Le Bistro – “The Art of Fine Dining” – redefined

Lured by subtle French music, I strolled through Jackson Square courtyard and approached the newly redefined Fallbrook restaurant – Le Bistro. The cuisine and ambiance evokes images of bistros I remember from my time living near the enchanting city of Brugge, Belgium – only a few hours’ drive from Paris. Cozy cafés and intimate bistros abounded in both cities.

Robert Penkava, the proprietor for 25 years, recently relinquished ownership to Dr. Steve and Colleen Aichle. Steve is a retired Fallbrook veterinarian and the couple also owned two local art galleries.

The Aichles took their appreciation of art, added it to their love of food and re-opened Le Bistro with the theme: “The Art of Fine Dining.” Fine art pieces now line the soothing avocado-hued walls and an art menu is provided for interested guests.

The new owners have adopted and refined the European-inspired menu, paring it down, but also saving some established favorites such as Chateaubriand and Cherry Duck. Some new items grace the menu, including the inspiring Artisan Salad.

A second-level sommelier, Willy Burtner, chose the wines for the restaurant. He also helped select the chef. The Aichles narrowed the field to two chefs and then hosted a competition with a visiting chef acting as one of the judges. Chef Jennifer Blanco came out on top.

Le Bistro’s “Artisan Salad” created by Chef Jennifer, is an innovative and flavorful mélange with a base of fresh watercress. Roasted squash lends a fresh, unique winter flavor and a splash of color. Cipollini onion infuses natural sweetness to the salad which is crowned with a sweet surprise of house-created pine nut brittle that can be broken into pieces and tossed with the salad.

Look closely at the photograph of the salad and you will see a sprinkling of black and red crystals which are two varieties of gourmet sea salt. The black salt is created from the ashes of an extinct volcano on the Hawaiian Island of Molokai. Clay that is formed around the volcano provides the base for the red salt. Chef Jennifer uses both salts in various dishes, including pine nut brittle and balsamic vinegar dipping sauce. It is obvious that Chef Jennifer knows how to wield her salt. These distinct salts enhance the flavors dramatically and bring the food to life.

Volcanic salt gives our food an exotic kick, but in ancient Hawaiian cultures the salt made from red volcanic clay was purported to possess cleansing, and even medicinal, qualities. The ancient Hawaiians used it to cleanse and purify tools and canoes.

Pork Normandy is a European-inspired item that is a holdover from the previous menu. A brandy and roasted apple cream sauce makes this dish pop with flavor. The pork is seared, then roasted, for a nuance of smoke flavor. The sweetness of the brandy apple sauce is a perfect complement to the savory meat. The pork rests on a bed of purple-hued mashed potatoes which possess a unique, sweet flavor because they are a mix of two potatoes – Peruvian Purple and Yukon Gold. For the maximum flavor benefit, the pork, potatoes, and brandy cream sauce should be enjoyed as one.

Le Bistro is still a beguiling café reminiscent of a Paris bistro or Brugge café – it’s a guardian of culinary culture and calm amidst the flurry where diners can delight in cuisine reminiscent of the heart of Europe.

Le Bistro is located at 119 North Main Ave. (Jackson Square) in Fallbrook, Calif. Call (760) 723-3559 for more information. (Due to the intimate nature of the restaurant, reservations are required.)

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