Monday, March 11, 2013

La Sen Bistro.

Having lived in Concord for over 9 years, we've seen a lot of changes occur in our little (big) suburb- mainly in the downtown Todos Santos Plaza area, a place within easy walking distance of the RSWS homestead. When we first settled here, the plaza, for lack of a better description, left something to be desired for most Concordians.  These days, it's a little brighter in the square-- fun summer concerts, a well-kept park, a great farmer's market and the presence of some of popular"local" haunts like E.J.Phair's, Luna Ristorante, Skipolini's Pizza, Tower Grille and Panama Red Coffee Company.  In addition to these fine establishments, there's a new kid on the block... A very popular new kid that everyone in town is talking about...

"La Sen Bistro is an offshoot of Berkeley's La Rose Bistro.  After many years of serving to loyal customers of theater go-ers and the nearby UC Berkeley patrons, La Rose Bistro transplanted itself to downtown Concord to become La Sen Bistro.  With the same vision of serving great food, you will enjoy the classic California-French samples of duck confit, salmon in saffron sauce, lamb racks, and escargot - just to name a few..."

The bistro joined the ranks of Concord restaurants back in November, but the hubbs and I discovered it not too long ago on a weekend stroll.  In search of one last glass of wine before heading home, we meandered past La Sen and immediately were intrigued by the tiny, well-appointed restaurant.  The space formerly housed a rickety sushi joint, but had now been transformed into a European-style street bistro, complete with hand-painted wall murals, fresh flowers, candle-lit tables and a stylish bar.  

It was a bit of shock to us, seeing as this level of dining is pretty uncommon around these parts, with the exception of Moresi's Chophouse (a very personal favorite) in the neighboring town of Clayton.  What we were even more surprised to witness was how busy La Sen was, so late in the evening on a Sunday.  How could we be so out-of-the-loop?  Why hadn't we eaten there?  We watched as patrons entered and were seated, following them almost unconsciously to the front kiosk.  I asked for a menu and was given three-- lunch & dinner, drinks and dessert.  A very impressive list indeed, full of Californian/French influenced dishes, all respectably well-priced.  The hubbs ogled the unusual wine list with a huge grin.  He was happy to have found a restaurant in Concord that has an extensive, interesting wine selection that features both local and European wine selections.  It was clear that La Sen would be our next date night location.

A week later we returned for dinner on a bustling, beautiful Friday night.  We were greeted warmly and seated promptly with a smile.  The restaurant itself is quite small (without feeling cramped), holding perhaps 20 tables-for-two that can be combined for larger parties as well.  The lighting was dimmed for the evening, with candles on each table, while soft, down-tempo music was being played at a comfortable level.  The bar was full of patrons, most dining as couples and some just enjoying a glass of vino.  The staff is energetic, plentiful and knowledgeable about the various menu options available.

I wanted to get a feel for the food here, since I'd already heard so much chatter through the grapevine about the quality.  We ordered our wine and were being waited on by the lovely Daniel, a stylish young man with a friendly demeanor.  Next, a warm baguette and house-made dipping sauce arrived-- an insanely addictive combination of what tastes like cilantro, basil, olive oil and spices pureed into a creamy texture.  It's almost depressing when you've finished your share.  You stare at the plate like a sad little kid wishing they'd slowed down to savor it more.  The bread is crusty and light, tasting perfect on it's own or with a dollop of the sauce.  Clearly a good start.

French Onion Soup
Salmon Tartare
Sometimes you just can't make up your mind, so you have to order both.  The hubbs felt overwhelmingly compelled to try the Soupe a l’Onion- Traditional French onion soup with garlic croutons & broiled Emmentaler cheese.  I wished to sample the Tartare de Saumon-  Salmon tartare with lemon capers & crème fraiche.  Both were excellent.  The soup is by far the best we've tasted of its kind.  Bubbling cheese, savory broth, soft croutons and sweet onions.  We'd been told by friends that the soup was fantastic and they were right.  I thought the tartare tasted exceptionally fresh, with just enough lemon and caper in every bite.  The hubbs was impressed how elegantly plated the tartare was, and I couldn't agree more.

Pan seared scallops
Beef Bourguignon
For our entrees, I ordered the Pétoncles Poêlés- Pan seared Scallops with sherry wine sauce, parsnip puree & snap peas, while hubbs decided (after minutes of contemplation- it all looked so good!) to go with the  Boeuf Bourguignon- Braised beef in Burgundy wine, garlic, onions & mushrooms.  My scallops were cooked to perfection, undoubtedly.  Most restaurants will over-cook delicate scallops, which results in the texture of a hockey puck, but these were just right... Seared to a light caramel crisp on the outside and medium rare in the middle.  A scallop should never be served completely opaque, so I was delighted that these were cooked correctly.  The parsnip puree complemented the sweetness of the shellfish and had a surprisingly rich flavor, while the snap peas made for a fine vegetable garnish.  As I reveled in the tastiness of my meal, I had forgotten to ask the hubbs how his dish was.  He just looked at me, smiled, and kept eating.  This is a sign of contentment.  I think it was also his way of silently proclaiming, "I do not want to share."  He eventually did, and it finally all made sense.  I wouldn't have shared.  No, honestly, I would've shoved it all in my mouth so fast and acted like nothing was ever sitting in the bowl.  Absolutely delicious.  The texture of the beef was so tender, it was falling apart on the fork, while the mushrooms and onions retained their own natural essence.  Hard to explain how amazing this tasted, and according to our waiter, for good reason--  Even the chef was keeping this recipe a secret.

For dessert, we wanted to order the Profiteroles but they had sold out of them by the time we were ready.  We settled for the classic Creme Brulee instead, which was lovely.  It had a glass sheen of sugar on top, along with fresh blueberries and raspberries.  The creme was light and airy, making it a satisfying end to our evening meal.    

Fair warning for diners:  Be prepared to relax and enjoy.  Our dinner service took 2 hours, which was refreshing.  We never like to feel rushed when eating, especially at a new restaurant.  While some reviews would consider the service at La Sen questionable on occasion, we found it to be incredibly similar to experiences we've had in Europe, especially Spain and France.  A tiny, productive kitchen pumping out beautiful food, a handful of waiters all working together to serve customers, a bit of chaos, a touch of laughter and whole lot of love go into this restaurant.  Why complain about waiting for your food when you can sit and chat with companions over a glass of wine in the meantime?  The food is well worth the wait and we can all use a little slowing down now and again.  Take in your food, sip your wine and enjoy La Sen Bistro.

La Sen Bistro
2002 Salvio Street, Suite B | Concord, CA 94520
925.363.7870 reservations highly recommended

Lunch Daily from 11 am to 3:30 pm.  Dinner from 4:30 pm to 9 pm on Sunday-Thursday and to 10 pm on Friday-Saturday


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