NOTE: Cheval Bistro is CLOSED as of May 2014-- This restaurant has been replaced with the White Horse Lounge.
I wanted to try a cuisine that I haven't had in years--French--so recently, we visited Cheval Bistro in Pasadena, California, to check out what traditional French dining in the United States was like. Yes, Cheval Bistro is operated by the Smith Brothers, a restaurant group that primarily offers American cuisine, but this experience was quite French.
Though Cheval Bistro is conveniently located right next door to a parking structure, inside the restaurant, all thoughts of parking were removed. Instead, we saw a classy, dark wood interior, with fine dinnerware and plenty of french paintings/ magazine cover posters on the walls.
Our seating, unlike what you see in the photo, was bright, with plenty of light right above the table. Look for the booster seats to the right of you as you enter the restaurants if you want those seats!
When we were presented with special platters with two-tine forks to pick off mussels, and a bowl just for mussel shells, we knew our Moules Dijonaises (18 USD) had arrived. Immediately, the succulent, just cooked to open mussels impressed us-- these were the most tender mussels we've had! And the server's commentary was right: after trying just a few mussels, we asked for another side of bread to dip in that creamy, lightly sour and mustardy sauce. How were these mussels so tender, and so fabulous with this sauce? Definitely a must-order dish; now only if the mussels were larger!
On a side note, the mussels also came with a side of pommes frites, which was a pleasant supplement to the mussels. The shoestring fries had plenty of potato flavor and were nicely crisp on the outside, tender on the inside; like the bread, it was fantastic dipped in the sauce! Plus points for the fake newspaper-- it was printed on vegetable based ink.
We were still enjoying the mussels when our entrees arrived. First was the D'Agenau Provencale (37 USD), consisting of grilled leg of lamb cut into thin medallions (we requested medium), lamb daube (slow cooked braised lamb stew), fennel, olives, and root vegetable puree. For us, this was interesting as there was no lamb bones-- it was just meat and vegetables! The grilled lamb was fresh and barely gamey, while the lamb daube was deeply flavored and easy to pull apart. Likewise, the fennel had plenty of braised flavor, while the salty olives were downplayed by the sweet and smoothly textured root vegetable puree.
Our Bouillabaisse (29 USD) also came in a large ceramic pot, just like the mussels. Featured seafood included rock cod, monkfish, mussels, and prawns. A side dish consisting of rouille sauce (a peppery, creamy sauce) and croutons (toasted thin slices of baguette) and a bowl to place shells were also provided. We enjoyed the deeply flavored fish stock, which was accented with tomato, fennel, lemon slices, parsley, and other ingredients, but were less satisfied with this dish as the fishes, in particular, were overcooked. On the other hand, the rouille sauce was a great complement to the seafood, and when added to the broth, brought out even more of the stock's flavors.
Last but not least was the Steak Frites (10 ounce filet mingon for 42 USD (shown above), 7 ounce for 38 USD), a seven ounce or 10 ounce filet mingon which comes with a choice of green peppercorn or bearnaise sauce and a side of pommes frites (the same serving size and presentations as the mussels' from earlier). Our waiter was friendly enough to bring us both sauces!
The green peppercorn sauce was our waiter's favorite, and it likewise was my favorite, with its lighter texture, fresh verdant peppery flavor, and savory undertones-- it was an excellent compliment to the filet. The béarnaise sauce, on the hand, was extremely thick and heavy and for me, it masked the flavors of the filet. This sauce wasn't worth ordering two saucers extra of, unlike another béarnaise sauce I had years ago! I requested the filet to be done medium rare and it was-- the meat was extremely tender and juicy, with a nice light crust of cracked peppercorn and salt on the outside. It wasn't the most tender filet I had, but the frites and sauces made up for it.
Our waiter knew it was a special occasion (a birthday) and so he told us he would have a surprise for us. What was it? A profiterole filled with vanilla ice cream and dipped in dark chocolate, with "happy birthday" written in French on the table! We enjoyed the interplay between the warm chocolate, melting vanilla bean ice cream, and warm, egg-y profiterole-- nicely executed, and a fun way to end the meal. I loved this surprise-- and actually writing out "happy birthday" was a thoughtful gesture, much more so than just a candle at other restaurants.
We looked into Cheval Bistro for some traditional French food and a great place to celebrate a special occasion, and Cheval Bistro excelled at both accounts! We enjoyed the amicable service, and the traditional food. Make sure to order those mussels if you visit, and note that Cheval Bistro only opens for dinner, Sunday brunch, and "social hour" during the late afternoon. Don't expect to have lunch here!
41 S. De Lacey Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91105
Tel: (626) 577-4141