LE PERROQUET BISTRO FRANCAIS | Dining Reviews | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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LE PERROQUET BISTRO FRANCAIS

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As I am often amused by the most trivial things, I was pleasantly intrigued to hear of a French restaurant that was offering fixed-priced meals whose prices corresponded to the year, i.e., $20.01. This year, the cost has risen naturally to $20.02, and here it is October already. It was high time I dined at Le Perroquet before that extra penny was charged in 2003.

These fixed-priced meals are not simply amusingly priced, but well executed. I'd been expecting perhaps two or three entree selections (I've dined at places where fixed-price means one choice), but there were a dozen choices listed here, from salmon to roasted chicken, calf's liver to steamed mussels. (Strict vegetarians would have to settle for one choice: a pasta primavera.) Le Perroquet does offer an a la carte menu with traditional appetizers (French onion soup, escargots), pricier entrees like Dover sole and rack of lamb and side dishes.

The most popular path for diners seemed to be the prix fixe meals. The tables, as they are in a bistro, are intimate and afford an easy view of what others are ordering. The neighboring table was enjoying mussels, plucked from lidded copper pots. (For its fifth anniversary, the restaurant is sponsoring an all-you-can-eat mussels and French fries special for $15.)

Still, this is a pretty little room with walls the color of butternut squash soup and a ceiling accented with dark timbers. A red velvet curtain cloaks a rear dining room, and framed reproductions of old French commercial posters and black-and-white photos of Paris grace the walls. Each table is set with a vase of clear, marbled glass out of which a small French flag flies. One unused table held a model of the Eiffel Tower seemingly spun in gold. And faintly in the background, a man sang about "the House of the Rising Sun" in French.

One may choose to begin one's fixed-price meal with either the soup du jour or the salad. That night's soup was cauliflower, and not being a particular fan of cauliflower, I mistakenly imagined a bowl in which unappetizing chunks of cauliflower floated. (Mark Twain once quipped that cauliflower was merely cabbage with a college education.) My companion requested the soup, and when it arrived, I immediately regretted that I hadn't been more adventurous. The soup was a creamy pale yellow, and while it tasted gently of cauliflower, it also spoke of butter and cream and fresh herbs. This sublime liquid couldn't have been further from an ungainly knob of cauliflower.

The salad -- a plate of mixed baby greens and chopped red peppers -- was more robust, covered in a Dijon mustard vinaigrette. There was a little too much dressing for my tastes, which these days lean toward less -- particularly when the greens are so good. However, the sliced baguette proved useful in sopping up some of the excess dressing, which was undeniably delicious.

I had opted for the fresh trout entree. This trout must have swum in magnificent waters, for when filleted it spread prodigiously across the entire plate. It was topped with parsley and capers, but beneath it was a bed of rice and an assortment of julienned vegetables (carrots, green beans and asparagus) all luxuriating in a bath of lemon butter. (This would not appear to be any brand of cholesterol-nervous nouvelle cuisine, but old-school fine French cooking where butter and cream reign supreme.) A delicate fish like trout is always well-complemented by lemon butter, and the capers added just the right note of piquancy.

I had urged my companion to try my second choice, medallions of pork tenderloin in a creamy mustard sauce accompanied by piped mashed potatoes and the same vegetable medley. The meat was cooked perfectly -- hot and succulent, neither dry nor chewy. The sweet, moist pork and the creamy, sharper mustard sauce: such a delicious combination.

The fixed-price meal includes soup or salad, an entrée and, of course, dessert. We were each presented with a plate on which sat three petite treats. I gave my immediate attention to the profiterole, a little puff-pastry shell filled with rich vanilla ice cream and topped with raspberry sauce, all on the verge of dripping out. The second morsel was a slim wedge of chocolate tart -- topped with a small green berry. The chocolate filling was quite dense, like fudge. The last dessert -- a fresh blueberry-topped lemon tart -- disappeared in two easy bites.

When our simple, easy-to-estimate bill arrived -- dinner for two, $40.04 -- I declared the meal a success in any language, and further amused myself by leaving a corresponding palindromic tip. * * *

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