One of the pleasures of dining out in Baton Rouge is the city’s delightful neighborhood cafe s. Such a spot is French Market Bistro on Highland Road not far from Interstate 10. The restaurant nicely balances a sophisticated fine dining menu with a relaxed atmosphere. While the name implies New Orleans chic, we find the place reminiscent of neighborhood restaurants in Washington, D.C., and along the California coast where we have dined with friends, LSU graduates.
Arriving just after dusk for dinner, we were quickly seated at a comfortable table and noted the candles were already lit for the evening. We enjoyed a small loaf of freshly baked French bread, tender with a crispy crust, while studying the menu. While the emphasis here is on Louisiana seafood cuisine, there’s enough variety to please every taste. Influences of Italian, Asian, Mediterranean and even Mexican cooking can be found in the international offerings.
We passed on the ubiquitous spinach and artichoke dip appetizer and started with Bubba shrimp and egg rolls ($8.50). Pricey for three rolls, they were filled with a finely chopped duck and shrimp blend and nicely seasoned. The rolls were accompanied by a tangy sweet and sour sauce with a dollop of hot Chinese mustard on the plate. An off-the-menu item, a cup of chicken-tortilla soup ($5.99) was a special treat. The chicken broth, filled with chunks of chicken breast along with green pepper, red pepper, tomato and onion, and seasoned with cumin and chili powder, was topped with strips of fried corn tortilla.
The Taste of Louisiana ($18.99), a version of the traditional seafood platter, more than satisfied our guest. The most outstanding item was the delicious oysters Bienville, with oysters and crabmeat dressing baked in a shell with creamy parmesan cheese. While tasty, the large crab cake had too much breading for our taste. The catfish and shrimp were rolled in an outstanding, well-seasoned cornmeal batter and fried to perfection. A heaping amount of wide-cut fried steak potatoes completed this excellent platter.
Another entrée, the shrimp and crab linguine ($18.99), inspired by northern Italian cuisine, was more than expected. The large serving featured a big bowl of flat linguine pasta cooked until just tender and tossed with a generous amount of tender shrimp and sweet, lump crabmeat sautéed in a combination of butter, lemon, white wine, garlic, mushrooms, scallions, tomatoes and English peas. We could distinctly taste the lemon and wine flavor in the sauce, but it never overpowered the taste of delicate seafood. While not on the menu, we opted for a special dessert of the evening, a crème brulee ($7.99) made with Bailey’s Irish Cream. The Irish liqueur added a hint of whisky flavor to the delectable, smooth custard topped with a familiar caramelized brittle glaze.
Lunchtime is busy at French Market Bistro. We encountered business people on breaks as well as groups of friends with youngsters enjoying a leisurely lunch. Obviously, pizza and sandwiches are popular here at this time of day, but we opted for something more substantial.
The steak house lunch ($24.99) includes a choice cut filet presented on a sizzling plate and served with a bleu cheese lettuce wedge. The tender meat topped with fleure-de-sel butter arrived piping hot. It was still cooking, which made it a bit more done than expected, but the meat was absolutely delicious. The salad dressing was filled with chucks of bleu cheese. The coconut Thai chicken ($12.99) was a complete meal that could easily be shared by two or possibly three.
Yummy chicken nuggets fried in a crunchy batter with bits of sweet, nutty, coconut topped this salad of mixed lettuces, spinach, and thin, seeded cucumber slices, a few cilantro leaves and a generous helping of chopped peanuts. It was enhanced with a light, luscious raspberry-sesame dressing. A guest tried the hot roast beef loaf ($10.99), a hearty meal indeed.
The large po-boy style bun was packed with large amount of roast beef in a rich, peppery gravy and topped with creamy, melted pepperjack cheese. It also was dressed with lettuce and tomatoes and a spicy Creole mustard. The mustard tended to overpower the meat, but would be great if served on the side. The sandwich came with the restaurant’s signature steak fries.
The restaurant’s dessert menu has a number of Louisiana favorites, including bread pudding, served with a rum sauce and a classic flan with caramel glaze. For an exceptional treat, try the tortoni cardinal ($6.95), a sweet vanilla bean ice cream topped with fresh strawberries and candied pecans and topped with a chocolate and raspberry melba sauce. It’s dreamy.
French Market Bistro doesn’t have a children’s menu, but ask for available children’s meals. Side dishes (meant to be shared) include various vegetables, garlic mashed potatoes and penne au gratin. Steak and fish toppings are additional.
Entrees are plentiful. Be sure to ask about specials of the day and/or off-menu items. These are often good choices.
The wait staff was courteous and friendly. We didn’t have to wait long for our meals, and appreciated the low-keyed setting that allowed for visiting with our guests at a comfortable pace.