French food suffers from an image problem ' like the pretty girl who sits home alone on prom night because all the boys assume she's out of their league, diners can be intimidated by the idea of a French restaurant, imagining supercilious waiters, slippery escargot tongs and dishes they can't pronounce from parts of the animal they don't recognize.
All fears should be put to rest by Paris-Bistro, the newest venture of the talented Marlot family, the father-mother-son-daughter-in-law team who worked miracles at their Ocoee restaurant, Le Bon Appetit. Though the son and daughter-in-law have gone back to France, the Marlot genius is now more easily available, as Paris-Bistro is much more conveniently located in east Winter Park.
The location is humble (an aging strip mall on Aloma Avenue); the interior is unpretentious (vinyl tablecloths, close quarters) but neat as a pin; the prices, unbelievably, are slightly lower than they were in Ocoee. Paris-Bistro serves just what the name promises it will: classics of French cooking, not of the truffles-caviar-and-foie-gras school, but simple, robust bistro food.
I started with the terrine du chef ($7.25), which I remembered fondly from the menu at Le Bon Appetit. Chef Roselyne Marlot makes it herself, and to me it is the essence of soul food: delicious, chunky, handmade rather than smooth, perfect, bland. It's a peppery, porky treat served on a plate with baby greens, slices of ripe tomato, tiny vinegary cornichons, Dijon mustard and orange marmalade. With the bread still left in the basket, I had a miniature picnic all to myself before I turned my attention to my partner's plate of escargots ($6.95). I stole a couple for myself, tender, slightly chewy snails nestled in flaky pastry cups drenched in a buttery green basil-garlic sauce. My companion, more snail-savvy than I, gave them a B+; but I was hooked enough to no longer be put off by the idea of eating a snail (garlic butter hath charms to soothe the savage diner). I'll definitely order them again.
For my entree, I couldn't resist the 'alouetteâ?� special, perhaps because Jean-Marie Marlot actually sang a bit of the song to us as he described it. The falling-apart texture of the three tender rolls of veal, bacon and parsley in fresh tomato sauce was reminiscent of my mother's pot roast, while the earthy flavor was pure Provencal. It was perhaps a heartier meal than one might normally order on a hot Florida day, but delicious nonetheless.
But the star of the show ' the Paris-Bistro specialty you must taste ' was the duck with peaches ($14.95). This dish, a plateful of succulent crisp-skinned slices of duck breast topped with crescents of fresh peach, fanned out in a velvety honey and cream sauce, is almost over the top. It's incredibly rich, but somehow not to the point of excess. After eyeing the sauce left on the plate after the slices of meat had been devoured, both of us we admitted that if we hadn't been in public, would have licked the plate.
All entrees are accompanied by several sides ' this is no place for finicky food, but a stick-to-your-ribs kind of place: a broiled tomato, some well-cooked green beans (a bit limp for my taste, but fresh and bright-green), a bit of broccoli souffle and a wedge of pommes Anna (what your grandma would call scalloped potatoes). For dessert we ate crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e ($4.95) and profiteroles ($4.95); neither was especially compelling, but the next table was moaning over their pear charlotte, a fresh-pear tart served with ice cream and chocolate sauce.
The wine list is short and wines by the glass are serviceable, not special, but at these low prices, it's amazing they're drinkable. When you call ahead for your reservation (not required but definitely a good idea, especially if there are more than two people in your party), ask if you may bring your own wine. M. Marlot will charge you a $10 corkage fee and will drink a glass with you after he opens and pours, and a more charming drinking partner would be difficult to find.