Reviews

Review: Bistro Parisien

Excellent food, charming service, and attractive space conspire to make Bistro Parisien a uniformly delightful dining experience.

By Ryan McGreal
Published January 25, 2010

I'm nominally a vegetarian, though I'll make an exception for the chance to try something really interesting. Let me say that I fell off the wagon hard this weekend.

It started with the Robbie Burns Dinner on Friday night (my Irish Catholic ancestors are rolling in their graves right now), complete with bagpipes and "For a' that, and a' that / It's coming yet for a' that" ... and, of course, haggis. (No wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie, alas.)

Haggis, for those of you with only a hazy awareness of it, consists of sheep's organs minced with onions and spices, stuffed into a stomach (the sheep's first, and later yours) and simmered. It turned out to be quite tasty; it rather reminded me of a cross between a coarse fois gras and the steak and kidney pies my parents used to feed me as a child.

But after an evening of neeps and tatties and suet ... well, Scotland isn't exactly known for its culinary excellence. So on Saturday, we reset our palates with a visit to Bistro Parisien, 150 James Street South between Bold and Duke.

France is known for its culinary excellence, and that excellence was on full display during our visit.

The traditional French restaurant, located in one of the gorgeous nineteenth century stone rowhouses on James South, is warm and clean, with tall windows, high ceilings and an ornate medallion highlighting the large chandelier that overhangs the tables.

When we arrived, the maitre d' took our coats and led us to our seats to the sweet sounds of classical Chanson.

The waiter was attentive and charming, regaling us with entertaining stories as he poured our wine. He might have come across as obsequious but for the appealing frisson of a sharp edge that is the hallmark of all great waiters.

But the food. After all, the food is why people go to French restaurants. (For that matter, it's why Knopf continues to sell Mastering the Art of French Cooking fifty years after the first publication.)

I'm happy to report that the food at Bistro Parisien was uniformly excellent, complemented nicely by the crisp, fruity French house wine, La Vieille Ferme.

After enjoying fresh-baked sesame bread, we started with a selection of appetizers: escargots in mushroom caps baked under cheese; grilled calamari with tomatoes and olives; and pâtés of rabbit and wild boar, served with toast points and garnished with radish and pickled red onion.

The escargots were delightfully buttery and garlicky. The calamari was fresh and tart and tender. The rabbit paté was smooth and almost creamy, while the boar had more of a wild, gamey bite to it; the two contrasted nicely.

For my entrée, I had the lamb shank (sourced locally from Cumbrae Farms) served on a chevre bread pudding with roasted root vegetables, beets, green beans, steamed broccoli, encrusted baked cauliflower and spinach and cheese.

The lamb, braised in a red wine sauce, was tender and delicious, falling off the bone. The pudding was moist and flavourful, and the array of sides nicely balanced each other and the lamb itself.

The other guests had the Coq au Vin, a traditional dish of braised chicken in red wine and mushrooms; and the special of the day, a delicate sole with capers, tapenade and grilled shrimp, served on a bed of frites. Everyone was very pleased with their meals.

We were all quite full after the main course, but we had espied another diner enjoying a crème brûlée and we couldn't resist sharing one around our table. Like the rest of the meal, it was as delicious as it was stylishly arranged. The custard was rich with a nicely caramelized crust, garnished with chocolate, berry and vanilla coulis and fresh berries.

For all that, the prices are quite reasonable; excellent value for the high quality of the food, presentation and service.

We've been meaning to try out Bistro Parisien since it opened in July 2006. After we finally made it there on Saturday evening, we left with only one regret - that we hadn't gone sooner.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

14 Comments

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 25, 2010 at 08:19:49

this place is awesome.
great review Ry.

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By Bistrier (anonymous) | Posted January 25, 2010 at 08:36:38

^Seconded! I LOVE that we have a great traditional french bistro right here in Durand Neighbourhood. Kudos to Steve and Kate for a great restaurant. Seriously. If you haven't eaten there yet what on earth are you waiting for???

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By PaulH (anonymous) | Posted January 25, 2010 at 08:45:15

Yeah, they have great food there. Not too expensive for a lunch stop either.

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By Tammany (anonymous) | Posted January 25, 2010 at 09:50:09

I have always enjoyed Bistro Parisien but I can't help but feel that their standards may be slipping slightly.

I was there last week for lunch, and while the main course (chicken crepe) was perfectly acceptable (although a little soggier and more loosely wrapped than the time I previously enjoyed it) the sugar crust on my creme brulee was burnt beyond forgiveness. The waiter also initially refused to provide separate cheques, which I would have found perfectly understandable if the request had been made at last minute, but it was made early on in the meal.

