The first time I ate a snail, I was in the ninth grade. It was with my father and sister at a French restaurant in downtown L.A. We wore our fancy church clothes, and when Dad told us we could try anything on the menu, I asked for escargot. My younger sister wrinkled her nose at the idea of eating snails. But an expression spread across my father's face that began as amusement then blossomed into one of being impressed at my budding epicurism. I remember squealing and giggling when the plate holding six snail shells the size of Ping-Pong balls was placed before us, but the escargot's garlicky flavor and meaty texture were a revelation.
At the new Blue Ribbon Bistro in Meridian, escargot is not the only French dish you'll find. Frog legs ($13.95), cassoulet ($17.95), boeuf bourguignon ($18.95) and duck a l'orange ($25.95) are just a few dishes on the primarily French menu. Its Web site boasts, "Locally grown fare with European flair." The folks behind the Bistro are thinking bigger than just locally harvested snails, however. They have beef in mind, as in a few thousand head of cattle in Parma to provide milk for products like farm-fresh butter, cheese and sour cream, as well as fine cuts of beef for the dining room.
Recently I had the pleasure of enjoying a Saturday evening dinner at the Bistro with my teenage son, Kyle, and my friend, Jodi, who regularly travels to the Provence region of France. "This is so French," she observed as we were seated in a warmly lit dining room outfitted with dark wood plank flooring and milk glass lighting fixtures. Thin slices of baguette, a ramekin of butter and a couple of glasses of wine got us going. The most impressive thing about our simple starter was the butter. Milky-sweet, slightly tangy and unsalted, it tasted like it was fresh from the cow. As it turns out, the Bistro's executive chef David Knickrehm makes the restaurant's fresh, creamy butter from scratch a few times a week using the milk from those cows in Parma.
We started with an order of escargot ($12.95). The meaty morsels tasted of tarragon, garlic and that delectable butter. Like my father did for me, I told Kyle he could try anything on the menu. My expression must have mirrored my father's when Kyle simply stated, "The duck." He also ordered a side caesar salad ($3.25). Jodi and I chose the petite rack of lamb ($18.95). When the waiter brought our food out, he had only one plate of lamb instead of two. He also forgot Kyle's caesar salad. Jodi settled for a salade nicoise ($12.95) since the kitchen could prepare it quickly. Our waiter soon reappeared with Jodi's salad, but again forgot Kyle's caesar. To make up for his forgetfulness, our waiter did not charge Jodi for her salad and offered us a free dessert. He handled his mistakes gracefully and apologized, admitting this was his second week on the job.
As for the food, two slender lamb chops in a pool of mint demi-glace rested aside piped mashed potatoes and were accompanied by sautéed fresh Brussels sprouts and red bell pepper. Jodi and I agreed it was exactly how lamb should taste. Kyle's duck, which came with rice pilaf and baby green peas, was also very good. Jodi's salade nicoise, with its requisite chunk tuna, hard-boiled egg, nicoise olives and haricot verts, was dressed in a pleasant basil vinaigrette. The choice for dessert was easy: crème brulée ($4.50) and a slice of cheesecake ($5.50). Kyle devoured the cheesecake while Jodi and I savored every creamy bite of crème brulée. Overall, I enjoyed our meal at Blue Ribbon Bistro very much. They serve good French-influenced food in an approachable atmosphere.
--Jennifer Hernandez has a big letter "S" on her car and wears a snail shell helmet when she drives fast so people will exclaim, "Look at that 'S' car go!"