Le Rêve, a Classic French Bistro
It was wonderfully romantic for Valentine’s Day, but a fine choice any time of year.
Last month for Valentine’s Day, I took my date to Le Rêve Patisserie & Café in Wauwatosa. Rêve in French means “dream,” and there is indeed a dreamy feeling to this classic French bistro, making it a perfect place to celebrate the day. The menu on Valentine’s Day is a special, fixed price affair: You choose either a three-course meal for $55 per guest, or one with a fourth cheese course for $65. For $20 on top of that, you can also have the restaurant’s wine pairing with your meal. That evening, the bistro was packed!
Le Rêve has two dining levels: the big, open-concept first floor where the patisserie-sweets counter is located has about half the dining space of the second floor, yet the latter, larger space somehow seems much cozier. The tables are positioned in true, French fashion: Really close together. And the tables have no tablecloths, nor even any placemats. This, dear reader, is exactly how the French do it (unlike some other big-name “bistros” in metro Milwaukee who degrade their guests by dressing their very expensive tables with paper tablecloths). The tables here were dressed only with petite vases of fresh roses. Nice. And the interior is tastefully modest.
For a few extra bucks in addition to the three or four courses offered, one could start with the featured appetizer of chilled shrimp with prosecco and roasted pineapple mignonette (a French sauce normally made with red-wine vinegar and minced shallot), a caper remoulade and cocktail sauce. We opted out, feeling this would be too much food.
There were three first courses to choose from: grilled tuna (ton grillé in French), which was combined seared ahi tuna, toasted barley, arugula, oven-roasted tomatoes, parsley, cilantro, finely julienned carrots and a blood-orange vinaigrette. They paired this with a Washington-State Riesling wine. The second first-course choice was citrus-rosemary lacquered heritage pork cheeks with truffled potatoes, pear and pickled fennel, paired with a California pinot noir. And the third was a stuffed pasta featuring caramelized onion, vanilla-brandy poached apple, Brussels sprouts, toasted pine nuts and lillet reduction (a brand of French aperitif wine), paired with a California Moscato. With this last one, you could opt to add in foie gras and lardons for an extra $10.
For the second course, one had a choice of either the soupe du jour, which was a creamy parsnip bisque with crispy sweetbreads and brown butter, paired with a Gewurztraminer from Alsace in eastern France, or the house salad featuring house-cured salmon, red and golden beets, aged chèvre (goat) cheese and hazelnuts over greens with a tarragon-Dijon vinaigrette. This was paired with French white burgundy.
The third course offered, first, a pan-roasted scallop with arctic char (from the salmon fish family), leeks vinaigrette, sunchoke (like Jerusalem artichoke) purée and crispy pancetta-sherry vinaigrette paired with a California sauvignon blanc. Or one could choose the second offering, which was hand-rolled duxelles-filled Parmesan gnocchi with apple, fennel, hen of the woods and frisée topped with a farm egg and truffle beurre blanc (duxelles is a finely chopped or minced mixture of mushrooms or mushroom stems, onions, shallots and herbs sautéed in butter then reduced to a paste). This was paired with a California brut. Thirdly, you could choose good ol’ New York strip steak slices with asiago Dauphinoise potatoes (quite tricky to make), shallot bordelaise (a sauce from the Bordeaux region of France made from dry red wine, bone marrow, butter, shallots and demi-glace sauce), braised red cabbage and horseradish foam paired with a hardy, French cabernet sauvignon.
The fourth course (should you have room and wanted to order it) was a cheese plate featuring a small gruyère fondue, Saxon Farms gruyère with hints of truffle and, of course, a ripened French soft cheese.
Whew! Where to start?
We both opted to start with the grilled tuna. The tuna was rich, rare red and wrapped in perfectly browned crispiness. The addition of the savory-grainy barley to the side of the tuna worked wonderfully. My date was afraid of drinking all the wine that would come with choosing the pairings, so she instead opted for a regular glass of El Portillo Malbec from Argentina for $8. But the pairings were each reduced to just six ounces, so I had no problem ordering them with my different courses. The Riesling was a good match with the tuna plate.
Next, we both again were on the same page with ordering the salad. And what a “salad” – a meal in itself, really! Nestled high on an half-inch thick ring of iceberg lettuce were thick, hardy slices of zippy red and golden beets crowned by two, delicate slices of cured, salty salmon. The generous bits of goat cheese and sweet, crunchy-cooked hazelnuts ringed the plate in the vinaigrette. Magic on a plate, and the wine pairing was perfect.
