Josette and her bistro have the right personality for a neighborhood eatery.
By Al Mancini/Las Vegas City Life
My recent visit to Mon Ami Gabi, chronicled in last week's column, reminded me I really enjoy a good French bistro. It also reminded me I was recently invited to a grand re-opening party for Josette's Bistro on West Flamingo Road, formerly known as Normandie. It's not often I miss a chance to indulge in free food and wine, so I'm not really sure why I didn't attend that event. But after whetting my appetite for French food at Paris Las Vegas, I decided it was finally time to give Josette's a try.
Josette's is considerably different than the tourist-packed subject of last week's review. Located in a small strip mall on West Flamingo Road a block west of South Decatur Boulevard, it has the feel of a small neighborhood restaurant. It's owned by French expatriate Josette LeBlond, who served as hostess, chef and waitress on the night my wife and I dined there. She's an extremely energetic, bubbly and outgoing hostess, who seems to pride herself on getting to know all of her customers by name.
The dining room is built around a bar that serves beer and wine (although I'm told a liquor license is in the works), a partially open kitchen and small stage area where a keyboardist serenades diners. Flowers adorn the tables, and whimsical artwork hangs on the walls (including one painting of the owner that makes her look kind of like a Pam Anderson cartoon). There are also tables in a small outside patio section.
The menu is small but diverse. The five salad choices range from basic dinner or tomato salads ($5.50 each) to heartier options like warm goat cheese or artichoke ($8.50 each). Among the cold appetizers, you'll find bruschetta ($5), a cheese plate ($9) and duck pate flavored with champagne and black pepper ($5), while the hot appetizer section features mushrooms sauteed in demi sauce, garlic, butter, herbs and wine ($5), escargot ($8) and shrimp scampi ($8). And the eight entrees include porcini mushroom ravioli ($18), steak au poivre vert ($28) and Cajun chicken ($18).
To begin our meal, my wife and I shared an appetizer-sized portion of mussels Provencal ($6) and an order of brie and caramelized apples served on toasted croutons ($5.50). Both were delicious, and the apples and cheese were beautifully presented (let's face it, there's not a lot you can do to make a plate of mussels look pretty). I was, however, disappointed with the homemade bread, which wasn't hearty enough for me to really enjoy soaking up the mussel broth.
For my entree, I had a huge order of steak tartare ($18). It's a dish I prefer on the spicy side, and at Josette's, the raw beef was perfectly seasoned with capers, egg yolk, onions, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce and lemon juice. My wife had a rack of lamb ($28), which was even larger than my dish, and almost as well-seasoned with herbs, spices and Dijon mustard.
As great as the food was, however, the service during our visit was a little baffling. For example, upon bringing my steak tartare to the table, Josette asked if I'd like French fries with it, explaining they don't really come with the dish, but she always asks customers if they want them anyway. When I pointed out the menu listed them as an included side dish, she seemed a bit confused -- which seemed kind of strange coming from the restaurant's owner and chef. At other points during the meal, she forgot beer orders and brought the wrong refills. All of that, combined with her effervescent personality, left me wondering whether she might have been enjoying a few glasses of wine before we arrived.
All of that's completely forgivable, and even a little charming, in a neighborhood place like this -- especially after the owner has already told you, in her heavy French accent, "My name is Josette, so if you need anything, you just shout out 'Josette!'" and later offers to send you home with some free desserts. The same can be said about Josette's brother, who was lending her a hand on the night we visited, despite speaking virtually no English. All of these things give Josette's Bistro character, and make it both comfortable and fun.
That comfortable neighborhood feel is also enhanced by Josette's calendar of special events. Every Monday, she shows various sporting events on big-screen TVs, while Thursdays feature wine tastings. And Sept. 19 will mark the launch of Sunday jazz brunch.
With all of that, along with great food and fair prices, Josette seems to be doing a good job of brining a touch of her native France to West Flamingo Road.