The French bistro Belleville, on Park Slope’s
Fifth Avenue, possesses something that few Brooklyn restaurants
have - glamour.
It is evident in the sparkling light that bounces off the vintage mirrored walls. You can hear it in the high-spirited conversations of large groups and in the intimate whispers of handholding couples. You can see it in the apron-clad waiters running past tables with big bowls of mussels. And when you walk through Belleville’s big glass doors, the scent of women’s perfume mingling with heady kitchen aromas is dizzying.
Belleville, which opened in October, may have every bistro accouterment - tile floors, antique mirrors and a big, wooden bar - yet it’s not a Disney version of a French restaurant. Belleville’s ambience is France by way of Brooklyn with a joie de vivre all its own.
Of course, all the glamour in the world wouldn’t pack a Brooklyn restaurant if the food was just so-so. Chef Joe Elorriaga has served as executive chef in Casimir, Felix and The Elephant, three restaurants owned by Belleville proprietors Eric Lagrange and Alain Deuneulin. At Belleville, Elorriaga wisely leaves many bistro classics alone. The onion soup has a nice, thick, Gruyere crust, as it should, and the fabulous duck confit is as rich as cheesecake.
But here and there Elorriaga lets up on the butter and instead of a cupful of cream, uses a few tablespoons instead. His lightened dishes are every bit as satisfying as their butter-laden prototypes.
The chef isn’t averse to giving diners a good-natured poke in the ribs. Take the potato salad with greens and goat cheese. The essence of America’s favorite picnic staple is there, but his traditional potato and cheese appetizer, the "Petatou de Fromage," is its chic city cousin.
The potatoes are molded into a plump, slightly warmed timbale then iced with a thick layer of goat cheese. It’s creamy and tangy, and would be pleasantly subdued if it wasn’t paired with salty, pitted Nicoise olives and a salad of interesting lettuce and herbs that give the little cake a welcome jolt. Parsley, in the salad mix, lends the side a refreshing note.
A competently made, but not exciting, fish soup was helped with a dip of a crisp crouton smeared with saffron-flavored rouille (a paste made of chiles, garlic, bread crumbs and olive oil) into the broth.
The mussels make a delectable shared appetizer or entree. The mollusks are as tiny as your thumbnail, impeccably fresh and sweet. Their briny broth is gently laced with garlic, a touch of cream and a whisper of anise-like Pernod. If you run out of the delectable, thin, salty frites that sit beside the mussels in a pert little cone, you can sop up every drop of that broth with a slice of the chewy French bread.
A dish that made the mussels seem like delicate eating is the unctuous duck confit. Confit is meat that has been cooked and stored in its own fat. The rich meat of the duck’s leg is concentrated to the buttery density of pate, with the mineral tang of a just-off-the-broiler, rare sirloin steak. Slightly bitter greens tossed in a lemony dressing go a long way to cutting the richness of the meat. A side of mashed potatoes was buttery to the extreme, pushed the limit on decadence, and was as enjoyable a side dish as anyone could desire.
There’s an unusual item on the dessert roundup that may be the ultimate spring dessert. Elorriaga brushes pink grapefruit sections in light caramel syrup. The syrup hardens to a brittle coating around the fruit that cracks between your teeth. The contrast of the sweet, sugar glaze and the sharpness of the fruit is exhilarating. He serves the sections with a drizzle of the syrup and a scoop of intensely flavored, house-made grapefruit sorbet. Warm chocolate cake is a shopworn staple, but this version is bittersweet and paired with coffee ice cream so strong that you can forgo an end-of-meal espresso.
In French, Belleville means "beautiful town." Our "beautiful town" is that much better with the addition of Belleville.
Belleville (330 Fifth St. at Fifth Avenue in Park Slope) accepts American Express. Entrees: $12.50-$18.50. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner seven days a week. Brunch is available Saturday and Sunday from 10:30 am to 5:30 pm. For reservations call (718) 832-9777.