From pig’s feet and escargot to jellied bone marrow, the French have an uncanny ability to drown pretty much anything in béchamel or brown butter and make it exceptional. But what keeps eaters beating a path to Chef Philippe Jeanty’s Yountville restaurant is his elevation of rustic cuts and home-style French cooking from merely palatable to universally comforting.
A perennial vote-getter on the Chronicle’s Top 100 Bistro Jeanty is oft-lauded as Wine Country’s most authentic French country bistro. A native of Champagne and the opening chef of Domaine Chandon, Jeanty’s menu features simple dishes like rabbit terrine, Coq Au Vin, cassoulet, Sole Meuniere, steak frites, foie gras pate, fried smelt and roasted bone marrow–classics informed by a mother’s kitchen and hometown bistros. Classics that, to the consternation of some and comfort of others, remains constant. (Beef stew and cassoulet in summer? Really?)
In warm weather, the small patio is a favorite spot for sipping espresso and lingering over crepes Suzette. Inside, the restaurant is intimate and cozy, painted in a soothing tone of buttercup and plastered with vintage French adverts and Marcel Pagnol posters. Lace curtains adorn the windows and a country bicyclette sits parked outside with flowers in its basket. Calculated charmant, bien sur. Mais charmant.
Best bets on the lunch/dinner menu include the pork belly and lentils ($14), fried smelt, and Entrecote frites (a grilled rib eye steak with fries and Bearnaise sauce, $28), tomato soup in puff pastry ($8.75), and Coq au Vin ($16.50).
Daily specials supplement the menu–like a recent Sunday’s addition of bone marrow. Not the easiest dish to approach, it’s elegantly crude. High level stuff even for experienced gourmands, it amounts to gently scooping out the inside of a roasted cow femurm spreading the gelatinous goo on a crouton and moaning ecstatically. And while a silver spoon, civilized drip of Bordelaise and swig of Cotes du Rhone helps the process feel less flagrantly carnivorous, one can’t help listening cautiously for the disapproving clucks of angry vegans.
With the opening of Jeanty at Jack in SF and PJ Steak (which has since closed) fans howled (as fans often do) that consistency had begun to suffer. Along those lines, the Sole Meuniere ($18.50) was the meal’s only casualty. And while it was perfectly okay, the flavors were a bit muddy and tired. The brown butter seemed oilier and less nutty than expected. The citrus tang that I so love in this dish was only in the small bits of cut lemon I had to squeeze myself. And the capers were merely window dressing. Perhaps I should have followed the old adage about fish on Sunday and stuck with the steak.
Desserts keep the French accent with a focus on rich crème brule and delicate crepes Suzette with orange butter. For a change of pace, skip the sweet stuff and tuck into a nice slice of Epoisse (served a bit chilly for my taste, but nonetheless stinkily delightful) with candied walnuts and poached pear as you ponder post-modern existentialism and the brilliant humor of Jerry Lewis.
Bistro Jeanty, 6510 Washington Street, Yountville, 707.944.0103