Before we had actually moved back to Indy, I had heard about this place from my sister—her boss at the time thought it was the best restaurant in the Indianapolis area. So I was intrigued to say the least. But the downside was it is in Lebanon which seemed so far away just for dinner. After mapquesting it, we realized, while distance-wise it was farther, time-wise, it was really about the same from our house as it is to go to some of the farther places downtown. And it was our anniversary, so it seemed like a good opportunity to give it a go (although our big anniversary celebration is coming up next week in Chicago, but that’s another post!) One note though, I probably would stick to going here on a Saturday night from Indy unless you go later, because I imagine traffic is pretty bad during rush hour.
To start with, it is chef owned and operated, which I think seems to make a restaurant more of a labor of love, and I tend to find that things come together better all around in these circumstances. I also love the homey, but upscale atmosphere of the interior of Bijou. The restaurant is set on the town square in downtown Lebanon, looking right onto the front of the courthouse. Sadly, this downtown looks a little forlorn, like so many small town downtowns, but the restaurant itself seems to be doing fine. It reminds me of a lot of the small family owned places we used to go to in Europe—it is a couple of store fronts wide, but with dark wood and white tablecloths. The place has been there awhile, and you can tell, but thankfully, wasn’t decorated in the 80s, if you know what I mean.
Anyhow, our server was very friendly and knowledgeable about the food and the wines, although he was a bit over-worked I think. There were a few pauses in service that might have been just a little too long. But we were enjoying ourselves, and our wine, so we didn’t mind.
We each started with an appetizer, which we shared and they were both totally outstanding. Mine was the lobster feuilleté which was beautifully cooked (read perfectly tender) pieces of lobster meat (and a lot of it) topped with a piece of puff pastry. And there was actually a bit of the pastry underneath the meat as well. The lobster was all in a Champagne cream sauce. It was rich and decadent and really, just perfect.
Hubby ordered (and again we shared) the oysters Bijou which were wonderful, small, tender Blue Point oysters served in their shells with bacon and a Chardonnay cream sauce (and there was a super thin slice of bread underneath the oyster making it all stay together).These were outstanding as well. I had a hard time deciding which was better and went back and forth, but in the end I think I liked the lobster better, although I would quite happily get either one (or both!) again.
We also decided to split one of their salads because they sounded good. We settled on the spinach salad with onion and Roquefort and served with a tangy lemon vinaigrette. I appreciated that they split it for us and that each salad had the appropriate amount of toppings. This was a simple salad, but one of the best I have had in a while. The Roquefort was truly Roquefort. It was super high quality cheese and you could really taste it. Not those tasteless blue cheese crumbles you get a lot of places. This was proper cheese. Proper French cheese. And I loved the vinaigrette, and the fact that there was the exact right amount of it, even on a split salad. No obligatory “warm bacon vinaigrette” here. And it was delicious.
Oh, and wait, I almost forgot the bread. Oh my. Warm perfect French baguettes. Just when you thought it might be impossible to find. There they are. In Lebanon. And the butter was delicious too—had a bit of salt and was perfect with the bread. I’m serious. You may think bread and butter sounds obvious, but I think it is tough to find a decent bread service around here. Man, it was hard to not eat too much. And they were happy to refill as much as you wanted. Oh! And I almost forgot the little palate cleanser that was sent out. Really superb passionfruit sorbet. I love passionfruit and this was really good. I really could have had a bowl for dessert. But I appreciate the palate cleanser. I think this is the first Indiana restaurant in which I have been served one.
Ok, unfortunately, this is the point where things got a little disappointing. The entrées were just ok. I was torn between the walleye in a lemon cream sauce or the shrimp and crab Normandie. Based on the waiter’s recommendation (he did say they were both very good though), I tried the shrimp and crab Normandie. This dish was large shrimp curled around a bit of what was basically crab cake mixture and set into a cream sauce with a touch of chipotle. The shrimp were cooked pretty well, but the crab cake mixture was disappointing and the sauce was just too blah. The whole thing needed a shot of acid of some sort (lemon perhaps would be an obvious choice) to bump it out of its flat, purely rich flavor. I wished I would have ordered the fish. The other thing that annoyed me (and is a pet peeve of mine) is that while each entrée is served with its own starch (mine was couscous which was fine, but plain, although in a heart shape), every single entrée is served with the same vegetable of the day. I know, I am sure this is much easier for the restaurant, and I get that. But I would almost rather not have it, then to have a one-side fits all type of thing. In a restaurant as nice as this, if you can’t pair something special, then just don’t do it. In case you are wondering, the side dish was a ratatouille with tomatoes and eggplant and then some broccoli with cheese sauce. Not that I am opposed to any of these things on their own, just the pairing of the same thing with every dish. And they didn’t add anything to the protein.
Hubby had the duck with Grand Marnier demiglaze. He felt about the same way about his as I did about mine. His was almost too sweet and thus, also sort of one dimensional. He said a bit of salt helped a bit. Some of the duck was a bit overcooked (even though they told us the kitchen cooks it medium rare and that is also how hubby likes it.). It was locally sourced, and I appreciate that. The starch on his plate was a shredded potato casserole, which he said reminded him of his Grandma’s and was his favorite part of the meal. Same veg obviously.
So I really liked about 78% of this meal, and will certainly go back. I may very well order two appetizers the next time (possibly the two we had actually, they were so good, although there were some other good sounding appetizers as well) along with my own salad. Or I may try one of the red meat dishes; I bet they can pull of a pretty good steak. Oh, and lots of that bread. And next time, dessert. The dessert menu was very tempting. And based on the two truffles we got for our anniversary, I bet dessert will be good. This place is a little gem, not perfect, but really enjoyable nonetheless.
111 West Main Street
Lebanon, IN 46052