Venue Review: Bistro La Bon
The Charlotte Observer
1322 Central Avenue
The last time I pulled into the Family Dollar lot in Plaza Midwood, I needed dice, Pepsi and chips. About right, expectation-wise, for a pocked stretch of asphalt leading to beauty supply and uniform shops and stretches of empty storefronts.
So wheeling into that lot for a Mediterranean-inspired dinner challenged my sense of probability. As in, I figured I probably wasn't going to be nibbling pan-seared branzino or passionfruit mousse.
And yet - just so.
Bistro La Bon is the improbable product of more improbable circumstances than its location: a native Iranian executive chef who did his formative cooking in Sweden, who completed stints at Charlie Trotter's as well as Noble's and Sonoma and Blue in Charlotte, and has a taste for both the cooking and pastry sides of the business. A name chosen because it could be cobbled together from the original, discarded name's red-block-letter signage. A website done by Swedish nephews. A menu focused on in-house production and midlevel pricing, executed with old-school utility. A Sunday brunch smorgasbord.
And it works.
Majid Amoorpour is executive chef, with chef de cuisine James Swofford and Brandon Robasciotti also in the kitchen, producing an elegantly edited lineup of small plates, a few mains and lovely desserts. Amoorpour was the best thing about Ballantyne's Table restaurant, where he crafted intricate desserts. That attention to detail is evident here.
Grilled halloumi cheese (a white, substantive sheep's milk cheese) comes with lush figs and a port reduction over housemade brioche. Mussels are steamed and served with leek confit and saffron cream (Amoorpour's mom bought him the expensive spice the last time he was home, where it's moderately cheaper). A special of steak frites is done with flank, sliced and buttery, with fat, square-cut, golden, perfectly cooked fries.
The branzino fillets come with corn veloute sauce and dill-spiked potatoes; Scottish salmon arrives with Asian greens and a distinct honeyed edge - one of Amoorpour's tells, culinarily speaking.
And desserts are as significant as you'd want, yet unfussy: Bread pudding is luxurious, chocolate cake simple and spectacular, a special of baked meringue and passionfruit mousse garnished delicately with chocolate.
The spare lunch menu runs $8 (salads, cold sandwiches) to $10 (pastas, fish, meats such as Swedish meatballs or beef tournedos, and hot sandwiches such as a burger or house-smoked-salmon BLT).
Servers rave gently about the menu and work to be quick, while taking time to trumpet the Sunday smorgasbord, but in a warm way. It's $14 and includes a range of housemade pastries and breads, cured salmon, roasts, waffles, salads, vegetables, fruits and more.
Nits: A handsome open-faced vegetarian sandwich is next to impossible to eat - press with utensils and things fall out. A few service details should be tightened. And the décor feels slightly unfinished - as it is, says Amoorpour, who calls it a work in progress.
Still, the arched windows and lounging area, golden walls and views of the city opposite the front door will shock you if you're not prepared.
Improbable, and all the sweeter for it.