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A Bite of the Bistro

By Leigh Cort - American Roads Travel Magazine

It was hard to decide what to be more excited about – the sunset over the bay on an early spring night in downtown St. Augustine or getting a table in one of North Florida’s newest popular bistros on a Friday night. for me, it’s always been about the food. AlthoughI’ve not traveled extensively, my culinary travels have taken me to many global cities through hundreds of cookbooks I’ve collected over the years. I don’t prepare many of the dishes but I could tell more from the overall book whether the Caribbean Islands were jumping with fresh fish or perfumed with tropical fruit by page 20!

The most delectable dish I have eaten in decades surprised me tonight after we strolled downtown during the ‘First Friday Artwalk’, ending our sojourn with dinner at the Bistro de Leon. It’s not that delicious food is surprising when it comes from Chef Jean-Stephane Poinard’s kitchen…but it was the Frog Legs Meuniere that put me into a culinary spell.  It was a deep dish of succulent pleasure…at least a pound of plump, sweet meat smothered with chopped garlic, parsley, lemon and oil. It was such a pleasure to share the dish with my dinner companion/husband, another ‘foodie’ who finished every morsel before we used the thoughtful warm lemon-water fingerbowl.

Do I dare confess that there were two appetizers preceding my favorite dish that Chef created specially tonight?  Of course they were light and flawlessly crafted too…a little mountain of ahi tuna tartare, with hints of fennel and light vinaigrette that began our French adventure. Needing only two thin small rounds of crispy baguette as accompaniment, the tuna could have been satisfying enough until our waiter brought a colorful plate of paper-thin Serrano ham, tumbled with pared parmesan slices.  Served atop 3 grilled scallions, I realized that this was something I would not have created in my own kitchen – yet Chef makes it look so easy.

Loving great Pinot Noirs, burgundy, occasional shiraz and dry oaky chardonnay when appropriate, this particular dinner was one of my favorites because I didn’t indulge in any wine. My taste buds were ready for the magical dishes that I felt privileged to enjoy.  Perhaps ending with a port would have suited the moment, but it would have been overkill to the bold flavors I had just enjoyed.  

I love Chef Jean-Stephane for his passionate interest in preparing locally procured food, taking the time to find the origins of each item every day.  He makes being a chef and restaurateur look easy.  Even at the end of a Friday night fullhouse dinner…that started with breakfast, segued into lunch and tea time…then a late night crowd who were still cooing over the menu as we left after 10pm! He graciously enters the dining room, not making a flourish about being ‘on the floor’ with his patrons and fans, but genuinely listening to what they have to say about dinner, their vacation or even newest love affair. He handles people as personally as he must have caressed the delicate sprays of fresh herbs that garnished my dishes. 

The culinary history of St. Augustine (America’s oldest city circa 1565) is a vibrant melting pot of cooking traditions. it started with the indians thousands of years ago, combining cultures through colonial times, European, African, Spanish, French and southern infusions. today the delicious result is represented in a variety of restaurants that dot the city map…from English pub fare and bbq to swanky seafood joints or pizza parlors. But it’s the Bistro de Leon that has captured the heart of what makes St. Augustine the international mecca that it was throughout the ages. Chef Jean-Stephane Poinard’s dream (along with his wife and partner Valerie…a vintner herself) was to find an opportunity for culinary tourists (local and visitor) to find what they’re looking for in settings both laid back and luxurious…There is no question that the casual bistro is very laid back and the food – unbelievably luxe!

Provided by American Roads Travel Magazine - Visit American Roads Travel Magazine website.