The service and selection are so good, there’s only nitpicking to be done.
I’ve got a boeuf with Bibou: its butter.
It’s nice—a foil-wrapped coin from Echire, the vaunted French producer that accords its cows the pedigree of thoroughbreds. The beurre rightly arrived room temperature— all the better for spreading on chef/owner Pierre Calmels’ house-baked sourdough, my dear—but it could really use a sprinkle of fleur de sel.
And really, a little lemon zest would brighten the brazenly buttery bone marrow-and-porcini fricassee piled atop a canoe of a split veal shank, the third of seven dishes in a recent tasting menu. The feast is fairly priced at $70, but one should, I think, really commence with a proper amuse bouche.
Sounding nitpicky? I hear that, but what would you have me criticize instead? Not Bibou’s impeccable service, or the coolly sophisticated atmosphere.
The lack of a credit card machine is a bit annoying, I guess, but Calmel’s wife Charlotte will remind you of the cash-only policy when you call to make a reservation—which you should definitely do, considering there are only 32 seats, including two sweet spots at a “bar” with views of the open kitchen.
Calmels, the executive chef at Le Bec-Fin from 2001 to 2008, macerates local cantaloupe in Sauternes, shallots, fenugreek and coriander overnight before passing it through a chinoise until smoothie-smooth. Each spoonful was an ode to the melon’s sweet, musky cologne—tempered just enough by salty strips of cured duck magret and the mint and basil plucked from the BYOB’s window boxes.
When restaurants deliver like Bibou, nitpicking is the only recourse we food critics have.
The Calmelses, who met while working at a hotel in Switzerland, have history at 1009 S. Eighth Street, an address that once belonged to David Ansill’s Pif. After getting married, they hosted dinners for visiting family members, and when the space became available last September, grabbed it. The couple renovated the bistro and opened in May, with not a detail out of place.
At Bibou, it’s all about these little details, from the decorative parfum vials sprouting fresh rosemary to the warm, lemon-scented madeleines that chaperone the check. Coffee comes in French presses. Iced tea is brewed to order in glass globes that look like they could tell fortunes. Call these minutiae inconsequential—some, like the bathroom sink’s basket of bundled washcloths or the garlands of tart red currants decorating desserts, are subtle enough to miss—but they’re an important part of what makes Bibou so great.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that the food, which Calmels describes as “family-style French,” is simply beautiful. He’s not talking family-style in the Maggiano’s sense of the word; rather, he means the soulful, homespun cooking of his mother’s and grandmother’s kitchens.