Petit Louis Bistro still draws crowds to Roland Park for classy French cuisine

The Baltimore Sun

The first time we dined at Petit Louis Bistro years ago, a server scoffed at us — yes, actually scoffed — when we ordered a red wine with fish. He returned later to inform us that he had thought it over and concluded our light-bodied choice might be suitable after all. We thought it over, too, and concluded he was still a jerk.

That incident made us a little leery of this nearly two-decade-old Roland Park eatery. The formidable din in this Foreman Wolf Restaurant Group venture also discouraged us.

Well, a lot of wine has flowed under the bridge since then, so a return visit was overdue. Off a little group of us went one Monday, thinking it might be a relatively slow, conversation-friendly night. Yeah, right. The place was jammed, the noise seismic.

But we still had a great time. And our expert server didn’t so much as bat an eye when we ordered, yes, another red wine with fish (and other things).

Petit Louis looks, sounds and tastes like the kind of bistro you’d be grateful to discover in Paris after a hard’s day’s work, or a harder day’s shopping. Nothing seems taken for granted here, starting with the chewy bread that arrives quickly at the table and lasting through the poetic desserts.

And, as always in a place with Tony Foreman involved, the wine list holds an abundance of types, vintages and prices. We tried a 2012 Haut-Medoc ($42) that provided suave partnering for the dinner.

The first course alone made our experience memorable. What the menu dubs “famous” onion soup certainly tasted fame-worthy, since the balance of onion and cheese was so even, the texture so luscious. A vibrant, beautifully constructed eggplant Napoleon proved to be a strong starter, too.

But the appetizer part of the evening kicked into a higher gear with the addictive shrimp and butternut squash beignets. As lightly fried as they were subtly flavorful, they yielded additional charm from the accompanying saffron aioli.

Beet salads are so terribly de rigueur nowadays I almost passed on the one here. That would have been tragic. A mix of firm, robust beets and honeycrisp apple slices produced an exquisite sensation, blending perfectly with chevre, frisee and a Dijon vinaigrette.

Petit Louis clearly has the standard Parisian bistro entrees down pat. The duck confit was prepared handsomely, the skin crisp, the meat moist. First-rate Lyonnaise potatoes completed the dish.

Steak frites featured a tender New York strip with a nice little portion of fat for extra flavor. A dab of savory maitre d’hotel butter slid off the steak into some of the fries on the way from the kitchen, but no big deal. Those fries paled, anyway; tastier, less greasy versions abound around town.

The roasted halibut didn’t flake easily, but wasn’t dry, either. It yielded a refined flavor, enhanced by a spiced carrot puree, mushrooms and a chive beurre blanc. Quiche Lorraine was treated with great respect, offering a delectable, chiffon-like texture and lovely nuances from the Gruyere.

Desserts are another of the bistro’s strengths, as the profiteroles demonstrated. Plain old vanilla ice cream would have let the pastry and chocolate sauce shine more, but it was hard to resist the salted caramel flavor used here, or the addition of caramelized nuts.

A pear tart was a revelation, offering the sort of sophisticated flavor and technical skill that, on “The Great British Baking Show,” would have earned the ultimate accolade from adorable former judge Mary Berry: “Sheer perfection.”

Petit Louis Bistro 4 stars

4800 Roland Ave., Roland Park.

410-366-9393, petitlouis.com.

Cuisine: French.

Prices: Appetizers $10 to $21; entrees $15 to $30.

Ambience: The room, fully evocative of a Parisian bistro, attracts an up-market crowd that doesn’t seem to mind how noisy the place is. I said noisy. No, not Boise. Noisy.

Service: Supple, informed.

Reservations: Accepted.

Parking: Lot and street.

Special diets: They can be accommodated.

Wheelchair accessible: Yes.

[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars; Very good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star]

tim.smith@baltsun.com

twitter.com/clefnotes

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