As you walk into Bistro A Vin — the sister establishment and next-door neighbor to pastry-focused Cafe Framboise — the sound of Frank Sinatra fills the air. In accordance, the olive oil shop-turned-wine-bar is elegant, but cozy, with two high-tops, a handful of tables, and a bar with seating for around eight people.
The menu is unapologetically French. Although there is thoughtfully sourced fromage and charcuterie, why not start in the deep end with the escargots ($15)? Here, six vol-au-vent puff pastries are filled with garlicky snails and topped with a nondescript parsley butter. Escargot with training wheels, if you wanted to trick someone into unwittingly consuming snails in the guise of a garlicky pastry, this would be the way to do it. The accompanying salad is small in scale, but memorable. Spring greens are topped with three cherry tomatoes and a sweet balsamic reduction, the net result of which is lovely on a hot summer night.
Next from the hors d’oeuvres section was the brioche surprise ($16). Surprise! You just wasted $16. The overly mayonnaise-y mix of tiny shrimp, celery, and seeded tomato, plus pungent chunks of onion is like something you might find at a church potluck. The brioche is of the hamburger bun variety, toasted to a dark, firm crust on both sides. Laisse tomber … Take a hard pass.
Bistro A Vin offers a daily happy hour from 4-7 p.m., with beer for $5 and French house wines for $6. The placard notes that options are at the owner’s discretion, yet he thoughtfully inquired whether we prefer a dry or sweet selection. All the staff I encountered were French, and all had great personalities. At the same time, service is decidedly European, which is to say friendly when you beckon, but otherwise hands-off.
The croque madame ($12) is by the book, the consummation of ooey, gooey comfort food. Sliced paysan bread is filled with melted gruyere cheese, thin-sliced ham, and a creamy bechamel lightly spiced with nutmeg. Served with an over easy egg on the side, the roots of the ‘put an egg on it’ movement started here.
Although I was once admittedly critical of a different French establishment for including the same butter lettuce with absolutely everything, here the ubiquitous spring green, cherry tomato, and balsamic vinegar reduction salad continues to please. Perhaps due to its diminutive size and careful balance of flavors, it’s a welcome palate cleanser with each plate.
It appears again with the boudin noir aux pommes ($16), a soft, light blood sausage made with pork, egg whites, and nutmeg. It’s accompanied by raw, cinnamon-dusted apples paired with mild, almost buttery onions, plus gratin dauphinois. The pie-like slice of gratin — consisting of sliced potatoes baked in milk — is expertly made and lightly seasoned with rosemary.
As it occupies what was previously a retail storefront, Bistro A Vin relies on the kitchen at the adjacent cafe. Staff travel back and forth through the outdoor terrace on Market Street, a journey that must be a real pain in the ass during routine downpours.
Hopefully they have a system in place to protect the galettes ($21), a traditional buckwheat crepe available with two fillings. Despite its obvious appeal, I did not pick the variation made with scallops, mushrooms, and creme fraiche. Rather, I opted for the foie gras, fig chutney, and balsamic vinegar galette, and just typing those words is making me nostalgic.
The crisp crepe is filled with slices of fresh apple, sweet fig chutney, and tart balsamic, all of which combine to beautifully complement the generous slices of tender foie gras. Absolutely sublime, with an impeccable balance of sweet and savory, I will return just for one of these.
It’s been the year of French-focused eateries. Perhaps it’s time to start a new trend? Mais non. A cozy wine bar with thoughtfully prepared, well-priced food, Bistro A Vin is the French newcomer we didn’t even know we needed.