A new French bistro has opened in the former
Brooklyn Grill space on Atlantic Avenue. Before you give the
jaded "what-else-is-new?" eye roll, consider this:
Jolie has a true Gallic menu with escargot, steak tartare and
crepes suzette. Additionally, most of the bottles on Jolie’s
short, well-chosen wine list fall in the $20 to $40 range with
several excellent choices by the glass.
But what differentiates Jolie from the others on the block is the setting.
Jolie, which is French for "pretty," embraces all things feminine. Around the ochre-colored marble bar, young "jolies" sip cocktails named in their honor - Nancy Li, Magda and Barbie are a few, and, of course, there’s Gigi - a warm drink of Calvados apple brandy, honey, lemon and cloves. The walls in the dining room are the color of candlelight. Diners sit upon garnet-suede banquettes beneath the glow of modern hanging lamps. With a backdrop like that, everyone looks as sexy as the babes high-kicking in the vintage "Folies Bergere" poster on the wall.
Benjamin Tretout, who managed Rocco DiSpirito’s Union Pacific in Manhattan, owns the bistro with Michel Pombet, the former executive chef at DeMarchelier. The two have a "Mutt and Jeff" quality. Tretout, elegant and effortlessly charming, works the room; Pombet, rounder and older, pops out now and then to peer at diners’ plates, then clomps back to the kitchen.
Out of that kitchen come the kind of French bistro classics that seem particularly apt as winter’s chill sets in: mesclun greens with goat cheese smeared on toast points; hearty vegetarian soups; and mushrooms stuffed with snails.
An oxtail terrine, with chewy nuggets of the deeply flavored meat embedded in fragrant jelly, resembled slices of marble. A compote of sweet onions and sharp cornichons (tiny gherkin pickles) added contrast.
Pombet’s celery remoulade is coleslaw’s fancy cousin; the slivers of the vegetable are dressed in tangy mayonnaise sauce made sharp with mustard.
There are two steaks on the menu (three if you count the tartare): a hanger steak with sauteed shallots and mashed potatoes and the rib eye with bearnaise sauce and fries. We tried the rib eye, a good choice if you like steak deeply flavored with a little fat. The bearnaise was properly dense but needed a bit more vinegar to offset the meat. Thin, crisp fries weren’t bad at first, but lost flavor after a few minutes on the plate.
Pombet turns out a special bouillabaisse that is heady with saffron and is everything a bouillabaisse should be. The stew is served in a deep bowl filled with huge, silky sea scallops, a big mound of monkfish that absorbed the briny broth, and a few perfectly tender mussels and clams in the shell. A saucer of russet-colored, garlicky paste (called rouille) and crisp slices of toasted French bread accompany the dish. A bit of that bread smeared with the rouille, then dipped into the thick stew, is the best Christmas gift you’ll get in 2005.
While Jolie’s list of desserts are as traditional as the rest of the menu, that doesn’t mean they lack in excitement. If a waiter set a dish on fire a few years ago, diners would run screaming for the door or greet the sight as a silly affectation from yesteryear.
How we’ve changed.
When two desserts were lit at our table, it was met with an intake of breath and a smattering of claps from others nearby. The drama involved crepes suzette and a special of sliced bananas broiled in rum.
The delicate crepes were overwhelmed by too-sweet sauce and the bananas needed a partner - maybe ice cream or a cookie - to feel complete. The tarte Tatin, with overcooked apples and a soggy crust, was just so-so.
Our waiter, who worked a long shift, said to my dining companion and I in a thick French accent, "I’m a little jealous of you two. You are enjoying yourself. Eating slowly. Talking. That’s the way it should be."
We agreed. When in Jolie, we do as the French do.
Banana Leaf Cafe (6814 Fourth Ave. at 68th Street in Bay Ridge) accepts Discover, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $7.95-$21.95. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner daily. For information, call (718) 238-5531 or (718) 238-5532.