The mere sight of Bistro du Soleil’s exterior peaks the appetite. A slight wedge of a building splashed in country yellow and blue, Bistro du Soleil evokes the comfort of a French cottage in the easygoing beach community of Playa Del Rey. The menu features a number of French Classics, splashed with some So-Cal twists. Patrons can choose between French Onion Soup or Black Bean with lime and sour cream. Brie cheese is nestled atop juicy bistro burgers or slipped into pear quesadillas. Bistro du Soleil provides a touch of Europe in a comfortable beach setting. The food teeters between elegance and simplicity, and offers an ideal setting for a casual meal or a romantic evening.Read More ...
The mere sight of Bistro du Soleil’s exterior peaks the appetite. A slight wedge of a building balanced on the hilly beach streets of Playa Del Rey, Bistro du Soleil strikes the eye as unusual and vibrant – splashed in country yellow and blue. It tiptoes the tight-rope between dignified and casual, offering a slew of French indulgences yet maintaining an unpretentious air, indicative of its comfortable beach surroundings.
Experienced restaurant planner Jean Claude Sakoun and his partner Gloria Sanchez opened Bistro du Soleil in 2001. Sakoun, who was born into a restaurant-owning family in southwest France came to America in 1965 to study finance at USC. Despite his initial intent to “get out of the restaurant business,” he eventually realized that his passions revolved around hospitality. So in 1977 he opened the Manhattan Beach eatery Pierre, with a partner, followed by Santa Monica’s Reni, which he opened in 1988 on his own. Bistro du Soleil is his latest venture, opened with a focus upon the desires of the locals, as well as a mission to bring Provencal sensibilities to a new setting.
The owners’ Old World traditions are demonstrated in their friendliness and flexibility, with an openness to serve a range of patrons from beachgoers in search of a cocktail and snack to businessmen in search of a cozy setting to have a breakfast meeting. Bistro du Soleil serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as a weekend brunch. The restaurant’s combination of traditional French menu items with some hits of California and Baja makes Bistro du Soleil an good fit for the typical cravings of Playa Del Rey. Sakoun and Sanchez are almost always in-house, checking in on patrons, and striking up friendly conversations.
While I have noticed Bistro du Soleil’s exterior during daytime beach visits, and even stepped in one afternoon for a peek at the menu, my first time actually dining there is at night. Upon entering, I am immediately charmed by the strands of Christmas lights and porch-side seating. The high wooden ceilings that allow in so much seaside brightness during the day have morphed into an element of elegance, transforming the space from a cottage to a romantic hideaway. The space is split into about a dozen tables in the cozy inside room, and a handful of two-tops on the screened-in patio. The elegance is not intimidating; rather, the friendly, picnic-style tables on the patio, exposed raw wood, and chalkboard specials provide a familiar feeling. A small adjacent parking lot is also appreciated amidst the busy streets of Playa.
One glance at the menu shows a list of French classics, as well as a few So-Cal twists. Patrons can choose between French Onion Soup or Black Bean Soup with lime and sour cream. Brie cheese is nestled atop juicy bistro burgers or slipped into pear quesadillas. Halibut is served baked in a citrus glaze, or also with guacamole in a flour tortilla. French options certainly dominate the menu, but California Classics are plentiful.
Inspired by the quaint European décor, we opt to start with the escargot. Our mild-mannered waitress takes our order with no air of phoniness or rehearsed banter. While her wine-pairing tip for my order is less than enlightening (“white wine goes well with fish”), at least she isn’t pushy, and does not flinch when my date orders a Sam Adams. The wine-by-the-glass and beer lists are not overwhelming, and offer a range of flavors for $6-10 a glass. Both lists are mainly domestic; most of the European selections, including Champagne, are available by the bottle.
The escargot is presented in timely fashion, served in little mushroom caps that have sponged up a generous amount of garlic butter. The pungent brown mushroom caps are the perfect size to cup each snail. The escargots are not as springy as those I’ve had served in the traditional six-cupped plates, but the presentation is appreciated, and enjoyed with my pinot grigio.
The extensive list of dinner options includes traditional fare like Quiche Lorraine, Seafood Pasta, and Chicken or Vegetable Crepes. We opt for the classic Boeuf Bourguignon and also the Citrus Halibut – both come with a choice of mashed potatoes or wild rice. The Halibut, which has been baked with lemons, is warm and flaky with the immediate bite of lemon flavor. The thick orange glaze leaves a sweet aftertaste that melds with the lemon to create a perfect union of flavors. The evolution from almost bitter to sweet does not leave a cloying flavor in the mouth, and the rice is a well-seasoned and textured accompaniment to the smooth fish. My glass of pinot grigio subtly cuts through the sweet and buttery elements of the dish quite nicely.
The Boeuf Borguignion consists of a traditional mushroom, onion, and carrot stew, simmered in red wine. While the wine’s rich, dark color has left its mark visually—the dish is the color of a red Burgundy—it is difficult to taste any hint of it. Still, the beef is flavorful and filling, accompanied by smooth mashed potatoes.
The success of the citrus within the Halibut dish makes me curious about the Canard – a half duckling in a fruit sauce topped with mixed berries. Similarly, I regret having missed the Steak au Poivre – a favorite of Bistro du Soleil. In any case, we order our server’s dessert recommendations: Crepe Suzette and Tarte Tarin.
The crepe is spongy and golden brown, generously infused with a tangy orange flavor and served with decorative baked orange slices. The Grand Marnier is overshadowed by a sweet, pleasant flavor. The Tatin is essentially an upside-down apple tart topped with whipped cream. The apples are soft and perfectly browned, with a tender first bite followed by a sweet aftertaste that keeps us digging for more. The pastry shell is the same texture as the apples, and infused with their flavor. Both dishes are likeable, while perhaps a splurge considering their simplicity.
Bistro du Soleil provides a touch of Europe in a comfortable beach setting. The food teeters between elegance and simplicity, as does the décor. It is the type of quiet place that is perfect for dining during a relaxing day-off or a quiet romantic evening. While one can’t expect perfection in each dish, it can certainly be said that the cuisine of Bistro du Soleil elevates that of typical beach fare, and should therefore be lauded as a place that welcomes and caters to a more casual crowd. Bistro du Soleil proves the point that traditional European pace and services blends perfectly with the attitudes and desire of a beach community.
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6 of us were there today (Nov. 8) first time - we all ordered Brunch-type dishes. I had cup of mushroom soup and the Rancheros ... what can I say? The flavor/taste didn't stop - the last bite was just as good as the first. All of us raved and we'll be back, slowly working our way through this incredible menu. And who can beat the setting just off the beach at the end of Culver Blvd, and with the WC outside, I felt as if I were back in Paris? Don't miss this treasure of a restaurant.