I think we both startled each other in a pleasant way when we again arrived at the same decision for course #3: The scallop and fish. This has got to be the best salmon-type fish I’ve had in quite some time, and the scallop was sweet and perfectly cooked with a nice, dark sear on the outside. Now, when a chef can make leeks taste like candy, like this one did, you know he’s got it going! And, again, the sauvignon blanc was a fine choice – I think I actually prefer California wine to French wine.
In addition to the special food menu, they also offered a special cocktails menu for Valentine’s Day. For $9 each, sparkling cocktails included their Je t’aime (it means “I love you” in French) which was Hendrick’s gin, St. Gremain, Monin Strawberry, limejuice, fresh, muddled strawberry and prosecco. The Grenade Éclat sounded good, too: PAMA pomegranate liqueur and proseco.
For dessert, we decided to take a couple of their decadent little pastries home from their patisserie counter downstairs for about $5 – $6 each.
As for the regular menu, breakfast options include quiche, a croissant sandwich with country ham, eggs and brie cheese, omelets, the typical French breakfast featuring croissant, fruit and coffee, ranging in price from $7.95 to $9.95.
Lunch, which is the largest meal of the day in French culture, features a nice hors d’euvres selection with soups, fried mussels and cheese and cold-cut platters ranging in price from $3.50 to $16.95. Sandwiches, such as a Portobello burger, the classic, French croque monsieur and bistro burgers cost between $8.95 to $10.95. Various, elegant salads are available from $4.25 for the half-portion mixed greens salad to $15.95 for the not-so-traditional Salade Niçoise with mixed greens, tiny new potatoes, hard-boiled egg wedges, French-style green beans, olives and choice of salmon, shrimp or chicken (traditionally, it’s made with tuna). A variety of crêpes with spring vegetables, scallops and cheese, run between $10.50 and $11.50. And the main-lunch plates offered are steak au poivre with French fries for $21.95, homemade sweet-potato ravioli stuffed with candied hazelnuts, tangy goat cheese, black truffles in browned butter for $18.95 and braised, free-range chicken with wide, Italian papardelle pasta and seasonal vegetables for $21.95.
The dinner menu is similar to the lunch menu, but offers more hors d’euvres and entrée options. Provençale bouillabaisse saffron-based seafood stew is served for $21.95. Duck Bourguignon is $23.95 ($33.95, if you choose the foie gras to go along with it). Each day of the week has a different Plate du jour – Monday’s is braised lamb with white beans and baby vegetables in a white-wine garlic sauce for $23.95; Friday’s is almond trout with lentils and French-style green beans in a balsamic brown-butter sauce for $22.95.
For French-style, bistro cuisine, this place hits the nail right on the tête!
Le Rêve Patisserie & Café
7610 Harwood Ave., Wauwatosa
(414) 778 – 3333
Recipe: Classic Boeuf Bourguignon for Two
This recipe closely resembles the Boeuf Bourguignon that I had in Paris at the George V bistro on the Champs Élysées boulevard. It calls for bigger cuts of quality beef instead of cubed “beef stew” meat, and good-quality red wine (see notes). Last month, I gave you a recipe prepared in a slow cooker. Here’s another one!
¾ cup very thin carrots, cut into 1” pieces
¾ pound beef rump roast, cut into big, 2”– 3” cubed hunks
4 ounces (¼ of a 16-ounce bag) frozen pearl onions
4 ounces fresh, whole button mushrooms (crimini mushrooms work great)
1 dried bay leaf
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1½ teaspoons tomato paste
Salt and ground, black pepper, to taste
For the Sauce
½ of a 10-ounce can condensed beef consommé
¼ cup dry, red wine (I use Pinot Noir or a nice cabernet sauvignon)
1 – 2 cloves fresh garlic – finely chopped/minced
1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon beef and/or chicken bouillon
½ teaspoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon granulated garlic powder
½ teaspoon ground, black pepper
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon molasses
¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Layer the carrots, beef chunks, onions and mushrooms in a 2-quart, slow cooker with removable crockery in the order listed above. In a 16-ounce measuring cup, whisk together the sauce ingredients. Pour the mixture over the contents in the slow cooker, then set the removable pot in the fridge overnight.
The next day, cook on the low-heat setting for ten hours (see notes below). You can of course do this on very low heat (just a lightly bubbling simmer) for 2½ – 3 hours on the stove.
Thirty minutes before serving, shut off the slow-cooker and place the contents in a suitably-sized saucepan; fish out the bay leaf. Thoroughly cream/fold together the softened butter, tomato paste and flour in a small bowl, then mix it well into the pot. Let the pot come to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until it has reduced to your liking (in Paris, it was quite thick).
Serve with crusty French bread, a green salad and the rest of the bottle of wine.
Don’t use Ernest & Julio Gallo “Burgundy” wine – use the same, nice red wine that you actually drink. I start the pot on low between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., and it’s ready by 6 p.m.