For those Brooklynites who salivate over
fresh-made pastries, chocolates and hearty, authentic French
bistro fare, Provence en Boite, the Bay Ridge patisserie-restaurant
owned by chef Jean-Jacques Bernat and his wife, Leslie, is already
a favorite destination.
But the consistent excellence of the 3-year-old bistro’s food, wine list, commitment to the community, generally warm hospitality and charming decor were not formally recognized until Feb. 23, when the New York Chapter of the Compagnons du Beaujolais ("Friends of Beaujolais"), a France-based organization of wine enthusiasts, presented the Bernats with a trophy for Best Beaujolais Bistro of New York.
Although the Best Beaujolais Bistro jury president, Francis Lorenzini, who is associate professor of hospitality management at Downtown Brooklyn’s New York City College of Technology, announced the 2003 winners in September - Manhattan’s Madison Bistro and Pigalle were also winners - the award was not officially presented until last month. The special dinner-ceremony was held at Provence en Boite, where a phalanx of fully uniformed Compagnons - dressed in long, green winemaker’s aprons and wearing silver wine-tasting cups (taste-vin) around their necks - delighted guests with their presentation of the award, which originated in the south of France, to a bistro in south Brooklyn.
The Best Beaujolais Bistro Cup, which began as a tradition in Lyon, France, in the 1950s, has been awarded in New York since 1995. Provence en Boite now joins the ranks of Manhattan’s Capsouto Freres (1995), L’Express (1998) and Café Centro (2001), among others, but it stands alone as the first bistro to win the cup in Brooklyn.
Before presenting the trophy to the Bernats, Le Madeleine proprietor Toney Edwards (a 1996 cup-winner) recalled the Compagnons du Beaujolais’ humble beginnings.
"In 1947, in an area particularly ravaged by World War II, the Compagnons du Beaujolais was formed by a small group of farmers, wine makers and their families in the devastated Beaujolais area of Burgundy, which is just north of Lyon and south of Dijon," Edwards said.
"For the people in this region, it was a life-or-death effort to preserve and protect their way of life, their historic traditions of tending the soil and raising the gamay grape that had existed in the region for hundreds of years," Edwards explained. "It was a very human effort and became capable of marketing and exporting a love of their hospitality, revelry and Beaujolais wine to the rest of the world."
Edwards explained that Provence en Boite was honored because it fits the criteria of being "a mostly family-run restaurant with community spirit ... hospitality and home cooking where the simple pleasure and value of Beaujolais wine are greatly appreciated."
Certainly the diners on this evening soon became bona fide revelers as glasses were filled with different wines with each course,
’Here, French and Americans come together and forget politics," said Jean-Jacques. "They talk about food and wine. There’s joie de vivre. It’s much better. You forget everything."
Chef Bernat came to the United States in 1996 as a consultant for Bouley Bakery and was executive chef at Citarella from 1997 to 2000.
He said he competed vigorously for the award "not for me, but for Brooklyn."
Leslie became tearful as she and Jean-Jacques went through the charming, Old World induction ceremony: each was touched on the shoulder by a large, gnarled Beaujolais vine and offered wine from an enormous, silver, ceremonial cup.
After devouring Bernat’s heady menu of French favorites - topped off with a rich, chocolate mousse with fresh fruit and large chocolate centerpieces - the sated revelers went outside together to enjoy their cigars.
Provence en Boite is located at 8303
Third Ave. at 83rd Street in Bay Ridge. Entrees: $14-$28.50.
Open Tuesday through Sunday for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
American Express, MasterCard and Visa are accepted. For more
information, call (718) 759-1515 or visit www.proven