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Bistro Jeanty - French Dorm Food !?

Am I being to harsh? Perhaps. I almost never write negative reviews but given all the positive press this place receives (not just on CH but in Unterman, Zagat, Michelin, etc) I'm going do my worst. Without question, this was the worst meal I had during my weekend in Napa, the worst meal I had this year, and the worst meal I've had at the $100 price point since my "infamous" visit to Pisces.

Yet it started so well. The tomato soup in puff pastry deserves all the praise it gets. Magnificent, flaky pastry. Piping hot, creamy soup. I was pleased that the soup didn't have a tinny flavor. I would consider returning, just to order this, but it was all downhill from there.

Pork belly with foie gras and lentil ragout. OK, so it contained pork belly and foie gras, so of course I liked it. But I ONLY liked it. I just didn't *get* what the lentils were there for. They didn't contrast with the foie's flavor, they didn't contribute to it, they were just there. I guess I prefer hot foie with something that will contribute to the the foie - a fruit compote to bring out the fruitiness, a salad of bitter greens to contrast the richness and cleanse the palate (cold foie is a different story). All in all, it was the least impressive preparation of foie I've had, and I eat a lot of foie.

Salad of escarole, bacon and eggs. They used WAY too much vinegar and it killed all of the lovely flavors. All I could taste was vinegar. There was absolutely no balance. I love bacon and egg salads but this was just poorly executed.

Now we get into the dorm food realm...

Coq au Vin. Huh? This is their signature dish? Overcooked chicken was tasteless and rubbery. They used those awful white cap mushrooms that have absolutely no flavor in huge chunks. The bacon was too salty. The broth was rich, but one dimensional and boring. Look, I adore stews, order them all the time, and this really did strike me as something I'd get at a high end buffet or a cafeteria in France. I couldn't finish it because I was so bored.

Beef stew. I repeat, huh? The beef was undercooked and tough. The peas and carrots lacked a deep vegetable flavor and I couldn't help but wonder where they're sourcing the ingredients. The mashed potatoes were good, that's one dish it's hard to screw up. But the beef was a travesty. Again, I love braised beef, order it out and cook it at home all the time, and this was just plain amateurish execution. Inexcusable at a restaurant of this calibre.

At this point I was stuffed, bored and depressed. Got the lemon sorbet as a light, refreshing dessert. It had big hunks of ice in it. I wasn't surprised.

I guess they have a few possible excuses: the Michelin guide overwhelmed them and they were swamped, maybe they just lost a key chef, maybe the guy doing the braising was drunk, I dunno. Whatever. A Friday night after prime time (restaurant was half full) during press? A restaurant should be on its a-game. Bottom line: the menu showed so little promise and such shoddy execution overall that I would not return except for a bowl of that lovely tomato soup.

Total bill came to $125. I was a grumpy man.

I'm very lucky to eat great food most days. Sometimes I need to eat cheap so it's merely passable, but I enjoy a lot of deliciousness in my life. So when I hit such a solid clunker, such a dreadful mess at such a high price point, it pisses me of. The Bay Area is home to so many incredible restaurants, many of which struggle, that it irritates me to see such hack work get such high praise and huge crowds.

End rant.

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  1. I agree about the coq au vin, I was underwhelmed. However, the tomato soup and foie blonde were out of this world. That's my usual lunch there and I'm never disappointed.

    1. Were you with someone, or did you order all that for yourself? Was wine part of the bill?

      1 Reply
      1. re: Sharuf

        Oh lord, of course I didn't eat all that myself. Mrs. Mousse was dining with me, as always.

        No wine, but we did order a couple of appertifs and a bottle of still water.

      2. Thanks as always for the post. So maybe ideally, you would have done BJ for lunch (tomato soup) and CBK for dinner?

        Am hoping you'll also post about BDG...

