dry prosciutto. Two discs of some of the tastiest mozzarella I’ve had recently were sliced into quarter-inch strips scattered with cornichons. The salad does not fit its menu description, which promised a homemade pesto dressing; there was none.
The bouillabaisse was some of the best I’ve had, here or in any number of bistros en France. Served in a large, covered terrine, its rich, slightly salty tomato-based broth was carefully blended with the right amount of bay, leek, thyme, and fennel. Each seafood ingredient was perfectly prepared: shrimp, tender scallops, tasty clams, generous heaps of mussels, delicate chunks of cod and crab. The menu listed potatoes as an ingredient, but I couldn’t find any, though I did discover tender bits of calamari, which weren’t promised.
Service continued to be lacking: The filet mignon de boeuf, ordered with the bouillabaisse, arrived well after. It was cold and, although I had ordered it medium, and although the waiter returned to our table later to confirm this temperature, the meat arrived not just rare, but extra rare — bleu, as the French say. Again, the menu promised a cream and green peppercorn brandy sauce, but my boeuf arrived without any. I sent it back to be properly cooked, and it came back medium rare. I gave up. The extra heat increased the tenderness of this high-end filet, at least. The side of frites was hot and delicious, served in the same fry-basket presentation as with the moules; a mound of ratatouille was a bland mixture of peppers and squash.
Dessert was not offered. When we asked, our waiter pointed to a fluorescent-lit bakery case and offered half-hearted descriptions of its contents. We settled on an éclair, and begged for an espresso, also not offered. The éclair was slightly stale, light enough, but dry in the middle, devoid of pastry cream or chocolate and filled only with chocolate cream for the first and last bites. Mon dieu!
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Will locals give Bistro du Lac, open less than half a year, a chance to shore up its service trouble and get its temperature troubles worked out? J’espere.
Bistro du Lac
8320 North Hayden Road, Suite D-101, Scottsdale
Pâte aux deux facons $9.50
Escargots de Bourgogne $11
Confit de canard $26