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Re-Deco-rated

Sebastien's bistro fits effortlessly as a destination resto on Spring Garden Road

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The owners of Sebastien's Bistro, a

couple from the French islands of Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, operated Deco for its last month before going bistro in November. Sebastien's retains the nice '20s feel of Deco, and most of its decor is a pared-down version of that of the space's former occupant.

Oddly, the wine list does not offer a French wine by the glass, not even for the house wine, although there are a few French vintages available by the bottle.

The menu is, as promised, authentic French bistro fare and welcome after Chateau Briand closed further downtown.

Settled into comfy art deco chairs, at a black-and-white-dressed table, we start with Crab tartare ($11) and shrimp salad ($12).

The crab is briny, fresh and deliciously dressed with a hint of partridgeberry liqueur (partridgeberries are small, red berries similar to cranberries in taste). The shrimp salad is a work of art---mesclun greens tossed with a light coating of balsamic vinaigrette, expertly cooked shrimp, slices of avocado and spears of asparagus make up the best salad I've tasted in a long time. Both appetizers are garnished in seasonal style with pomegranate seeds, and both bode well for the rest of the meal.

For entrees we've chosen rack of lamb ($26) and a bistro classic: steak frites ($17). The lamb is well seasoned and tender, although the four small chops are gone too quickly. Escargots are used almost as garnish, and are good here---not smothered in garlic butter. On the side: potato pave (a brick of scalloped potatoes) and delightfully al dente vegetables.

When my steak arrives, I look at the small ramekin of dark sauce and tell the waiter that I've ordered the Bearnaise, not the peppercorn. He insists that the sauce is correct and goes to verify with the sous chef. While he's gone, I taste the sauce and it's riddled with peppercorns. It does have a piquant, acidic bite, but it's definitely not Bearnaise (yellow flecked with green tarragon). Server comes back to say nope, "she says it's definitely Béarnaise."

It's a little disconcerting to be told something that's so clearly incorrect, but I'm not going to argue. I simply tell the server I don't want the sauce. I turn my focus on steak: six ounces of grilled goodness; and the fries. Thin, crisp and perfect, this frite is also fabulous---except for the sauce.

Apparently, there's further debate in the kitchen. Later, the server comes back and makes several excuses for the mistake, and says Bearnaise is being made for me. When it comes, it's thin, but passable as Bearnaise.

And here's the moral of the story: don't make excuses, especially implausible ones. An apology works much better, and won't embarrass the kitchen or wait staff.

But the sauce situation is set aside when it comes to dessert. We're told the restaurant is fortunate enough to have a French pastry chef, who's taken over the bottom level (formerly a diner type extension of Deco) as a pastry kitchen. This is clearly evident in the superior desserts. Chocolate dominates the dessert menu, and the special is a cylinder of thick dark chocolate resting on a chocolate wafer with a lighter chocolate mousse on top ($8). Chocolate desserts can be far too sweet, but not this one. I'm not sharing.

With the exception of the sauce incident, this meal has been wonderfully satisfying; Sebastien's eases seamlessly and effortlessly into its place as a dining destination on Spring Garden Road.

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