It may be my own prejudice, but I like the idea of French restaurants being “romantic” places to dine. The Paris Bistro — at 216 N. Park Ave. in downtown Winter Park — is a perfect contender for that romantic feeling. It begins as you walk by the beautiful koi pond/fountain, and you may choose to sit under the man-made banyan tree just outside of the restaurant’s front door. A singular treat is being greeted like family by the incredibly charming owner — Tatianna Cerruto, who sincerely cares about your happiness in her restaurant. The design is a mix of eclectic French perfection — wood-coffered ceilings, glass walls, Victorian wallpaper, crystal tear-drop chandeliers, black marble tables and framed mirrors somehow come together to feel both very French and very welcoming at the same time.
And since my dining partner and I were going “all French”, we tried the frog’s legs, the pate du jour and the mussels for our appetizers. Each sauce was different and a wonderful surprise — with the frog’s legs having just enough garlic in the herbed butter to allow other tastes to mix well. I can honestly say that those little froggy legs were the best I’d ever eaten. One expects French pate to be unique, interesting and flavorful. The Bistro’s pate proved worthy with a welcome vein of fruity flavor running down the center of each wedge. The highlight, however, were the mussels — flavored in a bacon cream sauce that enhanced them — each one cooked to open shell perfection.
The true stand-out of the evening, however, was the entree choice of the rack of lamb. Whatever you may see on TV, a beautifully presented rack of lamb is the true test of a fine chef. It was perfect — so perfect in fact that I strongly suggest you call ahead to the Paris Bistro to be sure that one is saved for you the next time you choose to eat there. That high praise does not denigrate the duck confit, which was our second entree. It was cooked to moist and tasty goodness and settled graciously on a bed of white beans. Those beans are often forgettable but not here. All sauces are well used and presented at the Bistro.
No one should ever be too full for dessert at a French restaurant, so we did our Frenchified duty and shared one fondant au chocolat (their version of lava cake and ice cream) and a signature creme brulee. At the table next to us, the good folks shared the Bananas Foster and loved it! I am very happy to recommend the ambience, service and food at Paris Bistro, as I am also happy to report that the prices (for a French bistro on sophisticated Park Avenue) will not send you into sticker shock. During the run of the delightful musical “Five Course Love” at the Winter Park Playhouse, the restaurant is offering a special menu to celebrate those performances.
The Paris Bistro, 216 N. Park Ave., is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Visit ParisBistroParkAve.com or call 407-671-4424.