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Exhilarating! France Has Arrived Once Again in St. Augustine

By Leigh Cort
Chef Jean-Stephane Poinard

 Bienvenue a le Bistro de Leon! Summer is an incredibly delicious time to be in the kitchen, especially when the sight, sound and aromas are French…from Chef/Owner Jean-Stephane Poinard to Florian and Catherine…sous chef and pastry chef. It’s the gardening season with an abundance of fresh, local vegetables, seafood and luxurious ingredients readily available for the Chef’s own palate from Lyon, France. It looks like a cozy French café from across the Plaza in the ‘old city’…and it comes to life the moment you walk in the door, (patrons are a mix of young and older, couples and singles)…with exquisite pastries and breads filling up the front showcase.


Florian Finishes Baking the

Chef Poinard’s style is exuberant, robust, passionate yet delicate when he’s creating a beautifully finished deepdish bowl of Bouillabaise – or meticulously innovative as he turns lunch into an authentic European-style three course feast. The surprise is that we’re in America’s oldest city, St. Augustine.  And nearly everyone who walks through the door is anxious to whisper ‘Bonjour’ – it’s infectious. 

As charming as her husband and possessing a totally unique style, Valerie Poinard evokes an image of having just stepped out of a French film. Usually dressed in a black ‘frock’ and apron, she lavishes genuine concern on the Bistro’s guests.  She’s a savvy restaurateur too, recognizing old friends with the traditional ‘double cheek kiss’ that makes you decide to run away to France immediately after a glass of wine and a thin sliver of warm baguette and butter.

 The Bistro de Leon has brought a new rhythm of French cuisine to northeast Florida.  St. Augustine is a very cultured artsy town, bona fide ancient throughout the brick paved streets and architectural wonders from as early as the late 1500’s.  This restaurant flawlessly blends classic France with a contemporary joie de vivre. Jean-Stephane’s simple culinary wizardry imbues his own ‘comfort food’ from home (la cuisine de meres) into the tapestry of the flavor of America’s oldest city.

No stranger to the best, Jean-Stephane is a member of the exclusive Les Toques Blanches Lyonnaises, the rare fraternity of only 100 members…an organization led by legend Paul Bocuse who is recognized as the finest chef of the 20th Century.  Guests pick up on the vibe once they meet Poinard, a true ambassador himself of modern French cuisine. Even dining alone is fine here; the better to be a voyeur and watch others enjoy their dishes, conversation or a summer read.

In his tres alluring accent Poinard exclaims “When I cook, it’s for the people…I feel the rhythm of music and it’s fun. I don’t try to make my food adapt to me – I get a feeling for the freshest ingredients of the day and my menu changes moment to moment.   Everything is from my heart and home - soups, breads, sorbets and entrees. We enjoy the Bistro as if it were ‘Beaujolais Nouveau’ every day of the year.”  

The Poinards: Margaux, Jean-Stephane,
Valerie & Jean-Sebastian

The ‘menu’ is a 3-course meal at a set price that the Chef creates daily, based on the best ingredients available.  He recommends this meal for a complete dining experience ‘a la Francais’.  It is customary in France to trust the Chef to decide what you will enjoy.  You may also select the ‘formula’ which is the entrée and dessert from the ‘menu’ or the ‘soft’ meal – which is the appetizer and dessert.  If you would rather choose something other than the ‘menu’, you may order ‘a la carte’ (from the card). You’ll discover that the ‘carte’ is limited to dishes that can be prepared when ordered, as Chef Poinard only offers the Best! 

Ah, the bread. Bread is a very important part of French cuisine.   Bread is not meant to interfere with the enjoyment of a meal, rather as an enhancement.  It’s encouraged to use your bread to soak up that last drop of delectable sauce, or at the end of a meal to pair with cheese.  Chef wishes that you save your appetite for your meal.  Enjoy a glass of wine and conversation while your meal is prepared.

Jean-Stephane and Valerie – a duet

The exquisite little profiteroles, artfully plated salads, aromatic French onion soup and Millefeuille of goat cheese remind me that each meal is like a trip to Lyon without having to pack a thing. The only catch to eating at Bistro de Leon is knowing how to do so in moderation, which I clearly do not. It’s said that if you hear singing from the kitchen, you’ve made the Chef happy. In its debut, it’s obviously making patrons sing too. And it’s not just because of the outstanding Tarte Tatin.


Bistro de Leon

#12 Cathedral Place

St. Augustine, Florida 32084


 Click here to learn more about Leigh Cort

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

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