Restaurant Review: Le Bilboquet in Dallas

Salmon tartare. (Photography by Kevin Marple)
Salmon tartare. (Photography by Kevin Marple)

Remember dinner reservations? I hope so because, once again, you need them. Over the last 12 months, fine dining has made a remarkable comeback. Octopus, pork belly, and charcuterie with stunning, dramatic presentations are de rigueur. Newcomers such as FT33, Spoon, Belly & Trumpet, and Lark on the Park are booming with diners loosening their previously tightened belts. Wine prices are up, and nobody seems to notice. Or care.

The well-heeled customers who cram into the recently opened Le Bilboquet in Travis Walk are not paying attention to anything but the merrymaking going on around them. Every night, the small, 55-seat space fills with regulars who don designer duds to dine. Le Bilboquet is Highland Park’s new neighborhood restaurant and, baby, they are partying like it’s 1986.
That’s when the first Le Bilboquet opened on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. For more than two decades, the 38-seat restaurant was the rage. Bono, Lenny Kravitz, and Eric Clapton noshed on the bistro’s American-friendly French food. The fashionable spot lost its lease late last year and closed on New Year’s Eve. (It has since reopened on 60th between Madison and Park avenues; Clapton is one of the investors.)

Stephane Courseau, a manager at Le Bilboquet off and on from 1987 to 2000, moved to Dallas two and a half years ago. He and Le Bilboquet owner Philippe Delgrange are close friends and have often discussed opening other locations. Until Courseau landed in Dallas, the duo hadn’t found the right real estate. Courseau corralled a local group of the restaurant’s fans as investors and joined forces with Le Bilboquet alumnus Laurent Lesort, who is now the managing partner at the restaurant. Delgrange not only gave them his blessing but also allowed them to hire longtime chef “Momo” Sow, who willingly packed up his knives, ring molds, and family, and moved to Dallas.

They took over the space vacated by L’Ancestral, the 29-year-old French restaurant that, ironically, also closed on New Year’s Eve because the landlord refused to extend the lease. Courseau and Lesort hired a demolition crew and gutted the interior, replaced the electrical wiring, and painted the room a creamy eggshell white. They supplied the contractors with photographs of the interior of Le Bilboquet in New York and re-created it right down to the elegant pewter bar where bottles of Champagne, French white wine, and rosé rest on ice in a grand sterling-silver bowl.

White tablecloths covered (annoyingly) with butcher block paper and set with white Oneida porcelain plates create clean sight lines. The only pop of color is provided by a splashy, bright blue-and-green oil painting by a New York artist (not a $400,000 Matisse as several food blogs have reported). Woven rattan bistro chairs scream French bistro, but the food does not. “I think for most people, we are a French restaurant,” Lesort says. “Originally, the people in New York did a bistro where American people could feel comfortable.”

I understand food nostalgia and the longing to go back and re-experience a familiar taste, but what I cannot comprehend is…continued here.