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Spinach, cabbage, bok choy and shitake mushrooms add earthy flavors to the dish.
Croque Madame, the classic French grilled sandwich, is a satisfying choice for brunch or lunch.

White tablecloths and petite flower arrangements on tables indoors and out. A couple kissing in a corner booth. Irresistible crusty baguettes and salty butter. Gentle whiffs of perfume, spice and smoke. Ladies in beautiful dresses. Sparkling glassware. A relaxed yet sophisticated vibe. Servers offering helpful menu recommendations. Whenever I think of my favorite little bistro in Paris, these memories flash through my mind. And it’s exactly what I experienced at Le Bilboquet at the center of Buckhead Village.

Le Bilboquet opened its Atlanta location in November 2014; the original New York restaurant opened in 1986. The main dining room in Buckhead Village is well-lit and airy with pops of color thanks to its blue velvet banquettes, fresh flowers, strategically placed stacks of thick books and a rotating collection of artwork by nationally acclaimed artists. The expansive patio offers an al fresco option with an enhanced French vibe, thanks to views of neighboring clothing boutiques and a pastry shop.

Lamb curry tickles the tongue with mild spice.

The menu of modern and classic French fare is managed by Executive Chef Cyrille Holota, originally from Montluçon, France. Before taking the helm of Le Bilboquet Atlanta’s kitchen in 2016, Holota cooked at Michelin-starred and award-winning restaurants across the globe, including Spain’s Le Clave and Le Radio and L’Arpège in France. Renowned Chef Joël Antunes is among his mentors; Holota worked alongside him at The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead and JOËL in Atlanta. He also served as executive chef of Atlanta’s BLT Steak by Chef Laurent Tourondel then worked stints in Bora Bora and New York before returning to Atlanta.

The menu of modern and classic French fare touts Cajun chicken as the signature dish; unexpected, so I asked a server about it. “It’s best known for its beurre blanc sauce,” she replied. “I recommend ordering French fries with a side of that sauce.” Excellent advice! These are what all fries should aspire to be: long, slender, crisp outside, soft inside with a light sprinkling of salt. They’re served hot, yet not too hot to handle for immediate enjoyment.

Cajun chicken, the restaurant’s signature dish, is a popular favorite thanks to its beurre blanc sauce.

Beurre blanc, a classic French emulsified butter sauce, proves the ideal companion. Pair that decadent treat with a refreshing cocktail. Consider a spritzer like the spicy/fruity Belle or citrus/berry Printemps. Classic cocktails are another option, as are innovative creations like the bourbon- based spin on the Soleil with melon liqueur, maple simple syrup and lemon juice. It’s a refreshing sipper well worth a try. A recurring winner of Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence, Le Bilboquet offers more than 25 French wines by the glass as well as many bottles hand-picked by the sommelier with selections from France, Italy and the U.S.

Classic dishes at Le Bilboquet transport you to France. Escargot balances earthy umami with garlic and butter; whether you adore snails or haven’t dared try them yet, this is a good place to go for the classic dish. Tender duck confit with lentils and red wine sauce is divinely rich and savory; it earns my vote for don’t-miss dish. Croque Madame at brunch and lunch tops an upscale grilled ham and cheese sandwich with a sunny-side-up egg. If you’re craving “French,” don’t shy away from menu items that at first glance appear out of place.

Bouillabaisse is a treat for the eyes, nose and taste buds.

One bite of the mushroom pasta, Les Pâtes Tagliatelles Forestière, will have you thinking oui not sì. Mushrooms are sauteed to just-tender perfection and arranged circling a mound of al dente pasta tinged with pale green arugula pesto. The flavors are delicate, refined and so satisfying that you may not want to share a bite with your dining companions however hard they beg. Salmon is simple elegance, cooked to order and served atop beurre blanc with spinach, cabbage, bok choy and shitake mushrooms alongside. Lamb curry is tender yet toothsome with a pleasing mild spicy kick.

Save room for perfectly prepared vanilla crème brûlée.

It seems a gastronomic crime to skip dessert at a French restaurant, and here is no exception. You can’t go wrong with vanilla crème brûlée, dreamy creamy custard topped with hard caramel for a delightful contrast of soft-yet-crunchy. Among the alternative temptations, Le Financier à La Noisette presents little hazelnut butter-flavored almond cakes with fresh raspberries and tart lemon sorbet for a bright finish to the meal.

From first impression to last bite, Le Bilboquet brings an authentic French bistro experience to Atlanta.

Le Bilboquet

Prices: Sunday brunch specialties: $6-36.
Lunch specialties: sandwiches, $18-26.
Dinner: spritzers, $16; creative cocktails, $17-20; wines, $14-35/glass; beers, $8-12; appetizers, $13-29; caviar, $125-278; sides, $12; entrees, $23-62; desserts, $12-16.

Recommended: Belle spritzer, croque madame, French fries, salmon, lamb curry, duck confit, mushroom pasta, crème brûlée.

Bottom line: Upscale bar and bistro with an authentic French atmosphere that serves elegant, refined cocktails and dishes.

STORY: Hope S. Philbrick
PHOTOS: Erik Meadows

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