        :)

        12 Replies
        1. re: Cindy

          I'm not sure if I would eat at Jeanty. Yes, the tomato soup is great, but it's hardly a lunch on its own and I can't recommend anything else on the menu with confidence. Based on my experience last year, I'd opt for lunch at Bouchon over Jeanty (especially if you're a foie gras lover; their foie is the best I've ever had, bar none).

          My meal at BDG simple wasn't memorable enough to warrant a post. The food is good, the prices are fair, the atmosphere is nice, but the only *wow* moment was the tiramisu. I liked it, but I wouldn't consider it a vacation destination. I guess I'm spoiled by all the fantastic Italian I get in Oakland and San Francisco. I was thankful to get a last minute res at BDG when Ad Hoc didn't work out, but I don't think I would visit Napa with the intention of eating there (other than dessert).

          1. re: Morton the Mousse

            I've always enjoyed Bistro Jeanty, but I can't say that I've ever had either the coq au vin or the beef stew. That being said, my usual M.O. is to grab a seat at the bar with a friend and settle in for a few glasses of wine, a bowl of their Cassoulet, which I've always had good luck with, their salade au pied de cochon, a cone of the addictive fried smelt (though I still wish they'd leave the heads on), and a little dessert if there's room. That's my favorite way to while away the hours and people watch, plus there's usually an interesting mix of patrons that join me at the bar, anywhere from international tourists, to local winemakers and fellow restaurant folks from all around the valley that stop to grab a glass and a plate or two.

            If you really enjoyed the tomato soup, just have a seat at the bar and you can just have your favorites and a glass of wine. BTW, I think that the fried smelt go particularly well with the soup :)

            a sante,
            Curtis

            1. re: Curtis

              A couple of dear hound friends share your MO, a few glasses of wine, the tomato soup, and the french fries w/ bordelaise sauce, they rave about the latter. I haven't been able to get by and try it, any comments from others?

              1. re: Curtis

                I've fallen in the habit of the pig's feet salad, split the smelt if it's on the menu, the fish (sole or skate), then staggering out into the 90+ heat. Perfect day in the wine country!

              2. re: Morton the Mousse

                I love BDG for the outside veranda on a lovely late afternoon or evening. If you stick to simple stuff, it's pretty good. I had a really great peche melba there earlier this year.

                I love Jeanty at Jacks but have not like BJ that much (twice). I like Bouchon even less, however.

                I love that pork belly/lentil dish at Jeanty at Jacks. They also have a magnificent tarte tatin (if you don't burst first).

                1. re: oakjoan

                  Try BDG's fried calamari - one of the best we've ever had - lots of tentacles - very, very light coating - crispy - no grease - pure fried heaven... The evening scene would only be enjoyable if you love loud, loud, loud unless you score an outside table.

                  1. re: oakjoan

                    I've had the Coq au Vin at Jeanty and Jack's and had a similar reaction to Morton's at BJ: somewhat rubbery, rich but boring sauce (which tasted primarily of bacon to me): not something I'd be in a hurry to order again.

                    Did really like the tomato soup, but not the puff pastry on top. guess I am in the minority on that one....

                2. re: Cindy

                  Having just spent a few minutes puzzling over some of the acronyms, I thought I'd take the time to elaborate and save others the trouble.
                  CBK = Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen.
                  BDG = Bistro Don Giovanni.
                  BJ = Bistro Jeanty

                  1. re: urseberry

                    Thanks urseberry.

                    1. re: urseberry

                      Thanks, urseberry. I was just about to post something snarky about all insider code going on here.

                      1. re: Sharuf

                        I can't speak for anyone else, but a lot gets abbreviated on the web to save time and keystrokes, it is not just some insiders code. Usually I first mention the Restaurant Name and then the inititals most of the time after that ... RN. It would probably be a good idea to use the journalistic convention of the name immediately followed by initials ... Resaurant Name (RN). But that doesn't happen much on the web. No one's trying to be snarky ... it is just a web habit.

                        1. re: rworange

                          "CBK" and "BDG" had no previous spelled-out-name references on this thread. If they had, it wouldn't have merited a comment from me.

