Photo by John PickelleOne of the perils of penning a restaurant column for someone of my ample paunch is the monthly laundry bill, which my dear editor obstinately refuses to pay. After all, those driblets of food and bevy down the front of my boiled-linen shirt fronts are a direct result of my occupation. True, the fact that my tummy extends two feet forward of my belt buckle has something to do with it. But how do you think my belly got so bloated? In service of said publication, of course.
While I'm waiting for this rag to pony up the drachmas, I've decided as a stopgap measure to buy and wear only $98 Lacoste shirts, which I can afford to wash but not stain. So this week's excursion to the nine-month-old French restaurant Mirabeau at Dana Point's Monarch Bay Plaza had me donning a brand-new, pale-green Lacoste and eating as neatly as those gay blokes on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
Mirabeau is a railroad car of a bistro, with a bar to the right and white-draped tables to the left. Behind the bar are wooden casks from which pour various French wines on tap. Further along is an open kitchen, and past that and to the left is a moderately sized patio, covered by a wooden awning and heated by a gas fireplace. During the day, the patio offers a splendid view of the ocean. But when it's chilly, as it was when I visited, the only option is Mirabeau's cozy interior, with its mustard-colored walls, burnt-orange curtains, and charming little bunches of lilies here and there.
The eatery's appellation derives from the famous Cours Mirabeau, a tree-lined avenue of bistros in Aix-en-Provence dear to the restaurant's proprietors. Mirabeau also happens to be the name of one of the great orators of the French Revolution, a man known for bedding numerous women (including his own sister) as well as for his gustatory prowess. A politician after my own heart, save for that incest bit.
I ordered two appetizers, steak tartare and vegetable terrine, and two main courses, lamb osso buco and wing of skate. While awaiting the starters, I dug into a mini-baguette served with a small pot of hummus dip and one of duck-and-pork confit. I expected to be blown away by the bread, which they bake on the premises, but sadly was not. It was somewhat bland, as was the hummus, which tasted less inspired than what you'd receive at the average falafel shop. But the pork-and-duck confit? Addicting. At least it was once I realized what it was! Overlaid by a thick pure of salty lard, I stupidly thought the fat was the spread until I learned to dig deeper and mix it up a tad.
The steak tartare, garnished with capers and chopped celery, was superb. I savored each bite spread on one of the freshly made crackers, which were far better than the bread. The terrine consisted of thin slices of eggplant, tomato and zucchini pressed together into one multicolored, rectangular slice. Not bad, though I liked the raw beef better.
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Both the lamb osso buco and skate were excellent. The lamb shank lay on a cushion of couscous, spiced with Tunisian harissa sauce and accompanied by a long, thin North African-style Merguez sausage. The Merguez was my favorite, and I quite enjoyed washing it down with a generous third of a carafe of Chateau Coutet Bordeaux ($9), delivered by the waiter in a charming ceramic pitcher decorated with a cluster of grapes.
I'd never had skate before, but I will again based upon this encounter. Skate is a sort of ray and has an odd, mushy taste that I can only describe as similar to catfish, though that doesn't really do it justice. If you're the adventurous sort, I suggest you give it a go.
For dessert, I had chocolate souffl. My server topped it with a scoop of house-made mint ice cream and poured fresh crme anglaise all over the result. As Mirabeau himself might have said, c'tait magnifique! Alas, just as I thought I would enjoy a dribble-free evening, a curvaceous Persian lady sauntered by me, and I drooled souffl all over my new Lacoste. Oh, bother! Think the IRS will allow me to deduct my dry-cleaning as a business expense?
Mirabeau French Bistro, located at 17 Monarch Bay Plaza, Dana Point, is open Tues.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri., 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sat., 5:30 p.m.-11 p.m.; Sun., 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. (949) 234-1679. Full bar. Dinner for two, $82, food only. All major credit cards accepted. Got a restaurant tip for our corpulent critic? E-mail his fat ass at email@example.com.