Who would have thought that there would be a direct connection from downtown Mahopac to the 12th arrondissement in Paris, France? A la Biche au Bois is a rustic Parisian brasserie located at 45 Avenue Ledru-Rollin in the Bercy neighborhood of Paris and is owned by Céline and Bertrand Marchesseau.
Céline is the niece of Georges and Eileen Zidi of Dish, one of my favorite local dining spots in Mahopac. Two years ago, chef Hannah Hopkins gingerly relinquished her “baby” to the Zidi’s (New Owners — Same Dish), and Eileen feels that “her and Georges have guided Dish [most deliciously!]into its adolescence”. Sadly, somewhere in the middle of this journey, Georges lost a brave and private battle to cancer and Eileen lost her husband and best friend. I knew Georges only briefly from my day behind the kitchen door with him and my frequent dinners at Dish. Yet, his passion for cooking and his warm, endearing personality touched my heart, and he will always be remembered fondly.
Recently, Eileen was in Paris to spend time with Georges’ family. I was also in Paris visiting friends. So, finding ourselves in that wonderful city at the exact same time was quite special. As Eileen so eloquently put it, “we had a moment” — albeit a little bittersweet as we shared both smiles and tears over a wonderful array of French comfort food at A la Biche au Bois.
This sweet little bistro is a favorite dining destination of locals and tourists alike, but most surprising is the attention it has received from acclaimed foodwriters and cookbook authors David Lebovitz and Patricia Wells.
Along with my husband, John, and our French friends, Olivier, Christine and Marie, we joined Eileen at a cozy table within the open air front of A la Biche au Bois, where everyone became fast friends and dining partners.
We toasted with my favorite French aperitif, a kir. Usually made with a light white wine and a splash of creme de cassis (black current liqueur), the house special, made with red wine, was a nice little twist. (FYI, a bubbly version made with Champagne is a Kir Royale). We started out with a few appetizers (first lesson in navigating a French menu is that starters are confusingly enough called entrées). One bite of my country pâté and I knew that this was a dish that would be hard for me to share. The dish was a perfectly seasoned mélange of meats dotted with pistachios served with a lightly dressed frisée salad.
Eileen’s Tomate Salad was a picture perfect plate of summer.
And my husband’s poached eggs just begged to be cut to release their rich, yellowy yolks into the garden salad underneath.
A la Biche au Bois, meaning a Doe in the Woods, is actually known for its meat and game (venison will make its seasonal appearance on the menu in the fall). So, for my main course (les plats), I was very pleased with my fork tender veal escallops bathed in a rich mushroom sauce. The veal was plated quite rustically, like most of the dishes around the table, mirroring the atmosphere of the bistro. Simple, yet so plate-licking good.
Frites … French fries … potato heaven. However you choose to define these crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside hand-cut, twice fried potatoes, with one bite I knew that I would be dreaming about them long after I was back home in Mahopac.
An after dinner/before dessert le plateau de fromages affinés, a lovely selection of cheeses ranging from a piquant blue to a tangy goat, was paired with a cold and bubbly glass of champagne compliments of our host Bertrand.
Even though at this point I was very close to a glorious French food coma, dessert was way too tempting to pass up; and even better was that my dining partners were willing to share (well, maybe a bite or two).
The dessert show stopper was Eileen’s Île Flottante (floating islands). It was easy to understand why she professed her love for these lighter than air meringue islands which luxuriously floated atop a sea of sweet crème anglaise.
I couldn’t end my dining experience without a peek into the kitchen. A Charvet combo grill, flat-top, burner and oven was the main (meaning only!) fire power in the kitchen.
I was totally shocked that this tiny kitchen could serve 100 to 120 patrons (restaurant speak: covers) in an evening. And so cool how the handwritten orders are held in place on this old style metal ticket board.
Eileen once told me that “it brings her sincere happiness when friends and family come together to celebrate the moment over food and wine.” Our moment in time — the amazing food and wine shared in this wonderful little brasserie — will not soon be forgotten. Georges’ presence was most surely missed, but I’m pretty sure he would have gotten a good laugh over Eileen conversing animatedly to my friends in French and then turning to me as she continued her conversation in the same tongue, completely forgetting that I was her English-speaking friend. By the end of the evening, with our French connection complete, thanks to Eileen I left feeling less like a New Yorker and so much more like a Parisian. C’est très vrai (it’s very true!).