                  2. Fair enough, thanks!

                    1. Agree that Bistro Jeanty is over-rated. Not worthy of the praise given by some. Having been there only once, it was enought to see there's no reason to go back. It's average at best. One visit and so harsh? This needs explaining. Cause as I don't live in the area, so when I am in Napa its all about excellent food and wine. I saw too many obvious flaws that were so basic, it pointed out serious weaknesses with kitchen/management/philosophy... those types of things don't change. Do I think the kitchen is capable of putting out an impressive dish or 2 from time to time? Yes, but I don't think the place is capable of doing it consistently or even with that, putting together an enjoyable dining experience. Sorry BJ.

                      1. I live in Yountville and have only eaten there a handful of times. The only thing I ever get that I can count on consistently is the tomato soup en croute. Every time I see a line of tourist waiting to get in I feel like yelling, "no! Go somewhere else! Don't waste your money and your time in Napa!"

                        The last time I was there was with my in-laws and two of their friends who were visiting from out of town. We had dinner reservations at Bouchon but they had arrived much earlier than anticipated. Since it was right across the street from where they were staying, they wanted to go to Bistro Jeanty for a light lunch. I gently indicated that care should be taken in ordering as not everything was good. Luckily, none of us was starving and each person had either the tomato soup or the beet salad. The soup was (of course) very good. The beet salad was okay, but was oversalted and there were seeds in each orange supreme. Luckily, the dinner at Bouchon that night was stunning or I would have been terribly embarassed.

                        Has anyone else ever sat at the bar and peeked into the kitchen at Bisto Jeanty? The few times I've done that its looked like a train wreck in there. I wonder about the training the cooks have in that kitchen. It's not what I would expect from a French bistro in Napa Valley. Places like that which were awarded a Michelin star tarnish the honor of other restaurants that are much better quality that do deserve the honor.

                        And Morton, your description of Bistro Jeanty as "French Dorm Food" is right on the money. Bravo.

                        End rant.

                        1. Wow, I guess I've been lucky the two times I've been there. The first time was several years ago and the salade au lardons was just as good as I had in France. The friend I was with ordered sweetbreads and said they were superb. A couple years ago I took another friend there and we had a delightful lunch sharing several small salads. DH still hasn't been, but maybe we shouldn't bother making the effort now. Too bad.

                          1. i also had a bad lunch at BJ. posted on it too, maybe a year ago. i also had crappy coq au vin, and an off plate of escargot. even the creme brulee was not crisp on top.

                            a resto of this calibre shouldn't have so many consistent misses on its menu. shame on them.

                            1. I went with 2 friends a couple of years ago for lunch, and we shared a bunch of appetizers to compose a meal. Everything was quite good, especially the rabbit terrine and the quenelles. Perhaps that's the way to go?

                              http://petercherches.blogspot.com

                              1. We went here for dinner. I had the tomato soup; my gosh, that's good! I kept looking around to see if anyone was horrified at how much puff pastry I tried to scrape off the outside of the bowl. DH had the escarole salad; was not particularly wowed or disgusted. I had the cassoulet - the duck was good, but the stew seemed too thick, and the sausage was a little too peppery for me. DH had the night's special of pork loin; he thought it was particularly tasty, with the apples and pearl onions.

                                We had the table right by the fireplace - it was really romantic, especially on such a rainy night. Looking back, was it worth $100? Not really, especially when DH kept comparing his meal to what we've had at Chapeau, which is about $24 for very similar food. But the tomato soup was most excellent; I think next time, I'd come here for lunch, and have the soup with maybe a salad.

                                1. I hear your discontent. Big blow up over a mediocre place. I had the fish and it had a slimy coating which was sliding off. The waiter gave the wrong info on a bottle of wine and service was very slow. Underwhelming at best. There are just too many other great options in Napa to spend time at this retread.

                                  1. link:

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                                    Bistro Jeanty
                                    6510 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599