A Simple Meal
La Bicyclette is more than just Casanova’s cousin.
Thursday, June 1, 2006
Simplicity is a virtue, but it can also be an aesthetic value. There is pleasure to be found in an escape from the complicated, the fancy. And in simplicity, sometimes we find perfection.
I have been to La Bicyclette twice in the past few weeks, and that’s what I would say about this new Carmel bistro: It’s simply perfect.
La Bicyclette features a particular variety of perfection: that of the French or Belgian country inn. The idea behind the restaurant comes from the place where the idea of prix fixe was born—and it works like so: There are three courses (plus desert). Two of those courses—the soup and the salad—are set. There is no need to decide. (Relax.) For the main course, there are four choices—one meat, or one fish, or one foul, or one vegetarian. One decision. Another decision: white wine or red? (There is a wine list, if you must, or you can just order the house white or red—more on this later.)
This is French (or Belgian) for “family style.” And that is perfectly appropriate, since La Bicyclette is owned by the winemaking Georis family, who also own part of Casanova, the brilliant Carmel restaurant, which is located around the corner. The first time I went to La Bicyclette, Walter Georis and his wife Sylvia sat at a two-top across the way, while teenaged sons Max and Klaus sat nearby.
On my first visit, I was accompanied by my friend Steve. As it happens, I was glad that there were not a lot of decisions to be made—Steve and I hadn’t hung out for a while, and we had been catching up by partying a bit. That’s all I will say on that subject.
La Bicyclette is located in the cozy room that long housed La Boheme, a restaurant with which it shares a certain ambiance. Happily, the room has not been changed much—it feels a tad brighter (not too bright) and the wooden tables (which mimic country-kitchen tables) appeared new; but a cute little faux chateau that “houses” two tables in semi-privacy has been retained.
We settled in with a glass each of the house white wine, and enjoyed the background music (a terrific mix, as it turned out—and what a nice touch).
Let me say something here about the house wines. They come in bottles with no label, and are custom-made for the restaurant by a man named Damien Georis, a winemaker from Bordeaux who may or may not be related to the Carmel Georis clan. According to the legend, one of Walter Georis’ sons found Damien, who was working in France at Chateau Olivier, on the Internet. Walter hunted him down, met him, liked him, and hired him. Damien came to Carmel one year ago. That’s a cool story, but here’s something better: Damien Georis’ $5 house white, a blend of the three Georis-grown grapes—Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc— is a perfectly good glass of wine. For $5.
Steve and I had only been seated for a short while when the salad was set between us to share. It was a salad with personality—greens, grated carrots, a pile each of diced red and yellow beets, and a dollop of creamy hummus—a nice addition, perhaps inspired by chef Robin Sachs’ long-ago gig at UC Santa Cruz’s Whole Earth Restaurant.
The soup course was, for me, the hit of the night. It was a simple potato leek, set before us in a copper tureen, with a nifty ladle and a couple of shallow bowls. It was, of course, perfect.
I liked it so well, I jokingly asked for more when we’d finished the pot, and our waiter immediately set out to oblige me. I stopped him.
For an entrée I had ordered the roasted chicken ($24). It was superb, and came with a gravy I would kill for. Steve ordered the vegetarian entrée (he is a UCSC grad)—a stuffed artichoke heart that he said was terrific ($21). (He also ate half a loaf of the excellent bread, dipping each slice repeatedly in my gravy. If he wasn’t one of my best friends in the world, I would have cut his hand off.)
The entrées came with a big plate of vegetables to split—broccolini, and carrots cooked perfectly, a cauliflower au gratin that could be an entrée, and the best roasted potatoes I’ve ever eaten—crispy, sweet, and dusted with herbs de Provençe.
For desert we split a profiterole, stuffed with vanilla ice cream, and drizzled (drenched, really) with chocolate sauce. We left laughing, very happy. That’s about the best thing you can say about a restaurant, right? And the whole deal, including wine and desert, cost less than $75.
On my second visit, the comely Penelope had the seafood velouté: a plate of calamari, clams, mussels and scallops in wine, butter, parsley and garlic, and capellini. Wow. I considered the lamb shanks, but instead I had the chicken. I’m a simple guy.
Dolores at Seventh, Carmel • 5pm-close daily, except Tuesdays • 622-9899.