Bistro Brie & Bordeaux
By Karin Edmondson
There’s magic in these mountains—an ineffable lure that resonates with folks and utterly disregards nationality, political, religious or sexual orientation, red or blue. The origins of some mountaintop folks read like a thrilling smattering of a travelogue of some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes—Montana, South Africa, Ukraine, Ireland—and most vibrant cities—New York, London, Munich. As of last June with the opening of Bistro Brie and Bordeaux in Windham, Lyon and the effervescent gustatory joys of France are now represented as well.
With its snappy red and white stripped awning, Bistro Brie and Bordeaux is a dandy new addition to Windham’s Main Street. The owners, Claudia and Stephane Desgasches, received a Main Street Revitalization Grant in order to assist in the formerly derelict building’s restoration. In warm weather, guests at the bistro have a choice of dining in the main dining room, washed in a warm butter yellow with a wood-beam ceiling, presided over by a traditional French ceramic rooster, or on the plein-air (open air) terrace with its hanging baskets, dapper awning and view of Windham’s Main Street and Windham Mountain. The menu is classic relaxed French Bistro—no cloying sauces or overly haute visual assemblages—with flavor hints, painterly gestures of Mediterranean sun and light (fresh basil, sun dried tomatoes, tapenade, roasted tomatoes, olive oil) that Stephane acquired working in kitchens in the Caribbean, Corsica and Uruguay.
“We wanted to live the good life, the simple life,” says Stephane immediately when asked why he chose the mountaintop town of Windham as the location for his first restaurant. “The mountains have a good quality of life, good living. People come to the mountains to refresh.” Although he spent most of his younger years in France, at François Rabeles culinary school in Lyon, he mentions visiting his grandparents in Ardeche in the French countryside and the “beauty, the quality of life, and the fact that they took the time to live.” Still, the French countryside is not exactly Catskill countryside. Stephane and Claudia met while they were both working at Mario’s at the Le Meridien in Coronado, California. Claudia, a Staten Island native, took a job in hospitality while attending New York University for psychology and “the part-time job became a way of life for me.” The itinerant lifestyle of a successful chef—positions at resorts and spas throughout Washington State (Barking Frog at the Willows Lodge), California (Hilton Torrey Pines, Le Meridien) and Europe (Hotel Sofitel Thalassa) and the Caribbean (Hotel Manapany)—eventually began to wear on the couple and, après September 11, the couple started thinking about “buying some furniture, being closer to our families in New York and France. We also wanted our first child to be born in the country and not raise a family in Manhattan.” Claudia and Stephane decided on Windham: her parents had a place near Jewett and she’d previously taken Stephane to the mountaintop. Six years ago, the couple made the move and on June 28, 2006 they opened Bistro Brie and Bordeaux—“a leap of faith.”
The menu is varied, with offerings of beef (classic Steak Frites to Grilled Filet Mignon in a Green Pepper Cognac Sauce and mashed potatoes to a Hamburger—grilled to order for Sunday Brunch), lamb (Herb Crusted with Galette of Potatoes), veal (Roasted with Tapenade and Mashed Potatoes), pork (Chops in a Dijon White Wine Sauce), chicken (Coq au Vin, or Roasted with Bell Peppers, Onion and Garlic) duck (with Cassis and Port Wine Sauce) as well as fish—salmon, tilapia—and shellfish—mussels, bouillabaisse. Vegetarians can delight in pasta dishes such as Rigatoni Pomodoro or Angel Hair with Shrimp, Mussels and Diced Vegetables and Risotto with Wild Mushrooms and Truffle Oil. The Petite Tarte a l’Onion Chaude et Fromage de Chèvre (Warm Onion Tart, Goat Cheese, Mixed Greens) is fast becoming a signature appetizer and deservedly so: onions, caramelized to sweet perfection, are nestled within buttery tarte pastry and served on a bed of fresh, crisp mixed greens. The appetizers center on fish with a dazzling array of selections: Salmon Carpaccio with Arugula; Escargot with Garlic Butter; Seared Scallops with Endive in a Port Wine reduction; Cod Beignet with Saffron Aioli; Smoked Trout Salad with a Medley of Baby Beets, Herb dressing; Crab Salad with Celery and Green Apple Remoulade. Lunch is an abbreviated menu with lighter additions such as a Cheese Plate, Salade de Windham (Organic Mixed Greens with Melted Brie, Sautéed Potato Slices, Onion and Bacon), Romaine Salade with Grilled Chicken, Cucumber, Sundried Tomato Dressing.
Brunch is another experience entirely. The restaurant, already awash in warm, buttery hues of yellow, positively glows with daylight. Now that spring has arrived, the terrace doors are wide open allowing a breeze to sift through along with views of Windham Mountain and Main Street. Brunch consists of the triumvirate of egg, bread or savory dish. The egg platters include: Wild Mushroom Omelette, Goat Cheese Omelette, Italian Omelette, Eggs Benedict, Croque Madame (potato bread stuffed with ham and gruyère served with a farm fresh organic egg—sunny side up) and a traditional American breakfast of two farm fresh organic eggs any style, sausage, bacon and hash browns. The bread dishes, each and every one a study in sweetness, warmth and comfort, include Banana Pancakes with Fresh Berries, Whipped Cream and Local Maple Syrup; Belgian Waffles with Fresh Berries, Whipped Cream (a whole ramekin worth) and Local Maple Syrup; French Toast (made with brioche, fresh apples and caramel sauce). And for those folks eschewing breakfast, savory dishes include Country Style Pâté, Duck Confit Salad, Angus Burger, Warm Rosemary Panini Sandwich, Salmon Carpaccio with Arugula and the famous Warm French Onion tart. Oh yes, and there are Mimosas. Many glorious Mimosas. For lunch, dinner or brunch, there is also a menu for Les Enfants: Petite Hamburger or Chicken Fingers, Macaroni and Cheese, Petite Chicken Breast or Petite Filet Mignon.
Stephane creates all of the dreamy desserts as well, from the exceptional Profiteroles—cream puffs filled with vanilla ice cream and drizzled in warm chocolate sauce—to the traditional French Tarte Tatin—warm apple tart with vanilla ice cream to an ethereal Crème Brulee and a Lemon Tarte with Raspberry Sauce.
When asked what some of his culinary inspirations are, Chef Stephane exclaims: “Gardening! When I start to garden, I do not want to cook. We were growing tomatoes on our front lawn in Seattle.” He also cites the Catskill landscape, and the colors of the passing seasons. “Colors of leaves on trees translate into the plate, and right now: tomatoes, herbs, salads are at the core of my repertoire.” All of the dishes that Stephane sends out of his kitchen contain a sort of incandescence: the ingredients are top notch fish and meat and freshest, crispest vegetables, all prepared to allow their inherent glorious flavor, texture—their essence—to sparkle on the plate and on the palette.
Bistro Brie and Bordeaux is located at 5386 Route 23 in Windham, New York. The Bistro is open for dinner Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday from 5 pm until 9 pm and Friday and Saturday from 5 pm until 10 pm. Lunch is served Saturday from 12 until 3 pm and Sunday Brunch from 11 am until 3 pm. For more information or to make a reservation, please call Claudia or Stephane at 518 734 4911.