Relatively minor shortcomings notwithstanding, this is one of the few downtown restaurants I regularly and unreservedly recommend. It should be noted that their house wine selections are consistently very good.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted January 25, 2010 at 13:15:51

Ooooh I wish I could afford to eat there more often, Bistro Parisien is my favorite fancy restaurant in the Hammer (and walking distance so I can drink more wine!). Tammany I maybe don't go as often as you but I haven't noticed a drop off in quality, maybe they were just having an off day the last time you went?

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By Tammany (anonymous) | Posted January 25, 2010 at 13:49:51

nobrainer, that's definitely a possibility. I won't stop going there just because my dessert was, on this one occasion, subpar. It's just that I was a little peeved that a Hamilton restaurant would have the nerve to charge $10 for a dessert (which is the going rate in most high-end Toronto restaurants as well) and then not execute it perfectly, especially when it's very easy to tell when you've overtorched the caramel on a brulee.

The service has never been perfect, often a little clumsy and awkward, but that's just something one has to learn to expect with Hamilton restaurants across the board.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 25, 2010 at 14:22:46

but that's just something one has to learn to expect with Hamilton restaurants across the board.

Glad it's not just me. Lousy restaurant service in Hamilton is one of my pet peeves. I think it plays a larger role in the failure of many restaurants than alot of people would like to admit (cough Tapestry cough, cough). The only place I've ever consistently received exemplary service is 1010 Bistro, but after this review I'll certainly give Bistro Parisien a try, for the food if nothing else.

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted January 25, 2010 at 16:34:34

Maybe I've just been single too long but I also managed to avoid this place for two years despite living right off James. However I had the occasion to take my mom there a few months ago and had the best experience. The fresh baked rosemary bread they serve complimentary deserves a commendation on its own - I wish they sold this by the loaf. Then I was surprised by the proper Kronenbourg 1664 pint glass (it read 50CL at the pint line) they served my beer in, a fussy detail but one that always impresses me when executed. As to the food selection, for unfathomable reasons even to myself I went for the hamburger and frites, maybe just tantalized by the description on the menu. Melted Gruyere cheese, sauteed onions and mushrooms, anyway there was no turning back, and I didn't regret it. Easily the best burger anywhere. The frites, while thinly sliced (Julienned?) to the expected precision, left something to be desired on the scale of crispiness - I enjoy fries, not sticks of cooked potato - hopefully it was just a miscalculation. I had a bite of my mom's chicken crepe and it too was delicious. The creamy sauce, tender chicken and substantial pastry melded into the perfect melt in your mouth consistency. I can't remember if we shared a creme brulee for dessert, probably. I'll go again soon - I think they have a steak frites special for $10 one day of the week. I walk past it every day so I'll keep this thread informed of the specials.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 26, 2010 at 11:42:55

The creamy sauce, tender chicken and substantial pastry melded into the perfect melt in your mouth consistency.

Keep up that kind of talk and you won't be single much longer.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 26, 2010 at 11:53:56

LOL^

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted January 27, 2010 at 09:29:08

Heh. I'm not all talk either - I can substantiate it in the kitchen.

I checked the menu board and indeed, half price steak + frites every monday. An incredible deal if they're done as well as what I have experienced.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 27, 2010 at 15:12:15

I checked the menu board and indeed, half price steak + frites every monday.

Are you listening Beasley? Next Angry Drinks at the Parisien Bistro. Of course we'll have to call it Angry Steaks, which coincidentally is the name of my new band.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted January 27, 2010 at 18:23:04

Angry Drinks upgraded to Angry Steaks? What else could one want?

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By SOMEtymn (anonymous) | Posted August 03, 2014 at 16:31:58

Structure
field mushrooms large - 12 pieces,
onions a leek (white part) or napiform - 1 piece,
cheese - 150-180 g,
breadcrumbs or grain crumbs - 1 tablespoon (without hill),
salt, svezhemoloty pepper

stuffed mushroom recipe

Preparation
To wash up and dry field mushrooms.
At field mushrooms accurately to remove legs not to damage a hat.
To lay out hats in the oiled form for roasting or a baking sheet and slightly to salt them inside.
To prepare a stuffing:
To cut onions small or a quarter with rings.
To chop legs of mushrooms.
To grate cheese on an average grater.
To fry onions on vegetable oil ~ 2-3 minutes.

stuffed mushroom recipe

Then to add legs of field mushrooms, to salt, pepper and fry mushrooms with onions ~ 5 minutes (it is possible to add small cut garlic). To add breadcrumbs or grain crumbs and to mix.
With onions a few to cool and mix mushrooms and a half polished cheese.
To lay out a stuffing in mushroom hats, from above to strew with cheese.

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